Monthly Archives: August 2008

And, She’s Off…

I was hoping to write part 2 of my blogging on blogging series, but I have to be up at 3 a.m. to catch a flight to New Orleans.  That gives me a whopping 4 hours of sleep.

So, I’ll be away for a few days, but don’t fear:  If all goes well, Foto Friday should be up tomorrow at about the same time I’ll be landing in the Big Easy.

Or, might I recommend the following:

Pop over to Angela’s blog and say hello.  She just started, but I expect to see great things from her.  She has such a wonderful personality and helpful nature that there’s bound to be some good stuff on there

Read (or re-read) the posts from my last Nawlins trip.

Check out some of my other personal faves:

(and, yes, I’m just vain enough to believe that at least one of my three readers might miss reading the blog while I’m gone!)

Blogging on Blogging: Choosing Topics

Inspired by this post from the always-entertaining FilkBlog, I decided to reflect upon my writing process for this blog; From how I choose my topics to the actual writing and editing of my posts.

First up… Choosing Topics

My topics tend to fall in one of these categories:

Even within these broad categories, however, choosing topics is kind of hard. 

I always struggle with what is and isn’t blog-worthy.   For each post you see here there are probably 4 or 5 posts I was going to write, but didn’t because I thought they were too lame or boring.

How I “manage” my blog ideas is quite unique:  Sometimes I’ll start a post with just a title (My Summer Staycation, for example).  I’ll save it in WordPress and I’ll come back to it.  For the time-sensitive stuff, I will sometimes pre-write them and set them to publish on the appropriate day (Wednesday or Friday).

I also have a running list of possible blog topics saved as a draft email.  That list is much vaguer more vague than the list of unpublished posts sitting in my WordPress queue, but sometimes when I’m in the mood to write and I can’t think of anything, I’ll refer back to this list to jog my memory.

For the other bloggers out there, I’m curious to hear your process for choosing topics.  Do you keep lists of ideas?  How do you edit yourself and decide which topics are “ready for prime time?”   Do you force yourself to blog at pre-determined intervals or just when the mood strikes you?

Website Wednesday: Wordle

First of all, I need to give credit where credit is due.   I first learned of Wordle.net from this blog post.  (Yes, it’s work-related, but also fun).  Whereas Traci goes to great lengths to describe how Wordle can be used for educational purposes, I’m using it for my own vanity and amusement.

Wordle is a fun tool for making text clouds.  The clouds represent the words used in any piece of writing–website, blog, poem, etc– so that the more often a word is used, the bigger the text.  Below is the Wordle for this blog (I think it’s just pulling the first page of text)

Carichblogs home page

Here’s one for my “things that suck” blog post:
Things that suck

Things that suck

And, for fun, here’s the Wordle for this very post:

Wordle of Wordle post

Wordle of Wordle post

As you can see, you can play around with the font, the colors, the layout, etc. You can even limit the number of words that show up on a Wordle (default is 150).   It’s really interesting to see how often different words show up in your writing.  I, for one, was a little embarrassed when I saw how often I used the word ‘like.’  It’s like I’m a valley girl or something!

The only downside is that you can’t easily save your Wordles.  You can publish them to the public gallery and get the HTML code or you can create a screen shot, but you can’t just right-click and save. 

Play around with it, anyway.  I guarantee you’ll have fun and want to share your Wordles, too!

88 Broadway Falls Flat

I went to 88 Broadway (the piano bar at Lincoln Square) this weekend for a friend’s birthday.  It was the second time I’ve been there and I must say… it didn’t get any better.

There are a number of problems with this place

  • Its in the mall. Okay, it’s called Lincoln Square “village” now, but there’s a Hallmark store directly across from it and it definitely still feels like a mall. They really don’t do much to disguise the fact that it’s in the mall. No matter where you sit, you’re always reminded you’re in the mall. If you’re lucky enough to get a table inside the bar, you’re facing out towards Hallmark.  If not, you may actually have to sit in the mall itself.  And if it’s after 9:00, you have to pay $5 for the privilege.
  • The fondue isn’t very good. The first time I went, I didn’t go for dinner, but I had a bit of the chocolate fondue my friends had ordered.  It was fine.  But it’s also hard to mess up.

    This time, I went for dinner and was planning on giving the fondue a try (even after reading this report on Champaign-Taste). No dice.  They were out of cheese fondue.  On a Friday night.  I ordered appetizers and some of our party had pizzas and they said it was good.  But if they’re trying to be a fondue place, maybe they should have fondue.  Oh, and a tip: If you go after 9 you can’t get fondue.  Not even the chocolate.

  • The dueling piano show is lame.  If you’ve ever been to The Big Bang or Howl at the Moon, you know how a dueling piano show goes;  you sing along to cheesy pop songs, you make requests, you convince your friends to go on stage and make fools of themselves.  It’s a good time.
    Well, 88 Broadway is kinda like that.  Without the fun.  There’s not a lot of room on the stage.  There is NO dance floor.  The songs and jokes are already stale (and a couple are stolen directly from The Big Bang).  I can’t comment on the piano playing, but man they botched the singing this weekend. I’ll give them credit… it takes a lot of talent to be able to play such variety, but the singing was awful.
  • The atmosphere is boring. Even though they encourage audience participation in the piano show, there’s really no way to get up and mingle with people.  You’re mostly just sitting in your seat watching a show (and a lame one at that).   The service is slow (but nice) and they don’t seem to be very organized.  I realize it’s a new bar, but come on… they should have some of the kinks worked out by  now.

The bottom line is that they’re trying to do too much and not doing any of it well.  It’s trying to be The Melting Pot, The Big Bang, a martini bar, and a sports bar all at once.

(They even had the Olympics on during the piano show on Friday.  I think the biggest applause they got all night was when the crowd cheered for a former Illini player as he was walking in the opening ceremony.)

I’d say if you really want to check it out… go for the piano show.  Go before 9:00 so you don’t have to pay cover, get a table inside and see if you like it.  It could be fun under the right circumstances, but it’s definitely not the kind of place I could go to regularly.  In fact, if I wanted to see a dueling piano show, I think I’d drive to The Big Bang in St. Louis before going back to 88 Broadway.

The Mayor’s Tongue

I finally finished reading The Mayor’s Tongue by Nathaniel Rich (no relation). I originally picked it up as a suggestion for our book club.  We chose a different title, but I was so intrigued by this one that I decided to read it anyway.

The book is certainly well-written.  It’s a little more fanciful that I had anticipated, but it’s fast-paced and compelling. The characters are colorful and likeable, and the plot is engaging.   It reminds me of Big Fish, Pan’s Labyrinth, Field of Dreams, The Truman Show and The Neverending Story all rolled into one.   As much as I adore all of those films, however,  I still haven’t decided whether or not I actually like this book.

This is where having a group of people to discuss the book with would come in handy.  For me, a good book club title is one where the book lends itself to discussion and interpretation.  This book certainly fits the bill.  I’m interested to know how other people experienced the plot “twist” and whether or not they felt it was too derivative.  Plus, there are a couple parts I simply do not understand, and I need someone to help me clarify.

All in all, I’d say it was an enjoyable read, but not nearly as earth-shattering or progressive as some of the blurbs and reviews lead me to believe.  Maybe I’m missing something.  Or maybe blurbs just can’t be trusted!

Foto Friday: Congratulations, Ryan!

This week’s edition of Foto Friday is dedicated to my brother. Today is his last day of work because he starts Law School at Southern Illinois University in a couple of weeks. I am surprised, impressed, envious, and immensely proud all at the same time.

When he wants to do something, Ryan gives 100% and I have no doubt that he’ll be successful. Without further adieu, some of my fave fotos:

This was our older brothers wedding... It was probably 25 years ago, but the sentiment is the same.  Ryan is tormenting me. Im trying to ignore him and pretending to be mad, but Im smiling a little!

This was our older brother's wedding... It was probably 25 years ago, but the sentiment is the same. Ryan is tormenting me. I'm trying to ignore him and pretending to be mad, but I'm smiling a little!

Ryan, Mom & I at our mom's 50th birthday-- October 2004

Ryan, Mom & I at our mom's 50th birthday-- October 2004

Ryan & Jo's wedding July 2006

Ryan & Jo's wedding in Jamaica--July 2006

The only fruits of our deep-sea fishing expedition

The only fruits of our deep-sea fishing expedition

David, Jo, Ryan, Me, Kelli

All the siblings at the reception: David, Jo, Ryan, Me, Kelli

The obligatory camo shot... Can you even see him?

The obligatory camo shot... Can you even see him?

Ryan & Shelby in Minnesota-- August 07

Ryan & Shelby in Minnesota-- August 07

Website Wednesday: Zappos.com

Let the gimmicks continue… In addition to Foto Friday I’ve decided to start a regular feature called Website Wednesday.   Website Wednesdays are intended to introduce you to my favorite websites/time-suck activities.

My original intent was to feature only non-commercial sites and sites you may not have heard of.  But for my inaugural post I can’t help raving about zappos.com.

Zappos is an online shoe retailer.  Yeah, they sell other stuff, but they’re famous for their shoes (zapatos is Spanish for shoes, after all).  I love this site for a number of reasons:

1) Huge selection/easy searching

I was recently looking for a pair of size 7 silver heels for an upcoming wedding.   Instead of searching through thousands and thousands of shoes, I just put in my search criteria and voila… the perfect shoes:

Cute, no?

Cute, no?

You can also search  type of shoes (casual, dressy, sandals, boots), width, and price.

2) FREE, fast shipping– both ways!

One of the biggest gripes about online shopping is having to pay for shipping, and having to return things if you don’t like them.  Zappos gets around this by offering free shipping–both ways!  And the return process is a breeze.

Even more impressive is that they always “upgrade” your shipping.  I ordered shoes on Sunday and they were there on Tuesday.  

3) It’s a cool company, too

Everything you read about Zappos makes it sound like a really great place to work.  Their CEO has a Twitter feed, they pay new employees to quit if they’re not a good fit, they have a “culture manual,”  and they’re located in Vegas!   I really admire companies that seem to have their stuff together–both for their customers and their employess.

Plus, did I mention the cute shoes?

Tour de Philo

Yesterday I participated in the Run4Raley, a charity walk/run in Philo to support Mitochondrial disorder research.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to run the 5K, so I decided that riding my bike to Philo and doing the mile walk would be enough of a workout on a Saturday.

Here’s the route I was supposed to take…

But I made a few wrong turns…  Here’s the route I actually took:

My 8.4 mile bike ride turned into an 11.5 mile ride, but I made it to Philo in just over an hour.  The walk was a huge success, they had over 300 people turn out and plan to make it an annual event.  Luckily, I enlisted the help of some friends to take me back after the walk.

Foto Friday

Every blog needs a gimmick, and this is mine.  (Actually, I think I might have stolen it from someone else, but I can’t remember where I saw it.)  Each Friday, I’ll post a photo or series of photos for your viewing pleasure.
This week’s subject is none other than Roxie, my 3-year old papillon.  These photos were all taken yesterday, around dusk.  Note the difference a flash makes.
My little Roxie Roo

My little Roxie Roo

So Regal

So Regal

Queen of the back yard

Queen of the back yard

Sitting pretty

Sitting pretty

Ignoring me... Check out the crimping

Ignoring me... Check out the crimping

Devil dog

Devil dog

This is my artistic shot... look at that face!

This is my "artistic" shot... look at that face!

One last profile

One last profile

My Summer Staycation

Since I have a ridiculous amount of vacation time built up, and I’m going to New Orleans in a couple of weeks, I decided that I’d take a summer staycation this year.

A staycation is just like a regular vacation, but you stay at home instead of going away. The purpose of a staycation is to not only save money on travel, but to learn a little more about your own neck of the woods. 

Although there are plenty of things I didn’t do, I learned quite a few things this week:

I’m a better cyclist than I thought.

I’ve probably logged at least 50 miles on my bike this week, between long rides and quick jaunts. And I’m really enjoying it. Yeah, I knew I could do the 3.5 mile trek to work in about 25 minutes. But it wasn’t until I took a day-long bike ride just for fun that I realized how much I like cycling. You see so many things on a bike that you would never notice in a car. And I feel so strong after I’m done.

I’m a worse swimmer than I thought.

One of my favorite staycation discoveries is the pool at Crystal Lake Park. Usually, I just hit up my friend Kim’s pool in the summer. But because she’s working, (and I’m not—ha!) I decided to go the public pool route. I like Crystal Lake. It’s close. It’s cheap. It wasn’t too crowded. I easily found a chair. And there are nice lanes for lap swimming. But, somehow in the 25 (?) years since I learned to swim, I’ve lost my ability to, well, SWIM. I was tired after the first lap and had the most awkward stroke possible. I wonder if they have adult swim lessons, ‘cuz I clearly need them.

I’m not made of sugar after all.

As we were getting ready for our day-long bike trek, it looked like rain. Now, I’m no weather-watcher, so I hadn’t actually checked a forecast, but the sky was a little dark and gloomy. We started off anyway and, you know what…The rain was really refreshing. And I didn’t melt. When it got a little too hard, we stopped under a pavilion, but it never got so bad we had to stop completely. In fact, when the weather cleared up in the afternoon, we were kinda hoping the rain would come back.

No plans? No problem!

On normal vacations, I usually like to have a plan. Not necessarily a minute-by-minute itinerary, but a general idea of what I’m going to do and when. For my staycation, however, I decided to just play it by ear. This strategy didn’t work so well the first couple of days because I literally couldn’t decide what to do. But being schedule-less paid off this week. Because I’d made precious few commitments, I was able to have a last-minute lunch with a friend or an impromptu Friday afternoon pool party.

Lightning bugs and fireflies are one and the same.

Or so I was told by a 4-year-old. Now, maybe you don’t automatically think “babysitting” when you think “vacation,” but I had the opportunity to spend part of mine playing with a smart, precocious and amazingly observant little boy. It’s amazing how interested they can be in everyday things and it’s fun to see their eyes light up when they learn something new.

I can’t unplug or sleep in.

Neither of these things are especially shocking. I told myself I wasn’t going to sleep in and that I’d avoid being online as much as possible. I wasn’t going to check work email until at least Wednesday. No dice. I haven’t slept past 7:00 all week and I was checking and—gasp—responding to work email Monday morning. I’ve gotten better as the week wore on, but in order to completely unplug I need to go somewhere I’m literally unreachable.

I like this town.

I often think I need to get away to appreciate natural beauty; the beach, the mountains, whatever. But it’s really pretty here. From the wildflowers at Meadowbrook Park to the three deer I saw on the way home from the pool yesterday, there’s a lot of natural beauty in C-U. Even the view from my newly-weeded backyard has somehow become more scenic, more peaceful.

One of my favorite things about traveling is getting the chance to just stroll the streets, trying to blend in and feel like a “local.” In a strange way, I think my staycation has made me more of a local here than I’ve ever been before.

So, that’s it. One day left of my staycation and-for once in my life-I’m not happy it’s Friday. I think I need at least one more week to finish all the things I wanted to do and still leave time for some more exploring.