Learn Kwiker

learn kwiker

Kwik is a perfect last name for a man who devotes his life to helping people learn better and faster. Yes, it’s pronounced like the word “quick.”

Jim Kwik was born in 1973 and when he was around five years old, he suffered a traumatic head injury. It severely set him back in school for years. On his website, he shares that he was known as the “boy with the broken brain.” As he grew older, he became almost obsessed with learning about the best and fastest ways to learn.

Kwik says, “I discovered that, no matter the circumstances, we can rebuild our brains. And after working on myself, I realized my brain was not broken…it just needed a better owner’s manual. This shattered my own limiting beliefs – and over time, it became my passion to help others do the same.”

He is a remarkably interesting guy to listen to. And remember that being a speaking coach, I’m openly biased about who I enjoy listening to. He does speak quickly, and I get the feeling that he’s so excited about sharing his message, that revs him up!

Have you ever listened to a speaker and, although you enjoyed the presentation, you can’t really name one new thought that you’ve learned? I’ve watched presentations that seemed chock-full of aphorisms such as these: You’ve got this! You can do it. Knowledge is power. You’re more than you think you are. But the speaker doesn’t provide a single concrete way to improve your situation.

That’s where Kwik is different. I have passed along (with attribution) several pieces of his wisdom in I classes I’ve taught. Consider this:  When you’re taking a class or listening to a presentation, here’s his way to take notes. Draw a line down the middle of your notepaper. On the left side, jot down thoughts you want to capture. On the right side, in your own words, note how you might use that specific information; consider WHY you would use it or WHEN.

And one of my favorite pieces of advice from Kwik is this: Ask yourself each day, who is counting on me to be my best today? I find that so inspirational because it’s not about me being the best in the world to earn fame or money or power. It’s about being my personal best for the benefit of others.

Kwik has a good bit of free training on YouTube, and he also has a podcast which I’ll link below.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “I’m too old to learn new stuff,” I’m going to challenge you on that assumption. Be compassionate with yourself and allow for the possibility that you are wrong. The world in general, including experts, used to believe that we were born with a certain number of brain cells and that as each year passed, more cells died off, so that each year we got dumber.

Wrong! According to Harvard Health, Dr. Amar Sahay, a neuroscientist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital says, “… the reality is that everyone has the capacity to develop new cells that can help enhance cognitive functions.”

And neuroplasticity, the brain’s lifelong capacity to change and rewire itself in response to the stimulation of learning and experience, means our brains make new connections and build new pathways when we are learning.

So if you didn’t already know that, your brain is working out right now, digesting that new information and figuring out what to do with it!


Jim Kwik podcast

Neuroplasticity article

Death Is No Stranger

death is no stranger

Night Sky. Photographed by Frank Lee Ruggles, January 2021

Death is no stranger to any of us in ordinary times. With Covid still quite visible in our rearview mirror (in the US the 2020 death rate per 1000 people was the highest since 1943), our thoughts may stray to the tenuous hold we have on life.

Two stories this month reminded me to not take my time on earth for granted.

Whenever a celebrity dies suddenly with others in an accident, the news seems to tell the story from every conceivable angle. About the celebrity, that is. But the others who die with the famous person are often shunted aside. Consider the tragic helicopter accident in January 2020 that killed Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. Do you recall the names of the seven other people who died with them in the crash? Neither did I until a singer on America’s Got Talent told the audience that his wife Christina, an assistant basketball coach, died in that accident. The others killed were John, Keri, and Alyssa Altobelli; Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton; and the pilot Ara Zobayan.

Every single life that ended in an instant was just as important as Kobe Bryant’s was.

The second story happened on July 4. A photographer named Frank Lee Ruggles died suddenly and unexpectedly in his sleep; the cause of death has not yet been determined. Although he and his wife Lisa lived in Virginia, I did not know him personally. But I found his photographic work absolutely amazing.

I can’t recall how I first learned about him, but we went to a showing of his work a number of years ago, and I’ve given some of his photographic excellence as gifts to my husband and son-in-law. Frank’s shot of the eclipse hangs in our master bedroom.

His history is a story worth telling and so below I’ve included a link to his beautiful obituary. He served his country as an Amy paratrooper, and he held the position of a federal photographer from 2007-2010 where, on a journey of 100,000 miles across all fifty states, he captured (and that is the absolute best verb to explain his work) America the beautiful.

To quote a portion of the obituary, “Frank continued to serve as the National Artist Ambassador for the National Park Trust; he lectured and taught around the country and is the author of Chasing Light, An Exploration of the American Landscape…Frank went on…to become the Artist Ambassador for the National Park Trust, using his passion for the environment and skills to capture the majesty of the national parks through his lens to share with the world and educate children that we must protect our natural resources for generations to come.

His latest passion project for the last three years was the 79 Years Project. This project consisted of a modern-day reshooting of the Ansel Adams 1941 Photo Murals project, shot-for-shot same days and locations with the same equipment, to show what has changed in the lifespan of the average American.”

A small portion of his memorial service was uploaded online; friends delivering eulogies. There seemed to be an in-joke going on. You see, each of them thought that HE was Frank’s best friend.

And wouldn’t that be a wonderful way to be remembered…that each of your friends thought that he or she was the most beloved of all because of how you treated them?

Yes, indeed, remember that life is short, and we have too little time to gladden the hearts of those who walk this way with us.

Thank you, Frank Lee Ruggles, for gladdening our eyes, hearts,  minds, and souls with your photography.

“I live, eat, breathe and even sleep photography. Photography is life.”  – Frank Lee Ruggles, January 5, 2021


Obituary, Frank Lee Ruggles

Short article from Bioethics Research Library Georgetown University

Matt Mauser’s audition (his wife Christina died in the crash with Kobe Bryant)

Ask And You Shall Receive


You and I have something in common. It is this: There are some things that I can do very well, and there are some things in which I perform terribly.

Here is where I give myself high marks: baking, proofreading, creative thinking, teaching, writing, mothering, and helping people feel welcome. Plus I think I’m pretty funny.

And here is where I recognize my shortcomings: I cannot back up a car for any significant distance or parallel park. (My family has poked fun at me for many years.) I can still get lost driving even with Google maps. I can’t drive a stick shift. (A boyfriend tried to teach me when I was 16. We nearly broke up over it.) Lest you think all of my failings have to do with driving, I am not good at figuring out how things physically work or why they no longer work. I disassembled a double-stick tape dispenser yesterday that was backing up and 22 minutes later I was ready to throw it against the wall.

Wait, here’s something else I excel in: A willingness to ask for help when I need it.

Some of you know my long-time dream of self-publishing a children’s book has nearly reached fruition. Loralynn, my illustrator (and new close friend), is working on the final beautifully artistic pages as you’re reading this. And don’t worry; when it’s printed and up for sale, I’ll be letting you know!

But there have been stops and starts in this project because I didn’t know what I didn’t know about writing and publishing a book. Yes, I researched and studied good resources to be self-taught in the art. But still, I was stymied at certain points.

What saved me from wallowing in self-defeat was reaching out for help. My friend Michelle Coe of BlueSkyPhoenix led me to finding Loralynn. And my friend Scott Harlan of Talk 19 Media provided a link to a company within our county that will be printing the books. Illustrating and printing are two of the most important aspects of getting a finished book in readers’ hands, so this assistance was invaluable to me.

Others, like Cammie Fuller of The Open Book (an independent bookstore in town) and Tyler Ross (local realtor and self-published author of Donkey and the Farm Team), have given freely of their time to answer questions and offer advice. Even a stranger, a friend’s daughter on the West Coast, contributed valuable additions to my knowledge base.

So I would encourage you to go ahead and take on a project that is perhaps out of your comfort zone. It may have taken me TEN years to get this project started, but it will be completed within the ONE-year mark.

There’s a quote on my bulletin board that is attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt.

“Do one thing each day that scares you.” Asking people for help can be a scary step. While we know that we would help anyone who asked us, we hesitate to ask others.

Go ahead. Ask anyhow. And if you ever decide to self-publish a children’s book, feel free to ask me!

PS – More to come on asking for business help in next week’s post.


Eleanor Roosevelt quotes

Link to The Open Book

PS – You can purchase Donkey and the Farm Team through the Open Book! Just type the book’s name in the search field. Please support our independent bookstores!

Rainbow Music

rainbow music

Indoor rainbow – Photo by Norma Thatcher

A signature song. That phrase captures the imagination. It’s defined as the ONE song a successful artist or band is most closely identified with. Some examples are

  • What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
  • I Left My Heart In San Francisco – Tony Bennett
  • YMCA – The Village People
  • Piano Man – Billy Joel
  • Moon River – Andy Williams

Judy Garland’s signature song was Over the Rainbow from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. (Music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by E.Y. (Yip) Harburg)

Do you suppose there is anyone reading this post who is NOT familiar with that song? In 2001 Over the Rainbow was voted the greatest song of the 20th century by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry of America.

Why is it so popular? What is it that makes us like it so darned much? How can it have not only endured but prospered after 82 years?

Professor of music Walter Frisch (who wrote a book about the song) believes, “The song’s mix of hope and anxiety has allowed people to read into it their own concerns.” It’s a universally appealing song.

Based on the comments found on YouTube for various covers of the song, people have their own interpretation of the emotions the song brings forth. Here’s a partial listing: Hope, sadness, loss, yearning, escape, a leap of faith, optimism, happiness, courage, daring, healing, solidarity, and reassurance. Quite the diverse list!

Over the Rainbow has been sung at weddings and at funerals. People play it at graduation parties. And it has been on NASA’s playlist to wake up astronauts!

Katherine McPhee sang it sitting on the floor as an American Idol finalist in 2006.  And she and her husband David Foster just uploaded a new informal version of it in April to help raise funds for the Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County, Texas.

There is a light and upbeat version of it by Hawaiian singer Israel (Iz) Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole that has smashed records. It has been in the top ten on Billboard’s World Digital Song Sales for 541 weeks! The video, which is a mashup of Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World, has been viewed on YouTube over a billion times.

But my favorite cover is a soulful rendition by a once relatively unknown singer named Eva Cassidy. She was local to the DC Metro Area, and the link below is restored footage of her singing live at the Blues Alley Jazz Club in DC in 1996, ten months before she died at the age of 33 of malignant melanoma. If you click on only one of my links today, make it hers.

The “words guy” for Over the Rainbow, Yip Harburg, had this quote that sums it up: “Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.”


Israel (Iz) Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole, mashup of Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World

Katharine McFee Foster, Over the Rainbow April 2021  (Note: The song starts at 1:42.)

Eva Cassidy, Over the Rainbow January 1996

PBS clip on why Over the Rainbow endures (you’ll need to scroll down the article to the video and then endure an ad)

Petals of Our Lives

swirling petals

Photo by Julie Busony

I’m convinced there are many astounding views of life we miss seeing simply because we’re not paying enough attention.

Case in point: Stop and watch this 26-second video I shot at the park last week so that the rest of this post will make sense. (But come right back or my feelings will be hurt.)

We had just finished making the rounds at the park, and my dog Grace wanted to walk in the park’s creek. As she was snooping around in the shallow water, I stood still. That’s when I noticed the swirling eddy of flower petals with several green leaves nestled in on top.

And this thought came to me: Surely this is a metaphor for life. The petals represent the people in our lives. Some closer to the center stay near to our personal orbit as our days turn to weeks, months, and years. Their actual position may change but they remain in our inner circle.

Some farther out toward the edge may be with us for a shorter time and have less impact, and then they drift away to influence others.

And some touch our life for just a moment before breaking off. Only on the periphery, perhaps having a marginal influence on us, still…for that moment they were a part of our individual world.

Regardless of the length of their stay or their closeness or distance, we should not underestimate the influence that any of these petals, er, people have on us. I’m hoping that right now your mind has jumped to images of people who made a positive impact on you, and that’s good.

But I’m sure we can all look back and find people in our past that we wish we hadn’t encountered. That terrible boss who couldn’t manage his way out of a paper bag? The supposed friend who betrayed a serious confidence? The business acquaintance who stole an idea, claiming it for her own? I’m sure you can add your own list of nefarious folks.

We don’t like to remember those people, but guess what? The impact they left helped shaped us into the people we are today just as surely as the wonderful people have.

About ten years ago a community program tagged me to help a single mom with a teenager who had some special problems. I did my absolute best and believed I was making a positive impact on both of them. That blew up when the mom made accusations that I was trying to sabotage her, that I put her down. Even though she was accusing some other community members of similar actions, I couldn’t find solace in numbers. I was devastated that I had been falsely accused.

Fortunately, I had a wonderful mentor at the time. When the story came pouring out of me (I was mad, hurt, embarrassed, ashamed of failing, etc.), so did the tears. When I ran out of words, my mentor paused and said, “What a gift that woman gave you…the opportunity to triumph through an adversity. Let it go.”

I hadn’t thought of that story in years. When I started writing this post, I had no clue it would end up here. I write where the Spirit leads, and so sometimes I’m just as surprised as my readers!

Grouse, Grumble, and Gripe

Grouse grumble gripe

Ordinary, run-of-the-mill griping. We’re all guilty of it. We complain about the cold temperatures of winter, yet when the first humid day of summer hits, we whine about how humidity sucks the life from us. Or at the least, turns our hair frizzy.

We know our land needs rain, yet when the downpours arrive, we fuss over the inconvenience of how wet and muddy the yard is.

We moan about the people who stock up to the point of selfishness and create shortages in toilet paper, paper towels, and most recently, gasoline.

We may speak ad nauseam about the bosses who overwork us while they underpay us and fail to appreciate our true worth to the company.

Sometimes I catch myself complaining and wish I could figure out how to slap myself.

I’m sitting outside in the shade on a perfect Sunday afternoon as I write this. There’s enough of a breeze to seriously ruffle the pages of my writing tablet. The dog lies at my feet in Zen-like quietness, hoping to assuage the squirrels’ cowardice enough to lure them closer within pouncing range. The male red-winged blackbird sits on top of the wrought-iron hook that holds the feeder, serenading us before he hops down to the perch to snack on seed.

Being grateful for this—just this small peaceful moment in time—is where I need to divert my focus instead of on what’s NOT perfect in my life.

It’s easy to get distracted, to drift toward the negative, and I need to keep rowing against that tide. Because I know how easy it is to get pulled along in negativity.

I don’t believe any of us intends to be constantly mired in unpleasant thoughts or feelings. We just lose our intentionality and slip into it.

No matter what your personal situation is at the time you’re reading this post (and I do know that at least three of my readers are in the middle of serious health issues), take a breath and then look around you.

And I pray you will find a tiny spark of happiness and gratitude in first, being able to actually take a breath and then to see something that (or someone who) brings you joy.

For that moment, know you are blessed.



Lend Me A Hand, Please

Lend me a hand

Have you ever given much thought to how important your hands are?

Last week I taught a class on the effective impact that body language has on a successful presentation. One aspect that novice speakers seem to have the most difficulty in managing is their hands. Those body parts at the ends of our arms can help us relay our message, so why stuff them into your pockets or let them dangle by your sides?

And that got me thinking about all the ways we use our hands.

We wave both hello and goodbye. We make a heart shape to signal “I love you.” We touch our lips and extend our hands outward to throw a kiss. In non-COVID times, we shake hands with our customers. During COVID times, we make the 1970 hippy peace sign during the “passing of the peace” at church.

Unofficial sign language can be read by our hand motions to come forward, to stop, to speed up, or slow down.

Gardeners plant seeds and pull weeds. Costume designers feed material through on a sewing machine. My friend pieces together the clothing of a deceased loved one to produce a memory bear. A waiter or waitress writes down our order and then places our food in front of us.

Players throw a baseball, catch a football, and shoot a hockey puck. Jugglers juggle. Magicians amaze us as they perform sleight of hand tricks.

If we don’t want to see something, we cover our eyes with our hands. And if we don’t want to hear something, we cover our ears.

I can think of some contradictions: We can use our hands to write a message of love on a Mother’s Day card or use them to hold a phone while we spew a text message or Facebook post filled with hate. We can lift a baby into the air or lift a rock and throw it to break a window. We can carry a bouquet of flowers or a weapon. We can strum a guitar, play Beethoven’s 5th on a piano, beat on drums, or beat down another human being. A maestro uses his hands to conduct a symphony, and a rioter directs an insurrection by holding a bullhorn.

Use your hands to apply sunscreen on yourself or to peel someone else’s sunburn. (Or am I the only person who likes to do that?)

Fingerpaint, paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (oh wait, that’s already been accomplished), or spray paint graffiti on an outside wall.

Babies hold a security blanket and drivers hold the steering wheel (preferably at 10 and 2).

We use our hands to care for ourselves from brushing our teeth, lathering up in the shower, toileting tasks, combing our hair, buttoning our shirts, and tying our shoes.

Our hands are instrumental in both writing a children’s book and illustrating one.

We wring our hands when we’re in distress, and we use them to wipe the tears of someone else in distress.

Our hands come together in applause for a speaker we enjoy, and they take notes so we may recall the speaker’s message.

These are just some of the ways our hands have a language of their own. Why then, when we’re giving a speech, would we NOT want to take advantage of enhancing our message with our hands? Let your hands help deliver your message.

And please,  let it be a kind one.


Adorable nine-year-old girl named Nandi playing the drums on Ellen. If you don’t like drum music, at least watch the interview!

M.C. Escher, Drawing Hands from 1948

Beethoven’s 5th 


On Being Easter People

Easter People

Photo by Norma Thatcher

Dear Readers, today’s post is a Lenten reflection video I recorded for my church, St. James’ Episcopal, Warrenton, VA. If instead of reading this post you prefer to watch the video, you can do so here.

If you would rather read it, the text is below.

Father Ben has reminded us in the past that as Christians, responsible for God’s reputation in our world today, we need to be Easter People, not just during the spring, but throughout the year.

As Easter People, we believe Jesus was crucified, that He conquered death, that the Resurrection was real, and that Jesus ascended to be with God the Father the Creator and will someday return in glory.

Until I became an Episcopalian thirty-five years ago, I hadn’t paid much attention to Holy Week. The denominations of the Christian churches I attended through the first third of my life celebrated Palm Sunday with gusto and then the following Sunday, like magic, taa daa, it was Easter!

But the pathos of Holy Week cannot and must not be ignored. The tragic events of Holy Week, leading up to the joy of Easter, are an integral part of our Easter People story.

Omitting the events of those Holy Week days from our Easter People story would be like me sharing my own life story and telling you ONLY about the joyous highlights, skipping over entirely the tragedies that have had so much to do with shaping me into the person I am today.

When we think about the worst moments of our life, emotions spill over. We don’t want them, we may beg to wish them away, we ask for a re-do. We question how a loving God could inflict such awfulness upon us. And no one has the answers. What is true, though, is that without those terrible events in our lives, we would not be who we are.

Likewise, without our focus on the fear, sadness, suffering, abandonment, outrage, denial, brutality, grief, and despair of Holy Week — without deep consideration on all of those aspects — we are less than fully engaged Easter People.

This suncatcher in the photo above represents to me what being an Easter Person means. In the center are the dark stones above that huge teardrop that captures all of the tragedy that Jesus endured. Yes, we need to remember and talk about the tears.

But encircling the tears are the bright jewels of joy and hope and belief that we are loved beyond measure, freely forgiven, and promised a new life after our earthly one ends.

And the beam of sunlight that runs diagonally through both the tears and the joy? Well, that’s a reminder that the Holy Spirit is within our hearts to sustain us through the difficult times and dance with us in our moments of joy.


“May God grant you always…A sunbeam to warm you, a moonbeam to charm you, a sheltering Angel so nothing can harm you.

Laughter to cheer you. Faithful friends near you. And whenever you pray, Heaven to hear you.”      an old Irish Blessing

Time For The Telling

Time for the telling

This story has waited for three years. God’s time says today is the day to tell it.

During the Christmas season of 2017, my cousin Beth emailed me with thanks.

She began, “Thank you for empowering me to speak.”

Beth had attended a Christmas gathering of an interfaith community group. Some members had known each other for years and were obviously quite comfortable with one another. But among the newcomers Beth noticed a couple that she knew had lost their 20-year-old daughter Emily a few years back to a heroin overdose.

Emily’s dad was sitting next to Beth and around them swirled a buoyant conversation about the birth of children as there was an about-to-deliver-any-day expectant mom sitting at the same table. Happiness rebounded as one after the other moms told the story of their child’s birth.

The dad sat silent, perhaps living through memories of his daughter’s death. Beth thought about how painful this must be for him. Then Beth remembered a conversation that she and I had concerning the death of a child. I had shared that it’s so important for parents to continue to hear their deceased child’s name and have them brought up in conversation. The loss of a child is a wound that is always there, but it’s made worse when others tiptoe around seemingly trying to avoid saying the child’s name.

Knowing that Emily had been adopted, Beth took a deep breath and risked asking the dad how old Emily had been when they adopted her. His face lit up and said, “Just 18 days old.” Then Beth asked to hear the story of Emily’s adoption, and he seem so pleased to relive all of the happy details.

Beth’s email to me closed with this thought: I don’t think I would have risked “opening his wound” by mentioning Emily if my conversation with you had not convinced me that those wounds are always open, but the pain is never being able to talk.

So, to my friends Linda and Jenn, on the 13th and 10th anniversaries of the loss of your beautiful children, let me say their names here:

Kristin and Jacob, you will never be forgotten; you will be loved for always and forever.

Tap Tap Tap

tap tap tap

My friend Ken shared this story of his five-year-old great-niece Eloise:

The occasion was the funeral of Ken’s elderly mother (Eloise’s great-grandmother). As the family made their way to the front of the church, there was a bit of concern as to how Eloise would react to the solemn service.

Once seated, one of Eloise’s other great-uncles turned around and sweetly told her, “Listen, honey. If at some point during the service you feel as though you’ve had enough, just tap me on the shoulder and say you’re ready to go, and I’ll take you out. OK?”

Eloise, precocious for her age, solemnly nodded her understanding of his offer.

A few minutes later, the organist began playing the first hymn. The great-uncle felt a tap-tap-tap on his shoulder, and Eloise announced, “I’m ready.”

“I’m ready.” What a strong and definitive statement. I’m ready so let’s get going! Oh, how many instances in conversations with myself do I waffle about completing something?

Tomorrow. Or maybe next week. What the heck; February is half over already? Well, the first of next month for sure. Just as soon as I get that other project done, I’ll work on this one. Really. I mean it.

Currently, I have a project that has a deadline. I’ve been working on it for, well, a long time. I’m still piddling around, not making much headway. And it’s what I term a “happy” project so it’s not as if I’m dreading the work.

After some soul searching, here’s what is holding me up: I’m at the point where I need to ask other people for some help, for guidance. Why do I dread asking for help? I’m positive that the people will say yes. And if they say no, it will be because they know someone else who is better equipped to help, and I’ll get a referral.

I often help other people, so I know how good it feels just to be asked to share expertise and it feels even better to provide help. So what’s the deal?

Eloise, you’ve inspired me. I’m ready. I’m ready to make those phone calls asking for help.

Yes, I’m ready. Tap-Tap-Tap


A wonderful story of a man who was ready to take action