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Returning to Wonder

Seeing the world anew, through fresh eyes

As we speed toward another new year, there are wonderful reasons to see the world through fresh eyes … perhaps even through the eyes of a child.

Here are nine of them:

1. Everything is new.

2. Everything is a learning experience.

3. Everyone is a possible friend.

4. You think positively.

5. You can be anything.

6. The world is full of possibilities.

7. You do things “just because.”

8. Your imagination is limitless.

9. You don’t care what other people think.

    ~ source:

In this chapter of èBella èXtra, we present new perspectives and hope you’ll take a few moments to return to wonder.

We wish you every blessing in the new year.

Nurturing a Passion for Nature


Through the Eyes of a Child
The Future Begins Now
It’s a Two-Way Street


Through the Eyes of a Child

Find joy in life through newfound discovery

by Kelly Townsend


If you’ve spent any time with a child learning to communicate, you can see how the world becomes alive for them right before your eyes. At three years old, my granddaughter, Ellie, has learned to express her wishes, desires, needs and likes through language.

Observing her ability to be trained to reproduce and then begin to put thoughts together has been a great reminder of how we all come to truly be able to engage with one another and how we view the world. We literally learn to engage and live in the world through language.

This may seem obvious, something you have taken for granted. But the aliveness and joy of her life as she discovers her world is a great reminder that, as human beings, we train one another to see what we see and feel and interact with the world through the window of language.

If you look around you right now, you will see objects as the words you have learned they represent. 

Someone told you, “That is a lamp,” or “That is a floor.” Now you see lamps and floors everywhere. You begin to see the object as the word that represents it.

This fact, that we see the world through the lens of language, goes into the background for us and we don’t think much about it. But the critical nature of how we make sense of life and our ability to see what we see through language is a great tool. From it, we have the capacity to respond to life and to create our lives.

Like air to a bird or water to a fish, we live in a sea of conversations that dictate how we view ourselves and others. We have complete say about the world we live in, yet we ultimately become tranquilized inside of it.

Becoming a grandmother has been such a gift. I have rediscovered the joy and aliveness that comes from discovery and wonder. I am reminded by Ellie that if I can bring wonder, inquiry and discovery into my days, there is a joy that I can experience anew. 

When in a conversation or engaging in a situation, listening for discovering something new gives me a new experience, a new lesson and an opportunity to see something I might have missed before. It’s really fun, and I am more engaged.

This curious type of listening drowns out the “I already know this” kind of listening that impacts my aliveness as an adult. Like Ellie, I have discovered newly that my access to joy and aliveness exists in the way I am willing to listen and engage with the world around me.

Who says you can’t train an old dog new tricks?

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Kelly Townsend is the principal at Leaders Team (, a “codebreakers for human performance” organization. The team is comprised of professionals who work to unlock human potential, creating breakthrough results.


The Future Begins Now

Preparing kids for careers in an AI-driven world

by Kimberly Blaker

Most parents today never experienced a world in which computers and the internet weren’t standard household fixtures. The World Wide Web first became available to the public in 1991, and technology continues to advance at an exponential rate.

According to Ray Kurzweil, a world-renowned inventor and futurist, “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century. It will be more like 20,000 years of progress.” The world that tomorrow’s young adults will enter will be startlingly different from the one in which we live today. That’s because our world is increasingly dependent on robotics, technology and now artificial intelligence (AI).

AI’s programs have the capabilities of human intelligence. AI capabilities include learning, presenting knowledge, reasoning, problem-solving, planning, perception, manipulation and motion. AI is in its infancy now but it’s on the brink of changing the world as we know it.

But, with all good things come drawbacks. Within the next 20 years, AI will result in a loss of anywhere between 9% and 47% of jobs, according to various studies by Oxford University and other institutions. That means our kids must be fully prepared for our vastly changing world and careers of the future.

The following are ways to prepare our youth for the future job market.

Bolster interest and enthusiasm in STEM

Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills are one of the gateways to job opportunities in a world dependent on AI. But, unless a child already expresses genuine interest in one or more of these disciplines, discussing STEM may be met with resistance.

The trick is to provide kids with everyday experiences that put the fun in learning or experiences that are a natural part of life. Once you’ve gained their interest, explain its relationship to STEM. That way, the child has a positive perspective on the discipline and recognizes its purpose and value.

Stimulate spatial awareness

This is an integral part of STEM learning and provides kids the ability to visualize their end product, says David Lubinski, a psychology professor at Vanderbilt University. Researchers found spatial ability is a predictor of the development of knowledge and innovation in STEM fields.

Encourage free play and out-of-the-box thinking

Play fosters imagination, creativity and resilience to deal with challenges. These traits will be necessary to succeed in an ever-advancing world of AI. When kids play freely, they experiment, explore and dismantle things, scenarios and concepts to understand how the world works. Playing is one of the best ways for kids to learn and develop skills.

Develop kids’ ability to deal with the real world

Dave and Helen Edwards, co-founders of, an AI research firm, point out there will still be careers in the future that are dependent on human capabilities.


In their paper, “The Skills Your Kids Should Cultivate to be Competitive in the Age of Automation,” they explain that humans will still be needed for jobs that require interpersonal skills, applying math to business problems, management of our physical world (environmental science and engineering) and health care jobs. People will remain ahead of robots in these areas for some time.

Foster social skills and teamwork

Emotional intelligence, humility, communication, listening, conflict resolution, goal setting, prioritizing, decision making and framing problems will be valuable assets in the future workforce.

Both interpersonal and intrapersonal skills are the framework for emotional intelligence. Interpersonal skills include social awareness and relationship management, while intrapersonal skills include self-awareness and self-regulation.

Cultivate entrepreneurial characteristics and skills

Some essential entrepreneurial skills kids should develop are financial literacy, goal setting, problem-solving, creativity and good work habits.

Promote tech skills. Transformation and change expert Greg Satell says the tech skills of tomorrow will be vastly different from today. By the time kids grow up, computer programming will no longer be based on current coding languages; rather, it will be based “more on quantum laws and the human brain,” he explains.

Satell recommends kids learn more about quantum dynamics, the logic of code, and genetics on which future systems will be based. Learning a coding language of today will unlikely be of use in the future but learning how to code can make learning future codes easier.

Coding also helps kids develop problem-solving skills. Finally, it’s an excellent way for kids to discover a career path and boost their self-confidence in a STEM discipline.

‘Above the Surge’


Nurturing a Passion for Nature       

Naples Botanical Garden curator opens visitors’ eyes to the world around them

by Kathy Grey

Summarizing her position at Naples Botanical Garden, Mary Helen Reuter, curator of education and visitor experience, says her job involves “anything a visitor might learn.”

That’s a tall order.

In the four-plus years she’s served in this role, she has come to embrace the fact that her varied interests in art, biology, people, plants, trees and nature were just the right recipe for not only fulfilling but forwarding the educational role.

She was living in Austin, Texas, installing art exhibits at its international airport, when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Reuter returned to her hometown of Tyler, Texas for two years to help her family. Thankfully, her mom has been in remission for about five years now.

But it was during that time that she met the man who would become her husband, Mitch Barazowski, a herpetologist (reptile and amphibian specialist). As their relationship blossomed, Barazowski received a job offer from Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Southwest Florida’s Fakahatchee Strand.

When her betrothed asked her, “Do you want to live in a camper in the swamp with me?” she couldn’t resist. The couple lived in a trailer with no air conditioning in Big Cypress Swamp the first year, graduating to one with air conditioning for the second year.

Meanwhile, Reuter worked various jobs at the panther refuge, from research to teaching art and everything in between.

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­­­­­­­­­­­­Mary Helen Reuter

“I hope everyone will go through a period of time when they (dare to) just say ‘yes,’” Reuter says,

The couple eloped and settled into a home in Golden Gate Estates, where they raise fruit trees, calamondins, sugar cane, herbs, avocado, mango, Barbados cherry, bananas, Everglades tomatoes … and chickens. Their home is situated near the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, where, Reuter says, “You can see all the stars.”

In the Garden

In 2018, Naples Botanical Garden, led by CEO Donna McGinnis, sought to direct the garden experience by focusing heavily on visitors’ encounters.

At the same time, Reuter felt lost, as she had identified herself in the disparate disciplines of biology and art.

“I had flip-flopped between the two. I was finding out more about myself, and I did have my doubts,” she says.

Still, she had learned to “show up,” knowing the worst-case scenario would be being turned away. With that in mind, she boldly applied for the Garden’s newly created curator position. Ultimately, she was a perfect fit.

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Children and families were drawn to Mary Helen Reuter’s expo table during Naples Botanical Garden’s Family Wonder Days.

“I thought I’d have to choose but I had just the right mix of biology and art,” she says. “I was exactly what they were looking for. I have a career I never thought I’d have, and I got to build out what this position has come to be. Where else can I do this and be fulfilled?”

Inspiring the Public

The Garden’s emphasis on elevating its visitor experience, along with the development of seasonal themes, led to the expansion of innovative educational programs within the garden. Reuter took on a supervisory role in accordance with her knowledge, skills and certification as an interpretive guide trainer through the National Association of Interpretation.

Since then, she has become the voice of self-guided tours throughout Naples Botanical Garden.

“It’s not uncommon to hear Mary Helen’s voice emanating from visitor cellphones at the Garden because she is the voice of all self-guided audio tours,” says Naples Botanical Garden’s Vice President of Education and Interpretation Britt Patterson-Weber. “Like a museum curator helps tell stories behind artifacts and art, Mary Helen tells the stories behind our plants and landscapes.” 

She also focuses on new projects, utilizing various media to let visitors know how to best experience the garden’s special exhibits and features. This excites Reuter’s “playful, creative side,” as she calls it. It’s something she cherishes in her multifaceted role.

“I get to be creative about connecting people,” she says, noting the plethora of communication entailed in impactful signage, her voiced audio tours and training fellow employees to be interpretive guides in their areas of expertise.

“It’s all about making sure every visitor feels valued and that their every need is met,” so they feel connected with the garden and the acres of nature that surround them.

“It’s like you’re opening a whole world view to visitors coming to the garden. As soon as they start to inquire, read signs, pick up a brochure … their whole world is expanding … a whole other aspect of the world is happening under their feet, over our heads and around them.”

It’s her goal to ignite wonder in every Naples Botanical Garden visitor. And those awakenings and sparks emanate from the passion within Reuter herself.

Click HERE to listen to “A Storm Arrives,” one of Naples Botanical Garden’s audio tours voiced by Mary Helen Reuter.


‘Above the Surge’

Naples resident’s verse pays tribute to her community’s courage

by Nicole Felts

Feeling like our 20s and 30s came and went…

Between Irma, COVID and Ian, I think we are all a bit spent.

We have seen natural disasters happen, but it is usually on TV.

When it is your people and places, though, it hits differently.

Our beautiful city has been hit pretty hard…

So many belongings now sit in the front yard.

Irma was like a punch in the gut

but we got ourselves back up and got out of the rut.

COVID was another big blow

and we were just moving forward, trying to get in a flow.

Ian was everything we were warned Irma would be.

The surge didn’t happen before, so we were in denial, you see.

So here we are, feeling a bit older than before

Our hometown as we knew it… no more.

Desperately want to escape and go for a run

But with a bum calf muscle that may not be so fun.

Instead, maybe we can go out on the water or fish at the pier.

Oh, never mind… that is no longer here.

Every memory that pops up on the computer feels like so long ago.

Memories on Captiva and Bokeelia now feel like a foe.

Wanting to go back to things no longer there makes us mad

As we mourn a part of our upbringing that has been torn apart, it is sad.

We are going through the stages and slowly coming to acceptance.

Even though the last few years seem somewhat relentless.

Our community is strong; and really, on the curbs it is just stuff.

It is our people and the not-so-easy times that make us tough.


Grateful for neighbors and friends who are up for a walk.


Sometimes it is better to slow down, get outside and just go and talk.

We realize it isn’t about being perfect, but about being real.

To be honest, this area had lost some of that feel.

People and places that are okay with scars are those who really care.

As you get older you just want genuine and sincere.

Our community is coming together to rebuild and we will heal.

It may not be the same, but maybe that is OK.

It was in back when we were a simple fishing village

that we really knew how to “seas” each day.

There will be more storms, but with family and friends, we will find our way.

I feel the sun shedding a different lightness.

Nature just had a weird way of spreading some much-needed kindness.

A bit bruised and battered, this will not be a sprint

But we have courage, and this is not our first hit.

As we take time to look, there is still beauty all around.

Our community is coming together more than ever and will rebound.

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“Above the Surge” was written by Nicole Lynn Felts, who has lived in Naples since 1986. She still loves calling Southwest Florida home. 

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Kimberly Blaker is a freelance writer. She also owns an online store, Sage Rare & Collectible Books, specializing in out-of-print, scarce, signed and first editions; fine bindings; ephemera and more at


It’s a Two-Way Street

With work, strained and broken relationships can be revitalized

by Allison Kelly Jones

Sometimes we find ourselves in personal or professional relationships that sour for various reasons but there are always two players in the strain.

So, how do you get past the hurt? How do you reconcile the issues while being true to yourself? How do you “move the needle” towards reconciliation in your personal relationships or resolution in your professional ones?

There are never any innocent bystanders in toxic relationships and being honest about our role in conflict is the first step: admitting our behavior in the situation. If a person says or does something to upset you and you swallow your feelings, gossip instead of confronting it or try to ignore it (causing inner turmoil), you’re also playing a role in the dysfunction.

An insult or act against you isn’t solely about the other person, so an honest internal check is in order. Decide if you want to nurture the relationship or if it has run its course. You may need to cut the relationship with kindness.

In my book, “Measure Twice, Cut Once, Navigating Negativity in Toxic Relationships,” I discuss the behaviors that identify toxic behaviors in ourselves and others as we decide how to proceed when engaging with difficult people and situations. If you decide to engage and nurture, it starts with forgiveness, which requires you to forget the offense. What matters is that you decide to accept what happened and let go of resentment by separating the person from the offense.

Taking accountability for your role and communicating how the other person’s behavior affected you allows you to move into a space of healing. 

Communicating what your needs are and listening for the message on the other end is important to resolving issues and reconciling relationships.

Secondly, look for the good in the person. We all fall from grace, and we all need it in our lives at different times. Who hasn’t done something wrong to another? We would do well to remember that everyone needs grace.

When you are upset with someone, it’s hard to see past an offense and separate the person from the offense but remembering them in a more positive light will help reign in feelings of resentment. 

Next, try empathy by seeing the other person’s point of view. There are always points to ponder from the other perspective. You are not always right. Compassion can go a long way in resolving friction, personal or professional. 

When you’ve done that, identify the real issue. Conflict doesn’t just pop up, and it seldom comes without warning. There are always behaviors that occur that sow discord over time.

The real source of clashing may not be miscommunication but perception of an issue. Separating fact from fiction from feelings can help. 

Ask yourself what the real issue is that’s bothering you, meaning solid, concrete tangible things, e.g., “Allan yells at me at work [Fact] and it feels belittling [Feelings] and people may think I’m weak [Fiction].”

Ask questions of yourself first. Then, clarify, verify and communicate your need using “I” language, because trying to defuse a situation by pointing fingers usually exacerbates the issue. For example, say, “I don’t like it when you yell at me” or “I don’t understand what you mean.”  Next, confirm what you are hearing from them: “Let me make sure I understand. I think what I hear you saying is…” 

Communicating what your needs are and listening for the message on the other end is important to resolving issues and reconciling relationships. 

Next, give it time and space if needed. If your attempts at resolution are rejected, allow the time and space for the other person to discern, decipher and decide what they would like to do without pressure.

Finally, reach out occasionally and ask for smaller measurements like a coffee break or a text as a reminder that you really want to try to resolve the issue.

If all else fails, and you have to break from the relationship, let the other person know in a letter or a call/message that you really wanted to move the needle to make everyone comfortable but your efforts have gone without merit and you are now choosing to let go without resentment. 


With family, try to offer ongoing family therapy, both on your own and together. Know that, with time, all things heal or work out for the greater good, because not all relationships are intended to endure.

Some are there for a blessing or a lesson but it’s always for your growth.

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Allison Kelly Jones is an author who spent her career mentoring and coaching, personally and professionally. Also a professor of business in Arizona, she delivers lectures on topics that engage, empower and inspire people to live their most genuine and happy lives. Her book, “Measure Twice, Cut Once: Navigating Negativity in Toxic Relationships,” is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Click HERE to learn more.

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