Top Ten Thoughts While Preparing for a Trip to Latvia

Only 2 days until my friend and I board a plane to fly overseas. My mind is spinning with packing thoughts.In a few short days, a friend and I will drive to Chicago, and board a Turkish Airline flight bound for Istambul. After a 36 hour lay over, we’ll catch another Turkish Airlines flight to our final destination–Riga, Latvia–where we’ll spend a week ministering to moms at a special needs family camp. Here are 10 thoughts swirling in my head while packing for the trip.

10. Where’s my passport? In the lock box at the bank. Better get it and put it in the Latvia trip file.

9.  I sure hope the Turkish Airline customer service representative understood me better than I understood her while asking for a dairy-free menu and getting seat assignments.

8.  How much cash should I take? Where’s my debit card?

7.  Oh, I probably need to buy an adapter for my computer and phone chargers.

6.  What? My blow dryer won’t work even with an adapter? What am I going to do?

5.  Where’s my passport? In the Latvia trip file. Better move it to my nifty money and document purse.

4.  Hmm…what’s the weather like in Latvia this time of year?

3.  How many books can be packed in 1 suitcase without exceeding the weight limit?

2.  Where’s my passport? In my nifty money and document purse. Maybe I should just wear it until we leave.

1.  Clothes. I need to pack clothes. What kind? How many? Maybe a burka for Istambul?

What do you think about when packing for a big trip? Leave a comment.


Checking Items Off My Bucket List

Workshop Speakers                                                  Bottom row: Gail Kittleson, Jolene Philo, Anne Fleck Middle row: Jean Vaux, Cherie Dargon             Standing: Mary Potter Kenyon, Sue Schuerman, Tamara Clymer, Mary Jedlicka Humston, Chris Pesek


I’ve never made a bucket list, though my list excuses for not doing so is quite extensive.

Too busy.
Too busy with family.
Too busy enjoying friends.
Too busy reading books.
Too busy writing.
Too busy planning the Wonderfully Made Family Camp (WMFC).
Too busy living to plan how to reach the end of life without regrets.

But despite the busyness, I recently checked 2 items off the bucket list I never made.

The first check mark happened at WMFC. All the members of the planning board, myself included, wore green tee-shirts so we were easy to find when questions arose. That, in itself was pretty cool, even though I usually had to refer the questioners who approached me to someone who could actually answer the question. But, in addition to the green shirts, the members of the planning committee were issued…

…drum roll please…WALKIE TALKIES…

…second drum roll please…with HEAD PIECES and MICROPHONES.

So I was able to fulfill my childhood dream of commanding thousands of people–or in this case more than 100. But who’s counting?–using honest-to-goodness spy gear. Or at least a walkie talkie and head piece generously donated by Scheel’s. (They donated 12 sets, valued at over $500. Cool, huh?)

Grand as that event was, it pales compared to what happened over the weekend.

For the first time ever, my daughter and I co-presented a workshop at the Cedar Falls Christian Writers’ Workshop. The topic was What a Manuscript Editor Can Do for You, and the workshop sprang from our mutual editing of each other’s manuscripts last summer. We discovered that each of us made the other’s writing better, and that we enjoyed doing it. Probably because Anne has a talent for spotting writing weaknesses and suggesting ways to shore them up. And I have a talent for weak writing that needs shoring up.

It is a match made in heaven.

The match is turning out to be much more than me being able to fulfill a lifelong dream of speaking or acting with one of my kids–another item from the bucket list I never made that has now been checked off. The match may turn out to be the start of a new professional partnership between Anne and me to offer book coaching services, such as manuscript editing and book proposal assistance, in person and online. (More on that this fall at

We’re in the dreaming stage at present, but who knows what the future holds?

For now I am grateful that in the busyness of life, God touched my days with not only the childish joy of using a walkie talkie, but also a mother’s joy in partnering with my adult daughter who has become a talented, determined woman.




Fantastic Friday at a Writer’s Conference

This Fantastic Friday, I’m at the Cedar Falls Christian Writing Conference once again. This time my fellow author and editor, who also happens to be my daughter, will be co-presenting a workshop about What a Manuscript Editor Can Do for You. With that in mind, what could be more fitting than this June 16, 2015 post for another Fantastic Friday?

Top Ten Things About Going to a Writers’ Conference

The bags are packed and I’m ready to head out for the Cedar Falls Christian Writers’ Conference tomorrow. Here are 10 top ten reasons to attend a writing conference, in Cedar Falls, Iowa or anywhere else one is held.

10. They’re a great opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of other writers and to see if your inner insecure writer’s envy-o-meter readings are going down or up.

9.  Writers’ conferences are a wonderful place to make new friends.

8.  And they’re a place to reconnect with old friends, too.

7.  A good writers’ conference will provide information and concepts to challenge your comfort zone, stretch your thinking, and conceive new ideas.

6.  Each conference should offer confirmation that God created you to be a writer…or not.

5.  They offer time to reflect upon where you are now as a writer and where you want to be in the future.

4.  They also offer time to step back and see God’s hand at work in and through your writing.

3.  Somehow, unexpected doors for your writing will open in unexpected ways and under the most unexpected circumstances.

2.  Someone else does all the cooking and cleans the bathrooms.

1.  At a writers’ conference you are with like-minded people who think your obessions with reading, composition notebooks, ballpoint pens, and mechanical pencils are absolutely normal.

Have you ever been to a writers’ conference? What’s on your top ten list?

Three Thoughts for Thursday


Memory loss versus discernment, baby proofing epic fail, and June eating in this week's 3 thoughts.

  1. Mom was reading Us magazine in the lobby before a recent doctor’s appointment. She looked at me and said, “This is a piece of junk.” Proof positive that short term memory loss ≠ loss of discernment.
  2. You know your efforts to baby proof are an epic fail when the 14-month old uses the outlet covers as teething rings.
  3. Fresh strawberries, wilted greens, and sugar snap peas at supper. What’s not to like about June eating in Iowa?

What’s your favorite June delicacy? Leave a comment.

Non-Dairy Strawberry Crisp

Today's recipe for strawberry crisp is the latest in a long series of fruit crisp recipes at Gravel Road.Just a few weeks ago, I posted my recipe for low sugar rhubarb crisp. Until today, it was the most recent installment in a Gravel Road unintentional series of crisp recipes such as blueberry crisp, apple crisp, and strawberry-rhubarb crisp.

But not anymore. Because strawberries were on sale at the grocery store last week, so I bought several boxes to make strawberry-rhubarb crisp. The son-in-law is not a big rhubarb fan, though he said he thought a strawberry crisp would be just fine. Here’s the recipe I fabricated, and which he said was mighty fine.

Strawberry Crisp

6 cups washed strawberries, hulled & sliced
1/3 cup softened, non-dairy, softened non-dairy shortening substitute like Earth Balance
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup oatmeal
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Heat oven to 375°. Place strawberries in 2 quart baking dish. In medium bowl, mix all dry ingredients. Cut in shortening until mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle on top of fruit. Bake for 30-45 minutes until fruit is bubbly. Serve warm.

Top Ten Comments Overheard at Special Needs Family Camp

The first ever Wonderfully Made Family Camp (WMFC) at Hidden Acres was a success. Here are the top 10 comments heard during the weekend.Central Iowa’s first Wonderfully Made Family Camp (WMFC) for families of kids with special needs was held over the weekend. It was an unqualified success as these top ten comments overheard show.

10.  From a mom: My son had 8 s’mores at the campfire last night. We got to sleep pretty late.

9.   From the typical sibling of a child with special needs: I went on 3 trail rides this afternoon. It was my best day ever.

8.  From almost every parent, child, and volunteer: This camp is amazing!

7.  From numerous dads and moms: My massage was wonderful. I haven’t been this relaxed in years.

6.  From the sibling of the Man of Steel’s camp buddy: Hiram’s my buddy, too. Can he be part of our family forever?

5.  From several young campers: When can we go swimming? We’re going swimming now! We swam until the pool closed at 10 o’clock last night.

4.  From a young camper: Dad, will you come meet Kristen’s parents? She wants me to come to her house to play someday.

3.  From more than one parent: How long have you been running special needs family camps? You are so well organized.

2.  From the planning committee: We want everyone to know that God provided everything and everyone needed to make this camp a reality.

1. From more parents, kids, and volunteers to planning committee members: Thank you for letting us be part of the camp.

And one more from the planning committee to every parent, child, and volunteer: Thank you!

Absorbine Junior for a Fantastic Friday

Absorbine Jr is more than horse or human liniment. It's also a bug repellent and a sexy and promising senior citizen perfume.Today’s post first appeared on Gravel Road in late June of 2013. But around here, gnat season is getting an early start. If you want to stay ahead of the bugs, this Fantastic Friday offers an easy and mighty fragrant way to do it.

Our shady neighborhood has been invaded by summertime’s unholy trinity: mosquitos, gnats, and deer flies. The invasion makes my morning walks a challenge and weeding the flowerbeds painful. If it wasn’t for a tip we learned when gnats crashed our daughter’s outdoor wedding reception 3 years ago, I would be a prisoner in my own home.

So what’s the tip?  Absorbine Junior.

Skeptical? So was I at first. But a little Absorbine Junior dabbed behind the ears, across the forehead, under the chin and across the back of the neck kept the nasty, naughty, gnatty wedding crashers away for a couple hours.

Still skeptical? Check out this story about Absorbine Jr.

The stinky stuff may have started as a horse liniment that graduated to human liniment. But that’s only one of it’s charms. I apply it to face, legs and arms every morning, and I feel like Moses parting the Gnat Sea during my morning walks. It’s not quite as effective when standing knee deep in weeds in a flowerbed, even when you’ve dabbed your shirty silly with the stuff, but it helps.

Don’t ask how I know this.

As you can imagine, muscle aches are a thing of the past, too. Of course, my aroma these days is akin to senior citizens on parade. But who cares? I’m going to be a senior citizen in a few years, and this is good practice. With a little cultivation, Hiram may think Eau de Absorbine’s kinda sexy.

Absorbine Junior. Don’t leave home without it.

Three Thoughts for Thursday

Barista training, questionable board book adaptations, and Band of Brothers in this week's 3 thoughts.

  1. I am now a barista in training, thanks to the espresso maker received for Mother’s Day and tutelage of my daughter. No cute cap. No green apron. No benefit package. But I’m learning to make one mean latte.
  2. Who in the world thought a baby board book based on Les Miserables (see photo) was a wise publication choice? In my opinion, the concept of rebellion and the guillotine should be restricted to children old enough to handle books with care and and who are big enough to ride in a car without a car seat.
  3. I wish our pastor would quit recommending books and DVDs. Now he’s got me hooked on Band of Brothers miniseries. Once that’s done, I’ll want to read the book. It’s a vicious cycle.

What are you watching or reading these days? Leave a comment.

Hot Bacon Dressing

Looking for a good, simple salad dressing recipe for summer? This one's easy and adds just the right zing to fresh greens.The cooks in the house are gradually getting used to the new meal routine. We even had time to do some menu planning before grocery shopping, so we’ve been enjoying having the ingredients needed for evening meals on hand. One of my cooking nights was really easy–just a big salad to be topped with pork slices cut from a couple left over brined pork chops grilled by the Man of Steel a few days earlier.

My daughter suggested topping the salad with hot bacon dressing using a recipe she found at The Pioneer Woman website. The original recipe involved bacon bits and caramelized onions. But because our salad already was sprinkled with onions and topped with pork slices, we skipped those ingredients. Below is the recipe that was perfect for our big salad of romaine, sweet peppers, onion, toasted pecans, and strawberries. Served with non-dairy lemon scones, we all gave it a thumb’s up.

Easy Hot Bacon Dressing

3 tablespoons bacon grease
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon Diijon mustard
dash of salt

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Whisk and stir on medium heat until ingredients boil. Pour into a pitcher and set it on the table. (I doubled the recipe because our salad was really big!)


Top Ten Systems Failures of the Week

For some reasons, our house has been Systems Failure Central lately. Here are ten of the epic fails we've experienced.Our house has been systems failure central for the past week. Here, in order of occurrence rather than importance, are the top 10 whammies we’ve weathered.

10. Internet service failure from the Friday before Memorial Day through Memorial Day Monday. Not fun, though it gave me a good excuse to spend several hours at my favorite coffee shop sipping java, dealing with emails and writing blog posts.

9.  Muffin-baking failure. Even though I’ve used this recipe hundreds of times, every batch came out almost, but not quite, burned. To be honest, I was distracted by the antics of the baby in the house, which may have led to the oven temp set too high or the timer on a bit too long. I’m not sure which. But I can tell you this. The baby was adorable.

8.  Ant containment failure. In of all places our bathroom. They were everywhere. Two tries with Terro were required before the little critters found the bait and took it back to their colony. Sorry, PETA people, I have neither the time or patience to live trap ants and release them in the wild.

7.  Concentration failure. My ability to concentrate has been severely impaired because of the delightful baby at our house. See #9 for one example of the effects of this system failure. Other examples include misplaced emails, getting to appointments at the wrong time, and losing my watch. If you find it, please let me know. I’m lost without it.

6.  Debit card failure. Because I forgot to activate my new one, and by the time I remembered it needed activating, the paper with instructions was lost. See #7 for the underlying cause of this system failure.

5.  Outdoor clothesline failure. After 25 years of hard use, the rectractible, outdoor clothesline’s lock mechanism that kept the lines from sagging stopped working. Though the baby in the house wears cloth diapers, we had no worries because the indoor dryer was working just fine. (See #3)

4.  Lawn mower failure. The billows of smoke coming from the engine area were the first clue something was amiss, followed by a whining sound and the engine seizing. We all saw the smoke and trust the Man of Steel’s report about the rest. He thinks it’s the transmission, but the fix-it shop is so backed up, it’ll be 10 days until they can pick it up. In the meantime, a friend is mowing for us and the Man of Steel’s entertaining ideas of ordering a transmission himself and repairing the monster (see photo) himself.

3.  Indoor clothes dryer failure. The Man of Steel says it blew a fuse because of something in the exhaust pipe is plugged. So he ordered the fuse to be shipped overnight before retrieving the outdoor clothesline from the garbage, (see #5) and jerry-rigging it so the lines don’t sag. At least not so far. Since he can’t mow the lawn these days, (see #4) he’ll have plenty of time to install the new fuse and clean the exhaust pipe once the part arrives.

2. Door knob failure. Having a baby in the house means doors are kept shut and require more frequent opening, which is putting a strain on our old farmhouse door knobs. My daughter fixed one, but the other needs the Man of Steel’s magic touch. Hopefully, some magic will remain after the clothes dryer job and before he goes to town on the mower.

1. KitchenAid blender failure. The black coupling died as the daughter finished making humus for the baby, who eats the stuff by the fistful. Thankfully, the part is cheap, and the repair is one that’s been made at our house before. Plus, the daughter made a huge batch of humus, so the blender should be working before more is needed.

Are you dealing with systems failures at your house? Leave a comment.