Archive for the ‘Personal achievement’ Category

My husband, Jeff, is a fighter. He fights for what he believes in, and who he believes in, especially our son, Sage, and others with special needs.

Jeff has been the head swimming coach at Vinton-Shellsburg High School for the past several years. It has become something he loves and believes in. When the boys’ program came up on the chopping block due to budget concerns within the district, you just knew he wouldn’t go down without a fight.

He gave a passionate plea to the school board, citing all the reasons the program should be saved. It wasn’t until the end of his presentation that the unconvinced members (read: rubber stampers) perked up when Jeff offered to coach this next season for $1 to save money.

The issue again come up at Monday’s board meeting and the motion was made to save boys’ swimming as long as Jeff was not paid. Not even that $1. Jeff saw it as a victory for the program and the swimmers. I saw it as just one more thing we would have to contend with next winter when Jeff will be student teaching – without getting paid.

While Jeff’s insistence to fight to the end for what he believes in can be one of his most irritating traits, it is also one of his most endearing. It is why I am proud he is my soul mate and father of my son.

Here are his thoughts on the future of the Vinton-Shellsburg boys’ swimming program:

(the embedding has been disabled, but you can get to the YouTube video by clicking on this)

I’ve been watching American Idol since its first season in 2002. I was pregnant at the time my favorite contestant, Kelly Clarkson, won (I try to tell my son that he should like Kelly because of this, but he doesn’t seem to care).

The majority of contestants that grace the American Idol stage are young, attractive and do have musical talent. By the end of each season, the stylists have done their magic and have made the contestants into heartthrobs. Last year, I didn’t give David Cook a second look in the beginning, but by the time he won, he was on my hottie list (still is).

A couple of weeks ago across the pond a new star emerged from an audition on Britian’s Got Talent.” Susan Boyle is a sensation primarily because she doesn’t look or act like one.

When Boyle, the 47-year-old unemployed woman from a village in Scotland, walked on stage, nobody in the audience gave her a chance. You see, Susan is rather, uh, frumpy. A little too short and plump with bushy eyebrows and frizzy graying hair, Susan doesn’t look like the next Kelly Clarkson.

Audience members were seen rolling their eyes when Susan told the judges she had never been given the chance to be a star and she wanted to be the next Elaine Paige. The judges, including American Idol’s Simon Cowell, looked they were bracing for the worst 3 or 4 minutes of their day.

Then Susan began to sing. Once the first line of “I Dreamed A Dream” from “Les Miserables” came out of her mouth, everyone in the music hall was stunned. Out of this frumpy-looking woman came the most beautiful voice. The look on the judges’ faces was priceless. They, too, didn’t expect to enjoy it so much. By the end of the performance, everyone was on their feet, cheering.

“I know everybody was against you,” judge Amanda Holden. “This was the biggest wake-up call ever.”

Susan has since become a worldwide sensation, thanks to postings of the video on YouTube. I first watched the video over the weekend. It literally gave me chills.

If you haven’t seen the entire video (which would be surprising considering it has more than 41 million views so far), please watch it. It’s absolutely inspiring to see somebody go from ridiculed to loved within 6 minutes.

You go, Susan Boyle! You are the ultimate frumpfighter.

If there is any other mother in the world who is beaming more than me tonight, I would like to meet her and swap stories. Here’s mine:

Tonight was the spring music program for the kindergarten classes at Tilford Elementary in the VintonShellsburg School District. My son, Sage, has been preparing for this concert for months. He sings the songs in the bathtub and plays them on his keyboards.

My son Sage, in the yellow shirt, having a great time at his music program.

My son Sage, in the yellow shirt, having a great time at his music program.

There’s never been any doubt he loves music and has a beautiful voice. However, Sage’s issues with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (on the autism spectrum) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder have made any day care or school program an adventure. I’ve never been to a program where Sage stands still, doesn’t need an aide or even participates.

Until tonight.

I’ll admit I was a little (OK, a lot) worried about how Sage would react to standing on the risers for 45 minutes in front of an audience in the auditorium. He told me his music teacher has been instructing him to stand in place and not walk from riser to riser. Apparently, this has been a problem during rehearsal. I, too, have been telling him to sing pretty and stay on the riser.   

But I’ve been through this before. Sage will sing his songs all the time at home and constantly talk about the upcoming concert, only to be instantly distracted when the program begins. However, the moment he stood on the riser tonight, I knew it was different.

He stood there, straight and tall with his arms to his side, with a huge smile on his face. He sang the words to every song with unbridled joy. He did the moves and danced at the right time with his classmates. And he managed to bring tears to his Mommy’s eyes. I, too, was smiling through the whole show. I wasn’t my usual tense self hoping for the program to end before Sage ran off.

No, I was a proud Mommy, thrilled to see my son focus enough to enjoy himself doing the things he loves the most – singing and dancing. I used to be wistful during children’s programs at church and school, wondering if my child would ever be able to participate. Now, I can’t until the next one.

Thanks, Toots. You’ve brightened by day. And my life.

Richard Dedor led a workshop about focus at the 2009 Beyond Rubies Conference in March at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids. Here is what he says about focusing on yourself:

By Richard Dedor

Richard Dedor at Beyond Rubies

Richard Dedor at Beyond Rubies

My first session at the 2009 Beyond Rubies Conference is by far my most popular and the one I enjoy the most. It focuses around the general idea that you as an individual need to make sure you focus your energies in the right place: on the things you’re passionate about. Those can be anything from writing or reading to working out or to playing with your dog. With our busy lives, we often cut out the things that truly give you energy and that fuel your fire for life. It’s time to take that back. It’s time to re-focus your energy towards your passions. It starts now.

The first thing you have to do is find your passion. What is it? What do you love doing? What do you want to be doing more? For me, the answer is I want to be doing more painting. I haven’t been motivated the last few weeks, but the painting I am on right now is almost done. I just need to get up and do it. Finish it. Focus on the passion. Once you have that, immerse yourself in it. Make it yours. Make it a priority.

Once you have your passion in mind, you have to organize your life to make the passion a part of your life. “Not enough time,” is no longer an acceptable excuse. This is your life; you need to take control of it!

The most challenging aspect of taking control of your life is focused around the essence of compassion. This is a huge factor impacting success in your life and in the world at large. Not only do you need to be compassionate towards your own life, you have to be compassionate to those around you. It’s about offering a helping hand when you can. Spreading encouraging words and empowering others to find their passions or just to simply smile on a rainy day. It’s about learning from other people.

Anyone who attends a workshop of mine goes through an interactive activity built around the belief that  every person in the world has learned something that someone else can learn something from, a Life Lesson if you will. If you’re interested in learning more and sharing your lesson (, or signing up ( to learn from others, please do!

As you’re learning more about yourself, you have to continue to upgrade your skills. You need to grow. I’ve been doing that with Twitter ( lately and I’m excited about the possibilities and how much I can learn! My next venture will be YouTube self-help videos that are currently in the development stages. I’m always learning.

Finally, you can’t do any of these things if you can’t manage your stress. There was a recent cover story in Newsweek about how stress can be healthy. I absolutely agree, but stress to the point where you can’t function productively or positively and when it starts to affect your health – well, that’s bad stress! You have to make sure the stress you do have is manageable and pushes you forward, not downward.

I know I said a lot and I have more to say. You can learn more about all these things on my blog at

When the National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library in southwest Cedar Rapids went under water during the historic Flood of 2008, Gail Naughton, the organization’s president and CEO, was devastated.

But then she got to work.

Gail Naughton     President/CEO Czech & Slovak Museum and Library

Gail Naughton President/CEO Czech & Slovak Museum and Library

“When you have a crisis, you need a leader who will stand up and communicate,” she told attendees at the Beyond Rubies women’s conference March 19 at Kirkwood Community College. “You have to have a strong person in front and fight. It’s been my job to lead this charge to carry this story.”

The museum had a disaster plan and it was implemented once word came that the nearby Cedar River would likely leave its banks. On June 10, 2008, furniture was moved and sandbags were placed around the immigrant home, one of five buildings owned by the museum.

The next day construction began on an earthen dam and critical library materials were removed. The museum sits more than 23 feet high and at that point workers and board members were cautious, but not worried, Naughton said.  The river was expected crest at 24 feet and Naughton was fairly confident the sandbags and levee would hold off flood waters.

Nobody could have predicted what happened overnight and Thursday, June 12 – the day of the epic surge. Pounding rain forced the Cedar well past the 24-foot stage and the river took over most of downtown, several residential areas and Czech Village.

The Gazette/The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids under several feet of water Friday, June 13, 2008.

The Gazette/The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids under several feet of water Friday, June 13, 2008.

Like most people, Naughton first saw the stunning image on television of the museum seemingly floating in the Cedar River.

“It rained all day; it was like the end of the world,” she said. “That was a pretty bad day.”

But unlike most stunned people watching TV, she had to compose herself and look toward the future.

“I called the staff and called a meeting to plan next steps,” she said “We needed to make the best decisions right away.”

The river crested at 31.3 feet on Friday, June 13, leaving 7 to 8 feet of water inside the National Museum. Naughton met that day with board members and put up a flood update page on the museum’s Web site so people from all over the world could find out what was happening. She also worked with media from the Czech Republic to get the word out.

“Before the water went down, we were working,” Naughton said. “Leadership is about stepping up, being visible and having the conviction to come out of it.”

They were allowed into building Tuesday, June 17, to assess the damage. A water line marked the pictures of the Homeland Exhibit. In the Petrie Gallery, the popular “1968” exhibit was destroyed. The force of the water was so strong, it actually bent a wall in half.

Outside, the scene was no better.

“Walking into Czech Village was like walking into a bomb site,” Naughton said.

The museum did have flood insurance for the library and artifacts collection. They were able to treat and handle artifacts immediately.

“We were more concerned to get to clean things than the damaged,” Naughton said. “The longer they sit in a wet building, the more we are concerned about mold.  We lost everything inside; the woodwork started to mold immediately, doors warped, the windows were gone.”

With all the damage and the long road ahead, there was never a question of whether or not to move forward.

“We knew instantly we would have to fight to save it,” Naughton said. “Once we had dealt with the immediate disaster, we had to keep our mission in mind and plan for the future.”

The Gazette/Petr Kolar (left) the Czech Republic's ambassador to the United States, surveys renovation progress at the National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library with president and CEO Gail Naughton on Oct. 29, 2008.

The Gazette/Petr Kolar (left) the Czech Republic's ambassador to the United States, surveys renovation progress at the National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library with president and CEO Gail Naughton on Oct. 29, 2008.

In July,  the board had an interim operating plan, which included setting up space at Lindale Mall. The board also worked with the city on a flood plan that included saving Czech Village and the museum.

“It’s a living plan, let me tell yak,” Naughton said. “There’s a lot still going on.”

Today, the main museum building is still gutted after being cleaned more than once. The heating and cooling systems have been restored enough to control the climate inside. Many of the artifacts and restored books are stored on wrapped pallets right under the chandelier in Grand Hall.

The main building will be repurposed for educational programming. “We are not going to able to do the same exhibitions as we did in the past because other museums won’t loan to us. It’s tainted,” Naughton said.

The total loss of the five buildings is between $8 million and $9 million. The price tag to come back is estimated at  $25 million.

“It’s a long, arduous, frustrating process,” Naughton said, “but we can’t afford not to save it.”

It would be easy to turn back and make everything the way it was, she said. But that would be a step back. “We need to take opportunities to make more out of this. I thought a couple of months ago that everything would be over and we would know more by now. The experience of this is something that will mark our lives and careers.”

To see The Gazette’s multimedia project about Czech Village’s recovery, go to

This week I had the pleasure of meeting Adriana Boettcher of Mount Vernon. I interviewed the 35-year-old single mother of two because she was named the Newspaper Association  of America’s adult Newspaper Carrier of the Year.

Adriana Boettcher

Adriana Boettcher

This is a national award and a certainly a great honor. Adriana is proud of the award but still seems a little bewildered that such a fuss was made over doing something she says anybody would have done in the same situation.

While on her early morning route in Mount Vernon, Adriana came across two elderly people in distress during winter 2007. These were separate occasions happening within a month of each other. She called 9-11 and stayed with the people until help arrived.  She then completed her route.

A customer on her route was concerned when his paper arrived later then usual. He called her to see if she was OK and she told him what had held her up. He nominated her for a state livesaving award, which she received last August, and her name was also put in consideration for other regional and national awards for newspaper carriers.

This is all flattering to Adriana, but her biggest reward is the way her young daughters are developing into model citizens. In 2000, Adriana began her paper route because it allowed her to spend more time during the day with her ailing parents and her daughters, who were then toddlers.

The time spent with her daughters, Catherine and Sarah, has paid off. One Christmas the girls donated their gift money to orphaned children. Another time they gave money given to them for a fun night out to local charitable organizations.

I, for one, would have a diffucult time getting up at 2:45 every morning to deliver papers until about 5:30 a.m. and then put in a full day. I struggle with the occasional night shift at The Gazette. 

I, along with the entire Gazette Communications organization, commend Adriana for her selfless dedication to her job, her family, and even to complete strangers.

To read more about Adriana’s lifesaving efforts while on her paper route, go to

Julia Theisen, co-owner of Body & Soul Wellness Center and Spa in Dubuque, opened the 2009 Beyond Rubies women’s conference this morning at Kirkwood Community College with a lively presentation:  “Seven Habits for Happiness.

Julia Theisen

Julia Theisen

The native of England who relocated to Dubuque with her husband, Scott, said everyone has a happiness set point which is determined by genetics (50 percent), circumstances (10 percent) and habits (40 percent).

Theisen said her adopted parents were leveled-headed but not overly optimistic. When she met her birth mother when she was 40, she realized that’s where she got spunk and positive attitude.

Here are several things that don’t create happiness:

  • Acquiring more material things.
  • Thinking “I’ll be happy when…”

A study shows 40 percent of people on Forbes list are not happy. And what about Oprah? She’s one of the richest women in the world but has struggled with unhappiness about her weight and other personal issues.

To sum up this point: No thing and no one can give you happiness. Learn to be happy from the inside out.

Happy Habit No. 1: Decide to be happy.

Practice being happy for no reason. Changes don’t have to be big ones; even if you focus on 1 hour of the day to be happy, it will change your life.

Exercise: Segment Intending

Close your eyes. Bring into awareness what you what like next hour together to be like. Then, you’re your shoulders and take a deep  breath. Be sure to let out a big “aahhh.”  

Happy Habit No. 2: Gratitude and appreciation

Gratitude = Relaxation. Being in a state of gratitude is best way to be in a state of relaxation. A study showed that nuns who were relaxed and happy lived 7 to 10 ½ years longer than their counterparts

 Exercise: Write down three blessings every day for three weeks and it should improve your positive mood for up to six months. Don’t think you have time? When you go to bed, think of three blessings rather than what all went wrong that day.

Need some help relaxing? Watch Brother David Steindl-Rast’s video:

Happy Habit No. 3: Pay attention to positive experiences.

We are genetically programmed to be negative to protect ourselves. In any given day, 80 percent of our thoughts are negative.  If you receive 100 positive comments and 1 negative one, you most likely will focus on the negative one.

Exercise:  Savor positive experiences and consciously pay attention to the good things in your life.  Set a goal each day to look for beauty in your world or signs of caring for you by others or good qualities within yourself.

Freeze frame technique (from the Institute of HeartMath): Close your eyes and concentrate on your breath. Imagine breathing through your heart . Think of a happy time and relive the experience in your body. Also will happen if dwell on negative things.

Happy Habit No. 4: Practice acceptance

Don’t believe everything you think, especially about yourself.  When you get a negative thought about yourself, ask if it is your evil inner critic at work or if it is true.

Exercise: Accept life as it is – stress occurs when we resist what is. Give that inner critic voice a name (Theisen calls hers Damien), say it to someone else ask yourself if you would speak to a child like that and then accept yourself as you are.

Happy Habit No. 5: Prioritize relationships

Those with solid social connections live longer than their counterparts. Since studies show we become the average of the five people we associate with the most, it’s wise to spend time with people you most want to be like.

Exercise: When somebody asks you to do something, say “thanks for asking, but that’s not going to work,” and walk away. Forget the excuses; they only leave the situation open for negotiation.

Happy Habit No. 6: Practice extreme self care

You may be a bit unpopular when you say no, but be firm, not wishy-washy. Increase your energy boosters and decrease energy leaks.

Exercise: Do something that makes you feel good, but nobody else notices such as polishing your nails. Choose practices to support your happiness and take time out to pray, meditate, sing and dance.

Happy Habit No. 7: Give of Yourself

What is it that makes you feel good and happy? Keep in mind, the more you give, the more you receive.

Exercise: Tune into your heartsong.

Happiness challenge: Give something to someone and don’t tell anybody about it.

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