Saturday, November 29, 2008

Our family loves lebkuchen

With mom in her elf costume and dad in his beret, the family danced to Mannheim Steamroller while bonding over an old tradition.  For years, Grandma and Grandpa were in charge of the millions of cookies that come from a single lebkuchen batch- we were in charge of eating.  This year (and last year while I was in Armenia), it was all up to us. 

According to Wikipedia, Lebkuchen (or Pfefferkuchen) is a traditional German product baked for Christmas.  Truly the only tie to my German heritage, these soft gingerbread-like cookies were probably invented by Medieval monks in Franconia, Germany in the 13th century.  They are usually delivered to loved ones in decorative holiday tins and freeze well allowing for year-long enjoyment.  

We start with great enthusiasm, but as the baking process continues our patience for continuous glaze stirring wanes and the cookie size gets bigger and bigger.  My dad starts to 'create' unique cutouts by simply rolling and neglecting the cutter altogether.  

I'll have to ask Grandma for her permission to share the recipe, until then, contact Kathy for a tin of your own.

Happy Holidays everyone!

First, you roll 'em and cut 'em...

 ...Then bake.  Don't stop stirring!  

Time to glaze...

And then Mama Elf packs them up for delivery!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Snoqualmie Weekend

There's a new casino in Snoqualmie and they needed lots of help this weekend.  As catering temps, Dom and I headed out to the reservation to see how we could help in the dining room.  Before our shift on Sunday, we went into town and stopped to see Snoqualmie Falls.  The town's adorable and the waterfall was huge!

This mountain looks just like Armenia.

Snoqualmie was built on the route of the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railway.  It operated as a branch line until the 70s, carrying passengers, supplies, millions of feet of logs to local mills and finished lumber to world markets.  

There was a Lumber Company that handled huge Douglas-fir, sitka spruce, western hemlock and western red cedar trees that cover the hills in this area.  They would wheel them in on these enormous carriers (for 10-15-foot diameter logs).  

The lumber company mill became outdated and was dismantled with the increase in engineered woods products like plywood, laminated beams and chipboard.  Apparently these require smaller trees.  

The other week we were talking with a friend who mentioned the value of the wood in older homes.  He deconstructs homes and buildings and collects reusable materials for a ReStore (check it out, they're doing a cool thing) in Seattle.  Wooden beam, floors and supports make not only a more structurally sound home, but also less squeaky floor.  I didn't appreciate this conversation much until I saw this log and realized the potential for lumber this size. 

Sometimes you just can't beat the old fashioned way of doing things.  

Friday, November 14, 2008

Is blogging dead?

Just one day after attending a blogging panel in which more than 60 PR professionals learned about the importance of corporate blogging, I read a disturbing article in the business section of The Economist.

Oh, Grow Up was the title of an article arguing that blogging is no longer what it was because it has entered the mainstream.  The author highlights Jason Calacanis, the founder of Weblogs, Inc., who retired from blogging as it, 'is simply too big, too impersonal, and lacks the intimacy.'  Blogging a decade ago, writers would post text updates and later photos and videos to share thoughts with a few friends and family members.  Today, the article articulates that many Internet users do this, but they don't consider it blogging-they're updating profiles on Facebook, MySpace or other social networks.  People have moved to a micro-blog format where they can have that feeling of raw, immediate and intimate communication that early blogs provided.  Traditional blogs have moved under the ownership of conventional media organizations who can update the sites faster than any individual blogger ever could.  The article recognizes that the idea of blogging as useful and versatile is certain, but how do companies who started blogs in an effort to 'reach out to the average person' speak to average people if we're not there?  If we're all micro-blogging on Facebook and Twitter, how can we be drawn to a corporate blog?           

In conclusion, The Economist states, "Blogging may 'die' in much the same way that personal-digital assistants (PDAs) have died.  A decade ago, PDAs were the preserve of digerati who liked using electronic address books and calendars.  Now they are gone, but they are also ubiquitous, as features of almost every mobile phone."  Will micro-blogs adopt blogs?  Will companies have to draw readers to their blogs from social networking sites like Twitter or Facebook?  I think they already do. 

Am I right? 

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Blogging as a PR Tool

This morning, I drove to Tacoma (a nice early morning trip) to attend the PRSA South Sound Group "Blogs as  PR Tool" panel discussion.  I thought it would be a nice networking event with fellow morning people, but it turned out to offer me additional insight to the world of blogging from a corporate standpoint.

The speaker panel included:

Lloyd Brown, Communications Director, Washington State Department of Transportation
Eric Jones, Marketing Project Specialist, Washington State Employees Credit Union
Derek Young, Founder & Editor,
Marcelene Edwards, Business Team Leader, The News Tribune 

While each individual highlighted the pros/cons to utilizing a blog in their specific sphere, there were a few overarching messages that I thought might be helpful found applicable to any organization hoping to start a blog.

Here's what I learned:

1. Appeal to a specific audience. Although this may seem like a basic tenant to any communications strategy, it was most helpful to hear that prior to establishing a blog site it is not always necessary to do a great deal of research and analytics. Interestingly, when Lloyd Brown set up the DOT blog in 2006, it was the night of a major crisis and he wanted to respond immediately by establishing a blog. Sometimes it's just a matter of getting started and then evaluating your readers after they start coming and commenting.

2. Eric mentioned (and the panel agreed) that blogs offer 'real person' testimony. Having a YouTube video or even video account links on a sidebar can help reach visual learners with current content.

3. Tone of voice is critical to success. Being able to develop a single voice (as opposed to several different writers contributing to a blog) helps readers gain a level of attachment for the site and continue to visit. In an effort to keep the tone on your blog positive, stick to the facts. If you must quote individuals (which usually results in nasty disagreements in the comments section) link your article (or post) to a reputable news source.

4. Maintain consistency. Panelists agreed that once a week is necessary (but it doesn't help to exceed 4-5 a day). Similar to the argument for strong voice, consistency helps people develop attachment.

5. Promote your site by: 1. utilizing other blogs and 2. tagging your posts effectively. Go to the Web sites that are most applicable to your target audience and begin leaving educated comments that build credibility as a reputable resource. People will find your blog on Google through your tags, but a link to your site from something they're already reading is best. Sometimes it's as simple as tagging your signature block too.

Any other tips I missed?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A skill set's a skill set

There's a lot of talk about social media out there, but few people emphasize listening.  

B.L. Ochman, author of "What's Next Online,' got it exactly right in a recent article when she stated: "Agencies instead need first to approach social media as listeners... Go to where the conversation about your client is taking place.  Find out what people are saying about you and your industry.  Listen to their concerns-only then should you begin to create the platform for communicating with them."  Ochman addresses what most people assume in everyday personal interaction and don't apply to online relationships.  Knowing people takes time and listening skills.  

Blogging, Twittering or starting a cause-related Facebook group, more than writing a newspaper article or talking on air, are not based on one-sided relationships.  Whereas I can read someones blog and immediately comment, when has anyone ever watched the Today Show and called up Matt Lauer to share their thoughts?  If only for the accessibility blogging gives consumers, clients or even family members, people are in it for the relationships. 

Listening is what makes these relationships work.  Listening skills are what everyone needs regardless of whether or not you own a Fourtune 500 company or you just want to get in touch with an old friend.  Listening doesn't mean someone has to be speaking either--typing and posting require the same attention.  

How long do people need to listen (observe) before speaking (replying)?  I like to think of it in terms of the job application process.  What employer will consider a cover letter that doesn't apply to the business directly?  What interviewer is going to be impressed by a candidate that can't offer proof they've learned about the issues facing the organization? The same is true for consumers in an online setting.  If an organization isn't credible (if they haven't been listening) people not only will lose respect but they'll probably react negatively (and we all know how fast negative word-of-mouth spreads particularly on online social networks).  

Companies tell prospective employees to do their research, professors expect the same from students, so shouldn't the standard be held for companies and agencies too?  Practice your listening skills.     

Monday, November 10, 2008

Team Search

This painting is displayed down the street from Dom's house.  I think it perfectly illustrates how we look after a nice long day of job searching.  That bug eye on the left is me after editing my resume.  

We make a great team though.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Hello. My name is...

... and this is where I come from... This is where I'm living... This is what I'm working on... These are my favorite foods...

The entire week was spent meeting new people.  Making friends hasn't been nearly as difficult as I had anticipated; in fact I only had one night free this week.  Seattle seems to be conducive to building new relationships because the majority of the people I've bumped into have been from the East coast or Midwest.  In other words, it often feels like we're all new out here and willing to enjoy the city together.  To be honest, in the month Dom and I have spent as 'transplants', we've only met a handful of Washingtonians and Seattleites.  

We met a nice couple from Boston while enjoying the sunset over Golden Gardens. 
Golden Gardens Park 

We met a group of young adults from a church we started attending at a fondue night.  I even met an Armenian man and spoke about the lack of tasty matsoon in the Pacific Northwest at the Foundation for International Understanding's 60th anniversary reception (FIUTS, is quite similar to the Worthington International Friendship Association (WIFA) or the International Visitor's Council (IVC) that I worked with in Columbus). 

Perhaps I find meeting people so natural because there's so much to do and see.  For example, we took advantage of the First Thursday Free museum admission at The Experience Music Project (EMP) Thursday evening and had a blast beating on drums and strumming electric guitars.  The EMP is: "Dedicated to the exploration of creativity and innovation in popular music," and has a whole floor of sound labs where people can learn instruments, record songs and even play in a virtual stadium of screaming fans.  The building (designed by Frank O. Gehry) caught our attention from day one.

It's rather wavy right?

During the day, I've been introducing myself to the PR field through informational interviews.  Professionals in Seattle have been more than willing to provide me with opportunities to rebuild my network and provide me with contacts.  

Sometimes it's fun to be a little fish in a big pond.  There are plenty of others in the same situation, providing me with new introductions each week.  As I build my nest in the northwest I'm sure to find plenty to keep me busy.