Connector Beth

Non-profit professional. Care deeply about family, friends and community. Love to problem-solve. Love to laugh. Love to read. Love to learn.

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Lessons I Have Learned From Junior Achievement and From Luke

Many of you know I have volunteered for Junior Achievement for several years. This entails me going into my friend Luke Merchlewitz’s 2nd-grade classroom 5 times during the school year (generally, within a one-month span) and talking to his students about what it means to be part of a community. Junior Achievement (JA) is a volunteer-delivered program that shares – in a very interactive way – information about work-readiness, financial literacy and the importance of staying in school to students kindergarten through grade 12. 

It’s such a great program! The volunteers have great materials to share, and the students love having the volunteers join them for 20 or minutes a week.

The “Our Community” unit has five sections. I must say, I have learned many more life lessons during these years of presenting this information in Luke’s classroom.

The top 10 are:

A community is place where we live, work and play together. To me, “together” is the key word. By the end of our shared time, the students also think that’s the most important.

Teamwork is very important. The students learn about making a product by themselves as compared to working together. They learn pretty quickly that working together in a team is much more effective and efficient, plus they get to know each other.

Volunteers are people who help others, but they don’t get paid. However, volunteers receive compensation far beyond money in the bank. They know they have helped people or organizations, learned new skills, met new people, and made a difference in the community.

You need to be creative to engage your audience. This is something I learned from watching Luke interact with his students. It applies to all of us who are speakers, teachers, etc. One approach does not fit all. Droning on and on does not work. For a student (be they a second-grader or an adult) to learn, they need to drawn in, engaged, and given information that meets their needs.

It’s important to participate. They say that decisions are made by those who show up. One of our JA lessons focuses on voting on an issue (in this case, which business should come to the community – a pet store, a music store, or a toy store?). When we move ahead in life, we are given many opportunities to participate – whether it is voting in an election, writing letters to editor, joining community groups, or giving input on issues that are happening in our community. If we don’t show up and participate, it’s not fair if we criticize the outcome.

Make good choices. Be informed about the choices you are making in community life. In personal life, make choices that will not harm yourself or others.

Everything is a teachable moment. When we tally votes or results from our JA lessons, Luke writes the results on the smart board. Often, the students add up the numbers while also participating in the lesson. It makes sense – why just look at the surface issue, when you can learn much more about what surrounds it?

Share the wonder and appreciate the little things in life. The 7- and 8-year-olds in this class are so excited about the smallest things….having a visitor in class….. getting a sticker for participating…..learning something new. That’s a good lesson for all of us. No matter how small, every action can have a positive effect. It’s sometimes hard to see and appreciate this, but it’s a good thing to do.

Keep your promises. Show up when you say you are going to. Do what you say you are going to. At the end of lesson 4, Luke told the students we would do something specific and special at the end of the fifth session, and we did……

It’s always good to dance. We promised the students that when we were done with the last lesson, we would sing and dance to a video of Pharrell William’s “Happy.” (As you know, it’s my newest anthem.) Sure enough, when we were done, Luke pulled up a YouTube video of Chinese preschoolers dancing to the song. And the second graders danced and sang. Their teacher danced and sang. And their JA volunteer danced and sang. It was delightful.

What lessons have YOU learned from second-graders and their friends?


Proud To Be From Fargo. Always Have Been. Always Will Be.

Fargo was in the news again tonight, to the surprise of many people. Although, not to the surprise of people who live there or are from there and will always have Fargo in their hearts.

People who have never been there or have never met people from there don’t often “get it.” Often, the only things they know come from the movie (which wasn’t actually set there) or from The Weather Channel (ok, to be fair, the climate in Fargo and the surrounding region truly is harsh, both winter and summer, leading some of our mothers – ok, mine – hi, Mom! – to talk about “coming from sturdy stock.”)

But there is so very much more to Fargo. The national obsession with sports is actually a good way to ease people into thinking that Fargo and its residents are truly legit.

Just a few years after moving up to NCAA Division 1 status (mostly, originally, for the prowess of the football team), the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Bison played their first game in an NCAA March Madness tournament against the Oklahoma Sooners. The game was close, both ways, for most of the game. At the very end, it looked like the Herd was going to lose. Until they didn’t. At the last possible moment, they scored, to tie the game and send it into overtime.

OMG. I thought all my online friends (and we) were going to spontaneously combust. Or something. But we didn’t. Because we who are largely of Scandinavian-Lutheran descent don’t actually show our feelings to anyone. We Feel Deeply, But No One Actually Knows It.

In overtime, the Bison simply played better. And ended up winning by 5 points!!!! First time in the tournament, against a formidable opponent, and they won! When the coach was asked, “What does this win mean for your team?” he simply responded, “It means we get to keep playing.” Ecstatic, but modest. Of course.

This year, the NDSU athletic teams have rocked. And put Fargo on the national stage. The football team was featured last fall on ESPN’s “Game Day Saturday,” the smallest city the show has broadcast from. The team went on to win their third-in-a-row (oh, yeah, three-peat!!!) D1 national championship.

So, yes, we love our Bison, for so many reasons. (Disclaimer: most of my family and friends have been associated with NDSU in some way or another. Even I, the loyal Cobber, took several courses there in my journalism major…..) But we love our native city, for so many more reasons.

First, it was a pretty idyllic place to grow up. It was safe. People knew each other. We had great schools. Even though I have been gone for almost 20 years, I still consider some of the people I grew up with and got to know as an adult working professional to be some of my closest friends.

Secondly, the growth they have experienced the past decade or so is beyond amazing. There are people who have put their heart and soul (and pocketbook) into the area, to ensure that the community is viable, growing and vibrant – economic development has been incredible. Unemployment is exceptionally low (Cass County, ND, has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country), the downtown has been re-vitalized (and more!), job growth (including professional and technical positions) is terrific, etc. 

And, seriously, the people there are really nice. And kind. And smart. And sturdy 🙂

I love living in Winona,and we have made a great life for our family here. At the same time, I am always grateful I grew up in (and spent the beginning of my adult life in) Fargo. I’m proud of the people and the community. 

Cold hands, but warm hearts. Seriously.

OK, enough emoting. Must stop letting people know I even have emotions.

P.S. Bison Nation Rules! And Fargo is pretty cool, for sure, you betcha!


Anthems for the Season

Hopefully, this will be my very last post referencing the Winter That Would Not End.

I have discovered that it is helpful to have an anthem for various things going on in your life, or various seasons in your life. I have had an annual anthem for the past several years. We don’t need to talk about them now. I would like to talk about my two latest anthems, though.

They both have to do with this winter. The first one has to do with the winter past, and the second one with winter-ending-very-soon. Their messages are both inspirational; their songs are both very sing-able; and the second one (‘Happy”)…. well, if you don’t start dancing to it whenever and wherever you hear it, I’m not quite sure what is wrong with you. Just saying.

They both were Academy Award nominees (and you know I have a special place in my heart for anything that’s up for an Oscar!). The funny/cool thing is that they are both featured songs in children’s animated videos for 2013. So they are safe, and positive, and upbeat. All the kiddos I know (including my 2nd-grade Junior Achievement students) LOVE them!

         I’m not so good at this technology stuff, so at this point, you need you go to YouTube.Com and type in “Let it Go              Frozen” to see and hear the amazing song (at some point in the near future, I plan to make this blog technically            beautiful…. Promise!

Husband Bill was watching “Glee” last night (yeah, I know… right?) in the kitchen while I was grading university student papers in the living room. The “Glee” cast started singing “Happy.” Yikes. My feet and legs and hips and arms had no choice but to start dancing. Seriously. They could not help themselves. I had to tell Bill to turn off the TV so I could concentrate on work! He didn’t, which is why I was up until all hours.. but it’s ok. The song is that cool.

        And now, you need to head to again, and type in “Happy.” You will be glad you did. And – again –             soon I will be more tech-savvy and able to make this site more user-friendly.

If you go to YouTube and watch these videos, you will not be sorry. Instead, you will be inspired, and you will probably have no choice but to dance. I promise.





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Creativity Knows No Bound(arie)s

I admit that we watch a lot of – maybe too much – TV. I tend to watch programs on a very few networks (the non-cable, public ones, plus HGTV, Food Network, and a few news channels). My husband Bill is more adventurous (or more bored some evenings). 

He loves finding new shows… focusing on nature, history, etc. But especially…. the reality shows. I understand his love for “Survivor.” He has watched every episode of every season, mostly because he and his work supervisor always have a friendly wager; whoever picks the season’s winner gets treated for lunch by the other. It’s fun, it’s become a tradition, and it gives them something to bond about throughout the season.

And – side note – “Survivor” proved to be something that helped Bill cope with my cancer journey 10 years ago. He learned that “Survivor” offered their “buffs” (those teeny tiny articles of clothing the contestants wear as headbands, scarves, sometimes even bikini bottoms) for sale online. He made his first, and only, online purchase then – he ordered a set of buffs from the first 6 seasons and gave them to me to wear when I had lost my hair after chemotherapy. I proudly and gratefully wore them with baseball caps every day for about 6 months.

Some of his other finds? Eh…… Last summer, he and his brothers discovered “Naked and Afraid” while we were at a week-long Moe family reunion in northern Wisconsin. The producers send a man and a woman off to some deserted island, with no clothing, no food, no anything…. and they have to figure out how to survive. What I found most disconcerting about this show is that the men are generally about 15-20 years older than the women. What was second-most disconcerting to me is that they have about a million re-runs of every episode. If you liked it, you can watch it again. And again. And again. If you missed it… hey, no problem! It will be on again. Yuck.

But what Bill found this past weekend while channel-surfing is almost beyond words. And, yet, I feel the need to describe it. It’s called “Double Divas,” and it features women who are bra-fitters by training and lingerie designers by trade. I know that bra-fitters are respected professionals and have helped many women throughout the decades, and I know that this is a service that is very needed.

These women, though, were….ummmmm…. a little different than anyone I have encountered in that profession. Definitely rough around the edges (the tank tops they wear to work, that show off their amazingly creative tattoos they have on most exposed flesh, might be the first clue)….. definitely traditionally rural Southern accents (they live somewhere in Georgia). When they go on vacation, they travel with tote bags filled with bras, tape measures, etc., and they make sure no woman in their vicinity is not treated to their professional ideas.

The other night, we watched spell-bound (for lack of a better word) as these women found correctly fitting undergarments for (female, in most cases) professional wrestlers, rap singers, women who performed as mermaids in underwater shows, etc. The most unusual part was the couple who are both transgender. ( I am sensitive to the fact that so many people are born into bodies or beings they are not comfortable with or are meant to be with….These comments are not about the people who were featured on the show, by any means.) I’ve never been so confused. The wife was born a man and is now a woman (and a gorgeous woman she is!). The husband was born a woman and is now a man (very handsome!) and is expecting their second child. Although he is quite pregnant, he wanted to look like he has a man’s chest. not a woman’s. The Double Divas were able to help him. Everyone was happy.

Personally, I prefer a wonderfully written and directed TV drama, or investigative news show (or something hilarious, like “Big Bang Theory” or “Modern Family”). I understand, though, that reality TV is much less expensive to produce and makes a much larger profit for all those concerned. These shows would obviously not be produced if they didn’t have the ratings. Which leads me to wonder….. why haven’t I come up with some amazingly creative ideas for TV reality shows, that would lead me to huge fame and great fortune? Oh, well. Maybe one of these days……

Enjoy the warm-ish, spring-ish weather, friends!




I Don’t Mean to be Cheeky, and You Might Not Like This in the End……

….enough with the puns (although they drew you in,didn’t they??? Come on – admit it – it’s ok!). March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. That’s serious stuff, and it means a lot to me to be able to share this information with you.

You are probably wondering why I care so passionately about this. First of all, it’s almost totally preventable. Secondly, I have a very deep family history around this disease. This is one of those illnesses that often has a strong family component.

It’s all very icky to talk about, but it’s important to talk about. Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States among cancers that affect both men and women. Each year, 140,000 are diagnosed with it in the US, and 50,000 people die from it.

But here’s my point… I said earlier, it’s almost totally preventable….. as long as you have the appropriate screenings for it. It’s extremely unlikely (seriously, my friends!) you will die of colon cancer if you have preventative screenings……

So, let’s talk about “the procedure,” the actual colonoscopy. Guess what? It is not nearly as horrible or as yucky as you would imagine. Please trust me on this. The prep for it…. legends of horror are told about it, but seriously? Ehh….. when it comes right down to it. It is not a major life crisis. Liquid diet for a couple days, and drinking something icky for a few hours…. that’s about it …. if you can’t take that, come and see me, friend, to talk about true deprivation and horror!

And when it comes to the actual procedure, you are tired, you are given medication so you don’t remember what actually occurred. Beforehand, you are covered with nice warm blankets. During it, there are wonderful medical personnel taking care of you. Afterwards, you wake up (covered with the same lovely warm blankets) surrounded by people who want to make sure you are ok and that you get to eat some yummy toast and drink some amazingly tasty cranberry or orange juice.

If you’re lucky, like most people, the doctor comes in to tell you he/she won’t see you for another 10 years. If you’re not quite so lucky, the doc tells you he/she found a few polyps but was able to take care of them and will see you again in 5 or 3 years, or 1 year….

It’s extremely rare where the doctor comes back and tells you anything more tentative and/or scary than this. Even if that’s the message, there are so many options these days…. no matter what, you will always be in caring hands.

Most people aren’t comfortable about having – much less talking about – having this procedure. Me? I have no problem telling the world I had three such procedures by the age of 50. (The worst part is telling the world I am at least 50!) Since I have a strong family history of this illness, I was planning to have my first procedure about 42 or 43; because of other major medical issues during that time that ate up my insurance deductible 🙂 I decided that December 2004 was the magical first procedure.

I was sad, but not surprised, that I had polyps. So I was on the 5-year plan at that point (as compared to the normal young-to-middle-aged 10-year plan). December 2009, I had my second procedure; polyps again. Depending on biopsy results, it would either be 1 or 3 years before I needed to come back. Three years, it was, and I was a happy camper. December 2010……. and we are back to 5 years since everything was clean. This is great news, and I am so happy.

I tell you this, not because I love talking about my medical history, but because I think – and know – it is so important to be screened for this type of cancer when it is appropriate for you…. at 50, for sure. Unless you have family history that would lead you to be screened earlier.

You need to be screened. At some point. You will not regret it. And your family will be grateful that you are healthy.

It’s so important. Trust me. I know what I’m talking about.

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We All Had a Little Spring in our Steps Today!

Wow! And wow! Just can’t stop exclaiming, “Wow!”

Today’s weather was so welcome after the winter we have had. OK, other adjectives for the winter of 2013-14 to date would probably include horrid, horrific, beyond-believable, disgusting, historic, abhorrent, really???, appalling…. and on and on……

And that’s fair, and valid. This has been a winter to remember. You probably know we moved here from Fargo in 1995 (yes, That Fargo!)… for the most part, our winters have been much kinder than those in Fargo. Except that winter (1995-96), which “they” are comparing to this winter. And this winter…… we have actually some days had worse weather than Fargo. And, truly?, that is saying something.

So, to get to the point….. this has been a winter that even die-hard Fargo people have struggled with. 

But today…. today…. I can’t even begin to talk about today. OK, yes, I can! This morning, I opened up the sliding doors to let the dogs out and realized my skin was not freezing…..and the wind was not blowing…. It was such a wonderful moment. And moments like these occurred everywhere, throughout the day.

Instead of looking down while walking slowly through parking lots (so they could keep their faces from freezing, and their feet from slipping), people walked bravely, briskly and with their heads up to their cars and were chatting with their neighbors as they were doing so.

These attitudes and postures were completely differently from those displayed just several days ago.

We have hope – and crossed fingers – that spring will soon be upon us. And that our parking lots, roads and driveways will be clear of snow. And that we will not worry about slipping on the ice. And that we and our dogs will no longer track in snow, ice and dirt.

And – most of all – that what we know as spring will very quickly arrive, to give us all a happy break 🙂

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What’s the Greatest Thing You Are Willing to Sacrifice for Lent?

Today, as you probably know, was Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter, and it’s a reminder for Christians of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert before his crucifixion. Many Christians – in particular, those who are Catholic – make sacrifices and give up something meaningful to them during this time.

The entire Mardi Gras experience, played out yearly in New Orleans, is a prelude to Lent. For about a week before Ash Wednesday, the city goes crazy with parties, parades and feasts. The day before Ash Wednesday is “Fat Tuesday” (“Mardi Gras” is the French version of the phrase), meaning that it’s the last day before the 40 days of sacrifice, fasting and repentance. It refers to a day (sometimes also called “Shrove Tuesday”) where people eat as much as they can, to make up for the next 6 or so weeks of deprivation.

At midnight on Ash Wednesday in New Orleans, the carnival atmosphere abruptly ends, in order to prepare for the most holy season for Christians.

As I said earlier, this is often a time for believers in this particular faith tradition to make sacrifices. As a life-long Lutheran, I never was called upon to do this. But my Catholic friends – then and now – did and do. They often give up favorite foods, such as meat, sweets, coffee or pop (soda, for those of you not from the Upper Midwest). Or they give up favorite activities, such as TV, the internet, Facebook, etc. They may also give up other creature comforts during this time; I read today about a young woman who will not use a mirror until Easter.

I admire the willingness of people to sacrifice for something that is much larger than any of us. When reflecting on this, I began to wonder what would be an enormous sacrifice – something to give up – for me or for many other people I know.

Chocolate? That would be easy for me. Truly.  I know that’s strange, but I have never been a sweet-eater. Meat? That would be a little more difficult, but I could do it. TV and social media? Quite difficult; very difficult. Reading newspapers, books or magazines? That would be very painful.

Then I thought about the most common issue I hear about from people I know. Time. Time is a precious commodity, and we all seem to not have nearly enough of it (future blog post – there have always been 24 hours in a day – why do we seem to be more stretched today than ever before?). 

To me – and many others – sacrificing some time during the next 40 days would be very difficult. And that’s why I am encouraging you to think about doing so. Sacrifice and giving are not only good for personal growth, but giving of one’s time and talent on a regular basis can have an enormous impact in the lives of others and in the health of a community.

If you are not part of this faith tradition, please consider doing this anyway. Spring is a brand-new season, and a season of hopefulness and anticipation. No matter what, this challenge can lead to only positive results.

Here are some ways I would challenge you to give up a little time each day:

* Reach out to encourage someone every day for the next 40 days. 

* Send someone a note of thanks or appreciation each day during this time. It’s easy enough to set up a system; simply grab some notecards and stamps, plus your address book. Or even consider dropping someone an appreciative e-mail every day. It takes only a few minutes, but committing to do it every day for 40 days is definitely a stretch.

* Do a “random act of kindness” each day.

* Spend 15 minutes more each day in meditation or prayer.

* Find a way to volunteer more frequently during this time.

* Make all the phone calls and set up the lunch/coffee appointments with the people to whom you have been saying, “Yeah, we should definitely get together.”

When I started thinking about this concept, I did some research. As it turns out, I am not the first person to think of this. And that’s ok. This idea of sacrificing time (rather than pleasure) is becoming more mainstream. I deeply admire those who give up pleasure during these 40 days. At the same time, I am excited to be among those who are willing to give up precious moments in the day to reach out to others. (Yep, that’s my goal – a note to someone each day until Easter, whether via e-mail, snail mail or phone – and I will keep you updated on my progress toward this goal.)

What ideas do YOU have to sacrifice your time daily for the next 40 days?

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What’s YOUR Academy Awards speech?

Don’t know if you knew this about me, but I am a little dramatic (at least in my own mind, not necessarily on stage). I can already hear the cries of “No way, Beth – we had no idea!”

I’ve always loved watching the Academy Awards (Oscars, in references going forward). Always. Besides the spectacle, the gorgeous clothes, the tales about over-the-top parties, the best thing for me has been the speeches. “And I’d like to thank…..” “And you know who you are…..” For good or bad, those speeches have been what every winner has always really really hoped to say at some point.

When I became involved in public relations many years ago, I always had a niggling idea in the back of my head that Some Day, That Might Be Me. Unrealistic? Sure. Fun to play around with? Absolutely.

(At this point, I want to send a huge shoutout to my brother Jon. During the time he owned a retail apparel company, he had contracts with the TV networks and the movie studios. One of the coolest family times we had was when “Titanic” was up for – and won – a gazillion Oscars. The Friday night before the event, he needed to ship mugs, hats, etc. to hundreds of distributors of the movie. We all pitched in – Mom entered the invoices, I entered the info for the invoices, Bill and Dad and Jon filled the orders, and Nic made sure each order was placed in the right spot for the shipping pickup. It was a great night!)

The first thank-you speech tonight, by Best Actor Jared Leto (from Dallas Buyers Club) was the most moving one we have ever seen (my husband and I agreed). It honored his mother, his family, his co-workers, and the people who are like those who appeared in that film. 

I have come to accept that I will probably never receive an Oscar (but, hey, it could still happen), but I did have the opportunity to make the same sort of speech seven years ago. In November 2007, I was honored to be named the Spirit of Winona, an award sponsored by several local organizations. When I received the news, I was confused, excited and nervous… all at the same time. 

There was a luncheon. There were more than 100 people there. They were all my friends, family and colleagues. The best part wasn’t receiving the award (although that was awesome!). The best part was being able to deliver my Oscar speech. I had the opportunity to reflect on how I was so fortunate to end up there, and to thank the people who made it possible for me to do the work I loved to do.

Writing the remarks was – at first – a dream come true. Everything I had ever imagined was about to come true; although on a much smaller scale than the Oscars, of course 🙂 But then it became emotional. In a good way. I had a chance to thank those people who have always supported me, trusted in me, and pushed me to sometimes do more than I ever thought I could.

And, just like the best Oscar speeches, it was all about family, friends and community. Because those are the only things that matter.

If you had the chance to write an Academy Awards speech about your life, what would it say?