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Just along for the ride

I don’t know them personally but I feel like I do. I only recognize a few names on the roster but I want to get to know them. They are the Lady Musketeers basketball team and they are about to make history for their school and for our community.

They have made non-basketball people into fans; they have brought out the best in Washington County. Thrown away are the school lines that are normally drawn during the ensuing sports seasons.

When one community supports three separate school systems, rivalries exist sometimes being passed down from one generation to another. But sometimes time softens those hard-core rivalries and we can pull together as one.

That is what this team of girls from Pekin has done. Winning sectional was great but not unheard of in Washington County. Each school has its share of sectional victories but to go on and win regional, that’s something to brag about. A fewer number of regional wins have been celebrated amongst the county schools.

But they were not done, a semi-state victory was in their sights and they mastered that with hard play and lots of heart.

Now they are on to play the biggest game of their life and in Banker’s Fieldhouse nonetheless. No pressure to play on the home court of the Indiana Pacers where superstars have played the game of basketball.

But these girls are already superstars. They have pulled not only the community of Pekin together but also all of Washington County. For one weekend, anyway, we are all fans of the Lady Musketeers from Pekin.

Tournament season provides proof that the unknown can be mighty. The announcers of the semi-state game even eluded to the phenomenon of the Eastern Musketeers from small town USA denying Covenant Christian a repeat trip to the state tournament.

And what about the crowd support that drove 170 miles to Richmond for one game, outflanking the opposing team’s crowd by hundreds.

Win or lose, they are making history for their school and the rest of us …   More

Make yourself a priority in 2017

For the past three weeks I have been participating in an exercise/eating healthy accountability group.

I’m not really good about holding myself accountable, but when I join a group of friends who are constantly posting about getting their exercise in or sharing delicious recipes, it motivates me to do the same.

It goes along with that whole idea of moms encouraging each other. It’s not a competition. We are all just trying to be the best person we can be.

For moms, I think it’s hard to find time to do things for yourself. I have this horrible thing hanging over my head called “Mom Guilt!”

How could I possibly do anything for myself? There are so many things that need to be done! Little people need me!

However, when I’m part of these groups, I realize that other women are feeling the same way I do. And guess what? It’s ok for us to take time out for ourselves.

After all, if we aren’t taking care of ourselves, how can we take care of everyone else?

Everyone may have their own guilty pleasure, whether it’s going out with friends, going out for coffee, heading to the movies, reading a book, etc. Find something to do for yourself every day, even if it’s only 15 minutes. Those 15 minutes can make a huge difference in how you handle the rest of your day.

I know if I’m constantly going for everyone else and do nothing for myself, it drains me. I get resentful of every single person around me. And it’s not their fault. It’s my fault for not taking the time for me.

Getting up at 6 a.m. every day is my time. I get my exercise in, I feel good about myself and I am ready to do whatever is needed of me the rest of the day.

As we enter into the second month of 2017, I encourage all our readers to find something that makes them happy, that keeps them going, and do it. Make a pact to take care of you this year.   More

Find a little kindness

There are days, I think, when we all experience what feels like the weight of the world sitting heavy on our shoulders. It’s easy during these winter days of only seeing glimpses of the sun and dreary weather to get a little down. But it’s during these gloomy days that I am thankful for the little kindnesses of the world.

Recently I was in a hurry, as I often am, and traffic was lined up as far as the eye could see, but one car, one driver decided to let me pull out in front of him. And he smiled at me as he allowed me to be one spot closer to my destination.

Frantic one morning to get to work but needing a joust of caffeine I pulled to the McDonald’s drive thru to order my French vanilla latte and when I got to the window, my morning treat had been paid for by the car ahead of me. Not only did I get a jolt of energy from my caffeine-laden latte, I got a sample of people’s kindness to go with it.

One evening I was leaving work, dreading the chore of going home to cook supper. When asked, “What’s for supper?” my usual answer is “I don’t know” or “What do you want?” Both answers are usually met with a grumble from the men in my life who rely on me to keep them fed.

One night this week I was totally unsure of what to fix and I was not in the mood to cook either. And much to my surprise, I was greeted with polish sausage and fried potatoes on my plate. Duane had tired of my indecisive answers and took matters into his own hands. Needless to say, it was delicious.

Not to make it sound like he never cooks, he does, but on this particular night I appreciated it more because I had already faced my share of woes that day.

I have found that sometimes it also makes me feel better to do an act of kindness for someone else. I get silly ideas, especially when I am awake in the middle of the night, of things I can do for others. Sometimes I don't follow through on them but sometimes I do.

And when I do, I’m usually glad I …   More

Teach your child to love STEM

Many of today’s most in-demand careers require an education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). As parents and grandparents, we can assist in developing the knowledge and skills to succeed in these areas by fostering a love of STEM activities.

What STEM activities can I do with my child?

One of the very best ways to give your child a good start in STEM is to take them outside. As early as you like, begin going on nature walks. Allow them to collect things in a bag – leaves, sticks, stones, fossils, flowers, etc. Spread the items out, look at each one and have a conversation about how they are similar or different. Ask questions like - Which ones might go together (sticks, leaves)? How do they feel (smooth, rough)? You can also discuss the color, shape and size of the items.

As your child grows older, they can help you plant garden, water the garden, pull the weeds and you can discuss the different steps of gardening and why each step is important as you are doing this activity together. As you continue to do these outdoor activities, start asking them why? And they start becoming the expert.

A fun indoor activity is cooking together. Young children can learn how to measure and mix. Older children can understand the concept of how certain food reacts to different temperatures. From making toast to soufflés, it involves STEM.

As your child grows older, allow them to plan and cook a meal under your supervisor. Give them a budget amount for the cost of the meal, take them to the grocery to buy what food and ingredients needed and after the meal is cooked and eaten, it is perfectly OK to help them with the cleanup!

A good family activity is to visit a science museum. Modern science museums have interactive stations where your child can not only see, but do. Most schools take students to a museum at least once, but your child will benefit from having your undivided attention in an unrushed environment with repeat trips …   More

My List™ and the "best ever" baked beans

(Disclaimer: I wrote this back in the summer of 2016, but it got lost. I've found it again and after changing a few things to make it current, I'm going to go ahead and post it now, given that apparently, there's no bad time for baked beans. At least for those who like them.)


Is it just me, or can people be kind of condescending about food you don’t like?

“Oh, you don’t eat X? That’s just because you haven’t had my X.” *drops a spoonful on your plate, taking up valuable real estate for food you’ll actually eat*

“Oh, come on, you’re a grown up! My kids love X!” *cut away to children feeding mystery goop to the dog*

I’m not a picky eater, but I do have my List™. My List™ includes the foods that for reasons of flavor or texture (usually the latter), I will not eat. Not just “don’t like,” but will. not. put. in. my. mouth. Here is that list off the top of my head:

• Beans (baked, refried, with ham, in salads, etc. Includes lentils, but not green beans.)

• American potato salads, of any kind (German potato salad served hot with bacon and candied onions and all of that slowcooked together is heartily welcomed, but not out of a can)

• Creamy cole slaw (vinegar-based is A-OK)

• Meat salads (ham/tuna/chicken/egg salads either on lettuce or bread)

• Canned tuna (smell included)

• Hard boiled egg yolks (includes deviled eggs; whites are fine)

• Grapefruit (juice included)

• Olives (black or green)

• Swiss cheese (unless it's in a Reuban sandwich)

• Sweet and sour/bread and butter pickles/relish (why would you do that to an innocent cucumber?)

• The majority of pasta salads

• Coconut

• Peas (unless they’re heavily mixed with something)

• Grits (I don't care what you put in it)

• Sausage gravy, even on biscuits (white gravy in general, …   More

Enjoy the moments, good and bad

I’m not sure there is anything better on Christmas morning than the excitement of a three year old.

Our youngest daughter opened every present with the craziest excitement I’ve seen. She squealed, she peeked into boxes, she clapped her hands and she danced around.

It was pure love and excitement for the holiday and her dad and I loved and enjoyed every minute of it.

She truly acted like everything thing she got was the best thing she’d ever seen. And everything was just what she wanted! Ha!

I’m sure our other two daughters had the same zest when they were her age, but sadly, it’s hard to remember. The years, the holidays, they all start to blur together.

At the end of the day, our three year old said, “You and daddy are the best. I have the best mommy and daddy ever. I love you and I love my presents.”

It was awesome. I know, without a doubt, she loves and appreciates everything she received.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if we all showed that same gratitude every day in our lives?

I think it’s easy for people, me included, to get sucked up in life. You grow to expect things to happen instead of being thankful that they do happen.

When days are bad, we dwell on the negative and forget to see and look for the positive.

I’m sad the holiday season is over. I have thoroughly enjoyed the season this year and tried to slow down and savor the experience with our kids. Time goes too fast and I know that all too soon they will be off doing their own thing and making their own memories.

I’m going to do my best in the next year to appreciate every day, every moment, the best I can. I’m going to look for the bright side, no matter the circumstances.

Life is oh so good and I’m thankful every day that God wakes me up to enjoy it.

I challenge you to find the bright side in 2017 and make it the best year yet.   More

Getting nostalgic about my Christmas cactus

I know it is getting close to the holidays when my normally unassuming Christmas cactus shows its blooms. My plant, however, does not know its name is associated with Christmas as it usually shows its first pink bloom around Thanksgiving and most years keeps blooms on until Christmas. Most years, I am lucky enough to enjoy blooms around Easter, too.

This plant is obviously very smart, as it never has to be reminded that the holidays are coming. It always seems well prepared and has a plan in place. I ask myself how can this small plant have it all together when I am so scatter brained. I guess that must partially be the reason for it being one of my favorite plants. It reminds me of the beauty and consistency in the world. And all of that worldly wisdom can be found in just one small space of my house.

I also love having a Christmas cactus around because it reminds me of my Grandma Smith. She had a huge cactus in her living room that when flowering was simply covered in pink blooms. I think about it sometimes and wish I had a picture of it in its full bloom because as I get older, it grows in width and beauty in my mind.

After looking up how to care for the Christmas cactus, I can’t believe mine is alive let alone blooming. It needs light but not too much and during the fall the website suggests moving it to a dark room during the night for optimal bloom. I didn’t know I was taking in another child to raise. I just wanted a plant that brings back happy memories and makes me smile when I see it bloom.

After some Internet research, I do have some insight on how it has survived, though, as it requires minimal watering (it is in the cacti family, after all) and I can even stop watering it around October so that optimal blooming will happen around the holidays. It also suggests lowering the temperature of the house in the fall in preparation for the blooming season. Duane and Mother Nature usually take care of this because as the temperatures start to …   More

It's your turn to shoot me

For the last couple years I’ve made my living taking pictures of other people and even won a couple of awards for it. Now the tables have turned. In a new promotion, Leader Publishing is partnering with Turtlefish Clothing to give you the opportunity to take pictures of me and win a custom T-shirt.

Now is your chance step into my shoes. I hop around between the three county schools usually hitting two different ones in a weekend, and most of the time all three within a week. This gives all three fan bases an opportunity to try their luck in taking a picture of me.

So how do you win? It’s simple really. You find me at a sporting event, take my picture on your phone, and then text it to 812-620-8557, and that’s it. That’s not my phone number, just to clarify.

How do you find me at a sporting event? Easy – look for the short guy wearing either Texas, Superman or an IU shirt or hoodie. I will probably mostly have Texas and Superman on, so that should narrow it down quite a bit. Once you find me, just snap a picture and that’s it. Hopefully, I will be working in said picture, but if not I’ll do a goofy pose if you like.




Each week one lucky fan will win a free custom shirt from Turtlefish. We will pick a winner of all the pictures submitted throughout the week on Wednesday. Winners will be chosen at random and there won’t be any repeat winners.

If we select your photo, you will be called and put in touch with the guys at Turtlefish. They will figure out what kind of shirt you want, and then have it made up for you on Friday where we will meet in the afternoon to pick it up at their building on the square. Then you are lucky and will get your picture taken with me and it will be put on the Leader Facebook page!

That’s it, that’s all there is to it. Now getting all these pictures taken is the perfect excuse for me to lose some weight! Happy …   More

The Giver

Strangely enough, I had never read The Giver, which is a book practically everyone and their uncle read in middle school, until this past summer. It seemed to be one of those books that remained permanently on my “Books To Read” list, but I would seemingly always find a book I wanted to read more. Also, I tend to be one of those people who reads books after everyone else, and the best example is I am just now reading the Harry Potter series. In my generation, that’s practically a Class Three felony. Anyway, for anyone who, like me, has never read The Giver, or has and is simply curious about my opinion for whatever reason, here’s my opinion on the story.

Our protagonist in The Giver is a 12 year old boy named Jonas, who lives in this uptopia known only as the society. In this world, pain and suffering has been eliminated by removing many of the citizens’ emotions and leaving only the most basic feelings such as happiness, anger, fear, etc. They are also only given a select few words to say, making it harder for them to express themselves, and don’t live with their birth parents as they live with an assigned family.

Every year until they are 12, the children have ceremonies where they celebrate a rite of passage. Their actual birthdays are unknown, and instead age on the same day as all of the other children. On a child’s 12th ceremony, they are given their work assignments.

During Jonas’ ceremony, he learns that he has been assigned to be The Giver. The Giver is a mysterious figure in the society, and is rarely seen by people. Jonas is trained by an Obi-Wan Kenobi/Gandalf/Dumbledore figure, who shows him what being the Giver really means, and Jonas learns more than what he ever could have imagined.

I wasn’t surprised by how much I genuinely enjoyed this book. It’s practically a modern classic, and it’s a dystopian society. I have read a number of different futurisitc books, because they’re probably my favorite, and I can say …   More

Sorry Charlie

Well it has been quite the roller coaster week for myself as a Texas fan. We went from losing to Kansas and thinking for sure Charlie Strong would be fired as the head coach of the football team, to him maybe coming back if they beat TCU. Rumors then swirled that his likely replacement was heading to LSU. Friday the team lost it’s final game of the season against the Horned Frogs. Then finally on Saturday Strong was fired, and Tom Herman was brought in to replace him. So needless to say it’s been a wild week.

I’ll start by saying I like the hire by Texas. Herman has showed some promise in his young career at Houston. He turned that program around and made them competitive, including pulling off some big wins against Florida State, Oklahoma, and Louisville. He has said Texas was his “dream job” after coaching around the state at various levels, including two years as a grad assistant coach for Texas under Mack Brown. So I think Texas got the right guy.

There have been rumblings that Charlie Strong got a raw deal and to those people I simply say, shut up. Strong is a great guy, a wonderful role model, and a great football coach. It just wasn’t working at Texas. He earned his firing by losing to Kansas who last beat Texas in 1938. He also had the worst three year span in Texas history. That’s how you get fired. If Texas had just beaten Kansas to make a bowl game he probably saves his job, but he didn’t. Too many times the team didn’t show up prepared. Some of that’s on the players, but a lot falls on the coach too. So yes it’s sad to see Coach Strong go because I am a fan of his and will continue to be, but the narrative that he got screwed is stupid. He earned his firing.

So now we have Tom Herman at the helm and I am again excited for Texas football, I only wish that next month was September instead of December.   More

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