11 Feb 18

By Randy Pierce

Autumn rests on a recent plane trip.

Autumn rests at our feet on a recent plane trip.

Delta Airlines recently announced a new disappointing policy for all animals traveling with them effective March 1, 2018. It creates unreasonable travel restrictions for teams like Autumn and me. Several other airlines are evaluating how to follow suit and I want to credit United Airlines for excluding trained service dogs from these policies.

Specifically, this new policy requires anyone traveling with their animal to download a form from their website, have it filled out by their veterinarian to confirm the animals rabies and similar vaccinations, and then upload this form through the Delta website within 48 hours of traveling.

While this doesn’t seem an inordinate burden for a particular planned flight, it is compounded tremendously by the possibility of unexpected travel on Delta. Airports reroute a traveler due to cancellations and missed connections routinely and if any of these required a new Delta leg, we could become stranded by this policy. Bereavement or emergency travel would obviously be beyond consideration for them and all of this ignores the ability to have stored the form with them or to note that her rabies information is always on her collar. If my journey has multiple airlines and they all have similar policies, I’m getting multiple forms downloaded, printed, out to my vet, home, scanned, uploaded to the various websites for each and every trip. All while knowing any change in plans could leave me stranded anywhere around the country depending on how extensively the draconian Delta policies are adopted! At the very least, these need to be standardized for all airlines to accept the same form for the entirety of any trip!

Why did they make this change? While most of the country operates under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), airlines operate under the Air Carrier Access Act. In this they have opted to allow a much broader support animal. I do not have the qualifications to know the need or training for all the variations of animals and need in this situation. I do know that under the ADA businesses have been managing a large amount of false service dogs as people choose to forge the process in order to bring their dog where they want.

This problem is only intensified with the broader definition of both need and types of animals allowed. Peacocks, pigs, and tarantulas are all recent animals which may or may not have been legitimate but illustrate the diversity in progress. All this said, it was a non-service dog attack on a flight which likely sparked the most recent change. While the paperwork policy will not add any protection from such attacks, it may provide additional liability benefit. I absolutely acknowledge there is a problem and I want to see a resolution. I believe when Delta chooses to be a Maverick they take the risks of their failings as well.

For now, I want to simply applaud the better choice made by United Airlines than the disappointing choice made by Delta. My personal experience suggests Jet Blue is trending towards a little additional airport paperwork which can be managed at the airport, more in line with United, but still more delays and challenge for me. Trying to discern what all the various rules may be for all the individual airlines is going to make the challenges exponentially more difficult.

There was progress made in an initial conference in 2016, but reports make clear the airlines are having a problem, though it is not with service dogs. I hope the parties making policy would consider bringing a conference of stakeholders together to ensure a more reasoned and consistent policy may be planned and implemented with an expectation of more reasonable results than the risks ahead for Delta leaving customers stranded even after expecting them to take on some unreasonable amount of work.

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3 Feb 18

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Jose at marathonThe enthusiasm for January’s resolutions may have waned and many people find themselves particularly poised for a preponderance of stepping back on all those commitments. Quitting doesn’t call to just our New Year’s Resolutions — it’s something we can face commonly throughout the year and our many undertakings. I don’t even want to count the number of times some of my training runs find me wanting to quit or the frequency with which my schedule feels overwhelming. I suspect most people feel this way frequently. What surprises me is how many times after a presentation someone asks a question which suggests the perspective I don’t feel this way or that I don’t succumb to it. In reality, I stepped off the course at mile 17 in my very last marathon.

I do, however, try to adhere to a few approaches which make it easier to avoid quitting and I’ll share a top five tips with you here for consideration.

  1. Proactive solutions are always the best. As such, when I am adding a new goal or commitment to my life, I frame it as an individual addition with an intentional trial period. The temptation to add multiple things at once can lead me to feel overwhelmed and the resulting drop of all those things together. By adding things individually they can be managed individually, so we are less likely to quit everything and more likely to remove the actual thing that is too much. In fact, we are more likely to detect when we are approaching too much and ease off before we get there.
  2. When I add something, I have a reason for adding it. I actually make a record of the reason I have chosen to add it to my schedule. This speaks to the purpose behind my choice. When I am evaluating removing something, I similarly write my reasons for wanting to remove it and then find my original reasons. I compare those and that helps me determine if I’m “quitting” or making a better life evaluation. If the original reason is still more powerful for doing something, it often renews my motivation to continue.
  3. When I know I don’t want to quit but I’m feeling like quitting or even hearing the voice of my mind trying to tease me into quitting, I mindfully give myself a new and different thought to hold my focus. In the case of running, for example, when I’m tired and I think how good it will feel to stop, I deliberately think about how good it felt to finish previous races, I imagine what the finish of this race will feel like, and I use that distraction of a positive nature to push back the negativity of quitting.
  4. Procrastinate procrastination! By trying to establish a habit of doing the difficult thing right away, I don’t leave myself too much time to consider quitting. I’m busy doing before I can get to thinking about not doing it.
  5. Often I feel we sneak into quitting by having put doing something off multiple times until we’ve established a habit of just not doing it and we have quit almost without intention. My use of a schedule is part of how I evade this trap. I put what needs to be done onto a schedule and while there may be a reason I need to move it or choose not to do it, I refuse to allow myself to not do it until I’ve rescheduled it within my time constraints first. For example, if I have a training run at 8 am and a friend wants to meet me for breakfast, then I either move my run to a time before then, or later that same day when I know I’m free and able to run. I do this before I allow myself to say yes to that friend.

Obviously there are many more practices which any of us can use as strategies to keep us earnest and honest on the things which are important to us. Finding the ones which are effective and sustaining them long enough to make them habit (21 days is often suggested) leads to a more effective method of quitting quitting. Ultimately, nothing will stop us from doing the things we truly want to do — but life sometimes is made better for us by doing things which are important to us and yet we fall victim to less ideal habits which we actually do hope to quit.

 

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28 Jan 18

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Jose head into the Feb 3, 2002 Super Bowl adorned in full "patriotic" regalia

Randy and Jose head into the Feb 3, 2002 Super Bowl adorned in full “patriotic” regalia

Almost everyone I knew and never knew was eager to give me encouragement and congratulations, excited and enthused for my unusual experience as not only the Patriot Fan of the Year but unimaginably announced as a selection for the Ultimate Fan with a plaque to be placed in the Pro-Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. For me, the much supported excitement was entirely focused upon the upcoming Super Bowl competition between the St. Louis Rams (“The Greatest Show on Turf”) and “my” New England Patriots.

I’d recently had a fun on-air radio interview with Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys who, while congratulating me and my team, hoped I was content because we unfortunately had no chance in the game. It is with that perspective I always hope to readily find the appropriate respect and humility to appreciate accomplishment without ever denigrating a challenge. It is also where I put my experiential philosophies to the debate as we went point for point on why I thought there was always reason for hope with a plan and the determination to back it up. Why I felt that teamwork raised the group beyond the individual limitations when managed effectively.

I still recall his final dismissal: “You are a great fan and I respect that, but I’m an NFL player and I think I’ve got a little more credibility — Rams will win.” Undaunted by his unquestioned talent and great humor throughout our work I responded: “Emmitt, I’m already in the Hall of Fame and you still have to wait five years so maybe I have the credibility edge and I still say my team has a chance in this game!” He laughed himself off his chair, conceded the jab if not the game, and we shook hands in appreciation of a fun interview and time well spent.

Randy and Jose at Gilette Stadium in full flag face paint

Randy and Jose at Gillette Stadium in full flag face paint

While the eventual Patriot victory served my point rather well that day, the real points for me are methods of approaching life. There is always possibility if you are willing to problem solve and persevere. It is always reasonable to maintain an appropriate respect for opposition and humility for our own abilities both to succeed or stumble.

I have long loved the sport of football and specifically my New England Patriots. I love the blend of strategy with a myriad and diverse style of athleticism into a team oriented effort. I love the social interactions which are readily encouraged by the stop action nature of the sport as personnel shifts and formations allow for strategy discussion before the flurry of action. I spent decades attending every home game and wearing my fanaticism plainly with the reward of so many moments of friendship and fun along the way.

Football has played many roles in my life and some of those were captured wonderfully in the Sports Emmy Award Nominated Episode of HBO “Inside the NFL Fanlife” which featured my friends and me in a worthy 11 minute video that I encourage you to watch for what it shares well beyond football:

I still love my team today and will be hoping and rooting for their win on February 4, 2018. I know they have been winning at levels so far beyond what I could have ever expected and more than any fan surely deserves. I truly wish the positive fans of every team could understand and experience some of the great rewards I believe my team has brought to me. Of course I want my team to continue to strive for excellence and to win. I candidly miss the long gone days when so many were eager to be positive and encouraging for me and my team as well. The reality is that resentment for our team has grown for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons may be deserved, many are less so.

I too feel concern for how the NFL manages player safety, domestic violence, and a monetary foundation which seems to have lost more focus than I find comfortable. I watch the opportunities for real and positive change to come along and advocate for it in the ways I am best able. Much as I did with Emmitt so long ago, I believe it’s possible and for now continue to enjoy how fortunate I am to enjoy a remarkable team on an incredible run. I recall some of the lessons I learned from this team and how, with a little thought, they might apply to life and hope for those positive aspects to find their way to the forefront again.

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22 Jan 18

Quinn on Mt. Flume. We love you, boy!As we pass the anniversary of the loss of Randy’s Guide Dog, the Mighty Quinn, we share a post from January 30, 2016 when Randy shared a chapter from his book-in-progress about taking Quinn’s ashes on his climb up Mount Kilimanjaro.

Read “The Ashes of Kilimanjaro”

 

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14 Jan 18

By Randy Piece

Image of book cover: "Forward, Upward, Onward"“The problem I had, and I suspect a lot of people have, is that you sometimes give yourself the illusion of moving forward without actually moving forward.”
– Matt Landry

As many of you know I’ve been working on my own book project for longer than I’d like to admit. It is going acceptably well at this point after a series of unreasonable delays which have disappointed me and frustrated me at various times. A friend of mine shared with me words from Stephen King suggesting that if you truly want to write, nothing will stop you.

I met Matt Landry indirectly as a result of our mutual appreciation of hiking. We crossed paths a few times including a marvelous afternoon last summer. I’ve been a fan of his on social media as his kindness and wisdom shone very brightly. Thus I was determined to read his newest book and share with all of you.

What a delight I found in the journey he shares with us! It’s far more than a journey through the 48 although I did some reminiscing of my own hikes while reading. It’s a journey of goal setting and moving our life forward, upward and onward.

I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of his book and remember if you use 2020 Vision Quest for Amazon Smiles you help us along the way. In the meanwhile, here are five simple questions and much better answers from the author, Matt Landry.

1) This isn’t your first book and the choice to become a writer has come later in your life. What inspired you to publish initially and what was the motivation behind writing this book?

To make a long story short, my main goal in life is to make the lives of others easier. About 3 or 4 years ago I decided to go back to college to work towards my Human Services degree. In doing so, I took an English composition course, and with the encouragement of the professor, I decided to write a book. She saw a value in the way I wrote that I couldn’t see in myself. Writing a book was an excellent vehicle for serving my purpose of changing the world for the better.

The motivation behind the initial book “Learning to Be Human Again,” my first, was that it was drawn upon from a series of journals I had written about ten years ago while going through a major depression. One of the biggest lessons I learned was to in order increase my self-worth and limit my regret was to learn to simply be myself. The true “me” that was created to shine in only the way I knew best how to do before the World told me who I thought I should be. I thought others may have benefited from a book like that.

For the current book “Forward, Upward, Onward,” the motivation came more from just wanting to achieve a major goal and to see what I was made of, and again, maybe helping someone else do the same in the process. I had a lot of fun writing this one, and hopefully, it shows. It was good to re-live a lot of these hikes again while I was organizing and writing the book.

2) I used this quote as the lead into the blog and I wanted to ask if you would elaborate since I rarely get to ask the source of a motivational quote to enlighten us directly. While you do this wonderfully in your book, perhaps you can give us the abridged insight for the blog: “The problem I had, and I suspect a lot of people have, is that you sometimes give yourself the illusion of moving forward without actually moving forward.”

Matt Landry on a hike on Mt. Willey.

Matt Landry on a hike on Mt. Willey.

That quote has to do with a mindset and lifestyle that I lived with for most of my life, and I feel I’m not alone in that concept. The example I used in the book was that if you buy a book about how to speak Italian, it still doesn’t allow you to speak Italian unless you open it up and read it and practice the information inside. The same goes for music lessons. How many of us have bought a guitar, then let it sit without picking it up, then wonder why we can’t play it? Another great example that ties in well with this New Year is a gym membership. How many of us pay a monthly fee, and don’t go, but having a membership makes us somehow feel like we do? Or that paying monthly will somehow alone make us magically physically fit?

Having the mindset of the completion of a goal in your head is crucial. You need to believe and imagine you are running the marathon, passing the course, making the money, or climbing the mountain before you even step out the door. The problem I had was the walking out the door part. I had imagined the goal of hiking the 48-four-thousand-footers having been completed so much and so vividly, I was almost convinced that I had. The problem was that I actually needed to climb them in order to say I had.

It’s no different than losing weight, quitting drinking, starting a new career, or, well, writing a book. There comes a point when you need to stop talking and you need to do the work. I had that epiphany during my 48 peaks goal, and it made all the difference in the long run. Stop waiting for tomorrow, stop talking about it, and stop dreaming. Do the work.

3) You share many appreciative points of kindness in your book, including some sent in my direction–thank you for that. I’m curious what was one of your favorite responses you’ve received from those of us who are so appreciative at your choice to share so much of yourself and your insights with us in your books? Is there a favorite comment, letter or expression of appreciation you’ve received which you can in some part share along with why it has such meaning for you?

With all due respect, the kind words said to me by friends about the books or my insights mean the world to me, but it’s the strangers, the people who I have never met, that mean a little more to me. Although the encouragement of people I know is an important part of my getting these books done, it’s the connection of making a difference to those who I don’t know that goes a long way in motivating me.

Back to the question you asked, I have no specific notes of importance that outweigh another, but I’ve been blessed to get enough of them to help me realize that I’m on the right path right now in what I’m doing. Encouragement of any kind is always a great fuel, isn’t it?

4) While we are on superlatives, you cover many high points and low points of your journey in the book so I’ll leave those there. I’m curious if you have a high point to share in the writing process for either of your books?

In writing, I go with an almost fits and starts method. I will say that a high point in any writing project, especially a longer one, is the final edit. In my case, being a new writer, I also found another surprising high point was getting your book back from the editor and reading through it, to see how they were able to make it flow better. A good editor can make your words truly come to life. That was a surprising aspect of this writing journey I’ve been on. I thank goodness I didn’t release anything that someone wasn’t able to take a good hard look at first before I put it out there. You get so encapsulated in what you’re writing sometimes that you lose the forest for the trees about the story or concept of the book that you’re trying to convey. It’s nice to have that second set of eyes to set you straight or to let you know that you’re in the right direction!

Hiring an editor alone was one of the smartest things I may have done in writing a book. I learned more about my writing in general than any classroom could have taught me. I originally thought I was hiring an editor, what I didn’t know is that I was really hiring a teacher!

5) Any thoughts on what we might expect next in your writing world?

I currently have three projects in the works. My next will be a “Landscape Photography for Beginners” due out early February. In late April I have “Learning to Be Happy Again,” which is a series of 25 tips, habits, and tricks to live a happier life every day. And finally, I have a book based on my travels and lessons learned in the southwestern United States years ago due out at the end of the summer of 2018.

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7 Jan 18

By Randy Pierce

Randy Pierce standing at a podium presenting” …it rocked the entire audience of 130 people. There were farmers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, artists from young to old… Everyone felt that Randy was talking to them. It was a profound experience.” – Celeste Barr, Beaver Brook Association

I always strive to connect with people. It is perhaps one of the foundations of who I am and not surprisingly how I have been able to achieve. It is why Celeste’s kind words above inspired me. Through the evolution of 2020 Vision Quest, my keynote presentations to corporations and other organizations have developed into a fundamental part of our connection and the means by which we raise funds to do our charitable work. I appreciate the outstanding and often longstanding ovations received for the method and message in our keynote approach. I intend to keep building on the worthiness and expanding our outreach.

Anyone may schedule a presentation or learn more on our Keynote Presentation page.

What is the goal of my keynote presentation? While my experiences have equipped me with a foundation of prominent speaking points such as goal setting, managing adversity, teamwork, communication, managing failure, finding purpose, motivation, and more; the essence of them is my ability to customize each presentation towards the target audience.

The presentation has a highly relational conversational tone which most who attend find captivates their attention and broadens their vision. In order to do this, I typically will take the time to understand the objectives of the conference, meeting, or event to ensure the right anecdotes and themes are brought to the forefront. I encourage a positivity which is well grounded in understanding and embracing realistic challenges in a resilient, problem-solving mindset utilizing collaboration and communication to best affect.

These successful keynotes have enabled us to present across the country to hundreds of organizations. Whether a small business group or full corporate event, the testimonials continue to confirm that we meet and more often exceed the objectives professionally while providing an uplifting personal inspiration for those who join us.

As compensation for these keynote presentation, we request an honorarium to the 501(c)(3) charity, 2020 Vision Quest. With all the positive aspects involved in this opportunity, we again encourage you to consider scheduling us for your event or recommending us to someone you know in need of such a speaker for their event. We think you’ll join many people who believe it was one of the best decisions they made.

Schedule a presentation or learn more.

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30 Dec 17

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Autumn in the winter, with an icy blue filter“I always loved the idea that a photograph was a memory frozen in time.”
Ed Gass-Donnelly

Just as the Winter Solstice begins the lengthening of the day, so too does the arrival of the New Year bring about reflection for many of us. So many moments over the last year or even many years captured in our minds as a frozen moment of experience we can no longer change or affect.

Nostalgia can be emotionally potent and despite the myriad marvels of 2017. I will not hide that the most powerful images for me are the bitter-sweet recollections of my beloved and now deceased mother. Sweet because so many of the memories are richly laced with the love and attention we chose to share our lives; bitter because I know 2018 and beyond will not hold the possibility of creating new moments together as we did so well most of our lives.

As an icy cold winter has presently embraced New England, Autumn and I are not frozen in time as the above photograph might suggest. We are in the prime years of our work together. As we shelter in the warmth of our home and hearth, we are planning the possibilities for the year(s) ahead. We often share the goals of 2020 Vision Quest through our school presentations and our corporate keynotes. For this blog I wanted to share just the simple goals which warm the moments, days, and year for Autumn and me.

  • Each and every morning begins with Autumn crawling onto my chest to lay stretched atop me in either affection or dogged determination to convince me by gravity to feed her sooner than later!
  • Each morning she hopes to inspire me to put the harness upon her and take a walk of at least 2 miles and hopefully 4.
  • Each morning the Playment (payment) plan ensures that following that work is a round or seven with a favorite toy of which she has roughly 54!
  • Mid-morning she wishes to interrupt my computer work to remind me there’s an opportunity to play, groom or, weather permitting, take a cup of coffee out to the back yard! She all too often gets her way.
  • When we visit a school or virtually any social excursion she almost patiently awaits the opportunity to be told she is off duty so she too can greet her friends old and new with the wagging tail and joyous burst of energy which is her natural grace. A reminder to me so often of the treasure of kindness and friendliness in our world.
  • Each evening she eagerly greets the arrival of Tracy (Mom!) with the enthusiasm of someone gone for weeks. This is only partially because Mom’s arrival heralds the serving of Autumn dinner, mind you.
  • Each evening she encourages the opportunity to be a lap dog and curl up with her family whatever the activity of the evening. Yes, she is undeterred by cross training on the schedule.
  • By 8:00 pm she begins facing us with enormous yawns of Snoopy fame as her not-so-subtle hint she would like us all to retire to bed.
  • She is first to the master bath to sit ever so pretty facing the counter where her treat jar sits. Ever hopeful that we will provide her the nightly reward for being her awesome Autumn self, she will resort to Jedi mind powers if necessary and has been known to still be sitting there waiting when we have gone to bed determined that not every night is treat night. Occasionally we have relented and gone to get her and a treat!
  • Each night she sleeps comfortably in her giant Taj-Mahal of beds in our bedroom unless we make the slightest of entreaties at which point she will, ever vigilant, leap to our request and ensure our pillows and people are snuggled with the lightest and cutest of snores until all are asleep… and then she will mystically spread to take up the entirety of a king size bed!

Such is the typical day in the life of Autumn and from such simple roots do I grow the rest of my plans for the new year. Happy New Year everyone, treasure all the little moments frozen in time even as you move forward!

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22 Dec 17

By Randy Pierce

Christmas is certainly for all ages, though I admit to the appreciating the special enjoyment it brings to children. In this wonderful Christmas tale, Jonathan Mosen shares an insightful story of Christmas being for people of all abilities. If you visit the link to his story directly you’ll discover audio versions of the story are available and can share feedback directly with the author. Meanwhile with his encouragement to share this story here is his clever and educational Christmas story.

Link to original story here. Reprinted below. 

***

 “Louis, The Blind Christmas Elf”, a Story for Children
- By Jonathan Mosen

A long long time ago, so long ago that even your teacher hadn’t been born yet, so that makes it a really really long time ago, a stylish, shiny elf-driving car pulled into the long driveway at Santa’s busy workshop.

Out of the car stepped Mrs Scott, a smartly-dressed elf wearing a business suit and black patent leather high-heeled shoes.

They made such a loud clop, clop, clop sound on the cobblestones leading to the gingerbread front door of the workshop, that Harold, the chief elf, heard his visitor coming, even over the sound of all the toys being made and packed.

He met Mrs Scott at the door of the workshop, greeting her with a wide smile, a firm handshake and a laugh that was squeaky and high-pitched, yet somehow when you heard it, you could tell it was coming right from his wobbly little tummy. He immediately felt under-dressed in the overalls he was wearing while he was helping out on one of the assembly lines. Yet despite Mrs Scott looking immaculate, and Harold looking decidedly shabby, Harold was the boss, and she had something he needed.

“Come in, come in! You must be from the elf-improvement school,” Harold exclaimed.

Harold ushered Mrs Scott into his office, and one of the kitchen elves was asked to make her a cup of tea. Making all those toys and sorting them for Santa made all the elves hungry like a wolf, so Santa’s workshop had a big kitchen where all kinds of delicious treats were being made for the elves to eat whenever they got hungry.

Mrs Scott had been the director of the School of Elf Improvement for five years, but this was the first time she had visited Santa’s workshop. If elves were ever lucky enough to get a job with Santa, almost no one left. That meant that even though there were many elves graduating every year from the School of Elf Improvement, not many got the ultimate prize, the job of working for Santa.

Mrs Scott was at Santa’s workshop on this day, because Harold had called her late one night on her elf-phone, saying that with more children than ever in the world, they could use a bit more help.

After the tea arrived, and Mrs Scott had sampled some of the delectable fairy cakes from the workshop kitchen, she opened her briefcase and they got down to business.

“As you can appreciate,” she said, “every elf would love to work here at Santa’s workshop, but I know you can only use the cleverest, most capable elves. You have so much to do! So I’ve brought you three elf-assessments to take a look at.”

Mrs Scott took out three beautifully spiral-bound leather folders, with the name of an elf etched in gold on the front cover of each one.

“This is Huey”, she said. “Huey loves building musical instruments. During one of his exams, he built a piano, a clarinet, a huge noisy drum kit, a Didgeridoo, a nose flute and a plinkety plankety, all in under an hour. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Mrs Scott beamed.

“Well now,” said Harold looking impressed, “I’ve heard of most of those things of course, we have lots of them being built in the workshop right now actually, but what’s a plinkety plankety?”

“Oh,” said Mrs Scott, beaming with pride, “it’s a new instrument Huey invented himself! If he doesn’t come to work here, I’m sure he’ll be producing it for one of the big toy companies before the year is out.”

“Hmmm,” said Harold, “he sounds wonderful and would make a great addition to the team I’m sure, but the thing is, we’re not really having any trouble keeping up with musical instruments. Who else do you have?”

“Well,” said Mrs Scott, moving the second leather-bound volume to the top of the pile, “this is Stewy. Now Stewy is a genius at making toy kitchens, and all the things to go in the toy kitchens. Do you know,” she said, getting so excited that she spilled a bit of fairy cake all down her front, so it was just as well that her garments were elf-cleaning, “the other day, Stewy made a toy kitchen with a fridge that really gets cold? But that’s not the half of it. It only works when you put chocolate in the fridge. Put any other food in that thing, and nothing happens. Outstanding piece of work.”

“Very clever,” said Harold, “although I’m not convinced the boys and girls will want a fridge that only keeps one thing cool. And we do have some good engineers here. Still, he’s worth considering. And who is the last elf you wanted to show me?”

“Ah, well,” said Mrs Scott, suddenly looking a little fidgety, “I really wasn’t sure about whether to suggest Louis or not. Louis is special.”

There was something in the way Mrs Scott used the word “special” that immediately peaked Harold’s curiosity.

“What exactly do you mean by special?”

“Well, you see, Louis makes excellent use of his hearing. It’s not that his hearing is better than any of the other elves in the school, it’s just that he tends to take a lot more notice of what he’s hearing. Recently, we were manufacturing a load of ride-on toy tractors for a toy company, and one of the whizimybobs developed a fault!”

“Oh no,” said Harold, understanding exactly how serious a matter this was. “You get a problem with one of your whizimybobs and it can really set you back. Actually we had a fault with one of our whizimybobs here at Santa’s workshop last Christmas. It stopped a lot of our production for a week because no one picked up on it, and we nearly had to cancel Santa’s delivery altogether”.

“Well exactly,” said Mrs Scott. “If Louis hadn’t heard the subtle change in the machine caused by the problem with the whizimybobs, I think we would have lost the contract. We were so lucky he was around.”

“I’m intrigued,” said Harold. “We could definitely use someone with those skills. Tell me more about this Louis.”

“He’s very thorough,” said Mrs Scott. “He inspects things with his hands and often picks up on problems making things that we might miss visually. It’s been very useful to us more than once”.

“But why?” asked Harold, “why doesn’t he just use his eyes like everyone else?”

“Because his eyes don’t work,” said Mrs Scott. “Louis’s totally blind.”

“Blind?” Harold scratched his little head in utter bemusement. “How does he…how will he…what if he…I just don’t think a blind elf could work in our workshop.”

“I thought you might think that,” said Mrs Scott patiently, “but hear me out. Remember how you nearly had to cancel Christmas Eve once, because it was too foggy for Santa to travel. If it wasn’t for Rudolph, kids all around the world would have gone without presents that year.”

“Oh I remember it well,” sighed Harold. “It was the most scary day of my life. I was so stressed out I was beside my elf.”

“Then surely,” continued Mrs Scott, “you know that people with a range of abilities and gifts make Santa’s workshop run more smoothly! Louis can bring skills that many of your other elves don’t have.”

“You make a good point Mrs Scott,” Harold said. “Send him to us. We’ll take him on. I don’t want anyone getting hurt and there is a lot that goes on in this workshop, but we’ll give it a try.”

Louis arrived at Santa’s workshop the next day, with his little suitcase and his long white candy cane. He put it out in front of him, so he new when he was getting close to an obstacle. If the cane hit a wall or something left on the ground, he would feel it. And after being shown around the place, he soon started remembering where all the divisions of Santa’s great workshop were located. It wasn’t that difficult for Louis. He soon noticed how different the sounds of the machinery were depending on which part of the workshop he was in. Sometimes, his sense of smell helped too. Just like his hearing, it was no better than anyone else’s, but since he didn’t have his sight, he took more notice of what his other senses were telling him.

Louis was very excited about meeting Santa, but Harold explained that since Christmas was getting close, Santa was very busy preparing, and usually, elves just starting out didn’t get a chance to meet with the big guy.

Louis settled down to work as quickly as he could, but he wasn’t happy. He felt that he wasn’t being given as much responsibility as he was capable of. Everyone was very nice to him, but they just couldn’t imagine how he could do the things that needed to get done if he wasn’t able to see. Louis tried to be patient and explain.

“Since you’ve been able to see all your life,” he said, “you use your sight. You depend on it for a lot of things and that makes sense. But I’ve never been able to see, so I don’t know any different. I get by just fine without any sight. I might do things in a different way sometimes, but I still get the job done in the end.”

Still, the elves found it hard to give Louis a fair chance. It’s not that they meant any harm, they just were scared about him being hurt.

Then, one day, a mad panic developed in the mail room at Santa’s workshop. Every day at precisely 29 o’clock, a small earthquake could be felt, as the mail from all the children who had recently written to Santa got delivered to the workshop.

The mail elves had an efficient system of sorting through the mail, and making sure that all the requests from the girls and boys got put on Santa’s list. At the end of every day, Santa would always check the list twice, to be sure all the good children had their requests noted.

But today, the mail elves had a problem they didn’t know how to solve. They had received a group of letters that were nothing like they had ever received before. The mail elves prided themselves on being able to read every single language in the world. But these letters had them stumped. Rather than being written with squiggly characters on the page, these letters felt all bumpy. Hannah, one of the mail elves, said the pages reminded her of her teenage brother Brad, who was having a major problem with pimples. The pages, she said, looked and felt a bit like Brad’s face.

“Do you mean kids are now writing to us in pimple?” said Harold, who had been put in charge of solving the issue because of how urgent it was.

“I don’t think any child would be quite that dotty,” Hannah replied. “But I think we need to call an elf-development meeting, to see if anyone can solve this problem. Because Santa has made it clear, we need to do whatever it takes to make sure all girls and boys who write to us have their requests read, even if we can’t always grant them all”.

Elf-development meetings didn’t happen very often so close to Christmas, but this was an emergency. All the elves from around Santa’s workshop stopped what they were doing, and gathered together at exactly elve o’clock for the big meeting.

“For the first time in our history,” Harold announced, “we have received a group of letters from girls and boys that none of our team can read. Here’s a sample.”

Harold held up a page of the dot-filled writing. Everyone stared, first at the dotty page, then blankly back at Harold. No one had any idea what the writing was, or how to read it.

“The interesting thing about this writing is,” Harold said, “if you touch it, it feels very easy to distinguish by touch, almost as if you’re supposed to read it with your hands.”

Louis’s little ears pricked up. He couldn’t see the sample, but based on the description, he was pretty sure he knew what it was.

“May I please feel a page of that writing?” Louis asked.

Harold handed Louis a page filled with the dots. Louis took the fingertips of both index fingers, and started gently running his fingers across the page. He began to speak.

“Dear Santa. My name is Sam. I’m nine, and I can’t wait until your visit. For Christmas, I would please like a cool train set, one with plenty of awesome sounds and loud whistles if you can. My sister Amy is seven. She is a pest, so I think you should bring her a frog. Love, Sam.”

“How did you do that, and more to the point, what is that dotty stuff?” Harold asked.

“It’s Braille,” said Louis. “It’s the new way for blind people to read and write. These letters are from blind boys and girls. They’re writing to you themselves. You see, Braille lets blind children write to us here at Santa’s workshop, just like sighted children can.”

Suddenly, all the elves started jumping up and down and clapping. “Hooray for Louis! Hooray for Louis!”

The elves were happy because, thanks to Louis, they could make sure that all girls and boys, including those who read Braille, could get their presents on Santa’s list.

Louis spent a lot of time in the mail room after that, but that wasn’t all he did. The elves realised that just because you’re blind, it doesn’t mean you don’t have valuable skills that others may not have. They realised that Louis just did things differently. Not better, just differently. Soon, Louis was also put in charge of whizimybob inspection. The elves used to be worried that Louis would hurt himself, because whizimybobs have so many moving parts. But they knew that Louis was careful and capable, more capable at that particular job than anyone else.

One day, Harold came into the mail room to find Louis.

“The big guy wants to see you Louis,” Harold said.

“Santa? See me? Have I done something wrong?”

“No idea,” Harold said, “I was just asked to bring you to see him.”

Louis timidly knocked on Santa’s office door. “Ho, ho, ho!” came the reply. Louis opened the door, and walked into the office, which seemed to be shaking. It turns out Santa was happy to see Louis, and Santa’s enormous belly-laughter was making the whole office bounce up and down like a carnival ride.

“I wanted to see you in person Louis,” Santa said, “to thank you so much for your gift.”

“Gift?” said a puzzled Louis.

“Oh yes,” said Santa. “You know, every year, I give lots and lots of toys to girls and boys all over the world, and that’s wonderful. But your gifts are also very precious. You see, you showed us all here at the workshop that no matter who we are, we’re all special, we’re all unique, we can all do something no one else can do. Some of us are good at some things, some of us are good at others. Some of the elves here thought that just because you couldn’t see, you couldn’t contribute as much. But they just didn’t know better. Now everyone knows you’re a very important member of our team. We’d be lost without you. You showed all of us that the best gift we can give each other at Christmas is to love and appreciate everyone around us for who they are.”

And all these years later, every year, when he’s not looking after those pesky whizimybobs, you’ll find Louis in the mail room, making sure that all the Braille letters from blind children all over the world are making it onto Santa’s list, and being checked twice. Which just goes to show, there’s nothing you can’t do, as long as you believe in your elf.

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10 Dec 17

By Randy Pierce

Quinn, Randy, and Tracy on a winter hike“Joy is a loyal companion, love is a faithful friend, fear is a terrible adversary, and hatred is a merciless enemy.”

–Matshona Dhliwayo

On December 11, 2004, a golden bundle of Labrador retriever came into this world as the ninth puppy in his litter. It was an inauspicious start perhaps for a pup who reached such lofty peaks of success well beyond climbing and guiding. The Mighty Quinn demonstrated love, loyalty, and friendship to me on an unrivaled level which those who witnessed typically found astounding. He had dedication and devotion for certain, and his competitive intensity showed an intelligence and focus beyond all my expectations. In his barely 9 years of life he lived more than most ever dream and he touched the lives of thousands. Much has been, deservedly, shared about Quinn’s life and death.

On the anniversary of his birth, I take a special few moments to reflect in joy upon how very fortunate I feel to have had this amazing boy in my life. I think about our mountain adventures and often play a video we call “Winter Celebrations with the Mighty Quinn.” Dina Sylvester created this video at the request of Michelle Brier and I am so thankful for both as it is a fight for me each time I listen to it. For me it captures the joy he felt in his life, or specifically in our winter hiking adventures. I listen for the subtle background sounds of interactions, the clear love and fun in our communications, as well as the playfulness which is interwoven in our work together. Playfulness was a centerpiece of his  life for certain. There is no description to this video at this time though I have had it shared with me at times. I know there are countless moments of Quinn joy throughout, so I encourage you to enjoy the short three minutes of heart lifting opportunity to choose, like I will, joy.

While I cannot say there will be no hint of sadness in my reflections, I can tell you with certainty that I would gladly choose all of the moments of sadness I’ve ever experienced before, now, and ahead because of the loss of Quinn–I would consider all those moments of pain a bargain price for the incredible joy, love, courage, and freedom Quinn brought into my life during the time we were blessed to share company together. It is why in recollection each day, and especially on his birthday, I choose joy!

“Dogs, lives are short, too short, but you know that going in. You know the pain is coming, you’re going to lose a dog, and there’s going to be great anguish, so you live fully in the moment with her, never fail to share her joy or delight in her innocence, because you can’t support the illusion that a dog can be your lifelong companion. There’s such beauty in the hard honesty of that, in accepting and giving love while always aware that it comes with an unbearable price. Maybe loving dogs is a way we do penance for all the other illusions we allow ourselves and the mistakes we make because of those illusions.”

–Dean Koontz

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2 Dec 17

By Randy Pierce

Peaceful snowy woods with trees and a field.I’m all too often aware of the many worthy causes which tug on all of our heart strings as we travel the paths along our journey. Sometimes the causes fill me with sadness and the empty feeling of being insufficiently able to help. Usually though, the very act of learning is because someone has guided me to the opportunity.

It was the night before our Peak Potential event as we were closing out preparations when two inspiring people made the first choice. Tom Cassetty is a friend who also coaches young athletes in running. That morning, the father of one of his young runners had unexpectedly died. We all scramble for how to respond in such dour times laced with well intentioned platitudes. Tom wanted to ensure the runners for the track meet the next mourning would have black arm bands to wear to memorialize the father and he needed someone who could sew them together for him late that night. My wife Tracy immediately volunteered and together they made it happen despite all the many reasons she could have understandably elected not to step forward.

I am so proud and appreciative of the kindness and caring in these two people for a simple step and still I felt and feel so concerned at the wife and eight children left behind by the sudden death of John Balletto.

John was their source of income through his business of moving and clean-out services Balletto & Sons in Hudson, NH. His wife Melanie intends to temporarily close the business to prepare for her ability to take over managing it going forward. Those changes will take a little bit of time and I hope that anyone in need of their services will consider reaching out to them as they re-open.

In the meantime, the holidays approach with many needs despite many caring people reaching out to help with their short term needs and if you, like me, are moved to help in any fashion; I wanted you to have access to their story and a place where you could donate.

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