Healthcare workers want lower healthcare costs, too!

RICHMOND, VA – Despite being part of the healthcare system, healthcare providers struggle with finding affordable and flexible medical benefit plans for their employees, just like all employers.

Capital Area Health Network in Richmond, VA, is a Federally Qualified Community Health Center under the Health Resources Services Administration, offering access to quality care for the uninsured and the under-insured, Medicaid and Medicare patients, and anyone in the community who needs access to care.

CAHN has a robust network offering primary care, pediatrics, mental health, dental and healthcare education at six locations throughout the Richmond area with 140 employees, roughly 70% of whom are on the healthcare plan. Last year, the organization saw just over 14,000 patients.

“They have employees, and they have a benefit plan just like everybody else,” said John Millen, MillenGroup co-founder and managing partner. “And just like many employers, they were struggling to keep up with the rising cost of healthcare for their employees.”

“For several years, we’ve seen our cost rise and rise and rise. Even being in the healthcare field, we were asking, ‘What is happening? Why is this happening to us?’” said CAHN CEO Tracy Causey.

“We were trying to offer healthcare to our employees, and we wanted to make sure they could afford the healthcare plan, but it had become an issue.”

Causey said the size of CAHN put it at a disadvantage when dealing with healthcare insurance companies.

“Being a small to a medium employer, that sandwiched us in a way. The health insurers had an advantage over us. We really couldn’t negotiate or have a meaningful conversation with the insurance company as to why our healthcare costs were as high as they were.”

And high they were, CAHN saw annual double digit increases for its employee health plan year after year. Looking for ways to reduce costs, Causey and his team began to investigate options ranging from becoming self-insured to joining a state association that might reduce costs. They found a solution with MillenGroup, an independent employee benefits advisory agency based in Richmond.

CAHN was purchasing what is called a Retail healthcare plan, where an employer purchases a preset package of services for employees. The first step to helping reduce the up to 50% increases in cost was to move to a customized plan, or a Wholesale healthcare plan.

John Millen explained, “We moved Capital Area Health Network to a situation where they purchased healthcare insurance on a wholesale basis, taking pieces of coverage that fit its particular employee population’s wants and needs. The customized plan acts like any other plan, but in actuality it is a partially self-funded medical plan instead of a fully insured plan.”

Using artificial intelligence (A.I.) to develop a risk profile of Capital Area Health’s employees, MillenGroup customized the plan without having to go through extensive employee surveys or individual medical questionnaires. 

“The A.I. risk profile included modeling of the employee demographic’s health characteristics to determine risk. That cutting-edge technology allowed us to get pricing for insurance that very specifically fit their needs,” Millen explained.

The other significant advantage CAHN has is that they were accepted, and invited to become a member of, a private risk-sharing consortium of employers who work in tandem to control claims and cost with more buying power.

“The major thing we learned in this process is that we can control a lot of our costs ourselves,” Causey said. “We are encouraging our employees, like we encourage our patients, to live healthier. That was a very important moment in this process. Also, we did not know that we could piecemeal a plan together.”

Causey said much of the savings came from building a healthcare plan based on what his employees needed rather than just the package the insurance company offered. “We could pick and chose offerings and understand what those offerings mean to our organization. And we no longer overbuy.” That meant an immediate reduction in the monthly premiums.

“The employee contribution to the plan is less now and we are getting more benefits. We were overbuying and not getting exactly what we need. Now we are buying exactly what we need, and our employees feel that,” Causey said.

 “I really think that with the last couple of years of the pandemic and all the other stressors, being able to put some money back into our employees’ pockets was a real morale booster. And the fact that our employees see that we, as an employer, hear them and get them. They were paying too much money for healthcare, and we heard that. That builds morale.”

“We wanted to help Capital Area Health Network find a better solution because their employees are taking care of the community’s health,” Millen said. “We really enhanced their benefits, and their cost went down dramatically. The new structure of the plan will also allow them to control the escalating cost of healthcare over the next five years in a way that could not do in the past.” 

Business owners can make the American Jobs Plan work if they are prepared

Tonight, President Joe Biden will promote the American Jobs Plan, a massive $2 trillion spending plan to rebuild infrastructure and reshape the economy, in his speech to Congress. As currently proposed, it would be the largest jobs investment since World War II, allocating billions of dollars to job training, research and development, and manufacturing. Whether business owners are in favor of the plan or not, it may indeed have a massive impact on their company and employees moving forward.

MillenGroup has reviewed the plan to offer advice and expertise on what could be some major changes to businesses and our economy as a whole. John Millen, – co-founder and managing partner of MillenGroup, the healthcare advisory firm founded in Richmond – says business should focus on four main points that will help attract and retain the talent necessary to be successful in the year ahead.

The American Jobs Plan consists of four major spending categories: Research and Development ($400 billion), The Care Economy ($650 billion), At-Home Infrastructure ($580 billion) and Infrastructure ($621 billion). Businesses need to prepare for this spending by:

1.         Attracting Skilled Labor: If a business in one of the industries set to gain new funding (or if a business supports these industries in any way) they need to determine how they are going to attract skilled labor?

2.         Communicating Values to Employees: How does manufacturing integrate into the jobs plan? It integrates in the basic sense that companies will need tools, supplies, and materials to rebuild the roads, bridges, highways, airports, transit systems, water systems, piping systems, and so on. The manufacturing sector is likely to experience an increase in demand if it supplies these types of projects. How well a business communicates the values it holds to employees over the course of the next year will determine how well it can compete for these projects.

3.         Improving Women’s Labor Force Participation: Improving the women’s labor force participation is an area of focus explicitly mentioned in the overview of the American Jobs Plan and this is a good thing. If a business is woman-owned, its leadership might consider how it will be affected by this increased focus on women labor force participation going forward. For example, getting SWaM Certification might be worthwhile.

4.         Maximizing Employee Benefits: Finally, it’s also noted that 40% of the American Jobs Plan spending will be going to the disadvantaged communities of our nation. Is your company ready to attract and retain these workers? Hint, benefits attract and retain workers (sometimes more than salary!)

As businesses continue to learn more about the American Jobs Plan and the ways in which it may impact their organization and employees, now is the time to begin incorporating new ideas into their approach. The economy and the world are quickly changing around us all the time. Meeting these new challenges often requires embracing a new strategy or technique.

Read an expanded version of John Millen’s perspective for businesses here.

To reach John Millen to speak about how the Jobs Plan will affect businesses, see the contact information below.

To reach John for an interview:

P: 804-459-8102


John Millen’s credentials include:

  • Independent advisor with a focus on reducing healthcare expenses
  • Virtual care specialist and Continuing Education trainer
  • Chief architect of “The $0 Deductible Solution”
  • Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist (CITRMS)
  • Licenses: Life, Health, Annuities, Legal, Long-Term Care

For more information contact:

Barbara Esteves-Moore, Public Relations

C: 615-631-4383


Analytics firm tackles rising cost of healthcare

DALLAS, TX – As executives across the country are looking for ways to reverse the trend of ever-increasing employee healthcare costs and the government is pushing for more transparency in billing, a Dallas-based analytics firm is providing a new way to accomplish both.

Asha George, CEO and co-founder of SmartLight Analytics, said her aim is to make a meaningful impact on the rising cost of healthcare for employers and employees. She has spent years working to build a team of data analytic specialists and clinical board-certified physicians to conduct systematic reviews that result in significant cost savings. Big employers – especially those with 10,000 or more employees – don’t have the time or expertise to monitor claims, she said. And, claims processors are consumed by just processing and paying the claims, which means there is usually no review happening.

Two such employers – Dean Foods and the City of Fort Worth – are diving deep into their employee medical claims to find savings from waste, duplication, errors and even fraud. Both employers are working with SmartLight Analytics to mine their healthcare claims data for things like unnecessary testing, billing two doctors for the same service and careless errors. Fraud can also be a significant find. In Fort Worth, an initial assessment of the city’s employee healthcare claims data aims to further reduce healthcare spending costs, which in 2017 went $15.2 million overbudget. Dean Foods began reviewing its claims in 2016 and is reaping the benefits now.

Mike Adams, Vice President of Benefits & HR systems of Dean Foods, a multi-billion-dollar food and beverage company, said the process worked in reducing healthcare costs for their 16,000 employees.

“It’s an extremely good investment of our corporate dollars,” Adams said. “SmartLight established a good working relationship with our medical claims processor. We are extremely happy with the results. They identified claims with waste and fraud, researched and recovered those costs and had it credited back to us.”      

Fort Worth could also see similar results.

“The City of Fort Worth is looking at ways to further reduce their employee healthcare spend because they have a finite budget and, when it comes to managing the rising cost of healthcare,  they have to continue to look for ways to contain those costs,” George said. “The city has reduced spending in the last year and gotten costs under control with some innovative initiatives such as on-site clinics. We will work to help them realize further savings on healthcare costs by identifying wasteful spending and errors currently occurring in their employee healthcare claims.”

The city’s budget saw a dramatic turn-around in 2018 when the cost for providing healthcare for more than 6,000 employees plus dependents came in under budget. As the city, like many other municipalities and businesses, continue to face the uphill battle of rising healthcare costs, officials engaged with SmartLight Analytics to look at additional innovative means to keep costs under control moving forward.

George said SmartLight’s role will be to analyze two to three years of healthcare claims from the city to find waste — such as duplication of services, unintentional billing errors, and intentional fraud, waste or abuse — and take action to eliminate this unnecessary spend from the city’s employee healthcare costs.

“We’re in the process of getting historical data to run through our inferential analytical models now,” George explained.

The SmartLight Analytics clinical team of medical coding specialists, led by board-certified physicians, reviews claims identified by analytic models as either having waste, duplications, errors or other issues that could be costing the city unnecessary dollars. They then report those findings to executives to show exactly where there was wasteful spending or other errors or claims issues. SmartLight’s clinical team takes it to the next level by working with insurance carriers to eliminate the wasteful claims before they are paid again on similar claims in the future.

George said she expects SmartLight to identify as much as a 5% savings on the healthcare spend through its analytical analysis for each client. The initial process takes rough 8-10 weeks to complete once SmartLight receives the data, both medical and pharmacy claims. Fort Worth should see its first report sometime in late September.

 “In the end, if we’ve done our job, as we have for other customers,” George said, “we can reduce the city’s spending, and eventually, the out of pocket expenses for employees without reducing benefits.”

George said SmartLight is focused solely on reducing year-over-year medical spend for self-funded employers.

“I headed up the Payment Integrity departments inside various large insurance carriers for decades before starting SmartLight Analytics. SmartLight was created because we saw the need for more independent, pro-active intervention in reducing unnecessary healthcare spend,” George said. “Our goal is to deliver our insider expertise to self-funded employers to lower healthcare costs for everyone – employer and employee.”

“I’m passionate about making a meaningful impact in this space,” she said. “Insurance carriers, in the role of third-party administrators, do their best to manage the waste in the system while processing claims, but we have, without exception, reduced spend by an additional 3-5% for our customers.”

Event aims to shine the light on and celebrate the complex world of stepmothers

FRANKLIN, TN – Becoming a stepmother does not come with a how-to guide or even a 12-step program. The Stepmom Connection is working to change that by bringing together authors, speakers and mentors in Franklin, Tenn., July 20th to celebrate and discuss the complicated world of being a mother in a blended family.

“Being a stepmom is a unique experience,” said Tammy Daughtry, author of “Co-Parenting Works!” and founder of the Center for Modern Family Dynamics in Nashville. “The Stepmom Connection event is an effort to come together to celebrate and unpack the unique challenges and blessings of being a stepmom.”

Daughtry, who is a stepmother herself and grew up with a stepmother, will be joined by Moody Radio broadcast personality Dawn Rae; authors Carol Boley, Samara Ashley, Diane Ingram Fromme, Gayla Grace, Sue McGray, and Rachel Scott; The Fish radio host Caryn Cruise; founder and professor Heather Hetchler; marriage strategist and author Yolanda Harris-Jackson; and ministry leaders Sara Kate Hooper, Kim Beihl and Deanna Kaech. Gil and Brenda Stuart, founders of Restored and Remarried, will speak about the couple issues involved in step-parenting.

 The event will shine a spotlight on often undiscussed topics such as dealing with an ex-spouse, step parenting children whose parent has died as well as issues around marriage, siblings, managing expectations and more. It will also introduce stepmothers to resources such as the “One Heart, Two Homes” curriculum and helpful guides such as the “Top 10 Things Kids Wish They Could Say to Their Divorced Parents.”

“When I remarried after my divorce and became a stepmother, I was looking for guidance and advice but could not find much,” said Daughtry, who is a marriage and family therapist. “I don’t want other women to feel that way.”  

The event begins at 9 a.m. (doors open at 8 a.m.) at The Grove in Franklin on Saturday, July 20, and includes an option Friday night “Get-to-know-you” dinner and a Saturday night out in Nashville. Registration is at


Peak Performance Group aims to change the employee benefits landscape with “Benefit Hackers” initiative

RICHMOND, VA – Though it may sound nefarious, hacking into your employee benefits is quite the opposite.

Peak Performance Group, the worksite benefits communication and enrollment firm founded in Richmond, VA in 2001, is changing the employee benefits landscape with its “Benefits Hackers” initiative which aims to help employers and employees by taking them deeper into their benefit options and implementing “hacks” to make benefits work better for both sides.

Over the last 10 years, PPG founders John and Laura Millen have watched as benefit costs have gone up and coverage has gone down across the country. As small business owners themselves, they felt compelled to work to change that pattern.

“Over the last 10 years, healthcare costs have roughly doubled, and that cost has been passed on to employees,” said John Millen, who began his career as a mechanical engineer and who says fixing things is in his blood. “While costs have roughly doubled, the care has gone down dramatically.”

Working in that environment, PPG set out to find a way to help navigate the costly and confusing world of healthcare insurance and employee benefits by finding ways to best take advantage of options that many plans offer but are under-utilized. They also work to find new options to fill gaps in coverage. PPG has assembled a small but mighty team of experts from inside the healthcare industry and outside the insurance arena to put their ideas into action recently hiring healthcare executive veteran Debra Willis, human resource expert Susan Keeton and corporate wellness program developer Melanie Eads.

“We say we’re worksite benefit specialists but really we are strategists,” Millen said. “We strategize ways to use other lines of coverage and solutions that are non-insurance related to help solve problems for small businesses and employers.”

Susan Keeton joined PPG in January after spending 30 years in corporate human resources with such multi-location companies as Heilig-Meyers Furniture, AMF Bowling, and AVAIL Vapor.

“I bring to the table the employer perspective, I’ve been on the other side of the table for 30 years — meeting with brokers, assessing benefits, trying to understand what benefits would be best for employees and then helping employees trying to take advantage of them,” Keeton said. “What we are championing is the desire to help the employee healthcare and benefits system heal or become less broken. We don’t try to fix that health insurance piece, but we can help them choose a health insurance plan that is going to have the products their employees need and find products from other carriers that are bridging the gap.”

The idea of bridging the gap in insurance plans is one of PPG’s best hacks. Millen said he has spent the last eight years perfecting this plan to make sure employers know that they can afford to provide employees with the benefit of having zero deductible or zero co-pay options in their healthcare plan. In fact, Millen said this can often save employers money.

Melanie Eads, who joined PPG sales and marketing team this year, spent 19 years creating corporate wellness programs for companies such as American Family Fitness to increase productivity and decreasing workers comp. She said she sees the employers who are willing to delve deeper into their options and find fixes to create more comprehensive benefits as the heroes.

“I see the business owners as the hero because they’re the ones who have to put the effort in and make the decision to say, ‘Yes, I’m going to do this for my employees and my business. My employees matter.’”

Eads said the “hacking” she is doing is often just helping explain things better to clients and employees who may never have stopped to consider their benefits much beyond medical insurance and what their co-pay and monthly out-of-pocket costs might be. In fact, she said as an employee herself, no one ever explained to her how much pay-check protection or disability insurance she should have if she ever got sick or could not work.

“Employees need someone to sit down with them and say, ‘How long would you be able to go without a paycheck if you were sick or something happened?’” Eads said. “We offer ways to engage employees with their benefits 1-on-1 but also we create campaigns to help employees learn about products and to sign up for those products.”

“We take what they have and hack those benefits to be better for the company and better for employees,” she said, citing examples of building legal services, identity theft, zero-dollar telemedicine copay into benefit programs while keeping costs down for business owners. “We are uniquely positioned to be able to help them.”

Keeton described what PPG’s mission is when it comes to educating both employees and employers about benefits packages and bringing a more personal touch to the vague world of healthcare and employee benefits.

“The passion that drives me is helping companies take best advantage of their human capital and that means being able to attract and retain the best quality employees and giving those employees all of the tools, they need to be successful.”


Designers see artwork in every doorbell

No detail is too small to be artful, including your doorbell.

Timber Bronze 53® views its work that way. The hardware design company creates hand-crafted bronze knobs, pulls, handles, and, yes, doorbells that capture the vast beauty of the Pacific Northwest in a time-honored process blending art with function. But what makes Timber Bronze® unique is not only its ability to create one-of-a-kind pieces for customers but its desire to work with customers to create collaboratively and its hand-crafted, manual process. Timber Bronze® sees every drawer pull and cabinet knob as an opportunity to display art.

The Timber Bronze® process is different from what many call “oil rubbed bronze,” which in fact has no oil, rubbing, or probably even bronze in most cases. Timber Bronze® handcrafts a line of solid bronze products that have a dark, almost black appearance with soft coppery highlights showing through on detail such as cone petals and other high areas. Designers suggest Timber Bronze® pieces when customers need hardware that will work well with their “oil rubbed bronze” faucets, hinges, etc.

Timber Bronze® aims to reuse, repurpose and restore as much raw materials as possible during its process. They work to preserve the beauty of nature through their hand-crafted bronze pieces that capture the spirit and joy of nature from a tiny pine cone to a slight twig to the whimsy of a pig. Hand-crafted for Timber Bronze means pieces are manually produced by artisans using their hands and various small electrical and air tools and devices – as opposed to products made on production lines using large machines.

Where some hardware designers work behind the scenes, owners Garrett and Beth Lowe seek out one-on-one interaction with clients on both big and small orders to make sure the finished product is exactly what the client envisions and dreams of. They also pride themselves on the flexibility to make changes during the design process. Beth is a fifth-generation resident of Wallowa, Oregon. The brand name Timber Bronze 53® comes from the cattle brand used by her father and has been passed on to her to “reuse and repurpose.”

Timber Bronze® thinks the beauty found in Oregon reflects the beauty across the country from Miami to northern Maine or deep into the heart of Texas. Quality, customer service, warmth, responsiveness, innovative – words that describe the company, its product and the experience of working with Timber Bronze®.   You can reach Timber Bronze at (541) 263-2800 or contact Two Roads Communications.

Synergy, design and letting it all come together

Logo created by Two Roads Communications

Two Roads Communications completed a project with Woodward Homes, putting together their website and designing a logo for their growing business. I was excited about the opportunity to work on this project because it meant I would be looking through photos of beautiful homes and working with a vibrant young couple building their business while also building their family.

As I always do, I met with the owners first to talk about what they wanted to include in their website functionally and then what they wanted out of their website in terms of telling their brand story. We went through a branding questionnaire I do with all my clients and got to uncover the story of why they began their business — because it combined the best of both of the husband and wife team’s professional talents while it also gave them the flexibility they needed as young parents.

We were able to document their story and how they came to this spot in their road on their “Our Story” page:

“Woodward Homes is a family business in every sense of the word. Founded by husband and wife team, Mike and Elizabeth Jakubowski, the business grew out of their areas of expertise in high-end residential construction and design. They have a combined 26 years of experience working on projects from small kitchen remodels to multi-million dollar homes. Mike started taking construction classes in high school and loved the creativity of working with his hands. He was instantly hooked and has worked in construction ever since. After growing up watching her parents design and build their own home, Elizabeth realized her love of residential design. And it is in each other that Elizabeth and Mike were able to develop their passion in home design even further. They work in concert with one another providing a seamless range of services. They also love to include their little guy for meetings and some home visits, truly rounding out the family feel of working with Woodward Homes. 

After living in Charleston, SC for 14 years, Mike and Elizabeth moved to Nashville in 2016. They were drawn to Nashville by its economy, vitality and creative culture. Once in Middle Tennessee, the family grew with the addition of their son. A few months before his birth in 2017, they expanded their family to also include Woodward Homes.”

It reminded me so much of working for The Tennessean early in my career, where my husband also worked. We were also fortunate enough to be given the flexibility we needed to start a family and keep our careers going. I am so excited for Mike and Elizabeth as they begin their journey.

What did you read in 2017?

Hiking Through by Paul Stutzman

As the year ends, I always stop and read the lists of best books. I see if I’ve read any of them and take note of those books I have not read or even heard of yet. I try to always have a book going. I find reading calming. It is both an escape and an enrichment exercise. This year I enjoyed some great new books, some old books and some completely different genres.

What is interesting to me about what I’ve been reading lately is that only about half the books I read are ones I’ve selected. I’m in a book club and so I read the selection of the month. That has stretched me in ways no book choices of my own could have. I’ve read books I would have never picked up and I’ve loved them. I’ve read genres I would not normally be attracted to and I’ve grown as a reader.

I’m always looking for new ideas, so let me know what you’ve read and liked this year (or what you didn’t like and I should steer clear of).

Here is my list of what I enjoyed reading in 2017:

Hiking Through by Paul Stutzman

I just recently finished this book and that could be a factor in why I’m talking about it first. But I also really enjoyed it. The book is Paul Stutzman’s account of the months he spent hiking the Appalachian Trail a year after his wife died. I was given the book by a friend who read the book and ended up meeting the author.  It was the right way for me to end my own year’s journey by tagging along on someone else’s trip.

When I started reading the book, I was not sure if I would like the spiritual aspects of the book because I tend to shy away from that in my casual reading. But I didn’t mind his stories about conversations with God and his accounts of growing closer to God while he was on the trail. I’ve always felt closest to God in nature and so I related easily to his message. I also decided that I would read this book one chapter a day so as to sort of “hike” with Stutzman each morning before I started my day.  I started to look forward to reading Stutzman’s account of his day on the trail before I got out of bed each morning. I felt transported. I also felt like dropping everything and heading to the Appalachian Trail on more than one occassion while reading the book.

Stutzman details each day similarly. He writes about where he slept, how many miles he hiked, the terrain, the surroundings, the weather,  the flowers he ate, etc., but I didn’t get tired of reading these accounts. I found the repetition comforting and the story kept me engaged and reading. I was sorry Stutzman finished the trail and I finished the book because I lost my morning hike through the pages. He’s also written a book about hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. That hike is on my bucket list, so I’ve got Stuck in the Weeds, Stutzman’s account of that journey and time on the Mississippi River, on my list to read in 2018.

Finally, I just wanted to share a little story. I read a short devotion each morning and have being doing that for a couple of years. So when I was reading Hiking Through each morning, I read my devotion first, then a chapter in the book. On Dec. 20, my devotion in the monthly reader I use called Living Faith was titled, “All Shall Be Well.” I finished the devotion and picked up Hiking Through to read the next chapter about Stutzman finally reaching Maine (he began his hike in Georgia 2,200 miles from it’s ending point in Maine). As I read the last sentence of the chapter, I saw the last three words, “all was well.” Maybe somebody was trying to tell me something? Or maybe it was just a happy coincidence, but it added to how much I enjoyed this read.

Three books I read this year that I’ve already written about:

  • Being Mortal by Atul Gawande – This is a book I would have not found on my own. It was a book club selection and I did judge this book too early thinking I was not going to get through it because it was written by a doctor about end-of-life issues. Boy was I wrong. I loved this book and have recommended it repeatedly since I finished it. I wrote about it in another blog along with Option B by Sheryl Sandberg. Read more here.
  • What do you do with an idea? by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom – This is a children’s story book that I’ve written an entire blog about, too. I continue to give it as a gift to both children and adults. Read my blog on the book and take five minutes to read this story book if you haven’t already. It could spark a little fire inside you like it did for me.

Back to the other books I enjoyed this year. One is Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance. My book club read this book in March 2017 and the timing was perfect. A few months into the new presidential administration it was fascinating to read JD Vance’s account of his life and his explanation of why there is such a deep division in this country. I believe Vance finished the book well before the election but it is so interesting to read now, in today’s political atmosphere. Having said that, the book is not about politics. It is about JD Vance’s life growing up poor in Middletown, Ohio, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky.  The subtitle, “A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” sheds more light on the real meat of the story.

This year I finally read Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. It was published when I was in high school but finally made it to my bedside table this year. And it scared the **** out of me. If you have not read this novel, it is worth your time. So much has been written about it I am not sure what else to say about Atwood’s book. Read it before you watch the new TV series. The books are always better.

This year I read my first graphic novel, March, Book 3 by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell. The book is about the civil rights struggle in the 1960s. I did not read comic books when I was young and it took me a few pages to figure out even how to read a graphic novel. Once I figured it out, though, I found it a statisfying way to read a story. I am hoping my teenager reads this one in 2018.

I love to read fiction based on historical events. This year that book for me was Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck. What I loved about this story is the perspective. I’ve read many fiction books set in World War II (I think my all-time favorite is All the Light We Cannot See, which I read in 2016) but this was the first one I’ve read from the perspective of German citizens living through a war they did not support either privately or as a part of the resistance. I found a few of the characters unsympathetic but I enjoyed the view other characters gave me through the story.

After listing to an NPR interview with Jay-Z, I decided to read Decoded, his book about hip-hop, his life and his music. I don’t love hip-hop and usually can only take one or two songs before  I asked my daugther to change the channel or switch the song. Jay-Z’s book gave me a little more appreciation for the genre. I still don’t listen to hip-hop but I can appreciate the music and the stories being told much more now.

One of the things I love about reading is talking about books and sharing books with others. Just the other night I was meeting with a friend and client. Like so many other conversations, we ended up talking about the books we are reading. I jotted down the name of three books she recommended and she was scribbling down some of the titles I shared.

Reading is solitary and personal. But it is also universal and unifying. I’m workign on my list of books to read for 2018. The first one on my list is Finish, Give Yourself the Gift of Done by Jon Acuff. I saw him speak earlier this month and thought this would be a good way to start the new year.

My daughter will begin a new semester course this month on military literature. The first book in the course guide is Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. I was lucky enough to take a class with Stephen Ambrose when I was a student at the University of New Orleans. He taught a large WWII lecture class maybe every third semester. I had read the book, Rise to Globalism, as a part of a history class my senior year in high school. Three years later when I was scheduling classes, I saw his name and scrambled to get into the class. It was, hands down, the best class I took in all of college and since. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am that my daughter is reading one of his books now.

I’ve read Pegasus Bridge, Panzer Commander and Eisenhower, so I’m planning to grab Band of Brothers as soon as she is finished with it.

Here’s to many more good reads in 2018.

No words necessary, just hope and possibility

Achilles Nashville's first race in 2014.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog was originally published Wednesday, May 14, 2014 on the Overbrook School Blog. It was written when I was serving as director of communications for Overbrook School and campus host facilitator for the first Achilles Hope & Possibility race in Nashville.  The race continues this weekend, Oct. 21, 2017, on The Dominican Campus. Join me there again this year. 

St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” For those involved with Achilles International Nashville Hope and Possibility race, words were not necessary. The gospel was living, breathing and, in hundreds of cases, running a five miler.

Melanie Yappen was one of the original founders of the Achilles International Nashville chapter, an organization that pairs able-bodied athletes with disabled athletes for weekly runs and road races, and the first race thre years ago. Mrs. Yappen said nearly 700 runners ran the first race with 10% being disabled. The disabled runners ranged from blind runners to amputees. Some completed the race in wheel chairs and on hand-pedal bikes while still others were pushed.

“It was truly an inspirational celebration of running by athletes of all abilities,” said Mrs. Yappen, that first year as she stood at the finish line cheering on all athletes and giving out as many hugs and high-fives as she did medals. “We hope on a broader scope that our community-unifying event will paint a brighter horizon for healthier lifestyles for people with disabilities and an increased acceptance of people with disabilities.”

Continue reading “No words necessary, just hope and possibility”

Far is near

Welcome to America

Maybe a year and a half ago my daughter came to the dinner table one night and asked, “How much does it cost to send candy to the Netherlands?”

“What? Why do you ask?” we responded.

“I want to send some candy to the Netherlands,” she replied nonchalantly.

“To who?”

“To my friend. She is sending me some candy from the Netherlands and I’m sending her candy from America.”

Whoa. Wait. What?

“Did you give someone from the internet our address?”

Continue reading “Far is near”