Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Whack on The Side of The Head: A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss...

Yesterday, Treye wrote in his congratulatory post... "Let's hope next 5,000 doesn't take as long as the first." - 77 days.  Another friend of mine sent a celebratory email, signing it "Reaching for 10,000." Many others have inquired about what comes next.  All I have to say is... you all have some serious stamina!  I considered taking some time off before rolling out our next fun initiative, but seeing as how you all are all revved up... I figure I should give you someplace to go.  Or actually... 

Give ME someplace to go!  That is your teaser.  But first, some announcements!
  • Go ARKANSAS!  A month ago... not even registering as a state who viewed highlowaha. Monday... the fourth largest number of readers... out-read by only Texas, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. Julie, I have a sneaking suspicion you had something to do with that.  THANK YOU!  With 17 people in one day, you helped me reach 5,000.
  • Did you know when you click on a picture from a post - other than the most current - that it blows it up to be bigger?  I mistakingly figured it out while looking at Dine By Design (pictures worth revisiting).
  • Julie Cole (I dropped the "A," since it seems to be in question).   Are you out there?  If so, we would love you to make a post so we could introduce ourselves.  You are a mini celebrity on our site.  For those of you with no idea what I am talking about, see April 7: On Your Mark, Get Set, Go! 
  • Helena... make a quick post about where Flat Stanley has been and our next most interested reader can claim Next Tour Guide.
  • Nan was nice enough to provide me with a comprehensive list of all the tables present at"Dine by Design."  I will post the table names on Saturday as an added "freebie."  Again, if you don't know what I am referencing.. check out April 14 :Dine By Design.  It's a GOOD one!
Today is Whack on The Side of the Head Wednesday.  This is the day we join forces with Roger von Oech's magical deck of cards to jar our thinking.  It has been responsible for refining many an idea here at highlowaha and I have no reason to believe that today will be any different. 

First, I must lay claim to the idea/challenge.  Then we'll apply the creative "whack."...

This is where my little clue comes into play... "Give me someplace to go."  That's right.  We are embarking on our next fun initiative and it involves me taking a trip.  Where?  I don't know. Only you, the readers can determine.  Now for the overview...

August 20 represents the half way point to the year of my blogging (the first post was February 18).  In order to assure the second half of the year is as much fun for me (... and YOU) as the first part, I need to meet with readers.  I want to host a fun, high-energy, and of course CREATIVE brainstorming session with representatives from highlowaha.com...IN PERSON! So, I am planning to take a trip at either the end of August or the beginning of September.

Where will I go?... That depends.  I will go to the state mustering up the greatest number of enthusiastic readers, between now and July 16 (Treye... exactly 77 days from today!).  For Helena, Debbie M. and all you other international readers... your day will come.  I just need to strike it rich first.

How will this work?  We will embark on a state-wide roll call of sorts.  Each week I will post the names of 4-5 states.  On the day that your state is "up," your challenge will be to have as many individuals read the blog and post something about your state (more about that later). At the end of the 12 week period I will determine the state with the greatest participation and then off I go. Once arriving at my destination, I will host a fun-filled two hour brainstorm... guaranteed to be a good time, complete with treats and giveaways.

Before we get started a couple of things... 
  • According to Google Analytics (a favorite site for anyone who loves information), there is a state participating, but listed as "not set," instead of your actual state's name.  The fact that your state name does not appear means I don't know where you are from.  There are five states whose names are not represented on my list.  They are: Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming.  "Not set" must represent one of these states.  If you are a reader from one of these states, make a post telling me the state in which you live.  That way I can give you credit.
  • I don't want to start "Roll Call" until all states show at least three readers per week.  The following states currently show only one reader per week and need two more: Michigan, Kansas, Alaska, Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama, Connecticut, New Mexico, New Mexico, Vermont, Utah, Nebraska, Florida, and Minnesota.  This won't be hard if you just share the site with one co-worker, friend, or neighbor. 
  • The states that are good to go - already showing four or more readers a week are: Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Virginia, New Jersey, North Carolina, Iowa, Arkansas, Maryland, California, Arizona, Indiana, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Kentucky.
Ok, so a goal for this next week - while continuing to explore and share creative ideas - is to (1) increase readership in the states currently showing three or fewer a week; (2) find readers from the four states holding out; and (3) determine who the person is titled, "Not Set." 

Now for the idea/challenge to be whacked...  What is it, that "state representatives" should post about their state on their designated date?  It seems a waste to simply have them post their name.  Maybe I should have them post a "must see" from their town or state.  Or should it be something fun and creative... a tag line or slogan?  Hmmmm...  Let's see what von Oech has to say... 

Combine Ideas.  "The time has come," the walrus said, to talk of many things: of shoes - and ships - and sealing wax - of cabbages - and kings."  Combining unusual ideas is at the heart of creative thinking.  The ancients mixed soft copper and even softer tin to create hard bronze. Gutenberg combined the wine press and the coin punch to create movable type and the printing press.  What different ideas can you combine?

So readers... check out items on your desk, in your kitchen, in today's paper, or from past blog postings.  What different ideas can we combine to come up with the the perfect criterion for posting during your state's Roll Call?
Signing off until tomorrow...

Ding, Ding, Ding... I Interrupt This Programming...

... to make this special and relief-filled message...

WE DID IT! As of 6:30 a.m. this morning we reached a grand total of 5,090 viewers! This is a great day! Celebrate with me. Stop what you're doing... where ever you are - at home; in the office; in the library preparing for finals; on your PDA in the doctor's office or commuting on a subway, and do the happy dance! That's it.... No, don't stop yet... keep dancing. This is a big deal. After 77 days of trying we not only reached, but PASSED the magical number 5,000!

For those of you who have been with me from the beginning... THANK YOU! Thank you for reading loyally and for passing the site along to friends, family... uncles, aunts, and pets. For those of you who recently joined us... welcome. You will soon discover what a fun, involved, and CREATIVE group of people with which you are now keeping company.

So much hype... Many of you either never knew or forgot to what end it was that we were pursuing this magical number. We have been reaching for 5,000 so that I may FINALLY share the origin of my blog name. A couple of you already know its meaning, because to know me well is to know how integral "highlowaha" is to my life. Others of you have no idea and, in fact, my good friend and old neighbor from Kentucky just asked me tonight why the heck I named my blog "snickerdoodle.com." You know what that means... my good friend, Jill, hasn't visited once (until tonight when I threatened that she either visit and be one of the final 13 viewers needed or run the risk of my posting some very dubious scoop on her). So here we go...

You can stop dancing now.

Yikes... after all this time and all this effort, I'm a little worried today's post will be anti climatic. Will you think it was worth the wait? All I can say in defense of my blog name and today's creative idea is that this simple little phrase (perfect BECAUSE of its simplicity) is an important part of my life. It is the lens through which I actually talk about and, when appropriate, process life. I use it with my family; droves of students have been subjected to it; and even friends have come to expect the phrase. So here we go... like it or leave it.

Each night at dinner, once everyone is seated and the meal has been served, we go around the table and talk about our days. Each person shares his HIGH for the day (meaning the best thing that happened all day long); his LOW for the day (meaning the worst thing that happened all day long); and his AHA (meaning something he learned during the day). That's it. That's what you've been waiting for. But the richness of this exercise is not in its complexity. There are no bells, no whistles, no money required, no experience, or talent necessary... it is just the simple coming back together to share what we missed in each other's days, while busy living in our own corner of the world.

The power of this activity comes in its simplicity and therefore the ease with which it can become a family tradition. Sometimes my boys try to convince me they had no "low" or that they can't think of an "aha." I reply.... "Impossible." There is always a "lowest" point of the day, even if it's the gloomy weather outside or that you didn't like what was packed in your lunch. Similarly, we must focus each day on discovering something new. It can be something new you learned about yourself, a life lesson, or book knowledge from a class you took or a book you've read. Every day... something new.

Now, what is really interesting is that when pushed to come up with an answer, your kids (and maybe even other friends and family) will share far more with you than they otherwise might. Telling of "highs" proves to be easiest for most. It's the "lows" and "ahas" that can be trickier. Ricky might initially say he had no "low," but when pushed for an answer will share of an argument with a friend, being made fun of, or a bad grade. Even Matthew will tell tales of kids chasing him on the playground, someone hitting him, or a missing out on "ball crawl" (a favorite school activity). As for "ahas", it is not uncommon for a "low" to also serve as the source for an "aha." Example... Low... "I did poorly on my math test." Aha... "I learned I need to study further in advance." Priceless. I'll take that lesson in cause and effect any day of the week!

There is really no setting in which this great little framework does not work wonders. I use it with students to reflect on programming.... "high" (greatest success), "low" (worst mistake), "aha" (something learned about self or group dynamics, by virtue of working on the program). It can work with staff, in weekly one-on-ones or at evaluation points... "high" (accomplishment I am most proud of), "low" (thing for which I am least proud), and "aha" (something I learned about self, supervision, or even a new skill or competency). I even use it when trying to catch a friend up after a long period of not talking. "Highs" (best things going on in life since we last spoke). "Lows" (worst things that have happened since we last spoke), and "ahas" (things I learned since last we spoke).

Tonight at dinner, try it... but with this caveat... you must give it time. It will take a few weeks of consistently trying, before your family and friends get the hang and most importantly... come to expect it.

So, now that the cat is finally out of the bag... I can periodically integrate this new dimension into my blogs. Let's give it a whirl...
  • HIGH: Obvious... Reaching for 5,000 and surpassing it with two full days to go!

  • LOW: Two of my three boys are sick

  • AHA: I hate throw-up and... there is little that a committed group of people cannot accomplish when setting their mind to something (and, of course, when something hideous is at stake).

I'd love to hang around here and celebrate longer, but I have dancing to do and treats to eat!

Signing off until tomorrow!

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Dog Party...

A big dog party! Big dogs, little dogs, red dogs, blue dogs, yellow dogs, green dogs, black dogs, and white dog are all at a dog party! What a dog party!

But first some Monday Maintenance...
  • Newcomers: I mailed 48 picture postcards to friends all over the country, making a desperate plea for their help in reaching my goal by Thursday, May 1. There is way too much at stake not to pull out every single stop along the way. So, if my postcards worked... we should have a number of new visitors to our site today. Welcome all you first time readers. Visit us each day for the next couple of weeks and you will see we are a fun group of people, committed to celebrating creativity!

  • Busted! Yes, that's right... my 15 year old, tech savvy son spent three minutes on the computer and informed me there was an entire Colorstrology Website. As painful as it is for me - because now you can have access whenever you want - I feel the need to be honest and spread the wealth of knowledge. The best part... now you can see your colors for real - as opposed to rely on my shady (no pun intended) descriptions. Use this website to help inspire birthday gifts, the color of the next room your going to paint, or a new item of clothing. All you student affairs folks... this web site can be used to do fun staff development or team building.

  • Free For All Friday (or as Heather affectionately refers FFAF): Cheryl posed one of two Free For All Friday Challenges for this Friday. For the new comers, Free For All Friday is our chance to share our collective creativity in an effort to help a fellow reader. Cheryl is seeking creative ideas for refinishing an outdated mirror she recently acquired. I zipped to her house this weekend, so I could take a picture making it easier for all of us to visualize. Mill it over and be ready to make suggestion this Friday. The other challenge we'll be tackling. Fun and creative ways to "break the news" to your husband that you are pregnant.

  • Blog Master for a Day: We will have a guest blogger on Thursday. Matt Struble, the husband to Cristine, a frequent visitor, was selected from our drawing to be Blog Master for a Day. Hold onto your hats.
Hats... Did someone say hats?...

Yes, that's right.... the brown box was turned into a HAT! Cheryl's son's were responsible for this Whack on the Side of the Head (see Saturday's blog 4/25). Some quick background...

Grace and Zach K. gave Matthew the book, Go, Dog. Go! (P.D. Eastman) for his birthday. He LOVES this book and so when we awoke this morning to a cold a dreary day, I knew we would be reading that book and numerous others again and again and again. Well, Matthew's favorite part is the very end when the dogs attend a dog party that is being held on top of a tree. One female dog in particular tries throughout the book to get the attention of a male dog (and we wonder how the socialization starts). Finally at the end she captures his attention because of the BEAUTIFUL "party hat" she is wearing.

By 10:00 we had read the book three times and then it hit me... Yes, the brown box! Immediately, I asked Matthew if he would like to make his very own dog party hat. He replied with an enthusiastic, "yes" and there went our next hour. We rummaged through my "craft closet" and a basket filled with odds and end toys (kids meal toys, single pieces to lost games, etc...) and there... sitting in a heap in the middle of our kitchen table was everything we needed to get creative!

The entire time we were doing it, I was thinking to myself... A dog party... this could be FUN! I envisioned dog bones for invitations, eating ice cream out of dog bowls, every kid with his or her very own dog party hat, hot dogs for lunch, doggie bags to go.... I mean this could be FUN!!! If I don't do it for an upcoming birthday party, I'll do it for a kids book club meeting... or maybe just a simple break from the Dog Days of Summer!

Since I'm on the subject of kids books and parties, let me just say two more things. One... Mo Willems wrote a book called, I Am Invited to a Party! It also has the potential for a GREAT party theme (even adult party). In a nutshell Piggie is invited to her first party, while Elephant is a veteran. First he anticipates that the party might be a fancy party (so off they go to get dressed in fancy attire); then a pool party (and back they come with inner tubes and snorkeling equipment... on top of their fancy clothes); and finally a costume party (fully adorned in capes, masks, and hats... on top of their swim wear and fancy clothes). The point... wouldn't it be fun?!?!?! Host a mystery fancostuswim party. Guests have to guess.. is it a fancy party, a costume party, or a swim party? Come dressed for one... or dressed for all!

Second, and then I am done... Yesterday I visited the gym (in anticipation that I don't hit the 5000 mark by Thursday - as if my last minute attempt is going to do squat) and the gym staff was preparing for a kids birthday party. They were all wearing shirts that said, "Party Animal." While I'm sure the underlying implication is something other than my what I was envisioning, I did think you could develop a fun theme around the whole Party Animal concept. Every child could come dressed as his or her favorite animal and all the games, food, etc... could be built around the notion (Animal crackers, barrel of monkeys, chicken nuggets, etc...).

Ok... this party animal is over and done for the day.

Signing off until tomorrow and with 138 still to go...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Back By Popular Demand... Colorstrology

If you are new to the site, you may not know that Sunday is typically my day of rest. This week, however, I must work overtime... taking NO chances that I don't reach my goal of 5,000 by Wednesday, April 30 at midnight (CST). For this reason I am revisiting an offer I made a few weeks ago. It seemed to drum up a lot of traffic the first time around, so let's hope it works again.

We had a few early birds, so we'll start the morning with them.

Lizzyt: May 1: Shamrock (As you might imagine, a beautiful shade of green). Prolific, Expressive, Dynamic. If you were born on this day you have a unique presence, and people take notice when you are in the room. Your ability to express yourself and convey ideas only magnifies your allure. You are open to new experiences and like to be on the move. No matter how far you travel, however, a restful home to come back to is important. Compatible birthdays: April 6, July 6, October 29.

Chris: March 8: Mauve Mist (A cross between pink and lavendar): Good-Natured, Productive, Spiritually Strong. If you were born on this day you have a strong spiritual side that can be a great source of strength when channeled properly. You were meant to do something that has meaning and value. Try no to let material concerns bog you down. Focus your sense of responsibility toward high ideals and aspirations. Cultivate discipline and self-effort early on to avoid losing your footing later in life. Compatible birthdays: January 1, April 8, May 3

Maureen: February 8: Crocus (An almost magenta, though maybe lighter): Driven, Quirky, Charming. People born on this day tend to be charming and good-looking. Although you are warmhearted, your emotions are not easy for you to handle. You have a tough exterior but a sensitive, feeling nature. You may use more energy keeping people away than you do connecting with them on an intimate level. Work and financial success usually come easily to you. Compatible birthdays: March 28, June 22, August 28.

I know all three of these people on varying levels. I won't presume to know enough to assess accuracy on all, but Maureen (who I've known for 30 years) ... I think yours is TRUE!

Who's next? To prevent me from literally retyping the entire book, I am asking for one request per person. Thanks.

Signing off... until I post Colorstrology profiles... and then again until tomorrow. And, with 201 still to go and NO room for failure...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Whack on the Side of the Head Saturday!

Good morning everyone. Wednesday is usually reserved for whacking you on the side of the head, but because last Wednesday we were busy honoring mothers, I made an executive decision to rearrange things a bit. Somewhere in the notion of creativity must be embedded the need for flexibility.

First things first... The winner of Blog Master for a Day.... As much as I hate saying this... Actually, as much as I FEAR saying this... I must turn Blog Master over to Cristine Struble, who in turn informed me that she would turn it over to her husband, Matt. Lest you think I am being rude by saying such a thing, let me explain.

Matt Struble is my husbands best friend. They met in graduate school while waiting in line for their turn to let loose on the poor, unsuspecting women working in Financial Aid. They became fast buddies, bonded by their irreverence, sarcasm, and a belief that their best work could be done over a beer... let me rephrase that... done over BEERS at the Black Forest Bakery. The first real amount of time I got to spend with Matt was when he and Richard ambushed my apartment (conveniently located close to SMU's campus), so that they could make HUNDREDS of jello shots to be served on at a Business School golf tournament the next day. My father in-law refers to Matt Struble as The Loudest Man on Earth and while he may or may not actually be the loudest man on earth, you certainly know when he is around.

So, my fear is grounded in the fact that Matt knows primarily one mode - that of unplugged. Whatever he has in store for us on Thursday, it is sure to be... different... than that to which you have grown accustomed. On a separate, positive note... Matt is actually very creative and a skilled community builder.

Now onto today's Whack...

I actually lost the card, somewhere along the line, so I am sitting here with the book in front of me, trying desperately to recap it to the best of my ability. Not a stellar night in the Beeny household...

Think Like a Kid: When I was a sophomore in high school my English teacher put a small chalk dot on the blackboard. She asked the class what it was. A few seconds passed and then someone said, "A chalk dot on the blackboard." The rest of the class seemed relieved that the obvious had been stated, and no one else had anything more to say. "I'm surprised at you," the teacher told the class. "I did the same exercise yesterday with a group of kindergartners and they thought of fifty different things it could be: an owl's eye, a cigar butt, the top of a telephone pole, a star, a pebble, a squashed bug, a rotten egg, and so on. They had their imaginations in high gear." Think like a kid and imagine the possibilities.

Dilemma: The item below was used to package a cup cake tower mailed to me by my mother. I can't bring myself to throw it away, because I know it can be used to make SOMETHING. It's an 11" x 11" cardboard square with a circle 7 and 1/4" in diameter. It is sturdy and still pristine. What can it be? Help me generate ideas about what I might make with it or how I might use it.

That's it. Signing off until tomorrow when I make a guest appearance and provide a encore of "U are Unique." If you haven't already, send me your birthday and I will post your Colorstrology Profile. Fun, fun, fun. And with 279 viewers still to go...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Free For All Friday: A Final Tribute, and Father's Day Fun!

As promised... today we are going to hear from our male blog participants, as well as the men of our female blog participants. Women.... to motivate you to nag your husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles, etc.... to get on and post, I'll sweeten the pot. Anyone who gets a man to post his ideal Father's Day gift idea on our blog today will be in a drawing to be... Blog Master For A Day!

What does that mean? You drive the content for Thursday, May 1. You can write the blog, have me write the blog about the topic of your choice; suggest a featured guest; promote a cause or product you love; post a challenge; .... YOU NAME IT! All you have to do is get at least one man to post his ideal Father's Day gift. Easy peasie.

But first we have announcements to make and women to honor....

  • Remember, Saturday will be Whacky Wednesday, so tune in.

  • For one day only, this Sunday (again, adding a seventh day to ASSURE we hit 5,000), I will re-extend my offer to post a Colorstrology Profile of your choice. So if you're new to the site, check out April 4 ("U" Are Unique) . It will explain further.

  • Helena, if writing a paragraph telling of Flat Stanley's adventure is more work than you have time for, just post a short note in the announcements. Once you post, I will solicit a host for Stanley's next stop.

Now onto... Operation Mother's Day: Crazy Eight!

Back to Children's Courtyard for another deserving mother to be honored. Jennifer is the mother of soon-to-be SIX kids!!!!! I don't know about you, but from where I sit, I should be able to stop right here and it should be obvious why I selected her. Six kids!!! But there is more. I first met Jennifer when my sister in law and I, on a whim, stopped in the preschool to see what it was like. Jennifer made the time to talk to us and to give us a quick tour of the facility. More than a month later - with no follow-up on my part - I returned to the preschool. Jennifer remembered exactly who I was and what the boy's names were. I was impressed!

I remember seeing Jennifer walk through the hallways of the school with two of her daughters, so you can imagine how surprised I was to learn that she was not just the mother of two, but FIVE kids AND with another on the way! Jennifer is like a duck. She might be paddling furiously below water, but on the service she looks cool, calm, and collected. Nothing appears to rattle her. One might argue... Jennifer is my exact opposite.

I could spend hours talking to Jennifer about meal times in her house, laundry (and I think I've got problems!), transporting kids from one place to another, managing schedules, squeezing in time for herself... the whole gammit. It's obvious from the sparkle in her eye and the smile on her face that surrounding herself with kids (her own and ours) is her "blue flame." We'll talk more about "blue flame" in the future, but for now suffice it to say... blue flame is what ignites when passion and ability come together.

Jennifer - the selfless woman that she is - immediately recalled a gift that she presented to her mother years and years ago. It was a plate she made when she thinks she was eight years old. Featured on the plate was her family... she; her father; her brother; and then centered right smack in the middle of the plate, wearing a BRIGHT red dress and drawn twice as big as any other family member was her mother.

Jennifer's mother has since passed away, but not before she and her mom got a good laugh about the plate. Her mother, who had a very slight build, shared that she never fully knew why she was featured as being so much bigger and heavier than everyone else in the family. I'm no psychologist... but the little bit I've learned (second hand) would suggest that the size and scale of her mother was more a representation of the importance Jennifer placed on her mother than it was Jennifer's "image' of her mother's figure. Today the plate sits in a curio cabinet at Jennifer's house... high on a shelf and well out of reach of her six kids.

Finally... Free For All Friday...

It is now time for all men to come forward and tell us what they really think (not about the blog - unless it's nice), but about what makes for the IDEAL Father's Day gift. To get us started, I'll turn it over to Richard... my husband, who once again is wondering how the heck he got involved in one of my projects...

"I've been counseled to be 'reasonable.' This, for those who don't know me, will be a challenge. I'm first going to assume that the women on this blog already know what most men really want at this or any other holiday......otherwise there wouldn't be a Father's Day. First I should say, that I don't need ties or bad golf balls and gadgets for the grill that require batteries. I don't need complicated family outings with three kids in tow or a bunch of Hoopla. For me, Father's Day should be a day of rest. A day when I wake up to a breakfast that someone has made for me, a day without chores, a day of golf and grilling and beer. A day when I tell my father that I appreciate him and have my sons tell me the same. A day that ends with a back-rub and ..... this, I believe, is reasonable."

Who's next?

As for me... signing off until tomorrow and with 396 still to go...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Operation Mother's Day: Rocks, Paper, Scissors

Some background...

I love paper. All kinds of paper... construction paper, scrap booking paper, BROWN paper (as you already know), butcher block paper, wrapping paper, tissue paper, card board (hard paper), and poster board. Basically there is no form of paper I don't like (and probably collect). And by extension, I do have a healthy collection of scissors. As for rocks... I got nothin'. I just thought the title was catchy. Though... I suppose I can think of a type of rock I wouldn't mind collecting...

A couple of years ago, I was interviewing students for a leadership position and decided I had finally come up with the PERFECT interview question. Nothing cuts to the chase - giving you insight into a person's creativity and imagination (two qualities I actively seek) faster than his or her best story about paper. That's right. You can ask about strengths and weaknesses; things they are most proud of; things they are least proud of; leadership and organizational styles; and the list goes on. But, if you really want to understand someone, you must ask them to tell you their best and proudest moment with paper.

I could make my first round of cuts just by eliminating those people who had absolutely NO idea what I was talking about. If the idea of using paper to create something of meaning completely escaped them, then I knew they would not enjoy hanging out with me and I would have a world of work ahead of me trying to "get them up to speed." The next set of people weren't sure if they knew what I meant, but they gave it a good old college try. They shared stories about a scrap book they started, a present they wrapped, or a journal they cherished. Assuming this second set of students possessed enough of the other qualities we were seeking, I gladly took them on, knowing I would have fun opening them up to whole new world of possibilities.

The third set of people - a very small percentage I might add - immediately understood the question I was asking, and almost seemed annoyed that it took me so long to get there. They immediately became one with their story, telling of homecoming floats made from chicken wire, glue, and tissue paper; palm trees built as props from nothing more than newspaper, flour, water, and bright colored paints; awards ceremonies where the coveted gifts of the evening were handmade awards from the finest, high-quality, thick paper and vellum that you could get your hands on; and whole themes, beginning with a handcrafted invitation, promoted with a creative and complimentary poster or promotional piece, and topped off with a sentimental keepsake made from paper. The acceptance letter for these students was usually signed before they ever made it down my hallway. It was with these students I was most eager to work... knowing that some great new tip or technique would come my way by year's end.

So imagine my excitement - when canvassing my community for favorite Mother's Day gifts - to discover that two of the gifts could be made with paper! We KNOW there are many more than that, as some ideas have already been shared earlier this week (pictures, my Apple-of-my-eye quotes, photos, heart shaped card board boxes with strips of paper revealing mom's best qualities etc...). Today's ideas not only allow us to honor the power of paper, but also two very deserving moms.

First, Andrea. Andrea needs to be my new best friend. She is the high energy aerobic instructor who teaches an early morning class at the gym that I need to frequent more than I do, but that I attend enough to know she is excellent at what she does (a run on sentence, I know. Now you are experiencing the same out-of-breath-feeling that I experience anytime I step foot in her class). Andrea is a self proclaimed new mom, without too many Mother's Days under her belt. Nonetheless, she knew exactly what the best gift was that she had received to date. Her son's preschool teacher had each student answer a questionnaire about their mothers. The questionnaire might have contained questions such as: The thing I love most about my mother is...; My mother is beautiful because...; I love it when my mom...; The thing my mom is best at is...; and so on and so on and so on. Kids Say the Darndest Things is an entire t.v. show based on the premise that children's uncensored answers to our questions are funny, sweet, and honest. I love the idea of this... and then imagine it mounted on nice paper or even matted and framed. Richard, if you're out there and reading this... make note!

Nadya is the second mom we are honoring today. Why do I love Nadya? Because she is the woman with the patience of a saint who takes care of Matthew and 19 other kids from Monday through Friday. Many mornings she - or her bright and cheerful counterpart, Barbara - meet Matthew at the door to greet him. They always use his name when wishing him a good morning and for that two-minute exchange make him feel like the most important child in the building. She fills his days with laughter, play, exploration, and what feels like a genuine affection for him. That, for me, makes her priceless... the most important "other woman" in town. As for Nadya's perfect paper present... a coupon book, co-created by her daughters and chock full of practical and extravagant treats. She recalled some of the coupons for me promising things such as: a clean bedroom; washing dinner dishes; a massage; and painting toe nails. Another great and attainable idea for dads and boy... could I think of a few things for which I would like a coupon?

In fact, let's use that as our segue... Today, instead of channeling our energy around a different gift category, let's brainstorm other fun things for which we would like a coupon OR fun questions that could be posed on a questionnaire completed by our children. And, alright... if you really want to... you can brainstorm other perfect paper presents.

As for me... I'm signing off until tomorrow and with 515 to go...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Operation Mother's Day: PRACTICAL Porter... Carol Porter that Is!

I love it when things converge making it clear that your intuition is leading you in the right direction. I have quite a collection of photos and gift ideas to choose from, making one of my biggest challenges of the week the order in which to feature these great women. According to my calendar, today is Administrative Professionals Day.

But first some quick announcements...
  • Julie A. Cole... come out, come out, where ever you are? There are lots of readers waiting to meet you. Anon, if you're out there and ready to do your thing... feel free.

  • Today is Whack on the Side of the Head Wednesday, but in light of our Mother's Day Celebration we will move it to Saturday. Tune in. As there might very well be something in it for you.

  • Are we having any husbands, uncles, brothers, or sons reading our block this week? Consider posting a comment, so we know you're out there.

  • I am 642 short of my goal. Thanks for plugging away at this for me. 5,000 viewers by May 1 is my goal... for reasons with which you are all way too familiar.

Ok, back to Operation Mother's Day...

Carol Porter is a dear and valued friend of mine, who I met while working at Southern Methodist University. Carol was the administrative assistant in the office where I worked, which is to say... she ran everything and knew everything. I have a couple of favorite memories of Carol. One such memory was during my interview for the job. She asked how I felt about moving coolers (drink coolers, that is). Little did I know at the time, our office was a one-stop shop. As employees of New Student Programs we did it all... including things such as making coffee for parents, directing lunch traffic in 110 degree Dallas heat, and yes, hauling coolers filled with drinks across campus.

My second memory happened only weeks into my position. I was on my way to a meeting and right before I darted out the door, Carol - thank goodness for Carol - gently said, "Don't you want to put on some lip stick?" This is the same woman who earlier in the week gently suggested I needed to soften up the direct, "New Yorker" tone of a memo I had written, so as to be better received by the kinder, gentler Texans for whom it was being written. That was just the beginning of our perfect yin and yang relationship. Carol the epitome of grace, professionalism, and calmness... me... louder, less graceful, and more frazzled.

She is also practical. While I was dreaming big about how we could transform our orientation program by adding this program and taking on who knows what, Carol was the voice of reason. She has an eagle eye for detail, is the ultimate bookkeeper, and possesses a healthy amount of skepticism.

When asked about the best Mother's Day present either given or received, Carol answered without reservation. Her birthday is May 10, so it always fall on or around Mother's Day. For that reason, her two children always make an extra special effort to be home for the occasion(s). One year her son, who is an insurance adjuster, was unable to be at home because he was doing assessments on damage done by a hurricane. All State Insurance sent flowers to Carol apologizing for her son's absence! How about that?!

Are all you bosses making note? One of Carol's most memorable Mother's Day gifts was compliments of the company for which her son works! Now that's impressive. Flowers, I might add, are an extra special indulgence for Carol, because it is something she might never buy herself. So, in honor of Carol, today we will brainstorm the best of PRACTICAL gift giving.

Let me start by introducing another friend from SMU with whom I recently had lunch... Arlene Manthey... mother of two boys and perhaps THE most energetic person I have EVER met. She radiates energy and there is no way to be around her without having some of it rub off (perhaps the reason I am honoring more than one mother today). DARN... I took a picture of her yesterday at lunch and didn't realize until I got home that my memory card was not in my camera. You'll have to visualize a tall, attractive woman with a great smile.

Arlene also had little problem answering my prompt of the best present she'd ever either given or received. Her answer... Giorgio Perfume. She said she considered the gift somewhat practical, because it is something she would buy for herself once it ran out. Of course she then went into an animated discussion of how you can't buy this perfume in stores anymore because according to some nervy woman in a department store, Giorgio Perfume is considered "totally 80's and out of date." Her resourceful husband and kids have resorted to buying her perfume on Ebay. She also said - now that she was all worked up - that you also couldn't buy Juniper Breeze Body Wash at Bath and Body Works anymore. It's considered a "classic" and needs to be ordered on-line (can you tell we were commiserating about getting older?).

I got to thinking more about her perfume dilemma on my drive home. Perfume is something manufacturers have a moral obligation not to discontinue. The perfume a woman wears in many cases (Arlene's included) her trademark scent... THE scent by which her boys have come to recognize her over the past 21 years. I feel the same about my mother's perfume - . The scent of my of my mother's perfume brings me right back to my childhood in seconds flat. When company's discontinue a line, simply because it doesn't generate the requisite revenue, they do so at the expense of whole families having to mourn the loss of something that automatically conjures up fond memories of warmth and familiarity.

Oh, how I digress... Back to PRACTICAL gift giving. What are some of the best examples you have of practical Mother's Day gifts, either given or received? If, as an added bonus, you want to share some ideas about thanking an administrative assistant, feel free. Recognition of hard work is appropriate any time.

As for me... signing off until tomorrow and...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Honoring Who Else But... Mother Earth!

Happy Earth Day! Yes, while there are droves and droves of mother's I could be honoring this morning... there is no way around the deserved celebration of Mother Earth!

Recognizing that there are guests among us (hello husbands, fathers, step fathers, uncles, and sons), we will cut right to the chase with regard to today's gift theme. As promised... each day for the week we are going to celebrate a different mother and the best gift she remembered either giving OR receiving. Then, I throw out a prompt (yesterday... "extravagant") and the readers share their ideas around that theme. For you men out there... consider it a focus group of women sitting right there in your office and telling everything you need to know to be a hit on Sunday, May 11. Your award winning ideas will be listed under the comment section at the bottom of today's entry (just click on "comments"). Check back throughout the day... as people post a various times.

In honor of Mother Earth... today we will look at suggestions for HOMEMADE Mother's Day gifts.

Now for the rest of you readers not in a rush to move along... I thought we could spend a couple of minutes sharing a few ideas about celebrating Mother Earth's Mother's Day... Today... Earth Day. You might be worried I am going to spout off some elaborate ideas about cookies you can bake (though I did do that with Cassie and Jessica on Sunday. See fun pic), a party you can whip up before day's end, or some fun and creative prop you could build (or better yet... decoupage) in honor of Earth Day. No, if ever there was a woman who didn't require extravagance for Mother's Day,
it's Mother Earth. Au Contraire.

No. The schtick for today is SIMPLE things you can do with little to no preparation. The idea... capitalize on the things you are already doing or use small, five-minute pockets of time. I'll list a few and then maybe you'll add on... at the end of your recommendation for a Homemade Mother's Day gift (either given or received).

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator: Saving energy matters no matter how small the effort might seem.
  • Catch the cold water that comes out of the spigot, while heating your kids (or you) bath water, in a bucket and then allow your kids to use it to water a plant or flower. Talk to them about the importance of conserving water.
  • Going to the grocery store after work to pick up a few items for dinner? Say "no thank you" to a grocery bag. It is great role modeling.
  • Show your kids the amount of junk mail you received today. Then talk to them about how much waste it translates into over time. Better yet, collect all your junk mail for the next two weeks and then have the conversation. You can top the whole experience off by canceling subscriptions by going to catalogchoice.org.
  • Examine the boxes, containers, and cans you use while preparing dinner. Have a brainstorming session at dinner about how you could reuse the containers for something different (pen holder; cereal-sized boxes as magazine holders).
  • Before or after dinner, walk your neighborhood with a BROWN BAG and host your own mini clean-up.
  • Replace just one light bulb in your house with a LED bulb.
  • At 7:00 p.m. do a quick inventory to see how many lights are on in your house. Do they need to be?
  • Celebrate Mother Earth by each family member pointing out something beautiful ( a tree in your yard, ivy growing on the side of your house; a body of water; a bird nest in a nearby tree).
  • Have a five minute dinner conversation about the words Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and brainstorm ways you might apply it to life in your household.
  • Plant a flower.

Thanks for playing. Tune in tomorrow and as always - with only 91 visitors yesterday and 791 more hits to go...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Behind Every Successful Man is a... Mother!

Calling all men! Yes, while I anticipate our female readers will thoroughly enjoy this week's "theme," it is the men in our lives who can truly benefit from what's in store. So, if you are a married woman and your husband hasn't left for work yet... jot down the blog address (highlowaha.com) and send him off to work with it in hand. If he's already at work... click the envelope icon and pass it along. If you're not married, but have a father, step father, uncle, or brother... pass the address along to them. And, finally... if you are a man and you are reading this... get ready to start sharing.

This week we will prepare for Mother's Day by honoring mothers and hearing what they have to say about the favorite Mother's Day gift they've either given or received. Why will the men in our lives like this so much? Because this week's blog (and reader comments) should be chock full of great gift ideas. Now, to keep it interesting I will help pace us by providing a daily gift descriptor (i.e. luxurious, sentimental, funny, practical, etc...) So, if you the reader have a gift idea to share, try to hold it for the day that seems best suited.

And, if that isn't enough reason for the men in our lives to tune in then how about this?... On Friday... Free For All Friday.. we will actually look ahead to Father's Day. We will ask all the men in our lives to share with readers the gift they would most like to receive for Father's Day. This will be great incentive for women to tune in, as if you are anything like me... I am always in search of the next great gift idea.

Before we get completely underway, some Maintenance Monday Housekeeping...
  • Today is the LAST day for us to make contact with Julie A. Cole before rendering our experiment a bust and having to take Anon up on her offer to make direct contact with Julie. So, let's see what our resourceful readers can do in the next 17 hours or so.
  • Julie A. Cole, if you're out there and wondering why the heck your name is plastered all over this blog site, check out the archived blog labeled, On Your Mark, Get Set, Go! (4/7).
  • We were so busy providing thoughtful suggestions to the author of last week's challenge, that nobody new came forward with a Free-For-All-Challenge for this week. So, if you're willing... share a dilemma and the this great readership will use their collective creativity to help generate ideas.

Thanks for all the kind words leading up to Matthew's birthday. We had a great day. The weather cooperated... presenting us with a perfectly sunny, 85 degree day. I've posted a couple of pictures, compliments of my neighbor who thankfully kidnapped my camera and took all the pictures I would have liked to have taken, but simply did not have the time.

Now onto Operation Mother's Day...

I will warm us up for the week by sharing the best gift I received and gave. First gave...

Years ago I went through a phase where I loved giving people containers filled with rolled up scrolls of either inspirational quotes, study tips (for students going off to grad school), etc..... In my mind, the ideas "fun-factor" increased exponentially when I found red, Lucite, apples. That way... I could package the apple with cellophane and ribbon with a note attached saying something such as... "One a day will keep the blues away."

A couple of years ago I filled one of the apples with 52 scrolls - each sharing a different thing about my mother that I loved, or for which I am thankful. A few examples were: "Providing a nightly sit-down family dinner."; "Teaching me to have a sense of occasion."; and "Role modeling what it means to be a good citizen by coordinating events for the Douglaston Manor Association all these years." I topped the package off with plenty of ribbon and shred and a note saying... "You are the apple of my eye." I know the gift means something to my mother, because frequently she will call after having opened one to say, "thank you." I should also say... the scrolls were meant to last 52 weeks, but my mom won't open one a week. She says she is trying to pace herself.

Now, for one of the best gifts I have received. Will I sound terrible if I do a complete departure from something sentimental and share something... extravagant? Two years ago, my husband and kids presented me with a beautiful and expensive Pentax Camera. I LOVE this gift, because it is something I use every week and most weeks multiple times! The history-major in me is fixated on documenting my children's lives through pictures... and other "archival" data. The camera has brought me great joy... and provided many a keepsake for friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and babysitters!

Ok, so the theme for the day will be EXTRAVAGANT gift ideas. Readers... let it rip.

Signing off until tomorrow and...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Stressed is Dessert Spelled Backwards...

In four and a half hours Matthew's guests will show up for his birthday party.  Needless to say we have lots of ground to cover and not a lot of time to straighten the house, grocery shop, set tables in the backyard, blow up beach balls, and countless other last minute tasks I am thinking about for the first time right this very minute... what will the adults drink?  I don't have the pool I need for one of the three games we are going to play; I calculated eight guests, but including Matthew there are a total of nine.  What will he drink out of (I only have 8 fun cups) and will he melt down without a goody box?...  As you can see, I've got a few things to tend to before people start ringing the doorbell.  I wasn't stressed, but the last minute push is beginning to take a toll.

So, what better way to manage being stressed than to talk about desserts.  They are, after all, exact opposites.

This is easy for me to do for a couple of reasons.  First, I LOVE dessert (I got my dad's sweet tooth) which exactly the reason I don't want to publicly post myself wearing a bathing suit. Second I spent last evening playing Bunco with a great group of women (in which Cheryl, Cassie, Toni, and Jessica were included - you all are jealous, I know).  While I didn't win anything... Biggest Winner; Most Buncos; Biggest Loser; ... or even the Biggest-Loser-who-at-least-gets-the door-prize I did walk away with a yummy new dessert recipe.  I hesitate even calling it a recipe, because there is absolutely no baking required.  It is - I think - a creative twist on some familiar ingredients.

Here it is... simple as one, two, three... (1) strawberries, (2) sour cream, and (3) brown sugar. Dip strawberries in sour cream and then roll in brown sugar.  It is better than any thing your imagination will conjour up.  How about making a deal with yourself to try it before the weekend is over.  If any of my other Bunco buddies are reading this, feel free to chime in and post a review my recommended dessert (which was compliments of our set-the-benchmark-high host, Cynthia).

Ok, signing off for the day.  If you check back sometime later tonight or even tomorrow, I might post pictures from Matthew's birthday party.

Signing off and Reaching for 5,000! 

Friday, April 18, 2008

Free For All Friday: Fun-In-A-Box, Firemen, and Farewells

TGIF everyone. Thank you all for a great week. The 159 visitors we had view the site yesterday put us at a grand total of 3,883. We are closing in on the magical number 5,000, with only 1,117 views left and thirteen days left to do it. Of course, by now it is well publicized that if I don't reach this goal, I must post a picture of myself wearing a bathing suit on the blog. One very loyal friend resorted to calling her friends and colleagues and making them log onto the site while she waited on the phone. I love - and FULLY endorse - the approach.

Maybe something not as clearly known by all is.... why the goal? The origin of this race to get to 5,000 by April 16 dates way back to February 22, just a couple of days after I started blogging. A number of people questioned why the name of my blog was highlowaha.com. I decided I would reveal the origin of the name when we hit 5,000 readers. When the prediction was made that April 16 would be the date, I jumped on it. It seemed possible and the date was already special, as it is Matthew's birthday. So, you are working with me to hit 5,000 not JUST so I don't have to put my pride on the line (or the Internet as the case may be), but also so you can learn - with certainty - the origin of my blog name. Now for the business of the day...


As many of you know, my family and I like to periodically celebrate Fun in a Box Friday. To learn more about this family tradition in detail see February 29 (Fun in a Box Friday). In summary, we have a box filled with fun activities (watch a movie, eat dessert in a tent, play a game, visit our favorite isle in Target, etc...). A family member periodically pulls one from the box and then we spend the evening doing whatever the strip of paper revealed. Today I will add a new strip of paper to the box, in honor of all our talk about paper bags earlier in the week.

How could I have forgotten to share this fun and fabulous idea? Not only is it fun for your family, but it can be a great icebreaker or team builder. Introducing PAPER BAG SKITS... Fill a BROWN PAPER BAG (grocery size) with approximately 8-10 random items from your house. It is not essential to divide your group into teams, but I think it is a touch more fun. Tell the group their goal is to develop a fun skit or song somehow incorporating all items placed in the bag. Each group gets about 10-12 minutes to work on their skit and then you get to sit back, watch, and laugh. For added fun... pop some popcorn.


Cheryl presented me with what I considered to be the biggest Free-For-All-Friday challenge to date. After waiting out a tornado threat, just the day before, Cheryl raised a number of questions about the appropriate response and supplies for future emergencies. Not only is this a topic I am not knowledgeable about, but I felt the added challenge of keeping it interesting... or dare I even say... creative.

I decided fulfilling this request required a road trip to our local fire station. So, one day last week I loaded the boys into my car and off we went. The boys loved the invitation to climb on a fire truck and I had no major objection to... shall we say, the scenery. Cheryl and others, here is what they had to say (in bullet form):
  • First and foremost, don't ignore neighborhood sirens when they go off. Some towns sound the alarms for strong winds and others reserve the alarms exclusively for tornado warnings. Either way, take cover when the alarm goes off.

  • You stay in the closet until the storm passes... WHICH YOU WILL KNOW by listening to a portable radio or to a weather radio (approx. $30.00 at some place like Radio Shack).

  • The difference between listening to a portable radio and listening to a weather radio is that the weather radio has direct broadcasting from the National Weather Service.

  • A safety kit is a good idea and should contain items such as: portable radio (for reasons just discussed; spare batteries; flashlight; non-perishable food items, such as granola bars; a blanket, bottled water; a first aid kit; a cell phone; and in the event long term power outages must be withstood... canned food.

  • The closet you hide in must NOT be one with an outer wall.

  • The suggestion to bring a mattress in the closet is to assure you have coverage for you head, in the event a tornado hits. If that doesn't seem realistic, maybe sofa cushions or something else well-padded would work.

  • If you are outdoors seek cover in a low area, even if it means digging a ditch.

  • For more information about emergency responses, the firemen suggested consulting the website of your local t.v. news station. For those in the Grapevine, Colleyville, Euless area Channel 5 News was recommended.

  • Finally, consider conducting your own interview with your local fire station. I asked if it was the kind of thing they would welcome and there seemed to be resounding agreement that they thought it would be great.

  • Hopefully that helps a bit and thanks for the fun assignment. Readers... feel free to contribute any additional tips you might have.

No, this is not a repeat of my April Fool's prank. It is the lead in to today's challenge... submitted to me via email, from a shy and very plugged in reader. Before we begin creatively problem solving... a little background...

Some people walk into work watching the clock and counting minutes until they get to leave again. Others report to an office and bide their time doing good work, but never fully feeling connected to what it is they do. Still others are excellent at their chosen fields, making a difference in the lives of others and feeling rewarded as a result. Finally comes the last group - a group that probably represents less than one percent of the working population. For this group of people, their work is truly an extension of who they are. They are so well suited for what it is they do that their job is not work... it is a calling. In the words of Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist (I HIGHLY recommend) it is their Personal Legend. The person for whom we are brainstorming today falls into this category.

She has been in her position (and office) for close to eight years. During that time she has done the only thing she knows how to do - developed incredibly strong relationships with various students while working with them in leadership positions. Her office has been the stage whereby so many of the meaningful relationship have been established. Students' stories (happy, painful, funny, and sad) have been shared within those four walls. Campus traditions and programs have been born in that office. Life long dreams and future plans have been shared while sitting in the well worn and infamous chair perfectly positioned in the corner. In summary, this office space is meaningful to her, not because she is anti-change, but because so much of the work that means so much to her has been conducted in that space. To move from it and start over somewhere else might feel like arriving at your comfy home only to find it has been painted stark white and all personal belongings have been removed.

And yet, at the end of this academic year... our reader must move from her office and start over in another spot on campus. The challenge for us...

What creative suggestions do we have for how our reader can adequately bring closure to her experience in the beloved office space? Similarly, what might she do to bring closure for the droves of students who have come to know and love that space as a safe haven - a place to go to receive unconditional support from a friend and mentor? Brainstorm away and as always... I will weigh in next Friday.

Signing off and Reaching for 5000...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Two Thought Thursday

Two things consumed my day yesterday, both of which I will touch on today and then it's off for a nap.  Forty three posts yesterday wore me out!  Phew.  I love it and clearly I need more stamina if I am going to keep up with the likes of this readership.

A final update
  • Good news and bad news.  No, we did not reach our goal of 5,000.  The good news is that we did hit the grand total of 3,682.  It makes us only 1,318 short of our new goal 5,000 by May 1. While failure on the first goal was acceptable, failure on this newly revised goal is not an option.  My good friend sent an encouraging email after reading today's blog and signed it simply... "Reaching for 5000!"  I love it as a slogan, so from now until the glorious day we reach our number, that is how I will sign off.  Thanks for your help in assuring my success.
  • Cheryl....  Congratulations!  You are the winner with a total of 7 referrals to my site.  So, from where do you want your gift card issued?  Respond ASAP and I'll have it for you tomorrow night.
Thought #1:
Back and forth, back and forth... and finally I decided to stick with my original plan.  The thing I will keep at stake is my pride.  That means avoiding, at all costs, the idea of having to post a picture of me in a bathing suit.  I've got no strategies up my sleeve right now except a loyal group of friends who will not let this happen.

Thought #2:  
Birthdays, birthdays, birthdays galore.  April 10 was my mother in-law's; April 13 was my sister's; and yesterday - of course - was Matthew's.  I have so many fond memories of birthdays as a kid, I thought it would be worth spending time talking about all the creative ways to make birthdays magical.  Some of the things I remember are:
  • My mother would always hide a small birthday treat in our cereal bowl, starting our morning off just right.
  • We always set the menu for our birthday dinners.  What's really funny... mine was corn beef and cabbage (!); my mom's was Kentucky Fried Chicken; one of my sisters requested BLT sandwiches; and I don't remember what my dad and other sister requested.
  • While our school lunches were usually an apple juice, a sandwich, a piece of fruit, and a shortbread cookie, on our birthdays the apple juice was replaced with a can of fruit and the shortbread cookie was replaced with a hostess cake of some sort.  Also hidden in the lunch bag was a new pen, a fun eraser head, or some other fun school supply.
  • Mrs. Kellerman, the woman who lived across the street, always secretly invited us to her house to bake my mother a birthday cake.  I always considered that especially thoughtful. I want to be able to do the same thing for the children of a neighbor on my street.
  • Finally... a sweet memory, though not really a creative idea... When I was a kid the accepted way to dress for birthday parties... dress, lace tights, and patent leather Mary Jane shoes.  For boys it was slacks and ties.
Two fun things happened to Matthew today...  
  • First, Ricky his older brother, slipped a birthday note in each of Matthew's shoes.  I considered that a really thoughtful and inexpensive way to say...you're special.
  • This evening our neighbors knocked on the door and did "Birthday Caroling" for Matthew.  I loved it.  Again, another completely free and thoughtful way to make someone feel special.  
How about you?  What were your favorite birthday traditions as a kid?  And, what other ideas do you have about making birthdays magical? 
Reaching for 5000!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Whack on the Side of the Head Wednesday: This You Won't Believe!

Ooohhhh, where to start today?!?!?!? Yesterday a brown bag over my head and now this... I have a little bit of disbelief about what today's post will bring and a lot nervousness. It was in the cards, though, so there is no getting around it unless you - my trusty readers - will help.

But first some business...
  • Happy Birthday Matthew. Today he officially turns four and, in his mind, is ready to move out of our house and into his "tree house" (a birthday present sponsored by us and both sets of grandparents). The kids pick dinner of their choice on their birthdays, so tonight it's off to Red Robin for us.
  • Pay It Forward: Patrick (one of our loyal and creative readers) generated a fabulous fundraising idea for Melanie last Friday, in order to help she and a group of students cover airfare and other expenses for their trip to Belize in May. The idea was to provide 5 groups $20.00 and to see which of the groups is able to turn their $20.00 into the greatest amount of money. I, of course, couldn't resist. My idea... I will sponsor a murder mystery dinner at my house for 8-10 women. Each woman will be asked to pay $20.00 for the fun-filled night of murder, mayhem, and... yummy desserts. My $20.00 will cover the groceries and in return, I hope to make between $160-$200. So all you Grapevine, Colleyville, Euless, and Dallas readers... wanna come? The dinner will be Friday, April 25 in order to assure having the money to Melanie by May 12 when she departs.
  • Today's Letters: Today is the final day for posting letters. You unscramble all 17 letters and be first to arrange them into three words - describing a colorful addition for any craft closet... and the item is yours. Today's letters are: M, A, P, P, A, C.
  • Six Degrees of Separation: Any updates on our progress with the 6 Degrees of Separation? With all these new readers lurking on our site and participating, the chances of reaching our goal will increase. A quick recap for those who are new. We are testing the premise of Six Degrees of Separation (everyone is connected in six people or less) by trying desperately to get in touch with Julie A. Cole. All we know about her is that she lives in Lincoln, Nebraska and works with the Girl Scouts in some capacity. Our goal is to connect with someone who might know someone, who might know someone ( you get the picture) who knows Julie Cole. It can start with a simple phone call or email.
  • Paper Bag Fun: Thanks, for the fun witches broom idea. I took a few minutes and tried it, using left over Easter candy. Tell me if it looks the way it is supposed to. Pretty cute idea and definitely a fun way to present a Halloween treat to co-workers, kids, or neighbors.

Welcome to Whack on the Side of the Head Wednesday: EXTREME Edition.

As usual, I lock into place the problem/issue/situation I want to address the night before. Then, first thing in the morning I open my Roger von Oech Creative Whack Pack, close my eyes and randomly select the card I will use to jar my thinking. If the deck works, a new perspective or solution presents itself by the end of the session. I also do not let myself swap a card for another one in the deck just because I don't like what it says or because I'm finding it difficult to apply. I feel like swapping cards would be cheating and undermining the whole point - to force yourself to explore problems from a position or perspective that does not otherwise feel natural. Ooooohhh boy, is that an understatement today.
Today's dilemma...

What to do if, in fact, we do not reach the aspired goal of 5,000 readers by tonight at midnight (CST). Do I just let it go? Hmmmm... I'm not sure I like the message. Ignore your disappointments and pretend they don't exist? No. Beat myself up because I couldn't get enough people mobilized in time? No. In one short week we did what took us five and a half weeks to do (reach 1000 readers). Say... "That's it, I should have known it wasn't possible?" No. my outlook on life and what we can achieve is way too positive to chalk it up to impossibility. Instead, I decided to consult a card and see what advice I could glean from it.

Today's Whack on the Side of the Head....

Have Something at Stake. A frozen-fish processor had trouble selling a new line of frozen fish because it tasted "flat." The company tried everything to keep the fish fresh including holding them in tanks until just before processing - but to know avail. The someone suggested: "Put a predator in there with them - that should keep them fresh." This idea worked like a charm. The fish kept moving and retained their vitality. Moral: have something at stake - survival, self-esteem, money, reputation - so that you'll be motivated to make your idea successful. What do you have at stake?

Hmmmm.... My interpretation. Keep trying to reach your goal, but have something at stake. Maybe that would have made the difference. I tried incentives, which was a fun and effective way to remove excuses (a lesson we learned last week), but maybe not quite what the Dr. ordered. So, I will set a new goal and this time I will put something at stake.

I spent about ten minutes starring into space trying to determine what I could possibly put at stake... survival? No. As much fun as I have meeting up with all of you each day, my survival doesn't depend on it. Self-esteem? Maybe. Money? We just paid an insane amount of money in taxes... I have none of that to offer up. Reputation? Reputation as what... the ultimate blogger? There's no future in that. So far, the only one that seems plausible is self-esteem.


As much as I want to tell you... a little more background.

About fourteen months ago I was having a conversation with a colleague of mine who was trying to figure out how he was going to discipline himself to complete his dissertation. This was at about the same time that I was trying to figure out how I was going to discipline myself to give up my Starbucks addiction and finally lose all the baby weight I gained after having Matthew (never recovering) and then having Jack. We lamented over our lack of discipline and then I shared this story with him...

Only the night before our conversation I saw a segment on either 20/20 or Primetime talking about the effectiveness of shame or fear as a motivator. Sounds crazy, I know. The special featured a group of approximately 15 overweight people who, to know avail, tried countless numbers of diets. The experiment was to see if shame or fear could serve as a better motivator than say an upcoming class reunion or other special occasion. To prove the point, the researchers took pictures of each person wearing a bathing suit and then sealed the picture in an envelope... NEVER TO BE LOOKED AT... provided the participants lost their weight. If they didn't meet their goal, however, the pictures would be posted publicly. The idea... the sheer thought of such humiliation would serve as all the motivation necessary for the participants to do whatever it takes.

You see where this is going right? PRIDE... that is what I am putting at stake. My colleague and I ran like *&$# after discussing the idea a year ago - because, frankly, we both couldn't stand the remotest of possibilities. Our pride would have been at stake! But... I think a year later and given this scenario, that's exactly what makes this idea work.

So, here's the deal... We will reach 5,000 readers by May 1 or... I will have to post on my blog a picture of me wearing a bathing suit! That's it. Absolutely my biggest, worst, fear and nightmare come true. Those who know me, know I would rather die of heat in the sweltering sun than take the looooooooooooooong walk down a public beach to finally reach the ocean. I'm the same woman who doesn't want to take an aerobic swim class because the idea of wearing a bathing suit in order to exercise seems like such an outrageous oxymoron. This, for those who do not know me, is the ultimate test of my belief in self... and in you, I might add.

...In YOU, because I know you will not let this happen. As one woman (and many - but not all - of you are women) to another... help me make sure it doesn't come to this. This is EXTREME blogging. I am truly trusting that this devoted, fun, friendly, AND ETHICAL readership will not leave me hanging I am crossing my fingers and putting my pride on the line, believing that you will treat this solution as though it was happening to you. You will muster up every possible friend, relative, neighbor, acquaintance, and pet that you know to help me reach 5,000 by May 1, 2008.

If I haven't conjured up a vivid image of me curled up in a ball, ruing the day I posed this unfortunate question and then drew this one ill-fated card, I simply haven't used enough adjectives or expletives. I'd go on and on, but I have to go now. I have friends, relatives, neighbors, acquaintances, and pets to call - not to mention laps to run and crunches to do!

Signing off until tomorrow... when I've picked myself up off the floor.

P.S. This whole thing could be avoided if you would just help me get another 1765 visits to my site TODAY (147 an hour)!!!!!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

This is Your Bag Lady Speaking!

Today is all about the brown paper bag, but first some business....

Quick Update:

It's tempting to lead with the fact that today is the dreaded TAX DAY, but how can I when we had such a big day yesterday! 209 people visited the site yesterday, more than any other day by almost 85 people. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Now, new people.... if you are out there and I hope you are... WELCOME to our fun community where LOTS is going on everyday. Please pass the site along to people you know who might enjoy the site and get us that much closer to our goal. Two days left and we still need 1,708 people. If all 209 of you who showed up yesterday also showed up again today, and got 7 of your friends to visit, we would be at our goal. I refuse to believe we can't make this happen.

  • Congratulations, Jenna! You are the lucky winner of our very Funny! contest. For the newcomers... Sunday I posted a word for one hour only. Those readers who posted the word in a sentence on today's blog were entered in a drawing for a care package from me. The word was "funny." The kicker... to know you actually saw the word on Sunday (as opposed to copying from someone else who posted), loyal Sunday viewers were told to capitalize the letter "F" and place an explanation point after the word. Nine of you successfully completed the challenge and were placed in the raffle (drawn by Matthew tonight at dinner).
  • Today's letters are: K I, and S. Tomorrow is the last day to collect letters. The first to unscramble all the letters and post the item name in the comment section will receive "it" in the mail.
  • Tomorrow is the last day to refer people to the site and earn points. We have lots of people in the game right now... Heather, Cheryl, Lori, Treye, Katie, Alison, and Cassie P. Hopefully I'm not missing anyone.
  • Anon... where are you? It's been a few days since you visited our community. If you're out there... I miss your posts.
  • Close2it, thanks for deciding to stop lurking and to start getting in on the fun. We look forward to everything you will offer.

Onto the business of the day...

I've realized over the past three days how much I love brown paper bags. I've always known I've had a "thing" about shopping bags. I just can't seem to throw them out. I actually have a bag of bags. That's right... one BIG, over sized gift bag filled with bags... Container Store, Ann Taylor (the shinny bags are the best), Brooks Brothers (oohhhh... they make great bags with long handles and sturdy paper... not to mention their perfect boxes) to name a few. But, mostly the bag of bags is filled with brown paper bags from the grocery store. I know I need to be responsible and give up the brown bags for my own mesh bag that I bring with me each time I grocery shop, but the idea of giving up my steady,weekly supply of free brown bags is more than I can come to terms with. At least right now. Brown bags are a free gift for anyone who has kids or who has even the smallest amount of craftiness in their DNA.

This weekend I got Matthew (my almost four year old, for those of you who are new to the site) busy making decorations for his birthday party this upcoming weekend. Again and again and again, I found myself reaching for brown paper bags. So often did it happen that I decided today I would share the virtue of this perfectly simple AND FREE item. Then I'd love to hear from you how you use brown paper bags.

My fondness for these bags goes back to elementary school. My sisters and I would come home from P.S. 98 on the first day filled with hope and an arm full of text books that need book covers. Through the magic of my mother, we would go to sleep and awake - each to our own perfectly covered stack of books. Edges were creased and our names and the subjects were perfectly printed on top. As we got older we learned the tricks of the trade - creasing edges and making the covers fit perfectly snug. Still, years later... a text book covered in brown paper, and crisp and clean, makes me smile. I don't know that it has the same effect on Ricky, but who's asking?!?!?!

Back to last weekend and preparing for Matthew's "Florida Party." As mentioned last week, Matthew desperately wanted to go to Florida for his birthday. Since we couldn't make that happen, we figured we would bring Florida to him, by having his guests "travel" with him to to our backyard - where all things will smack of the Sunshine State.
We started with fish... enter brown paper bags. Cut the bags down the center; outline a fish shape; cut it out of the bag; have Matthew cover with paints of all colors; let dry; staple edges together, leaving a small space for newspaper shred to be inserted; stuff with newspaper shred; staple shut; and voila... we have free decorations. Added bonus... Matthew helped make the decorations. His participation gets him more excited about his party and lets him know that hosting people requires effort.

Next goody boxes... enter brown bags. Sure, we could have just stuck his friends treats in a bag of some sort... or even in a beach pail (be used to serve lunch in), but instead what about suitcases. Easy as one, two, three. One... buy 9 white boxes (.49 cents each) and travel sized treats to go inside. Two... have Matthew in assembly line style drop one of each item in each party-goers box. Three... wrap white boxes in brown paper and then hot glue handles to the top. For extra authenticity color the corners black and add some travel stickers. Again, the brown paper bag comes to the rescue again.

All this pseudo-crafting would not be made possible without the brown paper bag used as a craft mat. Simply cut it down the side and again the brown paper bag can be used to protect our kitchen table, counter tops, and garage floor.

I could go on.... At Thanksgiving, brown paper bags were used to make Indian vests and Indian headdresses. When Matthew was learning about postmen in preschool and decided he'd found his life purpose, I used a brown paper bag to make him his very own mail sack. Even last year, a group of students of whom I am very proud, slit brown paper bags down the center to create seat saddles for their western-themed breakfast (the handles were the stirrups). Can you picture it? There's an easy way to make a typical family dinner more fun. Cook up some hot dogs, baked beans, drink root beer, and sit in paper saddles.

And if absolutely all else fails.... it can still be used for "brown bagging" it to the office... which after submitting tax returns for this year might be in your future the way it is in mine... (and my husbands)!

Signing off until tomorrow when we engage in one of our favorite weekly rituals... Whack on the Side of the Head Wednesday!

P.S. I don't totally want to ignore the fact that it is TAX DAY, so if you feel compelled tell us... are you paying or receiving this year (we're paying in a big way)? And if you are receiving... what will you do with your small windfall? If none of that interests you... tell us of an in genius way you might have used a brown paper bag.