learning, music

This just in: Hoffman Academy is a free and flexible way to learn piano online

Joseph Hoffman, creator of Hoffman Academy
Joseph Hoffman, creator of Hoffman Academy

My beautiful electric piano is all set up and ready for me to figure out how to use it. While I can plunk out a simple melody, I’m looking forward to the day when I can play simultaneously with both hands and press more than one key at a time without it sounding dissonant. Small dreams.

I stumbled across Hoffman Academy, an online resource for people like me who want to teach themselves to play the piano and need an inexpensive, flexible method. I’m impressed with it so far. The method is simple and powerful. Most of the resources are free and nominal fee resources, including sheet music, seem well worth the small financial investment. Also, Joseph Hoffman reminds me of a young Mr. Rogers, and I mean that in the best possible way.

If learning to play the piano is on your bucket list, I highly recommend giving Hoffman Academy a spin. Who knows what music is stored inside of you?

children, education, environment, learning, nature

This just in: Send me your pictures of kids enjoying time in nature

Nature matters
Nature matters

“Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives.” ~Thomas Berry

Alright friends, I know you take AMAZING photos of the kids in your life. Do you have pics of them enjoying time in nature? I want these kinds of photos to decorate my ed tech company’s office. They will serve as a reminder of why we’re embarking on this venture to help kids realize that the natural world we live in has so much to teach all of us and deserves to be protected.

I’m looking for nature photos in which kids are truly interacting with nature and exploring it. Please send any photos like this to me at christa@steamengine.com and we will gladly credit you in the print!

children, education, learning

This just in: I made the choice to have millions of kids

All the children of the world are my kids.
All the children of the world are my kids.

“Christa, why aren’t you having kids?” I get this question a lot, and not without a fair bit of judgement. And here’s the reason: by not having kids of my own, all the children of the world are my full-time concern. I’m extremely passionate about public education and the wellbeing of children. It’s the main reason I took a job as Product Manager at ed tech startup STEAM Engine, Inc. Improving all of their lives through learning is my goal.

I’ve read many autobiographies of people who transformed their corners of the world, and I aspire to be one of those people who makes an enormous impact that lasts far beyond my own lifetime. One thing that every single one of these people mentions is that their mission to change the world required them to spend less time with their families, and specifically their children, than they would have liked to spend.

They reasoned that many other people, particularly those who are most vulnerable, needed them more than their own children needed them. I’m not going to debate whether or not that’s true. It’s how they feel. It’s a conscious choice they made and had the courage to tell the world about.

Of course it’s absolutely possible to have kids of our own and have a full career, too. So many people have shown us that and I tip my hat to every single one of them. Many of my friends are the most incredible parents and highly successful in their careers. I’m in awe of them. The great balancing act and sacrifices they manage isn’t something I could do gracefully; I know my limits. So, I realized I had to make a choice, a very personal choice that is right for me. And I decided, for me, I wanted to devote everything I have to the pursuit to help all kids through my career.

I mean to use the 24 hours I have every day to make a high-quality education for every child everywhere a birthright. It’s not a luxury or a nice-to-have service. It’s not something that should only be given to those of good fortune. It’s as vital as breathing, eating, and sleeping. We are all given this tremendously complex, wondrous piece of machinery called the human brain. It’s the greatest invention ever made, and I feel physical pain from the idea that some children, by simple luck of the draw, don’t get the chance to develop their full mental potential. It’s unacceptable and intolerable, and I’ve got to do something about it.

So, am I having kids? I already have kids. Millions of them. They need me, and I plan to use my career, time, and energy to be there for them. All of them.

creativity, curiosity, election, learning, school

This just in: Stay curious

Follow your curiosity
Follow your curiosity

“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.” ~Leo Burnett

If there’s one attribute I’d like to see held up above all others in our society, and especially in our schools, I would have to say curiosity. It’s where every exploration, internal and external, begins. It’s a trait that never goes out of style and I believe if we keep after it, it’s always rewarded in ways great and small. It boosts our happiness, our sense of accomplishment. Curiosity connects us to people and places, even ones we may never see in-person. It provides the path to contribute to our world in a meaningful and profound way that will last far beyond our own existence. Curiosity is the root of everything meaningful, and isn’t that what we’re all after?


forgiveness, learning

This just in: The power of forgiveness

Forgiveness is the greatest gift we can give and get
Forgiveness is the greatest gift we can give and get

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

When I was a very young theater manager, we had a member of our company who was extraordinarily difficult. He was constantly disrespectful to many people in the country, especially to my boss at the time. In front of the entire company, they had a huge confrontation and this difficult person swore at my boss and stormed out of the room. I was shocked, and angry.

A few hours later that company member came into our office and apologized to my boss. He was sincere in his apology, though I had no expectation that my boss would let him off the hook after his horrible behavior and public display. My boss shook his hand and accepted his apology. When the company member left, I turned to my boss and asked how he could so easily accept an apology after he had been so terribly treated only hours before. My boss turned to me and gave me one of the greatest lessons of my life.

“Christa, if someone has the courage to sincerely ask for my forgiveness, then the least I can do is have the courage to forgive him. Asking for forgiveness is the hardest thing we can ever do. Granting forgiveness to someone who’s hurt us is the second hardest.”

That was almost 15 years ago, and I’ve never forgotten that incident, nor the lesson that it taught me. Forgiveness, on both sides, is the domain of the strong. Let’s be strong. Let’s forgive.

action, change, courage, learning

This just in: Keep perspective while learning hard lessons

Sunshine after the storm
Sunshine after the storm

Yesterday I learned some tough lessons. I didn’t cause them, but sadly I’m the only who has to deal with the fall out. Once I got over the initial shock of the reality, I had to quickly gain perspective. And I did, and I will, because of one simple belief: everything that happens has the potential to make us better if we use it with that intent. Even the things that hurt. Even the things that disappoint us and make us want to crawl under our beds to wait for sunnier skies.

The tough circumstances we face won’t resolve themselves. They won’t magically disappear if we ignore them. If anything, they’ll get worse and we won’t learn the lessons that they have to teach us. So after a short breakdown I picked up the phone, devised a plan, and took action. I don’t know if that plan will work. I’m going to give it my best shot and file away this moment as an opportunity to learn that will someday serve me well. Sometimes life beats the heck out of you, and you might be down but you’re only out if you give up. Keep learning. Keep going.

action, adventure, choices, learning, Life

This Just In: My Hundred-Foot Journey

My Hundred-Foot Journey
My Hundred-Foot Journey

With a groan, I stepped outside into the dark and chilly morning to let my dog, Phineas, do his business. It was 5:30am and I went to bed too late to be up this early. I was cranky.

The school bus came down the street and stopped in front of the neighbor’s house across the street. One of their sons has cerebral palsy, and his bus arrives before the sun comes up to take him to school. He’s always at the door waiting, fully dressed and ready to go, to get on the bus as soon as it arrives. He walks with great difficulty, on his own and always with a smile.

I’m out here groaning about being tired and here’s this kid who’s raring to go despite his challenges. I went inside and took a long, hard look in the mirror. I realized I’d just been given my hundred-foot journey in complete silence and under the cover of darkness, the lesson right across the street that taught me everything I needed to know to do everything I want to do. “Stop whining and just do it. You’re one of the lucky ones,” I thought to myself.

Now the school bus is my alarm clock. When I hear its come to a stop at the neighbor’s house, I swing my legs around and let my feet hit the floor. It’s time to get started.

adventure, decision-making, education, learning, writing

Inspired: Give your brain a break and your heart a chance to be heard

Set the heart free http://www.pinterest.com/pin/290904457153159593/
Set the heart free http://www.pinterest.com/pin/290904457153159593/

“The only good thing about pounding your head against a wall is when you stop.” Robert Spekman, my marketing professor in my Darden MBA program, said this during one of our classes almost 10 years ago. I repeat this line to myself almost daily because I like messy, complex challenges without clear answers. I guess it’s the adventuress in me.

Author Ray Bradbury once said, “Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it.” We can’t force realization.

Once I’ve gone ’round the mulberry bush to the point of dizziness, I do anything but sit down and try to reason through the challenge at-hand.Take a walk. Write. Paint a picture. Do a jigsaw puzzle. The sooner I do that, the sooner I find the answer I need. The older I get the more I understand that the answers I really need are those that start in the heart. What the heart speaks, the head eventually understands.

adventure, business, career, creativity, entrepreneurship, fear, learning, work

Inspired: We learn best by doing

Jump and build your wings on the way down
Jump and build your wings on the way down

We can’t learn to sail from the shore. We can’t learn to fly from the ground. To learn how to build a business of any kind, we must be in business. Business is an art form just like playing the piano or painting a picture. It takes practice, and chances are we will create some really awful work as we learn to make great work. So don’t be so hard on yourself if your first attempts are less than shining stars of success. Honestly, it’s better if they’re not. Go further than you think you can. Give your wildest ideas a whirl. Get crazy. That’s where the learning is, and learning is the best gift you can give to your future self. Don’t be afraid. Just do it. Go have an adventure.

child, children, choices, learning, story, technology

Inspired: Proof – stories and technology are better than cookies

from reallykidfriendly.com
from reallykidfriendly.com

My niece, Lorelei, had a choice for her after dinner treat: a cookie or playing on my iPad with an app that helps her write stories. She chose to write stories. “Stories are good for me and sugar is bad for me so I’m choosing stories.” A girl after my own heart (not that I have anything against cookies!) Some people may bemoan technology and kids’ obsession with it. I celebrate it. For my nieces, it opens up whole worlds for them and enables them, at a very young age, to tell their own stories. Kid, if you have a story you need to tell, you can use my iPad anytime you want.