A Regular Committee Meeting or an Example of Everyday UDL?

I just spent the evening with a group of friends focused on organizing for a project. We ate a lovely carry-in meal and got down to a business meeting and ended with a group effort on a task to start the project. It was good to catch up with people we don’t see very often, share quite a few laughs and work on a common goal. The entire process lasted about 4 hours, which was longer than absolutely required to get the job done, and to be honest, we were all glad to go home at the end, and we left with a feeling of having done a good thing. For me, it had been a long day, as I left for work at 6:00 am and got back home at 9:00 pm after this meeting. We all have those kind of days if we are involved with children or community activities. It is what makes life rich, if not overdone.

Every time I am with a group of people charged with making a plan of some sort, I am reminded that “decision by committee” can be, and often is, loud and messy. I will admit that I was pushed to my limit with 16 passionate people enthusiastically sharing ideas and thoughts, often at the same time, and there were plenty of sidebar conversations. Loud and messy are good and important in this process. It means the participants are active and engaged. Each personality and style had an opportunity to express themselves and folks who needed to keep things rolling felt comfortable to nudge the group along. Those of us who prefer less noise and more structure were empowered to move things along or refocus the group. It was easy to shift any negativity into a more positive outcome and when the group needed more gross motor activity, the meeting shifted accordingly.

As I watched this process unfold, it seemed to me that every person there felt safe and comfortable to share and interact. Respect was given to each member who contributed. Interestingly, this was a blend of two separate groups who function very differently from each other and the results were positive.  

Looking around at the tools available to make this work, I saw low tech pencil and paper, notes on a napkin, a sophisticated daily planner, an iPod. We even had a bell as a signal to bring the group back together. Empowerment was evidenced by the willingness to take responsibility for ideas and assignments. Collective wisdom was respected, and new ideas were considered.

This was a great opportunity for UDL principles to be used and, without knowing it, these adult team members took full advantage. Throughout this process, we reviewed the why, the how and the what. For the Why, I saw examples of interest, sustaining effort and persistence and self-regulation. There is no doubt about the level of engagement in this group. We had a clear purpose and goal. For the How, we demonstrated multiple means of action and expression with lots of opportunity for movement, we worked through a variety of organizational abilities as we had to problem-solve challenges and change course. We provided opportunities to work in a large group, small groups, with a partner and alone. On a practical level, we had a heavy emphasis on auditory as it was a group discussion. Some people had notes from a previous meeting, others had samples and there was a practical task that required problem-solving, manipulation and visual skills, manual coordination and teamwork. Scissors, sticky labels, signage, scheduling, lists and a schematic layout, paper, planners, iPads, smartphones, varied activities, the use of a walker, tables and chairs, and food are examples of universal design that were brought to the meeting.   

The difference in this practical application of an evening meeting and true Universal Design for Learning is that the UDL piece was not planned. Therefore no specialized needs were anticipated, planned for, nor setup with needed materials. What we saw tonight was evidence of how Expert Learners function at an integrated level. Most of us in the group have experienced enough life to know how to meet our individual needs. We were able to locate adaptation in the environment (scissors) to facilitate our work. And team decisions were able to be made with input from multiple individuals.

This was truly a fun experience for me and I had a lot of fun looking at it through the lens of Universal Design for Learning. What would I do in the future to be more intentional? Perhaps provide writing options for those who did not bring any tools/material. Knowing in advance how we can include elderly or mobility limited, or participants with other disabilities. But we also knew we could provide most of what was required because there is a ready supply of alternatives in the building for those who need it and the level of experienced learners we had assembled.

So, what started as another meeting at the end of an already long day, turned out to be a nifty example of the universality of people’s needs and abilities as we work toward a common goal. Quiet, silent classrooms with a teacher providing information via lecture is not always an indicator of an effective learning experience. In reviewing the revised UDL Guidelines 2018 Chart, these expert learners used a variety of means to access knowledge, build upon that knowledge and take these internalized skills to a functional and productive outcome.

Kudos to these participants who demonstrated expert learner skills by integrating purpose and motivation, resourcefulness and knowledge, toward attaining an end result that was strategic and goal-directed.    

Thanks for the fun evening!

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Expectations

Expectations are tricky things. Sometimes they let you down, sometimes they lift you up! I had expectations for April to be a lot warmer by now, and yet I wait. The warm air may be late, but ISTEP testing, Senioritis, and transition fairs are all occurring right on schedule. This is the final stretch of the school year, expectations are being fulfilled! But the story for each student started much earlier.

ant 1       “Just what makes that little old ant                          
        Think he can move that rubber tree plant

        Anyone knows an ant, can't
        Move a rubber tree plant” *


Let’s talk about rigor in education. I have never liked that word. 
I associate it with the dictionary definition, “harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment”, but the education definition of rigor is quite differentThe Glossary of Education Reform is a great place to go when education speak gets in the way of understanding. It equates rigor with educational experiences that are, “academically, intellectually, and personally challenging”. When we challenge our students with a rigorous curriculum that is universally designed and equitably supported by accessible content and assistive technology we are showing that we have high hopes. Our expectations are that each student under our care will be challenged and supported so as to reach their full potential. 

 "But he's got high hopes, he's got high hopes"                 Ant looking left


So as this year’s finish line approaches, keep pushing, and search for why they are pushing back. 
Equip them with all they need to access the curriculum for the 175 days they aren’t testing so that on the 5 they are, they know and show their potential. Give them all the skills and knowledge they need to earn the transition of all our dreams!
ant with hands on hips                                               “Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant.”*

*Writer(s): Cahn/Van Heusen
Frank Sinatra High Hopes on YouTube

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The Ugly Cry Is Beautiful

You know you are a special education teacher if “it takes years for your student to reach a goal and when they do...you just want to cry.”

Oh yes...celebrations of students’ success…big or small. Those are moments when you feel the rush from the pit of your stomach and then it slowly starts flowing through your veins….then explodes like a can of pop that was shook and quickly opened...which leaves your eyes dripping with salty excitement...and the next thing you know...you are doing your interpretation of the happy dance. If you are a teacher or anyone who has celebrated a child, you know exactly what I am describing. No, it’s not always pretty...but I can guarantee that it is always beautiful to the student to which brought about this emotion.

Happy Dance

I will never forget the first time I experienced this organic feeling. I was sitting on the floor in the hallway with a 5th grade student who independently decoded an entire paragraph for the very first time of a book we were reading together. He paused at the end of the paragraph and was nearly shocked by his own reading. The moment he turned his head, smiled and looked at me...the unexpected floodgate began. It was lovely chaos...I was celebrating him and he was consoling me! Ha ha It’s like sitting in a baseball stadium and your team hits a home run...the next thing you know...you are on your feet cheering and clapping! It’s uncontrollable excitement.

I have to admit, celebrating myself is a personal struggle. However, doing whatever it takes to facilitate a student in success of emotional, social, behavioral and/or academic skills...I am all in. While I am not in the classroom any longer...I get the privilege to have shared classrooms and students across the state. With that said, I am still “all in” for you as educators and your students. In fact, my whole team is all in for you.

The year is coming to an end. Find time for pause and instead of just looking directly at a student’s struggles as we support them, also look around them...see and feel the moments to celebrate.  I have great adoration for this quote from the book Wonder, “Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their life.” Go ahead, it’s ok to get ugly; because it’s beautiful.


Fun ways to celebrate your students while also motivating them:
  • Send an email or note to parent/ guardian or school administrator
  • Praise verbally
  • Throw graffiti parties
  • Ring a bell
  • Expression by using GIFs
  • Allow students to write down what THEY feel they did best, crumble paper and have them shoot into a “shining moments” basket at the end of the day.  
Wonder Book
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March Towards Hope

March Towards Hope

The calendar has some quirky coincidences in 2018. The somber first day of lent, Ash Wednesday, when folks in the Christian faith acknowledge that yes, they are
going to die, fell on Valentine's Day: a frivolous celebration of worldly love. Easter is on April 1 this year. I don’t envy the ministers and theologians who will have to work on that Sunday. It seems like they’ll have some extra explaining to do. And now my turn to write the PATINS blog falls on March 1st. Ugh.


Not true everywhere, but in Indiana March is the worst month. Don’t let that iconic shamrock on the calendar fool you, there isn’t much green to be found anywhere. We’re surrounded by gray skies, flat beige landscapes, and still wearing thick socks. In March, there might be a 70 degree day or two where you are lulled into thinking winter is loosening, but it will be followed by a lockdown-drill of freezing rain.

road 2125828 960 720 2
There is the big basketball tournament to distract us, but as I write this, Purdue has dropped from the top of the Big 10 standings, and it seems that having not one but two 7-footers on the team wasn’t enough to propel the Boilermakers from our mid season winning streak to tournament favorites. I blame March in the midwest. I know, not rational, because all Big 10 teams are in the midwest, but before you all message me and gently suggest that maybe Bev needs some medication, I’ll let you know that I do have strategies for surviving March.

First, seed catalogs = hope. Slowly page through them and drink in the colors. Or, while you’re at the home improvement store finding replacement parts for your sump pump (March floods) stop by the display of seed packets, pull out a packet, gently shake it by your ear and hear the sound of presumed life. My second strategy is to pretend I’m somewhere else; otherwise known as Mr. Rogers make believe medicine (I know, maybe consider medication). I put on my colorful bathing suit, lime green swim cap, and swim at the Y once or twice a week. And I imagine that the water is heated by a tropical sun. This week: Belize. My final strategy was a gift given to me by my friend Kelly. She created a Pinterest board for me called “March Madness Prevention” and she posts images or links to my favorite things: Bugs Bunny cartoons, snapdragons, and porch swings, to name a few.

The PATINS blog calendar lottery has also slotted me into a point in time where schools and teachers are looking out at what could be described as a bleak landscape. Fear seems to have enveloped schools, and infected the debate about how to keep all safe in the sacred space of the classroom. I’ve laid awake at night with the debate about violence in schools ricocheting around my brain, but haven’t been able to come up with much that doesn’t sound like more noise.

I’ve decided to follow Kelly’s lead to offer you a Pinterest board of sorts to share some images of hope. As a PATINS specialist I am in and out of many Indiana schools each week, and I see so many lovely things happening despite all that seems against us. Here are a few snapshots of hope happening in schools. Right now. Despite March:
  • My colleagues in Bluffton who work every day to hold high expectations for all and ensure that each child in the room has a voice. Follow the joy: @asheetsroom14 on Twitter.
  • An art teacher friend shares this story
painting created by high school student of bare trees with snow and shadows
  • One kindergartener telling another to take a deep breath when they can’t seem to figure out the reader app I’m teaching them. I followed her lead.
  • Students from STEM and robotics clubs finding solutions for students needing them. I was fortunate to meet members of the Mishawaka Penn High School Robotics Club who presented at a national assistive technology conference.
  • Pre-teacher in a Butler training determined to reach middle-schoolers, despite showing a depth of understanding of the middle school psyche. Felt like a hope earthquake under my feet.
  • Students at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired discovering healthier food by massaging kale with avocado, and planning a new cafeteria garden on their campus. (I repeat, seeds = hope)
If you have an image of hope, please share in the comments!

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AT Team Development- Worth the time!

We just wrapped up ATIA 2018 in Orlando. There were so many wonderful sessions and so many great folks to network with. My focus was AT Team Building this year. It strikes me that the issues are the same as always and the individuals faced with solving the issues are the same groups of people. The difference in all these years is that our general knowledge has evolved as has the mass, open accessibility to tools. Maybe it is helpful that our funding is increasingly blended, too, making it more obvious that these kids are all of ours, so more folks are naturally involved in the brainstorming.

Stakeholders are all talking classroom accessibility rather than pulling a student from natural instruction to provide access on a tool so special or expensive it has to be stored in a special "AT room" with security akin to Fort Knox. Talk about leveling the playing field! The Cloud; Access to the Same Curriculum; Getting materials in Real Time; Accountability; Showing what someone Knows; Expecting Achievement; and working with General Educators have all facilitated this growth in Access and Communication. If that is not team building, then I have missed something.  

Bridge builders working together on structure

We still need framework, structure, support, training, modeling and followup as we develop this process. We need to encourage individuals with expertise to blossom, find their niche and shore up the structure for staff and student. The knight in shining armor coming in to save the day never really did work because you are still left with the issues, once the knight leaves.  

Let's work together to Level the Playing field for staff working to find solutions and support each other as we support students. In the immortal words of my daughter, "It's a marathon, not a sprint." Let's pace ourselves and dig our heels in for a lot of fun as we lope along! It is a familiar path and now we can slow down enough to welcome friends. With the tools readily available, progress can be seen fairly immediately, so this marathon can be a satisfying journey.

The PATINS website has some suggested structure to get you started. Go to the Julie Kuhn Webpage and look for AT Team Development. Also, I periodically host webinars on this topic and you can always contact me to get started on your own problem-solving and action plan!

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A Universally Designed Thanksgiving Gathering

black raspberry pie
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! The Sharritt’s have already stuffed themselves once last Sunday as we hosted my husband’s Kincaid cousins, and we’re on our way to Lansing today to feast with our daughter Grace, her husband Chris, and their family of choice at their church.


I hope you are on your way to a gathering filled with love, moist turkey, and many kinds of pie. It’s a time for human to human contact, something we may feel a little uneasy about in these days of personal interaction mediated by devices. We’ve been seeing Cousin Cyndi’s baking wins and fails all year on Pinterest, and now it’s time to sit down and actually break some honey twist bread with her. Uncle Mickey has been lurking on Facebook all year, and while we haven’t seen him, he’ll know much about what we’ve been up to by monitoring our newsfeed.


It is a new and ever-changing social dynamic we’re all figuring out together. I thought I’d share some tools I’ve discovered as a Specialist for
PATINS that might help you navigate this tricky digitally disposed world.


There are many apps designed to help folks who struggle with social skills. And I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing like a family gathering to make you feel like your social skills have been set back a couple of decades. A Jeopardy-style game called 10 Ways helps students learn to recognize idioms, sarcasm (also known in our family as decoding what Uncle Roger is saying), and how to start a conversation, among other things. These are mainly developed for people with autism, but who among us couldn’t benefit from choosing “listening for 400” or “personal space for 100” and learning some pointers to help us improve at getting along?

gameboard for 10 ways app showing the categories body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, personal space, and eye contact

Working with students who have blindness or low vision, I am constantly on the lookout for ways to help these kids find ways to interpret social situations without the benefit of seeing body language and facial expressions. A new viewing device called the
OrCam helps them to not only read print in their environment (signs, menus, books), but can also be taught to recognize faces of their friends and family. The lens on their special glasses sees who is present when they enter a room, and voices names into the user’s earphones. An app for your phone called Seeing AI does this as well with the phone’s camera, and goes a step further: you can train it to not only recognize “Aunt Ethel” by taking her picture, but you can train it to recognize “Angry Aunt Ethel” and “Happy Aunt Ethel” by taking her picture with those facial expressions. Then when you walk into the kitchen you’ll know if she’s discovered that you broke into the fudge stashed in the pantry before she yells at you.


screen from seeing AI app showing boy aiming his phone at a girl with the text

I don’t have low vision, but this app is helping me to remember which one is Auntie Mid and which one is Auntie Rene (same enormous nose and sweet smile) just by discreetly aiming my phone their way. Honestly, it is helping me keep track of names for folks I may only see a couple times per year at the family dinner. At PATINS we are promoting a movement in education towards
Universal Design for Learning and this app is a good example of how one tool designed for a special need or task can evolve into an improved learning environment for all (including those of us who have 51 first cousins!)


There are new instant captioning apps for the hearing impaired that use voice recognition to put speech into text. This is huge for both students in a classroom, and also for Grandpa who is struggling to hear his granddaughter speak to him over the football game.

There are three major principles for Universal Design for Learning: Engagement, Representation, and Action & Expression. Engagement entails getting someone interested in learning, like this little cheer my son Ben did with his younger cousins to get them get motivated to help dry dishes.

Representation is the practice of presenting content in many different ways. For Thanksgiving, this obviously translates into having as many flavors, colors and textures of pie as possible. You also might want to contrast with a cheesecake or flan.

The final principle, Action & Expression is easily illustrated at any family gathering. Look around the table at the beautiful diversity that came from the same bank of DNA, and embrace all the forms of expression that we have to share what we know.
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Learning with Laughter

Kelli laughing
Cachinnate: “to laugh loudly”


“You gotta have a sense of humor or this career will take you down,” was what Dr. Cathy Pratt, Director of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism (IRCA) said during her training titled: Understanding and Managing Challenging Behaviors. She hit the nail on the head.

If you know me, you will know that laughing is one of my favorite things to do. Whatever means of communication that we have, laughing is a universal expression and when shared, can be life changing in moments. I’ve always told my students that laughing is good for their insides and I firmly believe that. Laughter releases those feel-good chemicals called endorphins. It decreases the hormones that cause stress and even helps keep you healthy by increasing immune cells. Laughter is also believed to be able to temporarily relieve pain.


We have had a few weeks to spend with our students this school year and are busy building relationships, let us remember to get their blood flowing to assist with concentration. This can be done by offering several silly brain breaks during the day for any grade level. For example, each student tells a partner their name and address by keeping their tongue at the roof of their mouth. This could be done for a student using an AAC device by saying a sentence backward.

We are in the midst of offering the appropriate accommodations to meet all of the diverse needs in our classroom and it can all seem overwhelming at times. We all need laughter in some form. We need smiles that beam from the inside out at times. All students need a mode of communication. Laughing can assist students to build relationships and boost self confidence. While we continue to teach our expert learners on an academic level, let’s add a new word to their vocabulary: cachinnate. Not just give them the word, but live it often within the four walls of the classroom.

Let me get you started...
Lady laughing
Contagious Cachinnating Lady 



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Death By Paperwork

"Death By Paperwork" in a creepy font and a blood splatter
First: I made it out alive. You will too.

This year I messed something up in my back, and by April it was hard to sit for more than twenty minutes at a time. Every drive, conference or meeting I was engaged for a bit and then the rest of the day was spent imitating your favorite wiggly child, trying to ease the pain. I felt terrible.

Sometimes it got better, and then it got worse. I complained. I ignored it. I tried what I knew to fix it, I asked friends for ideas. Nothing really worked.

I had enough and went to a specialist, definitely not something I was looking forward to. I hate going to the doctor. But within a few sessions, my life had changed.

It was like getting glasses in the correct prescription or wearing good shoes after years of wearing Old Navy flip flops. I didn’t know how bad it was until I experienced how my spine was meant to be.

About three years into my career I had another issue that was a major pain: paperwork.

Paperwork is like back pain. Everyone gets some, some people get more than they can handle. It comes when it’s least convenient and it will not go away if you ignore it. By the end of my third-year the IEPs, evaluations, and caseload documents piled up to my ears. It was affecting my ability to do my job and my family life. I felt terrible. If death by paperwork was a thing, it felt imminent.

I complained. I ignored it. I tried what I knew to fix it, I asked friends for ideas. Nothing really worked.

An administrator gently suggested I see some “specialists.” I did not want to admit that I was struggling to anyone, but after meeting with others who were amazing at keeping on top of it all, they gave me some ideas. They pointed out some of my mistakes, the weight that was causing the paperwork pain, and they helped me develop my paperwork treatment plan.

In less than two months, I started to feel better. My files were in order and I felt in control. By the next year, I was rocking a weekly paperwork schedule and found tools to help me streamline and automate. I was spending even more time working with kids than I was before! It was career changing. I didn’t know how good it could be.

You, dear reader, might be dealing with some pain in your career. Maybe it’s paperwork or a student on your mind who you don’t know how to reach. Maybe it’s a new tool or expectation that’s pain in your neck, and doing your job effectively seems out of reach. Maybe you complained or ignored it. You tried what you knew to fix it, you asked friends for ideas. Nothing may have worked.

If it’s related to supporting student’s access to education, we’ve got a team of specialists here to help.

It might just change your life.


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Summer Musings, Student Thoughts


Summer. What a great time to store up some natural vitamin D, enjoy the outdoors, and clear our minds from the doldrums and cobwebs that some of us collect during the winter months and look for renewal for the upcoming school year.


At our house, we remodeled our kitchen and, that was an undertaking! It only took three times longer than anticipated but the end result is gorgeous. One does not realize how old something is until it is updated though to be sure, my daughter did try to advise me of this for a while. I took the opportunity afforded by dust, chaos, and disarray to purge the rest of the house. This made the mayhem worse. The saving grace for me was in knowing this messiness was temporary and actually, in my relative control. We have expanded some of the renewal to include new carpeting, which should be installed next week. So it is not smooth sailing yet. Then, of course our family get together is happening before the carpet comes in so it is not “perfect”. There is a lesson in there, too. Perfect is not necessary. 

As I gear up for the 2017-2018 school year, I cannot help but reflect on the daily lives of some of our students. This is not a statement of poverty, class, background or anything else. It is just life. The issue of clutter, chaos and stability crosses all the lines. So, how does this impact our students?   

On an individual level, consider how each of us is able to focus, find things, concentrate, think, create, remember or recall in an environment where we feel we have control, or where we feel we do not. A great example of this comes to mind with the topic of homework. How can homework get done in the midst of chaos? Let alone get done effectively. What does it take to set students up for success when it comes to homework completion? We have to look at individual needs on a universal level.

If we follow the UDL principles set by CAST and follow up work at the UDL Center we have an expectation to facilitate students ability to become expert learners. How can a child and young adult be resourceful and knowledgeable; strategic and goal-directed; purposeful and motivated amidst clutter, chaos, mayhem and limited choices? I think of students with complex disabilities.  Again, the issues cross all the demographic lines. Without a voice or a way to effectively communicate, an individual is dependent on the organizational style, timelines, thought processes of those around them. I do not see how this can promote the development of expert learners.

As an occupational therapist, we look at the whole person, not just the physical aspects of disability. When I see homework not getting completed, there are usually a number of reasons and punitive measures do not seem to get better results. These other reasons can include many issues including significant/subtle learning disabilities, no adult support, poor executive functioning, and emotional issues. This is obviously not a comprehensive list, but you get the idea. Also, a question that is good to ask is “What is the purpose of the activity?” The answer to that question alone can make a big difference in focusing on critical elements of performance for a student that is useful in growing their expert learner potential. This can even be explored with seating and positioning in the classroom. Without control and confidence of one’s physical state, learning becomes the secondary focus. So, homework, in-class work, whatever the work of a student is we need to know what we are working toward universally, know the student individually, and intentionally plan upfront for all the diversity and chaos eager to learn this year!

Let’s find “techy” ways to help students find their own control and stability in a chaotic world.
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The Hyphen

I never quite realized why I chose a career in special education until this spring. Both of my brothers are electrical engineers and I had a math minor in college. Ending up as a special educator certainly was not my intention when I went off to college. I always would joke that I selected a profession that did not require a government clearance.

Recently, I realized that my mother influenced my career. Mom made it a priority in her life to make sure everyone was cared for, that no one was forgotten. She single handedly took care of my dad for twelve years after he had a debilitating stroke. When I would take her to doctor's appointments she would always take time and ask the doctor how they were doing almost immediately after they would ask her how she was doing. I would often just chalk up this behavior as part of her dementia.

But then it hit me. She knew exactly what she was doing by asking the doctors how they were doing. It was not related to dementia at all. At her assisted living facility I would watch her make sure that fellow residents had everything they needed at meals. She would inform nursing staff if she thought a resident needed some attention. She always had a stash of Lifesaver mints to give to residents and employees. She truly cared for everyone and in her own little way worked to make everyone's life just a little better. For 93 years she had been tossing starfish back into the ocean!

Why did I end up in the special education field? I was destined by my upbringing! I was taught to seek out starfish and return them to the ocean. When I was in the classroom I would somehow always get a challenging student or two because 'I could work with their uniqueness '. At the time I would wonder what I did to make my supervisor continually give me challenging caseloads. I know now that my caseload was based on my ability to see the starfish in everyone. We all need to find the starfish and return them one at a time to the ocean.

I am sure my mom taught me a lot of things. It has just taken me 64 years to realize how she modeled and shaped my life and career. Thanks Mom for your patience with your middle child. You threw me back into the ocean many times!

You always hear it is the hyphen or dash that really counts between your birth and death. It represents the accomplishments, both good and bad, in the course of one's life. Mom has quite a distinctive hyphen, oh the stories it could tell!

Rest In Peace, Mom
February 14, 1924 - June 17, 2017

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Julie Kuhn
Jim, this brought me to tears. How beautiful and thank you for sharing this amazing reflection. What a rich life.
Thursday, 13 July 2017 10:42
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