Saturday, January 31, 2009

Target Always Cheers Me Up

Yesterday I spent the entire work day editing and formatting a large amount of content for a publication. At 4:30, I found out that a.) a co-worker had made changes to the content after I exported it and b.) Excel could have done in about five minutes what I'd spent much of the day doing manually. So: a completely wasted day. I was so upset and frustrated--this is an extremely busy time for me at work, and I can't afford a wasted day. I desperately needed cheering up, and I knew just the thing: a trip to Target.

They have sandals! Pretty sandals! Wedge-heel sandals, sandals in pretty greens and corals, sexy strappy sandals. It made me long for Spring, but I couldn't bring myself to buy any when my toes are very happy being wrapped in thick socks and heavy, clunky shoes to guard against the snow and ice. This was my compromise: cute, pleated black pumps (all man-made materials, of course).
I also got this bag. I carry a lot of stuff to work every day, and my bag gets heavy. This large tote is very sturdy, and I love the wine color.I don't think their spring line of clothes was out yet--nothing caught my eye--but with my new shoes and bag, I left feeling like the day wasn't a waste, after all.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Wish-I-Had Office Accessories

If I could buy everything I like, I'd add these to my office.

1. Hydrangea Wall Sticker, $96 from 2modern.com. Because I can't paint my office an interesting color or add wallpaper, I love the idea of giant stickers to decorate plain, neutral walls. 2modern.com has a lot of great ones, but I love the simplicity of these hydrangeas.
2. Standing Magnifying Glass, $68-$128 from anthropologie.com. OK, I'd never actually use one of these, but they're so cool! 3. Owl, $84 from jonathanadler.com. I love everything in Jonathan Adler's Menagerie collection, but this owl statue could be the coolest owl I've ever seen.

4. Sunny Woods Rug, $248 from anthropologie.com. This rug makes me happy.

5. Fritillaria Chair in Belgian Linen, $2,400 from johnderian.com. I love the quietly classic shape of this chair, which would fit perfectly in the corner beside my desk.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Must-Have Office Accessories

I'm on a mission to make my office stylish, cozy, and filled with things I love. Upholstering my tackboard was a start, but I need these:

1. Spike wastecan, $24.95 from cb2.com. Standard-issue plastic cans are so ugly and get dirty so easily. This gives even trash style. 2. Orange stapler, $21.95 from cb2.com. If it sits out on my desk, it should look good.
3. Acrylic pencil cup and memo holder, $7.95 and $19.95 from cb2.com. I love acrylic furniture and accessories. They're sleek but subtle, setting a modern tone but not overpowering other designs.
4. File folder holder, $16.95 from crateandbarrel.com. This magazine rack will make a far more interesting file folder holder than the standard black metal ones everyone has. Comes in green, white, or red.
5. Bird of Paradise Wood Print, $34.99 from modcloth.com. I love all the colors in this funky design printed on sustainabily harvested cherry wood.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

So Much More Than Olive Oil

After years of driving past the DeLallo store on Route 30 near Jeanette, we finally stopped in this weekend. Wow! I can't believe I never went there before!

It's a large specialty grocery store with creaking old wood floors and the hustle and bustle that you usually only find in the Strip. The olive and antipasto bar takes up the center of the store, where there were long lines of people waiting to buy olives of every type imaginable. To the right was an entire gift room, filled with gift baskets and a fantastic selection of cooking tools and some servingware, dinnerware, and barware. The rest of the store looked like a regular grocery, but its shelves were a delight just to browse with pickled hot cauliflower, imported Italian pasta sauces, freshly made pasta, artichoke bruschetta, ciliegine (freshly made mozzarella) with cherry tomatoes, and a mind-dazzling display of more types of olive oil than I knew existed.

The best part? The prices. The cheeses were priced better than I've seen either at the regular grocery store or in the Strip. A big hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, which would cost between $10 and $15 at Giant Eagle or the Strip, cost just $7. I also picked up a gift set containing a large bottle of olive oil, eight ceramic dipping bowls, and four dipping spices to mix with the oil for under $12.

The section of homemade bread and all the snacks (five-pound bags of Swedish fish and giant Clark bars in addition to Italian crackers and cookies) rounded out the selection.

A trip to this store would be worth it any time, but especially to stock up for a party. Mangia!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Designer I Love: Xenia Taler

I stumbled onto Xenia Taler's tile designs just a few days ago. The designs combine sweet and retro and most are nature themed. How excited was I to see the designs on stationery at Barnes and Noble over the weekend! I bought this notebook and some notecards and may have to go back to get some more!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fun with Ice

Yesterday we went to the Ligonier Ice Fest, where dozens of guys carved ice sculptures using mini chainsaws and electric knives. They started by ironing a pattern to a block of ice then used the chainsaw to carve the general outline and then the smaller knives for detail work. They finished by going over it with a blowtorch to make it glassy and polished.

Friday, January 23, 2009

10 Years with Dave

Ten years ago today I met Dave on a blind date at Marios in the South Side.

At the time, I was very happily living by myself in the cutest little apartment without a TV (by choice) in a big old house on Morewood Avenue and was not at all interested in dating. Darcey, my BFF from high school, tried to set me up with numerous guys, but I always said no.

But I had just fallen in love with Howard Roark from The Fountainhead and had told Darcey I wanted to meet an architect. She met Dave through her co-worker and Dave's childhood friend Melanie. When she found out he was an architect, she set up a date for us to meet.

She had told Dave that I was really smart and had just written a book, so he was nervous (and was sweating like a bitch.) She told me that he was "OK looking" because she knew I don't like traditionally cute guys and would likely have turned her down if she said he was cute (even though she thought so), so I wasn't expecting much.

Obviously, we hit it off. It was really warm out, and I loved that Dave suggested we buy 40s and drink on the corner. But his cool black shoes (which I thought only gay guys wore but have since found out that all architects wear) and the fact that he drove a stick shift (so sexy) were big selling points.

We were living together by July.

Since then, Dave has learned I can be really stupid, and I still think he's cute.

Photo: Us in Redwoods National Forest in a West Coast trip in 2000--we have no digital pictures from 1999!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Focusing with White Noise

I'm grateful to have my own office at work, but even with my door closed it's sometimes noisy in the hall. And my neighbor's telephone conversations and music (an interesting mix of gospel and country) come right through the ceiling vent.

When I'm writing or just really busy (which is pretty much every day), I really need to focus, and I can't do it with all the noise. And playing my own music distracts me. So I've found a wonderful solution: white noise!

This website by Partners in Rhyme has continuously looping tracks of noise-blotting sounds like ocean waves, wind, rain, a clothes dryer, and a busy city street. I have one of these playing almost constantly, and it really helps me focus. If you're like me and need to focus, try it out! The only one I'd caution against is the church bells track, which is described as "One half hour of church bells ringing. Great for weddings or to annoy your noisy neighbor."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My 16 Visitors

I have Google Analytics set up to track visits to this blog. I have a whopping 16 unique visitors. I personally know 10 of them.

What disturbs me is that four people have come to this blog through a site called indienudes.com. Um….? I am afraid to investigate.

Mon Valley Cookies

I don't bake very often, mainly because I have trouble following recipes and/or I make my own substitutions and then it doesn't come out right.

But when my family made some delicious cookies recently that they said were healthy and easy to make, I thought I'd give it a try. Here is the recipe:

Ingredients
1 box cake mix (any kind)
1 can pumpkin puree (they said to use a whole can, but it seemed exessive to me so I only used about 2/3 a can; this is the kind of bad judgment that usually gets me in trouble)

Instructions
Mix together.
Drop spoonfuls onto baking sheet and bake.

They made a batch using spice cake mix, and then they put icing on top. They were good! They insisted that you could make it with any flavor cake mix and that it tasted good using vanilla or chocolate.

To test this theory, I bought some butter pecan cake mix--the flavor I thought would taste the oddest with pumpkin. (And who is making butter pecan cake? I've never had it.)

The result: It tasted like, well, I don't know. Not pumpkiny. They smelled like butter pecan more than they tasted like it. I guess they were just sweet. They were decent but not to die for.

When Dave tried them and asked what the hell was in them, I told him. He just looked at me and asked, "Why would you mix pumpkin with cake mix?"

"My family gave me the recipe," I said.

"That makes a lot more sense then," he said. Dave is not a fan of my family's secret family-only recipes, especially Baking Soda Hickies.

If you're daring, give these cookies a try. Just don't use butter pecan cake mix!

Monday, January 19, 2009

5 Things That Make Me Purr

1. Wedding Bell by Beach House

2. Thymes Fig Leaf & Cassis Cologne
3. The About Us page of Lollipop Pottery's website (their pottery is cool too!)
4. The Tiger in the House by Carl Van Vechten, both for its 50s style writing and the cover design that looks great on my coffee table 5. Yellow Blossom Clasp Clutch Purse by Jennifer Ladd

Sunday, January 18, 2009

New Name, Same Blog

Inspired by all the wonderful blogs I read, I wanted a new name and look for this blog. The name comes from my all-time favorite poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, which I still read out loud regularly so many years after the college class that changed my life, The Human Condition.

"There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea."


The photos in the header were all taken by my husband Dave, of course, and represent my favorite things: nature and all its creatures.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Miami Won Me Over

I liked Miami! I knew it was going to be warm...but 80 and so humid? Warm ocean water? It was a shock to my system. My mind couldn't get around it, so I refused to put on the AC in my hotel room and sweated through the nights. But there was a lot to see and do, and I liked walking around and checking out as much as I could. Here are some of the highlights...
A beach walk was a nice way to see the beach but not have to go onto it and get all sandy. It went all along Miami Beach so that I could walk from my hotel (at 39th Street) to South Beach (10th Street) easily. This is a view from the beach walk down to the beach.

Yikes!
My favorite part of Miami was walking along the beach at sunrise.

The Art Deco District in South Beach had a lot of cool buildings.

See the rest of my pictures on Flickr.

10 SEO and SEM Tips

A lot of my job involves increasing web traffic through search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM), so I was happy that the conference I attended spent a good amount of time on these strategies. Here are some of the tips we covered on increasing your ranking in search engine results:

1. You may have noticed a new, recent feature of Google searches: When you type in a word in the search field, Google automatically fills in the word or phrase. These are keywords and phrases other people have used, so this is a great way to do keyword research to see what keywords your audience is using to find yours and competitor websites. The longer the phrase, the more qualified the interest (i.e. someone searching for “Dell Inspiron Laptop with high-def widescreen” is a lot closer to purchasing than someone searching for “laptop computer.”) This is called the long tail of search.

2. Ranking in organic searches (i.e. when you don’t pay to have your website in a prominent place in search results) can be improved by keeping copy to 200-400 words per page; ensuring your copy aligns with your keywords; keeping keyword density to 4 or 5% on a page (don’t oversaturate copy with keywords); and ensuring you don’t have duplicate info on multiple pages.

3. Create an engine specific external site map (in Google Tools, look at site map).

4. Search engines don’t pull keywords from Flash; always make sure keywords in Flash pieces are also incorporated into the page content.

5. The more in-bound qualified links that come to your website, the better your ranking.

6. If your company has a blog, make sure it’s on your company website, not on a third-party site (like Blogger) so that search results promote your site not a third-party site.

7. Videos should be hosted on YouTube in addition to your company site because YouTube videos are ranked in search results.

8. Ads are now available on Facebook and YouTube and are very inexpensive and allow for a lot of niche targeting.

9. All websites should offer RSS, a news feed that web visitors subscribe to. On my sites, the RSS pages are always the most visited.

10. If you’re doing paid search (i.e. Google Adwords), create a different landing page for each campaign. Consider putting a form with an offer on the landing page to better generate leads and track campaign success (i.e. fill out this form and we’ll send you a free white paper).

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Headed to Miami

I’m headed to Miami this weekend for a conference. I am not a big fan of Florida. I think that’s because I associate Florida with beaches, old people, and fakeness. Maybe it’s not. Maybe I’m just projecting the ultimate of fakeness—Disney World—to the rest of the state…although I’m pretty sure I read in The Orchid Thief by Susan Oleander that at least several of Florida’s beaches are man-made. Miami Beach?

I guess I just don't think Florida is very interesting. When I travel, I want to explore new places and experience things I haven't before. To me, Florida is just one big beach, and I'm not a beach person and never have been. On top of just being downright bo-ring, I don't like getting sand everywhere on my person the minute I step onto a beach. I don't like the smell of dead fish that always seems to be in the air and seeing the bloated, decaying, and stinking carcasses of fish and other sealife that always washes up onto the beach. And, if I ever dared to step foot into the ocean again, which I probably won't, I don't like getting stung by jellyfish, pinched by crabs, and nearly pissing myself every time I think I saw a shark fin--which I remember happened a lot on family vacations to Florida when I was little. I'll take interesting, vibrant cities or snow-capped rocky mountain ranges any day over a lame beach!

While I wouldn’t personally go to Florida on my own, I’m headed there for work. I am staying at an oceanfront hotel, which I’m sure any other person would be happy about, but since it’s me, I’d much rather stay in the downtown part of the city, where I heard that there are some interesting development projects I’d like to check out. I hope the downtown is close enough to walk to.

This conference is going to teach me how to market conferences. While my job title is writer/editor, I really manage marketing communications for an international conference series. And what that means, in a nutshell, is that I’m supposed to be increasing attendance at the conferences. This is challenging because a.) Companies are slashing training budgets and conference attendance is way down and b.) I have absolutely no experience in marketing conferences in general, and specifically to international audiences. So, I am feeling a bit of pressure. Even though it's in Miami, I'm hoping to get a lot out of this conference. And who knows, maybe Miami will really win me over.

Well, I’m off to pack my thong and roller blades. Miami, here I come!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Still the Media Darling

The media still hearts Pittsburgh. I should say: the media outside of Pittsburgh.

Last summer I talked with a reporter from USA Today who asked me why Pittsburghers are so down on their city when it's so awesome. I'm happy she didn't publish my lame answer (I was not prepared to answer a philosophical question about the thoughts of yinzers), but it's interesting that everyone outside of Pittsburgh gets it!

Further proof: When I played tour guide with a group of out-of-town travel writers on the Gateway Clipper last year, they acted like the Cork Factory, stadiums, and Point State Park were the best things they'd ever seen in their lives. I felt like a star when they begged me to come to to their table and called over their friends to say, "She lives here!" and then made me point out every single thing along the river. I most enjoyed pointing out the houses and my estimate of what they would cost. That gets 'em every time.

Visual Words

This Visual Thesaurus is fun!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Fried Tofu Sweetens Mad Mex

As if Mad Mex wasn't awesome enough, they've added a wonderful new appetizer to their menu: Pennsyltucky Fried Tofu. Very similar to the fried tofu at Kaya, this enormous plate of deliciousness features crispy cubes of fried tofu with a sweet-tangy Asian sauce, sesame seeds, peanuts, and cilantro. It is wonderful and is yet another reason why Mad Mex is my favorite restaurant (along with Ali Baba and Lot 17, of course).

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Book Review: The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton

The Book of Ruth is old, from 1988, but I always shied away from it because it was an Oprah Book Club selection. I just finished it. Wow. It was amazing.

The narrator's tale is sad and beautiful all at once, like enjoying the beauty of fall leaves while knowing that the world will soon be cold, dark, and dead.

The writing was equally wonderful. How Jane Hamilton crafted nearly every sentence in the book so brilliantly while being true to Ruth's hillbilly voice is beyond me, but it's something I want to learn from.

Five meows--a must read!

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Cats Go Outside

Every time it's sunny, Grubble assumes it's nice out and wants to go outside. A few weekends ago when it was in the upper 60s, he got his wish. The cats (orange tabby Grubble and black tabby Orla) get very excited when they know they get to go outside!

video

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Visiting the Adult Toystore

Ever since I saw a commercial for a toy store on Route 8 that featured adults jumping around on adult-sized pogo sticks, I told Dave I wanted to visit the adult toystore. He kept telling me that an adult toy store is something else entirely, but yesterday we headed up Route 8 to check it out. Play Things Etc., about seven miles north of Butler, is housed in some crazy structure that looks like a stealth bomber. Dave was right: Besides the pogo sticks, miniature trains, and remote controlled helicopters and cars, there wasn't too much for adults. But it was a cool toy store, filled with every possible toy you can imagine.

On the way there, we stopped in downtown Butler. The business district is stable--just not very sexy. I was excited to see that The Book Nook was open and wanted to buy some of the books on my list. The man working didn't even acknowledge Dave's "hello," and kept his nose buried in a comic book. The store was filled with the genre of paperback fiction you find at grocery stores and not much else except for the very large selection of porn. They had not one of the books on my list, so I left empty-handed.
This building was cool. I was just going through photos of our trip to Amsterdam in 2005, and this reminded me of some of the buildings there.
Worsley's has an interesting selection of paint, wallpaper, unfinished furniture, finished furniture...and dolls. Along with many of the other Butler businesses, and like many small businesses in small towns in Pennsylvania, Worsley's wasn't open on a Saturday afternoon. Convincing small businesses to open on weekends is one of the great tasks of Main Street Managers all across Pennsylvania.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Upholstery Fabric Purse

I made this purse out of upholstery fabric and trim. There are a ton of mistakes, but I learned a lot (i.e. topstitching does not mean simply sewing on top of the fabric!) I'm going to make another purse today to fix some of the things I messed up on this one.

Meanwhile, I'm getting a little tired of this fabric. I've been looking at some fun new fabrics from Sew Mama Sew and beautiful and funky designs from Amy Butler. I need to branch out from JoAnn!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

My resolution for 2009: positive thinking.