Monday, August 30, 2010

The Boys of Summer

I say it every year. "I can't believe summer's over. It went so fast!"

I LIVE for the summer. As much as I like the surprise of that first cool, crisp day of the fall, the quiet excitement of the first snowfall of the winter and the promising look of the trees as they burst through with their first leaves in the spring, nothing compares to the warm breezes and relaxed schedules that summer brings.

I've always had problems with change. With the exception of the doom and gloom that I call winter, once the suggestion of a new season appears, I immediately wax nostalgic for the last one.

As obvious in previous posts, the kids and I had a fantastic summer. But for the past week or two, I see the change in the three of us - a little more rushed as sports activities and school and church planning meetings begin, a little more on edge as I'm forced to pull out the dry erase board to record all of our activities for the week - it's like we're bracing for a storm. We don't want summer to end, but it's going to - starting tomorrow.

My youngest is almost tearful at times, and I can't say I blame him. I try to comfort him by reminding him he's about to see all his buddies that he rarely if at all saw for the past three months. I try to sweeten the pot by telling him that fall means weekend cookouts by the fire pit, trips to Tanners and Apple Blossom Farm, hiking and biking over the crunching leaves and of course, Halloween.

I guess a part of me is ready to change up the routine. Summer, for all its relaxation, has also been fast-paced and at times exhausting with all the fun activities and travel. Fall seems much more cerebral - back to school, back to concentrated work without interruption, back to trying to keep up with a more regimented schedule for us all.

It also reminds me that another year has passed since they stood on the porch and posed for their first day of school photo. And that reminds me that they are growing up. Summer aside, I sometimes wonder where the time has gone and hope I've made the most of it... with my boys.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Um, excuse me, your dress is ringing

I'm not sure how I feel about this. The pros, of course, would be that you'd never lose your cellphone (that is, until you took off the dress).

The cons, however, would be rather significant. What if you're in a meeting and forget to turn OFF your dress? What if your dress gets caught in the rain? What if you're doing the Macarena and accidentally call your mother repeatedly?

You be the judge.

The Little Black Dress of the Future Doubles as a Cellphone

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Get "blown away" at this year's Art Fair!

I recently had the pleasure of writing for Art & Society Magazine. I was thrilled to receive the assignment to write an article on the SIUC mobile glassblowing studio and various glass artist who will be featured at the Peoria Art Guild's Fine Art Fair in September.

Click here to read my article in the September issue of Art & Society.

If you have never been to this event, don't think you have to be a fine art aficionado to appreciate it. It has something for everyone. It features 150 artists from 35 states and 2 countries, live music from local musicians, and an outstanding Kids Art Festival. This Art Fair is run like a well-oiled machine, and the artists I spoke to raved about the venue, the courtesy the artist are given and the amazing community support.

So check out this year's Art Fair September 25 and 26 on the Riverfront. For more details or to volunteer (which I am definitely going to do!) go to their website, or "Like" their Facebook page.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Length does matter - how to tweet longer

I know, it kind of defeats the purpose, but some of us more long-winded types like the fact that there is a way around that stifling Twitter-imposed 140-character limit.

Shoutmeloud is a blog I've recently stumbled upon and it has some great social networking tips. Here they offer five useful tools to say what you want to say without sacrificing your freedom of expression:

5 Tools to Tweet Lengthy Messages on Twitter

Feel free to share with your tweeps.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What I did on my summer vacation

The possibilities of summer always lay out before me like a beautiful patchwork quilt. Like each carefully sewn square, every day has its own color and texture, its own story behind it.

As summer draws near, I always ask the kids to make a list of things they'd like to do. It usually starts with, "Go to Disney. Go to Six Flags. Go to Great America." You get the idea. But the further down the list they get, the more their true loves come out. "Dinner at Lou's Drive-In." "Catch lightning bugs." "Sleep in a tent in the backyard."

Because of my current work-at-home status, our schedule has been pretty flexible, and I must say this has been one of the most enjoyable summers for me as well as my kids since I can remember.

As the school year looms, I go to the kids once again and ask them to list everything we did. Again at first they list the obvious ones: Trip to North Carolina. Trip to South Dakota. Water parks. But the more they think about it, the more they remember the "little" stuff, and they suddenly realize that they had an awesome summer and got to do lots of really cool things, and it reminds me that my "carpe diem" motto stayed intact. So without further ado, here's a list (as far as we can recall) of what we did this summer:

1) Broke all traffic laws at Bicycle Safety Town.
2) Drove to North Carolina to visit grandparents (with Dad).
3) Got welts at Chilli Paintball Pits.
4) Drove to South Dakota via World's Largest Truck Stop, Corn Palace and Wall Drug.
5) Hiked the Badlands - and LIVED!
6) Panned for gold.
7) Had a picnic.
8) Hiked at Forest Park Nature Center.
9) Ate at Emo's.
10) Drove to Lou's for homemade root beer.
11) Rode our bikes to Culver's.
12) Fished for "the big one" with Grandpa.
13) Hiked, climbed and waded at Matthiessen State Park.
14) Rafted down Bureau Creek.
15) Visited 8 water parks/pools, including Lakeview, Splashdown, Morton, Dragonland (Pekin), Fairview (Normal), O'Neil (Bloomington), Shore Acres (Chillicothe), Knights Action Park, and soon the Aquaport in Maryland Heights, MO.
16) Learned about the stock market, video gaming and managing your money at ICC College for Kids.
17) Swam, hiked, learned and praised with some awesome neighbors and great kids at Eagle Crest Camp.
18) Roasted hot dogs and cooked s'mores on the fire pit.
19) Water balloons + slip 'n slides + super soakers = wet, happy kids.
20) Brushed up on volleyball.
21) Raced (and beat) Mom in a footrace.
22) Mowed lawns for extra cash.
23) Rode the wheels off three scooters.
24) Swung as high as possible on the swings then jumped into oblivion.
25) Went to the Prairie Air Show and spent the whole time in the Lego tent.
26) Saw an IMAX show in the Quad Cities with Grandma and Grandpa.
27) Viewed the amazing possibilities of Legos at Lakeview Museum.
28) Learned to play the bass; taught brother to play "Smoke on the Water" on the acoustic.
29) Convinced son he could actually be good at tennis if he didn't get so frustrated.
30) Taught Mom how to throw a football spiral.
31) Took turns shaving the ice for homemade sno-cones.
32) Helped Mom make homemade chex mix (affectionately referred to as "crack mix" because once you start eating it, it's hard to stop).
33) Made four blueberry cobblers and two peach.
34) Rearranged the kids' bedrooms.
35) Enjoyed some cool treats at the Ice Cream Shack.
36) Dodged the streams at the Riverfront fountain.
36) Caught frogs.
37) Caught turtles.
38) Hit the fake deer in archery.
39) Biked the Towpath in LaSalle and hunted for bats in the caves.
40) Was sick for a birthday.
41) Filled the sandbox with water and sat in it.
42) Ate dinner on the deck.
43) Taught youngest to cook burgers on the grill (just like SpongeBob).
44) Climbed on the roof to spray a ginormous wasp nest.
45) Played flashlight tag.
46) Kicked oldest son's butt in HORSE.
47) Discovered that "It's all about the deals" at UFS.
48) Banished all directions and made a uniquely original Lego city, complete with Empire State Building, coffee shop, defense department and House of Representatives.
49) Planned one last hurrah to City Museum in St. Louis.
50) Came to the realization that this has been one flippin' sweet summer that we'll hopefully never forget.

What about you? What were the highlights of your summer?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cool organizational tips from Real Simple Magazine

I'm not much of a spring cleaner. Assuming my house is going to get trashed during the three months of my two boys traipsing in and out, I really don't see the point. But right around this time of year I seem to get the urge to purge, and clean, and reorganize.

A lot of my friends seem to be doing the same thing. And many of them have kids going off to college this year as well. So for all of you, and especially those who are looking to spruce up your dorm room or home for pennies, click on this great list from Real Simple Magazine for clever new uses for ordinary household items. I must say I especially like the first one that suggests using rubber doorstops as laptop risers.

And if you get the chance, pick up the latest edition of Real Simple Family. They recently asked for submissions on the topic "Little White Lies You've Told Your Kids" and mine was selected. It's the first time I've been published nationally. OK, it's only one line, but it's a start. I'm going somewhere, I tell you.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

You've been waiting to read this.

"The waiting is the hardest part; every day you see one more card. You take it on faith, you take it to the heart; the waiting is the hardest part." -Tom Petty

“I grew up with six brothers. That's how I learned to dance - waiting for the bathroom.” -Bob Hope

"You know that place between sleep and awake, the place where you can still remember dreaming? That's where I'll always love you, Peter Pan. That's where I'll be waiting."

"How much of human life is lost in waiting?" -Ralph Waldo Emerson

These are all great quotes - poignant as well, but the question I asked myself today was the same one Emerson posed: "How much of human life is lost in waiting?"

Think about it. We get up in the morning, and wait for the coffee to brew. Like Bob Hope, we may wait for our turn in the bathroom. We wait for the bus. The stoplights. A parking space. Lunch. A return phone call. The car pool line. The doctor's office. Dinner. The commercial to be over. The kids' bedtime. That's not even touching the lines we wait in - the grocery store, the bank, traffic, the post office...

Then there's the bigger-picture waiting. Waiting for that right job to come along. Waiting for a raise. Waiting to buy a house. To find that perfect mate. To get pregnant. To make a move. To find out some news. To break some news.

Waiting is part of life's package, and Lord knows it can be exasperating. I know at times I feel like I waste my whole day... just waiting. For whatever.

What I've discovered, however, is that WHILE I'm waiting, I can be doing something else productive to pass the time so the waiting doesn't seem quite so interminable. I think this is why some people view me as some wound-up-busy-bee-multitasking-freak that can't sit down during the day. While I wait for coffee, I check my emails. A line at the grocery store? I plan the rest of my day. In traffic? That's a great time to get some blogging inspiration. And while dinner is in the oven I make the kids' lunches for the next day.

As far as the long-term waiting, well, I'm getting better at that. Instead of waiting for that "perfect job" to come along, I now know that every person I meet and every project I undertake somehow gets me closer to that goal. Not sure if a move is in my future, I'm making a list of home improvements and am starting them now. They need to be done anyway, and if I do decide to move, that's one less thing I have to do. I'm not sure where my kids will go to school in the next few years, and I hate not knowing that. All I can do is research the alternatives to have in my back pocket if that time comes.

Waiting takes patience. Patience is good. But we're only human, so finding some way to make waiting more tolerable actually makes it more productive. And at the end of the day, that will make your life easier, less stressful, and more gratifying.

Try it and let me know how it goes. I'll be waiting.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

10 errors spell check won't catch

Don't rely just on those squiggly little red lines to alert you to misspelled word in your document. Spell check isn't a mind reader, and it can't decipher between some common 'like' words. Recently, listed what they considered their top 10 errors that flew under the spell check radar:

Its versus It’s (and all other apostrophes):
Confusing “its” and “it’s” is the most common error in the English language. That one minuscule apostrophe (or lack thereof) drastically changes the meaning of the entire sentence. “It’s” is a contraction of “it is,” whereas “its” refers to possession. Also, watch out for “your” versus “you’re.”

Sales versus Sails
Can you imagine writing on your resume that you “increased sails by 20 percent”?! Unless you’re applying to a job for a sail boat manufacturer, this careless mistake will probably get your resume sailing right into the recycling bin.

Affect versus Effect
There is a lot of confusion around this one but here’s the rule: “Affect” is a verb and “effect” is a noun. It’s as simple as that.

Would Have NOT Would of
The subtlety in pronunciation leads to the rampant misuse of this phrase; however “would of” is never correct and may make you appear as if you are not well-read.

Through versus Threw
“He threw the ball through the window.” “Threw” is a verb and “through” is a preposition. And speaking of “through,” be careful to make sure you don’t actually mean “thorough” or vice versa. The slight variation in spelling will not be picked up by a computer, but writing “I am through” when you mean “I am thorough” is quite ironic, don’t you think?

Then versus Than
Six is more than five; after five then comes six. “Than” refers to a comparison, while “then” refers to a subsequent event.

Supposed To NOT Suppose To
“Suppose” is a verb, meaning to think or to ponder. The correct way to express a duty is to write, “I was supposed to…”

Wonder versus Wander
You can wander around while you wonder why “wander” and “wonder” have such different meanings, yet sound oh so similar.

Their versus There versus They’re
OK, once and for all: “Their” is possessive; “there” refers to distance; and “they’re” is a contraction of “they are.”

Farther versus Further
While both words refer to distance, grammarians distinguish “farther” as physical distance and “further” as metaphorical distance. You can dive further into a project, for instance, or you can dive farther into the ocean.

So next time you send out that important letter, check it over with your own eyes. Especially if it's a cover letter. Make sure it's not addressed to Dear Sir or "Madman", that it doesn't say you are experienced in many "faucets", list the fact that you have consistently "tanked" in the top 10 percent of employees or that you have a "collage" background. Yep, it happens.

Need me to look something over? Its amazing what a second pare of I's will cache that the first one's didn't.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Advice I would give my daughter (if I had one)

Recently I read an article by a woman who, while completely content to be raising two sons, wondered sometimes what life would have been with a daughter. She realized she had banked so many words of wisdom that could only be dispensed to another female, so in one cleansing article, she listed the top words of advice she offered to the daughter she would never have.

I have two sons, and honestly, I never wished for a daughter.

OK, that's a lie. There have been times when I have been around little girls, or had the opportunity to spend the day with someone else's daughter, and it is certainly pleasantly different. The activities. The discussions. The music. The overall odor.

My fear in having a daughter was that she would turn out like me. That may not be such a bad thing now, but I sure put my mom through the ringer as a pre-teen and teen, and looking back, I saw no reason to have my daughter pay THAT forward. So when the ultrasound tech told me that my second baby was in fact a boy, I cried. She patted my shoulder. "I'm sorry," she said. "You wanted a girl." "No!" I replied. "I'm just so happy it's a boy!"

Teenage years aside, I think I might have been a good mom to a girl. I think I went through just about everything during those trying years - body image issues, moving, starting a new school, bad clothing choices, bad boyfriend choices, heartache, loneliness, Chinese fire drills... you know, the works. Even though my daughter probably wouldn't listen to any advice I gave her at the time, I thought I'd pen my Top 25 Words of Wisdom for the Daughter I'll Never Have:

1. If you're my daughter, you'll always be flat-chested. It will suck at times, and it will make you self-conscious. Just buy the padded bra, stand up straight, and know that your true love will never love you because of your hooters.

2. You know those popular people in high school you admire and want to be accepted by? Don't try so hard to be like them. Years later you will see that some of them lived up to it and became extremely successful. Others crashed and burned. In the end, it all evens out.

3. Have a part-time job in high school. Learn to work hard, juggle a job and school, and manage your money wisely. It won't get any easier.

4. Go to the gynecologist when you're 16. It's important. Go with me or take someone with you and just get a checkup and find out what you're all about in there. Don't wait until you HAVE to go and end up alone in an exam room with a doctor who doesn't speak English. You will cry and it will be horrible.

5. Never beg a guy to love you, take you back, or not break up with you. It makes you look desperate and makes him want to get away from you even more. You may lose him, but you will keep your pride. Believe me, by the time he tells you goodbye, he's already been gone for awhile.

6. There will be a time when you will be so sad you literally won't know what to do. Lean on me, or if you can't, lean on your friends. If they're good friends they'll listen to you cry at any hour of the night, hold your hand or bring you a sandwich when you haven't eaten in three days.

7. Remember your saddest time, and next time you are sad, realize that it won't be as bad as that time.

8. Be as smart as you are. Study in high school. Go to college. Study in college. Keep a decent GPA. It does matter, and employers will ask you for it for years to come. Don't be embarrassed at age 43 that it was barely a 3.0.

9. Find a college that you can see yourself at for four years. If you're not ready, don't go. Attend a community college, work part-time and save money. Don't stop going to school until you have that degree, no matter how long it takes you.

10. Buy fad clothes cheaply; spend more on classics. Make sure you have a nice pair of black slacks, a black skirt, a couple of dress blouses and a blazer or two in your closet. And a nice pair of black pumps. Those are timeless, and I guarantee you'll be wearing them long after the low-rise jeans and peasant blouses are out of style.

11. Never color your hair yourself (or have a friend do it). This is something that should be left to the professionals. If you decide to do it yourself, do it on a weekday when you can be sure to get in for an emergency re-color with your local stylist, who will berate you then fix the damage.

12. There's trashy-sexy and classy-sexy. Try for the latter - and if you can't pull it off, just be classy.

13. If you decide to grow your hair out, do it. When it gets to that point where you can't stand it and want to cut it, put on a hat and deal with it. It'll be worth it.

14. Never date anyone who wants to change you. If he makes you grow, that's different. But never give up who you are to try to fit someone else's mold.

15. Don't expect anyone to ever do anything for you. This is not to say they won't, but you should always have the skill and knowledge and wherewithal to do it yourself if you must. Not only will this make you independent, it will make you proud of yourself.

16. Buy a toolkit. And not a chintzy one. Craftsman is good. Make sure you know what all the tools do. Throw in an electric screwdriver and drill and learn how to use them.

17. Know where the water shut-off valve is in your house.

18. Women's intuition does exist. Don't ignore it. Ever.

19. Don't date a man that no one likes. You may be able to get by with it for awhile, but if your friends and family don't like him, then you're not seeing the forest for the trees.

20. When you have your first child, it may not be that incredibly happy, bonding moment that all the mommy books rave about. You may feel detached, exhausted, overwhelmed and even resentful for everything you've just been through and the challenges that lie ahead. It's OK to feel that way, but tell someone who can help you do something about it.

21. When the right one comes along, you WILL know it. If you think, "Well, I guess this is it", it's not. Wait. Better to be alone than to be with the wrong guy.

22. If you're like me, you'll have a small circle of close friends. In your younger years, you will be envious of those who seem to have friends everywhere. Stop it. Lavish in your luckiness at what you have, and keep those friends close. Treat them well.

23. If you're drunk, go home. But don't drive. And don't think it's cool to be drunk. It may be fun, but you won't remember it and it makes you look stupid. And as far as drugs, sure, go ahead. Try pot. Remember how out-of-control you will feel. If you're your mother's daughter, you won't like that feeling and will never do it again.

24. At some point, you'll realize what colors look best on you. Have lots of those in your wardrobe, but don't be afraid to go outside the box, even if I tell you red isn't your color. And I won't.

25. Remember who bore and raised you and don't ever stop trying to thank them. The older you get, the smarter and cooler they will become, until you will actually enjoy hanging out with them. Know that you will never know how much they love you until you have children of your own. And when it hits you, it will be overwhelming and you will feel incredibly blessed.

Moms with daughters? How'd I do? Anything you would add to the list?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Parenting on a shoestring (Part 3 of 3)

In recent posts, I've discussed peer pressure and parenting, stupid things and parenting, and finally today... poor parenting.

Not "poor" as in "bad"... "poor" as in "very little money".

Everyone's tightening their belts these days, and of course, the recession hasn't helped. I'm the first one to tell you that jobs are scarce, bills are plentiful and unemployment benefits aren't forever.

But you know what? As long as you can keep your head above water, parenting while poor is not such a bad thing.

I'm not talking about those who are having to choose between medicine for themselves and groceries for their family, nor those who are risking foreclosure on their houses or who are working three jobs and NEVER see their kids.

That's a bad thing.

I'm talking about tightening the financial reins - budgeting your money - having to really, really watch what you spend in every aspect of your life. Which means at some point, you gotta let the kids in on it.

Here's how this went down in my family. I've always for the most part been a smart shopper. I look for the sales, clip coupons, and rarely if ever buy any high-ticket items. No, I don't have a flat screen TV. My biggest purchase in the last three years was probably my laptop and a new ignitor for my 10-year old oven.

My kids have always known that they don't "get something" for going to the store for me. But damn the candy in every checkout lane - they do try! If they want cereal, it has to be on sale. We don't buy cases of soda or individual eight-packs of Gatorade. And I truly don't think they know that two-ply toilet paper even exists.

Slowly... slowly... as they get older and have their OWN money to spend, I'm seeing little mini-me's emerge. All the times I stood wistfully in front of a Mac computer or held up a pair of beautiful earrings, then said, "Nope. Don't need it. Walk away..." they now do the same thing.

Case in point: While perusing the cursed school supply list, I ask my oldest what kind of organizational binder he needs this year. His reply, "Mom, the one I used last year is fine." I of course feel the need to start off each year new and fresh, and pushed it some more, until finally he said, "Mom! My old binder is FINE, and if you don't get me a new one, you save money. When I NEED a new one, I'll let you know."

(Insert Mom swelling with pride here...)

They've started to pay more attention to how much things cost and stop to think whether they "need" or "want". They've started at least thinking about saving for the future - even if the future is just next week. They're even following my lead - turning off lights (sometimes), using the timer in the shower (sometimes), and yelling "kilowatt! kilowatt! kilowatt!" when the other is standing with the refrigerator door open for too long (thanks, Dad).

I don't know what their financial future holds. Part of me wants them to be wildly successful, but the other part of me wants them to struggle a bit, so they learn how to work with less.

I guarantee we are just as happy if not happier than those who "have it all".

Monday, August 2, 2010

Social Networking 101 (for newbies)

If you're reading this, then you are a social networker.

Congratulations! You're one of 22.7 percent of Americans who utilize social networking today - up from 15.8 percent just one year ago.

But if you're a business or organization, big time or small potatoes, are you using it to promote your offerings? It's free, you know.

Hello. It's FREE.

Here are the top three social networking sites that I use - as well as apparently most of America. There are a plethora of others - and it's easy to get overwhelmed. But if you're just getting started, you should at least have a presence on these here:

Sure, you found your long lost high school sweetheart and that second cousin once removed. But Facebook is becoming a vital tool for networking and business connections. You can set up a business profile on Facebook, like I have for Kennard Communications. From there, you can post business status updates, links, "Suggest to Friends", join or create groups and discussion boards, and maintain a calendar of events. The more you post, the more traffic you'll drive to your business or organization. Keep in mind, though, that your business profile is separate from your personal profile. Never post anything on your business profile that you don't want the world to see.

According to their website, Twitter's definition is "an apt description of the conversations here. As it turns out, because Twitter provides people with real-time public information, it also helps groups of people mimic the effortless way a flock of birds move in unison."

With Twitter, you can post messages up to a total of 140 characters, which includes punctuation and spaces. Twitter allows your business to partake in real-time communication, connecting you with your followers and other potential customers “right now”. You can tweet about breaking business news, post links to your company blog or website, or retweet posts by others in your industry that you feel will be of interest to your followers. And by using pertinent keywords in your tweets, you can gain followers who may be searching for information on what you're tweeting about - and vice-versa.

I'll be the first to say that I don't utilize Twitter to its full potential, but it's on my to-do list. You can follow me on Twitter HERE.

LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network with over 70 million members. This social networking site connects you to your trusted contacts and helps you exchange knowledge, ideas, and opportunities with a broader network of professionals.

It's easy to create a profile on LinkedIn, but if you do so, complete it 100% (it will gauge your progress). Your Linked In account is the equivalent to an online resume or perhaps an executive bio as it has most of the same components. Search for connections and see who those connections are connected to. You can start this by importing all your email lists. In addition, LinkedIn has a search feature that allows you to find people by company, industry and city.

Join or create niche groups to increase your visibility and connect with others in your field. Request recommendations from colleagues to build a "reference library" of sorts for those who may be seeking your services. In essence, LinkedIn shows your whole professional package in one scroll of the mouse. You can see my LinkedIn profile by clicking HERE.

Finally, link everything to everything. Make sure your Facebook and Twitter links appear on your LinkedIn page, and vice-versa. You can post status updates separately on each site, or have your business Facebook page status automatically update to your Twitter and LinkedIn like I do.

I know this may be overwhelming for some, and honestly, there's a lot more to each of these sites than I've gotten into here. But getting on board this social networking train can be good for business, and did I mention it's free?

Oh, and if you need help getting started, let me know. That's "my thing", too.