Category: Books

ALWAYS! – Derrick Atkinson’s Tribute to Zach Sobiech


This week, I have been blessed with the opportunity to participate in Laura Sobiech’s Fly A Little Higher Blog Tour. Zach’s battle with osteosarcoma was not one he fought alone; rather, it brought his family together as a united front. ‘Family’ does not just consist of mother and fathers, brothers and sisters. Family is comprised of those to whom we connect within our community – our church groups, organizations, social networks and schools (to name a few). From a small town in Minnesota, Zach Sobiech created a global family together through his music. He took the encouragement he received from his parents and close friends to change the world. His faith in God, positive outlook on life and incredible smile brought joy to many of us…and continues to inspire us all to Fly A Little Higher.

When I first learned about this Blog Tour a couple of weeks ago, I reflected on Zach’s story and asked him for guidance through meditation. How could I fly higher? While reflecting on the themes in Laura’s book, I was reminded of a conversation I had last year with my friend, Debbi McCarthy, about a family in Bishopville, South Carolina that overcame tragedy through music. “Up for a road trip?” were the next words out of my mouth and off we went to document this amazing family.

It is Roy and Sally Atkinson’s love and encouragement that has created an instrument, The Washtar, for the purpose of expression that is bettering the lives of those with special needs. It is the amazing warmth and genuine smile of Derrick Atkinson that tugs at the heartstrings when you meet him. Meeting Derrick has changed my life and I hope that in watching this video you can see that, like Zach, he doesn’t let his struggles impact his attitude or his desire to positively influence those around him. He lives his life to the fullest of his abilities, making him someone I admire…another true hero.

Please watch to the very end. I think you will enjoy the after-credit footage that gives you some insights into Derrick’s character and spirit. He just “plain makes me smile.” Looks like the Low Country is rubbin’ off on me!

This week, I have been blessed with the opportunity to participate in Laura Sobiech’s Fly A Little Higher Blog Tour. Zac...

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Carrying A Tune


Yesterday I shared how Zach Sobiech’s song Clouds landed on my ultimate playlist upon first hearing it last year. Writing my own playlist and documenting the significance behind each song was a very emotional journey for me. Being able to give my friends and family small snapshots of more personal events in my life and insight into the words that inspire me is a gift. There are few things in life that we all have in common, but each day we look at the same sun and moon, and each day we get one day closer to our eternity. Each day is an opportunity to share with those we love and learn about others.

My good friend and soul sister, Debbi McCarthy, just accompanied me on a whirlwind road trip last week, the result of which we will share with you tomorrow. We had a lot of time to talk about the gift that Zach Sobiech gave to us in Clouds. With 24 hours of drive time, we got to discuss (and listen to) music at length. Debbi jenerously offered to share the musical life of her daughter, Melanie Rose, who passed away from complications of Juvenile Diabetes at the young age of 38. It is so beautiful that Debbi continues to uncover new stories about Melanie’s life as her friends share their memories. The Fly A Little Higher Blog Tour has created this opportunity for Debbi to rediscover the inner beauty of her daughter all over again. Please enjoy this mother’s tribute to Melanie’s life of music and friendship.

She enjoyed music on her noise-cancelling headphones, a gift from her brother.

She enjoyed music on her noise-cancelling headphones, a gift from her brother.

Musical Memories of Melanie Rose Weaver [1971 – 2010]

At the beginning of the soundtrack of our children’s lives – that miraculous indignant cry that lets us know they have arrived – no mother expects to have to choose the music for her child’s memorial service. But, the ensuing cacophony that accompanies us each step along the way underscores our ups and downs and provides an evocative context for our tapestry of memories.

Like mothers of many species, our child’s voice is like a beacon. We can pick out our kid’s call for help in a crowded park or their enthusiastic rendition of a holiday classic hitting a wrong note in a school concert. We can decipher their words even wrapped in breathless sobs or gales of giggles. From my daughter Melanie’s first solo rendition of the ABCs to the final strains of a church full of people singing Abba’s “I Believe In Angels,” the closest thing to sacred music we dared to play at her memorial service, the music of my daughter’s life echoes like a lilting aria that drifts among those of us who loved her best, holding us close.

While my daughter herself was not a musician, she was introduced to music early and shared her love of it with family and friends, introducing us to obscure artists and blaring her favorite songs over and over again until she could sing along with every word.

My mother, Mary McCarthy, whose lovely voice was a gift in our home, delighted in teaching old songs to her children and grandchildren. Along with my grandmother and our parish priest, my sisters and I spent several years as The McCarthy Sisters, travelling around Connecticut to church fairs and nursing homes with our act that combined Irish, Broadway, Shirley Temple and nostalgic hits. Melanie especially loved one of Mom’s favorites “Side by Side,” a popular 1920’s standard most often sung by our family loudly in the car.

My oldest dearest friend, Melanie’s godmother, Tina West Pateracki, introduced us all to the exploits of “Little Bunny Foo Foo,” which would leave Melanie collapsing from laughter every time one of us would sing it for her (preferably, a hundred times). Mel later helped teach that and other children’s songs to her brother and sister, Steven, and Tisa – and, later, to her son Ryan.

One of her close girlhood friends, Tania Trepanier – who was tragically killed in a 2003 accident – spent hours at our home in Zomba, Malawi, perched precariously on a chair opposite my daughter, go-go dancing to Abba’s “Dancing Queen,” “Waterloo,” and “Mamma Mia.”

From me, she learned to love The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and other sixties and seventies artists – although she did confess later that she never really warmed up to Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen, and, I will admit that there were years when I was not a huge fan of the music coming from her room or car.

As a teen and young adult, she made wonderful memories with her friends, who have shared many with me in the years since we lost her. I am so grateful to these people who loved Melanie so dearly and cherish their times together – so often, punctuated by vivid memories of the music they shared:

During Junior High, Trisha McMillan Ferguson lived within walking distance of Melanie’s dad’s house. When the girls would walk the back way to meet each other, they crossed a big open field. Mimicking the opening of “The Sound of Music,” they would run toward each other, arms outstretched singing the song all dramatic and silly.

Melanie’s closest friend school friend, Shannon Conway Johansen, remembers singing Bon Jovi’s “I’d Die For You” at the top of their lungs when it first came out. And, the two of them loved dancing to Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” convinced in their profound youthful angst, that all love was tainted in the end.

At the old Storman’s Palace in Clearwater, FL Melanie and her buddies danced many a night away – her friend Kristy Knight, a popular radio personality who did a weekly appearance at Storman’s, particularly remembers one of their faves was “Lean On Me” from Club Nouveau – it never failed to move them onto the dance floor.

Cindy Quo was an angel neighbor/friend who brightened many of Melanie’s toughest homebound days when her health was so fragile that some of the local EMTs, who came to resuscitate her all too often, actually learned the names of her fish. Cindy remembers that “Hanging By A Moment” by Lifehouse was a kind of lifeline for Melanie during that time.

As Melanie’s illness progressed, she took as her own an Alanis Morisette song, “That I Would Be Good,” that contained the lyrics, “… that I would be good, if I got and stayed sick.” I know that those unflinchingly brave lyrics helped my daughter come to grips with the inevitability of her illness. She also drew an amazing strength from Damien Rice’s “The Blower’s Daughter,” with a less obvious, but equally powerful theme of the pain of no-win situations.

My best friend’s daughter, Caroline Schuler, was an especially close friend, spending long summer and holiday vacations with us. Singing along to James Taylor’s “You’ve Got A Friend” is one of Caroline’s favorite memories of the many road trips between Tampa and Charleston, SC – screeching out the high notes singing “…and I’ll beeeee there yeah, yeah, yeah – you’ve got a friend.”

Melanie’s sister, Tisa, remembers the two of them loving The Pretenders “I’ll Stand By You.” By the time Tisa got married, Melanie was struggling to keep healthy with her transplanted kidney and pancreas and the immune deficiency that challenges transplant patients. Tisa had the song played at the wedding.

In later years Tisa, Caroline, Steven, Ryan and I all remember listening to Jeff Buckley’s timeless version of “Hallelujah” with Melanie. It became her anthem.

In the days following her death in April of 2010, Tisa, Steven, Caroline and their spouses went into seclusion at Tisa’s house and produced an amazing slide show synched to Melanie’s favorite music. That labor of love carried them through those first days of unthinkable loss and gave us all a gift at her memorial service.

After losing my dad, I spent weeks listening to Tom Petty’s “Room at the Top.” When my mother died, Leonard Cohen’s “If It Be Your Will,” was what I played over and over. When I lost Melanie, my song became “The Circle of Life” from the Lion King Broadway soundtrack. The CD is still in my car CD player.

Every April 13th, on what we call MelMorial Day, a group of family and friends makes the trek to Bok Tower Gardens, a beautiful, historic bell tower in rural central Florida surrounded by lush gardens in a beautiful natural setting. It was her favorite place on earth. We walk, reminisce and take a break from everything else in our lives, stopping each time the carillon plays to let the beauty of the bell concerts wash over us and soothe our aching hearts, something that only music can do.

Yesterday I shared how Zach Sobiech's song Clouds landed on my ultimate playlist upon first hearing it last year. Writin...

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Fly A Little Higher…The Blog Tour

zach sobiech

Last year, on May 20th, I wrote about Zach Sobiech who lost his battle with osteosarcoma at age 18. Zach didn’t go quietly. He left the world with a musical gift called Clouds which hit #1 on the charts the week he died. Laura Sobiech, Zach’s mother, just released her memoir of Zach’s journey yesterday. The book, Fly A Little Higher, is written from her perspective as she deals with her own emotions and prepares for her son’s death. Grab your copy HERE

Laura asked that I be part of her Blog Tour, which is celebrating the release of Fly A Little Higher this week. I am honored to be a part of such a wonderful launch, and am grateful that, in some small way, I can participate in being part of Zach’s legacy.

As I read the book, I found myself relating to Laura, imagining that I would have similar struggles and questions if I had to walk the same path with my son. Laura turned to God and asked that out of this tragedy, Zach’s death could mean something…something big. She encouraged Zach to write letters to his family, but that wasn’t his style. Rather, he wrote songs to communicate his feelings and encourage his loved ones to stay positive and make each day meaningful. I believe that her encouragement was an integral part of his musical legacy. As parents, we influence our children because we believe their potential as limitless.

When I first heard Clouds, I connected to it instantly, playing it over and over again. I loved the lighthearted pings from the glockenspiel, the sense of rising and falling with the lyrics, the clear message about faith in God and the refreshing innocence in Zach’s voice. It made me question my own legacy and how I could follow in Zach’s footsteps by creating something big. It made me reflect upon what is important to me.

I can’t play an instrument (except the air guitar and kazoo) or carry a tune (as proven in many late night karaoke attempts); however, attending concerts, remembering lyrics, introducing others to the meaning of songs and supporting the arts has always been part of my passion. Zach shared something very personal with the world and has encouraged me to “fly a little higher” and share my very personal ‘Ultimate Mix Tape’ playlist. Each song is a favorite because it reminds me of a moment or inspires me with its meaning. Clouds is one of the few songs on my playlist that contains both elements. ‘Ultimate Mix Tape’ Playlist

I hope that you get to know me a little better through these songs and their stories. If you discover a new favorite of your own as a result of exploring this list, then my heart will smile. I encourage each of you to create your own playlist. What a wonderful gift to give your friends and family. Please, take your time compiling your list; mine took DAYS. Revisiting various times in my life and listening to many old favorites brought back so many raw emotions. I laughed, cried and even blushed. Thank you, Zach, for leading by example and encouraging me to “Fly A Little Higher” as well.

Last year, on May 20th, I wrote about Zach Sobiech who lost his battle with osteosarcoma at age 18. Zach didn't go quiet...

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The Generosity Factor

Generosity Factor

Here is a quick overview of an inspiring book about generosity, which serves as a quick reminder about the meaning of life. According to Ken Blanchard (Coauthor of The One Minute Manager) and S. Truett Cathy (Founder of Chick-Fil-A), the Generosity Factor comes down to a changed HEART, in their book “The Generosity Factor.”

What is HEART?
H: He Owns It All. This is based on the premise that all of our possessions are on loan from God. Once we turn it over to Him, we learn that we must respect our gifts and share them.
E: Everyday Is An Opportunity. Each day we should seek out ways to improve the lives of others, one person at a time.
A: Action Is Required. Don’t just TALK…DO! Convert “held values” into “operational values.”
R: Remember Your Blessings. A heart filled with gratitude tends to be a generous heart. Make a list of all of the things for which you are grateful and add to it often. You may be surprised by how many blessings you have been given.
T: Thank Him. By acknowledging a greater creator, our egos are kept in check.

Many of S. Truett Cathy’s political views and personal opinions were based on his faith and interpretation of the Bible. Many of these principles were both widely supported and publicly detested; however, what can’t be debated is that he lived a generous life and positively impacted the life of thousands of young adults and families through his philanthropy.

The biggest take-aways from the book, aside from the components of the Generosity Factor, are the following:
1. There are 4 things to give. Time, talent, treasure and touch. Money is not always required. Everyone can have an impact.
2. Generosity isn’t about doing the minimum; it is about doing more and doing the unexpected. It is not an event; it is an attitude that must be cultivated DAILY.
3. Successful people often feel that there is a gap between who they are and who they could become because only a few achieve SIGNIFICANCE. Success comes from wealth, achievement and status, while significance comes from generosity, service and relationships. Even though they are often used synonymously, they are very different.
4. A significant life is influenced by the Three M’s – Master, Mission and Mate. Put God in charge, choose a personal mission that impacts every decision you make and select the right partner who makes you better.
5. Attaining significance is determined by three factors – the sincerity of your generosity, the joy found in service and the selfless nature of your relationships.
6. As more good things flow out of us, even greater things flow toward us.

What a great reminder that we are all here for an even greater purpose!

S. Truett and Jennette Cathy celebrate his 90th birthday.  At the end of the celebration he reminded everyone to "Keep the important things important."

S. Truett and Jennette Cathy celebrate his 90th birthday. At the end of the celebration he reminded everyone to “Keep the important things important.”

Here is a quick overview of an inspiring book about generosity, which serves as a quick reminder about the meaning of li...

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The Waiting Room


As I  was sitting in my dermatologist’s office yesterday, I saw a small book on the coffee table that caught my attention (no…it was not Highlights!).  As I read it from cover to cover, my heart smiled.  What a shame not to share it!  It is a great book full of lessons for all ages.  In the spirit of paying it forward, the first 3 people who comment and identify a book that truly made their hearts smile will receive a hard copy of The Blue Day Book: A Lesson in Cheering Yourself Up…and for an immediate heart smile, click on the title and watch the online version.  Have a BRIGHT blue day!

SHARE A GOOD BOOK As I  was sitting in my dermatologist's office yesterday, I saw a small book on the coffee table that...

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