Creative Beginnings Part Three: In the Pink

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For this week’s post, I interviewed Robin Stanton. Every time I buy her products, I remember her describing Mary Kay as her ‘want to job.’

Here’s what she has to say about how she started and what this creative profession with beauty has meant for her.

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How did you get started in Mary Kay? Was there a person or event that got you interested?

I was involved in Altrusa, a women’s service club, for a number of years where I met the friend who recruited me into Mary Kay.

I had been a customer off and on for about 10 years before she invited me to a make-over event. I was adamant that I was not interested in becoming a consultant and diligently tried to talk myself out of it! At the event, they were discussing the marketing plan and reasons people might choose to start a Mary Kay business. Many of them resonated with me such as buying my products at cost and having a business that would take me into retirement. (Since I pride myself on never paying full price for anything, I was sold at the mention of discount!!)

I knew that I wanted to have another stream of income in retirement, doing something that was fairly portable and allowed me the freedom and flexibility to travel/RV, so Mary Kay sounded perfect for that.

Before the discussion was finished that day, I had signed my agreement! With great excitement and anticipation, I waited for my kit to arrive so I could embark on a new journey of personal growth and enriching others’ lives.

What was the hardest part about getting started?

I had never owned my own business prior to Mary Kay and my self confidence wasn’t always the strongest when it came to tackling new challenges.

I delved through all of the materials in my kit and like a sponge, and soaked up information from anyone that I could. The down side of this was that I quickly experienced information overload, which started to paralyze me! There was a part of me that felt like I had to know it all before I set out on the journey, and so I was a bit slow to get started.

There is also a part of my personality that is a little rebellious, and, because of this, I sometimes wanted to do things my own way, ignoring the tried and true methods, steps, scripts, etc that the company provides, and instead feeling like I somehow knew a better way!

What do you know now that you wish you had known then?

There are so many things I know now that I wish I had known then.

One of them is that I am on my own journey. While there is a myriad of support from others along the way, and we are all in the same business, we all have our own “whys” for doing the business and each person needs to find her unique style in order to achieve her individual goals. This would have helped me to not compare my success to others in my unit.

Another thing I wish I had known, was that I did not need to know it all, nor would I ever know it all and to be comfortable with that.

A third thing I wish I had known, was that this was not a life or death decision! It was only a $100 investment that would open the doors to all sorts of new opportunities and growth for me. This would have alleviated some anxiety that I initially felt and undue pressure I put on myself. If I had realized that it was truly a win/win and there was not a way to lose at this venture, I think I would have approached it in a bit more relaxed manner!
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Has it been worth it? Why or why not?

It has absolutely been worth it because this business is about so much more than selling lipstick! In the process of learning how to empower others, I have learned so much about me. I’ve become more confident, organized, intuitive, knowledgeable and have developed a heart for helping others. The company has amazing tools to help build successful businesswomen, but my best growth has come from my personal interactions with customers, my director and my Mary Kay girlfriends.

Being that the company is comprised almost entirely of women, I was prepared to experience the same challenges I experience with women at my job — gossiping, back biting, undermining and other unflattering behaviors women in groups can exhibit!

I am amazed at the beautiful women I’ve had the privilege of working with in Mary Kay–women who genuinely care about each other and want to help each other be successful. This is nothing like I have ever experienced before in my dealings with women.

Mary Kay Ash (the founder of Mary Kay) was ingenious when she developed the marketing plan, because she designed a program where all women could have the same opportunities to be successful in the business if they put in the work. There weren’t a limited number of “top” positions, where women had to compete with each other, rather by helping others become successful, women were really helping themselves to be successful.
What is one of the best things that has happened for you since you began with Mary Kay?

One of the best things that has happened for me since I began Mary Kay has to be the wonderful friendships that I’ve developed, both with fellow consultants and with my customers.

I have some customers that began with me 12 years ago and continue to support me!

Despite that fact that some of my girlfriends no longer attend meetings, there is core group of us that continue to get together and fellowship on a monthly basis. Over the past 12 years, it has been wonderful “doing life” with them and I know that we will continue to do that for many years to come, because those relationships are deeply meaningful.

Of course, I can’t just stop at one best thing!

Another great thing has been having an additional source of income to supplement our other sources. My business has ebbed and flowed over the past 12 years, adapting as my life has changed.

Sometimes this means that I am more actively running my business, but when life is more hectic, my Mary Kay takes a back seat. I always know that it is there, if I need to quickly earn some money to pay a bill or we want to take a vacation and don’t have the extra funds for that. I can just work harder and make the dream a reality!

My husband decided to open a car detailing business after he was laid off from corporate America several years ago. The skills I’ve gained while building my Mary Kay business have been invaluable in helping him build a successful business of his own — bookkeeping skills, customer service, marketing, time management.

For all of these reasons, I am deeply grateful to Mary Kay Ash for her vision, tenacity and courage to develop a company for the purpose of enriching women’s lives. The impact has been felt worldwide for over 50 years!

(If you’d like to know more about Robin or Mary Kay products, you can find her on her website.)

In talking to Robin over the years I have known her and for this interview, I have marveled at how creative businesses like writing and makeup cross over. I hope next to find someone from the music world, so I can look at yet another type of creative beginning. 

Stay tuned! (Or connected to the internet, I suppose. Maybe plugged in? Cabled?)

Creative Beginnings Part Two: The Family Artist Date

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In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron insists that we need weekly artist dates alone to court our inner artist. I have done these, and they are marvelous for boosting creativity. But I have also taken my family and friends along on dates and gotten oodles of inspiration that way, too.

At the beginning of this year, I completed two New Year’s rituals together with my family and one alone. My inner artist loved them all.

First, we all went to the Nisqually Nature Preserve, a place I written about before but have never visited in the winter. If you haven’t been there in the cold, you may have missed a few birds. They apparently come out to be seen when the temperature drops.

We saw herons, a bald eagle, a woodpecker along with the usual crows, seagulls and ducks.

Later, I took my youngest son to see the trains at the Washington History Museum. I fell down on the blogging job and didn’t take pictures but I was impressed by how much my four year old loved the whole place from the trains to the other exhibits. A museum full of things you can do with children playing and learning is always a grand place to start a new year. Inner artists love this kind of play.

Finally, I went to Starbucks in Sumner and spent an hour with my headphones on (it’s loud there!) mapping out my goals for 2015. It may not sound like a thrilling date, but alone time with a notebook, music, and a cup of tea is my kind of fun.

Overall, I’m happy with the creative beginnings I chose. My  inner artist must be, too, because the word output has been good so far this year and my joy level is up.

Creative Beginnings: Part One

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This month I’d like to start a series on creative beginnings. It’s not very original. January is a time for beginning a new year and resolutions and what not.

But I am taking the excuse of a new calendar on my wall to reimagine my writing and my work by looking at what other creative people are doing. 

To start, I’d like to share an interview I did with Mary Cronk Farrell, a writer I met through a class by Dan Blank. She is a traditionally published children’s author who recently wrote PURE GRIT, a fabulous non-fiction story about the nurses who endured combat and POW camps in the Philippines during WWII.

Here’s what this professional had to say to my beginner questions:

1. I am working on historical novels and do NOT have a background in journalism like you do. How do you keep track of your research? Is there a book or class you could recommend?

I was a TV journalist so I didn’t really do much research except for interviewing people and occasionally reading documents. When I first started researching for my historical fiction I just took notes in a notebook like I did when I was a reporter.

Then I had files full of photocopies of newsclippings and pages from books etc.

Then I had files in Word filled with pages of stuff from the internet. And I usually have quite a number of books on the topic that I keep on hand. I didn’t organize it much at all.

This is what I did for basically my first four books, and it is only now as I begin a new book that I am going to get organized. So I am a horrible person to get advice on this from!

A number of writers I know swear by Scrivener. I haven’t tried it, and I keep asking them what it does that Word can’t do and I don’t get an answer that I can understand, except that you can organize your manuscript by chapter and scene and easily move things around and keep your research all organized, too.

Here’s what I am starting to do now, on the book I am just now starting to research:

1) Notes that I take, say from a book I get from interlibrary loan and have to return, I type in a word doc and use the footnote function to give the exact citation.

If I need lengthy sections from a book, I buy it. If it’s not available to buy, I will then photocopy the parts of the book I need and keep them in a physical file. I have cardboard file boxes, one for each book, or whatever.

2) For information I find on the internet, I am going with OneNote, which is the Word thing that is similar to Evernote.

Maybe you know this…in these programs you can copy text or photos from the internet and paste them onto pages in files you create. When you cut and paste it automatically adds the web address where the info came from, so you always have the link right there and go back to it.

If it’s something I will need to cite, I make sure I have the full information in case the webpage disappears.

3) I end up using a lot of newspaper articles which I often get from the library, or from other people. These I keep physical copies of in my filebox.

So…that’s about all I can tell you on research. You can probably get lots better info from others. 

2. Who helped you to get where you are in the publishing world? Who helped you with your craft? Who helped you to keep going when it would have been easier to quit? Do you have a critique group? Other support? How did you find them?

When I decided I wanted to write for children, I took a one day community college course and the instructor told us all to join SCBWI. There was one SCBWI critique group in Spokane, and after I went to a couple meetings they said they were disbanding.

I joined an online critique group, which was my only connection to the industry and other writers for a couple years. I learned a lot in that group and really got my feet wet critiquing and being critiques.

After a couple years two women from the disbanded SCBWI group decided to start a new group, and I connected up with them.

A year or two after that a published author moved to Spokane from another state and contacted us because we were a SCBWI critique group.

Sorry this is a long story, I’m going into two much detail. But all this to say that once we had this published writer, our group really got going. She shared a lot of information with us, but we started attend SCBWI conferences and we all were progressing in our writing.

We had a few writers come and go through the years, but the four of us remained the core of the group. This group has been my main support for probably the last 10-12 years, although once we all got editors or agents we stopped meeting as regularly. And this past year we have stopped meeting as a group, though we are all still friends in regular touch.

Throughout the years besides this critique group, I have attended several writing retreats and quite a number of conferences. I’ve learned a lot from that.

I have also read a lot of writing books.

I have also written a lot.

noticed over the years that I would learn something from a speaker or a book, but it was take quite a bit of time writing before what I knew in my head showed up in my writing.

3. I’m VERY focused on improving my craft right now. Do you have any recommendations?

You may be already doing these things—my best recommendations for improving craft are

1) join SCBWI and participate on the local level

2) write everyday, even if it’s only ten minutes

3) be in a critique group

I know it’s really hard to find one that is just what you need, but all I can say is keep trying. A good way is to attend a conference, try to meet people and form a group.

Also there are tons of groups on line, which is a great way to test different groups out and see what’s right for you.

4) read tons of new books in the age range and genre that you are writing.

I go to the library and look at all the books in on the “new” shelf. I’ve been doing this for about five years and I would say that after about three years of reading at least a book a week, sometimes two, I have a much better grasp on the kind of book I need to write to get published.

5) If you can afford it, attend a writing conference every year.

4. Do you have any other bits of writing or research wisdom to share?

You probably know this, but writing is REALLY hard. Don’t get down on yourself if you don’t meet your expectations. The best thing you can do is be kind to yourself and be around people who are kind to you.

There is so much rejection involved in this business, you really need a number of people to support you. Some who are writers and some who maybe aren’t writers, but they love you and respect what you’re trying to do.

Reach out.

I think if you can’t reach out when you need help, you will not make it.

With much thanks to Mary Cronk Farrell, that’s it for this first post in 2015. I feel like I’ve been beginning as a writer for more years than I want to admit in public. But I suppose Beginner’s Mind is not always a bad place to be.

Reaching out may be my theme for this year.

Wishing you all your own lovely beginnings.

That new calendar excuse for re-beginning.

That new calendar excuse for re-beginning.

Ivan the Gorilla Was Right After All: How Success Can Sneak Up On You

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In looking back over the past year on my blog, I’ve noticed something that surprised me and made my writing heart happy.

I posted The One and Only Ivan and a Measure of Peace after reading a kid lit book based on his life. The One and Only Ivan is a fictional story about a gorilla based on a true story of an animal I saw as a child in the Tacoma B&I. Katherine Applegate’s story sunk deep into my heart, and I published my review feeling like it was one of my best. No one commented or seemed to notice.

I paused for a bit like I do when I get crickets and then kept writing.

It took me a while to notice, but over the last year and a half Ivan has gotten more hits than any other post. People have viewed it 151 times. Ivan has gotten more views than the nostalgic pictures of Auburn High before the wrecking balls came through this past summer in My Doomed High School (74).

It doesn’t always take this long for others to notice posts I’ve poured my heart into. The Triple Amputation School of Beauty got noticed around the world quite quickly but still does not have as many views as Ivan.

And, honestly, I have no idea why people have been drawn to my posts. The interest in Ivan may have nothing to do with how well I wrote it. Maybe clickers are drawn to the book by an interest Applegate or maybe they just love gorillas. But a little slice of joy lights up inside me whenever I notice that people are still looking at my words about a story that captured me.

In case you want the graphics, here’s the full review of 2014 including a map of the places in the world where people could be reading about a gorilla who once lived in Tacoma, a condemned high school, or a brave woman who lives life to the fullest.

Click here to see the complete report.

I wish you all found memories of your time in 2014 and the years that came before. This year I learned sometimes it takes a while for people to notice when you’ve done your best work.

Besides. Those stats reminded me that even if people never noticed and even if they were only looking for a book review, I would still be glad I wrote about the inestimable Ivan. May you all keep doing whatever it is that brings you slices of joy whether you get crickets or clicks.

The Little Things: How Small Rewards Lead to Big Projects That Get Done

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Writing a novel takes a ridiculously long time. So do many other things that are incredibly worthwhile like raising children, practicing for a concert, or knitting an afghan. (I hope to finish this for my son before he gets too cool for it!)

Q's blanket

To keep myself going, I create small rewards for myself as I go along.

My rational grown up serious brain shakes her finger at me and says fussy things like:

“You shouldn’t need a reward! The work is its own reward! What are you? Some kind of kid who needs a treat for every little thing?”

To which my creative kiddo self says (in a tiny little voice as she kicks the gravel): “Yes?”

More and more of the time I block out the fussy voice and give myself treats.

A few weeks back, I finished a rough draft after about 11 months of work. The book’s not done of course. There will be revising and revising and then more revising. But I resisted the urge to push on and made a treat for myself.

I went to the Seymour Botanical Conservatory on my lunch break that very day. Here’s my Facebook post from that day:

I was typing along this morning when I realized I had finished the first draft of my middle grade novel. To celebrate, I went to Seymour Conservatory today and shelled out the 3 bucks to go inside. The lady there gave me a Ponderosa lemon tree leaf and an Allspice tree leaf. They smell delicious! Plus, I saw another work in progress. I’m trying guess what the chainsaw artist will create. Something with a dolphin…

I also bought glass earrings from the Hilltop Artists inside the conservatory that day. Every time I put them on, I think about finishing my novel and about supporting some other artist out there as a celebration.

For my next bigger reward I’ll buy a print from Summer Kozisek when I finish my focused reading program.

Something about giving money to other artists feels like a call to my own muse.

Other ideas I’ve seen for tiny rewards include keeping calendars or making a small celebration at dinner. I especially like Steven Pressfield’s idea of writing on a paper wall calendar and using check marks and the end of each day. It’s so visual and kinesthetic that it really appeals to me.

I’m scanning the shelves for new wall calendars since it’s almost 2015 and my current cupcake calendar is almost done.

Rewards, after all, need to come daily, not only at the end of big projects.

My treats are marvelous. Sometimes they are even the whole point. Not only does it keep that little gravel kicking kid happy, but the finger shaking lady gets happier, too, when she realizes more gets done in the end.

Besides. What fun is it to be creative without joy? The careless driver at the intersection in front of my work might hit me tomorrow before the novel gets done, the kids are raised or the afghan is knit. I’d like to tell St. Hildegard that I loved the gift of life while I was here.

At the Liberty for Christmas

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“It turns out you play clarinet with my mother!” said the woman I see every morning when I drop my son off at preschool. I thought the new lady who took my place as last chair looked familiar at the practices.

Last Tuesday, I played a Christmas concert in the Puyallup Community Band at the Liberty Theater in Puyallup. The last time I remember being in the Liberty it was a dollar to see a movie. We saw The Natural with Robert Redford that was released in 1984. Yes. It was that long ago.

Much of the woodwork is the same. The theater is still small. The stairs to the women’s bathroom are ridiculously steep and definitely not up to code. Now the place has been remodeled and is known as a wedding venue. And I had a marvelous time in 2014.

At first, I wasn’t sure I would be able to manage. Work wore me out on Tuesday. I went to my mother’s house with the kids for dinner and lay on her couch, mustering the energy to iron my white shirt.

Things got better when I walked in the doors to see the guests finishing their dinners around tables with white linens. It’s hard to be tired in a room full of happy chatting people. I made my way down front where I would sit, starting to wake up a bit.

The woodwinds and small brass sat crammed in a pit with the big brass on the stage behind us. My clarinet playing neighbor had her family handing over the rails into the pit. Her 3 small grandchildren stared down at us while one of them sucked a pacifier.

This made me feel much less annoynymous. Usually I feel hidden behind the flutes with no one looking at me in particular.

Still. The sing alongs gave the audience something to do besides watch my fingers mess up. And I loved the narrated T’was the Night Before Christmas. At times I even could get to that place where I set my thinking aside and let my brain rest into the notes and the intense feeling of togetherness that comes from making music with others.

I left the Liberty full of energy with Sleigh Ride ringing in my ears on a night when I could barely drag myself off the couch to get there. Life can be really fine if you are in a band. Sarah’s mom and I are lucky.

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The Triple Amputation School of Beauty

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(Special Note: I have made an audio of this post so that Carol and others like her can hear my voice rather than Siri’s voice or some other digital voice. If you currently have your vision, I’d challenge you to listen through the words while you close your eyes to get a feel for how Carol might experience the story. You can always open your eyes again to see the pictures after you listen.)

Carol Decker speaking at Bates Technical College

Carol Decker speaking at Bates Technical College

Last week I had the privilege of meeting a gorgeous woman with an even more gorgeous soul. She came to speak to the students I work with at Bates Technical College, and because of this, I have an amazing story to share.

The Months that Changed Her Life

In October of 2007, Carol Decker learned she was pregnant with her second child. Chloe, her oldest was not yet a year old. Up to then, Carol had lived a beautiful life, getting married at 22 to Scott Decker who became a dentist. She worked full time as a medical assistant, had loved to snowboard since she was twelve, and had always been active while growing up with 4 older brothers who taught her to be fearless.

In June of 2008, thirty three weeks into her pregnancy, Carol began to run a fever. Soon her situation became so severe that she went to the hospital where the doctors and health team rushed her into surgery to deliver her baby. She looked at her husband and said goodbye as they wheeled her away. She would not see him again.

Her daughter Sofia was born healthy, but for twenty days the medical professionals kept Carol in a drug induced coma. Scott had to make unbearable decisions to amputate her leg, arm and ring finger on her right hand because her body had become septic — she had an infection that caused her system to stop circulating correctly.

When Carol woke up, she tried to look at the doctor and saw nothing. Her family and medical team learned that she had also gone blind. For weeks after that, she went through a debriding process to remove her damaged skin. Then the doctors ‘harvested’ skin from her back to graft onto those damaged skin areas. The pain was excruciating.

In addition to the strep pneumonia that caused sepsis, she had developed disseminated intravascular coagulation, a condition that created havoc inside her body because the clotting abilities didn’t function correctly. She came close to death countless times.

 

 

Pulling Herself Back Up

When Carol first went home that September, she weighed 90 pounds. Her husband or brothers had to lift her from the bed so that she could go to the bathroom. And she was in agony, mentally and physically. Her two little girls would come to lie next to her while she could do nothing for them.

This — not being able to mother her children — was what broke her heart. And then she dug deep. With the superhuman help of her amazing husband and family, Carol began to use the pain of not being with her children to motivate herself. Her two girls became her reason for life. They were the driving force that pulled her through the months and years of pain and the also excruciating work of rehabilitation.

Six years later, Carol is a speaker, telling others of how she sets and reaches one goal after another. On her birthday in August of 2009 she walked into Wild Ginger on heels. She now helps her children in the kitchen and uses a special tool to cut apples.

She spent a long time, in fact, showing our group the many tools she uses to make her life easier. She showed us her cheetah leg prosthetic, her no-spill bowls, her color reader that electronically tells her the color of her clothing, and told us that she has a talking microwave. In fact, she had a table full of gadgets to share with us.

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Carol’s fantastic gadgets

 

This is NOT the cheetah leg she loves. It's an older version of her prosthetic leg.

This is NOT the cheetah leg she loves. It’s an older version of her prosthetic leg.

Last winter, she was able to go skiing with the help of an organization called Outdoors for All. Being with her family on the mountain that day was a joy that left her lying in the snow after a fall feeling like her life could not possibly get better.

In fact, she says her life now is good. So good that she would not go back to the time before the sepsis if she were given the choice.

 

I sat with over fifty nursing and occupational therapy assistant students and listened to her for an hour. Our attention never lagged in spite of what studies say about our shortened ability to focus. I never saw a person check her phone even though Carol would not have been able to see it to feel slighted.

She ended her talk with powerful life lessons she learned and hoped to pass on to us to bring meaning to her experiences:

Have Courage

If you can get over your fear, you can do anything she said. Carol thought it helped her to have that fearlessness that her brothers had taught her long ago. We all can do with more fearlessness even if we are not faced with the challenges of walking again or negotiating in a world without our vision.

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Ask For and Accept Help

Carol repeats often that she could not do this alone. During her talk, she asked for help twice. Once a student helped when she knocked over a water bottle. Another time, a student helped her with a gadget. She didn’t hesitate to ask, and they didn’t hesitate to help.

Her husband astounds me in what he has done to make her beautiful life possible. He gets her every gadget he thinks will make her life better and does much of the family work that would have fallen on her shoulders if the sepsis had never happened.

I have seen Carol speak before and notice that she always has someone incredible with her. This time her mother-in-law was there. Last time, I met one of her therapists. My colleagues tell me her husband has been to events and also her sister-in-law. She is surrounded by love in the verb form and easily accepts what others offer her in a way that makes her stronger and, I suspect, lifts up those who do the helping.

Carol emphasizes that we all need to let others help us in order to become our best possible selves.

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Carol listens as she is introduced by Lamont Lucas, Diversity/ASG Assistant

 

Let Go and Forgive

Letting go of her past and the way she used to do things allowed Carol to move into the amazing life she has now. She has become extremely flexible in how she manages her everyday tasks. Instead of telling herself she can’t do something, she sets the intention to do it and then problem solves until she finds a way.

Forgiving herself and others for whatever happened in the past has opened her up to the infinite possibilities of today. 

This video about her from KBTC is long. But if you look at minute 18:30, you can see her talk through how she lets go of regrets and then embraces the life she has now.

Live in the Present

In the moment last winter when she fell into the snow with her children and husband on the mountain with her, Carol said she could have easily died a happy woman.

Those experiences, she said, are available to us all at any time if we fully live in the moments.

Have Fun
Carol laughs readily and has what her husband calls ‘infectious optimism.’ She made jokes about her blindness. She can see only occasional flashes of red, white or blue, which, she joked, makes her a patriotic girl.

When we listened to her we could all feel her joy. It was hard not to join in with her even when our hearts broke for what she had been through. Watching her enjoy her life to its fullest, we all wanted to do the same.

Now Carol is working on more speaking engagements and she’s writing a book. 

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Carol’s optimism shows in her smiles.

 

The Big Takeaway

I’ll finish this post by saying that she is one of the most beautiful women I have ever met who is living an astoundingly beautiful life.

A student next to me turned to me after Carol finished speaking. She said, “My life is changed forever.” Mine, too.

I know as I lose my own abilities, I will remember Carol as a model of how to really live. Because, after all, we are all only temporarily ‘abled,’ even if we never experience Carol’s challenges. Eventually our eyesight goes. Our bodies fail us. But we can still live beautiful lives with great courage, the help of others, flexibility and laughter. 

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Carol and Karrie