Faith Dennis Morris

Faith Dennis

Faith Dennis

Tell us a bit about your job. What is the most challenging part of being a school principal? The most rewarding?

This is my 15th year as an Elementary School Principal.  After teaching for 17 years in Pre-K through 6th grade, I know what I appreciated and needed from my principal and have tried to be that for my teachers.  I love being around kids and watching them learn.  The most challenging part of my job is trying to help children whose parents don’t support their education.  The most rewarding part, though, is seeing the lightbulb go on over a child’s head when he or she cracks the code of reading or makes a discovery in Science.

Why did you start running? What keeps you going?

I started running 20 years ago after back surgery.  There is nothing like being unable to walk to make you want to MOVE!!  I started with one mile, which I was barely able to do at first.  Since then, I have completed 21 marathons and many more half marathons, 10K’s and 5K’s.  Most of the time, though, I am just running with friends, enjoying the beautiful area in which we live and catching up on what’s going on in each others’ lives.  Running has become a necessity for me – when work or injury gets in the way, I feel the loss deeply!

Carlsbad 2013

Carlsbad 2013

I’ve always thought of long distance running as such a solitary sport, but you seem to have a whole network of friends with you in this – can you tell us about that?

I belong to A Snail’s Pace Running Club (although many members are definitely NOT snails!).  I actually met my husband through the club as well as some of my closest friends.  The club provides both a group with whom to train, but also sponsors many social activities as well.

Do you practice meditation or yoga? Do you find running is actually a form of meditation for you?

I have tried yoga from time to time, but classes never seem to fit into my schedule.  Running, especially the occasional solitary run,  gives me time to think, work through problems and burn off tension.  Running is very cathartic – especially when I finish at my favorite spot looking out at the Pacific Ocean or I spot a group of deer on a quiet Sunday morning trail run.

What advice do you have for women who are stressed out from their jobs (or loss of jobs), family issues, or caring for elderly parents?

I think the keys to dealing with stress are 1) having an outlet, be it an activity such as running, tennis, skiing etc., or a creative endeavor, such as painting or playing an instrument,  2) letting your friends and family help you and 3) keeping your sense of humor.

I think it is hard for people to admit they need help, but when you realize that you are happy to support your friends however you can, it makes it easier to accept.  I have learned this lesson over and over in the last decade.  I have survived two incidents of breast cancer, became a Type I Diabetic, and most recently, developed thyroid eye disease which has temporarily prevented me from being able to drive.  Through it all, my friends and family have come through in amazing ways – from throwing me a “Chemo Shower” party at which I received gifts to soothe my body and soul as I endured the side effects of chemotherapy to most recently driving me to and from work each day so that I can continue to work.

Laughing keeps me sane…I could wallow in self-pity or obsess on worst case scenarios, but that wouldn’t change anything.  Sharing a laugh is the best medicine I know!

What’s next for you?

My immediate goals are getting my vision back 100% and training for some upcoming races.  Longer term, I see myself working as a principal for another 7 years and then retiring.  However, I would still like to stay active in the field of Education in some capacity.  I would love to travel more – there is so much of the world I have yet to see!


Devon Combs

Devon Combs - Beyond the Arena

Devon Combs – Beyond the Arena

Devon, can you tell us a little bit about your life before “Beyond the Arena?”

My life before Beyond the Arena was full of dresses, panty hose, high heels, showing houses and writing real estate contracts. I spent my days working as a residential realtor and talking about the appreciation value of slab granite countertops. In my free time, I was around horses as much as possible! I had a passion for helping people experience the healing benefits of being around these intuitive animals. I didn’t know how my passion would pan out professionally so I did a lot of volunteering at therapeutic riding centers. Well into my real estate career, I discovered a two-year certification course to become an equine gestalt coach (working with horses to help people) and I jumped at the opportunity.

When you traded in heels for cowboy boots, was it an abrupt change or had you already started “Beyond the Arena” while you were still in the business world?

Trading in high heels for cowgirl boots happened over time. I built Beyond the Arena and worked in real estate for three and a half years…it was hectic (and a lot of daily outfit swaps from pencil skirts into Wrangler jeans) but so worth it! If I wasn’t showing houses and talking about square footage I was out at the barn helping people process their emotions through connecting with horses. Real estate was a bridge career and I’m grateful I spent time in the business world learning about sales, marketing and time management. It gave me the confidence and savvy to make the leap to becoming an entrepreneur. After six and a half years, I cut the golden handcuffs of real estate and moved to a horse ranch in the country to go full time with Beyond the Arena. I haven’t looked back since!

Devon Combs - Beyond the Arena

Devon Combs – Beyond the Arena

What drew you to horses? What is it about horses that can bring healing to so many people, children and adults, alike?

I’ve been blessed to be around horses my whole life and I hail from a family of animal lovers. Both of my parents grew up with horses and I learned how to ride as a young girl. Thoughout my teens, I competed in horse shows, but it was the quiet moments in the barn that I cherished the most. Although I wasn’t able to articulate it at the time, being in the presence of horses and their healing energy nourished my soul. When I sold my horse and went to college in California, I became homesick and depressed and developed an eating disorder. Bulimia took over my life and I dropped out of college. I ended up in a treatment center in Arizona that had equine therapy. I was reunited with horses and this time, there were no horse show ribbons involved. It was about becoming vulnerable, sharing my stuffed down feelings and being healed. Equine therapy saved my life and the light bulb went off that THIS is how I was supposed to work with horses. These majestic and intuitive animals had come back into my life full circle and it became my mission to share their healing gifts with others. At age 21, my passion was ignited and my purpose became clear (by way of a helluva rocky trail!)

What is your typical day like?

Devon Combs - Beyond the Arena

Devon Combs – Beyond the Arena

Today my typical day starts out with a cup of coffee, feeding my dog, putting on rubber boots and heading down to the barn to feed five horses. My morning workout consists of lifting and moving 50 pound hay bales, cleaning water troughs and filling grain buckets. In the spring and summer, I groom the horses and then hose down the arena in preparation for a private coaching client or weekend women’s retreat. Clients arrive by 9AM and most of the coaching happens in our indoor arena. At the end of the day, I feed all the horses again, take care of ranch chores, come up to the house and return emails and post pictures that I’ve taken that day. My days are a combination caring for animals, helping people experience healing and awakening with horses, driving tractors and being out on the land.

Throughout the winter, I coach clients over the phone and the ranch chores shift from mowing fields to plowing snow. My soul is happy here, I wouldn’t trade it in for the world.

Tell us about your “Beyond the Arena Retreats?” Can you give any examples of women’s transformations?

Beyond the Arena Retreats are one of a kind! They are for women who are on the self-discovery trail and whom are at a personal or professional crossroads in life. They are a safe and experiential environment for women to deepen to connection with themselves and others with the help of nature’s greatest teachers: horses! Through interactions with horses, we explore what limiting beliefs are keeping people stuck, how to tap into their intuition and how to move forward in their lives.

At a recent UNBRIDLED retreat, I lined up five orange cones down the center of the arena with a word on each cone: Specific, Measurable, Action, Reason and Time, also known as SMART Goals. The client, Jane, was supposed to lead Blue, the horse, down the line of cones, stating out loud what each cone represented for her.

Jane started at the Specific cone and shared aloud that her goal was to keep her dream consulting as a side business so she could keep her salary and benefits at her current job (which she hated.) Blue didn’t move an inch. The beautiful bay mare cocked her back hip and wouldn’t budge. Jane tugged on the lead rope to try to get her to walk to the next cone. Blue knew Jane wasn’t telling the truth and she picked up the incongruent energy between what Jane was saying and how she was feeling. You can’t fool a 1,200 intuitive animal!

Tired of trying to force Blue to move (and tired of trying to force herself to keeping slogging through a job she despised), Jane had tears in her eyes as her truth became clear. She took a deep breath and shared that her Specific goal was to create a plan to leave her current job so she could go full throttle with her consulting business. As she stated her truth, Blue immediately walked right next to her and kept walking to the next cone!

As prey animals horses are super sensitive to energy and sense when we are saying one thing but feeling another. They don’t judge but will give us direct and honest feedback. When we tap into our intuition and become congruent with what we are saying and feeling, horses will connect with us, every time. It’s the ultimate validation for showing up authentically and speaking your truth.

You’ve created a life you love. What advice would you give someone who feels stuck.

Beyond the Arena - UNBRIDLED Retreat

Beyond the Arena – UNBRIDLED Retreat

Often, we are stuck in the trap of what we “should do” and we dig ourselves into a rut. When we identify what we truly want (through taking action and trying new things and NOT just by thinking about it!) doors open and opportunities manifest.

If you feel stuck, keep trying new things. Keep experimenting and don’t settle until you discover what feeds your soul and energizes you. Follow your passions and curiosity. Let go of controlling how you “think it should look” and allow new opportunities to come your way. Have faith and keep following the trail of what you love. It will lead you to the right people, places (and horses!)

What’s next?

I have an UNBRIDLED Retreat in Arizona in February and my goal is to facilitate more national retreats. I want to share the healing gifts of horses with as many people possible so that others can follow their passions and turn their dream into a reality.

Devon Combs is a lifelong horsewoman, certified equine gestalt coach and the CEO of Beyond the Arena. She teaches women how to live an UNBRIDLED life. She walks her talk as a strong, sensitive, adventurous, spiritual, entrepreneurial cowgirl. Devon’s retreats are one-of-a-kind experiences to help women have fun, feel safe and supported in a group, and to experience the ultimate freedom through transformational connections with horses. Be sure to visit Beyond the Arena to see what’s new and follow Devon on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Leigh Medeiros

Leigh Medeiros

Leigh Medeiros

Leigh, it seems like creativity has entered every aspect of your life, from your art, your writing and now your creative entrepreneurship. What was it that started you down this path? A grade school teacher? Your parents’ influence?

I had an experience when I was 5 years old where a poem came to me fully formed, and I transcribed it — in a sky blue crayon — onto a little scrap of paper. It was such a powerful and wondrous experience for me since it felt like channeling. I can remember thinking, “I didn’t write this.” I knew that it was good and somehow more sophisticated than my own writing ability, and I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around that. I think that moment was a catalyst for a lifelong pursuit of creativity.

You’ve been a teacher, a screenwriter, a producer and director, an artist, a gallery owner and much more. Did you ever imagine you’d wear so many hats? Did one thing lead to another or are you always attracted to a new challenge?

I’m definitely a curiosity addict. I love trying new things. Part of wearing so many hats comes from that place, which I think is quite positive. But, the other side of it, which I grapple with all the time, is overcoming a fear of commitment. It’s always been hard for me to decide to do something with 100% of my time, energy and attention. That’s how the drive for curiosity can be a negative. It can pull me off my path. That said, it’s not like I’ve worn all of these hats for a couple weeks then moved on. I mean, I’ve been involved with screenwriting and filmmaking for 15 years. I worked in galleries for years and owned my own gallery for two years. So while there hasn’t been incredible longevity in each pursuit, I do feel I have a very well-rounded view of various types of creative paths and mediums. That’s been a real benefit to me as someone who supports and encourages other artists. I feel I have a good handle on the challenges that are specific to each path in addition to those creative challenges that are universal.

Leigh Medeiros Screenwriter

Leigh Medeiros Screenwriter

What is your typical day like? Do you have one part of the day where you find you’re at your creative peak?

Unfortunately there’s no such thing as typical! On a scale from “willy nilly” to “total discipline” I’m way over on the willy nilly side. However, in the past year or two I’ve gotten much better about having some routines in place. As strange as it sounds, having a dog really helps that. These days, I wake between 6 and 6:30. I do about 40 minutes of gentle yoga and breathing exercises. Then, I sit at my altar and express my gratitude for everything in my life. Then I shuffle a deck of oracle cards and ask, “What should I keep in mind today?” I use the card that I pull as an anchor I can go back to during the day. I have some other practices that act as anchors too. Things like a mission statement and other inspired texts that help me focus. Next, I feed the dog and walk her for about an hour. I live on a wooded peninsula by the beach so I get a lot of inspiration by being outside. It’s essential for me to have time in nature every day. I always bring my camera with me, and I take a daily “Good morning from Rhode Island” photo that I upload to Facebook. When I get home I eat breakfast. By then it’s about 9. After that, all hell breaks loose! I spend too much time online, too much time wandering around the house, too much time staring into the refrigerator. These are the perils of working from home, and the reason why it’s important to have anchors to go back to. Somehow by 6 p.m. I’ve managed to send emails, plan new programs, facilitate online courses, make paintings and keep moving forward. The evenings are spent cooking dinner, hanging out with my boyfriend, and watching some well-written scripted TV.

Leigh with a donkey

Leigh on a road trip pit stop, with Carmelita the donkey

Nature and spirituality are important to you and you say they go hand-in-hand with adventure. How so?

I am a consummate road tripper. I’ve driven across and around the U.S. probably twelve times. When you’re road tripping (without having to rush to your destination), you allow yourself to explore and be lead intuitively; you are fully in the moment. Because of that, incredible serendipity happens. The right people, places, and things show up exactly when you need them. It’s hard to recreate that openness and “in-the-momentness” on a daily basis, but that’s part of my morning walks in nature. It’s the one hour of the day that I can follow my nose and just see what arrives. Often it’s pretty magical.

I remember wearing the “starving artist” label like a badge of honor when I was in my 20s. What is your best advice to a young person who might be romanticizing the life of the “starting artist?”

Oh boy, there’s so much to dig into about the whole starving artist archetype. I actually teach an 8 week e-course a couple of times a year called “Starving Artist No More,” so it’s an issue near and dear to my heart. I whole-heartedly believe that creative people are the soul of the world and that it’s time for us to stop keeping ourselves down. A lot of starving artists are folks who see the sickness inherent in our socio-political systems and want to keep themselves outside of that, which is totally understandable. I think, however, we need to transform the system from the inside out. We need to redefine the role of artist in our culture and restore its standing to a place of reverence and power. To young people starting out in the arts — or any artist, really — I say don’t give your power away. Don’t buy into the brainwashing around art being a luxury, or artists being flaky dreamers. Focus on what you’re devoted to, but find ways to do it that are sustainable. Band together and create community around you. Make friends with money and know that it’s your greatest fuel. Let yourself receive abundance so you can make more artwork. Don’t waste your life trying to make ends meet when the world needs you to be shining your creative light. And, mostly, find a way to tap into your inner confidence and stay in your strength.

What’s next for you?

Right now I’m finishing up a screenplay I was hired to write and am focused on creating a sustainable, daily painting practice. I’m also working on a picture book that’s based on a recent series of night sky paintings I’ve been working on. I am in the midst of planning some artist events in my home. (My boyfriend is a carpenter and he just built me a gorgeous ten person table from reclaimed wood.) On top of that, I want to keep supporting and encouraging other artists to grow and shine, so more online courses are sure to be in the roster for 2015.

Leigh MedeirosLeigh Medeiros has been an exhibiting mixed media artist for much of the last twenty years. She has worked in various fine art galleries and art-related non-profits, and also owned her own gallery for two years. She’s an award-winning screenwriter and two-time Screenwriting Merit Fellow through her home state of Rhode Island. As a reporter with and regional travel blogger for the (now defunct), Leigh wrote more than 100 published articles and posts on art, culture and the environment. Recently, she associate produced the movie THE ATTICUS INSTITUTE, created a short video about an artist with leukemia that was released nationally through the Newport Folk Fest and SPIN magazine, and directed/produced a book trailer for children’s book author Anika Denise. She mentors and inspires other artists through her website Follow Leigh on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.


Janice Van Dyke

Killington Peak

Janice on Killington Peak, VT, with her dog, Eli

Janice, can you give us some brief background on your former life in the corporate world?

I have spent the past 30 years working in the ever changing healthcare industry. My work experiences are varied having spent time in practice management, hospital quality management, pharmacy benefit management, project management, research, and private consulting. I have also taught business and marketing classes at a private ski academy and at the collegiate level. I was very lucky to have worked in positions that offered a good balance of professional and personal life. That balance was tantamount to me especially while rearing a child. However, my last job at a research company often required long hours and frequent travel, so I was thankful my son was in college during that time. And despite my long hours, work ethic, and extensive experience, I lost my job during company layoffs. I had top seniority in the life sciences group, was the oldest, and (probably) had the highest salary. Definitely whiffs of ageism and “salaryism” but will save that topic for another interview!

Can you tell us what led you to start hiking and mountain climbing or was this something you had always done?

Lake George, Adirondacks

Black Mountain, Southern Adirondacks, NY (overlooking Lake George)

My parents told me that my legs were kicking wildly when I was born, so I was destined to be a roamer right from the tender age. I think I got the hiking bug when my father took me on a hike along old railroad tracks in northeastern Pennsylvania. I remember seeing deer, rabbits, an old trestle, and beautiful flowers. My mother packed us a picnic lunch, and I got to carry it in an old rucksack. I also have to give credit to the counselors at Camp Archbald because we would often hike, do camp craft, and sleep out under the stars. I went to Penn State University and joined the PSU Outing Club and that expanded my outdoor experiences considerably. I also spent time reading books by Nessmuk (aka George Washington Sears) and John Muir. By the time I graduated from university, traveling by foot (rural and urban) became second nature to me.

Do you spend time outdoors every day? Is there a certain time of day that you find most magical?

Yes, I spend time outdoors every day. In addition to hiking, I also enjoy swimming, kayaking, tennis, and cycling. During the winter, you will find me snow hiking, cross country skiing or snowshoeing. I don’t alpine ski much anymore due to the expense and having to leave my dog behind. A year ago, I adopted an Australian Cattle Dog/Basenji mix. He is a high energy breed hence my love for the outdoors blends perfectly with his nature. I always love a gorgeous sunrise and sunset but also appreciate the other parts of the day. It is all magical to me. I love seeing the light of late morning streaming through the trees as well as the tones cast on the countryside when the daylight turns to dusk. I feel blessed to be living in a rural area where I can take in nature’s beauty at all times of the day and night. One of my favorite things is going out to view the stars, and when scheduled, waving to the International Space Station.

Do you find there is a spiritual or meditative aspect to hiking?

Canyonlands near Moab, Utah

Canyonlands near Moab, Utah

Indeed! When I got laid off from my job, I felt fearful and despondent. Along with the support from family and

friends, I felt the time outdoors helped me find the strength to carry on. Sometimes my self talk can turn sour, so the noises of nature, be it a tree creaking, a bird singing, or my feet shuffling through the leaves, helps soothe my soul. In 1993, I took a course in Transcendental Meditation (TM) techniques. I often do TM while on my hikes even with my dog in tow. It is really something to behold sitting on a mountain top practicing TM. I also enjoy the company of friends while on the trails. Some of the most interesting conversations have cropped up while ambling through the forest.

What was your most memorable outdoor adventure?

Brandon Gap

Brandon Gap, VT, hike with my son, Michael

There are a plethora of memorable moments, so I find it most difficult to declare a favorite. I was very enchanted with the Scottish countryside and the Swiss/Austrian Alps. I also have incredible memories of adventures in the Adirondacks (upstate New York), the Green Mountains (Vermont), the White Mountains, and the Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountains (North Carolina). And Yosemite was one of the most beautiful as were the Montana Rockies. And Joshua Tree and Moab, Utah were a different kind of spectacular. Scotland’s beauty captured my heart. ALL of my hikes with my son were most memorable. I started him out young. I always enjoyed seeing how much fun he had making camp, building a campfire, canoeing, hiking and bird watching. He loved to identify birds and draw/color pictures of them. My favorite hiking memories are not limited to rural outings. I have been on some very memorable urban hikes. I walked from the port of Montreal to the top of Mount Royal navigating through old neighborhoods and ethnic districts. Also hiked from Notting Hill to the Tower of London and saw the changing of the guard along the way. Hiking around the fabulous city of San Francisco needs no explanation! I also love setting out with newbie hikers and seeing their love for nature blossom.

Your photos are a beautiful way to document your travels, but do you find photography to also be a creative outlet for you? Have you ever dabbled in landscape drawing or painting?

Near Glacier National Park, Montana

Near Glacier National Park, Montana

Yes, photography is a creative outlet, but of late, I have become lazy with my cell phone camera. I have a perfectly good camera but just seem to whip out the cell phone for pictures. The other day, I saw a photographer with his camera on tripod attempting to capture the fall colors. It motivated me to get my camera back out and start taking better quality pictures and bringing back photography as a ritual instead of a “fast food drive thru” experience. I have dabbled in landscape painting, but I have friends who are very good artists, so I rather enjoy looking at their works over my own. In fact, one friend painted a scene from one of my pictures. Maybe I will get the brush and paints out again at another phase of my life.

What’s next for you?

Professionally, I am still looking for full time employment. That will determine where I will move. I am finding my age to be working against me as I compete for jobs. On a personal level, I want to continue to check off hiking spots on my bucket list. Iceland, South America, and Isle of Skye are at the top of the bucket. Also want to get involved in a mentoring program where I, along with my dog, can take young people out on trails to help enrich their lives. I truly believe we are responsible for one another. Many people, young and old, are hurting, so acts of kindness will help ease one’s load and outdoor adventure will help give them a new perspective. I will also remain active in saving our Earth.

White Mountains

Canadian Jay landed on my hand while hiking the White Mountains, NH.

Anne Ku

Anne Ku on Maui

Anne Ku on Maui

You’ve described life as “a big playground to learn and have fun.” Can you tell us a little more? Have you always had this philosophy or is it something you realized as you got older?

One of my favorite songs is Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” — I have to remember that when I’m not enjoying myself. If it’s no longer fun, then it’s time to move on. We’re here to learn. As long as we’re learning, we’re growing. And life is the playground where we can play, experiment, make mistakes, learn and grow. This is something I’ve realized as I got older. When I was younger, I thought of life as full of new experiences to be had, but work was a big component of that. Work — defined as activity where you get compensated. Life can be defined by experiences and lessons learned. Dalai Lama’s observation of the way we separate work and play made me want to equate work with play. When I became a musician, turning my hobby into my profession, I no longer separated the two. And so, life = work = play. Right now, in an academic environment, I’m learning as I teach.

Tell us a little bit about your life’s journey so far.

When asked “what do you want to be when you grow up,” I answered “a fairy.” Now that may sound corny, but I think I actually fulfilled my wish. A fairy can change if she wants to. I’ve changed jobs and self-definition as many times as I’ve relocated. I have an insatiable appetite for what is new and different. I thrive on diversity. I’m very curious. I love to investigate. There was never a grand plan. Each relocation had a legitimate reason. I’ve often wondered if my life has been one of falsification. That is, to do something long enough to stop when I realize I either don’t like it or don’t want to do it. This could be due to boredom or feeling incompetent. If I can’t be the best in that field, then it’s time to move on. On the other hand, if I do become the best, then I get bored and want to move on anyway. I don’t know the answer, only that life is full of offerings — like a candy store for a child. I can’t help wanting to try. I suppose, that’s what keeps me going.

With all of your traveling and moving you seem to live the life of a vagabond. Do you have a place you call home?

Home is where the heart is, and everywhere I’ve called home, I’ve left a bit of my heart. Right now I feel very at home on Maui, but I do feel most at home in London.

You wear many hats – pianist, composer, economist, mathematician, engineer, entrepreneur and teacher. How do you prioritize? If you had to choose one thing to do for the rest of your life, what would you choose? Okay, maybe two things…

I think we all wear different hats, whether to do with what we do or what we are. Right now I’m a teacher, researcher, and grant writer. When I was living in Utrecht, I was a pianist, composer, and writer. I prioritize by what’s needed to survive and what I’m most interested in — there’s an overlap to the next thing I’m going to be doing. If there’s one thing I’d do for the rest of my life that would be to do what I haven’t done before. I daresay, the sort of books I’m reading and the path I’m on now, I want to learn to just BE and not DO.

Are you pursuing any creative activity where you are a total beginner? How do you approach learning a new activity? Do you mess around with it or do you go methodically step-by-step through the learning process?

I suppose grant writing is a creative activity. I’ve just finished my third grant on Maui (and my fourth one, if you include my duo’s trip to Spain). I identify who the experts are and ask them questions. I do a lot of research on my own. I attend seminars and read a lot.

Are you an early riser or do you burn the midnight oil?

I wish I could be an early riser. I seem to take awhile to get into the momentum. Before I know it, the day is gone but I’m not ready to stop.

I see that you practice yoga. Do you also meditate? Was it difficult for you to put on the brakes and slow down? What differences do you notice in your life now that you’ve started these practices?

I’ve been doing yoga for many years now but I still can’t “truly” meditate. I say this because my mind is very busy. When I’m trying new or difficult poses, I do focus but I wouldn’t say it is meditation. I swim daily. It frees and calms my mind. That is a form of meditation in three dimension. I hope to one day “truly” meditate.

What’s next for you, Anne?

I would love to become a published author and churn out new bestsellers. I grew up reading Barbara Cartland and Harlequin Romance Novels. Maybe one day when I can’t be as physically active or energetic as I am now, I will finally settle down and write.

Sweet sixteen in a sundress I made in Okinawa (I loved to design and make my own 100% cotton dresses!)

Sweet sixteen in a sundress I made in Okinawa (I loved to design and make my own 100% cotton dresses!)

Follow Anne’s travels, adventures and reinventions by checking in on her website.

Laurie McMillan

Laurie McMillan

Laurie McMillan

Some people say that in one day children laugh up to ten times more than adults. Whether or not this is true, we can all agree that laughter makes you feel good. Have you always had a sense of humor or do you make a conscious effort to bring humor to your daily life?

I have definitely always had a sense of humor; I love to be around funny people, and my husband and my two kids make me laugh on a daily basis. They all say I’m the least funny one in the family.

My dad loved to tease and joke around when I was growing up, so I’m very comfortable with silliness and physical humor. Sometimes life feels like one long to-do list, and acting like a goofball helps me break out of that daily grind. Also, as a teacher, it’s important that I make my classes entertaining so our brains are engaged. Humor is one way to make that happen.

It’s tough to say how much of a conscious effort I make to bring humor to my daily life. It’s definitely there! But it’s not something I always think about.

Tell us a little about your WinkyFace videos. I understand your original intent was to demonstrate gender trends on YouTube… but the videos seem to have taken on a life of their own. What do future do you see for them? Do you have any other videos in the works?

WinkyFace is the YouTube channel I co-developed with my colleague and friend Lindsey Wotanis. We do parodies of faculty life, parody interviews with fictional characters, and assorted behind-the-scenes videos. We have had a LOT of fun planning and producing the videos, and we have learned a lot. We didn’t plan on doing the channel forever, but we don’t have a definite endpoint in mind either. We have a lot of videos that are either scripted or brainstormed, so I see us sticking with the work for awhile still. It may be tough to let it go!

Although I do a lot of feminist research, WinkyFace was never focused on gender trends. Lindsey and I developed the channel because we saw a need for our students to learn social media, and we know that the only way we can teach our students is if we ourselves are using the media. YouTube is the ideal challenge because a) it’s possible to make money (so it will seem like a good option to students), b) it involves multimedia so we’d be learning a lot of skills all at once, and c) it involves media presence across platforms, so we would need to learn instagram and twitter if we were to do YouTube.

Learning how to YouTube successfully was our first goal, and the content was secondary.

We brainstormed a few ideas. I really wanted my kids to get involved because it would be easier for them to reach an audience on YouTube than for me to do so, and I figured they’d enjoy making some money. But they weren’t interested, so Lindsey and I decided we would do it ourselves. And we made the content fun so that we’d get a kick out of doing it!

Once we decided on a focus, we also developed a behind-the-scenes blog titled Margin Notes. That might be where you noted our interest in gender issues. Because I had already done a YouTube channel, I was familiar with the inappropriate ways people talked to me (or about me) when leaving comments on my videos. Also, Lindsey and I published research analyzing the comments on Jenna Marbles’ videos versus Ryan Higa’s. The difference is exactly what you’d expect, but it’s still overwhelming and disheartening when you see the numbers. At any rate, before we even began putting out videos, we spent some time thinking about all the dynamics, and we blogged about that sort of thing over several posts.Laurie

Do you have a daily writing regimen? Are you an early riser or do you burn the midnight oil?

I should have a [sailing <–somehow, I wrote “sailing” instead of “daily,” and now I’m thinking how lovely it would be to have a sailing writing regimen!] daily writing regimen, but I don’t.

I’m an early riser. At different times in my life, I had different habits, but now my entire household is moving between 5:00 and 6:00am. I found out that my brain tends to work better in the morning than at night when I was playing Words with Friends and Scramble. I was almost unbeatable when playing in the morning! At night, I was terrible.

But I still write at night at times anyhow, because sometimes that’s the only way to get the job done.

What is your favorite genre to read? To write? What are you reading now?

I like to read in a lot of genres, but fiction is probably #1. I recently finished The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I also reread The Joy Luck Club for my book club, and I was so glad I did. The writing is awesome, the stories are awesome. I read a lot of light fiction (mysteries, chick lit, young adult fiction, whatever). I’m not a snob in any way when it comes to reading.

This may seem nerdy, but I like to write serious research because it makes my brain work really hard. The whole process of analyzing material to really show something appeals to me, and it takes unbelievable effort to organize ideas and spell things out in a way that will make sense to readers (without them falling asleep). I learn a lot every time I do that kind of writing.

I love poetry, too–both reading it and writing it. But it’s less of an everyday habit except when it intersects with my teaching.

Recent studies have shown that as adults play helps us manage chronic pain, reduce stress, build memory, and encourage creativity. Have you found this to be true for you and for those around you?

I think these studies are right on, but I regularly turn into a big ball of stress, so I’m not at the point of fully modeling this ideal. That being said, even moments of goofiness help bring me perspective, and I certain kinds of play can be meditative. I recently started doing zentangles (a meditative practice that involves drawing patterns on small squares of paper), and that kind of play feels completely different from the shenanigans that make me laugh when working on videos. While the zentangles give me space from the rest of the world in some ways, the videos are always about engaging the world (or at least a tiny segment of it!). Both types of play make things better!

For more of Dr. Laurie McMillan’s WinkyFace fun follow here on Youtube, Facebook, her blog, or on Twitter or Instagram!

Jenny Hill

Jenny Hill

Jenny Hill

Jenny, many of us played with hoola hoops when we were younger. How old were you when you first started out? What was it about hooping that kept you taking it to the next level?

It’s funny, but I don’t remember hula hooping at all as a child. We grew up in the woods, and our closest neighbors were about a mile or so away, so my sister and I did a lot of creative things. We created circuses, made up games in the woods, and once I tried making a pop up restaurant in my bedroom where I made my parents pay for food they had already purchased! I’m sure there was a hoop around as part of one of our circuses, but I really don’t remember playing with it as it was intended. I was 39 years old when I first picked up a hoop and was determined to keep it spinning. My sister introduced me to it by bringing a hoop making kit with her the weekend she visited for my wedding. There are a number of different things that have kept me engaged and excited about hooping. At first it was just sheer determination and the old competitive spirit of sisterhood. My sister could hoop beautifully. Why couldn’t I keep it going? I spent days out in my backyard, practicing. Eventually something clicked and my body said, “Yep. This is it.” I spent years up in my head. It felt really good to have my body speak for a change. I was always the awkward kid growing up – the one that was picked last for the team in gym class, so suddenly having a creative outlet that was also athletic and made me feel graceful instead of clumsy has kept me engaged. One of the things that continues to keep me going with hooping is the playful aspect of it. It’s a toy! So if I make a “mistake” I turn it into a new move, or I laugh it off and continue. There have been a lot of lessons with hooping.

We’ve been hearing a lot about “flow” recently when it comes to sports and the arts. It seems to me that your hooping is a great example of flow – total focus and being in the moment. Do you agree? Do you get the same feeling from your writing?

Mmm, yes, flow. I think the word gets used in a number of different ways. For me there’s the flow of linking moves together with hooping and generating a personal style. There’s a lot of talk about flow in the hooping community. Hoopers who have learned the basics and want to level up sometimes get uptight about “finding flow,” because they feel like they aren’t skilling up quickly enough. Flow happens in a sort of quiet way, I think. It’s subtle. You keep practicing at a thing you’re passionate about (writing, hooping, cooking), and suddenly and without much notice you have developed a style. My husband talks a lot about Mise en Place. It’s a cooking term that means you have all your ingredients ready and are capable of putting together a delicious meal. I think this applies to most art. Having enough technique and craft to develop style.

Jenny Hill

Jenny Hill

Then there’s the kind of flow that happens where you are focused and in the moment, which you mentioned. That type of flow, to me, is a sort of meditative state. There are moments of this for me with hooping, especially when I am alone. I don’t feel that kind of flow while I’m teaching, or performing, or when I’m working on some off-body four hoop move. Once I’ve figured out the move and can incorporate it into the other type of flow, well then I might reach that sort of nirvana “brain shutoff”. It’s interesting now that I think of it how the two types of flow work together. It’s hard to get the meditative state of flow while you’re learning to master waist hooping, but once you get it, the brain chatter stops, and it’s a blissful place to be.

What is your typical daily routine? Do you practicing hooping every day? Are you an early-riser writer?

I’m up at 5:30, and I write for an hour. I’ve kept journals for years. If I’m working on a poem that usually happens in the morning as well. I read after that for a bit, usually until 7 a.m. Hoop practice during the spring, summer, and early fall happens in the morning as well, usually after I answer emails and make a list for the day. I spend at least an hour in practice, and it’s usually at the local park. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in the neighborhood this way. When the winter months hit, I practice indoors.

Your life seems to be full of play and creativity. We’re learning that flow, play and creativity are important for our health as we age. What advice would you give someone who is stuck in a stressful job and busy schedule?

I had parents that encouraged creativity, and I think that made a big influence on how I live my life. My suggestion for anyone struggling with stress is to find a creative outlet that speaks to you and moonlight from your stressful job in discovery. Theatre bug? Go audition for a local theatre or offer your help backstage. Musical itch? Take lessons. Everyone has busy schedules and the key is making time for that moonlighting. It doesn’t have to be a lot. An hour a day, or a half hour if you’re really crunched. I think anything that you’re curious about is a good place to start.

Hooping has had a lot of benefits for me, some of them being an increased spatial awareness, better eye/hand coordination, an increase in self-esteem, a boost in happiness, and then all the physical bonuses too. I’m stronger now at 45 than I was at 17. I hope to keep this up for as long as I can! Creativity is good for the brain – your brain develops new neural pathways as you skill up in an art form. This is super-beneficial as you age. I just finished teacher training with the Center for Creative Aging. There are a lot of studies that show that play and creativity have positive effects on health and well being.

You’re a teacher also. Can you tell us about one or two of your most rewarding teaching experiences?

It’s endlessly rewarding. There have been many moments of discovery and magic. I once took a group of 4th grade students outside so we could focus on the sense of sound, and they closed their eyes as I read a poem about snow. It was October. When they opened their eyes, it was snowing. They begged me to read again so they’d get a snow day! There was a teenage boy who slept through class but stayed awake when I visited to write a poem about his sister. It was like he was waiting for me to arrive so he could have the permission to write it. There was a school board meeting I attended with high school students. All those men in suits were so intimidating! They held all the cards, you know? They made all the decisions. One of the students read a poem for them called “Bomb in my Bookbag.” The “bomb” was her bible. I’ll never forget her bravery. I think every moment someone puts their trust in me to share their thoughts, or to try out a hoop, or share a life story, is rewarding. Living is rewarding. Getting to know other people is one of the best things in life, in my opinion. Students are always teaching me new things.

What’s next for you? Do you have another creative project in the works?

There’s always something going on around here. There are a string of performances I’m giving in the next couple of months, so I’m rehearsing a lot. I’ve finally committed to taking an improv class with the Philadelphia Improv Theater, and I’m excited about how what I learn there will inform the other things I do. I’m teaching a Hoop Revolution class at a local yoga studio – a quieter, slower introduction to hooping, and a Hoop Yourself Fabulous series that starts next week, which is a higher energy hoop class. In the evenings, since it’s hockey season, I will be writing. One of the things I love about the later fall is that things slow down a bit and I have time to reflect on what I’ve done and where and how creative ideas overlap. Hooping and poetry do overlap, and that’s a combination that has been fascinating to me for a few years. The most interesting exploration to me so far was a group hoop/theatre performance I created called, “O, Jabberwocky.” I’m working on developing a hooping and literacy curriculum that I can take to schools. That’s next. My lists are long, and time is of the essence!

Jenny Hill is a certified hoop fitness and dance instructor as well as a poet, actor and arts educator. Visit her online at Acts of Jennius and be sure to follow her on Facebook!