This Birchtree post is a very special one for me as both of my children spent their preschool days at this montessori and there really ARE no words that can properly describe the magic that takes place within the walls of this building. So tickled to share their story on The Birchtree Project. The reason for the magic is impeccably evident by their words.
“I believe it truly does take a village to raise a child, and my village is SO beautiful. Daily, I witness the selfless nurturing of children in a way I hope every child could experience. These ladies give of themselves so completely moment after moment, and I am privileged to spend time working with and learning from them. I never cease to be amazed by their strength and knowledge. We work together as co-workers, but somewhere along the way, our work relationships have transformed into some of my most precious friendships. We have laughed and cried together, celebrated and mourned. There is something special that happens when women gather. The power that is created when a group of women work together for the greater good is unstoppable, and our team is proof of that. Our individual abilities complement one another, creating potential unlike any other I have witnessed. We come together to teach children, to help them learn about the world we live in, and we learn about ourselves in the process. I am SO humbled to be a part of this group of women, so grateful for our daily interactions. This has been a season of my life that has changed me for the better in more ways than I can name, and I am honored by the ability to call these incredible women my friends. Knowing that the foundation of our bonds is strong, I look forward to seeing where the future takes us, and I find comfort in the knowledge that wherever we go, we will always have the unconditional support of one another. Thanks, ladies of Mountainside, for the extraordinary gift of your friendship. I love you all.”
“Imagine if you walked into work each day knowing that you’d have unconditional support and encouragement. That you would grow professionally each day by observing your peers. That your work environment honored collaboration, honesty, and integrity. That everyone shared the same goal of nurturing the growth and individuality of each child.
This is my reality.
Some of us refer to Mountainside Montessori as Shangri-la – not because it’s a perfect place, but because of the richness of its cohesive environment and the relationships that it honors. I work alongside a phenomenally talented group of educators who inspire me, challenge me, and embrace me. I’m grateful each day that I walk through the doors of Mountainside and see these women’s faces, knowing that we are all striving together as educators. But these are also the faces of my dear, dear friends. It’s Shangri-la.”
“I joined Mountainside Montessori in the fall of 2013, just a few months after Erin had begun her new roll as directress and owner. I can’t adequately describe how meaningful that year was, but as life would have it, I moved elsewhere to complete requirements for graduate school. This past spring Erin let me know that her dream of expanding the school was coming to fruition. I was humbled by her wish to have me lead the new infant/toddler program.
I couldn’t be more grateful to be back in this environment, with this unbelievable group of women, spending our days with some truly wonderful little beings! I’m often brought to tears by these ladies – both from their genuine love and support, and from the heartfelt laughter we inspire in one another. I am continually in awe of the passion with which these women live their lives, the compassion they share in abundance, and the unique ways they make this school such a special place for these children to grow. These ladies are fiery, funny, intelligent, warm, gentle, talented individuals. Without them, Mountainside wouldn’t be the same. I’m energized by our connection and by their commitment to creating a space where each child is honored, encouraged, and appreciated.
It’s overwhelming to see how the children flourish emotionally and intellectually when they are treated with the utmost respect and their curiosity is encouraged daily! I’ve learned so much from these kiddos and their families and never forget how fortunate I am to be a part of this.”
“Four years ago, these inspiring women at Mountainside began as my son’s teachers and they have now become my colleagues and friends. Their commitment to honoring the beauty and individuality of each child has inspired and molded me as both a mother and educator. I know the meaning of love from the greetings they give in the mornings and the good-bye hugs or high fives that each child receives at the end of the day. I’ve learned about passion by observing lessons that ignite the children’s imagination. I’ve also witnessed the beauty that is created when a community commits to a common goal. To these women, thank you for your love and dedication to children and their educational journeys.”
“As a Montessori pre-school teacher for over ten years, I reflect on the sweet and tender-tinies and the gift I’ve been given to be apart of these most important years. Together we’ve learned, explored, helped, shared, cried and oh did we laugh, laugh, laugh!! I now am 2 weeks from delivering my first, my own tender tiny and will leave this school, this place of happiness and joy. So as I say goodbye, it is also to my dear friends and colleagues that I will deeply miss for together we also learned, explored, helped, shared, cried and Heaven knows we laughed, laughed and laughed with one another!
Our great teacher, Maria Montessori said~ “Joy, feeling ones own value, being appreciated and loved by others, feeling useful and capable of production are all factors of enormous value for the human soul.” So I thank these women, these lifelong friends who have uplifted me to feel valued, appreciated, loved, useful and oh so capable to nurture, love and teach children.”
While it feels like it wasn’t so very long ago…counting the years on my fingers and toes and now apparently starting in on my knuckles, clearly, it is evident that it has indeed been quite some time that I’ve been a fan of a now retired talk show host out of Chicago, Illinois. I closely followed her throughout high school, groupie-like in college, through to her last aired show in 2011, and now on her “OWN” network. Along with, surely, a gazillion others, I have adored Oprah Winfrey. In years past, I did attempt to acquire tickets to her show, my stars just never aligning to allow this endeavor to transpire. Although my therapist has provided little sympathy, my life has managed to continue on as normal (ish).
Last fall, Oprah put together an event called SuperSoul Sessions, which was promoted as “11 life-transforming talks from spiritual thought leaders, change makers and wisdom teachers.” This event was basically a series of TED-talks by some of Oprah’s favorite and most inspiring speakers brought together under the one roof of Royce Hall nestled in the middle of the UCLA campus. Elizabeth Gilbert and Brene Brown (ummmmm, yes, those who know me know I adore Brene Brown) were among the list of influential speakers that spoke at this event. The videos of each presented talk can be found here if you’re interested in taking a listen.
Only a couple months ago, I noticed that a second series of SuperSoul Sessions were scheduled and I opted to include my name on a presale notification list. Upon receipt of an email, and only a few short minutes later, I received confirmation that I had indeed purchased two tickets to Oprah’s SuperSoul Sessions, Series 2. I continue to relay to Mr. Hatten that I’m unaware of the logistics in HOW this happened. The “Add to Cart” button actually did a little hop under my cursor arrow as opposed to the alternative. Tricky. Little. Bugger. Regardless, I had two tickets and nothing on my calendar for April 9, 2016, soooooo, you know. Why not? And for good measure, let’s go ahead and make it an abbreviated family vacation. As for my extra ticket??? Let’s make this a mother-daughter adventure. Boom. Done. Finally…Oprah Winfrey and I are one step closer to being besties. Just Oprah and Gayle and me… (sigh).
Because this was a family adventure to the Sunshine State, we opted to stay in Anaheim for obvious (i.e. mouse) reasons. At 6:30 AM on our special day, Little Miss and I took the rental car to the freeway and began our trek. While I know that she probably didn’t grasp what I can describe as the magnitude of the opportunity we were so lucky to be a part of, I do think one day she’ll look back on it fondly. She landed a cold virus only the day before and minimal rest had her weary but she played along like the most steadfast trouper. Sandwiched between Bel Air and Beverly Hills, two Montana girls landed on the stunning campus of the University of California, Los Angeles, on an overcast and rainy, yet beautiful day, to see Ms. Oprah Winfrey herself, among a few of her good friends. Upon a brief security check and receipt of our program and fancy “SoulSessions” bracelet, Little Miss and I began to make our way to our seats. A few short steps in, we realized we were being followed by two handsome men. With a hop in my step and a few words dancing in my noggin (“I. Still. Got. It.”), we paused and turned around slightly to let them pass. Only they didn’t pass…they paused when we paused, and walked when we walked, camera gear and get-up capturing our entire journey to our seats. To which we sat in, and glanced at each other with goofy, snickering grins as our little friends with the camera contraptions walked away.
My soon-to-be best friend stepped on the stage shortly after 9:00 AM in front of an audience of what I could gather 98% women and 2% men that found the courage to be the 2%. Little Miss and I sat together and listened to a golden list of authors, actors, and inspirational speakers. Among this list, Cheryl Strayed, author of the best selling book, the memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Kris Carr, Marie Forleo, India.Arie, Kerry Washington, and of course, Oprah. Following a charming lunch under a tent in the rain, we each found in our seats a fun surprise, a TOMS backpack filled with goodies.
The day was special. And meaningful. And an event I won’t forget. Special and meaningful, why? Turns out, not because I was able to put a check-mark by a long-standing bucket list item. Not because I was able to listen to a handful of today’s most influential speakers. Nope. This day was so very memorable because I was able to have my little girl next to me sharing in a day in which provided a heap of positive messages, one CONSISTENT message of encouragement to simply “be oneself.” And if there is any message that she cannot possibly hear enough, it’s that one. Of course in my eyes, she is perfect just as she is…but my hope for her is that she can embrace all that she is and know that she is enough. Enough in every way. She will have ups and she will have downs but my wish is that her spirit will always soar, the light within her not be dimmed, and that she will not reserve an ounce of the gifts she has to offer during any almighty battle against fear that she may face. Fear of failure. Fear of judgment. And yes, sometimes even fear of success.
To her, I would say…
And of course, as Cinderella said it best…
Have courage and be kind.
My lively passenger on the way…
My BFF on stage…
My lively passenger on our way back…
Just us. (And that shirt!)
For months, these life elements have been at the very top of my heaping piles of endless other thoughts…other thoughts of any mother in her late thirties, I suppose. You name it…dinner ideas, kids activities, life dreams, tackling that 10 pounds, and that constant thought of really needing to trim our dachshunds long toenails. Yet, “connection” and “meaningful conversation” keep finding their way to my inner thoughts in an unavoidable manner.
In the last few months, I’ve begun a bit of journey in my heart. Technically, I think it started last year when I was pondering taking this year off from my photography business, but at the time I didn’t really know that what I was feeling would be the start of this journey. I’ve said it before but without a doubt now, I know that I thrive on connection. I think we all do really. I’ve just finally realized how much I crave it…daily. Connection makes the most ordinary day the most fulfilling day. And, as I get older, I have high expectations for each day…it OUGHT to be fulfilling…there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be.
A few moments have transpired in the recent couple of weeks and particularly, over this weekend, that have me astoundingly shaking my head. Connections and meaningful conversation, right? THOSE topics have been dancing in my noggin for months. I went to our church service on Saturday evening and, as for the sermon topic?? Yes, “meaningful conversations.” Pastor Keith has indeed taken on the topic of meaningful conversations. Of course he has…go figure, right? Not only is he talking about it, but he also introduces a girl named Jeni, a resident artist at the Archie Bray. Jeni, new to Helena, only a short time ago sat in on one of Pastor Keith’s recent sermons, which led to her meeting him for coffee, which led to her proposing a challenge/project serving the purpose of connecting a community. As for the project? It is called Cups of Conversation. Let me explain…
Jeni beautifully crafted ten sets of coffee cups, each set contained in an equally beautiful wooden container (crafted by another remarkable artist named Gwen) that are to travel on a journey for the next thirty days. Each recipient of the set shall, within 24 hours, invite someone they do not know well to share a drink and share a meaningful conversation before passing the cups along to someone else. After hearing the challenge, I had two thoughts on my mind. One, I was so tickled to see someone push forward with a simple idea to actually make it happen. So often, we are plagued with fears of failure and logistics that we sit on worthy ideas that sadly, never surface. THIS was the result of the opposite…I have a deep sense of pride for someone I don’t even know personally…not to mention the inspiration I feel to begin tackling the projects brewing in my own noggin. And as for my second thought…if I were to have those cups, who would I choose to join me?? This followed with an urge to whoop and holler and cheer loudly over the simple yet inspirational thrill of the entire project…but to the disappointment of those around me who may have been entertained by the notion, I opted to contain myself…mainly, for sake of not embarrassing Mr. Hatten. I left the congregation hall with a wavering and aimless walk and stirring thoughts…and like a pretty healthy tug though, I walked by and grabbed one of those sets of cups. I thought to myself “I’m doing this…why not?” Friends, I’m not easily sold on things, I’m not. My mother has been attempting to talk me into using essential oils for well over a year and continues to share with me the endless uses for them…and I’m still ignoring her. But, this project? I believe in it. And I believe it has some serious potential to open doors. And you know, it just seemed right…I have, after all, been plugging and pondering “meaningful conversation” for months now.
I went home. I entertained some ideas. There were three persons on my list of possibilities. Two ladies whom I do not know very well and whom I have been intrigued by during the course of this year. And my third choice…“my best friend from college.” Seemingly crazy idea of a choice, considering the project, I know. I’m supposed to pick someone I don’t know very well…and then proceed to have a meaningful conversation. But, you see, we WERE very close…in college. Then came our twenties. Life just happens and life seemed to do just that. It happened. Not without some sadness that goes along with change, our friendship just kind of ended. At the time, I remember it feeling like she moved on. Yes, my heart hurt and yes, there were times I was pegged with insecurities. HOWEVER, particularly where I am today, I recognize that there’s a difference between being in one’s twenties and being in one’s late thirties. Certainly some pretty significant differences. Mainly being…growth.
Following the sermon on connection, the Cups of Conversation project, and following a heap of internal deliberation during a family movie night of watching “Christmas with the Kranks,” (random, I’m aware) my mind was made up. I chose her. I chose a good friend from my past whom I haven’t had a meaningful conversation with in over a decade. I chose her because it just seemed right. And with the invitation via a short series of text messages that evening, we scheduled it. We scheduled a “Cup of Conversation.” Most importantly, at the end of these few, yet powerful notes we shared, I was left with an unexpected well of tears when she said this:
“See you then and know that I love you.”
I cried. I cried because THAT is connection. And THAT is God’s whispers and guiding nudge.
(These cups are about to embark on a powerful journey…I feel it. It’s only just beginning but I encourage you to follow along at www.facebook.com/cupsofconversation. Better yet, ask someone outside YOUR circle to sit with you for a meaningful conversation. Your heart will thank you later for it. Oh, and I’d love to hear about it.)
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