My New Favorite Thing

Aside from it being my favorite time of year, I’ve also found a new favorite thing, I’m a pretty lazy web surfer in that I don’t actively seek out new and interesting things unless someone suggests it. I typically hit the same 10 or so sites a day and filter through all the mess to find something entertaining. But stumbleupon makes sifting through the garbage so much easier. It’s like Pandora for websites. I’ve found so many interesting, inspirational and funny things just by clicking a button – it’s kind of like hitting the jackpot every time you spin the slot machine. Maybe I’m way behind in discovering this, but I don’t mind. I’m just glad I did.

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My Favorite Time of Year

I meant to write this post a couple of days ago, but I’ve been too busy enjoying the outdoors. It’s springtime again – my absolute favorite season (well maybe equal with Summer). For about a week now local little league teams have been playing games in the park that’s on my afternoon route. The trees are starting to bloom, making everything look like an impressionist painting. People are moving around my neighborhood and the sun is staying up past 6 p.m. I’m happily sneezing with the return of pollen. Yes, I am a Romantic.

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Bad Social Media Marketing is a Lot Like Ovaltine

Do you remember the scene in ‘A Christmas Story’ when Ralphie finally gets his Little Orphan Annie Decoder Pin? He patiently waits through his favorite radio program to hear the secret code at the end, rushes upstairs to the only bathroom in the house (the only private place for such top-secret work) and frantically decodes Annie’s message. The suspense builds as Ralphie spells out his first code on paper, only to find the message when he says it out loud, ”Be Sure to Drink Your Ovaltine.”

His response: “A crummy commercial? Son of a b#tch!”

This is the perfect example of what NOT to do when marketing on social networks. Like Ralphie, who wants to be a part of Annie’s Secret Circle, your consumers who engage with you on social networks want to be a part of your “Secret Circle.” They already like your brand, product or service enough to actively seek out your message. You don’t need to push commercials to them. Instead, give your consumers exclusive content acknowledging their loyalty. Stuff like special promotions, behind-the-scenes information and entertaining and engaging messages will ensure they keep coming back for more, and don’t throw their decoder pins in the trash, or worse: end your social media friendship.

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Don’t Get Off Facebook – Control How You Use It

Ironically, I first saw this video on Facebook, where a friend posted it. And I have to say, for a guy telling me he’s happier without the social site, he sure seems sad, except for the occasional sarcastic smile. But he does bring up some good points. None of us have 800+ friends, and we shouldn’t create a social hierarchy where those who do win. For many people, Facebook is a popularity contest, just like student council elections in high school. For others, it’s a way to keep up with the Joneses, and just hope that your life is better than someone else’s. I’m definitely guilty of the latter. And then of course there are the annoying “friends” who tell you what they had to eat for breakfast, complain endlessly about their horrible lives, and send you a million Farmville requests. The good news with these friends is you can hide them from your feed, and even hide obnoxious applications.

But before you deactivate your account, remember why you check it in the first place. I have a lot of fun on Facebook, because I have it set up so I only see content from friends who contribute something meaningful or entertaining. And I keep my friend count down – new, real-life friends are welcome additions; nosy high school acquaintances are not. But just because other people treat Facebook like an ego booster, doesn’t mean you have to. Enjoy the connections you’ve already made, and remember: Facebook isn’t real-life, but it can help start real conversations.

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Name That Voter

I got a sticker for voting, and the satisfaction of knowing my vote counted.

This afternoon I took a walk downtown to the government center to cast my vote early. After waiting in line for nearly an hour, it was finally my turn to check in with the polling volunteer. I was quite surprised when she asked me for just my name and address without even looking at my driver’s license. I have a pretty common first and last name, and to make certain I was in fact Mary Julia Smith, the volunteer requested I repeat my name and address a few times. I’m a little surprised that my word is enough verification to my identity. Is this normal?

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Blue Ridge Beauty

The view from Beamer's Knob, VA

What a beautiful weekend in the Blue Ridge Mountains! Fresh air, blue skies and views from on top of the world are just what a girl needs to feel refreshed. The weather was cool and breezy, hinting that Autumn is just around the corner. Pretty soon the green trees will turn to warm, fiery hues and the air will be filled with smoke from chimneys. I am going to miss the hot, carefree days of summer, but look forward to cozy sweaters and apple cider.

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The Bleeding Soap Opera

Man Down! Days of Our Lives' EJ Dead Drunk

Man down! Days of Our Lives' EJ dead drunk

With the recent cancellations of popular daytime soaps As the World Turns and Guiding Light, and the rumors speculating the demise of One Life to Live, it’s becoming evident that daytime dramas are slowly dying. The once rulers of daytime television are now facing a time when they’re antiquated and irrelevant. Story lines are consistently recycled – faked pregnancies, stolen babies, being killed off only to miraculously come back to life. And in a world where reality television portrays “real life” drama unfolding before our eyes, viewers no longer relate to the highly fictionalized lives of once-beloved characters.

I’ll admit I’m a loyal fan of Days of Our Lives. I started watching the show as a kid in the afternoons with my sister. Characters have come and gone, only to come back again, and the formula hasn’t changed much over the years. I still tune in every once in a while to see what’s going on in Salem, but the show fails to capture my attention, except when I find ways to criticize it.

Soap operas in general are slower paced than other dramas simply because they’re broadcast daily. It could take months for a story arch to play itself out, and lets face it, viewers don’t have the patience to wait so long for a resolution. And then there’s the problem of relevance: characters live lavish lives with no job in sight and can only be bothered to back-stab, cheat, extort and murder. I don’t know about you, but these stories and characters don’t reflect a thing about my life or my friends’ lives. But I’m still invested in my favorite characters. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t watching Sammi Brady wreak havoc on the people of Salem.

Melodrama is a thing of the past. Viewers want to see characters like themselves, in situations somewhat realistic. While I understand that entertainment is supposed to allow viewers to escape their own realities, it’s difficult to suspend any disbelief when story lines are so outlandish and often times repeated. The formula of daytime dramas needs to change in order for the genre to stay afloat.

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Pizza Pie Amore

Pizza in Italy

Pizza in Italy - actual photograph of one of our meals

I recently spent a few weeks in sunny Italy taking in the sites, relishing in the romance of the streets and eating lots of yummy food. Pizza was on the menu just about every day. And Italian pizza is a bit different than what we get from Domino’s – the crust is super-thin, the sauce is light, and the toppings are the main attraction with no more than three per pie. I encountered my favorite pizza at a beachside café in Viareggio. It was topped with sweet yellow peppers, Italian sausage and red onions. Naturally, I tried to recreate the meal one day as I was longing to be back in the magical land of art and food. This is what I came up with:

1 Thin store-bought pizza crust
Couple tsp. Olive Oil
Couple tbsp. store-bought Pasta Sauce (I like Newman’s Own – Italian pizza sauce is kind of like a Vodka sauce)
Half Sweet Yellow Pepper cut into thin slices
¼ Red Onion cut into thin slices
Italian Turkey Sausage cut into chunks
Couple handfuls of reduced fat Mozzarella Cheese

Preheat the oven according to pizza crust directions. Coat pizza crust with olive oil and then spread pizza sauce, leaving 1 inch of crust. Sprinkle with toppings and cheese. Bake for about 10 minutes, or according to crust directions. Broil for a couple of minutes to ensure crispiness. Enjoy with Peroni or glass of wine!

Have your own pizza crust recipe? Leave a comment with the details or link.

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Space Post

Growing up, my mom worked for the airlines. The biggest advantage of this was flying for free anywhere in the U.S. As a kid, my dad and I took frequent day trips to Washington D.C. – we flew up in the morning and back to NC in the afternoon. We’d take the Metro to the mall and explore the Smithsonian museums and government buildings. My favorite was always the Air and Space Museum.

Astronaut Ed White's EVA (extra-vehicular activity)

Astronaut Ed White's EVA (extra-vehicular activity)

Every trip included a visit to my favorite museum. There was something whimsical and romantic about seeing famous airplanes and capsules that had been into space on display. I never fully appreciated the dedication and science behind what I was seeing. I grew up in an era where space flight was routine – minus the Challenger disaster, which I was too young to remember. But I’ve always been captivated by astronauts and adventures in space (Apollo 13 is one of my favorite movies).

The other day I was browsing Netflix and found a Discovery Channel series: When We Left Earth, a documentary about America’s foray into the unknown. After one episode I was hooked. The series aired in 2008 to commemorate NASA’s fiftieth anniversary. It begins in the early 1960s – the Russians have already put a man into orbit and the U.S. is scrambling to catch up. Alan Shepard becomes the first American to enter space, and the race to the moon is on.

Neil Armstrong on the moon

Neil Armstrong on the moon

The series tackles the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, as well as the beginnings of the space shuttle, the Hubble Telescope and the International Space Station. It’s so well put together that you really get a sense of how NASA built on each mission, step by literal step, to put a man on the moon. The footage is breathtaking and the interviews are engaging.

But the series is mostly inspiring. Here are a group of men who have been challenged by President Kennedy to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. They have the intelligence, imagination and sheer dedication to achieve their goals, even after failure. You are left feeling like man can do anything he sets his mind to with enough determination. And isn’t that the American dream? That we can become anything our hearts desire as long as we have the discipline and dedication to achieve it.

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