Monday, December 28, 2009

My Top 10 for 2010

I'm not one to make resolutions. Hence, this is not a "Top 10 Resolutions for 2010". I can't imagine having one of them, let alone ten.

This is more of, perhaps, ten of my "wishes" for 2010. I'm a realist, you see. Resolutions are for optimistic people. I am not one of them. I'll hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.

That said, here is my Top 10 - whatever - for 2010:

10. Better focus. This is probably as close to a resolution that I can get, because it is something I can cognitively work on. Working at home tends to fragment your schedule and I still struggle with trying to manage my time between work, household and kids. Then there's that damn Facebook....

9. An improved work economy. Who doesn't wish for this? I know there are plenty of people out there in a worse situation than I, and my heart truly goes out to them. For myself and those individuals, I pray every day that jobs can be created and maintained... sooner rather than later.

8. More available flex-time opportunities. If you're not aware of flex-time, it is the the ability to be a little "creative" with your scheduled hours if you are indeed working for someone else. Many employers are now implementing flex-time to better enable their workers to achieve a work-life balance. I wish more businesses would see the benefit of flex-time - especially for those in a profession like mine where a 9 to 5 isn't really necessary. And it has been shown that flex-timers have a tendency to work even harder for their employers because of the arrangement.

7. That District 150 will get its act together. Right now, I think that's going to take an Act of God, but hey, I say "bring it". From what I've seen of the near future plans put forth by the District, I'm again not too optimistic. A prominent District 150 voice said to me once that she thought someone should just come in and scrap the whole district and start over. I'm starting to think that may be the only answer. Save our kids, please...

6. Speaking of kids, I pray for a healthy, learning and loving 2010 for my two. My oldest has had a tough go of it this year, but I think we are slowly chipping away at some of the issues enough to see the real deal underneath - a great kid. I often describe my youngest as "just happy to be here", and I hope he can stay even-keeled and resilient to any changes that may come to pass in 2010.

5. That I can get my pre-babies body back. I know, it's completely vain and probably in vain, but I have a 6-month gym membership and a trip to Mexico on the horizon that are both my incentives. The low-sodium diet is certainly doing the trick - now I just have to firm up a bit in those places where nature has been oh, so unkind.

4. That writing exposure = writing success. I've been blogging and freelance writing since I was downsized from a little local agency in late June, but I'm still waiting for that big opportunity. I know I'm a good writer, and I know there are businesses and organizations out there that would benefit by hiring me to be their "spokeswriter". In 2010, I'm going to make sure I find them.

3. Keep the great friends and good people I met and forged relationships with in the past year. This was a banner year for me both professionally and socially. I found for the first time that I actually LIKE meeting new people now that I realize how interesting everyone really is. From the master-carpenter-turned-engineer-turned-chef to the teacher I saw on TV who is now a trusted confidante to the Facebook friends I've never met but make me laugh every single day... I definitely hit the mother lode this year in the meet 'n greet department - and I am so thankful.

2. To help my kids get closer with God. And no, I don't mean having one of my famous "Come to Jesus" family meetings. They're familiar with those. Because I was raised Catholic, I went to church every single school day, hence got to know the Big Guy and his Book pretty well. My kids, not so much. We are Lutheran now, and regular church attendees. My son is taking Confirmation classes, and really enjoying them, but I know he's way behind the learning curve. And my youngest? He asked what that guy's name was with Mary when Jesus was born. Ohhhhh..... my bad. Totally my bad.

1. Peace for me. I know this sounds selfish, but it encompasses a lot of stuff. Peace for me would include knowing my parents are healthy and happy and ready to take on another year with the Talcott family. Ditto to the rest of the clan, who have had their share of trials and tribulations in 2009. I'd like a little financial peace in the next few months as things are starting to get a bit shaky. And though I'm not sure it will ever happen, some peace for my shaky heart would be welcome, as well.

So there you have it. My Top 10 for 2010. Above all, I wish each of you who read my blog and support my efforts a healthy, happy and well-written new year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hope and Change

Everyone has change.

Some throw it in old coffee cans, mason jars or any other miscellaneous container they have lying around. The less organized may not have a central location; couch cushions, dresser tops, and pockets are where their coins seem to accumulate. Me? I have a bottle on the top of my refrigerator marked "Wine Money" where I throw my spare silver. (Just for the record, I've never actually used the money for wine.)

So what do you do with all that money once your container is chock-full of change?

A good friend of mine gave me a wonderful idea, inspired by the book "Christmas Jars" by Jason F. Wright. He had been accumulating change for nearly two years, and after reading the book, decided to turn his extra fortune into a life lesson for his young daughter. They took the jar to the bank and walked out with nearly $200 in cash, which they in turn used to purchase needed items for a local Peoria shelter. He set up a tour of the shelter for his daughter and him, and they were able to both experience not only a first-person view of the hardships that some people in our community are going through, but how much contributions such as theirs mean to the organization and the individuals it serves.

Now, in the book, journalist Hope Jensen is devastated when her adoptive mother dies from ovarian cancer shortly after Christmas. Adding to her woes, her apartment is broken into and all of her emergency cash stolen. Hope then discovers that someone has left her a gift - a glass mason jar labeled "Christmas Jar" filled with money. Using her investigative skills, she learns that in recent years, several people have reported receiving these mysterious jars in times of need.

That's an option as well. But I think what my friend did was an important step in nurturing the "giving back" trait that seems to be getting lost in today's youth. It's one thing as an adult to do a good deed just for the sake of it, but sometimes kids need to see how their generosity really makes a difference in order to instill that altruistic spirit as they grow and mature.

My friend has inspired me to replace my "Wine Money" bottle and start a Christmas Jar with my kids at the beginning of next year. Just think if everyone followed suit - how blessed some needy people could be this time next year.

Make your next holiday season full of hope... and change.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

If you have a website, read this. If you need a website, read this.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that websites are one of the keys to good marketing success. Many times, your site is a potential client's first impression of you... what you're offering and how you're offering it.

Many people think they can throw together a website quickly "just to get it out there". But think of your website as a piece of fine artwork; it takes time, research and talent to make it not only professional looking, but user-friendly as well. In addition, there are specific intricacies of a website that - if you know about them - can make it work for you as well as your top salesperson.

Judy Rosella Edwards is making it her passion to help small businesses in the Central Illinois area grow and succeed. She is currently compiling stories about such businesses in the hopes of not only telling our stories, but helping us network among each other. If you are a small business in the area that would like to be considered for a profile, contact her at judy@judyrosellaedwards.com.

I encourage you to read her latest post entitled "Make a New Year's Resolution to refresh your company's website". She offers some key points that are good advice not only to those who need to brush up their site, but valuable information for those who may be looking to create one as well.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Shhhh!!! Be vewy, vewy qwiet.... we're hunting wabbits!

I like bunnies as much as the next girl.

But my friend and I and our kids had a rare opportunity to watch that whole "circle of life" thing take place on Saturday when we participated in - yes PARTICIPATED in - a sport called "falconry".

Falconry is the art and practice of hunting for wild quarry with a trained hawk or falcon. With my apologies to seasoned falconers out there, this is my own, amateur, "birds-eye" view of the whole event.

EZ is a red-tailed hawk, and Jim is her owner. EZ was obviously well-trained and knew where her bread was buttered. She clung to Jim's glove like a needy girlfriend. Jim distributed walking sticks to the kids and instructed them to head out into the field and beat the brush with the intent of flushing out some grub (aka rabbits). If they spotted one, they were to yell, "RABBIT!"

Clever, right?

Give four boys some sticks and send them out into a field and you have, well, four happy boys. They did just that. Jim let EZ go, and she perched in a tree to watch... and wait. Finally, whether it be due to the kids' activity or her own "eagle eyes", she spotted one, and in literally a split second, she swooped down and had her prize.

This was the part I could have done without. Rabbits scream. "Can you hear the rabbits screaming, Clarice?" Yeah, I could. But again, I kept telling myself, "Circle of life. Circle of life. Food chain. Food chain."

Next it was Gypsy's turn. Gypsy is new to the whole "full service dining" thing, which means she hasn't been with her owner, Bear, very long. He placed a small telemetry device on her before he let her loose so he would be able to locate her in case she tried to move on to greener pastures. We flushed out several rabbits for Gypsy, but she was being stubborn. Finally, Bear held up his glove, and after 10 minutes or so of calling for her, ("Hey! Chicken Butt!!") she returned to her owner. More work to be done there, but that's what the training is all about.

If you can get past the whole screaming bunnies thing, this sport is actually quite awesome. The relationship between these hawks and their owners is truly unique. Apparently the falconers wear the same clothes every time they go out so the birds will recognize them. At one point EZ hopped from Jim's arm to his steel-tipped toe, sulking after she didn't get her fill of her kill. These are beautiful, well-cared for birds, and their owners are incredibly knowledgeable and respectful of them. And for all you bunny lovers out there, again, you have to realize, this is what hawks, falcons and the like DO.

This adventure will definitely go down in the Kennard kids' books as one of the coolest things they've done. And hopefully it gave them a new appreciation for nature, the beauty of these winged creatures, and the fact that everyone and everything has to work for its next meal.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Things were heating up at the Chamber this morning!

It may be cold outside, but a group of people today at the Chamber were on FIRE.

Early this morning I attended Speed Networking, an event put on by the Peoria Chamber of Commerce. Basically, it's like Speed Dating (which for the record I have never done). Twenty or so local business professionals faced each other in the conference room, and each of us was given 90 seconds to give our "elevator speech" to the person across from us. After each person gave their spiel, we switched and moved on to the next.

At first I was nervous. As a writer and marketer, I have found it's very hard to describe out loud exactly what I do. But after the first few "speedsters", as I affectionately call them, I hit my stride, and by the end of the hour, I felt like a well-oiled marketing machine.

But what I took away from this was more than just networking. I was truly inspired by the individuals that I met, the challenges that they face, and the goals they are trying to accomplish. I met the CEO of an IT and web management service company who was well versed in marketing, but didn't have the time to give it his full attention. I met a life coach who was amazing at what she did, but said that marketing "made her head hurt". I met a medical professional who struggled to get the word out about the benefits of his practice's services over another.

What has occurred to me before hit me again: We are all in this together. Yes, we are all looking for more work, more clients, better opportunities. But I think in addition to that, we all want to see businesses in Central Illinois grow and succeed.

I felt such a connection with a few of these people today, and I left there with a deep desire to HELP them succeed - not only for MY benefit, but for theirs as well. I think that when people collaborate - whether it is a business and a marketing agency, a patient and a medical practice, or a writer and a client, we all need to see that it is a more than a business agreement - it is a partnership. Each person gets something from the other, but also gives something in return. I WANT to see these businesses succeed, and giving them ideas or helping them with those successes is what drives me to do what I do.

I encourage anyone who is interested in networking to attend a Chamber Speed Networking event. You can find out more by clicking here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

NaCl = Nearly avoiding all the Cuisine that I love

Sodium is my new enemy.

In order to alleviate a small health issue I am having, I have been placed on a low-sodium diet. When the doctor told me to reduce my salt intake to 2,000 milligrams a day, I thought, "2,000 milligrams? Piece of cake!"

Ah, no cake.

Also, no crackers. No cookies. No chocolate. No chips. No condiments. Pretty much anything starting with the letter "c" I can't have.

Armed with my new laundry list of can- and can't-have foods, I spent an hour and a half at the grocery store, reading labels and searching for any sort of tasty, fulfilling, low-sodium food items that I can put in my piehole.

Whoops. No pie, either.

What I found is quite amazing. Those low-fat soups I thought I was consuming and thinking I was so healthy - more than 800 milligrams of sodium in just ONE CUP. Those Healthy Choice and Lean Cuisine cardboard dinners that I've been living on? Chock full of the salty stuff. And that lean turkey lunchmeat? Forget about it. Oozing with the enemy.

Lunch today was a baked potato with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter - spray. I have never "sprayed" my food. But it was tasty - and filling - and salt-free. Dinner will probably be one of these new soups that I bought that were specially labeled "for those with sodium-restricted diets". I'm sure it will taste like water, with a few noodles thrown in for good measure.

I joked with the nurse that asking me to cut out treats three weeks before Christmas is like inviting an alcoholic to a wine tasting. Cruel. But I'll do my best for the next two months and see what happens. I'm thinking if I make it that long, I'll either be very, very healthy or very, very skinny.

In the meantime, in the words of Marie Antoinette, "Let them eat cake!"

Because I can't.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christmas will not be the end of me this year!

If it weren't for my children, I think I would curl up in bed and sleep through the next month or two. With each passing year, the commercialism and stresses of the holidays following Halloween seem to increase like the price tag of my kids' Christmas lists.

In past years, I pulled out all the stops. The house was decorated to the nines, and involved bins and bins of holiday trinkets, precarious moments on the extension ladder, and more wafting evergreen candles than my nose could take. We (OK, mostly me) baked more than ten different kinds of cookies, played every Christmas CD ad nauseum, and attended every holiday event in town.

By New Years, I was exhausted, crabby and broke.

Lately, I've managed to get a grip on what's important, and have made some changes. Gone are the intricate strands of icicle lights, replaced by a few strategically placed glowing snowflakes. Less is more as far as the decorations are concerned, with many of my "must have" Christmas knick-knacks sitting on Goodwill's shelves. The kids each get to choose one kind of Christmas cookie they can't live without, and we make them together, or not at all. (I send them to Grandma's for those cut-out ones that you decorate with frosting and sprinkles... my kids think she makes them "best" anyway.) Oh, and fighting the mall crowds? Forget about it. If it's not on Amazon.com, you're not getting it.

However, there are some traditions that I just won't part with.

Our Advent wreath has a special place on our kitchen table, and each week we read what that candle signifies. The boys alternate who gets to light it, and who gets to "snuff" if out. They love eating by candlelight, and it forces us to sit around the table for dinner and have real conversations without SpongeBob in the background.

We still make gifts for the family. I have always told my kids that the best gifts are made, not purchased. And we do try to make functional items, like ornaments, pot holders, or picture frames. My favorites were the coasters we made out of ceramic tiles that bore their painted handprints. They have fun doing it, and it helps instill in them a not only a sense of giving, but a sense of accomplishment as well.

We pick a child. Usually it's from a nametag placed on the Angel Tree at our church. I let the kids select a name, and we shop for a few items on that child's list. We talk about those who are less fortunate, and even though they never meet that child or see them open the gifts, I hope they know that they are making a little boy or girl's Christmas brighter with their generosity.

We go to church. Our church, Redeemer Lutheran, has a wonderful 4:00 service on Christmas Eve that they call "Birthday Party for Jesus". It's awesomely kid-friendly, complete with the singing of Happy Birthday followed by cake and ice cream. In addition, we bring a baby gifts to be placed in the manger, which are then donated to a local women's shelter.

We have Christmas as a "family". Granted, I'm divorced. But so far, there has not been a year where their dad has not come over bright and early on Christmas morning to partake in the opening of the gifts. (And for the record, since they've been born I have adhered to a "three gift" rule - since Jesus received three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.) We have breakfast, then they spend a good part of the day playing with their treasures until it's time to go to Grandma and Grandpa's for the family celebration. I am truly blessed that all this is still possible, and enjoyable.

So maybe we don't have all the Christmas goodies we used to, or attend every Santa sighting, parade or other holiday event. But I think I've managed to purge the stuff that makes the holidays overwhelmingly stressful, and kept the important things that my kids will remember - and hopefully make their own traditions - for years to come.