I'm a Seattle parent on the brink of a career change.
Strong Personality is my place to share tips & tools that make my busy life easier!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010

How my boss started a fire: the Summer Investor Challenge

Would you give an intern control of $1000? This internship is getting serious.

David Neubert, my boss at Kapitall, is putting real cash on the line for Kapitall's Summer Investor team. He's seeded a Kapitall portfolio with $1000 allocated to each of the Summer Investors. We make buying recommendations and the highest performing intern gets an undivided hour with David over lunch (his treat) and valueable bragging rights. There's some fine print too, to make sure we keep it all fair and legal.

In a sense, I'm new to investing. I once followed certain mutual funds quite closely but as I mentioned in my first Kapitall post, have lately left investing to my better half. It's time to take more responsibility. For this challenge I confined my initial research to within Kapitall to demonstrate how comprehensive the site is. According to the Kapitall Investor DNA quiz, I have a Passive Investor profile.

Here are the buy recommendations I made to David:

1) Kimberly-Clark (KMB), maker of the funny new denim Huggies diapers (YouTube video approaching 1M views). We buy Kimberly-Clark consumer staple products regularly and often, no matter what the economy is doing. Kimberly-Clark has a price of profit (POP) of 13, a high ClimateCounts green rating, and a market cap of $26.1B. I'm impressed that they're measuring their impact on global warming and their profits are less expensive than similar corporations.

2) Luxottica (LUX), maker of most of the world's sunglasses, upscale and otherwise. Are designer sunglasses worth their markup if comparable models are sold cheaply at LensCrafters? Consumers think so; Luxottica reported 2Q profits higher than the year ago quarter, crediting both their non-premium and luxury brands. I simply love that my $10 shades are protecting my eyes just as well as models 20 times that price. Luxottica does not have a ClimateCounts green rating or POP in Kapitall, so I'm letting my rookie status shine by betting on them. After all, it's summer and my family is using, losing, and buying sunglasses. I assume many other consumers are doing the same. Is this naive? Keep reading to find out.

3) Pfizer (PFE), pharmeceutical giant. Turns out that Pfizer is going to pay a dividend on August 4, delivering a quick reward if David takes my buy recommendation. Pfizer has a high ClimateCounts green rating, a POP of 7, and a market cap of $119.5B. This company is influential and has taken steps to manage its environmental impact. Its low POP means profits are relatively inexpensive. This looks like one to hold.

I considered the following brands and am witholding my recommendation for now:

1) Taleo (TLEO) provides talent recruitment services. I noticed that many of Seattle's most recognizable companies manage their job boards on Taleo software. Given the persistently high unemployment rate in the US, I realized that Taleo must be getting fairly high exposure for the few postings available. The company's POP is an outlier at 51 among other software companies. I have more to understand about Taleo before investing in it.

2) Trina Solar (TSL), a Chinese solar energy pioneer, landed in my practice portfolio when I first created a Kapitall user ID. It's performed beautifully, but there's some information missing from its Kapitall profile. I need to do additional research outside Kapitall to understand it well enough to buy it with (David's) real money.

Disclaimer: At the time of this writing, I do not own any of the securities mentioned above. I have informally advised David Neubert on these companies and after consideration, he has purchased the stocks for his personal account. My opinions are not necessarily shared by Kapitall, and they are not in any way to be considered investment advice.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A lesson about community success

One of the life lessons I'm coming to understand is that one person's success does not prevent your own. In the blogosphere, there are plenty of people with great content and creative, funny writing. There's space out here for everyone to share their thoughts, rants, tools, and other contributions; all you need is a unique address.

Five bloggers have agreed to team up for a challenge today. I want to introduce you to my new friends- enjoy!

1) Jamie at All My Loose Ends: Jamie tackles marriage, motherhood and creativity all tied up in one. She wrote a heart-wrenching post in February about the importance of saying yes to our children. See Jamie for a big picture perspective, and the funny little moments kids bring to her life too.

2) Goannatree by Anna: Anna Blanch humorously claims the longest list post in the history of list posts, but offers pointed advice for surviving and thriving in college and graduate level seminars and tutorials. She often writes about her journey through Graduate School and her life as an ex-pat – she is an Australian living in the St Andrews, Scotland who spent some time living in the heart of Texas! But more than this, Anna, a self described scholar-blogger, explores the relationships between literature and popular culture, religion, theology, and faith. I'm deep into her post about Children’s literature and finding lesson plans I can use at home for my preschooler who adores reading!

3) Spitfiresworld: SpitFire uses a Highway of Life analogy to write stories focused on making life's journey more smooth, and most importantly, keeps the kids (and you) from asking, "are we there yet"? She reminds us that our loved ones, not the mirror, are the most telling reflection of beauty in this loving post.

4) Terri (TheCoolMom) writes TheVeryLatestThing: She describes herself as a wife of 1, mother of 10, and grandmother of 2. She's writing 2 blogs and 1 novel; this is one influential woman so listen up when she shares advises caution to businesses using Facebook!

5) Kendra writes KreatebyKeKe: a new scrapbooking blog by a beginner, for beginners. I'm a crafter myself and can vouch for Kendra's beautiful style with a good dose of humor. See her funnybone-tickling post about Scrapbooking Etiquette For Beginners whether you're a scrapper or not!

Scrapping Do or Don't? You'll have to visit KreatebyKeKe to find out!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 1: Strong Personality's Elevator Pitch

The first post in the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog (31DBBB) is my elevator pitch. That means a description of my blog's purpose, short enough that I could capture someone's interest in a very short interaction, say the brief time we might ride an elevator together.

I can tell that this isn't my final version: this project's other exercises will force me to rethink it all over the next 30 days. So here it goes:

I'm a Seattle parent on the brink of a career change; Strong Personality is my place to share tips & tools that make my busy life easier!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The SITS ProBlogger Challenge- 31 Days Starting Now


I'm starting a new project with a host of other bloggers at Secret's In The Sauce. The ProBlogger challenge is a 31 day program designed to help bloggers enjoy more success, which could mean reaching more readers or even attracting advertisers. The advantage of doing it with the SITS group is taking each step along with a community of support. My goal will simply be to define my message, write more regularly, and trade information with others on the same path. And I definitely would welcome new readers.

I'll be completing a challenge a day for the next 31 days. I'll try not to trip myself at the start line by assuming that some days will be make-up days for others I took a pass on. While it is a busy summer, improving my skills is a priority for me. A calendar & a plan have always been my friends!

June 19 is day 1. If you want to join in, get the scoop here!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Taking Responsibility

I'm looking out from 38th floor of the Columbia Center, right back at my own neighborhood in West Seattle. It's a beautiful summer day and my first as an intern at Kapitall, where we're experimenting with a very new investing platform. It's a powerful tool with a friendly interface that I hope will attract more people like me, women somewhere in the middle of their investment lifecycle, to participate in the stock market. Why? Because our financial futures matter and we can write that future as well as anyone.

As a woman in my 30s, I'm starting to feel as though I've pushed my financial future to the back burner. I left the paid workforce to take care of my children and in the process took less and less time to track savings and investments. However, watching my children grow is an everyday reminder that financial responsibility is a daily responsibility. I have blurry goals around paying for college and (almost) simultaneously paying for my own retirement. It's time to participate, and doing so doesn't have to be a drag.

Kapitall is in its beta phase, an exciting time to learn from a company! The product is an online tool, centered around a "playground" that allows you to point, click, and drag to learn about companies, build real or pretend portfolios, and even share portfolios with your friends.

My responsibility for this summer is to use social media to introduce Kapitall to my network. I will consider myself successful if I can inspire tentative investor to take more active responsibility for their financial education.
  • If you've gotten this far, click on http://www.kapitall.com/ to find out what I'm talking about.

  • Now that you're here, the playground is cool, isn't it? Go ahead and open a practice portfolio. Click on the My Contacts button and add me to your contacts so we can chat about the training tools, and what your "copper" status means. I look forward to chatting with you!
This summer will not only bring lessons in effective social media outreach and marketing, it'll help me make my paycheck now pay more later. How about that?

Friday, July 2, 2010

3 Digital Distractions to Keep Kids Civilized

(Warning: baby is the director. After watching this video you'll either feel like a ragdoll or as though you rode in a washing machine.)

I've been reading a lot of online commentary about how noisy kids are and whether they should be allowed in public places like restaurants, movie theaters, or on planes where adults are trying to enjoy themselves. Seriously? One plane passenger asked if I'd considered giving my daughter Tylenol before our flight. I know it stinks to hear crying on a flight, but trust me when I say the parents are doing everything they know to provide comfort.

I'm squarely in favor of responsive, responsible parenting, and also for giving parents a little bit of latitude. Yes kids can be noisy and do need reminding to respect others. Don't adults need that reminder too, on occasion?

As a parent of very young children I make extra accomodations to reduce our noise. We watch our movies at home, though there might be a special daddy-daughter trip to the theater on the horizon. Our kids are usually in bed by 8:00, not hanging in romantic restaurants. When we are out in public, I almost always remember snacks, books, or toys to keep little minds busy.

But even the best among us forget the snack, book, or toy. And maybe you're not up for I Spy games or telling stories. Here are a few distractions you might already have that could buy you a few minutes when you can't remove a cranky child from the scene:

1) iPhone. My friend credits the iPhone for teaching her daughter to read. She's an attentive mom and I think she meant the phone was a great opportunity to practice! We like these alphabet flashcards. I found a terrific post by Travel Savvy Mom naming her favorites.

2) Digital camera's video function. Our point & shoot has proven very durable to rough handling by toddlers, who are fascinated to see their own image on the screen. The video above was taken by my daughter on the airplane. That camera got her through at least 30 minutes of a 5 hour flight; not bad.

3) Bring a laptop, DVD player, or, on Alaska Airlines flights, rent a digEplayer. Yes we could buy a DVD player, but our daughter doesn't know it yet and she thinks having her own player is a really special treat for airplane rides.

I think we're all doing our best to teach our children great manners. But they're children after all, and There Will Be Noise. After trying your best in a difficult situation, for your own sanity, remember that you don't have to satisfy a someone else's expectations for public behavior. I think most people will recognize that your best effort is enough!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Quality Time on a Budget

(girls working in their "water kitchen")

I volunteer for my local Y and get their e-newsletter. Today's issue carried a list of low cost or free family activities that build togetherness.

Connection- there it is, the essence of life. The presence or lack of it drives behaviors good and bad. Connection determines whether we're happy at work (not entirely salary, mind you), happy with ourselves (connection here meaning that you know who you are and what you value) and, I think, if we're happy at home. A friend (Heligirl, a blogger with killer parenting insight) told me this weekend that kids usually act out because they simply want their parent's attention, and to some negative attention is nearly as good as positive attention.

There were several ideas from the YMCA list that I implement regularly, and a few new ones I'm going to try. Here's what's coming up on our agenda:

1) At home art project: We're decorating memo cubes as teacher gifts. This is a low cost idea. We're using art supplies we already have (stamp pads and markers) to decorate memo pads for our favorite teachers. Both my girls love art projects and this is one we get to pay forward. Perfect!
2) Picnic. Weather might keep us from eating outside, but indoor or out, the appeal of eating on the floor persists. Ava will help make the sandwiches, Sydney will help spread out the snack mat, and we'll be good to go.
3) Walk around the block. We actually did this yesterday to distribute flyers for our neighborhood council meeting. Ava thought it was great fun to roll up the paper and wedge it against the door handle- we problem-solved several techniques and she was clearly proud to appoach each house on her own. I think trick or treating will go a little more smoothly this year. Whether there's an assignment or not, there's always something to see or someone to talk to on a walk around our block, free of charge!

What will you do this week to connect with your family?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

3 Steps to Declutter Your Space

Lately Clean House has been a favorite show at my house. I don't think we have any spaces cluttered enough to qualify us for the show (except maybe that one room) but I take the lessons to heart. I love to make paper piles and while my craft supplies are bursting from their storage space, I love any reason to buy new supplies. Usually paper. See a pattern and a problem here?

The rest of our clutter comes from the normal places. We have kids so there are outgrown clothes, outgrown gear, art, toys, books, and other detrius kids produce. My husband and I both see how well-intentioned home projects, craft projects, and mail all contribute to the piles stashed around the house. It's time to sort and move on.

1) Let Go
Make a mental shift. It feels like a loss to get rid of something that's actually useful or valuable. Consider the stress you're incurring by having to search for the things you need that get lost in the clutter. Is there anything more maddening than not being able to find the remote, the keys, or the kids when you need them? When I was taking photos of my kids, but framing the shot to avoid clutter in the background, I knew I needed to do more.

Exhibit A- cluttered background

Exhibit B- slightly less cluttered background. Clever, yes?

Clutter can keep you from enjoying what's available to you now. If you haven't used something in the last year, time to move it on to someone who can benefit from it today. If some of your extra stuff is actually useful it'll be even easier to figure out where it should go in step 2.

2) Purge
Sort out everything that's keeping you from clear useable space. If you like, try selling your stuff, but have a backup plan that will move the item out of your house if it doesn't sell in a reasonable amount of time. Here are some resources to help you here:

Sell- Ebay, Craigslist, community garage sales
Give- local children's charities, salvationarmy.org for large things like mattresses and furniture, local Yahool freecycle group, Craigslist, Dress For Success

3) Maintain
This is potentially the hardest, as old habits sneak back in. Realize that decluttering is an ongoing process and devote just a bit of time each day to clearing & storing. Make it part of a routine, perhaps something you do before dessert or during commercials. Set a timer. Make your family a chore chart. Find a way to gently remind yourself of the slip and get back on track. Eventually, you'll be enjoying your clutter-free space so much that it will take less time to maintain than to clean again. Good luck!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Adventures in germ non-proliferation

Maybe it was the mild winter or just bad luck. Seems like this cold & flu season is dragging on and on- how many announcements have you seen about sick kids staying home? I feel for those adults trying to nurture the kiddos back to health while staying creative and managing their own sanity.

It can be really tough to stay indoors, especially when the weather is starting to warm up. You can't stand another minute in your house, even with a battalion of DVDs or On Demand options. I have a few suggestions that get you out of the house without sharing the germs. Would love to hear about your favorite tricks in the comments!

Olympic Game Farm, Sequim WA, http://www.olygamefarm.com/

This is far and above the most exciting for the kids, and yet not a quick option most of us. I couldn't resist including it. For those folks within an easy drive of Sequim, nothing could beat the excitement of a zebra, rhinocerous, or bison eyeing you through the window. Bet your kids forget to sneeze!

Construction sites

Even in this economy, there are plenty of sites buzzing with large trucks, cranes, and new loads of concrete. Pull up across the street and gawk a bit.

Coffee drive through

Yes, this is mostly to relieve you. The kids can enjoy a steamed milk with honey for their throats, you get whatever legal quantity of coffee you need to get through the day.

Let the kids "drive"

I started this little game with my 3 year old. I let her be my backseat driver and take her instructions at every intersection: left, right, or straight ahead. She thinks it's hilarious and adventurous. I bet older kids would like following a map to a new location or an oddly-named street that catches their eye.

Geocaching, http://www.geocaching.com/

The prior suggestion led to another idea. I don't know the first thing about geocaching, except that it's an outdoor adventure mixing brainpower and a little mystery. Could it be that some of the caches can be sighted from the comfort of your car? Perhaps that suggestion is completely at odds with the values of true geocachers. Maybe someone should invent car-based geocaching, and tell us about it. Or, you could make up your own treasure hunt (find the Fremont troll!).

Update 5/12/2010: Drive through a car wash! The ones where you hop out & do your own scrubbing take longer (in my experience) and that's a good thing when you have time to kill. Both of my kids are fascinated with the water coursing over the windows- induces happiness in one girl, a bit of fear in the other. I think the fear comes from not knowing what a clean car looks like.

Did I provide at least one hour's distraction for you and your kids? Success!

Take care everyone,


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Caregiver Brochure

Image from beaglepaws.com

Here’s the situation: my in-laws live in a small town near the Canadian border. Sometimes my husband and I leave our young children with their grandparents while we buzz around. Everyone has a great time and there are almost never any problems. Of course, sometimes there are problems, and we were recently unprepared.

There are limited medical services in this small town. The nearest ER is across the border, in Canada. On one recent visit, while we were away, one of the kids did a faceplant into the floor and needed her lip stitched. Luckily we hadn't gotten very far, but we had no idea where to take here for care. Not only do we have to do this research whenever we travel in the future (no more lazy parents!), we need to provide a lot more information to the caregivers, in case we aren't able to return to the kids quickly. This time we were just across the border on our way to the Vancouver Olympics, but next time we could be flying to Europe or cruising South America! (Hey, it could happen.)

Here’s a link to the easy form I created to hand over to the grandparents along with the kids' overnight bags. The form is meant to be printed on a single page, front & back, and folded in half into a brochure. I included everything my super-organized parent friends could think of. Most people will find this overdone, but it's just a Word Doc and can easily be pared down as needed. If you feel moved to make your own form, this list of the elements in my brochure might be handy:

1. Medical Release to allow caregivers to make medical decisions in my absence
2. Recent photo, height, weight
3. Allergies
4. Immunizations
5. Consent to transport over borders
6. Photocopy of Nexus card
7. Photocopy of passport
8. Location and hours of nearest walk-in-clinic
9. Location of nearest emergency room
10. Contact information for parents
11. Contact information for children’s pediatrician and dentist

I hope this information will help your family too. Update the information at least once a year. I’m going to review it on the kids birthdays as an easy way to remember.

If you have ideas for improvement, please leave a comment!

Good health to all,

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Gerbera Spring Shower

I'm excited to share the design for my most recent card job. This is the prototype for a wedding shower invitation that uses vibrant spring colors, gerbera daisies, and glitter of course. Welcome spring!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Early lessons in Social Media

I attended Seattle's Twestival on Thursday night, hosted by the Seattle Media Club. I had no idea what I was buying a ticket for, except that there would be live trapeze, food, drinks, and lots of people I don't yet know. My good friends Papillong and Shannon promised to introduce me to plenty of people with experience and strong opinions.

A sample of my newbie Q&A:

q) Do people following 500 tweeters read every tweet? Do they miss important stuff?
a) Actually, they don't bother. Don't be shy about reposting your own tweets several times.

q) Where can I peek at a model service level agreement for all this posting & monitoring I might do for a company?
a) Not many people do this- the field is young. How about you put one out there?

Every answer could have been preceded by a big DUH but instead everyone was quite friendly and supportive.

Here are some pieces of the strategy I'm putting together for the local non-profit I'm working with on social media managment:

Facebook: Use for longer content, videos, and photos.

  • Photo permission: When people are clearly identifiable in your photos, get their express permission to be on your Facebook page.
  • Videos: Amatuer videos with short, creative content are more exciting and likely to be shared than professional videos.

Twitter: Use for quick idea sharing, volume, easy outreach to possible followers.
  • be proactive: instead of just posting and hoping folks come to you, search Twitter posts for questions you can answer, and reach out. Twitter has a new optional locator feature that means you can search by subject & origin (like health questions from Seattle).

  • freebies: these are fun but beware of overinflated expectations. There are some people who scan for goodies and won't read otherwise. Make offers sporadic or offer a creatively cost-free prize.

  • follow: be a good follower! Check out others doing good work and follow them to learn more. They might follow you back. Social media thrives on multi-way exchanges where older media were one-way.

I'd love to hear what your strategies to find people to help, with the result of providing a service and increasing readership. Thanks!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

My first Amuse challenge

I've been making cards for awhile, but things really took off when I discovered card classes. Card-making weekends at Pampered Scrappers or the beach don't hurt either. My very first Amuse class last year happened to be with the ebullient Julie Ebersole. What a find!

This Valentine card was from Julie's class. A year later, I'm remaking the layout for the Amuse challenge, "Her Royal Rubbernes", an ode to Julie and all of her creativity! Thank you to Julie and all the wonderful folks at Amuse for helping us make life sweet.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Ava thoroughly enjoyed a St Patty's party at school today. I'm betting she is the most festively decorated one in our family today! Green hair, facepaint, fingernails, necklace, shirt...

Here's to luck and love for all!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Fresh Start

I have always love reading and writing. For for the last several years the writing end of my brain has had plenty of exercise but the content has been limited to family updates, scheduling playdates, and grocery lists. This blog is my place to let a lot of other ideas flourish. Here we go!