Guest Post: Family, Faith, Fun and FINISH LINES!


“You must feel so much better!”

That’s what most people say when they find out I have lost 112 pounds.

My answer?

“Well, actually I never really felt bad.”

You see I never felt sick. You could say I was a healthy obese person. Yes, that sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s the truth. I have a strong faith in Jesus Christ and an amazingly loving and supportive family. However, I could never tackle my weight problem – probably because I was healthy and never felt a need to do anything about it.

In December, 2008, I finally decided to “do it.”  One thing I learned through this process is that you cannot convince and overweight person to lose weight. They absolutely must come to the decision to “do it” themselves.

I began by getting a personal trainer and I think it was a key to my success.  She taught me about exercise, eating right, and how to make this a lifelong change.

Has it been hard? Sure, but worth it every step of the way.

As I said before, I have an amazing support system, my God, my family, and my friends. Without them there is no way I could have achieved this.

A year ago during my usual summer trip to the Adirondacks, I watched people participate in an annual triathlon in Piseco Lake, NY. At that moment, I vowed that the following year I would do it.

I trained for a whole year, working at my swimming, biking, and running. My goal was to simply finish the race – ideally in under three hours.

July 17 I did that triathlon, and not only did I finish, but I did it in 2 hours and 4 minutes!  I was thrilled.

As I crossed the finish line, my Mom, my biggest supporter, was waiting with arms wide open as I listened to “Blessed Be Your Name” on my Ipod one of my favorite songs by Matt Redman.

Yes, it took hard work and dedication, yes, there were days I did not want to get out on that bike, or put on those running shoes, but God gave me strength, and my family and friends kept me going. This weight loss journey, which let me add is not complete, will be something I will work on for the rest of my life. Not only did it teach me about my own strength, but it showed me just how very much I am loved by so many.  Blessings come in so many packages, and for me, this blessing has been lich a much-anticipated gift on CHRISTmas morning.

So when someone says to me, “You must feel so much better,” I tell them I do, but not just physically. Losing weight is not just about shedding pounds. It’s about feeling lighter physically AND emotionally, it’s about becoming stronger mentally AND spiritually.

My new motto is “Dream the Impossible, then go make it happen!”

God bless!

Jill Herkel is the drama teacher at Pine Forest School of the Arts, a public elementary magnet school in Jacksonville, FL. She also loves being a Jacksonville Jaguars season ticket holder along with her parents and attending high school football games at her alma matter, St. Augustine High School. She sings, and plays guitar and keyboard in her church’s praise band.


FUN: The Liberty of Opinion


I reconciled with Liberty about her height and mine.

I am staunchly American. I love my country, those who serve it and the ideals on which it was established.

I was, however, saddened during the hoopla of Spring Break 2010 when I stood at the foot of Lady Liberty.

“Man, she’s too short,” I thought out loud hoping no one would glare or escort me away.

I couldn’t believe it as I made my way around the base visually investigating from all angles.

Impressive? Yes.

A statue of significance? Of course.

But she seemed height impaired and I almost felt a momentary kinship as I stood there in all my 5′ glory, neck craned in various unnatural positions taking it all in.

The 65 foot tall foundation was a factor. The 89 foot tall granite pedestal was a factor. And the Lady herself? She’s 151’1″. That means the foundation and base are taller than she is – and even though you don’t see the entire concrete foundation it was enough to bother me. The proportions puzzled me. I felt jipped by the photos I’d seen my entire life. But I was there and going to make the best of it.

She’s beautiful in every other way – a 3 foot long (wide mouth), a 35′ waist, and a 42′ long right arm, which holds the ever lit torch.

Since I love to write, I admired her tablet – a mere 13’7″. And well, if I had a 10′ width around MY head, I’d be pretty impressive as well. Smart, too, probably!

So I stood. I admired. And I realized after all that foundations matter greatly, too. Foundations determine longevity and strength and even if I felt Liberty a little disproportionate, I knew that being in her presence was more important than whether or not I was personally comfortable with what stood beneath her.

Once that was settled, I let my family wait a few minutes on me as I sat and wrote a poem.

I felt welcomed – and I came by plane from Florida and my tourist boat from shore. Amazing.

To read the poem I wrote and see a picture of me writing it on site see my blog post: FUN: A Poem on April 15.

Just wondering: Please tell me about a time your impressions were different that what you had expected.

FUN (not): Don’t Count on Donkey


I have a confession to make. I’m peeved. Seriously.

After years of avoiding making any type of cereal purchase based on “the prize inside” I recently succumbed. I’d like to say it was a weak moment, but it wasn’t. It was on purpose and I made the decision only after selecting a healthy cereal.  After all, I, an informed consumer, mother of two and all around great gal am NOT going to buy junk to eat – at least not cereal.

He's smiling, but I'm not.

So I’m naming names.

I chose Cheerios. I felt OK about this and then after determining the best cost per ounce among its various box sizes  (yes, I do that), I looked – dare I? – at the prizes available.

A marker!

Hallelujah. Something useful.

I’m currently reading several books and even rationalized how THIS marker – a NEON Donkey marker – would be FUN to use as a highlighter. I blush to think how SMART I was to have picked one of the four SHREK-inspired  creations.

Actually, I had forgotten about said marker until after my husband had opened the Cheerios box.  I found the prize lying all alone on my kitchen counter – still sealed in its plastic.  Carefully, I cut the plastic wrap end, slid out the non-ergonomic contraption and found stickers! Wow! I got to customize the marker on each side with Donkey stickers AND I’d have a marker, you know to underline all those important passages in the books I’m reading.

They say good writers are readers, so of course, I don’t want to disappoint them! I think trying to read three books at a time qualifies . . . for something!

So, back to the story.

I stuck on the stickers and eagerly opened the top to reveal blue ink. Blue’s good. Not my

I should have heeded Shrek's KEEP OUT warning although that's meant as a door hangar for a kid's room.

favorite color, but respectable for neon marker-highlighter type of work.

And then, the truth surfaced as I prepared myself for the official writing on paper test. You have to understand that those of us who write – or claim to – have a very emotional connection with WHAT we use to write. My favorite pens are some of the cheapest on the market. The “feel” is very important.

I paused and took it all in.

“This is really cool,” I congratulated myself. In envisioned the Donkey neon marker being on my desk in full view of my middle school students once school starts again.

“Wow,” they’ll chime in covetous tones. “Mrs. Lemine has a DONKEY neon marker. We better make sure to return it after she lets us use it!”

And then it happened.

With a scratchy sensation, this paltry excuse for a neon marker eeked out an unimpressive blue weak line – not once, but multiple times! I kept hoping with each stroke that the ink flow would begin and that my impeccable highlighting abilities would soon be realized.

Instead, I was in shock. This was a freshly opened, creatively stickered movie-themed marker! It was MY prize and it was NOT working!

I felt as though I had been kicked by Donkey. I think I even heard him chastise me saying, “Anyone with brains knows that markers come from office supply stores, not cereal boxes. Wake up, girl. I’ll make you some waffles!”

So what did I do? Where did I turn?

The trash can. I stepped on the lid, sent the so-called marker skyward, made a “basket” and left the kitchen in dejected fashion.

I’m done. No more prize picking for me. Besides, cereal prizes are for people without expectations.

And it wasn’t recyclable, either!

Just wondering: Tell me about a time your expectations weren’t realized and how you reacted.

ETC: From Cheryl’s Bookshelf


Not once.

Not twice.

But three times Bobbi de Cordova-Hanks has looked three different forms of cancer squarely in the face and lived not only to tell about it – but to write unselfishly about it.

She also collaborated with her husband, Jerry Hanks, to provide an additional point-of-view – that of the caregiver in their book Tears of Joy: In Sickness and in Health – a Cancer Survivor and Caregiver Share Their Story. (2006,

The two also speak throughout the United States and Canada about cancer survivorship.

Initially I was drawn to Bobbi because she and Jerry were guest speakers at local writers meeting I attended. Let’s face it, writers like to learn from each other and hear what it’s like from those who are further down the road.

Before I left the meeting, though, I was compelled to buy her book because someone in my family has recently re-entered the cancer battle, fighting for her life for the third time. I wanted ideas and needed them now. I read the whole book that evening.

Page 104 makes a bold declaration – one that the book totally fulfills. Saying that the work “is about life and love and hope and dreams…” is the simple way of saying that cancer and living with it are possibilities. The text, a mere 108 pages, is a casual but informed one where Bobbi and Jerry take you through their personal histories. Jerry had cared for and lost his previous wife to cancer, then married Bobbi, a professional musician and writer – to their thoughts and feelings – when explaining Bobbi’s journey and her 1986 diagnosis with advanced breast cancer.

What makes the 24 chapter book an even more interesting read is its presentation because the chapters rotate in candid first-person style between Bobbi and Jerry. For example, in Chapter 12, “How to be a Good Caregiver,” Jerry discusses the importance of faith, being an informed consumer and the value of obtaining group support. Bobbie, herself, founded the Jacksonville, FL based Bosom Buddies program, which is available today through the Women’s Center of Jacksonville. The program began in 1988 and is “dedicated to improving the lives of women affected by breast cancer.” 

In various chapters, Bobbi explains the highs of lows of a time spent in hospital isolation, the challenge of making medical decisions and being comfortable with your care team and her efforts at helping others affected by cancer to know that it’s not necessary that it define their lives even though “it will always be a part of us.”

Inspiring and fast paced, I was left me hopeful knowing that assertiveness, emotional extremes and finding other heroes on their own cancer journeys are part of the experience – one which no one chooses to have.

Bobbi also has the added benefit of speaking fluent Spanish and the ability to connect with Hispanic/Latina women as they also struggle with the cancer while trying to obtain quality care. “Tears of Joy” is available in both Spanish and English.

Its primary languages, though, are love and hope sprinkled with humor and watered with tears – ones of joy that enabled me to envision a new definition of what it means to survive cancer and not simply be its victim.

Just wondering: What unexpected lessons have you learned about living and loving someone with severe illness? 

For more info on the book see:

To know more about Bobbi and Jerry and their speaking:

Fun: Travel

  • NOTE: Summertime + holidays = travel.
    The poem below is one I wrote in the 2009 Writer’s Digest Poem a Day Challenge. Enjoy!

The car trips to see my grandparents were magical.
Traveling before the sun woke up.
4 a.m., my parents said,
Is when we’d leave. 

My parents knew the secret to a successful road trip: sunrise.


Rolling out of bed
in our jammies,
staking out a spot
In the car and going back to sleep. 

Just the way my parents liked it. 

Peace, at least for a couple hours,
Before the three of us awoke. 

“She looked at me.”
She touched me.”
“She’s on my side.” 

 Yep, 4 a.m. was a good plan.
And now that I’m a parent,
I see the wisdom in starting early,
But can’t get out of bed to do it. 

– Cheryl B. Lemine

FUN: Surprise!


Move on over BonQuiQui – I’m a You-Tube  star! And this is how it came to be.   

This past school year I had the privilege of teaching creative and expository writing to 6th, 7th and 8th graders at a public magnet school for the arts. I knew I was having fun. Sometimes I wondered if the kids were but I figured unless they all withdrew from the school, they were probably alright.   

It was my first real year of teaching and I had 7 sections of 3 different classes in 3 different rooms. Fortunately, the multitasking experience I have from raising two sons paid off as I was able to navigate my schedule most days – plus it helped that the rooms were all within 30 feet of one another. I mostly managed being in the right place at the right time. I think I was only tardy several times and the students forgave me!   

So one of my classrooms, originally designed as a small teacher work room, was big enough to have 12 students. I know what you’re thinking: Lucky Duck. I’d give anything to have a class of 12 students. No you wouldn’t. Not in this “closet.” But anyway, there we were doing what writers do, writing, printing and trying to be on game sites when the teacher is watching the other 11 students.   

My closed door flings open and one of my favorite co-workers sticks her smiling face inside.   

“Mrs. Lemine,” she says in her eternally cheerful voice (upon which I depend), “there’s a surprise for you!”   

“I love surprises,” I say aloud. “I could use one today!”   

I seriously meant that too as I was still reeling from lack of sleep and chaperoning a trip of 30 advanced middle school writers to Savannah, Georgia for an overnight reward trip just several days before. Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” would have been my anthem for the day.   

Next I see a local news reporter with video camera in hand appear and then one of my sweet 6th graders (they’re all my favorite and they’re all sweet). The student – Ally – (her real name)  had taken her writing skills and nominated me for recognition by the TV station.   

While Ally grinned with glee I stood there stunned. I think the camera started rolling after I returned my jaw to its upright position.   

This was not a dream.


“Am I hallucinating?” I asked myself. I knew I was severely tired after taking in ghost tours, sightseeing and getting to see Captain Jack Sparrow at Savannah’s famous Pirate House restaurant.   

I figured this was real as the reporter prepped me, She told me she’d be taping me interacting wtih the students and then asking me a few questions at the end.   

We were working on students’ end of the year portfolios, a cumulative notebook presentation of their writing projects. It’s quite an amazing process and product when it’s complete.   

“So why do you teach middle schoolers?” the reporter asked.   

“Because God put me here,” I said with honesty and conviction.   

It’s impressive how much classroom behavior improves when the press appears. The students giggled and tried to make sure they had my attention for various reasons – any reasons.   

When all was done, I felt honored – first that a student would think kindly of her instructor, that she would do this thinking after school hours and then act upon those thoughts by writing a nomination on my behalf. It was humbling.   

Take a look at the following link to see sweet Ally and you might see me, too! 

Just wondering: Why do you think words are so powerful?