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19 Connections to Gratitude for 2019

It's nearly the end of the first quarter of 2019. It's a month later than I wanted to share my gratitude for a truly fabulous start to 2019. It is funny though because some of the things that seem like they may not be for the best turned out to be the exact things I needed at exactly the right moment.

In January, I turned 37. For the first time in my life, I was able to wear flip-flops on my birthday IN IOWA.

And then #PolarVortex2019 blanketed the entire Midwest for several days and was followed by a #WinterWonderland of yuck, snow, and sleet. But, I was grateful for the ability to wear flip-flops on my 37th birthday - no matter what the next few weeks held.

Somehow I got the courage to take a "Leap of Faith" and walk away from my full-time job immediately after my birthday. I am pretty sure the Universe (God, the Creator, whatever name you put on the voice that says, "Be you"), held my hand along the way and I walked out for the last time on January 18th - with two things that I knew for sure. I would write, and I would teach swim lessons - and one thing I didn't know for sure, but suspected would happen, eventually - return to the K-12 world. So my next gratitude was for the courage it took to say good-bye to wonderful friends, connections, and a job that was full of learning opportunities to go on an adventure.

It definitely has been an adventurous start to 2019. Some adventures were close to home, while others were a few hours away. But each time I did something or went somewhere, I saw unique connections to the world. I participated in my community and I lived a life full of courage.

Community participation escalated with the freedom of not having a full-time job to report to daily. It started with attending The Cost of Freedom at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church where my daughter, Tori, performed with the JSA Gospel Choir. I listened to a fabulous speaker, Karl Cassell, describe the cost of the government shut-down to all US Citizens and then connected with him on social media. In one night, I made a connection in my community - and I heard fabulous young voices sing - and I am grateful for that connection.

Connections happen all the time. They happen when you go to the grocery store. They happen when you attend events. They also happen when you aren't expecting them. The same night of The Cost of Freedom, in Celebration, of MLK day, I made another connection - with the school board president. We hear all the time that schools are failing - and some may be - but, I had visited the school board to share how wonderful my children's school is for them and how grateful I was, as a parent, to have been selected to be a lottery family at the school board meeting the previous Monday. She had been ill that day, but I was able to express my gratitude, not even a week later, at an event that we did not know the other would be attending. So not only am I grateful for connections, but I am also grateful for my children's school - Johnson STEAM Academy (JSA).

Fast-forward, only two days, and we're at more events for MLK day, on Monday, January 21st. This time, the kiddos sang at St. Paul's United Methodist Church. They sang about Freedom, they sang about Martin, and they had fun! I saw a former colleague serving the dinner provided before the event and I saw my little 8 year old run up to the keynote speaker, Evelyn Carter, and bubble with energy about how excited she was to see her twice in one day. It filled me with joy to see the sanctuary of that church filled with people celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr's legacy and advocating for more equity in the world - and I am thankful for the joy I saw that day.

That week brought much more joy. I had listened to a voice saying, "Go be celebrated," when I walked away from the security of a full-time job - but, there was still a small smidgen of anxiety - our rental house. It hadn't sold yet. However, that next week - the same one that I connected at MLK Day with people - we accepted an offer on our rental house. It wasn't high, but it was enough to get rid of it. Thirteen years after we bought it, almost to the day, we signed the papers to sell it as-is and be done with it - with no intentions to ever again, EVER AGAIN, be landlords! So, I am grateful that we no longer carry the burden of a rental house. But, I am thankful it provided stable shelter when we needed it as our first home and that the young couple who bought it were excited about it.

Soon after accepting the offer on that house, we attended an event hosted by Collins Road Theatres and for a really great cause, Habitat for Humanity. The Home Team Huddle raised more than $20,000 for Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity. That helps at least 15 families in the area get their housing needs met - and wouldn't you know that my little piglet (Tori) won one of the prize packs that night! For a donation, we walked in and watched a football game on a big screen (and I could see a former student play in a BIG game). So, I am grateful - not only for the gracious hosts of the event, but also that my community cares about people who need shelter.

My community is really amazing - in so many ways, but there's this little cafe, not too far from me, that has a unique business model. It's called a pay-it-forward cafe - and it is the Groundswell Cafe. The premise is that no one should be denied a meal if they can't pay for it and so visitors can pay for someone else's meal. I had wanted to go, but with an FTE that had not been possible. Then they hosted an event on a Saturday. Legislators were there, but so was this young lady, Kelsey - a campaign staffer for John Delaney's 2020 run for president. At the end of the event, I spoke with Kelsey - and I was intrigued. There's a politician who wants to collaborate? There's a politician who is interested in jobs of the future? There's a politician who believes that our economy will be better with focus on education? And we connected, I read the book The Right Answer, and I agreed to be interviewed for the campaign. I am grateful for a connection to this campaign and I am excited to see someone, more centrist, and more future-focused in the race for president next year - and I got to meet him last night, in person and ask a very important question - "What is the plan to pay teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, and other educators equitably?" It's amazing how much knowledge this man has about how undervalued education is and how it could be better to fund education differently than through property taxes.

My first experience at Groundswell Cafe was to build a grassroots platform, but it definitely wasn't my last experience there. I returned several more times. Twice to hear authors and musicians at Cracked Walnut events and twice to work on edits for my own manuscript. I love hearing authors read their work. It is a passionate community, full of love for one another, and other authors are "our" people. So I am grateful for the local author community.

The author community becomes like family, but so does the school community, especially when you're an active member of the PTA. Our PTA does amazing things. One of the things we do super well is make sure everyone is fed before our monthly meetings - and we make sure that the school is supported as much as possible. I volunteered to bring a Chicken and Gnocchi soup for our February meeting. It was a good soup (for the adults anyways). But the experience getting the ingredients for that day was hard. I had used some coupons and didn't feel welcome to do so in the store - which was not the store I normally frequent. So when our PTA chose to provide meals for parent-teacher conferences, I went to my Hy-Vee store, the Johnson Avenue Hy-Vee in Cedar Rapids and I noticed how different the atmosphere was. They were friendly. They were happy to use my price-match coupons. And they deserved praise for that. On my way out the door, I asked, "What's your store number?" The person looked at me with a shocked face, and I smiled, "It's good. I promise." Then he gave it to me and I continued on my way. Then I emailed the store director to share my positive experience and asked if I could share it here. He said yes! I'm thankful for the way that grocery shopping now makes me feel - especially at my Hy-Vee.

Now I don't know about anyone else, but after grocery shopping, writing at 5 AM, being as active of a member as possible in the PTA, raising children, and being an active community member, sometimes I need time to unwind, disconnect, and take a step back. There's an amazing place to rejuvenate in Cedar Rapids: Total Rejuvenation. It is where I've laid in a sensory deprivation tank with mediation music and let my thoughts flow naturally for many minutes over the last year and a few months. I've accumulated over 2 full days in darkness at that time and have floated now 30+ times. I love the disconnection from the world, and I am grateful that I had a former colleague tell me about the joys of it.

Former colleagues came back into my life, too, when I hosted the first Inclusive Conversations movement at our wonderful library. It became a group discussion about sharing immigrants' stories and being allies with people who are members of the LGBTQI+ community. It scared me to host it, not knowing if anyone would come, but two of my former colleagues did and it was beautiful. We need to do it again and invite more people to join. The biggest take-away for me was that people generally come with a direct ask, and I am grateful the three of us could talk and the two others that I asked directly to come - they contacted me and let me know they were busy, but would have loved to come. I am so grateful that my connections didn't die when I allowed my life to move forward - they expanded.

Not only do I have former colleagues from my previous FTE, but I have new colleagues from my new position at my children's school. Aside from the #WinterWonderland2019 and #PolarVortex2019, I think my days of unemployment would have been about 10. Right after MLK Day, the kids had at least one no school due to inclement weather days per week, and I was invited to interview for a paraprofessional job at JSA. It sounded wonderful to be able to walk in with my kids, walk out with my kids, and not worry about lesson plans. And it is! I am so grateful to be a part of the JSA family - in so many ways - a parent, active in the PTA, and as an employee.

During the time leading up to my official start date at JSA, I did a lot of volunteering at the school. I volunteered for about an hour after dropping my kids off, or an hour before picking them up. And it coincided with the book fair. I traipsed across town in a snow storm to help set up for the book fair on a Sunday. I volunteered the next week - many days - and guess what? Made another connection. Now, I have added to my volunteer hours for the school, the PTA, and I have yet another person to discuss books with - and possibly discuss publishing books with!

The week after the book fair, I officially started working at JSA and swim lessons started to pick up again too. These are swim lessons that are offered at a private gym - The MAC in Cedar Rapids - to members and non-members for only private or semi-private lessons. I've been with them for seven and a half years and we've found what works the best for our clients. I'm on the fourth package of 4 lessons with a wonderful little ladybug, the third with another little ladybug, the second with a frightened little fish, and an upcoming one with an adult that will be having his journey documented ON VIDEO. Last week, with my frightened fish, the mom told me that she thought he learned more in one lesson than he ever had in previous lessons. That always makes me feel GRRRRRRREATTTTTTT!

Going on vacation is also supposed to make you feel great, and it did - somewhat. I am thankful I got to give my children the experience of going on a mini-vacation and I am grateful that there was a place we could drive to where it was warmer, an amusement park opened up, and as a family we made experiences together.

Southern Oaks Inn in Branson, Missouri was the perfect spot to stay for our family. It had an indoor pool (which Wayne thought was this picture), a fairly large room, and a free hotel breakfast - complete with a waffle maker.

It was really like this picture and my own little fish were, well, fish.

Silver Dollar City attracted our business two years ago and we bought season passes again this year. It was a great opportunity for us to get some exercise, be outside, and use the passes on consecutive days (at least once this year). It helped take my mind off the thing that I am most proud of, but also that scared me the most! Sending my book to an editor.

I am so thankful that I sent my book off to an editor, but I am even more thankful that I found my courage to read it out loud - to an audience of 70+ people. I am grateful for my determination to do what so many people want to do. However, it's something that very few will do. I have been training for this marathon my whole life and my book will be self-published this month. On Saturday night, I did my very first author reading - and I choked back tears - IN FRONT OF ALL THOSE PEOPLE! But, I felt proud when I was finished - and my audience wanted to know more. They've signed up to be a part of my launch team and you can too. Just click here.

19. Flip-flops on my 37th birthday

18. Leap of faith

17. The Cost of Freedom

16. Johnson STEAM Academy

15. Joy

14. Sale of the rental house

13. Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity Home Team Huddle

12. A future-focused politician

11. Local author community

10. Johnson Avenue HyVee

9. Total Rejuvenation

8. Inclusive Conversations

7. New job

6. Book fair

5. Swim lessons

4. Vacation

3. Southern Oaks Inn

2. Silver Dollar City

1. First author reading

Brandi Parsons is a freelance writer, book blogger, mom, educator, and authorpreneur. Her first book, "Kidnapped Asylum" will be released this month. To be a part of the book launch, complete this form (you get access to a FREE advanced reader copy of the manuscript). If you're interested in Brandi's freelance services, contact her here.

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