It’s time for a Picnik…

picnikTwo more weeks and the pace of life will slow down a bit.  I must say this spring has reached a whole new level of craziness – I feel like I wake up first thing and crank up the engine and plow through non-stop – until I realize that it’s 11PM and I’m exhausted.

Anyhow, I’m not here to complain but thought I’d share some learnings I had as I was working on the year end lacrosse photographs, captain and coaches gifts for my son’s team.  In today’s age, there are so many options for printing and using photographs – it can be overwhelming.  I browsed all the traditional sites like Shutterfly and Snapfish, but ended up thinking that I could probably do the best price-wise at either Wal-Mart or Costco.  (Although you can get great deals at Shutterfly, Snapfish, etc. when they’re running specials).

So if you’re looking for the most inexpensive hassle-free way to get many pictures reproduced (in my case 5 x 7s) – Costco is my recommendation.  I originally went through Wal-Mart online, and fifty of the pictures they sent to me were printed wrong.  So then I went off to the store to try to remedy the situation – we were able to fix one set of 25, but not the other.  Then I was told to have more produced I’d have to pay the rush fees (as my deadline for needing them was 3 days away).  Then off to the customer service counter to return the bad ones for a credit, upon which time I was told that I had to do it online, after I had been told that I could do it in store.  So, never having been a huge fan of Wal-Mart, the store has dropped down a few more levels in my book.

So I ran home, uploaded my photo to the Costco site, specified pick up at my local store, and 2 hours later they were waiting for me, printed correctly, and 20 cents cheaper per print than Wal-Mart.

Now for my second discovery during this photo process (this discovery is more fun).  I needed to find a site that would allow me to put titles on the photos I was printing.  My daughter pointed me to picnik.com - a very fun and easy to use site with a great selection of fonts and styles.  Some of their styles/formats/borders do require a fee, but everything I did was free, and I was very pleased with it.  Interestingly enough, Google just bought this company.

So….Costco and picnik.com – next year this job will be much easier as I’ve gone through the journey and learned my lessons.

Admissions Panel Reveals Secrets to Getting Admitted…

college-admissions-office-3-1.JPGWell, not really.  Last week my son and I went to hear a panel of college admissions officers speak regarding the college admissions process.  The format was interesting – each officer, rather than speaking specifically about their school, took a generic topic and provided some guidance and advice as it related to that topic.  No message was break-through, some advice rather obvious, but just the same, well worth listening to (especially for my 16 year old).

Following were some highlights that I thought worth mentioning.   For the sake of facilitating my summary, I’m going to write directing the advice to “you” being the teen-ager, not the wise woman.

1.  Preparing for the Interview: Do your homework prior to the interview.  Prior to visiting, understand what an interview means at each school – some are non-evaluative, some are evaluative.  Demonstrate that you have the knowledge about academic and student life by not asking the obvious questions that are easily found in published literature and online.  Ask questions that will give you a sense of how you will fit in – “What type of student does well at your school?” – for example.  Remember the thank you note – while some admissions officers probably don’t keep track, there are others that certainly do.

2.  Defining the “Hook:” One admissions officer from John Hopkins spoke about figuring out your “hook” in the process.  I’m not sure I was totally in sync with this discussion, as many times your “hook” may be totally out of your control.  For example, he spoke very specifically of who they were going to admit off their wait list – a very descriptive set of criteria – such as non-white, female, engineering only …. so the notion that you may be third on the wait list doesn’t carry any weight here – if you have the “hook,” even though you are the four hundredth on the wait list, you will be admitted.  Similarly he also noted that out of 50 majors, there were 5 that were very underrepresented – maybe 20 or less applicants per year.  So of course, if you can figure out which majors they are (he wouldn’t divulge), and if you want to be so bold as to go for it, this may just be your hook for admissions.

3. Social Media:  We, as parents, have all issued the warnings.  Privacy settings mean nothing, admissions officers do look, so be mindful of what gets posted.  Also, establish a professional email.

4.  Teacher Recommendations: The philosophy of “the more, the better” is not necessarily true.  One officer recommended to provide one more recommendation than is required – but that’s it.  Applicants should be sensitive to information overload – and the fact that having a lot more information in a folder than necessary detracts from spending time on more important aspects of the application.  Be direct and be selective.  While it is hard to “coach” those who may write a recommendation for you, the best references are the ones that can speak to a story, how a student approached a certain problem or the energy they bring to the task at hand (as examples).  For this reason, select those who know you best.  A reference talking about the generalities of being a bright, well liked student leader are a dime a dozen.

5.  Summer Vacation: Use your summers to do something that you care about and to learn and define your interests.

6.  The Essay: Much of the same advice in the recommendation section is true here as well.  Writing an essay that can define your passions and the essence of you in a creative way is your best chance of getting noticed.  Case in point – two admissions officers noted their favorite essays.  Both happened to be from engineering applicants.  One essay was on how to construct a sandwich; the other was about how to hit a pistachio nut against the wall without breaking it.  Go figure, but you certainly can’t discount the uniqueness of this approach.

Lastly, and perhaps the best advice, there was a discussion on the value of sanity.  Find the space to center yourself. Don’t lose sight of what’s important to you; define your course and follow it, and try not to get caught up in the craziness of what’s going on around you, and what others are doing or not doing.  I imagine for most of our children, they can do this.  The real question is, can we?!

What The Heck Were They THINKING?!?!?

head-scratchingReasonable people can look at the same set of facts and come up with entirely different conclusions. I get that. I also fully embrace the notion that one should not judge a woman until you’ve walked a mile in her shoes. But, I’ll confess, two events have surfaced this past week that have me scratching my head.

(1) What the heck were Arizona officials THINKING?!?!?

Arizona Gov. Jan Brown signed a law banning the state’s elementary and secondary schools from teaching classes “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group” and that advocate “the overthrow of the United States government” or “resentment toward a race or class of people.” The law’s passage represents the culmination of a two-year campaign by school superintendent Tom Horne to rid Tucson public schools of their “subversive” Chicano studies program.

Gov. Brown, Superintendent Horne and a majority of Arizona state legislators bought into the warped logic that, by teaching ethnic/cultural groups  about their heritage and the injustices experienced by their ancestors, schools are planting the seeds for a political uprising. Actually, my sense is that resentment is fueled when people – of any ethnic background – are ignored, disrespected, and minimized. Is there cultural bias in some of the textbooks used in Arizona? No doubt. But, the way to address those concerns is with a scalpel, not a sledgehammer that obliterates a cultural past.

(BTW, in this melting pot country of ours, do Arizona officials remember that in 20 years, Hispanics will constitute the majority of our population? Those same Hispanic children in school today will be tomorrow’s legislators, the legislators who will be making policy decisions that impact the retirees of tomorrow. Something to think about, aging Arizona officials …  )

(2) What the heck were the parents of those tiny dancers THINKING?!?!?

The next head-scratcher was the YouTube video of a scantily-clad dance team of 7-year old dancers doing a provocative dance routine to Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies.” According to a column in The Washington Post, the dancers performed at a dance competition in April. Now, their performance is not just the talk of the town, it’s the rant of the country.

I saw the video, and my heart hurts for those girls who were thrust (literally and figuratively) into the bright glare of public scrutiny. I also feel badly for their clueless parents. No parent – not even the most exploitative “stage mother” – would want this type of publicity for their young daughter. Those parents just weren’t thinking.

So, Wise Women, what the heck are you thinking about these two, high-profile events?

Why Couldn’t I have Thought of That?

craigslistpurse-001.JPGIt reminds me of the Croc craze (not to mention the jibbitz craze).  A rather unattractive shoe with holes in it, but colorful.  Comfortable and easy to put on.  And you can make them your own by adorning them with jibbitz.  Who would have thunk it?

Now it’s the silly bandz.  God only knows where they came from but they have come crashing onto the scene just recently – literally a handful of weeks. Colorful plastic bands to wear around your wrist, with the beauty being when they are off your wrist they assume various shapes…. hearts, dolphins, dinosaurs, sun….the list goes on and on.

As noted by my 16 year old, the amazing thing about these silly bandz is that teenagers are wearing them … and five year olds are wearing them.  (I must admit that I wore them one day too).  My two little guys went off to school with about 20 bands on their wrist.  Trading bands at school was the thing to do….and of course the principal quickly put the kibosh on them.

But when do you ever come up with something that has such a broad range of appeal?  Quickly doing research, I couldn’t find where these have originated from.  Like the Crocs, I’m sure it came from some wise woman who had the idea and turned it into reality.  Taking that step is what takes courage.  So Kudos to whomever that is, and go treat yourself to a pack of silly bandz if they haven’t already taken over your household!

silly_bands_sea

Hey, What Ever Happened To …

After fielding a few follow-up questions about recent posts, I realized that I don’t do a very job in filling you in on “the rest of the story.”

So, in case you ever wondered, “Hey! What ever happened to …”

(1) Elaine’s uncertainty about whether to follow her intuition and rent a new office …

office-front-door

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I did it! It’s all mine. Now I’m looking for someone on Craigslist to share it with me. Isn’t it cute?

office-chair

I

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(2) Elaine’s back-and-forth with neighbor Sally about the swing set …

About a week after my post, I received this email from Sally:

Sorry I did not get back to you. Thank you so much for responding. My parents and the Easter Bunny got together and got them a swing set : ) thanks
To which I replied:
Good for them! That’s a great idea. Now here’s to warmer, swing set weather!
Thanks for looping back with me,
E.

Yes, in case you are wondering, that IS egg on my face resulting from the mini-drama I created over my intermittent email exchange with Sally. For some reason, she and I don’t communicate very well, and I end up assuming the worst. So, unless Sally burns my house down (or vise versa), I will refrain from any more “dramatic” postings about neighbors.

(3) My decision about fixing/replacing my malfunctioning washing machine…

I ended up buying an energy efficient top-loader. Not a very sexy washing machine, I’ll admit; no digital bells and whistles as I find comfort in the old, familiar knobs.

washer-top-load

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However, speaking of knobs – the funniest part of this story happened on the day of installation. Remember how I couldn’t turn the connector knobs to turn off the flow of water on the day the original machine went haywire?

Well, Mr. Maytag WAS able to turn that knob. In fact, he turned it so hard that the whole knob popped off in his hand leaving an exposed pipe shooting a stream of water right at him. Soaked from head to toe, he yelped, “M’am? M’am!!!!!” I ran down, saw poor Mr. Maytag and had to shut off the water once again.  Don’t worry. We gave him a towel to dry off and a good tip! The company ended up calling a plumber to weld a new valve into place and finish the installation.

washer-knobs

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Now, my dear Wise Women friends, you are officially caught up!

Vegetarianism – Just around the Corner

foodincMy two older children and I sat down and watched Food, Inc. a couple of weeks ago.  I thought it would be interesting to watch, and they both reported having no interest in this type of Friday night movie activity, but I must say as soon as it started, they were drawn in.

The result of our movie viewing?  I now have a vegetarian daughter, and a son (meat hound that he is) that now takes pause before eating a bite of chicken or a burger.  It makes me not want to ever buy a Purdue or Tyson chicken pack or any meat, for that matter, that is not organic and grass fed.  The documentary was certainly an eye opener, and the representation that it makes of how our agriculture culture caters to a low cost mass production food system doesn’t bode well for our health, or the health of the animals that we eat.  The conditions that these animals are raised under are horrific.

So with that, I think I have the push to buy those more expensive organic meat brands, but probably less often.  Plus, I need to consider this whole new world of vegetarianism.  Nothing would suit me more than turning my entire backyard into a vegetable garden; I just know that is too big a task for me to undertake at the moment.  Last Sunday evening I prepared a meal of Butternut squash and Kale risotto (very delicious – and I will share the recipe, but thought given that it is more of a fall type dish that I would wait until then), black beans, and grilled maple sweet potatoes.  My daughter was in heaven, and remarked that she wanted every meal to be this way.

So, I will share a very simple Bobby Flay recipe that my kids love, and if you have any good vegetarian recipes, please share!

Maple – Glazed Grilled Sweet Potatoes

4 large sweet potatoes (do not peel)

3/4 cup pure maple syrup (I didn’t use this much)

1 T ancho powder (I also used chipolte pepper powder)

salt

1/4 cup mild vegetable oil, such as canola

1.  Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer the potatoes until soft but not mushy (you should still feel resistance when you stick a small knife through the center), 25 to 35 minutes.

2.  Have ready a bowl of cold water.  Drain the potatoes, put them in the cold water, and set aside until cool enough to handle.  Peel the potatoes and quarter each one lengthwise.  (The potatoes can be cooked a few hours in advance, covered and set aside at room temperature.  Don’t cut them until you’re ready to grill).

3.  Heat your grill to high.

4.  Whisk together the maple syrup, ancho powder, and salt to taste in a small bowl.  Brush the potatoes with oil.  Grill until golden, about 3 minutes.  Brush with the maple glaze and continue grilling, brushing often with the glaze, until the potatoes are glazed, lightly charred, and heated through, about 3 minutes more.

Serves 4, From Bobby Flay’s Boy Gets Grill

Go Ask Alice

shopping_nightmareWhenever I hear “Go Ask Alice” – my mind immediately reverts back to the controversial book Go Ask Alice that many of us read in our formative years.

Well, now I’d like to introduce you to another Alice – one that one of our Wise Women readers introduced me to.  This Alice just may make your life a little bit easier. Alice.com is a midwest based grocery distribution center where you can order all your shelf stable grocery items and have them delivered to your door for free.

I have used peapod.com a handful of times (for those of you who are not familiar with peapod.com – it is an online grocery store which delivers everything from the store to your door (including fresh, refrigerated and frozen items).  Every time I order from peadpod, I love it and claim that I’m going to make it a regular habit.  The problem with it is that you need to set up a specific day and time for delivery, and many times when I’m out of fresh produce or milk, it’s an immediate need that requires a trip to the store.  Other friends claim that they don’t use peapod as they prefer picking out their own fresh produce.

Well Alice solves one of those problems at least.  You don’t need to be home for delivery and can specify where you want your package left.  My friend who uses this service has done her homework.  She believes that some items from Alice.com are more expensive (but just cents) than her local grocery, others are less expensive.  Alice.com also provides all manufacturer’s coupons onsite that can be applied to your purchases.  If they don’t carry a brand that you’re interested in, let them know.  There is a good likelihood that they will make it available.  She also likes it because she orders her big bags of dog food through this service as well.  It’s nice to have the bulky items in particular delivered to your door.  And it goes without saying that those of you with young kids would take advantage of  any opportunity to do grocery shopping solo.

So I’m kind of liking this idea.  Order all your shelf stable products through this service, and make a trip to the Farmer’s Market or grocery for fresh items once a week.  It will enable you to do a quick perimeter run.

Let me know if you check it out and what you think!

Managing the News

New-York-Times-2004While I sit here on a Thursday evening trying to figure out what to blog about for a Friday morning posting, luckily Elaine’s post today about news strikes a chord on a few levels.

First, my news only comes to me in short snippets throughout the day.  I might catch 5 minutes of news radio when my alarm wakes me up, where I fade in and out of sleep for the first few minutes of the morning.  I then have the little bathroom TV on while I’m showering and getting ready for work.  (By the way, this is my favorite TV in my house, and is just about the only one I watch, and the one way I get a little bit of news).  I then get a dose of what Gayle King thinks are the hottest news stories at that moment as I’m driving to work, and then a small dose of CNN on my drive home from work.  And then in bed, a quick read of my local paper, which is only worth reading to catch up on local happenings.

Boy do I feel guilty that I can’t find the time to read more noteworthy news journals.  We’ve subscribed to the Weekend New York Times countless times.  As the papers pile up unread, I just feel guilty.  The Wall Street Journal that sits at the end of our driveway every morning is typically just placed in the recycling bin.   I yearn for the day that I can sit and read the Sunday Times unencumbered, but not exactly sure when that day will come.

Just in the past month, the NYT Weekender ad campaign has caught my attention.  ”Deliver the World to your Home” and “Be Part of a Great Conversation” and “What sections are you fluent in?” connect with me and make me yearn once more for those elusive moments with the Sunday Times.    I even told the kids tonight at dinner that I’m going to assign them each a night a week where it is their responsibility to bring a topic of conversation to the dinner table from current events.  We’ll see if I can successfully launch and keep that going.  My first attempt to discuss it at the table resulted in the oldest quibbling – “I’ve got lots of homework Mom”  and my youngest volunteering to do the dishes.

So for my last ponderings on the news – and the fact that the vast majority of stories, as Elaine noted, are tragic, sensational, glum.  It has me thinking that, if I just had some free time on my hands, I’d march down to the publisher of our local paper and sign up to be a free correspondent to publish positive stories about the students in my town’s school system.  The paper does a decent job of covering sports, but then all else is about problems with the schools.  We need some good, happy, inspirational stories to share about the amazing accomplishments and aspirations of our cities youth.

So there go my ponderings on news.  Funny that my attempt to figure out how to better master accessing newsworthy sources coincided with Elaine’s ponderings about being a news junkie.  I must admit though, like Catherine, I’ve discovered The Week magazine, and have determined that it is my best opportunity to stay informed and entertained….at least until I can figure out how to create a sustaining relationship with The New York Times.

Calling all Book Lovers…

book-stackI have read a string of really good books over the past four months, all having that special beckoning quality that makes you look forward to finding the time to sit down and read.  There’s nothing better than that.  So I thought I’d share these recommendations, in case you’re looking for that next great book.

The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant.  This book has been out for years, but I just got around to reading it.  It’s a wonderful story about the Story of Dinah, daughter of Jacob and sister of Joseph.  The story is about the tribe of Jacob and the bonds of womenhood and the importance of the Red Tent – the womanly place where rites of passage are celebrated.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows.  A wonderful book whose stories unfold through a series of letters written during WWII and the German occupation of Guernsey.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  A debut novel, the author weave a story set in Mississippi about the relationship between white women and the black women who take care of their home and raise their children.  This book is insightful and riveting.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  Set in Barcelona, this story is about a young man on a quest to find other books by an author he has discovered – and finds all books have been destroyed.  While it seems like an unassuming and maybe even mundane plot line, the story is rich with wonderful writing, character development and true intrigue.

Today I opened the pages of  The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer, a memoir about a fatherless boy growing up in Manhasset, New York and the huge presence the patrons of a local bar have on his life.  I will write more about this one once I finish, but it’s the type of book you pick up and are pulled in to from the start.

Please share any good books you’ve read lately, or even some of your all time favorites!

Now, THAT’S Good Coffee

The-Coffee-Party-USATrue confession: I could not bear to watch or read any of the media coverage of last week’s healthcare summit. The pre-meeting posturing and pandering left me anxious and a tad nauseous. I was worried that the actual event would hurl me into a black abyss of disillusionment (or cause me to hurl, one or the other). Perhaps I’m wearing both my political stripes AND my naivete on my sleeves when I say – If reasonable and even-tempered Obama can’t get the players to work together, who can?!?!?!

Fortunately, a recent article from The Washington Post pierced my despair, like the comforting whiff of freshly brewed coffee. Dan Zak’s Coffee Party Activists Say Their Civic Brew’s A Tastier Choice than Tea Party’s showcases the new Coffee Party movement. The mission of The Coffee Party USA is to:

The Coffee Party Movement gives voice to Americans who want to see cooperation in government. We recognize that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans. As voters and grassroots volunteers, we will support leaders who work toward positive solutions, and hold accountable those who obstruct them.

Now, THIS is a political sentiment I can embrace (and hang on to tightly – for dear life). It’s a welcome alternative for a Wise Woman who enjoys chatting over coffee and is suspicious of anyone swinging around tea bags in protest.

The fledgling movement is gaining traction through virtual discussions and live meetings in various communities. It’s all a bit confusing and messy, yet invigorating. I’m not sure how much I want to jump into the fray (or even can in my Facebook-less life). But even the notion that this movement exists is enough to wake me out of my cynical slumber. Similarly-minded people are standing up to demand that public officials work toward solutions, not throw up politically-motivated roadblocks. How great is that?

Pour yourself a cup of coffee, and let’s talk about it.

Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
Martin Luther King, Jr

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