Monday, August 31, 2009

You Say You Want A Revolution?

Is social media a fad? Or the biggest thing since the Industrial Revolution? Watch this informative (and a little frightening) video to see how far we have truly come, and where we might be going.

Social Media Revolution

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Irish Eyes Are Smiling

As an addendum to my previous blog post, I was completely moved by the Irish Wake of Senator Ted Kennedy. Here's the story, courtesy of the Boston Herald:

Ted Kennedy's Irish Wake

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Let's not RIP before we all R.I.P.

I've learned more about Ted Kennedy in the past two days than I have ever known about him in my entire life. If you've seen the coverage, most major news shows have devoted the days since his death to a mini-documentary eulogy, including Camelot-infused retrospectives, interviews with prominent Washington colleagues, and video and photo montages.

Kennedy, the Massachusetts senator known as "The Lion", was extremely controversial during his life, but in his death has been portrayed as nothing but a positive force for this country, a caring friend to all who knew him, and a loving father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.

I don't know enough about Ted Kennedy or his politics to really have an opinion, but the media coverage gave me pause. Why can't we celebrate the good of others during life the way we seem to do after they have passed?

People today seem to delight in finding the dark side of others, whether they be political figures, celebrities, or your neighbor next door. In some cases, it may be warranted in order to "call out" those who may be doing wrong in order to defend the greater good. But in other cases, I think it's a testament to our own insecurities; a way to make us feel better about our own shortcomings.

I know I'm guilty of people-bashing. Who isn't? But maybe we need to defer to all those parenting books that say the best way to give your child "constructive criticism" is to preface it with a compliment. For instance, instead of saying, "Brendan, you're a horrible person to hit your brother with that bat." Say, "Brendan - you have an amazing swing! But please don't use your brother as the baseball."

OK, so that may not be a very good example. But you get the idea.

The world is a tough place, and many people are doing a myriad of things wrong. But it's also a wonderful place, with countless folks doing immeasurable good. And at the end of the day, we need to remember that we are all as human as the person next to us, and we need to recognize and celebrate the positives in others before they are gone.

I've told my friends that when I die, I don't want a funeral. Why? Because I don't want the people who never really liked me showing up just because they knew me. No, I have a better idea. If I ever have the disposable income to set aside, I'm going to start a little fund for my Irish Wake.

The traditional Irish Wake was commonplace around Ireland up until about the 1970's. There would be lots of food and drink, and people would come and socialize and remember the departed person's life. This wasn't a time for tears to say the least, it was more of a party than a funeral. It was the traditional Irish way of celebrating one's life and ensuring that they had a good send off. I'm going to have a guest list, and all those will be invited to the local bar to celebrate my life and to have a drink on me.

Of course, if there is Amy-bashing, I won't be able to do much about it. But my point is this: don't wait for a person's death to celebrate their life. We're all here NOW. We're all doing good things NOW. We all have qualities that make us shine NOW. Let's not wait until it's too late to tell each other.

Rest in peace, Senator Kennedy.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Would you go back?

I'm at that age where I'm seeing the signs of "getting old". Now, I don't consider myself old - that perception changes with every passing year - but the symptoms are there. Reading a medicine bottle label requires me to hold it at arm's length, tilt my head up, and squint my eyes. It doesn't really help, but it's what I do. I'm seeing the beginnings of arthritis - ironically, in my "mouse" finger of all places. And after renewing my love of volleyball this summer, I woke up each morning after a game to my body shouting obscenities at me.

So, physically, yeah, I may be on the decline. But emotionally, I'm in the best shape of my life. I will never forget my mom telling me - I think back in my 20's - that her 40's was the best decade of her life. 40's???? Are you kidding me? That's elderly!!! (Insert angry look from my mother here.) Because according to her, that was the time when she finally started to put the pieces of the puzzle together - with who she was, where she was going, and who she wanted to be.

I hate it when she's right.

I've talked to people who would give anything to go back. For some, it's the college years. Others, it's their 20's, when they were making good money and partying every night. Still others hit their stride in their 30's, when they achieved their dream of finding their soulmate and having children.

Me? I'm good with right now. Looking back, one of my favorite times of my life was my last two years of high school. I had an amazing group of friends, little responsibility, and the world at my feet. But I was also an adolescent mess, and a real pain in the butt to my parents. College for me was a train wreck - I graduated, but without all the great memories of sorority sisters, college football games, and late nights at the local bar.

My 20's were spent doing what I thought I should be doing. I didn't have a clue. I was living by myself in a large city, doing a job I thought I was qualified for, and wondering what I was supposed to do next. I was definitely a lost soul. I started chipping away at my insecurities in my late 20's and began what I considered my career, and settled into a long-term relationship.

My 30's were a time of HUGE changes - I got married, owned my own home, had babies, lived on a military post, and traded in my professional title for "homemaker". Ultimately, I experienced the heartbreak of divorce, the trials of financial trouble, and the insane world of young children. As I approached my 40th birthday, my friends relentlessly teased me, "Ah, turning 40!!! How's it feel? Are you ready?"

My response: "BRING IT."

I've only been residing in this decade for just under three years, but I must say, it suits me well. I don't know what happened, but I feel like I finally dispersed that fog in my head that was clouding everything from my perception to my judgement to my personal opinions.

Although I'm not sure where my career is going to go, I know where I want to be and am taking the steps to make it happen. Even though my oldest son is entering one of the most critical and gut-wrenching times of his life (and the youngest soon to follow), I am earnestly listening to the advice of others and doing everything I can to raise them to make good choices.

I am figuring out what true friendship really means, and that a good friend knows how to give and how to receive. I've recognized some of my strengths and learned to work on my faults, and realized that one of the hardest, but most important things to say is "I'm sorry". And though I don't consider myself an optimist (yet), I've determined that a positive outlook does make life a little sunnier, and a little easier, and makes me much less of a "Debbie Downer" to those around me.

My 40's have made me incredibly thankful for what I have, the opportunities before me, and those that I have had the honor of knowing along the way. It's also fueled my empathy for those who are struggling, and makes me want to help them through their crises because I know where they've been.

So no matter what age you are, look back on your life, and ahead to your future. Are you wishing you could "go back"? If so, where and why? And if you're looking forward, good for you. I can only speak for myself, because my mom hasn't weighed in yet, but if my 40's are going this well, I can't wait for the "Big 5-0".

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"It's Better Here"... and here's why

I was dragged to Peoria in 1980 kicking and screaming, an immature 13-year-old who was bound and determined not to make this city my home. My dad was a Cat man, and Peoria was his next stop in an impressive 40-year career with the Big Yellow. "It's Better Here" was definitely not my motto.

Over time, I slowly warmed up to the city, its people and its offerings. After high school, I left for my college experience, and after a short career stint in Milwaukee I found myself right back in the River City. Marriage, a child, 10 months in Leavenworth (my ex-husband was in the Army) and a couple of years in Chicago solidified what I had been tossing around in my head for years - I wanted to go "home".

Since then, I've become an advocate of this "big, small town", if nothing else for the fact that I don't have to plan my travels around the morning and afternoon rush hour. I can pretty much get anywhere in the city in 20 minutes (when War Memorial and I-74 aren't under construction, of course). There's an abundance of activities for kids, oodles of options for a girls' night out, and plenty of places for a great date night.

No, we're not Chicago with a Navy Pier, Museum of Science and Industry, or Water Tower Place. But we're less than 3 hours away from these amazing points of interest. What Peoria does offer is true family experiences, unique venues, and a taste of the big city with small town hospitality. Here's a short list of my favorites:

Arts and Sciences
Lakeview Museum - When the family-friendly exhibits come to town, there's nothing better to do with the kids on a wintry or rainy day. Perusing the gift shop is even an adventure in eclectic and interesting toys and games. The planetarium is a sight to behold as well. A family membership is ridiculously reasonable, and with that you get great discounts to museums all over the country.

Peoria Art Guild
For an amazing art experience, visit the oldest and largest resource for contemporary art in Central Illinois. The Art Guild is one of the few galleries in Central Illinois that regularly features living artists, and are the sponsors of the Fine Art Fair, which has been ranked as one of the top 100 art fairs in the country.

Get Outside
Wildlife Prairie Park - Come on, seriously. WHERE ELSE can you find a place like this? Not only is it a gorgeous way to spend the day among animals you normally would not be able to ever see in their natural habitats, it promotes education, exercise and excitement for kids and adults alike. Memberships are reasonable, the Sunday brunch is incredible, and you can even spend the night in one of their rustic cabins. Now that's a true family day and a great way to spend a "stay-cation".

The Riverfront - For kids: Start at Joe's Crab Shack for lunch on the deck, then take a walk and watch the boats (and the debris) float down the river. Check out Preston Jackson's sculptures along the way, then let the kids dip in the fountain on the square. Continue on down to the Riverplex and expel some energy on their awesome playground.

For adults: Enjoy a casual dinner at a variety of restaurants on or near the Riverfront, followed by a listen to one of the awesome bands that play seasonally on the CEFCU stage or at Martinis in the old River Station building.

On Saturdays from June to September, check out the Farmer's Market - more than just fruits and veggies, by the way. Cap off your shopping with a tasty coffee at Water Street or Cafe 401 and take time to stroll through the shops in Waterfront Place including the Illinois Antique Center.

What city of nearly 115,000 (and that's just the city proper) has a minor league baseball team in a state of the art stadium, an AHL Hockey team, as well as fiercely followed basketball and soccer teams? There's not a month that goes by in this town that there's not some sort of sporting event to attend with your family, your kids, the guys or the gals.

Wine and Dine
The Central Illinois area continues to surprise me with its food and drink options. Two wineries I have had the pleasure of visiting, Kickapoo Creek Winery and Mackinaw Valley Winery, are both beautiful locales to kick back and pretend you're in the vineyards of California.

If beer is your poison, check out some of the local pubs like Kelleher's (offering 18 micro and import drafts and 90 bottled beers) or Sullivan's (great menu, great bartenders and the best Bloody Marys on the planet). Fabulous food is in abundance in Peoria, from the Vietnamese Thanh Lihn (recently highly recommended) to the culinary excellence of June, to the Peoria staple, Avanti's.

Now that's definitely the short list, and I'm thinking after writing this that I'd really like to become a reviewer of "All Things Peoria". So if you have your own jewel to add to my list of gems here, please comment below. After being back in the River City for going on 10 years, I think it really is "Better Here", and getting better all the time.

Friday, August 14, 2009

What do you need to get "back to..."?

Whether you have kids or not, you've seen the signs. The newspaper and TV ads are full of backpack bargains, school supply sales and uniform clothing closeouts. Children of all ages are savoring these last moments of summer - getting in that last swim, that last day to sleep in, the last night to stay up late catching lightning bugs before it's back to ABC's and 1-2-3's. Yep, it's back to school time.

As I get my boys - ages 8 and 12 - ready for their next journey down that education highway, I wonder to myself, "What should I get back to?" I know for a fact that after a summer of being unexpectedly downsized, I have my business in place but have had to take a few weeks' hiatus simply because the kids are home and it's hard to make any real progress. With them in school, it's time for me to get back to hitting the pavement and finding some clients and some writing jobs. Or, finding that new job.

In addition, as I look around my house - smeared with Popsicle fingerprints and sandy floors, I think perhaps it's time to get the house back in order. I need to return my fourth bedroom back to an office instead of a dumping ground for school supplies, clothes that no longer fit, and a "to file" pile larger than my desk itself. And with my finances taking a hit, I need to revise my budget and get back to cutting back, even more than I already have.

I almost think that this time of year is better at making a sort of resolution than New Year's Day. With my kids having to switch gears and start a new routine, maybe I should as well. They have to get back to it, and so do I.

So as you wave goodbye to those summer faces as they peer wistfully at you from the school bus, think of what you need to get back to. Maybe it is a new career path. Or perhaps some volunteer work at your child's school. Maybe you need to get back to some friends that have gone by the wayside, or a family member that you just haven't had the time for. Whatever it is, use these last few weeks of summer to take inventory of what's important to you, and figure out what you need to get "back to".

Monday, August 10, 2009

Resumes That Work... So You Can, Too!

Over the years, I've written a number of resumes for a variety of people searching for a array of positions. In most cases, they come to me in a panic because they want to apply for a job "immediately" and need their resume updated, or don't have one at all.

For those who don't have one at all, realize that it does take time to sit down and hammer out everywhere you've worked, what you did, and all the other fabulous things you've accomplished that should be listed on a resume. For those who say they need a resume update, in more cases than not it ends up turning into a complete overhaul for many of the reasons listed below.

That said, here are some basic tips for creating or updating your resume:

1. A resume is your first impression, your foot in the door, and the reason that employer is going to call you for an interview. Keep that in mind when writing it. While some resumes may benefit from a specific objective, others don't need it if the work history is cohesive enough to speak for itself. I find that objectives seem to be not only subjective, but limiting as well.

2. Use "power" words, and quantify where possible. What sounds better to you? "Gave work assignments to staff of entry level accounting clerks." OR "Directed workflow, supervised and trained accounting staff performing posting to general ledger, accounts receivable and payable accounts." If you know that your department's productivity increased by a certain percentage while you were there, say so. If you were promoted while at that position, tell about it.

3. Tailor your resume to the job for which you are applying. Yes, it is OK to have several versions of your basic resume. I have one version for any writing jobs I apply for which highlight that experience. Another focuses on my media buying, special event planning and trade show skills.

4. List the important stuff first. If you just graduated with a double major in Business Administration and Computer Technology but have little practical work experience, list that education first. On the other hand, if you didn't complete your degree but work as the IT Manager for a major organization, that should be your headliner.

5. Don't overlook the basics. Have someone else proofread your work, for both grammar and punctuation. Make sure it's in a readable typeface no smaller than 10 point. Avoid listing the obvious like "Available for interview" or "References available". And know when to say when. Your work history may go back to your days as a paperboy, but if you're in your 40's, that's a bit far back to go.

What I have found in my experience is whether I'm updating a resume or creating one from scratch, I am amazed at the information I can pry out of someone just by digging deep into their job experience past and asking a few specific questions that they may not have thought were pertinent. So if your resume needs a face lift, or if you don't have one at all, give me a call and let's discuss how I can make your resume work, so you can, too.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Grammar Errors: Their Everywhere...

OK, show of hands. How many people caught that? The error in the headline? Not as many as you'd think. Intelligent people have been butchering the English language since the Great Vowel Shift of the 15th century.

Now, I can't do math to save my life and ask anyone in my family how I am at directions - but what I do have is a grasp of grammar and a penchant for punctuation. And while I do fully recognize that there is a certain "casual-ness" to the English language in this day and age, there are some common grammatical faux pas that make me cringe. Here are my Top 5:

#5. They're for their for there

No: Their thinking of hiring Amy Kennard to write there website.
Yes: They're definitely going to hire Amy Kennard to write their website.

#4. It's for its

No: Its tough not to make this mistake; it's occurrence is common.
Yes: It's tough not to make this mistake; its occurrence is common.

#3. Loose for lose

No: Don't loose sight of the importance of good copywriting.
Yes: Don't lose sight of the importance of good copywriting.
No: You snooze, you loose.
Yes: You snooze, you lose.

#2. You're for your

No: Your never going to regret hiring Amy Kennard as you're copywriter.
Yes: You're never going to regret hiring Amy Kennard as your copywriter.

#1. Effect for affect

No: A good media plan will have a positive affect on your business.
Yes: A good media plan will have a positive effect on your business.
No: Many businesses effected by the recession are hiring freelancers.
Yes: Many businesses affected by the recession are hiring freelancers.

Now granted, the English language is one of the most difficult to master, but if you made it through 5th or 6th grade, you should have the gist of it. But if you don't - well, there's just one more reason to hire me, right?