Posted in grandparenting, Life

Reading (yawn) with my granddaughter

This week we watched two of our granddaughters while number three was being born. The couple of hours after morning preschool is designated quiet time at their house. The two-year old sleeps pretty well. The four-year old defines “quiet” differently than I do.

Yesterday’s primary quiet time activity was baking cookies. They were pre-made, pre-formed, pre-cut refrigerator cookies each featuring a unicorn. It only took her a few minutes to place each one on a parchment paper covered sheet pan. My wife popped them in the oven, leaving one hour and fifteen minutes of quiet time to go.

“Hey, grandpa, can you read me this story?” A book of five-minute Disney princess stories lay open on the coffee table.


I love to read, and I love to read to children. I was as fascinated by the stories as she was. Each was tale of something that happened after the classic princess movie. Cinderella was competing in a horse show. Belle and a new friend were working on inventions. Ariel was planning her wedding to Prince Eric.

At the end of each one, she pointed to the next and said, “Now read this one.” My eyes get very heavy in the early afternoon, especially if I sit and read. Ordinarily I’d take a quick nap or do something active. Today I soldiered on. Three stories in, I had to pause, stand up, change position, and rub my eyes to continue reading about Mulan and Sleeping Beauty. The struggle to stay awake was real.

Finally the cookies were cool enough to eat. I welcomed the sugar rush. Then mom and dad walked in the door with the new baby.

She was fast asleep. I like your style, little one.

Posted in cooking, Life

Where there’s smoke: Pay attention to the cooking oil you use

Photo by Duane Mendes on Unsplash

I was feeling confident about my culinary expertise when something as simple as cooking oil humbled me.

In my defense, it was not my kitchen, so I was using an unfamiliar pan, range, and ingredients. I was at my daughter’s house where my wife and I were staying with a couple of granddaughters while their mom gave birth to number three.

I brought a small ribeye steak with me for supper the first night. At home I would just throw it on the grill. No grill here, so I got ready to pan fry it. At home I would reach for my cast iron frying pan. My daughter had a very nice set of stainless steel cookware. A pan’s a pan, right?

I let it warm up on medium heat while I ground a little salt and pepper onto the meat. Holding my hand over the pan, I could tell it was ready. I grabbed the non-stick spray from the cabinet and gave the pan a quick shot. Even though I quickly took it off the burner, a cloud of smoke filled the kitchen. I turned on the fan only to discover it wasn’t vented to the outside. The smoke alarms started beeping, my wife open the sliding glass door to the backyard and tried to fan the bad smoke out and the good air in. The oldest granddaughter asked, “What are you doing, grandpa?”

It looked like I had no idea what I was doing. I did recover and the steak tasted great. The pan was a pain to clean. I had much to learn about cooking with oil.

I did some quick research online. If I’m are cooking at high temperatures, refined avocado, safflower, and light olive oil work well. At medium temperatures, use corn, coconut, sunflower, and canola oil. Vegetable shortening, extra virgin olive oil, and butter are for lower temperatures. I’ve got a lot to learn, though. Some of those oils taste better certain sauces, marinades, and dressings than others.

For the next two days, the odor of burning oil greeted my nose every time I walked into their house. However, as we packed up to leave today, the smell was just about all gone. Whew.

Posted in Life

Another child to hold

Photo by Jimmy Conover on Unsplash

This afternoon I got to meet number nine – my ninth grandchild – in person. We’ve got a baseball team now. It’s always a special moment to hold a newborn, but even more so when it’s family.

We need these moments to say, “Hello!” in a world where we too often speak a graveside “Goodbye” to those we’ve loved for so long. A birth interrupts the news of another shooting, disease, storm, or war to remind us it’s not over yet. Life happens, too.

Fast asleep in her swaddle, I didn’t get to hear her voice, look into her eyes, tickle her toes, or let her tiny fingers wrap around mine. I’m looking forward to those moments.

This small person, completely dependent upon the care of her parents, will get whatever she wants, day or night, at least in the beginning. She will exert control over her family’s schedule, priorities, and activities. She is the main event, the headliner, Miss Popularity, and the keynote speaker all rolled into one. At least for now.

And we love it. We love these moments. And we love her. We hardly know her but she has captured our hearts. We wonder, “Where have you been?” She reminds us of how precious life is. Not just hers, but ours. And “those” people, too. (You know who I’m talking about.)

Her dad said she started yelling right away, announcing, “I’m here!” We’re glad you are. Welcome, little one.

Posted in neighbor, Stories

For your viewing pleasure: Some cringe-worthy yard art

One person’s yard ornament is a neighbor’s eyesore.

As the days lengthened with the advent of spring, I noticed what looked like a pig in my across-the-street neighbor’s yard one morning. By the time my dog and I returned, there was enough daylight to confirm the sighting. Yes, this five-gallon pig can greets me every morning when I open the kitchen blinds.

Our neighbors have faithfully treated us to a rotating display of horrendous yard art, including a green glow in the dark alien, sexy-legged frogs, and a satanic goat head. They truly believe this enhances the curb appeal of their property as they try to sell their house.

Oh, that’s right, I forgot to mention their house is on the market. I’m of the opinion that any real estate agent would immediately insist, “You need to get all that stuff out of the yard!”

My wife and I have already been plotting ways to help that process along. There is a large dumpster outside a house under construction just a few houses up the street. As soon as it turns dark, we’ll just toss it in!

Another neighbor just had a yard sale. Maybe we could take it up there and add it to their inventory when no one is looking.

We thought about putting a “free” sign on it. Someone cruising the neighborhood for curbside junk would pick it up.

On a whim, I put the photo out there on eBay and Google. Nothing like it out there. Maybe it’s one-of-a-kind. Priceless. If so, make me an offer. I’ll figure out a way to get it to you.

Posted in Life

Another garden begins to grow

This is what the rock garden looked like a few years ago.

My four-year-old grandson and I have really gotten into painting rocks. We’ve also begun the habit of attending preschool storytime at the library each Wednesday morning.

There is a rock garden outside the library. Someone there laid out a nice three-foot by three-foot mulched area not far from the front door for painted rocks. According to the sign there, passersby can take one for inspiration, share one for motivation, or leave one to help the garden grow. Cool idea.

Week after week we stop at the rock garden and never saw a rock, other than a large center brick. Of course, week after week we also forgot to bring some rocks.

We finally remembered on our way out the door on Wednesday. He carefully picked out three rocks to take with us: a dark blue one featuring a jellyfish, a green one, and a light blue one. He had painted the solid ones; I can take credit for the sea creature. When we got to the library, there were, of course, no rocks there. He carefully and proudly placed the rocks.

We walked inside, returned last week’s books, went to story time, and then found a few new books to borrow from the children’s library. When we returned to look at the rock garden, two of the rocks had already been taken!

He was a little disappointed, but I told him it was a good thing. Someone had noticed his rocks. Someone was enjoying his rocks. And maybe someone would paint rocks and bring them to share. We might be the ones to revive this dormant garden!

Posted in Life, garden

From Tiny Seeds to Blooming Beauty: The Miracle of Gardening

As wandered through the garden shop’s aisles of colorful and more expensive than ever pots of annuals, I decided, “I’m going to plant some seeds this year.” I had just finished cleaning up my backyard gardens which were now, other than the amaryllis, devoid of color. Having seen the beautifully landscaped entrances to gated-communities near me, I visualized now nice my garden would look in just a few weeks.

The seed display is off in the corner, behind the patio furniture. This store stocks two brands, and each brand offers regular and organic packets of vegetable and flower seeds. Other than price, I doubt there is much difference between organic and non-organic seeds. I’ll look that up later.

I’ve researched what flowers will grow best in my area, so I am armed with a list. The pictures on each packet explode with color. I underestimated just how amazing my garden will look!

I find zinnias, marigolds, and cosmos, but none of the others on my list. I know, I should have just shopped online. But then I’d miss the sights and smells that get my gardening juices flowing. I do find a couple of colorful flower mixes. I’ll give those a try.

Back home, I’m ready to plant. I carefully open the first packed of zinnia seeds. Wow, you don’t get very many seeds in a packet. They’re tiny, too. I carefully pour some into the palm of my hand. Don’t sneeze, or they’ll be gone. Picking up a few between thumb and forefinger, I drop them along a line I’ve drawn in the soil with a trowel. I can’t even see where they’ve landed. Before I know it, they’re gone. Trusting that they have found a home, I gently cover them with a 1/4-inch layer of dirt. That’s not very much, but that’s what the instructions call for. I do this with all my purchased seeds. They didn’t go very far. I will have to buy more for other areas in the garden.

I grab my watering can and moisten all the areas I’ve planted. And that’s it. Done. And what do I have to show for all my efforts? Nothing. My garden looks exactly the same as when I started. Dirt. I know, it takes a few days for the seeds to germinate and weeks before I’ll see any flowers.

The whole process is a simple yet powerful act of faith. Faith that the seed will actually grow. Faith that the plants will actually produce flowers. Faith that color will explode from that little black speck that disappeared into the ground.

It’s a miracle. A lifeless seed comes to life with some soil, sun, and water. And I get to watch that miracle happen.

Posted in creativity, writing

Finding Inspiration: Tips for Getting Your Creative Juices Flowing

As I sit down to write today, I see I have posted nearly 1,200 times on this blog, dating back to October 2008. I have a few more saved in some Word files that I had previously posted on another platform. I have written about ministry, family, travel, projects, and various things that have either made me laugh or groan. I have published some of my devotions here, a few sermons, and some memorable pictures.

I started investing more time in writing to become a better storyteller. Our minds are wired for story, and that’s what we remember best. Adding a layer of story to ordinary moments can transform them into something amazing. Not only can I share the moments with others, but it etches them into my soul. It’s a win-win.

It’s not easy to do. At least not day after day. So what revs up and maintains my creative juices? What tools or tricks do I use to come up with topics or issues to write about?


I love to start with a picture. It might be a photo I’ve taken of something that caught my eye. It could be a piece of art from a gallery or from a grandchild. The visual sparks my imagination as I imagine the story behind an object, person, or place. I try to make sure I take a few pictures every day, knowing that one day they’ll be a springboard for a story.


I’ve written a lot of stories about my experiences. That’s why I keep a daily journal, recapping the events of my day. I keep track of where I’ve gone, who I’ve talked to, what I’ve purchased, projects I’ve completed, what I’ve cooked and eaten, and especially what made me laugh. Sometimes I reach way back into my life to write about memories of school, family, and friends.


Music helps. I am definitely a left-brained analytical thinker. Logic comes easy. Stories are a challenge. But playing music engages the right side of my brain and can shift me into storytelling mode. If I just can’t figure out what to write, I’ll grab my guitar or sit down with my trumpet and let music open up my imagination. It always works.


Gratitude stimulates creativity. Pause a moment to be thankful for anything and everything you have, the people around you, and the creation in which you live. Suddenly, the stories all around you jump out and beg to be told.


For devotional writing, I always begin with a bible passage. The living and active word of God reveals how he is involved in the story of my life. His words transport me way back in time, then into the future, and then finally shape my life in the here and now.


I’m trying to read more now in retirement. When an idea or phrase catches my attention, I jot it down for later reference. I sometimes come up with story ideas that way.

Artificial Intelligence

I haven’t done a whole lot with it yet, but I can see AI being a tool to help me when I’m having trouble figuring out what to write about. It’s easy to ask ChatGPT for ideas and end up with more than you need. It’s new, and it’s a little intimidating, but it’s an interesting resource. I’ve found it very helpful for generating titles that get more attention.

Some days it comes easy. Some days it’s a real struggle. But it’s a process I enjoy and hope to continue.

Posted in grandparenting, memories, youth

Joys and memories: watching my grandson play baseball

I went to watch my seven-year-old grandson’s baseball game last night. After two seasons of T-ball, he had advanced to a machine-pitch league. His team lost this game, but the coach awarded him the game ball for his efforts!

Watching this game made me think about my own youth baseball experience. I never played in an organized league while growing up. But on my block alone, I had enough friends my age to field two teams to play either on the street or the “ball field.”

The street game required little equipment. We played with a pink rubber ball and a bat. Bases were manhole covers, car bumpers, and sewer drains. We hit single-bounce pitches. The game’s added challenges included traffic, homes on each side of the street, and the unforgiving asphalt surface. When we could only round up eight or nine kids, this was the game we played.

When we had fifteen or more, we played at the ball field, a quick bike ride to a huge vacant lot behind the development where my family moved when I was eight years old. For this game we had gloves, baseballs, and wooden bats. Bases were flat rocks or pieces of wood we found lying around. We used pitchers, but no one threw very hard, so there were hardly any strikeouts. We played a lot of games, especially throughout the summer.

The challenges of this game included a pretty rough field surface. You had to have very quick reactions when ball bounced off holes and rocks in the dirt and grass that wasn’t cut very often. A foul ball into the woods might mean the end of the game if we couldn’t find it. Every once in a while, someone would tag one and it would reach one of the bordering homes. I don’t think we ever caught a window, but we bounced a few off the roof. A few of my friends were pretty good. Only one of them played Little League, beyond the means of most of our families.

It was a good place to hone some skills. Enough that I could later play some college intramural and later, church league softball. I also remember the names of most of the kids and adults I played with. Baseball was really good for developing friendships. Plus, once you’ve played, baseball is much more entertaining to watch, from the major leagues to a local machine-pitch rec league.

Posted in Food, Life

Did I really eat a better school lunch?

I just read the news that Lunchables will now be included in school lunches next fall. I’m sure that raised a lot of eyebrows. I was under the impression that Lunchables, though loved by children, were one of the unhealthiest meal choices. Kraft Heinz, who produce Lunchables, says they have reformulated them to meet government nutrition guidelines. Hmm.

My daughter told me that in her school district, every child gets free breakfast and lunch. Everyone. On the one hand, that’s a blessing for those families who are struggling financially. On the other hand, I remember what school lunches were like when I was growing up. That’s why I usually brought my own lunch with me. More on that later.

When my children were in school, spring standardized tests were a big deal. So big that the schools served breakfast on test days. Brain food they called it. It consisted of honey buns and mini-donuts. Brain food?

The only days I didn’t bring my lunch to school was pizza day. I guess you could call it pizza. It was more like a piece of cardboard with some red sauce and melted cheese on top. When you’re in elementary school, there’s nothing better.

The rest of the time, all the way through high school, I brought my own lunch. In a brown paper bag. My mom wanted me to save the bag to use a second or third time, but I rarely did. Typically I had a sandwich made with white bread with Oscar Meyer bologna, sliced ham, or peanut butter and jelly. Every once in a while, a tuna sandwich wrapped in aluminum foil. I also had an apple, once in a while an orange. I bought milk or juice to drink. And that was it.

Unless the desert of the day was a peanut butter bar or a slice of cake wrapped in cellophane. If I had a little bit of money, I would get one of those. But those moments were few and far between.

I never envied the kids who bought their lunch at school. It was often hard to identify what the cafeteria served, even though the school published the menu each month. (That’s how we knew when there was pizza.) I doubt that our lunches were much more nutritious than Lunchables or whatever else is available today. We survived. I guess our grandkids will, too.