Virtual Meetings: Best Practices for Success

Virtual Meetings

The following is a guest post about the best practices for virtual meetings from friend, Gardens4u client, fellow garden lover, and entrepreneur Nora Sheffe

Virtual Meetings
Nora Sheffe,
Certified Professional Facilitator

As we settle into September, we are taking stock on virtual meetings’ best practices and have some tips to share. As with so many of the changes in 2020, summer didn’t provide the time/space to recharge fully. Now September is bringing a new layer of uncertainty and change. 

I’m also finding that my work is taking place later into the day and on weekends. I’m getting more client e-mails on the weekend than ever before; the “July pause” and August slow ramp-up didn’t happen – it was a short runway to a full schedule for everyone. People are not able to take breaks in the same way that we could pre-pandemic. This reality should be taken into account when planning a meeting. 

Here are three ideas on timing to make your virtual meetings more productive:

  • Maximum Duration of a Virtual Meeting – 90 minutes – You can do 2 x 90-minute blocks per day, depending on your objectives. Some boards and organizations have to do 3 x 90 minutes sessions in a day. This is exhausting, so consider how you can keep the energy up with interactive processes and deliberate engagement. 
  • 30-minute Breaks – Every 90 minutes – Encourage participants to get outside, hydrate, eat + take a screen break if they can. Many people are responding to e-mails or have calls booked during these breaks, so it’s not a proper break. 
  • In-Meeting Pauses – in a 90-minute block, try to build in at least one short pause – just 30-60 seconds – invite people to stretch, stand, take some deep breaths, look away from their screens and sip water. 

I hope this advice for those of you immersed in our new normal of organizing virtual meetings is helpful!

Offseason To-Do List is Growing

Well, I pushed my garden season as far as possible……but my frozen fingers and toes convinced me to pack it up. Although I miss my garden business already (I’ve only been closed for the season for one week) I do admit there are (a few) good things about my offseason.  My to do list is the only thing growing these days.

offseason

‘Tis the season instead for tackling my to do list of things I don’t seem to have enough time for the rest of the year.  Some are fun, others not so much….

  • freelance writing
  • watching Ellen every morning for a good laugh
  • sleeping in, especially when the weather is bad.  Look out the window, roll over and fall back asleep!
  • baking, although that can be dangerous without all the exercise I get during gardening season
  • spending even more time with my grandchildren who are growing in leaps and bounds
  • preparing my tools (sharpening and cleaning) for next season
  • decluttering the gardening stuff in our garage

In reviewing a similar post from last year at this time,  I am proud to say I did accomplish lots of the items on that list, especially the sewing projects.  Can you tell I am a list person?  Of course, the things that did not get accomplished in that offseason will be added to this year’s list.

Isn’t this a dreary looking picture?  That’s the advertising on my van (or garden mobile as my son and his friends call it) being pelted by snow.  It sure makes miserable weather for gardening!

offseason

Enough procrastinating, back to my list!

National Siblings Day

Although National Siblings Day is purported to be an American thing, I am taking it international today, making it a Canadian tradition as well.  It seems that large families are a thing of the past.  However, when I was young it was much more common.  Most of my friends and relatives were members of a large family.  This was mine..

national siblings day

In keeping with the times, (but not with the Jones’, that was something different) my poor mother had six children within eight years, as many other mothers did then. My siblings were my first friends, teachers, co-conspirators, adversaries, and sometimes even (so we thought at the time) enemies. I cannot imagine being raised in a different dynamic. I am convinced that being raised in such a tight environment turned us all into hard-working, ambitious, successful adults.  The fact that money was tight and very frugally spent also had a huge impact on the adults we have become.

Siblings Day

This picture was taken (almost) 24 years ago, the summer our mother was diagnosed with and died of lung cancer.  Living far away from each other, this was the last time all six of us siblings have been together.  We came the closest last summer when five of six of us got together to celebrate my eldest son’s wedding.

This next picture is of our extended families (minus one sister and hers) at my son’s wedding.

national siblings day

Rag Quilt, DIY Project

Well, this rag quilt has taken me almost a year to finish, but finish it I did, finally.  Although I would not recommend this particular DIY project for a beginner sewer, you could start with a small-sized one.  Crib size would be much more manageable.

The process is simple, start with squares cut from assorted fabric.  Preferred fabrics include flannels and quilting cotton because they fray well.  Other fabrics, such as denim, could be used but they are not as soft.  As my grandson’s room will be dinosaur-themed, I chose a white flannel with blue, green, and red dinosaurs on it as the main fabric.  I complemented that with solid blue, green and red fabrics and a red polka dot fabric.

Wash all fabric first, then iron it smooth before you start cutting.  Calculate how many squares you need of each fabric, keeping in mind that each finished square on the quilt requires three cut fabric squares.  Because my quilt was so large, I actually used a spreadsheet to calculate how many of each I needed.  Lots.   Use a quilter’s template (a big plastic square that has dimensions marked on it for easy measurement) to measure and cut your squares. A rotary cutter works best.   I did this step last spring when watching the Ottawa Senators in the NHL playoffs.

When you have all your squares cut, you then make the “sandwiches” using three squares in each.  The lesson I learned here is not to use the solid red or polka dot red as a middle square (the few that I did bled through the white main fabric on top when washed).  The last three pictures above show the sandwiches I used, with the last two overlapped to show the possible color combinations.

When your sandwiches are assembled, sew an X through each one to hold all three layers in place.  Then sew squares together to make rows.  It helps to have a pattern (that’s why I used a spreadsheet) to consult with to keep the squares in the right order within the rows.  Sew using a 1/2 inch seam allowance, paying close attention as to which sides should be together.  You must keep all the seams on one side of the quilt.  This is trickier than it sounds because as a sewer you are trained to put the “good sides” together, leaving the seams on the “bad side”  On this rag quilt there is no good and bad side.

rag quilt
squares sewed together in rows

When the rows are complete, you then sew them together to form the quilt.  I laid my rows out on a bed (a floor or table would work if your quilt is smaller) to keep the rows in order.  Be sure to sew around the perimeter of the quilt too, also using a half-inch allowance.

rag quilt
rows laid out on the bed to ensure correct order

Next, using very sharp sewing scissors or a rag quilt cutter (below) snip into all (including outer edge) seam allowances, being very careful not to snip the actual seam.  The next step is to wash the quilt (on a very low, setting equivalent to a hand washing) to encourage the seam allowances to fray.  It’s called a rag quilt for this reason.

The final result is quite satisfyingly striking, even though I had a few discouraging setbacks.  I learned these lessons the hard way:

  • use heavy duty sewing machine needles, the first few I used kept snapping because of the thickness of the fabric layers
  • wash all of the fabrics well first, before you start cutting the squares to cut down on “bleeding” (that’s where the color of one fabric soaks into another)  The worst bleeders are red fabrics.
  • use a plastic template and rotary cutter to cut your squares to ensure precise cutting.  Any errors will show up glaringly when you join the squares and rows!
  • do not use cotton thread, it breaks much more than polyester thread
  • be very careful when snipping into seam allowances.  If you mistakenly cut into a seam, your quilt will be full of holes after the first wash.  I had to reinforce a few seams that my clippers got too close to by hand sewing them.

Freeze and Thaw Cycles Harm Plants

Many people do not mind rain in winter, as they look forward to spring.  The problem is that the freeze and thaw cycles that go with the rain can be very destructive to plants in your gardens and containers as well as to the containers themselves. 

I leave many container plants out on my back deck for a few reasons.

  • I love the look of plants blowing in the wind, especially the ornamental grasses.
  • Most of the containers are too large (heavy) to move inside
  • I have lots of them so would need a good chunk of time to move them.
  • For some reason time always gets away from me in the fall, so the snow arrives before I get around to moving the planters.

Whatever the reason you have left your planters outside for the winter, you can ensure they survive.  When it rains a lot (as it has been here for the past few days) or a thaw melts snow on top of the pots, be sure to dump out the excess water before it freezes again. If you cannot dump out the excess water, bail it out.   If you do not remove it, the excess water will freeze and your pots will crack.  I guarantee this will happen if the containers do not have drainage holes in the bottom.  If they do have drainage holes the pots may still crack when excessive rain turns to ice.  This happens often here in Ottawa.  One day it is raining and almost balmy, the next freezing cold.

Another trick to protect your garden plants over the winter is to ensure the plants stay snow-covered.  Snow acts as an insulator, protecting plants from freeze and thaw cycles.  I always shovel snow onto my roses growing beside my garage at my front door.  This spot is sunny and warmer than the rest of my gardens because the brick wall retains the heat absorbed from the sun.  This extra heat means the snow melts faster there, so I have to keep shoveling more on.  If you do this, be sure to use snow that does not have salt (from your sidewalk or driveway) in it.

Is it raining where you live?  If it is, make sure the rainwater does not collect on your planters if freezing temperatures are coming next.  Freeze and thaw cycles are brutal on your plants in containers and gardens.

Please visit my garden website for more garden and plant tips

Vinegar: Household Cleaner and Health Remedy

vinegar

Is the power of vinegar an old wives’ tale or a well-known fact?  Vinegar is basically acetic acid and as such makes an effective and inexpensive cleaning agent.  I must admit, being very aware of and sensitive to TOXINS, I do use extra-strength (10%) plain white vinegar for many things.  This extra-strength variety is also called cleaning vinegar; I find it in grocery stores in the same section as the culinary (eating) kind.

Here are a few of the uses of the plain white, extra strength kind:

  •     carpet cleaner
  •     drain unclogger (with baking soda)
  •     laundry cleaner (disinfects) and softener
  •     weed killer, but be aware that it is non-selective meaning it will kill your grass too, so is best used between patio stones etc

Uses for Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)

ACV, made from fermented apples, has the benefits of acetic acid as well as enzymes, magnesium, probiotics, and potassium.  It has become more popular recently as a dietary aid and home remedy to:

  • relieve heartburn
  • relieve sunburn
  • detoxify your liver and lymphatic system
  • lose weight and maintain healthy weight
  • remove skin tags
  • treat acne
  • clean wounds (antiseptic)
  • balance blood sugar levels
  • lower cholesterol levels
  • boost energy
  • condition hair
  • keep blood alkaline
  • clear sinuses by thinning out mucus
  • clean teeth
  • improve circulation
apple cider vinegar

That is an impressive list of benefits for both types of vinegar!

How to Use Vinegar

White vinegar can be used as a cleaning agent directly from the bottle for any of the suggested uses listed above. For weeds in sidewalk cracks, I pour some into a large spray bottle. Use caution if your stonework is a dark colour as the concentrated vinegar may bleach the colour out.

Apple cider vinegar should be diluted before use.  To drink it,  add one or two teaspoons to an eight-ounce glass of water.  As a weight loss remedy, drink it before meals.  Rinse your mouth after drinking to prevent erosion of enamel from your teeth.  There are other adverse side effects of apple cider vinegar too, especially if consumed in excess.

Conclusions

So dig out those bottles from the back of your pantry and put them to work as non-toxic cleaners and home remedies. My favourite way to use ACV is to alleviate heartburn. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it does work!

Patrick Brown is a ruined man

mudslinging and grandstanding

Is it just me or is something fishy going on?  Patrick Brown, the (resigned) leader of the PC party, is a ruined man, regardless of whether he is innocent or guilty. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?  He has not been my choice to lead the PC party, but I think the whole scandal stinks.  Here’s why:

  • the “victims” remain anonymous
  • who talked  them into coming forward and why did they not go to the police instead of the media?
  • why did they take so long (10 years) to come forward?  Oh right, an election is coming up and a smear campaign is the best way for the Liberal party to deflect from the mess they are in.
  • what was the under aged woman doing in a bar drinking in the first place.  I wasn’t born yesterday, I know it happens, but did Patrick Brown take her there?  No.  Was he drinking?  No.  Did he buy her a drink?  Yes, but is that a crime?  If every male that meets a woman in a bar and buys her a drink is persecuted, the heterosexual orientation is doomed.
  • why did the other woman go to his home? With another male to boot.  Then when in his home agree to go into the bedroom.
  • when she (a bit late in my opinion) said NO, he took her home.  How awful and ungentlemanly. (NOT)

These are just a few of the “facts” that are swirling around this scandal.    Regardless of whether Patrick Brown is guilty or innocent, he is a ruined man.  I feel very sorry for him and any other heterosexual male playing the dating game these days, especially the ones in the public eye.

The grass is always greener

The saying goes”the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”  In this case, the crop is always greener on the other side of the creek LOL…

grass is always greener

 

anyone know what the brown crop is?  It is quite healthy looking up close, just the color from a distance that makes it look dead.  Although you cannot see it in the picture I took from the car as we drove by, there is a creek running between the two crops.

 

Please be sure to visit my other blogs:

Laugh out loud (LOL) with me at YOUR DAILY CHUCKLE

and

be inspired and motivated by famous words of wisdom at WoW

My gardening website can be viewed at www.gardens4u.ca

Osprey in Lanark, Ontario

 

On our way to the cottage last weekend, we stopped to watch a huge (?osprey) nest that is perched on top of a light stand at the edge of a baseball field in Lanark, Ontario.  Apparently, it is very common for osprey to build their nests on manmade structures such as telephone or light poles.  As we watched one large bird and one small bird in the nest, another large (adult) bird approached to feed the baby.  This is another time I wish I had a camera with a better zoom lens to get a closer shot of the mother and baby birds.  As usual, I had to resort to the camera on my phone.

Please be sure to visit my other blogs:

Laugh out loud (LOL) with me at YOUR DAILY CHUCKLE

and

be inspired and motivated by famous words of wisdom at WoW

My gardening website can be viewed at www.gardens4u.ca

Fat Bastard Merlot and gardening gloves

Buying my favourite red wine recently at the LCBO, my husband noticed that each bottle of Fat Bastard Merlot had a free pair of gardening gloves attached to it…

 

What a great promotion, perfect for red wine and garden lovers like me!

Please be sure to visit my other blogs:

Laugh out loud (LOL) with me at YOUR DAILY CHUCKLE

and

be inspired and motivated by famous words of wisdom at WoW

My gardening website can be viewed at www.gardens4u.ca