Confessions of a Maid of Honor

On May 6, 2023, celebrations were sprouting all over the globe for the beginning of festival season and King Charles III’s coronation, but my attention was focused on one backyard in Castle Hayne, NC and to a promise 20 years in the making.

Andrea and I have been best friends longer than either of us kept record. She’s been the one I could cry to over relationships, family, and work issues. She’s been the writer that gets my writer issues too. We’ve been there for each other through everything, so it just made sense to plan to be there for each others’ big day.

Andrea and I at her wedding, May 6, 2023.

May 6th, Andrea Barilla became Andrea Lawing with me at her side as Maid of Honor (MOH). When it came my time to give a speech, this is what I told the couple:

Good evening, everyone.
Andrea and I have been best friends for about 20 years since college and looked forward to this day. As her maid of honor, I would like to share a few words to celebrate.
We’ve all heard that love is patient and kind. We’ve also heard that it keeps no record of wrongs or boasts. That’s scriptural from 1 Corinthians 13. But I think it all boils down to love being a choice–a choice we make over and over again, day after day, time after time, in the good and the bad. Love is a commitment not a feeling. Over the years, I have watched Andrea and Justin make that choice. It hasn’t always been pretty, but it has been faithful. Today, that became a forever commitment, and I couldn’t be more happy for you.
May you walk forward together, hand in hand, in a partnership with no barriers,
May you find hope, happiness, and fulfillment in each other, and
May the future God has for you be better than your wildest dreams.

Through the wedding, I loved all the MOH extras like making sure her dress was always perfect and her hair and veil in place or packing out her car and decorating it with the best man. There were moments when going alone could be sad, but those extra duties filled the void of my sadness and amplified how much this special couple really meant to me.

Suspended in that love for them now, I treasure messages from the bride in a new way…a way that wonders how our friendship will change and grow as new responsibilities come our way. Part of me fears being left behind and out of step as I am not in the same stage of married life with them.

5 Things That Going Through A Big Wedding With My Bestie Has Taught Me:

  • Be a sponge for her exhaustion when she needs it, and don’t hold all that complaining against her. Weddings bring out the worst in all of us sometimes.
  • Don’t get offended when she doesn’t take your ideas to heart. It is her day not yours.
  • Be there to remind her why she said yes in the first place and hold her feet to the fire of that conviction not her last minute fears and wedding jitters.
  • Have your own safe place to vent about wedding stress; don’t add to the bride’s already mounting list.
  • If you can help make the vision happen, take as much off her plate as possible especially the night before and day of the wedding. Try to make the wedding day her zen moment of prep and not more stressing any undone details.

I wish I could say that I did all five of those things with perfection, but the truth is that I learned them more on the exit down the aisle than on the way to it. We had our moments of bucking heads and the bride had to be a listening ear for me sometimes too. I also wasn’t able to be there to help till the day before the wedding. Looking back now, I wish I had done more.

May sharing this experience help you be the best MOH you can be when your time comes and also help you truly appreciate the love that has been poured into your life and pours into it still.


Don’t Judge Your Year One by Someone Else’s Year Ten

The PBS Blog

One complaint I hear from new Self-Publishers (a lot) is how much they wish they could do what they see other authors doing.

Usually, these are authors they perceive are more successful. I say perceive because you really don’t know what that person is going through, has gone through, or what they sacrificed to be where they are now.

But know this:

You are doing yourself a disservice when comparing your progress to others.

If you’ve published your first book, it is not fair for you to compare yourself to someone publishing their third or fourth book. Your journey will not be the same. Never measure your year one with someone else’s year ten.

My first few books were duds. I’m talking bootleg covers and crappy editing. The only people who bought them were members of my organization at the time—like someone whose church family buys their book.

The problem…

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Nydia Negron-Lopez, English Language Learner and High School Equivalency Coordinator at Sampson Community College

When I first met Nydia Negron-Lopez, I was inspired by her bravery and enthusiasm. Dressed in red, white, and blue decorations, she acted out the part of a human firework for a group cover of Katy Perry’s “Firework”. She was not afraid to look silly for a good cause and bring on the laughs. It made me want to know more about her, so I contacted her for an interview for this blog.

Nydia was born in New York and raised in Puerto Rico. She loves summertime and the beach and spending as much time as she can with her family. Nydia has a passion for reaching the needs of the Latino community. She started teaching adults in 1999. She worked for the Employment Security Commission (now NC Works) and taught part-time at Wayne Community College and Sampson Community College. She continued working like this for seven years before a position opened up for her to become the ESL and HSED Coordinator in the College and Career Readiness Department at Sampson Community College. 

Interview Q & A

What made you choose to become an adult educator?

I chose to become an adult educator because of my interest in helping adult students become better educated, especially the English language learners who are in need to learn English and integrate into the community.

The adult student is different depending on local demographics and what academic level you are teaching. Describe the average student in your classroom today and some of the ways you encourage their engagement in the classroom.

My class is very diverse, but most are Latinos.  To encourage students, I ask them to do their best.  I assure them that it is ok to make mistakes because that’s how we learn.  I also allow and encourage students to help each other while understanding that respecting everyone is imperative

As an educator of English Language Learners (ELL), I’m sure you have heard a lot of stories from your students about why they are pursuing their education. What are some of the biggest motivating factors they have shared with you?

There are many factors why students are enrolled in English as a Second Language program.  Some students had shared that their willingness to learn English is to be able to incorporate in the society or to get a promotion at work that might get them a higher salary.  However, the reason that stands for why they are in class is to be able to help their kids with school work and able to understand school officials and teachers.

ELL students create a community environment with their classmates and instructors that encourages growth and retention. Why do you think this is a characteristic trait of ELL students?

One characteristic of the Latino population is that they like to accomplish what they have in mind and their commitment to learning the English language.  That’s what attributes a positive learning environment where everyone helps each other and learns. These students incorporate students from other counties and make them feel welcome immediately.  There is a sense of camaraderie. They value their instructor and the effort they make to help them learn the language and their new culture

What are some of the ways you encourage the community environment in your classes?

Explaining we all are diverse, and we can learn from each other is a method to create a positive learning community.  We have events where students can showcase their culture, their food, and their folk. Another way to create a positive classroom environment is by having students understand that the differences make us unique; therefore, we have to respect each other at all times.

You have a natural charisma that makes you work well with others, how does that help you in the classroom?

I think what helps me is that my parents raised me explaining that we all are human beings despite our skin color, who you are, where you come from,  the social status, or everything else society tried to dictate us. My parents preached to us that being humble, and help others without judging is what we need to do to make this world better.  Therefore, I place myself in my student’s shoes. I put myself if I am in a foreign country unable to speak the language, unable to understand, speak or not even knowing the culture. Nonetheless, I try to understand their needs, assist them with school and to provide community information.  One important rule is we can do all by respecting everyone.

What life experiences do you believe best shaped who you are as an educator today?

Many life experiences shaped who I am today; anyhow, the education I received from my parents was the most significant one.  Another person who influenced how I am today as an educator is my aunt. She was a professor, entrepreneur, and now retired from one of the most prestigious Universities in PR.  She had a Ph.D. in Math and wrote children’s books. She taught us that educators could improve people’s life; by teaching valuable lessons, where students not only learn academics but life skills.

What are some helpful ways that you have been able to reshape negative situations into positive opportunities in your life?

As with our daily lives, we learn from our negative outcomes.  This is how we also used the classroom negatives outcomes and turned them into a positive one.  For example, when a student makes a mistake, and the outcome turns wrong, it is imperative to explain to the students that it is normal, healthy and that is how we learn.  Always explaining them we fall many times before we learned to walk, we mispronounced many items before we learned to talk; therefore, with practice and time, we will master our objective.

How has the ability to shape negatives into positives helped you with your students? Explain.

It help me demonstrating students that mistakes are the way we reach perfection.

What are some things happening in your program at Sampson Community College that make it unique from other colleges?

What makes SCC ESL classes unique is the way faculty and staff approach students.  Making them feel welcome, comprehending them while providing an excellent classroom atmosphere, and going above and beyond to make sure students are receiving the best in academic and their necessary daily skills.

As educators, we are always encouraged to teach towards jobs and job markets that haven’t been created yet, so we stay ahead of the curve and teach what is needed for the demand of the marketplace.

We also see a changing demographic in our student populations over time. Based on your experience, what do you predict the future student to be like in your program and what do you think the job market will be for you to fill?

I foresee the Community College system providing more trade and certification classes. This way students are more prepared to enter the workplace with knowledge and some training and experience.  

What advice would you give to a new instructor coming into the field of ELL education?

My advice to a new instructor is to make sure to understand and nourish the students. Understanding that every culture is different and by not establishing bias or judging because we never know what the reasons are for why they migrate to the USA.

Transforming an Adult Non-Reader into a Reader

This post is written by Fiona Ingram as part of a blog tour for her latest book, The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper. For more about Fiona or to join her blog tour, check out the information here.

Transforming an adult non-reader into an interested reader might seem, at the outset, to be an insurmountable task. How does one persuade someone who is perhaps now entrenched in their ways, who perhaps has a fixed mindset, that reading is fun and once they start they will discover a new way of thinking?

There are a few reasons an adult is a non-reader.

This could be physical, either poor eyesight or dyslexia that has not been properly diagnosed, and this should be addressed. Perhaps they read as a child, but life, work, busyness, stress, the vagaries of modern living made it impossible to settle down with a book at the end of a hard day, and so they got out of the habit of reading. It could be they were never taught properly during school, were mocked for being ‘slow,’ and did not have either parental or teacher support when they needed it. They may have had to leave school early to go out to work and bring money into the family. The list can go on.

There are easy ways to start a transformation from an adult non-reader to a reader, but it will be slow, depending on the person’s physical abilities and the willingness to learn.

Children may feel embarrassed about not being good readers, but an adult will feel this even more. An adult must rid themselves of any feeling of guilt or shame at not reading. Turn the ‘page,’ so to speak, wipe the slate clean and get ready for a new beginning.
The teacher/tutor or facilitator of the adult reading group can come up with wonderfully creative ideas to get those little grey cells working and to get the group interested.

Start small.

Find out what each person is interested in, what subjects or hobbies they enjoy. Everyone is interested in something. It can be anything from knitting to car maintenance to an interest in whale watching. That is the first and possibly most important step. An excellent task is to invite the group members to bring something – a magazine or newspaper article or a book from the local library – to the group and read an extract to the group for five minutes, outlining something of interest to the other members. The time required is short, most of the meeting will be spent listening to others read their extracts, and suddenly the whole idea is more of a warm and friendly get-together than a cold lesson in the ABCs.

Take the session outdoors.

If the weather permits, and there is a park or an open green space nearby, the tutor can take the students outside, let them relax on rugs (brought for the purpose), and each person reads a short poem. Luckily most modern poems are very short, and a collection won’t be hard to find. Of course, everyone will say they can’t read poetry, they never read poetry, and the last time they read a poem was at school, but soon they’ll all see that no one is a shining star; everyone is in the same boat. Discussion will naturally follow suit.

An adult non-reader will possibly automatically assume that reading always involves books. Not so. Magazines (any kind), the newspaper, journals, publications such as Time Magazine or National Geographic, or collectible part series for hobbyists all have value.

It doesn’t matter what someone reads, as long as they read.

Show and Tell.

Another fun task is to ask the group participants to work on reading something at home, be it an article, newspaper or just a few chapters of a book, and to tell the group about it when they next meet. They can speak for up to two minutes, nothing too long. If this is a topic that piques their interest, you’ll find the person will surprise themselves.
Show and Tell is such a fun way to get people involved. Let the members bring something to show the others while they ‘tell’ them about it. This can be interesting and perhaps even tasty if someone decides to use a recipe for cookies as part of the show, brings cookies, and then gets to tell everyone about the ingredients.

Swop topics.

Everyone writes down on a piece of paper the topic that they are most interested in. Then the members pick the paper slips out of a hat and that’s their topic to research and bring to the next meeting. This can result in some hilarious stuff. Allow people to swop so they don’t feel forced to do a topic but encourage people to rise to the challenge. Keep tasks short, simple and to the point. The facilitator can also do some extra homework and find titles of books – either fiction or non-fiction – on the topics that the group members are interested in. Often people don’t know what they’d like to read after years of not reading.

These suggestions sound like a whole lot of activity and not much reading, but the point is not to sit and watch someone wade painfully through a book. It’s to find the spark that ignites the person’s interest in picking up the printed word for themselves.

Enthusiasm and energy are required to get these non-reading wheels turning, but it can be done. As with youngsters, getting people interested in something is easier when they are having fun!

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About the Author

Fiona Ingram is a children’s author, but up until a few years ago, she was a journalist and editor. Something rather unexpected sparked her new career as an author—a family trip to Egypt with her mother and two young nephews. They had a great time and she thought she’d write them a short story as a different kind of souvenir…. Well, one book and a planned book series later, she had changed careers. She has now published Book 3 (The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper) in her middle-grade adventure series Chronicles of the Stone, with many awards for the first book,

The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, and a few for Book 2, The Search for the Stone of Excalibur, and one already for Book 3! She also teaches online novel writing for aspiring authors and she finds that very satisfying. Relaxation time finds her enjoying something creative or artistic, music, books, theatre or ballet. She loves doing research for her book series. Fiona loves animals and has written two animal rescue stories. She has two adorable (naughty) little dogs called Chloe and Pumpkin, and a beautiful black cat called Bertie.

You can find Fiona at –




Author Site:



Charles Pulley: Non-Traditional Student Graduate

In 1964, in the rural country of Micro, NC, a young man named Charles Pulley was forced to fill some very big shoes when his father’s health deteriorated to the point of no longer being able to maintain the family farm. At seventeen, he left school and went to work on the farm. He met a girl at a dance, fell in love, and married her. If he had any hope of returning to school, that hope ended when he got married. Within a year, he was a father. Over the next eleven years, they would have two more children.

Charles did not regret his choices. He loves and lives for his family; he is a family man. Still, he regrets that his sacrifice was not enough to save the farm. By 1965, he was forced to sell it. The farm had been in his family for generations.

Charles divorced and remarried in the 1970s. He lights up when he talks about his second wife, Kathy, and the 42 happy years they have had together. Charles is happiest with his family; he has lived a full life with them. He worked in construction for over 50 years building bridges. Though he was a superintendent most of those years, he got involved with all aspects of the job. “You always got to jump in and help,” he says, “you can’t just sit around.” He was good with his hands and good with math; he was proud of the work he could do.

As his family grew, Charles grew more ashamed of his education. He had six grandchildren, and he didn’t want to tell them that he didn’t finish school.

“I want my grandkids to finish school and be the best that they can be,” he said, “and I don’t want to be the only one in my family without a high school education.”

Working and taking care of his family, Charles never really had the chance to come back and finish his high school education. When he started summer classes at Wayne Community College in 2018, he realized that it was harder than it used to be. Though he had designed and built bridges and managed job sites for half a century, he was dumbfounded by the math needed to complete the High School Equivalency test.

“I thought of dropping out,” he said, “but I told myself that I am not a quitter. I have never been a quitter, and I’m not gonna start being one now.”

Instead of quitting, Charles jumped in and committed himself to learning as quickly as he could. He attended night classes faithfully and absorbed material like a sponge. When he wasn’t picking up the math as quickly as it was being taught, he took it to his granddaughter and had her help him. Within a month–faster than most students half his age–Charles completed his High School Equivalency degree. On a test that requires a minimum scaled score of 45 to complete it, he scored 63. He didn’t just finish his degree, he finished with excellence.

Charles Pulley

Charles Pulley

Charles advises his peers to try harder and keep pushing towards completing their educational goals.

“Education is one of the main things in life,” he says, “Ignorance is an uneducated person.”

Charles is looking forward to the graduation ceremony in May 2019. He is on the church board at his church and has a lot of friends who want to be here to see him walk. “I like that,” he smiles, “I think that will be fun.”

Charles looks forward to sharing his story with his grandkids and encouraging them to pursue their dreams.

Sonja Redmon, Director of Transitional Programs to College and Career at Wayne Community College

Hello readers! Today we are talking with Sonja Redmon, former Director of Transitional Programs at Wayne Community College. Ms. Redmon has 30 years of experience in education including 22 years in the director position. During her tenure, she saw the program through many changes and helped it grow to one of the Top Ten in Enrollment in the State of North Carolina and Top Three in State Performance Measures.

The end of June 2018 marks the end of Ms. Redmon’s educational career. As she looks forward to retirement and the new adventures there, she has taken a moment to reflect back on her career and her legacy and share some wisdom with us.

How long have you worked in education? At which colleges? In what roles?

I’ve worked in education since 1988 when I was hired as a part-time Adult High School English instructor.  I worked as an instructor for a few years and was then hired as the lab coordinator. In 1996 I was hired for the director’s position. All of these roles were in the Basic Skills department at Wayne Community College.

What made you choose a career in education?

As the saying goes, I fell into education sideways. In other words, I did not choose education as a career, it chose me. My mother worked at the college in 1988 and heard about a need in the Basic Skills department for an English instructor. I was ready to get into the job market at that time since both of my children were in school and I had an English degree so the rest is history. No pun intended since I also have a history degree!

You have worked in both instructor and administrative roles in your career. How did these different roles help you become a better educator and communicator with others?

Working as an instructor helped me tremendously once I became an administrator. I could still identify with the needs of the instructors and that is something that stayed with me throughout the years. Sometimes, budget or higher ups would get in the way, but I always tried to do what was best for instructors and students.

What are some of the biggest lessons you learned from teaching?

Ha ha. I quickly learned in the beginning that I didn’t know everything and that if I only listened, the students had a lot to teach me as well.  Another lesson learned was that I couldn’t save them all no matter how hard I tried. It took me a few years to learn that bitter lesson.

Besides advancing your career and salary, what made you change roles from teaching to administration?

That change was primarily about career advancement and salary. Back in my day as a teacher, the maximum pay for part-time was $9.00 per hour and that was even with a masters degree.

What are some of the biggest lessons you learned from leading other educators?

I’ve learned that like the students, other educators had much to teach me. Even after all these years, I was still learning from other educators including my teachers as well as teachers and administrators from other colleges. I never attended a meeting or workshop that I didn’t learn something. That’s why I have always been a strong proponent of professional development.

You have worked in fields outside of adult education. What made you choose to work in Adult Education?

I liked helping people. It was just that simple. I liked making a difference in a student’s life, and I liked making a difference in my instructors’ lives. I cannot even count the number of times an instructor has said thank you to me for hiring them. That has been special.

You chose to not only work in adult education but get your degree in it. How did that help your career?

Being in education administration, I knew I needed to go back to school myself and earn a masters. Adult Education seemed the only way to go since I enjoyed what I was doing. I also knew an Adult Ed degree allowed for multiple career opportunities. When I applied for the director’s position, a Master’s in Adult Ed or a similar degree was a requirement, so I can safely say that my degree helped me to get hired as director.

I’ve always been glad I made that choice.

You have been an avid supporter of professional development for your team. In your opinion, why is professional development important?

Lifelong learning is important in all aspects of life and especially in this career field. Change in adult education is constant whether it’s a better way to teach math or new requirements from WIOA and OCTAE. Learning from an expert and learning from peers at other colleges is vital to stay on top of the game. Teachers and staff have been fortunate to have access to the strong adult education staff at Appalachian State University. Like I said in a previous question, I’ve never been to a workshop or even one of our weekly meetings that I didn’t learn something. For those of you reading this, if you think about it, neither have you.

We all know that education is a challenging place to work in because it is often thankless, politicized, and changing. In the past few years alone, we saw a lot of changes in adult education that affected our budget. What advice can you give to current and future administrators navigating their way through shrinking budgets?

All you can do is keep a positive attitude and plan, plan, plan. By planning ahead, you may be able to save a job or two when in a low budget year. You do this by trimming out the non-producing areas. That is hard for me to say because I’ve always thought that a class with only one student was a class that was a gift to that one student. He or she needed the one-on-one at that point in life.

Communication is also critical. Instructors and staff must realize that they hold the power to make or break a program. Enrollment and retention are 90% instructors and staff. The best recruiter is a satisfied student and the best retention is when a student learns and doesn’t feel the class is a waste of time.

When negative changes happen, it is hard to stay motivated. What advice can you give for motivating your team when circumstances are demoralizing?

I believe communication is the key. Just keep everyone updated on what is happening. Often not knowing leads to imagining even worse circumstances. Communication also allows for input from everyone on how to deal with the situation. We all like to feel useful and when we do, it’s a natural motivator.

In your experience, what has been the biggest thing that helped you adjust to changes when they happened as well as help you lead others through those difficulties?

Patience. Patience with the changes. Patience with teachers and staff protesting the changes.

A lot of the changes in adult education have influenced educators to leave adult education or retire before their positions were cut. With so much fear over job cuts, why should anyone stay in adult education?

Adult education is a worthy cause and a good career. Job cuts can and do happen in all areas of education as well as in the private sector. There were positions cut this year in curriculum. It’s just a fact of life, especially in this day and time.

Think positive and make yourself valuable to the team is my best advice to anyone whether in adult ed, curriculum, or K-12.

You have been the Director of Transitional Programs to College and Career for many years and many of the current employees you leave behind have only known you as their leader. What do you hope will be your legacy as you leave this role?

I hope that I’ll be remembered as someone who cared for both students and employees. I also hope to be remembered as the director who grew the program into one of the top ten in the state enrollment-wise and one of the top three in the state performance-wise.

As you retire and look back on your career, what advice would you give to younger educators working in adult education now?

Accept change.

Persevere through the bad times. You’ll have more good times.

Hire the best team possible. The instinct for that will be gradually learned.

Stress professional development. Knowledge makes everyone’s jobs easier.

Thank you, Ms. Redmon, for sharing your time with us today. We appreciate your insights and all you have done for your program at Wayne Community College. We wish you much joy and success in your retirement.