Thursday, July 31, 2008

Last Licks

Matthew and Rick getting their last licks!

Oooohhhhh... the bummer of it all.  Today marks the last day of July... the official end of National Ice cream month!  True, true... I don't limit my consumption of ice cream to the month of July, but still, it was such convenient rationale.

Give me something to look forward to.  Today we'll bring closure to National Ice Cream Month by looking ahead and dreaming up the future of ice cream.  Concoct a flavor so good, so yummy that come Wednesday, July 1, 2009, my ice cream maker and I will be ready to roll.  Tonight my family and I will vote on the flavor we are most excited to taste and the winner will receive a "Beeny Favorite" ice cream accessory.

Now you.  What creative activity will you engage in to celebrate the last hours of this day?  Take a colleague for ice cream over lunch hour?  Hold a contest guessing the number of licks required to eat a popsicle?  Surprise a neighbor with a gift certificate to a local ice cream shop?  Or how about kill two birds with one stone, by celebrating the end of National Ice Cream Month AND Christmas in July and treating your family to a Dairy Queen BLIZZARD!

Now from one of my vices to one of Richard's vices....  
The advertisement above appears in the August edition of Bon Appetit.  Maybe you can help me and Richard settle a score.  We have differing opinions about the advertisement's challenge to identify five differences between the bottles.  Tell us what you think (Incidentally, this is the first month a picture of the bottle has ever been featured in one of their ads.  Up to this point the advertisements have simply been black words on a white page).

We'll sign off for today.  I want you to start resting and gathering energy.  One week from today is the eve of something BIG! 

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

K.I.S.S.: Step Four of Four

We will take a rain check on Whack on the Side of the Head Wednesday.  von Oech will understand.

This is the last day of classes for the Claudia Beeny School of Keep-Saking and we have final details that need to be wrapped up.  Today I will introduce Step #4 and then, one last time, walk through how the system works together.  Posts today and Friday can be used to pose questions or seek clarification.

While I started with the big picture on Monday, I could very easily have started with today's step.  Today's step, after all, is the cornerstone to the system.  The fourth and final item you will need for this system is a calendar - not a blank journal - a calendar!  I'm so excited to share this part, I'm not even sure where to begin....

Here it is... Instead of focusing on filling scrapbooks with pictures, we fill a calendar with words that create pictures!  Basically take scrap booking and turn it on its head!  For the purposes of today, we'll call it Scrap Journaling.

Again... the focus of my approach is short, one or two lines sentences in a calendar describing notable events... ON THE DAY THEY OCCURRED.   Occasional pictures or scraps of paper can be glued inside help supplement the words.  This is an inversion of the typical scrap book which is filled with lots of pictures but very little narration (which in the end is probably what your kids care more about).  It is, in a sense, the difference between saying to your children... 

"Look, at this scrap book.  This is what you used to LOOK like." and 
"Look at this scrap journal.  This is what you used to BE like."

I don't know about you, but the older I get (and especially now that I have kids), I wonder more and more about what I was like as a kid (and by the way... so do my kids!  They love hearing stories about me when I was little).  I would LOVE to have an annual calendar I could flip through that told me things such as: my favorites - foods, colors, toys, t.v. shows, etc...; the names of my friends; stats on things like height and weight; how I spent my time; funny things I said; what I shared as my dreams and goals for the future; names of boyfriends and all the silly antics that go along with that; important current events; the cost of my favorite possessions, and the list goes on and on.  Pictures are good (and we have them built into our system), but they only tell a fraction of the story!   

I want to feel you feeling the coolness-factor of Scrap Journaling, so let me insert a couple of examples from Matthew's...

This was last October, while still living in Louisville.  Notice the short entries, with lines and arrows pointing from one thing to another.  Neatness is not important when Scrap-Journaling.  I find it is actually more fun to read when you have to hunt for the information.  Pictures and "scrap" items are added for the fun of it.  P.S. To better understand "Fun in a Box Friday" see February, 29

Pages at the back or between months can be used to hold items that wouldn't fit on a normal day.  The foot print and the leaf are art projects made at school that I want to keep (he might like to see the size of his foot at 3 years old).  Also, notice on the right page a picture of Matthew standing below the sign at his old preschool.  I can see him calling the number one day just to see if the school is still in business.
Other points of interest.  Bottom left page.  Sometimes I just note the temperature (82 degrees on Halloween!).  Middle of the page... a small drawing he made.  Bottom right page.  Black marker.  I let them color and scribble in the book.  Remember, neatness does not count.  He will get far more pleasure out of seeing his own handwriting than a perfectly pristine book.  Bottom right... a picture of Matthew helping to move things into our Texas home.  Also, bottom right page... a clipping from the newspaper informing us to "fall back," for day light savings time.  Clippings from newspapers are a GREAT way to remind them of what society and American culture was like when they were younger.

In the interest of time we'll keep on moving, though know I could do this with you all day.  A couple of final thoughts regarding Scrap Journaling...
  • A dear friend of mine has three children with the hope there might be another three sometime in the future.  Obviously six journals would be impossible to keep up with.  Instead how about one journal with a different color ink for each child?  Will they fight over it later in life?  Maybe, but better to bicker over who keeps the Annual Scrap Journals than to have no Scrap Journals at all.  That's just me.
  • Nothing of note to write?  So what!  I have whole weeks with nothing written.  It's o.k. Out of 6,750 potential days to Scrap-Journal, who cares if you miss weeks, even months, at a time.  Imagine how much fun it will be to look back on even just 10-12 entries a year!  That's 10-12 more than you would have had.
  • Sometimes I walk around the house taking pictures of their favorite toys or I bring it to school and take pictures of friends they talk about (or his favorite things on the playground).  Those pictures do not get one of the 60 coveted spots in a photo album.  Instead they are cut out and put into his Scrap-Journal (again, commemorating a particular point in time!).
Now a quick review of the whole system... only this time we'll talk about the items in reverse.
  • Step #1, Scrap-Journal:  The purpose of the Scrap-Journal is to capture fun facts and things your children talk about ON THE DAY THEY OCCUR.  No pressure to be neat.  Draw arrows.  Let them write in it and add pictures, mementos, and newspaper clippings to your heart's desire.  The key here is that a calendar only allows for a few sentences at best.
  • Step #2, Photo Album: Unlike the Scrap-Journal where we might include close up pictures of favorite toys, hiding spots, items of clothing, daily routines, etc..., our photo album is reserved for photos of your child and his siblings or friends.  I include pictures such as: first day of school, summer camp, each holiday, me and Richard, their brothers, cousins, and grandparents.  In the end they will have 18 albums to look through and to compare pictures from one year to the next.  That's over one thousand pictures.  How many do you have from your childhood? 
  • Step #3, Plastic Folder: At the end of the year (August to August), the photo album and Scrap Journal go in the folder, along with any other items you've decided to keep.  Examples of what we might store in a folder are things such as: pictures they've drawn; a letter to Santa; special cards they've received in the mail; class pictures; or a tooth that fell out... to name a few.  As Ricky has gotten older I've been able to include papers he's written; love notes he's received (found in pockets while doing laundry); certificates he's earned; DVDs of him running track; and his school agendas.
  • Step #4, Plastic Tub a.k.a. Treasure Box:  Once labeled with the year, the plastic folder is neatly tucked away in the plastic tub (referred to in our house as a Treasure Box).  My boxes get stored in the top of my closet until next year when I take them down to put in the next year's folders.
A final thought...  Where do I keep the folders, photo albums, and Scrap Journals during the year?  The key is easy access.  It must be easy for you to get your hands on them at the time of day when you are most apt to make an entry or store a photo.  For me, that's night time... right before I got to bed.  I have a dresser with four drawers....
  • Top Drawer: Pens, glue, and stickers, (the only real way to embellish your journal), and photo labels.
  • Drawer #2: Ricky's folder, photo album, and Scrap Journal
  • Drawer #3: Matthew's folder, photo album, and Scrap Journal
  • Drawer #4: Jack's folder, photo album, and Scrap Journal
This is important, because I can't always put things away immediately.  Each child has his own drawer, so I just stick the keepsakes in their respective drawers and go back to it when I have time.  No stacks.  Stacks are the kiss of death. 

That's it.  That's the process.  Hopefully you'll find it as useful and as stress-free as I have over the years.  We'll open the posts for comments or questions.  If you are currently using the system - or a part of it, as some of you are - please feel free to post your enhancements to the system.  I know of at least a few.

Signing off until tomorrow... 

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

K.I.S.S: Step Three of Four

Announcements at the end.  Important... especially if you are from, live near, or have enough frequent flier miles to get yourself to Pennsylvania.

So little to talk about, so much time.  That's the way it goes with a keep sake system as easy as mine.  I'd talk about equipment, but there isn't any.  No fancy quilling paper ($5.49 per package); paper cutters ($48.99); paper punch sets ($26.99); storage systems ($24.99); stencils and templates ($2.99 each); or scrap booking organizers (129.99).  So... other than the plastic storage box from target ($6.99), the plastic folder ($.59 cents), and a couple other items, there's no equipment to speak of.

Got any good jokes?  We've got some time to kill.  Here's one...

A bear walks into a bar and says, "I want a bourbon and................. coke."
The bartender asks "what's with the huge pause?"
The bear says, "I've had them all my life."

It's my delivery.  It's off.  I'll stick with preserving keepsakes for the time being.  

A quick review of yesterday.  To begin the Claudia Beeny approach to "keepsaking" you'll need one plastic container and one plastic envelope for each year you intend to collect items.  That is Step #1 and Step #2.  This system, by the way, works not just for your kids.  It also works for grand kids, newly married couples, or individuals who are committed to leaving behind a modest, yet organized, paper trail (which your family will undoubtedly appreciate!).

Today we address the issue of photographs.  Let me preface this by saying I know there are avid picture-takers in the audience.  Naturally there's a continuum of how people deal with photographs - with one end of the extreme being my neighbor who has over 40,000 photographs on her computer (and backed up in multiple locations) and others who can barely scrape together the two childhood photos with crinkled edges, found stuck at the bottom of a cigar box in your family's guest room.  I fall somewhere in the middle.

Just to earn a little bit of credibility, let me share that my nickname during college was "Captain Kodak" AND.... when I came home from college, no matter the holiday, I would spend hours at my kitchen table cutting and pasting them into photo albums.  Now that you know, I am not a cold, heartless, thoughtless person, with no sense of sentimentality... I'll keep going. 

To complete Step #3 you will need a $1.00 photo album typically containing enough sleeves to hold 60 pictures.  Don't be an over achiever and think if a $1.00 album holding 60 pictures is good, then a $10.00 album holding 200 pictures must be even better.  False.  The $1.00 album is what you need.  It will hold plenty of pictures for our purposes and it will fit nicely (even when chock full of 60 pictures) in your .59 cent plastic folder.... which in turn will go in your $6.99 plastic tub.

Here's the trick.  Twelve months... 365 days... 60 picture sleeves.  That, my friends, is an average of a picture every 6.1 days.  That's plenty.  Really.  I know you think you need 47 pictures of your child in last year's Halloween costume, but really, ten years from now... heck, even three years from now, you will be perfectly satisfied with the one or two CHOICE pictures you decided to keep.  This is the beauty of a digital camera.  Embrace it.  I have a good friend and valued colleague who once made this very wise comment.  He said, "The average person takes far too few pictures, but keeps far too many pictures."  Darn.  I wish it was I who said that, because it is SO true.  We might like - and feel secure - with the 78 pictures we took of Christmas morning, but in the end it is really three or four of those pictures that perfectly encapsulates that year's festivities.

So here's what I do.  One 60 sleeve photo album per child, each with a label bearing his name and year on the cover.  I take pictures regularly.  Once a week I print the pictures I want and they go immediately into the boys' $1.00 albums.  Example... I take a picture of the three boys wrestling on the living room floor.  I think, "oohh, that's cute.  They'll like having that when they're older."  Print three copies.  One for each album.  Take a picture of Jack getting his first hair cut.  While Matthew and Ricky love him, they don't want or need that picture.  Print one copy.  In it goes to Jack's album.  No, not two copies... one for Jack and one for me 'cause, "I might want it one day."  One copy.  If I really want to see it, I'll visit his $1.00 album. 

When I find a picture I really like, I calculate in my head... one for each of the boy's albums; one for Grandma and Grandpa New York; one for Grandma and Grandpa Beeny; one for Dawn who I haven't written in a while; and on the list goes.  I only print pictures when I know EXACTLY where they are going to go (a family member, a frame, or the $1.00 album).  Few to no exceptions.  This eliminates those stacks of random pictures we consider too sacrilege to throw away, but for which we have no real need or plan.   

A few final notes.  I keep small white mailing labels in my drawer.  Before I put the photos in their $1.00 albums, I try to jot a note or two including date, names of people in the pic, etc....  That way, when the boys look at the pictures years from now, they will know who all the kids were huddled around their birthday cake ready to pounce.  Second.  I'm archaic.  To get prints of my pictures, I still take my digital card, get in the car, drive to Cosco, walk up to the machine, put my card in, select my pictures, and then do my shopping while they are being developed (ALWAYS in less than an hour).  There are readers looming the site at this very moment who use a much more streamlined and efficient process.  I will let them share their methods in the comment section.

This is doable.... even if your child is nine years old and you're thinking... "too late for me."  Wrong.  When it comes to preserving childhood memories... ANYTHING IS BETTER THAN NOTHING.  Start now.  Do it until he or she is 18 and still you're presenting them with nine well organized years!  What a priceless gift.

Two announcements:  
  • Taste of USA:  Cheryl and I are trying to begin making plans.  In order to do so, we need those of you trying to attend to weigh in on a few things.  First, we cannot hold the event on Saturday, September 20.  Instead we are looking at September 6, or September 13.  Ideally the 6th.  Please let us know which weekend works best for you.  Second item related to our Taste of USA trip.  Viewers from THIRTY-FOUR cities have frequented the site in the last month, coming from all over the state.  We are considering trying to decide between a central PA location (ie. Lewisburg) or a major city (ie. Philly).  Tell us what you think.
  • Highlowaha Projects:  As you may know from last week... two sets of people volunteered to coordinate the projects suggested by our readers (I LOVE the emergent leadership!).  Here's what you need to know.  Book Club: Julie and Melanie will coordinate our Book Club.  In upcoming days/weeks they will communicate with the readers via the comment section to get an idea of what kind of book viewers might like to read... and other details.  Holiday Service Project: Sue, Maureen, and Brian will work on this.  Sue will serve as the primary coordinator (meaning we will communicate back and forth).  In the next few weeks you will hear more from them as they seek feedback from you and lay out a time line.
Enough.  Signing off until tomorrow...

Monday, July 28, 2008

K.I.S.S. - Keep it Simple... System

Good Monday Morning.  Announcements at the end... with the exception of one quick shout-out to Shannon B - an old friend and new reader.  It should be our goal to get this vibrant, funny, and smart woman to participate in our community by posting.  She will feel like an instant friend.  

Now, today's creative thought...

I've tried.  I've put this topic off for weeks thinking, wracking my brain, working 'til wee hours of the morning, trying desperately to think of how I could embellish my idea.  Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are dedicated to the topic and the truth is... I don't know how I'll even fill a paragraph.  The process is so simple, it can't be made complicated... no matter how I try.

My son is fifteen years old and like most of us has accumulated LOTS of keepsakes over the years... art; photos; love notes from girls in school; old papers he's written; fun facts about his first steps, getting braces, losing teeth, making the Varsity swim team; old letters to Santa, ribbons and medals won from cross country meets and sleep away camp; old stitches from an accident during gym class; and countless other irreplaceable keepsakes from his life.  Yes, preserving our family's keepsakes is important.  It is the only way that Ricky, in this case, can look back on his childhood and, in turn, share it with his future family.  Without it he... we... lose appreciation for the context and interconnectedness responsible for so much of who we are.   

For the first part of the week, we'll take a look at my un-scrapbooking, no fuss-no muss, four-piece approach to preserving memories.  There are a few of you out there who know my system (and maybe even use it - or use a part of it).  You know who you are and you know that I am trying to start a "movement."  Help me.  Chime in, but don't reference one of the four components before I formally introduce it on the assigned day.  There's method to my madness (...or so I think).

We will begin with the end in mind.  How do we keep keepsakes without allowing them to overrun our house or our countertops?  Here it is... Fifteen years of keepsakes tucked neatly away in the box pictured below.  Find out who, what, where, when, why, and most importantly, HOW as the week progresses.

Ricky's "treasure" box, holding one folder for each year of his life

  • Richard, Ricky, Ray, Random (acts of kindness), Rocky Road.... yes, I love the letter "R."  Kat, you are the lucky winner of a set of two luggage tags from Nan.  OR... cash in your luggage tags for what's behind Door #2.  The choice is yours.
  • To whomever "Anonymous" is responsible for starting the string of items that Cheryl and I could bring back from our trip...if I could, I would hire you on the spot.  Thanks for sharing not only your creativity, but also your initiative.
  • There's a saying... "Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better."  Living proof... 
Signing off until tomorrow...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Cheryl and I Are Going on a Trip...

and in our bags we have everything we'll need to visit...

Including a comfy neck pillow.  Back and forth, back and forth all day yesterday.  New York, PA, New York, PA.  It was like re-watching Wimbeldon.  But Pennsylvania won fair and square.  A special thanks, however, to Kentucky. Texas, Arkansas, Arizona, Indiana, Illinois, and California - all states that got in the spirit and casted votes. 

For those of you who like rules as much as I do... a few points.
  • There was some question about all the anonymous posts.  I received six emails yesterday: five from voters in PA and one from a voter in NY.  These are people who wanted to participate, but didn't necessarily want to put their names out there.
  • If we scratched all the "Anonymous" votes (which we did not), PA still would have one by one vote.  In other words... both New York and PA had exactly 8 Anonymous votes.
  • No, we did not recount a person's vote.  In other words... if Maureen voted for New York and Tera voted for PA earlier in the summer, and then voted again yesterday, we only counted their first votes. 
Cheryl was at my house last night and we are truly excited about our trip.  Thanks to everyone who participated.  In upcoming days we will work with the readership to determine exactly which weekend we will visit.  Ideally it would be sometime in September (excluding the weekend of September 19-21).  We will make our plans public with the hope that some of you from adjoining states, or who have frequent flier miles, will choose to meet us there.

There?  Hmmmm.... even that will take a couple of days to square away.  PA is decent-sized state - 46, 058 miles to be exact (and no, I will not be making chocolate chip cookies with 46,058 chips in them to commemorate our winning state)!  So... will it be Philly?  Hershey, Pittsburgh, Erie, or some other undisclosed location?  That is a question to  be answered in upcoming days.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime... I thought we could get in the spirit of trip taking (and continuing our effort to help Nicole).  How about a game of "I'm taking a trip and in my suitcase I have packed a...

I'll start with the letter "A."  and then wait for you the readers to take turns using letters "B" through "Z."  Our goal... get to "Z" naming items packed in your suitcase (and if feeling really creative, how you'll use it).

My example...  I'm going on a trip to PA and in my suitcase I will pack an Antacid... to make me feel better after eating the legendary... Philly Cheesesteak sandwich, the Primanti's sandwich, Hershey's chocolate, and of course... Blue Moon ice cream.

Now someone take a crack at "B."  Let's try to get to "Z" before the weekend is over.  As added incentive... I have a letter in my head.  Be the lucky one whose entry lands on that letter and you win four luggage tags from Nan.  If you're new to the site and don't know what I am talking about, see last Friday's post (7/18).

Signing off until Monday...

Friday, July 25, 2008

Free For All Friday: Taste of USA Finale!

A few notes and then we'll open the lines for our weekly Free for All Friday idea-swapping  and Taste of USA voting.

First, I suspect/hope we will have a lot of new readers trafficking our site today, due to Taste of USA voting.  In the event I am correct...  Welcome newcomers.  Hopefully you'll do more than just drop by.  Hopefully you'll decide to hang out with us for a few weeks and see what all the fun is about.  With a little luck you won't want to leave and, for some of you... we might even have to solicit help in weaning you off our community.

I'm feeling in the dark.  I haven't seen Ray since yesterday and now all I have is this short note that he's left behind.  The note says something about Cassie, Julie, Stacie, Maureen, awiniowa, and Nicole (in that order) being "brilliant" readers and... "...don't bother leaving the light on for me."

Taste of USA Voting Today!  It's easy.  Click on the Taste of USA icon in the top right hand corner of my blog.  You will immediately be greeted by Cheryl and Katie who will direct you to the comment section so you can brag about "what your state's made of."  Voting polls will close at 9:00 EASTERN standard time.  The winning state wins a fun-filled afternoon with Claudia and Cheryl AND will be announced on Saturday morning.

New highlowaha Feature.  This feature is compliments of my mother in law who made the suggestion.  Each Friday I will provide a short preview of reasons to tune in next week and on Saturday I will do a brief (I mean brief) recap of the week.  It will take a few weeks for me to get the hang of it, so bear with me.  Coming up next week... Taming the Paper Tiger, Whacking Wednesday, One Last Hoorah, and Friends.  Not the best, most compelling lead-in to the week, but I like the element of surprise.  This will take some getting used to.  Let me know what you think of the idea

Free for All Fun... Yesterday Nicole asked for fun ways to entertain kids on a long car ride.  Today let's brainstorm some additional solutions.  Also, what's something for which you would like fresh ideas?  Let us take a crack at it.

Now with no further ado...  Let the Taste of USA voting begin and the Free-for-All-ing commence.

Signing off until tomorrow...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Get Ready to Rumble!

Weirdest thing.  I went to log onto my computer this morning and it was already on.  Maybe Mac knows I mean business today.  Sorry I'm running late.  Didn't sleep well.  Lots of rustling and moving around in my house last night....  If I didn't know better, I'd think someone else was posting blogs on highlowaha.  Hmmmmmmm....  I couldn't find anything.  Maybe you'll have more luck.

This is it.  Today is the EVE of the Taste of USA Finale.

Let's review what this means because, I get the distinct impression that many of you don't know.  It CAN'T be that you don't care, so it must be that you don't fully know!

For those of you who have been in a deep slumber or who have just joined our fun community, Taste of USA is a 10-week contest that has been going on since May 18.  The contest is designed to get you, the readers, to tell us what is great about the state or the town in which you live.

This isn't just about state pride.  Oh, no.  This is about winning a fun-filled afternoon with me, Cheryl, and other fun highlowaha readers.  Regardless of who wins... Cheryl (positive visualization at work here) and I are committed to flying to your state.  Together we will create the future of highlowaha, as well as award prizes, laugh, share fun food, and brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm. Fashioned after the Antique Road Show, maybe we'll even host a segment where you bring your creativity dilemma and together the group helps solve it.  The possibilities are endless.

But first we need a winner.  Truth be known... it's anyone's game right now.  Yes, we have a leader (Pennsylvania), but only by two votes and believe me when I tell you, voter turn out up to this point has been abysmal.

Consider this warm up to November's election.  I'm going to review the directions for Friday one more time and then I'm signing off for the day, so you have ample time to muster up all the family and friends you can find to... GET OUT AND VOTE!  This is it.  Tomorrow is the one and only day to cast a vote for your state! 

How do you vote?  
  • Click on the "Taste of USA" icon at the top right corner of the blog.  It will take you to a welcome from Cruise Director, Cheryl and Bean Counter, Katie.  
  • Move to the bottom of the page where it says "comments' in blue and click (just like you would on the main page). 
  • Make a post revealing something (a restaurant, store, sight, person) you love about your state.
  • Sit back and wait until Saturday morning when we officially announce the winner.
That's it.  Go caucus and we'll see you in the voting booth tomorrow...


Ray here.

I'll be quick.  Claudia is still asleep and I don't want her to know I'm writing.

Here's the thing.  I'm an idea.  I'm supposed to be shared.  I'm supposed to multiply.  Much as I like Claudia and her house, I can't be cooped up on Harvestwood Court forever.  Sure, she's given me a name and is working up a new look for me.  I appreciate that, but I need more.  

I want to spread my wings, test new waters, you know... get out there and really see what I'm capable of.  Ideas are supposed to move, shake, inspire, and change the world.  Thing is... you know like I know, that ain't gonna happen only making an occasional appearance on Claudia's blog.  I need to meet the masses.... soar like an eagle.  

Cheryl, Julie, Kat, Heather, Brian, the Cassie's, and all you other regular readers and lurkers, I love you guys.  Surely you'd consider taking me in for a while?  

Wait, wait, wait.  Before you say "no," hear me out.  I'm talking a short tour.  I come visit you and with just a little bit of flour and sugar, we cook up a good time.  Add some icing and a note and we're ready to paint the town.  Take me to work, your block party, day care with your kids, or to your library's story time.  I'll go anywhere, as long as I can meet a few new people and spread my word.  Once you're over me, I'll move on to someone else's house.  

I gotta go for now.  Claudia's stirring and their dog, May Day, just spotted me.  But think about it, 'cause I'm serious.  My box is packed and I'm ready to go... TODAY.  I'm just looking for the first person willing to take me in.  If it matters... I travel light.  Alls I have is a pastry bag and some tips that you'll need to dress me up, a couple containers of food coloring, and oh yeah, some instructions.

All right.  Gotta go.

Oh, wait.  One more thing.  

You can't tell Claudia I wrote.  Mums the word.  

So how will I know which of you I coming to visit?  We need a code.  Quick. 

Ummm.... o.k., I got it...

Make a post and use the word, "brilliant "  She won't notice and you'll be all lined up.  It's early and besides, have you ever noticed all her typos?  

She's awake.  Really gotta g......................................   

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Whack on the Side of the Head Wednesday: Kohr of the Matter

Announcements at the end.

I think Ray will be the focus of our attention today.  He did, after all, just join our community on Monday and somehow I want to make sure our friend - and community mascot - does not fade into the woodwork without first reaching his potential.

To be honest, I gave birth to Ray without really having a plan for him.  Peggy was one of the generous readers who contacted me weeks ago, when we were trying to decide on a blog "logo" of sorts.  That's when she shared her vision that the light bulb logo could also be a character.  She suggested the character have different faces and looks depending on what creative idea he was pitching. For example, shedding light on back to school fun? How about Ray with a ruler in his hand?  Halloween ideas?  Picture Ray with a cape and a plastic pumpkin in hand.  Did someone say National Ice Cream Month?  By all means... Ray licking a triple scoop ice cream cone... with sprinkles on top.

See... I recognize the "fun factor" of Ray engaging with our activities.  I'm just not sure where, when, or how.  In other words... how is Ray employed?  Other than in a small and periodic order of cards from me to Peggy - which I would use to write notes to readers - how do people know about Ray?

If you've ever worked with me, you know I have a philosophical problem hiring someone or recruiting a student leader without first having a well thought out - and even robust - position description.  In the case of Ray, I got ahead of myself.  One day he was a sketch on a folded piece of paper and by Monday we were "tugging and warring" over a name worthy of his obvious charm and wit.

This is job for von Oech and the collective creativity of highlowaha readers.  Here's the whack...

Look to the Past.  History is loaded with creative analogies.  Napoleon marching on Moscow is really just project management.  Mao waging guerrilla warfare is like launching an ad campaign.  Pick a culture from the past.  How would someone from that culture deal with your issue?  How about from your own personal history?  What were you doing ten years ago that might be useful to you now.  What ideas from history can you apply to a current project?

I just took a ten minute pause to dig out my calendar from 1999, thinking it would at least be fun to take a look at what I was doing.  Again, the historian in me keeps my calendars... I guess, specifically for reasons such as this.  PANIC... My 1999 calendar is the ONE year between 1989 and 2008 that I do not have!  It's the year I got married.  Where could it be?  This is a whole different dilemma for another day and not anything you need to worry about.  I will try to move on with today's post, but know I am completely preoccupied with where my 1999 calendar could be.  It' the kind of thing Prime Time or 48 Hours would have a field day with if I ever showed up missing.

How about a quick look at 1998 and 2000.  In 1998, the only thing I had listed on my calendar for this day (July 23) was the Dedman Center Seminar Room.  This was a meeting location on SMU's campus and we were meeting to talk about departmental assessment efforts (isn't it nice to know somethings never change?).  The day before appeared much more fun.  I went to a prop store with student leaders to identify which props we would incorporate into our week of orientation events.  I also had a Mustang Corral meeting, a meeting with three student leaders about PR initiatives, and dinner plans with a friend to talk about the book, Exploring Leadership.  

The year 2000 was even more fun.  On this day in the year 2000 I was visiting family in New York.  Still, I was ambitious.  My to-do list for this day read as such:  Call graduate school, organize honeymoon pictures (married in November), call Crystal and Meaghan, plan training session for Emory (interestingly enough, about creative programming), and get good-bye gift for Carolyn.

Aha... nothing to be garnered from any of that.  Fun, nonetheless.  Where, by the way, is my 1999 calendar?!?!

Instead I decide to consult the History Channel web site for an idea from history.  The website immediately presents me with a section titled, "Today in History." Perfect.  This is exactly what I need.  Should I go with Today's Lead Feature (Ms. America Resigns)?   Hmmmm... the fate of Ray's future rests in my decision.  No, not random enough.  Not to mention it would make Ray's career pretty short lived.  I will close my eyes and run the cursor over the menu on the left.  Where ever it lands, that's where I'll go.  The choices... General Interest, American Revolution, Automotive, Civil War, Cold War, Crime, Disaster, Entertainment, Literary, Old West, Presidential, Sports, Vietnam War, Wall Street, World War I, and World War II.  

Here goes...

Old West!  Is this a joke or is this fated because this city girl is now living in Texas?  I choose to view it as an omen.  Onwards and upwards.  The story is titled, "Montana Rancher Conrad Kohr Dies."  The story is five short paragraphs, but still I'll summarize in an effort to save some time.
  • Conrad Kohr was a native of Denmark
  • He immigrated to the United States in 1850 hoping to get in on the whole gold/silver mining thing.  He was 15 at the time.
  • Only mildly successful.  Twelve years later he moved on in pursuit of other gold and silver deposits found in Montana.  Now 27 years old.
  • He quickly realized he could make more feeding the miners than he could mining.  Kohr becomes a butcher.
  • Soon after becoming a butcher, Kohr decides being a cattlemen is even more lucrative than being a butcher, so he traveled around the territory purchasing prime animals and then processing them.
  • Within two years, he set even higher visions.  Rather than simply being the butcher or even the cattleman, Kohr decided to shift his business to the supply side of things.  He ventured into becoming a rancher.  He was the only major rancher for quite some time.  Consequently, his business boomed as the state of Montana grew.  He was the largest cattle rancher in Montana for several decades.
  • Took wealth and turned it into political power.
  • Elected to Legislature in 1885 
  • Became state senator in 1902
  • In the end, Kohr was celebrated as a great pioneer in Montana's history.
  • Kohr died in 1920 (same year Tug of War was last competed in as an Olympic sport).
So the real question?  Where is my 1999 calendar and what ideas from Kohr's history can we apply to Ray Wattson?

If you simply can't get excited about Conrad Kohr, then feel free to reflect on some other event in history... even your own.

The lines are open...

  • Four very able volunteers spoke up yesterday interested in working on our highlowaha Christmas project.  Julie, Maureen, Anonymous (I think I know who you are), and Brian if you are still interested send me an email with the rest of your contact information (phone numbers and emails) and I will assure each of you has the others information.  Julie will be my primary contact person, as it was her thoughtful idea.
Signing off until tomorrow...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Time Out!

Is it pathetic commentary on my health that a virtual game of Tug of War could leave me worn out?!?  I'm guessing, YES! 

Either way, I'm putting myself in time out today.  It's just as well.  There is a ton happening on this busy blog of ours and every once in a while I feel the need to provide an update.  Veteran higlowaha-ers can get info on the many projects we having going and new comers can use it as a chance to get filled in.

First a quick story and then the announcements.  It's separate from the announcements because... well frankly, because it's a little unbelievable!  Last week we determined that highlowaha surpassed the projected 5,000 views in 77 days by 1,765 (35%).  Because I don't have the means to send you all a dividend check for helping to make this happen, I determined that one lucky reader would receive Dividend Cookies.  The currency... chocolate chips.  Stacie, from Louisville made lucky post number 18 (the winning number as determined by me) and won the Dividend Cookies.  That's the background... now the story.

I'm a stickler for rules (ask my sons... ugh!).  Having NO idea how many mini morsels are in a Semi Sweet Nestle Toll House bag, I bought two bags.  Finally on Sunday, I cleared the kitchen table and set out to count the number of chips in a bag.  I know you think I'm crazy.  My husband could not believe that I was actually going to count out exactly 1,765 mini chips.  But I told him... "That's the whole point."  Round it to 1,700 or 2,000, or worse yet... simply 2 cups and the whole deal is off.  The whole point of the Dividend Cookies was to acknowledge the exact number of views we've had over the last 77 days.   I won't dwell.  He thought I was crazy and I was intent on sticking to my word.

1,765 morsels is not that many when you're talking mini morsels.  As it turns out... it only filled 1 cup.  Can you believe that?  Here I thought I might need two bags to make one batch of Dividend Cookies and instead one bag was enough to make two batches.  Crazy.

The craziness didn't stop there.  I counted the chips on Sunday and then was so bleary-eyed, I decided I would leave the baking to Monday.  I carefully swept all 1,765 counted chips into a zip lock back for over night.  As I was transferring them from the bowl to the bag, three fell - two on the table and one on the floor.  Five second rule immediately went into effect.  Every chip counted and I couldn't take the chance my count would somehow get messed up.  

Yesterday I baked the cookies.  I swiftly moved them to the mixer and then carefully made sure each of the 1,765 chips was neatly tucked into a cookie.  Richard swung past the house on his way to the airport.  He came in while I was in our back bed room and when I walked back into the kitchen, he was standing huddled over the freshly baked cookies... with a cookie in his hand!!!  "Drop it," I immediately yelled.  Startled, he literally dropped the cookie on the brown bag lining the kitchen counter.  "Are you crazy?," I ask him.  To him, a cookie.  To me... upwards of 30 chips!  Disaster averted.

Once Stacie's 1,765 chips were baked into her 45 cookies, I decided to bake a second batch.  What after all would I do with the remaining chips?  These cookies, I decided, would go to a reader smart enough to submit a postcard for the Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) box.  

Nicole A. from Louisville Congratulations!
Nicole's chips were more densely packed into her cookies, because her batch only yielded 44 cookies!

Still, I have another bag of chips.  Do I go for it and make two more batches?  No way.  

But then... at exactly 8:25 a.m. Jenny D. posted the 2008th post in the year 2008.  I've been watching the posts for weeks now and yesterday was the big day.  Just as I am in the midst of baking cookies.  What do I do?  Bells?  Whistles?  Big check?  A new 2008 model car?  I'd love to, but just isn't going to happen... not until I strike it rich.  So I decide to go back to the drawing (or counting, as the case may be) board and count out 2008 more mini chips!  If I remember correctly, 2008 chips translated into 58 cookies.

Only a handful of chips left and, at this point, I'm so into this thing... there's no simple way out.  So, yes... I bake the remaining chips into one final batch of cookies... 38 cookies, to be exact.  They also went to a lucky RAK participant.


Final note about the cookies... I swept the floor after dinner, so as not to leave Jack's bread, pasta, and salad sitting on the kitchen floor over night.  Imagine my despair when I spot LAYING (not lying) in the bottom of the dust pan ONE lone mini chocolate chip.  I surrender!

Other Announcements:
  • Taste of USA:  This is the final week to show what your state is made of.  Today Maryland, tomorrow New Jersey, Thursday is Contest Day for this week's states and then comes Friday.  FRIDAY is Free For All Voting.  If you missed your state's voting day, have no fear.  You can vote on Friday!!!!!  Just click on Taste of USA to find out more.  The winning state enjoys a high-energy, prize-winning, laughing, and idea-generating day with me (AND CHERYL).  Yes, that's right.  We'll fly to your state for a fun-filled day of adventure!
  • Welcome Ray to  Thanks for participating yesterday, everyone.  We will see more of Ray, as I am working with the very talented Peggy to try and develop a blog "mascot."
  • Altoid Table:  I could do a whole entry about this.  Suffice it to say... I am learning as I go.  Cheryl has been kind enough to be my partner in this endeavor.  Here's what I will say... there was lots of tiling, then grouting, then sanding going on.  Now there might be some chiseling going on and then some more tiling, grouting, and gluing.  Too painful to talk about.  Here's what I will say... when it is done... it will be a show stopper!  It's been in our side porch for the past two weeks and neighborhood kids flock to it!
  • Project Captains:  There has been some great leadership emerging from the readership.  Some of you have made suggestions for things we could/should try.  I would love it.  Therefore, I am seeking readers who might be willing to serve as Project Chairmen (or women).  Two examples that immediately come to mind are: (1) adopting a family at Christmas and doing a service project, and (2) starting a highlowaha book club.  Any takers?  Post a name in the comment section if you are interested.
  • Never Eat Alone:  Weeks ago I wrote an entry about a book I just finished.  A premise in the book was that most progress is the result of successful relationships.  The author encouraged readers to develop three lists and to invite people from the list to lunch.  The three groups are: (1) people we know (keep your current network well oiled); (2) people we don't know (attainable, but currently don't know them); and (3) aspiration people (i.e. Maria Shriver).  Please let us know how you are doing with your lunches.  Me... still waiting to hear from Maria.  A follow up letter might be in order soon.
  • Bigger or Better:  I have an "ask" out right now.  I am scheduled to have a follow-up phone call mid week.  If it works (trading miles for something our readers can provide - no problem, then we are home free).  I will wait until I know one way or the other before going into too much detail.  As of now, though, Maureen mailed Heather the wine and Heather is looking to trade up for her chock-full box of scissors, edgers, hole punches, etc....  A dream for anyone who loves crafts, has kids, or is a teacher!
  • Community Introductions:  Kat and I used the Community Introduction segment to arrange a phone meeting.  We talked about our mutual interest in learning to sew (it sounds like she is further ahead than I am).  Have any other readers connected apropos of things we have in common or that we can learn from one another?  Share.  We'd love to hear from you.
  • Peanut and the Shell:  Some of the readers are participating in a four week game of Peanut and the Shell (similar to Secret Santa, where treats are anonymously exchanged).  If you have a Peanut and the Shell story or a "shout out" you would like to make, please feel free.
That's it for announcements...

Final creative back to Heidi's "Freebead" Friday.  Heidi talked a lot about color palettes.  It occurred to me that a fun and meaningful Christmas present for someone might be a pair of earrings or beaded jewelry in their Colorstrology color.  Is today your birthday?  If so, you might order a necklace, bracelet, or pair of earrings in...

Opaline Green.  Moneymaker, Powerful, and Influential.  If you were born on this day people look to you for ideas and inspiration.  You are a powerful force and can be an inspirational role model.  You are meant to be an expert in whatever profession or goal you choose to pursue.  you have the ability to build your dreams and integrate your imagination into a concrete reality.  Compatible Birthdays: January 8, May 2, September 20.

An item of jewelry, coupled with the Colorstrology description, has the potential to be a fun gift.

Signing off until tomorrow...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Louis vs. Lenny

Go figure. Today is National Tug of War Day!? !

What? You don't have that listed in your calendar? Return it immediately. You got jipped. Actually, if you want to know the truth, it wasn't in my infamous Planner Pad (See 3/10) either. My son, Ricky, came home with a safety calendar a couple of years ago and interwoven with safety tips were all sorts of other innocuous dates for celebration... dates such as Wear Brown Shoes Day, National Candy Corn Day, and National Kazoo Day. Being the program lover that I am, I transferred all the dates from his quirky calendar to mine.

Gladly I don't put your through the paces of every "National - Something" day (National Sugar Cookie Day just passed on July 9, and June 21 was National Pick Up Litter Day), but today seemed especially apropos. We'll give it a whirl and see how things go.

It was Friday when I noticed the special day marked in my calendar. Usually if I noodle something around long enough, I'll come up with an angle for my blog. But this weekend it just wasn't working. I started by Googling, 'Tug of War" and Wikipedia immediately popped up with a brief history of Tug Of War. While interesting, especially to someone who loves history like I do, it wasn't quite the riveting read I was hoping for and I'm not creative enough to make it so. The summary did, however, mention that Tug of War was an Olympic sport from 1900-1920. That was a potentially interesting angle considering the Olympics start in 19 days (who's counting?). Still, not good enough

Then I started thinking about all of my run-ins with Tug of War, but I have only two. First... when I was a resident assistant at Arizona State (Hi, Lori), I worked in a building called Manzanita Hall. The building was affectionately (and appropriately) referred to as Man-ZOO-nita Hall. The building earned its nickname because it housed 1000 (yes thousand, not hundred) first-year men and women.

Think about that for a minute. Imagine a building, 15 stories tall, holding 1000 men and women, living on their own for the first time. Have I mentioned I went to Arizona State? ...In sunny, Tempe, Arizona?... Home of 35,000, sun loving, PAC-10 following fans.

So now you get the picture.

The Manzanita Hall resident assistant staff would start the year off with the Annual Tug of War Contest. The evening of Move-in Day, each of the 15 floors would meet in the building's backyard to compete - fully decked out in floor "uniforms," ranging from matching t-shirts, tie-dye, coordinated bandannas, and even togas. Competing solely for bragging rights, residents tugged their hearts out. My floor's Hay Day came the year I worked part time at the Gap. Somehow I wheeled a deal where every resident on my floor could buy a turquoise t-shirt for $1.50. To be honest, I have no idea whether or not we won, but darn... we looked good!

My only other brush with Tug of War was, I think, at the University of Georgia. I say, "brush," because the experience wasn't mine first hand. I just remember hearing stories. Early in the University's history, first year students were required to wear beanies on their heads for the first quarter (now it would be considered hazing). Sometime in late fall an Annual Tug of War ensued between first year students and upper class students. If the upperclassmen won, first year students had to wear their beanies until winter break. There's something about that, that I love. The fate of first year students resting squarely on something as simple, and pure, as a game of tug of war.

I started thinking... what else could we settle this way? Which family member has to host the next holiday (or in our family, where we all enjoy hosting... which family GETS to host)? Who at the office has to clean out the community refrigerator? Or... Who's appointed chairperson to the Social Committee for your neighborhood association? All sorts of disputes and deadlocks could be resolved with a simple game of Tug of War.

Today we're going to try it. We're going to Tug of War for...

The winning light bulb name...

Here's how it will work.... Throughout the day, we'll have brackets. The winning team from Bracket 1 will be divided up into two teams and the two new lists will compete against each other for Bracket 2. The winning team from Bracket 2 will be divided up into two teams and the two new lists will compete against one another for Bracket 3. And so this will go until we have a winner. There will be five brackets total. Below are the brackets/voting times (all the times I reference are CST)....

You are voting for either Team A or Team B... NOT a particular name!

Bracket #1: Vote between 5:00 a.m. and 10:00 CST
Bracket #2: Vote between 10:00 and 12:00 CST
Bracket #3: Vote between 12:00 and 2:00 CST
Bracket #4: Vote between 2:00 and 4:00 CST
Bracket #5: Vote between 4:00 and 8:00 CST

Now for the teams...
You are voting for either Team A or Team B... NOT a particular name!

  1. Watson
  2. Einstein
  3. Phil
  4. Hal
  5. Edison
  6. Wattson
  7. Mr. Megawatt
  8. Phil A. Ment
  9. Lightbulb Larry
  10. N. Lighten
  11. Ludwig Von Lightbulb
  12. Louis the Lightbulb
  13. Brighton
  14. Bright I. Dea
  15. Ray
  16. Sparky

  1. Spotlight
  2. Mr. Light Idea
  3. Stop Light
  4. Brightly
  5. Wattly
  6. Sunny
  7. Mr. Brightenstein
  8. Bubbly Long Bottom
  9. Linus the Lightbulb
  10. Lenny the Lightbulb
  11. Joules
  12. Langston the Lightbulb
  13. Mr. Inspiration
  14. Louis the Illuminator
  15. Ian Ken Descent
  16. Lumen
That's it. One, two, three... TUG.

10:00 AM
Team A was the decisive winner, so here we go with...
Voting for Bracket #2 ends at 12:00 CST

Mr. Megawatt
Lightbulb Larry
N. Lighten
Louis the Lightbulb

Phil A. Ment
Ludwig Von Lightbulb
Bright I. Dea

we're voting for either TEAM A or TEAM B... not a particular name!

12:00 p.m.
TEAM B was the winner (9 votes to 1)
Voting for Bracket #3 ends at 2:00 p.m.

Ludwig Von Lightbulb
Bright I. Dea

Phil A. Ment
we're voting for either Team A or Team B... not a particular name

2:00 p.m.
It was neck and neck for a period of time, but... 
TEAM B wins (12 votes to 7)
Voting for Bracket #4 ends at 4:00 p.m. CST


Phil A. Ment

we're voting for either Team A or Team B, not a particular name

4:00 p.m. 
It was close and came down to the wire
Team A wins this bracket (8 votes to 6)
FINAL Bracket (#5)
Voting for Bracket 5 ends at 8:00 p.m. CST


YES, this time you are cheering on either Hal or Ray!

Voting is closed
16 to 10

Phew, I don't know about all of you, but I am exhausted!
Thanks for a great game of Tug of War

Signing off until tomorrow...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Lights, Lights, Everywhere

Christmas Eve with the cousins was fun.  Let's see... I scored a great activity box that Jack immediately wanted.  Ricky got two books.  Richard got beach art from Key Largo. My nephews walked away with a Christmas decoration and a wallet, respectively.  My mother in law scored a brand new game.  My brother in law got a piece of plumbing for you toilet.  And, my father in law walked away with the perfect gift for him... a Vera Bradley purse and change purse.  All in all, a successful swap.  Oh, and Matthew... he scored a pair of roller skates.  He thinks he's the coolest thing since sliced bread.  The real question... how well do you sleep with four-pound clunky skates attached to your ankles?
I wonder if any of you will consider doing Christmas in July next week or the week after... or if you'll log the idea and consider pulling it out sometime next year.  Either way... I thought I would share a few afterthoughts... things I wish I would have thought about ahead of time.  Needless to say.. planning is the key to making this idea work... stress free.
  • After packing away Christmas items next December, create a separate box labeled, "Christmas in July."  Set aside any of the decorations or other chatchka you might want to use. Example... I located my Christmas stockings easily, but I could not figure out the box in which I packed my stocking holders.  Consequently, they had to be taped to the mantle... tacky, I know.
  • At the end of season next year, shop with "Christmas in July" in mind.  I found myself wanting Christmas stickers and wrapping for the treats we delivered on Friday and napkins and plates for last night's party.  I ended up finding what I needed, but it could have been better and cheaper.
  • Many of us referenced our kids receiving way more than is necessary from family, friends, and Santa.  How about holding onto some of their presents next year with the intention of presenting them in July?  They won't notice in December and the treats will probably get extra "air time" in July.
  • Consider allowing your kids to organize a "white elephant" gift exchange similar to the one we did last night.  Each child wrapped a gently used item and walked away with, what to them, felt like a brand new toy.  Recycling toys is good role modeling.
  • Big events or gestures not necessary.  Playing Christmas music; Christmas tree pancakes for breakfast; coloring Christmas pictures or doing another Christmas craft; wearing red and green; posing and answering Christmas questions; while driving in the car... these are many of the small things we did throughout the week that helped add to the Christmas cheer.   
Thanks for playing along.  Now an exercise in creativity for you and your kids, the neighborhood, or kids at the pool.  You name it.  Email it to nephews, nieces, and any other child you might know.  I need the fresh and creative minds of kids and adults to help name the character below. 

Anyone submitting a name will have his/her name entered in a drawing for a Christmas in July box of treats.  Thanks for playing.  We'll run this activity through the weekend, so I won't draw the name for winner until Sunday night.  We'll announce on Monday morning.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.  Signing off until Monday...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Free For All Friday: Christmas Conversations

Christmas cookies for friends and teachers of Matthew and Jack

In my house today is Christmas Eve.  It also happens to be my dad's birthday.  Dad, if you're reading this... Happy Birthday.  I love you.

Tonight the boys will have their cousins over for Christmas cookies, hot cocoa, and a white elephant (per artnme1556's suggestion) Christmas exchange.  After the cousins return home we'll read T'was the night before Christmas and then it's off to sleep.  No worries... the kids know Santa only makes one appearance a year, so there's no chance they'll be slipping down stairs wondering what Santa left.  They do know, however, that mommy and daddy will leave one treat in each of their stockings for the fun of it.

There are a lot of ways I could go today's free for all... favorite gifts you've ever received (as suggested by Heidi earlier in the week), Free for All Christmas trivia, favorite holiday recipes...  and the list goes on.  The good news is I still have the actual holiday season (Christmas is 159 days away) to hit any major topic of interest that I miss this time around.

So today I'll be selfish and make a personal request.  The topic...  Christmas Conversation Questions.  Richard and I typically host at least one "grown-up" dinner party around the holidays, each year.  I love setting the table with my formal china and topping it off small picture frame bearing a holiday related question.  I find the questions a great way to break the ice if guests don't already know one another, as well as generally helping people get in the holiday spirit. 
I'm tired of my same old, same old questions... "The best Christmas present I ever received is..."; "If Santa had a tenth reindeer what would his name be?"; "My favorite ornament on the tree is..."  I need new questions.  That's where all of you come in.  Believe it or not, I would love 100 questions from which I can pick and choose the best.  Now, we've had record turnout this week in terms of posting comments.  Don't fail me now.  Help me build a bank of Christmas questions better than my current list.  Naturally each question does not have to be a separate post.

A couple of important announcements:
  • Yesterday's contest: Notta one of you guessed where SNANta Claus would go.  Nope, notta one.  So, in honor of the THREE additional Random Acts of Kindness postcards I received in the mail yesterday (yes, they are still rolling in and it is still not too late for you to mail yours), I will draw a name from the RAK box to determine the lucky winner of Nan's luggage tags.  Hopefully this is motivating the last of you to finally get up and send me a postcard with your mailing address.  It is the only way to win some of our most fun prizes.  My mailing address: 4012 Harvestwood Court, Grapevine, Texas, 76051.  So, the lucky luggage tag winner is...
Julie from New York
  • Tomorrow:  If you have, know, or live near any kids, I hope you will find a way to involve them in tomorrow's blog entry.  I have a small box of Christmas in July treats to send the winning child, so don't miss out on this fun chance to test their creativity. 
Signing off until tomorrow...
Oh yeah... it was 
Thanks for playing, everyone!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Vote Nan for Santa Claus!

I might have titled today's blog, Nan for President, but since it's Christmas in July I thought I should stick with the theme.  So, Santa it is.  Nan for Santa Claus.  Besides, Nan's spirit, good cheer, and generosity is far more suited for Santa Claus than it is for politician.  

Today you'll get to meet Nan and maybe you'll agree.

First.  The original reason I intended to talk about Nan  is because of her creative use of the Christmas cards she acquires during the holiday season.  I've seen all kinds of things done with Christmas cards including... lining mantels, covering archways; filling trees, wreaths, and all sorts of contraptions designed for the display of cards.  The conundrum with Christmas cards is, once the card has been read and the holiday is over, what is one supposed to do with the thoughtful gestures from family and friends?  Simply throwing them away seems heartless... even crass, but keeping them seems so impractical.  Me?  I read them, cross reference their address with what's in my address book to assure I'm still up to date, maybe display the card for a few days or a week, and then get rid of them.  That,coming from someone who hates clutter and is constantly looking for what can be disposed of next. 

The idea I'm about to share makes me feel so much better about Christmas cards.  It might one day be featured on the blog I am desperately trying to get Nan to start.  She would be a natural for blogging and could fill whole screens with creative ideas that make you go hmmmmm... why didn't I think of that?  So one day when Nan makes it big, you can say you met her here first, at  What makes her idea so good?... SIMPLICITY!  No extra time, no extra money, no craft supplies required... just a simple, but great idea.

Ok, here it is... Nan takes all the Christmas cards she receives in a season - and I do believe, based on how many people she knows and her social calendar, that it must be well over one hundred - and places them in a basket near her family's dinner table.  Each week after Christmas, while eating dinner together, one member of her family draws a Christmas card or two from the basket and reveals the card-givers name(s).  Nan's family will either say a simple prayer for that family or use it as a chance to do things such as place a phone call to their home, send a card saying hello, or simply talk over dinner about what makes that family special.

Great idea, huh?  All I can think is.... hey, I want a card in that basket.  I want my family to be "featured" in someone else's home over dinner one night.  The idea is so simple and yet so meaningful.  It takes a Christmas card (many of which people like Peggy and Chaotic put significant time into making) and gives the card a longer and more meaningful life.  It takes the spirit of Christmas (to spread kindness and good will) and extends it through the entire year.  I will adopt this idea beginning Christmas 2008.  The beauty of it... no preparation or supplies required.  No skill necessary... just a basket and the sheer will to make it happen.

Second.  Just like Santa, Nan can frequently be found in her magical workshop making treats to share with others.  One of her specialties?  The cutest luggage tags you've ever seen.  Everything about them is cute.  The free-handed fonts she uses, the pictures/icons she draws on them, color choice... I love everything about them.  Each of my sons has been the fortunate recipient of one of Nan's luggage tags, since moving into the neighborhood last fall.  I'm already scrolling through my list of gift recipients to decide who I will purchase a set for this holiday season... teachers, baby sitter, barrista at Starbucks?  I'm not sure who yet, but rest assured, someone will find these in their Christmas stocking.

Fortunately for us, Nan has generously offered to make a set of four luggage tags that I can give away on today's blog.  Win the set (to be personalized as requested by you) by answering this question...  If SNANta Claus was to hop on her sled today and take a vacation anywhere in the Continental U.S., to where would she go?  Guess it right and you're the winner.  More than one correct guesser and I'll draw one of your names from my Santa hat.

Third.  Nan has the best looking elves.  Yesterday they joined my boys in making Snowmen Sundaes (the perfect way to celebrate National Ice Cream Month AND Christmas in July, ALL at once).  Two scoops of vanilla ice cream, sitting in a large drift of snow, made of whipped cream; coconut snowflakes; a corn cob pipe; a button nose; and two eyes made out of coal (a.k.a chocolate chips).  Truth... I filled bowls with all sorts of treats and let the 
kids "build" their own snowmen.  We played Christmas music and talked about what we thought Santa would bring.  Still, the whole thing - beginning to end - only lasted about 20 minutes.  Another good reason not to delay.  These ideas we have, but never quite get around to implementing?... They never take as long, or are as hard, as we envision.

That it.  That's my pitch for voting Nan for Santa Claus.  I hope you'll agree.

Signing off until tomorrow...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Whack on the Side of the Head Wednesday: Bah Humbug!

Winners from yesterday listed at the bottom of today's post.

Maybe it's because it's hump day.  Maybe because Richard is out of town and I am left flying solo on dinner, baths, tantrums, getting the kids dressed, finding shoes... the whole nine yards.  Or, maybe it's because it is Christmas time and, as invigorating as the holidays can be, they always leave me a little tired.  Whatever the reason... I'm feeling sluggish today.

This should give you additional insight into my mood... 

The only thing I can think to Whack today are problems.  Christmas... the most commercialized, celebrated, ridden-with-possibility topic, and chock full of fun-whacking-potential (gift ideas, packaging, decorations for the home, or family traditions), and the only thing I can think to whack is the thing that makes me want to say "Bah Humbug."

So here it is... I have family Christmas shopping down to somewhat of a science.  Richard and I establish our budget, generate a list of all family and friends for whom we would like to purchase a gift and then divide the money out accordingly.  This is where the "J" (organized and a little fanatical) side of me comes out.  I establish an envelope for each person, containing the designated allotment of cash.  Cash from one person's envelope never mixes with cash from another person's envelope, including change!  We operate in cash only for holidays, so when the cash is gone it's time to stop Christmas shopping...

Or so it goes... theoretically.  I'll tell you what throws me off every year!  The important, but somewhat extraneous people who deserve a special something, but for whom I consistently either (a) do not plan ahead and/or (b) do not have a good gift idea.  Either way, it inevitably leads to my over spending.  I'm either purchasing the gift at the last minute (always costs more) or I'm overcompensating for my lack of gift-buying-ingenuity.

Who exactly am I talking about?... Teachers and the director(s) at the boys preschool; the mail delivery person; the men who pick up our garbage twice a week; my housekeeper; acquaintances who I see daily (Starbucks crew); and friendly neighbors.  These, to name a few.  I'm sure you have your own list brewing of people who fall in this category.  As noted earlier, to overlook anyone of these people would not be o.k.  They are members of my immediate community and I want to spread holiday cheer, letting them know they're appreciated.  The question is... what can I do that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, but is more thoughtful than a gift card?

Come on von Oech.  Don't fail me now.  Today, of all days I need a serious dose of whacking.  So, what does von Oech have to say?...

Get support.  One reason gypsies have a good healthy record is the role the family plays in establishing a positive health environment.  When a gypsy gets sick, it's common for six or eight others to accompany her to the doctor.  Such family participation provides not only a support system for the ill member, it also creates a high expectancy for getting well.  Similarly, it's easier to be creative if your environment both supports and expects new ideas.  What support systems can you create?

Wow, this feel fortuitous.  A day when I am clearly dragging and I get to ask what support systems I can create?  Serendipity or prophetic?  Hmmmm....

Anyway... back to the issue at hand.  Christmas treats for the important people who comprise your community that are neither bank-breaking or impersonal.

Well the first thing that comes to mind is all the talent right here on this blog.  We have Heidi the Beader; Wendy the Wine Glass Charm Maker; Beekayroot the Photographer; Peggy the card maker; cspgradstudent the Decoupager; Cassie the cookie baker; Cheryl the Genius Mosaic Artist; Stacie the bag maker; Kat who is clearly going to town whipping up all kinds of Christmas treats, based on her Monday comment; and who knows what I'm missing.

What's a co-op?  

Is that the kind of thing where we all come together, pitch in what we have, and everyone leaves with more than they came with?  Maybe that's my solution.  Put a lump sum of money in a caddy (contributed by anyone interested in participating).  Then, that money could fund projects by our community artists.  In the end, each participating person would contribute "x" amount, but walk away with "x" number of unique Christmas gifts.

I guess a natural question could be... "Claudia, why the community approach?  Why not just contact the artists and place your own orders... now, not on December 15?"  Truth, I'm not sure.  I guess I assume when an artist makes time to sit down and make something like beaded jewelry, cards, wine glass charms, etc... it's more efficient and therefore beneficial to make multiple items than it is to fill my lone order.  I think this is what the Industrial Revolution was based on.

So that's my crack at today's whack.  But...  Instead of having everyone whack my Christmas dilemma, how about each of us uses von Oech's principle to whack the thing most likely to make you say, "Bah Humbug".  This way, we get to learn more about each of your holiday experiences and, in the process, generate a variety of creative solutions. 

Coincidentally, just one day after celebrating an increase of 35%, over the projected 5,000 readers in 77 days, we had one of our slowest days ever... including weekends.  Maybe everyone was busy doing their Christmas shopping.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.  

The good news is you would never know by looking at posts that yesterday was slow.  We had a record 87 posts - naturally the majority were loyal, high-achieving readers who - like I - couldn't bear the idea of not hitting the aspiration 77 posts.  Thanks, everyone for playing along yesterday.

Cassie and Lori R. were the winners of the Pickle in a Hay Stack contest, meaning they will each receive a Christmas present from me (in July).  Cassie found the original pickle, located on May 29 and Lori's pickle was posted on April 22.  

Now for the lucky winner of the chocolate chip cookies containing 1,765 mini chocolate chips.  I tried to switch things up a bit by NOT simply having you guess a number from 1-77.  Instead, the idea was, the person posting the comment corresponding to the number in my head, would be the winner.  Now for the number.  Was it... 22, my volleyball number as suggested by Maureen?  65 the year I was born? 3 the number of boys I have? 13 the date of my anniversary (November) and the residence hall floor on which I was an RA for a number of years?  Lucky 7, the date of my birthday?  Or maybe 42, my age? No, no, no, and no.  The number was 18, the date of my father's birthday (July), my mother's birthday (August), and highlowaha's inaugural post (February).  Congratulations...

Stacie was also our 100 Pounds of Popcorn Winner

Signing off until tomorrow...