Monday, September 8, 2008

Taste of USA Recap

Announcements at the end...  

A brief and special hello to Funsies and Kristen... two of the newest readers joining us on Highlowaha.  We are glad you are part of our community.

Pennsylvania was great fun.  I think it was unanimous, we wish the whole lot of you could have been with us in Philly for our First Annual Taste of USA.  I have the difficult challenge of recapping some of our adventure, though I have asked for some help by the participants.  Hopefully each of the participants will check in at least once today, sharing a few of their own words about some portion of the weekend.  Between all of us, maybe will feel like you got a taste of the weekend.

Saturday morning started with me and Cheryl searching for a Starbucks.  We left the hotel with just enough time to get a coffee, before picking up cupcakes from the Flying Monkey and heading over to Temple University to set up the room.  Getting lost was not in the plan.  Starbucks never happened and we spent much of the day in pursuit of the elusive cup of coffee.

Amy, one of our Taste of USA participants agreed to pick us up at our hotel, bring us to get cupcakes, and then go with us to Temple to help set up.  Again, plan diverted after realizing my GPS still thought we were in Dallas and insisted in providing us directions all the way from 121 and Hall Johnson.  Thanks goodness Cheryl has some as semblance of inner compass.  Later than planned, I flew into the Flying Monkey and flew out with fun light bulb cupcakes in hand.

Onto Temple University.  Streets in the north east are not the neat little grids you find in cities founded after Manifest Destiny.  Don't exactly know why, but they're not.  Suffice it to say, we got turned around...again. 

At this point it's raining.  Not the torrential down pour we would experience at other points during the day, but still raining enough to make it inconvenient for unloading arm loads of treats and props.  Oh, and Temple was having their first home football game.  Which is to say... the campus was crowded and parking was at a premium.  We happenstanced on a a parking spot and a contractor gave us the secret low down on sneaking in the building via the kitchen.  Sounded good to us.  Desperate times, desperate measures

We convince ourselves... if we got lost and couldn't find parking so too would the participants get lost and be late.  Nope.  We were the only ones.

So, the fun began with participants helping us set up.  Finally we're ready and the fun begins.  We did a name game to introduce ourselves, played a few rounds of Family Feud to test our participants knowledge of HLA trivia, and loosened up our creativity with a small group activity.  A note about creativity activity...  My idea was to have the participants take two random items (brought by them) and use them to develop a blog topic I could write about this week.  Once the topic was developed, they had to whack it with a card from von Oech's Whack Pack.  Tune in Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday to see what they came up with.

I'll be working hard this week, as he topics are all over the place.  Pulling them together will be a good test of my creativity.

Now lunch time.  I had fixed in my mind we needed to eat authentic Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches.  My intent was to travel by subway to Pat's - the most infamous Philly Cheesesteak location in Philadelphia.  The rain put a literal damper on that and we ended up going, by caravan, to Geno's (another well known place in Philly).  This was a definite culture shock for all of us.  Geno's is part bar, part Philly Cheesesteak hole in the wall.  In the back... a dark bar pulsating with the bass of what I am sure is some very hip and very current rap music (about which I know nothing).  Beer lined the counters and refrigerator shelves, with a small non-descript soda machine tucked in the corner.  No room for tables and chairs... just a narrow walkway with a bank teller machine to accommodate the cash only policy.

Sandwiches were great (and BIG). Lunch was topped off with a Highlowaha cupcake picnic, a Ray Wattson scavenger hunt (with a fun t-shirt as the prize, and a fire drill).  Yes, you got it... a fire drill in the pouring rain.  Thankfully there was no real fire and we were able to drag our feet enough that we didn't end up having to stand outside.  Activity resumed.  In the afternoon we had show and tell, where each participant shared their "go-to" craft supply.  I took lots of notes and have a long list of ideas for future giveaways.

At 2:18 the very prompt Sue K. called and won our Random Act of Kindness package.  Everyone kicked in their home grown treat and Amy (our package-making goddess) orchestrated our packing it up.  The phone continued to ring long after 2:18 allowing us to also say hello to Heather and Stacie... all the while the phone beeping through with other callers. 

With creativity in full swing, we spent the next hour sharing ideas about how we can improve the highlowaha experience for our readers.  I have three large pieces of paper filled with ideas - all of which I will share with you over time.  For now let me tease you with phrases such as: regional coordinators; reader profiles; show and tell; and virtual dates. 
We topped off the experience with another cupcake picnic (thanks to Tera's fabulous chocolate filled cupcakes), a postcard exchange, a closing activity, and picture taking.

Even after the program technically ended, the fun persisted.  A group of us met up for dinner and laughed all night long recanting fun behind-the-scene stories from our decathlon - not to mention the no-nonsense waitress who took our orders.

The experience was great.  On a serious note, I am inspired that a group of people - bound only by their passion for creativity and community - could come together for a weekend and have as much fun as we did.  It affirms, in my mind, that we are onto something unique here and that your contributions matter.

Pictures from the weekend are forthcoming... just as soon as Tera and Treye (our photographers) work with Julie, our slide show coordinator, to pull something together. 

  • Cake pan winner:  After much deliberation, the winner of our over-sized cupcake pan is Stacie W. from Louisville, Kentucky.  She proposed the next "must-have" big item that Amy and I should have is an over sized rubber chicken.  We agreed.  Congratulations, Stacie.
  • TONIGHT! Countdown to the Super Bowl:  Tonight starts our Football Snack Throw Down at Struble Suds.  Brian and Richard are facing down with BACON as their secret ingredient.  Wanna make a prediction about who will win?
  • Patchwork:  You may or may not know that Highlowaha has opportunities for you to win patches to be attached to something denim (jeans preferably; a jacket; a denim apron, or even a hat).  I have thirteen patches to be given away - one on each night of a Green Bay Packer Game.  The patch will go to whoever comes closest to guessing the final score of the game.  Inquiring minds want to know... how many of you have your patchwork apparel designated and already have a patch attached?  It's never too late to start.
Signing off until tomorrow...

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