Let Me Be Clear

I’ve been compiling a list of phrases I want to retire next year and “let me be clear” is right up there near the top. How many times per week can I listen to that phrase followed by a statement clearly intended to muddy the water and not lose my mind? If you said, 10,472 you’d probably be close.

There’s nothing wrong with the words or an intent to be clear. My problem is that the phrase is rarely used to mean the speaker wants to be clear. More often it means the speaker wants you to pay attention to a half-truth or full-fledged lie that creates the illusion they desire for you to see. So enough with deliberate misuse, misrepresentation, and misdirection already. Please stop!

Let’s all be clear!

Clarity is important. It’s crucial for a recipe. Without clarity, you may not end up with the intended result. But we all speak using unique turns of phrase. What’s crystal clear to me may not be clear to you. That’s where consistent format, industry-specific terminology, and formulaic rules can help – think grammar for instance. But no matter how carefully we craft, what content we create, which words we write, and how we verbalize sentences, our communication is subject to each consumer’s context.  

Clarity is even more important for health guidelines. It’s critical when writing conclusions drawn from data. And each time we pull back, hedge, or try to soften the message, we run the risk of confusing people.

So how can we communicate clearly?

I cannot possibly outline a way to avoid all misunderstanding, but I will give you five tips for drafting clear communication.

  1. Determine the scope and purpose of the communication.
  2. Identify and research your audience. Communication must be delivered in language that will be easily understood using an accessible method.
  3. Assume nothing. Draft every document, policy, and procedure as if nothing has preceded it and nothing will follow it. Write it as if it must stand on its own. Once the draft is done, document any overlap with other relevant documents. Keep a log of this overlap. Reference other existing documents and remove duplication when possible.
  4. Put all pertinent facts that live in your head in the draft. Once that all-inclusive version is written, review and pare down to essentials. It’s tempting to pare down first, but this creates one of the most common errors I see – critical information is left out. Since the information is known to you, you are less likely to recognize its omission upon review.
  5. Stick with the facts. Do not embellish or diminish them. Resolve conflicting statements prior to publication. Be conscious of word choice, but recognize that you may not please everyone. It is best to be concise and straightforward.

I realize this topic may be a stretch for this blog, but I feel really hungry for clear, concise communication that I can rely on for facts. I don’t think I’m alone in that. And, if you follow these tips, there should be no reason to say, “Let me be clear….” And not hearing that will work very nicely for me.

Monsters, Ghouls, and New Halloween Rules

It’s a year for monsters, ghouls, and new Halloween rules! At this time last year, I was anticipating a neighborhood Halloween extravaganza with live music, potion mixing, slime making, witch-hat ring toss, a haunted pirate ship, and tons of treats. (And I’d be remiss if I failed to mention a real fire truck manned by very real, very muscular LAFD firemen!)

This year, we’re all scrambling to find a way to provide a fun Halloween experience in a safe manner. Obviously, this may require some new rules. It is still possible to find some health department approved haunted houses in my state, but the safest experiences will be at home without guests or outside with masks, gloves, and distance.

Traditional trick-or-treating is allowed here, but I have no idea whether the neighborhood kids will show up. Nonetheless, I plan to be prepared.

Normally, I’d keep everything gluten-free. This year, I’m focusing on providing something filling along with the candy. There are many families nearby who have been affected by unemployment. A more substantial snack may keep a child from going to bed hungry.

What should I buy?

For parents to be comfortable, I’ll stick with individually packaged, store-bought snacks. It’s not the time for homemade. I won’t go so far as to choose things kids won’t like, and not everything will be nutritious. After all, Halloween is all about treats!

The first item I’m considering is Monster Pop!™ by POPCORN INDIANA® that comes in single-serving purple bags. All flavors are gluten-free and contain no high-fructose corn syrup. They’re also kosher.

Each bag is adorned with a cute monster that corresponds to the flavor. Bud is a yellow jokester who likes Big-Time BUTTER™. Cas has bright orange hair and a no-nonsense preference for Cheeserific CHEESE™. Kute purple Kit likes the Sweet‘n Salty Kooky KETTLE™ flavor. And finally, devilish Pip with his red tongue and lips prefers Finger Lickin’ PIZZA™.

Popcorn is whole grain, naturally filling, and high in fiber. It’s a treat you can feel good about serving!

They won’t make the gluten-free list, but Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Boo Packs and Cheez-It Halloween Fun Packs are kid favorite cheese cracker options. If you want something even more substantial, Lance ToastCheeR or ToastyR Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers can fill the bill and the belly.

Sensible Portions™ Garden Veggie Chips™ come in bags of ghosts and bats. They may look a little ghoulish, but at least they contain vegetables. They are also salty and crunchy and easy for toddlers to chew.

Welch’s offers Halloween Fruit Snacks in a variety of package sizes. These snacks are made with real fruit and contain no gluten, preservatives, or fat. They come in multiple fun shapes like bats, witches, ghosts, haunted castles, and pumpkins. If your kids like gummies, they’re sure to like these.

Of course there are hundreds of candy choices to accompany crackers, chips, and fruit. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups offer some nutrition as do PAYDAY bars.

If your budget allows, you may want to skip the candy and offer nuts, trail mix, beef jerky, granola, or protein bars.

How should I deliver the treats?

During this pandemic, handing out treats in person is more risk than I want to assume. That means I need a contactless delivery device. I’ve seen some of the crafty things people are building for this purpose, but I’m fresh off constructing a mailbox stand and I don’t want another construction project right now.

I found some really great plastic cauldrons that can sit outside at the bottom of my steps. They’ll function as both decoration and delivery device. Trick-or-treaters can help themselves and when the stock is gone, I can refill or just be done.

I haven’t decided whether I’ll dress up ghoulishly and watch the festivities from behind my storm door, or wait until late in the evening to check the inventory. Once I have everything I need in hand, I can make that decision as the day gets closer.

Either way, I’m ready for monsters, ghouls, and new Halloween Rules!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Pinch Me. I Must Be Dreaming.

Pinch me. I must be dreaming. I’m seeing too many things that make so little sense they don’t seem real. A dream state could explain this and ease the distress I feel from being surrounded by cognitive dissonance.

But I know I’m awake. I know the contradictions that have dominated pandemic news will continue to be paraded before me in my newsfeed, on TV, and on Twitter. If I’m going to stay abreast of current news, I have to tolerate what feels delusional.

I believe thriving and making good health decisions require staying abreast of current research, virus spread, government policies, and community activity. Doing so demands tolerance, fortitude, humor, and the ability to shift as things change. It isn’t easy, but to me, it’s worth it.

If you feel a need to stay informed, but worry that you’re not up to the task here are some tips to keep you feeling balanced:

Adopt a learning perspective.
When someone else’s point-of-view annoys you or sends you down a dark path, get curious. What motivates that person? What do they gain from taking a particular position? Are their values aligned with yours? If not, what values do you see demonstrated in their actions? Are they just taking a different path to reach the same conclusion you reach?

Sometimes things that look opposite on the surface are not. Further investigation can be revealing. Beginning with curiosity rather than assumptions or knee-jerk reactions can enrich your understanding.

Not to be forgotten, knowledge is power. While it may be a cliché, it’s also a good reminder that learning will give you more leverage than simply reacting.

Reject attempts from others to define your priorities.
You can set your own priorities and stick with them. These may go against the grain. That’s okay. In retrospect, conventional wisdom is often wrong. You may just be ahead of your time.

Feel free to hear a message while rejecting shame.
None of us are perfect. We make mistakes that can’t be taken back. Sometimes we see our errors reflected in the mistakes of others. Sometimes we need the opportunity to view our errors so we can correct them.

Once we recognize our mistakes, express remorse, learn and do better, there’s simply no reason to feel ashamed or punish ourselves. Period. It does not matter how other people respond.

If I would grant someone else grace and forgiveness for the same offense. I can forgive myself.

Have confidence in your perceptions.
You don’t have to believe incorrect information. Just because something is often repeated doesn’t make it true. Trusting your perceptions will allow you to keep an open mind and see past deception.

When you live or work in a dysfunctional system, there can be immense pressure to conform to distorted ways of viewing things. You may believe you’re alone in seeing things differently. Even if you are, that doesn’t make you wrong. Reread The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Choose your battles or choose no battles.
You don’t have to fight. Some of my friends and family are now ignoring the news because they feel they have to fight every single piece of misinformation and that looms so large they give up before they get started. You can stay informed without fighting. It’s a choice.

Contribute.
Doing something of value is centering. It doesn’t have to be large to be significant. Sew masks. Send encouraging texts. Mow an elderly neighbor’s lawn. Organize a driving celebration. Call a friend who lives alone. Create an online social experience. Raise money. Design and assemble goody bags for your neighbors.

You can create an experience each day that puts you in the position to be at your best and show it off. The result will boost your spirits and resilience.

Allow yourself to be strong.
If you always avoid the difficult, you’ll never know how strong you are. You may need that strength to get you through an unavoidable illness or natural disaster down the road. Most of us have internal resources we have not tapped. Now is a good time to get familiar with them.

Of course, you can use all of these tips and still feel crazy right now. Rest assured, there are other people who see things like you do. You haven’t lost your mind. Things are swiftly changing and uncertain. It’s unsettling.

I often feel like I’m living in two realities at the same time. I don’t enjoy that, but I know I’m okay and I will be okay. It’s the circumstances in which I find myself that have changed. And boy, have they changed! Pinch me. I must be dreaming!

https://time.com/5851849/coronavirus-science-advice/

How Does Your Garden Grow?

How does your garden grow? My dad loved to alter the nursery rhyme “Mary, Mary, quite contrary…. “ I’m sure you remember it:
Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.

Dad’s version began “Cheri, Cheri, quite contrary.” Hearing him say that phrase is ingrained in my mind. That doesn’t mean I’ve spent a lot of time gardening, but it may or may not mean I’ve spent a lot of time being contrary. This year that is shifting. Herbs on the back porch are not enough. I just dug up brand new sod to plant a vegetable garden.

arugula
Arugula from my garden.

In early March, I sat on my neighbor’s porch drinking rosé and describing new landscaping plans for my back yard. Two weeks later, we’d been ordered to stay home and I quickly realized many links in the food chain are weak. What if they break? I grew up on a farm helping my grandmother dig potatoes and my great aunts shell peas. My next thought was, I need to plant a garden and get some chickens.

I immediately ordered an electric hand tiller, hoe, shovel, some rabbit wire, fence poles, and a variety of seeds. Panic buying had just begun and already seeds were scarce. If I had done my normal amount of planning, everything would have been gone. I stuck to basics defined by availability and kept the garden to dimensions that would fit within one roll of rabbit wire.

garden_prep

By the time everything arrived and I had the soil prepped, it was early May. Farmers’ markets were opening with vegetables ready to sell. I hadn’t started the seeds in pots. I hadn’t yet planted anything. It felt like I was months behind. I just kept telling myself it would be okay. We have a long growing season in the South. The timing will be fine.

A month later, I have beautiful arugula ready to eat! In a couple of days I’ll begin harvesting lettuce. And soon I’ll have cherry tomatoes, summer squash, and zucchini to add to my salad. Eventually, there will be carrots and green beans to harvest. Some days, I wish I’d planted more. Some days my back is tired from weeding and I’m glad I kept it small.

When I lived in an apartment, I could not have done this. When I had a yard filled with sweet gum trees, it would have taken too long and been too expensive to get started. But even with those obstacles, I managed to get my hands dirty growing herbs and peppers. There’s something healing about the smell and feel of fresh soil. I only wear gloves if fences or stickers are involved. Otherwise, I prefer my bare hands in the soil.

fenced garden

Thirty years ago, I grew my first herbs in small clay pots placed in a little red wagon my kids had outgrown. I would move the wagon around as needed to get optimum sun. I loved watching them grow. I loved the smells. I loved having them available for cooking. And they gave me an opportunity to play in the dirt. I’ve had herbs on my back porch most summers ever since.

How does YOUR garden grow?

It’s not too late to plant some herbs in pots if you’d like to give it a try. If you’re staying home during the pandemic, you can order seed starting kits online and have clay pots and potting soil delivered along with a Walmart grocery order…maybe. Shortages and delays in shipping still exist so a starter kit will let you get seedlings started while you locate and obtain the supplies you need to transplant them into pots.

I like to start seeds outdoors so that I don’t have to transition them to outdoor temperatures and light later. My plants start out accustomed to heat and humidity. If you want to grow your herbs indoors, it will be more appropriate to start indoors. Or if you plant when it’s cold outside, you can slowly transition the starter pots with increasing amounts of heat and light before you begin to transplant.

Most years, I plant basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, and mint. Sometimes I add oregano, dill, parsley, cilantro, or chives to the mix. This year, the selection is a bit different due to availability. A starter kit may not allow you flexibility to substitute, but a variety of kits are available to mix and match. All of the herbs listed above will thrive in a pot as will tarragon, lavender, and lemon balm.

herbs

What you’ll need for seeds or plants

While I’m selecting plants, I purchase some potting soil. Miracle-Gro® offers a whole line of soils for containers. If you’re not confident you’ll water consistently, choose a mix that helps control moisture.

Specialty soils are pricey. If budget is a concern, there are other options. Last year, I chose a sandy inexpensive soil in 40 lb bags from the hardware store. The bags ran about $4 each. I used it for all of my plants including a large rubber tree, ivy, and a couple of pineapples. It’s hard to judge whether the cheaper soil affected growth rate, but everything was alive and well through the fall and early winter.

Of course you need something to put that soil in. I get the best results from clay pots with a drain hole in the bottom, but I use whatever I have handy. Herbs grow quickly so it’s okay to transplant seedlings directly into a fairly large planter.

To plant, I place a few small rocks in the bottom of each container to keep soil from blocking the drain. I partially fill a pot with potting soil, set the herbs in the pot then finish filling the container with soil pressing lightly around the seedlings to secure them.

For the next few days, I water diligently. Then I go to a somewhat haphazard watering schedule keeping an eye out for drooping or yellow leaves to let me know if I’m on track. When the leaves droop, I water. If the leaves turn yellow, I stop watering for a few days. You can also test the soil with your finger to determine whether it’s dry or moist.

Where to grow

My back porch leads directly into my kitchen so it’s a great place for pots of herbs. Much of it gets direct afternoon sun, but there are partially shaded spots where I put plants that can’t tolerate direct sun.

When you purchase seeds, the package will tell you the ideal conditions for your plant. If you purchase plants, they typically have an insert in the pot telling you how much sun and water are best for that particular species. If either of these is missing such information, it is readily available online.

A sunny spot doesn’t have to be outside. It could be in front of a window or patio door. You’ll just want to avoid placing pots too near heat and air vents. To protect your floor, counter, or furniture use a saucer underneath to catch draining water. Inside herbs add a wonderful aroma to any room.

If you don’t have space near a window, look for a nook or cranny in which you can place a grow light. Non-functioning fireplaces make a fantastic growing space. The built-in china cabinets sometimes found in old houses can be adapted as well. Your eyes and imagination will most likely lead to the perfect spot.

There’s no denying this is a stressful time. Connecting to the earth and watching the wonder of natural growth lifts my spirits. Smelling appetizing aromas pleases my senses. Whether a garden grows in the ground in the back yard or pots on the porch, cultivating and maintaining it is a healthy and welcome pastime.

I am happy with how my garden grows. I still haven’t bought any chickens.

https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/herb-garden/5068.html

https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/gardening-under-lights/5080.html

https://www.hgtv.com/outdoors/gardens/garden-styles-and-types/types-of-grow-lights-for-indoor-plants

https://geturbanleaf.com/shop/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”