Friday, August 15, 2014

There Are People Out There (Poem)

This is the second poem that I wrote about a nine day Aussie Wanderer tour I took of Western Australia earlier this summer. You can read the first poem (with pictures) entitled "There's Another World Out There" by clicking here. In this poem, each stanza was written about a specific incident on the trip.

There Are People Out There

There are people out there
Who want to explore
They’re called backpackers
And are in search of so much more

There are people out there
Who you trust although you just met
And when you don’t think you should
They remind you not to fret

There are people out there
Who will hold your hand
When you’re falling they’ll catch you
And pull you up to safe land.

There are people out there
Who tell you where your feet should go
And you just believe them
Although you can’t see what’s below.

There are people out there
Who walk with no shoes
They won’t complain and then they’ll say
It’s the best thing to do

There are people out there
Who will cook for you and clean your plate
It’s like each night we were on
A massive group date

There are people out there
Who are from all around the globe
And their kindness and camaraderie
Is so easily shown

We are Dutch, Aussies,
Scots and Germans
Italians, French, English,
Swedes and Americans

We aren’t just
Tourists or travelers
We are one together -
Aussie Wanderers.

Written: June 29, 2014

There's Another World Out There (Poem)

For a month this summer I traveled to Australia. For nine days of my trip I took a tour of Western Australia from Perth to Broome. I was one of thirteen members of a tour group and we covered close to 2,000 miles. 

During these nine days, I experienced life in a way that I haven't in the previous 30 years. On the last day of the tour, I wrote this poem to recap my experience: 

There’s Another World Out There:

There’s another world out there
With sand dunes meters high.
You can board down them
And experience quiet the ride.

There’s another world out there
Where limestone points to the sky.
The Pinnacles were created
Although it’s argued how and why

Pinnacles Desert 
There’s another world out there
Where people repel with ropes.
Having a unique experience
Is their only hope.

Repelling in Kalbarri National Park

There’s another world out there
That makes up Shell Beach.
Billions of tiny shells
Almost hard to believe.

Shell Beach
There’s another world out there
Where rocks are alive.
Occurring in six places on Earth
And Australia owns five.

The Stromatolites 
There’s another world out there
Where dolphins come to feed.
They bring their young along
And they let the humans take the lead.

Dolphin feeding in Monkey Mia

There’s another world out there
That is among the coral reef
Where sharks and fish and more
Find their relief.

Ningaloo Reef - Photo Credit: Aqua Rush

There’s another world out there
Under the great blue sea
Where massive whale sharks
Glide along effortlessly

A Beautiful Whale Shark in the Indian Ocean - Photo Credit: Exmouth Dive Center 

There’s another world out there
Where humans jump inside.
For the beauty under the ocean
Is one thing that shouldn’t hide.

Swimming with whale sharks in Exmouth - Photo Credit: Exmouth Dive Center

There’s another world out there
Where whales and dolphins reside
Just like humans, some are friendly and outgoing
While others are quite sky.

A friendly dolphin in Monkey Mia

There’s another world out there
Where the ocean is a special shade of blue
It’s comprised of turquoise, aqua
And every other hue.

Beautiful Broome from the sky

There’s another world out there
Where the sun sets over water down below
The contrast of orange and blue
Makes for a magnificent glow.

Sunset in Broome

There’s another world out there
Full of beaches that are pristine
The sight is breathtaking
One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

Coral Bay

There’s another world out there
Where cattle and kangaroos cross the road.
They’ll be killed if they don’t watch out
Or if they’re too slow.

Somewhere in the outback :)
There’s another world out there
Where Aboriginals once roamed.
Their traditions and customs try to stay alive
Where they once called their home.

Karijini National Park
There’s another world out there
Where rives carve the land.
Incredible gorges are formed
Dwarfing humans who dare to stand.

A great picture that shows scale. This is the cliff face I repelled down in Kalbarri National Park.
There’s another world out there
Where water falls from rock.
Below pools are formed
When first seeing them provide a shock

Waterfall and rock pool in Karijini National Park

There’s another world out there
Where tunnels of water guide…
You to a new land of promise –
A beautiful paradise

One of the passages we swam through in Karijini National Park

There’s another world out there
With a beach that runs 80 miles.
It’s full of unique shells
Of all colors, shapes and styles.

Incredible shells found on 80 Mile Beach

There’s another world out there
Where cell service can’t be found
With no distractions it’s easier to focus
On the sky and on the ground.

Sunset in Coral Bay
There’s another world out there
With backpackers galore.
Their main objective is to experience life,
To learn and explore.

Just before saying goodbye in Broome

There’s another world out there
Literally another world…

As we looked up at the stars at night
Their piercing beauty was quite a sight

To think that we’re just a tiny planet
Compared to its immensity
There’s so much more to explore
In our galaxy.

So we’ll stick to exploring this planet
And all the beauty on the Earth.
Together we got a tiny glimpse
Of what it all is worth.

So in just nine days
We found so much that shouldn’t hide.
And to quote a funny German,
“I love my life!”

Written: June 29, 2014

I wrote a second poem as a follow up to this one called "There Are People Out There" about the people I met on the tour. You can read that poem by clicking here. 

Whale Shark (Poem)

This past June I was able to swim with two whale sharks in Exmouth, Australia. I wrote this poem three days after the amazing experience...

"Spotter in!
Go, go go!"
We jumped on in
Not sure what was below. 

"Stick your mask in.
Look straight ahead."
All went silent
Like life was dead. 

A second or two passed
with no sound.
For a moment I was scared
Of what could be around. 

And suddenly there it was.
This massive creature came in view.
The biggest fish in the ocean
and the most gentle too.

Photo Credit: Exmouth Dive Center
It glided along 
Seemingly not to care
That onlookers jumped in 
And could do nothing but stare.

We swam along beside it
And I reminded myself to breathe.
Snorkeling became simple
The shark was calming. 

Its spots were big.
Its mouth agape. 
It was busy eating.
Nothing could escape.

Photo Credit: Exmouth Dive Center

Suckerfish below it
held on for a ride.
They didn't do much - 
just let the whale shark glide.

And there we still were
Swimming next to it in shock.
It was a whole new world
And time seemed to stop.
Photo Credit: Exmouth Dive Center
I don't know how long it was
How long we shared that space
But the feeling was unreal
Something that can't be replaced.

Dwarfed by its size
I remembered feeling small
But being in its presence
Left me in awe.

But unfortunately for us
The swim had to conclude.
We let it move on
In the ocean blue

The boat came to retrieve us
and we jumped in the rear
I felt exhilarated, alive
and didn't have any fear. 

We dove in one more time
and the story repeated again:
Silence, time froze
Suckerfish and fins. 

But the second time was it.
Only two dives that day. 
I was lucky to experience it
and see life that way.

So now when I look in the ocean
Whether it's daylight or dark
I'll remember my experience
of swimming with whale sharks. 

If you want to read another post I wrote about my Whale Shark experience and a great lesson I learned during it, click here to read: "It's Ok To Ask For Help." And, here are two more poems about my trip to Australia: "There's Another World Out There" and "There are People Out There"

Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 11, 2014

"It's Ok To Ask For Help"

As I prepare to head back into the classroom for the ninth time, one lesson that I hope to teach the students early in the school year is: "It's ok to ask for help." I want my students to be independent thinkers, but I also want them to know that sometimes they will need assistance from others and it's ok to admit that. I plan to use the following story of how one person's kindness and leadership allowed me to have an unforgettable experience.

This past June I had the great privilege of traveling to Australia for a month. Off the coast of picturesque Exmouth, I had the opportunity to swim with the biggest fish in the ocean: whale sharks. I may be a risk taker in the classroom, but the thought of 'swimming with sharks' was far beyond my comprehension. I didn't want to pass up this once in a lifetime experience so I thought I would learn more about what all 'swimming with sharks' entailed...

The day before I had the opportunity to swim, I snorkeled for the first time with the rest of my tour group. At least you can say, I attempted to snorkel. I told the crew that I was not comfortable jumping in and that I needed some practice first. I was told you 'learn by experience, just jump in and you'll be fine.' So, reluctantly, I did and let's just say, it was not a success. I panicked as the other group members swam with the guide. I quickly fell behind and definitely wasn't able to see the beautiful reef that was just below the surface. Honestly, I was scared at what could be below the surface along the reef: Sharks, snakes manta rays, etc.   Toward the end, I cut my hand on the shallow reef which made me panic even more as I knew there were sharks in the water as my hand continued to bleed. I was scared and just wanted the session to end...

As we arrived at the dive shop the next day to go on the whale shark swim, I had to sign paperwork stating that I was an 'experienced snorkeler.' I obviously knew my limitations and approached one of the staff members to explain that I wanted to go on the boat to see as much as I could, but I was far from an 'experienced snorkeler.' Jess, the staff member who patiently listened to my story about the day before, explained that she would personally make sure that I had not only a memorable experience, but an enjoyable one. I trusted her, signed the paperwork and my whale shark journey officially began.

There were twenty tourists on the boat and five crew members. The tourists ranged in age from kids in their teens to a lady in her mid-seventies. I realized that I should be able to overcome my fear and not receive special treatment, but I also knew that I needed help.

And I wasn't afraid to ask for it.

I told Jess I needed help snorkeling, so she arranged for a private snorkel session in the morning while the rest of the group snorkeled together. Jared, the crew member who snorkeled with me, was just as calm and kind as Jess. In just a few minutes, I gained some confidence and began to muster up enough courage to swim with the whale sharks later in the day, of course with Jess's help.

As we prepared for the first whale shark swim, Jess checked in with me and again, I asked for help. I told her that although I could snorkel by myself, I didn't know if I would be able to do so with a huge creature in the water with me.

I remember her not skipping a beat as she explained exactly what the plan was. She said that we would both jump in together, arm and arm as nine other tourists would follow behind us. She said she would find the whale shark, alert us to the exact moment to stick our mask in the water and that she would swim with me as long as I was able to keep my mask in the water...

So, again I trusted her. The first whale shark approached our boat, arm and arm we jumped in together, I stuck my mask in when instructed to do so, and then she swam as I watched the beautiful creature as it glided along effortlessly in the Indian Ocean.
Whale Shark #1
Picture credit: Exmouth Dive Center
At that moment, I remember feeling awestruck. I wasn't scared at all. I wanted the moment to last as long as possible and I focused on breathing. About halfway through, I realized that I really wasn't swimming at all and that Jess was dragging me along. So I began to swim so she didn't have to do all the work. A few minutes after jumping in, the swim was over and we let the whale shark continue on.

Jess is on the left and I am on the right. You can barely see the whale shark in the background but as you can imagine this is one of my favorite pictures from the swim.
Picture Credit: Exmouth Dive Center

The second whale shark swim was almost a repeat of the first, except for at the end, Jess let go and let me swim by myself. I think she did it almost symbolically so I could say I was able to swim without assistance.

Whale Shark #2
Picture Credit: Exmouth Dive Center

Back on the boat, we saw two humpback whales, numerous dolphins and a dugong. Later in the day we snorkeled again and I actually could enjoy the reef and the beautiful fish and creatures that call it home. I know that none of it would have been possible without Jess. I know that if I let my first bad experience hold me back, I wouldn't have had the experience of a lifetime.

Jess and I after a long successful day!
I hope I am my students' "Jess" this school year. I want to be the person who reassures them and who will jump in the deep end with them arm and arm. I want to be the person that will hold on as long as necessary and then let go when they gain the confidence they need.

And, I want my students to know it's ok to ask for help. I could have felt embarrassed or ashamed that I received special treatment from the crew. I could have felt like there was something wrong with me because I was scared. But, luckily I didn't, and luckily for me, someone took my request seriously enough to care that I had both a memorable and enjoyable experience.

To those of you who are preparing for the beginning of the school year, I hope you have both a memorable and enjoyable school year. Remember to encourage your students to ask for help when necessary and continue to be the all important leader in the classroom who will do anything to let his/her students feel a sense of success!

If you're interested in how the whole operation worked, here are the basics: Whale sharks are solitary creatures so they swim by themselves. Exmouth Dive Center has their own planes in the sky that spot the whale sharks and direct boats to the exact spot in the ocean. One of the crew members finds the whale shark once the boat is in place and instructs the first spotter to go in the ocean. The first spotter finds the shark beneath the water and then motions in the direction that the shark is swimming. The second spotter then jumps in with the group of ten tourists. Once the shark comes in view all the tourists and spotters swim alongside it. Here is a short video I recorded from the boat of a group jumping in:

Also, if interested, here are three poems about my trip to Australia:
1.) Whale Shark
2.) There's Another World Out There
3.) There are People Out There

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Control - My Kirk Urso Story

Before August 5, 2012, all I knew about Kirk Urso was that he was a rookie Columbus Crew midfielder. I remember watching him play in a few games at Crew Stadium and I thought he had good control of the midfield. 

On August 5, 2012, Kirk suddenly passed away from an undetected congenital heart defect. He was 22. Through my sister, who works for the Crew, I have been fortunate to become friends with Kirk's family. Over the last two years, I have learned about the person Kirk was: the player, friend, brother and son. I learned about his kind nature, his comical personality and his leadership on and off the soccer field. Here are just a few examples of these traits:

There are many things that are out of our control. When our life or our loved one's lives come to an end is the most heart-wrenching example. Control is especially lost when tragedy strikes. However, what we do have control over is our attitude, our character and how we respond to difficult situations. As Kirk said: 

Besides Kirk's family, another person I became friends with because of this tragedy is Steve Sirk. Steve is an amazing writer who has a lot in common with Kirk. He's witty, well-liked and compassionate. Over the past two years, Steve has selflessly dedicated countless hours to writing a book in Kirk's memory. Here's a quick summary of the book: 

Forever Massive, is a collection of stories and insights from the players, coaches, and staff of the 2012 Columbus Crew, who knew Kirk as a leader, listener, friend, straight-faced humorist, and a constant source of positive inspiration. These stories, presented in the players’ own words, reveal Urso as the Crew knew him. (Hint: Most of the interviews featured smiles and laughter.) The book also looks at Kirk’s legacy and impact going forward, including how congenital heart defect research– like the kind supported by the Kirk Urso Memorial Fund– has changed the life of one Ohio family. You will meet the little “heart kid” with whom Kirk formed a poignantly serendipitous friendship.
Kirk and "heart kid" Ryan Moore on May 1, 2012 at the Connor Senn Memorial Game in Columbus, Ohio.

A year ago I began to use the mobile application, Aurasma, in my 5th grade classroom as a way to engage students and keep parents up to date on current topics. (I actually wrote this post last August about how I planned to use Aursama for the start of the 2013 school year.) In a nutshell, when a smart device is held over top of a predetermined picture, the app will trigger a video to begin playing. The picture actually morphs into a video right before your eyes. Children and adults are always amazed when they use Augmented Reality.

Click HERE to access a video about Augmented Reality and Aurasma. 

Knowing that Aurasma could provide a unique, interactive element to Steve's book, I pitched the idea to him with his immediate approval. Therefore, for several months as I worked on the book, I watched videos of Kirk -- videos of him playing soccer, tribute videos after he passed away, and even videos that he recorded on his cell phone. It's odd to say that someone I've never met has had a great impact on my life, especially after his death, but it's the truth in my case. Many Crew fans, like me, never got the chance to meet Kirk, get to know him, or learn from him. However, I'm glad that I learned the lessons I did as I helped with this book. Both Steve's and my hope is that the readers will learn more about Kirk and allow his story to impact their lives in the way it did ours.

The book titled, Forever Massive, is now available for purchase. ALL the proceeds will go to the Kirk Urso Memorial Fund which provides funding focused on congenital heart research and sudden cardiac death in youth. In addition to being beautifully written with custom illustrations, there are over twenty pictures that are augmented (or linked) to over forty minutes of video footage that will give the reader a unique look into the life of this beloved young man. If you're a soccer fan, someone intrigued by augmented reality, or someone looking to hear a story of life, loss and love, please consider purchasing the book.

If you would like to order, Forever Massive, please click here and if you would like to learn more about or donate to the Kirk Urso Memorial Fund, please click here.

If you would like to test out an example of the Augmented Reality component of the book, follow the directions below: (It should take less than three minutes)

1.) Download 'Aurasma' from your smart device's App Store and click through any tutorials. 
2.) Click the magnifying glass at the bottom.
3.) Search "Forever Massive," click the first option (The "I Am Strong" image) and then click 'follow' in the upper righthand corner. 
4.) Next, click the broken square at the bottom. Hold your device over the image below (as if you were going to take a picture) and immediately the picture should trigger a video. 
**If you double tap the screen, you will be able to move your device away from the image.

Photo credit: Sam Fahmi    Video credit: Major League Soccer
This project was a labor of love for me, but I have so many people to thank. To soccer fans and tech gurus, Drew Minock and Brad Waid: Thank you for helping me learn how to use Aurasma last summer and helping me see the possibilities Augmented Reality held both inside and outside my classroom. Thank you to Steve Sirk for dedicating so much time to this wonderful project and to my sister, Arica, for her unwavering strength and support. To the Urso family: Thank you for sharing your memories of Kirk with those of us who never met him. And finally, thank you to Kirk for the life you led and the legacy you left behind. 

Although there is enough in life that we don't have control over, we DO have control over how we spend each day.

And when life spins out of control, remember Kirk's words: 


If you purchase the book and have trouble accessing the videos through Aurasma, please feel free to contact me on Twitter (@ArinKress), leave a comment below or email me at and I will gladly assist you with any difficulties.