Thursday, August 30, 2007

Fitting Fitness In

Exercise is important to me.

The benefits are too many to list in one blog post (lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, reduces risk of all kinds of cancers and diseases, more energy, better self-esteem, improved appearance, etc.).

I've been thinking about how to best fit fitness into my life. My calendar is already overflowing with my marriage, my baby, my friends and family, working, blogging, reading, volunteering, cooking, laundry, grocery shopping, the list goes on.

Before I go on, I must say that I am relatively healthy compared to the norm. I walk for 20-30 minutes every day. I rarely drink soda (as in, once every six months). I avoid excessive sugar. I drink A LOT of water. We "eat in" almost every night. We don't watch TV. And, of course, I chase my toddler around the house.

But I don't get the kind of heart-pumping, muscle-building work-out that I should. I used to play on a womens soccer league, but I don't think that's feasible now (too much on the calendar). I considered a gym membership for about a millisecond, but I think most gyms are overrated (dirty, unimaginative, embarrassing...I'll save that for another post). We had a treadmill, but we sold it on CraigsList (too boring).

I think the best option is probably running. Yep, good old-fashioned fitness. Low expenditure (good running shoes), high return.

Now, if I can only fit it in...more on this on another day...

(Photo by: timtak)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Values and Priorities and Blog Specializations

I've been trying to decide what this blog should be about. Right now it's really a personal blog, which is great, but unlikely to draw a sizable audience or following. After all, there are literally millions of personal blogs out there.

I want my blog to POP - to stand out - to make people say "wow!"

Three of my top values are: family, education, and health. Perhaps I should blog in one of those categories. But even those "categories" are too broad.

How did you pick your specialization? Did you just wake up one day and say, "this is it!" or were there some practical steps that you took to discover it?

(Photo by: MontanaRaven)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I Like Nice People('s blogs)

Last week I blogged about why I read people's blogs.

To re-cap: I read blogs that have thoughtful, solid, well-written content.

I also read blogs that are written by nice people. I read blogs that are written by people that I would go out to lunch with or have over to my house.

Of course, I can't say for sure if they are really nice or if they're just putting up a nice facade, but there are general rules that help me decide. Most of the people on my "must-read" blog list have a positive outlook on life - they rarely complain (unless its constructive) and they see the sunshine behind the clouds. They don't say "bad words" and they have good manners. They value things like family, health, and education. It's actually easier to ascertain "niceness" than you might presume.

So, I read blogs of people who are nice...

...AND who update their blogs regularly (go a week without updating and - poof - you will probably disappear from my blog roster). Even if you're nice.

What blogs do you read?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Worthwhile Writing Conferences (I'm trying to find one or two)

I have never been to a writing conference and I've been thinking that it might be worthwhile to explore attending one. It seems like a great place to get the inside scoop on the book, magazine, and online publishing industries. It also seems like it would be productive and beneficial to meet editors and writers, to attend workshops, and to hone my writing/marketing skills.

As I begin this investigation process, I'm wondering if you might be able to help.

Pray, do tell...

Which writing conferences have you:
  • attended and liked (and why)
  • attended and disliked (and why)
  • dreamed of attending (and why)
Thanks for your help!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Creating my Goals Book

I'm "reading" The Success Principles by Jack Canfield, cocreator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul. I put parentheses around "reading" because I'm really "skimming" because the book is a whopping 473 pages and it's only halfway interesting.

There's nothing particularly new or inspiring within the 400+ pages (and it could have been a much shorter book), but many of the concepts that he writes about are timeless and solid concepts.

For example, Canfield suggests that the reader create a Goals Book, "Another powerful way to speed up the achievement of your goals is to create a Goals Book. Buy a three-ring binder, a scrapbook, or an 8 1/2" X 11" journal. Then, create a separate page for each of your goals. Write the goal at the top of the page and then illustrate it with pictures that you cut out of magazines, catalogues, and travel the pages of your Goals Book every day."

This process will not be entirely new to me. I write down my goals often. And I've done the "vision book" concept before (okay, it was when I was twelve...), but I think I'm ready to create a new one.

Here's a sneak peek into my pages:
  • Travel to all 50 states.
  • Write a book that appears on the NY Times Best Sellers list.
  • Run in a marathon.
  • Be a "reviewer" (books, restaurants, products, travel destinations, etc.) for a magazine, newspaper, or blog.
My goals will be much more specific when I actually create my book (Ex. I will X by 9 a.m. on Jan. 5, 2009), but that's a "sneak peek."

What would you put in your book?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Old-School Fashion Rules That Still Apply

  • It's better to be over-dressed than under-dressed. Remember the awkwardness of the "I showed up in jeans to an event with neckties" moment.
  • Your shoes matter. Spend more money on your shoes. Even if you have only one classic pair.
  • Cleanliness and hygiene are not overrated. Brush your teeth. Wash your face. Comb your hair. Floss. Apply deodorant. Fresh, natural make-up. You get the gist.
  • Dress who you want to be like. People should judge you on your intelligence, your compassion, your sense of humor, your work ethic, etc. People should, but they often don't. Many people will judge you on your appearance and clothing choices. Dress accordingly.
  • If you're young(er), dressing up can give you credibility. You don't want to send off the "I'm your son/daughter's age" vibe.
These are the tips that I generally consider when I pick out my outfits. I'm not a fashion expert. In fact, I plan to splurge on an image/fashion consultant when I am rich and famous.

Until then, I'll stick with classic (but stylish) pieces, nice shoes, and good hygience. Oh, and I'll error on the side of formality.

(Photo by: Strevo)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Gen X/Y: How to Dress for Success (don't wear pantyhose)

I confess. I love reading business/leadership/self-help type books. I like to read about how people network effectively, lead efficiently, and communicate powerfully. Perhaps that's why I am so enthralled by other people's career journeys. I often find myself asking friends, acquaintances, and strangers questions like: "What did you major in?" "Where did you work before...?" "What are your future aspirations?" "How did you get from point A to point B?" I want to soak it all in.

So, it will probably not be a shocker to you that I have read my fair share of books about professional dress. You know the ones I'm talking about - the manuals in the "dress for success" genre that tell you to "tuck in your shirt," "wear pantyhose," and "wear monochromatic colors."

Those books are going out-of-style quick, not only because fashion changes so rapidly, but because the new rules for fashion success in the workplace are...well...different.

Old Rule: Wear pantyhose.
New Rule: Put them on if you are under 60 and you will certainly be a fashion pariah in the workplace. They are old school. Period.

Old Rule: Don't wear open-toed shoes.
New Rule: They can be professional and stylish. Choose wisely.

Old Rule: Always tuck in your shirt.
New Rule: Sometimes you can tuck. Sometimes you can untuck. Shirts are designed for both.

Old Rule: Carry a briefcase.
New Rule: What's a briefcase? Laptop bags, oversized purses, and other utility bags are the rage.

Old Rule: Always dress up. You need to show your authority somehow.
New Rule: Dress down sometimes. It will make you more approachable and authentic.

Stay tuned tomorrow to hear about the fashion rules that have stayed the same.

(Photo by: Tim Cummins)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

How to Be a Better Blogger (and writer)

I just read several excellent articles about - you guessed it - blogging (and writing).

The first one is entitled "The easiest instructions for how to start a blog," written by Penelope Trunk.

The second article, written by Marci Alboher, appeared in the New York Times: "Tools and Tips to Create Buzz Around Your Ideas."

Marci A. also wrote an excellent piece about getting published in the print world: "Getting your first byline."

Since I am on a perpetual quest to be both a better writer and a better blogger, I thoroughly enjoyed the tips and tidbits shared in all three of these articles.

(Photo by: Lost in Scotland)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Little Known Fact About Me and T.V.

We haven't turned on our T.V. in at least six months...hmm...maybe I should make that almost a year. The little black box sits in our living room, lonely and forsaken. Every once in a great while, we'll look over at it and comment that we almost forgot it was there.

In many ways, our T.V. watching habits (or lack thereof) happened unconsciously. As newlyweds, we were both attending loads of classes and working part time so it never quite fit into our crammed schedules. As the months and years passed, we, quite frankly, didn't understand its appeal. It was a screen of dancing images that required neither intellect nor interactivity. Instead, it encouraged a certain apathy and inertia that we were not particularly fond of. Then, our little girl entered our lives and created a contented sort of chaos - and we simply forgot about T.V. No specific rhyme or reason to our choice; we just found that the busyness of our lives left no room for it. In between work, writing, blogging, cleaning, cooking, laundry, walking, playing, reading, singing, sleeping, volunteering, talking, and making to-do lists...there is little time left for lethargy.

So, that's my little secret. I don't watch T.V. It's a bit counterculture (and, for some reason, I avoid the topic because people tend to think that you must be somehow strange or snobby if you are not in tune with the "telly"), but it's just a simple fact of our lives. Don't judge me because I don't watch American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. Oh, and please don't assume that I don't know the big shocker from the latest episode. I do. I hear about it constantly on the radio or by reading stories and blogs of news reporters online.

So, strike up a conversation. I may not watch T.V., but, in our society, you don't really even have to watch it to get the inside scoop. (Maybe that's why we don't turn it on.)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sept. 24: National Thank You Day (thank someone today and win free chocolate)

I'm a big fan of writing thank you notes.

I write them for almost everything. I wrote two yesterday - one to a family friend who bought my daughter a gift and one to the former editor of the community newspaper where I freelance for writing me a glowing recommendation letter.

When I am grateful for someone's kindness or generosity or friendship, I like to actually say it.

So I was excited when I stumbled across the National Thank You Day contest. All you have to do to enter is write an essay of 150 words or less about someone you would like to thank and why. If your essay wins, then your nominee wins a prize of your choosing (up to $20,000). Plus, ALL eligible nominations will receive two boxes of chocolate FREE.

Go enter today and express your gratitude (and don't you dare do it just for the free chocolate). :)

The deadline is August 24.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Query Letters for Magazine Articles

I have several magazine articles tucked away comfortably in my computer folders, waiting for me to dust them off and send them to a magazine for consideration. The articles are patiently awaiting adoption by an editor who will give them residence on the glossy pages of a publication.

Today, I pulled up one of those articles and then set about to do a bit of research on a few magazines that might be interested in it. I googled "writers guidelines" (it would be much easier if I had a subscription to Writers Market, by the way) and began my investigation, dreaming of my name in print.

I came upon what I consider to be one of the great mysteries of freelance writing for magazines: why editors prefer receiving a query letter (one-page "pitch") to the actual magazine article itself. I certainly understand why this would be the case with a full length book, but why would an editor prefer to read a sales pitch as opposed to a full-length article (especially when both documents are about the same length...)?

If you are a magazine editor (or even a more informed writer than I am), please do enlighten me on the reasons for this archaic tradition.

P.S. Here are some magazines that I'd like to write for/get published in: American Baby, BabyTalk, Fit Pregnancy, Time, Business Week, Working Mother, and American Girl (for starters).

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Ideal Elementary School

My daughter is just shy of a year old and I'm already thinking about what school to send her to. Perhaps it's a bit early to be contemplating the pros and cons of the various choices (public, private, charter, homeschool, etc.), but I've been making lists nevertheless.

Here's what my ideal kindergarten/elementary school would look like:
* Strong leadership
* Kind, intelligent, and creative teachers with values that match ours
* Small class sizes (under 20 - preferably 10-15)
* Colorful, fun, and imaginative environment
* High expectations
* 1/2 day or 3X/week schedule
* Bilingual or multilingual instruction
* Focus on the "basics" - reading, writing, and mathematics
* Ample time for the outdoors, for field trips, and for fun
* Lots of ways for parents to be involved (and lots of parents who take advantage of them)

(Photo by: ifijay)

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Value of Facebook

I recently signed up for a Facebook account. I did it because, as Alexander Kjerulf put it, "all the cool kids do it." And I wanted to see what all of the hype was about. And I wanted to stay in tune with the newest trends in technology and social networking so that I'm not a bore in conversation.

I have to admit I haven't yet seen the benefit in it. Sure, I've been contacted by a few "long-lost" friends and acquaintances from my high school days, but that's about the extent of its helpfulness to my personal and professional life. There have been no, "wow, this site is a fantastic life-changing and friend-building tool" moments.

Perhaps, though, I'm neglecting some important feature or missing out on the big "secret" of Facebook Success.

Please share:
1. What is the top benefit that you have received from using Facebook, LinkedIn, or MySpace?
2. Have any of the aforementioned social networking sites helped you in your career?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Reasons Why I Read Your Blog (or why I don't)

I've been thinking about what attracts me to the blogs that I frequent.

I read blogs that:
(1) have solid, well-written, thoughtful content.
(2) are written by people I know personally.
(3) are written by authors, leaders, politicians, or journalists who I admire.
(4) are written by bloggers who frequent my blog and contribute.
(5) provide links to new research, interesting websites, or current events.

Note: If the blog fails to deliver #1 (solid, well-written, thoughtful content), I quickly move on regardless of #2-5.

I don't read blogs that:
(1) have too much advertising.
(2) have too many "buttons" and "blogger awards" on the side columns.
(3) are too long.
(4) are too negative or too sarcastic.
(5) are too personal without any broader relevance or message.

I'll end my post now for fear of losing readers for reason #3 (too long).

Why do you read blogs?

(Photo by: heather)

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Books that Important People Read

Zane Safrit wrote a post on his blog on 6-27-07 entitled "You are What You [Read]" based on the NY Times article - "C.E.O. Libraries Reveal Keys to Success."

The NY Times article described the wide and varied libraries of C.E.O.'s - their shelves contained everything from Aristotle to William Blake to Arthur Miller. And, apparently, many C.E.O.'s are prolific readers...

One quote from the article particularly struck me:
If there is a C.E.O. canon, its rule is this: “Don’t follow your mentors, follow your mentors’ mentors,” suggests David Leach, chief executive of a non-profit accreditation organization.

Great advice. I'd like to take it. Maybe I will think of five people that I admire and ask them for their favorite ten books - and then read them. (By the way, what are your favorite books...?)

(Photo by: chotda)

Monday, August 6, 2007

"If I Were a Rich (Wo)man..."

In the classic and much-loved musical entitled "Fiddler on the Roof", there is a memorable scene in which the lead character, Tevye, sings about all of the things that he would do if he were a rich man...

And I was just thinking about what luxuries I might indulge in if I were very, very rich:

A. a maid - maybe even just once a week (I'd love to spend my "cleaning" moments on playing with my little girl or going for a jog or writing a letter).
B. A personal shopper - especially for grocery shopping (which is definitely not on my list of favorite tasks).
C. A trip to Canyon Ranch or some other recreational resort - I'd love to relax, hike, take dance classes, enjoy gourmet food, ride bikes, and spend some quality "retreat" time to pray and write down my goals.

What would you do if you were a rich man/woman?

P.S. Click here for a clip of "If I Were a Rich Man" from "Fiddler on the Roof" (the movie). Thanks, YouTube.

(Photo by: CMP73)

Sunday, August 5, 2007

the stuff of life

“Time is life. It is irreversible and irreplaceable. To waste your time is to waste your life, but to master your time is to master your life and make the most of it.” (Alan LaKein, Time Management Consultant)

My husband and I decided tonight that it's about time for us to write out our goals again. We usually go on a little "goals retreat" every six months - or, at a minimum, every year. And we ask ourselves, "where are we heading?""Who am I now and who do I want to become?" "Where do I want to be in five years, ten years, and beyond?"

Then, we discuss and debate and probe and cross out and re-write. Until our goals are there. On paper. Living.

Then, we move toward them.

(Photo by: slack12)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

How to Save Money In College

I applied for over 55 scholarships my senior year in high school - and ended up heading off to college without shelling out any money (my own or my parents).

Once I arrived on-campus, I diligently pursued ways to save and earn money - and my dedication paid off. I graduated two years later with no debt. That's a semi-extraordinary feat in today's world wherein "the average graduate owes $19,000" and many graduates have debt "exceeding $40,000" (Source: 2006 USA Today article).

My motto was (and still is) to avoid loans at (almost) all costs.

Here are a few fantastic ways to get through college debt-free:
  1. Keep applying for scholarships. Just because you've set foot onto the college campus of your dreams doesn't mean you should give up on the scholarship quest. In fact, don't simply think of the "now." Think about how to get scholarships and grants for next year, the year after, and beyond.
  2. Take more credit hours. Many universities charge you the same amount of money if you take 15 credit hours or if you take 25 credit hours. And students are notorious for not taking advantage of this.
  3. Graduate in three years. Yes, it is possible. Most bachelors degree programs require about 120 credit hours. So, if you take 18 credit hours for six semester and 6 credits for two summers, you'll graduate in three years. And save yourself an entire year of college costs!
  4. Apply to niche programs. Investigate your options - the Honors Program, the Pre-Med Club, the Education House, etc. Many academic clubs and programs offer scholarships.
  5. Utilize the university library. Why pay hundreds of dollars for textbooks when you can just check them out at the university library? Really!
  6. Work on-campus. Apply for FAFSA. If you qualify, take advantage of a work-study program on-campus. If possible, look for a job in your major or department so that you can establish connections in your field.
  7. Don't take out loans. Loan companies will call you because they think you are vulnerable and naive. Other people in your life may encourage you to take out a loan. My advice: pursue ALL other avenues. Debt is dangerous and often it is the easy way out of working hard...
(Photo by: entropia)

Thursday, August 2, 2007

How to Attract Readers to Your Website (hint: don't hire a marketing pro)

So, you've been thinking about hiring a marketing consultant for your blog, your website, or your business. You want to attract customers, traffic, and readers...why not turn to a "professional"?

Well, put simply, because you should look for someone that can do a better job.

Here's some tips for locating help:
  • Don't search for help under "Marketing" or "Advertising" or "Business."
  • Think of someone you know who is a good writer and who has good social skills.
  • If you don't know someone like that, ask around.
  • Good marketers typically don't go into marketing. They are people in other fields who have an excellent mastery of the English language and who are likable because they are just really nice people. [They won't be pushy, manipulating, self-serving, or dishonest. And they won't claim to be doing it all for a greater good. That's the kind of marketer that you'll probably find if you search "marketing" on Google.]
  • If you find a potential candidate, go out to coffee with him/her. See if he can market himself (the real test). What does that mean? Well, do you walk away, thinking "that's a caring, intelligent person with a purpose greater than themselves" OR do you think "just another schmooze who spends way too much talking and way too little time listening"? If he/she is the caring, intelligent type, then you can move to step two (asking about other skills they might have...).
So, if you're looking for a marketing pro, look in unexpected places. Maybe it's your son's fifth grade teacher or the stay-at-home mom down the street or that recent college grad you struck up a conversation with at the coffeehouse...

(Picture by: sgis)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Finding My Voice (in the blogosphere and in real life)

As many of you know, I'm in my twenties - a time of colorful dreams, lofty goals, and whirlwind growth.

If I wanted to allegorize my life, perhaps I would compare it to building a house. I'm in the process of gathering all the right tools (education/experience) and enlisting the help of qualified people (mentors). And I'm trying to decide what exactly I want my house (my future) to look like.

It is the age of self-discovery. I ask myself, "who do I want to be? what bold and beautiful future lies ahead? what legacy - what glorious imprint- will I leave on this world?"

I notice in this process that I am trying to figure out my specialization and my tone of voice in the blogosphere (and in real life). I notice that some people are sarcastic; others are funny; others are just plain honest; others are experts.

And I think I want my voice to be one of kindness and compassion and optimism - but also of information and ideas. Maybe the girl who "has a lot of innovative ideas and uses them to help people."

(Picture by: robyn00)