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Plan Your New Year’s Challenge

If you break resolutions as soon as you make them, perhaps you’ll want to join me this year in a New Year’s Challenge. I was inspired this morning by Susan Oglesby Hyatt as she spoke about making real lifestyle changes in the new year on Local 7 News Lifestyles.

Susan hit home ways to make real changes and how to look at change from a deeper, big picture perspective.  Following her advice, I’ve chosen my word for 2012 – plan. I hope to be more intentional and do a better job of planning my life choices.

Another item she hit on on making real change is to write down a resolution and to share it with someone. So…I’m going to share it with more than someone – with my blog.  This year, I hope to better plan:

  • Incorporating exercise into my daily lifestyle by scheduling it on my calendar
  • Making better food choices for my family.

Following Susan’s suggestion, I’m looking for an inspirational song that will bring to mind the word plan, and I am soon going to have little plan cues around my home and car to keep me on focus.

A plan takes action, so I did 2 things this morning:

  1. Put exercise onto my calendar for the week and then rode an exercise bike for 30 minutes.
  2. Enrolled in the President’s Active Lifestyle program (free online). Many years ago, I did this with my children. Now, I’m back in the game, whose rules have changed a little. Five days a week, I’ll exercise at least 30 minutes and log the exercise in their program. Each week, I’ll choose 1 of 8 different nutritional goals and work to incorporate it into our food choices. If I complete 6 weeks of this challenge, then I’ll have earned the first level of an active lifestyle award. It’s time for me to take care of me because it’s the right thing to do – not just because I’m helping my kids develop their own fitness habits.

Maybe if I take a risk and blog this, I’ll be more likely to stick with it. You’re welcome to join me on this new year’s challenge.

My bigger goal is that making this change to plan will trickle into other areas of my life – to help me better focus and have the energy to complete at least 1 of the next 3 books I want to write. If I plan my work, and work my plan, I hope my plan will work.

Thanks to Susan Hyatt and your TV appearance this morning – I think you’re about to make a major, positive difference in my life in 2012.

What’s your goal, your challenge, or your resolution for 2012?


Yes, Kids Can Like Vegetables

This morning, a friend of mine, Cheryl Mochau, and I signed copies of books we had written for next year’s members of Seton Harvest, a CSA in Evansville, Indiana. Throughout this year, I’ve watched young families bring their children to collect their produce shares.  Many of them are preschoolers, developing good eating habits for a lifetime.

Yes, kids can like vegetables. Here are some of the wonderful things I’ve seen:

  • When eggplants were in season, a mother took her preschoolers into the fields each week so they could pick an eggplant to take with them. She explained that eggplant was their favorite vegetable, and they loved it.
  • A young boy stood eating a fresh radish like it was an apple, enjoying every bite.
  • With the surplus this week, one couple took their kids to the field to pick some arugula. Their 4-year-old daughter told me, “We don’t pick it. Mommy cuts it with scissors for salad.” My favorite part was listening to her brother beg to go get arugula.
  • A third grader told me he loves to make salad with his family after they visit Seton.
  • A fourth grader told me he likes to eat kale when it’s cooked with salt and pepper.
  • The weeks that we were able to pick strawberries, young children ventured to the strawberry patch to gather fresh berries.
  • Kids help their parents gather fresh herbs from the herb garden.
  • They also get to visit the farm’s chickens, donate compost, and savor for a little while each week a quieter, steadier rhythm of life.
Farmer Joe, Sister Virginia, and all the Seton staff work hard to make children feel welcome every week. When turnips were dug and a 7-pound turnip was discovered, it was displayed and some members’ kids posed with pictures of it. The afternoon of our shareholder potluck, families could ride hayrides around the farm, and kids got to hit a pinata in the pole barn.
As my own kids are now teens, about to leave home, I doubly enjoy watching young families on the child-raising adventures. They illustrate once again that kids can learn to love vegetables beyond potatoes, ketchup, and corn.
Seton offers its shareholders more than the opportunity to enjoy fresh produce 26 weeks a year, from early spring to late fall. It helps us raise up a generation of children who look forward to their weekly treat to visit the farm, see some fun things, and enjoy good food to eat. Their fresh, local produce not just a way of life but a way to enjoy better living.

Ten Years Post Fire & Why I Love Evansville, Indiana

'House Fire' photo (c) 2009, Doug Shick - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/On the night of August 11, 2001, our home burned, along with our 1-year-old mom and pop shop business. We rebuilt, and our business survived, by the grace of God and with the help of good friends.

Neither Richard nor I grew up in Evansville. We’re both transplants. That night, and the months that followed, changed our lives forever. I can never thank enough those who helped us survive. Some heroic memories last forever:

  • Bob and Steve working with Richard, pushing and dragging our office equipment over wet, debris covered stairs.
  • Jean, Kathy, Lori, and Andrea helping me salvage some pictures and family items – and then finding clothes to lend our family.
  • Friends who hosted a rebuilding party so we could set up a temporary home in an apartment.
  • Friends who helped us find temporary office space and equipment.
  • Local contractors who helped us pack out, demolish, and rebuild in 3 months.

In my soon to be released book, He Uses It For Good, I describe how so many friends did what they could to help us. God used them all to carry us during a terrible time.

The morning after our fire, we went to Church, albeit in borrowed clothes, with no home, no idea how to save our business, and no clue how we would survive. I think it was more humbling to see my children in borrowed clothes than my own wearing them. How would we provide for our children?

By the grace of God, and the heart and grit of Evansville friends, we survived. We may have been transplants, but our Evansville friends made us feel as welcome as family.

That Sunday morning, on my knees, I begged God to carry us. Other than a Sunday after a broken arm and one after surgery, I’ve been in Church every Sunday since. The first thing I do is thank God that He blessed us another week.

Then, I thank God for bringing me to Evansville, Indiana, the land – and the city – I love.

The 4-H Club Cookoff that Could Cookout

Cracker Jack-topped cupcakes

Stormy weather doesn’t have to destroy a great plan and a good time.

Energetics, my kids’ 4-H club, chose a sports theme for this year’s club cookoff at the Vanderburgh County Fair, held on Saturday evening at the end of Fair Week. Clubs choose a theme, grill a menu, and serve 4 judges in a cookoff contest. Our club makes it bigger. We host a cookout for club members, parents, and even grandparents, to finish the fair in family style.


We take our themes seriously. This year, old green outdoor carpet was placed on the ground with a baseball diamond taped around the edges. A tent for the judge’s table was placed in the middle and decorated with helium balloons. Peanuts, popcorn in red and white bags, and crackerjacks decorated the table set with sports-themed plates and napkins. Sports foods were on the menu – brats, hot dogs, potato nachos, watermelon fruit baskets, and soft drinks in bottles. Kids in the club wore sports jerseys.

Thanks to the Millers who helped lead Energetics for 37 years.

We had an extra surprise this year. Two club leaders, Dan and Virginia Miller, were retiring after they had volunteered as club leaders for 37 years. We planned to present them with a thank you gift for their lifetime of service.

When we made our plans, we didn’t think about Mother Nature. An hour before the cookoff, weather reports began: heavy downpours were on the way. We kept cooking and preparing. Half an hour before our judging, the rain poured. With wind. Leaders held onto the sides of our two tents, working to prevent them from being blown away in the storm. Grandparents and members grabbed the lawn chairs and rushed them under the tents.  Grillers covered the grills.  Other clubs around the playground sought shelter in their entry tents as well.

Trying to keep dry during the downpour.

As we stood huddled under tents, we began to sing. “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

The cookout was cancelled because of rain. We had 80 brats and hot dogs grilling and decided to make the best of the mess and eat. When the rain stopped, the Millers joined us. We presented them with their thank you presents and enjoyed our cookout meal. The judges still visited us to thank us for entering, so we serenaded them with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

So the contest was cancelled. We’ll never know if we would have won best food, best theme, best dessert, or most spirit.

But we still won – our members learned to sing their way through a challenge like weather and not let challenges stop them from having a good time. And they probably became better friends with each other along the way.

Never let a little rain stop you from doing good things!

I Hear the Fairgrounds Singing

Abby Czoer singing the national anthem.

A tribute to the unsung heroes of county fairs, who take off work to set up, organize, manage, and clean fairs so they are successful. I was inspired by the many volunteers of the Vanderburgh County Fair.

Inspired by Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing.”

I hear the fairgrounds singing.

The varied songs I hear.

Those of farmers, each singing, as it should be, blithe and strong;

The 4H member singing, measuring project and beams,

The volunteer singing, making ready for work or taking off work,

The cook singing what belongs in the kitchen, the grillers singing as they stand;

The building watchers singing as they sit on their bench, The tractor driver passing by the stands;

The carney’s song – the sheriffs on their way in the morning, or at noon intermission, or at sundown;

The delicious singing of the children – or of the animals in the barns – or of the livestock during cleaning and washing –

Each sings what belongs to him or her and no one else.

The day what belongs to the day. At night, the party of young teens, robust, friendly, singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.
I hear the fairgrounds singing. The varied songs I hear.

Godspeed and Good-Bye to a 4-H Tech Club Friend

Brain Surgery & Digital Imaging Workshop at Tech Club

We are blessed when there are quiet heroes among us, who share their talents and raise the bar. This week, I had to say good-bye to a friend and his family with our 4-H Tech Club, Mark Keller. Mark is one of our club’s leaders, who will be moving with his engineering job later this summer.

Mark belongs to that category of quiet superhero – one of the good guys who comes up with outstanding ideas and then carries them from start to finish. He never sought the limelight but always undertook each task with thorough attention to detail, a wry sense of humor, and an abiding sense that as a youth leadership program, we balanced skill and character development. Mark’s years of work as a youth leader at his church gave him perspective and experience as a 4-H leader.

When our club had a planning meeting last fall, Mark suggested we try a hands-on approach to rockets. We had had workshops in past years on the physics behind rockets, rocket building 101, and advanced rocket skills. He wanted us to try having the club buy and each member of the club build a rocket during a meeting to launch at a later meeting.

As a leader, I’ve sometimes encountered creative people who come up with ideas, start them, but don’t finish them. Not so with Mark. We scheduled his rocket workshops, and Mark planned them with impeccable detail, researching and purchasing rockets that would meet our needs to be built in a 1-hour workshop. Then Mark led 22 kids, from ages 3rd to 12th grades, through the building of rockets. At a later meeting, when we launched, Mark again assumed quiet leadership and handled all the details.

Mark did an equally outstanding job at leading physics workshops for the club…whether it was a workshop on Mobius Strips where he incorporated the steps of the scientific method and illustrated industrial applications for them or a magnetic physics experiment where he had members work through each of the steps, log their results, ask questions, and then reach conclusions. Not only did he present excellent information, but he did so in an engaging manner that held everyone’s interest. He also found a neurosurgeon (who happened to be a former rocket scientist) who gave our club a workshop on how digital imaging is used in brain surgery to save lives.

Mark’s leadership skills show equally in his family. His son, a budding programming guru, has designed websites for non-profits, created Visual Basic databases, and created his own blogging application which rivals WordPress in usability – and has served this year as our club’s secretary. His daughter, a club recreation leader, has arrived at each meeting prepared with recreation, willing to share her ideas. She’s always been a great sport who keeps focus, even when the occasional middle school boy tries to get her attention by pestering her, never complaining and staying on the task at hand.

The youth and other leaders in our Tech Club will continue to seek to find new ways we can use technology better. Even so, technology doesn’t replace great people. We hope to carry on from the lessons Mark has taught us and live up to the example he set.

Thanks to the whole Keller family, and Godspeed in your journey. You will be missed and will always have a special place in our Tecchie hearts.



Tech Heroes

Josh at Tech's laser tag party

This blog is a salute to my 4H Tech Club heroes – the leaders. Who are they, and what do they do?  

Five years ago, my son started robotics. Robotics held such potential I asked our county’s 4-H program to offer a robotics project. Some areas had robotics clubs, but I wanted more.  

In Thomas Edison’s time, there weren’t light bulb clubs. I saw a vision of a 4-H Technology Club, where youth encounter technologies, build skills, and ignite passions.  

Challenge: it takes two leaders to begin a club. I am not a scientist. We needed  a second leader with a science background. A friend introduced me to Josh Weiland, a web designer. At our first meeting, Josh was friendly.  I knew he was the right guy when I told him, “I don’t know much about science, but can organize my way out of a paper bag. If you help with the science, it would work, ” and he laughed.    

4-H began a push to cultivate 1 million new American scientists. Our club could help that happen in Evansville, Indiana.

So our Tech Club began 4 years ago. Since then, Dana Nelson (a social media strategist) and Mark Keller (an engineer) have joined our team of leaders.  They all share their unique strengths with the club.

Each year, we host workshops in computers, electricity, aerospace, and robotics. We’ve brought in guest speakers including a brain surgeon, toured an airport, and practiced hands-on robotics programming as guests of a college programming class.

Josh is the fun leader who adds zing. Each year, we’ve played laser tag at our completion party.  Josh loves it, and club members conspire to “get Josh.”

Computer Hardware workshop

 Josh, Dana, and Mark give workshops in their areas of expertise. Mark has taught physics and application of the scientific method.  Dana and Josh have led members in web design exercises.Last night, Dana loaned Josh a webcam for a computer hardware workshop. Because of their many questions, the 30 minute workshop stretched to an hour. With each question, Josh answered patiently as his enthusiasm lit the crowd. 

Club members divided into teams that took apart computers and put them back together. Learning by doing sometimes means learning by taking apart. Dana, Dan Nelson (Dana’s husband, an IT pro), and Josh helped the groups.

Thanks to Josh, Dana, Mark, and all the families of our club who worked hard and built it into a success.

Party Planning on a Budget

“You’re one of the 3 cheapest people on the planet, and the other 2 are your friends,” my 14 year old son told me. I wear it as a badge of honor.

Our Convention Visitor’s Bureau spent more than $3,000 on their Christmas party, with a final tab totalling $219.95 per person attending. This blog won’t deal with the politics.

As one of the top 3 cheapos on the planet, listed below are ways I have organized cheap parties for volunteers that had good food and were fun.

Meat trays and pitch in: I purchased a ham on sale, had the grocery store slice it, and purchased bread store buns. Club members and volunteers brought drinks, snacks, desserts, and condiments. My daughter and I made ham trays.  Total cost to feed 25 people: $22, or 88 cents per person.  For entertainment, volunteers set up black light volleyball.

Soup and sandwiches: Bargain shopping at grocery and bread stores, we made meat and vegetable trays with ham, beef, and turkey for 70 volunteers, plus beef/vegetable soup, Texas sheet cake and apple crisp. Total cost: $200 to feed 70 people, or $2.86 per person.

Video game party: Last year, we had a free room for a video game party for club members. Members brought in video game equipment and systems. All food was potluck.  Total cost: $0 to feed 30 people, or $0 per person.

Laser tag party: we take 25 youth and volunteers to Walther’s for Laser Tag on cheap night. Two laser tag games cost $8 per person. Club members voted to pay for  laser tag instead of food. Total cost: $200 for 25 people, or $8 per person.

Pizza potluck pitch in: we ordered in pizza for a family night potluck, estimating 2 pieces of pizza per person, 4 people per pizza.  With 24 attending, we purchased 6 of the cheap $5 pizzas.  All other foods were brought in/donated by members and volunteers.  Total cost: $30 for 24 people, or $1.25 per person.

Cookie reception: With cookie receptions for my children’s choir, we were forced to purchase punch for $15 per gallon. So we ordered 3 gallons for $45 and asked parents to bring 2-3 dozen cookies per family.  After the reception, we donated leftover cookies to an area homeless shelter. Total cost $45 for 10o people, or $.45 per person.

Others ways to cut costs: hire a local caterer for the main foods. Prep the drinks and ask those attending to bring desserts/appetizers. That can cut @$3 per person from the final tab.

It’s easier to raise money and encourage others to save it when they see that you count every penny and make every penny count. I’m a volunteer. I organize volunteers. And I raise funds for non-profits.

If you have other suggestions for volunteer parties that cost less than $219.95 per person, please comment below. I would love to find some new ideas!

Winter Carnival – Evansville’s Best Family Fun for Christmas

Santa's Workshop

Remember when Ralphie looks at the department store displays in A Christmas Story? Evansville families can see comparable displays at the Vanderburgh 4-H Center Winter Carnival. Freewill donations are accepted for this first class family outing. What makes the Winter Carnival special?

Outdoor Light Display. Santa’s Workshop (in the SIAM building in the center of the lights display). The Southern Indiana Antique Machinery Club has restored Main Street’s department store Christmas displays and exhibits them from 6-9 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, and Sundays.  Santa will be sitting in the workshop if you would like to visit him or have your picture taken with him.

Christmas Tree Contest. Nineteen area 4-H and extension homemaker clubs decorated trees inside Santa’s Workshop. A donation bucket sits under each tree so visitors can vote for their favorites. Tree themes reflect their decorators. Themes include sunflowers, pink feathers, a frog theme made with recycled soda cans, and contest ribbons. Some donate decorations to charity after the carnival – one has school supplies, and another hats and gloves. Shameless hint: my kids helped with the Tech, Energetics, and Livestock club treese. The Tech treeme is decorated with household items donated by club members which will be donated as a housewarming present to a Habitat for Humanity family after Christmas. The Energetics tree is decorated with Christmas candies the members strung into garland and fashioned into ornaments. The Livestock tree is decorated with animal ornaments which club members made out of recycled soda cans and hollowed out eggs.

Support the 4-H Center. The Vanderburgh 4-H Center is the ONLY Indiana fairgrounds which is a private not-for-profit.  They do not receive government funding to stay open. They survive solely on facility rentals and donations. Your donations at the Winter Carnival help them continue to provide facilities to local 4-H clubs, maintain their playground and basketball goals, and provide a wonderful place for local families to walk and picnic. 

Volunteers from SIAM, the 4-H Center, and over 20 local 4-H and extension homemakers clubs come together to decorate for the Winter Carnival. They provide an affordable Christmas outing for families and hope the donations received help us preserve this local treasure.

A Tale of 3 Audiences and a Hammer

Last week, I spoke to 170 high school students about how they can brand themselves better with social media. Message: what happens on Facebook can help or hurt you in the job market. Add good content.

This week, I showed over 50 somethings how to use Facebook. Message: use it to build relationships and promote your community.

And I attended RE Barcamp in Indianapolis, honing my own social media skills for business. Message: leverage it to add content to build your business.

3 audiences, different demographics, different reasons for using social media.  All still had the same message:

  • Be honest
  • Be positive
  • Teach
  • Delight or amuse
  • Share your toys
  • Help your friends

In each audience, I heard a few negative comments:

  • Students won’t learn anything with social media.
  • People are selfish and stupid in social media and in real life.
  • Facebook is stupid, but I have to learn to use it to see pictures of my grandkids.

I disagree with all of the above:

  • College classrooms can use Twitter as a backchannel for life conversation. Three business owners from Evansville IN and two business consultants from Washington, D.C., talked to our high school groups live, while we were presenting. Live classroom conversation with pros around the world excited students more than a traditional lecture.
  • People on social media want to do good things. They just need to see how. This month, I saw strangers offer a guitar for a paraplegic student who wanted to try to learn to play. Strangers donated meals for an anonymous family facing a medical emergency. When a young mother faced a 14 hour surgery, prayer requests spread via social media around the planet. When a local shelter for the poor needed funds, an active social media user posted requests and personally collected over $1,200 in 3 hours.
  • The older man who said he thought Facebook was stupid left my class two hours later, ready to promote community events in his own hometown.

Social media is a tool, like a hammer.  If I have a hammer, I can choose how to use it.  I can tear things down or I can build them up.

If I have a hammer, I would rather use it build a home, a tribe, a village, and a better world.

Whatever I do with that hammer will show in social media.

Will the social media mirror show you using your hammer to build a town or tear one down?

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