Monday, August 31, 2009

The end of the Rainbow

Last week marked the end of an era. After 26 years on television, the final episode of Reading Rainbow aired on PBS. Now truthfully, I didn't even know this show was still on the air. Nevertheless, hearing this news mad me a little sad and very nostalgic. And when I heard the show’s theme song, childhood memories flooded back. If you're in my generation, you'll know what I mean when you watch this:

I don't know why books were so much cooler when they were read on TV, but I used to love going to the library in search of the books that were featured on RR. And obviously, LeVar Burton rocked (but more so on this show than he did on Star Trek with the visor thing that I always thought looked like the banana clips we wore in our hair back then).

I guess RR is not being funded any longer because it doesn’t focus on teaching kids HOW to read. But, I think there’s something to be said about a show that teaches kids WHY reading is fun. Although it has been a long time since I've read a children's book, I still love to read, and I'll go ahead and give RR a little credit.

Anyway, someday I may end up with RR DVDs and force them on my children, who will think the show is completely old fashioned. In the meantime...what do you think was the best children’s book ever? “Take a look, it’s in a book…”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Not your average sing-a-long

When it comes to music, I'll listen to—and appreciate—just about anything. But recently, I heard something a little disturbing. This Kidz Bop commercial is in frequent rotation on an online radio station I listen to. And I’m telling ya…the sound of it nearly makes my ears bleed.

Kidz Bop involves a bunch of kids recording a compilation of today’s pop music hits: "Sung by kids, for kids."

Now, I'm all for singing kids. How can you not smile at the little singers belting out Disney show tunes at their school concert (while simultaneously mastering the "step touch" and other complex choreography)? And my heart melts when I hear the children's choir at church singing (or sometimes screaming) about how Jesus love them. In fact, my big claim to fame is that you can hear my young singing voice on the Christmas edition of G.T. and the Halo Express…stocking stuffer anyone?

But Kidz Bop is different. Basically, here's the concept… take the most obnoxiously overplayed songs on the radio, sung by role models like Britney Spears and the Black-Eyed Peas, toss in a few borderline inappropriate lyrics and market this to children. Brilliant. It obviously works if they’re now promoting the 16th edition of this album.

I’m not trying to sound like a prude. I'm certainly known to turn up some Britney in my car during my rush hour drive home. And I know there isn’t a whole lot of choice when it comes to kids' music, but I'm just sayin…

Am I the only one who finds this album a little cringe worthy?

Monday, August 24, 2009

The B-word

Call it a “spending plan” if that makes you feel better, but today I am talking about the dreaded personal BUDGET. After college, I remember my dad arming me with a sophisticated budget spreadsheet that I could use to manage my new salary and grown up expenses. To his dismay, a couple months later, he asked me how the spreadsheet was working, and I confessed that I hadn't really used it. You see, for the last eight years I’ve lived off the simple principle of spend less than you make. Fortunately, this has served me very well during that time.

Lately, however, my financial picture is starting to get a bit more complicated. First, I got married last year and now there are two of us spending from and contributing to the same accounts. The duel income no kids (DINK) situation is nice, but we also want to make sure that we don’t raise our standard of living to a level that we can’t maintain in the future. You see, in a couple years, the hubs will have earned his Christian Ministry degree and likely trade in his corporate job for a job that pays notably less (we both agree it’s worth it to be able to do what you love). Add to that the likelihood that kids will enter the picture, and our expenses will rise. That’s leading us to realize that right now is the time to be smart and proactive with our money and save, save, save. Time for a real budget.

We’ve been tracking our spending since we got married, but we’ve not really sat down and decided how much we WANT to spend (or not spend) on certain things. Instead, it’s been more like, “whoops, we probably shouldn’t have gone out to eat so much…better luck next month.” So to help us be a bit more proactive I signed us up to use this cool Mvelopes online budgeting system. It’s going to require some planning and effort to get it set up to work for us and provide some flexibility from month-to-month, but I'm optimistic and committed.

I'm curious if anyone has other tips for setting and managing a budget? What financial goals to you recommend be set in our DINK household? I’m looking for tried and true, practical stuff. But not too practical. I will not reduce myself to the following:
  • Buying two-ply toilet paper and pulling the sheets apart or hanging used paper towels to dry so they can be reused
  • Wrapping gifts in aluminum foil
  • Cruising the neighborhood before community clean-up day (ok, I may have grabbed some unwanted furniture from the end of someone's driveway once in college, but c'mon, that was college)
  • Giving up Post-it notes
Here’s hoping that this non-financial, non-numbers person can claim victory with the b-word!

Friday, August 21, 2009

I survived!

I have this vivid memory from when I was little of the TV meteorologist talking about tornados and warning us to take cover if we were in the path of the storm. Unfortunately, I was a little confused about this weather phenomenon. When the weather guy said "tornado," I heard "tomato." I was terrified of these tomatoes that threatened to destroy my safe, comfortable home. In my little imagination, I honestly thought a giant red tomato would roll down the street and right on top of my house. Apparently I am not the only person who thought this.

So why am I telling you this story? Well, I could've died two days ago. Seriously. Lucky for you, I lived to tell about it. Strong storms hit Minneapolis mid-day while I was innocently working at my office. Lots of wind, lots of rain and then…tomato, er, I mean…tornado sirens. At this point, you'd think I’d take cover somewhere away from the wall of windows by which I sat. But instead, I thought "Meh. It's the middle of the day and tornados never hit the city. I have better things to do than heed these silly severe weather warnings."

So while other colleagues took cover, I kept right on working, only to find out later that there really was a tornado touch down--just one mile from my office! Uh, thanks God, for protecting me despite my stupidity!

I guess I can't ever argue that I have better things to do than saving my own life. I'm happy to report no damage to my office or car; but I will never again doubt the power of the tomato.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My totally hip hop abs

Let's talk about working out for a minute. I’ve never been a health club person, because I’d rather not work out in front of other people. However, then I find myself not knowing what to do from home (running is not really an option I’m willing to consider yet; I’m about one step up from Phoebe on Friends). I’ve tried a few workout videos/DVDs over the years, and I’m happy to report that I actually found some workouts that I really like, and have stuck to for a while. Enter Hip Hop Abs. You’ve probably caught pieces of this infommercial on TV. The first time I saw it, the product started to suck me in with all its hip hoppness. It even includes bonus features where you can learn several dance routines (which I have yet to learn, but someday will, right before my audition for So You Think You Can Dance where I will make judge Mary Murphy scream and cry and put me on the hot tamale train…)

Anyway, I never would have guessed that my first try at this workout series would come from DVDs loaned to me by…my father-in-law (hereafter known as FIL). Yup, during an exercise conversation with my in-laws, I mentioned I was intrigued by the Hip Hop Abs commercials, and my FIL proceeded to leave the room and walk back with those very DVDs, sharing that he really enjoys the workouts. My jaw dropped. I’m just trying to picture FIL working out with Shaun T. (the instructor). Below are photos of my FIL and my faithful fitness instructor, Shaun T. Trust me, FIL is not the target audience.

Anyway, I think this was the first thing I’ve ever ordered from an infommercial, and so far it has been a good investment. As for other home workouts, I also recently tried Wii Fit and think I might like it, but am not sold on whether or not it would be worth the investment. Let me know if you know of any other good workouts I should try in the privacy of my home.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ready for bed

Did you see this in the news yesterday? Researchers have discovered a genetic mutation that results in people needing far less sleep than average. Oh to have this mutation! Might have been the greatest gift ever received from my parents.

But, I know for a fact that I am not one of the lucky three percent who have this “problem.” Others may boast about needing (or pretending to need) only five or six hours of sleep each night, but I’m not ashamed to admit I need the full eight. Sure, I survive most days on less, but I stand by the researchers’ recommendations that I need more. I love sleep. I truly look forward to my head hitting my pillow each night.

For the past few weeks though, a good night’s sleep has been hard to come by. I have no problem falling asleep, but I keep waking up a few hours later, suffering anywhere from 1-3 hours of tossing and turning. I find myself panicking about any number of things, usually work-related. Despite my complete exhaustion, I can’t seem to shut my mind off. By mid-day, if I happen to wander past the entrance of the sleep clinic at the hospital where I work, I am desperate to step inside—if only for a nap in their calming lobby! If you have any tips to think/worry less at night and sleep more, please let me know!

My insomnia research did lead me to this interesting product—Sleep Safe Tape. Can we say creepy?! If you find me resorting to this during my work day, please get me professional help!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Golf madness hits home…sort of

Things in my neighborhood look a little different this week. You see, just a short walk from my home is the site of this year’s PGA Championship tournament. I’m not a golfer (only a mini-golfer), but it has been kind of exciting watching the big signs, tents, etc. go up gradually over the last few weeks and know that the national sports spotlight (at least for golfers) will be on my neighborhood this weekend. What’s more, I just learned (too late, of course) that I probably could have rented out my house for the week for $6,000 to people traveling here for this major tournament!

Now, I actually think I might enjoy playing golf if I were to try it. But, here’s the thing…I don’t understand the draw of watching other people golf. I’ve tried watching it on TV with my golf-loving dad, and I almost always end up taking a good nap (no offense, dad). I’ve seen the die-hards watch it intensely at the country club restaurant I worked at during college, and I don’t know if I can ever get as excited about a birdie as they do.

Nevertheless, I am planning to try watching at least part of the tournament on TV. I’ll let you know how it goes. And for the golfers out there…please explain to me the proper way to watch golf and enjoy it. Do I need to study up on the players and terminology ahead of time? Is knowing Tiger Woods good enough? Should I dress in a polo shirt and visor just to look the part? Or do I just need to start playing it myself to truly understand? Help me become a fan!

Now here’s some entertaining golf…

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Who am I?

When I log on to Facebook and scroll through the news feed, I’m always amazed by the number of random quizzes people take. From what Sex and the City character are you to what your favorite animal says about you, and literally hundreds more. Of course it’s just for fun, but it got me thinking. On some level, aren’t we all looking for validation of who we are, why we behave the way we do and, ultimately, what this means for our lives, our careers and the people we care about?

I just think of all the personality assessments and career inventories I’ve done over the years. Myers-Briggs tells me I’m an INFJ. Insights tells me my color energy is green. StrengthsFinder tells me my top five themes are learner, harmony, empathy, connectedness and input. And I could keep going…

So what do we do with all of this information? Last year, I took a class through my church called Lifekeys. We did a lot of these inventories and other activities to identify our talents, spiritual gifts, passions and values—all for the purpose of discovering where we fit best and how to live more effectively. The class was fascinating, but in the end I learned that I’m probably already in the right career, serving in the right ministries, etc. Great news! It should have seemed so satisfying, right? But instead, it was kind of a let down. I think it was because others in the class seemed to be having these breakthrough moments that were changing their lives. And everything was just status quo for me. I guess I’m thankful I figured these things out about myself so early in life. Not that they won’t change someday.

Well, since I’ve apparently got all the big stuff in my life figured out already, let’s really get to the heart of who I am. Remember in high school when you took those teen magazine quizzes like “does your crush know you’re alive?” or “what’s your party personality?” O yeah, now those were defining moments for the course of my life. Indulge me for a moment while I share some of those lesser known traits and fun facts about Heather, brought to you by quizzes from Seventeen magazine.
  • What should my ring tone be? Show tunes (Obviously!)
  • Which Jonas Brother is my perfect match? Nick Jonas (Surprising. I thought for sure it would be the engaged one, because that’s my luck!)
  • Could I be America’s Next Top Model? Maybe. (I’m a “Diva Model,” and I don’t think that’s a good thing.)
  • What’s the perfect celeb hairstyle for me? Taylor Swift’s long, flowy curls
  • What’s my High School Musical theme song? You are the Music in Me

Don’t you feel like you know me so much better now? So what do your personality profiles (funny or formal) say about you? Do you find the assessments to be accurate? Helpful? A waste of time? (C'mon, you can't tell me that knowing what my accessories say about me is a waste of time!)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Things you won't see in Minnesota

Last week I was fortunate enough to take a vacation to Niagara Falls (my husband’s hometown) and New York City to visit my fabulous in-laws. Personally, I love the Twin Cities, but the great thing about venturing away from home is that you see what makes other cities unique. So today I bring you a list of a few things you won’t see in lovely Minnesota…and to keep this from being a boring slide show of tourist attractions, I’m opting for some lesser known rarities that caused me to take a second look.

The Bit-O-Paris Motel in Niagara Falls has obviously seen better days, because I couldn’t find anything resembling a romantic, European city in this run down ghetto of a place. (Mind you, I actually never went inside…I’m not that daring). The main drag in the Falls is lined with little motels like this that were apparently quite a draw back when this town was the honeymoon capital of the world. My husband informed me that the “Bit-O” was also the high school party location. My sister-in-law mentioned that someone was murdered there recently. The sign says there is vacancy. Shocking.

Also in Niagara Falls, I spotted a black squirrel. Odd, no? I have nothing else to say about that.

Of course, in NYC, you see all kinds of different types. I was particularly intrigued by the wizardish man in Central Park carrying a sign that said “Blackwolf the Dragonmaster.” Huh? According to a Google search, it turns out this character has his own website and is trying to get donations to make a movie about his adventures. I see a blockbuster in the making.

And, while not a peculiar sighting, I’ll wrap up with photo of a Broadway sign. Granted, there are probably hundreds of Broadways in Minnesota, but there is only one Broadway that I love, and seeing a couple musicals was the highlight of my week away.

Other noteworthy observations of my trip (sans photos)… the visitor at St. Patrick’s Cathedral who decided to break with tradition and cool her face/neck off with the holy water; the JFK employee who yelled at a passenger in front of hundreds of bystanders, throwing a suitcase and making a little boy cry; a little girl getting sea sick and throwing up all over herself; and numerous tourist attractions that were actually quite fun to visit. Ah, the joys of travel. Let me know if you’ve seen anything particularly crazy or fun on your vacations!

At the end of the day though, there’s no place like home. I was happy to return to my busy but blessed life in the land of deep fried cheese curds, pond hockey, oversized shopping malls, and Prince.