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Live Your Legend Challenge #5 – The Elevator Pitch

Doesn’t everyone love a good story? As a writer, an artist and a budding public speaker, I am constantly thinking of the next story to tell.  I write from the heart and I find that personal stories resonate with others. I enjoy writing for others too, like today’s post on the NFED blog. My best speaking performances happen when I share a story that will touch your heart, make you laugh, and later, have you thinking back and wanting to find out more about the topic.

I have dreams of one day appearing on that round red carpet, doing my very own TED talk. I can see myself standing in front of an audience of school children, as part of an anti-bullying campaign, or as a motivational speaker. Of course this would also be supplemented by colorfully illustrated children’s books, and an autobiography for the older crowd.

While I’m certainly not the first person to share their own story in hopes of educating or motivating others, I know that since my own story has so many facets, I am adaptable to many different situations. I’d like to use my storytelling abilities to help others share their stories too. Not everyone feels confident writing or publicly speaking about their experiences, but with my skills, I could be their voice.

What stories do you enjoy hearing? How can I help you share your story?

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A Tale of Two Squirrels

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a Toastmaster speech. Last night I gave speech #3 from the Advanced Communicator Series – Storytelling. The project was to tell a story with a moral. The examples they gave were The Tortoise and the Hare and another one about mice and a cat. I struggled to think of what moral I should share, and how to tell an original story. I floundered for about a week, before finally settling on the idea of two squirrels as my characters, and giving them the relatable storyline of eating too much and being lazy and getting fat over the winter.

The night before I was to give the speech, I looked at the book again and realized that the story was supposed to have a twist! A TWIST! As if it wasn’t hard enough to come up with a silly story with a moral, now I had to scramble to think of a twist at the last minute. (I know, I should have read the instructions more thoroughly, but I have a bad habit of reading things real quickly and then being like, yeah, yeah, I got it…)

So, below is what I ended up with… what do you think of the twist?

A Tale of Two Squirrels

Once upon a time, in a forest not far from where we are now, there lived two squirrels. Filbert and Marshall were the best of friends. They had grown up chasing each other up and down the trees, and playing hide and seek behind the fallen logs and rocks of the forest.

Over the years, they continued to keep each other company – spending their summers finding and sharing delicious fresh fruits and leaves and working together to store up food for the winter. One winter, they discovered birdfeeders hanging in a backyard not far away, and every afternoon the two of them would gorge themselves on juicy black sunflower seeds. Then, their bellies full of seeds, they would head back to their nests to take long cozy naps. After several winter months of stuffing themselves with their stored acorns, plus the rich birdseed, and spending the rest of their time asleep in their nests, Filbert and Marshall had grown quite fat!

Spring was just around the corner, and every year, the forest animals would celebrate with a big party. It was Filbert’s plan that this year he would meet a nice female squirrel to settle down with. He was not about to show up at the party looking flabby and out of shape. As he sat in his nest one chilly afternoon, he counted out the weeks left of winter time. “Hmm,” he said, as he consulted his calendar, “only three weeks until Spring… I’d better get to work!”

He thoughtfully planned out his diet and exercise routine; penciling everything onto his calendar so he wouldn’t forget.  Once he had finished, he called out to Marshall, who was curled up and napping in his nearby nest. “Marshall – if we start today, we can easily burn off our winter weight by springtime!”

Marshall lifted his head and opened one eye. “Um, no thanks bud. I’m sure the weight will melt right off once the weather warms up and I don’t need the extra insulation.” Then, he covered his face with his tail and went right back to sleep.

The next morning, Filbert ran laps up and down his tree until he was out of breath. Marshall watched him from a neighboring tree, chewing on an ear of corn that he had found in someone’s compost pile. “Dude. This corn is really sweet – I’ll share if you like!” Filbert ignored him and began doing some pull ups on a small branch by his doorway.

That afternoon, when it was time to raid the birdfeeders, Filbert treated himself to a few sunflower seeds, but then he made his way over to the birdbath and took a several big gulps of water. “Hey buddy,” said Marshall through a mouthful of seeds, “There’s plenty of food here for everyone!”

Later, while Marshall fell into his post-meal coma, Filbert practiced yoga in his nest. At the end of the day, he looked at his calendar again, and put some checkmarks next to each of the tasks he had accomplished. He smiled to himself, knowing that he was making progress toward his goal.

This went on for the next three weeks – Marshall continued to live and eat like it was his last day on earth, while Filbert stuck to his plan of daily exercising and being conscious of how much food he ate. Marshall made fun of Filbert for being so worried about his body. “We’re squirrels!” he said, “Our metabolism is so high, we can eat whatever we want!”

Soon springtime arrived, and Filbert was looking better than ever. He proudly inspected his reflection in the pond. His diet and exercise plan had worked! Not only had he lost the weight, but he’d even built up some muscles! He felt great, and was looking forward to flaunting his new body at the party.

The night of the party, Marshall and Filbert inspected each other. “Does my hair look ok?” Marshall fussed, as he tried to pat down his cowlick. Filbert picked a few crumbs out of Marshall’s fur and brushed him off. “You look fine,” he said, “how about me?” “Man, you look great,” said Marshall, “I should have followed your advice and started taking better care of myself weeks ago.”

“Failure to plan is planning to fail,” said Filbert, puffing his chest out proudly.

All of a sudden, a hawk swooped down from above and snatched Filbert away so quickly that Marshall could hardly comprehend what had just happened.

As this is the kind of fate that regularly befalls small forest animals, Marshall mourned the loss of his friend, but went on to the spring forest party without him. There he met a beautiful lady squirrel, and they fell in love and lived happily ever after.

The moral of this story is that you can plan all you want, but you never really know how things are going to turn out in the end.

Toastmaster Speech #10 – Go Play Outside

Last night I gave my 10th and final speech in the Toastmaster Competent Communicator book. It was an inspirational speech and had to be between 8-10 minutes long. 

I really struggled with this one. I think I felt intimidated by the idea of speaking for 8 minutes straight without notes. The previous speeches were all 5-7 minutes. 

I surprised myself by actually memorizing most of the text below. I did end up going off track a couple of times, but for the most part I stuck to the script. 

My dad came to watch me speak, and as weird as this sounds, I think that may have made me more nervous. But I was happy he was there. 

Anyway, here it is. Below that is a list of the other speeches I’ve given. It has to be submitted to TM headquarters and then I’ll get a certificate to prove that I’m a Competent Communicator. Hah. I think I have a lot more work to do before I really feel competent!



Good evening fellow Toastmasters and guests,

Take a moment to think back to when you were a kid. I’m willing to bet that one of the phrases your mother used most was, “Go play outside!”

If you were like me, you played outside in any season and any type of weather. Like me, your mother may have had to call you in out of the rain or the snow for fear of you getting sick. If you were like me, you could have stayed out in the elements, no matter what. There was so much to do and explore outside. It was exciting! We rode our bikes every day. We spent hours playing games and inventing imaginary worlds. We could be as loud as we wanted – yelling and laughing was acceptable outdoor behavior. Even I was alone, I enjoyed exploring the great outdoors, pretending to be a scientist or a researcher like those I saw in National Geographic articles. I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid who loved playing outdoors.

Fast forward to your current age. How much time do you spend outside now? How often do you go play outside?

As adults we get sucked into lives that keep us indoors. In this day and age, there is so much to distract us from the natural world. If you have a corporate job like I do, chances are you are stuck inside from morning till night. You’re entitled to a lunch break, but often times it’s easier to stay at your desk to catch up on work, or, if you’re like me, your co-workers see the lunch hour as just another time to schedule meetings.

As adults, we make excuses for not spending more time outside. Even those of us who have a great love of the outdoors can find it a struggle to actually get outside and enjoy it. There are projects to work on. It’s too hot/too cold/too buggy/too humid. If I go out now, I won’t have time for some other thing I need or want to do. I often find excuses to remain in front of my computer until it’s too late. Even in the morning, many well-intentioned alarm clocks have been silenced because I would rather sleep a little longer than wake up early enough to grab a walk or a half hour in the garden before it’s time to get ready for work.

“Well, so what?”, you might be thinking. Grown-ups are supposed to work, be responsible and not be running around outside building forts or collecting bugs, right?

I’m here tonight to tell you that there’s a very important reason why you should make the effort to go play outside every day. And that is: Nature is good for your health!

Think about all the stress that builds up every day from sitting in an office, being bombarded with emails, demands from your boss, that never-ending to-do list, not to mention all of the mental clutter from constant stimulation of your cell phone. You’ve heard that exercise can help alleviate these stressors, but if you are exercising in a gym while listening to music on your phone or watching something on a screen, you are not getting as much stress relief as you could.

Playing outside has a positive effect on your physical and mental health. Disconnecting from electronics and immersing yourself in nature improves mental functioning by decreasing stress, anxiety, anger and depression. Exposure to natural light improves sleep by regulating your internal clock. Not to mention the increase in vitamin D that comes with sun exposure. Getting outside and getting moving helps relax those tense shoulders that come with being hunching over a computer all day, and of course, physical activity helps with weight loss and overall health.

Not only is spending time outside good for your body and mental state, it goes even deeper than that. Being in nature strengthens our connection to our life source. Whether you believe in creation or evolution or something in between, there’s no denying that we are all part of nature on a biological level. We’re not robots. Being in the great outdoors and taking time to observe the world around you can put you in your place. Think about laying out under a shimmering sky of stars, or walking beneath a canopy of tall trees. You can feel just how grand and magnificent nature can be. To me, this is a great reminder that the stress I’m feeling or the problems I am up against in that moment are really temporary and minor in the grand scheme of things.

There is a reason that so many hospitals and nursing homes incorporate beautiful gardens in their campuses. Nature is healing. All that greenery is soothing. It is relaxing & comforting. Nature can also be invigorating – think of being outside when a storm is brewing – you can feel the tension in the air. The gusts of wind and darkening skies awaken a primal energy within us.

Going outside doesn’t require any special kind of skill or talent, and it doesn’t even have to cost anything. You simply open your door and step out. Here are 5 things you can to make it a habit:

1. Set up an area to sit outside. Even if it’s just a folding lawn chair, it will do. Having a designated space to relax will remind you to take some time out of your busy day to unwind. You can even make it a policy to eat meals outside when the weather is nice.

2. If you work at a company that is as meeting-happy as mine, you can mark an hour in your calendar as “busy” or even “out of office” to prevent people from scheduling meetings with you during this time. I like to take my lunch breaks in a park that is close to work. It allows me to take a break from the stress of the office, even if it’s just for a short time.

3. Bring your exercise routine outdoors. Many of the things you’d do in a gym can be brought outside. Walking, running, biking, hiking and swimming are just a few outdoor activities that allow you to enjoy being outside while also getting your exercise. Our state has many beautiful parks and hiking trails where you can get a workout while enjoying the great outdoors. Remember, nature is the original gym – and you can bring dog!

4. Make outdoor experiences a part of your social life. Invite friends for a hike, or choose restaurants with outdoor dining areas. Right here in Wallingford we have Gouvia vineyard, where you can bring a picnic lunch, buy a bottle or two of wine and enjoy the views at any time of day.

5. My personal favorite outdoor activity is gardening. It gets you outside and gets you focused on something tangible. You can choose to do as little or as much as you like. You can start small, by growing a few plants in pots on your deck, or you can go all out and have a huge vegetable garden. Much of the fun of gardening is trying to grow different things and learning from the experience. Planning and caring for a garden is a great way to get in touch with nature in this busy, high-tech, high-stress world we live in.

So while the weather is nice, make sure to step away from your computer, put down your phone and go outside. Look up. Notice the contrast of the green trees against blue sky. Listen to the birds. Take a deep breath. Let yourself feel like a kid again. You won’t regret it.

Toastmaster Speech – Minimalism – Paring Down to Get More Out of Life

This is the text of the minimalism speech I gave at a Toastmasters meeting in April. I got a lot of good feedback, mostly of people who agreed that they wanted to part with a lot of their crap. A couple of guys insisted that as Connecticut Yankees, they could not part with their stuff because they were sure they’d need it at some future time.

You might notice this is a lot of text for a 5-7 minute speech. I always write more than what I actually say, because I tend to panic and forget half of what I wanted to say once I am in front of the crowd. This was the first speech I presented without using any notes. 

Have you ever stopped to think about how much stuff you own? I recently saw a statistic that stated that the average American household contains over 300,000 items. Our culture places a lot of importance on stuff. There’s a perception that the more stuff you have, the better off you are. The more stuff you have, the wealthier you are. More stuff equals more happiness, right? Our society is constantly encouraged to be buying and acquiring more stuff. Americans have a lot of stuff, yet America ranks #1 in rate of depression the world over. Could it be that we’ve gotten our priorities a bit mixed up?

In my own life, I have fallen into the trap that more is better. As an artist, I was always eager to acquire more art supplies. When I was young, I had basic art supplies. I used them all the time, and I enjoyed them. As a young adult with a job, I enjoyed collecting art supplies, imagining the fun I would have using them. Through the years, I have tried many forms of artistic expression, from drawing to painting to sculpting to jewelry making. As a result, I have boxes and boxes of supplies for each of these activities. You would think this would make me happy, but it doesn’t!

Now I have so much stuff that I don’t know where to start or what project to work on. It’s overwhelming and discouraging. I spend more time trying to organize my stuff than actually enjoying it.

Does this sound familiar to you? Perhaps it’s not art supplies, but your children’s toys, or the endless piles of laundry you’re folding and sorting and putting away.

Before I even heard of minimalism, I knew there must be a better way. I wanted a simple life, but I needed a little help figuring out how to get there. There are endless websites and magazine articles out there that tell you how to organize and store all your stuff. But that doesn’t get to the root of the problem – that you just have too much stuff!

That’s where Minimalism comes in. What exactly is Minimalism, you ask? Does it involve running off to live in a cabin in the woods for a year, like Henry David Thoreau? Does it mean you have to get rid of all your stuff?

No! Minimalism isn’t about depriving yourself of anything. Minimalism is the intentional focus on the things you value most and the removal of anything that distracts you from that. It’s about taking control of your life and not letting your stuff take control of you. It’s clearing away the physical clutter, but also the mental clutter that comes with it. It’s about living mindfully, being conscious of what you’re choosing to buy and why.

The more stuff you have, the more your stuff controls you. When you have less stuff, you have less to worry about, less to insure, less to clean, less to organize. Imagine being able to find anything right when you need it, because you have just what you need and you know exactly where to find it because everything has a home.

Declutter your home and consequently your mind, and have more space to play, to create and to enjoy the important things in life, like family, friends, relationships. So where on earth do you start?

It can be daunting to look around your home, at the overstuffed bookcases, the attic or garage filled with boxes of old things, your wardrobe overflowing with clothes.

It is suggested that you start by minimizing stuff in a small space or relatively simple area, such as the bathroom. A simple rule of thumb is, if an item is not essential, remove it. If you are trying to decide whether to keep or purge certain items, put them in a box with the date clearly marked. If after a few months you haven’t needed them, it’s likely you can live without them. A handy tip for decluttering your closets is to put all the hangers backwards. After you’ve worn something once, put it back in the closet on a hanger that is facing the right way. At the end of the season whatever is still hanging on the backwards hangers is something you did not wear, meaning you don’t really need or want – so get rid of it.

What do to with all this stuff? You may pass items along to family or friends if it will be useful to them. You can also turn your old stuff into cash. In addition to garage sales, there is Ebay and Craigslist. You may prefer to just donate your old stuff by taking it to the Goodwill, but a local homeless shelter or women’s center would be thrilled to receive quality items. Of course if the items you’re getting rid of are too worn out to resell or give away, there is always recycling or trashing them completely.

Once you complete the challenge of paring down and decluttering, there’s the additional challenge of keeping it that way. It requires some mental effort, but this pays off. Remember, the more stuff you own, the more your stuff owns you. The fewer things in a home, the easier it is to clean. Personal belongings are not the key to happiness. Learn to enjoy things without owning them by making use of libraries, museums and parks.

When you pare down your possessions, you simplify your life. When life is simple, you are less stressed, and when you are less stressed, you can focus on important things like spending time with people you love instead of spending time organizing or cleaning all your stuff.

If having a clutter-free home doesn’t appeal to you, maybe this will: You can’t take it with you, and so someone else will be going through your stuff after you’re gone. Save them some grief by keeping it simple.

When you go home tonight, take a look around your house. Is it a calm and welcoming place? Or is every day a battle to contain the chaos? If you don’t feel relaxed and peaceful when you arrive home, perhaps it is time to try a minimalistic approach.

Toastmasters International Competentent Communicator book, Speech #9 – Persuade with Power

Toastmaster Speech #4

Last night I gave my fourth speech at Toastmasters. As usual, I waited until the last possible moment to write the speech (guess how I spent my 4th of July?) I was editing it up until an hour before I had to go live. I even had to use my notes because I was afraid I was going to forget several points I wanted to make.turtlespeech

That being said, it apparently turned out really well! Either that, or everyone at my Toastmasters club is just super nice and accommodating.

I was going to post the speech here, like I did with my Icebreaker Speech and my Tribute to the Cavalier. My third speech was essentially the umbrella story, so I didn’t bother to post that after I did it.

Anyway, I was going to post my speech, but I was thinking about it as I lounged in bed this morning and I realized that this one might be one that I go back to and revise, rework and improve.

The title of the speech was “Why I Volunteer for the NFED”, and I briefly touched on how I am affected by EEC and what that means. Then I talked a little about how the NFED got started, and how I started out in denial about my issues, but then finally decided to get involved. I talked about how I volunteer as a liaison, a blog manager & contributor, and also about my own blog.

My conclusion was about how I volunteer because I want to give back what I have received from the NFED community over the years. I explained how nice it is when someone contacts me to tell me that my writing has inspired them, or that my example gives them hope for their child’s future.

I also put together a little handout with a brief description of EEC and ectodermal dysplasias, a photo of me and some of my EEC friends at a conference, and then links to the NFED site and blog, and to my own blog. I brought the latest copy of The Educator, the NFED newsletter, and I passed that around too.

Of course, as often happens when you wait until the last minute to do something, you realize you’ve left out
details, or that perhaps you could re-phrase something, or throw in a little anecdote or two.

So I think that’s what I will do… and then maybe I’ll even get someone to record the speech next time and I’ll post it here.

I think it’s interesting that the more I talk about EEC and ectodermal dysplasias, the less shy I am about it. It’s pretty cool to think back over my life and see the progression I’ve made with it… that I used to turn pink with embarrassment if anyone so much as suggested that I was different in some way. Now, I stand up in front of people and actually point out my flaws. Whaat!?

PS. I am now the VP of Public Relations for my local Toastmaster Club. Doesn’t that sound so official?

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