Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Different Isn't Always Bad

My Daughter and Son-in-Law
Celebrating an Anniversary...Not so good.
I see a number of negative comments on social media concerning the way things are being done differently in light of COVID-19. I’m noticing, however, that different isn’t always bad. 

In fact, for those creative minds, different is seen as an opportunity to improve.

I’ve seen many churches scrambling to hold services via YouTube, Zoom, or by streaming live. Some are adhering to the way they’ve always done things. Some follow the same order of worship and so forth. That is probably comforting for church members missing the routine.

But at least one church in Cincinnati has pursued a different route. Crossroads, one of Cincinnati’s mega churches has already made the decision to not re-enter their physical sites until next year. They view this time as an opportunity to reach more people. Here’s a quote from a recent letter:

“God is using us, and He’s doing so without the normal things we’ve used in the past. It’s fresh, exciting, and lives are being impacted for eternity.”  
And in another quote from the pastor, Brian Tome: 

“We’re having breakthroughs as a church in the digital space that I don’t want to cut short. In fact, Crossroads was just recognized by the Harvard Business Review for creating first in class digital worship experiences.”

This particular church is thinking outside the proverbial box.

Different isn’t always bad.

This week I finally went to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) to renew my driver’s license. Yes, technically it expired in May, but our governor extended the period of grace until the end of the year. The office is usually packed, the workers and patrons impatient to get the task completed. It’s usually a rather unpleasant experience.  I assembled all the items I needed for the new compliant license. I gathered them in March.

I set a reminder on my phone for this week… a reminder to see if the BMV was open and available. Once I checked the website I not only found they were open, but I could schedule a “save a place in line” right then. I clicked and my place in line was confirmed. I grabbed my envelope of documents and raced out the door. Upon arrival I checked in. The woman at the kiosk looked over my papers to see I had everything I needed before I was advanced to the next station. In and out in thirty minutes. That was a first. Moreover, by streamlining the process, setting up specific stations, and allowing online “save a place in line,” the mood in the building itself was light. Patrons were patient. Workers were pleasant. There was no drama. 

The woman at the picture station told me I could smile if I wanted. Another first. “I remember when smiles were forbidden,” I said. 

“These days we need all the smiles we can get,” she answered. 

I mentioned I was impressed with the speed and efficiency of the whole process. The woman from the check-in kiosk said, “Change for the better.”  And it was.

Because….different isn’t always bad.

If you are interested in seeing a very different sort of church opportunity, CLICK HERE to view a recent Crossroads message.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Duck and Cover: The COVID Crisis and Schools

I set out to write my blog this week about how I sort of standardize my Christmas list. You know, everyone gets a craft, everyone gets something musical, everyone gets something collectable, and everyone gets a book. It was prompted by a Facebook event for authors called Christmas in July.

But when I started crafting the post I bumped into this shopping memory: “The smell of fresh crayons, the stacks of lined paper, and the array of colorful folders stacked on the shelves at my local store. School supplies always seemed to emerge shortly after Independence Day. There would be a flurry of activity in my house; energy bubbling with the thought a new school year of possibilities.”

Yes, that’s what it was like for my children this time of year.

Then came COVID-19.

There appears to be a divide about whether or not schools should open. Regardless of the resiliency of the young, many factors come into play. I don’t have the answers, but having spent more than thirty-five years in education I do have concerns on both sides of the debate.

Distance learning is available…but not for everyone. And as good as it may be, online learning isn’t as good as face-to-face interactions.

For some children, school offers the only meal they will eat every day.
Even if parents are working from home, it doesn’t mean they will have time to instruct their children or even offer support. Not all parents know how to teach. Some don’t even know how to read. And not all parents are in jobs where they can work from home.

To expect young children to social distance and wear a mask all day is unrealistic. Let’s face it. If adults who are able to understand the need for social distancing consider it unrealistic for them to do, how can we expect it of children?

Despite all the precautions, children may carry the virus home to their families.

The news last night reported the decisions of several school districts in the area where I live. They interviewed several principals and superintendents. Here are some of the quotes from the broadcast:

“Students will form a line each morning outside the school for a wellness check. Temperatures will be taken before students are allowed to enter the building.”

“Children second grade and up will be required to wear masks all day.”

“Students will be given assigned seating at lunch. Assigned seating is necessary for contact tracing purposes.”

“There will be no recess. Instead our teachers are planning socially distanced ‘brain breaks.’ And our staff will be required to wear masks at all times.”

“We will be issuing shields to our teachers for them to wear in addition to their masks.”

As I watched the news, I felt as if I were living in the Twilight Zone. Only one school district in the area has made a definite decision to close for the first semester, taking a watch and see stance for the second semester.

I know teachers. Teachers will do whatever they are asked to do. They will come up with creative ways to make the school experience one that is as positive as it can be for their students. 

But I cannot help but wonder what toll all of this this will take on our children. And their families. 

My husband lived near MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa during the Cuban missile crisis. It was a brief moment in time, not the entire school year, but the fear and uncertainty overshadowed every aspect of his school experience for a while. MacDill was a likely target. Students had to carry a jug of water every day to school in case there was a missile attack. I guess the water was to offer assurance they would at least have fresh water to drink. Water that had not been polluted by radiation fallout. 

Unannounced drills were held throughout the week. It was called "Duck and Cover." Students had to get under their desks to protect themselves from nuclear bombs. Seriously. Films were made to teach students what to do during an attack. 

As I said, it was short lived. 

That crisis lasted only thirteen days though the protective measures in schools continued for the remainder of the semester. Tom and I laughed at some of the notions and actions taken in response to Russian missiles located just off the coast of Florida. Yet he told me it is all he really remembered about the first semester of that school year. 

Fear. Uncertainty. A little boy lugging a gallon of water to school every day in case he needed it for survival.

Fortunately, his mother was a voice of reason during the time. If she was frightened, Tom never knew it. She was a stay-at-home mom. She was a cub-scout den mother. She assured her three sons all was well with the world and the issue would soon be resolved. And it was. 

Thirteen days. 

We are facing a year or more of fear and uncertainty. As I said, I don’t have the answers. None of us do. Children are resilient. True. But they are also impressionable. 

What are your thoughts? Should all students return to the classroom? Some? Any? How do you think this crisis will impact our future? And please…please share the good you see coming from all of it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Quarantine Cooking Made Easy

Last week I shared a picture of my dinner on social media. I made Impossible Taco Pie, a longtime family favorite. The recipe will serve six to eight people. Good thing I like it. I ate it for a week!

I had a few conversations after that post. Some people asked for the recipe. Most lamented over the fact they aren’t yet comfortable going out to eat. Several people I spoke with said they are tired of cooking the same things over and over. Bringing me to today’s post.

I decided to offer a couple of my favorite “quarantine recipes” in hopes you’ll feel free to share your favorites with me and my readers.

First up:
Chicken Fettuccine with Pesto Sauce
I’m offering this because is it is delicious, fun, and so-o-o-o EASY.

8 oz. fettuccine noodles
1 Knorr Pesto Sauce Mix (.5oz package)
¼ C. olive oil
Chicken (I usually boil or grill a couple of chicken breasts and cut them up, but I’ve also used canned chunked chicken…your call) 
Favorite cheese (It’s great with Parmesan or Mozzarella)
Cook the noodles in water according to package directions.
Prepare sauce according to package directions using the mix, water, and olive oil.
Mix the sauce with the chunks of chicken and pour over the noodles. Garnish with cheese. You can put a few grape tomatoes on top as a garnish.

Seriously. It is so easy but looks and tastes great. 

Impossible Taco Pie
This serves six to eight people…or know that the leftovers heat up nicely.

1 lb. ground beef
I garnished with tomatoes and avocado.
½ C. chopped onion
1 envelope taco seasoning mix
1 (4oz) can chopped green chilies, drained
1 ¼ C. milk
¾ C. Bisquick or Jiffy mix
3 eggs
2 tomatoes sliced 
1 C. shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese
Sour Cream

·      Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly spray or oil a 10 inch quiche dish or pie plate.
·       Cook and stir beef and onion over medium heat until beef is brown; drain. 
·      Stir in seasoning mix. Spread in plate; Sprinkle with chilies. 
·      Beat milk, baking mix, and eggs until smooth. Pour over meat mixture. Bake 25 minutes.
·      Top with tomatoes.
·      Sprinkle with cheese.
·      Bake until knife inserted between center and edge comes out clean, 8-10 minutes longer.
·      Cool 5 minutes. Serve with sour cream

Don’t let it fool you. It is easy and a complete meal. Presents well and tastes great!

So there you have it: Two of my quarantine favorites. Now it’s time to share your own favorite recipes….or at least a picture and a name of what you cooked.

Next week I will be participating in a fun Facebook Event called Christmas in July.You are invited! It is a great opportunity to meet and get to know authors. The event is sponsored by my publishing company, Ambassador International. 

My timeslot is July 23 from 10-11am EST. I am going to post some fun stuff, including my all time favorite brownie recipe from Breathing on Her Own. I’m also having a couple of giveaways.

All the authors are doing this so drop in anytime during the Christmas in Julyevent. Here is a link to see all the authors featured. Let me know if you’re interested. I’d love to chat with you then.

And don’t forget to share your favorite easy-peasy quarantine recipe!

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Think...It's a Little Thing to Do

Last week I set out to mow my lawn. I have a rather large lawn so even though I had gas in the mower, I knew I would likely need more. Rather than start the project and run out in the middle of the yard, I headed to the gas station with my five-gallon can, my mask, and gloves.

I usually put a few dollars worth of gas in the can. Two or three gallons. 

This is silly. I can save myself a trip by filling the can today. The can was on the ground in front of the gas pump. I smile at my cleverness and pump the can full. Brilliant!

Brilliant until I try to lift the gas can and put it back in the trunk of my car. Do you know how heavy five gallons of liquid feels on a hot summer day? We’re talking around thirty-plus pounds. It may not sound like much to you, but for me? 

I manage to put it back in the trunk then sort of pat myself on the back for not being wimpy.

I start the drive home when I begin to realize picking it up is one thing…picking it up and pouring it into the mower is another. I have a riding mower so the tank is pretty high.

What was I thinking? The problem is, I wasn’t thinking. 

When I was growing up, my mother had a poem she often quoted when I acted without thinking:

            It’s a little thing to do, just to think. 
            Anyone, no matter who, ought to think.
            Take a little time each day,
            Spare it from your work or play.
            Stop and think.

            You will find that men who fail
            Do not think.
            Men who find themselves in jail
            Do not think.
            Often trouble that we see,
            Trouble brewed by you and me,
            Probably would never be
            If we’d think. *

I grew to detest that poem. It was an admonishment for something I had done or failed to do. As a teenager I vowed to never say it to my own children. As an adult, I’m sure I broke that vow, couching it with “as your grandma used to say…”

Yet here I am, driving back to my house with a full five-gallon can of gasoline in the trunk of my car, saying the poem to myself. Kicking myself for not thinking this through. Trying so hard to be efficient, that I forgot how to be practical. 

I prayed for help. Yes, I seriously asked God for help. I was nearing my street when I met my next door neighbor heading out for his morning walk.

A wave. A greeting. An ask. 

Mark is a good man. After his walk, he easily carried the heavy can back to my shed and handily poured the gasoline into my mower. He didn’t laugh at me for not thinking this through. He helped. 

The morning was warming quickly so I started the engine and managed to cut the grass before the glaring sun made it impossible. As I mowed, my thoughts turned back to that poem.

            Often trouble that we see,
            Trouble brewed by you and me,
            Probably would never be
            If we’d think.

It seems 2020 has been a potful of trouble brewing:

            Politicians spew venom at each other.

            Some people wear masks while others refuse to do so.

And the biggie—the pot that has been brewing for centuries—the presence of systemic racism.

We all make mistakes. We all mess up from time to time. But if we
stop and think…If we ask for help…If we work together for the care and well-being of others and not just ourselves… then this world will be a better place.

After all, it’s a little thing to do just to think.

Think before speaking.
Think before criticizing.
Think before acting.

And begin each day asking God for help with it all.

* Origin and author of the poem is unknown. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

ReStore Rehab...Reimagining Life

Today’s post is a before and after sort of story. A story of transformation.

When I bought my house, the basement was unfinished. A contractor finished the bulk of it. There was plumbing available for a kitchenette, but adding one at the time was cost prohibitive. 

Before: Unfinished Space
I checked out the base cabinet, countertop, sink, and hardware at my local big box stores. I priced the backsplash materials and other construction needs. Adding the lights I wanted and allowing for labor to do everything, I was looking at more than a basement kitchen should cost. 

I knew I could likely cut the cost if I could find the cabinet base at our local ReStore. ReStore is connected to Habitat for Humanity, a cause I support. I found an entire set of cabinets at ReStore for less than one cabinet at the big box store. And…the hardware was included! The man at the store loaded the pieces in my van. My daughter and grandson helped me unload them into my garage. 

Over the next few months, I wandered through my ReStore occasionally. Slowly, I collected the items I needed. My garage was beginning to look more like a workshop. I bought a bar sink at Lowes and added it to my collection.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but I came to the realization that I could install my own kitchen. 

I had some knowledge.

I had Tom’s tools. 

I had all the materials.

I had YouTube. 

And I had the desire to try.
ReStore Cabinet Find

I measured the space and the cabinets multiple times. Getting the cabinet in with the sink was a priority. My plumber moved the old washing machine water line and told me he could hook everything up to the water and drain. He told me to call him when I had the cabinet, sink and countertop ready. 

I watched YouTube to learn how to patch the hole in the drywall from the plumbing being moved. 

I did some more measuring. A base unit has two doors. I had enough room for another small cabinet, so after a lot of consideration, I cut one of the base cabinets in half. Perfect. I managed to move the full cabinet and the half cabinet from my garage to the basement. I felt like Wonder Woman. 

Cutting the countertop for the sink was daunting. I heard cutting a Formica top could cause chipping and splitting. I watched YouTube for clues. Again, I measured the opening multiple times. I drew the line to be cut on the countertop. I taped beside the line. Still, I was filled with fear to make the first cut.

One video I watched suggested I purchase a special drill bit for Formica and drill a starting place for my saw. I went back to Lowes. Ellery, the store manager told me I was overthinking it. He told me to use a drill bit I had, make a hole in each corner big enough for the blade of my saber saw, and go for it. So I did.

Go for It!
I reminded myself the countertop only cost me $10 at the ReStore shop, so I should feel free to risk it. How did it turn out? Piece of cake. I did the happy dance all through the house. I took pictures the way a new grandma takes photos of a baby and shows them to everyone in sight.

The cabinets, countertop, and sink in place, my plumber returned to hook it all up. He even anchored the cabinet to the wall for me.

The next step? The backsplash. The tile at the ReStore was fifty cents a square foot. Seven dollars later, I walked out with enough tile to cover the space as well as a couple of extra tiles in case I needed to trim-fit awkward edges. The adhesive and grout cost more than the tile. 

I wanted to do it all myself. It turned out to be impossible. I had a respiratory reaction to the adhesive. Fortunately, my youngest daughter wanted to help with the project. I measured and cut tile in one room while she adhered each piece to the kitchen wall. It was a fun afternoon.

My friend Bob helped, too. He changed the hinges on the door of the third cabinet so it opened the other way and installed the lights I purchased at Menards for the ceiling.

Finally, I put old math skills and my son-in-law’s miter box to use cutting and fitting the baseboards and kickboard. 

The small basement kitchen turned out great. But the real transformation was mine. 

After: Same Space Redefined
I used parts of my brain I forgot I had. I’m a decent problem solver. When I’m writing, I have to create believable situations or get my characters to go where I want them to go… do what I want them to do… say what I need them to say. Those are literally “word problems.” But building requires a different way of visualizing the end product. It requires accurate measurement and geometry. 

I did something I thought I could never do. Using power tools and ripping through wood, sanding, screwing, nailing, and caulking? That was Tom’s world. I admired the way he took on any task. He designed and built bunk beds for our daughters with drawers underneath. He built a storage shed over forty years ago that is still standing strong. He added bathrooms to a couple of places we lived. He could do anything. He always showed me how to do things and shared his “thinking through” of a project with me.

When Tom died I had just started crafting a new novel. The hardest project I’ve ever attempted. After he died, I abandoned that project. It was something I felt was too difficult. I no longer feel that way. It will take time. It will be hard. But I now have the confidence to take it on.

My next building project? I have space in my basement for a wood working shop. I’ll likely take that on even as I work on the book. It turns out I do some of my best thinking with a hammer in my hand.

What new challenge are you ready to tackle?