Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas Eve Tradition

There's absolutely no doubt that we will have a White Christmas. After staying up late wrapping all munchkin's presents & a couple for hubby, we woke up to yet another fresh dusting of snow. 

Every year my munchkin gets more & more into the tradition of the holidays & I try to think of ways to make lasting memories.  Last year we made the Rolo pretzel cookies - far too many of them. I was still eating them a week later.

I also started the making cookies for Santa & leaving carrots for his reindeer tradition & it was a huge hit. Of course I had to munch some of the cookies & the carrots to make it believable & by the surprised look on his face it knew it was very convincing.

So this morning the first thing munchkin wanted to do was to make cookies for Santa. So I cleaned up the kitchen & we started baking. Now I have to admit I totally cheat & buy the package cookie mix - what can I say? My sister-in-law T is the reigning queen of cookie making in our family & I'll never try to "out do" her, so I keep it simple.  I just added my own butter & egg & off we went.

We made a batch to be frosted
& then decided that decorating, then baking was the yummier way to go so we made pan 
 after pan,
 after pan,
 until we were finally done.
Thankfully mommy's tester approved!

Whatever the tradition on Christmas Eve morning is in your home, I hope it's always fun & memorable. Sending wishes of love, peace & hope to all of you - from our home to yours.

~Merry Christmas 2010 & 
Have A Happy & Healthy New Year 2011~

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Holiday Wish for this Wordless Wednesday

Were only days away from another Christmas celebration.

Where did the year go?
So many blessings. So many wishes that have been granted.

So much time to think about those who continue to struggle.
So many people who may spend the holidays alone.

My prayers go out to those who have far less than we.
That they be blessed with hope & some peace of mind.
To endure another second, another minute, another day 
- one day at a time.

My Holiday Wish? 

To those that have the means 
to help someone less fortunate 
- please raise a hand.

Not just now - during the holidays, 
but throughout the coming year.

Take those opportunities to give something back.

Because tomorrow isn't guaranteed 
& you never know when you might need 
someone to return the favor.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Not so Delicious After All

I hadn't paid much attention to Social Bookmarking Services in the past, but that all changed on Friday. Social Bookmarking been around for several years, however I've been very happy with the "old fashioned" & private way of just creating folders of bookmarks on my PC. I haven't seen a need to make my library of web resources public. But there are many people that do & rely on this resource which can be readily retrieved from anywhere ~ especially when you're on the go.

But seriously hard core Delicious users are suddenly shopping the competition & rushing to move their libraries of data to a more reliable source.

Competitor Diigo is already capitalizing on the rumors of the future of Delicious being in flux:

 Just in case you're not familiar, here's a quick & dirty download on some of the Diigo features including:
  • "My library" for doing web research, sharing on-line content & collaboration
  •  The ability to annotate w/highlighting, highlight & clip images, and even a "post-it notes" tool
  •  Use of a cloud online archive so you don't have to worry about web pages or .pdfs not being there when you use traditional bookmarks to find them again
  • Ability to download content for off-line browsing
  • Means to organize data w/multiple tags or lists which you can elect to share with others
  • Multiple back-ups of your online library
  • "My Network" - the means to create personal learning networks
  • Option of establishing group collaborative repository networks
  • Accessibility via mobile with ease
Instapaper is also a more simple option, without all the bells & whistles of a Delicious, Evernote or Diigo. According to the site FAQ, "Instapaper isn’t optimized for keeping track of thousands of pages. This isn’t the right tool to collect, categorize, tag, filter, and search the contents of every web page you’ve ever found."

Evernote is a recommended Delicious alternative as well for capturing organizing & finding saved items you're looking for fast. With this service it's not quite as easy as downloading a toolbar, you're downloading a desktop client application.

My question is does it make sense to have all your treasured bookmarks in one basket? Redundancy may be the sensible answer - although it's time consuming, it may be better than stressing about the what if scenarios of the future. It would be nice if someone could come up with a self hosted alternative that allowed you to back-up your library to your own personal cloud - perhaps even to the same place that you store your personal files like MozyHome.

In a volatile economy, especially one where in the same week Yahoo announced 600 layoffs, nothing is certain & no product is guaranteed to last forever.  Instead of sweating the possibility of being a victim of circumstance - get your disaster recovery plan in place & stay proactive with your options.  You'll be glad you did.

More posts inspired by Delicious Paranoia:

Web Uproar As Yahoo Shuts Down Delicious

Delicious is Dead. Now What?

17 Reasons Users Should Head to Diigo

10 Alternatives to Delicious

Yahoo Claims It’s Not Killing Delicious

What's next for Delicious?

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy: Inner Struggles

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Season of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is the time of year that gets most people thinking about everything good that has come their way in the months past. For me the quickly approaching year-end truly solidifies thoughts about where I've been, where I'm headed & all that I'm thankful for.

We live in a time where so much that many of us take for granted & think of as necessities are pure pipe dreams for others.  Just read the headlines from the past week & you'll see that you never know what tomorrow will bring or how much you could literally lose in an instant.
  • A man's home burned down in the city next door from ours & he perished along with it.
  • A driver racing to flee the police crashes into another vehicle, taking the life of a Mother & her two children.
  • A soon-to-be-homeless 50+ long term unemployed 99er writes a suicide note after being on the brink of despair & hopelessness, not knowing what to do next or where to go.
  • A woman contemplates placing her kids in foster care so that they don't run the risk of being homeless along with her, seeing no other options or saving grace.
I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. After a lifetime of taking the ability to quickly find good jobs & maintain them for many years with great pay, bonuses, benefits & good opportunities for advancement, I found myself & a number of close co-workers suddenly displaced. There was no advance knowledge of exactly how far the economy would slide clues that this would not be a short-term situation.  Days turned into weeks, then months, then a year & several months of unemployment & no real "good news" coming from hiring circles in the industries I knew so well.  

"An overnight sprinkling of snow - our doubts, chased away by morning as faith climbs even wintry skies." - Modern haiku from Paris, France

Thank God for severance, savings, then unemployment checks, not to mention realigned priorities and expectations forever changed.  Twitter & Linked In has kept me in touch with people experiencing similar challenges, including some tweeps which I've yet to meet IRL, but certainly plan to. There are those I follow on Twitter because of their intelligent thoughts, positive messages & magnetic personalities. Others I look forward to reading in my timeline because they resemble who & what I am very proud to be - a working mother.

We all get excited for the holidays & do what we can to make memories & long standing traditions for our families.  We adopt families & play Santa, buying them gifts.  We contribute to gift causes through our churches, or bring food so that the homeless can be fed.

"Eternal goodness, you want me to gaze into you and see that you love me.  You love me freely, and you want me to love and serve my neighbors with the same love, offering them my prayers and my possessions, as far as in me lies..." 
- St Catherine of Siena ( 1347-1380), Italy

I'm thankful that contract work can turn into full time work - as so many others are still looking for something - any type of work to help them get back on their feet. I am fortunate.

I'm grateful for discounts offered to alumni that put me over the edge & gave me the justification to spend money on continuing education, so that I can continue to work towards bigger & better career goals. I appreciate the opportunity to get to know the people in my class - some employed but the majority still are not. All are very intelligent, highly educated individuals that deserve some peace of mind & the means to be able to support their families. 

One in particular is soon to be a 99er & hasn't has a single face-to-face interview in almost 2 years & is terrified of what tomorrow won't bring. He desperately just wants to work - he'd move his family anywhere in the country to do it. Every week we have tried to encourage him not to lose hope.

I'm thankful to have a supportive husband, extended family & good friends, who had faith & said prayers that kept me from giving up.  I'm grateful for my child's unconditional love & the fact that he's resilient & at his tender age, never really knew all that he missed out on while I was out of work.  

Things could ALWAYS be so much worse & the light at the end of the tunnel, though it still seems far away at times - it still burns bright.

We've all been guilty of "doing our part" when the decorations are up & the holiday music plays, & then we quickly become self absorbed in our own personal goals & resolutions for the new year. My holiday wish for you is to find a way to extend yourself - volunteer, well into 2011 & be a champion for a worthy cause. You truly can extend this season of gratitude & keep others hopeful in the process.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Fun is the Mother of all Inventions

Who says you need a monster snow blower
to get the job done clearing the snow from the driveway & sidewalk?

All you need is a little imagination & the desire to have a little fun & you've got a Munchkin & Daddy-powered snow plow. 
What could be better?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Converting those who say: Foursquare's NOT for Me!

As some may be aware,  I religiously follow the tweets of my virtual mentor Olivier Blanchard (aka @thebrandbuilder).  He recently got into a feisty discussion about Foursquare. Some good points were made about the platform, but clearly he explained that there are numerous opportunities within their business model to be improved upon to make it a stand-out leader & to grow among their competitors.

"For Foursquare to scale, adoption has to accelerate. How do I do that? I focus on businesses AND users/players." - Olivier Blanchard
Image from
That conversation got me thinking about if & why or why not the people I converse with on a regular basis have adopted this mobile app since I've rarely seen any of them "checking in" via fb or twitter. Or perhaps they have & I missed it since it's a declaration of a particular time, place & event.

So, I did a rather informal & non-statistical survey among a few Twitter & Facebook friends.  Out of the 15 women that responded:
  • 2 had no idea what Foursquare was
  • 3 deliberately don't use it, citing privacy concerns
  • 6 are more active users
  • & 4 are either non-recent or infrequent users.
I personally fall into the never been interested for privacy bucket, so with me, there are 4 in that category and 16 total, however I am curious to understand what all the fuss is about.  When I compare it to other reward vehicles like a debit or credit card that pays me cash back every time I use it and loyalty programs who utilize something as simple as a punch card, the value proposition just doesn't measure up fast enough to make it worth my time.

Trophy Case & badges ~ From
One major consideration would be that I am NOT a gamer. Although I've been very competitive over the years from an athletic perspective, video games will never hook me. I'm also not interested in the status of a hypothetical political title, so being proclaimed a "Mayor" doesn't cut it either.

So what would Foursquare need to do to convert me, the value-conscious, but curious segment, in order to attract & retain me as a user? The Utilization & Retention challenge certainly isn't a new one, but good marketing plans that understand & build programs to proactively manage them supports every good revenue model.When you're talking about a free service, there's little value in a database of inactive users.

So for those of us that find no status in badges & titles, what rewards will get & keep us engaged? Take a lesson from retailers like @Target, who has introduced a new 5% immediate discount on every purchase. Kids Hair just convinced me to buy a coupon book which essentially gives me a free hair cut for my munchkin when I buy a bunch up front. They already see me & my wallet every 6 weeks.  Once Upon A Child hooks me with stamp incentives for paying with cash & bringing my own bag.  Those stamps add up to 15% of my purchase total, a discount which I can really use. Caribou hands out $2.00 off coupons that are valid if you come back & order another drink after 2:00pm when I'm in need of a boost, but feel guilty about spending the extra cash. Get the idea? Foursquare do you care about connecting with me or not?

Reward us where we already live & breathe versus trying to get people to always have to "try some new spot" in order to "play the game". That may have worked on me in my 20's, but not so much now in this stage of life. Watch my behaviors & then approach those businesses I frequent & say "here's your customer, what can we do for them to add value to your relationship & save them money instantly." Don't just say "here businesses come & figure this out for yourselves", or "here, go ahead & build an app".  Own the relationships, grow them & be a real partner.

 "I think use is across the board re: generation, social identity groups, etc." - @cindyelizabeth

That may be true but this is not a one size fits all kind of world we live in.  As a consumer I care about businesses that put me first & care about me & my personal shopping, or the rare entertainment/dining experiences. After all it's my time, my loyalty & my dollars to spend. In this economy, none of us can afford to just give that away.  Foursquare needs to earn my trust, loyalty & respect. 

Should Foursquare just be left to flounder in it's present manifestation? Or perhaps I shouldn't even be curious.  Share your thoughts here.

You might also be interested in this study from @emarketer  ~ Still Waiting on that Mobile Couponing Explosion

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Feeling the Holiday Spirit

There's nothing like a little snow to put you in the holiday spirit. My munchkin has a long list for Santa, but then again, don't we all?!

I've already put a nice dent in my shopping list... usually spotting bargains for gifts already in the Spring. Are you getting prepared now? Or are you of the last minute variety?

 Share your thoughts here.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy: Starting my Christmas Wish List Now

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Finally Friday - The calm before #Snowmageddon in MN

It's Finally Friday & I'm thankful for the strength that I've been blessed with ~ allowing me to get through even the most the difficult of days & nights.  Once again I was drawn into the same early morning sunrise view as was in the Wordless Wednesday - MN November Sunrise post earlier in the month, however it seemed much more vibrant, yet peaceful & calm amid this craziness of the past week dealing with an "under-the-weather" munchkin. We're all surviving.

Soon enough all the die hard Minnesotans will rejoice as we settle into the reality of what November & the Winter months to follow should really look & feel like... no more short sleeves & bare legs, no more Minneapolis Farmer's Market every Thursday on the Nicollet Mall - no more 60 degree surprises, just lots of pure & simple Snowmageddon. 

Careful drivers navigating down slick ice covered streets, guaranteed long commutes, stalled cars, unfortunate drivers who go sliding off into the ditches, early darkness, snow blowers, de-icers & shoveling.  

On the flip side, kids bundled up tight, playing "King of the Hill" on gigantic mountains of plowed snow, skiing, sledding, snowboarding, snowshoeing, skating, plus lots of backyard & neighborhood park pick-up games of hockey, the smells of hot cider and hot chocolate waiting for the kids to come inside & get warmed up.

What's your favorite part of our Minnesota winters?

Saturday #Snowmageddon Update:The snow has arrived!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Walking the Fine Line

Today marks the start of my annual stint as a deer hunter's widow.  All though I've been through this drill, for a decade now, every year it sneaks up on me. It's a family tradition that will continue until my husband is too frail to be trusted with a weapon & I anticipate that to be many decades away from now. Pre-marriage & after marriage, but pre-munchkin, I looked forward to this time of year because it always meant a certain opportunity for a girls night out.

Not so much anymore. Our lives have progressed & the majority of my girlfriends are wives & moms.  Sometimes relationships are about compromises between giving your all & giving too much. Were walking a fine line. My hubby's trips up North bring about the same feelings that come when he's away from home on a business trip.  The stress of the day-to-day responsibilities fall squarely on my shoulders.

I become a single parent & hope, perhaps unnecessarily so,  that my normally "reliable" 13 year old vehicle doesn't decide to break down. Honestly, knock on wood, it rarely has.  My needs move to the back burner & all is focused on getting through the work day, then tending to the minute by minute needs of my child with little rest. It's times like these that I shift into a higher gear & find more stamina. "Mommy, play with me" becomes my main agenda item for each day & evening.

Perhaps it's the anticipation of the unknown. I always get through it. My heart goes out to all the truly single parents for whom a whole different level of pressures are navigated.  I'm not sure I could ever do it & yet they do it because it's their only option - there is no other choice at the given point in time. They dig deep & find that extra strength from within and on their own...every day - not just on occasion.

On the one hand, munchkin gets lots of "Mommy & Me" time, but on the other hand, I feel a bit neglected in the process.  As a parent you always want to put your best foot forward, be energized & 100% available for your child.  Every parent also needs a few minutes a day where they can just "time out" & for me that is when my munchkin's finally lights go out.

It's no last few fortune cookies have read:
"Don't lose track of your feelings." - Unknown
"The person closest to you is more important than you realize." - Unknown
"You stand in your own light. make it shine." - Unknown

Life is a constant exercise of juggling priorities. We know that in the end, we'll just find a way to make it all work.  It may mean unplugging for a while & forgetting about what we could be accomplishing if we just has more time. The bright side?! It's daylight savings weekend. We get to roll those clocks back, so this mom will get an extra hour of sleep for sure & that's positively priceless.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:Life On Both Sides of the Working/SAHM Mom Continuum or No Kidding Sherlock?!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - MN November Sunrise

This was the glorious view out of our kitchen area picture window Monday morning - the 1st day of November.  Was afraid the lens wouldn't capture the depth of of the colors or the texture in the clouds, but it did. 

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy: Not So Wordless Wednesday: Sample the Beauty - Mpls Farmers Market

Friday, October 29, 2010

In Praise of Thought Leaders

Recently I felt inspired to begin making lists on Twitter. The two I started with are representative of a baby step in my larger plan for more effectively monitoring the conversations in my twitter universe. There are a couple of people who I consider to be virtual mentors.  Those people were shoe-ins for my "Thought Leader" list. They are people who continually challenge me to think outside of  my box and not accept what's presented to me without additional thought & justification.

"I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday." - Abraham Lincoln

Time is a precious commodity & although I adore Twitter it can be a real time-waster when you have a specific purpose in mind and little time to find inspiration. 

While the proper definition is just someone who has innovative ideas, I think of so much more when those words come to mind. My ideal Thought Leader must have a large percentage of these qualities:
  • Brash or "full of fresh raw vitality"
  • Cutting Edge or "at the forefront"
  • Fearless
  • Driven
  • Inspired
  • Passionate
  • Willing to share their ideas without feeling threatened
  • Dares to experiment
  • Risk-Taker
  • Reasonable
  • Thoughtful
  • Be published or we on the way to becoming such 
  • Able to openly digest & debate divergent thinking or theories
I'm curious what comes to mind when you think of someone who you'd label a Thought Leader?  If any of you mentor others on a regular basis, what qualities do you possess that make you an effective mentor? What are you looking for Thought Leaders & mentors to bring to the virtual table? 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - A Halloween Dozen from Wood Lake Nature Center

We started a tradition of going to Wood Lake Nature Center annually for their Half-Haunted Halloween.  

Along the Trick or Treat Trail we encountered a petting zoo:

 With some usual suspects & others far less common.

There were also costumes you don't see every day... a man made of garbage, toad-like things & swamp creatures.

  Of course there's more than a few ways to carve a pumpkin.  Here's a dozen we saw along the way: 

Hope you have some fun Halloween events to attend this year. Do you have some favorite places around town to visit? If so, please share & Happy Carving!