Monday, August 31, 2009

Knee High by Fourth of July

We gave it the ol' college try!

Today we reveal our response to your Fancy Flour Challenge of the Month. The source of this month's celebration was college orientations around the country - with a special focus on Bucknell University. Bucknell has a long standing history of shining when it comes to orientation. They pull out the stops by creating publications, t-shirts, props, events, gifts, and giveaways - all revolving around their thoughtfully crafted annual theme.

This year's theme? O-Museum.

While Bucknell's orientation staff members were busy bringing their theme to life by building dinosaurs, airplanes, artifacts, and pieces of art, we - the Highlowaha staff - were busy building our own exhibit.

We title this exhibit, If These Walls Had Ears.

On the North Wall...
John Deere, "Corn" and Author Unknown, "Nude"

On the South Wall...
Corntisse, "Gold Fish," Corndrian, "Composition No. 18," and
Joan Corno, "L'oro Dell'azzurro"

East Wall...
Vincent Van Corn, "Self Portrait" Andy Cornhall "Pop Corn"
Corntisse, "Gold Fish (again)"

and West Wall..
Cornasso "Weeping Woman" Cornasso "Evening Flowers"

And if none of those suit your fancy, how about this still life?
Give us an "A" for effort or an "F" for being "corny," either way... your turn! Win your own Ear of Corn (just in the nick of time to be the hit of all your fall festivities). Tell us another occasion for which you could use the corn cookie cutter, accompanied by your best attempt at a slogan.

Go ahead, get to the head of the class.

Signing off until tomorrow...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

StrengthsQuest Saturday: It's a Wrap

Quintessential Claudia. Get an idea, develop a plan, and even arrange to get the plan fully underway. But don't - DO NOT - expect me to be the strong finisher.

I am enamored with ideas and the development of a strategy to implement those ideas. Actual implementation, however, is not always my friend. By the time the end rolls around, I am already thick in the middle of developing an implementation strategy for my next idea.

That would explain how I could get all the way to week five of this five-week Saturday StrengthsQuest Series and not have today's activity firmly locked into place.

If you are just tuning into Highlowaha for the first time, you have NO idea what I am talking about. But, don't despair. You are in the right place. It's never too late to learn about your unique talents and how to unleash them onto the world. You'll need a quick tutorial, though. Click here, and here, and here, and here to get a full handle on what you've missed.

Tuning in the for the fifth Saturday in a row? Congratulations to you and your commitment to self. Week 1, Discover your top five themes; Week 2, The influence of your top five themes on relationships; Week 3, Vocation or Vacation? Does work (in or out of home) allow you to showcase your talents?; and Week 4, Past successes provide clues into how we can use our themes for goal attainment.

Week 5, Hmmmm....
  • Use of your themes to advance Highlowaha? Too self-serving.
  • Final reflections and questions?
  • How, if at all, do you see yourself continuing to use concepts from StrengthsQuest even after our five-week series is over?
  • Pick a theme you would like to actively cultivate. Tell us about it?
  • Identify a movie clearly depicting one of your top five themes. What is the movie's title and how does it illustrate your strength?
I don't know.

I'm not the closer, remember? I'm the one who could spend hours scouring the website for information and then spend a comparable number of hours generating potential questions. But, seal the deal? Don't count on it.

Aaahhh... But, if I've learned anything through this five-week experience it is, when each of us focuses on our strengths - and allows those around us to do the same - we don't have to have all the answers. We don't need all the answers, because the people around us are brimming with their own greatness.

People have an unlimited amount of energy for the things we are good at and... given the chance, most of us will gladly jump in and help... if for no other reason than an opportunity to SHINE.

Closers, jump in and Shine. Seal the deal. Make it a wrap. And, do it better than I ever could.

Signing off until Monday...

P.S. Lauren and Kate... Sausage by a landslide!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Free For All Friday: Snack Throw Down Kick-Off


Welcome to the new people, visiting our site in support of Lauren and Kate who are preparing to compete in Week #1 of or Football Snack Throw Down.

Wanna know the two ingredients between which you are voting? Click on our video, take a sneak peek into our fun community, and check out the first two ingredients of the season. Then visit our comment section to vote on the ingredient you think they should have to use.

Also this week...

Last StrengthsQuest Saturday is tomorrow!
Altoid Table winner of the week, and
Free For All Topic of the Week

Signing off until tomorrow...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Aaargh: Return of Pirate Bingo!

Good Mornin' highlowaha! You guessed it, today be t' day we begin gettin' ready for National Talk Like a Pirate Day, September 19, 2009. You won't want t' miss out, as thar be fun t' be had and loot t' be won!

I won't make you read an entire post in pirate-ese (yet!), but rest assured, the closer we get to the day the more proficient you will become. Newcomers to our site should take an extra couple of minutes to view our pirate fun from last year.

So what's in store this year? Lots of fun capped off by the Second Annual Pirate Bingo Fundraiser. Readers purchase a Bingo card for a nominal fee and then play Bingo in hopes of winning fabulous prizes. All proceeds go to Highlowaha's Gift of 218 Philanthropy.

Lots of details still to be worked out.

Detail #1. What are our prizes?

That's where you - our fun loving and thoughtful - readers come into play. Loyal readers, occasional visitors, and lurkers alike - get to donate items you consider worth winning (click here to see examples from last year). The fact that loot is donated is what makes the event a fundraiser.

Detail #2. How do you win prizes?

Readers and your family and friends will be invited to purchase Bingo cards. On the evening of Saturday, September 19 we will host a Pirate Bingo Party - virtually. We call numbers and post them in our blog's comment section. You play Bingo in your homes (in front of the computer) and the first person to post Bingo wins the round and the prize of his/her choice. The process wasn't flawless last year, but rather than make me walk the plank how 'bout making a suggestion or two about how we might refine the process.

Detail #3. What's in it for you?

Fun; an opportunity to catch the Spirit of 218 by celebrating with family and friends; a chance to continue raising money for the Gift of 218. Check out the Official Talk Like a Pirate Website for more ideas than you could ever implement. You could... build a pirate ship, elaborate or out of card board; bake a pirate cake or cupcakes; play pirate games; or sing pirate sea shanty's.

Detail #4. What now?

Mark your calendar for the evening of Saturday, September 19; dig out your pirate garb; start planning your party or family gathering; and get ready for some fun. Also, let us know if you can donate some loot to be won by our Bingo winners.

Questions? Questions?

Otherwise, signing off until tomorrow mateys...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Whack on the Side of the Head Wednesday: Get it on the Radar

At least once a week when I was working at Southern Methodist University (SMU), I uttered the words, "Let's get it on the radar and worry about improving it later." I did a lot of building while I was at SMU - lots of innovation.

Turns out, Edison ascribed to a similar philosophy when innovating. Rather than beginning with researchers steeped in academic principles and theory, Edison almost always conceived of an idea, sketched approaches and jumped right into building his prototype. According to Axelrod, author of Edison on Innovation, Edison counted on going back to observe, manipulate, and modify his prototype until it was spot on perfect.

Get it on the radar and improve the prototype later.

Two weeks ago, on this day, many of us were heavy in the middle of competing in Highlowaha's Triathlon. Triathletes generated 100 ways to have Ray's Shine campaign spread faster, further, and more furiously than the much anticipated Swine Flu.

Over 1000 creative ideas for making Shine an epidemic. That's what we generated.

I could wait for a marketing specialist to counsel me through academic principles including topics such as product viability, business plan development, market research, and securing venture capitalists or...

I could jump right, get something on the radar and improve on it later.

Below are five ideas that showed up on more than one of your submissions. Pick one and whack it. Sketch an approach for us. Flesh out the idea of your choice - who, what, where, when, why, and how. We'll get busy building your prototype. Six weeks and we'll have something on the radar. Then we can get busy improving it.

What will it be?
  • Develop a Ray calendar
  • Have Ray sponsor an event
  • Create a coloring book of Ray
  • Make Ray stickers to be widely distributed
  • Produce a Ray video for YouTube
Oh, and here's a look at what readers were trying to sketch in yesterday's Whego activity. Below it is also a peek at our readers' attempts...

Signing off until tomorrow...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Here's some irony.

The other day I got a few thoughtful emails from loyal readers. One commented on the seemingly difficult task of coming up with a creative idea every day - which by the way, usually comes far more easily than the writing, linking, Facebooking, and photo-embedding portion of the endeavor that Cheryl, Katie, and Heather get roped into.

But, like the gymnast who makes the mistake of thinking about her beam routine or the tennis player who focuses on the mechanics of her serve, sometimes... thinking about how we do what we do is the very thing that gets in our way.

This morning I fell off the beam. Double faulted on my serve.

With no creative idea and a 4:00 a.m. deadline, I panicked. I asked Richard to give me two words - two words, which according to our friend von Oech, could serve as my oracle. "Whiskey" and "Lego," that's what he gave me.


Immediately I Google and get this Metallica video. Not quite what I was thinking.

The idea of Legos, maybe. I have a house full of them - in my cushions, stuck in drawers, under pillows, in the vegetable drawer of our refrigerator. You know, all the places you might expect to come upon Legos. And while I'm at it... BIG thanks to my sister who sent Matthew the 645-piece Railway Express Lego System for Christmas! SYSTEM! Come to think of it, maybe Richard was onto something when he said, "Whiskey."

Thing of it is, I recently did some training for residence life staff at a local college. When I was a resident assistant (RA), we used Legos to demonstrate basic principles of communication. You have a pile of Legos. I have a pile of Legos. The test is whether or not you can recreate the structure I built, based solely on my verbal communication. NO PEEKING!

Leogs + Nostalgia = Today's creative idea.

Problem. You might not have Legos.

I'll improvise. Grab a piece of paper and a writing utensil.

I will communicate a series of instructions which, if followed, will result in a recognizable drawing of an every day item. Let's see how you do. If you feel like it... send a picture of your masterpiece to by 10:00 tonight. No refining. No do-overs. It'll be funnier that way. We'll post your interpretations tomorrow, for a good laugh. Think this is fun? Try it with friends and family over dinner tonight.

Now the instructions...
  • Turn your paper so it sits vertically (not landscape) .
  • Begin at the top left hand side of the page, draw a line approximately three and a half inches to the right, rounded, but angled downward.
  • Adjacent to the end of the line sitting lower on the page, draw a line approximately six and a half inches long, down, but angled slightly left.
  • Adjacent to the bottom of the line just drawn, draw another line three and a half inches long, directly below and parallel to the first line drawn.
  • From the end of that line, draw a two and a half inch line up.
  • Do the same to the above parallel line. But, draw this line two and a half inches down.
  • Connect those two lines with a backward letter "C."
  • From the center of the line closest to the bottom of the page, draw what might look like a small piece of rigatoni.
  • Extending from that and extending to the bottom of the page, draw a series of cursive lower-case letter "e"s.
Now take a picture and email it in by 10:00 p.m. CST. And, leave us a comment letting us know how it.

It's official, isn't it? Whego. Whego'in crazy.

Signing off until tomorrow...

Monday, August 24, 2009


Yo, Rayola here,

It's back to school in Texas.  Yeah, some of you have been in school for weeks now but it's hot here.  I'm the only one of left from Matthew's box of 64.  Of course Jack got a hold of some of us but most of the others just melted.  It was 100 degrees yesterday.  If I hadn't been thrown across the play room, I would have ended up in a puddle in a Honda cup holder.  Oh, the horror.  The life of a crayon is not nearly as glamorous as many people think.  Do you know how many kids eat crayons?  Between the peeling, snapping, sharpening and melting, it's a wonder any of us make it through a school year.  Don't get me started on that whole Black Magic thing either.  Simply frightening.  Kids are animals.

Come to think of it, I can't think of a school supply that has it easy.  Pencils.  Pencils get sharpened, used as all manner of probe and pick, and even have their erasers torn off.  I haven't seen a pencil yet that hasn't been in someone's ear.  Think about it.  

Paste.  What about paste?  Sure it smells good.  Kids love to eat paste too.  They eat it, throw it, smear it, flick it, scrape it and smush it.  My mother had a friend that was a bottle of Liquid Paper.  One day he was the picture of health.  Then Timmy Taylor put him in the microwave.  He was never the same.  True story.  Rubber bands, chalk, eraser heads, scissors, staplers, it's an endless list of victims.  Not even paper is safe.  Need I even mention spit balls?

So, as the new year begins again, I'd like for you to take a fresh look at my friends and me.  Surely, you have seen us being mistreated.  What's the worst thing that you've witnessed?  Tell us about it.

Gotta hide.  Here comes Jack.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

StrengthsQuest Saturday: You Want to What?

For those of you stumbling upon Highlowaha for the first time, your timing is impeccable. You've entered upon a community committed to being creative; building friendships; providing service to others; and engaging in personal development-type activities.

Today is Part Four of a five-week series on why it is so good to be you. Click here for background.

Returners... in week one we reflected on whether or not we thought our five designated themes accurately described our strengths. Week two we considered how relationships and important life events events are impacted by our strengths. Last week - week three - we delved into Csikszentmihalyi's concept of "flow" and evaluated whether our work place (home, place of business, or volunteer work) showcased our strengths or left us feeling unfulfilled.

Today is week number four. The focus... personal goals. How, specifically, can you channel your five themes to facilitate the completion of a goal... or dare I say... resolution?

If we look back over our lives, each of us has a handful of accomplishments for which we are proud. For me it might be deciding I was going to sail on Semester at Sea and then actually doing it three years later. It might be having the discipline not to marry a person clearly not right for me; completing my Ph.D. in three years, or making the commitment to post daily on Highlowaha and then following through, despite the rigor.

Our innate strengths, as outlined in Rath's book, StrengthsQuest 2.0, are actually probably largely responsible for our successes. It seems to me, achieving a goal or making-good on a resolution is nothing more than successfully deploying your strengths to make something happen - something you've set your sights on.

Why, then, have I still not mastered the crock pot - a deal I made with StingRay eight months ago? And, why hasn't Sally Sunshine lost the weight she wanted to and Mary Jane saved the money she hoped to, and Aunt Annie written the book she planned to? If we have strengths then why don't we achieve our goals?

The answer, I think - though I am no expert - is that most of us do not know what our strengths are, NEVER MIND how to channel them toward specific outcomes. We'll use me as an example and then each of you will take a crack at it.

My strengths are (the same as last week and the week before that): Strategic, Focus, Input, Ideation, and Achiever. I was able to complete my doctoral work in three years because I successfully deployed my themes of strategic, focus, and achiever. I had a plan; I was focused and stuck with it; and the sense of achievement I felt by sticking with my plan provided tremendous satisfaction.

If one of my themes was something like Significance, I might have spent a lot of time thinking about the impact my work could have on the profession and maybe that would have been my motivation to complete my degree in three years. The point is... everyone has strengths and, once we know what they are, each person can literally employ her strengths to help her achieve her life's goals.

So let's try it. Tell us about a goal you have and then tell us how you intend to use a combination of your five themes to help you achieve that goal.

And, do it quick... before StingRay strikes again!

Signing off until tomorrow...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Free For All Friday

All I can say is...  

Welcome Misty
Tag line
turn your volume down and...
Get ready to rumble!

Signing off until tomorrow...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

If I Knew Then What I Know Now

Some days I feel like "Scoop," the reporter, on assignment, covering the Highlowaha beat.  Those are some of my favorite days.

Heather, Cheryl, Katie, and I decided a few weeks back that we would devote a couple of days to topics related to back to school - thus yesterday's invitation to whack a fall tradition.  Struggling for a second topic, sure to be a hit, the four of us decided it would be wise to pick the brains of veteran moms.   If they couldn't come up with topics of interest, who could?!

Around the same time the four of us settled on a tactic, Judy - a local seamstress - called my house arranging to deliver a throw pillow. We were only minutes into our visit and... JACKPOT!  It seems Judy, and the five other women she meets with on Friday mornings all served on the PTA.  Discussions of students and teachers has since been replaced with talk of vacations and house remodelings, now that kids are grown and the nests are empty. 
Hands are not idol while these women talk.  Each year they take on at least one service project - usually sewing related.  It seems, my visit landed on the day they were committed to finishing the old-wedding-dresses-turned-quilt-project (donated to a local auction supporting a battered women's shelter).

I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I could attend a weekly meeting provided: (1) Judy could get permission from the other five women, and (2) I could be brief.  Time between these women is coveted and it has been for the 13 years since they have been meeting.  In fact, there is a standing joke among these women that, you would never dare die on a Friday, because no one would attend your funeral.  They would all be at the weekly Friday meeting, affectionately referred to as their SBC meeting.

Sure - In response to the prompt "If you knew then what you know now..." I got helpful tips to share.  Eagerly they gave advice such as: start at an early age making your kids get themselves up to an alarm; don't bail them out of every situation; the patterns they display in first and second grade will be the same patterns that persist in high school; book back to school medical appointments early; engage in activity along side your sons if you want them to talk, because face to face rarely works; make kids learn to use a calendar; husband and wife must be united; and pace yourself.


But, here's what I really learned that day.  I learned the power of community.  Behind the doors of this unsuspecting house on Windswept Lane lives a network of friends who has gotten each other through everything from divorce to cancer, to angst with teenage kids, and everything in between.  These women are family.  In thirteen years they've eaten a lot of cinnamon rolls and shared a lot of coffee, but most importantly they have found a place where they can be candid.  They share trials with as much ease as they do tribulations.  Six women committed to sharing every Friday together.  It's a bond so tight husbands and children don't even try to get in the way.

I left Windswept Lane knowing I was just given a gift - mentoring by six incredibly wise women and a glimpse into the kind of life I could create for myself.  And, I will.  Slowly I will begin building my own SBC group.  My eyes are firmly fixed on the prize - a group of friends interested in traveling together on this journey of parenthood and growing older.  Just the idea of such a group makes the whole trip seem so much more like an adventure!

In some way, Highlowaha feels like the door to our own community on Windswept Lane. Meeting up with so many of you each day is like sharing our life journeys.  So, while I don't have cinnamon rolls or coffee, let me ask you...

If you knew then what you know now...

Signing off until tomorrow...

P.S.  I don't think I would be breaching confidence to tell you that, SBC stands for Stitch, Bitch, and Chatter.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Whack on the Side of the Head Wednesday: Corned Beef and Cabbage

I started this blog a year and a half ago, because I believe small things make a big difference.

Consider this. Birthdays were a big deal growing up in my house. If your birthday landed on a school day you were treated to a highly coveted Coke, instead of a can Mott's Apple Juice; your first treat of the day was always waiting in your cereal bowl; and you always, always got to pick the dinner of your choice. Mine? Corned beef and cabbage with cooked carrots and potatoes. So etched is this memory in my mind, that Richard (thoughtful man that he is) still makes this dinner for me every October.

Here's the truth. I wasn't eating corn beef and cabbage at two or three years of age and probably not even three or four. I probably ate my first corn beef and cabbage dinner was when I was nine and I left for college when I was 18 years old. That means this birthday memory, etched so deeply in my mind, actually happened eight or nine times... at most!

When you get down to it, it's true. Some of our most fond childhood memories are family traditions that, when truly recalled, can be reduced to an event that happened six or seven times.

Today's post is in celebration of this factoid.

Last year around this time I introduced readers to my neighbor Nan A. Not only did I share her simple First Day of School family ritual, but I shamelessly stole it, replicated it, and gave an extra one away on my blog.

Her idea was a table cloth. When Nan's kids come down to breakfast on the first day of school they are met with a well appointed kitchen table - the star of which is a first-day-of-school tablecloth. That's it. No bells, no whistles, no major expense and limited preparation on Nan's part. But to those three kids who are already excited about the prospect of a new year, the sight of that familiar table cloth provides the security of a warm blanket.

It's not really about the table cloth - which Nan admits is just a large swatch of material from Joann Fabrics. It's about Nan's one gesture, repeated annually and ultimately condensed into one poignant childhood memory.

Small things make a big difference.

Today let's whack First Day of School Traditions (yours as kids, ones you've recently started, or - since so many of you work in higher education - ones you can share with college students). But, as is always the case, let's apply a creative principle from Axelrod's book on Edison (today's principle should seem especially timely to any reader participating in our StrengthQuest Saturdays).

Play to your strengths. If you are a manager, manage others in innovation. If you are a theoretician, think innovatively. But if you are hands-on, innovate with your hands. See the work and see it through. Let it take shape under your touch.

How can you use your strengths to innovate a fall tradition?

Signing off until tomorrow....

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Psst... It's That Time

It's that time again.

If you are new to our community then today you get inculcated into a favorite Highlowaha ritual. It is the cornerstone to our existence, because this tradition bears the very name of our blog. On the eighteenth day of each month we stop our normal blog shenanigans and spend the day reflecting on our high, low, and aha from the past month. As an added bonus, we draw the name of one lucky contributor and present the winner with the Ray shirt of his/her choice.

Important Note of Closure Before Going A Step Further: Kat, Cassie, and Peggy... your shirts were mailed yesterday morning! I couldn't bear heading into a new month without first squaring up on outstanding shirt orders.

Also, last month Cheryl generously presented us with Rayflection - an image as familiar to us as the activity itself. When you see Ray's cue, you'll know what to do!

I'll get us started for the month.
Cheryl's boys, flanked by my boys
Matthew, Drew, J.B., and Jack

High: We reached our goal of selling 21 Ikeasaurus shirts by August 18, so that we could help raise money for Ike's medical bills. Learn more here. Thanks to all you community members who did without another want or need so you could help us reach our goal. Other highs include celebrating my mother's birthday today; taking Matthew to the circus for the first time ever; seeing the movie The Julie/Julia Project; and welcoming quite a few new readers into our community.

Low: This has been the month of weird illnesses for me. I got a CAT scan this month (no worries, false alarm), followed by repeated insect bites on my eye. It swelled so much I had to take antibiotics. An allergic reaction to the antibiotic led to intense chest pains, and on Saturday it was all topped off with an ear ache. Flu season has never looked so good.

Aha: I have learned lots more about those readers participating in Strengthsquest Saturday - an experience I am loving. Also... learning more about this administration's health plan; always learning about issues related to student retention; and on Saturday Matthew gave me a fun little history lesson about the Patriots versus the Red Coats.

Now it's your turn. Take a second and share what's been going on in your corner of the world.

Signing off until tomorrow...

Monday, August 17, 2009

A-P I-T-D-Y to You!

I dated a great guy while in graduate school - funny, smart, driven, a great two-stepper, and... with a love for shoes. My sixteen year old son loves shoes too, so while I might have thought it unusual at one point, I now realize there is a male shoe gene. My husband didn't get it.

Ray, though. Ray with the purple boots. He, for sure, got the shoe gene.

The details of this stroll down memory lane are fuzzy, but the end product - the purpose for today's post - is quite clear.
I seem to remember that David and I were taking a Saturday study break and shopping at an outlet in Commerce, Georgia. He must have spotted a pair of shoes he liked, but understood that on his graduate student budget, buying those shoes would mean eating rice for the rest of the month. It was February, albeit a short month, but practicality still won out and David didn't get the shoes.

I went back the next day and got them. Valentine's Day was coming up and, though not very romantic, I knew the gift would be a... SHOE IN (couldn't resist).

Then it occurred to me. David's birthday was August 17 (today), making February 17 his half-birthday.

Pair of shoes. Valentine's Day. Half birthday... Got it.

On February 14, I filled one of the shoes with chocolate kisses, tied a mylar balloon to the laces and left it outside his apartment with a Valentine's Day card attached. Then three days later, on David's half birthday, I wrapped up the shoe box and presented him with the other HALF of his present!

Get it? Half birthday, half a present?

So today's creative idea provides us one more way to live Highlowaha's Spirit of 218 - Using everyday reasons to celebrate life's simple pleasures.

Half birthday's.

Half a cake, half a card, half a hat, half a present... with the promise of the other half to follow.

Here's the other fun thing about this. Sometimes we suck and we forget or just blatantly miss the birthday of someone important. Celebrating half birthdays is amnesty. Send a birthday present or card six months later and suddenly you've made their (half birth) day!
I missed my niece's February birthday earlier this year, so yesterday I bought her a small treat and today I will mail it... in two parts. She'll get half the present by end of this week and the other half will arrive early the following week. Same with the card I cut in half.

How about you? Is there a half birthday you can celebrate? What suggestions do you have for creating half a celebration? Decorate half a room, sing half, "Happy Birthday To You," use half the number of candles?

And, what are some other fun gift ideas that could be divided up as easily as a pair of shoes?

Signing off until tomorrow...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

StrengthsQuest Saturday: Go With the Flow

If it has been a few Saturdays since you've last checked in, click here to get a handle on what we are doing.

If you have been tuning in then you know we are in the middle of a five-week series, based on the book Strengths Finder 2.0 by, Tom Rath.  Book Club participants used the code found in the back of their book to take an on-line survey and determine their top five themes.  Still haven't gotten your book or taken the survey?  It's not too late.  Including this weekend, there are three weekends left to jump in on our conversation. 

The first week we disclosed our top five themes and shared whether we thought the descriptions were accurate.  The second week we explored those same themes, as they influence dynamics with family and friends.  I came to terms with why a contractor was measuring my backyard for a pool installation and many of you reflected on how your strengths impacted the way you parented, transitioned into a new community, or explained interactions with friends.

New Saturday, new topic.

Work.  Whether you work full time or part time; in an office or out of your house; as an independent contractor; a professional volunteer; or a stay-at-home mom, I expect today will be enlightening.  Today we consider how our top five themes influence the work we do.

My top five themes are: Strategic, Focus, Input, Ideation, and Achiever.  I've had eight jobs in seven states over the past 22 years and regardless of title or job description, it is only a matter of time before I begin building or creating something.  I imagine my instinct to build is somehow related to my propensity for developing strategies, combined with ideation, and the satisfaction that comes along with achievement.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (say that ten times fast) wrote a book titled, Flow.  "Flow," he explains is one of the most enjoyable and valuable experiences we can have.  It can be defined as activity that is demanding and rewarding and is often characterized by someone being so engaged they lose track of time and forget about all other commitments.

So, here's the question, embedded deep in the heart of my Texas post...

What activity do you engage in that puts you in a state of "flow?"  How do your top five themes help explain why you find it so enjoyable?  And finally, is the activity you described part of your daily work routine (however you define work)?  If not, what kind of job would allow you to be in a more constant state of flow?

Jess, Melissa, and Marcy... I'll cross my fingers and hope you can jump in this weekend!

Signing off until tomorrow...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Free For All Friday: And the Winners Are...

It's Friday, it's sunny, and it's still summer. Life is good.

We've had a fun week on Highlowaha and hope to see all of you back with us next week. We'll be switching gears a bit and relaxing after a rigorous week of competition.

On today's video...

StrengthsQuest Saturday
Altoid Table Winner
Target Challenge Voting
Fancy Flour Cookie Cutter Wrap-up
Get you Ikeasaurus Shirt
Free For All Friday Topic of the Week...

With no further ado...

Free For All Friday..."And winner takes all" from Ray Wattson on Vimeo.

Signing off until tomorrow...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Triathlon Day 3: A Picture is Worth $100

Welcome to the last leg of Highlowaha's 2009 Triathlon.

Keep your eye on the prize. $100.00 for first place, $50.00 for second place, and $25.00 for third place.

Monday started off with a "Surprise" warm up. Tuesday we challenged our creative hands by designing m&m mosaics, and yesterday we stretched our creative minds to generate 100 bright ideas for making Ray's message go viral. Shine!

Tuesday, hand. Wednesday, mind. That brings us to today. Thursday.

Today is about honing your creative eye.

The medium? Photography.

Use your creative eye to spot, photograph, and then submit one funny photo - a photo you think will make the judges laugh harder than anyone else's.

Photographs must be taken by you and submitted by 1o:00 p.m to

A quick recap of yesterday's event before moving on to today's. Your ideas shined. Really, they did. Suggestions included things such as billboards; Ray hats, shirts, socks, umbrellas and other paraphernalia; partnering with other Shine-related sites; writing to politicians, the president, and Michelle Obama; a book series; a coloring book series; graffiti art; YouTube videos; product placement on shows like the Today Show; ads in local papers; co-sponsor parties, golf tournaments, and military functions; and SO much more. Really, I could never do full justice to the 1084 ideas submitted (though I do promise to hang on to each and every one).


In the spirit of teaching practices routinely used among faculty members in the College of Visual Arts at UNT, judges reviewed all 100 ideas, but appointed scores based solely only on your 100th idea!

Check out the slide show below to see each competitor's last idea, as well as who - going into today - is in first, second, and third place. Don't despair. Less than 10 points separates the person in first place from the person in last place. A winning photo could change everything.

P.S. Important Note for Sporadic Spy: If you competed in Tuesday's m&m challenge, let us know which was your mosaic.

Good luck. Signing off until tomorrow when we meet at the awards ceremony...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Triathlon Day 2: Virology

Welcome athletes for the second leg of leg of Highlowaha's 2009 Triathlon. Prize money of $100.00 $50.00, and $25.00 is still up for grabs for first, second, and third place winners!

Today's event is dedicated to Cheryl who is celebrating her 40th birthday! Cheryl is a valued member of our community; a co-producer of our daily fun; and the artist behind the 40+ renderings of our blog's beloved mascot, Ray Wattson. If I could, I would present Cheryl with the ultimate gift - a chance to live out her lifelong dream of being an artist.

Far fetched? Maybe not with the help of our 25 triathletes.

Today we flex our creative mind.

An article in this summer's edition of UNT's publication, The North Texan, tells of a successful young alumni who recently designed the cover of a Metallica album - an album which, by the way, received a grammy for "best recording package."

Emily attributed much of her success to the teaching techniques of faculty in the College of Visual Arts. Professors routinely required that students develop 100 tumbnails for every project they were assigned. Rationale, according to another student?... "Your first couple of ideas are the ideas that everyone else is going to have. You have to keep working at it."

We have a project. Help Ray Wattson spread his word far and wide.

That's Ray's message. Whoever you are, whatever you do, Shine! Mediocrity is out and excellence is in. Out with short cuts, loop holes, and excuses and in with work so exceptional that you and everyone around you radiates.

1,000,000 shirts by 2013. That's our project. We do that and Cheryl gets my big white box, tied with a red bow, and filled with her life long dream of reporting to work in an art studio.

100 ideas. That's the teaching tactic faculty members in UNT's College of Visual Arts insist is essential to pushing past the mundane and eventually discovering the one winning idea. The idea that... Shines. So, today each triathlete will flex his/her creative mind by developing a list of 100 ideas about how Ray Wattson's message of "Shine" can go viral. Smoke signals, sky writing, Paul Revere? You tell us.

1,000,000 shirts. 100 ideas. 1 happy birthday girl.

Entries emailed to by 10:00 p.m. CST.

Got a minute to spare before heading off to start your list? Check out the slide show of yesterday's impressive mosaics.

Signing off until tomorrow...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Triathlon, Day One: Mmmosaics

Welcome athletes for the first leg of our Highlowaha Triathlon.

We can't very well be a blog about creativity and community without occasionally testing your creativity in a friendly little competition. Each August we participate in a three-day athletic event, flexing and stretching each of our creative muscles - except in the fourth year. In the fourth year, we join other elite athletes and compete in an Olympic Decathlon.

A quick recap of some things to know:

Events are posted at 4:00 a.m. each morning. You have until 10:00 p.m. CST to complete your task and send your submission via email to To be considered a triathlete you must compete in all three events, though you may dabble in only one or two if you are participating only recreationally. Submissions will be evaluated by a small panel of judges and assigned a score ranging from one to ten points. The three people accumulating the most points will be crowned 2009 Highlowaha Triathlon Champions and will win purses of $100.00, $50.00, or $25.00.

Today we flex our creative hand.
Using one medium bag of Milk Chocolate M & Ms (12.60 oz), create a mosaic. That's it. Simple, creative, and yummy.

Once completed, take a digital photo of your mosaic and email it to Please put the word, "mosaic" your subject line.

But, before you're off and running... let me know you're out there by sharing what you'll do with your m&ms once your masterpiece is finished? Celebrate by eating them? Eat the green, but toss the rest? Mod Podge your mosaic and save it for the Highlowaha Hall of Fame?

On your marks, get set...
Signing off until tomorrow...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Runners, Take Your Mark

Up, two, three, four. Down, two, three, four.

Now, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

Good, good. Do you feel yourself getting warmer?

If you're just filing in, you are probably wondering what it is that we're warming up for.

Why, the Highlowaha Triathlon, of course!

Last year, in honor of the summer Olympics in Beijing, Highlowaha started a tradition. We weren't prepared to sit back and watch Michael, Phelps, Nastia Lukin, and Misty May get all the glory. Instead, we decided to compete with the best of them, by hosting a Highlowaha Decathlon. Ten events, ten days, one winner. Events included activities such as card-making, haiku-writing, and cookie-baking - each event flexing a different creative muscle.

Cheryl, Cassie, and Peggy were our gold, silver, and bronze medalists, respectively.

But... there's a reason the Olympics only comes around every four years and it's because athleticism at such an elite level requires rigorous training and endurance. We don't want to get in the way of your Olympic training, as you'll need it when we reconvene in Summer 2012. Instead, we want to give you a work-out just tough enough that we know you're muscles haven't atrophied and that you mind is still nimble.

Three events, three days. No baking, no snail-mailing.

Game on.

I will post the day's event at 4:00 a.m. on Tuesday (8/11), Wednesday (8/12), and Thursday (8/13). You will have until 10:00 CST to complete your task and to send your submission via email to To compete in the triathlon you must complete all three events, though you may dabble in only one or two events if you're a purely recreational highlowaha-er.

Submissions will be evaluated by a small panel of judges and assigned a score, ranging from one to ten points. The three people accumulating the greatest number of points will be crowned our gold, silver, and bronze winners and will take home purses of either $100.00, $50.00, or $25.00 and countless endorsements from the likes of Wheaties, Nike, and Hobby Lobby.

Ready to warm up?

"Good things, when short are twice as good." (Baltasar Gracian). There is a feature in the panel on the right hand side of our screen titled, "Surprise Me." Click on that feature and immediately you will be thrust into the archives of Highlowaha posts -489 to be exact. Make the post on which you landed twice as good by rewriting it in 25 words or less, plus a title.

Then get some rest and eat some carbs. It's going to be a fun week.

Signing off until tomorrow...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Strengths Quest Saturday: The Tortoise and the Hare

New to our site?  Click here to understand today's activity.

November 2007, we moved into a house I had never stepped foot in and that did not have a pool.  It was part of my strategy.  I've never been completely hung up on what house I live in, because I've always felt that home is what you make it, not so much about bricks and mortar.  A pool though, is an amenity I knew I did NOT want in my house.  Two kids under five made the idea of a pool far more work (and stress) than it could ever be worth. 

Richard, on the other hand, grew up in Miami and considers a pool as essential as a refrigerator or, more appropriately, locks on your doors.

My strategy... concede on the house unseen, in a location Richard wanted, but stand my ground on NO pool.  That was November 2007.  Remember, my StrengthsQuest themes are: Strategic, Focus, Achiever, Input, and Ideation.

August 3, 2009, 1:00 p.m. Robertson's Pool Service was measuring our backyard and working up an estimate for a pool installation.

Have I mentioned what my husband's themes are?  Richard's themes are: Competition, Strategic, Command, Communication, and Significance.  Apparently he had a strategy all his own.  Get me in the house of his liking, let me experience summers of 100+ degree days, and give the kids time to grow up and learn to swim.  Then, revisit the notion of a pool.

It's true.  The idea of a pool is looking better these days than it was almost two years ago.

Here's where the fun of StrengthsQuest comes in...

Remember... the beauty of StrengthsQuest is understanding the unique combinations of our strengths and how those combinations influence the way we go about living life.

Combine Strategic, Input, and Ideation.  Here's what it looks like.  Mill over the idea of a pool for a long time.  Slowly warm up to the possibility.  Mill some more.  Begin developing a strategy for the who, what, where, when, and why.  Peruse brochures to get ideas about pool selections, gather information to understand the ripple effect this will have on landscaping in our backyard, invite a landscaper to our house for his/her insights, discuss and develop a savings plan, consider and reconsider whether a pool is a good idea after all.  My emphasis?  A strategic plan based on ideas (ideation) and information (input).

Combine Richard's Strategic with Command.  Here's what it looks like.  Hear "pool" uttered from Claudia's lips.  Promptly call three pool companies in two days to provide estimates.  Arrange financing through Dawn at Citibank.  The emphasis here is on strategically spotting an "in" and immediately taking charge (command). 

I'm counting on my achiever theme and his communication theme to get us through this one.

So how about you?  Remind us of what your five themes are and then tell us... 

What's going on in your house, or with your friends, these days?  What influence do you see your StrengthsQuest themes having on the course of things?

Also, let's welcome our resident experts, Jess, Melissa, and Marcy.  They are all back from vacation and will hopefully check in sometime Saturday and/or Sunday.  

I'll check back...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Fantastic Foodie Free For All

Without further ado...your results...

Just kidding. Technical difficulties (that was at 6:00 a.m.)

No wait. Just kidding that we're just kidding. The video is finally up and running (this in sometime around 9:00 a.m.).

Sorry about all the confusion. Newcomers, this is not our norm. Continue checking back in and you'll see it's true. We're normally creative, but predictable; fun, but timely.

Before you delve into the video, two quick notes. We have some Free For Alling to do. Today we want your ideas on items should be considered for the secret ingredients. Pepper, bacon, cheddar cheese, lemon juice... you name it.

Maybe you can use the extra 12 minutes you won't use watching our video this morning to begin conditioning for next week's triathlon. Three days, three events - all which flex a different creative muscle. Win the triathlon and win $100.00. It's easy, it's fun, and it's free. Get in on the fun!

Free For all Friday from Ray Wattson on Vimeo.

Click here to visit the Whack on the Side of the Head post where the Altoid Table was born.

Signing off until tomorrow...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Challenge of 15 Layers

Good morning HLA! It was so much fun yesterday watching the Foodie Blogs round up votes so they could compete in the Second Annual Super Bowl Snack Throw Down with us. Thanks so much to all of you for your participation. Be sure to check in tomorrow to find out who will be competing this year.

It's Cheryl here (or should I change my name to Bakeryl) giving Claudia a much deserved break.

A couple Friday's ago I declared the whole month of August my birthday and decided I would bake the cake that I have been drooling over for months. If you're a long time reader you know that I'm a fan of Bakerella- she's a cake-pop-brownie-baking-photo-taking-goddess! And just below is the photo of her 14 layer cake that I just had to see if I could make. She makes it look so easy! I won't repeat all of her great instructions- you can read that here. Hopefully, if you've been drooling over this cake you can learn from my experience and do it better.

Isn't it beautiful? Isn't it grand? Can't you just imagine it with a cold glass of milk? Don't you just want a piece of cake?

I got to prepping- making sure I had all the ingredients. Butter- lots of butter. And being the competitive snot that I am, I had to push it to 15 layers. Dumb! Dumb! Dumb, I tell you. Let me be completely honest. You need a partner in crime (or two) if you want to bake this cake. One person can get busy preparing the pans and the other preparing the mix. Below are my prepared pans- they're all lined with parchment, greased and floured. This was my lease favorite task.
Bakerella thanked her mom for her Kitchen Aide mixer. I can't remember which wonderful person(s) fulfilled my wedding shower request but whoever you are- thank you! I can't imagine mixing up this much batter without one.

Another important step is to make sure you spread the batter all the way out to the edges of the pans. I skipped this step. I don't' know why. Baking all the layers wasn't that big of a deal. It went pretty quick.

Below is where it went very wrong for me. I don't know if I cooked this frosting too long, not long enough, and I know I added the vanilla in too early. It tasted wonderful off the spoon but it wasn't drippy like Bakerella's.

See how hers drips below.

Mine does not drip. And look at this layer. We'll just hide that one in the middle. It's looking a little Dr. Seuss like.
Hers below after she was finished putting on the layers and adding all the frosting.

Mine below. OH NO!!Not good, folks. Not good. See why it's important for you to spread the batter all the way out to the edge of the pans? It just kept going wrong from there. I mixed up the butter cream frosting and it didn't look all dark and creamy like hers. So, at this point it is never going to be a pretty as hers and frankly, I'm starting to be really over this cake. I mean really. Just because hers looks beautiful with 14 layers it doesn't mean it is going to taste any better than a single layer cake. I decided I would spice it up with these sprinkles.
I will be forever sweeping up these sprinkles from my kitchen floor because the only way I could get them on the side of the cake was to throw pinchfuls at the cake and hope they stuck.

So, what does the inside look like? Here it is. 15 layers. When you slice a piece it really equals 2 to 3 slices. And since that frosting thing went wrong, it didn't taste quite right. Kind of crunchy.

Would I - with my obviously limited baking skills - ever bake this cake again? Uh, no. I will not be changing my name to Bakeryl! Not unless I had a pitcher of margarita's and at least two friends to help, would I bake this cake again. One to prepare the pans and the other to clean the mess. This mess.
So, I will be staying with my go to Thank You Betty Brownies that I bake often in cupcake form and fondly re-named Cupbrowookies. Easy and Tasty. I suggest those any day of the week.

Would you, could you bake this cake? Do you have a favorite short cut or tip in the kitchen that would help me and others? Inquiring bakers want to know.

Signing off until tomorrow...