Black Friday and homelessness

This year I went to my first Black Friday sale. Like many others, I showed up in the wee hours of the night to wait in line. I had expected my subsequent blog post would be about the camaraderie I felt with these strangers as we all waited in line for cheap stuff. However, my experience was much more profound.

My friend and I showed up a bit past midnight and the store opened at 5am. Only five measly hours outside in Southern California, no worries. I knew it was a bit chilly, so I wore a t-shirt, a long-sleeved tee, and a sweatshirt. On the bottom I had sweatpants and knee-highs. That should be enough, I thought, it is California and Californians rarely don a heavy jacket.

About a half-hour into our wait, my friend could no longer hold her book steady because her hands were shaking so violently from the cold. I pulled up my hood and slipped on a second sweatshirt, promptly pulling that hood up over my head, too. A half hour later, I put on my gloves, pulled a second pair of socks out of the gym bag in my car, and put on my heavier tennies. I had a pain in my feet so severe I could barely stand it. I don't think my tootsies have ever been so cold. And, despite the four layers of clothes I had on top, I felt like I was only wearing a tank top.

I began to think about the poor folks who have no choice but to sleep outside every night. Sure, one would think it's easier to be homeless in Los Angeles than Chicago, but even the West Coast is no picnic if you're forced to find warmth where none exists. In my mere five hours outside, all my layers of clothes were useless in taking the chill from my bones. What I needed was a heavy coat and some really good insulated boots. Then came my "A-ha!" moment.

This holiday season, I will no longer just be donating money to my favorite charities. I will be going through my closet to pull out all the coats and boots that sit there year after year, waiting for a ski vacation. I will be asking my friends and family to do the same. In addition to taking the majority of the items to my local homeless shelter, I will also throw some in the trunk of my car to give to anyone I happen to see in need. Since I also have a soft spot for animals, I'm going to donate some doggie sweaters and jackets as well, since so many homeless people have canine companions.

Today, as the holiday season is in full swing, I'm most grateful for the roof over my head and the walls that keep the cold at bay. And, after my five hours outside in the chilly, winter night, the new 32" TV I snagged doesn't seem nearly as important.

Arrrrr you bored with Facebook?

I'm bored with Facebook. It's not that my friends aren't absolutely fascinating, because they're all that with whipped cream on top. But, the whole experience has just gotten a bit old lately.

Luckily for me, I stumbled across a handy lil' tip from Make It Work Inc. suggesting that I try changing my language preference from English to pirate. And, alas, ye mateys, me tale of boredom is headed to the plank with that varmint Davy Jones!

Seriously, it's a fun diversion that transforms your Facebook notifications, options, boxes, and emails into something worthy of Long John Silver! You no longer "like" something, instead it "be pleasin' to yer eye". Someone doesn't just "leave a comment", but they "be havin' somethin' to say abou' yer hoist" or "flappin' gums 'bout yer recent tales". Your hometown is your "port of origin". And, minutes don't pass, but pints o' rum are the way time is measured. Yo ho ho!

If you need to breathe a bit of fresh air into your FB experience, consider adjustin' yer riggins and abandoning ship on the usual. Directions on how to upgrade to pirate can be found on the Make it Work blog. Now get blabberin' 'bout this here treasure and spread the word to yer lassies! Arrrr.

M&M's tries to attract new customers

A popular candy since 1941, M&M's are sold in more than 100 countries and recognizable to billions of people across the globe. Now, that chocolaty treat is getting a 21st century makeover. Customizable candies are now hitting the virtual marketplace!

Consumers can imprint slogans, photos, or logos on the hard-shelled chocolate treats and even choose from a variety of colorsincluding new shimmery hues. Perfect for special occasions like holidays, weddings, birthdays, graduations, promotions, and proposals, the candies can add that extra little something to any festive gathering. Also, a fun gimmick for businesses to utilize at meetings, conferences, and other promotional appearances.

Think anyone will print "Candy is bad for you" on any of them?

Using Twitter for a better commute

Awhile back I wrote about how someone was using Twitter to find a friend's missing dad, all the while wondering why law enforcement hasn't embraced the tool to send Amber Alerts. Today, as local and state governments cry poverty like never before, I continue to wonder why public service offices haven't flocked to Twitter to enhance their community outreach efforts. However, I had to say, I have finally stumbled across a worthy example of government using Twitter for the public good.

This month, construction began on the 91 freeway in Southern California. The expansion will widen six miles of the eastbound Riverside Freeway and, undoubtedly, cause a huge bottleneck in the process. To its credit, the Orange County Transportation Authority opened a Twitter account (@91fwy) to educate locals about the project. The first several tweets were about activities leading up to the construction, and after it began, tweets were sent to keep motorists abreast of closures and traffic disruptions.

Now, to be honest, I think the posting is much too light, with only 44 tweets this month. But, to be fair, there are only 82 followers so it's not like the citizens are actively engaged. That said, I have to give the OCTA credit for at least thinking to incorporate social media into its efforts. This is huge, especially in an area that is usually riddled with governmental red tape.

As more people hop on the Twitter bandwagon, I hope efforts like this will become more common place. I know I'd like to get my traffic info via tweet so I can avoid traffic snafus and construction holdups. How about you?

The 21st century pen pal

Depending on your age, your teacher may have set you up with a pen pal when you were a child. Someone in a far away land who you traded letters with; learning what life was like on the other side of the globe. I remember my classmates getting all excited on the day pen pals were issued, many of whom would later bring in letters and pictures from their new, foreign friends for Show and Tell day. (My self-elected pen pal was my former BFF from pre-school. Her family left the Westside and moved 20 miles across town when I was seven. She wrote to me about the oddities of the San Fernando Valley and I kept her up to date about life at the beach.)

Today, I can't help but to realize that the pen pal concept is no longer relevant (at least not in its original form). Yes, I know there are several sites online that will match kids and adults with pen pals, but who needs that? People can hop on their computers and meet folks in different countries any time they like.

Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and other social networking sites, lots of us have cyber friends all over the world. We share Twitpics and tweets with far away "followers" and post comments on the walls of Facebook friends in exotic places. Yesterday, I connected with someone interesting from Turkey and traded tweets with him about blogging and animals.

So, in many ways, I guess my cyber friends are, indeed, 21st century pen pals. People who tell me about their lives, their families, their hobbies, and life in their part of the world. Instant communication that, thanks to character limits, probably takes no longer to read or write than a child's pen pal letter. No waiting for the mail to arrive; no postage stamps to purchase.

It's no wonder the U.S. Postal Service is sinking faster than a blow-up raft with an anvil on it.

Ink it up and help break a world record

Today is Friday the 13th and what better way to ward off the evil spirits than with some killer ink! Yes, tat fans, Broken Art in Los Angeles is having a 24-hour tattoo-a-thon today. Why, you ask? The goal is for ink artist Jeremy Swan to break a Guinness World Record set by Hollis Cantrell nearly a year ago today. To do so, he hopes to complete 900 tattoos in one day (priced to please at just $20 a pop and $10 for each additional one).

If I were the tattoo type (I think I'm the only one in my neighborhood with virgin skin), it would make for a good story to say I helped break a world record and got inked with a bat on Friday the 13th. In my mind, though, it would somehow seem wrong to get something cutesy like a heart with wings on an ominous day riddled with fear and suspicion. But, that's just me.

So, my ultra cool friends, if you happen to be in the LA area today, have been jonesing for a tat, and want to help Jeremy get into the record books, why not make this a Friday the 13th worth remembering?

* 11/14/09 UPDATE: Jeremy Swan broke the Guinness World Record and was able to complete 875 tattoos on Friday the 13th. He had hoped to make it to 900, but the old record was 801 so he still had more than enough tats to take him into the record books!

Great skills + positive attitude = valuable employee

I blog about a variety of things pertaining to business and media. Today I'm going to blog about something near and dear to me: me.

As you may have gathered from some of my posts, I got laid off a few months agoa victim of downsizing and this terrible economy. Job openings are few and far between unless you are one of those in a revenue-generating field such as sales or development. The handful of companies that are hiring are being slammed with so many resumes that the weight of them all could topple the Brooklyn Bridge.

So, I'm using my cyber real estate today to pitch myself to whoever may be reading this. If you see anything below that could be of benefit to your company, if you know of an unpublished job opening that you think is a good match, or if you have any career advice to throw my way, I'm listening.

Here are the highlights:

- Former TV/radio reporter
- Former magazine and book editor
- Award-winning journalist
- Top-notch employee communications strategist
- Corporate communications pro
- Media relations/PR experience
- Social media savvy
- Versatile writer
- Deadline driven
- Excellent work ethic
- Creative
- Stellar recommendations from high-level executives
- Background in corporate and nonprofit environments*

* Previous employers include: The Los Angeles Times, KTVA-TV, and The American Youth Soccer Organization.
If you'd like to know more, please connect with me on LinkedIn. And, if you're the kind soul who helps me land some work, dinner is on me.

My Twitter metamorphosis

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the 140 Characters Conference sponsored by the amazing and big-hearted Jeff Pulver (@jeffpulver). Thanks to Jeff's generous scholarship (I tweeted to compete for a free ticket and Jeff was kind enough to help a gal with a meager budget), I was able the hear and meet some of the social media industry's most interesting characters.

For two days, panels and people preached about the golden rules of Twitter: be authentic, provide value, connect, and engage. Whether you're an individual, or tweeting on behalf of a business, Twitter is all about community. The speakers had great analogies such as: Twitter is word of mouth with a megaphone, if Twitter was the phone company it'd be a partyline, and Twitter is a cocktail party. This all makes perfect sense and it's how I see Twitter today, however it made me reflect back on my first few weeks of tweeting.

When I worked at the Los Angeles Times, there was a gal who sent daily email blasts about what was happening in the media space. It was great because she sifted through all the industry news on the internet and compiled it for us with links. When I got on Twitter earlier this year, I thought I'd do something similar. I tweeted facts and stats from articles and thought I was providing a valuable service. I didn't send people @replies, I didn't write anything personal, I didn't participate in the amazing Twitter community. People probably thought I was a bot! Looking back, it's a bit embarrassing.

If you're just starting out on Twitter, don't make the mistake I made. Join the conversation. You're not interrupting, you're not being rude, you are contributing. The people who "get" Twitter will respond in kindand maybe even become some of your closest friends and connections.

Today, I'm fully immersed in the Twittersphere and appreciate all that it offers. Like most things, Twitter is what you make of it. So tweet, connect, engage, be real, and promote others more than you promote yourself. And, most importantly, remember that Twitter is not a spectator's sport.

Thank you again to the kind Jeff Pulver for allowing me to attend his wonderful conference. I appreciate your generosity, Jeff, and promise to pay it forward.

* If you want to read a great account of what the conference was like for a first-timer, I suggest you read the beautifully-written blog post by the amazing Jeff Rago (@jeffrago). And, if you weren't able to attend #140conf, check out the RealPlayer SP Channel on YouTube to see some of the great presentations and panels.

Rediscover the wonder of books

If you log on to Twitter today, you'll see that it's Authors Day (#authorsday). A day to tweet about your favorite writers and books, and share your love of reading with your followers. I thought I'd take my tweet one step further (you only have 140 characters, after all), and share a bit more about my new, favorite author.

I have to admit, up until a few months ago I hadn't picked up a book for sheer pleasure for awhile. Online reading or a book on business seemed to take precedence. However, I'm glad to say that's all changed, thanks to my mom thrusting a book into my hands one day. "This is an easy read," she said. "You'll like it; just read it." And read it, I did.

The book was one in a long series of titles from Janet Evanovich. Her most popular series follows a bounty hunter named Stephanie Plum. Stephanie is scared of guns, loves donuts, and manages to bring in wayward felons by sheer luck. So far there are 19 Stephanie Plum adventures, and I've now read nine of them. It's a fun, easy read that is hard to put down; my mom was right.

Books are amazing. Why not pick one up on this Authors Day and discover new people, exciting places, and wonderful adventures? And check out Janet, she's a great writer. I promise you'll get caught up in Stephanie Plum's crazy Jersey anticsand set the book down feeling a bit hungry for baked goods.
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