I made 7 year old me extremely jealous last weekend

This post about nostalgia, Star Wars toys, and classic arcade games contains affiliate links. I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. Learn more in my Disclosure Policy. As always, thank you for your support.

I’ve only been working at the new job for about two months and I’ve already done some pretty memorable things. I got to tour a local bottling plant and was very tempted to pull a Laverne and Shirley. I was a good boy and didn’t do it. But, man. It was so tempting.

Then, not long after that, I had the opportunity to tour a local radio station and Continue reading “I made 7 year old me extremely jealous last weekend”

How I was Able to Share an Ice Cold Coke with my Office Teammates

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #ShareIceColdFun #CollectiveBias

How I was able to share an ice cold Coke with my teammates #ShareIceColdFun #ad

As mentioned a few weeks ago, I recently made a career change. I left my job as an Instructional Assistant, working with lower elementary school students with Special Needs. Now I work with a nonprofit organization. I get to help adults with Special Needs find meaningful work in the community. I’m not going to lie. This was a bittersweet decision. I really enjoyed working with those kids. But it was also a no-brainer.

I’ve joined a pretty amazing team of Employment Advisors. I’m excited to work with them. And they’ve been very helpful as I’m trying to get up to speed. They’re a hard working, dedicated, and passionate group of people. It’s an honor to join forces with them to help change lives in our community.

I wanted to show my appreciation for the work my teammates do. They have been so patient and welcoming and accommodating during this transition. I also wanted to take the opportunity to introduce myself to everyone on my team. So I created a little gift basket to share, thanking them for making me feel like I’m already an important part of the team.

My quest for the perfect gift basket.

This Summer, the Coca-Cola™ Share an Ice Cold Coke campaign has returned. It’s bigger and better than ever before. They’ve added a thousand new names this year.  They’ve also added last names!

That’s right. Last names.

I had to include personalized Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola Zero™, Diet Coke®, Coca-Cola Cherry, and Coca-Cola Life bottles in this gift to my teammates. It just made sense. So, I visited our closest Giant Eagle store, the Market District in Carmel, and went about grabbing some personalized bottles and some other goodies to share with my team.

Why a Giant Eagle store?

Have you seen their bulk candy and trail mix section?

Giant Eagle treats #ShareIceColdFun #ad

It’s amazing.

So I hit the road for my local Giant Eagle (you really should check out their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest profiles) on a quest to find some goodies for this special basket I’m creating. When I walked in the door, it was like the heavens opened up before me. There, right before my eyes, was the sea of personalized Coca-Cola bottles. It was right there in the cold drinks section at the entrance.

It was glorious.

So I grabbed the appropriate Share an Ice Cold Coke bottles of Coca-Cola. I went over to the bulk area and got a bucket of cheesy popcorn and created a container of trail mix. Although i probably could have spent another hour or two wandering through the store, I had other things to get done that evening. That’s what’s great about Giant Eagle stores. I love the layout. I love the products they have. And of course I love their bulk confections. I’m never disappointed when I visit a Giant Eagle store.

An appropriate gift basket for a small nonprofit office

Share an Ice Cold Coke with an office gift basket #ShareIceColdFun #ad

In addition to some tasty treats and personalized Share an Ice Cold Coke bottles, I wanted to give some things that were fitting for our team’s setting. It shouldn’t be a surprise that there are times where our equipment and supplies can feel cobbled together. Such is the nature of an organization like ours. Our time, money, and energy are focused on serving our clients to the best of our abilities. So, some necessities might become a little scarce sometimes.

I ran to a local discount store and found a few things that every office like ours must have. And I included them in my gift basket.  Our office has a refrigerator. It has a microwave. But it’s almost near impossible to find any eating utensils. So I included plastic cutlery in my basket. And speaking of the basket, I decided to use a stackable mail tray as the container to hold all of these tiny gifts. That will come in handy with keeping things organized. I also found some inexpensive buckets to add a splash of color to our office.

The nature of our work requires that we keep detailed records. There are timesheets and follow up sheets and sheets upon sheets upon sheets. Almost all of them require black ink. I don’t know about you, but it’s hard enough for me to keep track of my pens. It’s like they grow legs and walk away. Black ink pens are even harder to keep track of. So my gift basket included a package of black ink pens to support the cause. Because if we don’t have black pens, we cannot do our jobs effectively. They’re that important.

I considered putting the basket in the Break Room, but this is a gift for my team. So I sat it on a desk in the office that our team shares. Giving office supplies in a gift basket might be considered “out of the box,” but I thought it was a highly appropriate gift for my teammates.

I hope they enjoyed it. Because I know I appreciate them.

Share an Ice Cold Coke Gift Basket for my office #ShareIceColdFun #ad

Who will  you share an ice cold Coke with this Summer?

This is a major announcement for our family

Disclaimer: This is a relatively long post. And it’s not unlike a winding stream with other tributaries adding to it. But I feel like it’s important to give you the backstory to this announcement. If you can’t stand it and really just want to see what the major announcement is, just skip down to the “tl;dr” statement at the bottom.

Man Praying in Church
Free Stock Photos for Blogs at picxclicx

A career shift?

I was in high school. We were wrapping up our home Bible study with some prayer requests. A good friend of mine shared with our group that his dad had just lost his job. They were concerned. We all were.

I don’t know his whole work history, but I do remember that he’d taken on a few different careers during his life. He had training as an engineer and had graduated from one of the top engineering schools in the country. He’d had some jobs in that field. But I also remember that he ran a print shop at one point in his life.

Not long after my friend shared this important prayer concern, his dad was hired by our church. He had already been handling many of the organization’s administrative duties on a volunteer basis. Why not go ahead and start paying him? Made perfect sense.

He served on the church staff for more than twenty years. And now he’s enjoying his retirement.

I don’t know if he felt a wandering in his soul. I never asked him. Maybe I should. But I do know that my friend’s dad eventually found the perfect “fit” for himself. And it seems like all of his previous professional and volunteer experiences prepared him for his administrative role with my home church.

It started this past January. I started to get the sense that I was on the brink of a major career change. Maybe my career was about to make a major shift, not unlike my friend’s dad. I told my brother as much while we were driving home from Mr. Gerhart’s funeral. I could tell that things were about to change. And maybe I’d find that perfect fit that aligns my skills, experiences, education, and passion into one dream job.

That was just the beginning of this journey.

So, what makes me tick?

I’ve come to realize that I am not happy unless I’m working to serve other people. It’s my passion. My heartbeat. It’s what makes me tick. When I worked at Slingshot SEO/digitalrelevance, I was drawn to the nonprofit clients who were spending a considerable amount of energy and effort to help others. As I continued down that digital marketing road, I began to dream: “What if I could take these skills that I’ve honed and the knowledge that I’ve gained and used it to help smaller organizations who are helping other people?”

Free Stock Photos for Blogs at picxclicx

It was a wonderful idea. But it wasn’t one I could execute anytime soon. I needed something to pay the bills. So I cobbled together a couple of jobs. You might remember that I thought it was a little too…cliché…and predictable. Even after leaving the school to stay home with my son, I still wound up finding myself back in another Special Needs classroom less than a year later.

After looking back at my work history over the past decade or so, it’s become pretty clear that helping people and serving others. It was also clear that I wasn’t going to be able to retire at either the Christian retail store* or as an Instructional Assistant at a school. So I started looking for positions that would give me the opportunity to help people.

I had  a few interviews. Several, in fact. There was a local organization who brought me in for two separate interviews last Summer. I never heard from them again, even though they promised to keep me updated. I had another promising interview not too long after that. It went well. I thought it. Never heard from them again.

A brief aside:  How hard is it to send a simple rejection email after you’ve met with a candidate? If you can’t be courteous enough to let me know that you chose the other person, perhaps I don’t want to work for you. Or partner with you. Or support you. If you can’t handle the little things like a simple rejection email, what does that say about how you handle the big things?

But I digress…

It was just a dream

A few months, a friend of mine told me about a position with a local organization that I might be interested in. She sent me the job description. At first glance, I didn’t think I was the kind of person they were looking for. But I believed this was the type of job I was looking for. And it really didn’t hurt anything to send them my resume. So I shot them an email. I didn’t really have my hopes up. I’d gotten my hopes up for other positions that I thought were a “perfect fit.” So I just went about my business, just doing what I do.

They called me in for an interview. Things went really well. Then they asked me back for another interview with the whole team. Things went really well. And in the midst of discussions with this organization, we moved out of one house and into another. And we were gearing up for the final push towards the end of the school year at my school.

Transitions!

Transitions everywhere!

Then, these dreams started popping up…

It has happened at least three times during the past two months. And each dream has pretty much followed the same storyline. For some reason, I’m back at the church where I preached for several years. Things are arranged differently. And a lot of people have passed away. You know how dreams go: It feels different. It feels the same. I know exactly where I am and I have no idea where I am, all at the same time.

All of a sudden, I’m expected to preach. I’m woefully unprepared as I try to piece something together last-minute. As I step on stage to deliver a cobbled together sermon, I wake up.

I think I know why I keep having this dream

It’s because of the transitions. When things get unsettled, I wind up having dreams that are similar to this. The dream keeps happening at this small church because of the interviews I’ve had recently. During my conversations with potential employers, I’ve discussed my experience in this small country church – both positive and negative.

Believe me, I’m long past having any hard feelings about what transpired. God made sure of that when He kicked me in the teeth a few years back. But I’m convinced that all of the discussions about my preaching experience, coupled with all of the life transitions that are going on, I kind of had to emotionally and mentally work through the direction my life is taking. And that has happened through this dream.

I believe I’m ready to announce the new direction for our family. No, we’re not adopting again. No, I’m not returning to the pulpit. And we’re certainly not moving again anytime soon. I have accepted a position with a local organization. I will be serving as an Employment Advisor, helping adults with Special Needs find jobs and thrive at their jobs. That’s right. I’m going to be a job coach.

And get this: I’ll also be taking over their digital promotions. So I’ll be overhauling their website and coordinating their social media efforts. How cool is that? I get to help people and take what I’ve learned about digital marketing to help a small, local nonprofit improve their digital footprint!

The streams, they have converged.

Of course, this isn’t anywhere close to anything that was on my radar six months ago. There’s a lot I need to learn. I realize that. That’s probably why I kept showing up unprepared in my dreams. But I know that whatever I don’t know, I’ll be able to learn. I’ll be part of a great team and I’m sure they’ll help me as I try to help them. Am I a little nervous? Sure. But I’m also excited beyond words.

Will I retire with this organization? I don’t know. I certainly hope so. There’s definitely opportunity for professional growth. And a few of my teammates have been with the organization for several years. There’s some staying power here.

tl;dr – I’ve accepted a position as an Employment Coach, helping people find and thrive in their jobs.

While I’m sad to leave my teammates and students in our Essential Skills classroom, I know they are going to have an amazing year next school year.  I’m very excited to kick off this next chapter in my life. And I’m looking forward to what will unfold over the next few years.

 

* Family Christian Stores recently ended its 85 year run and closed all 240 stores. Even if I’d stayed with them, it’s a sure bet I would not have retired as an FCS team member.

 

Some highlights from Aiden’s football season

Aiden Todd - Number 5

Aiden’s football season is over. He’s still practicing, helping the practice squad as the Center Grove Varsity Football team begins its quest to win another State title. And that’s important. But the Junior Varsity team’s season is over. So, for all practical purposes, Aiden’s season is done, too.

It’s really no secret that being a Sophomore on a team that has its share of upperclassmen makes it a challenge. So Aiden really hasn’t gotten as much playing time as he’s been used to having. That’s OK, though. Because he took advantage of the opportunities he had. Some people choose to sulk and complain about not getting very much playing time. And then they use that as an excuse for poor performance on the field (I’ve even heard some professional players do this). I’m happy to say that Aiden didn’t rely on excuses like that (even though it was probably tempting at times). He gave it his all, every time he was on the field.

In the final two games of the season, he was on the field a total of six plays. Like I said, this wasn’t really unexpected. But even though he wasn’t on the field very long, he had a huge impact on the games. Because within the span of just six plays, Aiden recovered a fumble and successfully defended a potential touchdown pass.

Earlier in the Summer, I asked my facebook friends to help come up with a nickname for Aiden since he was going to be wearing #5 this season. As you can see, we came up with a pretty good list.

I was partial to Red Five or Johnny Five, but those didn’t really gain much traction. When I presented the list to him, Aiden’s favorite was Five Finger Discount. Fitting, since he plays defense. Right? The problem was that it was such a long nickname that we never really used it.

We probably should have. Because he had a knack for robbing his opponents of the ball. Here’s some photographic evidence to support my claim.

Fumble Recovery

aiden-recovering-a-fumble

As this play unfolded, we saw commotion around the ball carrier. As you can see, #5 (aka Johnny Five aka Red Five aka Five Finger Discount) is about to jump into the heat of things. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to get a picture of what happened next. After the dust settled and the refs started peeling players off the dogpile, Aiden popped up and held the ball in the air.

I have to admit that I wasn’t sure if it was really Aiden or not. I mean, it looked like him and I was pretty sure it was #5 with the ball, but I didn’t see the ref say he had recovered the fumble. It was only after his name was announced over the PA system that he was, in fact, the one who came up with the ball, that everything caught up with me. It was a pretty cool moment to watch.

You could see that Aiden was excited about the fumble recovery as he bounced off the field. And that excitement didn’t fade throughout the rest of the game. Take another look at that photo at the very top of this post. I took it some 10-15 minutes after this game was over. He was still beaming. You can see it in the smirk on his face. I think he was trying to hide his excitement for the picture. Because, you know, serious football players aren’t supposed to smile (or something like that). But he really couldn’t.

From Five Finger Discount to “No Fly Zone.”

Before the final JV game of the season, Aiden said that he didn’t think he was going to have the chance to play. In the Varsity that took place the night before the JV game, Center Grove fought tooth and nail against Cathedral and wound up winning in overtime. It was a high scoring affair, but it was close throughout the game. That meant little room for any JV players to play on Friday night, which meant they would get more playing time during Saturday’s JV game. And that meant less opportunity for Aiden to play.

He did get to play, though. And again, he made the most of the opportunity. He probably saved a touchdown in the process. The opposing quarterback threw a deep, deep ball to his receiver, but #5 was there to break up the play.

aidens-almost-interception-detail

Aiden football highlights aidens-almost-interception-2 aidens-almost-interception-3 aidens-almost-interception-4

The crowd cheered. The team shouted. Some of his teammates called him “No Fly Zone.” Pretty cool stuff.

But here’s the thing: Aiden wasn’t happy about it. “I should have caught it,” he told me later. And he might be right. Although it looks like there could have been offensive pass interference on the play, he did have his hands on the ball. There’s a chance he could have caught it. But breaking up the pass the way he did? That was huge.

And he wasn’t satisfied with it.

You know, they say that football and other sports can make you a better student. After talking with Aiden about this play, I can see how that’s possible. He wasn’t happy with just a “good” play. He was kicking himself for missing the “great” play. It was only a matter of inches. That’s the difference between doing what’s “good enough” and what’s “excellent.” It can be the difference between getting an B+ and an A. And, of course, that can mean the difference between receiving a partial scholarship in college and earning a full-ride. So you shake off the past and keep working towards getting better.

Because sometimes it’s a matter of inches. That’s true in football. But it’s also true in life.

Hard work and dedication pay off. They don’t always result in accolades or recognition. Sometimes they don’t even result in a win. But you keep working. You keep trying. You keep pressing on and keep getting better. Sure, there will be difficulties. There will be obstacles. And there will probably be a failure or two (or more). But we keep going. That’s what makes a heart of a champion.

Regardless of what the scoreboard says.

What are you doing to become a champion today?

A few Septembers to remember

septembers-to-remember

September is a strange month for me. I’ve already talked about how September 11 is a mixture of laughter and sorrow in our house, thanks to our new family traditions. And, of course, there’s the anniversary of bringing Mihret home from Ethiopia. But there’s also a series of days in September that lead me to some self-reflection, contemplation, prayer, and even a little bit of dreaming. These anniversaries aren’t necessarily things I celebrate. They turned my world and my family’s world upside down. But I think they’re worth discussing,

September 1999

I did not attend Milligan with the intent of going into Youth Ministry. I don’t know what I really thought I was going to do with my Ministry degree, but youth ministry really wasn’t in my plan. Thanks to the recommendation of one of my professors, a church search committee approached me. Would I consider moving to Kentucky to take over the ministry programming from preschool thru college-aged students?

i’d recently graduated. I was a newlywed. And this position kind of fell into my lap. OK, it didn’t exactly fall into my lap. It wasn’t handed to me. I had to go through the interviews. We had to go through the process. But it was clear that doors were opening. So, although it was never part of my grand plan, I became a Youth Minister and moved our tiny little family of two to central Kentucky in early 1999.

It was clear from the beginning that I didn’t know what I was doing. Really. I can say that with almost two decades of analysis. I was ill-equipped. I can’t blame my alma mater for that. I just didn’t pay much attention to anything anyone said about youth ministry during my ministry-related classes because I was convinced I wasn’t going into youth ministry after college.

I was wrong. And it showed.

Christy tried to help me as much as she could. The staff tried to help me as much as they could. But in the end, there were too many unsaid, unmet, and unrealistic expectations. I had them. So did the Board. And so in early September, 1999, the Elders and I agreed that we should part ways.

This hurt in a lot of ways. This might be one of my biggest regrets. In retrospect, I believe things could have changed. Everything could have improved. And if I could go back and change things, I probably would. I was already emotionally exhausted just a few months into this ministry. So I left. And it hurt.

But I learned a lot from it. I was more confident than ever in my calling into some type of full time pastoral work. So I started addressing some organizational and administrative issues. I also talked to other youth ministers, attended some conferences, and had a better vision of what I thought a dynamic, impacting youth ministry would look like. And so I approached my next ministry position with a fresh outlook and renewed vigor.

September 2002

After everyone survived the Y2K non-disaster, I joined the ministry staff of a church in the Indianapolis area. With a great group of adult volunteers, some strong student leaders, and a passion to impact Indy, we made a difference. We went on a mission trip to serve a ministry reaching the Navajo nation. We began a student-led Sunday night worship service that was pretty fabulous. We hosted Christian concerts. We attended CIY’s summer conferences and Believe conferences. We had a written purpose and Vision. An abandoned firehouse was transformed into a student outreach center. Teens were getting baptized. Lives were being changed. I was turning down job opportunities at other churches. Things were clicking on all cylinders.

Then the wheels fell off.

Administrative issues kept rearing their ugly heads. Instead of addressing them head-on, I just pretended they didn’t exist. I wasn’t spending enough time with some of our students. Some parents were upset. That got other people upset. Including my immediate supervisor.

Bada-bing, Bada-boom…

I left the Student Ministry position in September, 2002. I felt betrayed, alone, and uncertain what to do next.

The Interim

I found myself questioning God quite a bit during this time. While I told my youth ministry kids, “Don’t give up on the church,” I have to admit that I was close to doing that myself. We tried attending churches nearby. We were always met by former members from my former employer. “What are you doing here?” they would ask, oblivious of the events that had recently transpired. It was a completely innocent question, but it cut like a knife.

Every. single. Sunday.

We eventually found a church in Fishers. It was a small church plant with big dreams. It was a place where we could get plugged in, but we could also start the healing process. It was like a soothing balm for our hurting souls.

Christy and I had two very young kids by this point. I did whatever I could to provide for them. I worked in warehouses. I managed a pizza joint. I was a substitute teacher. We moved in with my father in law for what was supposed to be just a month or two. Maybe three. It eventually turned into two years. I still attended conferences. I got some counseling. I learned some organizational tools that still help me today.

We knew this was just a season. But I’m not going to lie. It was hard. I had interview after interview. Christy and I wound up visiting all kinds of churches all over the place: from Iowa to Florida.

Nothing.

To make a long story short, we returned to Upper East Tennessee. I enrolled in seminary to solidify whatever cracks may have surfaced in my ministry foundation.

September 2011

After Christy earned her M.Ed degree at ETSU and I had completed three years of seminary, we started to sense that our season in Tennessee’s fair eastern mountains was coming to a close. In the Summer before what was going to be my final year in seminary, we loaded up a moving van, hugged some dear friends, and waved goodbye to Johnson City. I had accepted a preaching position in a small church south of Muncie, Indiana. It was a homecoming, of sorts. And because of a series of events that included some wide open doors and some doors that had been slammed shut, I was confident we were where God had led us. I think it’s safe to say, though, that I never really felt at home there.

Some great things happened during that ministry. There were some pretty high highlights. I baptized Aiden and Alyson there. But I’m not going to lie. It was a rocky time. Whenever I’d get together with other pastors from the area, someone would always wind up saying, “I can’t believe you’ve stuck around with them this long.” And this was without telling them anything that had been going on.

I’m not gong to lie. I questioned God. A lot. Why would God lead me somewhere like this? There were days when it felt like I couldn’t do anything to ever satisfy some people in the congregation. I felt like a punching bag sometimes.

But when you look at people like Jeremiah, Elijah, and even Moses, it’s important to remember that “calling” does not always equal “fun times.” Sometimes God asks us to do things we don’t really want to do. And since I was still sure that God had led us to East Central Indiana, I needed to stop complaining and keep doing my best to reach our community. But I quietly looked around for other opportunities.

I stuck around with them for four years before they decided they’d had enough of me. It was pretty apparent early on that I wasn’t going to retire there. I was never going to be seen as a “local.” I saw first hand how the stereotypes about small churches might be more true than we want to admit. And there was plenty of talk about people and their problems instead of talking to them. And very little was actually decided upon by those in leadership. People just kind of did what they wanted to do and claimed the leadership had agreed to it. And that worked because nobody really knew what they really did or didn’t agree to do.

It is no secret that I was not surprised when they fired me. But it still hurt. A lot. The sense of betrayal cut deep. I could go into details, but I won’t. Let’s just say that it took a long time for those wounds to heal. It honestly took a good teeth-kicking.

Moving on

Things have certainly changed over the years since we were pushed out of Eacst Central Indiana. Our family has grown. I’ve picked up marketing/PR skills and experience. I know who I am. And I know Whose I am. That’s where I find my satisfaction and worth. I don’t need a title or position to have meaning.  Although I do preach in some area churches on occasion, I’ve moved on.

I’ve moved on.

Do I question my calling? Nope. I believe God used me in each of those ministry situations. I also firmly believe that He is using me right here where I am now. And that isn’t in the pulpit.

Every once in a while, someone will ask me if I plan on returning to the pulpit full-time. I say that I’m not against it. But it will require a giant neon sign floating in the sky that refers to me by name with a very specific set of instructions.

And I’m only half joking.

After seeing the dark underbelly of, for lack of a better word, church “politics,” you might wonder what I think about church in general. I think it could be argued that I’m even more dedicated tot he ministry of the church throughout the world, I’m spite of my not-so-positive experiences. In reality, all of us are messed up. And when messed up people get together, they’re likely to make messed up decisions and mess up some things along the way. That’s the beauty of the mission of God. He uses messed up people with messed up lives to accomplish His plan.

Don’t believe me?

There are countless examples in the Bible. If you need for me to, I can spell them out for you. If I was still preaching regularly, it would make a great sermon series. Maybe I’ll just write a book instead.

Hey, that’s not a bad idea. I don’t think I need a neon sign for that one.

5 ways Crater Lake prepared me for life

5 Ways Crater Lake Camp Prepared Me for Life

This post may use affiliate links. Learn more in my Disclosure Policy.

Twenty years ago this month, I loaded my backpack, laced up my hiking boots, and boarded a bus that was bound for an Amtrak station. On that day, I said goodbye to what might have been the most memorable Summer I’ve ever had. After my seventh visit* to Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimmaron, New Mexico, I knew that a significant chapter of my life was coming to a close.

I was not going to return to Scouting Paradise in 1997. I was already committed to taking a Summer class at Milligan. 1998 was out, too. I was already on track for an internship that Summer. And who knew what was going to happen beyond college, but I was 99.99% sure that spending another summer on staff at Philmont was not going to be in the proverbial cards. I knew that my stint as a member of the 1996 Crater lake staff was going to be my last hurrah.

And I was going to make the most of it.

I couldn’t have asked for a better team to work with during that final Summer. Andy, Ron, Karl, and Jon were some pretty great guys. They still are. Sometimes, I felt a bit out of my league as their teammate. They were hilarious. Creativity oozed out of their pores. You know how everyone talks about the Magnificent Seven from the Atlanta Games in 1996? I believe the 1996 Crater Lake crew was just as magnificent. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that I was in the presence of greatness the Summer of 1996.

There are a lot of great memories that I still carry with me from that Summer: getting pelted by golfball-sized hail, climbing on the roof of our cabin to gaze into the vast expanse of stars every night, throwing a loaf of bread across the dinner table any time someone asked for some bread, and the hundreds of Scouts we taught how to climb a spar pole, just to name a few.

Spar Pole Climbing at Crater Lake in 1996

The Summer of 96 was life-changing for me. I became friends with an amazing group of guys. I made some amazing memories. And it prepared me for the rest of my life.

5 ways serving on staff at Crater Lake at Philmont Scout Ranch prepared me for life:

Continue reading “5 ways Crater Lake prepared me for life”

Easy Orange Chicken and Rice

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #ReadySetServe #CollectiveBias

Easy Orange Chicken and Rice Recipe #ReadySetServe [AD]

Always on the go.

Life is pretty hectic around here..

Now that school has started, it’s even more hectic. While Christy’s getting ready for her teaching job, It’s my job to light a fire under our three high schoolers so they’re up, dressed, and out the door in time for the school bus to arrive before the crack of dawn. Then, after they’re on their way to their respective schools, our youngest and I get ready to go to our school.

That’s right. I work at my daughter’s school. While I love working there, I don’t think anyone is as excited as she is about this new development. She’s always excited to see Daddy when she walks down the hallway. It gives me a little lift during the day, too.

Believe me.

Work is fast-paced. I’m working directly with students and every day presents a new set of challenges, surprises, and opportunities. Almost every part of my day is busy. Even lunch.

It doesn’t really slow down after school, either. If I’m not picking up one of our two athletes from their practices, I’m heading to meetings or helping someone with homework. My afternoons and evenings are just as hectic as my mornings.

Lunch time?

I really don’t have very much time to pack myself elaborate lunches. Shoot, I’m lucky to get our daughter’s lunches packed in the morning. And since I only have a half an hour for lunch, I really don’t have much time to prepare anything during my lunch time. It has to be quick and easy. Because this is one of the few “down” moments I have in the day, I want to make the most of it. There’s no room for bland meals. It’s just unacceptable.

Minute Ready to Serve Rice is easily portable #ReadySetServe [AD]

That’s why Minute® Ready to Serve Rice has become a regular part of my school lunches. The cups are portable and easily fit inside my backpack. They’re ready to eat in 60 seconds. And with a wide variety of flavors, a Minute Ready to Serve rice cup can be served with almost any meal at any time of the day. The flavors include:

  • Brown Rice
  • Brown and Wild Rice
  • Multi-Grain Medley
  • Brown Rice & Quinoa
  • Basmati Rice
  • Jasmine Rice
  • White Rice
  • Chicken Rice Mix
  • Fried Rice

Available at groceries nationwide, I found several flavors at my nearby Walmart. They’re the perfect size for a meal, ensuring a healthy portion to help provide the necessary fuel for my day. With a quick stop at the store, I am able to pick up a few simple ingredients for some great lunches during the week.

Minute Ready to Serve Rice store collage #ReadySetServe [AD]

If you can’t come up with something amazing to do with these different flavors, Minute Rice has taken things a step further. They provide some great recipe ideas on their facebook page.

I’m a big fan of a recipe I’ve created myself: Easy Orange Chicken and Rice. Just like the Minute Ready to Serve cups, this meal is easy to carry, easy to make, and full of flavor. The sauce takes just a few minutes to make ahead of time, but it’s so quick even I can fit it into my hectic schedule.

Minute Ready to Serve Rice at Walmart #ReadySetServe

Here’s what I use to make my Easy Orange Chicken and Rice:

1 Minute Ready to Serve Basmati Rice Cup
1/2 Cup Popcorn Chicken
1/4 Cup Orange Chicken Sauce (see below)

Easy Orange Chicken and Rice Ingredients #ReadySetServe

It doesn’t really matter where you get the popcorn chicken. You can buy some hot popcorn chicken from your neighborhood grocery. Or you can buy a bag of frozen popcorn chicken if you’d like. That’s what I usually do. I grab a handful of popcorn chicken from the freezer, toss it in a storage container, and bring it with me to work. It’s almost as easy as grabbing the cup of Minute Ready to Serve Rice!

Once you have all of your ingredients, here’s what you do. Don’t blink while you read this or you might miss something. It’s that quick.

Heat the chicken, according to directions. Set aside and allow it to cool.

Remove lid from Minute Ready to Serve Basmati Rice. Heat according to directions.

Warm up the Orange Sauce.

Combine the chicken, Minute Ready to Serve Rice, and Orange Sauce.

Eat and enjoy! 

Here’s how to make the sauce.

1/3 Cup Orange Marmalade
1/3 Cup Barbecue Sauce
1 teaspoon Soy Sauce

Orange Sauce #ReadySetServe

Combine all three ingredients.

Simmer on the stove for 15-20 minutes.
-OR-
Microwave for 1 minute.

Stir.

Keep in refrigerator in an airtight container until needed for your Easy Orange Chicken and Rice.

I told you it was easy.

This Easy Orange Chicken and Rice lives up to its name. I’m not sure if it could be any less complicated. And thanks to the convenience of Minute Ready to Serve Rice cups, it’s a dish that can be ready in five minutes or less. It’s perfect for my hectic work days. And the tangy sweetness of the sauce makes this an oh-so good lunch!

Ready for lunch #ReadySetServe [AD]

You can easily adapt this dish to fit your preferences. Sometimes I like to add some veggies, like broccoli and carrots to this dish. And diced pineapple is a fruit to have as a side.

That’s just the beginning.

There are so many different ways you can use Minute Ready to Serve Rice that the Easy Orange Chicken is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. I can use the cups in my breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It makes a great midday snack. It’s great in soups and salads. Shoot, I can even use it in a dessert!

The possibilities are endless. Fortunately, Minute Rice has compiled some great recipe ideas that are quick, easy, and delicious. You can find these ideas on Instagram and via their Twitter profile, They also have a searchable database of recipes available here. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to have to try the Pumpkin Pie Rice Pudding next Fall!

Which Minute Ready to Serve Rice recipe are you going to try?

Please share in the comments below.

7 ways to make laundry more pleasant

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #TryMembersMark #CollectiveBias

7 Ways to Make laundry More Pleasant - #TryMembersMark

Can I be honest for a moment? I’ve never really been a fan of doing the laundry. I know that doesn’t necessarily single me out as odd or unusual. In fact, I can’t think of anyone I know who actually enjoys doing the laundry. But it’s true.

When I was in college, I dreaded lugging my clothes down to our dorm’s basement to the laundry/weight room. I procrastinated as long as possible, which probably made things worse in the long-run. After college, my appreciation for doing the laundry never really improved. I think it’s because the job never stops. Ever. As soon as you’re done folding that last load of laundry, you know the dirty clothes are going to start accumulating again. It’s a never-ending cycle and it’s half-tempting to just wear the same outfit every day for a week just so you can have a small break from having to do the laundry again.

7 ways to make your laundry more pleasant #TryMembersMark

It’s tedious. And the amount of laundry that has to be done seems to increase exponentially with each member that is added to your household. Now that we’re a family of six (including three teenagers), that’s a lot of laundry to tackle. And since I’ve taken on the role of stay-at-home, homeschooling Dad during this season of life, the bulk of the responsibility for managing household chores has fallen onto my shoulders. And that includes the laundry.

I’ve discovered rather quickly that you really can’t avoid doing the laundry when you’re a family of six. The clothes aren’t going to wash themselves, unfortunately. And if you procrastinate, it spirals out of control in a hurry. So instead of dreading the chore of doing the laundry, I’ve decided to find some ways to make the never-ending cycle of sorting, washing, drying, and folding the laundry a little less dreadful. Here are 7 ways I’ve discovered to make laundry more pleasant.

1. Use a quality laundry detergent

If you’re spending all this time doing laundry, you want to make sure the job is done right the first time. You can’t waste time re-washing clothes that should’ve come clean after one wash. It’s imperative to use a quality laundry detergent. And if you can find a quality detergent at an affordable price? What’s more pleasant than that? That’s where Member’s Mark® comes in.

7 ways to make laundry more pleasant #TryMembersMark

We’re big fans of Sam’s Club. Being a member there means we can find great deals for our family. It’s our go-to place for stocking up on household goods.

Available in Fresh Scent and in Paradise Splash, Member’s Mark Ultimate Clean Detergent is specially formulated to get the job done, delivering excellent cleaning performance. It also helps brighten your colors and whiten your whites. The patented Ultimate Clean technology tackles tough stains in all temperature settings. Since it’s only available through Sam’s Club, it’s a great value for members.

Member's Mark collage

2. Keep things organized

“Dad! Have you seen my school ID?”

I probably hear this at least twice a week. Of course, this was usually approximately 30 seconds before the student of mine was supposed to be at the bus stop. So it threw us into a panic because someone would remember seeing it in the laundry room because it was in someone’s pants pocket. But it was never where anyone remembered seeing it. And with the bus barrelling towards the bus stop, we would find ourselves in a mad dash around the house in a vain attempt to find the missing student ID. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Not the best way to start your morning.

Lost student IDs, loose change, medicine, unused gum, unwrapped candy – all of these things get stuffed into pockets at our house. And then they’re discovered while loading the washing machine. We used to just sit these random articles on top of the dryer, hoping someone else would eventually claim the miscellaneous items. But before someone could claim them, they would get lost again.

No more.

7 Ways to Make laundry More Pleasant - #TryMembersMark

Now there’s a specific place for all of these lost articles. I created a simple box to store all of my laundry equipment. There’s room for dryer sheets. There’s a space for the contents of everyone’s pockets. There’s a spot for a lint roller, because I can never find one when I need it. There’s also a great place to store my Members Mark laundry detergent. And I don’t have to worry about causing a mess by spilling the soap. It has a no-mess dispenser that prevents leaks and minimizes spillage.

It was really easy to make and I love having all of my supplies in one place. You can easily customize it however you’d like, but here’s the basics of what you’ll do.

What you’ll need:

7 Ways to Make laundry More Pleasant - #TryMembersMark
1 cardboard box (approximately 2’x1′)
box cutter (or scissors)
1 roll contact paper
1 roll dry-erase contact paper

What you’ll do:

  1. Remove flaps from top of the box. Please be sure to use proper cutting tool safety techniques. You don’t want to wind up like me when I misused an ax.
  2. On each side of the box, cut a line from the top corner to the lower corner, creating triangle-shaped sides to the box.
    7 Ways to Make laundry More Pleasant - #TryMembersMark
  3. Remove the front of the box, keeping approximately one inch at the bottom of the box. This will allow you to easily see and grab anything in the box, but it will also keep all of the items in the box.
  4. Cut out a 1 inch by 1 inch notch in the front lip of the box, allowing the no-mess dispenser to stick out of the box.
    7 Ways to Make laundry More Pleasant - #TryMembersMark
  5. Cover the box with your favorite contact paper, smoothing out air bubbles along the way. Be sure to keep the back panel free for the next step.
  6. Place a sheet of dry-erase contact paper on the back panel of the box. Be sure to hold on to your remaining dry-erase contact paper. You might want it for tip #7.

That’s it! It’s pretty easy and took me less than an hour to make, when all was said and done. Once you’re done, you can put a few small baskets or bowls inside the box. I like to keep our dryer sheets in the box, too. That way everything is in one place.

3. Make and keep a schedule

Like I said earlier, it’s far too easy to let laundry get out of control. You have to stay on top of it. And if you wait to do all of your laundry in one day, you’re going to spend all day doing laundry. And no matter how pleasant we try to make the laundry experience, spending all day in the laundry room is not my idea of a good time. In order to prevent this, it’s necessary to divide and conquer. Wash a different type of clothing each day.

Here’s one idea:

Monday: clothes – bright and dark colors
Tuesday: clothes – tans and grays (we have a lot of this color in our house)
Wednesday: towels and washcloths
Thursday: clothes – whites and delicates
Friday: bedsheets and blankets
Saturday: catch up on anything missed earlier in the week

Obviously, this is just a suggestion. You need to figure out what works best for your family. And if you have kids in sports, you’ll probably have to make room for their special sports-related equipment.

Of course, if you practice the next tip (#4), your schedule will look completely different. But that’s OK. The important thing is that you have a schedule and you keep to that schedule. Otherwise, things will just get out of control. And your clothes just might grow their own legs and try to walk away.
spilling out of dryer

4. Consider sorting by room instead of by color

I haven’t been brave enough to try this one yet. But here’s the reasoning: Why take extra time to un-sort everyone’s clothes into big piles of darks, whites, delicates, etc., only to turn right back around and re-sort everything? Simply keep all of the clothes from one room together and wash them together. Once you’re done washing, drying, and folding, they go right back into the basket that they came from.

This makes total sense to me in theory. It eliminates what might be unnecessary middle steps. And I’ve put some of this method into practice. I generally wash one load of whites from a room and follow it by a load of colors. So each room generally has two loads of laundry washed when I’m washing from that room.

If this is part of your laundry routine, I’d love to hear about how it works for you. Please share your insights in the comments!

5. Listen to something.

When I’m outside mowing the grass, I’m usually listening to one or two of my favorite podcasts. When I’m doing the dishes and cleaning up around the house, I’m usually listening to a local sports talk radio station. When it’s time for laundry, I need to listen to something with a little more…oomph…to it. Depending on my mood, I have three different go-to playlists that I listen to while sorting, washing, drying, and folding the laundry (you can listen to them here, here, and here). So while my son is either doing schoolwork on his own or practicing soccer outside, I can plug in my earbuds and focus on the task at hand. It certainly helps make the chore go faster.

6. Pretreat stains as soon as possible.

The label on the Member’s Mark detergent says that after checking a hidden area for colorfastness, rub a small amount directly on the stain before washing. You want to do this as soon as you can. The longer you wait to pretreat a stain, the harder it is to get out. Believe me. I know this from experience.

7. Never forget your hangers again.

Need hangers

Has this happened to you? You have a shirt you don’t want to dry in the dryer. It could be for a multitude of reasons. You want to make sure a stain is out. Or maybe you’re afraid the fabric will shrink. Or the shirt’s care instructions say you should only line-dry it. Whatever the reason, there are times you want to hang up an article of clothing after running it through the wash. So you’re there at the end of the spin cycle, ready to transfer all of the clothes from the washing machine to the dryer.

And you do exactly that.

You take everything that was in the washing machine and run it through the dryer. Even the clothes you really wanted to line-dry. It happens to the best of us. I promise.

I tried putting hangers on the washing machine itself, thinking that if I had to remove the hangers in order to get to the clean clothes, I’d remember to hang that amount of clothes. Unfortunately, the hangers accidentally find themselves on the ground sometimes. And then you’re back to putting all of the clothes in the dryer again.

Here’s what you do – remember the dry-erase contact paper you used for the box in Tip #2? Cut off a sheet of that and place it on the lid of your washing machine. Now you can write yourself a note. You know, something like, “Don’t forget to hang up your your favorite shirt!” or “3 items to hang” or something like that.

You can store your dry erase markers in the handy-dandy organizing box. And you’ll never forget to hang up an item of clothing again. How great is that?

Your turn!

I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to improving your laundry experience. I’m always looking for new ways to improve my methods. What laundry tips do you have? And while you’re at it, go ahead and try Member’s Mark Fresh Scent or Paradise Splash. Let me know what you think.

A bittersweet goodbye

This post may use affiliate links. Learn more in my Disclosure Policy.

This is most definitely a bittersweet post, to be sure…

Bittersweet Goodbye

I have mentioned it before and I’ll say it again today: serving as an Instructional Aide in a Special Education classroom for elementary students is a rewarding experience. A challenge? Sure. Exhausting? Absolutely. And some days, when it feels like you’re doing nothing but changing diapers and dealing with one behavior issue after another, But it’s a job that I loved from Day One.

autism sitesSo believe me when I say that it’s with a bittersweet spirit that I announce that I have tendered my resignation from the school. I am no longer working with those kiddos. I’m no longer spending the day in a room with some pretty amazing adults who will move heaven and earth to do what’s right for those kids. I was part of a pretty remarkable team. And I’ll certainly miss working with them every day.

So if I loved working in that classroom so much, why am I leaving?

Well that was the bitter part of this bittersweet post.  Now for the sweet…

I’m staying home.

After much discussion, prayer, and consideration, Christy and I have decided that I should stay home and help Weldu transition to his new life here in the States. I’ll still be working some evenings at the bookstore, but our son will be my focus. During this time, we’re going to be focusing on English and basic academic skills. Our current thought is that he’s going to enroll in high school for the Fall semester. Of course, he could say he’s ready to go to school after Spring Break.

Who knows?

I sure don’t. But we’re going to find out. And it’s going to be an adventure.

This isn’t the first time we’ve been involved in homeschooling. Christy did it a few years ago with one of our kids. Even so, the thought of doing this is exciting and frightening and exhilarating and worrisome all wrapped into one. But we firmly believe this is the best thing for Weldu at this time.

autism products

So I guess you could say that I’ve become a homeschooling dad. Six months ago, I would have laughed at the thought of me teaching my son. OK. Maybe I’m still laughing at the thought. Sometimes.

What’s the line? Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Right? Well that’s where we are. We’re taking the first steps of this new journey with Weldu as the two-plus-year adventure to bring Weldu home has finally come to a close.

So if you have any advice, tips, words of wisdom, or homeschool resources to pass along, I’m all ears.

It’s going to be a challenge, I’m sure. And I know it will be uncomfortable at times. And I’m positive there will be days where I wonder what on earth I’m doing.

But this kid?

He’s worth it.

 

Effortless Apple Nachos for an effortless meal

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #EffortlessMeals #CollectiveBias

Apple Nachos Recipe #EffortlessMeals #ad

I don’t know what it’s like at your house, but Fall is the season of controlled chaos around here. Well, I hope it’s controlled. Our three kids are enrolled at three different schools and their events seem to be stacked on top of each other. I’m working two jobs and Christy’s job requires a lot of prep at home. Homework demands, doctor appointments, and church commitments keep us on our toes. And in our free time, we’re usually taking Aiden to and from something football related. Yes, our lives are hectic. Sometimes it even feels like Christy and I are expected to be in three different places at the same time. In the midst of our family’s hustle and bustle, we still try to make sharing a meal together a top priority. That’s why I’m glad Walmart has effortless meals that are quick and easy. They’re the perfect meal for busy families like ours. Continue reading “Effortless Apple Nachos for an effortless meal”