Thursday, April 30, 2020

Something I will continue past COVID-19: Member's Mark Toilet Paper

Our last pre-shelter in place trip to Sam’s Club (early March) had toilet paper on the list. We didn’t want to be part of the rush on the shelves but we only had about four rolls left at home.

When we got there they had 45 roll packs of Members Mark toilet paper on pallets.

We didn’t need 45 rolls. We'v never needed 45 rolls at once. But that’s all they had. And they only had Member’s Mark Toilet paper.

I have tried Member’s Mark products in the past. It started with a briefcase (not bad) then disinfectant wipes (this was a long time ago and they were good), then decaf coffee kcups (also decent).

There’s a product commitment continuum at work here.  A new brand has to build up trust before they can move along that continuum. And toilet paper is, as you might imagine, on the far end of that continuum. One does not simply move from coffee directly to toilet paper.

Well one doesn’t on the product commitment continuum anyway.

In the absence of other options I’m certain we would have never gone to Member’s Mark toilet paper.

And I’m doubly sure we wouldn’t have jumped in with 45 rolls.

But (no pun intended) we didn’t have any other choice.

And it was 45 mega rolls at that point! A total of 293.6 square feet per roll. Multiply that all out and we could cover the house. I think. I might do another post on this number later.

I mention square footage because square feet is the only way I can tell how much toilet paper I’m really getting.  

It used to be easy: TP came in a four roll pack. Then someone (Charmain I think) came up with super rolls which were like two rolls in one, then mega rolls which were three in one, then you’ll need to cut a slot in the drywall to fit this roll, and so on.

And all of the sudden I need a calculator to figure out how many rolls I’m getting per dollar.

I digress.

We got a cart full (aka 45 rolls) of Member’s Mark TP.

The bottom (pun completely intended) line: Their toilet paper is soft. Really soft. You could use it for a pillow soft. And it’s not single ply crap (pun also intended) either.

45 rolls goes a long way too. 

As I write this we still have over 40 rolls left.

But (pun intended and beaten to death) at some point we will run out. And when we do I will run out to Sam’s to get more.

This also effectively gives Members Mark an “Advance to Go” card. Any product that lies between kcups and toilet paper (facial tissue for example) is now green lighted.

I wonder if they make hair clippers?

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The unofficial rating of stores and restaurants doing pickup during COVID-19

Disclaimer: The rating is only for those stores where one of us has actually used their pickup service.

Kroger (10/10): Amazing. They have it down to a science, at least at our Mt. Orab store. The only thing I can nitpick (-1) is that the wait time has gotten longer as more people use the service. But (+1) they have waived the service charge for the duration of the COVID crisis.

LaRosa’s (10/10): Pull up, give your name, get your pizza, bye bye.

Sam’s Club (9/10): It's slick and it's quick. The only issue is it's hard to tell when you're out of something.

Chipotle (9/10): Would have been 10/10 but the last time Joe went there they didn’t have our order ready. Still, the food was awesome.

O’Charley’s (9/10): The only issue was they were out of some menu items. But they called to get me replacement items. And from my point of view the meal wasn't going to be made or broken by a Wedge salad. 

The food was amazing.

UPDATE NOW (3/10): A second trip to O'Charley's confirmed Joe's gut reaction on the first trip "I felt like I got lucky on the delivery - they didn't really seem to have it together.

They had a system issue. That caused a 30 minute delay - beyond the 30 minutes the system told us we would have to wait. The steaks were almost raw, the salmon was cold and they gave Beth the wrong food. The only reason I didn't rank them below Lowe's was they gave us $10 off and two bags of rolls. 

Meijer (6/10): They don’t have a spot dedicated for pickup item parking (-1) so you have to text back and forth with your Shipt shopper. Also, they charge for the service (-1) from the first time and every time. That said, our Shipt shopper was very nice, and sent texts back and forth when they were out of what we wanted. 

Meijer recommends tipping the shopper. I don’t mind that. As I said, she was very nice and she did a good job. Between that and the fee I was $10 behind Kroger before we ever got started.

Lowe’s (2/10): When Joe went to pick up our new lawnmower they put the box next to the car and said “Sorry, you have to load it yourself.” That would have gotten them a 4/10, but the woman who told Joe he had to load it had an attitude like “Duh! Didn’t you know that?” (-1). 

Fortunately Joe is an engineering student and was able to figure it out. 

Also, the time I went to pick something up it took two phone calls. The first one went to the land of the quick busy signal (-1). Mind you, that’s what happens half the time I call Lowe’s for anything.

The only advantage to pickup at Lowe’s is – you get your items. There was a line halfway around the store when I did pick up. It was 6:45 and the store closed at 7:00. I’m not sure what all the people in the line were doing, but it’s safe to say it wasn’t math. Maybe I’m the only one who does Algebra when I’m waiting in line (There are 15 people ahead of me in line. Ten minutes ago there were 17 ahead of me. It is currently 6:45 so my ETE – estimated time of entry is – 8:10pm. I'm out.).

But I digress.

The final advantage to pickup at Lowe’s: People in line stand about one foot apart and don't wear masks. Not getting COVID-19 in their line is an advantage of pickup, but does not earn them points.

Arby's (0.5/10): We went there recently and ordered two fish sandwiches. They gave us one fish sandwich and one Greek Gyro. How is that even possible? They don't look the same, they don't taste the same and they don't even share a single ingredient. You screw up half my order you get half a point.

Final note. It's local, but it still counts:

Roothouse Aquaponics (11/10): We order and pay online. We walk over there. As we walk up the driveway someone meets us with our order. And the lettuce, cilantro, microgreens and tilapia are delicious. Way beyond what you can get in a store. Bonus point (+1): Sometimes the dog comes out with his ball and we play catch.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Something I will carry past COVID-19 - Recorded Zoom meetings.

I take a lot of notes. And I do a fairly good job with them. I take them in four colors (you may have heard). In addition my grown up four color pen has a pencil on it - useful for side margin notes that I know I will later erase. (Use your imagination)

But for all my notes, there are times when I go back the next day or next week and say "What exactly did I mean by that?"

I can now answer that question, thanks to recorded Zoom meetings.

Last weekend I had a call with my public speaking coach, Michael Davis of Speaking CPR. We covered a lot of ground. I took a lot of notes. I thought I captured everything.

I captured MAYBE 50% of what was said.

Yesterday I went back and watched the recording. Wow. I added a second full page of notes. Notes that, in combination with the recording, I will put into my speech script today.

Normally Mike and I meet over breakfast. I do miss that. But in terms of improving my speeches this Zoom meeting is even more effective.

I guess we could zoom our breakfast meeting when we next can meet for breakfast. Yeah... and we could invite people. Make it a pay per view. Watch me tear into an omelet while Mike gives great advice.

OR... we could just meet for breakfast and then zoom after. So many options...

Monday, April 27, 2020

Something I will carry past COVID-19: Naming my day

Recently I was reading and came across an idea by Dr. Dave Martin. I don't know that he came up with this idea, but it's a simple and profound one:

To seize the day you must name the day.

I changed it up a little bit: Name my day. Adding that pronoun makes all the difference. Every morning when I wake up I have been given a day, It's my day. I need to make the most of the day I've been given. To do that, I need to name my day.

Some of the examples given by Dr. Dave were productivity, efficiency, study, organizing, decision, value, diligence or activity.

The concept is similar to one outlined in Jack Canfield's The Success Principles (Jack is also one of the authors of the hugely successful Chicken Soup for the Soul series). In the success principles, you choose one of three focuses for each day: Best (as in my best results / execution), Plan (as in plan for more days of best results, or Rest (as in what I did on Saturday).

I have used Jack's ideas in my monthly planning (he even has a free monthly planner here, you do need to sign up for e-mails though).

On a daily basis though, I like the idea of being more specific on naming my day. For instance, yesterday was my day of (excuse the term) "Cleaning shit up". That wasn't literal, but it was memorable. Every time I needed to think of the day - I knew right away what I needed to do next.

As for today, it's the day of "Completing every task on today's to-do list". That helped me set up the list in the morning ("There's no way of getting to that today, I will postpone") and helps me through the day. Complete a task, check it off and move on.

For example: One of the items on today's list was "Publish the Name My Day" blog post.


Sunday, April 26, 2020

A great side benefit of cleaning up the basement

Our Sunday project this week was I found a box of my old Games Magazines. From around 1998 through 2003 I had a subscription to Games Magazine. I always read through The Games 100 (as I made my Christmas List). I sometimes worked some of the pencil-wise puzzles. I also took them on vacation - we would work the crossword puzzles in the car or during a rainy day.

But more often than not, the Games Magazine was placed in a "to be worked later" pile. Eventually that pile was moved to a box. The box was put on a shelf for a future time when I had more time.

Well, the future is now.

I pulled out the magazines, and started working through some of my favorite kinds of puzzles (paint by number, logic and a few others.
Paint by number

There are rumors that this COVID sheltering could go on a long time. Good thing I have plenty of magazines!

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Something I will carry past COVID-19: Buy local

Full disclosure: We went with Lee and Jacks for our refrigerator before COVID-19, so it's not fully accurate to say this is an entirely new thing.

On Wednesday we had a repairman come out and look at our washer. It kept getting an error code after my aforementioned fix. I wondered out loud if the error (SUD or F2 depending on the day) was a damaged drain pump - related to the fact that I didn't know I was supposed to clean out the filter occasionally.

Short answer: Probably.

The impeller in the drain pump was damaged and on the way to ruin.

I also noticed we had a piece of the door seal torn away. This, coupled with a sometimes slow (or not) draining machine, caused a leak.

So we called someone from Central Service. The repairman was very nice, and diagnosed the problem: It needed a new door seal and a new pump.

The price of those was over halfway to a new machine. The current machine was almost 13 years old.

I found a new machine on sale at Lowe's. I was about to order when I decided to give our local appliance store (Lee and Jack's) a call. I told the salesman what I wanted. A little while later he called me back. They didn't have the exact model I wanted (Note: The Lowe's site said limited inventory, so there was a chance they didn't have it either) but they had something close for $100 less than Lowe's (and $70 less than the washer we bought 13 years ago). I looked it up, and said "We'll take it".

One day later, the delivery truck from Lee and Jack's was there. The delivery guys wore masks. We stayed a social distance away. They hauled away the old washer and installed the new one.

And it looks really cool.

Faster delivery, better price and if we have any issues, Lee and Jack's will be out here much faster than a chain store would be. Win/win/win.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Something I want to carry past COVID-19 - small thoughtful gifts

I borrowed my father in law's Gator 4x2 for this week's mulch project. When I borrowed it I told him "I left a payment on your garage shelf."

He was pretty sure I put a beer there.

It wasn't a beer. It was a bottle of his favorite Tawny Port.

I had the idea as soon as we started using Kroger Clicklist. I put two bottles (one for him, one for me) in the cart.

Every order I would ask for two bottles. And every order I would get a message "Out of stock". Were people using this for sanitizer? What gives?

On Tuesday our luck changed. In addition to all the other groceries, there were two bottles of port.

Before I got home with the Gator my wife got a call from him "He can keep it for a week!"

Thursday as Beth and I walked out the driveway I noticed something yellow on the ground. It was a painted rock. Someone from church has been leaving these rocks on people's doorsteps and driveways.

It was a really cool moment. We both knew that someone was thinking of us and it made us feel great.

When I was young people wrote more letters and cards. It was a cool moment to get a note (or a cereal box top baseball game) in the mail. With the exception of Christmas and birthdays this has been largely lost to technology. The unexpected note has almost been entirely lost.

Until recently I didn't even miss it. Now that I have it again, I want to keep it going. Time to buy some cards and stamps!

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Something I will carry past COVID-19 - the full blown mulch project

As noted before we were able to get our yard in football season form early. 

This week we took another step in the yard project. We added mulch around all the trees. It seemed like we never had the time before, but this year, we took the extra time. I'm pretty happy with the results:

All of our mulch is lab tested

Here's the surprise:

It wasn't that much more time to do the additional mulch.

To put the additional mulch around the trees took us maybe two hours. And that counts getting the pickup truck, buying the mulch and then putting it down.

It's just that in years past I let the time get away from me early in the spring. We then had to do a rush job to get the basic areas covered.

I also confined the mulching to the weekend. This was based on a preference of saving my vacation.

When I stopped to think about it I realized a day spent outdoors in great weather is a great way to spend a day of vacation.

It's a win for us, a win for the yard, and a win for the dogs.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Something I will carry past COVID-19: Yard time!

As mentioned before on this blog (and elsewhere) our yard looks really good by the end of the fall.

This is thanks to the fact that I can stand watching about 30 minutes of the Cleveland Browns before I write them off for another year.

But (also as mentioned on this blog) - this spring the yard looks great, thanks to the shelter at home.

This morning when I woke up I walked out with the dogs and smelled the fresh cut grass. And I saw the sun coming up over the yard.

I enjoy mowing. I enjoy the way the yard looks when I finish. I enjoy getting the steps (although my Apple watch doesn't count all of them when I mow).

Really, outside of weather (and work related travel I guess), there's no reason I can't continue to get those benefits after the COVID-19 crisis. The key is to plan the time.

Especially this year - the yard should look great all summer.  We were going to go to Europe for two weeks in June. That trip had to be postponed. That means I have two extra weeks of vacation. That equates to ten extra days of time to make the yard look great. Even if the Browns are somehow interesting this year I still have enough time.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Great things Grill week starts early with boneless pork chops

Yesterday we had pork chops. We put them on the Kroger click list, hoping they wouldn't be out of them (Because COVID is hitting a couple of pork plants... That event in and of itself shouldn't create a pork shortage, but public reaction to it could).

At any rate, Kroger had them - so we started grill week (Five grilled meals in six days, thanks to all the cool stuff we got at Kroger) with pork chops.

NOTE: I have a work meeting until 6pm today, so Taco Tuesday became Taco Monday. Grill week continues on Tuesday.

The chops had my rib rub on them. This was Tom's idea a while ago "Could you try your rib rub instead of Mrs. Dash?" I figured "Why not? Pig is pig".

It worked out great. We've used the same rub for chicken too and that works out well. But it seems like it's best on all things pig (I haven't tried it on bacon yet... but I have to imagine it would work there too).

Here's the recipe:

Phil's rib rub that turned into pork chop and even chicken rub.

1 cup Brown Sugar, packed.  
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp or so of nutmeg.
(The prior 2 are a substitute for allspice. I use allspice if I have it).
1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional).
2 tbsp garlic,
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper.
1 ½ tsp Cumin.

1 ½ tsp coffee. 

I make it up ahead of time. It keeps fairly well in a container (the brown sugar can get a little lumpy but other than that it's fine).

I didn't do cayenne this time - as noted, it's optional.

For me, the whole key of it is the Cumin. When you put cumin in the pork (or ribs) smell like you just walked in to Sticky Fingers in Charleston SC. Once you have that in your head you can't miss.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

A behind the scenes look at my Toastmasters Contest Studio

Yesterday I won the Division I (District 40) speech contest.

I had a speech that I enjoyed giving. And I practiced it a lot. But there was one more thing I did to prepare: "Studio" setup.

To turn the home office / basement entertainment room into my studio I needed to know a few things:

I needed to know where to put the tripod.

I needed to know where to look when having the "conversation" with Beth. When I spoke to her I looked at this Lipton tea bottle.

When it was Beth speaking to me, I looked at this Lipton tea bottle.

I tried different things, but the Lipton tea bottles were clearly out of place and therefore easy to find.

Finally, I needed to know where my main position was (large green tape), my lean in position was (small green tape) and what my working speaking area was (green tape triangle).

I put those items down a week or more ago. Then I practiced without looking (this involved counting steps to make sure I was in the right spot).

Oh... and then there was the white board in case I got stuck. This isn't a luxury we normally get in speech contests...

In addition, we had the "Peru blanket" on the couch, which was in fact a sweater from Peru - one my in-laws brought home for Beth a few years ago. Beth also has a sweater that Tom and I brought home, but this one matched the couch and background better.

Finally, no speech is complete without my lucky Cleveland Indians socks!

Saturday, April 18, 2020

A great thing - getting something in the mail

When I was a kid occasionally I would send away for something. This frequently involved saving cereal box tops, maybe getting  a check for a dollar, getting an envelope and stamp, sending it out, and waiting.

And waiting. And waiting.

Later when it came in the mail it would be a thrill. I remember one in particular: I sent away for a baseball game. It had a spinner, and different batter cards. When it came I took it in the house and opened it. It did not disappoint.

Now things are much faster. And much more frequent.

Amazon used to offer the "Look what's in the mail!" thrill. But now it's more like - "What's today's shipment?" And it's hard to get excited by mower oil or eye drops (two of this week's shipments)

But yesterday I got the thrill of something in the mail again. My friend (and excellent speaker) Kenneth LaFrance has a studio in New Orleans where they makes coasters and other cool works of art. Each one is unique. I had been waiting for "the right one", even though I didn't know exactly what "the right one" was.

Then early in the week he posted a set that looked great. I sent him a message and yes they were still available. A quick paypal transaction later, and they were mine.

A couple of days after that Beth and I took our daily COVID-19 walk. We checked the mailbox and there they were! I was like a kid bringing the package back to the house. I could hardly wait to open it up.

And here they are - awesome! Thank you to Kenneth LaFrance for bringing back the kid in me. (And let's just sidestep the whole "Did Phil ever really grow up?" question).

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Another fantastic Toastmasters meeting

Recently my friend Jenilee Grabenhorst Taylor invited me to speak at her Cuyahoga Falls Toastmaster club meeting. In addition she had two time World Champion of Public Speaking Finalist (and third place finisher in 2006) Rich Hopkins on the agenda. And - she had Jeff Stein, a man who would probably be in the finals of World Champion of Public Speaking Evaluations, if there was such a thing.

I immediately said yes. 

Rich, Jeff, Jenilee and the rest of the club did not disappoint. I got great feedback on the speech. There are some things that need to be changed - nothing major before Division, but a few things that I can implement today. 

Between this meeting and my meeting with Kingi Biddle in New Zealand, my speech is in a much better place.

I'd write more, but I have a speech to practice!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Attending a Toastmasters Meeting on Every Continent - Europe

Yesterday I attended my first virtual Toastmasters meeting in Europe - the Blarney Toastmasters meeting. 

It was a very welcoming club. I got there early and visited with two members (Moira O'Brien and Ted Mellamphy). Ted asked where I was from. When I said Ohio, he started singing the song "Banks of the Ohio" (I have since loaded it on my iPhone with a couple more Olivia Newton John selections). Moira grabbed her guitar and accompanied him. Very cool.

The meeting was a blast. Great speeches, great evaluations and great table topics. I was able to answer one of the questions: "Are you missing sports right now?" (That was an easy one... "Yes because it's baseball season and the Indians are normally good... football season wouldn't be a loss at all..." Okay that wasn't my exact answer, but I was able to go for over one minute easily).

This is another club I would love to someday visit, for three reasons:

  1. It's in Ireland - and that is on my bucket list.
  2. They said they have a right of passage for all members - kissing the Blarney stone. I'm all in.
  3. They mentioned that they head to the bar after the meeting. And I noticed Ted had his beer ready. Due to the time difference I was unable to do that - this time anyway. Another couple of weeks and I might try a little virtual day drinking with them. But in person I would gladly join these fine people for a drink.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

My second visit to the Taniwiha Hunters Toastmasters Club in New Zealand

On Monday - well, Tuesday their time - I attended my second meeting of the Taniwha Hunters Toastmasters club. The club is based in New Zealand, but thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic plus Zoom videoconferencing I was able to attend from my basement in Ohio.

I was invited back by my friend Kingi Biddle. He gave me a speaking spot on the agenda so I could practice my 2020 World Championship of Public Speaking speech.

The club gave me a round robin evaluation, even staying late to complete it. The feedback was tremendous.

Kingi gave me feedback that made it clear what wasn't working with the speech. I knew something was off, because I was consistently rushing the ending. His feedback was "Get to the green of your speech faster!" (I will post a link to the speech at some point - but "the green" is referenced in the speech - and for our purposes it means "the point, the story, the lesson, the ending" etc.)

This was exactly what I needed to hear. The rewrite of the speech (well it's more like deleting some lines as opposed to a rewrite) will happen today.

Other feedback was greatly appreciated as well. A lot of it centered on how I'm coming across on video, and it will be very helpful. This is a new medium (for all of us) and I need to learn how to use it effectively. (And learn quickly, the next contest is Saturday!)

Thank you again to all of the Taniwha Hunters!

Monday, April 13, 2020

Something I will carry past COVID19 - Grill-a-thon and the family feast

I don't know what else to call it. We fired up the grill four times in the past week:

  • Grilled pork chops with Beth's delicious raspberry cornbread (see picture)
  • Burgers, 
  • Brats / metts / hot dogs 
  • And yesterday the big one: Beer can chicken.

Technically it was wine can chicken. We used chardonnay.

Beth's cornbread!

The grill-a-thon was born out of necessity. Kroger had been out of some meats in prior orders. So I put several different kinds of meat in the Kroger clicklist order, based on the "Well, we'll get something" logic.

We got everything.

Fortunately we had a backup plan when we placed the order: The weather looked like we could get to the grill frequently. If we had to miss a day we would simply put the hotdogs / brats / metts back, since they typically have the longest expiration date.

The highlight was yesterday when we did beer can chicken. The meal turned into a family feast. Beth made crock pot mac and cheese and vegetables. We had more than enough chicken for everyone. Beth made a chocolate chip pie for dessert.

Oh yeah, we also had wine. (Besides the chardonnay for the chicken)

We have had several family feasts during COVID-19, and so far one grill-a-thon. Both items are going to stay on the calendar going forward.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Something I will carry past COVID19 - Extra dog time

About one day into the stay at home strategy I realized that dogs would love having people around all the time and cats... well this post isn't about cats.

As Beth and I have spent more time in the yard we've also had more time with dogs.

Sometimes they're spectators.

Other times they take a more active role.

Bailey the hippo

What I've really enjoyed is those mornings when I'm reading and enjoying a cup of coffee. Maisy has started to join me.

It's become a routine for her. I know this because yesterday as I walked over to the chair to start my morning routine, she jumped in ahead of me. I moved her to my lap, and she immediately took a nap.

Once it's back to normal and I have to account for a commute we will have to get up earlier to keep the routine going. But I'm good with that. And I know Maisy will be too.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Something I will carry forward past COVID19 - Clicklist

As soon as the shelter in place order came out we decided to try pickup orders at Kroger.

We are now hooked.

It works like this: If you have a Kroger Plus card (and who doesn't?) you sign on to your online account and start an order. Once you do that, you can browse your recent purchase - both in store and online - for items to add to the order.

It takes us maybe 15 minutes to get our order done. That's less than it takes us to drive to Kroger, much less shop.

(To be fair, we still have to drive there either way. But 15 minutes to get things picked out and paid for is an amazing time savings, and well worth the $4.99 normal fee that applies).

There are some minor issues right now. If we don't select "no substitutions" we get some interesting replacement products for the out of stock items. On the downside - they replaced individual servings of Minute Rice with large bags of Uncle Ben's instant rice. (Good thing Tom and I like rice). On the upside - they replaced regular Eckrich hot dogs with cheese filled Eckrich hot dogs and Joe and Tom couldn't be happier.

The other issue of course is if we select "no substitutions" we can miss out on some items. So far this hasn't been a big problem. In fact I planned for it on our last order by putting every kind of grill meat I could think of in the cart, just to make sure we were covered. And... they had them all in stock. So we are grilling every night right now.

Currently the wait time is around five days, so it's like a college kegger. Grab your beer, and get right back in line for the next one.

It works pretty well. We put the basic order together on Wednesday and got in line. Then as the week goes along we bring up the order and add items. We can continue doing this until the day before.

Imagine doing that at the store. You grab a cart, throw some bread and milk in there and get in the back of the checkout line. Then while you're in line you send the kids out to grab more and more items and add them to the cart...

Once the shelter in place restriction is lifted I'm sure we will go back to doing a lot of things the way we did before. Normal grocery shopping (outside of our adventures at Jungle Jim's) won't be one of them. The time savings is too great to pass up.

Friday, April 10, 2020

The morning routine

Every morning I practice the morning routine I learned when I read "The Miracle Morning" by Hal Elrod.

I highly recommend his book - or at least one of his videos / podcasts / linked in learning classes.

He uses the acronym SAVERS to describe his morning routine.

S - Silent Meditation
A - Affirmation
V - Visualization
E - Exercise
R - Reading
S - Scribing (by his admission, a fancy word for Writing, but he couldn't come up with an acronym if he used Writing).

The items aren't done in that order. They can be done in any order you choose. For me, I start with Exercise - just a few minutes of stretching while the dogs are running around in the yard (and the coffee is brewing).

The morning routine helps get the day off on the right foot.

I would be remiss, however, to not point out my favorite part of the morning routine, one that Hal Elrod never mentions in his book... 

Maisy doesn't help with reading, and she's downright un-helpful when I'm trying to write, but she does help with meditation.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Attending a Toastmasters meeting on every continent - Africa

Yesterday I attended a meeting of a Cairo based Toastmasters club. At least I think it was based in Cairo. Ashraf Youssef, VP of Education for the Cairo club, invited me.

I reached out to Ashraf after seeing his name and club on a Google docs list of clubs that are meeting via Zoom and looking to have visitors. He could not have been more helpful. He gave me dates and times for multiple clubs in the Middle East. He also showed me how to use Whatsapp to communicate. (Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?)

There were 29 people attending from all over the world. Our Table Topics master was from South America. We had three people in the US - one from California, one from the Carolinas (I never did find out which one) and me. There was at least one person attending from India, and multiple people from Kenya and Qatar.

The speeches were well done, and the table topics were some of the best I have seen. The TT Master conducted a virtual "podcast" on success. I had my typical TT experience - hoping I would get picked for about five questions in a row, then hearing one and thinking "Oh please not that one" and immediately hearing my name called to do it.

On the bright side, I managed to talk for a minute on why chocolate wafers can help make you successful.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Unsolved mysteries

So I had this orange and white Bic four color pen that I used as a speech prop (video to follow at some point).

It disappeared.

I looked for a little while, then decided that it wasn't really worth the time. New four color pens are less than $2 each - and i have a blue and white one available.

Who am I kidding? I have a dozen different four color pens available.

File it under "Unsolved mysteries".

Yesterday we had a new mystery: What was wrong with the washing machine? It kept putting up this error code (occasionally) F02 and stopping. So we would work and work, restart, and eventually it would finish the cycle.

Given that plumbers aren't cheap, and maybe not even available, I decided to investigate this mystery.

I googled the error code "Error code F02 Maytag Epic washing machine". And there were multiple videos on how to fix it.

This morning I did the fix. It took a lot of work to get the front panel off. I had to use multiple tools to loosen the screws. In the video the machines were on pedestal drawers, so access was easier. Ours sits on the floor, so access was tricky.

In fact, my wife won a bet with herself. She bet that I would utter a curse word within three minutes of starting. And sure enough, I did.

But once I got the panel off everything was actually easier than the video showed.

I removed the drain trap and guess what? I solved the mystery of the missing four color pen too!

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Attending a Toastmasters Meeting on Every Continent - Australia / Oceania

Here's something I can do right now that wouldn't normally be possible (not in a compressed time frame anyway): I'm going to attend a Toastmaster meeting on every continent.

Well, six of them anyway. My internet research indicates that the last time there was a Toastmasters club in Antarctica was 1995.

North America (of course) was in the bag from the start.

Last night I checked off Australia / Oceania thanks to my good friend Kingi Biddle. Kingi lives in New Zealand. I've always said I want to go there and attend one of his meetings in person.

Kingi and I met as finalists in the World Championship of Public Speaking in Las Vegas in 2011. We hit it off right away. After the contest we struck up a friendship on Facebook. This friendship has involved helping each other in speech contests to this day. We are the founding members of "Team Biddle" and "Team Barth". Also the only members.

Additional note: Kingi and I were able to meet face to face in 2013 as well at the World Championship of Public Speaking in Cincinnati. Kingi was a contestant (and finished second in the world). I was an attendee.

Recently I reached out to Kingi to ask if I could attend a virtual meeting with his club. He was gracious as always and invited me to their first virtual meeting. In fact the entire club was gracious. I was invited back to next week's meeting, where I will practice my contest speech.

Two down, four to go. (Unless someone opens a club in Antarctica).

Monday, April 6, 2020

Is this crisis bringing out the best in humanity?

It's easy to focus on the negative in the COVID-19 pandemic.

People are dying.

New York City looks like a mess on the news. (I'm not there, so I can't say for certain).

Donald Trump press conferences are antagonistic (both sides should agree with this one. Feel free to point fingers in either direction, and feel free to know that whichever direction you point, I could care less).

Here's the #greatthing though:

I'm seeing and hearing all sorts of examples of people reaching out to help others. Some of them are big things and they make the news.

But equally if not more important are the little things. My mom is 80 years old. People are coming to her house and working on her yard. They are getting her groceries. They leave them on the porch. Mom talks to them through the screened window in the kitchen.

One lady went on and found the exact cat food that mom's 17 year old cat eats. This was after she went to Kroger and learned they were out of it. (Wait, are people now hoarding cat food?)

I saw a post recently on Facebook. My friend Tina and her sons were visiting her parents (and my friends) Mary and Noe. They ate pizza together. Tina and the boys were out in the yard. Mary and Noe were in the house. But they were able to talk and have dinner.

This is not a rah rah we'll get through this post. I've read enough of those.

It's a "Look at how many really good people are out there" post. Pandemic or not, they are there.

And that's a great thing.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Getting the yard to football season form

Every fall the yard looks great. This is due to the fact that the Browns frustrate me and I give up watching them for the season, roughly halfway in to the first game.

This year, baseball is on hold, so we are getting the yard to football season shape early.

It started with a cubic yard of mulch being put down yesterday.

Weather permitting, it will be another cubic yard today.

And we will keep going for as long as we need to.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

The great coffee draft, revisited

In 2018 we found a 12 pack of k-cups "The 12 coffees of Christmas" at Jungle Jim's.

They were on sale, so we decided to give one a try.

The next day, Tom, Beth and I had our K Cup draft. 

We picked in order of age, so I had the number one pick. There really was no Zion Williamson type of k-cup, so I offered Tom a trade down.

He didn’t see a franchise k-cup either, so he declined. 

The coffees were so good we bought two more packs. One for us and one for a gift.

The flavors were things like Oh Fuuuuuudge (Beth's favorite), Candy Cane, Spiced Eggnog, Santa's blend, etc.

There is a bit of strategy in the draft: Beth and Tom know there is no chance I will pick chocolate coconut blizzard. And I know there is no chance they will take Peppermint Mocha. The competition is around flavors like Glazed Cinnaomn Roll, Roasted Chestnut and Hot Buttered Rum.

In the end, the box looks like this.

This box, it turns out, is from a 2019 buy at Jungle Jim's, one we just found in the closet as we cleaned it out yesterday. Note that we had a draft, and two flavors are already gone.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Football season comes early

Every year (well maybe every year except 2016 and 2017) I look to the start of the Cleveland Browns season with a bit of optimism. Displaced optimism to be sure, but optimism nonetheless.

And every year, usually the first football weekend in September, I give up on the Browns.

(If you go back through this blog you can see that last year it happened at halftime of the opening game against the Titans, and Sunday project day was born).

That means every fall we have a really nice looking yard. The time I would have spent watching football is spent mowing, raking, edging, etc.

Yesterday, as I was mowing the grass for a second time this spring (probably a record), something occurred to me:

The shelter in home order (now extended to May 1) PLUS no baseball season gives us a chance to have our football yard in the spring.

And really, that's the time you want to have the really nice yard.

Normally spring is hectic around here. And grass (and weeds) grow like crazy. And if we do get a free day, it could be raining.

This year, we have extra time.

BONUS: We are getting a second nice weekend weather-wise.

So the #greatthing is: A great looking lawn. It starts now.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Homemade banana bread

One of the really great things we've been enjoying lately is Beth's homemade banana bread. She bakes a loaf in the evening. We get it fresh out of the oven (after it cools down a little bit) and have it with milk. I actually break it up and put it in a half glass of milk. It's like the best cereal ever.

This also represents the upside of the COVID-19 crisis and the shelter in place order. We wouldn't normally have enough family time for Beth to bake banana bread this often. And we wouldn't always have the four of us around the table to enjoy it.

Here's the recipe:

Beth’s Banana Bread Recipe (makes one loaf) 
½ cup melted butter 
½ cup sugar 
2 eggs 
1 cup mashed ripe banana 
2 cups flour 
½ tsp salt 
1 tsp baking soda 
1/3 cup hot water 
In a large bowl combine butter and sugar. Then mix in eggs and banana, blending until smooth. 
Add flour, salt and baking soda until thoroughly blended. 
Add hot water. 
Spoon batter into a greased 9 by 5 inch pan. 
Bake in preheated 325 degree oven for 1 hour 10 minutes or until bread begins to pull away from sides of pan. 

Let cool in pan for 10 minutes. 

Turn out on to a rack to cool completely. 

Finally, a note on Tiger King:

What a Train Wreck. 

But I can't look away.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Great things that happened yesterday - Tiger Time!

Last night Joe, Tom and I were sitting in the family room. Joe started talking with Tom while I was reading - so I heard roughly half of their conversation.

Joe said "Do you want to go downstairs and watch the first episode?"

I said "Wait - are you guys talking about that Netflix tiger show?"

And really, that was all I knew about it: "That Netflix tiger show". Earlier in the day I read two different posts on Facebook referring to it - one was a guy saying "I didn't realize I could get a tiger for $2000!" and the other said something like "If you had told me a week ago that I'd be watching a documentary about a crazy tiger guy..."

They said "Yeah." And they told me a little bit of the back story.

I said "I'm in. Go ask your mom if she wants to watch."

They gave her the back story and she was in too.

Based on the description we said we'd give one episode a try.

Five minutes in we were hooked.

I'm not a fan of binge watching, not right now anyway. Right now we need something to look forward to as a family. And 45 minutes each night of sharing life - even if it involves a crazy tiger guy - is a great thing.