Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Prepping for New Year's Eve

Well, we're in the holiday home stretch!

We have our final party tonight...a New Year's Eve Open House. We've invited family, friends and neighbors, and here's the plan:

  • An easy spaghetti dinner at 6, with slow-cooked meatballs, salad and homemade garlic bread. I usually make the meatballs in a crockpot, but it's still at someone's house from a party! I'll have to use the stove top - hope they come out right!

  • LOTS of board games: DDR, Clue FX (sooooo fun), Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, Scrabble, Sorry, Jenga, Probe, Boggle, Yahtzee, Battleship. We have different games going on in each room. And, the dining room table is also extended so we can have a game at each end.

  • 4,000 Questions: I once found a book called "4,000 Questions for Getting to Know Anyone and Everyone." We LOVE this book and use it often. I put the questions on little slips of paper and leave them out in baskets. Then, anyone can pull out a question to ask anyone else any time. The questions are interesting and usually lead to discovering some interesting tidbit about someone that we didn't previously know - we even discover new things about family members!

  • Cheese Fondue with bread cubes, potato chunks, broccoli spears, and apple slices.

  • Chocolate Fondue later, with marshmallows, pretzels, pound cake, and orange segments.

  • Cupcakes: I was inspired by A Baked Creation blog to make New Year cupcakes - yellow cake with chocolate frosting, and "2009" standing up in the frosting, made from piped white chocolate.
And, of course, we'll have a midnight toast with champagne and sparkling juice as we watch the ball drop in Times Square.

Then, my daughter will have 4 friends sleeping over! And, New Year's Day will be spent cleaning up and getting organized for 2009 (I, right?).

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Putting Away Christmas

Oh, that sad, sad day...when Christmas gets put away...

Yes, this is the weekend officially designated for getting everything "Christmas" put back into old cardboard boxes and stored on the shelves in the basement.

But, I did manage to have my annual viewing of "A Christmas Carol," when I was reminded to keep Christmas in my heart throughout the year, even if it is "put away," which I will sincerely try to do.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Dinner Review

Well, everyone liked Christmas Dinner quite a lot, but I tend to be a tough critic when I'm the cook. Here's my review of the recipes and how they turned out:

(PS - photo at right is a random holiday photo of the kitchen - I didn't have any shots of Christmas Dinner to use!)

Roast Pork Loin with Cider & Apples: I added apples to this recipe, even though it didn't call for them - I put them in with the roast 1/2 hour before it was supposed to be done, and we liked the addition very much. Otherwise, I followed the recipe and cooking time, but not the roast internal temp directions, which I think was a mistake, as the meat was good but just a bit dry. Also, the cider burns in the oven! I ended up adding water to stop the burning smell, and this also didn't help the pan drippings taste as great as they might have. Otherwise, not bad.

Potatoes Au Gratin: I've made this before, and it's a very simple but tasty way to have potatoes done a little differently. However, these were a bit dry...not sure why as they usually come out great? I think I should have saved just a bit of the potato water and added it once the potatoes were mashed up.

Sauteed Greens with Garlic: Just a fabulous taste for a vegetable...the browned garlic chips are wonderful with the tangy greens.

Cranberry Pudding with Butter Sauce: Okay - this is to die for! This was definitely the star of the show. The pudding is moist and dense, as steamed puddings are, and not sweet at all. The delectable butter sauce adds the sweetness. This is so moist and dense and delicious that it's really hard to stop eating. If I were making it again, I think I'd reduce the sugar a bit, as none of us are into really sweet desserts, but overall, just a fabulous end to a holiday meal, along with a nice hot cup of tea.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Dinner

We're trying all new recipes for Christmas Dinner this year (surprise, surprise!). Here's the menu:

Crackers, Cheese & Pepperoni
Cider & Eggnog

Roasted Pork Loin with Rosemary, Apples, & Cider
Potatoes Au Gratin
Sauteed Greens with Garlic
Rolls & Butter

Cranberry Pudding with Butter Sauce
Coffe & Tea

The recipes came from a recent newspaper insert called Relish. Surprisingly, I often find really great recipes in these inserts that I save and use over and over.

(Note: photos in this post are courtesy of Relish.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Christmas Must-Read

If you haven't already read it, I highly recommmend adding "A Cup of Christmas Tea," by Tom Hegg, to your holiday book collection.

I read this every year, as we get very close to Christmas. It's a story about a guy who reluctantly decides to visit his elderly and infirm aunt during the holidays.

As he visits, he remembers all of the things that were once important when he was younger, through his chat with his aunt and the holiday decorations she has everywhere.

My favorite lines from the book, and the ones that usually sets me to crying, are:

We went inside and then before
I knew how to react
Before my eyes and ears and nose
Was Christmas past, alive, intact!

I haven't read it yet this year, but will any moment now, with a warming cup of tea beside the glow of the Christmas tree, as snow falls quietly outside.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cookies ala Martha

The Featured Cookie in this year's holiday edition of Martha Stewart is a Chocolate Peppermint Cookie.

I usually try one new cookie every Christmas, which I give as gifts to my neighbors. So, I decided to try this one this year, as it was so pretty!

Here's how it went for me (not too hard, but a bit time consuming...I don't think I would do them again, although they are festive.)

First, I made the chocolate inner wafer (not too difficult - just takes time to chill the dough, roll it, cut it, freeze it, then bake it).

Second, I melted the white chips in a double boiler and crushed the candy canes.

Third, that's me on the right, coating the cookies and sprinkling with candy. The recipe said it made 6 dozen, although I ended up with 5 dozen. Pretty and tasty, and very nice gifts for my good neighbors.

PS - A special thank you to my daughter, the ace action photographer!

Don't Count Your OWN Blog Visits

Ever since I added a BlogPatrol visitor counter to my blog, which I love, I've still been a bit frustrated with the counter...

Every time I visit my own blog, which can sometimes be multiple times a day if I'm editing, changing photos, etc, I add another count to my visitor counter. Which means I'm not really counting just visitors (since I'm the most frequent visitor!!).

Then, one day, I was helping my daughter add a visitor counter to her own blog, and as I was helping her through the various BlogPatrol screens, I noticed something I'd missed before:

You can "Ban Home IP" on your counter, which means visits from your own computer will not be counted. Wooo-hooo - great news. If I turn this on, then my own visits to my own blog won't be counted.

But, wait a do I know what my IP adress is? Ah, there is another thing I never noticed before...a handy dandy "Get My IP" button, which automatically detects the IP address of the computer I'm working on.

Well, now both of these buttons have been activated, and my visitor counter should be much more accurate. (I know that's a huge relief to everyone!)


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Under The Weather

Wow - the snow hasn't stopped and my cold just wouldn't quit either!

I've been feeling too blue to blog lately. Much of the past several days has been spent sprawled on the sofa with a box of tissues (thank you, Kleenex, for making lotion tissues!), hot tea, Alka-Seltzer Cold, and lots of blankets and pillows. This seems to be the cold that just doesn't want to quit, although I do feel the internal storm might be clearing.

And, the storm outside has been just as relentless. From my sofa vantage point, I can see the snow falling endlessly outside. We've been shoveling for what seems like days. Every time we get the sidewalks cleared, we know we'll be heading back out again in a few hours to do the exact same thing again.

Our total snowfall for the past few days is about 12 inches, although it seems like more, just because it doesn't seem to stop. Even as I write, it's still a-fallin'.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Make Your Own Snowflake

Ooh - very cool!

I happened upon a blog recently and discovered a fun online game / gadget / tool? It allows you to create your own virtual snowflake!

It's easy to do (once you get the hang of the "scissors"), and you just click to start over. I've discovered that it's actually kind of addicting, because I'm always hoping to cut one that's just a little better than the one before.

(Thanks for the idea, Currently Purring!)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hallmark Ornaments

You know, I can't say that I was ever a dedicated fan of Hallmark, or its ornaments. That is, until one year when I saw one advertised in our local paper that suited either me or my daughter to a tee; I really can't even remember which ornament it was, but I DO recall that the ad is what got me into the store and over to the ornament area.

After that one trip, it was all over for me.I've been hooked on Hallmark Christmas ornaments ever since, and set aside a momentous shopping day to make my pilgrimage to choose the new annual ornament.

Pictured on the right is my absolute favorite, a miniature refrigerator. It's as cute as could be on the outside, with the calendar on the side, a checked dishcloth hanging on the front, and children's artwork and alphabet letters on the door.

But it's the inside that is the real star of the show. First of all, when you open up the bottom of the fridge, the light comes on! (You have to be very careful to close the door snugly or the batteries die and the light goes out; last Christmas all our visitors were looking inside the fridge, and someone must have left it slightly ajar.)

Inside is an entire holiday meal, including a roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, a casserole, jello(!), apple and pumkin pie, egg nog and champagne. There's also milk, cream, and butter, and something that could be jellied cranberry sauce.

Then in the freezer, along with the freezer paper-wrapped bundles, ice cube trays, and ice build-up, is an adorable miniature snowman! He has a black top hat, carrot nose, coal eyes, and a red scarf.

I have other favorites - sometime I'll tell you about my miniature airstream, complete with pull-out canopy!

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Joys of Electricity

Three cheers for County Electrical Contractors, who were able to come first thing this morning to figure out what was wrong with our upstairs electricity.

The very pleasant electrician, who had to drive down from icy Peru, discovered that the affected breaker had "gone bad," which is apparently unusual. He replaced it quickly, and voila - we have lights and working outlets upstairs! I'm so thankful that it wasn't a complex and expensive problem.

Electricity is one of those things that you appreciate more than ever when you have to go without it for awhile.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

No Lights Upstairs!

(I mean this literally, not figuratively...)

We came home tonight at 5:00 and noticed that the upstairs window candle, which should turn on automatically at 4:00, wasn't on? Hmmmm. I went upstairs and flipped on the light switch in my daughter's room, where the candle is in the window, and her light didn't come on.

Well, I figured we somehow blew a fuse, although not sure when that could have happened - everything was fine when we left the house this morning.

Anyway, I made a beeline for the breaker box in the basement, clambering over various items in my path along the way. Breaker #14 says it's for the upstairs lights. That switch didn't look like it was in a different position from any of the others? Well, I tried clicking it full off, then full on, but it didn't "click" like it normally would. It felt kind of "soft"?

End result - we currently don't have electricity upstairs at all! This affects the lights in our rooms, closets, and the bathroom, the alarm clocks, the iron, blow dryer, and straightener. Aaaaggghh - how will we get ready in the morning! Well, let's hope I can find the number for the electrician and see if someone can come SOON!

Follow up note: Click here to read "the rest of the story."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Woodward Lecture at MCLA

Tonight, a friend and I went to hear Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame, speak at MCLA (Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts) in North Adams. (That's an old photo of Bernstein and Woodward at The Washington Post back in 1976 - love the hair and neckties!).

Tonight's lecture was a kickoff of the college's new Political Science major and Woodward delivered the first official Public Policy Lecture for the program. Interestingly enough, I learned that he has authored or co-authored more #1 best selling non-fiction books than any other contemporary American writer! I think it was really a feather in MCLA's cap to have a speaker of such stature and capability come to lecture.

The Church Street Center was filled to capacity and Woodward did not disappoint! (Is it just me, or does he have a striking similarity to George Segal?) As I listened to him talk, several thoughts flowed through my mind:
  • Wow - why isn't he hosting a Sunday morning political talk show, like "This Week" or "Face the Nation"? He certainly knows all the players (and then some!), he has the intellect and perception to ask the pointed questions, and the personal presence to come accross well on TV.
  • Wow - his keen awareness of the people, the politics, and what's going on with our country really inspired me to keep myself in the know a little better.
  • Wow - I'd like to take a page or two from his book (I mean his MANY books!) and challenge my own writing to include topics of greater importance.

I also liked hearing Woodward talk about Katharine Graham and her leadership of The Post. He said that she had what he considered the best management style one could have - Mind On, Hands Off. This is definitely something to aspire to as a manager myself.

Overall, what a terrific event; my mind was stretched, I was personally inspired, and feel motivated to think and write about more challenging topics than I currently do.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Going to Inauguration

Yay - we're so excited!

Ever since election night, we've been thinking about attending the inauguration. My daughter has asked if that could be her birthday gift for her sweet sixteenth, and I've really been hoping I could make it happen.

Well, I'm happy to report, we finally found a hotel in DC! I've been searching online forever, and was only finding hotels at $1,000 a night and up, but I somehow stumbled upon a site that featured a Motel 6 on Georgia Ave. (It's very close to Walter Reed, where I was stationed during my Army Medic training many years ago.) The price isn't toooo bad, and there really doesn't seem to be anything else available and affordable, so we decided to book it!

So, here's the plan:
  • Sunday, 1/18 - drive to DC. We've done this before - we visited there a few years ago for our summer vacation, but it's been a while. Mapquest says it should take about 7 hours or so. It will be interesting to see what kind of traffic we hit. This day should be fun, since Road Trips are one of our favorite things. (Reminder to self - have car serviced!)
  • Monday, 1/19 - learn how to us the metro system. plan our route to the inauguration site, and scope out the scene at the national mall. We've seen most of the museums and monuments, but it might be nice to visit the Lincoln Memorial again. And, the Washington Monument was closed for repairs the last time we were there. I've been up it, but my daughter hasn't, so we could see if it's open this time.
  • Tuesday, 1/20 - the metro will have special inauguration hours on this day, starting at 4 am. I don't know that we'll get up THAT early, but I am thinking we'd like to take it around 5 or 6 am, just to avoid being in crushing crowds during the ride, if at all possible. I've also ordered good binoculars, since I'm guessing it will be difficult to see anything. And, we're bringing lots of hand warmers. There are restrictions on the types of bags we can carry and the items we can bring, but we're hoping to bring water, snacks, cameras and maybe the camcorder - I'd like to interview random strangers and create my own iReport (my daughter isn't wild about this idea!). We're expecting that prices for food and water will be through the roof. Then, our plan is to let the crowds disperse a bit before taking the metro back to the hotel late in the day.
  • Wednesday, 1/21 - drive back home, hoping that outbound traffic isn't toooooo horrible; maybe we'll leave early in the am before all of the hotel checkout times go into effect!

So, that's the plan. I do think this will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, that the crowds and cold will be a challenge, and that it will be fun to part of the excitement and the event.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Increasing Blog Hits

My main goal with my blog is not to increase hits. It's to:
  • Learn how to manage a blog.
  • Learn how to work with gadgets and other technical aspects of blogging.
  • Build a base of writing, and try to post often to keep my writing skills at least active.
  • Discover what type of content is of interest to others out in the world.

That being said, it's still fun when I get a visit from a new state or country, or when I all of a sudden experience an incredible number of hits all at once.

Here's what I discovered about blog hits...New Ideas Welcome averages about 15 visits per day (I know this from my use of Google Analytics - click this link for directions on getting your own FREE account; that's a sample of my Analytics "dashboard" above.) Recently, though, I unwittingly created two blog posts that created an extreme spike in hits. One post referenced Facebook and social media and the other post discussed a prank bomb threat. On each of those days, my visits spiked to an average of 46 hits! That's an increase of 215%!!!! Just from using certain words.

What's also interesting is that the hits didn't come from people searching those terms. I know that from my Feedjit tracking tool, which helps me know if someone found my blog by using a search phrase, arrived directly through bookmarking, or happened upon it by clicking Next Blog. On the days when my hits were off the charts (at least MY charts), visitors found me by clicking Next Blog.

My conclusion from all of this is that certain popular or current words and phrases cause a blog to pop up more frequently during blog browsing. Since I again used those key words in this blog content, it will be interesting to see if I again have such a spike. I'll let you know...

(12/7/08 Follow up note: use of the keywords in this blog post did NOT increase hits. Hmmm...that means it's not the words themselves; it must be something else that I haven't figured out yet.)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

My First Opera

It's strange - I live in "America's Premier Cultural Resort" and have never been to an opera. But, I've finally taken the plunge - sort of. A group of us went to see a filmed version of a live performance of Verdi's "Otello" at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany. (First, a quick stop for a cuppa at the Ultraviolet Cafe next door!)

Fortunately, I know the story. I read it in high school, but also directed and performed a modern-day version while at college. Our play had a female lead (Othella) who was a high-powered executive in corporate America, her husband (Desmond), and I was the villanous Iaga, Othella's Administrative Assistant...quite fun.

Knowing the characters and plot line was helpful, as the entire opera was in Italian (but had subtitles). I must say, I don't think I'm really an opera fan. It might make a difference to see a live performance, but I found myself nodding off every now and then!

Here's my layperson's perspective of the show:
  • The main characters had fabulous voices and looked their parts.
  • The music was heavenly.
  • Costumes were gorgeous.
  • The sets and lighting were to me the least pleasant, in fact jarring, parts of the performance. The harsh blue lighting, then a switch to harsh yellow, was disconcerting and unbecoming to the performers. And the strange, hard-edged steel and glass stage platform, along with the hard-edged rusted steel buildings stage backdrop, were just so unpleasant. I suppose this was some type of artistic expression that I just didn't understand.

Well, I like to try new things, so I'm glad I went. I think I won't cross "See an opera" off my list of things to do until I see a live one, though.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Christmas Decorating

Now that Thanksgiving is past, it's time to decorate the house for Christmas.

This means bringing all of those boxes up from the basement. It's odd - I don't mind bringing them up at all because I'm so excited about setting everything out. But bringing them back down after Christmas is over - that's just not fun.

Some of my favorite decorations are the ones my daughter made in elementary school. I always hang these in the kitchen, where we'll see them every day. The wreath made from her little hand cutouts is just the best.

Then, there are the "interesting" gifts she's given me over the years as a little girl. There's the papier mache Santa, who looks like he's doing the splits after slipping on the ice. And the big Boston Bruins stocking - we're not necessarily Bruins fans, but she liked the big "B" since that's what OUR last name starts with. I treasure these and put them out every year.

One thing I love to do as we put up the Christmas tree is to remember where each ornament came from as I hang it on the tree. If my daughter is in the room, I usually tell her the stories, too. In fact, she's seen me do this so many times, that one Christmas she gave me a scrapbook and called it "Ornament Origins" so I can put a photo and story on each page about each ornament. That way, the stories won't get lost. What a great kid!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Pajama Day

Everyone once in a while, we get to have a Pajama Day. Here's what we do on these few and far between days...
  • Wake up whenever we feel like it.
  • Leave our pajamas on ALL day.
  • Eat leftovers whenever we get hungry - no official "cooking" going on here!
  • Do whatever we feel like - read the paper, watch a movie, blog, surf the internet, do crafts, play a board game - whatever strikes our fancy.

That's all there is to it. It's such a relaxing thing to do after several hectic days of preparing for Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day

It's just amazing how long it takes to prepare for Thanksgiving, and just how quickly it's all over!

I'd have to say - I think this was our best one yet. All of the dishes turned out perfectly (brining the turkey is absolutely the way to go), everyone had a leftovers plate to take home, there were no heated political debates, no catastrophes of any kind, and the house was neat and orderly before bedtime. A success in my book.

And, of course, there is so much for all of us to be thankful for. We have jobs and homes, we're healthy, and the country's future is hopeful. I also think my entire family is thankful that I didn't make them do any of the corny table games I usually try - like passing around a basket of interesting questions they have to answer while we dine (it really IS fun, even if they DO groan about it).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Shopping for Thanksgiving Dinner

Well, it looks like we'll have about 14 for Thanksgiving dinner this year.

By now, we've hosted this dinner so many times that it's not really hard at all. And, since the menu doesn't change much, it's that much easier. Here's what we'll be feasting on:

  • Sparkling Juices (Apple, Pomegranate)
  • Turkey (brined)
  • Stuffing (bread, giblets, celery and onion)
  • Mashed Potatoes & Gravy
  • Rolls & Butter (snowflake rolls)
  • Sweet Potato Casserole (yes, with Marshmallows!)
  • Vegetable Casseroles (brought by guests)
  • Cranberry Sauce (our family's recipe, cooked with chopped orange and walnuts)
  • Cranberry Jello (our family's recipe includes diced red delicious apples)
  • Pickles (Sweet Midgets) & Olives (Black)
  • Pumpkin Pie with Whipped Cream
  • Apple Pie with Ice Cream
  • Coffe & Tea & Hot Spiced Cider
The photo shows the groceries it will take to feed 14 people. Total cost this year, including pretty napkins and hot cups: $124.60.
This week will be busy with getting the table extended and set up, bringing chairs up from the basement, baking pies, and other preparations. It's all part of the fun!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Marketing With Social Media

I attended an online webinar today about Marketing With Social Media (or Inbound Marketing), presented by Hubspot. They did a really great job, and spoke mostly about how Facebook factors into the Social Media + Marketing equation.

To start us off, the speakers (Ellie Mirman and Mike Volpe) told us that social media sites like Facebook are a lot like business cocktail parties, but without the restrictions of time or space. Our goal with virtual social networking sites is the same as real business networking events - meet people, make connections, offer input, and seek advice from experts. The slogan on the login page is: "Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life."

Some of the tips I learned about Facebook include:

  • It's an active and growing community; there are over 120 million users this year as opposed to half that only a year ago, making Facebook the 4th most trafficed website on the Internet.
  • To get started as a business on Facebook, we first need to get started as individuals. (Hmmm...I was thinking I was a little old for Facebook, but Ellie and Mike say it's not just for college kids anymore!)
  • We can edit a Facebook profile all we want before it's viewed by others; it only goes live when we hit "publish."
  • Once we've set up a personal page, we can control how much of our personal information is seen by others by adjusting the privacy settings.
  • Our goal with a Facebook page is to build a community through attracting fans, joining groups, participating in discussions, etc.

A couple of success stories we heard about were TripAdvisor, which offers a Where Have You Been interactive travel map for users, and Pizza Hut, which allows users to order their pizza through Facebook, with fabulous results.

Definitely food for thought.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Parent / Teacher Conferences

Parent / Teacher conferences are quite a bit different for parents of high school-age kids.

By the time a student is in 10th grade, they are fairly self-directed and really don't need the same type of help and guidance from a parent as they needed when they were younger kids. So, the discussion with the teacher is much different from those we had in elementary and middle school, especially if the student is a high-performer.

However, my daughter's dad and I feel that it's important to provide parental oversight and support regardless of our daughter's age, so we attend all of these conferences. We had 4 meetings with teachers tonight, all of whom had glowing reports of our fabulous daughter, I'm happy to say!

In fact, one wonderful teacher provided us with a new possibility for our daughter's future that we hadn't considered before! We'll have to explore this idea more to find out as much as we can about it, but it's so terrific when a teacher takes a keen and meaningful interest in a child's potential - insight like this is so helpful to parents, who are trying their best to guide their children toward a bright future.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Rainy Saturday

I know this sounds nuts, but I am a huge fan of rainy days!

I love the sound of the rain on the roof, the warm glow of lights on inside (especially in the kitchen), the cozy feeling of being indoors and warm while it's chilly and wet outside, and the homey smells of something comforting and delicious cooking.

Today, we're just hanging around, doing not much of anything. My daughter's at the kitchen table making window art. I'll get the menus ready for the next two weeks so I can get the grocery shopping done tomorrow, do a few loads of laundry, and put some meatballs into the crockpot to simmer for hours until they're soft and fabulous. Then, it's probably time to pet the cats and watch a Charlie Chan movie. Later, I think I'll bake another loaf of Pumpkin Bread.

Here's a great Pumpkin Bread recipe that I found once in the Sunday newspaper's USA Weekend flyer. It comes out moist and perfect EVERY time (why we have to cook the pumpkin, I don't know, but I do it anyway since the bread is the best ever):

1/2 15 oz. can pumpkin (1 C minus 2 T / you can also substitute mashed bananas or apple butter, which I haven't tried yet)
1/2 tsp each of cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves
3/4 C water
1 3/4 C dark brown sugar
1/2 C vegetable oil
2 large eggs, beaten
1 3/4 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350. Grease metal loaf pan. Heat pumpkin and spices in small saucepan over medium heat until steamy. Stirring continuously, cook until pumpkin is stiff and starts to stick to the pan (about 3 minutes). Transfer to medium bowl and whisk in water, sugar, oil, and eggs. In another bowl, combine dry ingredients and fold into pumpkin mixture. Bake about 70 minutes. Remove from pan after about 15 minutes. Cool, cut and devour.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Embed YouTube Video in Blog Post

Okay, I just learned how to do this, and thought I'd better write it down so I can remember for the next time I want to do it...

To embed a YouTube video into a blog post (to embed is to have a video screen appear in the body of your post, rather than just pasting in a link to a video in your here to see an example), follow these steps:

  1. Find the YouTube video you want to embed.
  2. To the right of the video on YouTube, you'll see two codes, one called "URL" and one called "embed." Copy the "embed" code.
  3. If you want a border on your video, before you copy the "embed" code, click on the asterisk icon to the right of the code. A drop down menu appears, giving you various border color options. Click the color you want, make sure you check the box that says "Show Border," then copy the "embed" code.
  4. On your blog, start a new post. Write whatever text you want to appear before and after the video you'll be embedding.
  5. Click on the "Edit Html" tab of the post.
  6. Paste the code you copied where you want the video to appear in your post text.
  7. Publish post.

Pretty fancy and pretty easy!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fitness and Retirement Funds

As I was viewing my 401(k) balance the other day, I began to realize that retirement funds or other long-term savings accounts are very much like fitness. You can work and work at it and still feel like you're not getting anywhere when viewed on a daily basis, but it's the long haul that counts.

With working out, I come home thinking that I MUST be buff by now. But when I look in the mirror, I don't look much different, if at all, from yesterday. How could that be? I've been sweating, my muscles ache? Why haven't I dropped a size yet. Why is the scale still showing me that horrible number?

With saving, I look at my balance and think, I must have a sizable chunk saved up by now. But when I view my account, it doesn't look much different, if at all, from last month. Why is my balance not huge by now. What has happened to all the money that's been deposited directly from my paycheck?

I've finally concluded that these two processes are very much the same. If we look at our bodies or our balances on a day-to-day basis and make comparisons, we won't see much that's changed. However, if we look at ourselves or our accounts at the beginning of the year, do our work during the year, and then look again at the end of the year - that's when we see the real progress.

The secret to savvy workouts or savvy saving is to do it with purpose, but give it time to take shape. Then, after a good amount of time has passed, check again. That's when things should be looking pretty good.

So, I'll continue to just buck up, save up, and work out.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Things I've Learned in the Blogosphere

While bloghopping, I come across sites from all over the world. I see some trends, some similarities, and I also learn about new things. Here's what I've discovered:
  • Etsy Store: I'd never heard of this before, but kept seeing it on blogs. I googled it and found out that it's an online store that allows individuals to post handmade items for sale. Great idea, and what a terrific place to find special gifts for people. Many bloggers show the items they're working on that are for sale at Etsy.
  • Family & Friends Update: many people use a blog to keep family and friends updated about their life, the growing kids (or new ones!), new marriage, new house, etc. It's a terrific way to let people know what's going on and to see the related pictures. People also use these update sites when they've moved to a new place, and want to let the family back home know what life is like in, say, Alaska (some of my favorite blogs show life in this interesting part of the US).
  • Practice, Practice, Practice: photographers and writers use the blogosphere to practice their writing, practice their photography skills, and learn the concepts of posting effectively to a blog, find their "theme," try layouts and templates, etc. This is where I fit in.

Overall, here are blogging words of wisdom from my point of view:

  • Short posts are best, because they don't seem too daunting to read.
  • Bullets or numbered lists are nice because they break up the text and allow for quick browsing of content.
  • Photos are especially appealing because they give us a window into a world different from our own. Interestingly, a blog with just photos and no text isn't quite as much fun because we don't get to learn about the writer or the subject of the photos.
  • Updating photos on a fairly regular basis is good so the look of the site doesn't get stale.
  • Conversely, blogs with just text with no photos aren't quite as enticing to read, no matter how great the writing (and there are some VERY clever writers out there!).
  • It's nice when the blogger leaves the Navbar in the layout, so we can easily get to the next blog.
  • The interaction of getting a comment from someone, someone voting on my poll, or having a blog follower is part of the fun of blogging.
  • Advertising blogs are just so wrong.

Well, I'll keep practicing my blogging, bloghopping to see how others do it, and tweaking my site as I learn from all of the experts out there!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Creating "I Like" Books

Writing the post on "The Wish List" reminded me of the "I Like" books my daughter and I decided to create.

We wanted to make sure we focused on the things we really enjoyed about daily life, including all of the little things which sometimes get overlooked. So, based on the format of "The Wish List," we bought journals that appealed to our own personalities (mine is on the right), and began to list things we like.

We started just about a year ago, and in my journal, I'm up to 599 things! The items we include on our lists are really any little thing we enjoy, or remember enjoying in the past. And, these are the things that usually don't carry a big pricetag. Then, when we need a refresher on how many great things are going on in our lives, we just read our lists.

It's also quite interesting to view another's personality be viewing their list. My daughter's list is very different from mine, and I really get to see the different facets of her personality as I read her "I Like" book.

My list includes things like:
  • Wading down the Green River at Mount Hope Farm in Williamstown (and skipping rocks with all of the flat stones on the bottom)
  • Sitting on a bench at Provincetown's Town Hall and watching the activity around us
  • Learning how to do something new
  • Walking down Elm Street to Jilly's for ice cream on a summer evening (mine will probably be a root beer float)
  • A clean car - inside and out
  • Wearing funny glasses and fake teeth and surprising people
  • Tahiti Restaurant's pu-pu platter, with plenty of duck sauce and the little black flaming kettle
  • Wind chimes
  • The way Maude lived in the movie "Harold and Maude"
  • Oscar night (it's our super bowl!)

Our lists continue to grow, as there are so many little things we like that happen every day.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

NY State Museum

A friend and I visited the New York State Museum in Albany today. I toured the museum years ago, but so much has changed since then. It seems like many other people thought a museum visit was the perfect way to spend a drizzly November day!

In addition to the terrific regular exhibits of natural and cultural history, they have a World Trade Center exhibit right now which is incredible. I really need to go back when I have more time to spend - there are so many audio and video facets to the exhibit that we just didn't have time for.

I had goosebumps as I viewed part of the jet engine that had been found in a nearby street. There is an entire firetruck that was pulled from the rubble, a battered door from a police car, bent and crumpled steel from the exterior of the building, and a steel beam that's pitted and scarred. One display case shows blackened gift shop trinkets featuring images of the towers, that must have been sold in an onsite tourist shop. There is an unusual, and heartbreaking, display of the many keys found at the site - keys that must have opened places of business throughout the buildings. Looking at the pile of keys...this ordinary detail of daily life...somehow felt so poignant.

I'm glad we went, and I definitely want to go back so I have a chance to listen to the stories in those audio displays.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Wish List

I came across this book a few years ago while shopping in Barnes & Noble. It's just a really long list of possible things to do in life. I like it because it gives me ideas I might not think of on my own, like:
  • Eating at restaurants I didn't know existed, but would love to try.
  • Visiting cool places I've never heard of.
  • Trying a new hobby or sport, just for the heck of it.
To use the book, I put an X next to everything I'd like to try and I highlight the things I've already done. Some of the things I've already done include:
  • Milk a cow (at my Uncle Marcel's dairy farm in Vermont)
  • Buy my own house
  • Have my "letter to the editor" published
  • Host a Fresh Air child (Eternity has visited us for the past 2 summers)
  • Drive through a dust storm in the desert (a dust devil in Buckeye, Arizona)
  • Drive 1-80 from New York to San Francisco
  • Do the Sunday crossword in ink
  • Ride a helicopter to work (in a medevac helicopter when I was an Army medic - scary...we flew with the doors open!)
  • Paint a portrait (I was an art major...long, long ago)

And, here are some things that are still on my list to try:

  • Visit the Eiffel Tower
  • Write a best seller
  • Pay it forward
  • Take up fencing
  • Have 20/20 vision
  • Calculate with an abacus
  • Float down the Amazon
  • Walk across the Golden Gate bridge (we visited San Francisco earlier this year, but just didn't have time to fit this one in!)
  • Learn to kayak
  • Make my own pickles (I've made jam and chutney, but no pickles yet)
My copy is rather battered, as I've read and re-read The Wish List so many times. It always goes with me on vacation and whenever I travel - it's great airplane reading. I like to remind myself of all the wonderful adventures waiting to be experienced. It's so easy to forget these things while dealing with all the details of day-to-day life.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting Day

This is the big day we've been waiting for! We'll be staying up late tonight to hear the final results, with our fingers crossed. ABC has terrific election coverage, and great commentary, with Charlie Gibson, Diane Sawyer, and George Stephanopolous.

My polling station is at nearby All Soul's Church. My daughter and I will be heading over there as soon as she gets home from school today. We usually go later, after I get home from work in the evening, but I'm home today so we can go while it's still light out!

My daughter has been going to vote with me ever since she was born. She's been following this election very closely, and even did some campaign work this last weekend! (What a great kid.)

After voting, we're doing a little Retail Therapy, since it will be several hours before election results are final. She's going to the Semi (semi-formal dance) next week and we still need shoes. She has a gorgeous black dress with a white bodice covered with spangles. We wanted some type of cover-up, and last night we found a sweater that ties with a bow in front, which she can wear over the dress to keep warm until she gets to the dance. So, now we just need shoes and jewelry (although if she needs to, she can wear the jewelry she wore to the prom in June; her prom sandals are gorgeous and the right color, but a bit too strappy for November). We've already been to TJ Maxx and Walmart. Tonight we'll try Marshalls - they have a great new shoe department.

Then, it's home to watch the voting results come in! She can work on homework while we await the big news! I hope there is great rejoicing in our home this evening!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Spring Ahead - Fall Back

Yahoo - an extra hour of sleep last night. That sure felt great.

Next, of course, comes the Updating of the Clocks ritual. Which brings me to an intersting topic - Radio Controlled Clocks.

When we redid our kitchen, we needed a clock that was about 12" in diameter, and that would go with the oak and white decor. I did an extensive internet search and finally found one by LaCrosse Technologies - right size, right color, right price.

I placed the order and when it arrived, I read the directions. I had somehow purchased what was called a Radio Controlled Clock! I'd never heard of such a thing and didn't know anything about it.

According to the instructions, I was to insert batteries, choose my time zone, and point the clock toward Colorado! True. Well, I was a bit hesitant (sounded like a lot of hocus pocus), but I did what it said. To my amazement, after a minute or so, the hands of the clock just started going around and around and stopped on the correct time. I'm not kidding.

So, this morning when I got up and did a quick survey of clocks that needed changing, I noticed that the kitchen clock is already all set. Not only does it reset itself twice per year, but it maintains the correct time throughout the year.

I also bought a Spacemaker clock/CD player that mounts under the kitchen cabinet (got to be able to play Edith Piaf or the Buena Vista Social Club while I'm cooking!), which has a nice feature - when we switch to or from Daylight Savings Time, I just press a little button on the side and it resets the clock to the correct time. So, overall, my clock-changing ritual isn't really so bad.

Ayup - Maine Road Trip

Today was a perfect day to see the coast of Maine before the really cold weather sets in...

From our house, it's about 3 hours across Massachusetts, up across the edge of New Hampshire, and into Maine. (You know you're a New Englander when you measure distance in hours!) Scenic Highway 1 wends its way all along Maine's craggy coastline.

If you go on your own road trip to Maine, here is my advice:
  • Find out ahead of time how to get to any beaches you're interested in exploring; Highway 1 does go along the coast, but you'll have better luck if you have specific directions to a specific beach. A detailed map of the area would work better than a generic Atlas. And, in some instances, the smaller roads get you a bit closer to the water than Route 1. (Does anyone know where all of those gorgeous ROCKY beaches are - maybe up near Mount Desert Island???)

  • Plan on lots of driving along quiet highways; very picturesque, but it does take some time to get to where you're going, especially if there is no passing!

  • Give yourself a couple of days to explore so you have a chance to find all those scenic spots. Maine is HUGE (at least compared to Massachusetts!) and because the highway winds back and forth so much, it takes extra time to travel.
  • You'll be without cell phone service for much of the time, but Maine's very nice Visitor Centers offer public phones.

Now, the question is, where to go next...

Friday, October 31, 2008


One of the fun things about bloghopping (clicking on the "Next Blog" link in the header of a blog) is the glimpse we get into another person's life.

Depending on where we live in the country, what we do for a living, how many children we have, our age, what our interests are, etc, we all live such different lives.

It's so interesting to see what life is like in other communities. Sometimes I read on a blog that the writer feels they have nothing to say or doesn't think their daily activities are good topics for a post. But, really, just writing about daily life is so interesting. Photos are great too, as we get to see different parts of the country, and sometimes different countries altogether. (The photo in this post was taken in Laramie, Wyoming - this bench near a gift shop appeared to have been set up just for photo ops like this.)

I'm looking forward to continuing to discover America through the blogosphere (when I'm not on a road trip or a photo expedition of my own!).


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pumpkin Carving

I just LOVE our annual pumpkin carving.

We cover the dining table with a plastic tablecloth (yay - I found an ORANGE one in the linen closet!) and pull out our collection of carving tools (nothing fancy...those plastic orange things), along with the design templates (that come with the plastic orange things).

We use one of the pumpkins we bought during our Fall Foliage Ride and one from Grandpa's garden. (That's water on the front of my daughter's shirt...she had to bring the wet, snowy, COLD pumpkins in from the back step.) And, of course, no scene is complete without drinks and music - our sustenance as we work is hot mulled cider. And, "Elvira's Haunted Hits" and the soundtrack from "Beetlejuice" keep us singing (and sometimes dancing!).

This year, my daughter made a funny/happy face, and I made trees with an owl and the moon in the background. We'll light these before all the kids come for trick-or-treat. With the seeds, I'm going to try a 5-spice recipe I found in this morning's Berkshire Eagle. (I'm not sure what 5-spice powder is, as I've never used it, but I'll soon find out.)


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It's Snowing!

Yes - it's true. As I was driving home tonight, the rain was turning into large splashy snowy drops.

We couldn't watch to see what it turned into, as I had to take my daughter to the doctor this afternoon. She had what looked like a lyme tick bite on her arm. Thankfully, it turned out to be harmless, but we had to wait 1 HOUR to find that out!

Now, after the appointment, it's dark, but there are official snowflakes coming down. (I know it's hard to tell in this dark photo, but all those little white spots are flakes.) The forecast predicts that an inch or so will stick to the ground; it will be interesting to see what the landscape looks like in the morning. Time to bring the snow shovel up from the basement - maybe I'll be able to skip the leaf-raking!


Monday, October 27, 2008

A Mortgage Miracle

As I was doing my 3 miles uphill on the treadmill today at Planet Fitness, I heard the most wonderfull news story on CNN:

A woman named Tracy Orr was in the midst of losing her home to foreclosure. During the auction, a woman named Marilyn Mock saw Orr crying. She asked Orr what was wrong, and Orr told her that it was her home that was being foreclosed. Mock made the winning bid during the auction. She then turned to Orr and gave her back the home she'd just purchased for a little less than $30,000 (exact details of the deal are in process as I write). Orr at first stared in disbelief - how could a stranger do such a selfless (and expensive) thing? Orr was overcome with tears, emotion, and thankfulness, especially when Mock told Orr she could move right back into her home. Orr sincerely hopes she'll be able to pay it forward.

When asked why she did this, Mock replied, "Because people need to help each other. That's all there is to it."

Amen to that - and thanks, Marilyn Mock, for helping a fellow human being in such a remarkable way and for adding greatly to the plus side of the universal tally sheet!

(Photo Credit: WFAA-TV)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Festival of Nations

A group of us met up at the Festival of Nations today, held at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany.

We could try foods from Ethiopia, Greece, Lithuania, India, China and more. I tried the Tree Cake from Lithuania - the batter/dough is dropped on a hot spit (not sure just how that works?) and as the spit rotates, the batter drips a bit, and "branches" form all over it. When done, the Tree Cake looks like a miniature evergreen, with a hollow center. The taste is light and sweet, a bit eggy, like the taste of a popover, but much more dense and slightly crunchy. It's traditionally used for very special occasions.

There were also booths for many countries, selling imports or handmade items. And, both the India and Pakistan booths were offering henna tattoos, which had steady lines of partakers! When the tattoo first goes on it looks like decorative frosting on a very fancy cake - in fact, the tube they squeeze the henna out of looks like a frosting tube with a small round icing tip. After a couple of hours, the 3D gel dries and flakes off, leaving the henna-color tattoo. The designs are very pretty and flowing - the tattoo-ee doesn't choose a design; the artist just begins work until the design is revealed.

Most, if not all, of the represented countries offered traditional dances throughout the day, which were really fun to watch. A crowd favorite (you could tell by the oohs, aaahs, and clapping!) was the China dance, with all of the fluttering green fans - very beautiful.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Pleasures of Commuting

I know, I know - most people think commuting must be so tedious. But, I must confess... I REALLY like it. Here's why:
  • Beauty: we're so fortunate to live in the Berkshires, surrounded by beauty at every turn. Each day, I drive past breathtaking scenery, and watch the changing of the seasons. (My drive is along either Route 7 or Route 8 North.) Keeping a camera in my purse means I'm always ready to pull over and capture a bucolic scene.
  • Solitude: so many of us spend all our waking moments in the company of other people - at home, at work, in the community - that there are only rare occasions when we can be alone to think, plan, figure things out, etc. Commuting is the perfect time to do any of these things.
  • Edification: in the Making the Most of a Commute post, I wrote about listening to books on CD during my drive. I absolutely love this. In fact, most often, I can't wait to get back into the car to hear the latest installment of the current novel.
  • Practice: yup - I sometimes talk to myself in the car. If I have to make a public presentation, I actually run through it on my drive. I make sure my talk will be within its time limits, that my speech outline is coherent, etc. Fortunately, there are long stretches during the drive with no other vehicles around!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Well, I tried replicating the terrific roasted butternut squash soup we had on our Fall Foliage Ride at the Mohawk Trail Diner. I didn't have a recipe, but it turned out pretty well. Roasting the squash instead of boiling really gives it a fabulous flavor. Along with the soup, served in the cozy crockery tureens we bought in Cedar Falls, Iowa, we had corn muffins with butter and honey, and fresh cider. Mmmmm.

Here's what I did:

1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed (ugghh...not a fun job)
vegetable oil
4 T butter
large onion, chopped
2 C chicken stock
pinch of cinnamon & nutmeg
splash of orange juice
salt to taste

Heat oven to 400. Spread squash on baking sheet and sprinkle with oil and salt. Roast for about 30 minutes, turning at least twice during cooking. Meanwhile, heat 2 T butter and 2 T oil over low heat. Add onion, and cook until caramelized, stirring occasionally. When squash is done, put in blender, reserving a few chunks, and add the chicken stock. Puree. Add to onions in cooking pan. Using potato masher, roughly mash remaining squash chunks. Add to soup. Add remaining 2 T butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and orange juice. (If too thick, just add more stock.) Heat and serve!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Working Out Stress

First - Planet Fitness is already making upgrades! They added a shelf (thank you!) and mirror in the changing area. Looks like they're really listening to customer feedback and responding. Now, about the coat rack and the clothes hooks...

Anyway, I have to say, I really notice a difference in stress levels when I skip a workout. Sometimes, when I have back-to-back meetings all day, I tell myself that there just isn't time to get to the gym. And, up goes the stress-o-meter.

All this business about endorphins may really be true! When I was doing my 3 miles uphill on the treadmill today, I really felt pumped. It didn't hurt that the ladies on The View were really funny today, and I was actually laughing out loud as I huffed and puffed. (Machines at Planet Fitness have hook-ups to TVs - choose your machine by what's playing on each TV.)

I'm beginning to get the message: it's important to fit the gym in no matter how crazy the day is.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Track Blog Activity with Google Analytics

For those of you interested in tracking hits to your blog, Google Analytics offers a great FREE tool. Once you begin using it, you'll love the information it provides. Heres' a quick how-to:

  1. Visit and follow the instructions to sign up for a new account.
  2. Once your account is set up, you'll be asked to paste in your site's/blog's URL. When you paste your URL in the box provided, be sure to remove the "http:/" from the beginning of the URL, as that is already provided for you. If you leave it in what you've pasted, it will make your URL invalid.
  3. You're now on a screen called Analytics: Tracking Instructions, which shows you an HTML tracking code. Copy this code.

  4. Now, click into your blog, and sign in to "customize". Click on "Layout" then "Edit HTML".

  5. Now you're in delicate territory - take it slow here!!!! You are in the actual code that makes your blog look and act the way it does. Take your time. It looks like a scary mess of words and symbols. Scroll waaaaaayyyyy down to the bottom of the code section and look for the word "/body" with "< >" on either side of it (sorry, I can't type the word and characters as a unit, because it's then actual HTML code, and the blogspot posting page won't allow HTLM code in a post). It's very important that you choose the "body" with the "/" in front of it. Click in just before this code and enter down a line.

  6. Now paste in the HTML tracking code you copied from your Google Analytics page into the new line you've created, just above the "body" code.

  7. Press "Save Template".

  8. That's it!
Now, when you visit your Google Analytics page, you'll be able to see stats on your blog, like: number of visits, average time visitors spent on your site, whether or not they used a search word to find you (and if yes, which one) and where your visitors are from. It's all presented in easy-to-read charts, and becomes very addicting to check up on!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Be Like Amazon

To so many businesses out there, and especially to those on the web, I'd like to shout - Be Like Amazon! Here's why Amazon is so great:
  • They provide recommendations from people who actually use the product. So, when I was trying to find out which music CD to buy for my then-13-year-old daughter, I was able to choose from a recommended list written by a 13-year-old girl. This was especially helpful to me, because I had no idea who the bands and singers were.

  • They remember what I've purchased, and can show it to me any time.

  • They remember what I've searched for in the past and can show it to me any time.
  • They recommend new products to me based on what I've purchased in the past, and what others with my interests have bought.

  • They have such a variety of items available for sale.

  • They make checkout easy and painless.

  • They store multiple billing and shipping addresses for me, and make it easy for me to choose or change one of them any time.

The only thing I'm not wild about is the return policy. If I remember correctly, all items must be returned within 30 days or they're not returnable. This has only affected me once; I purchased a Kodak memory card for my daughter's Kodak digital camera, and put it away for her birthday. By the time she opened it, and discovered that the two items were not compatible (go figure?), it was too late to return the memory card. Anyone out there need a Kodak digital camera memory card?

Other than this little snafu, Amazon is just wonderful. Be like Amazon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Non-Profit Sponsorship Ad Requests

If you work with a non-profit group that's in the midst of fundraising and requesting ads from local businesses, I'd love to offer some useful tips from the perspective of the donor.

Most often, when an organization is requesting funds and ads, we in Marketing receive a letter and a few details about the organization and its event, but we're often missing the specific details that make it possible for us to effectively and quickly deliver an ad to the organization. Which means we need to take extra time to find the name of a contact, then find their phone number, then try to get hold of that person and find out needed info, etc, etc.

So, if you have any say in your organization's fundraising/advertising letter, here are some specific details you could request to have included in the letter that would make your sponsors/advertisers VERY happy:

  • Contact Person, including name, email, and phone.
  • Ad Size Options in exact measurements; your publication may be 8.5 x 11, but someone else's may only be 5.5 x 8.5. If measurements in your solicitation letter are given as simply "Quarter Page" or "Full Page", we won't know what size to make the ad, as each publication size is so different. So, exact measurements are what we need - and it helps the graphic designer to do a nice ad layout.
  • Horizontal or Vertical...included in your size options, we need to know which direction the ad will run, as the designer will be doing somewhat different layouts based on this info.
  • Delivery you need a pdf, hard copy, Word document? We can deliver what you need; we just need to know what that is. And, do we send the ad to the Contact Person or to someone else?
  • Delivery Deadline, and please don't let it be tomorrow! Two weeks lead time would be great, and even more time is even better.

Including these details in your solicitation letter will put you at the top of the pile of requests organizations receive. Help us to help you!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Feng Shui at the Office

My daughter recently feng shui-ed her bedroom, with the help of a friend. They rearranged furniture, strategically repositioned pictures and knick-knacks, and added a few "elements" according to the feng shui kit my daughter received for Christmas. Afterward, she asked me to survey the results, and I was quite impressed. She explained the various aspects of the arrangement to me and told me what everything meant and its importance for her personal arrangement.

It occurred to me that this might be nice to bring to my office. I asked her to think about what I could do to bring a little feng shui into work, and here's what we came up with:

  • Artwork: we took down my degree (which I already know I have) and my military discharge and medals (which I got a long time ago), and replaced them with a pleasant and relaxing saying. This is the image I see most often during the day, as it is directly above my computer monitor; it reminds me to chill out and enjoy the ride.
  • Live Plant: we added a mini live bamboo plant to my desk (I already have lots of fake plants that I can't kill!), right next to my phone so I look at it often throughout the day. The delicate greenery is visually refreshing.
  • Music: I now play relaxing music during the day through my computer's CD drive. It helps create such a calm atmosphere.
  • Scent: we looked up the different aromatherapy scents and their meanings and chose the one that I needed most, which turned out to be lemon or citrus. I found a great lemon verbena reed diffuser at Home Goods and my office smells delightful.
  • Clutter: one of the biggest things my daughter told me about was clutter. Having clutter around helps contribute to underlying feelings of stress. My office isn't a mess, but I do have lots of files and paperwork out in view. Feng shui principles suggest cleaning this up, throwing away what I don't need, and storing what I do need out of sight. I'm continuing work on this one, as it will take a little longer, but I can feel the difference as I pare down and put away each pile.
  • Furniture: I have fairly big furniture in my office and there really isn't a different way to arrange it, so we decided to be satisfied with how things were. Fortunately, my desk is already facing the door, which is suggested in the feng shui book.

None of these changes were difficult (well, the clutter one, maybe) or time consuming, but they really change how I feel when I'm in my office. And, it makes it so much more pleasant for my visitors too.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Fall Foliage Ride on the Mohawk Trail

Every year on Columbus Day, we head out for a Fall Foliage Ride in northern Berkshire County. For anyone looking for a foliage day trip (this one takes about 6 hours), here's our usual route:

  • Pittsfield to Cheshire: We start by picking up pumpkins at Whitney's Farm Stand on Route 8 in Cheshire. We'll carve those later in the month for Halloween. And, we pick up some cider doughnuts and apples in case anyone gets hungry during the ride before we reach our lunch stop. This is a great place to pick up fresh fall produce, mums, and delicious baked goods.
  • Cheshire to North Adams: We then head into North Adams and pick up the Mohawk Trail (Route 2) all the steeples amidst the fall splendor.
  • North Adams to Charlemont: Route 2 is just gorgeous this time of year, and has many scenic stops along the way. The Hairpin Turn has a spectacular view, and long-range binoculars are available...a great spot for photos. One of our favorit gift shops is the Wigwam Summit Gift Shop, whose owners moved all the way from Hawaii to come back to their roots and run this quaint store in its lovely location. Another must is the Hail to the Sunrise statue, a stirring tribute to the Mohawk Indians who once inhabited the area. On the way to Charlemont, an especially beautiful section of the drive is along the Cold River, where you'll wind through colorful trees and mountains towering above you on either side.
  • Charlemont to Shelburne Falls: Our usual lunch stop is The Charlemont Inn. But, this year we decided to go a little further up the road to Shelburne Falls because we wanted to try a new restaurant - The Mohawk Diner. I came across it during a Google search of restaurants along the Mohawk Trail, and we're ALWAYS up for trying a new place to eat. It was a cute country diner, no frills but clean and neat, and we had to wait in line! The food was basic, but good. In fact, the roasted butternut squash soup was heavenly and I'm going to try to duplicate the recipe at home. Stopping here made our ride a bit longer than we'd planned and we'll probably try a restaurant a little closer to home next year. We were hoping to check out the Glacial Potholes, but our day was zipping by, and we decided we just didn't have time this year. Another time.
  • Shelburne Falls to Pittsfield: After lunch, we turned around to head back. And, to the delight of the girls, we discovered a few new gift shops! The huge indian statue at one of the gift shops was quite cool. Another shop boasted a mural of a scene of daily Indian life. And, still another had a full-size teepee. At one shop, I was able to put together a gift basket of goodies - pumpkin butter, Mohawk Trail playing cards, maple candy, etc - which I'll put in a Yankee Gift Exchange this Christmas.

So ended our annual Fall Foliage Ride. All in all, a gorgeous day with beautiful weather and peak foliage. Couldn't have been better. (I'd love to hear about YOUR favorite ride.)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Edit HTML / JavaScript on Blog

Woo-hoo - thanks to Ajay Gupta at Google, I am now able to add gadgets to my blog using HTML code!

For anyone trying to figure this out, just follow these steps:

  1. Click on "Layout" / "Page Elements"
  2. Click on "Add a Gadget"
  3. Under Basics is an option for "HTML / JavaScript"; click on this
  4. In the pop up box, you can choose to enter a name for this gadget in the Title area, or just leave it blank. If you're adding a visual element, you may want to leave the Title blank. (If you leave the Title blank, this gadget will be titled "HTML/JavaScript" while in edit mode; on the actual blog, only your new graphics/gadget will appear.)
  5. Your HTML code can be pasted into the Content box. (You do need to have the code.)
  6. To get the code to add a LinkedIn profile to a blog: while signed into LinkedIn, click on "Edit My Profile"; on the Edit My Profile page, click on "Edit Public Profile Settings" on the upper right side of the page; under Public Profile, click on the "customized buttons" link; select and copy the code for the image you prefer. Back on your blog, paste this code into the Content box.
  7. Click "Save"

That's it. Too easy! And I spent so long searching the web for this tool. After growing tired of fruitless searching, I went to LinkedIn Groups, and checked out the members of my Google Adwords group. I spotted a member with a blog, and on that blog was just the button / gadget I was trying to add. I emailed him (Ajay) to ask how it was done, and had a response in minutes.

Thanks Ajay!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Making the Most of a Commute

To make the most of my 45-minute commute to and from work (with gas prices, I'm glad to be driving a hybrid!), I listen to books on CD. They're available from the library, which has a growing collection. It seems that more and more drivers are making use of this terrific free service. All you need is a library card, and you have ready access to quite a list of books. An added plus is that the libraries in both Pittsfield and North Adams are in the same library system, so I can take a CD book out of one library and return it to another. Mighty convenient.

The available titles are so varied, and include classics, bestsellers, mysteries, and more. Some of my past "reads" have been:
  • Pompeii (Robert Harris)
  • A Walk in the Woods (Bill Bryson)
  • Me (Katherine Hepburn's autobiography)
  • Summer (Edith Wharton)
  • Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte's autobiography - I didn't realize that...thought it was purely fiction!)
  • Master and Commander (Patrick O'Brian)
  • Pride & Prejudice (Jane Austen)
  • The House of the Seven Gables (Nathanial Hawthorne)

Somehow, there just doesn't seem to be time to actually sit and read a hard-copy book anymore. These days, I really only sit around reading when we're on the beach on Cape Cod. And, The Illiad and The Odyssey have been sitting on our bookshelf at home for years, and have never been read. (Funny...they're never the books I choose to take for vacation reading!).

So, I'm now listening to The Odyssey on my car's CD player. Veeeeeery interesting. Finally getting the lowdown on all those Greek myths, and figuring out which god is married to which. Go Odysseus!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Lovin' Planet Fitness

Okay - Planet Fitness is not paying me to do this, and this is not an official ad of any kind. I just gotta say - I love this place!

It's so nice to finally have a gym that's close to's practically across the street. Many of our employees are taking advantage of it because it's so convenient. And, membership costs are so reasonable, it would be a shame not to go for it.

Plus, all of the equipment is brand new, there's plenty of it, and there's never a waiting line to use anything. And, the staff members are really friendly and helpful.

If I had any requests, I'd ask for hooks to hang suits on during workouts, a coat rack as cold weather approaches, showers with changing rooms attached, and suggested workout routines based on current fitness level and desired outcome. But, hey, for the great price I'm paying, these would just be icing on the cake.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Learning YouTube

Well, I've wanted to submit a video to YouTube for some time now, just because I think the site is so absolutely cool. I'm in the process of learning how to transfer my video from a small digital camcorder onto my computer, modify it with Movie Maker, and then upload to the web.

Too bad my very first video won't be about something great. Instead, I'm documenting the painful process of working with Best Buy. Not fun at all.

In July, Best Buy "accidentally" deleted ALL the files on my computer for the past 4 years without creating backup files! Yikes! That's everything - photos, tax returns, Masters name it. It's all gone. And, I've been recording the details of working through this with them. Customer service is unfortunately not a priority. It's quite a mess, and not fun, but at least I'm motivated to learn the YouTube process.

To my delight, YouTube offers many videos for newbies like me, giving step-by-step instructions for uploading video from a camcorder. According to the videos related to my type of camera and computer, I need a firewire, which is on its way in the mail from Amazon. I'll give the upload a try as soon as it gets here.


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