The "to-do's" that inspire me (plus two great summer reads!)

I sit at my desk by the window. I look up, and I see the stack of books and the camera sitting on top—my colorful tower of lofty summertime goals.

photo (3).JPG

There's something about the beginning of summer that prompts me to create this long, ambitious lists of projects: read lots of books, take more photos, write, declutter the house, plant flowers and herbs (remember to water flowers and herbs), frame family photos and kids' artwork (remember to hang family photos and artwork). 

Summertime inspires my creativity, and the projects on my list don't feel like work. But since it's already July, it's time to shape these goals into something more realistic. These "to-do's" won't get crossed off and discarded—they feel too important and necessary for that—but they definitely won't all get accomplished by summer's end. I'm trying to retrain my mind to stop the panic-like thinking... time is running out. Living like that creates anxiety and makes me counterproductive. 

Slow down. One thing at a time. 

***

I decided to start here:

Earlier this summer, a book arrived in the mail. Mary Alice Monroe's publisher sent me a copy of The Summer Girls, which is part one of a Lowcountry Summer Trilogy. The story is set on Sullivan's Island, one of my favorite beaches and located just a half hour from my house in Charleston. The novel begins as three sisters return to their family beach house to celebrate their grandmother's 80th birthday... a party that ends up falling apart when old, dark secrets come flooding out. 

But, as the salt air and the sea work their magical powers, the sisters discover a chance for healing and new beginnings. Even though it's fiction, I believe in this magic because the Lowcountry is my home. And I'm grateful for authors like Mary Alice Monroe who capture its essence so beautifully. 

The Summer Girls also includes an excerpt of part two in the trilogy, The Summer Wind, which was just released last month. Will you join me in finding out what happens next? You can grab your copies by visiting Mary Alice's Monroe's website.

Meet Mary Alice Monroe: 

If you live in the Charleston area or are visiting this week, coming up this Friday, July 11 at Noon Blue Bicycle Books is holding an Author's Luncheon to celebrate the release of The Summer Wind. Tickets are $35 and include lunch, author talk, and a signed copy of the book. To purchase tickets, click here, or call the store at 843.277.2666.

Then, on Sunday, July 13 at 2:00 p.m. Mary Alice will also be signing books during a special event at The Lowcountry Artists Gallery (148 E. Bay Street, Charleston). 

I was given a free copy of The Summer Girls but was not paid to write about The Lowcountry Summer Trilogy. My opinions are my own, and as a general rule, I only share news about and promote the people + places + things that I love.

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"No day but today"

A few months ago, I learned about 17-year-old Hannah Warren. In April, Hannah found a lump on her back which was diagnosed as a Ewing sarcoma. Facing this new reality—which she was told included nine months of chemotherapy and surgery to remove lump—Hannah started a blog. In her first post she wrote:

"A long time ago I decided that if given the option to do something or stay home, I would do that thing. I always chose the uncertain over the comfortable. I did so because I live by the mentality that no moment is guaranteed. I am glad that I live this way: I have had more fun than I deserve to have, and I have enough amazing memories to span three people. Now, facing this challenge, I am not regretful. There are no “if only's..." No day but today."

I reached out to Hannah and her mom for permission to share this part of her story, and they graciously agreed. Hannah's words don't need analysis. For me, they say everything. 

I wonder if her words are what sparked my desire to live with intention? Maybe that, and the fact that this is the year my husband, my friends and I turn 40. Forty feels neither young nor old, but it feels important. Forty makes a statement. 

No day but today. 

I spend a lot of time wandering the internet. On my laptop, on my phone. Scrolling, "liking", sharing, status updating, and clicking. If I'm not careful, it can become a mindless sort of activity, a source of distraction rather than connection. 

Hannah's words remind me why I participate in this virtual world... my true intention. I'm seeking words of inspiration, sermons from everyday people. My eyes roam and lock on the snapshots and scenes of others, living and embracing their lives. It reminds me to log off and do the same. 

No day but today. 

***

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Let yourself linger. Let yourself get attached.

The other day, the kids and I made a special trip to the optometrist's office to get Dillon's glasses fixed. Apparently, Blake had hit Dillon in the face and bent them. The last time we got Dillon's glasses fixed, it was because Cate pulled them off and broke the arm. And another time, it was because Dillon tripped on the playground, mangling the frames when he kissed the dirt.  

We've walked through the doors of this same optical shop many times over the years, and the staff has reshaped Dillon's glasses over and over, until they inevitably break and it's time to get a new pair. 

On this particular day, Dillon walked in first, followed by Blake, followed by me with Cate on my hip. The boys went straight to the candy dish and grabbed a handful of peppermints, like they always do.

As we made our entrance, one of the ladies said, "Everybody's getting big!" 

I thought back to the very first time we came in. Dillon was two years old—the age that Cate is now. Dillon tried on so many glasses that day, and I snapped photos and texted them to him to his dad for a second opinion. 

These days, Dillon picks out his glasses himself. He's eight now. He knows his style. He knows what he likes. 

And the office staff has seen our family grow—from one child, to two, to three. And on this day the words "Everybody's getting big" made an impact on me. They were still ringing in my ears after the glasses had been repaired and we walked back out the door. 

Everybody's getting big. 

I know now, more clearly than I've ever known, how fast it goes. But I can't spend my days gazing into my children's eyes in an attempt to slow it down. First, that would bore me to tears, and second, they don't stop moving long enough for that to ever happen.

There are no "tricks" to overcoming this fast moving reality. So, I'm just working to acknowledge it and accept it.

I've felt a shift lately. A desire to live with more... more... what's the word? 

Intention. 

Maybe that's it. It's the best word I can come up with. 

***

It's officially summertime at our house. 

A few weeks ago, Blake graduated from preschool. During the ceremony the director noted how this time of year is bittersweet. It's wonderful because these young, amazing children are now ready for kindergarten, but it's also sad because the teachers get attached to our kids, and they have to say goodbye.

And it occurred to me: I often consider attachment a negative thing. Don't get too attached, I tell myself.

But you know what? Screw that. I want to get attached. I want to live and love so fully and so deeply that it hurts to let go, even when I have to, even when it's time. 

***

Field day tug-of-war, as awesome as I remember.

Field day tug-of-war, as awesome as I remember.

On Dillon's last day of second grade, the class party ended and students lined up at the door. The bell rang and they rushed out, hugging the teacher as they left.

But my son and I didn't leave right away. We lingered. We stayed in the classroom, helping the teacher clean up. We swept up the trash. Wiped down the desks. Then, another classmate returned with her grandfather. She started helping too. 

Later this month, this teacher will move to another state. Understanding that we won't see her in the hallways next year, we stretched out the goodbye for as long as we could.

When Dillon and I finally walked out of the school and through the almost empty parking lot, I could feel the separation growing between the school year, and summertime. As we moved through the space, the transition felt physical.

Maybe this is what living with intention looks like. Maybe this is how it feels. 

***

New in a Year in Pictures: When you've been married for 14 years, it's time to reflect.

***

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What happens when my back is turned

Recently, I off-loaded 800 photos from my phone and stored them on my computer. Then, I deleted about 300 of them... the ones captured by my two youngest children, mostly of the floor, the countertops, their feet and up their noses. 

I decided to keep this series of shots, though. I even turned it into a quick, 15 second video:

 

If you decide to play it more than once, you'll notice that's me in the background, in my pjs, dirty hair and all. I'm probably trying to send an email before we head out the door for the day. Cate uses the opportunity to crawl on the kitchen counter, reach into the junk drawer, swipe a pen, and scribble on the checkbook. Also, in the background, you'll see a bar stool pulled up to the pantry. The little gremlins are constantly doing this... gaining leverage to steal snacks. 

Here's another shot, taken one early morning in February. School was canceled, and Dillon was peering out the window, looking for snow. 

I remember wanting to blog about this... and how it made me think about anticipation. And expectations. But I never did write about it, because I remember feeling like everyone was sick of snow days. And also, because by the time I got back around to it, the moment had passed. 

It was time for Cate's birthday, and Dillon's birthday. And auditions for Listen To Your Mother. And spring break. And show day. And Blake's graduation from preschool. And my husband's 40th birthday.

Big events on top of important milestones on top of everyday life. And to be honest, I'm having quite an emotional hangover, friends. 

Sometimes I feel like life is like the photo and video I shared today. Waiting for something to happen, or fasten your seatbelt and hang on because a whole bunch of things are happening. 

I thought I'd write more about Blake finishing preschool. About how it seems like I was just blogging about Dillon finishing preschool. I thought I'd make all kinds of comparisons, showing you photos from three weeks ago and three years ago.

Instead, I opted for this one. Blake and I had gone to the beach for a class field trip. He stuck close to me that day. I snapped this photo as we sat on a towel, counting to 100. (We might have cheated, but only a little.) 

This week, Dillon finishes second grade.

So many things happen in those few seconds when my back is turned. That's true. But moments seem to fly by, even when I'm watching.

Breathe. 

Goodbye winter. Goodbye springtime. Hello summer. Here I am. Eyes open. Heart vulnerable. Waiting. Ready. 

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song.
— Maya Angelou

New on the Year in Pictures page: Just keep swimming. 

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A million little moments

Testing. Testing. Is this thing on?

Oh, hi. Hello there. It's been a while, hasn't it? I've missed you. So much has happened over the past month, and I feel like this photo captures it:

Photo by Anna Hartman

Photo by Anna Hartman

Listen To Your Mother cast member Anna Hartman snapped this from behind the curtain, moments after the show began. She shared it on Facebook with the caption, "This is happening right now..."

And I know it happened, because I was there. I couldn't see a darn thing, but I could feel the energy of the audience. I could hear my voice floating across the theater. 

In the days leading up to the show, I only had one anxiety dream. In the dream, I was late. When I walked into the theater, everyone in the audience was talking and not listening to the show that had clearly started without me. It was a relief to finally wake up and realize that I hadn't missed anything. I still had time.

But show day did come. Fast and steady, the days and hours leading up to it didn't care that my to-do list seemed longer than the time I had left. But somehow (or, because I stopped cleaning the house and feeding my family, and, with a lot of help) I got it all done: programs printed, cast gifts prepared, volunteers assembled.

Two days before the show, I was in a dressing room of a boutique looking for something to wear. I found what felt like the perfect dress, but it needed some alterations. It's prom season and wedding season, and yet I managed to find a seamstress to fix my dress. She rolled her eyes and sighed and asked herself out loud why she was taking my last minute order. "Pick it up tomorrow at 12:30. Don't be late!" she barked as she handed me my receipt. I nodded and said yes ma'am and thank you and got the heck out of there.

The next day, I picked up Abby from the airport. My writer/blogger friend Abby... the one from Baltimore... the one who encouraged me to bring the Listen To Your Mother show to Charleston...  that Abby flew down just to see the show, AND to meet me in person for the very first time. After I got my disgusting car washed and picked up my dress, we spent the rest of the day visiting some of my favorite spots in Charleston. 

Abby, at a dock on Shem Creek

Abby, at a dock on Shem Creek

The Rooftop at Vendue

The Rooftop at Vendue

And before I knew it, it was Sunday. SHOW TIME. I was unloading my car, and meeting cast members in the theater lobby, and going through tech rehearsal. And then the music from the carefully selected pre-show playlist was pumping through the speakers, and then the theater doors opened. And then we peeked, and oh my goodness, people came, people came!

Snapped by my husband from a seat in the audience

Snapped by my husband from a seat in the audience

And through all of it, I learned so much about being the moment, being present, being alive. 

Living. 

I was conscious of every feeling, every sound, taking mental snapshots and pressing record in my mind.

Moments. 

In the courtyard outside the theater, giving a pep talk. Photo by Anna Hartman.

In the courtyard outside the theater, giving a pep talk. Photo by Anna Hartman.

Photo by Anna Hartman

Photo by Anna Hartman

In all of it, I was there. I was so fully there.  I felt the right now vibrating through my being. I can still hear the click of my heels as I paced backstage. I see myself primping in front of the dressing room mirror, hugging cast members, whispering words of gratitude and encouragement in their ears. 

I love them all. I love that they took a chance. They opened their hearts. They gave of themselves. They made themselves vulnerable to tell their stories. They made us laugh, cry, think. 

Directing and Producing Charleston's Listen To Your Mother show was one of the greatest things, next to childbirth and my wedding, that I've experienced so far. That feels like a grand statement, but it also feels true. 

So I end this post with a request... please take a moment to watch how a group of strangers came together and made magic. When the show ended and the audience leaped to its feet and showered us with applause... we all sensed that it wasn't the end. The curtain call was beginning.. the first step towards whatever is next. 

Many thanks to our show photographer Jody Mack for capturing these images and creating this slideshow

And then... on the Year in Pictures page... this is how we celebrated.

***

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I listened to my mother

Christy King on the front steps of the Sydney Opera House. "Not Darth Vader's mining helmet," she clarifies. 

Christy King on the front steps of the Sydney Opera House. "Not Darth Vader's mining helmet," she clarifies. 

Christy King one of the coolest people I know. And I'm not just saying that because she was the very first person to buy tickets to Charleston's Listen To Your Mother show, even though she lives in NYC. I'm saying it because I have years and years of evidence. I've known her for more than a decade—probably 15 years—but I stopped counting at ten. I'm also saying it because she felt inspired to share her story with me, and with you.

I Listened To My Mother

A couple of my friends are participating in a new kind of performance event to celebrate mothers. It’s called Listen to Your Mother and it has spread like a flood of imagination across our nation of newly trained TED speakers.

I love this trend. I love that people now know how to share personal stories to a group face-to-face in a compelling way about whatever it is that they think the world should hear.

I really wanted to participate with my friends, but I didn’t have children and I couldn’t think of anything dramatic to say that wrapped up my childhood in an Important Life Lesson.

My own upbringing was as solid and uneventful as a childhood could be. My parents had their share of life’s ups and downs, but they stayed married and managed to enjoy doing so. They were young and poor at first, but that wasn’t so unusual back then, so my brother and I simply enjoyed an uneventful and nearly idyllic childhood. This was fantastic as a stable personal history, but for a born storyteller like me, sooooo boring!

One of the earliest memories about my childhood I heard my Mom tell is of watching her bright, clever, verbal child totally ignore the teacher charged with determining my kindergarten readiness. My mother sweated and swore under her breath as she watched my stubborn determination to make this weird lady asking dumb questions go away and leave me to play with a whole room full of unexplored toy wonders. I don’t remember this at all, but stubbornness and (seemingly) clever deception? Yeah, sounds like me.

Later, I would come home from school and tell her fantastic stories of giant fist fights, dramatic sickness, kids escaping classrooms, food fights, teachers running, and parents smashing cars. I was a half-pint Queen of Drama. I love my Mother more than anything else in the world for how she reacted to this full-of-it girl. She would listen enraptured, exclaim in all the right places, and then smile when I was done. She would say, “Wow! That was a great story! Now, tell me, did anything really happen at school today?” When I would mumble about a piece of homework and a spelling test, she would commiserate with me on the unjustness of subjecting children to such a boring world.

As an adult, I look back on my parents’ flustered worry as I grew into an adolescent who was so clearly smart and capable, and yet showed not the slightest interest in school. No teacher grabbed my attention. No classroom experience inspired me to want to strive for success. As soon as I could drive, I was constantly skipping school. When asked where I was, shockingly, I didn’t invent an exciting story. I was down at the local University standing in the back of the auditoriums listening to free, brown bag lunch lectures, or sneaking into work early. Any school requirement that forced me to sit still was an abject lesson in torture, and my parents knew it. Unfortunately, they were too young and too shy to know what to do about it, and simply hoped like crazy I lived through learning things the hard way.

There was one thing I remember. One most important thing that my Mother said to me many times when my impulsive predilections left me peeking over the edge of doom (again).

My Mother, confused and scared for me, but with all the stubbornness I was born to inherit would repeat, “You are a very smart, creative girl. I know you are. I don’t know how or where you fit in, but you will get somewhere, somehow, I just know it.”

She was right, but only because she kept saying it did I believe it.

Christy King is a professional nerd. The CTO and Co-Founder of a mobile video company called VidLasso, and the VP of Technology for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. But in her heart, Christy is a waitress at a diner in Hollywood, waiting for her big break in screenwriting. She also writes a blog, Stuck in an Airport, because she travels a lot and has experience with that. 

**

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"When you give, you begin to live. When you love, you become love."

When I first heard those powerful words on the radio, I had no idea what would come of it. All I know is the song moved me so much that I had to figure out: who wrote this? who sings this? how can I get it? 

I had no idea that my simple curiosity would result in Skyping with the artist who created this beautiful song, which is appropriately named: You are Beautiful.

You can listen to the song here. And you can download it for $0.99 here.

The artist is Robbie Schaefer, the former music director of Kids Place Live on Sirius XM. Robbie is also the Founder and Executive Director of One Voice, a non profit organization dedicated to helping children around the globe tap into their own creative power, and to use that power to serve and change the world.

I have to admit, during our conversation I might have gushed a teensy bit. I was starstruck (he wrote the song! and he might have sang a line of it during our call), but also, I was overwhelmed in a good way. The more I talked to Robbie, I more I felt like this whole thing was meant to happen. 

We talked about how the words from his grandmother—You're an artist—changed everything for him. 

We talked about how he reached a crossroads in this career, and how he finally listened to that nagging voice that said, "Serve." 

And we talked about dreams—how it's important to have them—but how it's equally important to put them into action in the world. "That's what we're here for," he says. 

I'm so glad I get to share my conversation with Robbie Schaefer with all of you. You can watch it now or download it on Vimeo

To learn more visit OneVoiceCommunity.org.

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And then, this happened.

Last weekend, the cast of the Charleston production of Listen To Your Mother met for the first time, and it was like magic.

Our show photographer Jody Mack took photos and put together an amazing video. On her Vimeo page, she wrote this:

When I first pulled out my camera, the room was visibly tense. Then, as the rehearsal began, the layers of self-consciousness peeled away as these people poured their hearts onto the table. 

To all of the presenters: I just want to say that you are an amazing, beautiful and dynamic bunch. Thank you for sharing your journey with the rest of us. I cannot wait until this group of kindred spirits hits the stage!

After the rehearsal, I checked ticket sales and we had 16 left. And then, they were gone. The show had sold out. And we have this amazing, energetic cast who said, "Let's have another show!"

My head spun around three times, at least. And then, we all said, let's do this! 

What is Listen To Your Mother? The project is half live-stage event, half social media project—a bridge that connects Charleston’s writers with our local community and with the world online. The Listen to Your Mother Show started with one performance in Madison, Wisconsin and has now become a nationwide movement (32 cities!) creating a new way to celebrate Mother’s Day by giving a voice to motherhood.

The Charleston show will feature original, live readings from a local cast representing many walks and seasons of life. Here's a glimpse:

The Charleston production of Listen To Your Mother will be held on Sunday, May 4 at 2:00 p.m. (which is currently sold out) and again at 5:00 p.m. 10% of ticket proceeds benefit Postpartum Support Charleston. If you live in Charleston I'd love to see you at the Footlight Players Theatre on May 4. This show is going to be amazing. 

Eventbrite - LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER: CHARLESTON

Coming up next week, I'll share my Skype chat with OneVoice Founder and Executive Director, Robbie Schaefer, who's also the writer and voice behind a brand new song that I love. I feel like I'm being showered with inspiration and goodness. I'll take it. 

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I am here to remind you.. you are beautiful

Friends, I have a treat for you. 

Recently I was driving down the road, headed towards home after picking up the two little ones from preschool. We were listening to Kids Place Live on satellite radio and a song came on. I'd never heard it before. It got my attention immediately. 

Remember who you are

Remember who you were before

"Mommy, turn it to Kids Box radio," Blake commanded. It's actually Kidz Bop radio, but I never correct him. 

"Shhhhhh," I said. "I'm listening to this song. Listen."

You were born with endless love inside you

The whole world was calling your name

At this point, I was completely drawn in. I was having one of those spiritual, summer camp, singing by the campfire experiences, where voices rise up and you know God is real, and love is real, and hope is real. This song embodied the essence of everything I believe to be true. I didn't cry, or get emotional. Instead, everything drained out of me... every thought, every stress, every item on the to-do list buzzing in my head.

The only words I could hear were the ones filling my car.

I am here to remind you

you are beautiful

The song felt like it wasn't just for kids. It felt like it was for me. And for you, too. When it ended, I felt the urge to rewind it. I wasn't ready for it to be over. I wanted to hear it again. 

When I got home I grabbed my laptop and searched "You are Beautiful Kids Place Live". It led me to the One Voice Community, a non-profit organization committed to uniting children across the world. 

One Voice uses music and other forms of creative expression to empower children, to cultivate integrity, compassion, responsibility, empathy and trust.

One Voice inspires and teaches children to serve. 

I found the song, You Are Beautiful, on the website and download it. The dollar I spent will go back into the schools and communities that the One Voice Team is visiting this year: India, Nicaragua, Liberia. 

It gets better. 

I knew I wanted to share this song with all of you. So I sent an email through the contact form on the website, asking for permission. I got a reply, saying yes, you can absolutely share the song.

I quickly realized the person on the other end of the email was Robbie Schaefer, the Founder and Executive Director of One Voice AND the creator of the song, You Are Beautiful. 

This resulted in an amazing Skype interview, which I will share next week. In the meantime, take a moment to listen to the song. Your day will be better for it. (If you are reading via email or in a feed reader, click over to my site to listen)

And if you love this song as much as I do and want to support the You Are Beautiful campaign, you can visit the website to learn more.

Here is the link to download the song for $0.99. 

Who's going to change this world for the better? You just might.

***

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Change starts with me

Today, I'm a guest writer on Jane Perdue's LeadBIG blog. She invited me to join a series this month that tackles big questions about ways we can shatter stereotypes and empower all races and genders. How do we create a movement that transcends a calendar event and becomes something we do every day of the year? As with most big questions, I begin with myself. You can find my answer on Jane's blog, and I'm also sharing it here.

I am a mom of three children—two boys and a girl. My daughter, the youngest, is two years old. 

Three mornings a week, I drop her off at the preschool. After the first day, the teacher said my toddler kept taking off her shoes on the playground and going head first down the slide. 

I laughed, because I wasn’t surprised. I live with this happy, vibrant child (and it’s exhausting). I witness her free-spirited and fearless behavior daily. 

Cate, snapping selfies with my phone while I'm trying to get her out of the car.

Cate, snapping selfies with my phone while I'm trying to get her out of the car.

But at school, she’s breaking the rules. 

These rules—wear shoes on the playground and feet first down the slide—are enforced for the children’s safety. They are not intended to squash their unique and creative spirits. I know this, because I know the school, and I know this teacher. My middle child was in this same class three years ago. 

But my middle child was laid back. He did what he was told. He sat down in his chair. He didn’t crawl on the snack table and stand up on the rocking horse (like my daughter does). And so, when I considered all of this, I noticed the discomfort rising up inside. 

The voice says, My daughter is misbehaving. She is not being good. 

And the root of the discomfort, I assessed, was fear. Fear that my daughter’s behavior was becoming a problem and that problem was a reflection of me. 

I’m glad I could see the discomfort for what it was. If I hadn’t noticed, I might have missed an opportunity. I might have sent my daughter the wrong messages. Messages that disempower: be nice. be good. be seen, not heard. I might have perpetuated a pattern I’ve worked so hard to break. 

I know I have the power to influence the woman my daughter will become. In the meantime, I must also do the best I can to keep her safe, and teach her how to be safe. I must teach her to treat other people and their property with respect. I must also encourage and support my daughter's alive and vibrant spirit, which was evident the moment she came out of the womb. 

I want her to know the rules, so that one day, she’ll understand when it’s okay—even necessary—to break them. 

But here’s the other thing. That’s exactly what I want for my boys. My greatest wish for my children is that they will grow into exactly who they are, exactly who they were meant to become. 

I want them to be empowered by their gender, not defined by it. Do I have all the answers? No. But I can start by noticing when those old, outdated beliefs creep in, so sneaky and subtle at times. I can rise above my discomfort and fear and see my children—really see them—for the individuals that they are. 

Maybe that’s where change begins. Right here. Very small. With me. 

Thanks again to Jane Perdue of the Braithwaite Innovation Group for inviting me to offer my thoughts and perspectives on her LeadBIG blog. We'd love to hear your thoughts! Please join us over there! 

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