Archive for the ‘Back to Basics’ Category

Service of What’s the Question?

Monday, April 2nd, 2012


With $67 billion of student loans in default it appears that some of the borrowers aren’t asking the right questions. Janet Lorin wrote: “Almost two-thirds of U.S. student-loan borrowers misunderstood or were surprised by aspects of their loans or the student-loan process, a study shows.”

She continued, in “Student Borrowers Lack Understanding of Loan Terms,” on “About 20 percent of the respondents in an online survey said the amount of their monthly payments was unexpected, according to the study released today by Young Invicibles, a nonprofit group in Washington that represents the interests of 18-to-34 year-olds. The respondents had an average of $76,000 in student debt.”

college-studentsIn addition, borrowers probably didn’t calculate what their potential salary might be in their chosen field, what the job opportunities are and what the added value would be to attend a private school with its $60,000/year tuition, room and board–taking Georgetown as an example–vs. a state or community college where they can live with relatives. Undergraduate tuition at the City University of New York is $5,130.

How do you Feel?

fever-thermometerMeanwhile, the Justices of the Supreme Court are looking at the legality of Obamacare. What they are considering is if there are limits to Congressional intervention in people’s lives. Talk show pundits refer to this question as “Can Congress make you eat your broccoli?” Wonder what the answer will be.

Hot Topic

I heard an articulate spokesperson make her case about tanning beds in a radio interview. She wanted the legislation in her state to follow California where it’s against the law for teens under 18 to use them. Emma Jones on reported on these findings by the Skin Cancer Foundation: “…indoor tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors. What’s more, across the US each year, 2.3 million of tanning bed users are teens.”

tanning-bedJones also reported:  “California had previously banned minors under the age of 14 from using tanning beds, but allowed those between 14 and 18 years of age to use tanning beds with parental consent. Texas has also banned the use of tanning beds for children under 16, but California’s new bill has made them the first state to set a higher age limit.”

When the MC asked this spokesperson: “How many tanning bed businesses are there in the US and how big a business is it?” she had no clue. Within a minute of hanging up, his producer had the answers. The takeaway: When you are a spokesperson, think of the obvious questions you’ll be asked about the topic you’re covering and keep the answers at hand. It’s so easy to do these days!

How Taxing

On his radio show about money, Ric Edelman was trying to make losers feel better about the outcome of the Mega Millions lottery. He told the audience about a winner of $10 million who divided her winnings: 49 percent for herself, 51 percent for her mother and siblings.

tax-2She lost a court case in which she fought the tax man, ending up paying 90 percent of her winnings to gift taxes.

Before picking up her winnings, she should have asked a whole bunch of questions. She’d have learned that the maximum amount of money she can gift someone without paying a gift tax is $13 thousand a year. She’d have been better off to have picked up the winnings with family members as a group. Ric was being funny when he said she should have hired an accountant and lawyer even before buying the winning ticket.

Have you landed in a spot because you didn’t ask the right question or weren’t prepared with the answers?


Service of Preparing for Creativity

Monday, November 14th, 2011


I was inspired for today’s post by what a weaver and fashion designer, Marsha Fleisher, Loominus Woodstock, wrote about how her ideas for color, pattern and design come to her. “When I am quiet, empty and in stillness, the process of creativity comes of itself. For me, this emptiness includes the absence of chaos, the slate needs to be clean, chores done, bills paid, dishes washed, lists cleared, calls returned. I am usually rewarded with a concept, color, texture, and interplay of designs, jacket detail, and a vision…magic.”

craftshow2011mfleisherlpasticheFleisher [her “Pastiche” coat is at right] is one of 200 artists and artisans who will exhibit their work at joint shows, American Craft Show NYC and Contemporary Art Fair NYC at the Javits Center, November 18-20. The craft/art show producers, Joanna and Richard Rothbard of American Art Marketing, are my clients.

artfairmicheldelgado2Another exhibitor, artist Michel Delgado writes: “I am in a powerful new place in my career as an artist.  The beginning of a painting had never been a comfortable place for me.  All the emotional and mental preparation would make me stiff.” Notes the Key West painter who was born in Senegal, “Now, I have nothing to hold back and have found a new journey altogether; trusting in whatever will occur.” His painting, “Unbroken Spirit,” [left]  is enamel on wood.

artfair2011mazzoniemeraldcatAlso a participant, Margaret Azzoni is exhibiting paintings of homes, interiors and dreams that she captures in watercolors, pencil and ink on canvas or paper. One of her mixed media works is “Emerald Cat,” right. Azzoni studied architecture at Princeton where she received a Masters degree. She says that the fluidity of painting provides “a relief from the rigid lines of the architectural drawings.”

artfair2011gutierrez_alejandro_-st“Not being constrained by the type of film in the camera, I’m able to work the settings to get the sensor to capture the light the way I want to,” says Roosevelt Island-based photographer Alejandro Gutierrez addressing the digital photography he plans to exhibit [such as “St. Maarten” at left]. “The instant feedback is very important; the equipment is portable, flexible and I’m not limited to one kind of camera. I don’t set up/style a photo but use the scene and existing light, street signs-I allow the pieces to happen.”

artfair2011yukouenoPart of the Contemporary Art Fair NYC, Yuko Ueno says “I was attracted to the beauty of butterfly wings and developed my own way of making them [at right]. Each butterfly piece has unique design, color and patterns from my imagination. Inspirations came from my dance background and passion for music.” She explains her Butterfly Project: “My goal was to deliver a message through my work that beautiful little creatures exist on this earth and to call attention to the fact that when trees and greens disappear, little lives disappear too.”

craftshow2011willcox_kimberly_lrArtisan Kimberly Wilcox wasn’t prepared for a fire that destroyed her studio in 2010 and changed the way she works and thinks. “Journey Home,” painted on reclaimed wood with acrylic, watercolor and pastel [left], is part of her “Gift of Receiving” series. “Artists are givers and it’s easy to be a giver,” she said. “After the fire, I became a receiver,” hence the series. She didn’t have brushes when she started this piece as they, too were lost: She painted with her fingers.

joycebluebeachquiltsmall2Joyce Malin [she’s not an exhibitor] quilts for relaxation. She says “Designing and assembling the pieces and sewing them are escapes from the bad news on TV.” She noted that if she waited until all the chores were off her plate at work and at home she’d never design a quilt. She collects fabrics as others might accumulate stamps or coins. She carefully sorts, identifies and stores the swatches according to topic and color. She’s also an avid photographer and incorporates photographs on fabric into her newest work.


Remember Norton, the “Honeymooners” TV character played by Art Carney? Before he would write his name or a few words on a piece of paper, he would wave his hands around, flex his fingers to prepare himself, all the time driving the Jackie Gleason character, Ralph Kramden, crazy.

Before you write a proposal, a paper or an article, paint a picture, frame a photograph, establish a budget, launch a do-it-yourself project, draft a speech, how do you prepare? Do you work in silence, in the morning, midday or at night? What do you do to jolt creativity or your thoughts when nothing is happening?


Service of Back-to-Basics III

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011


Wal-Mart recently revived its holiday layaway program after dropping it five years ago. Sears and Toys “R” Us had already reinstituted what some think of as “a seemingly antiquated sales tactic common in department stores during the 20th century,” according to Miguel Bustillo in The Wall Street Journal.  The idea, noted in “How Bad is the Economy? Wal-Mart Revives Layaway,” is to boost anticipated sagging holiday sales as consumer wallets continue to shrink.

To pay for something before using or giving it away-what a concept! It’s a healthy, if expensive trend as it’s also a moneymaker for a store. Wal-Mart layaway customers pay a nonrefundable $5 fee and an additional $10 to recover money paid for a cancelled order. Bustillo warns to check the fine print as some contracts allow a store to sell a popular item out from under the layawayer if payments aren’t made by a certain date.

cash-registerWhy is this marketing concept back in favor? Americans in droves no longer overuse their credit cards Bustillo wrote, yet they want their children to get toys for the holidays, for which I don’t blame them. [Items bought on and mobile phones with service contracts are ineligible for layaway.]

greeting-card-displayAnd here’s another glimmer of a back-to-basic trend with potential impact on the holidays. In spite of the popularity of e-cards, greeting card sales are up according to a friend who lives in the Midwest and is a frequent customer at a local shop. The owner admits that gift sales are down but that she’s encouraged by the significant uptick in cards.  Maybe people are putting money in a card or adding a lovely, personal sentiment and handing it to the recipient as this trend, if a national one, has had little impact on post office use.

I wonder if this holiday season you’ll receive, welcome and make more homemade cookies, candy, sweaters, socks, scarves, poems and love-notes? If there’s money left in your holiday budget, what would you do with it? Have you ever used a layaway plan? Do you remember bank Christmas clubs–a way to save for gifts? Maybe such clubs, if they didn’t cost anything, would be an even better idea than layaway plans.


Service of a Symbol

Monday, August 22nd, 2011


Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff, an August 14 guest of Religion on the Line on WABC Radio in NYC, proposed an idea for US military chaplains that had merit and illustrated a spirit of collaboration and ecumenism that would benefit parishioners and congregants worldwide. If members of Congress adopted a similar approach as this retired military chaplain, all of us would profit.

priest-rabbi-ministerRabbi Resnicoff suggested that all military chaplains wear the same symbol to identify them as they did early on when any soldier or seaman, [no airmen then], would know a chaplain because he wore a shepherd’s crook on his uniform.

Today, said Rabbi Resnicoff, military personnel have no clue who the chaplains are. Christian chaplains wear a cross, Jews a Star of David, Moslems a crescent, but not everyone associates the symbols with being a chaplain. The rabbi pointed out that there are ministers of some little known religions with one chaplain in the armed forces who sport a symbol few could identify.

foxhole1He noted that in our military, a chaplain is called on to facilitate the ministry of other faiths making it important for a soldier to be able to identify him/her. If a chaplain jumps into a foxhole, all the soldiers in it become his flock if they want to be.

So in addition to offering counsel and assistance to any soldier, a rabbi might ensure that a Catholic be let off duty to attend mass; a Catholic chaplain would order matzos for the Jewish soldiers in time to eat during Passover, and so forth.

In fact, an Episcopalian chaplain was largely responsible for this Conservative rabbi’s vocation which along with his military service may explain his ecumenical predisposition. This minister wrote the recommendation that got him into rabbinical school, which he said was unusual.

Given the history of religious wars we’ve suffered for centuries that continue to kill thousands yearly, more men and women of the cloth should follow Rabbi Resnicoff’s lead and recognize that their calling should benefit far more than their constituents. Do you agree? Do you think that there should be a universal symbol to identify chaplains in the US Armed Forces? What do you think of symbols in general?


Back to Basics II

Thursday, July 7th, 2011


This evergreen topic intrigues me. I last covered it in February.

Research 101

I have always enjoyed research. Thought I was good at it until the other day. I moaned to my friend, editor/writer Jim Roper, that I’d spent one hour trying to find a street mailing address for a company’s headquarters and the closest I got was the city.

An aside: It’s amazing how some of the most high tech places are able to hide-or maybe it’s because they are high tech that they know how to.

chamber-of-commerceI’d checked every online resource, including the Chamber of Commerce, LinkedIn, Facebook etc. I came up dry.

Jim said, “So CALL the Chamber.” I stopped pounding the keyboard, picked up the phone and left my phone number and email address in a voice message. The next day what sounded like an intern called my voicemail with the street address. It was easy enough to get the zip code on The phone? What a concept!

Mail Fundamentals 

The last mail pickup in midtown Manhattan is 4 pm. Can you think of any business for which this is a convenient time?

mailboxWorse, the nearest mailbox to our office that was on Third Avenue and 44th Street disappeared a week ago while the one a block away, on Lexington Avenue and 44th Street, right across from a post office, remains. Another box on Lexington Avenue and 43rd Street, in front of my bank–a block from the post office–is also gone. Was anyone looking at a map?

Elementary Checking

I get emailed news alerts from a major network. Thought I had a case of déjà vu when I saw the subject line, “Bank to Pay Billions to Investors,” that I remembered from the day before and clicked to read the topic: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he’s canceling July 4 recess.”  I, too, make silly mistakes. We should all take it a notch slower.

Magazines Forever

magazine-stackRegardless of the economy or technology, we love magazines and continue to invent and launch them. [Somewhere I have a prototype of one that I made with my friends in 5th grade.]  In the first half of this year we added 138 magazines vs. 90 last year at this time, wrote Stefanie Botelho in Food titles and regional magazines were most popular. Closures are down, from 86 last year to 74 this, in the same time period.

Do you have any tips for locating a company that wants to hide? Examples of basic services you may have put aside but are using again or others you’d like to use, like the US postal service, that are becoming harder to access?  


Service of Specialty Stores

Monday, June 27th, 2011


Some amuse themselves for hours in hardware or jewelry stores and I’ve covered paper, art, electronics and fur operations.

 I’ve lived in NYC most of my life and just discovered N.Y. Cake. If you like to bake or dream of cakes, pies and cupcakes, it’s a hoot to visit. In business 30 years [the website history notes “more than 25” though a headline boasts the higher number], I didn’t need it before because other venues like card shops and convenient party stores carried what I was looking for. Most no longer do or they are out of business.

cupcakeliner2At N.Y. Cake there are unusual birthday candles–some champagne bottles and others designed for sports fans such as baseball bats. Shelves are filled with sugar calla lilies, roses and rosebuds in a range of sizes and colors as well as daisies, magnolia and other blossoms. Along with small silver and gold balls–drageesI saw giant pearls, leaves, marzipan fruits, containers of multi-colored sprinkles and a color wheel’s worth of sugar crystals.

cupcake-linerI enjoyed the selection of polka dot patterned paper cupcake liners, cake and pie pans and decorating equipment. A man stood at a key juncture of the store to point out what customers were looking for as soon as he saw someone’s confused or frustrated expression. I recommend that you take a quick look around before you ask him for directions to take in the selection.

A fisherman enjoying a shop filled with fishing equipment or a car lover at the auto show would have as much fun as I did in this place.

As larger stores cut down on inventory and eliminate specialty items that don’t generate appropriate sales margins do you think we’ll revert to more such specialty stores? What are your hobbies and what are your favorite places to feed them? Are there any specialty stores you miss or could use?


Service of Who is Looking?

Thursday, June 16th, 2011


I met a friend for lunch at Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan and noticed a park attendant working her heart out. We were eating our sandwiches and sipping our drinks under trees on this perfect almost summer day. Every table was taken by office workers and tourists doing the same. In the hour we were there, the attendant repeatedly emptied the trash from a small stationery container which, once empty, she’d spray with disinfectant every third time. She had to lift out the inside basket and turn the contents into a large trash bin on wheels that she rolled back and forth. I was amazed at her diligence–no rats in this part of the park that’s for sure–and I thanked her for it.

fire-fighter-badgeOn the other hand, a few weeks ago I drove through a small upstate town passing a sign asking me to slow up and announcing a collection up ahead for the local fire department. I expected to toss a bill or coins, whatever I could grab from my bag as I drove, into a bucket held by a fireman or volunteer. I didn’t see anyone near the cans or on the side of the road however there were a few buckets piled on one another on the yellow line in the middle of the road. Not a soul in either direction rolled down a car window to toss a coin or a bill in those buckets. If the firemen and friends couldn’t be bothered, why should we?

That day I was on my way to a craft fair in a field in upstate New York. Lucky I’d been there before. One untrained kid was doing a hesitant and dangerous job directing traffic at the exit which spilled onto the road I was on. When I got to the entrance a quarter mile past him–he didn’t tell me whether I’d be parking in the field to the left or the right of the road–I saw eight kids with the same tee shirts as his sitting around near the entrance on the left so that’s where I went. They were shooting the breeze. They should have been directing traffic on the road and in the large parking area. Guess they weren’t in the mood.

outdoor-food-vendorsWhen it was time for a snack I noticed a food vendor I’d not seen before. The stand stood out because it was the only one with a line. One youngster stood over three extremely hot metal plates making crepes. He poured the perfect amount of batter each time, painted it in a circle with a little wooden paddle, turned it and gave the finished crepe to another young man who filled it with chicken, veggies, cheese or whatever you wanted. The youngsters didn’t get ruffled in spite of the time it took to cook the perfect crepes and they never for a minute stopped. The result was delicious and well worth the wait.

There wasn’t a manager or boss in view so who of importance to the livelihood of the Bryant Park attendant or the crepe/sandwich makers would have known they were  meticulous in fulfilling their tasks? What inspired them to do their [unpleasant], no doubt minimum wage jobs so well? What were the firemen or the volunteers who planned the fundraiser and parking lot staff thinking? What signs do you look for when hiring such employees?


Service of Practice

Monday, June 13th, 2011


Rick Wolff, host of WFAN’s “The Sports Edge” on Sunday mornings, interviewed Paul Tenorio of The Washington Post about high school soccer the other week. In comparing US and European youth sports programs, it’s clear that here, the emphasis is on playing and winning, not on practice. European youth soccer teams clock in at about three practices a week to one game, they said. The inverse is true for young soccer players in this country.

Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” isn’t handy so I turned to Wikipedia which describes the author’s 10 thousand hour rule. “Throughout the publication, Gladwell repeatedly mentions the ‘10,000-Hour Rule’, claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.” I agree with the practice part. That’s about five years working a 40 hour week.

communicationsI’m a believer in on the job training but the smartest office workers and best athletes need to perfect some skills and learn the rules of a sport or culture of a business even in something as obvious as person-to-person contact. Regardless of the burgeoning number of ways we have of contacting one another these days, we don’t always do so. Many students in university mentoring programs and the members of industry association committees who have recently graduated–even those who’ve majored in communications–would be given a D in responsiveness and follow through. There are exceptions and the careers of these young people are soaring.

If nothing else, a person needs to learn to listen, follow instructions and remember them to successfully complete the simplest task. It can take a while, less time with practice.

I just dropped off and picked up dry cleaning at an outpost in a rural area. A senior staffer was showing the ropes to a young-woman-in-training. The nubie will be in charge of this drop-off store and alone. Jen, who preceded her and was fabulous, worked there for over three years. Jen just moved to Seattle with her boyfriend. She told me that she didn’t know how to use a computer, but she never made a mistake inputting our jackets, coats, slacks and sweaters to the dry cleaner’s computerized cash register that spun out descriptions of our clothes along with the price.

What’s the rush to play before we have basic skills? Do we have no time to train or to practice whether in sports or at work? Does this approach affect the quality and expectations of our young athletes and workforce?


Service of College

Thursday, May 12th, 2011


To promote the children’s book winners of the 2011 Christopher Awards, I was looking for mommy bloggers who cover books on an electronic database. Of 570 mothers who post about issues relating to children, families and parenting, there were 14 identified with books. This analysis is unscientific. It could mean that bloggers didn’t check off “books” or respond in any way to the list collector’s query for details. Still, there were generous numbers of bloggers associated with new products, arts and crafts and other suitable subjects.

Nevertheless, my mind jumped to two articles I read last week: Caleb Crain’s New York Times book review, “Lost in the Meritocracy,” about Professor X’s “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower” and Daniel B. Smith’s New York Magazine article, “The University Has No Clothes.”

Before I continue, I remind you that I am a volunteer director of a mentoring program for graduate students, for years have been a mentor to college and grad students and as a foundation board member I direct development for programs and scholarships for college and grad students in the communications  industry. 

Back to the articles. Crain wrote that report-card-2Professor X makes a range of points but a salient one was “What grade does one give a college student who progresses from a 6th-to a 10th-grade level?” Crain notes: “Professor X can be caustic about the euphemism and somewhat willed optimism that sometimes befog discussion of how to teach unprepared students. To relieve his and his students’ unhappiness, he proposes that employers stop demanding unnecessary degrees: a laudable suggestion, unlikely to be realized until the degree glut has dried up.”

And then there’s the cost. Wrote Crain: “In 1940, there were 1.5 million college students in America; in 2006, there were 20.5 million. In X’s opinion, a glut of degrees has led to a spurious inflation of the credentials required for many jobs. Tuitions are rising, and two-thirds of college graduates now leave school with debt, owing on average about $24,000. A four-year degree is said to increase wages about $450,000 over the course of a lifetime, but X doubts the real value of degrees further down on the hierarchy of prestige.”

In his New York Magazine article, Smith focuses on two college-educated successful men leading what he calls the “anti-college crusade.” According to Smith, James Altucher, father of two girls, a finance writer and venture capitalist thinks “higher education is nothing less than an institutionalized scam-college graduates hire only college graduates, creating a closed system that permits schools to charge exorbitant ­prices and forces students to take on crippling debt.” Smith quotes Altucher:  “‘The cost of college in the past 30 years has gone up tenfold. Health care has only gone up sixfold, and inflation has only gone up threefold. Not only is it a scam, but the college presidents know it. That’s why they keep raising tuition.'”

college-sportsThe second anti-college crusader in Smith’s article, Peter Thiel, was the first Facebook angel and a PayPal founder. Smith wrote that he “contends that American colleges have transformed from rigorous scholarly communities into corporate-minded youth resorts, where some presidents command salaries of more than $1 million and competition centers on outdoing one another in acquiring high-end amenities (duplex-apartment dormitories, $70 million gyms).” Thiel thinks that middle class parents consider a college education as an insurance policy that ensures that their children remain in the middle class.

According to Smith, Altucher said his goal was to reduce demand and therefore tuition cost. Theil’s mission was similar, backed by a fellowship he’s funding in a program he’s calling 20 Under 20. The winners get both $100,000 each and mentorships with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. They must also stay out of college for two years.

Do you think that the pictures painted by Professor X, Altucher and Theil are dire, bleak and wrong or spot-on? Should employers require college degrees for most jobs? Do you see a connection between the exorbitant cost of college, countless students unprepared for university-level work, crippling debt resulting from four years of college and most mommy bloggers covering every topic under the sun but books?


Service of Paper that Calls to You

Monday, April 25th, 2011


A friend, writer/editor Jim Roper and I share a passion for fine quality stationery-all sorts of paper goods.  His notes and gift bags of handmade paper feel as exquisite as they look. He gave me a box of Florentine cards a few years ago. I have sent most to special people but still have a few as I have a hard time parting with them.

Jim suggested I read Lesley M. Blume’s Wall Street Journal article, “Leaving the Right Impression.” It was about the trend for people to design and use calling cards-that’s what Blume says they are, well, called these days. My husband has always referred to business cards this way but these personal cards are different in that along with a name, they provide only one bit of contact information such as a phone number.

distinguish-yourselfBlume noted that the reasons for these cards on thick, wonderful paper ranged from distinguishing oneself in a job search to “the ongoing ‘heritage’ movement-a nostalgia-tinged societal turn toward objects that last, smolder with individuality and are well-made-which has made its zeitgeisty way into the world of stationery.” She continued, “And a personalized card acts as a quiet rebuttal to the white noise jabber-jawing of Twitter and Facebook.”

I get her first reason. Distinguishing yourself in positive ways is always smart. But I wonder why people [apart from mothers and loved ones] are going to keep these beautiful cards and if they do, where. I input contact information to my smartphone as soon as I can and have no room or place to store such things whether beautiful or merely practical.

More important: toomuchworkWill the cards require the recipient to work to find you? What if a prospective employer doesn’t want to speak with you and all that’s on the calling card is your phone number? In frustration, he/she may toss the card and move to the person whose email address is easier to find.

We increasingly need to know and share everything NOW. We Google, we link, we dash off a line at midnight on a handheld phone’s keyboard. I don’t think calling cards will buck this trend. The recipient may carry the card around for ages as a bookmark [if he/she hasn’t moved to a Kindle]. My bet is that in the end, they will have no clue who gave it to them.

I’m all for encouraging face-to-face contact in favor of hiding behind a keyboard. I can’t get over being asked to jot condolence messages on websites, for example. But calling cards aren’t the answer to social networking and texting run amok.

How do you distinguish yourself? Do you think calling cards are an effective way?


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