Gas + Motor Oil = True Love?

Do you want to see a real picture of “true love”? Right here. You’re looking under the hood of my wife’s ’86 Volvo parked at the AM/PM at 11:15 pm. Why? Because she asked me to fill up her car tonight so she wouldn’t have to do it tomorrow morning on her way to a work conference in Seattle. Of course I agreed, knowing that she would appreciate having that done for her. During the two minute drive to the gas station I noticed the “oil” light was illuminated. So, while the gas was pumping I popped the hood and checked the oil level. It was off the stick! Not good. Once done with the gas I went inside and bought four quarts of motor oil and poured them in. 
I understand that this story isn’t a romantic story like The Princess Bride, but it’s real life. Sometimes simply putting gas and oil in your wife’s car so she doesn’t have to and so it won’t break down is an expression of true love.

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Delayed Satisfaction

I’m writing this at roughly 35,000 feet above sea level, somewhere above the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. I should be on the ground in Dallas, Texas, already, except my 5 am flight out of Seattle was delayed over two hours, due to some (obviously) unexpected mechanical problems. Even though I’m anxious to reach my final destination of Kansas City to see my 21 year old daughter and I have already missed my noon-departing connecting flight out of Dallas I am having perhaps the most enjoyable flight of my entire life. I’ve blogged recently about making a conscious effort to look at events through a different perspective and today’s flight offered me yet another opportunity to grow my grace muscles.
I left my house at about 2:20 am and drove north on an almost deserted I-5 to a hotel near the SeaTac airport to park my car and take the shuttle to the airport. I was delighted to see that there was no line to get through security. Granted, it was 3:20 in the morning, but, still, I’d expect a bit more activity in a big airport like SeaTac. I got to my gate and settled in to a comfy chair, spreading out my long legs for what I anticipated would be the last time until I disembarked in Dallas. I’m 6’8″ and too much of a cheapskate to pay for extra legroom on domestic flights. Once I got on board the plane I was happy to note that we were at about 60% capacity and, even better, there was no one in the exit row three aisles behind my assigned seat. Anyone who flies knows that exit row seating is the place to be if you’re looking for more leg room. I casually caught the attention of the nearest flight attendant and discreetly asked if I could switch to one of those coveted spots if no one sat there.
He told me to wait about five minutes more until everyone was on board, but that I was first on his list. My knees were silently praying for a miracle, while my eyes watched every single passenger slowly walk past the exit row seats. Much to my delight, I got one of the seats and, for the first time ever in my life, I had the luxury of being able to fully stretch out my legs while seated on an airplane. As a bonus, there was no one sitting next to me so I had the whole row to myself. Sometimes it’s just the little things in life that can make a 5 am Monday morning cross country flight just a little bit more enjoyable, even on less than three hours of sleep.
I even took to social media to thank American Airlines for the leg room surprise. It’s good to express gratitude. I was mentally prepared for an uneventful flight to Dallas and then on to Kansas City. I may or may not have hummed a few bars of a song I played in jazz band in high school as I stretched out my legs. Goin’ to Kansas City…Kansas City, here I come!
Then, just as our flight attendants were getting their yellow life jacket safety demonstration mojo on the captain interrupted with news that there was a mechanical problem of some sort so we would have a short delay while he powered down and restarted everything. Talk about a mood killer. After a few minutes the captain informed us that we were good to go. So, we taxied out a bit only to come to another stop. At this point the nearest flight attendant, Eric, (the same guy who switched my seats earlier) started talking to me, as his jetseat was a couple of feet away from mine. We talked about a variety of things and he couldn’t have been a nicer guy. 
Well, that short delay turned into something longer and before too long we were back at the gate while the mechanics worked their magic on the plane. As the delay stretched from 30 to 45 minutes many people worriedly started approaching the flight attendants, inquiring about their connecting flights. From my vantage point I was able to see and hear Eric and Deborah and Ana patiently address the concerns of each person, assuring them that American Airlines has a program in place that automatically rebooks passengers once a flight is delayed 45 minutes or longer. (I actually received a phone call from American while we were delayed to inform me that I had been rebooked on a later flight.) As the delay passed the hour mark and crept toward 90 minutes the flight crew continued to be as kind and compassionate as possible despite the increasing level of discontent among some passengers. I’ve been on dozens of flights over my life and have seen such professionalism among flight attendants. I decided to tweet about my positive experience and give a specific shout out to both Eric and Deborah as both of them had, at various points during the long delay, taken the time to ask me if I had a connecting flight to catch and to inform me that there would be multiple flights out of Dallas to Kansas City still to come this afternoon. Again, it only took a moment for me to intentionally show my gratitude.



Thankfully, just after our delay passed the two hour mark our pilot, Captain Stewart, announced that the needed paperwork had been completed and that the plane was good to go. I’m pretty sure an audible sigh of relief was heard aboard flight 1228. Eric returned to his safety seat and we resumed talking. He thanked me for being so patient and not complaining. I mentioned that I was actually quite grateful that the mechanical issues had been found while our plane was on the ground instead of while we were already airborne. He laughed a little and I mentioned something about the importance of perspective and that it wasn’t his fault, or the captain’s fault or the mechanic’s fault that there were issues. Besides, it’s a major inconvenience for the flight crew and various support staff as well. Several of the flight crew were returning home after a few days away from their loved ones and would also arriving later than expected. Some of them also had missed their connections (home), just like the rest of us. I’m sure that they were just as frustrated as the rest of us, yet there was no evidence of it based on their body language. They all were happy to assist passengers as quickly as possible and always with a smile. While we were still ascending to our cruising altitude I told Eric that I had tweeted American Airlines about the positive experience during the delay and he joked that I should mention him by name. What’s especially funny is that I had already sent a tweet that praised him specifically, even though he was only joking about me actually doing that. I told him that I’m trying to be more purposeful in expressing my gratitude and was particularly appreciative of his efforts that went above and beyond the call of duty. I hope American recognizes this entire flight crew for their outstanding efforts today. Disclosure: I was in no way compensated or even asked by American Airlines or any of the Flight Crew to write this post. I genuinely appreciate their fine work today in the face of intense customer dissatisfaction.

What’s In Your Garden?

It’s raining again today where I live, which isn’t surprising given that I live in Washington state, which is part of a region known for its amount of rainy days each year. But, this post isn’t about rain as much as it is about what the rain produces: green grass. As I was sitting alone one recent morning enjoying a cup of coffee before my kids woke up, I realized that the rain was responsible for turning everything varying shades of green, even through the winter here. During the long dry summers the lush grass goes dormant and turns brown if not watered. My neighbors, however, have a sprinkler system that waters their yard every evening at 10:27 pm. Rain or shine. The lesson, though, isn’t that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence (even if it’s true in this example), but, rather, that the grass is always greener where you water it!

All too often in life it’s easy for me to forget to express my appreciation to the people in my life who love me. As a husband and father I try my best to use my words and actions to encourage my wife and kids, and I know that is music to my ears when they do the same to me. I can’t help being an incurable romantic, so I love it when my Facebook newsfeed contains posts by friends who are publicly expressing their appreciation for their spouses, children, parents or friends. I’ve especially enjoyed reading posts from a husband or wife that is bragging about something that his or her spouse did, said or accomplished. It’s such a simple act that has profound meaning. Genuine kindness and appreciation are the showers that bring life and health to relationships.

Just last week my kids helped me to prepare a small section of soil next to our driveway that we use each year to grow sugar snap peas.

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Rows of Sugar Snap Peas sprouting

We carefully removed the weeds and then planted the rows of seeds. In about 10 weeks we’re going to be enjoying some delicious sugar snap peas because you reap what you sow! The same is true in relationships. If I’m on the lookout for opportunities to tell my wife and kids how thankful I am for them or how much I appreciate something that they did, that’s going to not only strengthen our relationship but also help me to focus on the good in them. As a bonus, it will likely be encouraging them at the same time. It’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, I suppose. I have a friend who posts three things for which she is thankful every Tuesday, calling it GratiTuesday. I love that attitude of gratitude that she intentionally writes about each week. I want to be a husband, father and friend that is known for cultivating kindness and gratitude in his garden of life.

Unfortunately, I’ve learned that the opposite of the attitude of gratitude is also true. The saying “the grass is always greener on the other side” probably happened because the people involved didn’t take the time to notice or appreciate what they had right in front of them all along.

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What’s in your garden?

I firmly believe that if we each spent a small fraction of the time that we usually use to complain about people and instead used that to water own yards or gardens, then we would see some beautiful grass, plants and flowers right in front of us. I know that I can complain about things to my kids or wife, but that only comes off as nagging or pestering and ultimately hurts our relationship. The reality is that if I’m looking for ways to be hurt or things to complain about, I can find them (or manufacture them) pretty easily. Yet, all that does is feed the negativity and create distance and hurt and separation in the relationship because I’m filling myself with contempt for my loved ones. On the other hand, when I choose to focus on the good and to communicate my love and appreciation, our bond is strengthened. I’m finding that looking for the good in my wife and kids is important when I’m not feeling in a particularly appreciative mood. I want my kids to see and feel what it’s like for their dad to love and appreciate both them and their mother, no matter the circumstances. My attitude of gratitude isn’t dependent upon receiving thanks and appreciation from others. It’s a choice that I get to make daily. Sometimes even minute by minute. In the end, though, I choose to be loving and kind instead of critical and ungrateful.

This notion of choosing an attitude of gratitude is actually based in scientific research by people much smarter and more educated than I am. I recently came across some articles from famous psychologists Gottman and Gottman that really confirmed what I had already been feeling and inspired me to be more intentional in looking for the good in my wife and kids (and others, of course). What follows is an excerpt from their findings.

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman explained in an interview, “which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

“It’s not just scanning environment,” chimed in Julie Gottman. “It’s scanning the partner for what the partner is doing right or scanning him for what he’s doing wrong and criticizing versus respecting him and expressing appreciation.”

Contempt, they have found, is the number one factor that tears couples apart. People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there.

People who give their partner the cold shoulder — deliberately ignoring the partner or responding minimally — damage the relationship by making their partner feel worthless and invisible, as if they’re not there, not valued. And people who treat their partners with contempt and criticize them not only kill the love in the relationship, but they also kill their partner’s ability to fight off viruses and cancers. Being mean is the death knell of relationships.

Please do yourself a favor and take the ten or fifteen minutes needed to read the articles which describe their findings in greater depth. (Links to the articles are here: Business Insider article, Masters of Love-Atlantic article)

Perhaps your reaction will be like mine, both convicted encouraged and inspired by what you read there. I hope that your loved ones will appreciate the changes that they see in you and that you will notice how much better they also look once you’ve consistently been showering them with your kindness and generosity. After all, we reap what we sow. So, what’s in your garden?

Daddy Cookies: Snitching Sisters

Last Saturday morning my two and a half year old daughter woke up and came downstairs to find me in the kitchen, where I had just emptied the dishwasher and was enjoying a moment of peace and quiet before everyone else would wake up. She climbed up into my lap and happily announced that she wanted to make cookies with me. But, not just any cookies, Daddy Cookies. As a rookie SAHD back in 2001 I realized that I really enjoyed making cookies with the help of my kids. I stumbled upon a recipe in a Betty Crocker cookie recipe booklet for oatmeal-peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies that were an instant hit with both my kids and me. I’ve tweaked the recipe ever so slightly (extra vanilla is yummy!) and added the secret ingredient, The Mixing Dance. My kids named them Daddy Cookies because it was much shorter and easier to say than the official full name. At any rate, I eagerly agreed and we started to gather the necessary ingredients and the mixer.

After she pushed a chair to the counter by the mixer we began to add our ingredients, starting with the two eggs fresh from our backyard chickens. My daughter is learning to crack eggs and does a pretty nice job for someone so little. (In a related note, her tiny fingers are excellent for picking out tiny pieces of shell.) Just after we added the sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, butter, salt, vanilla and peanut butter and mixed them all up, my five year old arrived downstairs and asked if she could help. My loving two year old excitedly told her big sister that she could help us before I even had a chance to respond. I was really enjoying the fact that she was willing to share this baking experience with her sister and wasn’t feeling threatened by her sister’s presence. I suppose it’s what she’s always been used to, being the sixth of six kids in our family. Well, after we added the next two ingredients, the flour and oatmeal, my girls realized that they needed to snitch some dough. I don’t mind it but I do ask that they use spoons and that they wait until the mixer is turned off. (I know, I’m so mean.) I’ve been snitching raw cookie dough my whole life and have never gotten sick so please spare me any comments about that. I will admit that eating dough is one of my favorite parts of making cookies. All that was left was to add the chocolate chips and we would be set to scoop and bake the cookies. Except there was one small problem.

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My helpers

The can of chocolate chips wasn’t in the cupboard where it was supposed to be. With two teenage daughters and an 11 year old son in the house, I figured that there was one of three places it could be. Since my son was already gone hiking with my wife, I figured that we would check his room first. So, I told my girls that whoever found the can of chocolate chips first would get the first snitch with chocolate chips. My five year old declined, of course. My two year old, however, literally jumped at the chance to go into her brother’s room without him there (usually a no-no). As my two year old started to climb down from her chair by the counter, my five year old decided that it would be fun, after all, to get the chocolate chips and because she would be able to run faster than her little sister. As they ran through the living room I could hear their shrieks: delight from my five year old and dismay from my two year old. It grew quiet as they went upstairs into his room. I was already mentally preparing myself to not overreact or come across as harsh when the inevitable screams would resume in a few moments when one of them would have won the battle for the can of chocolate chips.

So, you can imagine how my heart delighted when those screams never happened and instead I heard giggling. I turned my head just in time to see my two little girls both carrying the jar of chocolate chips. I wish I could have captured a picture of them as they were both beaming broadly and were practically hugging each other and the can at the same time. It was so stinkin’ cute! My five year old told me that she didn’t want her sister to feel sad so she suggested that they both hold the cookies so they could both get the reward. Choking back tears of gratitude for such a kind and generous daughter, I knelt down in front of both of them and wrapped the two of them in a great big Daddy Hug. I told my five year old how proud I was of her for making such a kind and compassionate choice with her sister. They brought the chocolate chips to the counter and each put a scoop of chips in the steel bowl and we finished the final mixing as we danced one more time. As I spooned the dough balls on the baking sheet I noticed that my girls were both grinning and trying to “sneak” additional snitches from the bowl of dough. I feigned a growl as they both giggled some more and we all laughed. While my kids continue to get older I love knowing that they all have very fond memories of Daddy Cookies. 

Can You Help Me, Sir?

“Why did that crying lady talk to you, Daddy?”

Oh, the precious innocence of childhood. My five year old was sincere in her question after I had been approached in the parking lot after completing our purchases at Petsmart.

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(Photo found via Google search)

As my son (age 11), two daughters (5 and 2) and I neared our van a woman rushed up to me and through well-rehearsed gasps, sobs and tears, explained that she had just been released from jail and was desperately trying to get back home to Everett (a city north of Seattle, about an hour from where I was in Tacoma), but her car needed gas and she didn’t have any money. “Could you please help me out? That man over there (she gestured at someone) gave me $5. The police gave me a quarter (she opened her palm to show me the shiny coin). But I don’t want to get arrested for panhandling and go back to jail. Please, sir, anything would help.”

Thanks to my son’s maturity and good sense, my little kids had gotten into their car seats while this charade played out in the parking lot beside my van. I told the woman (truthfully) that I didn’t have any cash on me and before I could say anything more she walked off in the direction of some other people in the parking lot.

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Brazenly approaching her next target.

My kids have observed me helping out some of the plethora of people who panhandle in our area. They’re frequently standing at a busy intersection at the exit from that very shopping area (there’s also a Target, Hobby Lobby and a dozen other stores there) and at the end of exit ramps. On more than one occasion we have brought hot food and coffee to them. We’ve prepared bag lunches and had them in the van to give out during our excursions. Last year my oldest daughter wrote a song describing some memories she had of us helping homeless people and I blogged about it (read it here). Some might say I’m a sucker for trying to help those who appear to be in a rough spot. I’m guilty of giving a dollar or two to people at times because I choose to believe that people can actually be good and that it’s okay to try to be kind to others. I try to model compassion and kindness for others so my children will grow up with similar values and a willingness to help out others.

“But, Daddy, why didn’t you help her? Why didn’t you give her any money?” My sweet girl just wanted to help that woman. Unfortunately, I had to gently tell her the harsh reality that not all people are honest or trustworthy. In this particular case, this very same woman had approached me as I had returned to my car after shopping at Target with my 14 year old daughter and our exchange student. She told me the exact same story, only this most recent time had been more polished with emotion and tears and that shiny quarter. That previous time I had chosen to give her a couple of bucks (I told you I’m a sucker sometimes), even though red flags were there. I remember that I told her “God bless you”, wished her well and shook her hand. She seemed to be sincerely grateful and warmly returned my hand shake while I gave her the small amount of cash. I remember saying a quick prayer for her as I climbed into my van. After that exchange my 14 year old daughter and I talked about the issue of panhandlers and how there were multiple reports of people scamming and earning crazy amounts of money by playing off preying on the generosity, goodwill and kindness of strangers. Fool me once, shame on you.

Fool me twice, shame on me. I thought about confronting this scam artist and getting all up in her business. Maybe I would have if I hadn’t been in a time pinch to get my van from the repair shop before it closed in 20 minutes. It’s probably better that I just left it alone. I’m sure it wouldn’t have mattered to her or been the epiphany that turned her life around. I likely would’ve come off as just another sanctimonious white guy. In reality, I wasn’t really angry. Rather, I was filled with sadness for this woman who was essentially stealing from others. I don’t understand the mindset that one must have to choose this type of behavior, but, ultimately, I feel sorry for her. Still, the next time someone asks me for some help I’ll think about it. I’m less likely to reach into my pocket for any cash because of these kinds of experiences although I’m still willing to look for a meaningful way to help others. I wish there was some sort of happy ending to this story, a way that I could neatly wrap it in a bow that makes us all feel better. But that’s not the reality of this situation. Instead, I’m left with a heavy heart that I had to explain to my five year old that not all people tell the truth and that they are willing to lie to others to get some money. But, I’m glad that she could begin to learn that lesson in a safe environment with me to help her process it.

As we pulled away from our parking spot I noticed the woman walking across the parking lot toward her next Target. Literally and figuratively.

Oh, Crash-mas Tree!

There are a handful of sounds that will wake me up and get me out of bed almost instantaneously. Among them are a dog dry-heaving, a cat hacking up a hairball, my kid telling me she might be getting sick, and the thud of my kid falling out of bed. Maybe. That’s really about it. Or so I thought. I can now add crashing Christmas tree to that list. I was still asleep at 7:15 am (My kids sleep in, who am I to complain?) when all of a sudden I heard the unmistakable sound of glass shattering on a wood floor. As I jumped out of bed and into some clothes I knew that the tree had fallen over. We got our tree a couple of weeks ago and, despite my best efforts, it never really was perfectly vertical. It was our Christmas tree version of the leaning tower of Pisa. It leaned a little bit. But it was sturdy enough (or so it seemed) to stay upright and the kids had gleefully decorated it with their ornaments once I had finished stringing the lights. Sure, it was slightly quirky that, from one angle, the angel atop the tree seemed to be tilted. But after a few days I stopped noticing how it leaned and pretty much forgot about it. It was pretty and it was upright.

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Trees can’t hold their egg nog very well. 

Well, as I came down the steps to assess the damage, my wife was already standing next to it, trying to keep the water from flowing all over a cardboard puzzle that my two year old had left out near the tree the previous day. I promptly retrieved some towels from the kitchen and continued to clean up the water, silently wishing I hadn’t refilled the reservoir right before I had gone to bed that night. Oh, I should mention that I at least had the presence of mind to unplug the lights before I touched the tree or started cleaning up the mess. My wife gave one more look at the fallen tree and informed me that some people refer to this as a tree fainting. And, with that tidbit of knowledge imparted to me, she happily left for work, knowing that I would get it all taken care of before she returned home that evening.

 

Three towels later the water was all sopped up. A quick tour of the Christmas carnage revealed only three broken ornaments: two glass balls and the foot of a Cinderella ornament. She might need to be renamed The Unbreakable Cinderalla because that same ornament suffered the same injury on her other foot just last year. I gently removed all of the other fragile ornaments from the tree and set them on the window seat.

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Naughty tree, go stand in the corner!

Then I took the tree stand off of the tree so that I could try to get it on there again, only straighter this time. I think this tree secretly doesn’t like me or is just plain naughty, because, try as I might, I couldn’t get it to stand perfectly upright. So, being the resourceful guy that I am I carefully slid it over to the corner so that it tilted ever so slightly toward the corner walls. Mission accomplished, O Tannenbaum!. A few sweeps of the broom collected all of the needles that had fallen off the tree and that was it. Our Christmas tree was back in business, although there will be no rockin’ around the Christmas tree this year in our house. Just in front of it.

When my 14 year old daughter walked into the room a few minutes later she asked me why the tree was in the corner. Upon hearing my story about the crashing tree and its subsequent new placement in the corner, she tried to sneak a Dad-joke past me, asking, “Aren’t you concerned that it might catch fire there in the corner?” Dad-its-so-cold-in-here-Go-stand-in-the-corner-Why-The-corner-is-90-degreesDespite it being relatively early in the morning and still pre-coffee, I got her reference to this meme. Without missing a beat I told her that I wasn’t remotely concerned, because the kindling point or autoignition temperature of wood was much higher than 90 degrees. She rolled her eyes at me which  pretty much affirmed that my work there was done, even if, technically speaking, that corner was more obtuse than right. I may or may not have walked into the kitchen after her, searching on my iPhone the exact KP for wood (572* F). Hey, once a science teacher, always a science teacher! I actually taught this exact stuff years ago during the always-popular FIRE unit. I’m not sure who loved it more, my 7th grade students or me!

I shared this light-hearted story with you all so that you, too, can get a small taste of what my children have to endure get to enjoy every single day with me as their dad. I’m literally the gift that keeps on giving. Every. Single. Day. Merry Christmas from my cheesy corner of the interwebs.

 

Public Apology

As the author of this blog I try to write about topics that are relevant to my everyday life as a Stay At Home Dad. A couple of days ago I shared a post that reflected on some of my experiences as an athlete in Junior High School in the mid-80s and as a basketball coach in the mid-90s. I used two examples from the experiences of my oldest two daughters to make the connection to my current role as SAHD and parent. It was never my intention to focus only on the negative or to bash the coaches personally or to passive-aggresively complain about the playing time that my children received. Unfortunately, it was received that way by some of the parties involved. Even though my intent was good and no malice was intended, I completely own my comments and stand by them as such, although out of respect to those involved I took the post down. I have always told my children that their actions are theirs and that they need to take responsibility for them, even when there are unintended (negative) consequences to them. This is another opportunity for me to practice what I preach.

To the coaches, players and parents on my daughter’s team, I am truly sorry that my words hurt you. Please accept my apology and I humbly ask for your forgiveness. My daughter had an enjoyable experience playing club water polo on your team and is a better player for it. She made a lot of new friends and increased her skills as a player. If she hadn’t played for you this summer she wouldn’t have learned what it felt like to hit the game-winning shot in a tournament game a few weeks ago back in Washington. If she hadn’t played she wouldn’t have gotten to travel to California to play against some of the best players (of her age) in the country. I look forward to seeing how she applies these positive experiences to her high school water polo team next spring and hope that her new friendships will continue. Personally, I’ve come to think of the other water polo parents as friends and I would hate to think that I put those new friendships in jeopardy because of my words. I guess only time will tell if I’m a quick learner or a slow learner.

As a parent I tell my kids all the time that they’re going to make mistakes simply because we’re all afflicted by the same condition. The human condition. But, I also tell them that it’s how we respond to our mistakes that reveals our true character. I hope that this will serve as the needed reminder to me that my words do have power and that I need to be sure choose them carefully so that I do not hurt others.