Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My Beautiful "Says Who" Tree

I love this tree!  It's my "Says who?" tree!  No, that's not some new hybrid tree.  It's a special name I gave it that puts a big smile on my face as I look at it every day.  It's a special tree because it represents, to me, something that I want to remember everyday.

You see, when we moved back to the midwest after four years in North Carolina, I was smitten with Crape Myrtle trees. They grow quite easily in North Carolina and they are "everywhere."  It's like the oak or bradford pear trees of the midwest.  Everyone has one or is planting one.

I not only loved the colors of these beauties when they'd flower but also the trees' bark that peels away each year revealing a beautiful smooth bark underneath. 

When carefully pruned, I always thought it was a tree that had a lot of character, and I wanted to have one in our North Carolina yard.  But as fate would have it, we left so quickly that I didn't have time to plant one. However, when we built our home here, the first thing I said was, "I'm going to plant a Crape Myrtle in the front yard."

I explained what I wanted to do at the local garden center and they warned me that Crape Myrtles do not survive the winters of this growing "zone" and that I should expect it to die back each year.  I was heart-broken!  "You mean it will never grow to even six or eight feet high," I recall asking.  After hearing a big N-O, I went to several other garden centers looking for someone to tell me that I could indeed grow a Crape Myrtle in this "zone."  Everyone had the same answer with the same reasoning.  The plant isn't hardy in this zone...it gets too cold here.

Discouraged, yet a little defiant, I planted one anyway.  My reasoning then was that I "had" to try, and if it did die back each year, well, at least I could enjoy a very short Crape Myrtle each year.  I'd have a Crape Myrtle bush, and maybe, just maybe, I could figure out how to protect it from the cold, ice and snow and it could grow.  Maybe.

Those first couple of years I pampered my new plant.  I watered it religiously and tried to protect it's base from the harshness of the winters.  Surprisingly, it lived after the first winter without dying back.  Then the second year came and went.  It was standing strong.  Now here it is in all its glory twelve years later!  It stands at least 25 feet high now and as you can see, it's a stunner!

I call it my "Says Who?" tree because that's the stubborn reaction I had when everyone told me I couldn't do it.  I had the determination to give it a try when everyone said it would never grow.  

It's a great reminder to me of how I should at least always initially question, with a big "Says who?" those naysayers who suggest I can't do something.  Because sometimes you just don't know, unless you give it a try!

Friday, July 1, 2011

What's worse than jean or swimsuit shopping? I'll tell you!


I'd be willing to bet that the top two items that the majority of women despise shopping for are jeans and swimsuits.  I'd like to add a third item to that list - mattresses.

Yes, a mattress.  It sounds like a simple enough item to buy, but let me tell you, it's a nightmare.

We've only bought two mattresses for our bed during our 24 years of marriage.  That's pretty good huh?  When we first were married, my parents gave us the bed from my old bedroom.  Two years later we built a house and bought a king size bed - with a new mattress.  I remember thinking back then, "Dang, this thing is expensive."  But it served us well.

I'm almost embarrarrassed to say that we kept that mattress set for 19 years.  Ok, so maybe that's taking the penny pinching a bit too far, but it never sagged until those last few months so why replace it we thought. 

Then while on a shopping spree buying some new furniture for our basement we made a serious mistake.  Without doing any research, we bought a new king-size mattress for our bedroom in addition to buying the basement furniture. They were offering some kind of "deal" if we bought both pieces...you'd think that would have raised a red flag, but no! We figured we could use a new mattress, and my husband is a "quick decision shopper" so I "caved" and we bought it.

Not quite five years later our luxurious pillowtop, top-of-the-line mattress (I'm pretty sure that was the salesman's pitch) was sagging.  It not only had a significant indent where my husband lays (sorry honey), but my side had an indent too (albeit much smaller ;).  You know it's bad when your 12 pound Shih-Tzu struggles ever night to remain on high ground in the middle without rolling into one of us.  Let's just say that for being less than five years old, it was ridiculous.

After waking to a sore back for about the tenth time, my husband pleaded, "Will you PLEASE buy a new mattress?"  He then started leaving me sales advertisements on the kitchen table with "BUY ME" scribbled next to a mattress on sale.  And because I'm the super-shopper-researcher in the house, I needed to find some time to do my homework.  Since we're talking about a king size bed and over a $1,000 investment, I obviously turned to Google for some research. And that's when the nightmare began.

After many days of searching the internet, I've learned a few things.  First of all there's just a few types of mattresses: Innerspring, Memory Foam, Latex, Water, Air and Futon. Sleep Like the Dead offers probably the best information online about these different types.

Well, water and futon were immediately eliminated - those scream college days!  Latex, I learned, has a tendency to emit odors when new so that one was out too. We both couldn't see how a foam mattress could possibly retain its firmness long-term so that one was out.  Now we're making some progress!  Or so I thought.

Looking around at reviews for Innerspring and Air mattresses, I've yet to find a website that speaks highly of any brand of these two types.  There's apparently a love-hate relationship with owners of Air mattresses.  They either "love 'em" or "hate 'em" and don't even get me started on what people think of Innerspring mattresses.  It's as if the entire U.S. population thinks mattresses, in general, are total crap....that they sag within five years and need replacing.  And that there's just not a quality mattress on the market that will last 10 years.  I'm beginning to agree.

Oh and don't think you can just read how to compare brands of the "guts" of say the Innerspring because no two websites can agree on what to look for.  One says number of coils are important.  One says it's the wire size of the coils that you need to look for. Then there's the number and size of coils theory.  Yet another website explains that it's the placement of coils that's critical while another says it's all about the way the coils are tied or welded together.  UGH!  Can we please have some definitive information that we agree on here?

To add to the shopping drama, the top three brands: Sealy, Simmons and Serta all provide different dealers with the same style mattress but they give them different names purposely to keep shoppers from comparison shopping at different retailers.  It's just a friggin' nightmare!

The only shopping advice that any of these sources agree on is that you should spend some time lying on different styles and brands of mattresses to see which one is comfortable.  Well, HELLO!  They better all feel comfortable for the 30 seconds you are lying on them.  Let me spend the night sleeping on it, and THEN maybe I'll have an opinion that's worth more than "a hill of beans" as my mom always says. (whatever that means?) But even if I think it's comfortable that still doesn't tell me how long it will last before the sagging begins.

No wonder we kept that first mattress for 19 years. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

My thoughts on Twitter - now that I've used it for a while

While participating in my first Word Count's Blogathon in May, I had little time to spend learning about the
peripheral tools of blogging.  Things like Twitter, RSS feeds, WordPress, and publicizing my new blog went virtually untouched.  I was too busy writing and figuring out the basics to posting my blog.

Since June 1, I've spent a lot of time trying to understand the ins and outs of Twitter.  Who should I follow?  How can I weed through the enormous amount of tweets?  How do I use this tool to help attract attention to my blog?  How can I best use my phone to utilize this tool?

It's been quite a learning curve, and I still feel like there's much more to learn, but I've come to a few conclusions about Twitter.

Take Away #1 - Twitter Stalking helps you find interesting people to follow 
I learned how to "stalk" on Facebook when my daughter was in high school.  It's basically when you go to someone's unprotected Facebook page and read their posts.  Then you click on a friend of theirs and assuming they haven't chosen the security setting of "Friends Only" (which most kids don't) wahla, you can view their posts too.  My daughter's generation calls that "stalking" and being a "creeper" but hey, as a mom you have to look out for your child and that means understanding the behavior of their circle of friends which equates to "creeping."  I won't apologize for that!

Take that same concept into Twitter and you have, I'd think, "Twitter Stalking."  Although Twitter doesn't have security settings so I prefer to call it "Twitter Surfing."  To Twitter Surf you click on an interesting person's Twitter name and click on who they follow.  After all, interesting people must follow interesting people, right?  From there you look for anyone who sounds interesting or is tweeting in an area that applies to your blog, and you follow them. Then you can stalk, I mean surf, further by clicking on followers of followers and suddenly you're reaching out into circles of twitter-ers you never knew existed.  And honestly, Twitter actually encourages Twitter Surfing because it suggests different people for you to follow on the sidebar located on the right hand side of your Twitter home page. 

I've found a lot of really interesting people to follow by Twitter-Surfing.  I wish that I could remember who follows who so that I could thank them, but I honestly lost track in all the clicking. I'm pretty sure I started on Michelle Rafter of WordCount's Twitter page - @MichelleRafter - so hats off to her for pointing me in the right direction to begin with!

Nonetheless there's some really interesting folks out there like @BrianSolis who seems to be the center of the social networking universe.  Then there's @SteveButtry who appears to know the newspaper industry inside and out and who has a vision of where the newspaper world SHOULD be going.  I also enjoy reading tweets by @MarketingProfs, @SecondAct, @EncoreCareers and @YourLifeCalling

Take Away #2 - Twitter produces some incredible gems of information and also lots of junk
I've found that there are some wonderful gems of information that people tweet and then there is the junk.  Sifting through the mass of junk is what I find frustrating.  I ran across a couple of people who had some interesting tweets, but then when I went to their Twitter home page (if that's what it's called?) to read further and perhaps follow them, they had a multitude of irrelevant tweets.  I don't mean to sound rude or insensitive, but I really don't care what time you woke up, that it was earlier than yesterday, that you had a bagel for breakfast, were running late that day (hmm, could it be from all the tweeting?), that there was traffic on the bridge in San Francisco (I live in the Midwest), and that you stopped by Starbucks for a Mocha Coconut Frappucino.

What's worse is when all of these tweets and 20 more irrelevant ones come within a 30 minute span. Can't the extraneous tweets be kept to a minimum please?  It just junks up the tweets and makes it even harder to find the real gems.  There must be a solution for this chaos other than not following that person, but I haven't found it yet.  I'll keep looking though. 

And finally, I have learned that....

Take Away #3 - I can waste an enormous amount of time on Twitter
Gosh, do I even need to elaborate on this one?  I'm thinking that I should limit myself to 60 minutes per day of stalking around Twitter-kingdom and clicking on links from tweets.  Ok, maybe 30 minutes is even a better goal.  Otherwise, I feel like I have a wealth of information in my head, but what am I really doing with it?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Fly away already! The saga continues!

The drama of the baby mourning dove continues.  We last left off after the baby hatched and appeared to be preparing to take flight.  It didn't make it very far.  About five feet down to ground level and five feet south to be exact.  And right into the landscape in front of our house.

In my last post about the baby, I mentioned that I thought I had injured the mommy bird because I inadvertently scared the poor thing after trying to water the hanging plant that it was hiding in.  Well, the good news is that both mommy and daddy birds appear to be alive and well.  The bad news is that the baby bird has remained in my landscape, on the ground, for about a week or so now.

I'm truly amazed it is still alive and that no animal has eaten it for dinner. But every morning I go out to get the newspaper and there it sits on a large rock in our landscape.  It's survived some pretty severe storms, some of the hottest days in history here, and a big drop in temperature at night. And every morning, there it sits.

I leave it birdseed every day but I fear that Chip, the chipmunk, is eating it instead.  I no longer see the parent birds drop in to visit the baby bird so I don't believe that it's still being fed.  Yet, day after day, it just sits in my landscape.  It never moves to more than the rock and then behind the bush.

Sugar, in the doorway, wondering why the bird won't fly?

We know it CAN fly a bit because my neighbor, out of concern that it may not be eating, snuck up to my porch and added some fruit and nuts to my bird seed.   The baby bird didn't see her coming and freaked out...flying about 25 feet away and landing on a window ledge.  I thought then that it may take flight, but a few hours later it was back in the landscape.

I'm no longer worried about it every minute of the day because I don't know what else I can possibly do for it.  It needs to fly away... for it's welfare and my sanity!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

I nearly killed the mommy bird!

In my "A Mother's Love" post I shared photos of a family of doves that have nested repeatedly in a wall floral container on my front porch.  Over the past few weeks, the baby had hatched and was about to leave the nest when yesterday I nearly killed the mother bird.

Since the baby bird's birth, I've added annuals to several flower pots I have on my porch, and I always buy a hanging pot of annuals to hang from the porch ceiling. Knowing my annual flower purchasing habits, my daughter actually bought me a hanging pot of petunias for Mother's Day so it hangs proudly on the porch.

As I was watering the porch flowers yesterday morning, I noticed the mommy bird wasn't with her baby, but that wasn't terribly unusual.  She has left it alone recently for several hours as it has begun to prepare for flight.  I was guessing yesterday that the mommy bird was out gathering food. Boy, was I wrong!

Apparently, she had moved to the hanging pot to keep an eye on her baby.  Well, it would have been nice if I had gotten that memo!

Since I had no idea she was sitting in my hanging pot, I reached up with the garden hose to give the plant a drink.  She totally freaked out...flying at my head and then into the front door before finally escaping to the yard.  I'm sure if anyone saw our antics...me screaming and her fluttering around...they would be chuckling, but the comedy soon turned to a possible tragedy.  She limped along, obviously hurt or dazed, across the street.  Her mate came to her side as if to say, "Are you ok?"  She obviously was NOT!

I watched her for awhile trying to regroup.  She finally sought shelter under my neighbor's bush.

The baby bird remained in the porch pot - the mommy bird didn't return.  I left the house shortly thereafter and returned about 7 hours later.  The baby bird hadn't appeared to have moved an inch, but was stretching its wings.  I was hoping it would take flight, but I didn't see the mommy bird anywhere.  I was worried.

This morning as I went outside to get the newspaper, I noticed the baby bird was gone.  "Hurray!" I thought.  But after careful inspection, I saw the baby bird on the floor of the porch, and mommy bird was back in the hanging pot. 

A few hours have now passed.  Mommy bird has left the hanging pot and baby bird is still sitting in the same spot on the porch floor. 

I fear the worst!  The neighbor has a cat that routinely visits my yard, and we have a cute chipmunk-looking animal (we've named Chip) that has made himself a home in our front yard landscape.  Either would find the baby bird a delicious meal I'm sure.  I know this is just the "Circle of Life" acting out on my front porch, but it's heart wrenching to watch.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Bit of Retrospection and a Big Thank You!

It’s day 31 in the Word Count’s 2011 Blogathon, and “I Made it!!”  I posted on my blog once a day for 31 days!  It’s been a challenge for sure in several ways, but I’ve never been one to back off from a challenge and well, when you add the possibility of prizes, I’m “all in.”  After all, mom always says, “You can’t win if you don’t play.”

I’ve learned so much from participating in the 2011 Blogathon.  Especially since I didn’t even have a blog prior to April 15.  As you can imagine, I did a lot of scrambling those last couple of weeks of April to get a blog made because I had committed to the Blogathon and there was no turning back. 

My main reason for joining was simple.  A communications major from eons ago, I had chosen the mother-path over the career-path after our only child was born.  But our baby was in college now and the path to rejoining my career had reappeared.  It was time to divert paths. 

I wanted to jump back in to my career field, but social media and technology had changed the game, and I hadn’t kept up with it as well as I should have.  From website design, Twitter, Facebook and blogging, I had dropped the ball a bit.  But what better way to learn how to blog than to join a Blogathon?  That was my thinking anyway! 

And oh, boy…did I ever learn a lot!  Throughout my 31 days of May I’ve learned:
  • how to join Google groups
  • actually use Twitter (I’ve had an account for about a year and never used it)
  • participate in a Twitter chat
  • understand the value of Twitter
  • how to post a photo on my blog
  • download (or is it upload?) a video to YouTube
  • how to post a video on my blog
  • how to link to other web pages on my blog
  • that Blogger isn’t the best platform for my blog (thank you Blogger for those stressful two days of no service!)
  • how to use PollDaddy
I could go on and on about the technical skills I’ve learned, but what I found possibly most valuable and honestly a real eye-opener is what I learned about myself the past 31 days by reading the blogathoners’ blogs.  This was an added bonus that I never expected.

My self-reflection began almost immediately when I visited Chain the Wolf on May 1.  Although Susan’s description wasn’t my exact situation, it put into perspective and made me realize that I’ve been my own worst enemy from moving forward professionally.

A few days later Jan Udlock’s blog hit home and had me evaluating my life and career even more.  Over and over again, I was confronted by your blogs to re-evaluate myself and what I wasn’t doing. It was as if someone was placing a mirror in front of my life and pointing out the flaws or at least the missed opportunities. 

I have to admit at times it was painful.  I don’t know many who like to be shown their flaws, but overall it was a huge game-changer.  Because of this blogathon I have committed to myself that I “WILL” move forward which means taking a risk that I’ve been putting off, and I “WILL” invest in myself.  I’ve been so focused on being a mom first and having a career second that I fell way behind in my career field, but it’s time to correct that.  The way I see it is that I’ve still got another probably 30 years to work.  My career life has not passed me by, and there is still plenty of time.  Michelle, your success alone has taught me that I “can” re-enter the working world and make a big impact…as you have.  It’s time to take action and “live in the moment.” 

All of this retrospection comes courtesy of the 2011 Blogathon and its participants and for that I thank you all from the bottom of my heart! 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Would love to have your opinion - practicing inserting polls!

If you've read my blog the past 28 days, you know that I'm totally new to blogging. I didn't have a topic for my blog when I started and I still don’t. That's where I could use your help!

In an effort to help me to clarify a topic for my blog going forward after the blogathon, I'm curious which posts of mine you found the most interesting or entertaining? At the same time I still need to learn how to use polls in my blog so I've come up with the following poll.

Gosh, that was so simple to set up through Polldaddy. So, if you'll humor me and answer some other "just for fun" polls so that I can see how this works, I'd really appreciate it!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Still learning new things...

Before the blogathon ends, I wanted to learn how to upload a video to YouTube and then post it on my blog.  I tried to do that earlier in the week, but was running into difficulties.  Well, I figured it out.  It wasn't terribly hard...just signed up for a YouTube account and started uploading the video from my computer. 

What I learned is that it's a VERY slow process.  V-E-R-Y!  My little 4 minute or so video took over an hour to upload.  Geesh!  I think it's safe to say that I'll think twice before uploading a larger video.

But I got it done and can now cross off my list yet another skill learned from the blogathon!  So, here's part two to my Vegas posts about why there's so much more to Las Vegas than gambling.  This, possibly, is my absolute most favorite part of the Las Vegas Strip!!!  Enjoy!

Tomorrow's goal is to learn how to do a poll!

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Power of Technology Take Two - this time in the field of teaching

I write part time for our local newspaper, and I cover education primarily.  It’s a great gig because I get to tell stories about all the wonderful things that our teachers and students are doing in our schools.

Occasionally, a real gem of a story comes through my email.  This past week it was “gem-central” as I was fortunate to receive two of those little gems.  Here's one of them!  Due to legal issues, you'll need to read the rest of it on the newspaper's website.

Liberty Middle School’s Orchestra Director Carli Bates’ eyes filled with tears as one of her sixth grade students told how grateful she was that her dad, recently deployed to Afghanistan, would be able to keep in touch by listening and watching her orchestra performances through Bates’ podcast that had been recently posted online.  It was at that moment that Bates realized the power of technology and how the technology classes she had taken in March had impacted more than just her teaching.

Bates said prior to March she knew that “the one thing lacking the most” in her teaching was her knowledge of technology.  “I’m really passionate about teaching music, and I love my kids, but I was not connecting to them through technology,” Bates said.  “So I went to this conference, and I went to everything technology related and through that I learned all of these new things.”

Read the rest of the story at http://www.theintelligencer.com/

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Are blue capes fashionable again yet?

I mentioned yesterday that we’re in “clean out mode” at my house.  After 15 years of accumulation of “stuff,” it’s time to pare down and de-clutter.

Part of “2011 Operation De-clutter” is the cleaning out of “all” the closets which includes our master bedroom walk-in closet.  I was really dreading that job.

Ok, I'll admit it.  I have trouble throwing out clothes.  I’m probably like most women where I fluctuate between two clothes sizes – my “I'm eating properly and working out regularly" weight and my “oh no, I ate too many cookies and didn't go to the Y" weight.  So, naturally I have wardrobes for both sizes. 

That takes up maybe 1/2 of my side of the closet and then I have those items that I spent a lot of money on and yes, they may be a little dated, but I may wear them someday, right?  Like that off-white suit.  It’s a lovely skirt and matching jacket that I wore, oh, let’s just say a WHILE back when I would go on job interviews.  There’s no way that it can be “in style” so why am I hanging onto it?  I paid big bucks for it, that’s why, and I haven’t worn it “that” much.

I’m constantly freezing so I have quite few jackets too.  All sorts of dressy, professional and casual jackets.  I shudder to think how old some of those may be, but you can always use an extra jacket, right? 

There’s two items in my closet that are just completely useless yet I can’t seem to part with.  One is a royal blue cape.  Yes, I said “cape.”  I bought it…get this….in 1980.  Yep, your read that right, 1980.  I think Madonna might have been popular then and so were capes.  It was really fashionable that year.  I bought it along with a long sleeved sweater dress and matching royal blue shoes with money that I earned at my first job.  I loved clothes and actually worked two summer jobs just to buy the current trends. 

I guess I’ve held onto that cape so long because I worked so hard to get it.  I imagine it may have holes in it by now, but it hangs at the back of my closet to this day.

But don't feel sad for the cape.  The cape isn’t alone.  It has company.  It hangs next to a waist-length mink coat.  It’s really ironic that my grandmother would insist that I take her mink because I’m an animal lover, but she sure did about two years before her death.  She loved that coat, and I felt obligated to take care of it for her when she suggested I needed to take it....so it hangs proudly next to the blue cape.  I think I maybe wore that coat once – over a strappy dress for a high school homecoming dance.  Like I said, I get cold easily.

So, you can imagine from all these clothes that the thought of cleaning out my closet was a bit overwhelming.  And I really was dreading it until I read an article last week that really helped me to put it into perspective.

The article stated some random statistic that we wear only 20 percent of our clothing 80 percent of the time. Although there’s no research to support this statistic, I have to believe it’s close to being true.

The article suggested that in order to validate the statistic, we need to count our clothes.  Sounds reasonable until you start to think about counting “all” of your clothes which means anything folded, all seasonal clothes, sweaters, shorts, t-shirts, jeans, hanging clothes, clothes in that extra closet (including that cape and mink) – you have to count them whether they fit or not and whether or not you haven’t worn them in months or years (aka. my numerous jackets)…it’s sounding more difficult isn’t it?

I was thinking that my total number could be extremely high – maybe several hundred.  And if I would have to determine a percentage of those that I wear regularly, I’d guesstimate it to be in the point-zero something percentile. 

But then I read that whatever clothes you really don’t wear or that no longer fit “and” you put in a bag to give away to charity, you don’t have to count.

That was my “aha” moment.  Now my number may be under a couple hundred ;)

I’m thinking that if the goal is to only keep what I actually wear and if I’m held accountable… to not only count what I keep but also establish a percentage of what I actually wear of what I keep…well, I’ve got a much better chance of getting rid of those pieces that I probably should have thrown out years ago. 

Well, everything except the blue cape and mink coat!  Did someone turn up the AC?  I think I have a chill!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Preserving history...one VHS tape at a time!

We’re in clean out mode around here.  After living in this house for almost 15 years, we’ve accumulated a lot of, well, “stuff.”  It’s like clutter-city in my house.  And while I distinctly remember saying, “I’ll never do this again” at the end of the last garage sale I had, well, apparently I mis-spoke.  Mom was right, never say never!

As I was in the basement’s “clutter,” I mean “back room” trying to remove the garage sale “goodies” so that we could move our daughter, Kelsey’s, college “stuff” back into the house for the summer, I ran across several VHS tapes.

If your family is like mine, you have VHS tapes of every birthday of your children, their first steps, every play, soccer game, volleyball tournament, holiday, homecoming event, prom…all the way through high school graduation. 

But what do you do with them?  Obviously, I can’t get rid of them.  It is our family’s history after all.  And we do on occasion torture people by pulling out a tape and putting it in the antequated VCR.  It’s really hysterical, or so we think…I’m not sure about our guests… to laugh at our hair styles or reminisce about “back then.” 

So, getting rid of them isn’t an option.  But, if I leave them on VHS tapes, I risk that the tape will eventually deteriorae and be no longer viewable or let’s face it, VHS recorders are almost extinct these days and eventually will be. 

So, I looked into transferring the tapes to DVD.  Sure, this won’t solve my problem forever because the DVD disc will also eventually deteriorate and become obsolete, but I figure it buys me a good chunk of time to figure out another long-term storage solution. 

Paying someone to transfer my pile of, oh, about 100 VHS tapes wasn’t very feasible, and when I looked into this about two years ago, the technology required storing the data from the VHS onto my computer hard drive before burning it to a DVD.  I would have had to invest in a separate hard drive to make that happen and honestly that was WAY too much work and expense.

But as technology goes, just give it a year or two and you’ll have some much better options.

I just bought Honest Technology’s VHS to DVD 4.0 Plus, a video capture device that supposedly connects between my VCR and computer and will allow my computer to capture the video and then directly burn it to a DVD.  I won’t need to buy a new, bigger hard drive and it will burn the DVD without being temporarily stored on my computer.  Win/win!

While this certainly is less expensive, a much more efficient use of my computer and time, of course, it isn’t perfect.  It burns the data in real time which means that I’ll be sitting here waiting and watching as each VHS tape is transferred minute by painful minute.

That’s 100 tapes at oh, say, three hours each (some likely have as much as six or eight hours) or 300 hours of video.  If I can stomach doing three tapes a week, that’s over 33 weeks or about eight plus months. UGH!  And I thought the blogathon was a commitment.  Puts everything into perspective, doesn’t it?

So, that’s my next project after the blogathon ends on June 1. 

I’d love to hear if you’ve transferred your VHS tapes to DVD and what you thought or if you have a better solution. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The shower! Yep, that's one of them.

It's Theme Day at blogathon!  That means those of us who want to partake in "theme day" can write about  "My 5 favorite places to write."  That would take less than 30 seconds to explain because I "only" write sitting at a desk that faces the front window of my house.  That's pretty much it.  Oh, and on a "very" rare occasion I write on a laptop while we're out-of-town.  That doesn't happen very often. 

But "My favorite places to brainstorm article ideas or come up with leads" is a bit more interesting.  Here’s my top five!

1.    While driving. That's also the most frustrating place to brainstorm because it's very hard to jot down thoughts and focus on the road at the same time, but being in the car for an extended period (after I get tired of singing) gives me time to think and brainstorm.

2.    The YMCA.  Every morning I go there to work out and I can just daydream as I run (ok, more like jog) on the treadmill, but that's where I come up with ideas...lots of ideas.

3.    Riding my bicycle along one of the bike paths.  Unfortunately, this one is a seasonal kind of thing, but it just clears my head.

4.    While walking the dog.  Are you beginning to see a theme here.  Being outdoors or exercising seems to stimulate the 'ole brain.

5.    Without a doubt my all-time favorite would have to be "the shower."  I have no idea why, but I come up with awesome leads and terrific article ideas while in the shower...heck, I've even been known to just jump in the shower when I'm having a writer's block.  There's just something about that water flowing that gets my creativity brain working.  And it can't be just any water flowing.  Washing dishes in the sink won't work and listening to the washer fill with water while doing laundry doesn't help at all...which is really unfortunate! Nope, it has to be a full-blown shower.  Hey, no laughing!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Seeing Vegas Through Different Eyes

We just returned from a vacation in Las Vegas. I almost despise gambling yet I've been to Vegas probably half a dozen or more times.  When a friend will find out I'm going to Vegas, I typically get asked, "But why?  You can't stand to gamble." 

While that's true, there's another draw for me to keep going back to the "Las Vegas Strip."  I'm mesmorized by the architecture and millions of dollars that are poured into the decor of these mega casinos. Here's a quick look at Vegas through a different viewpoint.

There's the structures themselves that are friggin' amazing...like this one of of the Paris Casino...

Or this outside view of New York-New York!  I've never been to New York City, but this just has to capture a glimpse into it.

Here's a closer look at just the Statue of Liberty....amazing!

Or how about the bronze statue of the lion in front of MGM?  Here's some fun facts about this structure:
Largest bronze sculture in the Western hemishere
45 ft. tall- 50 ft. long on a 25 ft. pedastal
100,000 pounds of bronze
1,660 pieces of bronze welded together

Moving indoors there's the conservatory at the Bellagio!  It's simply STUNNING!  They change out the flower display and theme all the time.  This time there was a painting, about the size of a car, made completely out of flowers.

And birds, like this one, also made out of flowers.

There's the decor like the new Crystals casino and mall that has crystals hanging from the ceiling that envelope a bar and casino area. Gorgeous!

I could post a couple dozen of photos like this, but you get the idea.  It's just something you should see at least once. 

Tomorrow I'll post a few close ups of some interesting decor I found while exploring "the strip."  And if I can figure out how to download a video on You Tube, you'll get a special video treat...Vegas style!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Best Vacations Ever and The "Someday"

As I'm ending a vacation week, it has me thinking about past vacations and also some future vacations that I'd like to put on the "someday" list.

Some of the most memorable vacations and activities we've done would have to be:
Haleakala National Park Summit Sunrise Bike and Van Tour - Maui   Quite possibly one of the coolest things I've ever done.  I can't say I enjoyed waking up at 2 a.m. to take the bus to the bicycle company so that we could get suited up and make the drive to the top of the crater, but watching the sun rise over the crater was incredible.  And the bicycle ride down was just plain fun!

Jeep Rental on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands -  If you want to see this island in all it's natural beauty, a road trip around it in a jeep is a necessity.

Whale Watching Boat Trip - Maui   If you're in Maui in the winter months, a whale watching tour is an absolute must!  It's simply awe-inspiring to see these beautiful creatures up close.  The enormity of their tails as they glide through the ocean with ease is a magical sight to see.

Visit to Crazy Horse Memorial in Black Hills, South Dakota - I first visited Crazy Horse when I was a child while doing a "western" vacation with my family.  Seeing the very basic rock structure some 30 years ago didn't seem like much back then, but now I think it would be interesting to see the progress 30 years later.

Lake Powell near Page, Arizona - I can't say I've seen anything quite like this place.  It's a canyon that's been allowed to fill with water creating a lake.  What makes it so breathtaking are the rock formations that rise out of the water.  We took a short boat tour of the lake, but I'd like to return some day and rent a boat ourselves and spend a day or two just exploring the nooks and crannies of the lake.

Places I'd like to visit on future vacations
Hike in/out of Grand Canyon - I've been to the Grand Canyon twice but have never been with anyone who wanted to hike down in it.  I'd really love to either hike in, spend the night in the bottom and hike out OR white water raft to the bottom and hike out! 

Take a drive up the northeastern coast of Maine - It looks like this area is simply gorgeous, and I'd like to see it.  A bonus would be all the crab and seafood I could eat along the way.

Visit Yosemite National Park and the Redwood National Forest - Two of the few national parks I've never been to in the U.S.

Go to a musical on Broadway (in New York City) - Not sure which musical I'd want to see...maybe my favorite, Wicked, but I think seeing any musical on Broadway would be a special treat.

Go to Paris and see the Eifel Tower - need I really elaborate on this one?

Visit all the memorials and the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. -I was in D.C once around the age of 10 and again on an 8th grade class trip.  I'd just like to go back and see it all again.  I think I'd appreciate it even more.

Friday, May 20, 2011

I read a statistic yesterday in the newspaper that scared me silly.  A 2010 study shows that anyone who has used a tanning bed is 74% more likely than others to develop mlanoma.  Now I'm no mathematician, but if you do the math, that means I've got only a 26% chance of NOT getting skin cancer...YIKES!  That statistic is quite staggering and, to me, says that we need to mount an effort to educate the public better of tanning bed dangers - especially to our pre-teens and teens.

It really shouldn't be difficult to educate the public.  I think the country as a whole gets the message once it's been put out there in force.  For example, we once were a nation that didn't use seatbelts, but now we do.  And we once were a nation that drank alcohol while pregnant and now we don't.  I remember a time when we used baby lotion for suntanning and now that's completely crazy.  We learned, through education, that these things had serious repercussions; therefore, we are smarter today and don't do these things.  So, why is it taking so long for us to be aware of the dangers of tanning beds?

I ask because I just watched an entire generation of teens use tanning beds for prom, homecoming, pre-spring break trips...geez...even pre-vacations.  It's very much the norm in high school and college-aged kids these days to tan in tanning beds regularly, and I'm very concerned that we may be setting up our youth for a future dealing with skin cancer.

I don't know that I have the solution, but what a scary statistic! 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Customer Service Apparently Is NOT Dead

If you had asked me last week what I thought about customer service, I would have said that it's a dying practice, but Southwest Airlines has changed my mind.  Some flight attendants at Southwest Airlines have proven that their company still knows the value of going the extra mile and making its customers feel special.

While flying the other day, two flight attendants on our flight learned that we were flying to a vacation spot to celebrate our daughter's 21st birthday.  Years ago I would have expected the flight attendants to make a big deal of it...making our daughter feel special, but in this day and age, I really didn't expect a thing.  Boy was I surprised.

They not only offered a free drink to our daughter and the two young women travelling with her, but they announced it was her birthday over the speaker and they made her a special birthday crown out of peanut packets and drink stirrers.  It was really a very kind gesture on their part and made the girls' day.

By doing that small gesture, I can promise you that all three girls will tell at least a dozen friends about the experience, it will be posted on Facebook for each of their, oh, 800+ friends to see and they'll now think twice about which airline they will travel on in the future. 

Southwest got all that free "marketing" for the cost of three sodas, three miniature Jack Daniel shots and a couple of flight attendant's few minutes of time. 

Am I the only one who doesn't understand why other companies don't see the value in this???  Seems like a no brainer to me! 

When I return from vacation, I'll be writing a letter to Southwest Airlines telling them about the wonderful customer service we received!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What's Your Favorite Droid App?

As much as I’ve complained about being behind the curve on learning all this blogging technology, I really do love technology.  I’m just too cheap to jump out and purchase all the fun stuff when it comes out.  I usually wait a while before I jump in.

But I did recently “finally” as my daughter said, join the Android cell phone craze.  And I must admit, I have no idea what took me so long to change…well other than my contract not being up for renewal and receiving a discount (like I said, I’m chep).

When I first got my HTC phone, I reached out to my Facebook friends for suggestions on which free “apps” were their favorites.  I compiled a list from their suggestions that I thought I’d share. 

  • Shop Savvy or Savvy Shopper – both will tell you where you can find a particular product cheaper at another store
  • PicSay – edit the photos you take on your phone or add special effects
  • Squirrelizer – quite possibly the funniest app I’ve seen.  You can add a photo of a squirrel to any of your photos which can be quite amusing
  • Barcode Scanner – scan barcodes on CDs, books and other products, then look up prices and review
  • Words with Friends – a mobile word building game you can play with your friends
  • Aldiko Book Reader  - turns your phone into a kindle of sorts
  • Key Ring – keep s a photo of your favorite loyalty cards on file in your phone so that you don’t need to cart all those cards around in your purse
Of course, Angry Birds, is on the list, but I feel like everyone in the world must have heard of that one.  The others may or may not be as familiar.

What I want to know is…. What is your favorite app for your phone?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Just a vacation prep rant....

Why is preparing for vacation so difficult?  Sometimes I wonder if all the pre-vacation stress is really worth it. 

I mean I’ve spent the last four days just preparing to leave.  Aside from getting caught up to a point at my job so that I could leave, which was a feat in itself, and then I was faced with all the household pre-trip ritual…things like:

Laundry – Does it ever end?  And how many loads do I need to do before we have “everything” we need for the trip, clean?

Dog Sitting – Granted, not just anyone can take care of our little princess, but unfortunately it requires driving four-and-a-half hours one way to drop our baby off at my sister’s house.  I then got to turn around the next morning and drive the 4.5 hours home.

Snacks for the plane – It is a three hour flight after all and we “will” get hungry.  Gotta make a run to the grocery for some granola bars, candy and gum.

Clean out the fridge – Who wants to return home to the stench of two week old lasagna leftovers or the lettuce that turned to mush in the crisper?

Then there’s the packing….but oh wait, the weather forecast has now changed.  How does this continually happen to us?  The last three trips we’ve taken, we’ve planned to arrive at a location known for mega-sun and balmy weather, but as the trip approaches, the weather forecast changes and we find ourselves buying sweatshirts because we packed shorts and it's freezing.  Well, the same thing has happened again.  The four days we are going to be gone, it’s going to be unseasonably cool.  Grrrrrrrrrrr….what shall I pack now? Oh wait, is the washer free?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Row, row, row your boat....across the Pacific!

It’s officially guest post exchange day with the WordCount’s blogathon, but I didn’t reach out to anyone to exchange posts with today because honestly, I
a)      haven’t really figured out what my blog is about to tell someone what I’m looking for in a guest post.
b)      didn’t think it would be fair for me to write someone else’s blog because they wouldn’t gain any readers from me.  (After all, my blog says I have seven followers but being realistic I have maybe two.  Oh wait, my mother may be reading this so, ok three. Doesn’t seem like a fair trade off for someone)
c)      figured I’d be too busy preparing for vacation to really devote a substantial amount of time into today’s post (which turned out to be true) which wouldn’t be fair nor the right thing to do when exchanging

 So, in trying to stick to the day’s theme somewhat, I decided to post about Roz Savage’s blog.  If you’ve never heard of her, I’d highly recommend stopping by her blog.  Talk about someone who is following her dream and is truly inspirational. WOW! 

In a nutshell, she woke up one day in 2000 at the age of 33, evaluated her perfect life with a husband, job, house, and sports car, but wasn’t happy.  She wasn’t fulfilled. 

By 2004 her life had made a complete 180.  She was divorced, living in New York City working as a part time photographer and at one time was homeless. 

A former member of Oxford University Lightweight rowing club, Roz announces that she’s going to row solo across the Atlantic.  HELLO?  Did you catch that?  She’s going to row…as in a row boat, albeit a little souped-up, but still, a friggin’ rowboat...across the Atlantic Ocean!  OCEAN!!!!

Is she nuts?  Many might think so, but she not only completes that goal in 2005-06 rowing 103 days straight from the Canary Islands to Antigua, but then turns around in 2007 and attempts to cross the Pacific Ocean solo.  Bad weather thwarts the 2007 attempt but undaunted, Roz returns in 2008 and completes the first part of this journey – she rows for 99 days from California to Hawaii.  I first learned of Roz during this leg of the Pacific journey and followed her daily blog as she endured, to me what seemed like a nightmare.  But she loved it.

Roz continued her journey in 2009 as stage 2 took her from Waikiki to Tarawa – 104 days at sea.  I watched her daily blog then too.

She just left recently to complete stage 3 – rowing across the Indian Ocean.

I find her to be so inspirational.  She’s rowed over 11,000 miles, taken 3.5 million oar strokes which has caused her to spend nearly a year of her life at sea…in a rowboat people!  OMG!!!

Aside from her goals being crazy in my eyes, she’s an inspiration because she had a dream, gave up nearly everything to go after it and then persevered to make it a reality.  Now, I’m not suggesting that anyone give up everything for their dream.  I can say with absolute certainty that I’d never leave my husband and daughter nor sell my home (or a sports car, if I had one) for any dream I may have, but I still admire Roz’s tenacity and her dedication to a dream she obviously has.

She’s also an environmentalist who believes that we all can make a difference in our world and should.  I love that about her too as well as her personal creed of taking life “one oar stroke at a time.”  Check her out.  I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

An update on the Power of Facebook

Well, as promised, I have an update.  For those who may be tuning in for the first time, visit my “The Power of Facebook” post for the story from the beginning.

The latest news is that I received a phone call yesterday from Jennifer.  Jennifer is serving as the primary contact for gifts, food and any other miscellaneous things for Olivia’s family so that Olivia’s immediate family can focus on Olivia’s treatment.

Jennifer was calling to let me know that someone from Disney called her today to verify Olivia’s address.  A letter and the this photograph of Belle in a Disney frame is being sent to Olivia. 

One of my St. Louis friends hooked me up with a very caring, sweet St. Louis couple who have a connection to Disney.  When they learned of Olivia’s story, the wife, Pat, called me for more information and said they would see what they could do as they were going to Orlando last week.  Well, they apparently knew someone and made this happen.

The phone call from Jennifer came yesterday morning ironically right after this email update on Olivia’s treatment arrived in my inbox.   

“She is feeling a little better today. Counts are very low, lowest they have been since chemotherapy began. No visitors for now. : ( We are praying her body quickly recovers.

Some have asked about dietary requirements and question why no fresh fruits & fresh vegetables. Her counts have to be at certain level (which is not often) to eat fruits & vegetables because they are not part of a low bacteria diet & her body can't fight back. Good washing can't always prevent. She can always have bananas, oranges & fruits that are protected by a peel. Hope that helps.

Her amazing OliCap arrived today. It is just perfect & Donna is one talented lady! What sweet friends made this happen. Some of her own hair is in it & she has 3 adorable caps to attach her hair too. Pictures to come.
This email comes to my inbox because I subscribed to a website where Deanna, Olivia’s mother, keeps family and friends updated on a daily basis.  The updates are heart-wrenching yet I know we all appreciate them as we worry and pray for little Olivia.

As a mother I can’t imagine what Deanna must be going through.  It makes me so very thankful that everyone in my family is healthy…something we tend to take for granted.  I know I often get caught up in the drama in my daily life that in reality is unimportant, and I often forget to just be thankful for all the blessings I have. 

A side note:  There are still two other Facebook friends of friends working on a Skype date and a phone call so I’ll keep you posted if those happen also.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What I’ve learned so far participating in the blogathon

What a learning experience the Blogathon has been for me!  In celebration of being nearly at the half-way point, I thought I’d do a list of the five things I’ve learned so far.

Don’t use Blogger
It never occurred to me that Blogger would go down, and I’d be confronted with not being able to post.  Although I don’t understand the logistics of it all, Blogger being down also restricted me from posting to other blogs.  Very frustrating.  

Commenting is a two-way street
It’s the old adage, “you’ve got to give to receive.” 

Blogging is easy!  The technical side is the hard part. 
Even without all the Blogger nonsense, I’ve encountered Google Group issues, a learning curve for the technical jargon of Twitter, and just the technical details to posting links and videos.  I guess I never really thought I, the computer whiz of the family, would have such technical issues.

There are ways to “cheat” in blogging 
Ok, so “cheat” may not be the appropriate terminology, but I learned that on days, well, like today, when I don’t really have a blog idea in mind, that I can do a list (like today’s), post a photo and comment on it, do haiku, post a series of videos and comment on them…gee… this was so enlightening to me considering that I’ve got to come up with 31 straight days of blogs and five of those I’ll be on vacation.

Bloggers are such nice people
WOW!  I am so impressed with how supportive, helpful and just downright nice bloggers in this blogathon have been.  Anytime I’ve asked a “how do you…” or a “what’s your thoughts about…” question, the other bloggers have jumped right in to offer insight.  That has been invaluable…thank you!

Although I’ve learned a lot, I’m really looking forward to learning even more the next 15 days.  Mom wasn’t kidding when she said, “you learn something new every day.”

Friday, May 13, 2011

Thanks for the inspiration

The past week or so I’ve noticed in some other blogs a common theme of “don’t be afraid to take a risk,” and the “follow your dreams” which have really gotten me to think a lot about where I’m going and what the heck am I doing.

It made me also think about a cousin of my husband who I admire for reinventing herself over and over again.  This woman, Judy, is not afraid of failing. She follows her dreams – takes huge risks. I thought I’d share her story here today.

Judy is about 50 years old, but she has demonstrated over the past 24 years that I’ve known her that she isn’t afraid to follow her dreams.

When I first met Judy she was a stay-at-home mom with her one child, Erika, but in her free time, Judy would paint.  She found a market for her paintings and sold them for quite a while.

Judy lives on the inter--coastal near Stuart, Florida, and she and her husband have owned a boat since they’ve lived there.  Judy took up deep sea fishing.  She enjoyed it so much that she entered contests and won several. She’s well-known in the area as the main “deep sea fishing” competition.

As Erika grew older and moved out of the house, Judy decided to go back to work.  She chose to be a real estate agent.  She excelled in that field as well and made a very nice salary for her efforts.

She tired of the real estate business and didn’t work for a short while when she decided one day to open her own cake business.  Judy recalled all the holidays that she had spent as a child where her aunt would bring a delicious rum cake to holiday events.  As an adult, Judy learned the recipe and made the rum cakes for her own family. 

One day she told us that she was opening Edible Spirits, and by golly, the next week she had rented a space, was baking rum cakes and selling them.  That was about two years ago. 

About every other week I see on Facebook where Judy has posted another milestone – new cake flavor, radio show guest, TV show guest, new large client – it’s just amazing.  Judy has once again, become very successful in yet another new profession.  Oh, she’ll tell you it’s been a lot of hard work, but that she really enjoys it.

As I am now looking at my own future with a bit of a better focused lens, I find Judy to be an inspiration for me to “follow my dreams” and “do it now.”  It is time!

Music feeds the soul!

Editor's note:  WOO HOO!  Blogger is back up!

I love music.  I grew up in a fairly musical family.  My mother and sister played the piano.  My sister also played the violin.  My father loved music too.  He played the guitar and would have his buddies over quite a bit to "jam" in the basement.

The basement was music-central.  I remember spending many, many hours listening to my dad’s record collection, and the few LPs – yes, I’m that old – that my parents bought me.

I never stuck with an instrument long enough to learn to play one well.  I took piano lessons at the age of about seven, but gave up after learning how to read music.  Then I decided I’d play the flute in grade school.  I learned the finger positions for the notes, but could never figure out how to blow across that dang thing to make that angelic sound.  I gave up on that too.

But choir.  Now that’s where I belonged.  I was in choir in elementary school and Showchoir in high school.  I loved to sing, and still do.  I’m one of those freaks that you snicker at as you drive by on the highway because I’m singing at the top of my lungs.  I’ll sing to whatever is on the radio, but I won’t hesitate to put in my all-time favorite CD – the soundtrack from the musical, “Wicked.”  I also love to sing along with “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Rent” soundtracks. 

I thought I’d share this with you today because I’ve been stopping by Radio Nowhere’s blog  where he’s posting his favorite songs.   Loving music as I do, I thought that was a fun blog idea, but it also made me think about how much I love music, and how it can literally change my mood or enhance it. 

For example, when I just want to listen to a song that gets my blood pumping and puts a smile on my face, I listen to OK Go’s “Here it Goes Again.”  The video is a classic too.

Or if I’m really mad, you can’t beat a good hard rock song like, Sammy Hagar’s “I can’t drive 55.” 

Feeling sad?  Sarah McLauchlan’s “When Somebody Loved Me” may send you further into a depression, but it’s a beautiful song.   

Having a great day and just want to celebrate it?  It’s a Perfect Day by Hoku is the perfect song.

Wanting to share an inspirational song with someone.  Try Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband’s “Dream Big.”

Oh I could go on an on, but you get the idea.  Music just feeds the soul!