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.