Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Public Relations 101- Return A Freaking Phone Call

With a background as a journalist and as a public relations professional, I feel fortunate to have been on both sides of this fence that I currently straddle- albeit uncomfortably.

As a public relations professional, I make it a priority to be as cooperative with the media as possible. I want them to write about the companies I represent when these companies have something important to say. I also want the media to have all of the facts and information to write a fair story when they are writing about a less-than-flattering topic regarding the companies I represent. This is the dance you must learn in public relations. Sometimes the media will write about what you want them to, and other times they will write about what you wish they hadn't. But above all, keeping those communication lines open is paramount.

As a reporter at a daily newspaper, nothing was more irritating than to leave messages with people you needed to get comments from, and as your deadline loomed, the people hadn't returned your calls. In the back of my mind, I would find myself thinking that if it was possible to work around this person next time, I would do so.

These days I play the role of reporter and public relations professional, which makes this dance even more interesting. I am a freelance writer for several Polk County publications, and I've had two instances recently that to me, really drive home the title of this blog- return a freaking phone call!

Instance #1- I recently wrote an article about company Christmas parties, the reasons for having them and the potential liabilities involved. My husband works for Publix (I love Publix, so it pains me to write this), and I learned that the employees in his department had raised their own money to host a Christmas party. I wanted to speak to the organizers and make arrangements to get photos at their party to accompany my story. I called a fellow Florida Public Relations Association member involved in PR with Publix, and she referred me to the appropriate person I needed to speak with to obtain permission to conduct this interview. I called that person and emailed her. I called four times. I emailed twice. I spoke to another woman in her office. I never- NEVER- received a call back.

I was indignant. And, I said to myself, "Screw it. If they don't want good publicity, I'm certainly not going to force it down their throats."

Is this a professional attitude? Certainly not. But take note, PR professionals: this is how MANY journalists react when you don't do what they want, when they want it. It's an ugly truth, but it's the truth, nonetheless.

I went to this Christmas party with my husband and wound up meeting the organizer I had hoped to interview for my story. It turns out that she knew I had been inquiring about an interview. The woman who never returned my phone calls had been working behind the scenes to get me my interview. Here's the problem: I never knew that, so I moved on to other sources. The party organizer couldn't have been more disappointed to hear that I no longer planned to include the Publix angle in my story. She was apologetic, and was sure to tell me she had been seeking permission to speak to me through her chain of command. This is a concept I understand well. I would have been glad to hold off on the story, had I known that my requests were being addressed. Instead, I felt ignored and disregarded.

Incident #2- This is a story idea that isn't dead yet, so I'm intentionally being a bit vague. I've placed two calls to a source at Lakeland Regional Medical Center about a feel-good story I hope to do for a local publication's spring issue. The group within the hospital has an on-going complaint of never getting any media attention. I'm prepared to help change that by doing this story. The friend who told me about the story idea gave me a point of contact at LRMC. I've called this person twice, and she hasn't called me back. I spoke to my friend recently and told her I've made two attempts, to no avail.

The friend calls the contact person and finds out that she has received my messages, but she is going through the public relations representatives at the hospital to get permission to speak to me. Again, this is a concept I understand. So why not call me and tell me that, so I at least know you've received my messages?

So what am I getting at, dear PR professionals? Return a freaking phone call!!! If a reporter calls and wants to do a story, but you must first clear it through your internal processes, that's fine. We understand. But CALL US AND TELL US THAT. Don't leave us hanging, thinking that you're disregarding our requests for interviews.

And to those of you who include not returning phone calls in your day-to-day PR practices, let me share this with you: you are soooooo not doing yourselves any favors with the media. Reporters are avoiding people such as you like the plague. You are the ones on whom we hinge our hopes of getting those great quotes by deadline. And you are the ones who disappoint us. And then, you become the ones we put on our mental list of people not to call, because you refuse to return a freaking phone call.

I would love to hear from journalists and PR professionals on this one, so I welcome your comments. Don't hold back!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Book Review- The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

Note: I recently decided to read the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman and to write reviews on the three books. You can read about the reason why here, and you can read my review of the first book, The Golden Compass, here.

The Subtle Knife is the second installment in atheist Philip Pullman's trilogy, His Dark Materials. This fantasy starts off by introducing another young hero into the mix, Will Parry. Like Lyra Belacqua, the heroine in the series, Will is mature beyond his years, and has charged himself with caring for his mentally ill mother and finding his father, an explorer.

Lyra has located her father, for whom she had been searching, but they have parted ways once again. Now that she and Will have crossed paths while hopping from world to world through various "windows," she vows after a slight deviation to use her knowledge and her magical truth-telling device to help Will find his father.

Gone- at least for now- is the threat of the Gobblers, who stole children. Now adults live in fear of the Specters of Indifference, who devour adults by sapping the life blood from them, leaving them, well, indifferent to their surroundings.

Together, Lyra and Will jump between two worlds to meet with scholars and find people who can help them find Will's father. Lyra briefly loses her magical device to a man who offers to return it if she and Will bring him the Subtle Knife.

This mystical knife can slice through anything and can create windows into other worlds, as well as protect adults from the Specters.

This book has more religious undertones, and the Watchers, who are angels, become part of the cast of characters. It also becomes clear that Lyra's father, Lord Asriel, is working toward some sort of confrontation with God.

Warning- consider this your spoiler alert.

Toward the end of the book, we learn that Lyra has another role to play besides the heroine in this trilogy. She apparently is destined to be Eve. Only this time, she won't fall, unlike the Biblical story of Eve in the Garden of Eden, where she is tempted by the serpent and eats from the forbidden tree.

We also learn that in addition to its previously mentioned uses, the Subtle Knife can defeat God. The "rebel angels" cast out of Heaven didn't have anything like this knife, so the door is opened to the possibilities that lie ahead now that there is such a knife.

Personal Thoughts

The controversy in these books has been the idea that Pullman is trying to kill God in the minds of children. Previously, others have mentioned that The Golden Compass is the tamest of the three books and based on The Subtle Knife, I agree. This second book is far more graphic and violent, in my opinion. People are attacked by Specters, characters are killed, others are maimed. It becomes clear that there is a belief among characters in the book that God can be defeated.

There are some touching moments in this book, where Will and Lyra realize they are the best friends either has had. There is a comical moment when Lyra confronts the thief who stole her device and she's so angry, she barely can contain her rage. Will learns a great deal about his father, and the pride he has in his father increases enormously.

But beneath all of this, I finished this book feeling disturbed by the notions presented, and almost dreading what will be introduced in the final book, The Amber Spyglass.

I still mostly hold to my belief that a book based on fantasy could not succeed in killing God in the minds of children, but now I think that it holds true for children raised in Christian households, and maybe not so much for children who are not taught about having a personal relationship with God.

I tend to agree, at this point, with some of the concern about The Golden Compass movie coming to theaters Dec. 7. I can see where a movie based on the book might lure children into reading all of the books. I'm not sure yet if I would want my children reading The Subtle Knife.

I'm now reading The Amber Spyglass. I hope to have it completed and a review written by Dec. 7.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Book Review- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Note: I previously wrote an explanation as to why I'm reviewing the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, which you can read here if you care to.

The Golden Compass is the first in atheist Philip Pullman's trilogy, His Dark Materials. This is a fascinating sort of science fiction story that involves the supernatural and a scrappy little girl whose bravery and perseverance render heroic results.

Wildly imaginative and nail-bitingly suspensful in parts, the story is centered around Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon.

We learn that in Lyra's world, almost everyone has a daemon- not demon- who sort of acts as the person's soul, and can change its form into different animals.

Lyra is a willful, fearless tween-ager who lives at Jordan College in Oxford. Her impertinent behavior early in the book sets her on a course of adventure in which she meets powerful, armored polar bears, witches and other exciting characters.

It becomes apparent that Lyra, either by birth or by happenstance, is charged with many a heroic responsibility as she embarks on a journey to save her friend from the Gobblers and to free her imprisoned father. She uses help from a band of Gypsies combined with her own raw wit, guile and a magical device previously given to her by the college's Master to accomplish her destiny.

Personal Thoughts
There has been quite a stir on the Internet and in Christian communities about this trilogy. Some Christians believe this is Pullman's way of attempting to kill the belief in God among children. It is said that The Golden Compass is the "tamest" of the three books.

With the movie based on this book set to be in theaters on Dec. 7, some Christians have voiced concerns that parents will take their children to see this movie, then children will want to read the books. They fear reading The Golden Compass will lure children into reading the other two books, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, which are said to be less subtle in their denouncement of God.

I am a Christian, and I loved reading The Golden Compass. I found it to be exciting, well-written and incredibly entertaining. It made me anxious to see the movie, even though I almost never like movies based on books as much as I like books themselves.

Because I was aware of the controversy going into it, I found myself constantly trying to read more into the story than perhaps was there. The whole daemon thing through me for a loop early on, but as best I can tell, there is nothing "evil" about these daemons.

The whole story involves underlying themes of a sort of battle between church and science, and Chapter 21 mentions Genesis Chapter 3, where Eve is speaking to the serpant about eating from the tree in the middle of the garden. The author puts an interesting spin on it by quoting the Bible as saying that the serpant told Eve if she ate of that tree, her eyes would be opened and "your daemons shall assume their true forms, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."

I view my Bible as I view my Coca-Cola. I don't want anyone screwing around with its ingredients. No vanilla or cherry Coke for me, just the Classic stuff, thank you. I don't like reading where anyone is changing wording in the Bible, even if it is fiction.

But with that said, I believe a fiction book can convince children not to believe in God about as much as I believe that children get violent tendencies from watching Yosemite Sam and Roadrunner/Coyote cartoons. Children know when they're reading a story and when they're reading something based on the truth. This book clearly is fantasy.

Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to finishing the last two books to see if my views change.

The Golden Compass Controversy

11/24/07- You can read my The Golden Compass book review here.

The movie “The Golden Compass” starring Nicole Kidman is coming to theaters Dec. 7. It is based on the trilogy of books geared toward young adults written by atheist Philip Pullman.

I recently received a forwarded email stating that Pullman wants children to denounce God and Heaven, "but he does it in a very subtle way that parents may not pick up on what his true intentions are."

The email goes on to state that in a 2003 interview, Pullman said “My books are about killing God.”

Then comes the call to action: Please don’t take your kids to see this movie!! Send this to EVERYONE you know!!! We need to get the word out about this movie and make sure that no one supports it!!!

One responsible inclusion in the email is a link to, the great Internet urban myth-buster:

I read the information on Snopes, and after having coffee one evening with my friend, a fellow Christian who also loves a good controversy, I decided to read this trilogy for myself and draw my own conclusions.

I understand not everyone will do the same. So for those of you non-readers, I'll be writing book reviews on all three books very soon. My goal is to have all of them completed by Dec. 7, when The Golden Compass opens in theaters. Stay tuned!

Laser Hair Removal Numbing Cream

Through the advances of Internet technology, I've discovered many people visiting my site lately have been seeking information on the type of numbing cream used in laser hair removal treatment.

This is what Ideal Image uses: it's called triple anesthetic cream, and it's a combination of benzocaine, lidocaine, tetracaine and phenylephrine.

Instructions call for applying the cream to the laser treatment site one hour prior to treatment and covering the area with plastic wrap. You are advised not to use this cream if you are pregnant or nursing. Honestly, I think laser hair removal would be the last thing on the mind of a pregnant woman.

Personally, I have found the cream to be a huge help in keeping pain and discomfort during treatment at bay. I have several blogs on laser hair removal.

Volunteers Needed to Deliver Thanksgiving Meals on Wednesday

I read in The Ledger on Nov. 15 that Volunteers in Service to the Elderly needed 750 volunteers to deliver Thanksgiving meals this Wednesday, Nov. 21.

I tried this morning to call the number listed in the article, but it went to voice mail and the mailbox was full. So I called the regular VISTE number: (863) 284-0828 and Clara Hill was gracious enough to give me some great information to share.

VISTE hasn't reached its 750 volunteers yet, but there's still time to offer your services. Those interested in delivering a Thanksgiving meal and visiting with the recipient for a bit are asked to report to the Lakeland Center Entrance 2 at 3:30 p.m. or after on Wednesday.

If it were me, I would call first to make sure they still need volunteers, but I have a sneaking suspicion that if you just show up, there will be a meal ready for you to deliver.

Plan now to help out this Christmas
I don't have details on delivery dates yet, but VISTE also puts together about 300 "personal care boxes" for the elderly, and volunteers will be needed to deliver them this Christmas. The boxes include toilet paper, paper towels, lotion, hair spray, toothpaste, soap and other toiletries.

Gift Ideas for the Person Who Has Everything

We all have one in our family: that person who has everything. What the heck do you buy them? Here is a list of items- some rather off the wall, perhaps- you might consider for that tough-to-buy-for person.

I'll continue to work on this list as I think of more ideas, but these are a few to get you started:

For the Gardener

  • Rain chains. These are a pretty alternative to those plain-looking aluminum rain gutter spouts. Learn more at You also can purchase rain chains from

  • Sign them up for a class through the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods program. Click here for a list of upcoming events. This list doesn't go into 2008 yet, but you can call (863) 519-8677 for more information.

  • Compost bin. Every gardener needs good soil. Help them create their own with a compost bin. There are numerous types out there, but I use the Earth Machine. You can learn more about the Earth Machine and composting in general here.

For Women

  • Purse hooks. I first saw these when a friend of mine pulled hers out at the mall while we were sitting down to eat lunch. These decorative little hooks attach to a surface and keep your purse from touching the ground. Engenious! I bought mine at Firefly in Lakeside Village in Lakeland, but I understand that Babes Shoes and Apparel also carries them, as well as Bed, Bath and Beyond. BB&B has the best deal with a 2-pack for under $10, but the purse hooks at Firefly are much prettier, in my opinion.

  • Massage and/or facial gift certificates. I recently had my first facial at Purity Skin & Body Care on S. Florida Avenue. I recommend booking with Katrina for the anti-aging facial. You can read a local review of the spa here.

  • Hair and makeup gift certificates. My new favorite salon is Michael Rose Hair Designs in the Scottsdale Plaza on S. Florida Avenue in Lakeland, but I also love Revelations, which is just south on the Polk Parkway on S. Florida. Neither has Web sites that I could find, which is a bit annoying.

For Anyone

  • Gift cards to local coffee houses. I prefer Black & Brew . For anyone who loves coffee, tea, desserts and great food in a place with wonderful ambience, this is the place to go. And Chuck Welch's young daughter ALWAYS recommends the chocolate cake. Judging by the chocolate ring that's around her mouth each time she eats it, I'd say her opinion is worth listening to. But there's also Mitchell's, another locally owned coffee shop I also enjoy, and if you're not very creative or don't live locally, Starbuck's doesn't disappoint.

  • Publix gift cards. Let's face it. Everyone needs groceries. So get a gift card to a grocery store where shopping is a pleasure, not from a place that claims to be getting better all the time, for crying out loud. And don't even mention Wal-Mart to me. Please.

  • Gas gift cards. Just as everyone needs groceries, nearly everyone has a bottomless pit to fill in their gas tank. This is the type of gift the recipient truly will thank you for, in light of the recent gas prices.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

FPRA Meeting at Southeastern University

Southeastern University's student chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association hosted the local professional chapter (Dick Pope/Polk County) today and the meeting was wonderful.

I think I'm a bit partial, due to having worked at Southeastern until earlier this year, but I have to say this- one thing Southeastern University's Development Office knows how to do is to put on a function. The staff in the Development Office have done an amazing job of sharing that valuable skill set with the student FPRA chapter. The students were wonderful and President Leah Spellman was on the ball throughout the function.

More than once throughout the meeting, I heard fellow FPRA members talking about how beautiful the campus was, how helpful the staff and students were and how effortlessly the luncheon seemed to flow.

Several of the student chapter's 15 members were pinned today. I hope that they get all they can out of their membership. I am guilty of not using my membership to its fullest extent, so I hope the students won't follow in my footsteps in that regard.

Southeastern Vice President for Development James L. Davis was today's speaker, and he shared some fascinating information on the school's growth in recent years.

Fast Facts
  • The school's budget has grown from $14 million to $40 million in the past eight years.
  • There were 910 students enrolled when President Mark Rutland came to Southeastern in 1999. Today there are 3,069 students enrolled.
  • New academic buildings and a new performing arts center are slated to be built.
  • Off-site campuses are being considered in Europe, the Middle East and California.
  • Efforts are in place to double the school's $5 million endowment within the next five years.
  • Two more master's degree programs and the university's first doctorate degree will be offered in Fall 2008.

Davis spoke about the university's leadership and how they got the school from being within six months of permanently closing its doors to being a thriving Christian university with lots of growth potential.

All in all, the information was great for a public relations crowd, because most people in public relations have dealt with fundraising at some level. Going into the meeting, I worried that it might turn into a shameless plea for money. After all, Davis is tasked with raising large sums of money for the school each year. He bordered on going overboard toward the end, but overall, his message was good. Davis is a great speaker and he's very engaging.

For Journalism/PR Students

Today's meeting drove home once again how important it is, in my opinion, for students to get involved in organizations such as FPRA. These student organizations and their partnerships with the local professional organizations are an amazing way to make contacts within the profession, to open themselves up to valuable internship opportunities and to shadow professionals in the workplace.

I had a delightful conversation with two student chapter members today and we talked at length about internships, getting that first job, etc. They were nervous about it. They asked questions about their resumes. They wondered if their lack of professional experience would make it difficult to land a great internship or that great first job. I hope that by the end of our conversation, I had alleviated some of their fears, because they are in a GREAT position right now. They're in college, they're a member of FPRA and they have a ton of resources at their disposal because of that.

I gave them my business card and told them if they would email me, I would be happy to send them information on some great PR books I've read recently, as well as an idea for a resume when you don't have a lot of professional experience. I hope they take me up on my offer.

I also hope other FPRA members will extend similar offers to the students at both the Southeastern and the Florida Southern College FPRA chapters. We've amassed a great deal of knowledge in our careers, and I think we owe it to the younger generation to share what we can and help make them as successful as they want to become.

It's refreshing to see students so engaged in their education and in their plans after college. I want to do whatever I can to help them.

So for all you journalism/PR students out there: this is my open invitation to you. Ask me your questions. Share your concerns. If I can't provide answers for you, I will attempt to point you in the direction of someone who can.

In the mean time, I've written several blogs lately that might be of help to college journalism/PR students. Here's one on the importance of checking your work when writing and editing . There also are some blogs about a magazine internship, other internships and choosing those internships wisely.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Sign of Things to Come

I blogged yesterday about the Holiday Fest event held annually at Publix. The Polk County event is over, but for those friends of mine in Ocala, your Publix stores will hold their Holiday Fest festivities this Thursday, Nov. 15.

At tonight's event, several boxes were placed around the store to win various prizes- $50 Publix gift card, a poinsettia, tickets to an adventure park, etc.

We walked through the store sampling desserts and meats and crackers and cookies. In fact, when we got home, we weren't hungry for supper- we just had dessert.

Later, Grove Park Publix Manager Eric Richards called to tell me I won the "Decadent Dessert Platter" in tonight's drawing!!! I have no idea was that is, but it has "decadent" and "dessert" in the name and since those are two of my favorite words, I know I'm gonna love it!

I wasn't feeling very lucky about winning anything tonight because of my recent disappointment at the Best Buy Reward Zone event, where I won diddly squat in their contest.

But after tonight's good fortune, I'm thinking this is a sign of things to come. After all, I'm registering every day to win the DIY kitchen and bathroom makover sweepstakes. And anyone who's been to my house knows I need to win this contest way more than I need a Decadent Dessert Platter.

So here's hoping Fortuna (that's my little shout out to one of my favorite books, A Confederacy of Dunces) smiles down on me and keeps the good luck flowing my way.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Holiday Fest at Publix Nov. 13

Publix Super Markets is holding its annual Holiday Fest tomorrow night (Tuesday, Nov. 13) from 4-7 p.m. at their stores.

There will be free samples, door prizes and more.

If you're interested in getting some help with selecting the right menu or would like some festive ideas for your holiday party, visit They have an easy to use planning guide that promises to help you host a memorable event.

I'll be at our neighborhood Publix in the Grove Park Shopping Center tomorrow night. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Being Nerdy at Best Buy

I never knew being a Best Buy Reward Zone member could have such perks. Last week I got an invitation in the mail to attend a special "members only" sales event at Best Buy tonight from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. That's prime watching-TV-in-bed time at my house, but something about being part of this "exclusive" event appealed to me. So much so, in fact, I invited friends to go along, which was allowed, according to the invitation.

My friend Ginger and I left a few minutes after 7 p.m. to go up to Best Buy. We had to be there early to get in line. We're laughing all the way, commenting about how nerdy we are to even be interested in this event. As we pull into the parking lot, we see that a line already has formed.

I'm ticked, because the invitation said the first 100 customers in line would receive a free wireless mouse (for which I have no use) and I thought there might already be 100 people in line. I had Ginger drop me off up front so I could get in line and save us a spot while she parked her Jeep.

They hand out tickets for the free mouse and thankfully, Ginger and I each get one.

When they open the doors, we all herd in like cattle. The camera Ginger wants isn't in stock. I have nothing in mind that I want to buy. Really, I am there to win a $50 gift card, which they are giving away every 15 minutes. I went in there fully expecting to hear my number called, and I am indignant each time they didn't call it. We hang out until 10 p.m.

Let me just say this: an hour and a half is a looong time to spend in a store, even if it is Best Buy. We strolled through areas full of products we had no interest in just to kill time. I learned about products I never knew existed.

For example, have you ever heard of a portable washing machine? Well, for $129, it could be yours.

How about a gas stove that has five burners- four in the regular spots and one in the middle?

Did you know you can purchase the entire Beverly Hillbillies series for $16.99?

Or that Best Buy doesn't carry any CDs by The Art of Noise? More importantly, can you believe that Ginger was looking for a CD by The Art of Noise?

After learning all these interesting facts, we claimed our free mice and headed out. I was wondering what the heck I'm going to do with my mouse, but then an idea came to mind. Yesterday I bought a book on etiquette and in the section about parties, I learned it is good etiquette to bring a gift to the host of a party to which you have been invited.
So here's a word to the wise for all my friends: if you want this mouse, you better invite me over soon, because once the word gets out about what's in store, my party card is gonna be full.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sloppy Writing or Editing

I'm going to go out on a limb here and point out a couple of irritating bits of writing in the article on Marshal Seymour in Friday's edition of The Ledger. I say "going out on a limb" because I am a writer, and I make mistakes too. But just as I want people to tell me when I've made one (it makes me a better writer) I feel The Ledger reporters and/or editors ought to know when they've written something that bugs me.

And for all of you college journalism/PR students out there, as well as you freelance writers, use this as a wake-up call to pay attention to your writing. Once the paper is printed, you can't unring that bell.

Irritating writing example #1- "A Lakeland businessman who said he met Seymour through the church, Steve Sloan, also testified Thursday..."

That is incredibly awkward, in my opinion. I think it would have been better to write, "Steve Sloan, a Lakeland businessman who said he met Seymour through the church, also testified Thursday..."

Irritating writing example #2- "After court, Canady said of his son-in-law's arrest, 'It's a railroad job in a lot of ways.' He claimed Lakeland police were trying to pressure his wife to divorce Seymour."

Now if you don't see something that's just plain wrong here, go back and reread it. The way that second sentence is written, the writer is saying that Lakeland police were trying to pressure Canady's wife to divorce Seymour. I know the sentence is supposed to mean that Canady said Lakeland police were trying to pressure Seymour's wife to divorce her husband, Marshal Seymour. But that's certainly not the way it was written.

More on Bike Riding

Today was a beautiful Saturday, so my husband and I got the bikes out and went for a long ride.
We hit our usual destination- Downtown Lakeland. The normal Saturday farmer's market was going on and today was the Veteran's Day parade. I'm glad we went to that, because not nearly enough people did. I wish Americans did more to honor their veterans.

From there, we rode down South Florida Avenue to Michael Rose Hair Designs. I wanted some information on a good gel to put in my hair when I'm flat-ironing it.

Then we were off to Edgewood Avenue, where we were looking for a place to buy some cold drinks before heading over to Handley Park to eat our ham sandwiches we brought with us. We stopped for drinks at a Texaco station that reeked of urine and swore never to go back.

After eating our sandwiches, we eyed a huge swing set and decided to swing a bit before continuing our ride. My husband pushed me to get me going- even though I still know how to swing by myself- then he got on the swing next to me.

Immediately, the competition begins as to who can swing the highest. He's cutting through the air like a knife through warm butter, stretching out his long legs and leaning backward until he's formed a straight line. I'm laughing uncontrollably and just hanging on to avoid falling out of my swing.

Then he starts to slow down because he says- and I quote- "My balls are starting to feel weird."

He slows down and gets off the swing when he spies a pull-up bar. He's always been tall, slim and athletic. He was one of those punks who always won the President's Physical Fitness Award in school. And he reminded me of that right before he said he used to do 20 or 30 pull-ups at a time.

Well, on this day, he did two. And a pitiful excuse for a third. And the faces he made while doing them made me rue the day my digital camera broke, because I'll never get those expressions on film.

We came home, put the bikes away and I went to feed our lone, no-egg-laying chicken, when I noticed she had a guest. A little red banty rooster was strutting around in her pen. I have no idea where he came from, but if I were a betting woman, I would guess he came from the neighbor's yard behind us. We thought we'd been hearing a rooster in the mornings coming from that direction. We ran him off, but a few minutes ago, I saw him wandering around in the pen again. Now they both appear to be in the hen house and I guess he's spending the night. And those two aren't even married. I'm appalled.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Area Blogger Meeting Nov. 27

If you write a blog, plan to write a blog or just like to read blogs, make plans now to attend the fourth (?) meeting of area bloggers. Don't worry if your site is a diary, journal, PR blog or media blog...everyone is welcome.

We're meeting Tuesday, Nov. 27 at 7 p.m. at Black and Brew in Lakeland ( 205 East Main Street ).

If you're a girl, please come. These meetings are male-dominated and they don't want to keep it that way.

Disclosure: I stole the basic wording of this announcement from Lakeland Local, written by Chuck Welch, male blogger.

Hey...that reminds me of "Fred Garvin, male prostitute" from the old SNL days...

Bike Rides and Butt Cramps

I jumped on the bike this afternoon to run my errands. I blogged earlier this week about the insane gas prices, and if I had any second thoughts about running errands on my bike, they were sucked into my fuel tank yesterday along with the $47.03 I spent to fill up the VW. I paid three dollars and thirty-seven freaking cents a gallon for diesel.

My first errand was to the Missouri Avenue Post Office. I stopped at the light (see that, Chuck?) at Lakeland Police Department. A Ford Explorer coming out of the LPD lot got tired of waiting for the light to turn green and ran it. Yes, right in front of the Police Department.

I dropped off my envelope at the Post Office, and headed down to The Ledger to pick up a print version of Polk Voice. I don't know why I want the print version. It's all on this site, but I'm still kind of old-fashioned, in that I prefer my news on newsprint. I've tried uneventfully to get it delivered to my home, but gave up on that notion months ago.

The powers-that-be at The Ledger mean well. But they obviously can't convince my paper carrier to deliver the Polk Voice to me on Wednesday, every Wednesday. I often wonder if other people have the same complaint. I got tired of complaining. Before I gave up completely, I had the district supervisor's cell phone number, and every Wednesday morning I would call him to request the Polk Voice after it didn't arrive with my paper.

There were times when I'd get the paper religiously for two weeks, then nothing. No rhyme or reason to it. So now I pick it up via bicycle.

From there, I rode through Dixieland on Missouri and then got onto S. Florida Avenue. I rode to the Southgate Publix and got cash for tonight's Dreadnaughts game. It's going to be chilly and I want a black LHS hoodie.

I rode back up South Florida Avenue and turned onto Poinsettia, then meandered my way down to Lake Hollingsworth. I debated on whether to ride up that mother of a hill on Success Avenue. Since I didn't want to do it, I felt like I really should do it anyway. Coming around the lake, I was feeling really tired and was about to wuss out when my cell phone rang. A break!

It was my partner in laser hair removal crime, wanting to talk about our next appointment. I stopped to chat for a couple of minutes, got my second wind, and tackled the hill on Success.
I pass the swans on Lake Morton and make it up another hill just in time to get a butt cramp. Apparently, riding my bike rigorously five out of the last seven days has ticked off my muscles. Luckily, the rest of the way home was mostly downhill.

Speaking of bike riding, Chuck Welch at Lakeland Local wrote a great blog about bicycle safety rules today. You can check it out here.

Staying in Polk County for the Holidays? Check this out.

Here's another email to share with you. This one came from my friend Darby at the Central Florida Visitors and Convention Bureau.

If you have relatives coming for the holidays and you have no room for them to stay at your place, refer your family and friends to and click on the "Home for the Holidays" feature on the left side. This is where you will find special offers for Nov. 15-Dec. 31, 2007.

The special offers can be used by the entire family, not just those staying at the accommodation.
When your guests book Polk County lodging, tell them to be sure to mention the Home for the Holidays offer. This isn't just for hotels, folks. There are special rates at vacation rental homes, bed and breakfasts and more.

In looking at the site, some of the choices that caught my eye included:

  • Lake Morton Bed & Breakfast, where guests can get a 10 percent discount.
  • Hyatt Place- it's newly renovated! They're offering a $99 rate, which includes continental breakfast and free wi-fi.
  • Terrace Hotel- always a Lakeland favorite. $119 for deluxe rooms.

Lake Wales

  • Cherry Pocket Fish Camp - you can stay in a fully furnished cabin for two nights and get the third night free. I've always heard this is an awesome place to eat, too.

Like I stated earlier, these are just the places that caught my eye. I encourage you to check the Web site yourself, because there are numerous places on the list.

Upon arrival, guests will receive a value card with more than 40 offers for attractions, restaurants and shops. Guests also can enjoy savings at Polk County’s top attractions and holiday activities -- such as Historic Bok Sanctuary, Fantasy of Flight, the Florida Air Museum and musical productions, as well as ice-skating at the Lakeland Center.

Call the Central Florida Visitors and Convention Bureau for more information: (863) 534-2500.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Lakeland's Community Development Department Needs Your Input

I got an interesting email today from Lynn Schindler, senior planner in Lakeland's Community Development Department.

Lynn says Community Development is in the process of updating its Comprehensive Plan for the State. This "is a document to improve the quality of life for existing neighborhoods, businesses and residents as we face continued growth during the next 10 years," Lynn's email stated.

Community Development is looking for feedback on the four questions at the end of a Power Point presentation titled “Transportation Element Update Presentation” located here on the city's Web site. There also is a link for emailing your comments or questions directly to Chuck Barmby. The four questions are on the last page of the presentation.

These are the questions, along with my personal input:

1. Which activity centers should be linked with a better bicycle/pedestrian pathway network?
Since Southeastern University continues to grow exponentially and offers a beautiful place to ride bikes, as well as a venue for lots of performing arts events, I would like to see better bike paths and/or sidewalks built between the Lake Bonny boat ramp on E. Main Street and Southeastern. Riding a bike along Longfellow Blvd. from E. Main Street to Colonial Avenue is scary, because there’s no good way to stay out of the vehicular traffic. Also, a better non-motorized travel area along N. Crystal Lake Drive, from Bartow Road to Longfellow Blvd. would be good for the same reasons.

2. What gaps and barriers do you see in the existing system?
I don't believe I see any that aren’t being addressed. I hope there soon will be a path completely around Lake Mirror.

3. Which locations do you feel are most dangerous for non-motorized travel? South Florida Avenue; Longfellow Blvd.; Bartow Rd.

4. Which types of pathways do you prefer and would like to see developed throughout Lakeland?
I love the idea of bike paths everywhere. I live 1 ½ miles outside of Downtown and with my bike, I am able to run lots of errands that I’d otherwise have to drive to accomplish. The easier and safer it is for me to ride my bike, the less I’m going to drive my car.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Gas Prices and Adventures in Bike Riding

Everyone is crying about gas prices again, including me. I drive a VW Passat TDI- that's a diesel. It gets crazy-good fuel mileage, but I paid $3.21/gallon the last time I filled it up. Sometimes I wonder if it's really worth it- I get great mileage, but I pay more than most people pay for the high-test at the pump. The one thing I'm holding out on is that this car is going to last me 10 or more years. I think that what I won't be paying in car payments all those years eventually will cancel out what I pay at the pump. Lord, I hope so.

With that said, I'm trying to ride my bike more these days. I live close to Downtown Lakeland, so there's no reason why I can't run errands on my bike. This is evidenced by my last blog, Morning Bike Rides, Money Markets, etc.

This morning I set out to take my dry cleaning to the $1.75 cleaners on South Florida Avenue across from the evil Wal-Mart. I had something like four pair of dress pants, one dress and two shirts. It was a pile of clothes. And it was bulky. And, after riding several miles, it was heavy.

Hauling that many clothes on my bike was tricky. I had to neatly fold all my dirty dry cleaning and stuff it in my bicycle basket. I stuffed what wouldn't fit into my backpack. I'm sure I looked like the Clampetts rolling down the road with a bicycle basket and backpack full of dry cleaning, but at least people knew I am a well-dressed Clampett.

The $1.75 cleaners is much closer to home when I'm driving in my V-Dub. On my bike, it's like, 47 miles away.

Along the way, I'm dodging distracted drivers like I'm in a pinball machine. No one seems to believe in keeping crosswalks clear, or looking to see if anyone is in the crosswalk before turning. I mean, how could they? It takes far too much attention to light cigarettes, talk on cell phones and smack kids in the back seat while driving.

The ride back from the dry cleaners is much easier without 20 pounds of dry cleaning, although I have to say, that backpack full of clothing kept my back warm during the ride.

I ride to Southgate Shopping Center to check the hours at Marshall's Jewelry. They don't open until 9:30 a.m., and I'm not hanging out an hour and a half to buy my Dreadnaughts football tickets. This will be a trip for the V-Dub this afternoon.

I continue along South Florida Avenue all the way to Downtown, which I wouldn't recommend in the morning. If the distracted drivers don't mow you down, the exhaust from all those cars will make it nearly impossible to breathe.

I cruised on down to Lakeland Cash Feed, a farm and feed store I dearly love for a couple of reasons. 1) They carry a great line of traps to catch various and sundry vermin that like to call my back yard home. 2) Lake Mirror Animal Hospital is located in the same building. 3)The chicken feed is cheap.

I buy 10 pounds of scratch and 5 pounds of lay crumb for my chicken who quit laying eggs after she was attacked- for the second time- by an opossum. Yet I still feed her, in hope that she will come around. I get one bag in my basket and the other in my backpack.

Holy cow. This is heavier than my dry cleaning. So maybe I exaggerated on the whole "20 pounds of dry cleaning" earlier.

As I'm leaving, I think about my non-egg-laying chicken and ask Gary, the manager, if he will have any chicks in the spring.

And here is where I learn my first odd fact of the day: Gary says no, that the City of Lakeland won't let him have chicks (or ducks either, I assume) because he's in the Historic District.

I'm shocked. After all, this is a farm and feed store. All farm and feed stores have baby chicks in the spring. And what does the fact that he's in a Historic District have to do with anything? If anyone knows the answer to this, I would love to be enlightened.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Morning bike rides, money markets, etc.

It was 56 degrees when I woke up this morning, so I decided to enjoy the great weather by going for a bike ride and running some errands at the same time.

I have a wire bicycle basket just for these occasions. My husband was able to push it back into shape after a recent collision involving my bike and his, but that's another story for another day.
I crossed Bartow Road and turned down some side street off of Main Street, where I found some money. I post my findings as they occur on my Found Money Blog.

I love riding in Downtown Lakeland because there are sidewalks and crosswalks everywhere, which makes me feel like less of a target for distracted drivers- like the guy driving the City of Lakeland truck and talking on his cell phone this morning. He was on Main Street and turning onto Lake Parker Avenue. I had the right of way, but also had the sense to realize this guy wasn't paying attention. I let him proceed and I didn't even utter a curse word. Major accomplishment for me.

I peel off to the Lakeland Electric building, which has an awesome hill that makes for a fun bike ride, but also makes you want to check your brakes. I dropped off my Bright House Networks bill. I noticed they have a blue mailbox nearby, a site that is becoming more and more rare, so I dropped in the envelope that I was going to have to ride to the Post Office to mail.

Then it was off to The Lakeland Ledger, (I know Lakeland isn't in the title, but Chuck Welch at Lakeland Local will appreciate my placing it there) where I dropped off my subscription payment and picked up a free copy of the Ledger's newest publication, The Polk County Business Journal, for which I write the occasional article.

I rode up one mother of a hill leaving The Ledger parking lot, down New York to Main Street, and when I got to Lake Mirror, I decided to cruise around the lake to make my route more scenic. I said hello to the dozen or so homeless people occupying the benches, watched the City of Lakeland workers putting up the first of the Christmas decorations, then made my way over to Gary Road.

I rode my bike through the MidFlorida Credit Union drive-thru and I was so pleased to see the teller who doesn't like me to ride my bike through the drive-thru was on duty. And, there was nothing she could do about it, because the inside wasn't open yet. So I dropped off my signature card to the new money market account I opened yesterday.

And that leads me to my tip of the day: If you bank at MidFlorida and maintain a balance of at least $1,000 in your savings account, you might consider switching to this money market account. The savings account earns 1 percent interest, while the money market earns 3 percent. If you have a money market account and the balance drops below $1,000, the interest rate drops to 1 percent until you bring the balance back up again. That means you have nothing to lose! And unlike a CD, your money market account is accessible. You can deposit into it or withdraw from it without any penalty. You can check out Mid Florida's rates here.

Now keep in mind that this information is just what I gathered while opening the account yesterday. Certainly don't take it as gospel, but call and find out for yourself if you're interested.

Win 100k to remodel your kitchen & bathroom

I've never won a contest like this- yet- but if ever there was a contest I needed to win, this is it.

I just read in the DIY Network e-newsletter that they are having a contest in which the winner receives $100,000 to remodel your kitchen and bathroom any way you want. Contestants can enter once a day until Nov. 30 at 5 p.m. Eastern Time.

You can enter to win here. Good luck!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Oprah's Brilliant PR Moves

Oprah's vast success in virtually everything she touches is no fluke. The woman possesses a great deal of common sense and obviously surrounds herself with professionals who do the same.

When she recently learned the heartbreaking news that girls in her South African school for disadvantaged girls had been abused by a school staff member, she reacted immediately. In my opinion, she did so in classic public relations style, not because it would make her look her best in a bad situation, but because it was the right thing to do. You can read a great story on this event here.

Here is a great example of a good, common sense public relations move outlined in the article:

"After hearing of the allegations, (Oprah) organized an independent investigation headed by Richard Farley, a Chicago detective who specializes in child abuse.

Winfrey said she flew to South Africa to speak with the students and encourage them to come forward with their complaints.

"It was a chance to break the silence," she said."

According to news reports, officials at the school delayed telling Oprah of the allegations. But as soon as she learned of them, she took action.

There was a period of time in which Oprah did not address the media on these allegations, at the request of South African authorities.

Good PR move: When Oprah couldn't comment on the allegations, she was forthright with the media in explaining why.

Good PR move: When she could comment on the allegations, she did so.

Good PR move: Although Oprah isn't directly responsible for the girls being abused at the school, as its founder and leader, she told the media the buck stopped with her.

It amazes me how many figure heads and companies go so horribly wrong when it comes to a crisis. Good public relations practice really shouldn't be something learned from college or from a PR professional. Good PR is just plain common sense most of the time.

In this case, Oprah admitted there were some kinks in the system that prevented these allegations from immediately coming to light. She fixed that in short order by cleaning house of the staff who failed the girls, by meeting with the girls' families to apologize and by issuing cell phones to the girls and telling them to call her if similar occurrences happen in the future.

In this case, Oprah made a textbook example of how to handle an awful situation properly.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Meeting a Lakeland High School Football Player

Friday night was a solemn night coming home from the Lakeland High School football game against Kissimmee-Osceola. My husband, our friend Ginger and I were bummed about the loss that breaks the team's winning streak.

We felt badly for the players, because their disappointment was palpable.

Saturday, while shopping at our favorite grocery (you know it's Publix), my husband asked the cashier, a teenage boy, if he went to the game last night. The boy paused for a moment and said he went to the Kathleen game. I think he knew we meant the LHS game. Anyway, we gave him some ribbing about how KHS soon would be 8-2 after they face Lakeland this Friday.

Throughout this conversation, the bagboy quietly bagged our groceries. As he helped us out to the car, he said, "So, you guys are big Lakeland fans?"

We explained that we were, and to keep the conversation going, I asked if he attended the games.

"I play," he said.

Immediately, my husband replied with, "You're No. 15."

Amazed, I asked my husband, "How did you know that?!"

My husband said, "Don't tell me your name. It's Jensen."

My husband can't remember the names of people who come to our home, but he can remember the name of a high school football player who he's never met.

Then I remembered, it's football. It's a total guy-thing.

Anyway, my reason for sharing this is to comment on how impressed I was with Mike Jensen. He is a tall, handsome, blue-eyed young man who plays on one of the best known teams in the state. He's a senior who has enjoyed a 30+ game winning streak during his high school career. Earlier this year, a college was talking to him about playing after graduation. I'm sure the girls in school positively swoon over him.

In a nutshell, this young man has a lot to brag about. If anyone is justified in being cocky, it might be this kid.

Instead, I'm left wondering if he would have ever mentioned that he played for Lakeland, had I not asked the question of whether he attended LHS football games. His humility and modesty were among the most pleasant and refreshing things I have witnessed recently.

Many might give Coach Bill Castle a lot of the credit for Mike's demeanor. I'm sure he instills good qualities in his players. But I suspect Mike's parents deserve the bulk of the credit.

It was great to meet Mike and to briefly talk to him while we shoved the orange pom poms, LHS flags and Hooters/Naughts Thunder Stix out of the way so Mike could load our groceries into the car.

It's nice to know that somebody still believes in raising their kids right, or that kids are figuring out for themselves that humility is a virtue that will take you far.

Best of luck to the 'Naughts this Friday night. We'll be there cheering them on, perhaps a little more loudly for Mike Jensen.