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Habits for molding yourself into a powerful writer

Writing is one of those skills that can take a lifetime to master and even then it can feel like you’re never really quite where you want to be.

The words we write down, whether they’re on a blank piece of paper or a on a desktop computer screen, come from our hearts, from the depth of our minds and expressing our thoughts and feelings in a way in which our readers can understand can pose a lot of complications.

Having been a writer for several years, I’ve experienced both the good side and the bad side of writing for a hobby and as a career. I’ve had flurries of inspiration where I didn’t even have enough paper to write down all my ideas and there have been months when I couldn’t think of a single idea and even thought of giving it up all together. However, through all my experiences, I completely believe I’m a better writer now than I ever have been thanks to a few habits I adopted that completely changed my life.

Put Yourself in Your Reader’s Shoes

This may be one of the most overlooked aspects of being writer. By putting yourself in your reader’s shoes, you are able to re-read your work with a fresh pair of eyes, without having to employ a fresh pair of eyes. Read your content in their shoes and ask yourself questions such as:

Does my work and sentence structure make sense?
Am I sending out messages I want my readers to hear?
Am I writing in my own unique voice?
Am I offending anyone that may read this piece of work?

By adopting this approach when writing and editing, you can be sure your writing is as powerful as it can be.

Push Yourself and Don’t Be Afraid

It’s extremely easy as a writer to get comfortable in your style of writing. Once we have discovered a method of working that works and grabs the reader’s attention, we stick to it. We’re all guilty of it in one way or another and as time goes on, we might as well save a template of every post we write and just fill in the gaps.

To progress as a writer, it’s important to push your boundaries and think outside the box. The only thing stopping you from being your best is you. Try out new writing techniques. Experiment with different concepts and formats and find new ways to express yourself through your writing. By following this approach, you will be safe in the knowledge that you are writing to the best level you can.

Take a Break and Read

It’s easy for most of us to get caught up in the moment and continuously write for hours, especially if you are freelancing and have a lot of approaching deadlines. My final golden tip to becoming an empowered writer is to take a break from your work and read. Whether you’re reading other articles or a book or novel of your choice, it really doesn’t matter, just as long as you’re putting your pen down and allowing your writing mindset to take a break.

Not only does this mean you can return with a fresh, positive and motivated outlook to your work, you can also learn new language, new formats, new sentence structure and a ton of new concepts from the work you are reading which, once implemented into your own work, can help you on your path to becoming the best.

— Brenda Berg

Brenda Berg is a professional writer with more than 15 years experience. She is a contributor for Live Write Thrive, eLearningindustry, UK Dissertation and Gazette of Teachers. She is interested in ways that can help individuals reach their full creative potential.

How not to eat an ice cream cone

As a journalist, I know the importance of getting a scoop. As a grandfather, I know the importance of getting two scoops.

That’s what I learned recently when I took my 4-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, to McNulty’s Ice Cream Parlor in Miller Place, New York, for a lesson in how to eat an ice cream cone.

Chloe and I have eaten ice cream together many times, whether it has been at a store like McNulty’s or at the ice cream truck that makes my house a regular stop on its appointed rounds through the neighborhood.

(God, now I can’t get that annoying jingle out of my head!)

But the two of us had always eaten our ice cream out of cups, which is nice and relatively neat but not very challenging for those hardy souls who like to risk a spectacular cleaning bill while licking, slurping or otherwise inhaling a cone before the ice cream drips all over your hands, your clothes, your shoes, your seat, the table, the floor or, if you are not careful, everything and everyone within a radius of approximately a hundred yards.

“I want a cone, Poppie,” Chloe said as we entered McNulty’s and perused the display case, which was stocked with so many varieties that it was a veritable explosion of colors.

“What flavor, Chloe?” I asked.

“Strawberry, please, Poppie,” Chloe answered politely.

I passed her order to server Kelsey Reynolds, 18, who inquired, “One scoop or two?”

I looked down at Chloe, who was holding my hand. She looked up at me and beamed. It melted my heart faster than a bowl of sherbet during a heat wave.

“Two,” I said.

Kelsey handed me the ice cream cone equivalent of the Empire State Building. I conjured a mess of immense proportions. That likely possibility doubled when I ordered a similarly lofty cone of vanilla soft serve for myself.

“May I have some napkins?” I asked Kelsey, who gave me four. “We’re going to need a lot more than that,” I said.

Kelsey nodded knowingly and gave me another dozen.

“Enjoy!” she said as Chloe and I headed to a table, where we sat down and commenced cone consumption.

I tried to impress upon Chloe the importance of eating her ice cream around the edges before it began its slow descent onto the cone and, immediately thereafter, her fingers.

Unfortunately, she didn’t heed this brilliant advice. Also unfortunately, neither did I. My soft serve, temporarily neglected as I was giving a lecture in the fine if somewhat sticky art of eating an ice cream cone, began to seep under my fingernails.

“Do you need more napkins?” asked Kelsey, who saw that the lesson was not going well and came over to offer assistance.

And not a moment too soon. That’s because Chloe took a bite out of the bottom of her cone, causing a virtual Niagara of strawberry ice cream to pour onto the table, as well as the sleeve of her pink sweater. At least the colors blended.

Then she placed her cone on the saturated blanket of napkins that covered the table and asked to try my cone, with strikingly similar results.

I knew I had failed completely when Chloe looked at my cream-covered digits and declared, “Poppie is sloppy!”

Kelsey must have agreed because she brought over even more napkins.

“Don’t worry,” she said sympathetically as I mopped up the tabletop, “I’ve seen worse.”

But the lesson was ultimately successful because Chloe and I had a sweet time. It took a while, but we both finished our cones.

After we washed our hands in the bathroom, it was time to go.

“Thank you,” I said to Kelsey on the way out.

“You’re very welcome,” she replied with a bright smile. “Next time you and Chloe come in, call ahead. I want to make sure we have enough napkins.”

— Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written three books, Grandfather Knows BestLeave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won six humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is the past president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

What teaching kindergarten taught me

My teaching career spanned 17 years — 10 years teaching high school and seven years teaching kindergarten.

The chasm is not as deep or wide between the two as you might think, because a 5-year-old and a 15-year-old have similar behaviors and thought processes.

Some of my most fun and also frightening teaching memories came from my precious kinder kiddos. The first year I made the switch from high school to kindergarten, I was constantly wondering why. Why do these kids not stay seated when I ask them to? Why can’t they line up in a straight line? The answer was easy….those were two skills I needed to teach them. Who knew? As I quickly learned, the first month of kindergarten is solely dedicated to learning processes, systems and procedures. How to line up, how to make it to the bathroom on time, and how to work together safely and without a melt down.


Sniffles, picking and blowing are all things done with the nose or let’s just call it like it is…boogers. Problems occur when you are not prepared for Booger mania! For example: the sneeze felt round the room; or when known nose picker runs up and hugs your legs passing who know what onto your skirt; or how about when above said nose picker is chosen line leader for the day and gets to hold the teacher’s hand? I’ve been known to hold the wrist instead, feigning a sore finger. One must always be vigilant to pickers and be prepared for the unplanned grasp of the hand. Although it’s not PC, it would be so cool if you could wear disposable gloves while teaching. Is there any wonder why Kleenex is number one on the school supply list?

Potty talk, potty time and potty problems:

For some reason, pee, poop and fart are the three funniest words any 5-year-old knows. Just say the word fart and you will cause a group of kindergarteners to collapse into giggles, jokes or stories. For example:

Once during an appraisal by my principal a whole classroom dissolved with one fart.

On this day at story time, I had my 25 5-year-olds sitting perfectly still on the carpet in front of me. We were reading a story, which I was incorporating into a fabulous English language arts lesson on sequencing: What comes next in the story? I was sitting smugly in my chair, 25 sets of eyes were all on me, my principal was sitting at the back of the room taking notes when all of a sudden, in the quiet pause of the story, a precious little girl farted. I tried to bite my lip, keep on reading and act like nothing happened, but one moment later a little one from the back of the group asked, “Did you hear that air biscuit?” One after another the group popped up with other statements: “I did!” “Who did it?” “What’s an air biscuit?” “That wasn’t a biscuit, it was a fart and it smells!”

Picture me calmly (I was really starting to sweat) asking the class to put all eyes back on me and putting my finger to my lips, tried the silent shhhhhh.

Chaos ensued when another child pointed out the culprit. I didn’t want to, but I glanced at the back of the room and saw my principal hysterically laughing and trying to hide his face while his shoulders were uncontrollably shaking. He politely excused himself and said, “Perhaps I can come back later.”

I never really got it back together after that, so we went outside to run and play and return after a bathroom break, and try it again. Sequencing lesson: What happens after a child has a loud air biscuit? Mayhem.

On most days, my classroom was calm and uneventful. You know, those days when you wish Norman Rockwell was capturing the essence of your teaching career? Those seven years in kindergarten were sweet, funny and oh so endearing. I learned a lot about life. I learned boogers and farts are funny at any age. I learned to be more inquisitive, laugh more, see the joy in everyday events and love with all my heart!

Hey, sometimes “poop” happens, but it’s how you deal with it that matters.

— Nancy Malcolm

Nancy Malcolm is a true Southern woman, who believes in the Southern way. Like, its never too soon to write a thank you note; everyone should own a deviled egg plate; and good manners often take you where neither education nor money can. And she definitely believes no one ever outgrows the need for a mother’s love. To see more of her writing, go to and

To-do list for new college graduates

While you have been in college, the adult community has been busy ruining the world.

This has left us no time for several important tasks. But now we need you to start on these tasks. It’s your job to tackle and wrestle to the dirt each one in sequential order.

The first task is to shrink the size of all the world’s oceans to half their current size. Then purify that water. Make it all drinkable. No junk. No beer cans. Clean that water up. Bottle it and sell it in well-to-do neighborhoods such as Greenwich, Connecticut.

When finished, make more volcanoes erupt. This means you have to invent volcanoes. The world needs more hot lava. Use the lava to start a rejuvenation of the lava lamp industry.

Next, go to the Grand Canyon. Either fly or drive. Conduct a one-hour brainstorming session with yourself, using a white board, focused on ways to make the Canyon 10 times bigger than it is. You will need to do some calculations, so bring your laptop.

As you leave the Grand Canyon, decide that the sky is too high and too far away. Make the sky closer to us. Just figure it out.

Then change the colors in nature. Make lawn grass orange and tree bark baby blue and leaves orange and bushes yellow.

Next, re-configure the solar system. Put Mars where Pluto is. Get Saturn out of the way of everything, at least for now. Move Earth so it’s adjacent to Pluto. It has to be adjacent to Pluto.

When done with this, question gravity. Be circumspect whether it’s still true that any object such as a lava lamp, or a person such as you, will fall down if thrown up in the air. If it’s still true, accept it. But if you detect any hole in the argument, if there is one scintilla of doubt in your mind about the rule of gravity, keep questioning it. Check on what Wikipedia has to say on the topic.

The guy who invented the theory, somebody name Isaac Newton or Galileo or Johnny Appleseed, needs to be checked out thoroughly. Where did he grow up? Who did he hang out with? What kind of car did he drive? Was he in the FBI?

Get your hands on a photo of his car, what color it is, whether it has white wheel tires. Does it look like Greased Lightning?

Then move on. Drive away thinking that gravity is something to do while your life is going on or what happens to you when you’re driving.

Then turn your attention to mountains. All mountains. Those in Sweden. Those in New Mexico. Those in West Virginia. The ones in Austria the Von Trapp Family Singers walked up when defecting from Germany. Visualize mountains in places you’ve never seen or been or heard of. Count every mountain in the world.

Then move mountains. Shift them around like chess players do kings, pawns and rooks on a board. This does not mean move them mentally. Move them literally. Get some cranes and shovels. Ask your friends for help because it’s going to be a lot of hard work and will take at least a year.

— Sammy Sportface

Sammy Sportface is possibly America’s best blogger. He is only mildly interested in the truth. To read his new book, Wipe That Smile Off Sammy Sportface, go to

Sibling folly

Although my half-brother Skip and I didn’t even meet until we hit our mid-30s, we immediately bonded. We craved restitution for our three-decades delay as playmates. Sharing the same father, we looked alike, thought alike and partied alike. And, like many wild and crazy guys, we had both been freshly divorced.

During this period between wives, we rented separate studio apartments in the same building. We knew better than to move in together. We were too much alike. Book ends. We’d have killed each other. As it turned out, we merely teased each other unmercifully.

For openers, when he popped into my apartment unannounced one day, Skip noticed a baby picture on my mantle and wondered aloud which one of my daughters it imaged. Julie or Sarah?

“Neither one, you dolt,” I said. “That’s me.”

“You? Then why did your mother stick you in a dress?”

“I’ll have you know that isn’t a dress,” I told him. “It’s a long shirt. Mothers dressed their baby boys that way in those days.”

“Then why does my baby pictures show me dressed like a quarterback, posing with a football?”

“Probably because your mother intuitively sensed your inevitable insecurities about your manliness.”

Skip meandered closer to my mantel and stared, stupefied by my collection of stuffed toy frogs.The real star of the collection was an adorable amphibian named Prince Benjamin. Nicknamed Benji, he proudly stood five inches tall, wearing ballet slippers, a pink jacket and a sly facial expression.

Skip picked him up.

“And whom do we have here?” Skip sniffed in a tone of mock condescension as he eyeballed my little prince. “Oh, my gawd! You’re a grown man, baby brother. Why don’t you just get some dollies and be through with it?

“Now see here, Missy,” I said. “My frog menagerie stands as no more immature or effeminate than your precious collection of Little Lulu comic books. And how about when you get high as a kite and stare for hours at a Bugs Bunny cartoon marathon?”

Skip then reminded me that I didn’t even have to be high to race to the park at midnight and demand that he push me as high as the swings could go.

I admitted that, even sober, I had become a bit idiosyncratic, but added: “Truthfully, Skip, I was never weird until I started hanging out with you.

“Oh, come now,” Skip said, pointing at my baby picture. “You’ve been weird ever since — ever since you posed for that baby picture.”

Ignoring him, I clipped Benji to my ear and informed Skip that Prince Benjamin would accompany us on all public outings henceforth. From then on, Skip feigned a deep-seated hatred toward my stuffed frogs, especially my “constant companion.”

A few months later, Skip received a lucrative job offer out of state. Some of our mutual friends and I threw a going-away party for him.

About a dozen of us were sitting at a bar laughing about one thing or another. Then out of nowhere, Skip said he had an announcement to make, looked directly at me and said: “Be forewarned that, before I fly away to Virginia, I’m gonna break into your apartment and I’m gonna kill the frogs.”

While I’m still reeling from that, he says, “Wait. Allow me to amend that: Before I move to Virginia, I’m gonna break into your apartment and kill JUST BENJAMIN.”

Horrified, I jerked Prince Benji off my ear and tucked the stuffed amphibian safely into my pocket.

Skip never made good his threat, but I never trusted him to see Prince Benjamin again. The day that Skip flew to Virginia, I saw him off. Just as he was about to head up the ramp leading to the plane, I yelled “Yo Skip!” and  took Benji out of my pocket, held him up and yowled, “RIBBET! RIBBET!” Stunned into speechlessness, Skip reacted by skipping to the ramp and onto the plane.

I overheard a woman wonder why a grown man was skipping. “Grown men in my family? No such animal,” I said. Then I skipped away.

I regret behaving inappropriately. I should have hopped away instead. You know? Like a frog.

— Steve Eskew

Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. After one of his professors asked him to write a theater column, he began a career as a journalist at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This led to hundreds of publications in a number of newspapers, most of which appear on his website,

The year my mother became my Auntie Mame

When my mother turned 40, her hair turned red and that was it; she was off to the races. She became a liberated woman.

The local theater troupe gained an invaluable actress as well as a director. The local nudist colony had a valued new resident. The local Science of Mind Temple got a new congregant.

This sudden revolution in our nuclear unit did not take place without resistance. We were a conservative Jewish family. For my mom to break out of the confines of the home was one thing but to go outside of the circle of the religion? My dad is an honorable man, who really didn’t know how to handle the situation, and that train had left the station. Even the silent treatment he gave her as a last resort was no match for my mom’s resolve. After a week of giving her the cold shoulder, he realized there was nothing to put his foot down on. The foundation of our lives had shifted. It was no longer where it had been at all. I used to joke that we would soon be hosting a Martian convention.

I remember standing outside the laundry room a few years prior, listening to my mom quietly cry. I asked what was wrong and she said, “It’s nothing.” I longed to be able to do something for her in that moment. Her lament was not about her family. It was about innately knowing there was a universe inside her expanding and not knowing how to expand with it. The plight of the ’50s housewife was something with which she was not prepared to be content. What she was yearning for was wholesale liberation.

Once she made up her mind, she never looked back. Even Science of Mind was just the first station on her spiritual trek up a mountain that is, still to this day, rising.

I got swept up in her revolution, joining her in theatrical productions, at the nudist colony, at Science of Mind meetings, at a matinee of the controversial French romantic film Cousin Cousine.

Mom didn’t abandon the house. We still had our meals together, my sister and I made it to school on time, we still had clean clothes. My mom’s clothes, when she wore them, were brighter, still classy, always classy, but with more of a theatrical flair.

Overall, after a few months, there was just a lot more levity, as if there was an extra breeze that hadn’t been there before.

Our house became filled with the laughter of wild thespians, authentically larger-than-life characters. Late-night parties ensued, complete with group singing, around our upright piano.

My mom had really just taken me along on her adventures, but I loved the whole thing. It was a grand opening that never stopped. It was as if I had popped into the novel Auntie Mame. The book inspired both the play and movie and was about a boy, his eccentric aunt, and their bohemian, outrageous adventures. “Life,” as Mame would say, was indeed “a banquet,” and not only was my cup overflowing, I was able to pour some out to those around me as well. I had friends at school and had made my classmates laugh, but my new extended theater family were really my people. My mother became a portal for us, to not escape into, but to be transported fully into who we were meant to be.

The fact that I became an actor, a musician and someone who aspires to inspire peace and connection between faiths, communities and colorful lifestyles all bloomed the year my mother came out to her fabulousness. I never heard her cry behind a closed door again.

Sally Lee Levin has become a dedicated fountain of life, a river of positive affirmation and a healing presence for those within the rippling circumference of her heart.

My dad was not only a good sport but also rose to the occasion of my mom’s transformation with award-winning valor. He still rolls his eyes at some of my mom’s beliefs, but acknowledges that she is very powerful. He is grateful for her and their invaluable, intertwining partnership.

My sister aimee, (she spells her name with a lower case ‘a.’) was a teenager and was essentially doing her own thing during mom’s emancipation. Still, I believe it sent a message to her that she could be strong within herself and become what she was drawn to be. My sister is a doctor of audiology with a thriving practice and has two wonderful children of her own.

So, here’s to unconventional, strong moms and how they model life for us inside and outside the circle of our expectation and understanding.

Happy Mother’s Day!

— Ira Scott Levin

Ira Scott Levin blogs at Stream of Light, reflections spotlighting those making the world a brighter place through their dedicated benevolence and creative caring. His blog appears frequently at Thrive Global.

Mom’s Day tribute

Mother’s Day is May 14 and I’d like to send a tribute out to my mom and every other mother out there who has made the loving sacrifice to go through nine months of morning sickness, back pains, hormonal changes, swollen feet, maternity clothes and hours of labor to produce a new human being.

To a child, a mom is there to nurture you, comfort you when you are sick or hurt, and raise you from a helpless infant to the point where the child says: “Look mom, I’m 40 years old. I don’t need your help anymore, but stay close to the phone in case it doesn’t work out.”

Whether she’s called “Mommy,” “Mama,” “Mom,” “Mum” or a hundred derivatives of the name “Mother,” a mom will do a thousand things for you to make your world a safe.

She is the one who finds your lost toys when you’re a child and soothes your boo-boo when you cry.

She sews a button back on when you lose one, but only after carefully searching your crib, playpen, the house and your diaper to find the lost button and make sure you didn’t swallow it.

Moms are the ones who help you learn the tools of life from an early age. They teach you how to count your little piggies, play peak-a-boo, wave bye-bye, use the potty and let you feed yourself spaghetti without letting you get too much on your hair and clothes.

She is the one who will sacrifice her dreams so you can have dreams of your own.

As I grew up, my mom was always there to provide me with words of wisdom, counsel and advice on life. After talking to other people, I find that they were not original thoughts, but were special “mom” messages passed down from mother to child from the beginning of time.

My mom would say:

“Eat your carrots. They’re good for your eyes. You never see rabbits wearing glasses.

Don’t run with scissors in your hand.

Close the door. You weren’t raised in a barn.

Don’t speak with your mouth full.

Wear clean underwear. You never know when you might be in an accident.”

That was my mother’s credo and you know what? I ate my carrots, walked with the scissor blades clutched tightly in my hand, shut all doors on entering and ate with my mouth closed for decades. And the one time I was in a car accident and had to go to the emergency room, I had clean underwear on.

I’ve survived my childhood and adolescent traumas and grown into a mature adult who has a family and my own kids, and there’s only one thing I want to say to my mother. “Thank you for being there, and I love you.”

— Myron Kukla

Myron Kukla is the author of several books of humor including Guide to Surviving Life available online at: Email him at

PSAs, pistols and probes

It all began with a routine flight physical. My doctor discovered that the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level in my blood was a bit high, and he calmly suggested prostate cancer screening. My brain, of course, translated his routine words into, “DANGER, SEEK SHELTER IMMEDIATELY!”

Since many of you men will face prostate cancer screening yourselves someday, let me help prepare you for what’s ahead.

1. I am convinced that digital rectal exams (DREs) of the prostate are only slightly less uncomfortable than what women experience during childbirth. I have tried everything I know of to get out of these exams. I even replaced the box of medical gloves on the counter in an examination room one day with a makeshift sign that read, “GLOVES ON BACK ORDER.” When the doctor entered the room, however, he just looked at me and said, “I hate it when I have to do this barehanded.” I returned the gloves. Unfortunately, guys, there is no way out of the DRE.

2. If you become a candidate for a prostate biopsy, the doctor will normally use a transrectal ultrasound probe as a guide during the procedure. According to a brochure that I was given, these devices are — and I quote — “barely bigger than a thumb.” Yeah, right! Whose thumb? The Jolly Green Giant’s? Don’t let anyone fool you: these things are HUGE! Even though I have never actually seen one, my considerable experience with these probes leads me to say with some certainty that they are approximately the same length and diameter as a baseball bat.

3. The prostate biopsy gun, on the other hand, is actually not as bad as it sounds. It really causes very little pain or discomfort. Still, if you want to keep your anxiety level somewhat under control, I would recommend that you avoid gazing around the procedure room. If viewing all of the medical paraphernalia doesn’t bother you, I would think that seeing the extra nurses, medical students, janitors, the receptionist and her daughter’s kindergarten class, the UPS guys, etc., who have wandered in to observe your procedure just might. I know. You are thinking that I’m embellishing the size of the crowd…and you’re right. Because of their demanding schedules, the UPS guys seldom get to stick around.

4. I have experienced prostate biopsies both with a sedative and without, and the procedure is completely tolerable either way. If you are going to receive a sedative, however, your doctor will probably tell you — as did mine — to be sure to bring a driver with you. That’s why I walked into my last biopsy appointment with my graphite-shafted #1 wood in hand. I take my doctor’s instructions seriously.

Well, that’s some of what I have experienced during my prostate cancer screening journey. And, although I may have exaggerated some of it (okay, most of it) to make a point or two, the whole process — even the biopsy procedure itself — is really not a big deal. The important thing is this: although recommendations vary, the prostate cancer screening process — while not foolproof — could quite literally help save your life.

And remember, you can gain something beneficial out of almost any situation. I am now so familiar with the whole biopsy thing, for example, that I am writing an informational brochure about it. I’m calling it “The Prostate Biopsy Procedure: A Guide to Understanding the Tools and Tactics Used by the IRS during Your Tax Audit.” It occurs to me that there are an amazing number of similarities between these two events.

— Jerry Tobias

Jerry Tobias is an aviation writer who flew everything from supersonic military aircraft to Boeing 747s during a 40-year career as an Air Force, corporate and airline pilot. He also speaks as an aviation safety specialist and as a motivational speaker discussing life lessons learned through aviation. Jerry is a cancer survivor. Reach him at

Reflections of Erma