Joy and Loss

There’s a lot going on for everyone right now. We’re all struggling with new rules and parameters on things we can or should do, and things we can’t. Some people seem to look for endless loopholes to justify their personal decisions, and others just shrug and understand that a little sacrifice now helps everyone in the long term.

When Corona and a pending shut down became evident, I started sewing face masks. I wasn’t sure if my husband and his colleagues would need them, or just our friends and neighbors, but I got to work.

I had been a quilter for a while when the kids were small, and have quite a decent sewing machine. I also have a stash of fabrics I bought with dreams of various quilts to be made- some with fabrics where I just loved the colors, and others with themes from the beach or outer space- many of these did not come to be, but the wonderful and gorgeous fabrics stayed safely tucked away in my basement.

When I went down looking for fabrics to use for face masks, I discovered all these old gems- and how much I still loved them all. There’s fabric leftover from the Harry Potter quilt I did make James, and dolphins with sunglasses I got with my niece and nephew in mind. There’s Liberty of London William Morris prints, nautical prints, and lovely blues and greens that make me happy when I see them. Even after all this time, I still love all of these fabrics, but it’s now time to put them into production- not for an art project, or a quilt to keep a baby or family member warm- but to potentially save a lot of people in my community from getting sick with what could be a deadly illness.

So far, I’ve made and donated over 200 masks, and I’m still dewing. 100 went to a local retirement community, 50 to another one, a dozen to the local hospice. Some have gone to friends, neighbors, and co-workers, and others to people in the community who need them most.

My husband recognized early on that this gave me something constructive to do, and a way to try to protect everyone I know and love. I know these masks aren’t really magic, but hopefully the people they get them and wear them will know they were made with love.

Part of me is sad to give up all this beautiful fabric, collected so long ago, but the other part of me is so happy that its magic will be spread out and help even more people than I ever could have imagined buying a fat quarter here and there or a yard or half yard of this or that.

My younger self has provided for my current self in ways I could not have imagined at the time- and what may have looked like a little light hoarding now is more useful that I ever could have imagined. I’ve even donated a couple of bags of fabric and extra elastic I ordered early on to other sewers, so we can multiply the ability to produce masks for everyone who needs one.

So I spend part of my day, usually early in the morning, a bit at lunch and then after work cutting and sewing these memories to be distributed around to help as many people as possible. My son has started to help string the elastic and iron the fabric to help things go faster, so we’re getting to do this together, which is incredible. When people offer to pay, I could not even think of what to charge, so I ask them to pay it forward- help the local food bank or help someone else in turn.

After all, my younger self gave me this gift, and now it’s time to pay it forward.

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Moving Business Online Checklist

This morning I got up and decided to do a little self- care and order some scones and a latte from a local shop that is doing curbside pickup during coronavirus. Their website was down, so I called the shop and let them know and made my order over the phone. They also had to call back to verify my credit card number- making the whole transaction very time consuming.

As someone who helps businesses with the their online presence and marketing, it occurred to me that many places- especially restaurants- have websites that basically functioned as billboards and places where you could see the menu online. But now, if you don’t have a reliable website shopping cart infrastructure, you could be losing business you may not be able to afford to lose. Those online shopping carts can be pricey on a monthly basis- so there’s tradeoffs, but so is tying up your one landline with orders as well.

I thought I’d put together a quick list of things to help small businesses navigate the move to being an online business, whether they wanted to be one or not.

  1. Check your website every morning. For most businesses, they rarely go to their own website- it’s kind of like a set it and forget it kind of thing. But these days, if your website isn’t working, you are out of business. You can’t just depend on foot traffic, so make sure your website is up, your hosting is paid, and everything is working.
  2. Make sure you website is mobile responsive/mobile friendly. This is age old advice, but there are still some people who don’t have a website that works well on a mobile phone or tablet. You need people to be able to order from wherever they are, especially in the days of curbside pickup. If your website isn’t super functional on your phone, get this fixed.
  3. Decide if you need online ordering, and if so, make sure you have the processes in place to deliver on this service. For example, a local pizza place may depend on people calling in orders, but if people start putting orders in n the website, is the kitchen prepared to take two streams of incoming orders? What gets prioritized? Work this out in advance of turning on online ordering.
  4. Collect Emails! And Data! A friend always says “You live and die by your database.” This has never more true than now. You need to be able to communicate with people about changes in hours, menus, whatever. Then send out email updates when it’s necessary- not every day- and if possible, segment your list based on interest. If you can send out special emails to the Pizza lovers on your list or the Scone aficionados highlighting what they love, they will feel more engaged and more likely to make a purchase.
  5. The Database you build today will pay off tomorrow. For people that already have collected emails from customers, now’s a great time to think of creative ways to keep your community engaged. On the scone run this morning, I ran into someone who owns a local beer garden. I know they have a great database of emails, so I plan on giving them some ideas on how they can keep their audience engaged even while they are on a corona hiatus. Even just having a space on your current website that says “Subscribe to our newsletter for updates” will let you get in contact with people as things (hopefully) return to normal.
  6. Clean up your database. In this time of quiet, this is a great time to look over your current data- think about getting rid of people who never open up emails, or, conversely, send out something to those folks with a compelling subject line to see if they still want to hear from you. If yes, it’s a win! If no, you can get rid of them from your list and likely save yourself some money at the same time with your email system of choice.

These are my quick thoughts this am- please share any you might have to add in the comments. Good luck out there and stay healthy!

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Declaring an emergency

What’s it like being someone in charge- at any level- having to make decisions about the health and welfare of our entire community?

This week I found out.

Last week, I started talking with a client of mine about the steps we needed to take to make sure all the residents at a local senior community were safe. They asked for my help for talking through what we needed to do about upcoming primary elections, where these communities serve as a polling place for residents and people in the surrounding area.

I made calls to our County Commissioners to bring the issue up and our concerns. We set up a meeting with voter services. And we brain-stormed decisions that would allow the greatest access to everyone but also keep non-residents off of the campus, to keep everyone there well.

A day later, we were talking about steps for social distancing in the Township office, procedures for our emergency responders, and how to communicate this all out to everyone in the community. Cancelling all meetings and non-essential services on Wednesday seemed like it might be over-reacting, but when they closed Broadway and Disney on Thursday, I knew we had made the right decision and did it in a timely fashion.

We shared what we were doing with neighboring municipalities, and have offered to help them if we can. Small things matter now, like helping to get the word out when things change, or new restrictions are in place.

Our County commissioners declared a disaster yesterday, Friday the 13th, as the Governor closed schools, and we followed suit, declaring a state of emergency in the Township. This basically paves the way for inter-governmental cooperation and doing what we need to do to make sure everyone is cared for appropriately. We’re not entirely sure what that’s going to mean. I think we all know we’re in uncharted territory here.

Without a clear plan and rules coming down from higher up in the Federal Government, we’re taking actions on the local and County level to make the best decisions possible to keep the most number of people healthy as we start to see community spread of the virus. Things will continue to change and we’re doing our best to keep everyone updated as we learn more.

Preparedness

Preparedness means being ready for whatever comes. You can do this with advanced planning, because even if you have to riff in unexpected circumstances, at least you have a baseline plan as a point of reference. We have that, and that’s good news.

How is it- emotionally?

We had a crisis that started almost a year ago, when we found one of the township employees was stealing money. That led to many changes in our township that actually have us in much better shape to withstand a storm- including very strong leadership. I feel like we’re in great shape with all the hard decisions we’ve made in the past 10 months, and that has me feeling very relieved.

I’m glad I’m here to really help my community when it needs it most. We need to all work together. Knowing that when I call the county commissioners- and tell them what we’re worried about or what we need- and they called me right back and listened. We talked through the issue and they are working on solutions. As long as we all stay in sync, things will go well.

But I want to DO Something….

The most frustrating thing sometimes in a case like this, there’s not much you can do- it’s not like a snow storm where you can help shovel people out, or I can make sure the road crew is fed when they’re working overtime to keep roads clear and safe. In fact, what we’re all supposed to do is basically hunker down like there is a snow storm, stay put, and avoid each other like the plague. (A turn of phrase with new meaning now, of course.) At least in a snowstorm, I could make cookies and hot chocolate for the neighbor kids sledding in our backyard. Now it’s making hand sanitizer and staying put.

Please do your part during this unprecedented situation. Stay at home as much as possible. Keep your kids at home. Do what you can to help others- if you have to drop something off, drop it on the porch.

There will be plenty of people who think this is silly and overblown. But we all need to pull together to make this work. If we don’t want a mandated shut down that will last longer, we need to do what we can now- and that means listening to guidelines and following them. It also means being kind and helpful to our neighbors, and we’ll get through this.

I’ll keep you all informed on social media of the latest news and updates as we get them. And most of all- stay safe and healthy.

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Parenting Young Adults

I just read a great blog post by my friend, C.C. Chapman on parenting his kids as they become young adults. CC is also teaching at a college in Boston, so he has a great perspective on mentoring young people as they start to deal, gradually, with the expectations of the adult world.

It took a long time for me to develop a more adult- to-adult relationship with my own parents- and I think I only got there sometime in my mid-40’s. That wasn’t what I wanted for my relationship with my kids, so I’ve had to look at what I say to them, and how they hear it as well.

For example, there are times I catch myself doling out advice- sometimes it’s a to-do list, sometimes it’s a way to handle an issue- and I hear my mom in my ear. And I remember how that stuff felt like a lecture and a criticism, not always like help- even if that’s all she intended. So when I hear that, I try to stop myself and say: “Hey, I realize that when I am talking to you about this stuff, it may sound way different coming from me because I am your mom. I respect that you need to manage these things on your own, and I’m trying to help – but I also know it can sound like a lecture. I don’t mean it that way- I just want to help you in any way I can and make things easier for you if I can.” Sometimes I even add “When I’m bugging you X, that’s because this stuff has a direct impact on me, and I’m dealing with my anxieties and worries when I ask you to do this stuff, maybe before you think it’s really necessary. Please help me manage my stuff by doing x. “

This level of self-insight has really made the relationships with my kids much better during this time.

I remember trying to be my own person at that age, but still being dependent; trying to figure things out, and not wanting to admit I didn’t have a plan in place; Hoping things would magically work out and what I really needed was a dose of reality. But I also remember being afraid to admit it to my parents, because I never really believed that I wouldn’t look like a failure to them if I did.

The biggest gift I hope I can give my kids is a sense that I love them unconditionally. That whatever happens, we can deal with it- big or small. If they want different things than I want for them, that’s a-ok. I’ve even had the “Hey, if you don’t want to finish college, I will admit I will be disappointed, but I understand this is your life, and you need to make the decision that’s right for you, and I respect that.” Saying even the tough things- identifying the elephants in the room and discussing them openly- has helped build our relationship and trust level, and that’s what’s really important to me.

So much of early parenting is being a superhero to your kids- perfect and invincible. But as they grow, they need to see aspects of real life through you as well. Disappointments, failures, joy, celebrations, navigating difficult relationships with others, simple pleasures being good enough- all of it. Being perfect and strong was easy when they were little, but as they hit their own growing pains, they need to know life is about how you react to the tough stuff, and that we’ve got a family team here ready and willing to help, no matter what.

I love my kids, and who they are becoming. But I love that we’re getting through a lot of things by having built a base of trust , so when they are ready to talk, they know I will listen, and not try to just take over, fix or otherwise make their problem mine. It’s time to let them handle their own issues, with Matt and me acting as cheerleaders from the sidelines, offering help when we can. They need to feel the pleasure and pride that comes from getting through a rough patch and learning a lot along the way. And nothing’s better than seeing them succeed .

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Politics and Politicians

Right now, people are getting ready to run for office in local elections.

Here in PA, this means County, Township and Borough positions will need to be filled. The primary and general election turnout in “off-years” like this one have the lowest turnouts, but people in these positions have the largest effect on your daily life. These are the folks who are in charge of making sure the roads are maintained, the Library is funded, planning for projects like fixing dangerous intersections or whether that new housing development meets all the codes and will fit into the community, just to name a few. Their decisions will affect how efficiently paperwork gets processed in the Courts, the direction of economic development, the preservation and use of open space, and, of course, how are schools are run- and these examples are just the tip of the iceberg.

While a lot of attention is being paid to the folks lining up to run for President, remember how important it is for those folks to understand how Government works at the very lowest levels.

My objections to the celebrities and billionaires thinking about running for office has more to do with the fact tat they understand very little about Government in the first place, although like all of us, they certainly have their opinions about it.

The first thing everyone should realize is that Government is a fiduciary responsibility. It’s not a for-profit or even a non-profit enterprise- it is a public trust. That means we all agree to pool our resources (taxes) and give it to the Government entity in the hopes that our daily needs will be met on the macro-community level. Government needs to be a responsible steward of those tax dollars, making investments in the community infrastructure so we can go about our daily lives and not think about it too much.

At our Township level, that means making sure we have a plan in place for how our community is predicted to grow into the next 15-20 years, and trying to make decisions now about how we’re spending tax dollars to meet not only today’s needs but those out as far as we can see. It can be about preservation of land for parks, schools, and simply as open space, to prevent our area from becoming a giant strip mall. But it’s also about looking at what sort of growth can be expected, and making sure when we take on a project, such as fixing a dangerous intersection, we look at changes with that anticipated growth in mind.

Just think how many times we’ve seen road projects and thought- that’s going to be outmoded as soon as they’re finished? The job of government is to take all available data, and try to predict the future, making the best possible decision- but also not over-plan or over develop- because this stuff is expensive, and no one wants to see their taxes go up.

The decisions have to be made to benefit every citizen- not just the rich or the poor. Improving sidewalks and ways to get from Point A to Point B, for example, help connect a community together and make it more accessible to everyone- and that’s a quality of life improvement that benefits the community as a whole, just like having a great school benefits all the families, but also helps hold steady and even increase property values over time.

I’m skeptical of the business moguls wanting to get into politics, because they just don’t have the experience to understand how regulations aren’t about slowing down business, they are about making sure there are decent guardrails in place to help shape the development and growth of an entire community- and making sure our futures aren’t compromised by the eagerness to make a profit in this quarter or the next.

The horizons for government success can be measured in years and decades. And that kind of long term planning and careful management is not what these folks are really known for- they are known for looking for ways to make things profitable- but they aren’t always looking at the long term preservation and investment that is part of Government’s duty to each and everyone of us.

I admire the successful entrepreneur. I congratulate them heartily. But I would love to see them have some true experience of working in Government at a local level where the decisions are sometimes difficult, and it’s literally where the rubber meets the road. Then I would have some faith that they really understand what Government is all about. It’s not about letting a developer streamline the approval process for their next project, it’s making sure the next project is something that will benefit the community long term. And that’s a crucial difference that I expect everyone running for office to understand.

While it’s “sexy” to run for a high visibility office, the bottom line is that government is complicated, and requires a seriousness of purpose to do the job, not just attract attention and applause. If all you want is attention, I suggest show business or stand up comedy. Take up blogging. How about becoming a Youtube or Instagram star? You can get all the attention you want, and the rest of us won’t have to live with the consequences of your lack of understanding of the responsibility that goes along with being an elected official. It is a huge responsibility to be in charge of the future of your community or country, and it deserves to be taken with the utmost seriousness.

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