Category: One of my many opinons

Audience participation in the social media age

Social Media is a big part of my life. I rely on my Facebook friends to give me the important details about a school event when the monster that lives in my son’s backpack gets hungry and eats the important papers (aside: why can’t they ever lose the unimportant papers???). Twitter is an excellent source of breaking news and where I find most of my book recommendations. Effective use of social media comes down to finding trusted sources and forging relationships. When it’s done right, it’s wonderful way to build a community. Some of whom you’ll never meet in real life, some of whom live right down the street.

Intelligence cast l-r Marg Helgenburger, Meghan Ory, John Billingsly, Josh Holloway, P.J. Byrne
Photo Courtesy of @MargHelgen

Social media is also a wonderful way to connect with others who share your interests. In January, CBS premiered the show Intelligence, a procedural featuring Josh Holloway (of Lost fame) as Gabriel Vaughn, a U.S. Intelligence agent with a microchip in his brain. The chip allows him to access any information that is in the cloud. With a mere thought he could access DMV databases, satellite feeds, and well, social media. The show was timely, and in my opinion, well written and produced.

The show had it’s own Twitter account (@IntelligenceCBS) which I followed and from there, I was able to connect with other fans, the executive producer, the writers and three actors who starred on the show. They shared behind the scenes photos and interesting trivia about the production of the show.

Several episodes were live tweeted. Michael Seitzman the Executive Producer, at least one of the writers and a couple of the actors. They would add commentary as the show aired on the East Coast. Normally, I record shows on our DVR and watch them as I can. I took to watching Intelligence live to take advantage of the live Tweet stream. One comical event happened when Seitzman was sabotaged by his three year old.  He was watching a DVD copy from his home outside L.A., when his 3 year old son advanced the DVD. He had to tweet to find out where in the show those of us watching in real time were.

I felt more connected to a TV show than I ever had in the past and not because of some marketing campaign. Because the people behind the show, genuinely interacted with the fans. The cast and crew were great about answering fan questions. The day Seitzman responded to one of my tweets I felt like a total rock star. That community made watching the show more fun.

Slated as a mid-season replacement, they only shot thirteen episodes, so the first season ended mid-March. Those of us who were hooked were left on pins and needles waiting for CBS to announce that the show had been renewed.

I enjoyed the show so much that I purchased all 13 episodes on iTunes, a first for me. As we waited for a renewal announcement, I made sure to share my passion for this show with my social media circles at least a couple times a week. I wanted to show the powers-that-be at CBS that I REALLY wanted a second season to get to know these characters better. We would know for sure one way or the other no later than May 14th.

Last Saturday, Michael Seitzman tweeted.

Cancelled

Seriously? I am so disappointed! Yes, I realize that it’s just a TV show, but there’s so much crap on TV and they ignore this gem? My fellow fans on Twitter were quick to respond with our displeasure (the producers and the cast kept it classy and stuck to expressing gratitude to the fans).

After twelve hours of brooding and stewing, I decided to take the bull by the horns. Intelligence was a joint production between CBS Television Studios and ABC Television Studios. I figured if CBS doesn’t want it, it’s time for ABC and their parent company Disney to get THEIR return on investment. So I did what any social media savvy fan would do. I started a new conversation and launched a new hash tag. Instead of #IntelligenceCBS, I started #IntelligenceABC. I reached out to a few of my fellow fans and encouraged them to spread the word.

Seitzman was quiet for a few days after the announcement. When he did return he had good news and bad news. The bad news: he said it was unlikely that the show would be picked up by another network. The good news: he’s working on a new show.

I’ll tune in for sure.  Now, if we can just find new roles for the show’s actors. Hmmmm

#CastJoshHolloway

#CastMeghanOry

#CastMargHelgen

#CastMichaelRady

#CastPJByrne

#CastJohnBillingsly

 

 

 

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“It’s a Business Decision” – A Primer On Managing Change for Small Businesses

'Open Sign' photo (c) 2010, Brian Hawkins - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ “It’s a business decision”.

I’ve heard that blasted statement twice lately. Once in a personal situation and once in situation that was less personal, but impacted me none-the-less. One business handled things well. The other? Well, let’s just say there was room for improvement.

We say “it’s a business decision” as though that statement wipes away all the pain of the change. It doesn’t. It’s an attempt to depersonalize the situation. It’s not about you, it’s about growing “The Business”, making it successful, making more money, serving a different audience. None of these things are wrong per se.

The problem, especially in consumer focused businesses is that it IS personal. Businesses spend a lot of time building relationships, engaging their audience and growing a community. It’s that kind of warm fuzzy feeling that encourages customer loyalty and the best, least expensive form of advertising, word of mouth endorsements. Then the business makes a decision to change their offerings, change course or change personnel. POOF! The warm fuzzy feeling is gone.

So what am I saying, that businesses should never change? Never grow? Psssh of course not. It’s all in how you as a business owner handle the change.

Communicate Communicate Communicate

It’s important to communicate honestly and sincerely about the change. In some circumstances it’s best to provide advanced warning. Give people a chance to warm up to the idea of a new service offering or a new teacher. If possible ask for input from those who will be affected.

Some circumstance require you to share the news quickly, like ripping off a Band Aid®. Sometimes it’s just not possible to consult those who will be impacted. The key is knowing your audience, viewing the change from their perspective and communicating. Remember you might be over the moon about the change, but  your patrons might not share your excitement.

Respect Customers’ Feelings

Change is hard for most people, especially if they are heavily invested in the community you’ve built. Those impacted by the change may have strong feelings. Respect them. Remind people that the change isn’t personal and encourage them to try the new program, or service.

Honor the past

Ceremony (even a small one) allows us to mark the time and provides a sense of closure. The temptation is to ignore the sadness, and anger that comes with change, but acknowledging it and facing it head on leaves everyone with a better feeling in the end.

Is a well loved staffer moving on to bigger and better things? Invite customers to sign a card or have a small going away party. No longer offering a specific service? Send customers a quick list of highlights, thank them for their patronage and invite them to transition to the new offering.

Move on

It’s important to be respectful, but don’t dwell. Assuming you’ve made the decision with the best interests of the business in mind. It’s important not to waiver. Don’t give the impression that if people complain enough things will go back to the old way. Hear people out, but gently remind them that this is your business. You’ve enjoyed their patronage but if the new scenario isn’t going to work for them, it’s ok if they find another provider.

Rebuild

It is inevitable with change that some customers will leave. You can’t please everyone and for your business to succeed and thrive, you have focus on meeting the needs of your target audience. It’s hard to see them go, but wish them well and focus on those who’s needs you can serve best.

Change is hard, but with a little effort, it possible to execute it with minimal hard feelings and maximum growth.

 

Choffy – Delicious Brewing Chocolate

Choffy 100% Ground Cacao Beans When you open a bag of Choffy the delicious aroma of chocolate tickles your nose. It’s not a super sweet smell, but rich and decadent like the best chocolate you’ve ever tasted. Choffy is 100% premium cacao beans that are roasted and ground. It brews like coffee, but it tastes like a grown up hot chocolate. It’s not sweet (unless you add sweetener), but it sure scratches that chocolate itch.

I first read about Choffy on blog, that was doing a giveaway of Choffy. I was so intrigued, I didn’t even enter the contest, I went straight to the distributor’s site and ordered a bag. Yummmm. I’ve been drinking it both hot and cold for a few years and I decided it was a product I could really get behind, so late last year, I signed up to become an Independent Choffy Distributor (you may have seen references to Choffy on my DreamBoard and my 2014 Goals).

Choffy doesn’t have any of the negative side effects (that hard crash or the jitters), of caffeine and there are only 40 calories in a 12oz cup! You can fulfill that craving for chocolate without going over board on calories. Choffy is naturally high in anti-oxidants and can even improve your mood. Don’t take my word for it, visit the Choffy website for more information on the science behind the health benefits of cacao and Choffy.

There are several blends of choffy including Ivory Coast, IC Dark, and VoltaThere are several different brews of Choffy. My favorite is the IC Dark made from cacao beans grown on Africa’s Ivory Coast and the new Volta made from beans grown in Ghana. Choffy can be brewed in a drip coffee maker with a gold filter, but for the best experience I recommend using a French Press (you can pick one up from Amazon for around $10 or why not pick up a thermal french press?). Choffy retails for $15.00 per bag (Volta is $16.50, but oh is it worth it). If you are local to me, I keep stock on hand so shipping fees are less because I order in bulk, if not, shipping is just $5.75 for up to 3 bags. Just visit http://www.drinkchoffy.com/leelaughlin to place an order and with a few clicks of the mouse, your Choffy will show up at your door in just a few days.

Here’s my recipe for the perfect cup of Choffy.

Ingredients:

4 Heaping tablespoons of Choffy in a Choffy Tumbler Press

16 oz. boiling water

A healthy splash of vanilla (about a teaspoon)

A pinch of salt

A 1 teaspoon of raw sugar

A splash of milk

Directions

Add the Choffy to the Tumbler Press and set the water to boil.

Add the boiling water to the Choffy and let it brew for 5 minutes.

Add the vanilla, sugar and salt to your favorite mug.

When the Choffy is ready, add it to the mug and stir.

Add the milk to taste.

Enjoy!

Have questions? Please contact me at lee.laughlin@gmail.com or visit my distributor page http://www.drinkchoffy.com/leelaughlin to place an order.

Plan to Eat – Making my life easier every day

I am a planner. Some might say to the extreme, and now that I have a son who appears to have inherited the same tendency, I can see where this is sometimes frustrating for those close to me. *ahem* However, there are times when this trait comes in handy. The kids are heavily involved in karate (including weapons training), Cub Scouts, Student Council, Chorus and numerous volunteer activities. I take a kick boxing class 2-3 times a week and my husband is rarely in the door before 6:30pm. Fish’s food sensitivities make it hard to eat out, so if we are going to eat anything other than breakfast for dinner, I have to plan ahead.

Meal planning is not new to me, I’ve done it in various forms for years. Through Tsh at The Art of Simple (formerly SimpleMom.com) I found PlanToEat.com and that has radically changed my meal planning and grocery shopping for the better.

With PlanToEat, I can keep all of my recipes in one location. I can input recipes manually to capture those handed down on recipe cards and, there is even a handy clipping tool for my web browser so I can snag all the mouthwatering recipes on the Internet. I can also easily share them when people ask for recipes.

Yes, there are lots of recipe sharing platforms out there, but Plan To Eat is so much more! It makes my shopping list for me! Once I select the meals I’m going to make, I can click to the shopping tab and see everything I need to create those meals. I check off the items I already have in my pantry (olive oil, salt pepper etc.) and add the items not tied to a recipe (e.g. Gluten Free Chocolate Chex or toilet paper) and voila! I have shopping list. It’s web based, so I can access it from my iPhone. I bring it up in the parking lot just in case the store has bad cell service. If PTE can’t access the Internet, it will check off items as you put them in your cart and delete them from the list when signal is regained.

The cost is $4.95 a month or $39 for a year. (see below for a special offer), but my sanity says it’s money well spent. I also like the fact that I’m supporting a small business. Really small. Plan to Eat is run by husband and wife team Clint and Lisa, they live with their four children in the Rocky Mountains. You can learn more about them and their business philosophy at the web site http://www.plantoeat.com

I wish the shopping list would include bargin shopping features (i.e. pricing tracking by store), but I’ve been impressed with their response to questions and requests for new features, so I’m happy to stick with it.

There is a 30 day free trial (they don’t even ask for a credit card *gasp*), so you an try an out to see if it is fit for you.

Do it! Do it now! Take a look at PTE now, because starting November 29th, they’ll be offering 50% off annual subscriptions. That means 12 months of Plan To Eat is just $19.50! The special rate will be available until December 2nd.

I believe in this program enough to sign up as an affiliate so if you click that link above and sign up for PTE I’ll get a little thank you from them too :).  Check it out and happy meal planning!

Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat

The Disney Dream – Five Magical Days Part 2

For background and the first day of our cruise, please read part one.

Ports Of Call: Castaway Key

Disney leases the island known as Castaway Key from the Bahamian Government. Disney is once again in complete control of the environment and it shows. A selfie with mask and snorkelSince we’d sunk so much into Atlantis, we did Castaway Key on the cheap, opting for a package deal where we could swim with the stingrays, rent tubes and rafts, and ride bikes for an hour (it was too damn hot so we stuck with water activities). We had an awesome day. The girls loved swimming with the stingrays. The boys, meh not so much. The rays are kind of like puppies, when you first get in the water. They are excited to see you because they know you are going to feed them. They swim around in between your legs and onto the special tables where you can pet and feed them. According to the marine biologist who briefed us, there were 61 sting rays and they were rescues. All of their barbs were trimmed for safety, but we were still encouraged to do shuffle our feet through the sand to alert them to our presence.

3 frames Fish feeding the stingrays, A sting ray underwater, a stingray buried in the sand.

We were divided into groups and everyone had chance to feed them (if desired). After they’ve had their fill, we took our snorkel and masks and were free to swim around their pen. Fish & I were floating having a staring contest with on of the rays when all of the sudden he (or she) rippled and disappeared except for her eyes. We both immediately stood and said “id ooo ee ah?” at the same time. We laughed and took the snorkels out of our mouths and said “Did you see that?” I’ve seen it on TV and in films, but it is really cool to experience in person.

3 frames a long view of Castaway Key, beach umbrellas and the clear blue sky, The Disney Dream as viewed from the beach on Castaway Key

We floated, we ate lunch, A-Man & Mim explored the water slide while Fish & I snorkeled some more, we had a day full of as much or as little activity as we wanted. The kids had an opportunity to participate in group activities on the island, but both were content to hang with their parents. Their parents thoroughly enjoyed it in anticipation of those years when they will want nothing to do with us.

A teak bench and three deck chairs with cumfy cushionsOur fourth day was an At Sea day. This is by far my favorite part of cruising. I make it a point to find at least a little time to grab a lounge chair on the deck closest to the water and just appreciate the sea. I stare, I read for a while and eventually I end up investigating the inside of my eyelids, but I find it tremendously rejuvenating.

One of the amenities on The Disney Dream is the Aqua Duck, a “water coaster”. It’s a clear tube filled with water, you ride around the perimeter of the ship on an inflatable raft.Towards the end of our At Sea day, the line was manageable enough to entice me to try it. Fish & Min on the Aqua Duck (on an inflatable raft in a clear tube filled with water)It was fun and definitely a novel approach to a water ride. The kids loved it. Husband and I pulled up a few beach chairs and relaxed watching the end of Tazan on the massive LCD screen mounted on the ship’s funnel (aptly named FunnelVision). It was enjoyable even if we did have to share the space with OPKs (other people’s kids 🙂 ).

Logistics

Disney manages things well. Boarding was a breeze. They pay attention to every detail. Even what folders guests leave in the cruise terminal. (NO! I didn’t leave the folder with the travel documents and passports at a counter by the Oceaneer’s club desk). *ahem*. We even had a full, hot breakfast on the morning of our departure.

Debarkation was a little crowded, but there is a smaller window of time in which 4,000 people pick up their bags, and pass through customs to get back to the U.S. Still we had no trouble finding our bags and the lines moved at a reasonable pace.

Would we do it again?

We will cruise again. Will we take a disney cruise again? Probably not. One of the big draws for us was the kid friendly atmosphere and by the time we have saved enough to cruise again, the kids will be old enough where that won’t be such an issue. We’ve cruised with Carnival and Royal Carribean in the past. They all provide excellent service (although not quite as good as Disney). We paid the extra to have an environment where we could be comfortable letting our kids go with minimal supervision. Was it worth it? Most definitely. Do I recommend it to other families? Without reservation. The Disney staff is just amazing. You will have a good time. Your child will have a good time. The memories are worth every penny.

The Disney Dream – Five Magical Days Part 1

About a year ago, my husband announced that the time was right to take the kids on a Disney Cruise. Um, Ok, no arguments here. I did some research and the plans were made.

Me: “When should we tell them?”

Him: “The day we leave.”

Can I just tell you how hard it is to keep a secret of THAT magnitude? Amazingly, we pulled it off. Here’s where the kids found out they were going on a Disney Cruise.

Let me start by saying that the number one objection I hear to Disney vacations is that they cost too much. It’s true, that they aren’t cheap, and a year later our finances weren’t as robust as they had been, but we made the trip anyway and I’m really glad we did. Disney has incredible standards of service that make any vacation with them a wonderfully memorable experience.

Ship: Disney Dream

Departure Port: Port Canaveral Florida

Cruise Length: Four nights/Five Days.

Ports of Call: Nassau, Bahamas, Castaway Key, Bahamas (Disney’s private island).

Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Accommodations

My Daughter waking up (slowly) on the bottom bunk The thing about Disney is that they get the important stuff right. Our room was tight, but comfortable, we had opted for a room with a balcony, something I highly recommend. We had a queen sized bed and the kids had bunk beds. One dropped out of the ceiling and the other was the couch converted into a twin bed. Both kids said they were comfortable and our mattress was fantastic. The bathroom was in two separate rooms, a shower and sink and then a second space for a sink an the toilet. I’ve cruised before and one of my big complaints is the size of the shower. This one was down right spacious in comparison. It even had a little bench.

Disney Cruise Food

Food is a big factor for us when we travel. Fish is intolerant to gluten, eggs and dairy and allergic to red food dye. The combination means we rarely eat out at home, but Disney is amazing at handling food allergies. The staff went out of their way to accommodate her needs, even planning ahead to have an extra, sushi style appetizer on hand when they knew she’s love it. I may have been a little jealous that I didn’t think to order two myself. It was THAT good.

My one complaint was that outside of meals it was sometimes hard to track down snacks. On other cruises I’ve been on something has been open 24/7. But there were times when I just wanted a little nibble and couldn’t find even a strawberry. Truth is I probably saved myself a few pounds. I never starved, I was just looking to fill in a few cracks here & there.

Disney Cruise Activities

Fish is 13 and Mim is 9. Neither child participated in the planned activities as much as we thought they would, but in hindsight I attribute that more towards their personalities then a flaw in the programming. Her age group was automatically given the right to enter and leave the activities as they pleased. Their activities mostly started at 4pm. It’s a hard age to program for, but there was a variety of events, including cooking, movie making, movie viewing, video games and dance parties.

3 pictures horizontally, Mim & Mike from Monster's Inc. In the Oceaneers Lab, A snap of The Edge, teen hang out, The Sail Away party on the big screen on the ship's funnel.

Mim’s group, The Oceaneers, had a two spaces just chock full of fun all day long. There was a Toy Story themed toy room, a craft room a dance floor, a science lab and gobs of video game stations. There were plenty of staff available to organize games and trouble shoot where necessary. We opted to give Mim the same freedom to sign in and out of the activities as he desired, with the understanding that if he didn’t behave responsibly, he would be glued to our sides. Some people were aghast that we’d let our 9 year old run around the ship unattended, but we know our kid.Close up of my Son & Daughter in a porthole window. He was great about making sure we knew where he was at all times. It was actually nice to be able to feel comfortable enough with the environment to give him that taste of freedom, and even nicer that he lived up to our expectations.

Our schedule leading up to the cruise precluded a lot of family time, so the kids were keen to stay with us or do things as a family and that was fine with us. They even sought each other out to spend time GASP together! One highlight was a scavenger hunt that took them all around the ship. A-Man and I also managed to snag a few minutes to ourselves in the 18+ sections.

Ports of Call: Nassau. Bahamas

Here we opted for an excursion to the Atlantis Resort. Where we paid an exorbitant amount of money for access to Aqua Adventure (their water park), a lunch voucher and a tour of the aquarium. I should say we started off this trip by visiting Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon. In comparison, Atlantis Aqua Adventure has fewer attractions and longer lines that Typhoon Lagoon and we were at TL a sunny Saturday in August. The only attraction Aqua Adventure had that was better than Typhoon Lagoon, was the river ride. TL’s is actually a relaxing lazy river. AA’s is a river rapids adventure. There are calm parts, but there are also narrow passages and with rapids and waves. There are several paths to follow, on one, you are transported via conveyor up into the tower of one of the water slides. Where you then go down a series of slides until you are eventually released back into the river. That was fun and it was the last ride we rode, so we left with a pleasant feeling. The aquarium is small and in my opinion, not worth the trip. Atlantis is like a mini Las Vegas in the Carribean complete with gambling and high end shops. Nice, but not really my scene. If we hadn’t visited Typhoon Lagoon we might have had a more favorable impression of Aqua Adventure, but having visited both in such a short space of time, Typhoon won hands down.

I also feel the need to say that overall, I wasn’t impressed with Nassau. There are a lot of empty storefronts down town and in hindsight, I wished we’d picked an activity that supported the local economy rather than a mega-corporation headquartered thousands of miles away.

3 Frames My son & husband floating in a calm section of the river ride, a wave headed right for my daughter, the conveyer to the tube ride

 Stay tuned for part two later this week!

 

Time Passages – Congratulations Ed & Kristen

Ed and Kristen sitting on the alter at there wedding ceremonyMy mom talked to their moms when they were both just tots. I’ve watched them grow up and then grow together. We share a genetic condition that identifies us, but doesn’t define us. They are a decade *cough* or two behind me.

We’ve been to many of the same events and share some fantastic memories. As they grew and matured, they became leaders in the albinism community. The people that parents sought out for information and reassurance. She’s an pediatric oncology nurse and he’s a tech guru with mad video skillz.

They met as teens. Her mom pulled me aside and asked what I knew “about this Ed kid”. I told her something to the effect of “relax, he’s good people.” Six years later when the finally “clicked”. He tried to introduce her to me. Like I hadn’t been following both of their trajectories for eons. Not meddling, but not really surprised when they became a couple either. I laugh and still bust him about it to this day.

The bride and groom entering the receptionI get a strange feeling when people who are on the periphery of my life comment or congratulate me on a life event. Though now that I’m the one watching time pass, I have a better understanding of why it happens. It’s a small sense of pride. Do not get me wrong, I am not trying to take credit for the awesome adults they are today, no that lies squarely with four parents who loved, challenged and set expectations. I was just part of the so-called village. I stood on the sidelines and cheered. Occasionally offered advice when it was requested (sometimes when it wasn’t). Mostly, I watched in awe as two kids grew and matured into two amazing, successful adults. Taking notes all the while so that my kids can benefit from their experiences. I hold them up to my kids as examples of what you can become with hard work and dedication.

I was truly honored to be invited to their wedding. The celebration of their marriage, the joining of two amazing human beings and two wonderful families. Congratulations Ed & Kristen. Thanks for letting me be part of your village and thanks for being part of the village that supports my kids.

eandk_group