Getting Punched In The Face and Learning Lessons

sandor winsLast weekend Sandor had a Taekwondo tournament. He gets so nervous before tournaments.  As we drove the forty five minutes  he twitched and squirmed. He asked me every possible question about what I thought might happen. Even though he knew there was no way for me to know how big his division would be, who the judges might be, who he might go up against, how big the room would be or how many folks would be in the audience.  Every tournament is different.  Sandor has been training in traditional Taekwondo since he was three, nine years, he knows the routine, still he questions and speculates constantly, a pickle jar full of nerves.

His older sister, Lexie, was  the opposite. Before tournaments, competitions or testings, she was always excited, dancing around listening to music, totally relaxed.

Once we arrived at the gym and he was dressed out in his uniform he was still almost too nervous to stretch.  He tried. But he kept returning to my side.  He stood too close and bumped up against me  while intently watching everything going on in the room.

Then they called his division. Straightening his uniform he lined up side by side with his competitors. Some were bigger some were smaller, but they were all fairly close in age. He looked calm and confident.

For the next forty five minutes he competed in forms and sparred the other kids.  He was just about flawless. He took his time and had great timing and power on his form. He spared a bigger kid first and I was worried.  He was down two to zero but he kept his composure, then he did what he’s been trained to do and scored five straight points to win the match.

He ended up winning first and first in forms and sparring and I was so proud, not because he won, though. I was proud because my son has learned to put his nerves in a jar.  Taekwondo has taught him to be stronger than his fear, so he doesn’t end up beating himself. That’s an extraordinary ability, most of us struggle with all our lives.

And the boy has learned to take a punch.  During his first match the other kid scored the first two point with straight punches right to his face.  The kid was bigger and taller than Sandor so they were really solid punches. The second punch was so hard he actually had to readjust his head gear and mouth piece.  But he didn’t fall apart, he didn’t cry or snivel or let fear overwhelm him.  Instead, he kept his composure, shook it off and got to work.

Five years ago he would have teared up, gotten furious and embarrassed. You can’t fight when your emotions are incharge.  But this time he just bumped gloves with the other kid, as a way of saying “good shot”, then went back to work.

Our version of Taekwondo doesn’t sit well with some people.  We allow high ranks to punch to the face, because in real life, thugs punch you in the face.  And we don’t pull punches and kicks.  You never try to punch or kick you opponent with full power but you’re allowed to hit folks pretty hard. That’s the best way to learn defensive skills. You better keep your hands up. At the end of every sparring match the judges raise the hands of the fighters, “This time, next time.” It’s pretty black and white.  But so is life.

But this version of Taekwondo has served my family so well. Taekwondo has taught Sandor how to take a punch.  He knows there’s a difference between something hurting and actually getting hurt. He’s learned to shake it off and keep a clear head. That’s an invaluable life lesson.

And finally, Taekwondo tournaments are a great class room because kids get to watch other kids win and lose. When a ten year old boy throws a fit and acts like a three year old when he loses it’s embarrassing. Everybody, including the other kids, think “That’s so not cool. I don’t want to act like that.”

A fighter who is cool enought to lose well looks awesome, looks stronger and more in control. Who doesn’t want to be that guy.

So, some might think our version of Taekwondo is too violent and aggressive.  but invaluable life skills are learned everyday. Life can be tough, very tough. But Taekwondo teaches kids to keep their composure, shake it off and above all….be respectful.

My kids may come home with a bloody nose but they know how to persevere in life, they can control their fear and nerves and shake hands like a man.


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Junk In My Trunk

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I had to get my pick up truck worked on today and two young service guys were looking in the bed at my son’s skateboard. Then one of them said, “Man you got all the good stuff back here, look there’s fishing poles, the skateboard, a ramp for a dirt bike and boxing gloves.. He must be a pretty cool kid.”

I smiled and said,”That’s what happens when you don’t let them play video games.”

I’ve written about this several times but I think it bears repeating. As the mother of four I’ve made plenty of bad decisions…plenty. But one of the best decisions I made came twenty five years ago.  A friend gave mary and Jack where were just three or four this weird thing we hooked up to our tv. there were two controlers and they could play games like Duck Hunt and Super Mario Brothers. It was strange and everything looked like it was made out of Legos but the kids liked it, they liked it so much they wanted to play all the time and whined when I made them stop to eat or go to bed.

They didn’t want to do anything else. And then they started fighting about the games. Jack and Mary never fought but they were Hell bent on war over that box attached to our tv, which was tiny. I think it had a twelve inch screen, so the kids had to huddle up as though they were sitting around a campfire in order to play.

Finally, after a week, I put that whole mess in a grocery bag and gave it back. The kids were shocked and mad and sad, but I didn’t care. It gave off bad vibes, like a Ouija Board.

Latter, Jack thanked me. He swears he reads books and writes songs because I never let the online computer gaming, X-Box mania eat our children.

I didn’t care if they played all that stuff when they went to visit friends. I just didn’t want it in my house.

A few years latter Jack and Mary both insisted I raise their younger brother and sister under the same rules. Because looking back they decided they had a better childhood without all the screen time.

So far I’m feeling pretty good about my kid’s track record. Three out of four have gotten full rides to college. They have all had major mess ups and blow ups and derailments but so far they are awesome.

And Sandor the baby is 12. He’s the one will all the junk in my trunk, because I’ve listened to Jack and Mary and Lexie. As a result he plays drums, the guitar and trumpet.  He works out and loves his dirtbike and skateboarding. If the sun is shining he and his best buddy, Sam, are playing, like boys, like we used to.

It’s too late for us to all put the video and computer games in a grocery bag and simply give them back. But I think parents need to stop allowing their kids to have unlimited access to gaming at home and on the go. I watch kids riding in cars at baseball games and taekwondo tournaments and when they aren’t directly involved they stare at game boys and tablets, completely anti-social.

Kids learn everything by exploring, by being curious, by being bored. That’s when they invent the best games. When they look out the window on a long drive, when they are bored they begin  learning and seeing and imagining.

We need to give that back to our children. They deserve to be bored and restless and desperate for something to happen so they can learn to be creative, imaginative and inventive.



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Love Over Friendship….Everytime

sam and sandorBreaking news in our house! My son Sandor has had the same best friend for a very long time, Sam. And now he has a girl friend!   Sam rarely speaks to anyone he doesn’t know very well so this was a surprise.  Sandor and Sam are twelve.  But Sam has beautiful blonde hair and a gorgeous smile so we should have seen it coming.  According to Sandor they even walk around the halls with their arms around each other and Sam walks right up to his red headed girl and tickles her.

The quiet one has moves! And now Sandor really wants a girlfriend.

Last night after the boys showered and were in bed with the puppy, I stood at the end of their bed and made  what I thought to be a pretty informative mom speech.

I told them they would both have lots of girl friends and every time a new love came along they would want to dedicate their lives to her.  She would become the most important thing in the world to them, even if nobody else liked her too much. “You’ll blow off all your friends to hang with her on the weekends.  You’ll ignore all the texts and phone calls. You’ll try to skip football practice.  You won’t even have time to go fishing with your buddy because humans are programed to choose love. It’s the way God made us.  Every time you fall in love you’ll think this is it , this is the love that will change the world and you will choose love over your friends and family. It’s not because you guys don’t love us anymore, so none of us can take it personally,  it’s just the way we’re made. So neither one of you guys can get your feelings hurt too bad or get mad at each other. It happens to everybody.”

“And then two months down the road when you find out the hot girl was a mean little sneak and break up…you’ll be there to distract you from the heartbreak.  any questions?”

“No ma’am.”

then Sam said, “I’m going to her house this Saturday.”

“Dude, we have the taekwondo tournament.” Sandor whined.

“And I already paid Sam so I’m overriding your plans this time but that’s pretty much how it’s gonna roll from here on. Now go to sleep. I love you.”

A few minutes latter I overheard them plotting in the dark,  trying to figure out how to get Sandor a girl friend too. I felt better, armed with some mom knowledge, I knew their friendship would survive. And they wouldn’t be completely blindsided by the shrapnel of love.



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The Ugly Truth about Fraternites

fratFor years I have pleaded with my children, all of them, boys and girls, to stay the hell away from fraternities when they got to college. For years and years almost all the news about fraternities is bad. Can you name the last time you heard something good about a frat?

When I was in college the frat houses were home to the biggest, drunkest sloppiest parties on campus….every weekend. There were bongs and kegs everywhere. The fraternities had little paperback books with all the freshmen’s profile pictures and only invited the pretty girls. Nobody got carded and everybody got really really drunk.

From what I’ve been told by college kids recently…things are exactly the same.

If you put thirty unsupervised teenage boys in a house together what’s going to happen….bad things. So, why is anybody surprised by the horrendous behavior of these fraternities? I’ve said it over and over, teen age boys have more bad ides in an hour than the rest of us have in a year because their brain isn’t fully developed.  A grown man wants to throw the water balloon in the living room just as much as the seventeen year old. But he doesn’t do it, he goes outside to nail his buddy, because throwing it inside is a bad idea,  it’s wrong and he’ll get in trouble. That’s the difference between a boy brain and a man brain.

I have a friend who owns a low rent hotel close to a very pretty lake.  Recently he rented the entire hotel out to a fraternity.  He was paid with a national fraternity credit card.  They bought cases and cases and cases of whiskey and vodka.  They did over 20,000 dollars worth of damage to their rooms… but my friend wasn’t upset because the national chapter of the fraternity always paid for the damages.  It was all expected and taken care of. In face, my friend seemed almost pleased, I guess that’s how he paid for remodeling.

And that’s just what fraternities do.

When you put  unsupervised, well off and elitist boys in a house together….and you get sexism, racism, violence, arrogance and ignorance.

For the most part, frat boys are very similar, middle to upper class and white.  They avoid diversity (that’s generally seen as a bad thing), as a result they start thinking they are better than everyone else and more deserving of what ever they want. That’s human nature. If man were not an animal fraternities might work.

The question is why do we allow fraternities on our college campuses.  College is all about shaping these kids into smart, thoughtful and productive adults.  Is that what fraternities help us do? That’s not what those basement frat parties did for me. The real question is why would we ever want our daughters to walk inside a fraternity house and why do we want our sons to be part of that culture that thrives on and cultivates elitism, sexism and racism?


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Yankees and Clocks in Dallas County, Arkansas

clockThere is a beautiful antique Seth Thomas mantel clock in the closet at my house.  It belongs to my son Jack, who is twenty six years old, but doesn’t really have a place to keep the old clock yet.

The story behind the Seth Thomas clock comes from the Stell side of my family. I heard it hundreds of times growing up but it was never written down. For generations the Stell family lived near Fordyce, in the Big Woods of Dallas County Arkansas, an area full of pine trees and farm land.

Just two months before the start of the Civil War in 1861, a  clock peddle from Connecticut was traveling through Dallas County, Arkansas.  My great grandfather, William Dallas Stell was a teen-ager when the enthusiastic clock peddler’s wagon rolled up to their farm house. He was invited to wash up and stay for dinner.

The young man accepted the invitation and while they ate he explained his predicament. He told the family he was from Connecticut and fully understood the war was about to begin.  His brothers already planned to fight with the Union and he felt he had to return and fight along side them.

He was afraid however that he’d never make it back in time because of his wagon and the Seth Thomas clocks he was carrying with him.  He made a deal with my great great grand father as young William Dallas Stell listened.  He wanted to leave the wagon and the clocks in the barn.  If he lived through the war he would return and give Mr. Stell a clock. If he did not return all three or four clocks and the wagon would belong to the Stell family.

The men shook hands and the younger man said he was certain the war wouldn’t last too long. The next morning, at first light, the young clock peddler took off on horseback to join his own brothers.

The barn, the wagon and the clocks survived the Civil War, but they young man never returned. Each boy in the family was given a clock with the instructions  it was to stay in the Stell family.

And so, the young Yankee  peddlers clock sits in my closet waiting for my son, who bears his great grand father’s name, Jack Stell, to finally take it home.



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Almost A Love Story

valMy mom, Ann Stell McDaniel, hated this story, but in honor of Valentine’s Day I’m going to tell it.

My parents met and “fell in love” in third grade at Jones School, in Hot Springs, Arkansas. From day one until my dad died it was a beautiful war zone, a romantic, tumultuous roller coaster ride. Even the first year, when they were just eight years old was brutal.

My mom’s family had money.  She was an only child and her father was a surgeon at St. Joseph’s. In the early thirties they had just moved into a big, beautiful two story home on Prospect Avenue.

For my father’s family money was tight. His family lived on Whittington Avenue, on the other side of West Mountain.  Because there were lots of mouths to feed, Dad always had several jobs to help the family. In February of 1931 he was working as a stock boy at a drug store down town.  Because he was only eight he couldn’t handle the cash register but he cleaned up and made deliveries.

That year there was an enormous box of candy in the front window for Valentine’s Day.  Dad swore it was almost as big as he was. He couldn’t stop staring at the silky read heart shaped box and he knew he had to get that candy for his one true love…Ann Stell.

For two weeks he worked extra hours, even skipping school twice, to save up enough money to buy my mom the giant box of candy. On Valentine’s Day he had just enough money to buy his true love the chocolate she deserved. Proudly, he marched up Prospect Avenue carrying the heart shaped box in both hands.  He climbed the steps to her front door and rang the door ball.

After a moment her maid, Miss Willie answered the door and called for Ann to come down stairs.

Grinning, dad tried to hand my mom the box of chocolates but she shook her head and said, “I’m sorry, my mother doesn’t let me eat cheap candy.”

When she went inside dad trudged back down the steps, then sat down on the curb in front of her house and ate chocolate until he threw up.

Mom really  hated that story. So, in her defense, I will tell you she was very very spoiled and sometimes used her good fortune to take care of Dad.   Every Christmas, when they were little, she would ask for things like Erector Sets,  Army toys and sets of paint, knowing she would get everything on her list. Obviously she was asking for stuff my dad wanted. It’s true, she broke his heart over and over but then she did her best to put it back together.



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Mean Middle Age Women….It Never Stops

bra strapIt’s an old story but I’m still surprised. Some women just can’t stop being bitches. The worst ones are those who do it in the name of friendship. Because that means one of two things. 1. They don’t actually understand the meaning of friendship or 2. They are liars.

My oldest daughter, Mary, recently got a great new job. She’s so excited, I’m so proud and almost all her friends are so proud. Except for one. Melissa. Instead of saying “congratulations” the first thing out of her mouth was, “Oh my god, you don’t have any experience like that. How are you gonna pull that off?  And no offense, you don’t even have the right clothes for that job.”

That’s an unbelievable mean spirited comment and only works to undermine Mary’s confidence (if she actually cared what Melissa thought). Is that what Melissa was trying to do? She says, “No! of course not!” But the truth is Melissa has been stuck in the same lame job for five years. She doesn’t have the guts, drive or intelligence to work her way up and she want’s to keep everybody down in the ugly trenches with her. If you step back and think about it, Melissa’s comment just makes her look pathetic and jealous.

This weekend I was the MC for a  big event, with well over a thousand people. I was nervous because I felt old, but excited too.Things were going along beautifully. Literally dozens and dozens of folks, strangers and friends, stopped me and made positive comments. “You look beautiful,” “You’re doing a great job,” “Take a picture with me.”

Then a “friend” stopped me and smiling said something like, “Hampo, I’ve got to take you shopping.” Seriously? I was stunned. Moments later I had to take the mike and get back up on stage.

Her comment was not helpful, friendly or funny. And even if it was true, why would a “friend” say something like that when there was nothing I could do to change the situation?

A real  friend would say, “Your bra strap is showing” or “you have lipstick on your teeth.” Cause that’s fixable.

Maybe other people in the audience were thinking the same thing, fortunately they had enough tact and kindness of heart not to say anything. Or maybe, they didn’t agree with her and I looked just fine.

So why would she say something so unnecessary and bitchy?

I hear people make derogatory remarks about this person’s and other’s appearance but I would never never ever repeat them because that’s not what friends do.  Friends build each other up. Period.

I always told my kids the one thing they can not say to friends is, “No offense but………”

If you start a sentence that way you are going to something mean and hateful. Sure, it might be true, but that doesn’t give you the right to say it! And I told them not to trust kids who start  sentences with “No offense but….”

Mean girls are the same in third grade, in your twenties and right on into old age. Wish them well, be respectful, maybe even have a beer together but watch always your back.



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Idiot Eighteen Year Olds….. Part I and II

pregAs a brand new crop of kids turn eighteen and nineteen there is a roar of power and then a groan as roughly twenty five percent of them do something profoundly stupid. One in four will make a mistake so big it will literally change the course of their lives.  They will get pregnant, they will flunk out of school, they will fall in love with some dude in a foreign country then take out a bunch of student loans and send the money to him. They will get busted with drugs and lose their scholarships, they will get a tattoo of an electric guitar  on their forehead.

At eighteen they have the power and authority  to do things on their own, without our permission. The problem is their brain is still developing.  It won’t be fully cooked for a few more years.  So they have adult authority and responsibility but they don’t have enough brain power yet. Sure your kid is smart, she scored a 30 on her ACT, but she’s still really dumb in some ways. And it’s not one hundred percent her fault.

Remember, your kid didn’t get pregnant or get fired for flipping of the boss, or get thrown out of college to hurt you. They did it cause they are dumb and immature. It’s not about you so stop acting like it is..

I’m writing this for two reasons,

First: I’ve been through it and I know how horrible it is to watch a child you love more than life itself screw up so profoundly. You and every other adult tell your kid she’s about to wreck her own world. But she won’t listen. She’s eighteen. She can do what she wants and you literally can’t stop her. I’ve been there.

The second reason is because there are parents out there who are messing up just as badly. I keep running into kids who have done something stupid and horrible, like flunking out of college freshman year, and their parents don’t just get mad….they basically cut them off and won’t forgive them.

Hey parents, stop screwing up like that! Go on get mad, be furious, break stuff, don’t talk to them for a couple of weeks, stop paying for their phone or car or whatever. But then….it’s your job…to help them move forward, past the terrible mistake.

If they are sorry and realized they screwed up big time, you have help them get back on track.  It might take a year for the anger to go away, but it’s your job as the adult, with the fully formed brain, to help them back up.

If she’s pregnant you have to help, you can’t just throw up your hands and say “well that’s it, I’m done.”

If your brilliant boy is out of school and working at Taco Bell because he never went to class and just played video games for three months he’s probably learned his lesson. If he wants to go back to college help him.  Notice I did not say pay for it, but help him find a way.

If your kid moved to Colorado as soon as he turned eighteen because there’s legal pot there, then falls flat on his face. Forgive him after a while and give that boy a hand.

When I blew up my own universe as a sophomore in college, my mom eventually forgave me and helped me get my dumb ass 19 year old self straightened out.

When Mary obliterated her promising future the day she turned eighteen we were all so mad and heart broken, we could barely look at the girl. But eventually we forgave and she succeeded mightily.  In our house we call it “Mary Part Two” and it’s a very real and important thing.

I have a friend who’s son got messed up with drugs when he was eighteen or nineteen. He ended up robbing a shoe store with an unloaded gun.  He will be released from prison when he’s thirty. But while he was locked up his mom never gave up on him. He went to school and learned how to be a plumber and electrician.  He’s already got a job lined up and the boy isn’t bitter.  He told his mom he’d probably be dead if he hadn’t gone to prison. He’s going to go on and have a successful life and I’m so proud of his entire family.

Parents you can’t give up. Don’t make it easy on them but you have to forgive and love and encourage. It’s the job God gave you when he blessed you with that child. Now do it.

If you like this: buy my book. It’s fun and cheap…on Amazon.






Boring Man Jobs

dirt bikeThis morning I kind of hollered down the hall at work to several co-workers, “I’m paying the little boys fifteen dollars each to take all the Christmas lights off the outside of the house today.”

Someone asked, “Are they supervised?” That’s a reasonable question.

“No,” I said, “But Sam and Sandor are twelve now. I figured if they are old enough to ride a dirt bike and shoot an AR 15 sniper rifle they are old enough to take down the Christmas lights.   I don’t want them to get the grown up good stuff  and not the boring man skills.”

After I said it I realized how smart and right I was!

In my desire to give my kids the best life, the most active life, a well rounded and meaningful life, I’m sometimes guilty of forgetting life isn’t all about the “awesome stuff”.  Real life is full of tedious, boring and necessary chores.

Now that Sandor knows how to handle an assault rifle I’m sure he’ll be able to keeps us safe during a zombie apocalypse but in the mean time I need him to step up and help with some normal “man jobs”.  We live in the county so he needs to know how to burn all the boxes and wrapping paper from Christmas in a safe manner, unsupervised. He knows not to use gas to get things going. And he better understand he needs to tend the  smoky fire with a rake and access to a hose without wandering off to chase a lizard or letting it get too big even though that looks really cool.

Now that he can jump his 125 dirt bike across the creek, I need him to climb up the ladder and take all the Christmas lights off the house and sweep the roof.  And I shouldn’t have to watch him.

I want my kid to be brave and cool, all parents do.  But I need him to be practical too. Even after he makes his bed it looks like there’s a Great Dane sleeping under the covers but he’s pretty good with a staple gun and drill.

Because he’s twelve he likes driving my little truck around a parking lot, that means he’s also old enough to jump start the truck for me on cold mornings…unsupervised.  Because we’ve been doing it together for years.

The truth is, I don’t want my son to grow up because he’s the baby. But it’s my responsibility as a parent to teach him how to be a man…even when it’s not that much fun.

And in return he gets to keep playing with all those “big boy toys.” It’s a fair trade.

If you like this story you can get a whole book full for just $2.99 on Amazon!


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The Evolution of Children

mary and jackI recently read something that said husbands and wives get bored with each other because we never change.  But we never get “bored” with our kids because we expect them to change constantly and that’s what they do.

This isn’t an earth shattering revelation but man is it a true statement.

My husband, Alex Hampo is the exact same man he was when we got married.  He works too much, smokes too much and doesn’t take care of himself.. He loves his family first and foremost, in fact he really doesn’t like anyone but our family. He’s fearless and hates confrontation unless it’s in his kitchen.  Then he’ll bow up on a bus or a big ass dishwasher.

My kids, on the other hand are lava lamps. The change is constant.

Growing up we all felt pretty certain Mary would eventually be a lawyer/political figure. She was addicted to Murder She Wrote, loved to argue…dramatically and was passionate about all kinds of political topics.  When people would make ugly remarks about lawyers and politicians, trying to discourage her I told her time and time again, “A good attorney or lawyer can do more good in a single day than the rest of us can accomplish in a life time.”

Then she got to college and things changed.  Mary was all about non-profits and saving the world through the  .org people. She even considered starting her own organization that made birthday cakes for little kids in shelters. Her non-profit passion lasted for five years. Now she’s sick of non profits and more than a little discouraged by their sense of entitlement and  lack of hustle.

Next week Mary starts a new job with a law firm and is more excited than I’ve seen her in years. She’ll be a Litigation Specialist . I’m not sure what that means but at twenty six she now officially has a job that sounds way more important than mine.

Jack went to college to make me happy. He graduated, handed me my diploma and started his life.  He’s always been exceptionally good with money For six or seven years now Jack has worked as a bartender and manager at some of the best known bars and restaurants from Manhattan to Nashville. He makes huge money for a young man. He dates beautiful women and is able to buy himself anything he wants from electronics to expensive tennis shoes.  But what Jack really loves to do is save his money and go on grand adventures. He goes surfing in Puerto Rico, hiking in Hawaii, he spent a month just hanging out on the beaches of Belize and swimming with manatee. He roams the globe from Turkey to Kentucky.

Last November jack called to tell me he wasn’t coming home for Christmas this year.  We were all shocked. Jack loves Christmas with the family. He explained he’d decided to host a dinner for all the homeless men in his Nashville neighborhood. He’d enlisted lots of local restaurants  to help, there were goodie bags with socks and gloves for the guys who showed up. And he had lots of unlikely volunteers who really wanted to help too. Bar people, who don’t normally volunteer, but were suddenly touched by the power and magic of giving to others. He called me Christmas eve so excited , so full of stories about serving these homeless men I just listened and cried.

Jack, the money making glob trotting man is now working on a way to create a Non-profit that connects unexpected volunteers with projects they can really get behind.

Jack and Mary have flip flopped and it’s absolutely spectacular. Nothing boring about it. I just want them to find their joy in life.

And Alex, maybe he’s changed a little.  He doesn’t mind if I buy crunchy peanut butter anymore and he’s learned how to text like a teenage girl. “I luv u”  with a little winky face. That’s progress.


If you like this story you can get a whole book full for just $2.99 on Amazon!




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