Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tools of the Trade


(fun, fun!)

I just discovered another way to have fun with blogs! I may never have a real life again.

Anne and Rae both had posts about "Tools" this week, which led me to discover Heads or Tails. This blog suggests a new topic or "meme" every week. To play the game, you post about that topic and then link back to your post from the home page.

This week's topic, as I've already said, is: Tools

So my post for today is about the tools that I use to do my job.

I work as a freelance copywriter. I write marketing materials including newsletters, direct mail and an occasional radio spot. Lately I have been trying my hand at writing greeting cards as well.

My tools are pretty simple. Here is Tool # 1, my little yellow Dell.



(good morning little Dell! i see you have been awake all night again)

My little Dell is very cute. But she has a lot of trouble "sleeping." I think it is because she came with Windows Vista. I described the problem in a previous post. She tends to pop back awake at random times, which drives me crazy. I guess she just doesn't want to miss anything.

Here is Tool # 2, my brain.



(unfortunately, i only have one brain and it is rarely this exciting)

My little brain also has a lot of trouble sleeping. I think it is because I am old. I pop awake at 3 am, and fall asleep during any and all movies. I even slept through Mission Impossible 2. It wasn't easy, but I did it.

Since my brain is so unpredictable, I rely heavily on Tool # 3:



~~~


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Typing Test


(practice girls, practice! your future depends on it)


Back when I was in high school, as the earth's crust began to cool, girls were encouraged to take a typing class. After all, typing was a skill that you could always fall back on if, say, your wild idea about applying to medical school fell through. Being a doctor is a nice dream, but the smart girls knew that typing skills were the secret to success.

Typing was hard work. If you made a mistake, you had to rip up the paper and start over. You could also simply back up and type X's through the word. But Mrs. Carlyle, our typing teacher, frowned on this.

"Executive secretaries do not X out their mistakes, girls!" said Mrs. Carlyle with a frown. "Follow directions, please. If you practice, some day you may earn several THOUSAND dollars a year. Think about it - you could buy a MixMaster AND a vacuum cleaner with your very own money! Imagine how delighted your husband will be."

We all rolled our eyes and vowed to apply to medical school if it killed us.

But - being creative and extremely bored children, my sisters and I often played with our mother's typewriter at home.

  • We closed our eyes and typed away, then howled hysterically at the nonsense we had written.
  • We put on music and typed to the rhythm.
  • We hit 6 keys at once and then tried to untangle the little metal bars without breaking them.



(sorry mom)


Sometimes we even practiced actual typing. Here is a little sample of our typing, which I came across the other day:


(the first sentence looks like a text message I once sent by mistake)

These days, nobody uses typewriters. Thank God. But I wanted to submit some greeting card ideas to a certain company last week, and their submission guidelines require each idea to be typed onto an index card.

Typed?? Onto an index card?? How was I supposed to do that?

I tried to feed index cards into my printer, jamming it time and time again.

I wracked my brain, trying to think of somebody who might have a typewriter. (the library? the local newspaper? an antique store?)

Finally, I had the brilliant idea of typing each idea onto an oversized Avery address label, then sticking the labels onto index cards.

I never did follow directions very well. But I get the job done.

~~~


Help!

One of my followers is having trouble viewing posts and leaving comments. I tinkered with the html the other day to add the "share" link, and I'm worried that maybe I messed something up. I'm so clueless about technology.

Is the blog ok for the rest of you? Could you leave a quick comment to let me know? Or, if it won't let you comment, send a quick email to Lesleymodallas@yahoo.com?

Thank you!!!

~ Clueless

~~~


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sylvia Says ...


("dancing like this brings health and loveliness.")


Good news, guys and gals! You can decide how you want to look. You can squeeze off your body fat! Correct facial and neck contours! Or, if you are thin and nervous, gain fifteen or more pounds in a month!

Sylvia of Hollywood has all the secrets.

First, a disclaimer: I very rarely come up with original ideas. So, whenever possible, I steal them from others. My wonderful sister Monica wrote a book a few years back called Advice From The Attic. It's hysterical! Simply click on this link to see excerpts and order a copy. If you would like more tips from Sylvia and others, please place an order! (It's a great gift idea.)

Monica has a whole collection of old beauty and etiquette books. I only have one: No More Alibis by Sylvia of Hollywood, published in 1935. But this one little book has lots of little pearls of wisdom!

I will present a few at a time, so I can stretch this topic out and avoid having to come up with other ideas to steal for as long as possible.

Today's topic: Decide How You Want to Look

Sylvia says ...

"Your tape measure tells you much more than your scales. But you should have scales in your bathroom just to put the fear of God in you."

"But even more important than your tape measure or your scales is your head. Yes, I mean that. Use the brains God gave you. Use your common sense. Look at yourself in the mirror!"

"A word of warning! Don't rely on your friends to tell you how you should look. In the first place, only one out of a thousand will tell you what she frankly thinks. She will tell you to reduce or build up, then hate you for doing so."

"Now I'm going to give you a chart ... It will help serve as your first guide only, and will give you some fun with your tape measure ... As you start reducing or building up, you may decide that your bone structure demands that you be thinner or rounder than the chart shows. Here's where you must use your brains again."



(toodle-oo! go have some fun with your tape measure!)

~~~

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How To Write Greeting Cards


(hmm ... what kind of image should we use for this get-well card?
i know! children in a space ship!)


As I mentioned a few days ago, I have been trying to branch out a bit with my writing. I thought that the greeting card niche might be a good fit, since I have a knack for little catchy phrases and heartwarming sentiments.

Even more importantly, many of the greeting card companies accept unsolicited ideas. And if there's one thing I have a lot of, it's unsolicited ideas.

So - off I went to try to break into the greeting card market.

The process is really quite simple:

Step # 1: Google "greeting card submissions."

Step # 2: Make a list of the companies that accept ideas.

Step # 3: Come up with some ideas.

Step # 4: Send em off!

Obviously, Step # 3 is the hardest part. I worked for several days, and came up with three serious ideas for one company and 25 funny ideas for another. I thought the serious ideas were probably hopeless, but I always crack myself up so I had high hopes for the funny ones.

Lo and behold, two of the serious ones are now under consideration! The funny ones have been politely rejected.

Perhaps I should take a more serious tone from here on out. Perhaps I am not truly funny. My next post will be some somber reflections on life, guaranteed to make you shed a little tear. In fact, from now on I will be so serious people will mistake me for an accountant.

Or perhaps I will sit down and write 25 more funny ideas. That would be more fun! I would make a terrible accountant. My checkbook is a mess.

~~~

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Tag! You're it.

I have been tagged by Rae, my bloggy friend at Weather Vane. I don't usually do the 'award' thing or the 'game' thing. (yes, I am a party pooper) But this sounds like fun. So I'm gonna play! Though I do plan to cheat.

Here are the rules!
1) Go to your photo files…Select the 6th photo folder
2) Select the 6th photo in that folder
3) Post that photo along with the story behind it.
4) Then challenge 5 blog friends to do the same!


First, here is my cheating:
I don't have a whole lot of blog friends (possibly because I am a party pooper) so I'm only going to challenge two:

1. Fran at Being Miss
2. Amanda at Brilliant Sulk

Ok, second, here is my photo:


Looks like a messy, cluttered bedroom, right? That's exactly what it is. It's also part of the story of our move to Texas.

You see, we were living in a condo Michigan and thinking of buying a second condo in Florida so my husband wouldn't have to listen to me whining about how cold I was every winter. Then our daughter married a wonderful guy from Dallas (very long story - I'll tell you some other time). So we thought, "why not buy a house in Texas instead?"

The plan was to buy a house, have our daughter and son-in-law rent it from us, use it as a winter get-away and eventually either sell it to them or use it as our retirement home.

The plan worked great! Except, after a couple of years, we decided to go ahead and move down. The move was very gradual. We sold our condo, rented an apartment in Michigan, and moved our furniture down to Texas.

Hubby stayed in Michigan for a year. I moved South after about 6 months. Daughter and son-in-law and I all lived together in the Texas house (with 2 households of furniture) for 6 more months until they bought a house of their own.

While we were all living together, we had 12 chairs and 2 tables in the kitchen, 3 couches in the living room, 2 desks and 4 bookshelves in the office, and boxes EVERYWHERE.

But it all worked out fine! I love it here. And they love having their own place.

~~~

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Why I love summer


(tomorrow's forecast: ditto)


NOTE: The idea for this post was blatantly stolen from Weather Vane, a creative and witty blog that I love to read. Thanks for letting me "copy off your paper" Rae!

I love summer. I grew up in Connecticut, where 72 degrees is considered scorching hot and this would be considered "partly sunny" -


(See that little patch of blue? That's the partly sunny part.)

Then, in a moment of insanity, I decided to move to Michigan to go to college. Michigan! Yikes! Here is a nice August day in Michigan:


(Ok, ok, this probably wasn't August. Early June, maybe.)

I lived in Michigan for 35 years. In all that time, there were approximately four days when I could feel my fingers and toes.

But now, as I remind everyone constantly, I live in Texas! And if there's one thing Texas does well, it's summer!

What do I love most about summer? I'm so glad you asked! I love ...

1. Being able to go outside, any time of the day or night, without putting on a coat - or even a sweater.

2. Going barefoot.

3. Drinking lemonade with crushed ice.

4. The smell of sunscreen.

5. Listening to children splashing in the pool.

6. Green grass, green trees, and colorful flowers.

7. The smell of hamburgers on the grill.

8. Early morning walks.

9. Ice cream sandwiches that start to melt, so you have to lick the ice cream all around the edges. mmm...

10. Weather forecasts that range from "Hot And Sunny" to "Sunny And Hot." Just the way it should be.

~~~


Thursday, June 18, 2009

How To Be Funny


(funny girl)


I spend a lot of time trying to be funny. I try to make my blogs funny. I am trying to launch a new career writing funny greeting cards, which is much harder than it looks. And in my spare time, I try to get a giggle or two out of my grandbaby.

When I was growing up, my sisters and I thought we were pretty funny. Especially our Indian jokes. (warning: politically incorrect topic ahead)

In Connecticut, a lot of the streets and towns have Native American names. So we would take those names and try to make jokes out of them. When one of us came up with a joke, we would all howl with laughter, clutch our stomachs and repeat it over and over. Other people (like our parents for example) who clearly had no sense of humor would stare at us wide-eyed and then walk away.

Ok, so here is one of our jokes, based on the name of our street (Mohegan Avenue) ...

There was an Indian named Mo. His friends couldn't find him one day, so one friend said to the other, "Where's Mo?" and the other friend said, "Mo? He gone."

... I will pause for a minute while you howl with laughter and clutch your stomach. Let me know if you want me to repeat the joke 6 or 7 more times ...

What's that? You're good? Your eyes are wide and you're about to walk away?

Before you go, let me share the One True Secret Of Funny-ness. I learned this from my 2-year-old granddaughter:

Stick out your tongue, and talk at the same time.

I know - pretty simple, right? Now, don't expect your grown-up friends to laugh. But try it with a 2-year-old. Trust me. It works every time.

~~~


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Stormy weather


(watch out, little cow. i think i hear a siren.)


One of my favorite blogs is The Retirement Chronicles, a witty blog with absolutely beautiful photographs of northern Michigan. The pictures of spring flowers and birds are just amazing.

Not to be outdone, I have been taking pictures this week here in Dallas.

Before I share my pictures, I need to explain that we don't really have spring here. We go right from "It's-Kind-Of Chilly" to "Oh-My-God-It's-Hot." And forget the gentle spring showers. It's either bone-dry or knee-deep-in-water. Nothing in between.

Hey, this is Texas. We don't mess around.

Here is what the sky usually looks like:



But the other day, it started to look like this:


And then it got these dark, swirly clouds that looked like this:



I noticed that the swirls were moving counter-clockwise. That was right about the time that the sirens started going off. There are no basements to hide in, and I didn't really want to sit in my closet and miss all the excitement, so I took some pictures of the hail stirring up the water in our swimming pool:


(see the little plops? that is hail. at the time, it was quite dramatic.
i really think i need a better camera.)


Texas may not be the most scenic state. But we have Weather with a capital "W."
In just a matter of minutes, we can go from this:
(before)

To this:

(after)

Sorry, little cows. Next time, find a closet to hide in.

~~~


Thursday, June 11, 2009

I am saved!


(well whaddya know! there ARE foods without sodium, after all)



(this close-up says it all: Sodium OMG)


I went back to my trusted family physician today. No, not the one at the clinic. I'm talking about the self-serve blood pressure machine at WalMart.

Dr. Self-Serve has a wonderful way of making me feel comfortable. He squeezes my arm. He instructs me to relax. And he doesn't charge me a penny.

Today, he gave me good news! My blood pressure was only 127 over 75! That is well within the normal ranges, according to the helpful chart on the machine, right next to the warning about not relying upon the accuracy of the machine or attempting to self-medicate for high blood pressure.

No worries! I am normal now. (... waiting for my husband to make a snide comment ...) But while I was at WalMart, I thought I might as well investigate some lower-sodium foods. Just in case.

I found quite a few!

They had low-sodium Triscuits, which are surprisingly good when topped with melted cheese.




Turns out Shredded Wheat is sodium-free! (I may be the only person who really considers this good news.)



I tried to find low-sodium salad dressing, but to no avail. So, being the creative and resourceful person that I am, I made my own! One part vinegar, two parts oil ... shake well, and mix in equal parts of Good Seasons. It's not sodium-free, and it looks awful, but it's a step in the right direction.


I have no idea who put these in my cart.

~~~


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Why I am doomed


(weapon of mass destruction)



I went to the doctor the other day. I will spare you the details. Let's just say, I never go to the doctor unless I am extremely terribly uncomfortable. In fact, before I go to the doctor I email my sisters to see if my condition is just a genetic fluke, search the internet for herbs, vitamins or home remedies, and rummage through the medicine chest for old, expired prescriptions.

Then I wait a week to see if it goes away. Two weeks if I can stand the pain. That's how much I hate going to the doctor.

Anyway, this condition I had which shall remain nameless became very uncomfortable very quickly. So off I went.

The condition turned out to be something quite minor and easy to treat. But while I was there, I learned that I am doomed.

The nurse took my blood pressure and looked at me with raised eyebrows. "It's 164 over 95," she said with alarm. "That is quite high."

"Well, maybe it's because I am in excruciating pain," I said hopefully.

"Hmm," she said, looking at me like I was a complete idiot.

The doctor came and went, never mentioning my sky-high blood pressure. I'm sure he didn't want to be the one to tell me that my days are numbered. He probably didn't want to go through that awkward moment, like in Terms of Endearment, where the doctor can't even say the words and the poor sickly patient (me) has to say through her tears, "I know what you're telling me. I need to figure out (sob) what to do with my kids." I didn't really want to go through that moment either. So I didn't bring it up.

But a few days later, my husband and I were at Walmart and I dragged him over to the free blood pressure machine.

It was still high.

Not quite as high as before, but not good. Yikes. Maybe it's time to pay attention to my diet. I'm not overweight, but I do eat an awful lot of salt. In fact, more salt than I ever realized. Today, I kept track.

Breakfast alone could kill me. Did you know there are 220 milligrams of salt in a SINGLE SLICE of sourdough bread?? Plus another 90 milligrams in each tablespoon of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, which I Can't Believe Is Not Good For Me!!

I normally snack on cheese (130 mg) and Triscuits (180 mg) and peanuts (115 mg) and potato chips (don't ask). For dinner, I love Good Seasons salad dressing (320 mg!) and spaghetti with Ragu (580 mg!!).

Even Little Debbie Zebra Cakes have 170 mg of sodium!

No wonder the doctor didn't say anything. It's just not good news.

~~~


Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Dale Girls on SUMMER VACATION!!!


(this is not my family. we were never this quiet. plus, no boys were allowed.)


When I was growing up, our household always had lots of exclamation points. Especially during the month of June. The four Dale girls looked forward to SUMMER VACATION!! with enthusiasm that bordered on hysteria, literally counting the days until the college POOL!!! opened and we could FINALLY!!!! GO SWIMMING!!!!!!!!!!!

A bit of explanation about the college pool ...

We grew up on a college campus, where Daddy taught music, and we were quite comfortable taking advantage of all the facilities. We would breeze into the library, standing on tip-toe to check out books while casually addressing the librarian's raised eyebrows with a simple explanation: "We're faculty."

We bought our school supplies in the college book store.

We knew the combination to Daddy's campus mailbox, and thought nothing of retrieving whatever might be in there.

We explored the arboretum, getting lost in the woods on purpose and eventually wandering out in time for dinner.

We never sat in on classes, but only because our attendance was required at Winthrop Elementary School during the day. I'm sure we would have felt quite comfortable barging into English Literature 204, completely oblivious to stares and whispers from the students who actually belonged there.

We were very nonchalant about the whole campus experience - except, as I said, the POOL!!!!

We would scamper into the dressing room, shower as quickly as possible, and wait by the locked pool door, in grave danger of hyperventilating, until FINALLY we heard the LIFEGUARD COMING!!! She would UNLOCK the DOOR and BAM!! we would hurtle through it, racing each other to be the first to BREAK THE WATER!!!! YAAAA!!!!!!!!

The campus community may not have always appreciated our enthusiastic and uninhibited scampering. But I'm glad I had a childhood where I was allowed to feel like a special little person, in a special little place.

They say that the sense of smell is a powerful trigger for memories of the past. And it's interesting ... to this day, some of my favorite scents are the dust from an old chalkboard, the musty aroma of a dark library, and the clean smell of chlorine that rises from a swimming pool sleek with undisturbed water, waiting for bare little legs and flailing arms and a happy shriek.

~~~


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

How To Write A Cheerful Press Release


(it's good! we're good! everything's good!)


Every so often, I am called upon to write some positive copy about a not-so-positive development. Being a perky, positive person for the most part (except when I write about politics), I kind of enjoy these challenges.

Let's say a financial institution sends a request like this:

"Need an article informing customers that we are closing all of our offices except one. That one will be open only two days a week. Hopefully we will be able to keep the electricity on. Give it a positive slant, please."

No problem! I sit down and rattle off a positive, cheery article:

As part of our constant quest for efficient, friendly service, we are excited to announce that we will soon be consolidating our office space into one convenient location. No more wondering which branch to visit! We'll be right here to serve you, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 to 1. And remember! Our online banking service is ALWAYS open! How great is that??

This morning I found an excellent example of this type of writing. It's a press release issued by GM, announcing some recent exciting changes. I will review a few actual, un-edited excerpts for you, explaining the basic steps of writing a press release and demonstrating the value of a good copywriter in the process.

Step 1: Write a catchy, positive headline

Note from the client: "Oh my god, we're going bankrupt."

Headline from copywriter:
GM ANNOUNCES AGREEMENT WITH U.S. TREASURY AND CANADIAN GOVERNMENTS PROVIDING FAST TRACK TO COMPETITIVE FUTURE FOR 'NEW GM'

Step 2: Write an introductory paragraph with lots of upbeat, positive words strung together in a row.

Note from the client: We are laying off thousands of people, closing plants, and scrapping entire divisions. GM as we know it is over.

Introductory paragraph from copywriter:
GM today announced that it has reached agreements ... to accelerate its reinvention and create a leaner, stronger 'New GM' positioned for a profitable, self-sustaining and competitive future.


Step 3: If you have to use a word with a negative connotation, bury it in gobbledy-gook or turn it into something positive. Or both.

Note from the client: Don't mention the "b" word.

Words used by copywriter:
New GM ... leaner ... distinct advantages ... stronger balance sheet ... significantly lower debt burden ... winning financial results ... voluntary petitions for relief ... smooth transition ... defining moment ... opportunity to reinvent our business ... court-supervised process ...

I could go on and on. This press release is full of rosy little phrases like this! I love it! Whoever wrote it is a genius! (and no, it wasn't me.) I have a new copywriting hero, whoever they are.

Great job.

And best of luck, 'New GM.' I hope the court-supervised reinvention of your leaner, stronger, more profitable company goes well.

I really do.

~~~



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