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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