Category Archives: Stories That Inspire

Eulalia “Lala” Cortes’ Story: The Depth of a Mother’s Love

compiled by Catherine Sanderson

compiled by Catherine Sanderson

With mother’s day approaching, we’re excited to share the story of the amazing Lala Cortes, a mother and grandmother in her own right, but also a “second mother” to almost 20 other children in the Austin area. Her story displays the incredible power of a mother’s love to ignite a journey from a place of war and turmoil to one that is safe and full of love. Her motherly instincts led her to bravely start anew and create an independent and safe life for herself and her children after years of hardship.

We know you will be inspired 🙂

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Roots & Family Life:  I was born in León, Nicaragua and lived there until I was 22 years old when I moved to Austin, and have now lived here for 27 years. In Nicaragua, my dad Jose worked in agriculture and farming, and my mom Mercedes had her own business selling our produce at a market stall.

My parents in Nicaragua

My parents in Nicaragua

I had 4 brothers and 2 sisters — 7 of us total, although one of my brothers was killed in the civil war. I have 3 children: Silvia (now 32), Orlando (27) and Brenda (26) and I now have 2 grandchildren: Genesis (9), Eli (6) and one on the way!

I am happily married to my current husband Eliseo, and we have been married for 12 years.

Left: with my children and daddy at mine and Eliseo's wedding

Left: with my children and daddy at mine and Eliseo’s wedding; Right: my grandchildren Genesis and Eli

Current Occupation: I’m a nanny and I clean houses for a number of families. Over the past 27 years, I’ve helped raise 18 children other than my own, and have worked for more than 15 families — from less than a year for some, to 27 years for others.

With Malaine and Durant (Neissa Springmann's children), 2 of the children I look after now

With Malaine and Durant (Neissa Springmann’s children), 2 of the children I help look after now

I always treated the girls that worked for me in Nicaragua the way that I wanted to be treated, so when that doesn’t happen with me, I don’t work there for long!

Who inspires me most: God. He inspires us all as human beings to move forward, and without Him in front of us we couldn’t be as strong as we are.

The best advice I’ve been given: There are many, but the best was from my parents: In life, although there’s suffering and it’s hard, it teaches you how to live and live with other people. Also, they taught me that the way you treat others is the way you’re going to be treated.

Something people don’t know about me: As a kid, my favorite pastime was jumping rope. Once, I fell and hurt my knee (which I still have the scar from) and never told my mom because I knew she’d get made at me for not being careful and hurting myself (there was no money for going to the doctor). I had to tell her when my knee became really swollen and I got gangrene and she wanted to take me to the doctor. I still have knee problems because of it…all because of jumping rope and not telling my mom! Which is why I now get so scared when the kids I take care of love jumping off things!

If I wasn’t in my current career, I’d…  I’d retire! 🙂 Well, when I was in a kid in school I wanted to be a teacher or a nurse, but I can’t see myself being a nurse anymore because I have a weak stomach when it comes to blood. With the little English I know, I can see myself looking for another type of job where I can use the language more and communicate more.

What I’m looking forward to right now:  I’m excited for my newest grandbaby to get here, and when it does I’m going to charge $30 an hour to watch it! {kidding 🙂 }

LalaCortez_w-1When I’m not working, you can find me…  Shopping, exercising, volunteering with my church, teaching bible studies, gardening, and getting my nails done.

My perfect day would be: On my perfect day (a day off), I would be teaching people about the bible and giving bible studies — it’s my therapy.  I volunteer through my church to go to people’s homes who have shown interest in learning about the bible and give them bible studies. I love sitting down with people in their homes.

~ My Story ~

The hardest and most life-changing experience I’ve been through was traveling alone with my children to the U.S. and then raising them alone in a new country.

After my brother was killed in the civil war in Nicaragua, my parents wanted to protect the rest of us, and so they traveled with the rest of the family to the U.S. to live in Austin. I stayed behind in Nicaragua because I had married my first husband at 16 and had my first child Silvia at 17. My husband owned a jewelry store there and we were very well off — I had 3 ladies working in my house helping with the children, cleaning the house and running errands. I would go get my nails done and go shopping!

After a number of years with my parents in the U.S. and the civil war going on in Nicaragua, I had 2 small children, was pregnant with my third, my husband wasn’t being a good husband, and I was seeing civilians who didn’t support the government get killed. I knew my family was in the U.S. and I could be safe with them there, so at 22 years old I decided to travel to the U.S. alone with the children to be with my parents.

Clockwise from top left: with newborn Silvia in Nicaragua, with all 3 children in Austin, the children growing up in Austin

Clockwise from top left: with newborn Silvia in Nicaragua, with all 3 children in Austin, the children growing up in Austin

So, with 4-year-old Silvia, 10-month-old Orlando, and me 8 months pregnant with Brenda, I crossed from Nicaragua to Mexico (a 1 month journey) then crossed from Tapachula, Mexico into Texas (a 3 day journey). During those 3 days in Mexico, the coyotes (the people you pay to take you across the U.S. border) left me and my children alone in a shack in the bushes in the mountains somewhere outside Matamoros because Orlando was a very fussy baby and they said he was too loud — they said they’d come back for me. They left me with water and a tortilla and cheese, and I didn’t eat anything over those 3 days. I was scared that they wouldn’t come back for us, but luckily one of the coyotes was my cousin and they eventually did. I crossed the border in labor, and then Brenda was born in New Braunfels immediately. I remember going to the hospital right after I crossed over and telling my mom, “If you had told me how hard that journey would have been, I wouldn’t have come!”

When I crossed over, life was even harder here. I had to leave my kids to work — when before in Nicaragua I never had to work while I had kids. I didn’t know English, didn’t know anyone other than my family, and didn’t have any work experience.

After 3 months of being here, my sister Marcia took me with her to help clean houses and I gave my babies to a friend to take care of while I was out.  Three months later, I started working for Sha Klatt (iGnite’s swimming leader who I’ve now worked for for 27 years). Marcia had been working for Sha’s neighbor Patty, and when I was helping her out Sha saw me at Patty’s and asked if I could help her with her house when her daughter Sydney was 3 and her son Sam was 6 months old. So, my daddy took me to the bus stop downtown and left me there because my sister Marcia said, “Here you go, this is the bus that will take you to Sha’s house.”  I would take Brenda (6 months old at the time) on a bus into central Austin while a friend watched Silvia and Orlando.

So I began working for Sha, and she began teaching me English. She had a Spanish-English dictionary, and for a year & a half we used that dictionary to communicate with each other.

After 10 months here, the children and I got our residency and social security cards — we were officially “legal.”  My mom paid for my husband to travel to the U.S. to help take care of his family about a year after I arrived, but 3 months later, he started “being bad” again… in ways I won’t go into. The kids remember him as being very in-and-out, never having a connection with him, and remember him sometimes being gone for weeks or months at a time. We were together for a total of 18 years before getting a divorce.

I had to wait 7 years for my U.S. citizenship, and the children got theirs then too.

Receiving my U.S. citizenship; Far right: with Sha and Carolyn (another woman whose family I have worked for for many years)

I took busses around Austin for 8 years, and then Sha told me, “Lala, let’s go driving. You have to get your driver’s license.”  I told her I was scared, but she wouldn’t have it. I had never driven before — I just took taxis everywhere in Nicaragua!  Sha taught me in her neighborhood driving her husband Mike’s grandpa’s car. Sha cleaned the car up and paid for me to take the test, and then with my license I was able do more — to help take the children to ballet, school, the swimming pool, restaurants, etc. She gave me a Visa card to fill up the gas, and I was free to take the kids around all day.

Sha and I

Lala and Sha

Sha had a giant impact on my life, she’s like a sister to me. When I would get sick, Sha — knowing I lived by myself with the children — would come to my house and take my kids to school, bring me food and clothes, and take me to the doctor. She is my family. I remember when all of our kids were little, she was my big motivator and cheerleader. She gave me that boost and encouragement to get up. She would say, “Lala, bring your children to my house.”   When I’d get there and start cleaning, she’d get all of the kids in the pool and teach them to swim.

I can now say that all of this hardship saved my life and my children’s lives, and it has allowed me to start a new life here with a new husband that loves me and loves my children.

Brenda, Lala and Silvia

Brenda, Lala and Silvia

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Lala’s story is one that fully embodies the risks a dedicated and loving mother will take and the lengths she’ll go to to protect her children.  As a result of her incredibly difficult journey motivated by wanting to give her children a better and safer life, they now have just that. And not only that, but Lala also now owns her own home, is in a loving marriage and is surrounded by children, grandchildren and friends that love her.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com

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A Night to Remember

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Point to Ponder:
Do you have a difficult time accepting the unknowns of your life?
by Neissa Brown Springmann

by Neissa Brown Springmann

While I am certainly not trying to compare my dancing abilities to Betty Cunningham (our iGnite dance leader extraordinaire), I love a dance party!…especially with girlfriends, which is exactly what took place this weekend during Run to the Sun – the overnight relay race from Enchanted Rock to Camp Mabry benefiting Beyond Batten Disease FoundationExhilarating, very hard, hysterical, boundless joy, exhaustingand absolute fun are some of the words that describe Team iGnite’s experience.  It’s actually very difficult to articulate the unforgettable event so I’m not sure I’ll do it much justice in writing. Maybe saying that staying awake for twenty-nine hours, still having a smile on my face and in my heart, and wishing I could do it again next weekend says enough?

In addition to witnessing the awe-inspiring power of community as well as countless displays of extraordinary courage and strength, there were two specific moments that made a sizeable impact and still have me thinking.

The first was during my relay leg, around 1:30 a.m on Hamilton Pool Road.  It was of course dark so I wore reflective gear, blinky lights and a head light.  Even though I knew my run was difficult and hilly,  my head light only allowed me to see about fifteen steps in front and therefore I couldn’t anticipate what was coming up until it was upon me. Also, because I desperately wanted to mentally prepare for what lie ahead and feel like I had some control, I often times tried manipulating my head light to see if I could get greater range, but it was always a waste of effort. Therefore, I had to alter my mindset, accept the unknown while not giving up, and accept taking it one step at a time.  It was blind faith until every 1.5 miles when I heard the sounds of Team iGnite–sirens, cheering and the non-stop dance party.  Hearing and seeing my friends was not only comforting and energizing, but their support enabled me to keep going and feel confident that I could do this!

In hindsight, this was analogous to life.  There are so many times during our life journey when we are not exactly sure what lie on the road ahead, and it’s during these times that we don’t need to focus on the end or even know the exact route.  Rather, the opportunity is to accept and trust our challenge or unsure path, don’t worry about crossing a bridge until we need to and take it one step at a time – one minute, one day and one week at time – knowing that when we don’t have the answers, strength or confidence to take that next step, the answers will come and our community of friends and family will lift us up and pull us through. It’s pretty awesome!

The next significant impact came after we finished the relay at Camp Mabry.  BBDF held a kids 2K around the beautiful and new track.  Durant, my four-year-old son, wanted to run and despite being physically juiced, I could not turn down my little’s guy’s desire.  He was the youngest and we were at the back of the pack of kids and having fun running when I looked to my left and saw Christiane Benson running WAY ahead of us.   (Christiane is the precious 12 year old who was diagnosed with Batten Disease when she was five years old and is the inspiration of the Beyond Batten Disease Foundation.)  What you may or may not know is that Christiane is blind.  She can see blurry objects and will one day be completely blind.  You would think this would slow her down, but not even close.  Christiane wasn’t just running- she was sprinting!  Had I not known who she was, I would have NEVER thought she was blind or had a terminal illness.  She did have a friend nearby, but this full of life and fearless child was beyond inspirational and once again proved to me that not only is anything possible, but also no disability or illness can define or determine our limits.  In fact, there are no limits to what each of us are capable of doing. Not just physically, but in life in general.  Nothing can or should get in our way of living a full and fearless life!  If Christiane Benson can do it, so can we!

Finally, below are beautiful quotes and personal testimonials from Team iGnite and our Run to the Sun experience. We cannot thank you enough for your donations, support, thoughts and prayers.  Our team goal was to raise $6,500 and so far we’ve raised $7,335 and hope to continue to raise more throughout the remainder of the week.  This is incredible!  We felt lifted up by your support and prayers, and for those we are so grateful!

Team iGnite/Run to the Sun Testimonials

Babe Keahey: I loved the encouragement and joy everyone had when cheering on the runners throughout the night!  Whenever it started getting difficult- there was always a light at the end knowing that your teammates were welcoming you to finish.

Catherine SandersonWhat struck me most was the impact that having a team of friends wholeheartedly supporting me and reminding me they believed in me and that I could do it in moments where I was struggling to believe I could go on had on my ability to push through a hard run.  Such a perfect illustration of being able to go further and be stronger when we allow others to fully support and sometimes carry us through hard times.  A close second favorite memory is our glow stick rave dance parties in the middle of country roads in the pitch black! 🙂

Courtney Seal: Run to the Sun was an incredible challenge and event where each leg of the race was full of both unforeseen challenges and rewards both physically and emotionally. Amazing experience and amazing to share it together.

Jenni Thurow: The Run to the Sun made me realize that the words and support of others are SO powerful. The words of others can help us accomplish things either we never would try or we never thought would be possible.  Every time I wanted to give up I would see the iGnite team in a distance and I would be fully recharged.  Anytime I was ready to give up or got scared being by myself in the middle of the night I would see the blinking lights of the Tahoe in the distance and know I was not alone.  What an amazing run!

Jessie D’Andrea: Run to the Sun was an amazing experience that I will never forget.  From running in the darkness of the night, but knowing I wasn’t alone, to lifting these children who are battling Batten Disease up in support and prayer, I treasure the memories.  Also, the kind of team support Team iGnite showed not only to our own team but to the other teams’ runners will forever be in my heart.  

Kathleen ParkerA truly unforgettable experience.  Words can’t describe the outpouring of love and support I felt.  Truly life changing for all of us.

Laura Gentner: The spirit and friendship of the group was uplifting and genuine.  It was amazing how committed this team was to rallying around each woman during the race – cheering and pumping them up the entire time.  I’m so glad for the experience and to know the iGnite women even better.

Maggie McCauley: Unbelievably rewarding. The love, encouragement, spirit, and fun shared by our team and beyond taught me so much in so little time.  I now truly understand what teamwork and camaraderie mean.  Knowing that you are going to see someone who cares and believes in you throughout a tough run makes the difference.  Run to the Sun has inspired me to accept every challenge knowing that I have a team who will always support me.

Molly DanielsI loved every minute of the experience because it was non-stop support — yelling, cheering, dancing, laughing, singing — for every person running, whether or not they were on Team iGnite.  What an inspiring event that I will always remember!

Paige Clark: I loved the magic of running through the peaceful dark stillness of the Texas Hill Country at night, which was made even more special by the constant enthusiasm, joy and loving support of Team iGnite. What FUN we had!!

Action Item:

Whenever in doubt of your capabilities, grab a friend and let them lift you up!

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Real Women, Real Stories | Deborah Turner-Mack: Overcoming My Son’s Fight Against Food

iGnite Real Women, Real Stories logo

Deborah Turner-Mack's Story

Roots: I grew up with my mom and two sisters in Amarillo, Texas and spent my summers with my Dad in Addison, Texas. I am named after my mother, Deborah, but all of my family calls me by my middle name, Rae. After graduating from Amarillo Community College and spending a year in Utah, I moved to Denton to finish my journalism degree at the University of North Texas. I moved into a 200 square foot duplex and fell in love with Charlie, the boy next door. We moved to Austin in 2006 and married in 2007. I call Austin my home and Colorado a close second.

Family Life: Charlie and I have an amazing son, Turner. He has my surname. I wanted to use a family name and Furd, Garfield and Murdock just weren’t making the cut. Turner was the best fit and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

"Our family picture. Charlie, Turner and I camping with our VW Bus named Fillmore. We spend much of our free time camping, hiking and being outdoors. Our goal is to take Turner to all of the State Parks across Texas. We've taken him to 25. One day, we'd like to get Fillmore running in tip top shape, so we can drive up to Colorado for one of Turner's doctors appointments. It's the journey, not the destination that we look forward to." 

“Charlie, Turner and I camping with our VW Bus named Fillmore. We spend much of our free time camping, hiking and being outdoors. Our goal is to take Turner to all of the State Parks across Texas. We’ve taken him to 25. One day, we’d like to get Fillmore running in tip top shape, so we can drive up to Colorado for one of Turner’s doctors appointments. It’s the journey, not the destination that we look forward to.”

Favorite Quotes:
But out of limitations comes creativity.” Debbie Allen
Change is not something we should fear. Rather, it is something that we should welcome. For without change, nothing in this world would ever grow or blossom, and no one in this world would ever move forward to become the person they’re meant to be.”

The Best Advice I’ve ever been Given:
Keep on pushing! Don’t take no s—t. And never, never, ever let me hear any s—t from you that you can’t back up.”
Behold the turtle, she only makes progress when she sticks her neck out.”
Both quotes from my Dad, Rick Turner.

Something that most people don’t know about me:  I’m currently writing a memoir about my summers living with my Dad.

My Story:

Turner harvesting carrots in the family's backyard garden

Turner harvesting carrots in the family’s backyard garden

If I were to draw a picture of my three-year-old little boy, it would start with his towhead, his deep blue eyes and an exhilarating smile. He’d have a Ninja Turtle, a combine harvester and a monster truck all crammed into his small hand because he cannot leave the house without all three. Aside from wearing a cape, Turner would be barefoot, shirtless, pantless and sporting his favorite superhero skivvies turned around backwards because he says, “Mom, I can’t see their faces, if they are on my booty.”  Right in the middle of his chest, I’d draw a heart bigger than Texas itself. He’d have my dimples, my father’s chin and my husband’s triangle toe. He’s perfect in every way.

Now imagine that I told Turner to help Mommy color his inside parts. He’d choose red, his favorite color, and scribble erratically from side to side just as any child his age would do. It’s fridge worthy. Again, perfect in everyway. On the outside, he looks completely normal, but if you look at his insides, you’d see that the scribble marks show that something is completely wrong. He has an invisible and incurable disease called Eosinophilic Esophagitis (say: EE-oh-sin-oh-FILL-ick  Ee-SOFF-a-JIE-tiss) or EoE for short.

What is Eosinophilic Esophagitis?
EoE is a rare and chronic disease that occurs when there is an increased number of eosinophils  causing inflammation in the esophagus (the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach). An eosinophil (say: ee-oh-SIN-o-fill) is a type of white blood cell that fight off parasitic infections. They are not normally found in the esophagus. Eosinophils are the superheroes of our bodies. However, in patients with EoE, those superheroes or eosinophils get some bad information about who the bad guys are and instead of attacking parasites, they start attacking the esophagus. The eosinophils cause injury to the tissue in the esophagus which causes food impactions, vomiting, severe reflux that does not respond to medication, failure to thrive, abdominal pain and feeding refusal.

RWRSDeborahTurnerMack

“I teach (Turner) about managing his disease by showing him where food comes from and by him cooking all of our meals with us.”

What causes Eosinophilic Esophagitis?
Food. The one thing that is designed to go down an esophagus, nourish a body and provide complete satisfaction for the three-year-old hangries is the thing that causes my son so much pain and discomfort. As of today, Turner cannot tolerate any products that contain dairy, eggs, soy, wheat, gluten, sesame seeds, tree nuts, buckwheat, peas, corn, peanuts, coconut, beef, watermelon and oats. As of two weeks ago, we had to add sunflower seeds to the no list. If you are counting, that’s 16 foods.

Road to Diagnosis:
Turner was diagnosed with EoE at 15 months old and I’m grateful that we figured it out so early. Others are not so lucky. I cannot imagine having to take away foods from a child who already knows the joy of tasting a fresh baked croissant or the pleasure that comes from eating a dipped cone from Dairy Queen on a hot summer day.

I breastfed him for one year and throughout that time, he had bouts of severe eczema across his body. Our pediatrician assured us that things were fine and figured he had some food intolerances. As we started introducing foods to him around 7 months, we noticed things started changing. He spat out foods, had bloody stools, his eczema worsened and had an anaphylactic reaction. A few minutes after consuming eggs, his head swelled up so large that it looked as though we had pumped helium into his mouth as to inflate a balloon. We did blood work to test for more allergens and everything we tested for came back positive for a food allergen. Even after eliminating those top 8 foods and trying a regiment of reflux medications the more food we introduced, the worse it got. After his first birthday his health rapidly declined. He’d lost almost 2 pounds, he was vomiting 4-5 times a day, had just as many bowel movements and would stare off into space in a lethargic state. I knew something was wrong.

Deborah holds Turner's hand while waiting for him to come out of anesthesia after getting his second endoscopy on his second birthday

Deborah holds Turner’s hand while waiting for him to come out of anesthesia after getting his second endoscopy on his second birthday

Finally after meeting with an allergist, he suggested that we see a pediatric gastrointestinal (GI) doctor because he suspected he had EoE, a rare disease he knew nothing about, but had heard about at some point in his career. Upon arrival at the GI, we discovered that the only way to diagnose and check for EoE is through an endoscopy and biopsies of the esophagus. My husband and I held our son’s tiny hand as he slipped off into a state of unconsciousness as the doctors checked for some disease we could not pronounce. It only took 15 minutes for the doctors to confirm it with the visuals of the endoscopy. He had deep furrowing, scar tissue already building up, and strictures up and down his esophagus.

Days later the biopsies confirmed the diagnosis. The doctor gave me a couple of websites www.apfed.org and www.gikids.org, samples of some amino acid formula, suggested we try some more food elimination, and highly encouraged us to hire a nutritionist to help us find alternative foods to those already on our “no” list. Over the course of the next year, our world was flipped upside down.

In those websites, I found resources to help guide us through the road ahead. I discovered recipes for severely restricted diets, advice for communicating our needs to caregivers/family members and an amazing team of doctors at the Gastrointestinal Eosinophilic Disease Program at Children’s hospital of Colorado. Most importantly, we’ve found a supportive online community of now 4000+ people across this world who manage this disease. I am so thankful for my online EoE community and Austin Families with Food Allergies, a local support group. I love our supportive family and friends too. We live knowing that there is no cure, but together we are stronger. I am grateful for the foods Turner can eat because I know that there are always others praying for what we have.

25 Texas State Parks down!

25 Texas State Parks down!

Living with EoE:

  • In 2013, we were at the doctor’s office, therapist, specialist or pharmacy 173 times. That’s one trip every 2.1 days.
  • We have never been able to take Turner to a restaurant without him having a reaction to the food that they have served him. We stopped eating out as a family over 1.5 years ago. We cook ALL of our meals at home and we LOVE experimenting as a family.
  • We stay awake at night wondering how Turner will ever get to experience college like we did. It’s hard to imagine our own experience without pizza, keg parties, dorm room food, late night trips to IHOP and a last minute snack from a vending machine just before class.
  • Dum Dums are the ONLY candy that Turner can enjoy safely because they do not contain any food proteins. For some kiddos with EoE, who are not in remission, Dum Dums are their only safe food.
  • Food trials, followed by a biopsy and endoscopy are the only way to determine if a food is safe for someone with EoE. Food allergy testing does not accurately indicate whether a food is safe or not for EoE.
  • After eliminating 15 foods and following a strict regimen of medications, Turner is in remission as of his last hospital visit. We are hopeful that the next visit will be the same.
  • I know more now about ingredients and cooking than I ever imagined. My husband and I truly enjoy finding creative ways to feed our family.

Follow our journey at www.sneezyt.wordpress.com or follow our facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/sneezyt/ to get more information on EoE, find recipes  or learn what it’s like to be the Mom of one amazing superhero. We’d love to connect with other families in the area who have EoE, because together we are stronger.

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Photos by Catherine Sanderson

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iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com

It’s Never Too Late

The Wisdom Share Continued
Living in Community, Part III

Embrace change

Point to Ponder:
Do you ever find yourself thinking it’s ‘too late’ to make something happen in your life?

by Neissa Brown Springmann

by Neissa Brown Springmann

While in the middle of our wisdom sharing, a dear friend of mine from out of town sent me an inspiring story about a 91 year-old women by the name of Barbara Beskind who is working her dream job in Silicon Valley. Yep, you read it correctly. She is working her dream job at 91 years old. Pretty amazing, right?!

Upon reading Barbara’s story, I had just spoken to a small group of business students and told them that as an entrepreneur I have yet to arrive, which is very frustrating because I really want to arrive! I realize that this is just life and me always wanting to be better and “get it right,” but Barbara’s words were timely and reminded me to never lose hopedream big, always persevere and that there is continual purpose and meaning behind everything that happens in our lives.  Barbara said this: “I arrived! As a ten year-old I wanted to be an inventor, but it took me 80 years.”

Scott Stump’s article about Barbara is bursting with her spry and sharp wisdom resulting from having grown up during the depression. Here, a few of Barbara’s pieces of advice I enjoyed most:

  1. Get Rid of Your Devices: “I’m one of the wealthiest people in the world. I’m as wealthy as Warren Buffett because I measure my wealth by having uninterrupted time. I have no cell phone except one to use for emergency. I have no laptop. I have no smartphone, no iPod, because I can’t see them. I have uninterrupted time to think.”
  2. Expect the unexpected: “I think the beauty of being 91 is that you can look back and see how the little pieces fit into the big pieces of life, and life is a complete puzzle. Only when you get to be this age can you see it, and that’s the joy and the excitement of it.”
  3. Don’t let age get in your way: “Age is not a barrier to performance. Live life as an adventure, and expect change and endorse it, embrace it. Because as you age, every day you will be making changes. You will be adapting to changes in the way you have to do things whether they’re physical or they’re visual.
  4. Don’t let “old” become your identity: “Everybody has untapped resources. You just have to find them. They may be in music, they may be in childcare, they may be in volunteering at the hospital or at the library. I think with the aging, you so often lose your identity, and I think this is what IDEO gives to me, the opportunity to explore what my identity is.”

Here’s to an awesome Spring Break, living in community, sharing your life experiences & wisdom and enjoying this rich video about Barbara!

VideoOnToday

Action Item:
Embrace your life as an adventure, open to the idea that things you thought you’ll never get to do or become, are still a possibility.

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Darby & Jennie: We Never Imagined We’d be Heart Attack Survivors

Catherine Sanderson

Catherine Sanderson

It’s American Heart Month, y’all!  And because we’re crazy passionate about women’s health and wellness and we know that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and is more deadly than all forms of cancer, we’re excited to join the awareness movement by sharing with you the stories of two amazing Austin-area women.  Darby Denison and Jennie Covert Stewart are both young, vibrant, active, busy, go-getter women — who also happen to have survived heart attacks within the past year.  

Woah!  What a wake-up call to realize that the face of heart attacks might not be what we all immediately picture in our minds. They do not just affect the unhealthy, the inactive, the elderly or the sick. But wait, there’s a silver lining:  an awareness of the symptoms is key to survival and to minimizing damage, as displayed in both Darby & Jennie’s experiences.  And awareness we can all have.

We hope their stories open your eyes as they have ours and teach you something you may not have known before about heart health and heart attack symptoms among women.  As with all of our Real Women, Real Stories features, these incredible women will also inspire you with their optimistic, hopeful and renewed perspective and approach to life!

We encourage you to please forward this story on to all of the women you love and care about.  Because knowledge is power, and awareness saves lives!

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Roots:

JENNIE: I am a fifth generation Austinite. I was born here, graduated from Austin High School and The University of Texas. I’ve never lived anywhere else except for Oaxaca, Mexico for 6 weeks!

DARBY: I’m from Houston and have mostly done a Texas Twirl! I’ve lived in Houston, Austin (University of Texas), Dallas, a stint in London at Sotheby’s and Madrid, back to Houston and finally Austin since 2001.

Family Life:

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Jennie and her family

JENNIE: I have a large extended family and we are all close. In fact, we are all part of our 106-year-old family business, Covert Auto Company. I have wonderful parents who live 8 miles from me. I‘m the oldest of their two girls as well as an aunt to seven. I married Sam, a custom home builder, 18 years ago and got so lucky to have amazing in-laws who also live close by. We are blessed with three children: Bo, Rachel and Chapel.

Darby and her family

Darby and her family

DARBY: I am from a large, wonderful family comprised of 3 siblings: Dawn, Courtney and Colby and my precious parents Linda and Mack who live in Houston. My claim to fame and a most amazing blessing is that I was born an identical twin to Dawn Thompson, who happens to live just 3 streets away from me. I have wonderful brother and sister in-laws and a host of nieces and nephews that I claim to be my own. Oh, and I can’t forget my precious and precocious golden retriever Wrigley!

Occupation:

JENNIE: I do radio and TV ads for my family’s Chevrolet Buick and GMC dealership in Bastrop.

DARBY: I am lucky enough to have found a career 25 years ago that I still love today: interior design. I have owned my own company since 1995, Denison & Denison Interiors, which I started with my sister Dawn, but I now run on my own.

Favorite Quote:

JENNIE: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t—you’re right.” -Henry Ford

DARBY: It’s an excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech ‘The Man in the Arena:’ “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again… who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly….”
Also, “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice! Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians: 4:4-7

Best advice I’ve been given:

JENNIE: My dad Rox reminds us to honor each other’s differences. I always fall back on this when I lose my patience. It also helps me have an open heart and an open mind.

DARBY: It was from my mom last year after my heart attack and her very serious spinal surgery: “Live and dance and play and have all the fun you can have while you can; don’t waste a day!”

I’m looking forward to…

JENNIE: Baseball season and a Bible Study with Jennie Allen called Numb.

DARBY: I love to travel and have so many places on my bucket list that I don’t know where to start! Prague, New Zealand, Bali, Greece, Croatia and Barcelona are a beginning. I love meeting new people from different countries and cultures and realizing how similar we all really are. And if I had the luxury to live somewhere else for a time it would surely be Paris!

If I had another career it would be… 

JENNIE: I grew up wanting to be a news anchor. I idolized Stephanie Williams — she was the anchor on KTBC with Neal Spelce. I used to imitate her and practice delivering the news in the mirror in my room!

My perfect day would be…

JENNIE: Quiet moments before anyone else is awake, a morning prayer thanking God he gave me another day, lunch with a friend, watching my children play their sport, and dinner with my family.

I’m inspired by…

JENNIE: My children—their work ethic is amazing and they never give up.

 ~ OUR STORIES ~

Jennie Covert Stewart

Before my heart attack, I was crazy busy — which was brought on by myself.  I volunteered for a lot more than I do now, but now it’s just more about quality and focus now. Not that what I did or who I spent my time with before was not important, it’s just that it took up too much time and took me away from what mattered most.

As I mention in the video, having a heart attack changed my outlook on life. It forced me to repurpose my life. It empowers me to say ‘no’ when I need to and focus on just having an audience of One. I have an attitude of gratitude and a true awareness of how blessed I am.

Darby Denison

photo 1

Darby (right) and her twin sister Dawn (left), as featured in a Go Red for Women campaign

Before August 28, 2014, I thought I could do anything, outlast anybody and keep going forever! I was working, playing, exercising, helping where I could, sleeping too little and pushing too hard. I was invincible.

On that night, I woke up with the classic symptoms of a heart attack which I had memorized a mere 4 months earlier when my friend Jennie Stewart had suffered one as well: crushing chest pain, tingling arms, cold sweat and nausea. After denying it for as long as I could and even confirming the symptoms on the internet, I called 911 and was rushed to the emergency room. After numerous tests and multiple theories thrown about, an enzyme test came back elevated (which was definitive proof of heart damage). At this critical juncture, I was taken to the Cath Lab for an immediate heart catheterization procedure in which they removed a blood clot in my Lower Anterior Descending Artery (the “Widowmaker”) and performed an angioplasty. To say that it was scary and an incredible surprise is the understatement of my life, and I will never be the same.

I now wake up every day and thank God immediately for another day on this precious earth! I have learned to say “no” when I need to and “yes” when I mean it. I choose happiness much more often because I see each day as a gift and life as short and I don’t want to waste a single minute of it! I have rebuilt wounded relationships and am more careful to espouse positivity and gratitude in place of negativity and pessimism. I tell people that I love them all the time. I have more patience with myself and others and actually stop to smell the roses.  I count my blessings at least once a day and am thankful for the most simple of things. I pay more attention to my health, go to the doctor (and actually listen to them), and watch closely my cholesterol, blood pressure, inflammation and stress. I cherish my family and friends more than ever and am eternally grateful and humbled by their continual love and support.  My heart is overflowing!

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iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com

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Embracing the Yin and Yang of Life

waterfall

by Cary Fyfe

by Cary Fyfe

Life….it flows, it surprises, it lifts and drops. Sometimes, it drops more than it lifts. And sometimes, no matter what we do to alter unwelcome circumstances, we have no choice but to let go and sit in what is happening. To not strive…to stay in the sensation of the experience…to allow tension to transform to strength. While it works to respond actively to many situations, when we surrender — while surrounding ourselves with support — we learn to love the truth that is right there, patiently smiling upon us.

That truth finally snagged me, when I became a mother to two boys…two very busy, delightful, public boys. It was a process though…I continually turned my head to the chances to be enlightened — I really thought — not proud of this one — that I had reached my mountaintop of maturity and wisdom, that I was equipped to rock this gig of motherhood. I had always worked with children, what did I not know? And not surprisingly, my arrogance was swamped by the first rough wind that took me to my knees…a wind that knowingly whispered, “Self-anointed ‘I’ve-got-this’ mama, these boys are here to teach you…so please listen.”

And listen I did. But trust what I heard, I did not. I was a slow learner. I was intent on — dang it — being the writer of my family’s story. We all have periods in our lives where we feel wildly tossed about by rapids, and we madly paddle to avoid the inevitable waterfall — we hear its roar, and it terrifies us. While we wonder how — or if — we will reach a peaceful shore before the cascade envelops us, we strive to fight the inevitable, to change the story. Oh, oh, I wanted to change the story. I did not want to be in the spotlight of teachers and administrators who were dialing my number. I did not want to consult experts to guide us along the way. And worst of all, I did not heed the messages that each of my precious sons were sending me…I was too frantic, too busy, too scared.

So I shook. I pushed back. I cratered. I chose to pull hard, away from the uncomfortable sensations; I was resistant to releasing the hold that fear had planted inside of me. While my precious sons were shining their little rainbows of uniqueness and wonder at me, I was franticly responding to the messages that I had been given my whole life, and to those that were being given to me as a mother, by the small — not always kind — world surrounding my family. “Try this, try that, if you don’t do this now, they’ll do this later”…and one day, my paddles broke, our boat flipped, and we all went over the waterfall.

There is good news here, and it took a trip into the dreaded abyss to trust it: the truth that lies below the fall has been waiting patiently, for our arrival. In order for my story to be changed, I had to first let go and embrace the story that was present. That precipice, that torrent of water and where it landed us, was my lovely truth. That free fall down the current, into the calmer stream below, forced me to let go — to hold myself and my family in love and compassion as I recognized that my story was, indeed, a beautiful one.

When life’s current determines our direction, we must power up and actively engage, while also dwelling quietly in the sensations of the experience. Both are necessary. The active response — Yang — fuels us for motion, and the passive response — Yin — heals, informs and sustains us. While we use our strength to paddle, we give in to the force of the current. And no matter where we finally settle, it takes both engagement and surrender…Yin and Yang…to arrive. Beauty in strife, strength in repose…balance.  I so love nurturing that balanced, life process, as it is mirrored in my own practice and teaching of Yin Yoga…to release the struggle, and to witness the beauty that then flows.

Join Cary February 28th for a Workshop on Yin Yoga Exploration:YinYogaExploration-01

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Real Women, Real Stories | Charlotte Benson: Finding Hope After My Daughter’s Devastating Diagnosis

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Charlotte Benson

Photo by Catherine Sanderson | http://www.catherinesanderson.com

Roots:  I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and became an interior designer.  When I was 31, I moved to Paris to export antiques back to the U.S. and while living there I met and married my husband Craig who is from Little Rock, Arkansas. He said that I was the only one who could understand his French! We moved to Austin in 2002.

Family Life: We have two children, Christiane, age 12 and Garland, age 10. My entire family (3 siblings along with their children and my parents) have all moved to Austin.  We are a family of 21!

Favorite Quote: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” (Anonymous)

I’m Most Inspired By… Craig, Christiane and Garland inspire me everyday. They teach me about life and challenge me everyday in ways that inspire me to be a better person.

The Best Advice I’ve Ever Been Given:  The best advice I was ever given was not advice at all. My grandmother made an indelible impression on me without ever having offered a single opinion. I learned that the ability to make a meaningful impact on others is more about the life you live than the advice you give.

Something Most People Don’t Know About Me… This past summer, I went on a week-long overnight campout in the Teton Wilderness without ever taking a shower or washing my hair!  And I can still ride a tricycle!


My Story

Bensons Fall 2013

On March 28, 2008, my husband Craig and I received the devastating news that our daughter, Christiane had been diagnosed with a very rare neurodegenerative disease called Batten Disease. Batten Disease causes blindness, seizures, is physically and mentally incapacitating and is ultimately terminal by the late teens or early 20’s. Seven years later, it still takes my breath away to write all of that in one sentence.

What I remember about the day of her diagnosis was the shocking numbness that seemed to freeze that horrific moment and every racing emotion as we fell to our knees in disbelief and horror. While we were on our knees we began to pray. Pray for strength, direction, comfort, and sustenance. The months that followed came with the incredible support and love of our family, friends, and community, and shortly thereafter Craig and I founded Beyond Batten Disease Foundation. The foundation has become a life purpose for us and a vehicle for virtually everyone we know who wants to do something to help make a difference to channel their talents, gifts and resources to find a cure.

Christiane’s diagnosis completely changed our lives and shifted how we viewed the world. It was clear that we had a choice of how we wanted to live life in light of this news. We could either crumble in sadness and defeat or we could embrace our new role and do something to try to make a difference.

The very first effect Christiane’s diagnosis had on me as a mother, was an immediate and automatic elimination of the superfluous fluff that filled my life. It was as if an automatic sensor sifted out anything that lacked meaning and depth, and simply pushed “delete.”  I learned to be still and present with my children in a way I never had before and inhale every moment I spent with them.

I not only began to experience my children in a new light, but began to realize that God had also blessed my marriage by giving Craig and me a shared life purpose to not only care for our daughter, but also to help others through the work at our foundation. We began to experience the profound depth and unbelievable generosity of our friends and community in a way that we would never otherwise get to experience. The success of our foundation is entirely due to the compassion, pure love and sheer will of human kind to make a difference. To see up close the intuitive and passionate response of others to our own personal adversity is an extraordinary blessing. Everyone has pain and suffering, but God can use even the worst of circumstances to bring out the best in people. As we have said many times before; we have far more for which to be grateful than regretful.

I also realized that being the mother of a child with a terminal illness gave me a unique perspective and I began writing about my experiences. The unique perspective that emerged for me was not one of despair and hopelessness, but rather one of God’s incredible love and provision. I discovered that hope is a light that shines most brilliantly in dark places and that this was actually an incredible gift to unwrap and share with others. Writing has become an opportunity to share that gift and the simple truths that our precious children teach us every day. It is my hope that by sharing my stories and the light that I experience in my own dark circumstances that I will be able to encourage others to find the light that illuminates theirs.

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What is the goal of the foundation and can you tell us about the success you have had to date?  Our mission is to eradicate Batten disease and hundreds of other rare diseases like it. Today we are the leader for juvenile Batten research and have created a cohesive global research strategy. We have 30 key research projects currently underway as part of that strategy.  Over the last 6 years, $14.6 Million has been invested in research by leveraging donations, co-funding and partnerships because of our efforts.

Our success is entirely due to every single person in our community who has shared their talents and gifts and have joined our fight to save our daughter, and so many others like her.  Even though we have accomplished much in a short period of time, we still aren’t there yet!

What is the biggest piece of advice you would give someone else facing a devastating diagnosis of a child or loved one?  In the face of adversity, I think the most powerful antidote is gratitude.  I believe that focusing on the blessings in any unfortunate circumstance shapes our thoughts and ultimately creates our reality.

To read Charlotte’s stories, please visit http://beyondbatten.org/category/news/a-mothers-story/

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iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com

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Elaine Seeber: Through Hell and High Water, Perseverance & Faith

ElaineSeeber_w-1

A True Texas Girl… I was born and raised in Bertram, Texas.  I married Donny Brown, and we lived in the Philippines for our first 2 years of marriage, then back to Texas in Austin, Georgetown and Riesel.  We had two daughters together, Neissa and Shonna, who have now brought me 4 grandchildren.

Joe and I with our grandchildren Malaine, Claire, Durant and Cole

I now live in Hewitt, a suburb of Waco, (HA!) and have lived here almost 11 years with my second husband, Joe. 1 ½ years ago, I retired from a career at Hillcrest Hospital.

 

I’m inspired by… Daddy and Mother.  I regret I didn’t thank them enough when they were alive and would so love to be able to now.

My pet peeve… Negativism.  It drives me crazy!

 

If I had had a different career… It would have been Home Economics Teacher.

 

Outside of being with the kids and grandkids, my perfect day would be… A very warm day that starts with exercising (sweat profusely) , working in the yard and with my plants (sweat profusely), sitting on the deck and watching the birds and listening to my wind chimes, going inside to eat, taking a shower, and then with the AC turned down to about 68, taking a long afternoon nap covered up with a throw!

 

Growing up a farmer’s daughter… Daddy was a farmer/rancher/carpenter.  Mother was a homemaker.  We were 3 girls and 1 boy: Benda, Sharon, Connie (my brother, and he despises the name!), and the baby ME!

We were extremely close and truly lived in a “bubble.”   We raised chickens as part of the family income — the most chickens we raised at one time was 1,400!…and no, that isn’t a typo.  We had our after-school and summertime chores of gathering, washing, grading and cartoning the eggs.

When my brother and I got “older” (probably 10 & 12), in the winter after school we would burn the stickers off prickly pear cactus for the cows to eat.  In the summer we had hay, corn and maize to haul and put in the barn.  I learned at an early age how to drive the standard pickup truck and tractor pull the trailer.  Our garden provided food for canning, and our meat came from our own pigs, calves and chickens.  We milked our own cows, drank the milk and made butter from it.

Mother was an excellent cook and seamstress, and she made all of our meals from scratch and sewed all our dresses.  Our clothes were wrinkle-free when we wore them, and daddy’s and my brother’s jeans were starched stiff as a board.  I learned carpenter skills from daddy.  There was never buying a new appliance, as cords were repaired by mother. Major repair work, daddy did.  I remember mother getting a wringer washer and how proud of it we were.  Our clothes were line-dried, and in the winter we would hang wet clothes in front of the space heaters, and/or lay them in the oven.

We were in church every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night.  Our favorite time of day was eating “supper.”  We never sat down to eat until at least 8:00 pm, and we ate as a family. After eating was our “visiting time,”  and never did we get up quick from the table. We sat there sometimes until 9:30 visiting.

There was one bathroom for all 6 of us, that daddy added on when I was in the first grade.  Since we had our own water well, we weren’t allowed to use but about 2 inches of water in the bathtub.  Baths were quick, and while one of my sisters or I were bathing, the other one would come in and wash faces and brushed teeth.

photo 1-5The only vacation we ever had was going to Alpine and visiting my mother’s sisters.  Neighbors that were chicken farmers would take care of our chickens for a few days, and we would return the favor.  I remember one time I was about 12, Daddy wanted to take us to Inks Lake and spend the night.  So we packed up our car and pickup, and Mother cooked all the food for us (including fried chicken).  Plans were for us to get there mid-afternoon, spend the night, sleep in the back of the uncovered pickup on a pallet consisting of several blankets, a sheet and our pillows.  We were so excited and thought we were in high cotton!  Well, as luck would have it, early that night a thunderstorm came, drenched us and we ended up having to come home that night.  We were of course disappointed, but accepted it as just one of those things that happens.

 

My Story… I shared so much about my upbringing because it is an integral part of who I am and how I overcame obstacles in my life.    I was fortunate to have wonderful parents that taught us to (1) love the Lord; (2) love each other and be a family; (3) have integrity; (4) not covet our neighbor, and (5) have a great work ethic.

In Bertram there was little difference in family incomes.  We had only what we needed, and our community was close-knit and truly cared about each other.  I thought that was the way the entire world was.

Growing up, I never knew Mother and Daddy had arguments, and we as a family very seldom argued.  If we had a problem, we talked it over, settled it and that was that.  So when Donny and I had our first argument, I just knew we were headed to divorce court the next day.

Donny and I divorced after 15 years, and it was devastating.  Our girls were 7 and 11 years old. Like I said….no one was supposed to even argue, much less divorce I lived with a tremendous amount of guilt and failure, but my upbringing gave me strength.  I knew I had two ways to go: either (1) running around and going to bars (which had never appealed to me, nor does it now), or (2) continue going to church and make sure that was a vital part of my children’s and my life.

The age difference Shonna and Neissa was good in that they never competed against each other, but it did mean that every night and weekend we were busy.  Confirmation was 4 years long, therefore for 8 years, our Wednesday nights were taken up. Shonna’s basketball and football games were Friday night, Neissa’s were Monday and Thursday.  Weekends were track meets, tournaments and church youth groups (which of course met at different times on Sunday afternoon).   I had a little red Ford Escape — Margaret was her name — and she got us everywhere.

So many times I wouldn’t have the money to pay our electricity bill on time.  On the cut-off date, I would leave the house at 6:30 am and get the payment to Marlin, come home and get the girls to school.  (That was back when you could write a check and know it wouldn’t get to your bank for at least 2-3 days.)  I made phone calls to utility companies and banks, begging for a few more days.

 

A particularly challenging Christmas… The houses in Riesel we lived in were always COLD in the winter and HOT in the summer.  From living on a farm, I knew to leave the faucets dripping at night to keep the pipes from freezing.  But it seemed no  matter how careful I was, it always froze.  I remember one Christmas it froze on either the 23rd  or 24th…

On Christmas afternoon, we were taking our naps, (a true Watson tradition) and I woke up to a spewing.  The water had unfrozen and the pipes had burst.   Ice cold water was everywhere.  I went outside, turned it off and started  mopping it up.  I always wrapped my outside pipes and prayed they wouldn’t freeze… but they did just a couple of times.  But I knew how to do that because I had seen and helped Daddy do it many times.

One winter night it was icing outside —  I had bought plastic to put on the outside of our windows to protect from the north wind.  I went outside after the girls went to bed and nailed the plastic to the windows.  The wind was blowing hard and it was literally freezing.  As I was coming back in the house, the sidewalk had frozen and I slipped and fell flat on my back, my head missing the corner of the step about an inch.  Scared me to death, but nothing was broken, so I got up and went back inside.

How did I make it?  My faith and my parents! 

 

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Real Women, Real Stories| Casey Jones: Unexpected Mother of Quints + 1

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CaseyJones_quoteRoots: I’m a native Texan born in Dallas and raised in Shady Shores. I attended college at Southwest Texas in San Marcos where I majored in Early Childhood Education. After graduation I moved to the beautiful city of Austin.

Family Life: My husband Ethan and I met in the 7th grade. It wasn’t love at first sight because it took us until our senior year to start dating, but after that it was history! We both decided on the same college and got married shortly after graduation. It was always my dream to get married and have a baby. Little did I know that that journey would be truly life-changing! We have been married for 15 years.

Occupation: I’m a stay at home mom of 6. I also assist my husband with the bookkeeping for his homebuilding company.

Something Most People Don’t Know About Me… People are usually really surprised to learn that I have tattoos! I have several on my back that represent my family & faith.

When I Can Find A Second For Myself… I’m very interested in nutrition & fitness. I became a vegetarian about 4 years ago, so I’m always looking for new meal ideas! I also try to fit in a workout 3-4 days a week. Finding the time to eat right and workout can be challenging, but I feel it’s so important to stay healthy & strong — I’ve got 6 kids and a very active husband to keep up with!

What Inspires Me… Before my husband and I started the process of trying for baby “#2,” he surprised me with a gift that I wear almost everyday. It is a charm bracelet with the words serenity, wisdom and courage written on interlocking circles, representing the symbol of the Trinity. I wasn’t familiar with this prayer and now it’s something I remind myself of on a regular basis. LOVE it!!!

The Serenity Prayer God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference. -Reinhold Niebuhr

JonesFamily My Story…Unexpected Mother of One+Quints: Our first 5 years of married life were normal and uneventful, until we decided to have a baby — and that’s when things took a big turn.  We were devastated when we found out that my husband had male infertility. I thought my dreams of getting pregnant and raising a family were gone.

After lots of tears & prayers, we met with a fertility specialist, and were told there was a slight chance we could conceive a child together with in vitro fertilization. We knew that chances were slim, but felt it was something we had to try before exploring other options. After an unsuccessful try at in vitro, we decided to select a sperm donor. It was a decision that a lot of men could have never made, but Ethan was unbelievable!

We knew the chances of us conceiving with an IUI (intrauterine insemination) were less than with in vitro, but I got pregnant the first try! After our first daughter Eliot was born, she brought so much joy to our lives and we wanted to have the experience of pregnancy, raising another child, and giving her a sibling to grow up with. We waited 4 years and then met with the fertility specialist and started the process again… and that’s when things got really crazy! CaseyJones_quote2

Going into the IUI the doctor said it looked like I could have 5 follicles that might release an egg. We weren’t really concerned because with our first pregnancy we had 4 follicles and we conceived just 1 baby. I took a pregnancy test 2 weeks later and could not have been more excited that we got positive results on the first try again! Our first sonogram was at 6 ½ weeks and we were shocked to find 6 sacks!  The doctor detected 5 heartbeats and said the 6th one could just be progressing slower. At our next sonogram there were still only 5 heartbeats so we knew at this time that baby 6 had not progressed. Each weekly sonogram appointment showed 5 healthy babies. The doctors explained to us in great detail the seriousness and risks involved for the babies and me with this pregnancy, but reducing the number of babies was not an option for us.

The pregnancy was a huge challenge physically & emotionally. I was on bed rest for 3 ½ months and trying to plan for the arrival of the babies from the couch wasn’t easy for me. I also ended up in the ER for a twisted ovary that was caused from the fertility medication (the same thing also happened with my first pregnancy) and then ended up delivering earlier than I would have liked because I developed preeclampsia. After 29 weeks and 6 days, I delivered my 5 beautiful babies at Seton Medical Center in Austin, Texas…4 girls and 1 boy. They each weighed a little over 2 pounds, and because they were delivered so early they had to go straight to the NICU for 24-hour care over the next few months. There were several milestones that had to be achieved before they could be released from the NICU – they had to have help breathing, eating, maintaining their body temperatures, and many other things. Thank God for the nurses and doctors at the NICU – they are amazing! After 4 months in the NICU, we had 5 healthy babies at home.

First day of school, Fall 2014

First day of school, Fall 2014

We learned very early on that we couldn’t handle this major change to our lives without help. Our family, friends and church really stepped up and showed us love and support that carried us through some of our most challenging times. We will be forever grateful to each and every one of the many people who have been a part of our story. Today, we have one awesome big sister, who is in the 5th grade and 5 super star kindergarteners! Our journey to parenthood has been nothing but an emotional roller coaster that has changed our lives in ways we never imagined possible. Nobody ever said managing a family of 8 would be easy, and let me tell you it’s anything but easy! Although, we are all challenged daily with life, whether it’s kids, marriage, work, etc., we made the decision right away to look at our situation as a blessing and be thankful even in the hard times.  It’s not always been an easy thing to do, but we just have to stop and remind ourselves what a true miracle it is to have 6 healthy children and a thriving marriage.

Managing My Self Expectations… The most difficult thing about being a wife and mother of one + quints is the pressure I constantly put on myself to do better. This feeling comes only from me, because I have a husband that is full of praises and children that are happy and healthy, but for some reason I always want to be doing more. On the day I found out I was expecting quintuplets, I immediately starting thinking about all of the challenges ahead. Sure enough, I have faced those challenges and know there are many more ahead. But, I’ve learned it’s how I deal with those difficult times or situations that matters the most. So, accepting the fact that I will never have as many date nights, one-on-one time with each child, home-cooked meals, money, time with friends, volunteer time, a clean house, and might not ever be able to fit into my old jeans again, is my reality. I’m living a life I never dreamed of, but I’m living a great life, so I need to not sweat the small stuff and take more time to sit back and enjoy!

Reality TV Life… Our family was given the opportunity to share our lives on TLC through our show “Quints By Surprise.” You can just add ‘reality show character’ to the list of things that I never imagined for my life! The filming process was truly a wonderful experience. We started filming as soon as the quints came home from the hospital, so you can imagine the chaos that we have on film! The kids love to watch all the episodes and talk about the things we did. It’s like having the best home movies ever! I will always cherish that footage because no matter how hard those times were, it was, and still is, our life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

Lessons Learned… I never thought about having a large family, especially 5 children at one time! But you never know what life is going to throw your way. Through my marriage and children I have learned that love will drive you to do things you never thought were imaginable. I’ve also learned to take things one day at a time. Each day with my family is a blessing and it also has its challenges. Most days I have enough going on that tomorrow seems like a long way away, so don’t ever ask me about making plans too far in advance!

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If this story tugged on your a heartstrings a bit, we encourage you to visit the March of Dimes website to show your support for these special families.

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iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com

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Real Women, Real Stories | Patti Rogers: Living a Life that Matters

 Patti Rogers | Catherine Sanderson Photography~ The Basics ~

Roots:  I was born in Chicago, but my family moved to Austin when I was four. Coming from MidWest Irish Catholic roots, I remember feeling totally unsure about what living in Texas would be like… I was ready to give up Irish dancing for tumble weeds and cowboys. But we didn’t actually move to Texas… we moved to Austin, so that stereotype was not a reality.  Instead, we lived in a city that was more about creative expression, fitness, and eating healthy. The original Whole Foods was a tiny little place at 10th and Lamar and it was a daily destination for me and my friends. Those were the days when there was not a fight for a parking space, just a smile knowing you were going to saddle up to the best salad in town. I especially loved the organic peanut butter bins. So original and authentic for the time. And while I expected that living in Texas would mean I would become some kind of rodeo star, luckily, I fell into athletics. I graduated from summer league swimming to year-round swimming at the age of seven. And by chance fell into one of the most elite programs in the country, Longhorn Aquatics which was the club program associated with UT. It was a serious and rigorous program and a 2x/day commitment that transformed my life. It taught me many things:

  • Hard work is the secret to success. There is no substitute for it. Yes, people have good genes, but the people who have good work ethic are the ones who really win. Inside and out.
  • The power and the importance of self-talk. Our thoughts become our words, our words become our reality. So be intentional about what you think and say.
  • You can always go farther than you think. So do.
  • It’s not really a race about you and the person next to you. It’s a race with yourself to be the best of yourself, and achieving what is important to you.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to compete as a Division 1 athlete at the University of Hawaii. Which was a whole other culture-shock discussion we will save for another interview. 🙂 I stayed at Hawaii for one year and graduated from UT at Austin. After graduation I lived in D.C. and LA and worked as a graphic designer and marketing executive. I moved back to Austin in 1994 to start my own business and believe it or not reunited with my high school sweetheart. And we married a year later. Crazy!!

We have lived in Austin ever since. Lots of amazing growth over the last 20 years for us personally, as a family, and as a city too (wow, that makes me sound so old…).


Family life:  
Growing up, my parents were incredibly hard working — both from super humble midwest backgrounds. My dad’s dad drove a cable car in Chicago and his mom taught dance in their basement. And my mom’s dad ran a hardware store in Iowa, and her mom managed the house of four kids during hard times of the depression and world wars. Both my parents knew the power of showing up. They did not put words to the idea of service, they simply served. They always made time for their friends and organizations that needed them. Whether it was their church’s capital campaign, or the YMCA’s board, or their neighbors who were in transition, they always raised their hand. They, above all others, have inspired who I am today.

Both of my parents were entrepreneurs. They started things. In work. Outside of work. At church. At the pool. At home. And by the way, they probably never thought of themselves as entrepreneurs. They just were.

That was definitely passed down to me and my three sisters. All of them creative, hard working entrepreneurs who know the power of showing up. My parents amplified our potential, and I can only hope and pray that I can model the same inspiration for my kids.

I’m also married to an entrepreneur who I absolutely adore and admire. Watching my husband Michael grow his business from a blank piece of paper to being the number one Mac Game publisher in the world for almost a decade now, has been so inspiring. I feel so blessed to be married to a believer. Not just a believer in God but, but a believer in the power of faith. And a believer in the power of activating that faith with your voice and your heart everyday (which takes discipline by the way). It can and does move mountains. We all can be more and do more than we think we can when we practice declaring our vision, our gratitude and our dreams.

Work:  I’m currently founder and CEO of Rallyhood, a community collaboration platform that transforms how people come together with purpose. I founded the company after my personal journey through breast cancer. I witnessed the power of community in action and was changed forever by the extraordinary kindness and love in my life — but also witnessed the frustration of trying to organize a group when the tools are fragmented and hard to use. When I got well, I got inspired to build a new kind of platform to make it easy to come together with purpose—around a person, event or any common cause—in all segments of our lives.

We launched the platform in Fall of 2012 and today Rallyhood is the only platform that enables the social and mobile experience across an organization’s user groups, creating authentic engagement and meaningful daily value. Rallyhood, whose manifesto is “Do Good Today” now empowers more than 12,000 communities and provides solutions for organizations like The LIVESTRONG Foundation, Seton Healthcare, Susan G. Komen, Girl Scouts, Leukemia Lymphoma Society – Team in Training, and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation.

Rallyhood believes in the positive ripple effect of community. By empowering purpose-driven groups to be more effective, everyone wins. When things are well organized, we can do more together, and have more free time to enjoy the people and the moments that matter most.

Patti Rogers | Catherine Sanderson Photography~ My Story ~

On March 17th, while many of our friends were away on ski vacations and sunny outings for spring break, my heroic husband Michael and I headed into round 4 of chemo for breast cancer at ‘chemo palace.’ This is my term of endearment for the chemo room, which on a good day is as bizarre as Vegas—seriously bad lighting and insane people watching. While it was not exactly a dream vacation, I was thrilled to score a good chair next to the window so I could take in the blue sky and pretend I was in Hawaii. I normally scope out the room and try to choose a chair without a lot of people around, so when my reliable and loving posse shows up with their proverbial boom box and picnic basket, we don’t derail anyone’s luck at black-jack or sour their cocktail.

Even though there was a lady directly across from this particular chair, I seized the opportunity to settle in at the window position. Trying to mind my own business, I avoided eye contact, but I couldn’t help but notice her sassy grey haircut and her bright spring-colored outfit that was as uplifting as my window view. As I went through a series of comfort rituals—leaning the chair back to just the right position, tucking my cozy blanket around my legs, setting out my touchstones of faith on the table next to me—I closed my eyes to pray for courage to remember the value of the day. This day, every day, is a gift.

When I opened my eyes, I caught the beautiful, angelic gaze of the woman across from me. Suddenly, all of the Vegas surroundings dimmed to grey and all I could see was her face. It was my third grade teacher, Mrs. Clark. We both flew to our feet and into a hug that seemed to last a delicious forever. I held on so tight to her tiny frame while giant tears ran effortlessly down my face. At 82, she was just as bright and loving as I remember her 30 something years before. After the tears, we shared stories and jokes about how chemo had upset her golf game and how we should get together to sample bald-head balm. My cocktail waitress in scrubs hovered with an IV and a bag of saline, so Mrs. Clark and I said our goodbyes. She put her petite hands on my face and looked me in the eyes, “Do good today,” she said.

I did my best to keep from weeping until she left the room. The simultaneous weight and levity of these words washed over me like a second baptism. I remember hearing her say this very same thing when I was nine, when I thought doing “good” meant sitting still or listening well in class and my “today” was something all together different. But here I was, in the middle of chemo palace, I realized that what she meant then was what she meant today: “Open your heart and be the very best of yourself – today. Do something that matters – today. Make it count – today. It is the only today you will ever have.”

I was suddenly reminded of the words from a Native American song I had stumbled across a few days before: “You, whose today it is, get out your rainbow colors and make it beautiful.”

I made a promise to Mrs. Clark in my heart, I would make this journey count… I would find a way to pay forward the kindness that carried me through and I would live to that beat… to that promise…. to do good today!

~ For Fun ~

Patti Rogers | Catherine Sanderson PhotographyFavorite quote:  “It’s not about where you have been, it’s about where you are going.”


Who inspires me most:  
My husband. He is an incredibly successful business person who loves his family and prioritizes his time to never miss a game, an event, a moment to be with his children and me. He doesn’t choose the extra night in San Francisco over his son’s football game, ever. Even when it was flag, even when it was peewee. He never wanted to miss the moments that built the memories of life. He never would choose a dinner with clients over watching my daughter sing in her choir. He knows what matters to him and what doesn’t. He lives with intention… every day. He never lets false obligations keep him from prioritizing the people and the moments that he cares about most. He is also constantly reading and trying to grow and get better in all facets of his life. And he is so sincere and generous with his words. He dishes them out like party cake to all of us, while singing or dancing some embarrassing jig. Which inspires me even more.

Best advice I’ve been given:  It sounds strange, but the best advice I have been given came from cancer. It taught me that there are no days to waste, so we have to choose carefully about how we invest our time. Busy isn’t the same as full. If we believe in ROI in business, then we must believe the same theory applies in life.

While he never said it to me personally, I love the Steve Jobs quote, “Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things. And ‘yes’ to only one.”   He once told the CEO at Nike, “Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products that you lust after. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.”  It’s the same thing for our lives. Our calendars. We need to get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.

Something people may not know about me:  My happiest moments are not…definitely not…about reading Facebook posts. They are drawing with my daughter. I love to draw. I draw, and she colors. She is extraordinary with color and sees things I don’t see, which I love. Such a simple activity but my most favorite and I think it is the time we are most connected.

If I wasn’t CEO of Rallyhood, I would… Hmm. I would be trying to complete a book; commit to doing art once a day until I had a worthy collection of art, words, or photography. Or…I would start a different tech company. I think the future of software hinges on everyday insights of everyday problems and will be solved by everyday people as oppose to people who have a theory about what people need.

I’m looking forward to…  my son’s football game this week and his musical in March. My daughter’s reading at church on Sunday. Her volleyball game this saturday. And her learning to speak loud and proud!! Thanksgiving at my house with my mom and sisters and their families and kids. And if there is a skit that night I would not be disappointed. Our next summer vacay which we adore. Beach house in Florida where we make sand castles and ridiculous human pyramids at sunset. More times to love and celebrate my family.

When I’m not working I’m… Celebrating every second with my kids and my husband and the friends who truly lift me up.

I collect… Stories and insights about how life is good and how divinity works in our life.

My guilty pleasure:  Wine, chocolate and spa treatments.

My perfect day would be …  Early workout at the gym from 6-7. Green juice. My son singing over his breakfast. My daughter laughing at our sweet dog Sadie. Driving them both to school. Working to build a company that is focused on helping people’s everyday life be easier, with less communication clutter so they can have more time to engage in the people, groups, and moments that matter most. Recounting the day with my husband as we stare up at a huge texas sky full of stars, tearing up about our blessings. And oh…maybe a little wine and chocolate. 🙂

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 In light of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we encourage you to visit the American Cancer Society’s breast cancer resource page to learn more, donate, and get involved.

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iGnite Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com

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