Monday, March 31, 2008

Aunt Annie's Accessories - A...A...A

It's what I love about this experience... I never quite know where my blog is going to go in a given week. I simply trust that the premise of my blog is true... creativity is everywhere and, therefore, ideas will present themselves in an on-going way.

So, here's insight into how my mind works (which for you, Anon, I know is quite a mystery).

My sister, Ann, and my niece came to visit this weekend. Ann loves - and I do mean LOVES accessories. She has a belt collection only to be surpassed by her shoe collection which still is only to be surpassed by her jewelry collection. To put this in some kind of context - she admits to having over 100 pairs of shoes (which could likely mean it is more like 120 or so - with a minor in cowboy boots).

I fully intended to interview my sister for some creative tidbit I could feature for this morning's blog entry. Then, on Saturday morning I got my haircut by Erika my hairdresser (who I love and highly recommend for anyone unfortunate enough to have straight fine hair like mine). She immediately asked about my Easter and then launched into a great story about Easter with her family (underscoring everything I believe about the importance of family rituals and traditions). Albeit after Easter, I immediately thought her story should be shared with our readers.

So here I am. Ann and her Accessories... Erika and her Easter story... you see where this is going, right?.... A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y. There are six vowels and I blog six out of seven days a week. A perfect match!!!!! So there will be a theme this week... Vowels. Each day I will feature a creative idea based on a vowel.

Now, here's the problem and hopefully, where you all can come in. I don't have six ideas - one for each vowel. I only have the first two covered - A for Ann and E for Erika. So, I am counting on my trusty and creative readers to provide me with simple words -prompts - for each of the other letters. This can be a ton of fun. You provide me with any random word beginning with either I, O, U, or Y and I will use it to prompt the creative ideas for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. We're such a participatory group it's likely I'll get more than one suggestion per letter. If so, I will either combine words or select one that strikes my fancy.

Now for Aunt Ann's Accessories... The picture above is Ann modeling her new purchases - three belts, one pair of boots, and one pair of western mules. Mind you, Ann, Allegra (my niece), and Errol live in a New York apartment. So where she stores all her accessories is a mystery. Take note, Tera as there might be an idea or two in here for you. Ann, the city girl, swears she was born in the wrong region because of her love for western attire. She has a collection of over 20 pairs of cowboy boots (all different colors) and just this weekend replaced her prized purple boots with a new pair (see her left foot). When asked where she kept all of her boots (never mind shoes), she shared an idea I thought worth passing along.

Her boots live in her bedroom, high on a hand built shelf that runs along the top of the wall. She describes each pair of boots as being colorful and unique in their own way, so the idea of using them as a creative room decoration seemed not only plausible but somewhat ingenious. Somewhere along the line she also acquired a framed picture of a girl wearing a tattered pair of western boots and that too sits along the shelf - in a way pulling the whole idea together. The lesson here is that some of what we have tucked or packed away, when displayed, can actually serve to be an aesthetically pleasing decoration. By being a little less utilitarian and a little more creative, Ann has effectively - personalized her living space and freed up storage space for something else.

Ann's approach to storing her boots got me thinking.... I was at one of our readers houses a couple of weeks ago and she collects plates from all the places she and her family have traveled. They hang on a wall in her kitchen, adding a lot of great color and serving as a great conversation piece. I don't have anything cool like that... gel pens, ribbon, wrapping paper, over-sized items of all sorts (for another day's blog). About the only thing I could think of are my scarves and neckerchiefs. I worked at Talbots for a number of years and acquired a collection of scarves that rivals Ann's shoe collection. The colors and textures lend themselves perfectly to being displayed. But where and how? That is the question.

Signing off until tomorrow when maybe I will have found an enterprising solution to my envious and endless collection of elegant scarves...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Loyalty cards...Loyally used

Today's entry is inspired by some of the great comments we received last Friday when looking for creative suggestions about stretching our green. CSPgradstudent mentioned that one of her strategies is using loyalty cards issued to her from places such as bookstores, restaurants, and coffee shops. While most people are not diligent to keep up with loyalty cards, those who do save a lot of money by participating in things such as buy 6, get one free; save an extra 15% of all purchases; and earn $5.00 free for every $50.00 spent. That same day (3/21), one of our anonymous readers extended herself to post a long list of restaurants that offer special deals and award loyalty cards to frequent customers.

The seriousness with which I participate in something of this nature is directly related to my ability to manage and, yes organize, the accompanying paraphenalia. The truth is they are not used as frequently as my debit cards, but some of them could be used more frequently than my credit card, so where do I place them in my purse? If I can't figure out how to best organize the loyalty cards, then I will never carry them with me - rendering them useless in the end. All this uncertainty has made me a half hearted user up to this point. I have six or seven cards to Stride Rite, punched only once; four or five Talbots hoisery cards, also punched only once each; a Borders Reward card; a Dick's Sporting Goods card; and my all time favorite Barnes and Noble card.

It all became much more doable to me when last week I was walking through Target and saw a...LOYALTY CARD HOLDER for your purse. It is the simplest thing, yet just enough organization to make carrying these cards seem realistic. As with most things, they seem to come in different price points. The one in Target was priced at about $7.00, while one I saw today while shopping at my sister's favorite indulgence (Brighton) was $35.00. Moments later I was in Claire's with my niece and spotted a wallet-sized picture holder which I also think could work. Cost... .49 cents.



So, I'm warming up to the idea of using loyalty cards...loyally. Maybe this creative solution is just enough to convert you from a luke warm participant to a committed user of loyalty cards. As for Anonymous, (and you know who you are)who posted all suggestions of restaurants offering deals or loyalty cards... the purple card holder pictured above is in the mail to you now. Thank you for investing yourself in the content of my blog. Its' success depends on participants like you.

Signing off until Monday...

Friday, March 28, 2008

Free For All Friday

Good morning and T.G.I.F!  Thanks to all the well wishers.  I am feeling much better than yesterday at time and last night my sister and niece flew into town, so things are looking up!

Today, in another Free For All Friday, we wrap up our suggestions for Cristine who is coordinating a golfing blowout for her husband's 40th birthday and then we move on to our next challenge.  Cristine... I've thought a lot about this over the week, and because you are so creative in your own right, it made the challenge especially hard. 
 
Cassie kicked the brainstorming off last week with the suggestion of towels, t-shirts, luggage tags (for which I know a very talented woman who might be willing.  She does this as a side business), and beer buckets filled with tees and balls.  Then Cheryl acquainted us with zazzle.com - a fun web site for purchasing imprinted items on a smaller scale.  Both good and helpful suggestions.

I was hard-pressed to come up with something new and improved.  I am kind of practical so my inclination was to steer away from reasonably priced chatchka that guys may or may not keep. Instead here's what I have...
  • How about renting a photo booth to be positioned somewhere on the course (preferably the back nine - after everyone has had enough time to "loosen up")?  Pals could take fun group shots to commemorate the day's events.  Pictures are great keepsakes.
  • If the idea of a photo booth seems impractical, maybe you could hire a photographer to spend an hour or two taking pics on the course.  Most companies that do this can imprint an event name (Struble Suds Golf Tournament), date, etc....
  • Rather than everyone getting a small chatchka, maybe you could purchase two or three larger items.  Prizes could be awarded at the 19th hole to the lucky guys who have some kind of dot or insignia on the bottom of their beer mug. 
And finally... the most award winning idea for which I can take no credit.  My husband thought of this and I think it's perfect (in fact, if you don't do it he probably will)...

  • To develop this idea I whacked Richard on the side of the head (fun visual, huh) and employed the idea of "reverse" (see 3/11).  Instead of believing that YOU need to leave everyone with a party favor, reverse the thinking and contemplate everyone leaving something that will stay with you! Richard's idea... Purchase a pewter or silver beer mug. Then, have the name of everyone attending the 40th birthday celebration engraved along the side.  The mug can be prominently placed in Struble Suds for all the guys to see each time they visit!  I love this idea, as it commemorates the celebration in a way that will have meaning to Matt.  ...It is after all a celebration of him! 
  • Anybody else have something?!?!?  Now is the time to chime in.
O.K. Onto the challenge for this week...

When talking about storing items (3/25), Tera posed a great challenge.  She wrote..."What do you suggest for keeping things organized in a small apartment?  I work as a hall director, so I live in a university apartment.  I don't have the luxury of a garage or attic like most of you."

So there it is... our challenge for the week.  Storage solutions for the space-challenged.  You all take your best crack at it and I'll post my response next Friday.

Signing off until tomorrow...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Only Four Days Left

Today I am going to be short, sweet, and to the point.  No pictures (which is unfortunate , because today's entry really lends itself to pictures), no wit - just my no-frills idea.  All signs would suggest I have the flu.  The only thing I really want to expend creative energy on is how I can get back in bed as quickly as possible, with the boys dressed, fed, and at school.

Only four days left until the month of March is over.  What with St. Patrick's Day and Easter, it would be very easy to forget that March is also the month we celebrate Women's History.  Now I am no Gloria Steinam, but I do think it's nice to acknowledge the women who came before us and the contributions they made.

The idea... sometime between now and Sunday host a family dinner celebrating special women in your family's history.  Here are a few ideas to get you going and then - today of all days - I will count on some of you to post additional suggestions:

  • Dig out old photographs of aunts, grandmothers, sisters, or your mom to be displayed at the dinner table.  You can mount them on thick paper and then have each person read a one or two line fact written on the back.
  • Feature a special recipe of one of these women and then spend time talking about who else they were besides cook extraordinaire... special interests, significant accomplishments, etc...
  • Generate questions you would like to ask women in your family, so beginning today, you can preserve history for tomorrow.  If you have kids, they might find this this especially fun. 
  • Host a special woman in your family's history.  History doesn't have to mean deceased, so pick up the phone and invite a grandmother, aunt or sister for dinner or dessert.  Let each person think of a question they might like to ask. 
  • If you're not married with kids, make a dinner date with your friends.  Each of you can bring a photograph of one women in your family history who you would like to talk about over dinner.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Whack on the Side of the Head Wednesday




No question... today's dilemma is going to be about laundry. My nemesis! Three days into the week and already I have laundry piled up. Have I mentioned that I still have three baskets of laundry from Monday sitting in the corner of my room waiting to be folded and put away? And, should you think I am just lazy... sitting on the couch eating bon bons... blatantly ignoring my responsibilities as a laundress... think again. My dried hands and cracked fingers are just recovering from the seven loads of laundry I washed, dried, and put away on Sunday. The real question is, why the heck has it taken so many weeks for me to raise this topic anyway?!?!?!?

Now for the whack on the side of the head that I need so desperately in order to either (1) solve this problem; (2) view it from a different angle; or (3) develop some coping mechanisms. Remember, a whack on the side of the head is a principle that challenges us to think more creatively about whatever dilemma we are facing. If you want to play along at home you can purchase your own deck of cards (Roger von Oech's, 1992) at Barnes and Noble or any other book store.

Now is when I close my eyes and randomly draw a card. Drum roll please...

Drop An Assumption. Columbus challenged the Spanish courtiers to stand an egg on its end. They tried but failed. He then hard-boiled one and squashed it down. "That's not fair," they protested, "you broke the rules." "Don't be silly," he replied, "you just assumed more than you needed to." What can you let go of? What unnecessary assumptions can you eliminate?
  • Ok, the natural assumption I might be able to drop is that I am the one that needs to do the laundry. True, true. In my own defense, however, let me say that Ricky - the 15 year old - does his own (I can't bear the idea of sending a child off to college without his knowing how to do laundry). I could, however, alternate weeks with my husband. One week I do laundry and he grocery shops. The next week we reverse. Oohh.., but I HATE the supermarket. I'm sounding like a naysayer. I'll keep moving.
  • Why is the assumption that laundry is to be dreaded (because there is so much and it's never ending!!!!)? Maybe I should attach something positive to doing laundry. How about this... each hour spent on laundry each week is repaid with an hour spent by myself...either reading or doing something else totally indulgent.

  • That's it... Laundresses get paid, don't they? Why am assuming I shouldn't get paid too? Maybe I can figure out the going rate for a laundress these days and pay myself. That could accumulate into a healthy little rainy day fund (maybe then I could get the manicure I need to help my cracked hands recover).

  • Why do I assume that just because it is in the laundry basket it is laundry... Ooohhh, but I don't. I am Queen of pulling things out of the laundry basket that I know full well have been worn for six minutes and then thrown on the floor so he doesn't have to hang it up

  • Why do I assume that I am supposed to wash, dry, fold, and put laundry away all in one day? Maybe I could give myself permission to wash and dry on one day and fold and put away on another day. That way, I won't always feel behind the eight ball.

  • Why do I assume I have to put it away? While Jack might be a little young, Matthew and Daddy can certainly take charge of their clothes.

  • Why am I so all or nothing? Maybe Matthew could take charge of underwear and Richard could take care of socks. Remember, that's what the chore die is for (2/23)

  • Do damaged hands have to be part of the deal? No. I shouldn't assume that. Maybe one of my trusty readers has a great secret tip for keeping my hands looking good.

  • Why do I assume my kids have to wear clothes? No clothes, no laundry. That's it. Today I implement the walk-around-the-house-naked-rule. Just kidding. Clearly I am running out of legitimate solutions, but I bet our buddy Roger von Oech would be proud of my taking it to an extreme. That, after all, is when you know you've been whacked on the side of the head.
Ok. Now it's your turn to take a crack at a whack! HA! HA! I love it. Crack at a whack.... What else can I let go of? What other unnecessary assumptions can I eliminate? And if you can't relate to my dilemma (then I want to meet you...), then try applying it to a predicament of your own.

Signing off until tomorrow...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Think Inside the Box

Yesterday "Anonymous" saved the integrity of my blog by offering up some great ideas about worthwhile places to donate items you uncover while spring cleaning. Today's topic is related - organization and storage for our prized holiday decorations.

St. Patrick's Day and Easter in the same week meant green and pastel items and craft supplies strewn about my house. Come Monday morning I was ready to pack it all away and to regain some table space. The next thing we celebrate in our house is Matthew's birthday and that is at least three weeks away. Plenty of time to get things in place before having to pull things back out again.

As I was packing our holiday decorations away, it occurred to me that it might be helpful to share how we store our family holiday things with the hope of learning a new tip or two from all of you. Those who know me know that I have a not-so-small obsession with Christmas ornaments... not to mention Halloween decorations, Valentine's Day decorations, Easter stuff, supplies for Shamrock Shakes... generally all things holiday. As you can imagine... all those decorations without a plan could make for a quite a cluttered house. I am not into clutter.

I have plastic boxes to hold just about everything and those boxes get stored along one wall in our garage. I like the plastic boxes because I can see inside them and my stuff cannot expand beyond the amount of space I have dedicated to hold it. If an item comes in and there's no more space... then something has to go out. The other reason I like this method of storage is because frequently I will find something off-season that I know I will use (wrapping paper, a new ornament, or metallic shred - which makes all packages look better). When I return home, I simply slip it in the designated box and then it is exactly where it needs to be when the holiday arrives.

I would be lying if I made it seem as though I had one box per holiday. In fact, I am smiling at even the idea of such a thing. No, I have multiple plastic boxes for most holidays. To make the containers especially easy to access, I try to buy orange and black for Halloween, green for Christmas, etc.... If I can't, I place a shape (tree, pumpkin, easter egg, heart, or Shamrock) on the outside of the container. All of this fulfills my need for things to be visually pleasing and orderly.

If you don't have shelving in a garage, how about drawers in a dresser?, shelves in a closet?, or tubs under your bed? Now your turn. Is there something creative you do to keep your holiday decorations in order?

Signing off until tomorrow...

P.S. With a sure and safe plan in place, you might be interested to know the scoop on how Target marks down their merchandise. It starts out at $dollar amount.99 (ie. 8$8.99), the first mark down will end in an 8 ($8.98); then a 7 ($8.97); and on and on until it ends in a 4 ($8.94). It won't go lower than a 4. I have my eye on a fun Easter centerpiece. It needs to be reduced some more, but when it does... I want it... and I have just the right amount of space to store it.




Monday, March 24, 2008

Happy Trails to Stanley

Good Morning. I trust everyone had a good Easter and hope that at least one of you was able to use a fun Easter idea generated by our readers. We tried the color coded Easter egg hunt, allowing my youngest son a fighting chance against the older two. There was no fighting and no bleeding, so two thumbs up from the Beeny household. Last week was fun for me. All things green.... Monday, Shamrock Shakes; Tuesday, Flowers and Plants; Wednesday, Whack on the Side of the Head; Thursday, My Great Day Green Plate; Friday, Show Me the Money; and Saturday, Green the Red Hot New Color. If you missed any, you might briefly check them out. Three friends served as contributing writers and that made for some extra fun.

Today, Texas bids farewell to Flat Stanley and boards a plane for Canada, where he will be met by our very own blog reader, Helena! Our most loyal readers might remember a blog titled, One, Two, Three... Cheese (2/22). I told of my adventures hosting many a Flat Stanley for friends whose children are in elementary school. Hosting Flat Stanley is great fun, as it requires you to take Stanley on an adventure and then send a postcard telling the story of his trip.


Helena, one of our earliest blog readers lamented that she felt cheated for never having been asked to host a Flat Stanley. That was all I needed to hear! I started thinking... wouldn't it be great if we... highlowaha blog readers could start our own Flat Stanley. Surely this creative and loyal readership can think up some great adventures and keep Stanley moving. Thus, the idea was born and here we are, Monday, March 24, sending Stanley off on the first of his adventures.

Helena will host him first, taking him on some uniquely Canadian experience and then sending him off to the next willing reader (hint, hint... this is where you all come in and volunteer to get in the queue for next host). Once Helena has taken him on an adventure, she will send me a photograph and brief tale of his experience. I will post it on the blog site for everyone to see and then we will move on to the next willing host. This will be fun, fun, fun! Think of it. We can live vicariously through Stanley... and all because Helena was unwilling to go a lifetime without joining in this fun.

One more note before signing off. If we can get Flat Stanley around the world (and I believe we can) then I know we can get 5,000 hits on my blog. Once we hit that magic number, I get to share the story behind why the site is names highlowaha (I do believe it is one of my better ideas... should that sweeten the pot for you at all). To date we have 1,503. That means we need another 3,497. You might remember, my goal is April 16. One of our readers posted that date as her prediction and I'm wed to it, because it happens to be one of my son's birthdays. This will be virtually impossible if each of us continues to read at the rate we are currently reading. BUT, if each of us emails the site to just one more person than we will be well on our way.

Ok. That's it for today. Thanks for keeping this such fun. Signing off for today...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Green - The Red Hot New Color

Again today I contracted out to one of my talented friends to bring you red hot tips for this season's "go-green" trends.  I had the privilege of working with Katie at Bellarmine University where I frequently introduced her to people as my "fashion mentor."  She is the kind of person who looks great even when zipping in and out of the supermarket.  Katie has since moved to Iowa, where I am sure she even makes parkas chic.  One disclaimer before I turn it over to Katie.  She did yeoman's work pulling photographs from various websites.  My limited technological skills prevented me from getting the photos from her email to my blog.  Instead I included the websites, so you could travel there in your free time.  Sorry.  Here goes Katie...

I am looking out my window as I type this, and feeling relief to see that my lawn has finally emerged after 5 months of being blanketed by snow and ice.  There were times when I never thought I would see a green lawn again.  But now the snow has melted, and although my grass is currently the color of a filthy school bus, I can see the potential.  If I squint, I can see that perfect shade of green starting at the roots and workings its way toward the sunshine. However, that's going to take some time and my heart want to embrace spring RIGHT NOW! Where can I find spring in abundance?  Well, in shopping malls, of course!

You might be thinking I am going to suggest going out and buying a new spring wardrobe. Think again!  I know I can't afford to do that, and I'm going to assume you can't either.  I do ascribe to a particular fashion theory - buy really good basic pieces in basic colors, and add personality with affordable accessories.  In keeping with this week's green theme, I'm going to give you a few pointers for finding fabulous green accessories for all budgets.

But first, just a little story for inspiration.  On my right hand, I wear a silver ring with a single green stone.  It's a very simple design and looks somewhat expensive.  People compliment me on it quite often.  The funny thing -  I purchased it from a GAS STATION in Glendive, Montana when I was 16 years old!  I am now 31, and it's my favorite accessory.  It was not something I over analyzed when I purchased it.  I liked it, and bought it.  Don't over-think accessories! I think they should be fun and a reflection of your creative inner spark.  Now get shopping.

$10.00 and Under
  • Toe-Strap Flip-Flops, $5.00; Old Navy.com; I am a flip-flop fanatic - it's kind of like letting your toes out for recess after a long winter.
  • Women's Convertible Clutches, $10.00; Old Navy.com; Nothing makes me feel snazzier than a cute little bag on my arm (unless it's a cute guy)!
  • Women's Skinny Enamel Bracelets, $7.50; Old Navy.com; Here's a lot of "bangle" for your buck!
$10-00-$25.00
  • Mod Dot Rain Boots, $19.99, Target.com; With these darling boots, you'll be looking for puddles to jump in!
  • Nine & Co. Mini Hobo, $14.40, Kohls.com; Simple, clean and bright - a perfect look for spring!
  • Skinny Lizard Belt, $16.99, Gap.com; Who doesn't want to wear something with the word "skinny" in the description?
$25.00-$40.00
  • Converse All-Star Green Lo-Tops, $40.00, Gap.com; People will be smiling at your feet all day long!
  • Twill Tote, $39.50, Gap.com; This bag would put a spring in my step!
  • Enamel Stone Ring, $38.00, Banana Republic.com; Spring social events?  This gorgeous piece will make your pals green with envy.
$50.00 and Up
  • Jessica Simpson Evelyn Green Shoes, $79.00, Piperlime.com; Trust me - no one forgets the girl in the gorgeous green shoes.
  • Coach Heritage Stripe Tote, $298.00, Coach.com; What a lot of green can buy you!
  • Apple iPod Shuffle - 1GB Lime Green, $49.99, Amazon.com; Accessories have moved beyond shoes and bags - functional items can now be fabulous!
Thanks again to Katie for all her research.  If you have additional hot green items you love this season, please tell us about them in the comments section.  

Have a great Easter Sunday and I will see you on Monday...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Free-for-all-Friday, Show Me the Money, and So Much More

Day number five of all things GREEN. Today's topic... the ultimate form of green... MONEY!


Before we delve into the topic of money, we must acknowledge that today is Free For all Friday - the day when our loyal and creative readers share our collective creativity. Last week's dilemma was centered around Easter egg hunts. First, what new and different things can we try putting in eggs? Second how, when hosting an hunt, can we assure some as semblance of equity in the number of eggs each child receives. As always, I will post some of my thoughts - stream of consciousness - but for other creative ideas check out reader comments from last week (3/14) or check out what our readers post this week.


A crack of the egg could reveal...
  • Munchkins donuts (a favorite among my boys)
  • marbles
  • sea shells
  • stickers
  • eraser heads
  • tattoos
  • nuts
  • yogurt covered raisins
  • trial-sized makeup for teen aged girls
  • hair accessories
  • jokes... knock, knock...
  • puzzle pieces, that when found and assembled - can lead to a treasure (this can be created on poster board)
  • Coupons for things such as 1 free kiss; 1 movie of your choice; 1 I-don't-have-to-clean-my-room-pass; or a 10 minute back rub.
  • Fortunes such as: Good news will come your way; a new bath toy is in your future; you will have cinnamon toast at breakfast tomorrow; or you will discover a special Easter egg in mommy's bathrobe pocket
  • Other suggestions or additional recommendations for coupons and fortunes?... Post them in the comments section.
Leveling the Easter Egg Playing Field...

Last night I was shopping for a bucket my son could use during his Easter egg hunt at school today. (why plan ahead?) A woman, for reasons that only divine intervention could explain, began talking to me about how when her college-aged son was a young boy, she was very involved in his school events. Unsolicited she explained in detail this method for assuring each child received a similar number of eggs (as well as similar contents).

Each child was given an empty egg carton. Together they used paint or makers to color the inside of each hole an appointed color (pink, purple, yellow, green, blue, etc...). Then when the Easter egg hunt began, children knew to fill their cartons with eggs corresponding to the colors of their holes. To be extra diligent, the teachers filled all pink eggs with one thing, blue with another, green with something different, and on, and on, and on.

Now for today's green topic...


For this topic I immediately thought to contact my friend, Dawn - the ultimate money manager. Maybe a little background story about Dawn will help you appreciate why I called her to write today's entry. Dawn worked at Arizona State University while I was a student. We quickly became great pals. Me drawn to her great attitude - exemplified by her life motto, "Bloom where you are planted" and her drawn to... not quite sure, but she keeps me hanging around so I know there's something. Dawn generously opened her home up to me one summer when I needed to stay in Tempe to take a class in historical research.

Arizona is hot. Arizona in the summer time is Hot, with a capital "H." Dawn was the master at coordinating fun weekend activities that kept us out of the blazing sun, but that cost virtually nothing. First of all, Dawn never misses an opportunity. If given the opportunity to get something free by answering a 10 minute survey... Dawn is all over it. If earning a rebate could be done by simply mailing back a box top... Dawn's all over it. If Dawn purchased something and days later it went on sale... Dawn's bringing it back for the new and reduced price. She is a master at hunting down good deals and actually following through on those cost cutting tips that leave many of us feeling guilty.

Back to the summer of '89 (scary for many of you, I know). Dawn's dentist used to give her free movie theater coupons in appreciation for her referring clients his way. Do you find that as funny as I do? How many people do you think Dawn had to refer (and who really actively refers people to their dentist anyway?) in order to be awarded free movie tickets. Second, one of her relatives owned/managed/worked at a Dairy Queen. That summer Dairy Queen offered a promotion on the back of a cereal box. Bring in the coupon and get a FREE small Blizzard. She would get periodic deliveries of these coupons in the mail. So for that summer, we enjoyed first run movies and free Blizzards. Life was good.

Managing and saving money is so second nature to Dawn that I had to coach her what meant by "simple tips." For to her, these practices are so obvious they are not worth mentioning. Here they go...

Use your online banking bill pay: It is free, it saves you time, money (stamps & checks) and an be used to pay people, businesses, mortgages, credit cards, utilities, insurance, etc. I have not bought new checks in over 5 years as I rarely ever have to use checks anymore. It also gives you total control over your bill paying whether you are at home or on the road. No more worry about having the correct stamps (which are going up to .42 cents on 5/14/08).

Netflix.com: We as a family have a hard time paying $30.00 for 4 of us to go see a movie in a theatre. That is $30.00 just to see a movie, no popcorn, drinks, candy or anything. Thirty dollars gets us 6 months of netflix.com (2 movies a month is the level we choose). So what we do is if our children see a movie that is coming out that they like, we put in on our queue and so when it is released we are one of the first to get it.

Magazine swap with friends: I subscribe to "O" Magazine and Real Simple. My friend subscribes to More and InStyle. After we read our magazines we give it to each other. We both have the luxury of four magazine subscriptions for the price of two. Speaking of magazines, have I got a deal for you? Go to www.magselection.com. They have over 50 magazine subscriptions for $5/year and they have over 200 magazine subscriptions for $5/year and the gift lasts 12 months.

Enjoy the money tips by Dawn. Now, participate in Free For all Friday, by sharing your favorite money saving tips. I know some of the readers of this blog and you are WELL qualified to weigh in.

Signing off until tomorrow....


Thursday, March 20, 2008

My Great Day Green Plate

When I was in first grade you were either good or bad and mostly good. Nobody wanted do deal with the wrath of Mrs. Arcidiacono when she was mad. But, 20+ years later when my son entered first grade there was a system for gauging behavior so elaborate that a owners manual would not have been too far fetched. Nine years later I only remember bits and pieces of the plan. Kids started off every day with a name plate. Children moved from green to yellow to red, depending on their behavior. As you can imagine... green was good - keep on moving. Yellow was a warning - slow down, you're in the danger zone. And, red was flat out bad - STOP!


With a son who is not only energetic, but at the time was also an only child (just dying to get to school where he had peers to talk and play with), we spent our fair share of time in the yellow and red zones. We, like most parents, tried every trick in the book... rewarding the good days and punishing the bad days. That year, on St. Patrick's Day, I presented Ricky with what I was sure would be the magical solution to all of our behavioral problems. I poured over my project for weeks, believing I guess that there was a correlation between the amount of time I spent on the project and its effectiveness in improving Ricky's classroom behavior. Finally I gave it to him - wrapped all in green and with a big beautiful green bow. It was after all...


The Great Day Green Plate. The idea behind the plate was that each night Ricky came home with a green sticker, he would get to eat from his custom designed green plate. Make it through the whole week and he sets the menu for that night's dinner... and more importantly... for that night's dessert. I wish I could say it turned his behavior around. He still periodically ended up in the yellow or red zone... for some rendering the plate a failure. But, it did draw extra special attention to his good behavior and Ricky always knew when he was eating from the right plate.


Ricky's fifteen now and the novelty of the plate has worn off some. We still pull the plate out when he has a big accomplishment - winning a race at a swim or track meet; getting a good grade on an exam or project; his birthday; and periodically yes, making it through the week without "incident." He's proud of his plate and he's sentimental enough that I think someday he'll pass it along to his kids. I'm satisfied with that. If the plate gets passed along and he can help create a sense of family tradition, I'll give the green plate an A+!


There's an equivalent to the Green Plate that you should know about. It's the Red Plate (believe it or not). Written around the edge of the plate are the words, "You Are Special Today." The idea is the same. The plate is intended to be a family heirloom, passed along and used to recognize major accomplishments. It even comes with a marker allowing you to write the date and accomplishment on the bottom of the plate. I love giving these plates as either a wedding gift or baby shower gift. When I give one I feel like I am giving a lifetime of warm memories - and maybe even the start of a family tradition. If you want to see one on-line type in The Original Red Plate Company. They're made in Germany.

Signing off until tomorrow...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Green Whack on the Side of the Head Wednesday

Here's the trick of the day... finding a "green" dilemma or situation that can be challenged by the wisdom contained in one of my Creative Whack Pack cards. They come in four colors including red, blue, orange, and green. I, of course, will choose a card that is green.

Situation... I've got it. Girl Scouts wear green uniforms and I have been milling over an idea I would love to present to the Girl Scout organization. That makes this the perfect idea to present. Why Girl Scouts? I don't know. I was never a Girl Scout, but the idea of earning badges has always appealed to me. Actually, I like the idea of participating in the development of young girls and since I don't have any of my own girls, this seems like a worthy place to direct my energy.

The idea I would like to pitch emanates from the fun I am having playing host to my pen pals (see 3/4 - DeLiver De Letter De Sooner De Better). In a nutshell, I would love to expand the pen pal experience to more girls - teaching them the art of letter writing; different forms of correspondence; the excitement of making a new friend; creative mailing ideas; and on and on and on. Ideally, Girl Scouts from all over the world would be offered the opportunity and I would help coordinate the experience for a local troop. Each week that girls worked on earning the badge, we would mail something new to their pen pal - packages, letters written in code, questionnaires, photos. Maybe the experience could even culminate in pen pals meeting at an annual Girl Scout meeting (I'm guessing there must be one).

Ok, now for the Creative Whack...

Beware of the Unintended. In preparing for the Olympics, the coach of a leading crew team invited a meditation instructor to teach awareness techniques to his crew. He hoped that such training would enhance their rowing effectiveness. As the crew learned more about meditation, they became more synchronized, there was less resistance, and their strokes got smoother. The irony is that they went slower. It turned out that the crew became more interested in being in harmony than in winning. What are the unintended consequences (positive or negative) of implementing your idea?

Unintended consequences of my idea might include things such as:
  • Less time to spend with my sons.

  • My creating an experience centered around letter writing, maybe I am not being forward thinking enough. Should I be promoting the use of technology among girls - not paper and pen?

  • Girls could forge relationships that would last a lifetime. Imagine a fellow Girl Scout flying in from far away to be a bridesmaid in her pen pal's wedding.

  • Maybe the reason I'm having so much fun doing this is because it is small scale and not a lot of time or pressure. Maybe doing it on a larger scale would be less enjoyable.

  • The U.S. Post Office will love it. With the price of a stamp going up to .42 cents, fewer people will want to use snail mail. Maybe they will view this as a great promotional opportunity (what's more apple pie than the Girl Scouts) and be sponsors of the annual pen pal meeting!

Now it's your turn. Are you milling over an idea - something for work, friends, or your kids? Try brainstorming the unintended consequences.

Signing off until tomorrow... P.S. Someone asked me to post the yummy sugar cookie recipe we used during Sunday's cookie marathon (shared with me by Nan). I will post it in today's Comments Section. It's worth trying.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Grow A Green Thumb

Day two of our celebration of all things green. What with the whole push for "going green" I thought about simply giving a green tip each day of this week. I decided that was way too predictable and therefore not creative enough for our readers. Instead, we will visit everything from money to fashion - all with a focus on green.

Today is compliments of my mother, the retired florist, ... flowers and green plants. I was lucky enough to have grown up in a home where fresh flowers filled every room. The downside... I took it all for granted and consequently know nothing about foliage of any sort. I consulted with her on the phone, picking her brain for fun facts my readers might like to know. Here you go...

  • Green foliage plants actually serve more of a purpose than simply making your home more beautiful. They actually serve to purify the air in your house and help eliminate odors. She recommended two sites for more information on the Top 10 plants for your home and other fun facts. The sites are Care2/greenliving and houseplants/care.blogspot.com.
  • When cutting roses to put in a vase, always fill your kitchen sink and cut them while the tips are submerged in water. While many people strip roses of all their thorns, my mother advises against it. First, according to her, it is part of what makes a rose beautiful and second, you run the risk of nicking the stem. Roses, unlike, other flowers, drink from the outside and removing the thorns means possibly nicking the outer stem and disturbing the flow of water.
  • Daffodils are not compatible with any other flowers. There is something about their makeup that poisons the water, therefore killing other flowers in the arrangement. They are best in a vase by themselves.
  • Tulips. Have you ever noticed how tulips, when in an arrangement, with other flowers continue to grow? It doesn't take long before they are out of sync with the rest of the arrangement. Fix this by disrupting the flow of water to the flower. Simply make a small vertical nick in one side of the tulip's stem.
  • Keep arrangements looking good by changing the water every day or two. Water should be room temperature. Some people add an aspirin, 7Up, or a penny - all in an effort to keep flowers looking good longer. My mom wouldn't commit to which of any of these tricks really worked. Maybe some of you have an opinion or another trick.
  • If an arrangement is well done, you should be able to pluck one or two flowers from it as they die and still have the arrangement looking balanced. Something to aspire to for any of us who want to develop this skill.
  • We missed the boat on making our own green carnations for St. Patrick's Day, but you could try this trick for Mother's Day (maybe a pale pink or blue carnation). Simply cut the stem and stick it in a potent cup of the food dye color of your choice. You have to do this about 18 hours before you intend to use it, as that is how long it will take for the flower to absorb the colored water.

If you are like me and much of this escapes you... try this fun little idea. My mom came to visit after Jack was born and was a huge help in taking care of the other two boys. A week after she returned home, my son's and I mailed her a big box filled with bright colored tissue paper flowers. On the outside of box we wrote, "Thanks a BUNCH for all your help!" The boys had fun helping me make them and I knew they'd still be alive when they arrived.

Signing off until tomorrow...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Kiss Me, I'm... TIRED!

Happy St. Patrick's Day and a good Monday morning!  Where to start?!?  I fully intended to do an update on my cookie baking extravaganza this weekend, but after 15 hours of baking and decorating (no joking), I'm way too tired to give the explanation I initially planned.  Have I mentioned I am no Martha Stewart?  I can't possibly go into all the detail of my already ill-conceived plan going awry, so let my just make a few key points before moving on to today's exciting entry.

  • Hosting is hard.  Cassie coordinated the first bake-off, so frankly I was CLUELESS about exactly how much work and planning went in to making it happen.
  • 99.9% of the time things do not come out the way they are pictured in the cookbook or in this case the Cookie Box recipe card.  I attempted making leprechaun hats from cupcakes, an oatmeal cookie, green icing, tootsie rolls, and yellow decorating pens.  DISASTER!   I ended up throwing the whole lot of them away.  Even if I could have "engineered" them to work, I cannot help but think they would have tasted awful.
  • Pay attention.  I got all the way through the sugar cookie recipe - which interestingly enough called for cream cheese and sour cream (in addition to a number of other things) - and realized I forgot to add the sour cream.  The dough was already in the refrigerator for its requisite two hours.  I pulled it out of the refrigerator, unwrapped it, put it back in the mixer, and added the sour cream.  It was about 7:00 a.m. when that happened.  That, in retrospect, was foreshadowing.
Is this all sounding negative?....
Here's the good news...
  • I just finished putting the final touches on 10 little packages for teachers, friends, and the postman.  I feel great.  This morning I will brighten the day of a number of unsuspecting people and that is a good feeling.  It will immediately wipe away any questions about whether it was worth the time and energy.
  • We had fun.  Cassie; Nan, my neighbor; and I had great conversation while decorating the cookies - shaped as pots of gold, horseshoes, four leaf clovers, and leprechauns (we had beer mugs too, but time and stamina ran out).
  • I learned something new.  Baking a sugar cookie, yes.  I had done that.  But outlining and "flooding" cookies....  This is a world I knew nothing about.
Do I recommend the experience?  I am not going to pretend it was easy.  I am NOT Martha Stewart, so it took a lot of energy on my part.  If you are like me, it is the kind of experience that you enter into with caution and a lot of extra time.  But, yes... I recommend it. 
 
Now onto something that is a Beeny Family tradition and more my speed.  Shamrock Shakes!!!
Brief history... When I was a kid, I went to St. Aloysius.  We wore green uniforms and so St. Patrick's Day always felt a little special - at least in my house.  We are not Irish, but my mother has the wonderful ability to make even the smallest things seem like an occasion. Every St. Patrick's day my mother would give me $1.50, so that after school my best friend and I could walk to our local McDonald's and buy green shakes.  This quickly became a tradition. I didn't realize that Shamrock Shakes were a regional, New York-thing.  I couldn't get them when I went away to college and so I kind of forgot about them until I met my now-husband and stepson.  Kids have a funny way of pushing us to remember all the best parts of being a kid.  At the time I was living in Dallas and I called around to 10-12 McDonald's searching for a franchise that sold green shakes.  Not one did I find.

So, we went to work creating our own family tradition.  Each year on St. Patrick's night we make our own Shamrock Shakes. It's my kind of simple... milk, ice cream (mint chip if you feel inclined), green dye, and the kicker... McDonald's straws.  McDonald's straws are a MUST!!!
On this you may not compromise.  Fact.  Shakes taste better out of a McDonald's straw.  They are bigger than any straw you buy in a store and Wendy's straws don't come close either.  Oh, and the other essential - at least in our house - the kids draw straws to see who gets to add the green dye.  They get a kick out of seeing how green they can get the shake.
That's it.  Green shakes on St. Patrick's Day and my kids think they have died and gone to heaven.  It's not too late to try.  One stop at the supermarket...  a quick drive through McDonald's... and you'll have everything you need.
 
Signing off until tomorrow when we celebrate the second of six GREEN ideas - in honor of St. Patrick's week. Cheers.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles

My sister in-law is a doer! Periodically I have creative thoughts about things I'd like to do. So does Cassie. The difference is she will stay up until all hours of the night making them happen. One night Cassie was at my house describing, in detail, a Valentine plan so elaborate, that if left up to me, we would still be working on to this day. Part - and I do mean, part - of the idea involved baking and decorating fish-shaped cookies.


When she was telling me of her "design" I was suddenly reminded of the box of cookie cutters and cookie craft projects I so ambitiously subscribed to while living in Athens. I was under the illusion, while working on my Ph.D., that I was going to have all kinds of extra time to bake cookies for my neighbors, friends, family, classmates, son's classmates. In my mind, everyone and anyone I wanted to thank was going to receive hand baked cookies. I subscribed to a series of cookie recipes to arrive at my door step monthly. Each package contained recipes, packaging ideas, cookie cutters, and sugars or sprinkles for decorating the cookies. It didn't take long before the company-issued cookie box was filled... pristine and barely used. The magical box moved with me from Georgia to Kentucky and then from Kentucky to Texas, always with the hope I might someday put the ideas to good use. Enter the picture, Cassie.

I'd found the perfect home for my cookie box of ideas. No more guilt about not using them.

The next morning I snuck to Cassie's home with all the contents in a big white gift box, bearing a note on top... "Help! In Search of A Yummy Home." I left it on her doorstep with a the requisite gingerbread latte from Starbucks, rang the door bell and ran! Finally the cookie box and accompanying supplies had been placed with the PERFECT home! Kind of.

Cassie called me the same day to explain that the only way she would let the box reside at her home is with the promise from me that each month we would get together to create a cookie project inspired by the box. Can you believe it?! For years this box sat dormant in my cabinet and now I'm into this thing MONTHLY! So here I go. Cassie hosted February's project and tomorrow I will host the project for the month of March. What I love about this arrangement is that we will be doing it together (and this month we've invited a third friend). I like the idea of surprising someone with baked goods, but I love it even more if I can do it with friends. I will report on Monday about what we created and whether or not I was successful in passing the box off again.

As for February's creation... Picture a fishing pole made from a a sturdy stick; strung with string to look like fishing wire; red and white fishing bobbers (perfectly valentine's day); bright colored valentine notes reading things such as "Hook, Line, and Sinker you're the best." or "You're a REEL catch."; and on the very end... cellophane bags filled with brightly colored fish-shaped cookies. Cute, cute, cute. I felt like a rock star walking in to Preschool on Valentine's day. There was a long string of admirers following behind my four year old son as he traipsed through the hallways on his way to deliver the treats to his teachers. All thanks to Cassie, the visionary for the project.

Signing off until Monday...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Free For All Friday

Oohhh... how I love Free For All Fridays.  There is so much collective creativity among our blog readers, that I inevitably walk away with at least one or two memorable ideas.  Last week we helped Stacie, the woman looking for promotional ideas for her massage business (P.S.  she had her beautiful baby boy on March 7.  His name is Lucian and he was 7 pounds , 12 ounces).  We also passed along some suggestions to Anonymous who was looking for ways to help her toddler. This week we go from moms to graduating seniors.  Put on your thinking caps and lets send some creative ideas to Anonymous who posted...

I have a creativity predicament for you!  I am currently a senior in college preparing to graduate in early May 2008.  I would like to create a small keepsake for my closest friends to remember our time spent together over the past 4 years.  I am a college student, after all, so it can't be anything to expensive, but definitely needs to be something creative and from the heart!  Any help with ideas for this gift would be greatly appreciated.
Once again, in no particular order....
  • Build a day:  Make special invitations, inviting everyone to reserve a particular day when the group will take a stroll down memory lane.  Meet early in the morning and have everyone write down one of their favorite things to do with the group.  Experiences might be things such as eating at a particular restaurant, meeting at a particular place on campus for coffee each week, watching movies in someone's residence hall room, or shopping at a local thrift store or retail store.  Once each person has noted their favorite experience on a paper, seal them in envelopes and mix them up.  Then, randomly draw your first card from the stack and go about your business completing the activity.  Move through the rest of the day in random order, doing whatever the next card says.  It doesn't matter if they aren't in a sensible or efficient order. That's part of what will make it memorable.
  • Something survivor-like:  I'm not an expert on this show, but I seem to remember when it gets down to the final two, the remaining contestants do a walk, carrying their torches and paying tribute to each person who left them game before they did.  As they stop at the torch symbolizing each person, the finalists say something nice about the person.  Maybe you could do a final walk of campus - stopping along the way to pay tribute to each member of your group.  If you really wanted to be fancy, you could plant photographs ahead of time at particular campus locations. Consider beginning late afternoon one day and finishing at dusk in a meaningful location.  If everyone is of-age, you could arrange to have champagne at the final destination (if not, some crazy dean of students might track you down).  
  • Seal a Time Capsule:  Have each person bring one thing to commemorate their college experience.  Place the items in a box, wrapped in plastic wrap and packaging tape.  Bring a shovel and some flowers then find a non-descript location on campus.  Bury the time capsule and plant your flowers on top as a marker.  Then you and your friends could make a pact to meet back at campus in a designated period of time to unseal the capsule.  This could be extra fun if everyone also wrote a letter to themselves, to be put in the capsule and not read until the capsule is opened.
  • Last Will and Testament: Purchase a container for each friend and then ask each person participating to a bring a momento and a note to be placed in each other's boxes.  If you have six friends participating, you would have five momentos - one for each of your five friends. Items can be representative of your relationship with one another.  It could be the same thing for everyone (for me, a Starbucks card is how most would remember me) or it could be something different for each person (a favorite t-shirt or yours, a CD they kept asking to borrow).  If you like the sealing-concept from the time capsule, you could seal the boxes and agree on a future date and time when they will be opened.  I might be in Texas, you might be in... say Virginia..., but at 6:00 p.m. one designated day, we all stop what we are doing and open our box.
That's my attempt to help.  Good luck and CONGRATULATIONS on graduating... an accomplishment for which you should be VERY proud.  Amy.. if you are out there... you are the queen of bringing closure.  Maybe you will weigh in with a post.  

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Eye Spy

So, yes... our housekeeper did show up yesterday.  This means our house is looking and smelling especially clean, but as you know, it also means we'll be picking an economical activity for Fun In the Box Friday.

I spent nine and a half hours in the airport yesterday, so I am not feeling especially creative this morning, but in the spirit of the blog (creativity is easy, accessible, and everywhere) I will post some food for thought.  The fun thing about an airport is watching all the people walk by - each with a different story about why they are there and each with a different sense of fashion, a different book or magazine they are reading, different fast food they are eating and the list goes on.  In my mind these are the PERFECT circumstances for playing Eye Spy.

Eye Spy is a game I play with my boys when we are waiting in a restaurant; sitting outside of Block Buster waiting for dad to rent a movie; standing in line at Target or a clothing store. Virtually anywhere you are, that you have some time to kill and nothing to entertain you, you have perfect circumstances for playing Eye Spy (like the airport for nine hours). The added benefit... it challenges the creativity of your children and even makes them more observant.

The rules are easy.  Set your sights on something/anything around you... purple sneakers, a red scarf, a Yankees baseball cap, a fire hydrant, a yellow and black car; the symbol for handicapped, or an American flag.  The list is truly endless....  Then turn to the person with whom you are playing and say, "I spy with my eye, a yellow letter "M.""... or whatever else you see from the list of infinity.  Then, it is the job of your opponent to see if they can spot the i item. Once they've spotted your item, it is there turn to have you spot something they spy.

This game isn't complicated.  It requires no batteries and it probably will not be voted game of the year by the Mensa Society, but it will keep you and your family and friends entertained while you wait your turn.  A nine hour wait at the airport was the perfect place to play this game yesterday.  To bad the Eye-spy-a-man-with-an-Ipod-and-UT-sweatshirt- didn't appear all that interested in playing and that my family was at home patiently waiting for my return.

Have a good Thursday.  By the way, I spy a misplaced lower case letter "i" somewhere in the text.

Signing off until tomorrow...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Whack on the Side of the Head Wednesday

Here we go.  Another Wednesday and another dilemma... testing to see whether you can take a creative principle and apply it to your situation.  I'll present the principle and then take a crack at solving a dilemma on my mind.  Then it's your turn.

Principle... Reverse.
"Reversing how you look at a situation can open up new possibilities and dislodge assumptions. Example: when everyone else is gazing at a glorious sunset, why not turn around to see the blues and violets behind you?  What do you notice when you look at a coffee cup?  Its design or color?  Reverse your focus and look at the space inside - that's what gives it its functional value. Example: spend a minute describing a current problem.  If you're a male, describe it from the female view point.  If you're a female, do the reverse.  How can you reverse the way you look at your idea?

Dilemma... We are fortunate enough to have employed a housekeeper to come to our house each week.  The woman is lovely and does IMPECCABLE work... when she shows up.  In the four months she has been employed, she has no-showed five times.  As many of you know excellent housekeepers are hard to come by and, as I said, when she shows up there is nobody better.  The problem... the decision to keep her, spotty attendance and all, or let her go and risk not replacing her or replacing her with someone far less hardworking?

Hmmm... let me reverse my focus.  We have budgeted money each week to pay the housekeeper.  So, on the weeks she does not show up our family has disposable income. To me the house might look slightly dustier and the windows more smudged, but to the boys who probably don't notice anyway, there is extra money to do things such as take the family bowling, out for dinner, or to see a newly released movie (all items included in our Fun In A Box Friday - see 2/29 blog).  Reverse the focus on her absence.  Instead, focus on the other two or three weeks of each month that she does show up.  She isn't doing the cleaning, but nothing bad can come from the boys pitching in and helping tidy the house (above and beyond their existing chores).  Things don't always go as planned and this is a good lesson for them to learn at a young age.

Today is Wednesday, the day my house keeper is supposed to come.  Will she or won't she, that is the question.  Tune in tomorrow and I'll let you know.  We could bet, but if she shows up, I won't have the money to pay out.  

Signing off until tomorrow...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Make Them Green With Envy

This blog is a space dedicated to ideas. On a good day, I like to think it helps bring a little bit of wonder or cheer into the lives of people around us. St. Patrick's Day is a fun occasion around which to do this because there is no expectation for giving or receiving (unless of course you're Irish and then there's the whole kiss or pinch thing going on). All the more reason to gear up for brightening someone's day with a little unexpected cheer. But to do this, and NOT have it become a stressor, planning is essential.

With St. Patrick's Day six days away, we still have plenty of time. Pick a person or two you would like to surprise and join me in brainstorming some thoughtful and inexpensive ways to makes someone else's day. As for me... I think my treats will go to my sons' day care providers (always want them to feel valued and appreciated) and the postman. Others you might consider include people such as new neighbors; a colleague; the person who greets you at the gym each morning; a housekeeper or gardener; or the mother at the park that you see weekly, but haven't yet met.

I like to begin brainstorming possible treat ideas with the fun slogan or saying that I will attach. Here are some of my attempts. Feel free to post your own creative ideas...
  • You're Worth Your Weight In Gold
  • I'm Lucky to Know You 
  • Top of the Morning To You
  • You're my Lucky Charm
  • Others are Green With Envy... thanks for being such a good friend, colleague, housekeeper, etc...

More times than not, the fun slogan will prompt ideas about a fun treat you can present. Some examples...
  • "You're worth your weight in gold" could be accompanied by Hershey's gold nugget candies, the gold candy coins you can purchase at specialty candy stores, or a gold dollar.
  • "I'm lucky to know you" can simply be written on a shamrock shaped piece of green construction paper or, if feeling diligent, attached to a bag of shamrock shaped cookies.
  • "Top of the Morning to you" could be written in green marker on a Starbucks coffee cup for your favorite colleague or written on a green top hat and hung on someone's door knob.
  • "Your My Lucky Charm" lends itself perfectly to a rabbit's foot key chain or better yet a yummy box of lucky charms on your breakfast table (that would be a hit among my kids!).
  • "Others are green with envy" is a general slogan that can accompany any green treat from fun socks to a green potted plant.

Either way you have plenty of time to plan. Today is Tuesday. You can mill the ideas over today; Wednesday commit to one or two; Thursday make a list of what you need to purchase; Friday make purchases; Saturday bake or put together packages; Sunday... always the day of rest, and Monday... make their day with a thoughtful presentation.
Signing off for today…

Monday, March 10, 2008

Behind Every Great Woman is a Planner

Good Monday morning! I flipped my calendar open this morning and staring at me was the re-order form for my next year’s calendar. It was only a matter of time before I delved into the importance of planners and organizers and so I will use this as a sign that today should be the day. After all, many of us wake up on Monday morning’s thinking about what the week ahead will entail. Additionally, much of what I suggest over the course of the year will require some kind of planning on your part and so discussion of a calendar was inevitable.

I have had calendar of sorts for as long as I could remember. I’ve tried everything from the fancy Stephen Covey systems to going exclusively electronic. But, I always return to what I consider to be the ultimate, tried and true organizer… The Planner Pad. I should work on commission for this company, because since 1991, I personally have converted upwards of 50 – 60 students, friends, and colleagues to this simple paper and pen method of organizing.

What makes this calendar terrific is it is organized into four sections. It begins with the most general and works its way to the most specific tasks you hope to accomplish in a week. The very top of the calendar provides a space for you to write your Major Goal of the Week. Next it provides space for you to brainstorm Weekly Lists of Activities by Categories. I love this section the most. Regardless of whether we are stay at home moms or VPs of major corporations, our lives are divided into buckets of responsibility. The buckets could be classroom mom, household chores, staff meeting preparation, friends, family, fitness goals, etc…. This section of the calendar allows us to ‘brain dump” all the things we need/want to accomplish in those buckets for the week. Sections three and four get even more specific, requiring you to schedule your weekly lists of activities (buckets) into particular days of the week and finally hours of those specific days. It is, if you could imagine, an inverted pyramid beginning with the most general goal of the week and ultimately moves toward the specificity of the day and time will you make that happen. I left my professional position one year ago and still each morning I open my calendar (centrally located in my kitchen) and use it as a tool for planning and organizing the life of my family.

If you aren’t wed to a calendar, you might consider checking out a Planner Pad at www.plannerpads.com. I swear by mine.

Now for a quick planning tip I learned years ago and still use to this day – actually especially use now that I am running a household and all the paper that goes along with it. Last week we received an invitation to an event hosted by my husband’s alma mater. The event is not until the last week of March, but included a campus map we will need to find the function. Two weeks ago my son received an invitation to a birthday party next weekend. The party will be at Pump It Up, a local indoor recreation facility with inflatables. There is a consent form that must accompany him on the day of the party. Yesterday I made a reservation for a flight to Chicago. I printed off the itinerary, but won’t need it until mid-April. This is the kind of paper clutter that could easily create mini stacks of paper all over your home and on counter space if you are not careful. Instead, I use the power of the ‘H”.” The letter “H” stands for Hold. I have a manilla folder filed in our home office and inside the “H” folder goes any piece of paper I must hold onto for an upcoming event or commitment. I simply store the paper in the folder and then note an “H” in my calendar on the date I will need the map, consent form, flight itinerary, or whatever the item may be. This keeps papers from getting lost and, at the same time, doesn’t have them sitting out or stuck to the refrigerator for weeks on end.

Tomorrow we’ll start planning for St. Patrick’s Day, so grab (or order) your calendar and meet me back here.

Signing off for now…

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Photo Op

Today's blog is dedicated to Katie, a good friend, a fellow colleague, and the adopted big sister to my sons. Katie has spent the past week with us and unfortunately has to get on a plane later this morning. I met Katie four years ago when she was a new student at the University where I worked. It didn't take long before I realized she was something special - a natural born leader - and someone I would know for a very long time. She is thoughtful and conscientious with a capital "C."

Here's something notable Katie does that is worth sharing. Katie was the only baby sitter my boys had while living in Louisville (I keep trying to convince her to move to Texas). Virtually every Monday morning, after baby sitting on a weekend night, Katie would show up at the threshold of my office door with a framed picture, a scrap booked page, or a small photo album filled with pictures she'd taken of the boys while babysitting. It was the ultimate treat. Because she is the pied piper with kids, Katie snapped GREAT candid shots of the boys smiling as though they'd been offered cake for dinner (hmmmm.... maybe that was the key). Over time, I accumulated a collection of great pictures of my boys... through Katie's eyes. Treats I will cherish forever. She babysat tonight for old times sake while Richard and I grabbed dinner and strolled through Barnes and Noble. In true form, Katie presented us with more great pics...
I've tried to apply this simple act of generosity into my life. Recently I attended a wedding and spent time taking pictures of the ceremony, but also taking pictures behind the scenes. I developed the pictures while the bride and groom were on their honeymoon and left a small album on their doorstep the day they arrived home. While the pictures were not nearly as good as professionally taken pictures, they were a welcomed and more immediate glimpse into their special day. I try, when my kids have parties or play dates to snap pictures of their friends, so that I can pass along photos to their moms. To this day, my mother's favorite picture of me sits on the bookshelf in her room. It is a black and white photograph taken by the son of my first grade teacher on our first trip to the public library. Katie's small act - meaningful snap shots of my most prized possessions - are in actuality BIG sentimental gifts that will last a life time.
As a side bar to this... my creative sister in-law takes pictures of each friend attending her sons' birthday parties and then uses the photos to send thank you notes. It feels more personal than a pre-printed card and serves as a nice keepsake from the event.

Signing off until Monday...

Friday, March 7, 2008

Free-For-All-Friday

First things first... Jack's party was fun - though I will say the best laid plans can go awry.  If you think I can be over the top, you would have been pleasantly underwhelmed last night. Unexpected snow meant no party hats, one balloon, and store-bought cake.  Party goers did, however, make predictions.  The most worrisome... "Jack, you will make at least one trip to the emergency room."

As you may remember from last week, I am trying to dedicate Fridays to sharing - even showcasing - the group's collective creativity.  You pose a dilemma for which you are seeking a creative solution and our fellow blog readers get to weigh in with their suggestions.  I'll wait until the following Friday to share my thoughts.

Last week, Stacie posed the challenge to be addressed this week.  She said... "I need creative ideas for a grand opening campaign for my massage business (to start in June).  I can't spend a ton of money upfront to make this happen, but ideas for a small open house or coupons or package deals or whatever will help.  I'll be working from home to start so I can't exactly have a big-free-massage-for-the-public kind of event.  Can't wait to hear your thoughts (and others)!"

One anonymous and diligent reader posted last Friday, suggesting that Stacie consider purchasing gloves from the Target Dollar Bins and attaching promotional tags reading, "Can't wait to get my hands on you."  Her other suggestion was to do a spin on the Yellow Pages with a tag line saying something about, "Let your fingers do the walking."

Here's my crack at it... stream of consciousness...
  • Mother's Day is in May, so you'll miss the boat on that, but maybe Father's Day.  Could this be a recommended Father's Day present that thoughtful wives could purchase for their husbands?
  • My sister has a couple of Pilates studios and she uses the first day of each new year to promote her studio by selling Pilates sessions for $20.08, $20.09 next year, and $20.10 the year after... you get the idea.  If you don't like the idea of using the calendar year, maybe you could use the birth date of your new arrival (Stacy is expecting any day now). If the baby's birthday is today (3/7/08), for instance, maybe you could charge $37.08.  If nothing else it earns you an extra $17.00.  
  • From my hand to yours... maybe you could coordinate with a local manicurist to offer a package deal - massage, plus manicure - for a reduced rate. 
  • The woman in Louisville who cut my hair would give a free hair cut for each new client I sent her way.  I don't know if she considered it cost effective, but it was certainly an incentive for me (and it did land her at least four new clients in the four years she cut my hair).
  • Compliments of my friend Quynh, who was riding in the car with me today when this topic came up.  How about a CD?  She suggested burning Cds of relaxing music and using the face of the CD to put your logo and contact information.  I love the idea, because a CD is functional and is something people will use repeatedly. 
  • If you held an open house, maybe you could incorporate an adaptation to the tried and true Lollipop Pull.  Use hands instead of lollipops.  Each hand could reveal a different price point.  When I was a kid a local ice cream store used to do this with banana splits, except they used balloons.  Pop the balloon and inside was a strip of paper revealing the cost of your dessert.  I loved the anticipation of the unknown.  Come to think of it... maybe that's responsible for my ice cream obsession.
  • Massages seem like either the antidote to stress or the ultimate indulgence.  So, a question you might ask is what do people stress about or when are they most likely to indulge... Stressors might include paying taxes (April 15 - too soon for your purposes); exams (do students have enough extra cash flow?); or children out of school for the summer (good timing for you).  Indulgences might happen in connection with weddings; work promotions (which might mean extra cash flow), or  a tax refunds! 
That's my crack at it.  Now, loyal readers, your turn.  What ideas might you have for helping Stacie promote her massage business?  Equally as important... who will pose the challenge/question for next week?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Next Year at This Time

Today is a special day. Today my youngest son turns one year old. Hard to know for whom it is the greatest celebration... Jack because he is turning one or me and dad for making it through his first year. We'll celebrate this evening with his cousins, aunt, uncle, grandma and grandpa. Of course we'll have the requisite balloons, cake, party hat, and a couple of presents for him to open, but the thing about which I am most excited is the activity I am going to try.

I was a history major in college, so I find I am constantly in search of ways to document the life of my children. What does that have to do Jack's birthday? Tonight I will snap a Polaroid picture of each party goer. On the back of each person's picture I will ask them to write a prediction about some aspect of Jack's life in the upcoming year (first word, height, date when bottle gets the boot, injury in 2008-2009... or not, favorite toy, etc...). After the cake and ice cream has been eaten, I will seal the pictures in an envelope - not to be opened until his second birthday. Next year at this time, we will sit around the table reminiscing about who was at the party and deciding how accurate each of the predictions was. Then, we'll do it again for the next year and on and on it can go until Polaroid film is either discontinued or Jack isn't home to celebrate.

Tomorrow I'll let you know how it went. Until then, I'm signing off. I have cupcakes to bake.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Whack on the Side of the Head

I promised no alliterations, but I am not ready to abandon Wacky Wednesday completely. When I was typing last week's entry, I was reminded of a deck of cards I own (Creative Whack Pack, by Rogervon Oech - sold at any book store) that I use when conducting training on topics related to creativity. Each card tells a short story and then leaves you with a mental challenge - mental gymnastics of sorts. I thought this could be an interesting activity for us to engage in together. After all, if this blog is to be about creativity then a nice byproduct of checking in with me each day is that it will get your own creative juices flowing and find yourself applying some of what you read to your own world.

Think of this as improv. Each Wednesday I will share with you the contents of one card, coupled with a problem I am facing. We will put the two thoughts together and see if we can't come up - in real time - with a creative solution. Then, using the same creative principle and your own problem, you'll try!

Here we go...

Dig Deeper: Emile' Chartier: "Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it's the only one you have." Don't stop with the first right answer you find. Dig deeper and look for others. how do you keep a fish from smelling? Cook it as soon as you catch it. Keep a cat around. Burn incense. Cut its nose off. Remember: the best way to get a good idea is to get lots of ideas. What good ideas are below the surface? What's the second right answer?

Now my problem. My 3 year old son is easily distracted at dinner, making eating his meal a long and frustrating process - especially for me and his dad. Up to this point, the solution has been to continue reminding him that he is supposed to be eating and that he should stay on task. Instead of asking how you keep a fish from smelling, let me ask.. How do you keep a three-year old from getting distracted during dinner?

  • Remove all distractions such as siblings, parents, centerpieces, etc...
  • Allocate a designated amount of time for eating his meal before it is removed from the table.

  • Let his 15 year old brother eat whatever is left after a designated amount of time.

  • Serve everyone, except him, a meal until he asks for it.

  • Come to the table as a family 10 minutes before the meal is served, so that stories can be shared before the food arrives (ooohhh, I like that one).

  • Fill his plate with a bite or two, instead of everything upfront. By reversing the expectation from finish what's on your plate to asking for additional bites, he might become more interested (scarcity mentality).

  • Each portion of his dinner could earn him part of his evening routine (dinner = dessert; milk = book; salad = Mango Key bedtime story).
You get the idea. Now your turn. For which of your problems are you seeking a solution? What good ideas are below the surface? What's the second right answer? Don't skim over this... really take a second and try or -a second right answer - try on your commute home tonight.

Signing off until tomorrow...

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Dear Mr. Postman: Deliver De Letter De Sooner De Better

When I was eleven years old I visited my friend's house one day after school. We were watching the Big Blue Marble when we got the bright idea to send our names into the show, hoping we would be matched up with the perfect pen pal. Months and months later - well after we'd forgotten about our submissions - Suzie and I each received a letter. Mission accomplished. Matches were made and we got our pen pals. Suzie's pen pal was Pat, a 10 year old boy from North Dakota (as it turns out, a little disappointing for an adolescent girl hoping for a new best friend). As for me... the Blue Marble gods were shining down on me. My pen pal was Karen from Hastings, New Zealand. That's right... half way across the world in what seemed like the most exotic place on earth. Therein began my obsession with pen paling.

Last summer, six months after the arrival of my third son - when it was blatantly clear there was no baby girl in my future - I set out in search of two unsuspecting girls, willing to entertain me and to be my venue for all the fun "girly" things (theme parties, crafts, sticker-swapping, secret codes, and friendship bracelets) that I would otherwise never get to do. My niece from New York city and close family friend from Watkinsville, Georgia seemed like the perfect two.

The Pen Pal Challenge started in late August. I matched up the two girls via mail and they've been letter writing ever since. I live vicariously through them, hearing about the exchange of postcards, pictures, stickers, puzzles, and letters to be decoded with special pens. I periodically send them a small package of pen pal paraphernalia to keep them motivated (but really so I have cause to buy all the fun stuff I'd otherwise couldn't justify). Of course I'm not totally selfless. I told them both if they exchanged 12 pieces of mail each over the course of the school year that I would host them for a girl's weekend in Dallas. Are you kidding? Two 10-11 year old girls for five days! I can't wait. The boys will be shipped off to grandmas, so we can do all things GIRL... stay up late, wearing fun pajamas, eating treats and talking about cool stuff; spreading out at the kitchen table with all kinds of crafts projects; and shopping at the local mall with stops along the way for lunch and manicures. Only four more months until the fun begins.

As for me and Karen, our friendship persists to this day. We don't write or talk nearly as frequently as we did when we were younger, but after two visits from Karen and lots of letters between the two of us, we stay in touch enough to know about big life changes in each others lives. I still haven't made it to Hastings, but visiting the apple orchard she grew up on remains on my Bucket List (if you haven't seen the movie, it's definitely worth seeing).

Letter writing is quickly becoming a lost art, so if I can do my small part to promote pen paling and maybe even develop a friendship along the way, then that is good enough for me. How about you? Do you know two young people you could match up as pen pals? Or, forget matching up two young people, grab a paper and pen and find a young person who could benefit from you reaching out. It will feel good to you and will most assuredly bring a smile to his or her face.

Signing off until tomorrow...

Monday, March 3, 2008

Maintenance Monday




I promise, we will not go through every day of every week using alliterations. It seemed appropriate today, because there are a handful of items on which I wanted to follow-up - maintenance-type issues.

March Centerpiece: It seems I was so busy sleeping-in and eating ice cream this weekend that I neglected to post pictures of my centerpiece, as promised in Fruit Stand Fun (2/19). I am no Martha Stewart, but the idea is to find a single focal point in your home and use it to add a touch of festivity surrounding an upcoming holiday. I use the fruit stand on our breakfast table and one of the kitchen windows. Fourteen more days until St. Patrick's Day! It's not too late.

44 Days, 112 people: To say I am no Martha Stewart is true, but to say I am no Albert Einstein is a gross understatement to anyone who knows how I feel about math. As my husband says about folding laundry, but is also true of my feelings towards math, ...I would rather poke my eyes out with a stick than work a mathematical equation. I say that to say, read this next paragraph not with a calculator in hand, but instead hoping to get the general sentiment. Two weeks ago I said I would explain the title on the day after my blog received 5,000 hits. The first guess was March 17. While I love the optimism, I don't think we'll make it. The next date offered up was April 16 - a day that is near and dear to me, because it is my son's birthday. I want to push for that date as our goal. Here's where the math comes in... At the rate we are going right now, it will take until approximately September 16 to hit 5,000 hits. That's eight months away and way too long. What I need is about 112 visitors each day, over the next 44 days. I'm guessing there are currently an average about 20 people visiting the site each day. This is where you come in. If each of you tells 5-6 more people about the blog and they also visit the site then we will be well on our way to 5000 people by April 16. Phew... that was a lot of math for Monday morning. Bottom line... Each of you helps me find 5 more loyal readers a day and we're on our way to meeting the April 16 goal. We can do it!

Helena, where are you? A couple of weeks ago, I talked about the Adventures of Flat Stanley and how much fun it could be to adapt for you and your family or you and your friends. Helena mentioned in the comments that she might like to host a Flat Stanley. That got me thinking... Couldn't we host our very own Flat Stanley - you know, roaming from reader to reader? So, Helena if you are out there and are really interested in hosting Flat Stanley say the word. I will get it going. And if anyone out there knows who Helena is... tell her I'm looking for her.

Finally... a creative maintenance tip: You'd be disappointed if there was no new idea in today's post, so in keeping with the theme I thought I would find something housekeeping related. I read this in a magazine a while ago and still think it is a great idea. If you're house is like mine, there is probably one place where things (mail, toys, homework, pens, keys, magazines) seem to accumulate. The author of the magazine article suggested on insisting the space is completely cleared each day by 5:00. That means everyone in the family tends to their portion of the clutter. If every day the space is cleared off completely then it will never get completely out of hand.

Signing off until tomorrow...