Thursday, April 17, 2014

Falling for Falling Water

We wrapped up spring break here a few weeks ago.

Thank God!

Though many of my neighbors and friends waited desperately for a break in the school calendar to arrive, I was not among them. Without a sunnier clime to look forward to, without a bathing suit to purchase and a floppy hat to wear, spring break looked like a long slog of working and caring for my kids at the same time, and doing neither one well.

But it wasn't all bad.

Though Mother Nature has generally been a bitch this winter (sorry for the word choice, but you know it's true), she did shower us with one day of glorious sunshine and warm breezes that week. It just happened that we'd planned a trip to Pennsylvania to see Falling Water that day.

Falling Water was designed in 1935 by Frank Lloyd Wright, a summer home for the prestigious Kauffman family, of Kauffman Department Stores. It sits in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, an oasis from the bustle of the city.

Wright's design focuses heavily on the harmony between nature and humans, which couldn't have been better displayed that day. After record breaking wind chills and endless cloudy days marked only by snowfall, we all felt like we were seeing the sun for the first time that day. Every room of the magnificent home had its own terrace. Our eyes were constantly drawn outward, to the sun, the unspoiled woods, the sound of the rushing water below. I could have remained there all day, basking in the sun's warmth and drinking in my surroundings: both natural and manmade.

It wasn't a day at the beach, but it was perfect in its own, delightful way. The day trip provided respite from the daily grind: new ideas, new people, and new places to consider and explore. It reminded me that I don't need a wad of cash and an airplane to enjoy life's pleasures.

What gems are awaiting your discovery in the state next door?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

How to make photo collages on your phone

How to create collages on your phone
A trip to the art museum
It seems there is no end to my new obsession with photo apps. Last week I wrote about Studio Design. It is a fun photo app that allows you to draw and write on photos. It also has features perfect for adding borders and generally wasting a lot of time dressing up your regular old photos.

My search continued this week, because I wanted to be able to upload collages of photos to my blog, Instagram, and Facebook. Collages are particularly useful when you want to create a visual for a central idea that contains different features or steps. For example, in one photo you can illustrate multiple steps in one recipe, a single fashion trend interpreted in multiple ways, or several happenings in one event.

I tested out several collage apps on my iPhone (hint: when evaluating apps, look for those that have been downloaded most, then check out the reviews), and I like InstaCollage the best. Here are the reasons:

  • It is free
  • It is user friendly: you can easily add and delete photos from your collages. Some apps require that you start all over if you want to switch photos around
  • You can change your mind. For example, you can switch from using a 3 photo collage to using a 4 photo collage without repercussions. Other apps require that you start over if you change your mind in the middle of the creation process, and a girl can't create within such strict parameters!
  • The fonts and borders can be both as professional and cooky as you want them to be. This makes them perfect for work and play
  • You can instantly share your collages to all the major platforms: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Email, your camera roll
  • This one has lots of free functionality. I downloaded several apps that were free, but then each time I touched my screen to work on my photo they'd ask for .99 to complete the action: maddening!
  • There are loads of filter options, as well as the options to write on photos and add stickers
So, start experimenting and creating. Below are a couple of my creations. I hope they inspire a magnificent creation:

Healthy breakfast

Roasted chickpeas are a yummy and healthy snack

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How to dress up your favorite pictures

Technology changes constantly, at a frenetic pace that is hard to keep up with. I must admit: there are times when I groan at my desk. How many new apps, how many new interfaces, how many new platforms must I learn about? Isn't it enough to be on Blogger, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, and Google+?

Well, no. Not if you want to remain relevant.

And so the learning, the searching, and the experimenting continue, every day.

This week, however, I picked up a photo app that is not a chore to use. It's fun, and I must admit I've been using it to dress up every photo I can find. It's free (my kind of app), and if you are the creative type, you might just get hooked. It's called Studio Design, and you can download it onto your iPhone, from the App Store.

Here's how to use it:

  1. Take a photo
  2. Upload in Studio Design
  3. Choose to overlay text, borders, crops, shapes and pictures
  4. Customize with fonts, colors, shadows, etc.

Here are a few of my creations:



What will you create? Have fun, but leave your mother-in-law out of it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Jumping into Obamacare

On Sunday I finally took the plunge. With the click of a mouse I dove into Obamacare. With just one click I relinquished my former healthcare plan and put my family's insurance needs in the hands of one of the most massive social experiments in US history.

It was scary, but I had no other choice, because I was one of millions of Americans whose plans were cancelled last year: the coverage I had didn't meet the requirements of the law.

I'm not sure what I think of this law, but you can bet I'll keep you abreast of my experiences. Here are my initial observations:

  • Separating health insurance from employment is a good idea. Doing so will untether bright minds from jobs without opportunity, advancement, or intellectual stimulation. Entrepreneurship will become more attractive, and the American workforce will become more mobile and flexible. Think about it: how many people do you know who stay in their jobs simply because of the benefits? The number is quite large, I think.
  • Affordable is not the word I would use to describe the government plans. Even with a qualifying subsidy my new plan will be more expensive than my old one, which I thought was too expensive.
  • Most of the plans on the exchanges in my area have very small doctor networks. I, like everyone else, want to visit the very best doctors in my area, regardless of their hospital affiliation. I picked the plan I did because it was the only one in Cleveland that covered the many doctors I choose to visit at the Cleveland Clinic, and I refuse to live in Cleveland yet be barred from using one of the best hospitals in the world. (Insane, right?)
  • I've spent hours researching plans. I've spent hours talking to insurers on the phone. I've spent hours fiddling with the government website. Navigating Obamacare has been time consuming, and we all know that time is money.
  • I've been irritated by the particulars of the law, which seem to change weekly. I wish Obama would stand, unwavering, behind this law so we could see how it works. (I will also be pissed if this law is overturned before we can make that determination).
  • My new plan is definitely more comprehensive than my last one. Do I need that extra coverage? Time will tell.
Have you had experiences with the Affordable Care Act? What do you think of it? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Warning: camouflage shorts could make you disappear

Children are a great antidote to the drudgery of life

It's ironic. This blog has a mission: to lift readers up. I want my posts to elevate the mundane, to point out the often overlooked joys of life that slip by because of our hurried, stressful and scattered lives.

But, lately, my posts have had a sad, heavy tone to them. I apologize for that. This never ending winter and my insanely large business goals have been weighing me down.

Today, I'm snapping out of it.

It's time to lighten things up, and because children are the best antidote to the drudgery of life, I decided to call on them for help. (This also allows me to spare you from my own attempt at humor, which usually leaves only one person doubled over in laughter: me).

I've been collecting my children's words over the last 8 years. I keep their craziest, funniest, most touching comments in a notebook on my bookshelf. (Yes. I still have a bookshelf, and even some real, old fashioned books on it). Here's what they have to say about the world:

  • With a look of great determination, and a face full of crumbs, my daughter stated last Christmas: "I ate the gingerbread man's feet first, just in case he tried to run away."
  • My son likes to boss my daughter, and the rest of us, around. In a speech about marriage he plainly told his sister, "You have to get married when you grow up. If you don't, you don't get to eat any cake."
  • Kids marvel at science. My daughter recently showed a a unique way of understanding fetal development. She asked me, "When I was growing inside you I ate all the crumbs in you tummy, right Mommy?"
  • My daughter's strengths are many, but listening and following directions is not one of them. After I told her this she said, "Mom, will you open the door on my forehead and put the listening card in my brain?"
  • Regarding the lovely varicose veins on my legs, my daughter shrieked in horror the first day I dared to wear shorts last summer. "Mommy! You have cracks in your legs!"
  • On the eve of my 10th wedding anniversary my son began to dream about the best thing that might happen to him if he were celebrating a special day. He leaned in, nuzzled my neck and said, "I think Daddy's going to take you to the subway station to eat Cheez-Its."
  • My son tends to worry. One bright spring day he stood motionless, studying the outdoors and watching his friends play outside. He looked at me, concerned. "I don't think I should play outside with my camouflage shorts on. What if you can't find me?"

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Say 'no' to a snow day induced nervous breakdown

Children remind us to to enjoy the day's gifts

I've been feeling on edge lately, just one small step away from a snow day induced nervous breakdown. Working and entertaining a couple of cooped up kids, it turns out, is not my forte. It challenges my abilities, leaving me drained after 6-hour stints juggling work with cookie baking, reading, and playing Qwirkle.

Some might call it Divine Intervention. Others may call it fate: just when I begin to wonder exactly what I was thinking when I took the plunge into parenthood, my children reminded me why I did.

This past weekend my children turned 7 and 9. My son woke up at 5:00 because he was so excited he could not coax his body to rest. Later that day my daughter broke a wide smile after receiving a pair of roller blades. She quickly pulled them on and spent the rest of the dark, cold evening skating on the ice laced driveway. The two met every activity with an enthusiasm that breathed life into my tired, worn body.

It's easy to get bogged down in the routine of life, overlooking the special things we have the opportunity to do every day. As I looked at my children's smiles and bright faces, as I listened to their high pitched laughter and awful renditions of Pharrell Williams' song Happy I said a silent "thank you" to my children. I remembered that each day brings gifts, and how we interpret and respond to them can either lift us up or leave us down.

How will you face today?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Does tragedy beget happiness?

It was 10:30 pm, and I was racing down the highway, hoping to get to the airport before my husband's plane did. That's when I heard it.

"Grateful people are happy people," boomed a heavily accented voice. The sound lilted across the airwaves and into my car.

Is that all it takes? Just being grateful?

I thought about this statement in the context of my life:

  • This past October, Cleveland had a wet, heavy snow that weighed so heavily on the tired trees in the backyard that one let go of its massive branch. It fell on my car with such force that it crushed the hood. I wasn't upset. In fact, I felt lucky, grateful, I wasn't in the car when the branch fell.
  • When doctors told me my 3-month-old son would be blind in one eye, I was devastated, but I came to terms with the diagnosis, mostly by leaning on the idea that he could have been far more handicapped. I began to feel grateful and happy that his condition wasn't as severe as it might have been: it would not compromise his ability to fully function in society.
  • Last year, when I sliced off my finger tip with a mandolin and presented the tiny piece of flesh to the ER doc, he held in a laugh, telling me I was lucky I hadn't sliced off a bigger chunk. I left the hospital with a throbbing finger wrapped in bandages, but somehow I felt happy: I hadn't sliced off a nail or required stitches.
And so it becomes clear: I tend to feel happy after bad things happen. Crazy, right?

But this is good news. The resiliency humans live their lives with is truly remarkable. The vast majority of us, if we truly think about it, are quite good at making lemonade out of the many lemons life throws at us. And, it is often when we are handed a lemon that are lives come into focus, and we see that lemonade is within reach. Perhaps it was there all the time, waiting to be recognized.

That's pretty cool, and it makes me believe we can all be happy, as long as we take the time to reflect and be grateful.

I guess there really is something to the idea of a "Gratitude Journal." Do you keep one?

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