The Art of Note Taking

note-takingnewAfter recently sitting through a day and a half meeting as the designated note taker, it reminded me that note taking is truly an art – capturing all the salient points, ensuring how you capture them are understandable to the broader audience at large (or at least to you!), synthesizing all similar information into one point, and providing an executive summary to ensure that everyone focuses on the most important issues.

My husband and I have had several discussions with our teen children about their overall lack of note taking in school, especially when we were both schooled to fill notebooks with every word that came out of our teacher’s mouth during school.  In doing so, we were assured of having an excellent resource for studying for tests. Sometimes they’ve responded that their teachers don’t want them to take notes – but to pay attention.  So this leaves me wondering…

1. Is it the overall failing of our school system that is not consistently promoting proper study skills and note taking?

2.  Is it the fact that today’s youth generation, who are so drawn into the online world and typing on a computer, really aren’t accustomed to “writing” anymore, and aren’t really comfortable or skilled at doing so?

3. Or, perhaps, are they just plain lazy?

My sense is that it is probably some combination of all of these points.  For any of you that have middle or high school children, I’d be interested in your thoughts on this point….and if you feel like your children are being taught to be good note takers or not.

The computer, of course, represents a double edged sword.  I truly believe my kids are now more comfortable sitting down and typing than writing.  This makes you think that when or if they had the ability to use their computers during school – this might improve their ability to record teacher’s thoughts.  BUT, I also hear that professors at the college level are now asking their students NOT to bring their computers to class, as they are being used for surfing, IMing, and other things during the class.  Students realize (as do their professors) that it is easy to hide behind an open computer under the guise of “note taking.”

Hmmm, an interesting dilemma.

Tail of Woe: When A Dog Goes Missing

tobyWe’ve all passed those missing pet posters taped to street signs, faded and fluttering in the wind. Some of us have felt a momentary stab of empathy, imagining our despair if it was OUR pet’s image greeting morning commuters. Others made mental notes to be on the look out for “gray cat with white paws named Mittens.” But, the reality is most of us glanced at the signs while clearing traffic without registering any of the details.

Up until this past week, I was one of those blissfully unaware people. That is, until our dog Toby went missing. Then I joined the fellowship of frantic pet owners who post signs, pass out fliers, send out emails, drive slowly calling out “Here, boy!”, and pray that someone, somewhere will see my dog and care enough to do something.

During this ordeal, I discovered there are legions of people who do care. We received a call from Toby’s former dog sitter (“I saw the sign and hoped it wasn’t YOUR Toby.”) We had a message from a random person who had not seen Toby, but wanted to let us know she felt our pain having lost a pet in recent years. A few others called to say they THOUGHT they saw our dog racing the woods, but could not catch him. Two complete strangers volunteered to join an organized search of the woods, if needed.

In the end, it was the kindness of strangers combined with 21st century technology that brought Toby back to us in less than a day.

My boss was the one who told me about; it’s an emergency phone alert system that notifies anywhere from 500 to 1,500 of your neighbors about your missing pet. Living in a semi-rural area, we chose the $100 option of sending messages to 500 people in our community. In less than an hour, we received THE call that led us to Toby. (He was trapped in a nearby garden that had an electric fence designed to keep critters out. Somehow Toby made his way in, but was zapped trying to get out. We found him still cowering in the middle of the garden almost 18 hours after he had wandered in.)

Fortunately, our tail tale of woe was relatively short-lived. Hopefully, if more people know about sites like, there can be more happy endings.

If God Can Figure Out Twitter, Why Can’t I?

god-on-twitterDid you know God is on Twitter?

His words of wisdom range from the sublime – I have a very simple request. I want everyone who is following me to call a friend that they haven’t spoken to in 6 or more months (March 14th) – to the ridiculous – God just did 11 shots. A little drunk. Glad I am god and have a killer tolerance (also on March 14th; it seems God needed to relieve a little stress and visited New Orleans).

Our Tweeting God is even up on current events – N.D. River Now Expected To Hit 43′ – CBS News. To be clear, this is not one of my floods! (March 26th)

For those of us over age 35 and struggling to grasp Facebook, Twitter threatens to expose our love-hate relationship with technology.

Twitter describes itself as “a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?

What am I doing?!?! Why on earth would anyone else care what the hell heck (sorry, God) I am doing throughout the day? In 140 characters or less.

Now some, like professional athletes, have legions of fans who do care what their hero is doing. Pro basketball player Charlie Villanueva gave the inside scoop to his Milwaukee Buck followers by tweeting during half-time of a key game against the Boston Celtics. “In da locker room, snuck to post my twitt. We’re playing the Celtics, tie ball game at da half. Coach wants more toughness. I gotta step up.” Unfortunately, his coach was none too pleased when he learned of the Twitter distraction, although Villanueva did go on to score a team-high 19 points that night.

Even God is not a big fan of inappropriate tweeting – Has there been a murder on twitter yet? Just wondering as I sit around a table of people tweeting between courses. (March 27th)

Any of you Wise Women following the Twitter updates of someone interesting? Anyone learn a timely and sought-after morsel of information from another’s tweet, such as which Girl Scout cookie tables in town actually have Thin Mints in stock? Please enlighten me.

BTW, I just discovered that God is the frontman for, yet another site for sharing information with thousands of your closest friends.

Sigh. Is nothing sacred …

Parental Guidance Suggested


In today’s post, Barb explains one way the Internet can serve as a useful tool for parents vs. “Public Enemy #1.”

As a parent, I try to give my kids the tools and understanding to cope with what they will face in the world. I know my best long-term strategy is to enable them to make smart choices for themselves. However, I have a natural parental instinct to want to shield them from content that is too mature for them to understand.

One area that is a challenge for me is movies.

G, PG, PG-13, R, etc. are guideline ratings provided by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to help parents decide which movies are suitable for their children. What challenges me most is that all PGs and PG-13s are not created equal.

Kids in Mind is a really useful website that provides detailed information about the specific content of movies. On their website, Kids in Mind give the standard MPAA rating as well as their own rating. Each movie is given a 1-10 rating along each of these three criteria: Sex/Nudity; Violence/Gore; Profanity. In addition, they provide summaries of potentially problematic scenes. All the movies on the site are easily found in alphabetical order, and the site is usually pretty prompt at getting new releases reviewed.

At (almost) 12 and (almost) 10, my boys are at pivotal ages. They can generally handle PG movies, and think they can handle PG-13s. To be fair, I have no problem with some PG-13s. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, for example, has a rating of PG13 and is given a 3.6.3 from Kids in Mind. However, other PG-13s, like Seven Pounds (PG-13; 6.6.4), are totally beyond my boys. And Bridge to Terabithia at PG and 1.4.1 was an incredibly deep and sad movie for children.

So, rather than rely solely on the Motion Picture Association ratings, I routinely consult Kids in Mind as well. It’s been a good resource for me. I know I can’t protect my kids from everything, and I’m lucky that they do ask lots of questions. It’s just nice to be better prepared for the questions sometimes.

How about other Wise Women? Any other good resources out there? Or any advice on Marley & Me – only a PG but 5.4.4 from Kids in Mind, and I hear it’s really sad.

The Branding of Obama


Ben Self, Founder of Blue State Digital    

Ben Self, Founder of Blue State Digital

Last week, I had the privilege of listening to two of the architects of Obama’s race for the Democratic nomination – Matt Nugent, Obama’s National Political Director, and Ben Self, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Blue State Digital, and the man behind Obama’s brilliant online strategy.  In hindsight, a strategy that was well defined, focused and stayed the course, combined with a social networking strategy that got millions involved in Obama’s campaign – together became the golden ticket.

These two gentleman were brought in to speak at my company, a major branding/marketing company, because they brilliantly deployed the basic tenets of defining a brand and building an audience.

Mr. Nugent started out speaking about early 2007 when Obama decided that he would go for the Democratic nomination.  The first challenge was to figure out how to brand Obama – a relative unknown, who experience-wise, couldn’t stand up to too many people on the long list of Democratic presidential hopefuls.  He had no natural base of supporters, not even African Americans, who were favoring Hillary at the time.  Establishing the message of CHANGE, the fact that Obama was a Washington outsider was a good thing.  Target-wise, they decided to go after the youth, independents and Republicans … although youth was a risky strategy, because this segment had proved to be very unreliable in the past.  

Because Barack’s early rally’s were pegging him as a RockStar – someone who had all the glitz but no substance, they immediately stopped the large rally’s and instead relied on small retail events.  In the summer of 2007, they  had a razor focused strategy on Iowa, NH, South Carolina and Nevada – but Iowa was the first big nugget to capture, and they felt if they could capture a largely white, agricultural state in the primaries – it would send a solid message to the nation.  So, the summer of 2007, all was quiet on the national front, as Obama’s staffers established 31 offices and spread 200 folks across the state.  Hillary’s campaign had the next greatest number of staffers at 80.  And Obama’s campaign stayed low key but worked tirelessly, conducting meetings in small gatherings, executing town halls, and door to door introductions, and practicing “how to caucus” with the newly recruited youth.

When they came out of the summer and faced a national poll, which showed a significant unfavorable gap between Obama and Clinton, some donors were not too happy.  But the strategists stated we’ve only been focusing on Iowa – not the national scene at all; we need to stay our course.  I thought to myself that was a big and clearly wise decision – not buckling under pressure, which would have clearly set off a campaign of jumping and reacting, which more than anything happened in the McCain camp.

What blew me away more than anything was listening to the stats behind the digital campaign.  The campaign produced 1,800 videos which were aired on – which were watched by 50 million Americans…15 million hours of viewing time.  Their email campaign reached out, established a relationship, and asked for a donation of just $5.  A very low entry fee….but once someone gives, they have some skin in the game, and they’re going to pay attention.  The entire campaign raised $777 million, $500 million raised online via 3.2 million donors that each gave less than $100.  I must admit I was one of those donors – didn’t give a lot, but it was the first time I had ever donated to a political campaign.

Another interesting strategy that was employed was just figuring out how to get a great number of people involved.  One way was through personal fundraising.  Emails went out claiming that if you donated, X person would give an extra $10 to the campaign fund.  As soon as someone elected to do this, they would get a personal message from the person adding to their contribution….”Hi – I’m Ed, from Chantilly, VA, and would like to personally thank you for donating to the Obama campaign.”  People were instantly engaged, and chatting away with various folks across the country that had similar interests and political beliefs.  

Another strategy was to recruit people to host meetings at their home (which translated into 200,000 house party events), or knock on 10 neighbors’ doors (and by the way, the campaign staffers told you which doors to knock on and exactly what to say).  Over 20,000 facebook groups were started….Latinos for Obama….Manhattanites for Obama…This strategy allowed them to really penetrate markets, especially areas where they were not spending a lot of money.  

Another interesting strategy involved figuring out how to quell the rumor mill.  The campaign established a Fight the Smears website – and as soon as someone googled “is Obama a Muslim?” the first response on google would be the Fight the Smears website which would deliver the true story.  

As I heard these two gentlemen speak, all I could think was – they certainly had all their bases covered.  But the true magic of marching Obama to the forefront was certainly figuring out how to personally connect with millions of Americans and how to give them a cause to rally behind.  And as we all know, those connections we make carry their weight in water – something clearly not underestimated by Barack Obama and his staffers.


The New Normal: Insourcing

blackberryNews stories report that the sale of sewing kits have shot up 30% as people hem their own pants to avoid the expense of a tailor. Folks are tackling home repair, dying their own hair, and cleaning their own houses in an effort to save money. Insourcing – doing yourself instead of hiring out – is the new wave rolling across the nation.

I am the antipathy of insourcing.

In late January, I bought myself a new toy: a Blackberry Storm. Despite tutorials from the Verizon salesman and later from my friend Gail, I have yet to figure out the Blackberry’s bells and whistles. I can place a call and read incoming email – that’s it. Almost two months later, I’ve come to the conclusion that I will never learn the ins and outs of this device on my own; I need to hire a tech person to give me a private lesson. I can even rationalize it as my patriotic effort to boost the tech-guy economy.

Readers who are DIY fans and relish a challenge are probably cringing at my ineptitude.

Paco Underhill, author of the book “Why We Buy,” explained the economic logic behind the insourcing trend:

“There are many of us that have been spending money that we can’t afford to spend and have taken on habits that we had no business taking on. Those time-based trade-offs actually are some of the easiest forms of economizing.”

Prior to these economic times, I’ve had friends who paint/wallpaper, change the oil in their cars, clean gutters, and perform other tasks that I’ve always contracted out. I admire my resourceful and talented friends. I’ve always wanted to be like them. Now, I have compelling financial reasons to follow their lead. Yet I can’t get over my “I-can’t-do-it-Someone else-can-do-it-better-faster-cheaper” mindset.

Do you find yourself thinking about insourcing (or better yet doing it)? I would love to hear how/whether others are embracing the new normal of insourcing.

The Vatican Goes Techie and Partners with YouTube

popeIn what could be considered Oxymoron 2.0, the Catholic Church recently launched the Vatican Channel on YouTube. Yes, my Church may be decades (even centuries) behind in some practices, but it got hip and techie in one fell swoop with the creation of The channel offers news and video coverage of Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI’s activities and other Vatican events. There will be no comment feature, so no potential for vitriolic debates about Church doctrine or snarky comments about the Pope’s wardrobe. But, you can watch the Pope meet with dignitaries, make speeches, and celebrate mass; you can even send the Vatican an email from the site.

I am proud, if somewhat surprised, by the Vatican’s decision to establish a presence on YouTube. As the Vatican noted in its announcement, technology is the way to reach today’s youth. And while I don’t imagine hordes of young people flocking to the Vatican’s new channel, it’s a step in the right direction: the Church acknowledging the culture and cyber-savvy of younger Catholics.

Regardless of your religion, you have to appreciate it when a tradition-bound institution inches forward. What other entity (or person) would you like to see featured on YouTube?

The Lost Conversation

top2pw8I was speaking to a friend at work the other day, who had taken a 2 year hiatus, had a couple of children, and had returned to work full time.  As I asked her how it was going, she said that she can usually get out of the office at a reasonable time (probably by 6:30 or so), goes home to put the kids to bed, and then she’s back on email, finishing up the day’s tasks.  She said that it amazed her that even in just the two years she had been away, how email had become so dominant.  ”My voicemail used to fill up everyday; now I hardly have any voicemails at all.”

This made me think about my technology obsessed children.  My daughter who was texting during the entire time I took her to a doctor’s appointment and to Target recently, and the fact that when she was unable to IM for a week or so last month, the thought of talking on the phone just wasn’t a good replacement.  ”I hate talking on the phone,” she said.

This immediately got me thinking about the troubling aspects of this reality, that as a whole, we just don’t spend a heck of a lot of time talking to each other, face to face, anymore.  When at work, we’ll spend 15 minutes writing out an email, when it probably could have taken 5 minutes to cover it off on the phone, or even walking down the hall to someone’s office.  Yet, corresponding this way is safer.  We don’t get blindsided by an unanticipated question, we’re not put on the spot, and we can tweak our words over and over until were satisfied.  Of course, email also lends itself to misinterpretation.  The inflections and tone in our voice are missing, and sometimes the intent of our message can backfire on us.   

Even the number of face to face meetings has dramatically declined, as people in the same building (at least where I work) call into a conference line from their desks, so they can participate in the meeting while attending to 10 other things at their desk at the same time.  

These actions, at a teen level, are the way of a new world.  These actions, at an adult level, are our way to cope with an unending list of to dos, so anything we can do to multi-task is almost mandatory.  I have a long list of old friends I want to connect with.  The reality is, it’s very difficult to find the time.  Typically the first moment of free time comes for me at 10PM, and at that point picking up the phone is the last thing I want to do.  Batting out 3-4 sentences in an email at least becomes a connection point, but not a real conversation.

So are we heading for a future where everyone just sits in their own isolated control center, plugged into the ipod and discoursing away online via the new techno friendly language of LOL, POS, etc.?

Maybe so.  And it does trouble me.  Nothing beats sitting around with friends, catching up, sharing stories, and seeing expressions.  Hopefully the new generation comes to realize this…and we figure out a way to slow down so we can regularly make those conversations a part of our lives.


Death by Technology

images1“Great. Something else to worry about,”  I thought as I read an article emailed to me last week – about the dangers of cordless phones – not yet substantiated, but thought to be similar to those risks of cell phones.  I mentioned this to my husband who said he’d be happy to get rid of our cordless phones – he was tired of looking for them anyways.  It made me stop to think about the way so many of us live today, between processed and reengineered food, to the radio waves emitted by all the technology that surround almost every hour of our everyday.  I must admit that I think every time I put something into the microwave, the thought runs through my head that I shouldn’t be standing in front of this thing as its running.  I was sharing these thoughts with my sister who said:  “It’s God’s way of weeding us out – the only people to survive are going to be those people out meditating deep in the woods!”

Well, turns out, she’s pretty much right.  A book was recently published by Dan Buettner, a freelance writer for National Geographic who spent seven years researching his book The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. These “Blue Zones” are the spots that have the highest numbers of centenarians living in them.  Turns out that a remote mountainous area of Costa Rica, the Nicoya Penisula, has the greatest number of 100+year old beings, and yes, the researchers had to hike a good couple of hours through rough terrain to visit them. 

These folks live simple lives – live on the land, no electricity, no modern conveniences.  Their lives are free of the mental stresses that consume so many in the “modern” world, but the physical stresses they face are far greater.   Making lunch everyday for one  woman  starts with grinding corn by hand so she can eventually make corn tortillas. 

The second Blue Zone in the world is Sardinia, an island off of Italy, where red wine is king.  It is here that the greatest number of centenarian men live.  The longest living Americans live in Loma Linda, California, 60 miles east of Los Angeles.  Faith is a big part of this community’s world – being home to 9,000 followers of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.  One man, a doctor by profession, is still conducting operations at the age of 94.  Another woman who is 103, lifts weights and rides a stationary bike at 25mph for 7-8 miles daily (could I do that?), and volunteers with seven organizations.  A big part of their religion is focused on diet and health – many are vegans, and if they do eat meat, it’s definitely a side dish.

The other key blue zone is Okinawa.  The secret to longevity there is represented by two words:  Jkiggi, which means “that which makes life living” and moai – is having a social network.  Much of their diet focuses on fish and vegetables.  And another rule they follow is to stop eating when you’re 80% full.

So if I had to summarize, the healthy productive lives these folks are experiencing can be attributed to – very sensible eating, daily exercise (albeit many of these folks normal course of day enables exercise – gardening, preparing meals, etc.), family and community, and having a purpose.  Retirement doesn’t really seem like such a good idea after reading this.  And certainly none of these folks are bouncing back and forth between their email, iphone, and voicemail, frantically trying to keep up with the pace of life that many of us Americans have created for ourselves.

So life to 100?  Go do what you need to do to get there!




High Frequencies, High Jinks, and High Emotions

girls-swooning Watching in disbelief as mobs of girls scream and swoon over Elvis and the Beatles

Finding out that another person has no memory of where s/he was the day JFK was shot

Discovering that one can’t hear the Mosquito Ring Tone

What do these three moments have in common? They are pivotal instants in the last 50+ years when one generation has looked at the next and thought, “Wow, I’m OLD!”

Yes, yes, I know I’m well into my 40′s and am no spring chicken (probably even dating myself by using that expression). But, now there is irrefutable evidence that I have more in common with folks receiving Social Security than the 20-something crowd at work.

This epiphany occurred last night.

Over dinner, the children were telling me about a new cell phone ring tone that other kids were using at school. The tone is at such a high frequency that most people aged 30 and older cannot hear it. A student in my daughter’s geometry class recently downloaded this Mosquito ring tone and spent most of yesterday’s class receiving text messages (with the accompanying ring tone “alerts”), while other students tried to figure out where the high-pitch buzzing sound was coming from. Mrs. B., the geometry teacher, heard nothing. She grew frustrated and angry at her class and their continued complaint about phantom noises; she was certain it was a ploy to distract from the day’s lesson.

I actually heard about such a frequency a few years ago. At the time, it was called a “Mosquito teen repellent” because European shopkeepers blasted it to keep teens from loitering in front of their stores. I was intrigued by the story. Well, it didn’t take long for young people to turn the tables and use the frequency to outsmart the adults in their lives, which is somewhat amusing if you think about it.

However, I stopped laughing last night when I sat down at my computer to pull up the ring tone and see what all the fuss was about. I clicked on the requisite link and waited to hear the annoying buzz. Nothing. I called my daughter into my home office to see what she heard. She walked in, immediately covered her ears, and demanded that I shut off the sound. I then called Wise Hubby and my son into the room. Same results – old fogies heard nothing while kids winced and asked if they could leave. (Here’s a link to the high-frequency sound, if you want to conduct this experiment yourself.)

After that experience, I can no longer deny the reality: I am a card-carrying member of the older generation. I may come to embrace my “new” status, but for now I’m still in shock.

Anyone else have similar epiphanies when they realized they had made the leap across the generational divide?

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt within the heart.
Helen Keller

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