Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Throwing in the towel...

No I'm not throwing in the towel, I'm just dumbfounded at how many other people do so at the drop of a hat. I'm working on numerous books for clients that are focused toward small businesses so the subject of running a small business has been uppermost in my mind. Not that I'm ever far from the subject because, hey, I run a small business. But every once in a while I see something that stops me dead in my tracks and makes me wonder, "What were they thinking???" Happened to me today in fact. I was taking a break from writing this afternoon and going through the mail. Included was the monthly issue of Shopper's Window which is a local pulp showcasing ads from local businesses. So I'm flipping through this little publication, making fun of Liz cause she was on a call and actually working when this ad catches my eye:

Now I ask you, What were they thinking? Why would I even want to go to a place that was obviously just about to give up and call it quits? And they paid for this ad! I can think of a dozen ways to market yourself and NONE of them involving begging people to show up at your door because you are this desperate. Case in point is we have been doing some marketing for an author client of ours for a couple weeks and today it started to pay off as we booked a speaking engagement and radio interview. There are so many ways to get yourself out there as an author or small business person that will help and improve your exposure and cash flow - but unlike this business, you can never ever let em see you sweat!!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Christmas lights and 2010...

So today I'm gathering up interviews for an article for a feature article for the December issue of Credit Union business magazine. Its on trends and business forcasts for the industry for 2010. Its interesting because I have to interview very large organizations as well as very small ones. The difference in the two is staggering. Of course the behemouths have multiple layers of "press 1 if you know the person's extension, press two for loans" ad nauseum then you finally get someone who transefers you to someone who calls someone that's not there only to send an email for them to return your call. So I went the other direction and called the little guys. I got a person (like live and breathing and everything!) who didn't know the answer to my question but immediately transfered me to a guy who said, this is Keith the CEO can I help you? Now I ask you, when's the last time that happened? I've always been a huge believer that if someone calls our business, someONE should answer the phone! Not a machine or endless voice option loop.

Its one thing I always tell our writers and clients - if you call, we will answer. How hard is that? maybe its the society we live in that seems so impersonal, or the fact that I'm just getting older but I would take a real human who can't answer my question over a impersonal machine anyday. Its like Meg Ryan says in You've Got Mail, "Whatever business is, it should personal." So that's my rant for the day.

In other news, Christmas is coming!!! Oh yipppee! My favorite season. A week ago they had christmas toys at the Petco, so Barky got a candy cane striped squeaky bone. He also got a Rope Dog which he proceeded to disembowl and scatter about the house. Today I had some christmas light pros come by and do an estimate for lights for the castle...they should be up before thanksgiving. I always love the holiday season - mostly for the great movies. They had the remake of miracle on 34th street on HBO last weekend which was a great start to the season!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Fabulous Fruity Drink Recipe - The Tidal Wave

I had a great new fruity drink on the boat. What they've been doing on all the carnival cruises this year, is that early in the week they have a 'Mixologist' competition and passangers compete to create the best fruity drink which is then available at a special price the rest of the week. The winner on our boat was called the Tidal Wave - and its blue. Now I know what you're thinking, because I thought it too: If it's blue its gonna suck. This is because its the rule of fruity drinks that if its red or orange, then its probably pretty good - but if its blue or green then it sucks. Its like suckers, the blue and green ones are always the last ones picked. But of course I had to try it and ordered one anyway knowing it would probably suck. Well surprise, surprise it was one of the best fruity drinks I've ever had so I asked the bartender for the recipe:

The Tidal Wave

(equal parts)
Peach Schnapps
Blue Curaqao
Pinapple juice
Sweet & Sour Mix
Garnish with orange slice and cherry - and of course a little unbrella)

last day....

The last day on board is always depressing. Mostly because you have to pack and contemplate going home. All in all this was one of the better cruises we've taken probably because I REALLY needed a vacation and also because we went to some locations that were totally different than the Mexican and Caribbean locations we've been to before. I even watched some movies while on board - I can't remember the last time I saw a current movie! This trip I saw Marley & Me which was very touching and then I also saw The Proposal which I also liked. I wasn't sure I'd like Sandra Bullock as the evil 'devil wears Prada' type, but it turned out to be really great. I also saw Benjamin Button, and although I like the uniqueness of the premise, I didn't think it was very well executed. Some parts were downright boring, but I'm sure I'm in the minority there as many people I know loved it.

I also read two books on the plane - the first was on the way out and is called 'The Children's Blizzard'. It is a creative account of the 1888 blizzard that swooped down over the Midwest suddenly in one afternoon killing hundreds of school children on their way home which is why its known as the Children's Blizzard. The subject matter is very intriguing and interesting but I have to say the writing was a bit lackluster. It is also noticeably uneven meaning that there are passages of scientific information written so differently in tone and feel from the rest of the text that it seems 'stuck in' by someone else. Its a little bizarre, but then I tend to read things like an editor rather than an actual reader.

The other book I read was Dave Sadaris' book, When You are Engulfed in Flames. Of course Dave is a humorist and I've read his essays before. This one was touted to be about death and dying but I'd say less than 50% of the book was about that. Quite a bit was about his being gay and in a gay relationship -which was totally funny and realistic and makes you think about the stupid things you say to, wonder about, or ask, gay people. I laughed out loud in several places which is certainly the mark of an excellent humorist as I'm not an easy laugh most of the time. So if I find it funny, then its usually REALLY funny. I also thought that a couple of the essays could have been cut out or shortened, but over all a good read - just maybe not a read for everyone.

Tomorrow we disembark in Ft Lauderdale -BOOOOOOO!!!

Pukin on the Boat!

Not me, but all those pansies with motion sickness. If you've looked at a map, then you can see that Panama is a loooooong way from Ft Lauderdale. This means the captain has to gun it back toward Cuba to make it on time. This wouldn't be a big deal in the gulf where the sea is totally flat, but in the Caribbean its a little choppier and any additional speed gives the boat a little sway and shimmy which you can really notice at the back of the boat. Of course neither one of us gets sea sick so we had a fun day at sea but the decks were noticeably deserted. Another fun activity today was going out on the deck facing the waves which were spraying water over deck three(that's about thirty feet or so above the water level) and leaving a layer of salt on everything. You don't often get sea spray in your face on a cruise but we did this trip!

Most of the day was spent relaxing and playing in the casino, along with a little shipboard shopping. In the afternoon we could see the mountains of Cuba and the ship came very (very) close to shore. Got some great pics of that along with another beautiful sunset and a full moon. A dreamy evening on deck for sure.


This morning we got up at 5 am....yes that's 5 am, something I swore I'd never do on vacation, but our day long excursion to the Panama Canal starts at 6:45 and I really wanted to see it. The first leg of the journey takes us by bus (nice buses again!) across the country to Panama City and the Pacific side of the canal. Panama City is pretty awesome with many very tall skyscrapers. On the way over we had yet another tour guide who was interesting. Although we traveled on a wonderful highway, he proceeded to tell us how marginal, average or bad things were. Now really, if you are in a location and don't like it that's fine, but if you're a tour guide do you really want to share that? I have a client in Panama and know that much of what the guide was saying was his own opinion rather than reality. His English was also marginal.

There were a total of 450 people on the tour from our ship, 11 buses worth. We boarded two large ferries for the trip half way down the canal and once on board, the difference between the tour guides was night and day. The one on the boat was very educational about the canal and all the great things that Panama was doing to expand the canal and enhance it. They are currently widening the canal from 125 feet to 700 feet to both accommodate bigger ships and facilitate two way traffic as right now one section of the canal is only one way which means it takes a ship 8-10 hours to navigate the canal depending on the traffic volume. They are also adding a another set of locks - a 10 billion dollar project. The weather was great for this type of trip as it was overcast and misty so it was very cool and comfortable for the tropics.

As we approached the first set of locks it was really astounding to see them work and know that they are 100 years old. They raised our ferries in 8-10 minutes through each of the 3 locks which is amazing to see and experience. There was a tour we could have taken that just went to the visitor center and watched the ships go through the lock but that would have been such a rip off there is nothing like experiencing it yourself and I would definitely recommend putting on your "things to see before I die" list. Of course during our last dinner in the dining room before we bailed for the supper club, the subject of the panama canal excursions came up and the consensus was that they were just going to have a peek but didn't see the value in actually going down the locks as it was another $79. Seriously??? Of course these are the same people who don't want a cabin with a balcony or window because there's nothing to see but water........

Bats, Monkeys and sloths! OH MY!

We have docked in Costa Rica and are off on our excursion. The first part is by bus through Limon, where our tour guide starts educating us on Costa Rica. His name was Eric and he was very educational. The buses were also large and comfortable with great air conditioning! Eric told us that Costa Rica is only about the size of west virgina and has about 4.5 million people. The took the money they would have spent on the army and put it into education and are now also using it to build up their reputation as a great ecotourism destination. He said that they now teach ecotourism as a subject starting in grade school all the way through high school as their #1 industry is now tourism.

The bus ride took us to a banana plantation which was also very educational. It was the Del Monte Filadelfia plantation and I had no idea that bananas weren't native to central America because they are everywhere and grow like weeds. But they were brought there in the 1890s from asia. We watched as they processed the bunches of bananas and both me and Kevin thought it would be really weird to be a worker in the plantation and every day have people come by and take pictures and video of you doing your job.

The bus then took us to a little train that is a refurbished 1940s train they use so tourists can ride through the jungle and along the shore to take pictures of wildlife. Anytime someone spotted something, we'd stop for everyone to take pictures. Along the way there were howler monkeys, several sloths and lots of jungle which is pretty neat as long as you're in the train and not walking through it. At one point, the tracks run alongside a beautiful black sand beach that is completely deserted and undeveloped. We all got off the train and tromped around taking pictures for a while and that was pretty cool. The waves were beautiful.

Once back on the bus, we went to the river and transferred to boats. The boats were pretty loaded and rode about six inches above the water which of course has caymans and crocodiles in it (though we didn't see any). What we did see were bats hanging upside down on a tree trunk, lots of various birds and exotic butterflies as well as numerous sloths again. Coast Rica must be sloth central and they are the perfect animal for photo ops as they move so slow. The boat ride was fun and when we got back to the dock they had a little buffet of fresh bananas, pineapples (which were also imported as a crop) and fresh coconut. If you've never had a tree ripened banana, its fabulous!!

All in all it was a great fun day as we saw a little bit of everything that Costa Rica had to offer. I'd definitely go there again!

South to Central America!

Another fabulous day at sea and it seems I've become allergic to my computer. Its the first time in three years I haven't worked on board the ship and I've only checked email twice so far. I think its good that I'm starting to section off my time so I'm not always working and unable to relax - and believe me I'm relaxing right now! Today was the Texas Hold 'em tourney on board. They are giving away a free cruise but I got my butt kicked early on - still it was fun. I basically didn't do much today but putter around, shop on board, play black jack and enjoy the ocean. What better way to spend the day?

The seas are picking up now that we're out of the gulf but I think the waves are still tiny - apparently some of the other people on board don't agree as the boat was rocking a little more than they liked -of course most of them had the Cozumel hangover that added to their issue. We had another fabulous dinner in the supper club and I played poker until midnight or so which was an early night for me but we have a big shore excursion in Costa Rica tomorrow.


I've always loved the water around Cozumel -its that surreal blue that pictures don't do justice too. On our very first cruise, a short three years ago, we were in Cozumel and it was different - they'd just had a hurricane a few months before and were scrambling to get things back in order but it was charming as you could walk the streets of the town. Now its all built back up and quite touristy near the pier. Lots of bars and shops and a huge fence between that part of the city and the rest - I'm sure to give the touristas a feeling of 'safety' but it was kinda ridiculous. We shopped and then had lunch at one of the bars overlooking the water - it was very calm and peaceful. But as always happens on a cruise to Cozumel, people were totally plastered. I'm not sure what it is about the place, but every time we've been there people were drinking so much they could hardly stand up! Its tequila people - nothing more, nothing less. Okay I'll admit its a fun time, but I'm just too old for the hangover. I had two margaritas and was woozy!

One of my missions in Cozumel was to find Rocko a real bulldog collar - you know the kind that's black with the little silver spikes because they have some great leather craftspeople there. I don't know if you've perused the dog collar section at your local pet store but the collars are, well, gay! They are all pink and prissy and just not suitable for a ruff tuff bulldog - okay he's really not ruff and tuff but he thinks he is. They did have doggie shirts on the boat that said 'cruise dog' and I was really tempted. But of course Kevin was standing there going, "Now really, what would Caesar do?" Caesar Milan is always getting onto owners for treating dogs like kids, but its still tempting. I guess I can have a bracelet made up with the initials WWCD for pet owners like me who are tempted to sin by buying the dog a wardrobe. Anyway, we didn't find a collar so I was disappointed.

Kevin convinced me to give Steve one more chance, so we had dinner in the dining room. It wasn't any better and quite honestly after having such a great meal at the supper club (at a cozy table for two!) I just wanted to eat there every night. So we bid farwell to the dining room knowing they'd never see our buts again on this cruise.