Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snow Day

I can remember when I was a kid (oh God, now I sound like my dad!) and getting a bunch of snow dumped on the town meant a vacation day from school. As I grew up in Iowa, it happened several times each school year. My brother and I would bundle up and run outside to build a snow fort along with the requisite snowman. One year my younger neighbor and I built a standing Snoopy in my front yard. Now six inches of snow doesn't result in a vacation day at all, but instead turns into a labor day. My husband couldn't get his car out of the garage this morning, so he took mine. I was left to shovel the snow. It was fun for about the first fifteen minutes. Then, as my arms began to shake and my back began to ache, I started to wonder what it is I do at the fitness center three days a week. I must be working on the wrong muscles, because I sure could feel every single one of mine. Two hours later I am back in the house feeling ten years older. Too bad my mom isn't here to make me some hot cocoa.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

One Man's Trash is ... Still Trash

On Saturday my husband and I went to the Macy's store near our house as it is one of the many to be closed nationwide. Ads promising amazing deals lured us out of our toasty home into a cold January day. Deciding to divide and conquer, Jim headed to the men's clothing area on the first floor while I was on a mission to find lingerie on floor three. Because the escalator dumps you into home goods, still filled with comforters and towels, I wasn't able to immediately note any significant differences in the store. As I headed through pots and pans and sparkling glassware, I came face to face with the graveyard. Row after row of empty steel racks stood sentry over what had until recently been an undulating ocean of satin, silk and lace. Okay, this is Macy's not Victoria's Secret, so there was polyester too. Nevermind that...This was my first indication that one man's loss was not going to be this woman's gain. Taking the escalator down to the second floor and women's wear, I made a beeline for the petite section. One thing I love about Macy's is the fact that they have an area dedicated to the vertically challenged. I don't have to hunt and peck through the entire women's department to find that elusive "P" on the hang tag. Quite quickly I realized that items that had been on sale for 50% off before the holidays were now boasting the great store closing deal of 30% off. What a bargain! Perhaps if Macy's had come up with this clever pricing strategy earlier they wouldn't be closing so many stores. It appeared to me that items in the store that were of any retail value had already been shipped off to the other area stores, and what was left was stuff no one wanted in the first place. My husband fared no better with the men's selections, but we did make one last run back up to three to see if any of the cookware was less ridiculously priced. What we found there surprised me - two boxed sets of Lenox Christmas china at 70% off. Now that I have a new kitchen with lots of storage, I finally have a place to keep holiday dishes and glasses. So we snatched those up, along with a box of martini glasses for Jim, and that took care of the Macy's gift cards we have been toting around forever. As for most of the rest of the stuff remaining in the store, I have to ask myself, "What were the merchandise buyers thinking?"

Monday, January 26, 2009

Increase in Minimum Wage = Decrease in Morale

My daughter works in a clothing store at a nearby mall. She has been there since May of last year, which I believe may be a record for length of time in a first job for a teenager. She was hired in at minimum wage, and over time has earned two small increases in her hourly rate. She has received positive reviews, and has been named Denim Expert for the store. Her most recent paycheck was the first to reflect the increase in minimum wage. While it still resulted in an increase for her, it also brought all the employees to the same rate level (with the exception of the managers, of course). So the employees who were just hired last month are now making the same hourly rate as her. It definitely is not fair, but it seems kind of obnoxious to complain about a raise. Obviously no one thought this scenario through. As a small business owner myself I understand the increased cost to the company for the change in minimum wage. But I also know it is a lot more expensive to hire and train a new employee than to reward one with a proven track record. In the meantime, Katie has an interview with a law firm this afternoon. C'est la vie!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Legally Blonde Was Not All Music to My Ears

We went to see Legally Blonde the Musical at the Fox last night. We are lucky to know a man who has two season tickets in the second row near the center, not only at this theater but the Loretta Hilton as well. When he and his partner cannot attend a performance, they always offer the tickets to us. We pay face value for them but hey, they are great seats. And it gives us a date night, something that after a long week at work and 30 years of marriage we might not manage if left to our own devices. The first half of the play went quickly. The large cast was very talented, the choreography was great and the set design quite clever. I think the costumes could have been done better, but I really like the movie version so perhaps I had some pre-conceived notions there. The two dogs did their parts without stealing the show. Intermission came, and we rose to stretch our legs. We normally don't leave our seats as we are long past the time in our lives where paying a fortune for some mediocre wine or soda and then having to chug it before the show resumes is entertaining for us. As the intermission stretched on, the couple next to me began to argue. They were a cute little couple (at least at first glance) who probably have been married 50 plus years. They spoke with an accent, perhaps Polish. I'm not sure. So the Mrs. is blah, blah, blahing and apparently the Mr. is not paying attention. "I hate it when you do that with your eyes," she snapped. "What?", he inquired, seeminly puzzled. "You move your eyes to the side. I know you are not listening to me!" He tried unsuccessfully to convince her that he hears what she says, and she continued to rag at him. He finally tried the ploy of "My arm hurts me. The pain makes it difficult to pay attention to everything." With that Mrs. launched into all of her aches and pains, and how they don't prevent her from listening to him. Thankfully before long the orchestra began to play, and the music drowned out the rest of the harping. The second half of the play was as good as the first, and when it finished we poured out of the theater into the cold warmed by the sentiments of the play. Omigod, omigod you guys...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Designed to Sell

This morning I met with a graphic designer to discuss my book. Everything I have heard and read indicates that you should not hire just any graphic designer, but instead find one who has done book design in the past. Seems book design can be a little quirky and technical. Hmmm...sounds like writing a book! Anyway, I met Peggy at a St. Louis Publishers Association meeting last week, and she had designed a book written by an author with whom I was familiar. So she met the first requirement of being both a designer and having experience with books. The second requirement is coming up with an award winning cover on a minimal budget. Okay, so it doesn't have to be award winning, but it does need to look professional and not cost me an arm and a leg. (Especially not my "write" arm.) Because my book is on researching house history in St. Louis County, I have a very small market. I understood that when I decided to write the book, but this approach will be the most beneficial to the reader. Since I won't be selling a lot of books I need to keep my overall expenses as low as I can. Having said that, I also don't want the book to look like I designed and printed it on my home computer. Don't I sound like the typical American? I want it all and I don't want to pay much for it! Peggy listened to my concerns and came up with a reasonable approach where I think I may get to have it all. She will get a proposal back to me next week, and we'll see if we both get what we want.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Easy Riders

Last night was our last Christmas party, thank goodness. We hosted the party for the St. Louis Victory Motorcycle Club, and we had 14 people here. Jim grilled pork and beef loins, and I made rolls, a tortilla appetizer and corn casserole. Others brought cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans and shrimp cocktail. Sounds like a summer feast, doesn't it? Well, with the temperature making it into the 40's yesterday, it felt darn-right summery out! One of the ladies brought two homemade gooey butter cakes, one of which was pumpkin flavored. OMG! And I don't usually care for gooey butter cake at all. Amazing...We had a gift exchange, as everyone was to bring a $10 gift item. As your name was drawn, you could select one of the wrapped gifts. My name was the second to be called, and the package I selected held a very unique gift item - a statue of a pig driving a motorcycle. Jim got a bottle of wine, which he was quite happy with. Then the exchanging began. All the names were put back in the hat, and when your name was called you could take someone else's gift. I knew someone would covet my pig, and sure enough I found myself with a wall calendar depicting a Victory motorcycle on each month. Knowing that Jim would like that on his office wall, I declined to swap gifts when my name was called. Jim did the same, keeping his bottle of wine. That will teach us. Someone wanted Jim's wine, and in return he got a Harley Davidson belt buckle and temporary tatoos (choke!) and, I kid you not, a pair of men's edible underwear! Peach flavored, no less. Needless to say, no one else came after his new gifts. I didn't fair much better. The last name called was Moose, and he took my calendar. In exchange I received a book entitled "Redneck Extreme Mobile Home Makeover". Sounds like there will be some re-gifting in our future. I had not met any of the members of the riding club before since I don't own a motorcycle nor will I get on the back of one, but somehow sharing margaritas and edible undies has made me part of the group. Ride on!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The More I Learn the Less I Know

That pretty much sums up how I feel about self publishing. I have finished my book on how to research the history of a St. Louis County home, and had hoped that a local publisher would take it on. After all, they specialize in local authors or stories of local interest. My book satisfies both of those requirements. Alas, the owner does not feel that he can sell enough of my books to make it worth his while. I hate to admit that he is probably right. My book has a really narrow market by design. There are a lot of books out there on how to research a house's history. While some of the content is universal, those books do not help with the quirky steps which need to be taken in St. Louis County. So it looks like I will need to self publish. Sounds easy enough; people do it every day. However it is one thing to self publish when you know you have a potentially large audience. And it's another thing to self publish when you only want a small quantity to hand out to friends and family. But what if you want a book that needs to look polished enough to go into libraries for research and to be used as a textbook when teaching a class, yet still only requires a small print quantity? People are telling me that a book cover and layout design will cost me aroung $1,000. Then there is the professional copy editing to be done. How about purchasing ISBN numbers, possibly having to set up a corporation to become my own "publishing" company? How many books do I need to sell to recoup those expenses? I didn't write this book to make a lot of money. I did it because I want to help other people open the door to their house's history. But that doesn't mean I want to see my investment go the way of my 401k either. So how I do I turn out a professional-looking yet user friendly book without selling my first born? Well, okay, my second born since the first one is married off.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

New York State of Mind

The marketing students from several high schools in St. Louis are headed to New York this morning. We have 22 going from Webster. Originally we needed to have Katie at the airport by 4:30 a.m., and then they had a layover in Chicago. With the weather forecast, Katie's teacher was concerned that they would end up not being able to get out of Chicago, so she found a later direct flight that had 30 seats available. (Hell-ooooo, why wasn't this flight first choice to begin with?) At any rate, the change meant that we didn't need to get to the airport until 6 a.m. You've never seen so many parents happy about 6:00 in the morning before! Though I have to say it didn't seem so great when the alarm went off at 5 this morning. I'm pretty spoiled as I usually don't get up until 6:30. We got her to the meeting place in the airport right on time. Probably half the kids were there by then. The plane doesn't leave until 8:40, so there was plenty of time left. I guess the teachers didn't want to take any chances. This trip is part of the DECA marketing program, so they will hit the ground running in New York. In addition to the usual touristy things they will tour Sports Illustrated, the CBS Early Show, United Nations, Madison Square Garden, Tommy Hilfiger with Betsy Hilfiger and the NBC Studio. At some point they'll see the Martha Stewart Show, too. They will keep the kids running from morning until late at night since they will see "The Lion King" and the New York Knicks as well. The itinerary looks great, so hopefully the kids will appreciate all that is being offered. They get back on Sunday, so they'll have Monday to regroup before second semester begins on Tuesday. In the meantime, Jim and I get a preview of being empty nesters. That certainly puts me in a New York State of Mind!

Monday, January 12, 2009

My First Night as First Lady

So I'm not exactly Michelle Obama, but I am a First Lady in my own right. Or is that in my own mind??? Regardless... My husband is the new President of the American Society of Landscape Architects in St. Louis. That makes me First Lady, doesn't it? Last night was the annual Christmas party, and his first event as President. (I know, Christmas in January is a little weird, but believe it or not we are having the Gateway Victory Rider Club's Christmas party at our house this Saturday. I had to leave all my decorations up. Ughhhh... My neighbors must think I am too lazy to take them down.) Back to the party - sadly, no web sites sponsored contests on what I should wear in my first public appearance as First Lady. Due to the informality of the venue, I was attired in black wool slacks paired with a sleek black sleeveless blouse. This was topped with a trendy cropped jacket in shades of pink, burgundy and black. I was happy to see that most of the women were similarly garbed. The party was held at the 3rd Degree Glass Factory, St. Louis' only public access art education center. Not only did we get to admire (and purchase) hand made glass objects, but they also offered demonstrations of glass blowing. It was very interesting, and the blast of the furnaces keep away the chill of a cold January evening. The food was catered by Cravings, and that combined with an open bar kept this First Lady very happy for the night. The meeting portion of the party was the presentation of awards. Each year landscape architecture firms in the area can submit projects from various categories for awards. The projects are reviewed by a landscape architecture chapter in another state to help ensure fairness. No putting the open award up for sale to the highest bidder here! Though it might have looked a little suspicious since my husband's firm took home four awards, which is a lot for a small landscape architecture firm. In fact it was the most awards won by any firm this year. I guess I better add that all the projects are submitted anonymously, so the judging is very objective. Jim did a great job in moderating the evening, and kept to the timetable. Hail to the Chief!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Spin Those Records

Today there was a genealogy meeting at the St. Louis County Library. It has been awhile since I have attended one since I have been busy with my book, but today the talk was on St. Louis County Records. Aha, I thought, I can justify going to the meeting because I may learn something new to be added to my book. A twofer... I always go into any meeting assuming I can walk away with at least one new idea, and I almost always do. I learned several things today, and the speaker was very good. I know Ann from the genealogical society, and I waited to speak with her after the meeting ended as she has published several books. I knew she had used No Waste, so I wanted to get her impressions of them as a printer. She would not recommend them, she told me. In fact she used someone else for her latest book. I got her email address so we can talk more about the printers and publishers she has used. Also she agreed to review Section Two of my book, and check all of my references to the St. Louis Genealogical Society for accuracy. With all of her experience and connections, it will be great to have her informed about my book. Hopefully, she will like it and will sing its praises. That will be a tune I can really get into.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Write Stuff

This morning I had coffee (okay, it was tea for me and coffee for the rest) with four other women at Mississippi Mud House on Cherokee Street. (A great place, by the way.) That might not sound so unusual, but though I have known one of the women for quite a few years, the others I didn't know at all. The purpose of the gathering was to discuss writing. My favorite topic! Two of the women have books published, one is a photographer thinking about writing a book, and the fourth is hoping to have some articles published in magazines. It was a very enlightening gathering, and ideas flowed like the coffee. The conversation was stimulating, and I don't mean in a caffeine induced kind of way. There is always so much we can learn from other people, particularly women, who seem more prone to sharing. As a further bonus for me, one of the women wrote a book on researching the history of a St. Louis City home, sort of a companion to my book on researching in St. Louis County. She has agreed to review my book, understanding that it has not been formally edited or designed yet. She will be able to point out other areas to look for resources, if I have missed something. I also want to have the book read by someone who knows nothing about researching house history, so I can be sure that it makes sense and follows logical steps. I have to say that was a little scary placing my "baby" in the hands of someone else for the first time. On the other hand, it makes the whole thing seem real now. And it just felt write!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Sew What?

I'm kind of between projects right now. My book is in limbo as I wait to hear back from the St. Louis County Library regarding my references to their holdings. I'm meeting with a couple of published authors later this week to discuss their publishing experiences. I can't begin Katie's graduation quilt until she supplies me with the pictures she wants me to include, and I can't start the quilt I donated for the school auction until the buyer gives me more information on her daughter's favorite activities, colors, etc. But I was ready to sew something over the weekend. But what to sew? I didn't want to begin a large quilt as my other obligations will kick in shortly. I decided to make a new wall quilt. I have one wall in the entry foyer that is perfect for a small quilt. I have already made a quilt for each season or holiday for that space, with the exception of Thanksgiving for some unknown reason. So I took the turkey fabric I purchased for a quilt I donated to charity last year, and based the new quilt around it. This fabric is the cutest thing I have ever seen. It is covered in turkeys dressed up like pilgrims and football players. Unbelievably the football turkeys are dressed in either red or orange uniforms, which made it perfect for the quilt I made last year celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Turkey Day game between Webster and Kirkwood. Kirkwood's uniforms are red and Websters are orange. The picture shown here is last year's quilt, which the principal has hanging in his office. At any rate, I am trying to decide the final border for the new quilt, and then I will be ready to put the layers together. Sew much fabric, so little time...

Friday, January 2, 2009

What's the Buzz?

Last night I set up a Facebook account and a Twitter account. Now I just need to figure out what in the world to do with them! I keep hearing that if you want to be heard and seen, you need all these networking options up and running. They are supposed to be helpful in promotion. I'm not promoting anything yet, but I figured I would get a head start on them before my book is published. I can see how a person could spend the whole day blogging, tweeting and writing on the wall of various Facebook accounts. How in the world will anything else get done? I'm already falling short on keeping my three blogs active. Good thing the next Publishers Association meeting is on organization. Sounds like I'll be needing tips on keeping all my writings in order!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

To New Beginnings

The year 2008 ended "not with a bang, but a whimper". Okay, so maybe there were a few bangs going off outside in the form of fireworks, but the activities throughout the year certainly gave most of us something to whimper about. I am an optimist by nature, and personally I love the new year and all the promises it holds. It is time to let go of what occurred in the past and anticipate what might be around the corner for us in the future. I already know that 2009 will present some emotionally charged events. My baby will graduate from high school, and I'll no sooner have adjusted to that and she'll be headed off to college. In my mind I have been looking forward to the time when my husband and I return to a child-free household, but I know my heart will have other things to say about it when the time comes. There will be some highs in 2009 as well, as we take our businesses to the next level. And my book, which is now complete and waiting for design and editing, will be published. That will be the culmination of a huge personal goal, and I can't wait to see where the publishing road takes me.