Friday, December 28, 2007

Quote of the Week

The proper behavior all through the holiday season is to be drunk. This drunkenness culminates on New Year's Eve, when you get so drunk you kiss the person you're married to.
- P.J. O'Rourke

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Crescendo

Christmas would not be the same without all the wonderful music that fills the airwaves throughout the season. Inspired by Nursedude to pen my list of holiday favorites, the list below reflects my top 20 Christmas songs with favorite performances:
  • The Chipmunk Song (Please Christmas don’t be Late)- The Chipmunks
    It is obnoxious and you can belt it out of tune just like the original and sound great; and who doesn’t like a song that contains the words “hula hoop.”
  • What are you doing New Year’s Eve- Harry Connick Jr.
    His smooth, jazzy voice delivers this song perfectly and allows me to imagine Harry is inquiring about my plans for December 31.
  • Jingle Bell Rock- Bobby Helms
    This is on the list not because of the song, but because of the dance. Any female who attended Carle Place High School during the tenure of gym teacher Mrs. Snhnaars knows the Jingle Bell Rock dance and years later it is still ever engrained in their heads. As annoying as the week before Christmas was “learning” the same dance year after year it is very funny to be in a room with a bunch of alumni break out the jazz hands when this song hits the radio.
  • Dominick the Donkey- Lou Monte
    A staple of NY radio and slowly moving from sea to shining sea, this song is a cheesy little story about Dominick the Italian Christmas donkey and makes this Italian sing every time I hear it.
  • Baby it’s Cold Outside- Dean Martin with Martina McBride (posthumously)
    Dean’s original version was with a chorus of women which was kind of weird and very risqué for the day. This remixed version takes the smooth voice of Dean Martin and blends it with a single female voice making it much more appropriate… and well done. Had Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey performed this years ago with Jessica taking the male part, begging Nick to spend the night, they would have had a major hit that could have potentially saved their marriage.
  • Silent Night- Perry Como
    Such a beautiful song that there are so many performances worthy of the top ranking, but this is Perry Como’s best. Second place would be my church solo at 6 years old; I still remember my child’s voice filling the sanctuary in my first, and only, solo.
  • White Christmas- Drifters
    Bing Crosby performs the classic version, but this one is just so much fun.
  • We Need A Little Christmas- Andy Williams
    Another fun song which always makes me thing of the Christmas special ”Yogi’s First Christmas.”
  • Ding Dong Merrily on High- Roger Whittaker
    Just love this song and really cannot think of anyone else who performed it.
  • Silver Bells- Doris Day
    So many forget that Doris Day was the Bing Crosby of female singers with a host of holiday songs in her playlist.
  • All I want for Christmas- Mariah Carey
    With my well documented love for karaoke I will also admit I dance around the house singing this song and dreaming I had the kind of body that could wear the cute little Santa outfit Mariah wore in the video for this song.
  • I'll be Home for Christmas- Frank Sinatra
    Ole Blue Eyes delivers an emotional performance of this song and captures the pain of not being able to be close to family on Christmas.
  • Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy- Bing Crosby and David Bowie duet
    An unlikely pairing led to a classic recording of The Little Drummer Boy only a month before Bing Crosby’s death. Reportedly David Bowie did this performance because his mother liked Bing Crosby and now he is probably making more residuals on it then any other of his recordings.
  • Linus and Lucy- Vince Guaraldi Trio
    No holiday song transports me quicker to childhood then hearing this classic from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
  • Carol of the Bells- The Mormon Tabernacle Choir
    The crescendo of this song, especially this version, reflects the same dynamics of the holiday season itself; it starts off quiet and builds a tremendous energy until the finale which is quiet, like Christmas morning itself (before everyone wakes up!).
  • The Christmas Song- Nat King Cole
    Nat might have replaced Bing Crosby as the King of Christmas carols had he lived long enough to contribute more performance to holiday standards. His approach to this classic is timeless and touching.
  • Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus- Carle Place Choir Singalong
    There is no recording of this version and I am not sure in the age of political correctness if it is still performed but one of the most special memories of my hometown was the annual “all-sing” at the end of the Carle Place High School Holiday Concert. The whole auditorium stood tall and joined the choir and band in a thunderous rendition from Handle’s Messiah. While the residents of Carle Place might be no Royal Philharmonic they possessed a power from above granted the entire town perfect pitch one time a year.
  • O Holy Night- Josh Groban
    Powerful, dramatic, intense, beautiful, mystically, captivating; these are just a few of the many adjectives that come to mind with this song. Josh Groban performs with an understated brilliance as he lets the beauty of the music as it was written capture listeners rather then trying to embellish the song for the sake of performance. The close brings tears to my eyes and chills down my spine each time it is played.
  • Santa Baby- Eartha Kitt
    Madonna has nothing on the original version of this holiday masterpiece which finally gave the naughty girls something to sing about.
  • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas- Judy Garland
    It is almost sacrilegious to choose a version other then Perry Como’s, but Judy sang it first in the movie “Meet me in St. Louis” and sang it best. This song captures so many Christmas emotions; happiness, loneliness, nostalgia, grief, elation. I prefer versions performed by female artists for no reason other then believing this song requires a feeling of holiday emotion that only a woman can convey.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

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Our cards did not contain a Christmas Letter which is not unusual; we have never included a Christmas letter in our cards but we love hearing news from our friends and thought we would share suit. Even with our desire to share our year with these friends it came down to one thing; when we thought about what to write we made a frightening discovery, we were boring. But it is okay being boring, right? Isn't drama highly overrated.

As holiday cards began to pour in it was nice reading letters outlining all 2007 brought to the lives of our loved ones. Whether a letter contains words of great sadness or reports exciting news they all bring comfort through understanding the struggles and triumphs of those we hold so dear. For the most part the letters were quite ordinary but we were still happy to receive them. We also realized our life together was not as boring and mundane as we thought. I guess it is all relative; our boring could be someone else’s extraordinary.

The Van Betta Family Year in Review

The year began with fireworks and fanfare in Sydney, Australia as we began 2007 celebrating the amazing beauty and culture unique to that region. The experience made me thankful for the opportunity to attend the wedding of a good friend and appreciate how technology has made it possible to grow friendships despite great geographic distances. While Australia has long been Chelle’s favorite destination, New Zealand quickly climbed to the top of the list with such a wide array of activities, intense physical beauty and the kindness of every person we met. We fell in love with the vineyards of Marlborough and love to buy wine at our local liquor store and declare “we’ve been there.” For those wondering if the long trip is worth it stop wondering; it is the only place to see snow capped mountains, the Pacific Ocean, pristine lakes, lush farms, desert plains, deep forests and city streets all in a single day.

We were front and center at the social event of the century in February attending the wedding of Chelle’s sister Renee’. The ceremony was beautifully presided over by Wade’s brother Mark while Wade read one of the most touching poems ever recited and Chelle served as the Best Broad. A great time was had by all at both the wedding and the all-night after party. Everyone was jealous that Renee’ and Matt escaped the cold of winter for a honeymoon in St. Thomas and proved that getting married in the winter has its advantages; the wedding is only one day, but warm anniversary vacations are for a lifetime!

Although we both remained with the same companies throughout the year each one of us had some major job changes. Wade’s hard work was finally rewarded with a promotion to Senior Project Manager in May. Chelle took a position with a new team but after several months realized the move was not good for her career or her sanity. Luckily there were plenty of other opportunities available and she is now in Nurseline Operations. Wade’s work took him to Connecticut and Chelle’s travel schedule, although not nearly as crazy as in the days of consulting, had her visiting Princeton, San Antonio, West Virginia and Long Beach.

Our College Ten year reunions snuck up on us this year; where does the time go? Chelle traveled to the Mary Washington campus in Virginia in June and is still in awe of how much the whole city of Fredericksburg has changed. While in Virginia Chelle got to catch up with some good friends and is hoping to schedule another visit in 2008 as Mary Washington celebrates its centennial year. Our reunions also marked a little anniversary for us; we met in the summer of 1997 in Chicago.

Family events dominated our travel schedule in the latter half of the year; NY for a cousin’s graduation, Toronto to celebrate Wade’s brother’s 20th year in the Lutheran ministry, a surprise trip to NY for Chelle’s mother’s birthday and our annual holiday trip which was for Thanksgiving this year. When home for Thanksgiving we drove to Philadelphia to see Chelle’s friends Diane and Victor, caught up with another friend Wes in Princeton and spent time in New Jersey with relatives. Chelle’s sister Kristen visited for Labor Day and we rented a pontoon to christen her in the waters of Lake Minnetonka and attended the Minnesota State Fair to sample a wide variety of foods on a stick. John, a friend of Chelle’s from her days in DC, came from Rhode Island in May to see us and attend a couple of Twins/Red Sox games. That same weekend we participated the Humane Society’s Walk for Animals and rose over $1000 for local shelters. Chelle once again completed the Northshore Inline Marathon in Duluth and survived the most grueling test of her strength and endurance with cold temperatures and heavy winds while meeting their friend’s new daughter; Nola. Chelle’s Mom visited twice and after years of getting the timing wrong (or right!) and finally experienced winter; her March visit saw two blizzards and in December temperatures below zero. Our home is always open to our friends and family but we highly recommend targeting July – September.

Long distance relationships grew closer over the year as each one of us realized facebook was not just for teenagers. It is nice finding long lost friends and keeping up with the everyday lives of those both far and near making it much more bearable having friends and family who span the globe. We both continue to expand our creativity through writing and publish some of our work on our websites; Simpleprop and Explosive Bombchelle.

Wade’s Dad gave us the scare of our lives suffering a broken hip with a fall in our home on Easter weekend. His recovery had him in the Twin Cities for about 3 weeks and he was happy the hospital was a pet friendly facility; Luna and Solei lit the faces of many patients recovering in the orthopedic ward. We considered officially licensing them as therapy dogs, but Luna’s love for Cheerios would make her a menace in any ward. Luna and Solei keep us busy, provide us endless hours of love and entertainment and continue to surprise us with their abnormal level of canine intelligence and incredible athleticism wrapped in such little bodies. Although the year had us very busy at work and home we still ventured out to see friends, attend the theatre and enjoy our Vikings season tickets.

We are looking very forward to the holidays with family and friends and are especially excited for the mystery and excitement that 2008 can offer. Even if it is just as quiet and eventless as 2007 we continue to have the best time together after all these years.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Quote of the Week

The Supreme Court has ruled that they cannot have a nativity scene in Washington, D.C. This wasn't for any religious reasons. They couldn't find three wise men and a virgin.
- Jay Leno

Monday, December 17, 2007

We're all family

There is nothing I despise more then a trip to the mall on a weekend during the holidays. With the advent of online shopping there is really very little reason to suffer the torture of mall shopping. I will, however, brave the snow, cold, crowds and children awaiting their turn with Santa for one reason and one reason only; to use my sister’s coveted Macy*s Friends and Family discount. It is fast becoming a tradition to brave the crowds, the lines and the frostbite for the opportunity to get a substantial discount on presents for myself and others. This bravery was once well rewarded but this year the Ho Ho Ho was taken out of our holiday shopping when we discovered posters all over the store offering everyone the friends and family discount.

It is a treat each year to go shopping with an additional 20% off everything coupon, even sale items, granting the opportunity to give very generous looking holiday gifts for a fraction of the cost and allowing a few new items to enter the personal closet rotation. We are incredibly excited to be in the special circle of friends and family lucky enough to get such good deals and it makes our sister so happy to share this with us. This year the circle was expanded and not all that special to be in; everyone was given the discount and the piece of paper in our pocket was worthless. What was more upsetting is the Friends and Family discount was being used as a store sale meaning nothing else was discounted; no opportunity for legendary stories of getting an additional 20% off items that were already marked down to nothing, no jokes that the store almost had to pay you to walk out with the item.

Realizing that there was little reason to actually go on a spending spree, I had to know why the decision was made to cheapen the meaning of the discount by offering it to everyone. After enquiring with a sales woman on why the largest department store in the US would resort to giving the discount to everyone she gave me the following answer; management found that people get upset at promotions they didn’t get it. Have we gotten so selfish and childish as a society that Macy*s has to pretend that everyone is family? Has our entitlement culture really become so out of hand that people are being petty enough to demand a store discount they don’t deserve?

What infuriated me more then having a pretend sale by including everyone as friend was the thought of thousands of coupons printed for actual employees to share with their loved ones; what an absolute waste of natural resources! In this time of environmental consciousness to be so utterly irresponsible as to waste that much paper is an abomination. A rainforest in Brazil was probably stripped clean so Macy*s could print the coupons AND the signs for the stores saying everyone got the discount.

Even worse then the filling landfills is how this employee perk, used to recruit people for both full-time and seasonal employment, is now worthless in the hiring process. There is no industry worse then retail during the holidays and the ability to get discounts is a tool used to convince people to work the insane hours and deal with irate customers. The sales women I talked with was very upset as she believed the friends and family discount was a perk of her employment and a “gift” she could give those she loved who put up with her stress and crazy schedule during the holiday season. She was absolutely right to feel slighted; her terms of employment and compensation were altered so Macy*s could engage in this badly executed sales ploy.

Over the past few weeks I quickly discovered that this sales tactic was not isolated and retailers nationwide were jumping on the Friends and Family bandwagon. It must be the latest fad in sales and marketing because suddenly emails and coupons came pouring in for a wide variety of stores offering the friends and family discount; Kenneth Cole, H2Oplus, ArtsyTartsy, Gap, Eddie Bauer- the list goes on and on. Each “offer” made me angry for all the people who sacrifice so much of their time and energy this time of year and are now receiving even less compensation for surviving the over-commercialization of Christmas. Perhaps I am overly sensitive since I did not get a cashmere sweater for $8 this year, but after a short time working in retail people who survive sales in December deserve this one little bonus.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Quote of the Week

Santa is very jolly because he knows where all the bad girls live.
- Dennis Miller

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Nothing Special

The advent of the VCR and subsequent technologies aimed at bringing instant entertainment into the home have all but ended one of my favorite childhood holiday activities; watching Christmas specials. Immediately following Thanksgiving the major networks would begin airing a long list of timeless classics building into a crescendo of holiday excitement until Christmas Day. While it is no longer necessary to plan life around a television schedule I cannot help but wonder what it is we lose when all our entertainment is available on demand.

Viewing Christmas specials once required use of the TV guide, a relic in weekly publications, and serious time management skills to juggle the long list of programs. December would not the same if we missed Charlie Brown’s Christmas and had to wait a full year to see it again; a modern day tragedy. Revolving evening activities around annual airings led to a certain air of excitement and giddy anticipation, almost as exhilarating as the arrival of Santa Claus himself! The real thrill of all this had very little to do with the actual quality of the show itself and more to do with the traditions around the evening; our whole family piled on the couch, cuddling with our Velveteen rabbits, eating popcorn, laughing.

Tradition also dictated that we repeated conversations and observations year after year; arguments over the quality of A Muppet Christmas Carol versus Mickey’s Christmas Carol, Frosty Returns not being nearly as good as Frosty the Snowman, how Stupid Karen was wearing a skirt to the North Pole, the Grinch’s poor dog being the most tortured character on television. These types of discussions and moments in front of the tube together were not limited to December; ever wonder who actually gave kids rocks like in Charlie Brown’s Halloween or why Peppermint Patty didn’t have parents to cook Thanksgiving Dinner? How many people remember all the commercials and build up to the twice a year showing of The Wizard of Oz? These were not just television programs, they were events cherished by both children and adults.

The anticipation and excitement of television specials are things of the past for most people, replaced by instantaneous satisfaction and the ability to view these programs over and over. How many of us treat watching a television special as the social event of the week; entertainment on demand has taken the “special” out of television specials and made watching them quite ordinary. It was not until many years later that I began to appreciate how wonderful evenings with my family around the television was, especially around Christmas; during the hustle and bustle of the season we took the time to settle down for an evening or two.

Television specials gave us more then just time together; we also learned so many other lessons that are lost today. Waiting for our favorite show required a great deal of patience because we could not see them any time we wanted. Once the time came to watch we learned to be quiet and pay attention because we couldn’t rewind to see what we missed. We also learned to time our bathroom breaks quite carefully; there was no pausing the action for bladder issues. These changes could be part of the reason children of today come off as demanding and impatient; commercials are fast forwarded, live action paused, any show they want available at the click of a button. It is actually quite sad that families do not get to feel the same simple joy and togetherness that TV used to provide and must go to further and more expensive means to experience anticipation and togetherness. It could also be the reason I avoid watching television; it’s really just not all that special anymore.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

CSI Dublin

I was quoted in yesterday's USA Today article "Should you say yes to rental car insurance? It depends" written by Gary Stoller after being interviewed about an experience in Ireland we had in 2005 which we affectionately refer to as "CSI Dublin." The quote relates back to the biggest lesson we learned after damage to our rental car was discovered upon returning it; always get the insurance when renting a car overseas.

We can laugh about the experience 2 and a half years later, but the only thing more stressful then driving on the roads of Ireland is dealing with a damaged rental car. To see more then just the inner city of Dublin we rented a car for two days and drove around the countryside dodging animals, stone walls and oncoming traffic with ease. After two days we had enough driving and returned the car to the airport, leaving us the opportunity to explore the city on foot for a few days. When the agents inspected our car they found the bumper stripped of paint with a small dent. Upon much protest, we were charged a $750 Euro deductible.

Examining the car, it became apparent that the damage was consistent with the car hitting a cement object, like a pole. We realized that the valet at the hotel must have damaged the car and the rental car company informed us to inspect the security tapes at the hotel to prove we did not cause the damage. The manager of the hotel was very helpful and sifted through the security tape from the evening before and we could not find any evidence that the car was damaged during that time. We then turned to our own camera where we saw the damage on a digital image that indicated that the accident happened two nights prior. Upon reviewing even more security tape we discovered there was a significant amount of time that our rental car was not accounted for on the tape leaving us no option but to head to the garage and find the scene of the crime ourselves.

We headed to the underbelly of the hotel with the general manager to inspect the area of the garage where the security cameras did not capture any footage. After some inspection it became obviously where the incident occurred; a huge amount of blue paint consistent with the color of our rental was on a pole and chips fresh on the floor. The manager apologized profusely as I took some photos and saved some paint chips in an envelope.

The hotel agreed to pay for the damages, however, would not pay the deducible outright before the car was fixed and a final bill was sent to them with the actual amount, which we all believed would be far less then the exorbitant deductible. Months later, the rental car company sent the hotel a bill for charges that were obviously unrelated to the incident, fixing much more then just the scratched bumper and sticking the hotel with the full deductible amount. So, four months later I received a $750 Euro check (which was worth $61 less then it did when I paid the deductible the first time), an apology and a voucher for 2 free nights at the hotel whenever life had me back in Dublin.

The experience left me quite bitter about rental car companies; the dishonesty of fixing more then just the damage incurred during my rental taught me that if you damage a car you will ALWAYS pay the full deductible amount. Yes, my own insurance would probably have covered some of the damage but the phone calls to Ireland to deal with the bills and the idiots at the car company would have cost me more time and money then the claim's worth. While I still decline the extra insurance domestically, the money it costs to get the extra insurance overseas is well worth saving an already expensive vacation; the experience almost ruined our European adventure.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Christmas Survey

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? Wrapping paper; except for wine which goes into cute gift bags.
2. Real tree or artificial? This year... both!
3. When do you put up the tree? Early December.
4. When do you take the tree down? Ideally on or around January 6 (epiphany).
5. Do you like eggnog? Yes, with a shot (or two) of Captain Morgan, nutmeg and cinnamon.
6. Favorite gift received as a child? Hard to remember, we got so much. I remember getting a kitchen set which might have started my love for cooking, a cabbage patch doll named Erika Leigh and a 15 speed bike. We always got a Barbie doll as well, which stayed in the boxes (I still have them, in the boxes)
7. Do you have a nativity scene? We have Lenox figurines of Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus.
8. Hardest person to buy for? Wade’s cousin’s husband Joe, he is the man who has it all.
9. Easiest person to buy for? My Mother, slap a few photos into a calendar and she's very happy.
10. Worst Christmas gift ever received? A book of poetry and a candle from Wade on our first Christmas together... might not be the worst ever, but I got a little nervous since I thought this was a precursor of years to come (he’s become infinitely better since).
11. Mail or email Christmas card? Mail, personalized cards complete with photos of the fur-children; this year 240 cards
12. Favorite Christmas Movie? Miracle on 34th Street
12a. Favorite Christmas TV Special? Olive the Other Reindeer, and I love those end of the year "best of" specials.
13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? July
14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? Does it count if you recycled a wedding gift and gave it as a Christmas gift?
15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Cheese Fondue (at our annual fondue party, this year hosted by Rachel and Jason)
16. Clear lights or colored on the tree? C o l o r e d
17. Favorite Christmas song? That's so tough! Santa Baby, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas or Dominick the Donkey
18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? We travel to NY every other year (when we aren't in Australia like last Christmas)
19. Can you name Santa's reindeer? Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen (Rudolph is only an urban legend)
20. Do you have an Angel on top or a star? Neither, we put fun picks on top of the tree. This year we have little presents on one tree and candied fruit and twigs on the other. (Photo above is last year's tree)
21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Growing up we opened our family gifts on Christmas Eve and Santa gifts on Christmas Day. We don’t do much for Christmas Eve when home in Minnesota.
22. Most annoying thing about this time of year? Weight Gain

Friday, December 07, 2007

Go Elf Yourself

Office Max has joined the "Simpsonize Me" craze with their own holiday version of fun with photoshop; and it is pretty darn cute. Click on the photo below if you want to see my brother-in-law get his Jingle Bells on with me and my sisters.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Quote of the Week

Wishing everyone a very Happy Hanukkah.
Christmas brings enormous electric bills. Candles are used for Hanukkah. Not only are we spared enormous electric bills, but we get to feel good about not contributing to the energy crisis.
-KOACH Humor, "Holiday Distinctions Finally Explained"


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Many happy return addresses

‘Tis the season to update the old address book and ensure Christmas and Hanukah greetings have a one way ticket rather then a roundtrip right back to your mailbox. Each year this is one task that is met with a variety of challenges and profanities, always taking me far longer then anticipated. Every December I make the same declaration; next year I will make address book updates throughout the year, yet this month is no different then year’s past as I sit here with my list of contacts preparing to send out cards and seriously contemplating on whether it would be easier to just say "bah humbug."

Adequately performing yearly address updates require intense person by person data analysis. From A to Z, each entry is studied in an effort to dust off the brain and remember if the contact experienced any major life changes; moved, got married, got divorced, had a child, adopted a pet. As an emotional person this task can at times be taxing. Joyous and painful moments of the year are experienced all over again with each stroke on the keyboard. Edits are most often for happy reasons with the name of a new child or spouse added to a record. The most painful moments come with the deletes; strained friendships and deaths seem so much more permanent when people no longer live in my address book. Updating an address book is like writing a new chapter in your autobiography, adding detail to the storyline of your supporting cast.

As a self-proclaimed geek I find data analysis extremely interesting and I noticed the following trend: in our twenties friend’s changed their addresses almost as frequently as their underwear. Growing responsibility equals greater stability; it is more likely a “return to sender” comes from retiring family who trade in their family homes for condos in the south then from friends with minivans and car seats. Even my own data has remained unchanged since shortly after my 30th birthday when I moved into my present home and we adopted the youngest member of our furry family.

Performing this update once a year, although time consuming, provides time to really sit down and reflect on the past twelve months and what it meant to the lives of those we love, and to our own. It is so profound to focus on the names of all the wonderful people in my life and the days when we did not have to write Christmas cards because we saw each other at parties and gatherings instead. Each year we write promises in cards, letters and emails to call and write more; easier said then done. While it is sad to see another year pass without those promises fulfilled, it is still comforting to know that the chill of winter is made more bearable by warm wishes from around the world; that is what the holiday season is all about. Long after the decorations are packed away, gifts are forgotten and holiday pounds disappear, memories of cards and letters, news and photos from friends and family remain. While 2008 cannot bring us more time to see family and friends it helps to slow things down, even if only for a day, to take a walk down memory lane and make sure your holiday wishes are not returned.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Gift Giving for Dummies

It is better to give then to receive, but finding perfect gift for everyone on your shopping list makes holiday gift giving stressful for many. It is easy to express anger and disappointment at those who are unable to give suitable gifts, accusing them of being lazy or thoughtless, but we must recognize that the human genome contains genetic coding that predisposes certain individuals to inferior gift giving. If you suffer from this serious condition there is hope. For those unable to pick up on the subtle clues, random comments or blatant advice dropped throughout the year there are options other then gift certificates and fruitcake that will have your loved ones gasping “Wow” rather then “Why” over the holiday season. While Oprah’s famous list of favorite things would break the bank of the average shopper, my favorite things for 2007 gift giving fall into a wide variety of price ranges for those who were naughty or nice on your shopping list.

Design-her Gals Stationary: A good gift for a good cause. Visit Designhergals.com to create a wide variety of stationary bearing the likeness of a special woman on your list. Design options include body type, skin color, hair color and style, clothes, shoes and accessories. A percentage of the proceeds from each purchase support women with Stage 4 breast cancer. Just make sure to run the avatar design past another friend to ensure the design really looks like the recipient. My personal favorites are the checklists and notecards (as pictured).

Spa Wish: I know people see the purchase of gift certificates as both easy and practical but honestly, it is the ultimate sign of thoughtlessness. It is better to actually put the time and effort into understanding what someone would like from a store then to give them a gift certificate to that same store. And here is what retailers don’t want people to know; so many people forget to use those gift cards before they expire, meaning free cash to businesses. The only exception to the no gift cards rule is for experiences and services; pedicures, massages, sky diving, etc. My personal favorite is Spa Wish where the lucky recipient can get a wide variety of spa services from participating salons and spas. These can be purchased on spawish.com or at a variety of stores who sell gift cards. Costco currently carries the cards at a discount meaning more massage for less moolah.

Personalized Greetings: There are so many ways to design and print personalized calendars these days that I’m surprised that traditional calendars bearing the photos of random animals, people, places and things, often seen in the middle of malls in temporary kiosks, even sell anymore. Broderbund has software bringing creative calendar creations to your home computer, but I personally prefer to use online printers to make calendars for family. Most online photo sites have calendars, but I prefer to use kodakgallery.com (formerly ofoto) for their quality product. To add an extra touch to a calendar, purchase a good acid free photo pen from a craft store (like Michael’s) and include birthdays, anniversaries and other special dates to add a special touch to an already perfect gift. If calendars are not appropriate, Kodak Gallery has a wide variety of fun gifts from picture books to coffee mugs that are sure to please.

Skin of Soft and Clean: Some people find the gift of fine soaps and toiletries impersonal which is completely valid if giving a random gift set purchased at Walgreen’s on Christmas Eve. Much more personal is giving luxurious products that most people resist indulging in due to cost considerations. If you know your recipient has brand loyalty to a certain line of products, then fill up a stocking of their favorite things. Otherwise, I recommend anything from H2O+. All their products are water based and use natural vitamins and minerals found in the sea, meet a wide variety of skin needs and are ideal for those with super sensitive skin. H2O+ also takes a firm stand against animal testing, a very important quality for animal lovers. My personal recommendations include; Milk hair products, Aqualibrium skin line, Spa Sea Salt body wash and skin smoother, and Mint foot cream to avoid winter dry feet.

Memories: Most people can’t remember the gifts they received in years past, but everyone remembers an amazing experience long after it is over. Check out local theatres for upcoming shows, see if a favorite performer is coming into town, rent a limo for a night out on the town, book a stay at a bed and breakfast, plan a trip to a favorite or new destination, get tickets to the Superbowl; the level of extravagance can vary to any budget or time constraint.

Class Act: Taking a class with a friend or loved one can be both educational and fun. Check out your local continuing education programs or community colleges and centers to see what kind of programs they offer. Some classes meet a night or two a week for an extended period of time while others are only one time affairs. Does someone special to you want to learn Thai cooking, photography, ballroom dance, or underwater basket weaving? Give them the gift of knowledge and fun that lasts long after the egg nog is done.

Holiday Spirits: If you need hostess gifts for holiday parties, thank you gifts for co-workers or want to spread the holiday spirit to neighbors invest in a case (or two) of Brotherhood’s Holiday Wine brought to you from America’s oldest winery. The spiced wine in a holiday themed gift bag is the perfect gift on the go. Lucky recipients will enjoy the wine heated up with cinnamon sticks and served in a mug. Delicious!

Start a Tradition: The gifts that are given year after year are often the most memorable. If you have someone on your list who has a collection, give them a new piece every year. Holiday Villages, crystal, toy trains, remote control cars, carousel horses; the choices are a unique as the people you are buying them for. Even if they know what they are expecting, they will be happy to grow their collectables. Another idea is beginning a Christmas ornament tradition which is especially nice for children; a special ornament a year will show how they and times have changed and give them special decorations and memories for their own tree long after they leave Mom and Dad’s.

Framing: Whether you take the expensive route of a professional framing or head to a store and buy a pre-sized frame, finding a special photo, poster, painting, childhood artwork, baseball card, stamp, anything really and framing it is an amazing gesture. The growing ease and sinking costs associated with photo restoration can also be a way to give a memorable and special gift in a beautiful frame; restore an old wedding photo, baby pictures, special vacation shot. Keep memories alive by fixing those old photos, writing the names of those in the shot (with a photo safe pencil), and preserving it for generations to come.

A Girl’s Best Friend: Jewelry is of course a very nice gift for those demanding people on your list but random jewelry purchases without meaning are just as impersonal as a gift card. Jewelry purchases should be memorable and have special meaning to the recipient so they remember years later who purchased the piece and when they received it. Understand what type of jewelry a person likes; are they an earring person, pendants, rings, bracelets. Get timeless pieces, those that never go out of style. Get something special like a mother’s ring of birthstones. When in doubt, diamonds are a girl’s best friend and Costco is a man’s best friend; all diamonds are guaranteed to appraise at double the purchase price and are procured through legal channels adhering to the United Nations anti-conflict diamond process.

Presentation: Someone once said life is 10% substance and 90% presentation and that same logic applies to the holidays. Have fun with the wrapping and presenting. If you get that limo ride to a show then buy a matchbox car limo and wrap that with the tickets. Heading on a tropical vacation, then put the tickets into a beach bag. Be creative and fully experience the joy of giving.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Quote of the Week

As for blondes having more fun, well, let me dispel that rumour forever. They do.
- Maureen Lipman

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Couch Potato for a Day

Sometime over the Thanksgiving holiday I managed to pick up the plague from one or more of the dozens of people I came in contact with allowing the unique opportunity to take a good old fashion sick day. Armed with chicken noodle soup, hot tea, tissues and a remote control, I battled my ear, nose, throat disaster area and made the following sick day observations:
  1. You are not the father: Would Maury Povich even have a career without DNA technology?
  2. I’ve fallen and I can’t come on down: If the Medicare, AARP, Medic Alert, Prescription Drug and Scooter commercials are any indication of the demographic watching morning television viewers would break their hip if they were the next contestant on the Price is Right. Don’t kids stay home sick and watch game shows anymore?
  3. Is that your final answer: How Regis does not turn around and belt the ever effervescent and chipper Kelly Ripa across the face is amazing. Of course the same statement could be made regarding Kelly’s restraint with Regis.
  4. Where in the World is Matt Lauer: The Today Show could not possibly squeeze out any more commercial dollars; the commercial time to show ratio is about 2 to 1.
  5. Like sands through the Microdermabrasion: Soap Opera casts have changed very little over the past 25 years. Not only are the actors playing the same parts they did when leg warmers were first in style but many have visited their local plastic surgeon in an effort to look just as they did when Luke married Laura. Creepy.
  6. Stupid is as stupid does: Maury Povich, Jerry Springer, Judge Judy, Dr. Phil and all other programs relying on large numbers of people performing stupid acts have yet to run out of dumb ideas or candidates for their shows, permanently damaging my faith in humanity and derailing equality through promoting racial and gender stereotypes.
  7. No Pop Quizzes: Not once during the roughly 8 hours of viewing time was there a test of the emergency broadcast system, the high pitched squeal and rainbow colored stripes warning viewers of eminent danger. It made me realize I have not heard the familiar phrase “this is a test, this is only a test” in quite some time. Did the end of the cold war bring an end to the emergency broadcast system?
  8. Side-effects include hysteria and dry mouth: I started the day with a really bad cold and ended it with a number of new conditions like restless leg syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome brought on by the hypochondria that is inherently tied to hours of pharmaceutical commercials.
  9. Get out of work free card: Do networks offer discounted advertising fees to law offices who run commercials aimed to keep those hurt or injured home permanently, increasing their viewership? I have never seen so many lawyers with commercials aimed at those hurt on the job, encouraging them to get the help they need to stay home permanently. If the same effort went in to fixing the ailments of these individuals we would find the cure for countless diseases.
  10. Hail Oprah: After hours upon hours of watching useless garbage aimed at celebrating idiocy, increasing consumer debt, advocating panic and promoting gender and racial prejudice I can finally understand why so many women admire and praise Oprah Winfrey; she is royalty in a lineup of jesters.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Blessing

May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!
- Author Unknown

I'm Not Kidding

After over six years of marriage, strangers and friends continue to ask the question “when are you going to have children?” Amazing after all this time there is still shock expressed upon learning that we are not waiting or infertile and have chosen not to raise children. The lengths people go to in pressing us on our reasons and work to refute them is astonishing; a futile attempt to change our minds. Taking the path of least resistance by pretending we are unable to have children does not work either; lying has landed me a few recommendations to a good fertility specialist and does not raise awareness of our family of two. Bearing and/or raising children is not a marital requirement and “childfree by choice” is a status shared by an increasing number of people worldwide. The reasons behind the non-traditional decision are as unique as each individual and couple who makes it; these are my personal reasons why children are not in my cards which could offend some and enlighten others.
  • Marital Bliss: In today’s high paced world it is hard to find enough quality time with your spouse for dates, romance and intimacy; children make it nearly impossible. I value the amazing friendship I have with my husband and feel our relationship would suffer with the introduction of a child.
  • Pets: I feel extremely fortunate that I get such happiness from the love and devotion of animals. From the time I was a young child I connected with animals in a way that most people do not; understood their gestures, felt their pain and could communicate their needs. Our dogs do require a lot of work and attention, but at least I can throw up a baby gate and leave them at home for a few hours without child protective services knocking at my door.
  • Freedom to Choose: Without children, there is the freedom to choose whatever you want to do, wherever you want to go, whoever you want to see, whatever you want to eat, etc. etc. etc. Eat dinner at 9 pm, no problem. Hop on a plane for a long weekend in Vegas, start packing. This spontaneity is a crucial piece of who I am which would disappear with children.
  • Career Aspirations: Career advancement is limited when jumping out of the fast-lane and taking the Mommy Track, even a few months home these days can disrupt career advancement. I also appreciate that I work because I enjoy my job (most of the time!). If I wanted to change careers we could downsize our home and move to a less expensive neighborhood and make that happen. I’m not stuck in a job because my family is dependent on my salary to stay in a school district or a big house; that sounds vaguely like indentured servitude.
  • Momfia: As if being a mother does not naturally come with its own set of pressure, “Super-Moms” impose additional guilt and punishment to mothers who forego breast-feeding, feed children non-organic meals, use diapers rather then natural elimination techniques, decide to go to work, decide to stay home, decide to put their kids in public school, decide to run a marathon 9 months after giving birth; and they do all this while maintaining a perfect figure, well manicured nails and a full face of makeup.
  • Where's the Owner's Manual: Children do not come with an owners manual which could be a major reason so many people screw up their children. People think that childfree couples know nothing about children, but I argue that childfree couples are all too understanding of the complexities and commitment involved with raising a happy and healthy child who becomes an upstanding member of our society. Parenting is hard, tough, thankless, endless work and far too many people have children without understanding all it entails to be a good parent and role model.
  • Gene Pool: Where others lament that my husband and I will not be bringing a tall, smart, blonde haired, blue eyed child into the world they neglect to remember the less glamorous genes we will not pass on; the world has enough overweight nerdy asthmatic angry alcoholics.
  • Economic Stability: Studies report that raising the average child costs $1.2 million from birth to 18, not having them is my retirement plan. Children are a very high risk investment; historically they have very low ROI. The overall reason for my not having children equates to the risk and investment is not worth the intangible rewards.
  • Gender Bias: If I could guarantee having a girl maybe I would consider it, but raising boys must be the hardest job in the world and I would be devastated to have a son.
  • Return Policy: We often hear people say all our reasons for not having children will go away once they are born and we’ll change our priorities to make room for baby. What if that does not happen and the baby just doesn’t fit; hospitals will not take it back if you decide you don’t want it, even with a receipt. People do not want to believe that there are thousands upon thousands of parents who do not love their children the way they thought or want to change their priorities and it is the children who ultimately suffer.
  • Guarantees: There is not a money-back guarantee that a child will grow up to be a human being you actually like, or who will like you. You can spend your 1.2 million dollars to raise a child and still dislike them or never see them as adults.
  • Warrantees: If babies are born with or develop any issues, they are not covered by an extended warranty; 1 in 166 children will develop autism, 5% of children are born with birth defects, childhood cancer is on the rise. Mathematically it seems that there is a very small chance of having a perfectly healthy child.
  • Boredom: Constantly having to read the same books, talk in mono-syllabic words and follow a small human around is my personal definition of hell. If you are lazy, you can just throw your children in front of the television 8 hours a day, but then Barney, Dora and Blues Clues rot out their brains while causing parents to want to blow out theirs.
  • Family Ties: How do parents living hundreds of miles away from any support network maintain their sanity? My family lives over 1000 miles away. Without grandparents and aunts living in a 10 mile radius to rescue the child from a stress induced murderous rampage I would likely end up in jail and the children would grow up without the love of an extended network of family.
  • Paternal Role: Couples can say until they are blue in the face that they equally share parental responsibilities but the truth of the matter is the brunt of the burden falls squarely on the shoulders of the mother; it all starts with the birth and continues from there. The only way a women can remain equal to men in both the home and the workplace is to forego motherhood.
  • No Basic Instincts: Where many other women coo at babies, love shopping for onesies, and talk lovingly of “the baby smell,” I actually find babies and all the things that go with them slightly repulsive with not the slightest bit of natural maternal instincts.
  • Human Incubator: Many women with children who chose not to breast feed give “not wanting to feel like a milking cow” as a reason behind the decision. How those women feel about breast feeding is how I feel about the entire pregnancy; everything involved in carrying a child is far too functional and utilitarian for my comfort. You think science would develop a much better method for bringing babies into the world rather then relying on women to serve as fetus feeders destroying their bones and figures.
  • Overpopulation: If you think gas prices are high, the earth is warming and the world is just becoming too crowded try squeezing another billion or two onto the planet. Many argue that having children is necessary to the survival of the human race but having too many children will eventually lead to our demise.
  • Minivans: As if this needs any explanation.
  • Aunt Chelle: Growing up surrounded by the love, knowledge and emotional security provided by adults other then parents is crucial to the development of children. While I may never be a mother there are many children in my life who I hope benefit from my love and view of the world. One of the most influential people in my life was my Aunt Joan, a strong, independent woman who showered me with love, instilled my desire to see the world, and showed me the power of a strong and successful woman. Many years ago she said the most profound words and taught me a tough lesson about the world that too few are able to articulate. She told me that the biggest lie we are told is that we could have it all and there is not enough time in the day to have a successful career, happy marriage, be a good parent, travel the world, or do everything else you want to do in life. If you try to do it all you won’t do anything very well which is a lesson too many people learn far too late. So rather then be a bad parent, have a mediocre career, neglect my husband, forego travel and let my hobbies gather dust I will focus on those things that I do well and bring me extreme happiness; marriage, pets, family, friends, travel, photography and being the best Aunt Shelf.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Beauty and the Benefits

Economic and social science researchers have analyzed the characteristics of individuals across a wide variety of professions to determine what factors make a person successful. Results consistently show that good-looking, tall, thin people tend to make more money than their unsightly or overweight counterparts; on average beautiful people earn about 5 percent more an hour than their less attractive colleagues. One study removed variables like education and experience from the equation and continued to find that the looks premium exists across all occupations. While these studies compared the peer-to-peer pay ratios they did not analyze how looks could affect success across professions; are a higher proportion of beautiful people in well paying jobs and does that broaden the actual earnings gap between the attractive and the ugly?

Studies confirm that private sector lawyers earn more then government-supported counterparts; it is probably safe to hypothesize that other professions would yield the same results. People who routinely face clients; those in sales, marketing and executive positions, earn more money due to the perceived impact to an organization then those who work in “behind the scenes” roles. Beyond jobs that directly “require” good looks because of their position in front of clients, multiple factors contribute to the beauty gap that are not disciminatory. It is likely that the higher self-esteem usually held by those of above average looks drives greater success and therefore a higher income; higher self-esteem helps people achieve better roles and ask for raises and promotions.

How much of the earnings gap between genders is associated with beauty rather then breasts? Our society puts more pressure on women to maintain a certain level of looks through diet, exercise, makeup, clothes and botox that is not placed upon men. Typically we are more lenient of men who forego maintaining their waistlines and their hairy eyebrows; a double standard that is a contributing factor to women making 71 cents to every man’s dollar. Less attractive men are seen much more often in positions of authority then their homely female counterparts.

As companies large and small struggle with the mounting costs of health insurance and other health related spend executives are focusing on how lifestyle choices drive their healthcare spend. Many companies openly deny jobs to applicants who use tobacco products claiming their smoking yields much higher insurance premiums; tobacco use discrimination is completely legal in most states. Those who engage in tobacco use are the first group on the receiving end of higher premiums, penalties or pink slips due to the ever increasing medical costs; overweight individuals are the next demographic. Potential employers could easily begin using medical costs as an excuse to deny hiring those with weight problems. Even if laws are put in place to protect the rights of the overweight it is nearly impossible to prove employment discrimination due to weight; while employers now ask if someone smokes, it usually does not require much questioning to determine if an employee or applicant is overweight. The beauty gap on earnings will be further compounded as employers look to squeeze those perceived as less healthy out of their organizations.

Working for a health and wellness company is yielding some very interesting observations on how weight and looks effect employment and upward mobility. We routinely work with companies wanting to address their healthcare spend by assisting people with health and wellness needs. Without any obvious discrimination, many have experienced embarrassing comments on how our image should reflect the goals of the organization; to engage and educate people to take control of their health through better lifestyle choices and condition management. While people making the comments might not understand the full impact of their words, those of us who struggle daily with our weight hear how our size does not sell our products. Even people who are never seen by clients feel pressure to lose weight to maintain our product image.

This new reason for weight discrimination, the amount overweight people cost companies in health related expenses, gives employers a legal and financially backed excuse to deny employment to an otherwise qualified subset of the population. The thin and the beautiful, whose wages are already inflated, will continue to experience greater financial success and unlike age, gender, racial and religious discrimination it will be difficult to combat; it is hard to prove employment or pay was denied due to below average looks or above average clothes size.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Open Sesame



Which Sesame Street Character Are You?

You are part Big Bird. You are something of an eccentric, and not everyone always gives you credit for your inventiveness and intelligence. You may not always know everything, but people turn to you for your sound, unique logic. Plus, you have a big heart. Really big.
You are part Cookie Monster. You are a glutton. You often make attempts at controlling yourself, but why stop yourself from getting what you really want? Cookies. Inside, you are sensitive and vulnerable and it just may be the source of your problems.
Find Your Character @ BrainFall.com


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Quote of the Week

I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat
- Rebecca West


Monday, November 12, 2007

Trick or Tree

Kids are barely out of their Halloween costumes and devouring their candy these days before we are bombarded with Christmas music piped through the mall and lights flickering in store windows. While I do not agree with the retail industry’s practice of pushing the start of the Holiday season earlier and earlier I have come to accept this annoyance as part of their business plan; get people shopping early and often. Retail establishments can do anything they want to lure customers in but when it comes to Christmas most people verbally express themselves as “old-school;” the season does not begin until Santa shows his rosy face and his little round belly at the end of the Macy*s Thanksgiving Day parade. While many people verbally adhere to this unofficial celebration calendar it is increasingly apparent that the trend towards post-Halloween yuletide is on the rise.

The first major sign came in the form of an email on November 1 from Fortunoff, a retailer in the New York metro area, announcing Santa’s November 3 appearance in their stores. Somehow Fortunoff arranged for Santa’s early arrival from the North Pole, a full 52 days before Christmas, so little girls and boys can get a jump start on their wish lists. The magic and joy of the holiday season with traditions like visiting Santa AFTER Thanksgiving ruined by this cheap marketing ploy, making Santa nothing more then some old man with a white beard that spends too much time, almost two months- 1/6th of the year, hanging out by the food court. Anyone who visits Santa this early in the season deserves to have him forget their list by December 24th.


People hanging their outdoor Christmas lights early in November is not that unusual in the frigid north with many lawn decorations impossible to drive into the frozen ground by December. What is unusual is witnessing how many people have already flipped the switches on those lights. It surprises me that with exorbitant price of electricity and the global push to “go green” and cut down on our use of natural resources that these houses twinkled under the glow of colored lights right after Election Day. Our old townhome community had official rules on the books regarding the use of Christmas lights; on after Thanksgiving and off by January 31 which seemed dictatorial when I lived there but now seem like logical standards we should all adhere to. I love the beauty of lights against a backdrop of stars and snow but fully believe the dark winter nights of January can use some sparkle far more then the crisp fall evenings of November.

We also received our first yuletide greeting in the mail, a Christmas card postmarked on November 1. To our friend's defense she is leaving the country for over a month but it would be much better to receive a New Year's greeting; less guilt around receiving a card before even ordering my own.

Flipping mindlessly through the channels last night, desperately trying to procrastinate by finding something worthwhile to watch on television, I was enraged to turn on TBS and find The Grinch who stole Christmas preparing to rob all the toys from Whoville. For several moments I watched in disbelief, desperately hoping the vision on the screen was nothing more then an extended commercial for their holiday line-up only to find myself utterly disappointed at the sight of Cindy Lou Who. It is only a matter of time before the networks begin showing the following double feature; “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” with “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Dr. Seuss must be rolling in his grave as the ultimate message of his famous book is all but forgotten in our retail driven society; "Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more!"

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Once upon a The End

The telephone rings at an odd hour and immediately your gut tells you the news is not good. Before even answering the phone your mind begins to race and anticipate why someone would be calling; your body preparing for the worst. In the few seconds it takes to actually say “hello” you have run through a list of names and possibilities; maybe someone got engaged, or had a baby, or won the lottery, maybe, just maybe, the news is good. For those who have experienced this phone call, the news is rarely good; it is either something that requires a late night run to the hospital or a sleepless evening staring at the ceiling with tears. Ultimately the few seconds of thought usually ends in the conclusion that an older relative is in the hospital or passed on; news that differs from that train of thought is much harder to digest.

When someone young dies the instinct of self-preservation kicks as we naturally compare our life and our body to the person that died; feigning our personal fear of dying young. It is easy to distance your own mortality from that of a younger friend when the reason for their death is caused by a controllable event; so sad but that won’t happen to me because I never ride motorcycles, skydive, drive without a seatbelt, work in construction, do drugs, wash skyscraper windows, play extreme sports, miss a monthly breast exam, bike without a helmet, work in Bagdad, take anti-depressants, run with scissors, etc. etc. etc. Truly scary is when the cause of death is something that is unavoidable, things normally assumed to happen to those with many years fully lived.

An amazing member of our extended pack of friends died of a massive heart attack driving home from the gym last week; he was 49 years old. While some younger people might view 49 as old, they will learn with age and increased wisdom that 49 is solidly within one’s prime of life. The mundane events before the heart attack serve as a reminder of how delicate life is and how it could end for any one of us in an instant; in the car while phoning home, talking about dinner plans and what was on TV that night, a casual mention of feeling ill and sudden silence followed by a crash. We can each relate to the above routine, but for our friend routine was broken suddenly, tragically, leaving behind stunned loved ones and more then likely a very messy desk at work.

It is unhealthy to live every day dreading our impending death but it is important to remember that our time on earth is fragile and finite. In real life there are no cheat codes to grant users an extra 30 lives; we only get one turn at this game. The sudden death of a friend put things into perspective and reminded me how important it is to live life to the fullest. What defines a full life is different to each of us; we must understand our goals in life as individuals and not adopt those of their friends, family and the media. What kind of job is fulfilling, provides enough compensation to accomplish non-career goals, and allows enough personal time to actually have a life outside of work? What is important to you; is it family, friends, travel, volunteer work, gardening, photography, singing, dancing, underwater-basket weaving and are you making time to do those things? If you died tomorrow what would others remember about you and would they know to clean out your bottom drawer to spare your mother any embarrassment? Unfortunately life is not like the movies or a fairy tale allowing us the opportunity to finish our story, tie a little bow on it, have a happy ending and expunge our house and offices of incriminating evidence.

Our friend would not want us to be sad and mourn, but to celebrate his life. What I do mourn most is the lost opportunity to know him better and appreciate all he brought to the world; his ability to command a room of people, make a new friend instantly, pour a drink or make us laugh. He left the world too early with too many stories left to tell, but his legacy serves as a reminder to all to embrace life, fill it with friends, have fun, see the world and to cherish love; if we continue to put off until tomorrow what is important to us today we might never get around to what matters most.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Operation Embrace Winter

Mother Nature had the common decency to wait until November 9th before sending the first snow of winter to Twin Cities’ residents. For roughly 8 minutes puffy white flakes fell to the ground; the curtain going down on autumn’s award worthy performance. As a child the first snowfall came with excitement and anticipation of sledding, snow days, hot chocolate, snowmen and igloos. Gone are those good old days of winter enjoyment, replaced by the dread and foreboding of digging out the driveway, trekking the office parking lot in negative temperatures, going weeks without seeing sunlight, and engaging in a never ending battle with dry, cracking skin. While snow is a universal sign that winter is upon us, my own personal sign is the yearly offer from my husband granting me a no questions asked divorce; “Don’t look out the window, you’ll hate me. I don’t blame you if you want a divorce.” As tempting as the offer is looking down the long and dark tunnel of winter, there are other ways to get through this most horrible of seasons.

Devising methods to survive Minnesota’s brutal and harsh winter is an annual pastime. Plans often include steps like purchasing bulky clothes, planning several business trips to warmer locations, bringing the laptop home nightly for freak snowstorm telecommuting, and ritual application of H2O-Plus Hydrating Body Butter. Planning a tropical vacation entails a detailed study of the Farmer’s Almanac and analysis of yearly weather patterns to ensure that the coldest snap of the season occurs during the precise time you are laying on a beach sipping frosty drinks with little umbrellas in them. While all of these moves assist with surviving winter they are all the equivalent of applying a band aid to a gunshot wound; grossly inadequate treatment that does not address the larger issue.

Nature’s natural defenses against winter are misaligned with our modern world; animals, including humans, build up insulation for additional warmth and the body slips into a mild depression to induce more time asleep and away from the cold. While the cavemen probably enjoyed the extra ten pounds and the need for 12 hours a nightly rest my closet and my employer do not allow me the opportunity to indulge in these side-effects of winter. Most of the year is spent battling to lose the additional winter insulation which miraculously comes back despite all my best efforts to keep it off. It is difficult to maintain or lose weight when the body is trying to protect itself from the harsh cold. Adding to the issue is the “winter blues,” that depression that is medically known as Seasonal Affective Disorder; sometimes the only way to find happiness after weeks without sunlight is at the bottom of a bag of Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter Stuffed Chocolate Covered Pretzels. Do you think the Girl Scouts would sell nearly the number of cookies they do in August?

Due to circumstances beyond my control our annual February pilgrimage to Hawaii or the Caribbean is postponed until May, leaving my skin and sanity vulnerable to the cold and snow. Without the tropical vacation defense it is necessary to implement a new game plan. In the essence of the old adage “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” the plan for this winter is to do what most Minnesotan’s do November through April; embrace the season. If the last 7 years have taught me anything it is that the battle against winter can never be won. Like any good General would attest an important element of any war is to attack the enemy early and often. Yesterday I celebrated the season’s first snowfall with a 2 hour trip around the Minnetonka Ice Arena with a good friend, trading in our usual inline skates for original blades; step one in “Operation Embrace Winter.” Other plans include snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and tubing; all dependant on snow and lots of it giving me a reason to actually look forward to the snow. Maybe this plan will help me understand why everyone who is from here tolerates the winter so well, at the very least it will keep me from taking my husband up on his seasonal divorce offer; I don’t know how favorably the local legal system will look upon a woman leaving her husband because of the cold and I would probably lose custody of the dogs.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Quote of the Week

Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.
- George Jean Nathan

Monday, November 05, 2007

Rock the Vote

Four score and 7 years ago women in the United States received the right to vote with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and thousands of other women endured over 100 years of pain and protests to achieve the ultimate gift in a democracy; the right to choose the country’s leaders. Almost a century later it is painful to witness the number of people, especially women, who choose not to exercise their right as citizens to direct the path of our nation’s policies and procedures. People take for granted their ability to vote, often citing a laundry list of reasons for consciously conceding their voice in our political system; too busy, forgot to register, do not know who to vote for, do not understand the issues, there is no one worthwhile to vote for, do not care. While some of the excuses offer a degree of validity, it is difficult for me to understand how women could not vote knowing the reasons their right was denied for so long.

Anti-suffrage campaigns focused on their viewpoint of women being unsuited to vote for a wide variety of reasons including their belief that:
  • Women’s intelligence is inferior to men’s and voting required a greater level of intelligence then women possessed.
  • Fathers, husbands, sons and brothers would vote with women’s best interests in mind leaving women free to their duties as wives and mothers.
  • The primary object of government is to protect persons and property which should be assumed by men as the natural protectors in nature.
  • The election process would threaten the peace and harmony in the home; even the Roman Catholic Church opposed suffrage because its leaders believed that suffrage would emancipate women and cause the breakup of the family (which is one of the many reasons I am not catholic.)
  • For physical, moral and social reasons women would be unable to make a sound decision in the event the nation needed to consider force.
  • As voters women would need to serve on juries and would be unable to deal with the horrors spoken of in criminal trials.
  • The strife, turmoil and contention in political activities are against the natural loving nature of women.
  • The only way to maintain social and political order is to enforce gender-based roles and regulations.

If the above excuses used in denying women the right to vote don’t enrage you enough to go to the polls today then chew on this; the National Woman's Party first proposed the Equal Rights Amendment to eliminate discrimination on the basis of gender in 1923. It has never been ratified with lawmakers using many of the same excuses to stop its passage that were used to deny voting rights.

As for the problems people claim as their reason to skip Election Day let me present the solutions:
  • If you are too busy to go to the ballots then get an absentee ballot.
  • If you forgot to register then go and register for next year (and in Minnesota there is no excuse not to register- show up at the polls with a license and a utility bill and you can vote on the spot).
  • If you do not understand your registration and election rules you can find that information here.
  • If do not know who to vote for then visit or do not understand the issues then visit your local League of Women Voters.
  • If there is no one worthwhile to vote for then do a write in vote; good leaders will only rise if we demand good candidates.
  • If you do not care then don’t complain about the war, or your taxes, or the traffic, or anything else that would be addressed by competent leaders.

Only when we fully embrace our rights as citizens in a democracy and have 100% voter turnout will we start to see our politicians consider and align with the needs and rights of every person. All too often our policies reflect a small minority; those who show up at the polls. For all those who choose not to vote, let it be known that your actions, or lack thereof, are contributing to the ills of our government. Politicians naturally want to be re-elected and to them we are either a person who votes for them, a person who can vote for them or a person who does not vote; and the latter will never be taken seriously enough to have their voice heard.


    Friday, November 02, 2007

    Hemi-Schemmy

    Being a feminist I hate the notion that there are “chick cars” versus “guy cars.” Car manufacturers have stopped developing cars aimed at women because historically they do not sell well; where women will still go and buy “guy cars,” men will never buy a “chick car” which cuts out a large chunk of the population who would consider purchasing the vehicle. Forbes recently published the top men’s and women’s cars after studying the vehicle buying trends between the sexes. While none of the cars on the list came as a surprise, there was little explanation on what qualities really landed each of these cars on the list. While I have no scientific or economic reasons to add to the studies conducted by Forbes, I do have plenty of social commentary to share around the reasons for the gender discrepancy in purchasing the following vehicles.

    Chevy Silverado Heavy Duty
    • Owners: 93% male
    • MSRP: $22,225
    • 6-liter V8, 353 horsepower engine
    • 373 foot-pounds of torque
    • 6.8-liter turbocharged diesel engine is an optional upgrade
    Men feel totally comfortable with a car containing “Heavy Duty” in its name, probably even being lured in by the image the phrase evokes. Women however would most often associate the adjectives of heavy duty with trash bags, maxi-pads and diapers and would prefer not to drive a vehicle with a moniker that uses the same words.

    Ford F-350
    • Owners: 93% male
    • MSRP: $22,380
    • 6.4-liter, 350 horsepower diesel engine
    The female obsession with weight comes with a deep laden fear of gaining so much that she tips or breaks the scale. For most standard bathroom scales this event would occur at 350 pounds leaving very little chance of a woman buying a car that is a constant reminder of that number.

    Nissan Titan
    • Owners: 91% male
    • MSRP: $23,700
    • 5.6-liter V8 engine with 305 horsepower
    • 5-speed transmission
    Wasn’t that cute little merman, the father of Ariel, in The Little Mermaid named Titan? The Japanese tried to make a big, tough, manly vehicle and gave it a cute little name from mythology and men are still buying this thing.

    Chevrolet Corvette
    • Owners: 90% male
    • MSRP: $45,170
    • 7-liter V8, 436 horsepower engine
    This ain’t your mother’s midlife crisis. Where men will spend money on a corvette to make them feel young again, women are more apt to take a trip, a class or maybe get a little nip and tuck. While those options do not look sexy in the driveway, they are usually a hell of a lot cheaper.

    Dodge Ram
    • Owners: 89% male
    • 3.7-liter, V6 engine with 215 Horsepower
    • 4.7-liter, V8 with 235 Horsepower is an optional upgrade
    Have you ever attempted to get up into one of these cars with a skirt on? Imagine how much crotch we would see if Brittany or Lindsay owned one of these numbers. Most of the women on the planet do everything they can to keep their privates under cover in public, and a good game plan is avoiding one of these super trucks on the list.

    Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible
    • Owners: 63% female
    • MSRP: $17,635
    • 5-cylinder engine with 150 horsepower
    It is way too cute for any straight man to consider although it does provide ample headroom for those who are vertically gifted. The Bug comes in a wide variety colors to suit every personality and the dashboard has a vase for flowers, or more importantly, pens or lipstick. If it makes you look and feel anything like Felicity Shagwell it is worth the ridiculous price-tag.

    Hyundai Tucson
    • Owners: 60% female
    • MSRP: $16,995
    • 4-cylinder engine with 150 horsepower
    Just as women would not be caught dead driving a car with "Heavy Duty" in the name I would assume that men would prefer to avoid anything Mini. Mini-SUVs are very popular with women and this one seems a little lower to the ground; easier to get into then larger SUVs which allows young children to crawl into the car by themselves. All this with in a vehicle that is named for a city famed for their beautiful spas.

    Saturn Vue
    • Owners: 60% female>
    • MSRP: $18,100
    • 4-cylinder engine with 144 horsepower
    • V6 engine with 248 horsepower is an optional upgrade
    • V6 engine with 170 horsepower hybrid is an optional upgrade
    Saturn dealers are known in the industry as being more touchy feely and catering to the needs of their female clientele from the sale to the shop, giving it an edge with many female buyers. While I personally find this to be one of the uglier cars in the market, I appreciate that women want to buy from someone who they trust and the introduction of Saturn’s crossover opened the market to all the women with rugrats who wanted to buy a car from someone they trusted.

    Honda Element
    • Owners: 57% female
    • MSRP: $18,980
    • 4-cylinder engine with 166 horsepower
    • 2-wheel drive and 4-wheel drive models available
    You know how sometimes women go out with a guy because they feel sorry for him? Or sometimes women adopt a puppy or kitten because they are so ugly they are cute? Women often fall for the ugly underdog which is really the only way I can explain why anyone would purchase this vehicle.

    While it is offensive to think women don’t know or care about cars I do admit that most women will neglect to ask about the horsepower or the torque when buying a vehicle. Most women don’t give a damn if a car has a hemi so most women would be uninterested in the vehicles that top the men’s list. The cars making the women’s list are going to experience the kiss of death; any man catching the study in Forbes magazine will steer clear of these chick cars and honestly; I would too. Women’s cars are going to have substance and style; the power and room to cart around everything from dogs and kids to furniture and the a style that matches their personality.

    Last year I was chatting with my gas station attendant because we both have the same car and love it; a 2004 Jeep Liberty Limited. He and I were both upset when his children told him the Liberty was a chick Jeep. Lies! There is nothing "chicky" about a Jeep. When I purchased the Jeep I wanted something tough and rugged and decidedly not feminine. A great deal of thought and deliberation went into the decision. I wanted an SUV but not one so large that I couldn’t afford the gas. I loved the tough V6, 210 horsepower engine with great towing capacity because someday I will own a boat. The four-wheel drive and heated leather seats are both crucial features needed to make it through our winters in Minnesota. The roomy back seat area was necessary to haul stuff around and give our dogs plenty of room to get around. My Liberty takes regular unleaded gas, which is becoming increasingly important as prices rise and a 19.5 gallon tank which means fewer trips to the station. Most importantly, the Liberty came in Forest Green, Molten Read and Patriot Blue. I got the blue one, her name is Romy. I look so good in blue.





    Wednesday, October 31, 2007

    Oh October...

    October and I have a love/hate relationship. Professionally, October is one of the most grueling months I have to endure year after year. As a Business Architect and Process Design Specialist in the Health Insurance industry I must ensure my work is complete and handed off to my stakeholders with plenty of time for Technology, Training, Client Implementation, Consumer Communications, Recruiting and Workforce Readiness to do their thing by January 1 launches. I should not complain; a hellish October beats being overworked in December. This hate of October is painful in that prior to launching my career it was always my favorite month; crispy leaves, caramel apples, pumpkin picking, homecoming, the World Series, hay rides, mums, Halloween. October does have so much going for it but all too often I miss it with stressful, late nights at work.

    October is especially beautiful as a photographer; the colors, the light, the family fun, all contribute to some of the most wonderful photographic moments of the year. I wanted to share some of my favorites from this October, mostly as a reminder to myself that I was still able to squeeze a little fun between deadlines.

    Chick here to visit the full album.





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