Falling into a New Beginning

Falling into a New Beginning
“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Having come across these words in a recent piece in The Atlantic, “Why Back-to-School Season Feels Like the New Year – Even for Adults” (Sept. 17), I was reminded of the strange grasp that both nostalgia and hope often have on us this time of year; of our heart’s aching for past joys and memories, gently soothed by the hopeful anticipation of things to come.

Perhaps it’s because, as the article notes, roughly half of one’s lifespan is tied to an academic calendar – from being in school through young adolescence to becoming the parents of children – or because we long for one last chance to make “all things right” before the year’s end, but Fall does seem to signal the start of a new “life,” a new beginning, a new opportunity to usher in change alongside the changing color of leaves. Read more

A Seeing Eye, a Listening Ear: In Honor of Usher Syndrome Awareness Day

The beloved children’s television host Mister Rogers once said,

“The gifts we treasure most over the years are often small and simple. In easy times and tough times, what seems to matter most is the way we show those nearest us that we’ve been listening to their needs, to their joys, and to their challenges.”

Indeed, the essence of life seems always to come down to the small and simple things, to the things we often don’t think about, the things we take for granted, the things we forget are gifted to us as human beings: our ability to see and hear, taste and smell, walk and breathe.

I am gently reminded of such gifts each time I play hide-and-seek with my three-year-old niece, Emma, who was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome (type 2A) – the most common genetic cause of combined deafness and blindness – two years ago. Hiding together while her older sister counts to ten, she mimics my “shhh”, only to let out a squeal, revealing our location and screaming in delight at the sight of her sister. Equally delighted by the sound of music, Emma is a natural entertainer, grabbing her microphone and eliciting howls of laughter with her wild dance moves. How precious the gifts of sight and sound truly are. Read more

Pleasure in the Vineyard

Pleasure in the Vineyard
“The most beautiful gift of nature is that it gives one pleasure to look around and try to comprehend what we see.” –Albert Einstein

Invited for a weekend getaway, I was recently a guest at a relative’s home in Virginia that sits at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains* and is a stone’s throw from one of Virginia’s 250+ wineries.

Having driven through Virginia more times than I can remember – always heading somewhere else and with little time to comprehend where I was or what was around me – my visit turned out to be a most pleasant gift, reminding me of the restorative power of nature’s beauty. Read more

Through the Realms: Tales from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Through the Realms: Tales from Dubrovnik, Croatia
“Those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik.” –George Bernard Shaw (Irish playwright, 1856-1950)

We’re excited to continue traveling “Through the Realms” with Becky Sparagowski, another world traveler who has lived abroad for the past three years in Poland, Sicily, and is currently residing in Edinburgh. In fact, Becky and I first met each other while studying abroad in Rome in 2012, where we shared our love of food and travel, and enjoyed exploring bellissima Italia together (also with Katie Christensen, who recently told us about Cuba). Little did we know that our love of travel would reunite us over four years later…at the University of Edinburgh, where we unexpectedly ran into each other!

While Becky has spent most of her time traveling in the places she’s lived during the past three years, she’s also visited Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, and earlier this month, went on a weekend excursion to Dubrovnik, Croatia (a city located in the southern part of the country, famously dubbed “the Pearl of the Adriatic” and known for its Old Town, which is encircled with massive stone walls completed in the 16th century).

Becky’s documented a lot of her adventures on her travel blog, Aspar Adventures, where her motto is to “Read, Eat, Travel” – everything we love to do!

We asked her to share a bit of her experience from Croatia with us, and here’s what she had to say: Read more

ATG’s Thinker Thoughts: Names & Identities

Welcome to ATG’s “Thinker Thoughts”, an initiative intended to help us THINK more deeply and deliberately amid the hurried pace of life’s existence.
Every Friday, we’re posting our “Thinker Thoughts”, a short quote to reflect on from a recent commentary. Give it a think and let us know your thinker thoughts!
This week’s Thinker Thoughts comes from the article in The Atlantic (May 5, 2017), “All the Other Julie Becks and Me: What a quest for my namesake taught me about the meaning of names in the internet age“:

Read more

A Memory of a Mother’s Love

A Memory of a Mother’s Love
“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” ―C.S. Lewis

Every night growing up, my brothers and I would curl up next to my mother as she read us a bedtime story with a gentleness and nurturing spirit that only a mother can provide.

She introduced us to the kind and imaginative Boxcar Children, took us through the mischief and mishaps of Curious George, The Berenstain Bears, and Corduroy, kept us questioning with Goosebumps, and entertained us with the rhyming cadences of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do you See?, Jamberry, and all of Dr. Seuss’ classics (Go, Dog. Go! being a particular favorite), in addition to other beloved stories, such as Make Way for Ducklings, Goodnight Moon, and the many enchanting tales of Walt Disney. Read more

Beauty and the Beast: Bringing a Tale as Old as Time to Life

“Winter turns to Spring, famine turns to feast, nature points the way, nothing left to say, Beauty and the Beast.” –Mrs. Potts

Disney could have hardly chosen a better time to make and release a live-action adaption of the beloved Beauty and the Beast 1991 animated classic.*

Winter’s cold, snowy and lethargic presence has been exacerbated by a long, polarizing and turbulent political season, leaving many of us desperately longing for a ray of spring sunshine and a rebirth of our depleted spirit.

While I suspect the film would have been a record-breaker** regardless of its release date, Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast was all the more enjoyable and uplifting for the contrast it provides to the current mood and political climate permeating our country. Read more

“Originals”: A Surprising Truth about Entrepreneurs

Originals book review“Originality is not a fixed trait. It is a free choice.”
–Adam Grant

When people think of entrepreneurs, they tend to see them as the ultimate risk-takers: people who unabashedly take a chance on something they believe in. People who enjoy going out on a limb, taking leaps into the unknown and thrive on uncertainty.

But, it isn’t necessarily so. In fact, entrepreneurs are more risk-averse – and much more calculated – than you think. The proof is in Adam Grant’s latest book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.

Utilizing data and studies from across industries, Grant shows how entrepreneurs are fueled less by risk and more by the opportunity to try something new, pursue a passion and see things in a new light. Read more

A Post-Lenten Reflection on the Practice of Self-Denial

“Mental toughness is many things and rather difficult to explain. Its qualities are sacrifice and self-denial. Also, most importantly, it is combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It’s a state of mind – you could call it ‘character in action.’” –Vince Lombardi (football player and coach, 1913-1970)

quotes about self-denialIt has been a little over a week since I ended my 40-day chocolate and “things I like most” fast in observance of the Lenten Season – the first time I have willfully committed to “giving up” something since I entered full fledged adulthood nearly five years ago.

A tradition that I gladly embraced at the start of Ash Wednesday during my childhood years, it became significantly less appealing as the demands of adult life made the idea of giving something up seem nearly unbearable.

In fact, it was only during these last 40 days that I came to a greater realization of just how challenging the practice of self-denial is – and how much truth exists in the age-old saying that life’s most valuable lessons are best learned through times of difficulty, struggle and discomfort. Read more

There’s a Saying in Gaelic, “Céad Míle Fáilte”…

“Walls for the wind, 
And a roof for the rain,
And drinks beside the fire –
Laughter to cheer you
And those you love near you,
And all that your heart may desire!”
– Irish Blessing
McGann's Doolin
Inside McGann’s, Doolin’s local pub

In many ways, it was like a scene right out of a movie. We had entered into a small local pub, tired and hungry from a long day of traveling in the cold, rainy winds of an Irish November. We had stumbled blindly through the dark, a five-minute walk from our hotel along a narrow, winding road set amidst rolling hills.

There were just two other people in the pub, visitors, like us, evidenced by the large, worn backpacks towering next to their table. The bartender greeted us warmly and we asked if he had a menu for food.

“We do, but the kitchen is about to close,” he said. “We only have homemade beef stew and seafood chowder.” We ordered one of each, two pints of Guinness and sat down at a tableside fire for what was to be one of the most memorable stops on our two-week long journey. Read more