Blessed, bountiful Christmas

I have a tradition with my dear friend Leah and her sweet mother and sister. Every Christmas Eve Day, we have brunch. This year was no exception. Leah made her fabulous egg bake and homemade muffins, Sarah brought a sparkling peach beverage and I fried up some bacon and provided fresh fruit and caramel rolls. It was a peaceful, relaxing celebration.

As I was purchasing fruit for the brunch, I browsed a display of oranges. I always crave oranges at Christmas time. Maybe it's because I remember getting a Christmas bag with nuts, candy and an orange after the children's Christmas Eve service when I was growing up. It also could be because I remember reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's recollection of her Christmas celebration. Oranges were a rare treat. When I take a bite of a section, I imagine what it must have been like to taste them for the first time. I marvel then at how much bounty surrounds me on a daily basis. The selection of fruit at the local grocery store in December is incredible. In fact, the grapes I ate this morning came all the way from Chile. It's a far cry from Laura Ingalls Wilder's pioneer days.

I wish each of you a blessed Christmas celebration, one where you are reveling in the miracles all around you--big and small.

Isaiah 9:6: For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given. And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.


Something in the air

There's another wedding on the horizon for my family. My youngest brother, Mark, is getting married in March. He's been busy this year...college graduation, buying a house, entering seminary, now engagement to Gretchen. Mark is quietly intense, a helpful handyman and a sweet brother with a quirky sense of humor. Like I said on the occasion of the engagement of my other brother Paul, I hope Gretchen knows what she's getting into. :)


The Big House

I've been a Michigan fan for as long as I can remember. I'd watch the games with my dad as a kid. He'd take me outside and teach me pass plays (buttonhooks, stop-and-go, slants). I dreamed about playing college football. Seriously, I did. Then Dad told me that girls were not allowed to play college football. My father is not one to sugar-coat reality. (Now, I've been adrift for the rest of my life, since I had to ignore my true calling.)

I begged my father to take me to Ann Arbor for a game. Dad wasn't convinced that I understood enough about the game to go. "If you name 10 Michigan players," Dad said, "I will take you to a game." I proceeded to rattle off the names of 10 players on the spot. My father was suitably impressed and so that fall, I found myself driving to Ann Arbor for my first college football game. It was Sept. 20, 1986. Michigan hosted Oregon State. Dad bought tickets from someone at the Student Union. I loved the whole experience. I was actually in Michigan Stadium. We won the game 31-12.

Every autumn, I count myself fortunate if I get to see a game in The Big House. This year, my uncle invited me to the Michigan/Ohio State game, which is a monster rivalry in college sports. It was a fantastic day. The only way it would have been better is if the Wolverines had won. :) I have a good feeling about next year's team though. Go Blue!


O Christmas Tree

Charlie Brown and I are kindred spirits. When I pick out my Christmas tree, I always remember what he says: "This little green one here, seems to need a home...besides, I think it needs me."

I love it, even if my sister's reaction was outright laughter. :)


Book review: The Long Tail

Want a glimpse of the future of business? Read The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. One of the editors at Wired magazine, Anderson has been writing about technology for a while. The subtitle of the book is "The New Economics of Culture and Commerce" which may sound like a heavy subject, but the book is a surprisingly easy read.

The Long Tail opened my eyes to just how much the Internet has changed and is changing our buying habits. We are changing from a mass market society to a niche market society. (That explains the decline of Top 40 radio, for one.) People out there want to buy specialized products. The Internet gives businesses unprecedented access to those people. I found it fascinating to examine the limitations of a physical big-box store, like Wal-Mart.

The book also made me realize some strange stereotypes that people (including me) sometimes have. For example, the thought that self-publishing is less "authentic" than having a publisher or that a movie that goes straight to DVD must be sub-par. These ideas are based on limitations of physical space; after all, there is only so much space in a bookstore or so many screens in a movie theater.

I found the book very thought-provoking and informative. It's definitely worth the time. By the way, the edition of the book I read was published in 2006, but Anderson published an updated version in 2009. I'm curious to see the newer edition.


Songs of the season

Ahhh, December has arrived. I can finally stop furtively checking the calendar and openly embrace the holiday season. I've been shopping, decorating and being an all-around-busy-elf, as I've decided to make many of my holiday gifts this year. (For those of you unfortunate enough to receive such largesse, I apologize in advance.)

I can also begin to listen to Christmas music. There is a wonderful assortment of lovely holiday tunes in the world. But due to a conspiracy by the radio industry, I never hear any of the good ones as I'm out and about. The minute I get into my car, I feel like I'm playing Russian roulette with my ears as I search for good Christmas carols. So without further ado, I present my list of worst Christmas songs EVER. (And Grandma Got Run Over By A Raindeer doesn't even make the list.)
  • Feliz Navidad - I'm sure there are people out there that love this song, but I am not one of them. This song just goes on and on. It never ends!
  • My Favorite Things - I don't have anything against the Sound of Music, but why do people think this is a Christmas song? Because of the "brown paper packages tied up with strings" lyric? That's a stretch.
  • Happy Xmas (War is over) - Ugh. Come on, John Lennon. Is this the best you could do?
  • Blue Christmas - Just because a song has the word "Christmas" in the title shouldn't make it a holiday classic, even if Elvis is singing it.
  • Last Christmas - Hey, it's the season of peace and joy and we have to listen to lyrics like these? "A face on a lover with a fire in his heart, A man undercover but you tore him apart."
Looking to get into the holiday spirit? Try A Charlie Brown Christmas or Home for Christmas by Amy Grant. I'm thinking a little Harry Connick Jr. might be fun too.


10 favorite picture books

When I was younger, I loved sitting on my mom's lap and having her read to me. I still love picture books and have my own collection of them. I share them with my nieces and nephews when they visit. I don't think I will ever outgrow these stories:
  • Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
  • Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
  • Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss
  • Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
  • Corduroy by Don Freeman
  • The Man Who Didn't Wash His Dishes by Phyllis Krasilovsky
Here are some picture books I've grown attached to as an adult:
  • Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems
  • Click, Clack, Moo; Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin
  • Food Fight by Carol Diggery Shields
  • Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney


Officially autumn

Oh, it's that time of the year again: crisp air, crunchy leaves and fantasy football.

I love playing fantasy football. The drafts, the smack talk, the problem of coming up with a good name for one's team...

The ubiquitous nature of the Internet has changed the face of fantasy sports. No more manual labor with calculating points. Drafts are done in real time. You have choices about which type of league you want to be in, how the scoring is set up and what website to use. Add in countless commentators giving you weekly predictions and the sum equals a game that could be played by my 4-year-old niece, who would likely have as much--if not more--success than I do. I am a rational person and I know this to be true. And yet, I am sucked in by the pseudo-competition.

Lest you think I have completely lost my marbles, I lobby for responsible fantasy team ownership. Is there such a thing as "too much of a good thing?" I say yes. After more than two leagues, I think they start to cancel each other out. You can't remember who you have on your teams or if you do, it's because you have a massive notebook with the team rosters and too much time on your hands. :)


This is the day

Last weekend, my brother got married. Aren't they beautiful?

The bride and groom with their nieces and nephews.

Autumn made a surprise appearance for the day (it snowed the night before) and brought along the sun. My father preached on Psalm 118:24 for the ceremony. The afternoon was filled with photographs, cake and lots of smiles and a few tears. The evening brought a lovely video of the new couple, an informal home-cooked meal, a fabulous speech by the best man, lots of visiting with family and friends and more smiles and tears.

"This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it." - Psalm 118:24


Chippewa Valley Code Camp

I'm preparing a presentation on usability for the upcoming Chippewa Valley Code Camp. CVCC is a free, one day conference with three different learning tracks. The conference is geared towards software programmers and developers. If this is something you are interested in, I encourage you to check it out. Maybe I'll see you there!


Twilight confession

If you haven't heard of the Twilight book series by Stephenie Meyer, you might be accused of living under a rock! Meyer's series of four books is targeted at the young adult market. It's really only existed peripherally for me until very recently. I'd see references to it on magazine covers and in newspaper articles and in Facebook flair. I just had to shake my head at the passionate debates the books inspired in fans. Edward vs. Jacob? Really? I was in Borders the other day and they had the most ostentatious display of Twilight merchandise. I wish I'd had my camera with me. Books, CDs, lunch boxes, pins, posters, chocolates, it was so funny.

I began to pick up hints that people over the age of 14 also liked the books, so last week I checked Twilight out of the library. I was skeptical despite the recommendation of my friends. I was amazed at how much I enjoyed the story. I couldn't put it down. Yes, I've gone over to the dark side. Oh wait, that's Star Wars. :)



I love superhero movies. When X-men came out, my friend Leah and I had a debate. If you could have a superpower, what would it be? Leah chose shape-shifting. I decided on telekinesis. (We both agreed that controlling the weather wouldn't be that great.)

In real life, my talent isn't as flashy as telekinesis. I'm a good speller. I subconsciously proofread everything I read. At a park a few weeks ago, I saw this sign and captured it for posterity. Do you see why? :)


Free speech

I was blown away by this succinct quote in the preface of Jeffery Deaver's latest fiction novel:
"What the Internet and its cult of anonymity do is to provide a blanket sort of immunity for anybody who wants to say anything about anybody else, and it would be difficult in this sense to think of a more morally deformed exploitation of the concept of free speech." -Richard Bernstein in The New York Times
I completely agree.


New use for business cards

I had lunch with two of my sisters last week. As I was giving them the update on my business, I showed them my new business cards. The conversation stopped abruptly when we happened to glance at my niece Sophia. She was eating a business card. I'll admit I didn't have this particular use in mind when I designed them. :)


Open for business

Innovative Writing and Design is ready to go! After a few months of planning and lots of work, I'm officially announcing that I'm open for business. Please check out my website and let me know what you think.


Deck building

Today I devoted several hours to building a deck in my backyard. Anyone who knows me even a little knows that I'm not Ms. Fix-it or Ms. Do-it-yourself. I have a few crucial tools like a hammer and screwdrivers, but I don't use them very much. I've had more than a few people laugh when I tell them what I'm doing. I think they are picturing some rickety, unstable thing that you might see on a hillbilly cabin.

Taking on a project of building a deck would be definitely out of my league without the help of my sister. Beth is an experienced builder. She's thorough, systematic and very competent, not to mention she has her own set of power tools. In short, she's awesome. If something goes wrong on the deck building, it's sure to be my fault. But I used both a miter saw and a drill today and I'm still standing. :)

Here are a few pictures of our work in progress.


Ain't never been done before

My friend Gary and I have very different tastes when it comes to movies. In the interest of expanding our horizons (or filled with glee at the idea of watching each other suffer), we made a deal. I'd watch a movie that he recommended if he watched a movie that I recommended. Gary had never seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a classic black and white movie from 1939 starring Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur. In turn, I had never seen Smokey and the Bandit, filmed in 1977 starring Burt Reynolds and Sally Field.

Gary didn't make too many comments during my movie--although I think he almost fell asleep a few times. Afterwards, I asked him what he thought. He was unmoved. How can you not like the heartwarming naivety of Jimmy Stewart? Ask Gary.

I tried (unsuccessfully) to not make comments during Gary's movie choice. I'll sum up my thoughts like this: despite the dorky plot and dialogue, the movie wasn't as bad as I expected. I even laughed in a few parts.

I finally figured out why Gary likes the movie: the black TransAm and all of the peeling out and burning rubber. Oh, and Burt Reynolds had a mustache.


Softball season update

Another softball season is in the record books. Our league was split into two divisions for the tournament and the Tiefel Tigers won two games in our division to advance to the championship game. I pitched and had a pretty good game. To be honest, I don't remember too much of what happened other than that I sprained my hand and there were two people dressed in costume who showed up to watch the game. One was dressed like Santa and the other like Jesus. It was bizarre. If it weren't for the corroboration from my teammates, I might have chalked it up to a hallucination.

Anyway, we lost the game 13-9, but we got t-shirts for being the runners up, so we look like winners!


Design essentials

During the school year, I volunteer my time at a local school, helping students put together a newspaper. The students suggest story ideas, write the articles, take the photos and publish the paper. One challenge I have with this project (other than the occasional lazy writer!) is teaching students some basic principles of design. We all know good design when we see it. We usually know bad design when we see it too! But it's hard for me to distill design ideas down to some manageable guidelines for 11- and 12-year-olds.

Quite by accident, I stumbled upon The Non-Designer's Design Book by Robin Williams. I highly recommend this book to people who want to learn more about basic design. The author has four general principals that she applies to examples and the results are amazing. It's a great primer.


Prize winner

I love getting the mail on any given day, but yesterday was a great day. No bills and a letter from the library announcing that I was a prize winner! (I had signed up for my library's summer reading program for adults.)

Side observation: Don't you just love the phrase "prize winner," especially when the prize winner is you? Who cares what the prize is? YOU won a PRIZE! It's an endorphin rush. :)

The library staff is tricky--the letter does not tell you what the prize is, just that you have one to pick up. I went to the library and approached the reference desk letter in hand. "Jill, you look like a prize winner," the reference librarian said. (Did I mention that I am on a first name basis with several of the library staff?) My prize is a $10 chamber of commerce gift certificate. It really does pay to read. :)


You never know until you look

This summer's been flying by. Such a whirlwind! I've been so busy trying to keep in mind everything to get done for my business; I've had a few long days.

Today my friend Geoff stopped over to help me figure out how I can get a phone to my upstairs office. We ended up outside, looking at the back of the house. Geoff (lucky guy) had never seen my backyard. I've mentioned it before, but my backyard is a complete conundrum for me. I don't know what to do with it. It's like a committee of landscape architects had a mental meltdown there.

So, anyway, we are looking up at the two apple trees in the backyard. Hovering under the shadow of the large apple tree and crowded out by second apple tree, there is a scrawny-looking thing. I'd never looked too closely at this one before, but today my eyes drift upward and I find myself thinking, "Those apples sure are funny shaped." Yep, you guessed it. It turns out it's a pear tree. Here's the photographic proof:

I felt less stress and pressure after seeing the pears. It was an unexpected little surprise. The LORD has been so good to me and this was my reminder for today. :)


Back to school

I've been off the grid for the last week, teaching Vacation Bible School. I had the 4-year-olds and there were nine lively little people in my class. My family watched in amusement as I looked more haggard as the week went on. The experience was a challenge, yet such a blessing at the same time.

Speaking of school, I'm trying to find a reason to buy crayons. Coloring was not my favorite thing as a child. I was more of a glue and scissors girl. But the back to school sales always tempt me. There is something quite tantalizing about opening a brand new box of Crayolas: seeing the rainbow of perfect tips and smelling the waxy scent. Ahhh. Happiness in box.

I also loved the names of the crayons. Brick Red. Burnt Sienna. Lemon Yellow. Pine Green. Crayola's website even has a history of the colors. Sadly, Raw Umber has been retired.

(photo credit: bookgrl via flickr)


America's game

I have been a Detroit Tigers fan my whole life. I was 12 when they won the World Series in 1984. I memorized the roster, which included classy shortstop Alan Trammell and Chet "The Jet" Lemon, the center-fielder. I loved the personalities on the team, from quiet second baseman Lou Whitaker to raucous right-fielder Kirk Gibson. But when pitching ace Jack Morris signed with Minnesota in 1991, I was sucker-punched with the concept of "baseball as a business." And the major league baseball strike in 1994 left me down for the count.

But in the past few years, I've fallen in love with baseball again. I find myself driving down the road, tuned to Moose Country 106.7, listening to Milwaukee Brewers radio broadcasts. There is something quintessentially summer and American about baseball. The pace of the game is fairly slow, which I find therapeutic in these days of social networking and instant information. I relax as I listen to the even-keel color commentary. Baseball on the radio is nostalgic in that it recalls seemingly simpler days. I have no trouble imagining an old farmer in overalls sitting on a worn porch smoking a pipe and listening to a baseball game after a long day in the sun.

But since I'm not usually driving in the car for hours at a time, I confess that I am glad for ESPN's GameCast and the up-to-the-minute scores and standings. Technology does have some advantages. :)


Is anyone with me on this?

Confession time: I hate John Tesh's radio show. It bothers me that he uses the phrase "intelligence for life." It's not like he's advancing new theories or producing great works of literature! Most of what he shares is trivia or common sense.

Want to know what put me over the edge? About two months ago, I heard him talk about great tips to getting job interviews. The first one was to proofread your resume because typos turn employers away. Really? You think?


Cold War fiction

Growing up in the 70s and 80s when the cold war and arms race was in full steam, I remember being frightened about the idea that America could be threatened by communist Russia. I've always been fascinated by Russian history during the twentieth century. So much changed for Russian people during those 100 years. One of my favorite fiction books ever is Gorky Park, by Martin Cruz Smith. Published in 1981 (and set in the same time period), Gorky Park's protagonist is the homicide detective Arkady Renko.

I recently discovered another author who writes compelling fiction set in Russia. If you like Martin Cruz Smith, read Tom Rob Smith's two books Child 44 and his newest, The Secret Speech. Smith's books are set in the 1950s, during the shaky political times before and after Stalin's death. The main character named Leo Demidov is a flawed MGB agent. Readers get good feel for the social climate of those times, wrapped in a good thriller story.


It was a barn-burner, folks

The high scoring softball game last week may have been a flash-in-the-pan. This week, with the wind blowing in, hits were hard to come by. The Tiefel Tigers ended up winning 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh, on a hit to right field by Elizabeth. Jer sped around the bases and scored to put an end to the tension.

We have a rematch against the same team next week. I have a feeling that they will be looking for revenge.


Coming soon...

It's official. I'm starting my own business. (You probably guessed that I was leaning in this direction if you read this.) It's been a busy couple weeks for me: trying to come up with a business name, writing a business plan, cleaning and organizing my office, and working on my website.

My business will focus on writing and usability. I'm very excited! More information to come...


Triple scoop of sports news

Sports fans: Sorry for my lapse in reporting!

June 24: The Tiefel Tigers played a tight game, all the way to last inning. We lost the game 10-3, but it felt like it was closer than that.

July 1: Despite the cool weather, we won our game 15-7.

July 8: The team we played tonight had only lost one game and we'd just about given up before the game began since we were missing Mark (power) and Jer (speed). We ended up scoring six runs at the bottom of the seventh inning to win the game, 25-24. It was crazy.

Only two games left in the season...


Little buddy

My six-year-old nephew Isaiah stayed with me this past week. We had a good time: biking to Grandma's house, making rice krispie treats and crafts, and going to the movies to see Ice-Age 3 (in 3D).

I introduced him to one of my favorite things: Star Wars. Isaiah and I watched the original trilogy this week. Watching a little boy's reaction to seeing the classic movies for the first time reminds me how great they really are...not just as pop culture references or ground-breaking cinematography.

Isaiah peppered me with questions about plot and character. "Aunt Jill, what kind of spaceship does Luke have?" "Are lightsavers warm?" "Why is the emporer so mean?" His favorite character is Luke Skywalker, followed closely by Yoda. He's disturbed that Darth Vader breathes with a mask. He calls C3PO "that golden guy" and has taken to walking around with his knees locked. We take turns reading during the opening titles. Isaiah's line is "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." and then it's my turn. The more dramatic the recitation, the better. :)

It was a nice (and lively) way to spend my week.


Popping the question

Can you believe it? This guy is getting married.

This is my goofy brother Paul. He and his fiancee Emily are planning an October wedding. I hope she knows what she's getting into! :)

Seriously--my silly, earnest, and tenderhearted brother is one in a million. (He's come a long way from shooting rubber bands at me in my cube.) I'm so happy for both of them.

My not-so-secret love affair with typography

I love fonts. I love lettering. I always have. The clean, crisp lines of a sharp font. The smooth curves. The way the letters interact for a lovely partnership. How some fonts evoke a feeling...

Yesterday, I took a webinar (seminar transmitted over the web) on typography and Adobe Creative Suite 4. The three hour session was sponsored by AcademyX. The first two hours focused on Adobe InDesign and the remaining time was split between Illustrator and Photoshop. I learned some really neat tips, as well as some new keyboard shortcuts.

One tip to share for InDesign users: You can create a custom glyph palette to store your favorite bullets or special characters from different fonts. To do this, select Type> Glyphs. On the flyout menu, click New Glyph Set and name it. When you see a glyph that you want to add to your palette, right-click and select Add to Glyph Set. Neat, huh?

Want to browse some funky typefaces? Try Dafont or Urbanfonts.


Promises kept

When we were kids, my sisters and I tried all manner of creative schemes. The most famous of these was our pitch to open a public library in our basement. (Mom put the kabosh on that pretty quickly.) We tried to sell lemonade once, but had no customers. None. What a disappointment. As a result, we vowed then that when we were adults, we would never pass by a lemonade stand without stopping to support those inventive kids.
A few days ago, I was driving in the city and saw three girls holding signs and selling lemonade for a quarter a cup. I turned around, pulled off on the shoulder and rolled down my window. I bought a cup of sweet, tart lemonade with a little nostalgia.
Here's to you, Beth and Deb!

(photo credit: flickr.com)


Book review: The 4-Hour Workweek

If the purpose of a book is make you stop and completely re-think your assumptions about life, then The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss definitely did its job. Ferriss, a 31-year-old entrepreneur, challenges the way Americans traditionally think about the workplace. He advocates for people to stop spinning their wheels at jobs they dislike for long periods of time, simply because they feel that's what they are supposed to do. Ferriss's "lifestyle design" concept includes taking "mini-retirements" throughout your life rather than working towards a single retirement.

His plan can be summarized as DEAL (Definition, Elimination, Automation, Liberation). The section on elimination was spot on. The book really challenged my thinking with the section on automation. Throughout each stage of the plan, he gives very specific steps to help readers achieve their goals. I do have to mention that, to me, some of Ferriss's suggestions seemed something less than honest.

I liked the way the author included quotes and I enjoyed his writing style. As someone who values balancing work and life, I thought much of what he had to say made a lot of sense. It's hard to explain how I felt when I finished reading the book. Maybe empowered? I won't be adopting all of his strategies, but it's been a while since I felt like my career could be an adventure. Sign me up. :)


Winning streak!

It's official! The Tiefel Tigers are on a win streak! We won our game on Wednesday! I started at pitcher this game and had a shaky start with two walks. This is particularly troublesome when the next guy up hits a home run.

However, the Tiefel Tigers came alive during the second inning; we batted around the order and then some, scoring 6 runs. The defense was solid, both infield and outfield. Collectively, we had 11 singles and 3 doubles, which made this game our best offensively in the season thus far. This doesn't even count Jerrod's grand slam. The final score was 13-3 after 5 innings. The win brings our season record to 2-3.


Coming soon to a bookstore near you

As I mentioned before, I love a good suspense novel, so I'm always keeping an eye out for books that are going to be published by my favorite authors. There's lots to look forward to!

Coming soon:

  • The Apostle by Brad Thor (June 30) - featuring counterterrorism operative Scot Harvath
  • A Plague of Secrets by John Lescroart (June 30) - featuring attorney Dismas Hardy
  • Guardian of Lies by Steve Martini (July 14) - featuring attorney Paul Madriani
  • The Defector by Daniel Silva (July 21) - featuring art restorer and Israeli operative Gabriel Allon
  • Rough Country by John Sandford (Sept. 29) - featuring Virgil Flowers of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension
  • The Professional by Robert B. Parker (Oct. 5) - featuring Boston private detective Spenser
  • Pursuit of Honor by Vince Flynn (Oct. 13) - featuring counterterrorism operative Mitch Rapp
  • Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly (Oct. 13) - featuring homicide detective Harry Bosch


Landscaping levels

My backyard has multiple personalities. Witness one side of the backyard:

And then the other side:

What can I say? It's a work-in-progress.

Summer reading suggestions

I have a [BIG] weakness for legal, political or suspense fiction. If you're looking for some escapism this summer, here are some recently published books by a few of my favorite authors.

Long Lost by Harlan Coben (March 31) = Coben remains one of my favorite authors for two reasons: the twists and turns of the plots and the sardonic style of his protagonists. This book features sports agent Myron Bolitar. If you haven't read Coben before, start with Deal Breaker.

Wicked Prey by John Sandford (May 12) = Sandford lives in Minneapolis/St. Paul and I love that I recognize some of the places in the books. (Like this one.) Over his career, his writing has evolved with sharper character sketches and dry, wry dialogue. This is the 19th novel featuring Lucas Davenport.

The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly (May 26) = This book picks up the story of journalist Jack McEvoy, an experienced reporter who is being downsized by the Los Angeles Times. Connelly spins a tale about people who have access to our personal information in this digital age.

Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child (May 19) = There is something intriguing about a man who travels across the United States with nothing but his toothbrush. Jack Reacher (no middle initial) is an ex-military policeman with special skills. This is the only book on this list I haven't read yet, but I can't wait to start it and I'm sure it's going to be good. The Killing Floor is the first novel featuring Reacher.


Sweet victory

Well, the Tiefel Tigers finally played tonight after a two-week hiatus. Maybe all we needed was a little rest, because we won our first game! The final score was 15-8. We actually batted through the lineup in the second inning, scoring 9 runs in that inning alone. Joel had a grand slam, which was pretty cool to see.

Other highlights of the game included Darin's grab in right-center field and Joelle's double--she dedicated it to me...thanks, Jo! It's about time. ;)

We had lots of fans tonight, which was great. Thanks for coming out to see us play. Hope you got your money's worth!


Happy birthday

A blessed birthday to my father! Love you!

Are you an entrepreneur?

Last week I met with a SCORE counselor to talk about starting my own business. SCORE is a non-profit group devoted to providing entrepreneurs with advice and information. A partner with the Small Business Administration (SBA), it doesn't cost anything to meet with a mentor. During my one hour meeting, I asked questions and took notes. The gentleman who met with me is a retired accountant. He gave me a booklet packed with details about creating a business plan and a marketing plan. Pretty exciting stuff!


Summer reading program

I signed up for the summer reading program today. Yup, you heard me. My library runs a program--for adults--called Club Read! Nifty, huh? It's got prizes and everything. Last year I won a $10 gift certificate. (You can tell me I'm a dork or a nerd, but trust me, I've already heard it.)

Signing up for the summer reading program meant saying goodbye to school and hello to a long, carefree summer vacation. My father was dedicated to getting his daughters registered for the program at our local library, which was 15 miles away. We piled out of the hot family van and into the air-conditioned comfort of the library. My sisters and I clattered up the marble steps to the children's area on the second floor and scattered to our chosen destinations. I veered off to the left drawn to the Nancy Drew books like a magnet to the North Pole.

My peach-colored youth library card was better than a winning lottery ticket. In between visits, my mother insisted on keeping my sisters' cards so they wouldn't lose them. I was so reluctant to part with my card that she relented and let me keep it. For some people, getting their driver's license is their first big "coming of age" moment. For me, it was getting the buttercup-colored adult library card at age 12. :)


Book review: Undress for Success

Knowing that I've been thinking about striking out on my own, my dear uncle recently sent me a couple articles that appeared in the Wall Street Journal about freelancing and being self-employed. One of the articles quoted Kate Lister, who with co-author Tom Harnish, recently published Undress For Success: The Naked Truth to Making Money at Home. I decided the book was worth a look.

I was expecting the book to be about freelancing--and there is a section on freelance work--but I was surprised to find that a large part of it discussed various jobs that can feasibly be done from home, including telenurses, transcriptionists, virtual assistants, call center agents and more. It gives advice on how current employees can pitch the idea of working from home to their employers. I found it interesting to explore the idea of a remote workplace.

Side note: The authors really hammer the title theme of "undressed" throughout the book. I found it a little distracting. Personally, I was put off by the frequent references to "jammies" and "frillies."

However, if you are looking to work from home, this book might give you some good places to start. The authors have done their homework and provide many company names and websites for more information. The book also has an accompanying website: undress4success.com.


I love the library

As a homeowner, I occasionally get curmudgeonly about the taxes I have to pay. But I never, ever begrudge the money that goes toward the support of my public library. I love the library. It's one of my favorite places and I think it's one of the best concepts EVER.

We are inundated with tons of information, so much so that it's hard to remember that throughout much of history, books and education were not readily available to the general population. But libraries level the playing field. If you can't afford to go to school or even buy a book, the library offers countless educational opportunity.

I visit the library weekly (on average). And while I don't wrap my books in brown paper and twine to prevent them from being damaged (see Sydney Taylor's All-of-a-kind Family) I love the feeling of borrowing, reading and returning volumes of books.

And lest you think that libraries are an archaic concept, many of them are on the cutting edge of technology. My local library does a fabulous job of being accessible to users. I can search the catalog and view my record and more...all online.

Thank you, Andrew Carnegie!
(photo credit: wikipedia.com)


Graduation time

My sweet brother just graduated from the local university with a bachelor of arts degree. Mark majored in history and minored in psychology. (Didn't think I knew that, did you, little brother?) He plans to enter the seminary at Immanuel Lutheran College in the fall. Congratulations, Cecil! I'm so proud of you!


Safe arrival

My newest nephew made his appearance early Saturday morning. Thomas was a few weeks early, but healthy, precious and ready to be loved by his older brother and sister.

Psalm 118:29: Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.


Tigers softball week 2 results

For those sports fans out there, here is a recap of the second week of the season. The highlight of the game was Mark's in-the-park grand slam. (I was on first base and it was not a good feeling to know that he was behind me. I felt like the hare, but I probably looked like the tortoise.) I got to play left-center field, which is one of my favorite positions on the ballfield. My dad was at pitcher and his accuracy was remarkable, considering the strong winds.

We ended up losing 12-6, but at least the game was closer. Our usually taciturn manager Joel sent this e-mail:

Just an update on where we stand in our Wednesday night league. We are in 8th place (out of the 10 teams), but in all fairness the teams we lost to are in 2nd and 3rd place. We play Chippewa Trails Trucking (1-1) next week at 9 pm. I think we can take them.

Stay tuned for the Wednesday results and see if Joel's confidence was well placed. :)


Book review: Letting Go of the Words

Increasingly, people rely on the web for many things: paying bills, doing research, product support, and the list goes on. Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works by Janice (Ginny) Redish explores how to write for this relatively new medium.

As writers, we often assume that users will read every word that we write. Nope. They scan. We assume that people will arrive at a website page using the very careful navigation we've set up. Not so--maybe they found the page using a search engine. Speaking as a user, my frustration with some websites has lead me to give up on them.

This book has 13 chapters and is full of real-life examples of what actual websites have done. Writing for the web requires you to understand what your goals are and who your audience is. What I found most useful about the book was the way Redish demonstrated what was good and not so good using short call-outs. Overall, I felt like there was lots of great information, even for experienced writers, but there were times I felt like she was repeating herself, especially with the end of chapter summaries. This book is a worthwhile resource for anyone looking to improve website content.

Beginning a blog

Before I actually started this blog, I thought for several months about doing it, but I got hung up on the details. What should I name it? Should I blog under my real name? What should it be about? I finally decided that it was more important to just start the blog. If you're wondering about blogging yourself, read this post by Penelope Trunk. Good food for thought.


It's the little things in life...

It's funny how little things can make you feel happy. I am reveling because I went to the library this morning and the newest John Sandford book was on the reserve shelf with my name on it! I think all my good plans for the afternoon just got derailed by the tantalizing thought of a good read!

I also opened a new box of Honey Nut Cheerios this morning and won a $5 gift card. Perhaps a shopping spree is in my future. Maybe I should go buy more cereal. :)


Tea time

I went to meet my good friend Leah for tea this morning at Infinitea Teahouse. (How posh and British I sound!) It was actually Leah's idea, so I can't take credit for it. I am not a tea drinker, but idea appealed to my sense of propriety and etiquette, so I agreed to the proposal.

Deciding on a tea was difficult (there are over 160 to choose from). After sniffing from the sample test tubes, I admitted my ignorance to the gentleman behind the counter and asked him for a recommendation. He suggested tea #37 named Super Nova. He went on to tell me that it had hints of chocolate and vanilla (and some other things that I can't remember right now). To be honest, the name Super Nova had me hooked. Who wouldn't want to drink something called Super Nova? It just sounds awesome. Leah was more discerning than I, choosing her tea based on things other than the name. She chose tea #98, organic mint mate. After the tea was done steeping, the gentleman delivered two charming iron teapots and two small teacups to our table by the window. I was pleasantly surprised at the flavor of my tea, but I preferred Leah's mint tea. I think we're going to have to go back sometime soon. Tea #123 (Organic Summer Lemon Iced) is calling my name.

Put me in coach, I'm ready to play

It's that time of the year again. The smell of worn leather. The crack of a bat. The bloody knees of my brother Jer after he slides into third base. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, the softball season has begun. For 13 of the last 14 summers, my family has fielded a co-ed slow pitch softball team in the city league. We've had our ups and downs like any franchise. (We went 0-10 our first season, but rebounded the next year.) I served as team manager for several seasons, but am happy to just be showing up and playing now.

Our first game was on May 13 and we did not have an auspicious start to the season. The umpire assumed that there was no game because it was raining, so he was 30 minutes late to the game. (After beginning the game, my feelings toward the umpire did not improve. Let me just say that I should have followed my mother's timeless advice: "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.") There was a puddle the size of Texas behind home plate, to say nothing of the swampy batters' boxes. It didn't take long for the brand new game balls to become muddy and heavy.

Between my goofy brother Mark performing antics at third base and my sister Elizabeth buzzing with righteous indignation at first base, it felt like home to be back on the pitcher's mound. The fresh smells of the ball diamond feed the senses and there's nothing quite like a softball game to remind me that it's spring again. (Good thing I got something out of it, because we lost 16-3!)


Support networks

I have a huge family and all of them have done a phenomenal job of supporting me. My friends are fabulous. Sometimes I think people want to ask how I’m doing, but are afraid that it might be like pouring lemon juice on a paper cut (apologies to Miracle Max). If I’m completely honest, it can be sensitive and sometimes it feels a little raw. But the knowledge that others are thinking about me as I am going through this far outweighs the other stuff.

There’s something unique about support from people with whom you have a professional relationship. The first couple days, it was strange to wake up and realize that I was not going into “work” this day. The projects I owned no longer belong to me. From the first moment I heard the news, I began to feel a separation between me and my co-workers. People I talked to and interacted with every day are no longer part of my daily world.

During the first week after losing my job, I heard from three former co-workers in different ways. I sincerely appreciated the gestures. One was a simple e-mail with two sentences: I’m so sorry. If there’s anything I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to ask. Try as you might, there is something intensely personal about losing a job. No amount of reassurance completely erases the initial seeds of self-doubt that are sown from the experience. But the way my work friends responded helped. A lot.
(photo credit: imdb.com)



This past week was “one of those weeks.” I feel like I’ve got my car in neutral on the Indy 500 and everyone else is speeding past me going 200 miles an hour. I finally went outside and did lawn work until I couldn’t move anymore. At least I felt like I’d gotten something accomplished. This job-search-inner-examination-where-is-my-life-headed stuff is exhausting.

Grandfather to the rescue! Conversations with Grandpa are peppered with jumbled alphabet soup acronyms. His verbal shorthand includes pearls like YBBI (you’d better believe it) and KISS (keep it simple, stupid). For this situation, Grandpa tells me, “DSKG.” Don’t stop, keep going. Sounds like a pretty good theme for right now. It gives me a different perspective. Just keep moving. Check.


Back to kindergarten

My friend Julie is a wise and thoughtful woman. She lost her job ten months ago and despite not having found the right opportunity, she remains cheerful, positive and encouraging. We have had several conversations about our similar experiences. One of her comments gave me pause. “Be careful of volunteering too much of your time,” she said. Taking Julie’s observation to heart, I have been careful about taking on additional responsibilities.

However, I broke protocol on Friday and spent the morning helping my mother at her job. Mom is a kindergarten teacher and it was the annual kindergarten round-up. The corporate world is very different from a kindergarten classroom. I am used to conference calls, writing reports and adult conversation. Today, I strung lights, cut out cardboard figures, wiped up glue and poured drinks. At best, it was controlled chaos and constant excited chatter. After two hours, I was ready for a nap! It was like I was a high school student who was “job shadowing” for a day. I thought I’d share a few pictures from the day.

Here is my nephew Andy posing as an astronaut. (The theme of the round-up was Space.) My talented sister painted this cardboard cutout.

This is my mom, teacher extraordinare, showing her "yoda soda" concoction.

Running for the finish line

Yesterday a marathon was held in my hometown. Over 200 people ran 26.2 miles. More than twice that number ran the half marathon (13.1 miles). I walked 3.5 miles yesterday and considered that a good workout. :)

I admire the dedication and commitment of these people, who plod for hours (literally!), powered by willpower and their own two legs. I am proud to say that I know several of these runners personally. Congratulations to my brother Mark, Gretchen and her father Tim, Susan, Sherman and Kacie, and Ryan and Erin, all of whom completed the half-marathon. Wow!
My friend Anne channeled her inner Phiedippides and ran the entire marathon. What an amazing accomplishment.

Hebrews 12:1-2: Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.


Book review: Rebound

Martha Finney's new book Rebound: A Proven Plan for Starting Over After Job Loss is an easy read, with some worthwhile ideas. Most of the information seems to be common sense, but when you are contemplating the possibility (or reality) of a layoff, perhaps a simple checklist is exactly what you need. Written with a light touch of humor, it may help job seekers gain perspective. Each chapter is short and concludes with three summary items (what to do, what not to do and what to do first).

Several of the chapters deal with the ego-blasting effects of losing your job. It’s hard to not take a job loss personally. Finney’s book does a nice job of gently nudging readers in the right direction. It’s not personal. It’s business. I particularly enjoyed chapter 4, a tongue-in-cheek checklist of who could be on the list to be laid off. Bottom line: Did I learn anything new? No. Did I find the book worthwhile? Yes, in the form of affirmation and shared experiences.


Career testing

It seems like a good idea to reassess my career options right now, so in the interest of this goal, I went down to local workforce development center today to take a test called CareerScope. The job center was busy with people on computers looking for employment and people getting help writing resumes. I went to inquire about the test at the desk and was directed to an ancient desktop system. I had my doubts about the test based on the dated user interface, which reminded me of an Atari video game.

The test itself was divided into two major parts. The first part surveyed my interests. The second part measured my competency in several areas. After nearly an hour of testing, I was done. The printer spat out 17 pages of detailed analysis for my reading enjoyment. The good news is that there were no major surprises. I'm not harboring some incredible aptitude of which I'm not aware (although I was a bit confounded at my interest rating in the "science" category).

I also found out about http://online.onetcenter.org/. This site is a good source of information about jobs, including projected future growth in the field and salary ranges.


March Fools' Day?

I was laid off on March 11, two days after my birthday. I had been working for the same company for 14 years so this caused various reactions of shock among my family members when I gave them the news.

I am very close to my grandparents, so I wanted them to hear the news from me. My grandmother believes people should never stop learning. From the time I was a little girl, I admired her my professional savvy. She has a master’s degree in library science and she reads the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Meanwhile, my grandfather has the kindest heart of anyone I know. He owned his own business for several years and he is a great believer in customer service and doing the right thing for his clients.

My grandpa answered the phone when I called that day. I took a deep breath and parroted the news to Grandpa. He was incredulous. “I can’t believe that, Jill. What a mistake on their part!” When I got to the part of about my termination date being April 3, Grandpa misheard me. “April 1? Jill, is this an April Fools’ Joke?” he said. I recognized the tone in his voice. “Believe me, I am not joking, Grandpa!”

This would have just been one more odd conversation in an already strange day were it not for what happened a week later. I stopped by my grandparents' house to say hi and we ended up talking about how things were going. Grandpa cleared his throat and said, “I may have reacted badly to your news. This will turn out to be a great thing for you. And as quickly as you lost your job, that's as quickly as things can turn around.” On those days when I start to wonder where I am going, I remember this.



I am a voracious reader. [Isn't voracious a nice word? I'm savoring this opportunity to use it in a sentence.] Right now, I am reading Coop, a new book by Michael Perry, author of Population:485 and Truck. The tagline for Coop is "A year of poultry, pigs, and parenting" and it's a collection of the author's memories of being raised on a farm skillfully interwoven with his current attempts to raise chickens and children.

What I like best about Perry's style is that his descriptions are just detailed enough that the reader gets a complete picture without feeling overloaded by similes. Often, I find myself admiring a turn of phrase and wondering "how'd he do that?" The book is filled with little moments and delicious bits of ironic humor.

When I was a kid, my dad caught me skipping ahead and reading the last chapter in one of my Nancy Drew books. I wanted to know how it ended. My father told me that was a bad habit to develop because it ruined the story. Since then, I have followed his advice for the most part and it has served me well. With Perry's books, it's all about the journey. Chronological time doesn't seem to be a factor here. He moves back and forth between generations and stories, but somehow makes it all work. The author strikes me as a down-to-earth, solid midwesterner and that appeals to me too.

I've not finished the book yet, but I'm enjoying the ride. For more about Michael Perry, visit http://www.sneezingcow.com/.


Starting over

Seven weeks ago, I was doing field research for my company. On a Wednesday afternoon, I was working on writing my report when I received a call to come to the conference room. It seems unreal to me now, but I had no idea what was going to happen. "Your position has been eliminated," I was told. After the ten minute meeting (which felt like an hour), I turned in my badge and went home. It was official. I joined the multitude of people who have lost their jobs due to the poor economy in the United States. I learned later that we are called displaced workers.

There are many feelings that a person goes through during this process (that's a whole other post), but one of the decisions I've made is that I'm going to write about it. So, here goes nothing... :)