Monthly Archives: March 2011

27 Days,15 Blog Posts,4 Readers, and 1 Healthy Dose of Cynicism

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This morning, before I drove my son to school, I followed what has now become my typical weekday routine–I stumbled to the kitchen to put on a pot of strong coffee and made my boys’ breakfast. Then I sat down with my laptop, steaming coffee mug in hand to check my email, vote for myself in the More Beauty Contest, check the morning stats on my blog (zero, as usual), and read Freshly Pressed. I had to laugh when I saw a comment from a fellow blogger that said most of the comments on that particular Freshly Pressed blog were “junk”, because he saw the same 10 names at the top of the comments of every Freshly Pressed blog, and those folks were just trying to increase the hits on their own pages. BURN! You guys are so busted!!! Ha-Ha-Ha! Oh…wait… he’s talking about me too. :::sheepishly looking around the empty room, slumping shoulders, and blushing:::

In my particular case, my cynical friend is partly right I guess. I first began to visit Freshly Pressed each day because I wanted to see how the game is played by learning from the apparent chosen elite. I sit on the Board of a local nonprofit here in town, and we recently attended a strategic planning session for our organization which included both Board and Staff. The facilitator was a highly educated professional who also happened to be an immigrant from the Philippines who came to the United States many years ago as a young man. He began our session by drawing broad comparisons between strategic planning and the strategies typically applied by a foreigner in a foreign land. He said that he, and most other immigrants, will be very quiet at first when they enter a foreign culture…they will sit back and observe how the game is played so that when they do begin to interact they will be more successful.

So, when I started my blog here on WordPress, I did so as an immigrant to the foreign land of blogging. And it doesn’t take a newbie long to learn that those who make Freshly Pressed must be doing it right. As I read over some of the postings that made the home page, most of which I actually did enjoy reading, I began to, like my wonderful facilitator, learn how the game is played.

Now dear readers, all four of you, as you know I have spent the last 12 years of my life studying all aspects of Business Management and I also have an unapologetic capitalistic free market mindset. So naturally I recognized a stellar marketing venue when I saw one. In other words, I’m no dummy, and I realized that if I were to comment on a current Freshly Pressed blog, more readers would notice my blog too. And so I did. But, and this is the honest truth or may the lightening crackling outside my window now strike my lying butt down, I truly only comment on the ones I liked, and only then if I have something substantive and interesting to say. And, guess what? It does work—I have gotten a miniscule number of hits on my own blog via traffic driven by my comments. Yay! In yo face, Cynical Exposure Boy! Ha!

I’ve learned a few things since I started blogging earlier this month. First of all, this is no longer a novelty—blogging has become a saturated industry. My business management saturated brain tells me that anyone starting a blog to “get rich quick” somehow or attain Snooki-like insta-fame is deluding themselves. You will be one of many, and you may never rise to the top—the crème de la crème of WordPress’ Freshly Pressed or otherwise. You have to be okay with that to survive, and luckily I am. I started this blog, I think, for all the right reasons. I have always loved to write, and it comes naturally to me, therefore is a fun, relaxing, and therapeutic hobby. I had other reasons too, the most impactful of which is something I covered in a previous blog—the sudden death of my dear friend Mark this past January. It hit me like a ton of bricks, and frankly I am still trying to process it and work through my sadness and grief. In addition to that, the death of a peer really does make a person think a lot about their own life—how short it really is, and all those items on the bucket list that are just sitting there, waiting to be checked off.

I’ve always wanted to do something with my writing…since I was very young. In fact, when I attempted college the first time, my major was Journalism. I wanted to become a reporter, a la Lois Lane. College didn’t work out for me at that time in my life, and I abandoned that aspiration. But, I never really stopped writing. Later, I wrote academic papers about business and maintained a straight A average in college this time, and along the way I entertained my friends and family members with short one and two liner funny commentaries in my Facebook status lines, and in response to news articles. So, and again, this is the truth—ultimately, I blog for myself, and you should too. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t hope you would read and maybe even subscribe to WittyBizGal. I do hope that my blog is read and enjoyed by a lot of people and that is why it is a public blog, not a private diary, and that is why I will continue to put my business savvy to good use to try to promote it any way I can.

You know what though? Even if it never grows, and my only subscribers remain myself, my husband, my cousin, and two close friends, I’ll still keep blogging for me and also for even one person who may read one sentence that will make them smile, give them a chuckle, inspire them, or help make their bad day just a little bit better…

Until next time…

The Art and Pathology of Pessimistic Optimism; Confessions of a Middle Aged Beauty Contestant

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If you’re ever asked to deliver my eulogy, you can tell your audience that I was pessimistically optimistic. Now, of course, they’ll all be too prostrate with grief to stop bawling long enough to stare at you like you’re crazy, but in case anybody asks, you can tell them that you say that about me because I never thought I was going to win anything, yet I kept acting as if I would. This is a major theme of my life, actually, definitely worth exploring on a good therapist’s couch someday, but if I spent as much time “exploring” in that way as I probably need to, I’d likely not get off the couch long enough to tend to my blog. This dichotomy of personality is what leads me to enter contests every now and then—contests that, truth be told, I probably don’t have a snowball’s chance of surviving a Florida summer of winning.


A few months ago, I entered the QVC/Bare Minerals “Women of B.E.” contest, in which the grand prize was a trip to the QVC studios, a Women of B.E. eyeshadow kit, and a chance to meet the company’s CEO of Swirl, Tap, and Buff, Ms. Leslie Blodgett. I really do love their makeup, and I like Leslie enough to follow her Tweets and her Facebook Fan Page. I’ve even interacted with her briefly on there, and it’s always fun when a well known person acknowledges your communication and talks back to you. But, as I knew I wouldn’t, but thought I might, I didn’t win that one—didn’t even make it to the top 10. Part of the problem is that in the case of most of these types of contests, the powers that be narrow down the competition to a manageable number by forcing participants to obtain a certain number of “Like” clicks on the internet before the actual judging begins. I don’t have as many close friends as a lot of women do, and am not willing to jeopardize the friendships I do have by nagging people nonstop to keep visiting my entry and clicking on it. I ask once, and that’s pretty much it. Nor am I willing to create 25 different Gmail accounts so that I can be my own best friend and click myself 25 extra times each day until the click voting ends. So, even though I know I’m never going to make it past the first cut, I am convinced that this time, I’m gonna go all the way, baby!

I’m at it again, this time with More Magazine’s annual “Beauty Search”. I resisted this one last year because, frankly, a middle aged beauty contest seemed just a shade past too silly, even for me. More is a great magazine for women who are no longer 25—sort of like Cosmo, Glamour, Vogue & Shape,  all rolled into one and directed at the over 40 female. But, as always with these things, that $10,000 grand prize and a chance to fly to New York and be photographed for the pages of More had my name on it! So, I wrote up my contest entry in about 5 minutes and pasted in that same picture from my blog that I took of myself into the little box, and impulsively became an aging beauty contestant. I might have increased my odds of winning if I’d put some more thought into what I wrote about “Why I Feel More Beautiful Than Ever”, or if I’d had some sort of professional photo taken of myself that didn’t involve saying cheese to the camera in my outstretched arm, but that’s just not how I roll. After all, I’m not going to win anyway, even though I will…


I did all of this in about an hour one morning, the picture’s not half bad, and I actually really meant all the things I said about beauty in my allotted 1500 characters or less. There is some stiff competition though…I never read the fine print in anything until after the fact, but in the last couple of days I was surprised to learn that the contest is open to women who will turn 35 by April, and up. So, there are some young hotties to contend with (I spotted more than one bikini clad rockin’ bod), as well as some ladies who are clearly professional models, or cancer survivors, or women who have triumphed over domestic violence, are running their own successful businesses, are doctors, lawyers, etc. Anyway, you get the picture. And then there’s me—this year’s winner. Be sure to look for me on the pages of More this summer, right after you read this Freshly Pressed blog on the WordPress Homepage…

Rainy Days and Mondays…

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“Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.” ~ Langston Hughes

It’s rained all day…


And it’s Monday…

My dog refuses to venture outside to do her business…

Leaving me to ponder where she’s left my special “gift”…

 

Sing it, Karen…

 


“Life is like a rainbow. You need both the sun and the rain to make its colors appear.” ~ Unknown

It’s the Small Things in Life…

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petit     klein     малый       maliit     صغير

piccolo     nhỏ     małych     SMÅ     小     small

μικρές     små     קטן     pequeño     malé   të vogla

छोटा     neliela     bach     pequenas     txiki     ti

փոքր     väike     beag     მცირე     mala     parva

A WittyBizGal Authentic Winner E-terview; Artist Jon Coffelt

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Powder Blue Cosmos on Space Blue Field
acrylic, canvas (heavy stretcher)
30.5×30.5 cm (12×12″)

When I first saw the work of New York artist Jon Coffelt, I was blown away by his originality, his use of color and form, and especially his genuine character, which shines through in every piece he creates. The icing on the cake where Jon is concerned, however, is that he has chosen to utilize his exceptional talent not only to make quite a name for himself in the art world, but to create meaningful miniature works of art which capture the essence of individuals. These particular pieces bring joy to people who commission them as keepsakes for themselves, and also serve as a touching and unique memento for those who are left behind when a loved one passes on. I am so pleased to present this third in my Authentic Winner E-terview series. Readers, you are in for a real visual treat, as well as an opportunity to learn more about this very talented, yet wonderfully humble and gracious artist!

 

 

WBG: Jon, you grew up in small, rural areas of Tennessee, where there probably wasn’t as much access to art or formal art lessons as young aspiring artists in urban areas can take full advantage of. When did you first discover your love of art, as well as your own amazing innate talent? Did you have a special person in your life as a youngster, and/or a professional mentor who helped nurture your artistic development?

JC: My grandfather was my mentor. He was an artist in his own right. He helped me understand color. One of the things I remember him telling me was that “I would have to learn to draw things from nature before I could understand abstraction.” In his words, “I have to paint what was on the outside before I could paint what was on the inside.”

 

66a

cotton, thread, buttons

15.5×15 cm

“These are from the pajamas my grandfather was wearing when he died in 1993. They are among the first of the garments that I miniaturized. They were an ode to him. Some special way for me to thank him for teaching me to love art, to love myself. Oh!, and another thing, my grandfather and I spent many, many Saturdays in the floor making doll clothes for Barbie. He will surely never be forgotten.” – Jon Coffelt, 1993

 

WBG: Please tell my readers about your Miniature Clothing Project! What is your overarching purpose in transforming pieces of clothing into art, and how might someone go about commissioning a piece made from their own, or a loved one’s special item?

JC: My purpose in working on my Miniature Clothing Project is to transform the idea of loss and memory by using garments that hold emotional value for their owner.

 

379

cotton knit, knit

16×16.5 cm

“The miniature helped us transform our experience of Janet’s death. We used her garment as a celebration of her life. Her turtleneck is 100% cotton. She wore it in her retirement, when she could relax and spend time with us. The simplicity of the garment reminds us of her dedication to service. She was a real example of a disciplined life. Her legacy is one of simple truth, and intense dedication. Thank you for your assistance with our journey of letting her go.” ~ The Loved Ones Left Behind By Janet L. Engstrand 1926-2007

WBG: I think that some readers may assume that a special item like this from a renowned artist might be out of reach for them, but the Memory Clothing is actually relatively affordable. Could you tell us what the approximate cost of, say, their Dad’s favorite flannel shirt, or Grandma’s cardigan sweater, if you were to make these into Memory Art Pieces for them?

JC: My pricing starts at $250 for a regular shirt to $500 for a jacket or coat so this work is very well priced for your readers.

 

388

cotton, thread, buttons

15×15 cm

“This is a miniature shirt that Johnny made from my favorite shirt. He bought it for me from Dee and Dee on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn for about $7, I love that shirt. Every time I wore it someone would say, “man that shirt is bright,” and I would reply, “no this is not my bright shirt.” (Just a little wry Shawn humor for those that don’t know me) I wore it so much that I put it on a couple of weeks ago and my hand went through the fabric in the sleeves. It’s the shirt that I am wearing in my first Facebook profile picture.” – Shawn Boley, 2009

 

WBG: On your website, you say that you are exploring duct tape as an art medium. Intriguing! What made you decide to work with it in your art? And what sorts of projects can we expect to see in the future from Jon Coffelt implementing duct tape? Do you often draw inspiration from everyday household items like this?

JC: In 1993 I designed a duct tape wallet and started playing with all the colors of duct tape that I could find. The wallets were featured in New York magazine and I did thousands. I had lots of scraps left over and these scraps became the material for the “Circuitry” series that I continue today. I still do special orders for wallets too. My future work always jumps ahead and then pulls back to meld with my older work so I am, at this point still not sure what I will be up to next but it will be exciting.

 

Cosmos Pink Spiral

duct-tape, vellum

91.5×91.5 cm (36×36″)

WBG: You’ve lived and worked in Manhattan for a number of years now, and began your career there in the fashion industry in the 80’s working with well known designer Willi Smith. How do you feel that working with fashion early on, as well as your surroundings and the cultural environment in the city have affected your current work and the pieces you produce now, and will produce in the future?

JC: My view of the art world has always been fluid. I mean everything is integrated. My art has always been about fashion, painting, sculpting and designing to me and living in New York affords me opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise have.

Mayan Circuitry Fetish

duct-tape, Tyvek

129.5×129.5 cm (51×51″)

WBG: And finally, Jon, you have been so successful in your chosen career field, and I bet there are many budding young artists out there who could benefit from your wisdom. What three pieces of advice do you have for someone who thinks they may have talent and might like to pursue art as a career path?

JC:

1. Believe in yourself no matter what happens around you.

2. Have integrity in your work and in the world around you.

3. Never let the word “No” hurt you because it always opens a door to something new.

 

Jon talking to students at GCSU Georgia College and State University,  Milledgeville GA

WBG: Jon, that is wonderful advice for anyone who wants to live their dream, be it as an artist, or some other profession! Thank you so very much for taking the time to talk with us. It has been a pleasure!

To learn more about Jon Coffelt and his art, or if you would like to contact Jon to commission an original Miniature Clothing Piece, please visit his professional website at: http://joncoffelt.com/home.html

Homeschool is the New Black

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There are 2.04 Million K-12 Homeschool Students in the United States as of 2010 ~ National Home Education Research Institute


I never planned to homeschool my children—never in a million years. Frankly, it was just not something that appealed to me, nor did I ever dream that it would become absolutely necessary, but it did. I attended elementary school in the 70’s myself, suburban public school, and received a fine education there. So naturally I assumed that my boys, now ages 9 & 12, would have a similar experience—oh was I ever wrong. I think most of us can agree that, overall, the quality of public education in the United States as well as the overall environment of our schools is circling the drain and has been for a few years now. Causes of this are highly debatable, political and polarizing, and my mission statement for my blog (yes, like Jerry Maguire I DO have a mission statement) stipulates that I will write about topics in a manner which will appeal to a broad audience. In other words, I have my own opinions on causality, but I won’t share them here—it’s not the proper forum. That being said, if someone would care to comment below and give opinions, please let ‘er rip! As long as you play nice, and are respectful of the opinions of those who feel differently, I’ll approve your comment. There is nothing wrong with healthy debate!

At any rate, as I said, I never planned to be a homeschooling mom. I have noticed that a lot of parents choose to homeschool  for religious or moral reasons. This was not the case with me, and I have no objections to my kids learning about evolution, sex, etc. in a controlled classroom environment. Nor do I feel that I need to integrate daily religious education in with their grade level secular education. But, that’s just me, and if a parent does object to public school educational curriculum on religious grounds, that is their right and should be fully respected by all of us as Americans.

My personal decision to withdraw my 12 year old from 6th grade at our local public school this past January was instead an act of desperation—a last resort. He was failing every subject, and basically had been for the last couple of years, yet he was never held back, never recommended for summer school, and simply promoted along as if he had mastered the material for that particular grade. Now, in my day, (I can’t believe I’m old enough to say something like that) if a student was not cutting the mustard in one or two subjects, that child attended summer school. If they were failing the bulk of their courses, they were held back to repeat the next year in a total do-over. That’s just the way it was, and the way I assumed it would always be—again, boy was I wrong. Nowadays, it seems that the whole “No Child Left Behind” thing is being operationalized to include never holding any child back, even if it would be in their best interest. Somehow, I don’t think this is the “spirit of the law”. Nevertheless, this is what is happening out there in the trenches, folks! This is especially true for students who are categorized into the Special Education system, which these days can mean just about any sort of learning issue, from mild to moderate, to severe. My son has ADHD, making it extremely difficult for him to concentrate long enough to absorb classroom material, and this is especially apparent in math. Therefore, these days, in the public school system that translated into a team of teachers, administrators, and me developing an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) which included “special accommodations” for him at school. This seemed fine, but again problems arose when all good intentions were operationalized. In effect, he was placed with children whose abilities were far lower than his, and his bar was lowered beyond belief.

The long and short of all of this is that he was being passed upward from grade to grade, bullied relentlessly by the other children due to his Special Ed status and inability to keep up in his regular classes with the very common “Inclusion Model”, and drowning in a sea of educational bureaucracy. School bullying is on the rise in our public schools as well, but that is another topic for another day. I had to do something I considered radical—I knew I had to bring him home to save him. Once I saved him, I knew I had to then help him to understand his own worth and life potential. I truly believe that our story, sadly, is not uncommon nowadays. I am extremely fortunate that I live in the state of Florida, and we have free access to Florida Virtual School (FLVS), which is a fully online, fully accredited, high quality K-12 educational delivery system. The content is truly phenomenal! There is an impressive amount of interactive multimedia in each course, which are closely monitored by a licensed K-12 teacher. Make no mistake though—an adult must be present and maintain a high level of involvement at home. In other words, this is still homeschooling, just a good way to source and deliver grade level curriculum to your child, and have the whole experience overseen by a licensed professional educator. This program has been very successful and popular here in Florida. It basically amounts to a pilot program for this type of educational option which, hopefully, is being watched closely by other states and will soon be duplicated in a widespread fashion all across the U.S.

I’m about three months in now with my homeschooling experience and what a difference 90 days has made!!! My son has gone from failing everything, but inexplicably being passed anyway, to 2 B’s and one A in the three core subjects he is taking at FLVS. That A was celebration worthy, lemme tell ya! Math has been more of a challenge…Due to his experience and the damage that was done in public school, he was behind—way behind. In fact, I had no idea until I began to work closely with him at home, but he was actually at least two years behind grade level in Math. So we went back for some corrective action…I sourced some math curriculum from another vendor, Time4Learning, and we’re taking corrective measures now so he can learn the math I thought he already knew in order to catch up to the grade level he’s at with his other core courses. And he’s learning….so much! He randomly spouts facts to us now about science, ancient civilizations, and the short stories he’s reading and analyzing in his language arts course. And, aside from all of that, I have begun to see life and light in his eyes again…illuminated by his own realization that he is not a throwaway kid after all, and he can achieve a future of his dreams built upon a solid basic educational foundation. He’s even started talking about “when I go off to college”…WOW!

I sat down with my laptop this morning to write a very different blog about homeschooling…but this is what came out instead. I have read a lot of articles and blogs on homeschool lately, and none of them are really communicating these ideas in this way. The face of the American homeschooler is changing—and changing rapidly now. Stereotypes of homeschooling parents and homeschooled kids are crumbling as this practice moves into the mainstream…the typical, rather than the exception to the norm. This is my new reality, and my son’s as well. I am now thinking very seriously of bringing my other son home to school once he reaches 6th grade too—in his case by choice, not necessity. And that, I can assure you, is something I never thought I would ever do!

Most Common Reasons Given for Homeschooling (Source: National Home Education Research Institute):

  • customize or individualize the curriculum and learning environment for each child,
  • accomplish more academically than in schools,
  • use pedagogical approaches other than those typical in institutional schools,
  • enhance family relationships between children and parents and among siblings,
  • provide guided and reasoned social interactions with youthful peers and adults,
  • provide a safer environment for children and youth, because of physical violence, drugs and alcohol, psychological abuse, and improper and unhealthy sexuality associated with institutional schools, and
  • teach and impart a particular set of values, beliefs, and worldview to children and youth.

Do you homeschool or wish you could? Do you disagree with educating children at home? Why or why not? Feel free to comment below, but like I said, play nice. This is a very emotionally charged topic, and the other guy probably feels just as strongly as you do!

For more information on Florida Virtual School, please visit the FLVS website at: http://www.flvs.net/Pages/default.aspx

To learn more about education policy in the United States, including No Child Left Behind, and Individualized Education Plans, visit the U.S. Department of Education website at: http://www.ed.gov/

Do New For Spring!

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“God created toenails so we could keep trying new colors.” ~ Mary Foley, AKA @BodaciousMary

I don’t know about you, but I have always loved Spring! I am an impulsive sort, so I am attracted to rapid change, the birth of new ideas, off with the old, on with the new, etc. People have told me that I jump into new things too quickly and should take my time to test the waters, weigh the options, and proceed with caution. This is definitely good advice, and in my middle age, I do try to temper my impulsivity with a certain amount of looking before leaping. But, when Spring is in the air, I find that a lot of folks are feeling the same way I do 24/7, 365 days a year. There is a measure of permission granted to us by Mother Nature when She herself is undergoing transformation, to follow suit and try new things.

I read a great book a few years back called Do One Thing Different, by therapist Bill O’Hanlon. In it, he presents a unique problem solving technique which involves breaking patterns by first observing the sequence of events that always occurs when the negative thing happens, then altering just one minor thing in that sequence in order to disrupt the problem and solve it. I have used this method many times myself and have found it extremely effective in not only solving pesky problems, but also breaking ruts and renewing my well of energy and enthusiasm for life. The big takeaway for me with O’Hanlon’s proposed methodology is that changes (large and small) are impactful and necessary for our success and happiness in life.

Change is definitely in the air for me right now! I started a new blog, I became a first time grandmother, a reluctant but successful homeschooler, and I am beginning to make some meaningful contributions to a very worthwhile local nonprofit as a new board member. Those are all big changes, but the little changes I purposely make on a daily basis can take my mood from sad to happy, low energy to power surge, and so on…So, I guess what I am trying to say is that a little change can do you a lot of good, and now is the perfect time to try new things to problem solve, re-energize, break negative cycles, and so on.

Here are just a few innovative tiny, small, and medium Spring changes that can make a big difference:

  • Get a new haircut and/or color (this one requires some looking before leaping, lest you be boo-hooing and blaming WittyBizGal;-)
  • Clean out that junk drawer (we all have one)
  • Try a new nail color that stretches the limits of your comfort zone (mine in the photo is Crushed, from Sally Hansen–Muy Caliente!)
  • Find an exciting new volunteer opportunity in your area: http://www.volunteermatch.org/ (great searchable database of current openings)
  • Search the internet for a new recipe and make it for dinner tonight: http://www.recipe.com/
  • Move your living room or bedroom furniture around
  • Start your own blog (I’ve found the WordPress format to be super quick and easy! I impulsively signed up and wrote that first Charlie Sheen inspired blog in a grand total of about 3 hours one evening)
  • Take up a new hobby; This site seems to have the scoop on just about all of them: http://www.discoverahobby.com/

HAPPY SPRING CHANGE EVERYONE!