January 1, 2012

Fresh Year, Fresh Keyboard

My laptop smells of Windex and soapy, musty almonds, the latter from the all-purpose concentrated cleaner my husband bought from a door-to-door salesman when we moved into our home nearly 11 years ago. I’ve always had an aversion to the smell. Surely we will finally finish off the second gallon of the stuff in 2012. God forbid I just dump it down the drain.

Oh, but my screen is spot and streak free. My keyboard is as clean as it’s going to get. The grey shadows where I rest the meat of my palms are there for good. And the sticky grime on the edges of each key . . . well, I’m not going to spend the day cleaning each nook and cranny with a Q-tip.

It’s interesting to see five years worth of erosion literally at my fingertips. My “N,” “D,” and “L” have complete vanished, and the “C” is surprisingly faint. The “M” and “S” are half-gone and my poor “E” — while the others letters appear gently smudged away, my “E” has three distinct scratches ribbing the surface, as if a frustrated mouse has been typing out its angst.

It feels invigorating to have this clean, fresh surface as I launch into 2012. And it feels great to have my first blog post in nearly a year and a half. An auspicious beginning. May the momentum continue.

July 31, 2010

Facebook: Reunion Friend or Foe?

‘Tis the season of high school reunions and much has been written about Facebook and its impact on these anxiety-ridden soirees. If I was in the reunion planning business, I would be worried, but as a reunion participant, I love the Facebook factor.

This weekend is my 20th. (Yikes!) I had the luxury of growing up in the same community my entire life, so, for me, reunions reach back not only to high school, but elementary school as well. I attended my 10th reunion with some reluctance, but had a good time and it laid the groundwork of excitement for this 20-year shindig.

There are a few people I would have loved to see that aren’t coming out for this weekend’s festivities and more than one has demured to the capability of Facebook to keep us in touch, as if that’s a reasonable substitute for the face-to-face. But, of course, it’s just not the same. An article in Time summed it up nicely: ” . . . the idea that social-networking sites might kill reunions is a faulty one, because that would essentially mean killing nostalgia itself.” Indeed.

You can’t recreate the Charlie’s Angels pose through Facebook messages. You can’t get together over mochas and indulge in the guilty pleasure of a cigarette or two at your favorite coffee shop in La Jolla. And you most certainly cannot share a Roberto’s carne asada burrito at 2 a.m. over Facebook, not even with a fancy iPhone app.

You can, however, wake up the next day and laugh hysterically to see how very many of your classmates were eating Mexican in the wee hours of the morning at taco shops through out San Diego.

Thank you, Facebook.

April 13, 2010

Underpromise? OK. Underwhelm? Not So Good.

One of my children recently developed appendicitis. The surgery went smoothly and the recovery was uneventful, but I will never return to that hospital again.

As we waited in our cubicle in the emergency room, I killed time by reading anything I could see from my seat. The emergency evacuation procedures. The hand washing instructions. The packaging for the latex gloves. And the framed customer service pledge posted underneath the TV. It read:

We strive to give you very good service.

Really? Just very good? I was shocked. In ANY customer service setting, but none more so than a hospital, I should think the goal would be excellent. To be told that the people caring for my acutely ill child are only shooting for “very good” was very disconcerting.

We’ve all heard the adage,  “Underpromise. Overdeliver.” It’s good business sense. You don’t want to set unrealistic expectations for your customers if you know you are only going to disappoint them; however, you also need to be careful that you don’t undermine your own reputation by setting your standards too low. If you don’t sound confident in your product and services and staff, how is that going to influence potential customers?

I’m guessing there was some legal team involved in the wording of that sign in the ER room, but I would hope that the HR and Marketing departments would have pushed back a little bit. From a marketing stand point, if you tell your customers that you aren’t even going to try for excellence, why wouldn’t they go looking for someone who will? And from an HR standpoint, if you have your employees working around that kind of motto, how much incentive do they have to do their best?

“Strive” and “very good” don’t go together. I wonder how much damage those poorly chosen words have done to that hospital’s brand–their reputation.

February 13, 2010

Bonkers for Yonkers

I was very excited to see The Old Globe’s production of Lost in Yonkers last week. I didn’t know too much about it except that it was by Neil Simon, so I knew it would be funny, but the main reason I was excited was because it was the inaugural show in the brand new Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, the Globe’s new theatre-in-the-round.

Unfortunately, the theatre was a bit of a disappointment. I do love to see shows in such a small, intimate setting. It really helps suck you into the world of the play. But the leg room! Now, I’m not a tall person (5’4″ if I really stretch my neck), but the seating is very cramped. I know Harvey White is a very tall man. I used to see him in the halls of Qualcomm when I worked there. I don’t know how his 6-foot-plus frame folds into these very shallow rows. Frankly, I’m surprised that after the millions of dollars spent on this gorgeous new theatre that more consideration wasn’t given to the lack of leg room.

The play, however, was wonderful. Very funny, yes, but also very touching. I cried, which isn’t particularly noteworthy to anyone who knows me, but I heard my husband sniffling as well. The relationship between the over-bearing mother and developmentally disabled daughter was especially moving to me, as I have a younger sister with severe retardation.

The scene stealer was Jeffrey M. Bender as the shady brother, Louie. I’ve seen Mr. Bender in two other recent Old Globe’s shows, Opus and The Mystery of Irma Vep. The latter was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in my life. I hope he’ll remain a repeat performer here in San Diego.

December 18, 2009

Heat Me Up, Hot Stuff

Every winter I mix up a batch of spicy hot chocolate mix. There’s something about the unexpected mix of nutmeg, cinnamon and chili powder that makes me feel a bit subversive in this season of overly-frosted sugar cookies.

It’s daring. It’s sophisticated. And I don’t have to share it with my children. They can have the packets of grey imposter cocoa and dehydrated marshmallows. They love it. They can have it.

If you care to join me in this spicy indulgence, below is my recipe. Alternately, I ecourage you to try the Spicy Maya Hot Chocolate from San Diego’s Chuao Chocolatier. They have a few holiday shopper-friendly storefronts. Plan accordingly.

Spicy Hot Chocolate Mix

  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup sugar (white or brown) or Splenda sugar substitute (but, honestly, it’s the holidays – use the sugar)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper or ancho chili powder

Add 2 tablespoons to 8 ounces of hot milk. Curl up in a cozy blanket and enjoy. Ahhh.

June 10, 2009

The Devil’s in the Details

Yesterday morning I attended a networking breakfast for small business owners. The speaker was good and I made a few promising connections, but I was left with a bad taste in my mouth . . . and it wasn’t because of the meal.

As I perused the brochures and other materials displayed on the exhibit tables, I was struck by the number of times I very quickly found inconsistencies in their content. I’ll highlight just one example.

At the table for a well-known health tonic, which I’ll call DrinkME, the product name was written three different ways in two different mediums. On the tabletop display, it was written as DrinkME—their proper, trademarked style. However, in their pamphlet, it was written as Drink ME and also Drink Me.

When I mentioned it to the sales rep, her response was, “Oh, well, you’re a writer. You’re probably the only one who would notice that.”

Hmmm . . .

Now, maybe she was right. Maybe I was the only person there that noticed, but consider for a moment how this “DrinkME, Drink ME, Drink Me” conflict affected me:

While the DrinkME rep enthusiastically shared facts about her product—the specific percentages of the key ingredients, global environment changes affecting our access to nutrients—I found myself feeling quite skeptical. I listened politely, but in my mind I was questioning not only the accuracy of her claims, but also the trustworthiness of the entire franchise.

Why? Because her flippant response to the inconsistent presentation of her product’s name—along with the fact that the inconsistency was present at all—hurt her credibility and left me with a poor overall impression of the DrinkME organization.

Remember, the devil’s in the details. When the details of your marketing materials are inconsistent, it’s a big deal. It’s unprofessional and could be damaging to your brand and your business.

April 9, 2009

Public Proofreading: Compulsion or Compassion?

It’s happened again. That uncontrollable urge to unsheathe my red pen. My daughter brought home a letter from her karate instructor inviting her to join the Black Belt class. I was thrilled. I was proud. And then, I was editing.

The spacing between sentences was inconsistent. A word was missing in one sentence. There was an incorrectly hyphenated word in another. I was just going to let it go, but then, there it was, the infraction that I just couldn’t overlook. An its that should have been an it’s. By the time I was done, I’d left over a dozen marks on a one-page letter. My husband didn’t want me to give it to the karate teacher. You see, he wants to be in the Black Belt class, too, and doesn’t want my pushy proofreading ways to hurt his chances.

My husband—like many other non-writers—does not understand my compulsion. Why must I point to the menu and tell the waiter that flatiron (as in the steak) should be one word, not two. Why do I beg baristas to change chocalate to chocolate on their chalkboard? Why would an otherwise sane person run a red felt tip marker through the alot printed on a sign dangling by the soda dispenser at a convenience store in Yuma, in front of the children no less?

He thinks what I’m doing is crazy. No, I tell him, what I’m doing is correcting—and it’s for the greater good. It takes a village to maintain the standards of proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling. It’s compassion, not compulsion, which drives me to point out these errors.

Yes, public proofreading is an unsolicited act of kindness, albeit one that may elicit a twinge of shame if you’re on the receiving end . . . like when someone tells you your zipper’s down or that you have a piece of toilet paper stuck to your shoe. You blush, but you’re glad they told you.

February 23, 2009

Open That Bottle!

Saturday, Feb. 27 is Open That Bottle Night. “OTBN” was started eleven years ago by The Wall Street Journal’s husband-wife wine critic columnists, Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher. OTBN is the night you can open that bottle of wine you’ve been saving for “just the right occasion.” According to Gaiter and Brecher, instead of saving that special bottle for some high-expectation-laden event, just go ahead and drink it and celebrate the memories that come with it.

Now, I’m not a big wine collector . . or even a small wine collector, but I am a big wine drinker. I attribute it to my place of birth: Napa Valley. I have about three dozen bottles of assorted wine in my cellar (also known as the glued-together wooden rack on the floor in the back of my hall closet). Some white, some red, some bubbly. None of it very expensive. None of it French.

The only contender I have for OTBN is a magnum of sparkling wine/champagne from Schramsburg from 2000. Opening a magnum of champagne is a commitment. That’s not an undertaking for just one or two people. That’s a party. Looks like I have some invitations to send out for the 27th.

October 29, 2008

New Laurie Berkner!

As a Music Together teacher, I often have parents asking me for recommendations for good “kid” music. Laurie Berkner is always at the top of my list. Why? Her music is silly, sweet, and smart. Her songs are full of rich harmonies and lots of tonal and rhythmic variety—it’s not the repetitive melodies and cloying lyrics often found in music written for children. I often compare her to the Indigo Girls.

I’ve been listening to her new CD, Rocketship Run, this past week and she’s delivered the goods again. My personal favorite is the last track, a beautiful acoustic cover of Fly Me to the Moon. I also really like the way she cleverly weaves Going on a Huntthroughout the album in five different “flavors”—samba, blues, jig, conga, and hand jive. I’m going to use my iTunes technology to play all five versions back to back in my class so that the kids (and caregivers) can experience the different feel of each type of rhythm. Variety is key to fostering musical aptitude; it expands the musical palate.

If you want to check out some other music by the Laurie Berkner Band, I highly recommend Under a Shady Tree, Victor Vito, and Buzz, Buzz, Buzz. Enjoy!

September 21, 2008

Steroids, Sluggers & Socialites

If the first two plays of the Old Globe’s 2008-2009 season are any indication of what’s to come, then I’m glad I bought season tickets this year.

Back, Back, Back is timely, playing concurrently with the winding down of the baseball season. This play spans from 1984 through 2005, when congressional hearings were held to address the abuse of steroids in Major League Baseball. With a cast of only three men and staged in a theatre in the round, this 90-minute one-act show explores both the shame endured and success enjoyed by the two main characters who are stand-ins for Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco.

The Women has stunning staging and drop-dead gorgeous costuming; it was worth seeing for those elements alone.  Clare Booth Luce’s satire from 1936 is set among the social biting and back-stabbing women of Park Avenue and, while there aren’t many sympathetic characters, this production was a sinfully decadent and luxurious treat. (As an aside, it was quite an exercise in contrast to see this show just one week after watching Tobacco Road at the La Jolla Playhouse. Also written and set in the 1930s,Tobacco Road depicts the life of a dirt-poor family in 1932 Georgia. The dust and desperation of this world coexisting with the opulence and gluttony of The Women brought to mind the current debates about the ever-widening gap between the upper and lower classes.)

Other productions coming down the pike this season at the Old Globe include:

Since Africa, a drama about a Lost Boy of the Sudan settling into his new life in America.

Six Degrees of Separation, a drama about deceit, gullibility and posturing all in the pursuit of social status.

Working, a new musical created by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights).