Monday, December 25, 2006

Thanks For the Other 364

Friends and family know that I have a bad habit of believing I can do more in less time than is actually possible. It's not intentional. I can "see" the thing done, and so it seems a short hop from vision to reality. Reality, however, has its own timetable, and we are rarely in sync.

So for those who've noticed that my intention of a weekly "thank you" profile beginning on Thanksgiving – accompanied by a Heifer International donation - also ended on the same day, here's the mea culpa makeup. On Christmas Day there is finally time to consider the people I'm grateful are in my life on the other 364 days.

Phil – my best friend, soul mate, husband. Every day I am delighted by the love and laughter we share; you empower me to be and do everything. You were worth the wait. For you – trees - because you care about the world and its future, locally and globally. And because we all know there really is global warming.

Dick and Kathleen – my siblings. We share knowledge, history, and family stories that no one else can understand. On the rare occasions we are together, conversations and banter pick up where they left off. Having you in my life is knowing that I have a built-in, guaranteed cheering section, and a refuge if I ever need it. You are the basics in my life. So for you – sheep – for they provide food and warmth.

My Extended Family – Stepdaughter, stepson and daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, nieces, nephews, aunt, uncle, cousins, great-nieces and great-nephews. We are very lucky in this family. Minimum strife, maximum caring. We're scattered around the country but any of us could say "I need help" and we would all respond. For you – geese – because they are adaptable and efficient and great at raising a ruckus when need be.

Friends – like Paula who writes for children and is one of the most caring, giving people I know. And new friend Jay, who I have not met in person, but I know that when we do we will not shake hands but will go straight for the hug. And Lee, Margaret's husband, who is courageous and huggable and loves flying as I do. For all of you – a goat – a very giving animal.

Future Friends and Family – two young people who will marry into the clan in 2007, and those who will join us in years ahead. You enrich an already fortunate group. And people I meet through blogs and online communities – talented writers, artists, and professionals – you all expand my world by giving me someone knew to meet, something new to learn. For you – rabbits – whose legendary ability to multiply mirrors the enrichment of my life you will bring.

Hmmm – that's a lot of feathers, fur, and new growth. What we need now is something to round them all up. Yes, a llama will be just right.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a shady, warm, cackling, munching, hopping good night.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Breathtaking

Look at this and tell me you don't say "Aaah" and feel the cool, calm infuse your mind.

Mother Nature is glad to provide for your well being with the help of the intrepid folks atop Mount Washington.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

What Do You Get When You Cross the Energizer Bunny with….

  • A nurse
  • An artist
  • A Realtor®
  • And a TypeE visionary…all in one person?

You get my friend, Margaret.

Anyone who already knows this extraordinary woman understands. The rest of this is for people who haven't yet met Margaret Rome. You are in for a treat.

We met almost 20 years ago when she was a ceramic artist just beginning her transformation into a highly successful real estate professional, and I was an accountant/computer consultant. In our first phone conversation she invited me to her studio, and I was struck by her openness and desire to share. What I didn't realize then was that the givingness of this woman is her hallmark.

A few months later I needed help selling my condo but didn't think I could afford to use a Realtor – it was not a happy time financially for me. Margaret stepped in declaring "you can't afford not to use me," and proved it by selling my home for more than I expected. I'm pleased that years later my story became an article on her blog, a blog that exists because she saw the potential of the "I Blog For You" idea.

There isn't enough space on Blogger's server for me to talk about the many ways she has had a positive effect on my life, often just by being who she is. If I sent out a call for anyone Margaret has helped to meet in Baltimore, I believe we could fill Ravens Stadium. And so for every one of them – and myself – I say "Thank you for being my friend."

Friday, November 17, 2006

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

Back in September I wrote an article on this and my other blog about philanthropy. It was triggered by the generous givings of Richard Branson and Warren Buffett. And now, with the seasons of giving bearing down on us, my mailbox overflows with desperate pleas from charitable organizations. "Please help the… [insert category of needy – two-footed, four-footed, winged, finned, environmental, or service.]" From the very local to the intergalactic, I'm on their list. And so my recycling bin overflows, too.

Had I Gates' billions they might all get checks. But I don't, and so I choose those causes that seem to me to make the kind of difference I believe in, and where most of my dollars go to the purpose of the charity rather than its administration. On New Year's Eve I will write checks and make online donations to a number of such nonprofits.

But what about the rest of the year? OK, today is a memorable day for me, so I've decided to commemorate it with more than a celebratory lunch. I want to also honor some of the people who have reached out their hands and thoughts to me, and helped me take those steps that have changed my life for the better.

Here's the deal. Each time I profile one of these special people on this blog, I will make a donation to Heifer International in their honor. I choose Heifer because they also help people improve their lives. Recipients of animals from Heifer receive training and support, but also agree to pass on the gift by sharing the animals' offspring with others in need in their community. Thus, the gift of self-reliance and self-esteem multiplies and spreads through the village, whether it's in Albania or Appalachia.

When you go to Heifer's website, click on "The most important gift catalog in the world." There you'll see all the animals – and trees and bees – you can select. Personally, I'm partial to llamas and sheep because of the wonderful fibers that come from their fleece. So today, to kick this off, I'm giving a share of a llama in honor of all my friends and family. Here's the gift card I chose for you all....

And starting on Thanksgiving Day, I will profile one special person a week for the rest of the year. To honor each one I will choose something from the Heifer catalog that seems to suit them and what they've done for me and others. I sure hope they like their "gifts"!

Who will you honor today?

Note: All photos are copyright Heifer International, and come from either their online media resources or, in the case of the gift card image, from the electronic card I selected.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Autumn...Incomplete

Crystalline sky the color of "Dutchman's breeches" as my mother would say. Just enough breeze to tease the remaining gold and bronze leaves from the tree out front. It's a glorious fall morning in Maryland. And so I spent some time raking semi-dry leaves, lifting rakefulls into a black plastic bag, and thinking about this corner season.

Winter is dark and crackly cold at best, leaden gray at worst. Summer brings the heat and humidity that make breathing difficult and turn car interiors into people-cooking ovens. But at the corners we find the cycle of life, the birth/rebirth of spring and the languorous death of autumn.

Come March and April the trees spring to life, and birds hold multi-lingual morning convocations. October sets the landscape ablaze until November's snap colds and brisk winds tear the landscape clean. The air now has the musty scent of dead leaves. Kira the cat finds it irresistible; leaves we've tracked in become skittering prey for her games.

How can this ancient cycle be incomplete? My nose knows. Missing from the mix is the one smell that means fall is almost over. Before air pollution regulation, the reward for raking leaves into the street was the sight and smell of an oak/maple funeral pyre. There was an art to it passed through the generations, father to son, son to daughter.

You needed good dry material so that flames would leap from the top of your leaf cone. A few damp leaves were OK, but too many would produce a slow, smoky, and unsatisfying burn. A little breeze to keep the fire going, but not so much that half-burned leaves would fly off the pile and start mini-burns in the neighborhood. When you got it right, you felt connected to nature and the unending cycle.

I agree with the rule about no open burning. But on days like this, my nostalgia takes over and I yearn for one more perfect fall afternoon spiced with the scent of leaves returning to the dust we all share.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Skewed Perceptions

Take a moment and watch this video on the Dove "Campaign for Real Beauty" site. Is it any wonder our perceptions are skewed when a naturally attractive young woman is primped and powdered into a gorgeous creature, only to be further "enhanced" into an advertising man's (gender designation intentional) ideal?

Advertisers and fashion pushers say they only give us what we want. We (women) like to see the ideal, what we strive for. But that's not what they are showing us, is it? The "ideal" is in fact a digitally created, unattainable level of perfection. Those of us who have stopped comparing ourselves to supermodels shake our heads sadly at the disdain they have for us, those advertisers who would make us feel inadequate in order to gain our business. We can't stop them from creating false beauty, but we can let younger women know the truth. And we can make our voices heard in the one way that advertisers understand – by withholding our money from those who dismiss, disdain, and denigrate any woman, any age, any size.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Do We Really Need This Kind of Help?

First, a disclaimer. I am far from petite and could even charitably be called Rubenesque. Fat fighting has been a fact of life for me since I was 10. And sure, if a pill appeared that was safe and that would melt away unsightly pounds overnight as I slept, or during the daytime for that matter, I'd be first in line. But I've never kidded myself about the basic truth that what I eat affects my weight. Some people are blessed with faster burning metabolic engines while I'm equipped to survive famine. So it goes.

The idea of stomach-stapling surgery to lose weight has always made me a bit squeamish, but I'm not a candidate so I can't judge what it's like for those who choose this option. Such a drastic solution – and the need for it – are at once scary and discouraging. But what got me going on this was an article on CNN announcing that soon it will be easier and cheaper to get this kind of surgery, making it an accessible option for more people. Instead of the longer healing time of incisions, doctors can now use the natural orifices of the digestive tract (the mouth and the other end) to insert tubes through which they perform laparoscopic surgery. It's lower risk and lower cost, and may open up a whole new group of candidates for this bariatric surgery. That means that people who now are not obese enough might be able to "take advantage" of this medical breakthrough.

Sorry, but to me his concept is vaguely reminiscent of Roman banquets with people eating to excess and then vomiting to make room for more. Let me eat everything I want – who cares? Supersize me, sure. I can always get my stomach stapled and lose weight that way. Now if only I could silence the old refrain that keeps playing in my brain: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Don't Have a Cow...Give One

Last week Richard Branson pledged $3 billion to fight the global warming that certain people in Washington are pretending doesn't exist. It does, it's a problem, and Branson is doing something about it.

Not long ago Warren Buffett gave billions to the Gates Foundation to fight a variety of diseases including HIV and AIDS. Some in Africa and Asia still try to pretend that AIDS is not a problem. It is, and Buffett and Gates will make a difference.

I can spell "billionaire" but that's as close as I'll ever get to the likes of Branson, Buffett, and Gates. Ah, but I can make a difference just as they can. My choice is a solution to hunger that brings with it self-esteem, economic self-relieance, and the essential concept of giving back in recognition of the gifts you've been given.

My choice is Heifer International. I first learned about them several years ago, and thought it was one of the best ideas ever. Don't just give people food, give them the means to feed themselves. Don't just hand them a month's worth of cheese, give them the cow so they can feed their children, make their own butter and cheese, sell the extra milk, and work toward self-sufficiency. People around the world – including right here in the United States – receive not only an animal but also training on how to care for it.

But the best idea – the one that makes Heifer unique and so effective – is the idea of "passing on the gift." People who receive a cow, or chickens, or rabbits, or a llama, or any gift from Heifer, agree to pass on the gift by sharing the animals' offspring with others in need in their community. Thus, the gift of self-reliance and self-esteem multiplies and spreads through the community.

So every year the largest contribution I make is to Heifer. As my business grows, so will my donation. I can't think of a better way to express my gratitude for gifts I've received than to pass them on to where they can make a permanent and positive difference for people who only want to care for themselves and their families.

If you have a favorite cause, start setting aside something every month to give. If you don't have a favorite of your own, consider Heifer. And pass on the gift.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Traffic Snarl

I make that sound on days like this when I try to get from one place to another in the D.C. morning slow. A "felony traffic stop" – whatever that is – had caused the closure of all lanes on the Washington Beltway. So even though I was going nowhere near the Beltway, that "police activity" brought everything within miles to a crawl.

I had a meeting scheduled but still plenty of time to get there. I watched, first annoyed and then snarling, as time marked by the unemotional numbers on my dashboard evaporated. At first, it was just that I would be a little late. Then I would be late enough to miss out on any of the convenient parking places. And then I would be schlepping all the way from the garage with briefcase and laptop. Grrr.

I sought comfort and calm on the radio. NPR offered more senseless death in Iraq and the recognition that we are trapped in a game of Whack-a-Mole as we shift too few troops from place to place. As the stench of the political campaign season filled my car I switched to music – classical is my choice for stress reduction.

Except that this morning WBJC was playing a harpsichord piece that could not have been Bach – it was getting nowhere except on my nerves. So I switched to WGMS and they had something that sounded like the Saber Dance on speed.

The numbers blinked at me with cat-like inscrutability. Now once I had trekked from the garage I would have to choose between checking email and reviewing my notes for the meeting.

The pace of traffic picked up slightly then lost momentum as quickly. I looked around and saw people on phones, others beating time to their own music choices, putting on makeup, and sipping coffee…all the usual driving-to-work activities. I wondered why people buy every possible derivative variation of white oval stickers for their cars. OBX was original. The next few for beach resorts were OK. But does every little town and activity need one? On the van next to me was a white oval sticker that said "Kensington" and under it "MD." Kensington, Maryland needs a sticker? They couldn't even come up with a clever abbreviation but had to spell it all out?

And now I could forget the email and might not even have a chance to review those notes – I would have to run in, grab the folder, and go.

Ah, Beethoven's 7th. Glorious and familiar, rollicking, powerful, and purposeful. Presented in its "splendid 40 minute entirety." The good news is that it is uplifting music that made me feel better. The bad news is that I should not even have been hearing it because I should already have arrived.

Finally, the last turn and clear road ahead. My 45-minute trip has taken an hour and a half. My cell phone barely intruded on Ludwig. I caught it as the last notes of my fugue ring tone died. I didn't want to talk to him anyway, and I could see the entrance up ahead…just beyond the long line of cars waiting at that traffic light that just turned red. A glance in the mirror showed it matched my face very well.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Comeuppance is Sweet

This one did my heart good. AuthorHouse, a subsidy publisher of ill-repute, has been ordered to pay damages in a defamation lawsuit. The short version of the tale is that they published a book that libeled a romance writer, Rebecca Brandywyne. The book in question was written by her vindictive ex-husband, Gary Brock. AuthorHouse claims they can’t read every book before they publish it, but they had ample warning of trouble ahead. iUniverse, another POD (print on demand) publisher had rejected the manuscript because of possible libelous content, and Brock advised AuthorHouse of this during contract negotiations. And now AuthorHouse has been ordered to pay damages of over $200,000. That will put a crimp in their bottom line.

There are far too many scam artists in publishing. They play on the desires of authors – talented and otherwise – to see their names in print. Dishonest agents, phony poetry contests, and publishers who will print anything no matter how badly written and edited it may be – they wait in the seamy backstreets of the world wide web to snare the unwary and na├»ve. And I just love to see them get their comeuppance!

There are many reputable agents and publishers. If you want to see your name on the cover of a book, do your research. Start with Miss Snark, PubRants, and BookEnds. These are literary agent blogs with loads of good information and links that will take you to help of every kind. They’ll also steer you away from the scams, frauds, and snake-oil publishers. Even if you decide to self-publish, do your homework. And when you hold that book with your name on it, you’ll be glad you did.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Not In My Refrigerator, You Don't!

I thought I’d heard the ne plus ultra in bad taste advertising a couple of years ago. It had to do with ads placed in public rest rooms so that gentlemen taking care of business could also be encouraged to buy more of what sent them there. Music, flashing lights, and an electronic voice would pitch to that briefly captive audience. Worse, they threatened that a version for women’s bathrooms would be next. Talk about tacky.

Now some equally warped genius has come up with a way to pay for his product development costs by forcing me (he thinks) to read an ad before my eyes are even open in the morning. A company called EggFusion uses finely tuned lasers to etch freshness and traceability information right on the shells of eggs as they are processed and packed. All well and good; it’s not a bad thing to know how old those eggs are in the back of the refrigerator. It might even be interesting to know where they came from. Stop there and I have no argument. Any bets on whether they did?

Of course not. All those square centimeters of blank shell canvas cannot be allowed to go unembellished. And so this September and October, CBS television is buying exclusive advertising space on some 35 million eggs to promote their fall lineup. Eggs will be transformed into mini-billboards with the CBS eye and show logos lasered on the shells. Puns will be rampant, from “Crack the Case on CBS” (“CSI”) to “Funny Side Up” for a Monday night comedy show.

The President of CBS’ marketing group, George Schweitzer, said he wanted to bring laughter to American kitchens. That’s fine. What I take issue with – what makes me dead set against buying any lasered eggs – is Mr. Schweitzer’s delight in the intrusiveness of the concept. “You can’t avoid it,” he said.

Wanna bet?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

One Giant Leap

Do you know where you were 37 years ago today? If you’re forty-something or older, you bet you do. You were glued to the television – any television you could find – as a never-before drama unfolded a quarter of a million miles away. For us on the East coast it meant staying awake so late we were guaranteed to have brain fog the next day. So what? We were watching history.

Back then, every rocket launch had full, many hours long network TV coverage. We were mesmerized by space travel. It was so new, so Twilight Zone. That night we saw John Kennedy’s challenge met – our men walked on the moon – and Americans were proud again. We were still stinging from Russia’s Sputnik success in the 50’s, but Neil Armstrong’s and Buzz Aldrin's footprints in moon dust stomped that Red Bear.

Today a space shuttle launch or landing barely rates 20 seconds on the evening news, sandwiched between eternal strife in the Middle East and equally eternal strife in Washington. I’m glad I’ve lived to see space travel become so common place. I hope I live long enough to see peace.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

How to REALLY Get Away From It All

Ever wished you could fly up to the International Space Station and get a whole new perspective on the world? For now it’s a vain hope unless you are an astronaut or obscenely wealthy. Most of us have to stare at the moon and be content to wonder what the earth looks like from up there.

Ah, but not for long. An enterprising hotel tycoon is thinking way out side the box – or the earth – and planning hotels in space. Robert Bigelow already has a prototype in orbit and plans to perfect his inflatable capsules over the next few years. What now looks like an overgrown watermelon will eventually be replaced by a three-story space habitat.

Bigelow Aerospace picked up on a cancelled NASA program for inflatable space station crew quarters. Congress pulled the plug on the program, but the technology didn’t die. So when you hop a rocket to the Bigelow Space Resort, you can take some pride in the fact that your tax dollars helped make it all possible.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Ain't Love - and Technology - Grand?

Here’s a story about good old-fashioned love in the heartland. And I do mean literally, hearts on the land.

Brian loves Stacy, but it was not enough for him to just buy her a nice dinner or go down on one knee to pop the question. He took her up – several hundred feet – to view his carefully planned proposal. Using Global Positioning System data and geographical software, Brian plotted the coordinates and then tilled his plea in a Wisconsin cornfield.

Stacy said “Yes”.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Of Silk Purses and Sows' Ears

This is in the category of “Truisms That Aren’t”. We’ve all heard them:
  • “You can’t get blood from a turnip.”
  • “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”
  • “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
Well, it turns out you can. It takes innovation and creative thinking and a lot of time and money. But you can do it. Not only can you…but determined people did…back in 1921! And here’s the proof.

Next time you hear a truism, remember that there’s a “but….” at the end. And think of all those inventors and innovators who didn’t believe what they were told.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Planning for a Perilous Future

What a wonderful concept – creating a seed bank to store samples of all the crops that nourish us on earth. I love it when human beings go beyond their own immediate needs and think of future generations. Beyond their children, their grandchildren, or great-great-great-grandchildren; thinking of the generations of humankind a thousand or more years in the future, and doing something today to provide for a potentially perilous future.

It’s a terrible prospect, that there might come a day when “…plant epidemics, nuclear war, natural disasters or climate change….” will have killed most crops on earth. What would it be like to be sent back to the early days of agriculture when we first learned to grow food? All the knowledge we’ve gained over centuries – and all our advanced technology – will be worthless without the seeds to start again.

Thanks to Norway and other Scandinavian countries, humans will have a second chance to get it right. Life will wait patiently until then in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

An Occasional Rant

OK, I admit it; I’ve become a news junkie over the past few years. I check CNN online several times a day. I say it’s to give my eyes and mind a break from work, or even to find new ideas. But sometimes it can lead to a blog entry…like this.

Will someone please tell me why a story about the poptart Britney Spears stays on the “Latest News” list all day? Is there nothing that can bump her from prominence? I should care that she is a self-proclaimed “emotional wreck?”

Let me get this straight: she’s spent approximately her entire pre-pubescent and now pseudo-adult life seeking the spotlight, making sure her picture and name were on every tabloid. Now the poor little thing is upset because the paparazzi she has courted so assiduously won’t leave her alone?

The mind boggles. Every day great books are published, good people do good deeds, science makes strides, and even the government occasionally does something good.

I like CNN, really – but oh, please, put her where she belongs. Somewhere between the news of groundbreaking for a new porn shop, and the cleanup of a toxic waste dump.

Rant ended.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

An Excellent Act of Congress


Now, don't get excited. Although the U.S. Congress does occasionally pass some excellent legislation, the one I'm talking about goes back a few years. 87 to be exact. On this day in 1919, the 66th Congress passed a Joint Resolution consisting of only 39 words. And when three-fourths of the states ratified it by August 18, 1920, women could finally vote in the United States.

You probably can't read them on the image to the right, so here are those historic words:

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

It took years of marches, hunger strikes, civil disobedience, women locked in jails, and perhap a few non-conjugal nights, but the men of the U.S. Congress and the states finally did the right thing. Women first voted in national elections in November 1920. There were and continue to be attempts to intimidate, dismiss, and discourage the "women's vote." It didn't work then, and it certainly doesn't work now.

When my grandmother was married, she could not vote. I doubt she ever marched for women's suffrage, but I'm absolutely sure she voted as soon as she could. She recognized how valuable a right it was when the world was just recovering from the "War to End All Wars." How much more important is it that women vote today, when the world clearly hasn't learned that wars end nothing but young lives?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Live!

I've seen web sites go live before, but never enjoyed it quite so much. That's because this time it's mine!


The new combined WordLens and I Blog For You site went live this afternoon, and now I'm asking everyone to go there, take a look, and let me know what you think. Sure, I'd be delighted to hear that you love it, but even happier to know if there's something you think could be improved.

Cyber-champagne all around!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

It’s True…Something We Already Knew

Chocolate is a food group. Chocolate is a vegetable (thank you, Barbara D’Amato.) Chocolate is right up there with oxygen, water, and sleep, as one of life’s necessities. And now we know that the good feeling you get really is good for your brain.

A bit of chocolate, and memory and reaction time improve. We’ve heard cautious optimism about dark chocolate before, but this time they found good news about milk chocolate improving cognitive performance. Read the CNN story here.

Milk or dark, chocolate is good for you. But you already knew that.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Another Lovely Word

Here I go again talking about a delightful word. This one caught my eye because…well…it’s my name.

Margaritaceous. At first I thought it described the tipsiness of someone who has had a few too many tropical drinks rimmed with salt. Or perhaps the drink itself, having been left on the bar too long, solidified into something with the consistency of granola.

It’s neither. Margaritaceous describes some people’s teeth, a gleaming jewel, and irridescent hummingbirds.

Margaret. Margarita. Margarethe. However they’ve spelled it, most languages seem to agree that the name is of Greek origin and means “pearl.” A few baby name web sites also list it as a Persian name meaning “child of light,” a lovely alternative.

Margaritaceous appeared in my mailbox this morning courtesy of A.Word.A.Day. If you are a linguaphile, sign up for their free daily email; one day the word might be your name too.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Chocolate is NOT the Same as Potato Chips



I’m a great believer in scientific investigation and in the publication of peer-reviewed discovery. But this time I have to disagree with a recently published study that claims chocolate’s effect is fleeting, and that eating potato chips can give you the same kind of lift.

To quote Nero Wolfe, “Phooey!”

Most women know that chocolate is a friend in time of need, whether physical or emotional. Good chocolate wraps you in warmth and comfort; its silky sweetness fills your mouth and calms your soul. Dark chocolate has been found to actually be good for you and your heart. Of course I know that doesn’t mean I can eat a dozen bars of Cadbury dark chocolate or a bag full of Dove Dark Chocolate Promises. Well, I can, but I’d better not.

This food of the gods has been recognized for centuries for its calmative and restorative powers. Chocolate can ease the pain of a broken hand or a broken heart – just try doing that with potato chips!

Now please excuse me…the Baker’s Catalog order just arrived, and I need to make sure that bar of Merckens bittersweet is up to standard. Purely for medicinal purposes, of course.

Friday, May 05, 2006

On Overlooking Things

Fortune Magazine and CNN have recently spent ink and electrons pondering the challenges that knowledge workers face, deluged as we are by interminable electronic input. Who has not experienced the two-way cutting of the technology sword? It makes our lives easier in many ways, but it also claims parts of our lives that used to be off-limits. We are busier than ever, seemingly connected constantly to everyone in the world. So why is it that we seem to get less done?

I’m not immune; the sight of an un-read message in my email in box is like a bell to Pavlov’s dogs – I must read it! Now! The conditioning is so effective that I will check my email every few minutes unless I slap my own hand as it reaches for the mouse.

So I have set myself a task – a difficult task for one so digitaddictive. No email, not even a peek, for the next full hour. During that hour I will focus on only one project from my endless to-do list, and give it my full attention. When it’s done, I get 10 minutes – no more – of email before the next task. After that, it’s an hour and a half before email.

I can do this. Yes, I can. In a few days I’ll be up to three or four hours between emails and I’m sure my task list will be a lot shorter.

The Fortune article included a timely thought: "‘The art of being wise,’ philosopher William James wrote more than a century ago, ‘is the art of knowing what to overlook.’”

May we all be so wise.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Malicious Fun This Weekend

Around this time every year, some 700 perfectly lovely people gather in Crystal City, Virginia to contemplate murder most familiar. They will celebrate all the usual methods that you’ll see on Law & Order, plus exotic and just plain weird ways to kill another human being. This weekend I’ll be there, taking notes.

I have no current need for homicidal techniques, but I have in the past and will at some not-too-distant time in the future. After all, there is one manuscript that I will get back to rewriting later this year, plus another in first draft. That second one has a particularly smarmy character who desperately wants killing…but that could be said of many elected officials, couldn’t it?

This will be the 18th annual Malice Domestic conference, and you’ll find the big names and soon-to-be names there, plus editors, agents, and hundreds of fans of the traditional mystery. The attendees will vote, and a lucky and talented few will take home the coveted black teapot “Agatha” award for their writing.

So if you’re in Northern Virginia this weekend and overhear earnest conversations about the advantages of strychnine over arsenic, or whether a .22 would fit in an evening bag, look for a blood-red name tag. If it reads “Malice Domestic XVIII”, you will have fallen in with a highly creative group of plotters.
Now, how about a nice cup of tea…with a little something extra?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Thank You, Mr. Butts

Word lovers everywhere should lift a toast to Alfred M. Butts. Born this day in 1899, he invented the game that guarantees to spark our brains’ synapses. According to the official Scrabble site, Mr. Butts was an out-of-work architect when he turned his talents to designing a word game. In 2002, NPR featured Scrabble in its Present at the Creation series that follows the game from its birth in the depths of the Depression. It took several years and a vacationing Macy’s executive to catapult Scrabble to the top of the word-game heap, but once there it has held the top of that mountain as one of the most popular games in history.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I Had Fun...Really!

Last Monday I stood before a room full of business owners and talked about my love of words and writing and blogging...and had fun! A few years ago the prospect alone would have sent me huddling in a dark corner with my insides churning. I can still recall the quiver in my knees and quaver in my voice those days when it was my turn to perform in high school Speech Class. So how could I possibly enjoy it now?

The difference is passion. When I care about a subject or a person or a cause, you can't shut me up. Get me talking about flying or cats or certain special people, and you had better find a comfortable chair. Let me start on words, writing, and blogging and you'll want a drink and some snacks while you're at it. Fortunately, the folks on Monday had dinner and dessert to sustain them.

Oh, there were still those moments when I felt that I’d completely lost my train of thought and words would not come, but no one threw anything, so the lapses couldn’t have been very noticeable. I ran on too long and didn’t get to say everything I feel is important about blogging. But, I think I did succeed in getting people to think about this new way of communicating. From the conversations I had afterward, I know some folks who came in asking “What the heck is a blog?” went home thinking “Yeah, that could work for my business.”

And all without a single knee quiver.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Good Night, and Good Luck

"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another." - Edward R. Murrow

The other night we finally saw Good Night, and Good Luck, the Oscar-nominated film directed by George Clooney. For me, a good movie is one that I am still thinking about the next day or the next week, one that I keep "seeing" snippets of in my head. Good Night, and Good Luck is one of those.

We Americans have a bad habit of forgetting the lessons of history. And so, we are required to relive some nasty episodes. One lesson from half a century ago is that a demagogue with a microphone and a national platform can wreak havoc on society and quickly turn us into creatures cowering in the back of our cave, fearful of each other.

In the 1950's, Senator Joseph McCarthy destroyed blameless lives, drove men to suicide, and rode his brief power to the depths of one of the darkest periods of American history. That he was able to create his own little reign of terror in the middle of the 20th century is a lesson we must not forget.

Hollywood turns out a lot of garbage, but occasionally a gem emerges from the sludge. Good Night, and Good Luck is one of those few films that should be required viewing - and discussion - for every high school and college student. Power-hungry McCarthy wannabes are never far from a microphone. We can't stop them from spewing their poison - free speech is one of our precious rights - but we can arm people with knowledge against this insidious form of divisiveness. McCarthyism has appeared under other names, and will undoubtedly bubble to the surface again some day. Each generation needs to remind the next of the danger; this film is one very good way of doing just that.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

A First...Almost 100 Years Ago

An important date in aviation history passed without notice a few days ago. It was on March 8, 1910, that the first woman to be granted a pilot's license, received her "brevet" from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. Raymonde de Laroche was one of an enthusiastic group of women pilots who took to the skies almost as soon as there were fixed-wing aircraft to fly. And just a little over a year later, Harriet Quimby became the first American woman to be granted a flying license.

About 50 years after Madame de Laroche's feat, I fell in love with a Caribbean-blue amphibian. I never owned that little beauty, but I did get to fly small planes. And though my only flying these days is by way of Southwest Airlines, the fascination and desire remain, and I cannot resist searching the sky when I hear a small plane overhead.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Those Were the Days

Much has been written – and undoubtedly there is more to come – about the Baby Boom generation and how it has changed American society. I’ll bet there are many people in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s who already clap their hands over their eyes and ears and yell, “Enough already with the Boomers!”

But to those who lived through the duck-and-cover drills, the bra-burning and anti-war protests, and who still remember how Elvis and the Beatles raised parental hackles, here’s a link for you. The January 2006 issue of Smithsonian Magazine has an article that looks at the life of one of the first of the generation, born in the early seconds of January 1, 1946. She can’t be called typical – I don’t believe there is such a thing – but her life experiences so far will resonate with many in this unruly group. If there is one characteristic that you can say is found in many Boomers, it’s the refusal to “age gracefully” and to live up (or is it down?) to society’s expectations of what a “senior citizen” should be.

Which, now that I think of it, explains this manifesto that’s been popping into email inboxes for some time: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body. I intend to skid in sideways, dark chocolate in one hand, rum punch in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming, "WOO HOO what a ride!"

Make your ride worth a good "Woo Hoo!"

Friday, February 17, 2006

And Now the Latest Scientific Discovery…

We depend on scientific research for new medicines, healthier lives, and a cleaner environment. I was glad to read yesterday that there is new research on the environmental front that may lead to a creative use of waste materials. CNN reported that researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia have had success using a repellant made from tiger poo in warding off wild goats.

While you are chuckling, consider that the goats along with other “pest” animals, like kangaroos and feral pigs, cause hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to Australian agriculture. Talk about a ready market! The scientists believe their new poo repellant might work to ward off deer, too. That would be good news to a woman I know who collects her grandson’s used diapers and places them at the edge of her garden; she swears the dirty diapers deter the deer. I know you can buy deer repellants that contain the scent of other predators – coyote and fox, for example – but somehow I prefer the image of a majestic tiger protecting my plants.

Monday, February 06, 2006

And She Doesn't Mince Words

If you are a writer there are two things you must do every day: writing is one and reading is the other. For the latter, my morning starts with Mount Washington, Tai Shan, and Miss Snark. Those weather geeks on top of the mountain think 100 mph winds and whacking ice with a sledge hammer are great fun. The panda cub is just plain cute. I can get rolling without either of them if I have to, but Miss Snark is a must.

Her Snarkness is a literary agent in New York who answers questions about writing, editing, and publishing with refreshing honesty. She does not suffer fools or nitwits, and yet is patient with newcomer questions, and often laugh-out-loud funny. But be warned - Miss Snark is habit-forming.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

She Was Not Well Behaved

One of the most hated and revered women of the late 20th century died yesterday – Betty Friedan. She had the revolutionary idea that getting married, having children, and keeping a nice, clean home, were not enough. Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, took the position that women should have identities of their own as individuals and not just as Mrs. So-and-So or Bobby’s Mom.

It was the start of a revolution that has benefited all women. Today’s 20- and 30-somethings cannot even wrap their minds around the idea that women might not be allowed to do or be anything they want. In less than 50 years we have finally started to tap the vast reservoir of talent in women.

In the 1960’s there were three jobs for a woman: nurse, teacher, secretary. And, of course, those were only until she snagged a man, got married, and had babies. Today’s women are astronauts, engineers, scientists, university presidents, doctors, lawyers, politicians, and yes, wives and mothers. The difference is choices, and we are so much richer for them.

I have a sign on my bulletin board: “Well behaved women rarely make history.” - Laurel Thatcher Urich. Women of every generation can be grateful that Betty Friedan was not well behaved.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Don't You Love Words?

I admit it - I’m addicted to words. I collect them like seashells, picking them up and stashing them in my electronic pocket for safekeeping. One day I’ll have time to bring them all out, spread them on my desk, and listen to the lovely cacophony. Some day.

For now, I enjoy them as they appear on my laptop’s screen. Yesterday it was “blurb.” Writers and those in publishing use it all the time. Eavesdrop on author conversations and you’ll hear things like, “You got Laura Lippman to blurb your book? Wow!” Translation: The very talented and elegant author of award-winning mysteries, Laura Lippman, has written a laudatory description for the cover of that lucky author’s book. Blurbs help sell books, and snagging a top name is a coup.

I always assumed blurb was a shortened version of some other word, much as “blog” is short of “web log.” But yesterday I learned it was made up by author Gelett Burgess. He defined it as “self-praise; to make a noise like a publisher.” Burgess wrote many fiction and non-fiction books, but was best known – to his dismay – for the “Purple Cow” poem.

If you’re a word lover you may have heard or read The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. I was delighted to learn you can get it delivered every day to your desktop, complete with gems like “blurb.”

And then there’s “susurration”….

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

They Mean Business

Picture a meeting room holding about 50 entrepreneurs. The noise level is a low roar as conversations overlap onto greetings and handshake introductions, “elevator” speeches and business card exchanges. The businesses represented are as varied as Web design, commercial cleaning, engineering, and mortgage banking. These small business owners graze the hors d’oeuvres, patronize the bar, and network like crazy. They are all ages, nationalities, and races. Oh yes, and they are all women.

You’ve just entered a NAWBO meeting. The National Association of Women Business Owners was formed more than 30 years ago, and today it is the voice of America’s 10.6 million women-owned businesses. That means that nearly half of all privately-held companies are at least 50% owned by a woman or women. They account for almost $2.5 trillion in sales and employ one out of every seven workers in the U.S. I have trouble wrapping my brain around numbers like that, but you get a sense of the power in the room when you see the leading corporations, banks, publishers, and educational institutions that support the local chapters.

But the best thing about NAWBO meetings is the people. The energy is contagious and empowering – I leave each event feeling I can handle anything. I’ve always been grateful for the welcome extended to me years ago when I stepped tentatively into my first NAWBO wine-and-cheese event. The faces have changed, the chapter has evolved, but the acceptance and encouragement are still there every time.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

And Now I Blog For You

A few minutes ago a new site joined the Web: I Blog For You. At the nudging, pushing and downright insistence of my friend Margaret, I’m expanding my writing services to include blogging for others.

I can see the wrinkled brows from here. You’re thinking, “Isn’t the point of a blog to be intensely personal? How can someone write a blog for another person?” The answer is that it takes some time and communication at first, but it can be done, and done well.

Margaret is one of those people whose life resembles a hurricane. She’s calm in the eye of the storm as chaos roils around her. It’s a classic scenario for her Type E personality (more about Type E’s another time) and it includes zero patience for details. She has an idea, she can see it in finished form, and she wants to simply have it appear. And Margaret wanted a blog.

Now my friend would never actually stop long enough to write a blog. But she would – and did – talk through what she wants the blog to be and do for her real estate business. I Blog For You does the rest, and she concentrates on what she does best. What could be better than a win-win?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Power of One

Imagine receiving an award from your peers - a really important and prestigious award. Not an Oscar, nor Salesperson of the Year or even a Lifetime Achievement recognition. It’s a simple little plaque with a small silver pin attached. But engraved in delicate gold lettering it says:

The Power of One

The little things you do each day have the power to affect a great many people. You inspire us with your willingness and ability to help others. You take on the day one day at a time. Continually searching for a way to make things better, seizing the opportunity to improve everyday life.

You make a world of difference.

Yep. Goosebumps time and maybe a tear or two. I wasn’t there when my friend Margaret received the Humanitarian of the Year award from her fellow real estate CyberStars in San Antonio recently. But I have known her quiet kindness and unobtrusive generosity, and want to add my applause. She is who I want to be when I grow up.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Done Anything Memorable Lately?

That’s the headline on a sunset-orange brochure pinned to my overstuffed bulletin board. Roaring out of the sun is a yellow AT-6 Texan World War II-era airplane. The slick cover promises “High Adventure – Warm Memories – Great Experience.”


The thing is, they make good on their promises; I have the memories, photos, log book, and slightly embarrassing video to prove it. When the adventure was done I didn’t throw away the brochure. It’s still up there because it represents a delightful June morning spent rolling around the sky. And it keeps asking me, “Done anything memorable lately?”

I think a new blog qualifies. Welcome to my wanderings.