Better Selection

Loudoun County has grown, A LOT, over the past twenty-five years. That is hardly a surprise to anyone who has lived in the area for any length of time. But for me, coming back to the area after we sold our home in Fairfax County, it has been a bit of a shock.

In 1995, the population was 116,140; in 2021 the estimated population is 429,570. The 2020 census data won’t be released for sometime but I’m sure it won’t shock county residents that we continue to grow. While Loudoun County is neither the fastest growing county in the US, it is the fastest in Virginia. According to Loudoun County Business Development, “Nationally, over that span (since 2010) Loudoun ranks 20th in growth of 3,142 counties and seventh among counties with a population of 100,000 or more. With Washington-Dulles International Airport providing access to more than 50 world capitals, nearly one in four Loudouners were born outside the U.S.” See their article for more here.

What I find interesting in all of this talk about growth is the growth in our culinary selections. Restaurant reviews and magazine or newspaper “best of” and “top ten” lists are published periodically. I have found many to be helpful guides in my ongoing search of culinary adventure. Over on The Burn website for instance, they have written over 35 stories on restaurants which have either opened since January of this year, or have plans to open soon.

Many of the new selections fall into recognizable categories: eight new restaurants featuring chicken, for instance. Five new Asian restaurants (Korean BBQ, Chinese-style hot pot, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants; four coffee shops and a couple of cookie or milk shake dessert places; even a new winery which looks like it will be fun (Old Farm Winery at Hartland).

Saigon Outcast is a recently-opened fast casual style restaurant that we tried Saturday night with friends. A band was playing indoors to an enthusiastic crowd; we sat outdoors on the patio. Gas heaters provided plenty of warmth during the cool spring evening and allowed us to enjoy the conversation without needing to wear a mask. Saigon Outcast is an Vietnamese twist on the popular “world of beers” eatery. Rather than traditional pub food (pretzels, hamburgers, smothered tater tots), their menu has features such as lemongrass beef, green papaya salad with shrimp, and wok-charred shishito peppers. Indoors, the wall of customer-poured beers was an experience I look forward to trying again. I needed a little help with the whole process (chilled glasses on the left side of the cooler, tip your glass a little more to get under the spigot) but what an adventure! With over 30 beers, wines and ciders to choose from, fun decor and the Vietnamese inspired menu, this is a place I hope to return to soon.

A few selections from the menu at Saigon Outcast

La Prensa Tacos and Tapas opened last December in Sterling and has been growing in popularity since. Deb and I stopped in after church one Sunday hoping to avoid the afternoon and evening crowd I had seen on a recent drive by pick up at Nothing Bundt Cakes next door. What a treat! We tried several of the tapas and a birria quesadilla, all delicious. They offer two types of sangria so we ordered a glass of each to go with our tasting meal. The grilled octopus with Salsa Basquaise was amazing and had me thinking about our visit to Barcelona. The menu is Mexican influenced according to chef Santosh Tiptur, owner of The Conche in Leesburg, with half of the menu featuring tacos, enchiladas and quesadillas, the other half featuring small-plated tapas. There are three items on the dessert menu (save room!) and the churros drizzled in chocolate served with ice cream was my favorite. The flan was nice, but really no competition with the churros. I’m giving them two thumbs up. Try them soon for an upbeat modern version of a Spanish tapas bar.

Pulpo con Salsa Basquaise

La Prensa

21305 Windmill Parc Drive, Suite 140
Sterling VA 20166
703-462-3325

Saigon Outcast

44921 George Washington Blvd, Suite 155
Ashburn, VA 20147
703-258-6562

The Qui

This weekend we tried the Qui Korean Grille, a new Korean Barbeque restaurant in the NOVA area. Located in Chantilly, Virginia, it is off the Annandale—Centreville axis of Korean restaurants we usually visit and closer to our new home in Eastern Loudoun County. Korean KBBQ is often served “all you can eat” style with a seemingly endless supply of new sliced meats to grill at your table. The Qui has been open for just three months so I was excited to try them out.

The “all you can eat” menu features either a pork or a beef selection. For $24 a person, that sounded fine but I thought it would really be too much to eat for the two of us (ten meat selections!) So, for a few dollars more, we selected the Beef Combination set, better quality meat and only five selections. Beginning with thinly-sliced brisket, we tried their bulgogi and three other meats. It still ended up being far more meat than we usually have for a meal. But after I saw it on the menu, our server was kind and brought us a sample of the orange bulgogi to try. Winner!


Our meal came with rice and a small assortment of banchan, side dishes such as kimchi, broccoli, and pickled daikon radish meant to be shared. Curiously missing was the plate of large-leaved lettuce used to wrap the bite sized portions of meat. It really was a meat lovers experience. My favorite turned out to be the orange bulgogi. I’ve often brought home marinated beef and pork bulgogi from our local HMart grocery store and grilled my own meats; I’m definitely trying it with the orange flavor soon.

The Qui appears to fit more closely with the look and feel of Iron Age Korean Steak Restaurant in Centreville. Both share the same dark painted walls and low-lit aesthetic. With its slab concrete tables and black pendant lighting, the Qui doesn’t have the warm and bright environment that I’m used to seeing at most of our restaurants. Not sure how I feel about that yet. With restaurant indoor capacity still at 50 percent, the tables are separated with plexiglass dividers. There are hand sanitizer stations at the door and a contactless temperature check in the waiting area before entering the main dining room.


The Qui is located next door to Chateau de Chantilly Cafe, a large cafe and bakery with plenty of seating indoors as well as an outdoor patio area in the front. A great place to stop and get a coffee and pastry after your meal at the Qui. Give them both a try and let me know what you think.


THE QUI Korean Grill
website
13972 Metrotech Dr, Chantilly, VA 20151 | 703.817.2505

Plenty of parking at the side and back of the building.

Big Picture

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about outdoor murals and the Big Box Data Centers out here in Loudoun County. You can read that post here. The data centers have been here for years and no doubt more of them are on the way. While the discussion was enlightening, it had me thinking back to other examples of very large scale art projects.

Raphael’s fresco, “The School of Athens” is huge: painted in 1511, it measures 16′ 5″ x 25′ 3”. Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch,” painted in 1642, is 11′ 11″ x 14′ 4”. And one of my favorite images, Pablo Picasso’s moving “Guernica” is 11′ 6″ x 25′ 6″. Clearly, overly-large works of art are hardly new to us.

Recently a new outdoor mural was installed in Springfield in conjunction with a refresh of a local neighborhood shopping plaza. Undoubtedly intentional, the cardinal in the graphic brings to mind the name of the plaza, Cardinal Forest.

Bank of America mural in Springfield VA, by Refract Studio.

In 1974, as a senior in the Fine Arts Department at the University of Nevada Reno, I had the opportunity to paint one of several billboards around town that spring. The billboard locations had been donated by Donrey for a month to advertise that year’s Spring Arts Festival at UNR. 

Billboard art, UNR Arts Festival

I had been working part time at a local billboard company. Outdoor Posters, (now Midtown Art and Photo) was a silkscreen printer specializing in the large billboards one can see through out many of the cities and towns across the US..

The Billboard Marketing Industry https://www.bmediagroup.com/news/which-state-has-the-most-billboards/ notes that there are now almost 400,000 billboards in America. Four states have no billboards (Maine, Vermont, Alaska, and Hawaii). The federal government tracks the number of billboards through each state as part of the Highway Beautification Act (HBA) of 1965. 

Florida, Georgia, California, and New Jersey are the top four states with billboards. According to Statista.com, there are approximately 343 thousand displays in the U.S. in 2020 with nearly  9.6 thousand were digital billboards. Considering that digital billboards were introduced in 2005, I would have thought that there would be far more of them by now.

What has happened is the proliferation of digital media in places like cinemas, shopping malls, airports, bus shelters, and of course stadiums. Digital media have virtually popped up everywhere, in all the obvious spaces. But we have also seen a proliferation of large-scale digital images in many unlikely places.

Video screen at Christian Fellowship Church, Ashburn VA

Churches, for instance, have really embraced the large format LED video walls. With their brilliant saturated colors and use of text, the modern video walls in today’s churches seemingly replicate the function of gothic stained glass windows, both as decorative elements and as tools of instruction. In the best cases, their use can enhance the mood and lyrics of a song or a speaker’s message. In the worst case, they can become expensive screen savers and a distraction to the message.

One of my favorite movies begins with a scene that was prescient for it’s time. Ridley Scott’s classic film, “Blade Runner” opens with a view of building-sized video screens. Startling at the time, they are now commonplace in many cities, for instance New York’s Times Square. And home TVs and video screens? Always bigger because, well, we just love the Big Picture.

Blade Runner, 1982


Slow Down

I’ve been doing a lot of walking lately. There are many reasons for this, one of which would be a desire to lose these COVID pounds that I’ve put on over the past several months. Another one is certainly a goal of better health. I don’t have a bicycle and I don’t particularly like to swim, both of which have been suggested to me by my doctor. So walking it is.

As I continue to recover from knee surgery, I’m finding that my steps are shorter than before. I’m hoping to get back to my old gait and I would eventually like to measure my distance in miles, not steps. 10,000 steps a day is a goal still beyond my grasp but we are getting there. 

In truth, there are far more steps behind me now than those ahead. It’s something I wrestle with but haven’t lost sleep over. “The mind of a person plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16.

One thing I’ve found while walking is that I still have a bad habit of constantly looking down. (Yes, I have run into a sign post and more than once.) I can end up focusing on what’s right in front of me and miss the bigger picture. I found this to be a problem when mowing the lawn, for instance. Focusing on long term goals but only looking at short term gains can quickly run you into the weeds. 

A group of us recently went through a study in the New Testament book of James. A key verse which stood out to me then is now just making itself more profitable. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Don’t we so often have this turned around? We are too quick to become angry, we find it hard to listen, and we are always ready to speak. Slowing down before we speak, or in my case before I post on social media, could just save us from unintended consequences. Not always, but it’s a beginning. 

A dear friend recently lifted my spirits by reaffirming something our pastor had just spoken about regarding what it is we are to be doing while we are walking through this life. Memes found on the internet are hardly the place to go for advice. I post it here for your consideration. Much can be made of the phrase “act justly,” or the one that follows “love mercy.” But what caught my attention was the concluding phrase, “walk humbly with your God.” 

It’s the invitation, not just how we are to walk (in humility) but with whom we are to walk that catches my breath here. When our granddaughter was small she and I would walk hand in hand, her small steps leading the way, often pulling me along the path. At times she would run ahead but always waiting for me to catch up; I guess I was slow even then. 

Her trust in the one she was walking with was evident. I’m hoping that as I slow down, giving greater attention to listening, I will develop a heart and attitude of humility. I know we are called to do justly, that is, to be people who love and uphold justice. And we are to love mercy or be merciful—but what are these qualities if they aren’t found in combination with humility? Aren’t they just another opportunity for us to showcase our pride? I’m hoping, expecting even, that by slowing down I will grow in humility, mercy, and a love of justice because of the One with whom I am walking. Baby steps, in one continuous direction.

Encourage One Another

Everyone is under encouraged. Everyone. 

I’m quoting from a former pastor who in truth probably quoted his favorite teacher. But it’s a truth whose veracity we don’t need to go far to ascertain. Whether from personal history or from our studies, we know how much a word of encouragement can mean to people. The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament says, “Encourage one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” He may have had a more significant day in view, but tomorrow approaches, well, every day. 

But why the admonishment? What is it about our lives that would make a biblical command necessary? And if we are asked, directed or commanded as it were to encourage others, then how are we to go about it? 

Earlier in the book (Hebrews 3:13) the author gives us a little more insight. “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

In today’s vernacular we might put it like this, “encourage one another because life is hard and it just gets harder.” 


Before our move to our townhome, we had lived in the same house for 22 years. In that time I learned the first name of only ten neighbors. Only ten from a neighborhood of over 200 homes. I resolved to do better in our new location. 

At first I would wave to our new neighbors whenever I passed them on my walk to get the mail. Nothing. While the weather was still warm I would sit out on our porch and drink my morning coffee; again I would wave to the neighbors as they left for a walk or their commute to work. We might exchange a quick hello, other than that, nothing.

And then for Thanksgiving my wife had a great idea. Remembering the small Whitman’s sampler chocolates we used to get in our Christmas stockings, we decided to get a few and put them in small bags to hang on the doors of our neighbors. Nothing extravagant, just a note letting them know we were thankful for them this year.

The response was a bit overwhelming. From handmade thank you cards to gifts in kind (who doesn’t like to receive chocolate?), our neighbors began to stop by and leave small gift bags on our doorstep, always signed with their house number. Earlier in the year I had let our own small group Bible study know that one of my goals for 2020 had been to learn the names of my neighbors, and how poorly that was going. Now the names seemed to be pouring in!

From small gift giving, to conversations on the sidewalk, we have been getting to know our neighbors. We haven’t had to wait for another Snowmageddon to bring the community together in a massive one-time shoveling event. Even now we are considering how we might continue to encourage one another. I’m hoping for something along the lines of a 4th of July children’s parade and hotdogs, only perhaps a little sooner than July.

With our erratic weather we could still be in for a big snow storm in the new year. But at least when it arrives, I can call my neighbors by name. And that might just be the encouragement we need during these difficult times.

It’s Been a Year

43 posts, more than 2,000 views, scads of comments. When I started my blog last year I honestly didn’t think I would be still writing after a month, let alone a year. What I had thought might be a fun repository of recipes, pictures of the garden, and travel memories has turned into my own little online magazine. It’s the Story of Me and You, written every few weeks or so. 

My Top Ten

Writing about everything from my knee replacement surgery (my most-viewed post) to my latest article on the data centers out here in our new neighborhood has given me a greater respect for writers and the process of writing. Words are easy; getting them to say something is a lot harder. 

In high school I was an assistant editor on our school newspaper. It was my first taste of journalism and writing for an audience beyond a teacher’s assignments. I didn’t pursue writing as a career, my college degree was in Fine Arts, but I’ve tried to keep my hand in the word making business. From an Army topographic engineer in the edit squad, on to my years as Director of Communications at a local church, I’ve enjoyed the process of stringing words together. 

In this journey I’m hoping that we both arrive at the end together, perhaps a bit more informed if not entertained. And there will always be a recipe or photo of the irises in my garden to enjoy, that is if the deer haven’t already devoured them. I don’t have a cute puppy to write about (still holding out hope!) but we have wineries to visit, stories of family left to explore, and I finally got a truck so I think we are in good shape.

I’m looking forward to more of this. I took a bruising on Facebook recently for a political post, but that’s just the give and take we can all expect when we open up the discussion. Thanks for participating— more to come in the new year, as soon as we can finish off 2020. 


If you are just joining us, below is My Top Ten List

“Vintage Typewriter” by pietroizzo is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Go Big

Driving out to the Ashburn Home Depot along Loudoun County Parkway, I was struck recently by the sheer size of all the data centers going in. I did some online searching and was surprised to learn that our area now is home to 70 data centers with more planned for the future. When I lived here during the 1990s the area was still very rural. AOL was expanding their footprint but for the most part, turf farms seemed to be the major development. All that has changed now and there are homes and retail establishments from Ashburn to Brambleton, from Route 28 on up to Belmont Ridge Road. 

With more than 70% of the world’s internet traffic passing through our area, it isn’t a surprise to expect even more development in the coming years. Trying to find a careful balance between residential growth and commercial development has been a difficult challenge. The data centers have brought much needed employment opportunities to our local economy, and added to county revenues.

Data Center Frontier’s Rich Miller reports that the ongoing rush to build more data centers has resulted in the county receiving “fast-track applications” for seven new data center projects that will result in 3 million square feet of new data center space in the region. In addition, last month Data Center Dynamics reported that Amazon is planning construction of a new 1.75 million square foot data center facility in the area as well.

My concern isn’t so much in the number of data centers that we host as it is in the visual effect they have on our community. Our wide roads are beautifully landscaped and well maintained. Yet, the enormous size of the newer developments seems to be softened only with the addition of low berms, landscaping and small trees. Perhaps in 20 years all that landscaping will have grown into effective visual barriers. Right now, not so much.

In an article from the December 26, 2019 Loudountimes.com newspaper, Nathaniel Cline wrote that “In the coming year, Loudoun County’s Department of Economic Development will conduct a branding review of the data center cluster in Loudoun and explore potential branding and signage campaigns as directed by the county’s Board of Supervisors on Dec. 17.”

He also added that “Included in the Board of Supervisors’ direction is for county staff to consider a roadside sign or monument to support the branding efforts. Areas for signage could include major thoroughfares such as Route 28, Route 7, Waxpool Road and Loudoun County Parkway.” 

So my question is more in the range of a suggestion and an example.

My home town of Reno, Nevada has continued a years-long effort to “rebrand” the city from that of a gambling and tourism-only focus to one that has greater appeal  to residents and visitors alike. One of the steps they have taken is to make the city more “art friendly,” specifically public art friendly, by encouraging (and in some cases helping finance) public sculptures and large scale murals. Reno is a city that had one mural when I was growing up there (“Harolds Club or Bust!”) and now boasts more than 100 murals, with tours available! https://travelnevada.com/arts-culture/through-the-lens-midtown-mural-tour/

When I reached out to Reno City Government recently, Megan Berner the Acting Manager of Arts, Culture, and Events, City of Reno emailed me back. She said that much of the growth and interest in public art came after the establishment of a Public Arts Commission in 1990.

Quoting Megan “The mural movement itself in Reno was very organic and mostly driven by individual artists (like Erik Burke) and private business owners–most of our murals are on private property. The murals on private property are privately funded for the most part. The City helped fund the large mural behind the red flower in the image you attached–it is on a public building owned by the County. 

We also have fairly relaxed rules about painting murals on private property. The only real guidelines/rules we have is that murals cannot be signs/advertisements for the business. They need to be art or comply with our signs laws.”

I contacted Loudoun County Supervisor Mike Turner with the question: what can we do to encourage the owners of these big box, concrete buildings to consider enriching their buildings and our community with outdoor art? His gracious response was welcoming.

The concept Reno developed of turning that vast wall space into art is fantastic. It sounds like Buddy Rizer, the Director of Economic Development, is already looking at that as a possible improvement. Clearly that whole section of Ashburn has been aesthetically impacted by these massive buildings, and I should warn you that, as horizontal real estate has begun to reach its practical limit, the data centers are starting to talk about vertical development. They own the land, so there’s not much we can do about that.

Supervisor Turner concluded, “The challenge we face is that Ashburn, VA is now exactly like the oil boom towns of the late 19thcentury, except Ashburn is a global boom town. “Data Center Alley” in Ashburn is literally the iconic center of the data world. They are extraordinarily good community partners supporting many local nonprofits and educational programs, and they represent an enormous slice of county tax revenue. That plays a major role in enabling us to keep property taxes in line. I’m also working with them to move them onto sustainable energy sources for the great amounts of power they use. I promise you we are aware of the issue and are looking at any way to mitigate the visual impact they are having.

We have a challenge in front of us; I don’t expect that suddenly we will see sculptures and murals and other forms of public art appearing around every corner. I do hope, however, that as we continue to build out our environment with massive concrete boxes, we might give more than a nod to how the region is going to look in five or ten years. Will we continue to be Data Center Alley, or can we hope for something along the lines of a High Tech Gateway enriched by artwork of a scale to capture our imaginations and the explosive power of the internet? Let’s hope so.


Photos from two of Reno artist Erik Burke’s murals in Reno, NV. View more of his largescale work on his website https://eriktburke.com/

Seasons Change

I was in the 8th Grade when I heard the song “Turn, Turn, Turn,” by the Byrds. I didn’t know that it had been written and recorded years earlier by folk musician Pete Seeger. I only knew it from that jangly guitar version from 1965. And it was literally years later that I learned the lyrics were from the Book of Ecclesiastes. The wisest man in the known world certainly had a way with catchy lyrics.

This week during my walks thru the neighborhood, I was astounded by the rich color and utter confusion of fallen leaves along the path. Deep reds, bright chartreuse yellows, golden orange tones made walking slow trying to soak in all of the colors. 

The wooded area near our home is bisected by an intermittent stream providing fresh water for the many animals (deer in the area?) found here, though primarily birds and squirrels are all I ever see. But this week we had several rains and strong wind storms. The stream rose up and washed clean a lot of the debris along its shore. The winds and rain had ground down the leaves or blown clear the walking path. Today the few remaining leaves are faded to grays and tans; the exuberant color display is over signaling a change in the season.

It strikes me as not coincidental that our national election comes at the end of the year.  November has much to be thankful for, chief of which is that it is the last month before the slog thru winter. December, followed by January and then February. All cold months, colors faded to dark and light. But November seems to offer a brief moment of rest before the seasons change. An election offers the hope of future change just when we are beginning to think about the seasonal change to winter. “Winter is coming” somber voice, GOT; but first, let’s vote. 

Wikipedia is a useful source for information regarding the National Election Day. 

“By 1792, federal law permitted each state to choose Presidential electors any time within a 34-day period before the first Wednesday in December. A November election was convenient because the harvest would have been completed but the most severe winter weather, impeding transportation, would not yet have arrived,

Development of the Morse electric telegraph funded by Congress in 1843 and successfully tested in 1844, was a technological change that clearly augured an imminent future of instant communication nationwide. To prevent information from one state from influencing Presidential electoral outcomes in another, Congress responded in 1845 by mandating a uniform national date for choosing Presidential electors. Congress chose the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November to harmonize current electoral practice with the existing 34-day window in federal law, as the span between Election Day and the first Wednesday in December is always 29 days. The effect is to constrain Election Day to the week between November 2 and 8 inclusive.”

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,  and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,  and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Let’s all be encouraged that whether you think this is a time of weeping, scattering, casting away stones, or a time of hate: that God has a time of peace ahead for us. 

Zoom Hacks

By now, I think we all know what is working for us on Zoom. Or at least we know what hasn’t worked for us. I opened a Zoom account March 18 to lead our Wednesday night small group Bible study as an online discussion group. What I thought would last for a few weeks, at the most a month or two, has continued on thru October with no plans for stopping any time in the immediate future.

At first we used our iPad propped up on a few books on a table as our only device to log in and connect with friends. That worked fine until I knocked it over a few times reaching for my coffee. So that has lead us to a continual improvement mode and our own list of Zoom Hacks.

  1. Tripod: We bought a Joby iPad holder to attach the iPad to my camera tripod. Now we were always in the frame without looking for a stack of books to prop up the iPad.
  2. Lighting: The lighting in our living room is nice, but not what you would consider studio quality. Quite often we were silhouettes against the lighter background, or you couldn’t see us at all. I found an inexpensive LED studio umbrella light on Amazon that has worked great. It’s lightweight and is easily stored when not in use.
  3. Webcam and Microphone: the iPad worked great for a time but when we hosted a meeting for friends IRL and online, we needed a better solution than the iPad’s built in camera and microphone. A recommendation from a friend out in Oregon (who also demonstrated his for me) lead to purchasing a webcam with two microphones suitable for picking up the voices from people spread out in a classroom.
  4. External Speaker: the tinny sound from our Mac book wasn’t adequate for the folks in our classroom to hear the comments from our online participants. So we bought a portable Bluetooth speaker. Great sound, small investment.
  5. Lazy Susan Turntable: With a large group sitting six feet apart, it was impossible for the camera to pick up everyone. So we placed the web cam on a small tripod and set it on a turntable in the middle of the table. Now we just spin it around towards whoever is speaking. Problem solved.


If this keeps up for much longer, I’m sure we will come up with a few more improvements to our portable home Zoom Kit. The biggest improvement has been the best hack of all. 

It only took one Zoom meting for us to realize that I am terrible at multitasking. I would forget to admit people who were in the meeting room, or forget to read the comments in the chat room while we were meeting. So from that first meeting, my wife has graciously served as our online host while I lead the discussion. She monitors the online participants, replies to messages in the chat room, and operates our swivel camera/microphone setup ensuring that the online participants can at least see who is speaking and not getting a view of the ceiling or the back wall of the classroom. AND participates in the discussion, proving to be a great multitasker!

We have accepted the idea that some routines just won’t be going back to the old normal. And that’s OK. In the past, if you couldn’t be physically present for a meeting, a study or group discussion, Too Bad. Your Loss. Now we are seeing even greater participation, often from members who are on travel, logging in to take part and offer their voice to the discussion. Modern technology has offered more, affordable ways to stay in touch than ever before. Whether a cellphone or a laptop, and iPad or a desktop computer, it’s easy to stay connected and not miss out. Not quite like being in the room, but close.


Here is a list of the products we found helpful; you can find them all on Amazon.

  • DOSS SoundBox Touch Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speakers
  • Victure Webcam with Dual Microphones, 1080P Full HD Streaming Webcam for PC, MAC, Desktop & Laptop
  • JOBY GripTight PRO Mount for Tablets
  • ESDDI Softbox Lighting Kit Photo Studio Light

Holidays on Zoom

Really? Are we actually thinking of doing our upcoming holidays on Zoom? 

For years, like many families I’m sure, we have spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with extended family. Whether potluck buffet-style or sit down dinner for a few, we have enjoyed Thanksgiving in a group setting, too many people around a small table. 

Small or large, Thanksgiving means turkey, except when it doesn’t.
What do you serve for the holiday?

Though one year’s Thanksgiving main course ended up with an oven fire, and an overzealous use of the fire  extinguisher (sheepishly raises hand), we all have memories of holiday meals that didn’t go quite as planned. Our Hallmark-movie-Martha-Stewart-Instagram-perfect table setting might not have made the cover of Southern Living Magazine. Our signature dessert might have suffered irreparable harm on its way to the table or an excitable dog might have crashed the side table. Every family has a holiday memory that, years later has grown with the telling.

My brother shocked me one year with the confession that his wife had cooked two turkeys. And a ham. Along with the usual panoply of side dishes. And rice and kimchi. As a Korean-American, cooking an American-style Thanksgiving dinner had been a new experience for her. But like everything else she sets her hand to, she excelled at it. Why so much food? Dave said that he never knows how many have been invited, or who all eventually shows up. But it’s always a crowd.

Which brings us back to this year’s holiday preparations. We just finished celebrating my Mother’s 92nd birthday over Zoom with the family last month. We’ve attended church online for months now and attended countless Zoom meetings, studies, and social events. We’ve even become somewhat proficient at hosting live Bible study with members participating in person and online.

But I’m not sure if I’m ready to wave a turkey leg at family members sitting across from us at a table, toasting with a glass of wine, sharing that second slice of pie…on Zoom. I know the CDC has offered guidelines for attending and hosting holiday events (see here). But I do know, like those early Americans celebrating their first holiday of Thanksgiving, that we will be thankful for our many blessings, regardless of who shows up. And for the record, I have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Just for emergencies. You do want to be prepared.