Monday, November 18, 2013

Different Perspective

Recently I had one of those moments where I became overwhelmed with love of people.

I struggle sometimes with over-thinking how my world should be, look, and function. There are so many things I wish I had better, so many things I want to care about more.

But then I remember perfection is a lie, and balance is a rip off.

Last week while visiting a church, I starred at the stage as a young man serving in the Marines came forward with his mom. The story they shared was bare bones and lovely. After living across the country for 10 months he surprised his mom by coming home. It was the mom that took my breath away and made it difficult to hold back tears.

She was too busy loving her son without risking a wasted moment. The joy and relief that was upon her face was beautiful. It reminded me to embrace each moment for what it's worth. It reminded me of my brother serving over seas in Afghanistan. And even though he is in a "safe" zone he is still in a dangerous place. The more this young man spoke, the more I listened. The more I listened, the more I felt. So what do I do with these feelings?

While visiting San Francisco, I came across an area that I guess some would consider "the hood." Yes it was scary, yes it was sketchy, nor any place I'd want to be near. I wanted to look away, hide, and act like I never drove by it. I wanted to pretend that life is and was the way it was when I was seven. My childhood was a dream any child would want to have. It shaped me. And I will always be thankful for it.

I'd rather forget about the dead streets covered by canopies and oppression. I'd like to never know what it looked like in the first place.

But I'm learning.

I'm learning to see beauty in the eyes of people around me. I'm forcing myself to love faults in others, not because it's natural, or because I want to, but because I suppose its the only way I'll realize we are all walking around wounded.

I am called to love broken people. I am called to love mean people, angry people, selfish people, bitter people, poor people, because that's what Jesus did and still does. It's rough, it rugged, and I've gotta be honest some days it's outright brutal to do.

But today I am watching for ways I have the opportunity to love. Love them for where they're at. I am slowing down to listen, notice, and feel.

Happy Monday,


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Giants Race 2013

The Giants Race in San Francisco is a ton of fun. This is my second year running it. In 2012 I ran the 10k. It's a large race with several options to meet your running needs. This is the 4th annual Giants Race Half Marathon, 10k, 5k, & Kids race. The money raised benefits Project Open Hand a non-profit to provide meals, groceries, and nutritional counseling to individuals who are homebound with critical illnesses, and seniors in San Francisco and Alameda County.

The Expo
Considering how large the race is, the expo was efficient and well laid out. There were a couple free samples: FIT popcorn and Snapea Crisps. The expo wasn't amazing nor wasn't bad either. The check in for necessary race items was quick with little to no lines. One of the benefits of  this race is receieving a bobblehead. This year is Sergio Romo, pitcher for the San Francisco Giants.

The Course
This was my first year running the half. I would have liked to say that this race was completely flat but I would be lying. There were 3 hills to climb at mile 4, 5, & 9. To make up for it you run by the water, Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghiradelli Square, see the Golden Gate Bridge, gorgeous, exclusive neighborhoods, green parks, and end up by the water again. 

The Stations
There was water and Gatorade every few miles along the course. Except for mile 8 when I desperately needed it they were out. I will say, the Gatorade hit the spot. Definitely buying blue raspberry from now on. I walked through the water stations along the last half of the marathon.

The Finish
It is a totally fun race full of people who love San Francisco. Even as a Dodger fan I enjoyed it and will continue to go back.
At the finish there were reusable Safeway bags that you could fill with bagels, bananas, water, and yogurt.
The finish line is in center field of AT&T park with a huge Jumbo tron capturing runners as the run in. If you're like me you wished the Jumbotron wasn't there to catch the terrific face plant over the chip tracker. But oh well, YOLO. By the time I was finished it was chilly and misty. A towel or sweatshirt was needed.

My only complaint is the finishers technical tee ran small. At least 1 whole size.

The Summary
Overall this race is fun and worth doing. Weekly email updates were sent out buy the organization with recommendations. The last two years running this race we stayed at the Hilton with a efficient shuttle system transporting to and from the race, every 15 minutes. The location can't get any better with unlimited restarurants to eat at, Sarbucks on every corner to pick up your daily joe, and shopping to empty your bank account.

See you next year Giants Race!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Sharing The Hard

Recently, mumbled jumbled thoughts have scattered my brain. Nothing that can seem to form a sentence that would even make sense. Just thoughts.

Let's go back three weeks ago when my older brother Drew was in town. He was visiting from a week leave of deployment before heading off to Afghanistan. It was a time to hang out, love a lot, and daydream of every single thing that we could cram into the hours he was here.

We debated about which patterns and colors we were gonna wear for our family photo shoot. And we sat by the poolside drinking a few brews. Life couldn't get much better than that.

Initially when Drew mentioned to us he was getting deployed we had no idea what that would mean and it scared us sideways to wonder too hard. Our family spent nights on end praying "It's your will God. Do whatever you want." Trusting is hard especially when your brother will be traveling to serve in a war zone.

The months that followed were uncertain and our stomachs turned over and over. But war isn't supposed to feel easy, comfortable, and happy. When he visited he gave a detailed explanation of his job and location of where he would be staying. Not that it was reassuring or comforting but a little more settling than before. I wish that night I was able to record every word he said.

It was beautiful.

His heart overflowed with purpose as to why he has been pushing so hard to serve overseas. It wasn't to gain a stripe or for status, rather for his children, nieces and nephews to see the good he did for our country, that we so take for granted.

Fast forward two weeks. The day he landed overseas the Department of Defense delivered a service flag to our home. The blue star represents a family member serving in a war zone. This flag is to hang in the front window of our home during the period of time that he is serving. It is a special reminder of the sacrifice the men and women give for us to live in a country like we do.

I cannot begin to think of a way to thank these warriors enough for their bravery and sacrifice that they provide for us to live in such a blessed country. As Americans we tend to take for granted the rights that we have. In which we now know aren't rights, but instead priceless gifts given to us by people like you, American soldiers. It is important that we become more aware and that we owe every peaceful moment to you. People like you, Drew, make it so we can be free to work, free to pray, and free to love. You are the reason we Americans can sleep at night. Because you are there, we are here living safe, and for that we are eternally grateful.

Thank you for being you and being my hero. We love you and we are so proud of you. Please let all the other warriors know our appreciation of their sacrifice, being away from families to keep us safe here at home. For they, are also our heroes.

All my honor,

Friday, June 14, 2013


The last week of school has wrapped up. Boxes of junk and mess surround the office waiting for a permanent home in the filing cabinet. Looking at my stuff, you'd think I had children of my own. Mr.Potato Head, colorful kid keyboard, magnetic puzzles, etc.

Today I am rewarding myself for successfully making it through Thursday's promotion without a tear. All my Big's and Little's who graduated are moving onto bigger things. The preschoolers/kindergartners were so angsty sitting in their cap and gown. I don't think it stayed on longer than a second... really. Change is usually a challenge for these kids, and wearing a gown (dress) for these boys was definitely a change. Watching them learn and do brave things is so fun. Each of them have grown in one area or another. Language is sprouting and that's what matters.

During the 6th grade promotion each student walked across the stage dressed to a T with princess dresses and mix matched suits. When they made their way across the stage, the college they plan to attend was announced. I pray, strongly pray, that those plans are dreams and those dreams become a reality. The cafeteria was shoulder to shoulder with no wiggle room full of family members watching their kids move on to the next chapter. A majority of these kids come from lower class working families with little to no time spent with them. So this my friends was a really big deal.

When the ceremony concluded I made my way around to give hugs and congratulate my wonderful sixth graders. Their eyes showed excitement to move on yet nervousness to leave consistent comfort. In that moment, I had to pray that God would hold on to them even when they're gonna be just down the street. I pray that He holds them now just like He's always held them before.

God doesn't leave us sitting still for long.. in two weeks I start seeing clients in the am and the pm. Thankful for the opportunity to take on more friends but sometimes we just need to take a deep, long, breath.

I had no idea in September what might happen in June. Opportunities blossoming and clients piling on. It will be a nice schedule change for the summer months. I can smell bbq's, taste watermelon slices, and tons of splashing in the pool. If only, just only, we can enjoy it while it lasts.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Highs & Lows

Oh goodness I'm lovin this coastal weather, are we in the central valley.. seriously? Fantastic is an understatement.

These past two weeks the schools have been underway with state testing. When I was young it was my favorite time of the year. An excuse to chew gum and eat unlimited snacks. Heck yes.

The amount of students I see during this time of year slows down due to testing. However; my older group of students make time to stop by and poke their heads in hoping therapy will take place. Today it did.

I see a group of three students who are all in 6th grade. They come in once a week for 30 minutes of speech and language therapy. At the beginning of the year they were quiet, and I pushed hard to get a word out of them. Homies musta been scared of their 5 foot 123lb blondie speech teacher.

It didn't take long for me to see the hearts in these kids. Genuine and loving, looking for time from someone who would listen and pay attention to them. I started allocating the last 15 minutes of speech to reflect on the good and not so good times in our lives. Which we later called Highs and Lows. You better believe I participate too.

Little did I know how much of an impact this was making. Word quickly got around to the school about our High/Low time and kids were stopping me in the hallways.. "Teacher Natalie, can I come to speech with ______".

Working in an area that has high poverty and hearing deep deep stories from the kids, makes my stomach turn. I take it in and remind myself to exhale. It's not easy and I'm not even living it. I'll be honest, I'm having trouble with the "ins" and "outs". I need more guarantees for these kids to know, actually know, that something greater than their lousy deadbeat parents is out there.

I've never known the struggle of not wanting to go home because of parents fighting, drugs, drama, abuse, going without electricity and water. How can you concentrate in school with all those situations and I'll never know why these young innocent kids were handed a brutal life. Because of that I use speech as a tool to teach life skills. For these kids and myself our High/Low time is beneficial and reminds us of the little things in life to be happy for.

The future for them might seem uncertain and blurry, but in the precious 30 minutes we take once a week, everything that almost existed snaps into focus for a moment. They feel hope peak in with a frown that turns into a smile. If anything... Thats what counts.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Handful of Happy

Today we did one of my favorite things. We attempted the zoo. And it happened. Eight, 1st - 3rd graders with Autism visited creatures they've never seen in their entire little lives. Or for some, are regular monthly attenders.Today was the best day for it. Even with the cloudy skies.

All the animal friends were out puttin on a boomin show or waiting for a scrumptious breakfast. One of us probably looked mighty tasty to eat.

My co-worker and I decided to call the day at the Zoo our Speech Day. Along the way we attempted to initiate conversation and describe various animals we came across. Lets just say... it went better for some than others. A majority of our students don't initiate conversations on their own or make requests and comment on the world around them. So, much prompting and modeling is given. On occasion it's a little awkward and feels like I'm talking to the trees, and that's okay too.

Amanda and I have a theory that it is our attempt to teach these kids how to learn in any environment we place them in. The zoo was perfect, comforting, and exciting for all. There were plenty of sounds to identify, animals to describe, and smells to distinguish.

Today was an opportunity for parents to join in on the zoo fun. I never quite know how it will play out. Today was flat out awesome. It was touching to see how involved these parents are and motivated to do what's best for their Little's. While in the restroom I overheard a mom talking to her son... even though he understands, it's difficult for him to verbally express. His mom asked him, "How do you feel?" his reply "Haaaaaaapppppy, Haaaaaaapppppy!" It made me light up. He was enjoying his day at the zoo and to top it off mom was there to share that joy with him.

Even with the cloudy skies and light sprinkles we still had a handful of happy today.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Off and Away!

And so the week begins. Difficult to rise up this morning but excited that Monday is one step closer to Friday. Hallelujah!

Lazy butt me, tried to get up to run this morning considering the weather forecast this week is lookin like the hundos...or 90's, still too dang hot for April. Ya hear me? Anyways, the running didn't happen.

Today was the last day for a client I've been providing ABA to since November. ABA = Applied Behavioral Analysis. We go into homes and modify or shape behaviors in the given environment. The children I work with range from 1.5 to 5 years of age and all have Autism. We work on things that typically developing kids learn naturally. By doing so we create a very structured environment.

Throughout the session, structured and unstructured activities are addressed. Today we went for it and meandered out on a 30 minute walk, with bubbles of course! Safety skills, such as looking both ways before crossing the street and responding to commands take place while we walk. Half way through, my little friend needed some sensory time. We plopped down and went for it with the leaf droppings. It could not have been more exciting for him.

Working with some clients for a long period of time their language increases drastically. One might go from 1-2 words "want ball" to a 3-5 word phrase or sentence "I want ball,please". It's pretty exciting when this does happen. This lingo has changed the way I talk to my family and friends... oh, and even my dogs..."Want food?" "Ride, go?"

Repetition has been key in helping these kids learn new skills and behaviors. Not just for individuals with Autism but for all of us. There is a reason we have calendars and alerts on our smart phones. To keep us structured and organized.

It's a bittersweet day. While packing up my materials my client walked over to me, tapped my forearm, leaned his head over to make eye contact and said "Bye Sue-wah-wee"... or Natalie (Hey, it was close!). We have worked so hard on attention seeking and language. It was for sure there today. Thanks buddy. You rock!

Being an ABA teacher and working in the clients homes, I love these kids like they're my own. It's hard not to. We watch them grow and mature in just the few months we are with them. It's encouraging and a huge blessing for us and the families involved. It's always a nice feeling walking away knowing that you did good. A blog friend reminded me of the Dr. Seuss book Oh the Places You'll Go. It really connected today as I departed away.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Marvelous Monday

Today was one of those days where my three alarm clocks just weren't enough, the largest cup of coffee at Starbucks didn't fulfill, and every song on the radio was slow when I needed it to be fast.

Yet I still got up, got ready for the day, and headed to work- cus that's what big people do.

A weekend consisting of 1 full day off (Sunday) just isn't quite enough to rest up. I almost need a rest day off of a rest day.

I quickly remembered a quote a fellow blog friend posted "Just when you're ready to quit is usually the moment right before the miracle happens." Wow. perspective is key.

So I packed up my box with wheels and headed on out to do some ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) and Speech Therapy with 8 little kiddos.

I love it and I love each of them. To call what I do for a living a job, is pretty silly because it's loads of fun. We play, we talk, and we learn how to have appropriate behaviors. There are days though, like today that I am pushed and challenged. Today, 2 students into my day, the challenge began.

This little fella worked me. He worked me so hard I was sweating after 6 minutes of therapy. All behaviors were present today from head butting, biting, and aiming so perfectly to spit on my face definitely happened. I was more motivated by now then ever to see change in this kid. Expressing his frustrations do not come verbally instead it's through negative behaviors. And they were very evident today.

During task avoidance we ignore and continue to encourage appropriate requesting... for him it is writing on the etch sketch. My repeatitive pointing as a redirection for a request was ever so consistent today. The etch sketch is his best friend and extremely motivating for him. Whoever created it, is flat out a genius.

The 25 minutes felt like 2 hours today, constantly blocking and redirecting behaviors to make use of our speech therapy time. We got through it and I was reminded of why I do what I do. It's not for everyone but I definitely love it.

Of course once the session was over and he needed to switch stations it was not on his terms. Therefore; the transition was difficult. He would rather stay and "work" (play) with the super cool gadgets Teacher Natalie had and not move on to continue with his structured day.


There are times when all we want to do is quit, take a day off, and pretend like everything else in the world is quiet too. But that's not reality. Sometimes just getting up in the morning feels like a big hill to climb, but ultimately when we keep our eye on the prize and push through, it's a win- win.

and trust me... you'll be glad you did :)

Happy Marvelous Monday!


Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Power of Criticism

"I don't know what the key to success is, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody."
- Bill Crosby

Ever notice that one person can love a certain type of food, and not the other? Or maybe even the person sitting directly across from you has a completely opposite preference. Taste is subjective and so are a lot of other things. We each have different preferences of food, color, music, fashion, etc because we are all different in our opinions.

Recently at the church I call home, the production department has received some not so favorable reviews. In fact, a few have not been critical but rather scathing.

Let me start off by saying... this church, the church I call home is designed to instill a creative experience of worship with a variety of elements. That is how we've always done it. I truly believe because of it we have grown as a whole.

Having heard the negative feedback it made my head spin. It made me angry, and as a volunteer in this area of ministry it made me want to call several people out. As the week went by I continued to think. It seems as though those people are more concerned about worshiping a list of things they need rather than worshiping the creator himself. Are we more concerned about ourselves or reaching out to a new attendee and turning them towards Christ?

Last week, I read a great article by Doug Fields about dealing with criticism in the church. Here is a quote that really caught my eye on how to reduce criticism called the “10% factor.” It goes like this...
“At any given time, 10% of my audience is not going to like me. It doesn’t matter what I do, there are going to be people who don’t know my heart, my motives, my story, etc… They are going to be negative no matter what."

If we continue to go on and seek validation from someone other than ourselves, we put power in that person's hands.  BING!

So lately, I've realized that in life we can either give up on what we are doing or choose to continue with the way we have always done things. We can continue to create and be fired up with the amount of lives changing or get wrapped up in an individuals complaints. Because those rewards far outweigh the criticism.

The rest is out of our control. At the end of the day, the only thing we can control is our response to criticism. It's hard because criticism stings!