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#MondayMotivation – Look Back to See Forward

#MondayMotivation – Look Back to See Forward

Monday Meh

Glowing fake cheesecake in Harujuku district

I was feeling blah this morning. Monday. Seattle was cloudy and cool. My kid had school even though most of her friends were out spring breaking.

And then I began to blog. I searched through old photos to find inspiration and found photos of our trip to Japan last summer. Wow. What a difference that made to my spirit. It was the best trip our family ever had. The country. The people. The food. The culture. And oh, God! The trains.

Tokyo Museum – me carrying water and failing

So if you’re feeling blah, take a few minutes to scroll through the photos on your smartphone. Find a favorite and make it your new home screen. I swear, it will turn around your mood! Love you.

Chopstick choices! (I picked the red ones)
Top Ten Reasons I’m (still) Grateful I’m an American

Top Ten Reasons I’m (still) Grateful I’m an American

Back CameraSorry I’ve been silent over the last few months. If you’re a regular reader, then you know that this blog is a place where I laugh at myself, ponder life in serious and not-so-serious ways, and aim to show a different side of issues. I always ALWAYS add a dose of humor and Pollyanna-positivity to my blogs.

Lately though, my blog drafts start out lighthearted and quickly devolve into whines, rants and whimpers. I can’t hit the ‘publish’ button and add to the cacophony of negative voices shouting across the United States. Lately, my country’s become a place where hate and derision permeate every channel of the mainstream media. The us versus them viewpoint has become the norm. As much as I’ve tried to duck my head in the sand lately, that culture of suspicion and hate has leaked into my own writer’s spirit so I’ve kept silent.

But, not anymore.

Today, I choose to add my voice to the conversation. Sometimes I’ll roar like a lion and other times I’ll whisper. But, my intention is to reclaim this blog as a place to highlight the common experience. I’m still convinced we have more in common than we don’t, that good people are the norm, that this country of ours is a special and unique place filled with authentic, giving, loving and hard-working people just trying to do their best.

Top Ten Reasons I’m (still) Grateful I’m an American

JOY! copy
A sketch of daughter, Bryn, pursuing her happiness.

10)  Every citizen’s right to pursue happiness is protected by the law. It’s in our Declaration of Independence. What other country in the world legally protects the pursuit of happiness? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

9) I can drive a car or a bus or whatever. There are still places on this planet where I cannot drive, not because of any prior record or lack of skills, simply because I have breasts and a baby box. Yeah, it’s ridiculous. To explore a list of the most ridiculous restrictions on womens’ rights around the world, click here.

8) We are a thriving democracy. Every voice counts. We can volunteer to canvas and phone bank for issues that are important to us. We can get out and campaign for people we believe in. And best of all? Every election, we have the privilege to cast our vote.

7) We have free public education for children. Did you know that 60 million primary school children aren’t in school? That’s according to the United Nations. Many kids have to stay home to take care of siblings, collect water, and do other work to support struggling families. Learn more here.

6) We give time and money to charities. In fact, after world-leader, Myanmar, we are the second-most giving country in the world. 68% of us give money and 44% of us give volunteer hours. We’re doing a lot of good. If you want to see the Mashable story, click here.

Jenn Tweet5) We are rich in diversity. According to 2009 census information, in 40-50 years we will be a majority-minority country. That’s fantastic. Some articles even prove how diversity makes us smarter. Here’s a snippet of an article from Scientific AmericanDiversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving. Diversity can improve the bottom line of companies and lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations.

Well, it’s just another reason I’m excited for our country’s future. Here’s a link to the article.

4) Our 400+ national parks. Did you know that our National Park Service is about to blow out a hundred birthday candles? We have the greatest land trust in the world and it is a gift to every generation yet to come. Our parks preserve the best of our country, and include countless places that hold cultural significance. If you wish to be one of this year’s 275 million visitors, click here to find a national park near you.

3) We agree to disagree. It’s unique to live in a country where we can have different points of view, have respectful debates and walk away better for having the conversation. Did you read that snippet above about diversity? Every word of it applies to intellectual diversity as well. In the United States, our speech is protected by the Constitution. And I know first hand from living with two opinionated teens, robust debates always end up enriching my view on issues.

2) We can love who we want. It’s protected by the law. I just ask that you love someone that treats you with kindness and respect. Other than that, be happy.

flag series copy copy1) We are in control of our own future. Called the “American Dream,” it is the most well-known tenet of our society. A person that comes from nothing can work hard and become a screaming success. Doubt it still exists? Here’s an article about 10 well-known celebs that came from poverty and now sip champagne.

According to by James Truslow Adams, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.[

In the United States, you can scratch your way to the top, heck you may even land a book deal and reality show along the way. This isn’t the case in other countries, where opportunities aren’t allowed to people based on many things including gender, race, politics, and money, to name a few.

Today’s a Fresh Start

Today’s a Fresh Start

A photograph, taken and colorized by my father, Gary Riley in the early 70s
A photograph, taken and colorized by my father, Gary Riley, in the early 70s

Today is a fresh start. You can either do better, worse, or the same with your life and all its intricate components. Approach the day with the mindset that you will add to, not take away from, all that you touch. Then, would you let me know how that works out?

Wishing you a lovely day,


Why I Don’t Care If I Sell Another Book

Why I Don’t Care If I Sell Another Book

PollyannaThis week I had the opportunity to talk with the kids at Eastside Preparatory School. It’s one of the most academically rigorous schools in Washington state, but you wouldn’t know it to look at the student body because they defy the geek stereotype. As 200-plus kids trickled into the room, I was struck by how beautiful and shiny they all were. Stylish and smart? Unfair.

Feeling a twinge of self-doubt, I checked myself for stray scone crumbs and dabbed a smidgeon of gloss on my dry lips. Ah, better. And then for some reason, I thought back to when I was a teen. At any given moment, I could name off a laundry list of shortcomings, a pimple, fat butt, cheap jeans. I also remembered how hard I worked to seem perfect.

So, as I looked out at the faces in the crowd, I wondered if they felt the same as I once did? If I could read their minds, would I hear thoughts dripping with self-loathing and doubt? My heart broke.

I sucked in a gulp of air and a feeling washed over me. Like the rays of the sun, it warmed my hair and face, and with it came a clear conviction.  Writing the novel, Four Rubbings, wasn’t the most important thing. Teasing a storyline and selling copies of the book, that didn’t matter anymore. In fact, I realized that writing the book was just the vehicle that brought me to this place, in front of these kids to deliver a message of hope and encouragement. As I clicked ‘play’ on my Powerpoint slideshow, I knew that the words to come might be the only encouragement they’d receive all week, or month, or year. And I lost my breath.

My mother, a longtime public school principal, spoke of this often. In September every year, she committed all student names to memory. She ate lunch in the cafeteria with the kids. She checked in with teachers to find out the details of her students’ lives. Who was struggling? Who was making progress? Who was having problems at home? She sleuthed out the details and then reached out to her kids to offer help or congratulations. She told me it was important to touch each child with kind, personal words as often as possible because she was keenly aware that her compliments might be the only nice things some of these kids might ever hear. Ever.

I clicked the first slide and spoke to the kids of EPS about knocking down stereotypes, dreaming big, blocking out the negative and accepting help. I hoped my words might resonate with one student. If I came off as an idiot to the other 199, then so be it. If my positive message empowered one person to reach for their dream, then it was worth it. One kid. One kind word. One life changed.

Fellow Booktrope author, Tess Thompson blogged about a similar subject in her post titled, “I’m with Stupid.” Read it. She said it more artfully in her post than I did at the assembly, but the message was essentially the same. If you follow your heart, success will follow. Be bold and follow your passion. It’s an upbeat message, to be sure, but one worth repeating.

Why does it feel like I’m always apologizing for being positive? My whole life I’ve been accused of being a Pollyanna – a reference I didn’t understand until adulthood. Pollyanna was a fictional character that saw the positive side of every situation, regardless of how dire her circumstances. She lost family members. She faced death. And still, she smiled. Well, I suppose I’m sort of like that.

Fine. It’s true, I am Pollyanna. Toss your eggs at the computer screen, flip me off in your head, I can handle it. After spending time with the students at EPS yesterday, I know with such clarity what the world needs right now is more positive. So, I’m not going to apologize for being who I am anymore. I’m an optimist in a cynical world. I choose to see the best in people, hope for the future, see the invisible members of our society, smile, overuse exclamation points, wave at cops and construction workers, and add smiley faces to the end of my emails. Deal. With. It. 🙂

But, get one thing straight. Being positive doesn’t come naturally. It takes work.

431312-women-no-moneyIn college, when I was broke, held two jobs to pay for tuition and books, had way too much homework, and subsisted on cheap ramen, I posted a list on my dorm wall called, “Good Things Comin’ My Way.” I updated the list often to remind me that there was always something worth celebrating just around the corner. So what if I needed a microscope to see the good? My list included wearing clean white socks, sleeping in on Saturday, visiting home, talking to my brother, attending a football game, crunching fall leaves, having a day without rain, etc. You get the idea.  Small joys kept me moving forward.

Today, more than ever, it takes real effort to stay positive. I was a student of the media, so I know the studies about how disproportionate the violent/crime-related news segments are compared to the actual instances of crime. They overblow the bad, undercover the good. Yeah.

And in our current political climate when every politician (it seems being inept crosses party lines) works to pit you against me, us against them, him against her; I find that the news is no longer safe ground for me either. Of course, I have to track the news to stay informed. But, I can only take it in small doses. Then, I must unplug.  That’s why you won’t find me posting political stuff on my Facebook wall. I refuse to feed the derisive climate of the day. I love you. I could never hate you.

After my talk with the kids at Eastside Prep, I stopped caring about selling books. This is about me being a positive voice for others. Yes, I wrote a novel. I fought all the negative forces out there and within myself and got it done. You can transform your goal into an accomplishment, too.  But, the book is no longer the thing.

So as I climbed off the stage, I knew my goals had shifted. The lights on the stage dimmed and I found myself surrounded by students. They hugged me, asked questions, shared stories and shook my hand, and I listened. Selling books doesn’t matter anymore. But, being a positive voice for others does. So, that my friends, is what I’m going to pursue now. 🙂