Monthly Archives: July 2012

Miami Spice Kicks Off Tomorrow!

Since it ended last year, I have waited 11 long months for Miami Spice to return.  Restaurant owners and employees and foodies like me are so excited that the big day has almost arrived.

Miami Spice, which kicks off tomorrow, August 1, is arguably the best thing that happens in the city during the long, hot summer and is a win, win for both restaurants and their customers.  It gives food lovers a chance to dine at some of the city’s finest restaurants to enjoy deeply discounted, three-course, pre-fixe lunch and dinner menus for the months of August and September.  In turn, it gives restaurants the opportunity to fill empty seats during their slowest months of the year and make some money.

Due to the culinary celebration’s popularity and success it is now in its 11th year and continues to grow.  Last year a total of more than 158,000 Miami Spice meals were served and the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, which organizes the event, expects that number to be greater this year due to an expanded format, a still-growing list of participating restaurants, media and marketing partnerships and other special city-wide summer promotions that overlap Miami Spice.

A record-breaking 166 participating restaurants are on the line-up this year, with over 50 of them being new to the list.  Part of the reason for so many new restaurants is that a second, more affordable pricing option has been added to Miami Spice.  In addition to some of Miami’s fanciest fine dining restaurants featuring $23 lunch menus and $39 dinner menus, there is now more casual, but still great, restaurants offering $19 lunch menus and $33 dinner menus (these prices don’t include tax and gratuities).

No matter where you choose to dine, a Miami Spice meal consists of a choice of an appetizer, entrée and dessert, offering a discount of 30-60 percent off the regular value.  In addition to discounted food menus, the Miami Spice website features some special offers on happy hour, wine and hotel packages.  It’s a great opportunity to experience the city and try out all those restaurants that you’ve been tempted to try.

Last year during Spice I checked out Red The Steakhouse, Hakkasan, Ortanique On The Mile, City Hall, Mercadito, Smith & Wollensky and Phillipe Chow.  All of them are back on the list of participating restaurants this year, and with the exception of Philippe Chow I recommend them all.

The reason I cannot recommend Philippe Chow has nothing to do with the Miami Spice menu specifically.  I have eaten there four times and never been thrilled about anything I have tried there.  Everything is overly salty and greasy, yet still blah, and even with a discounted menu I don’t find the food to be worth the price.

My personal favorite was Red The Steakhouse, who switches up their menu each week in an effort to attract newcomers and reward regulars.  Last year they had a week of the “classic” menu favorites, followed by a seafood, pasta and Wagyu beef week.

Not all of the participating restaurants are open during the day, but Ortanique and City Hall are great lunch spots.

The places that I am most excited to check out this year are Zuma, Scarpetta and newcomers Egg & Dart, The Dining Room and The Dutch.

Where do you plan on eating during Miami Spice?

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New Ways That People Will Watch The 2012 Olympics

Opening Ceremony London 2012: Google Doodle Celebrates The Festivities

Today’s Google Doodle is one indication of just how excited the world is for tonight’s opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London.   The day has finally arrived to kick off the event that London, athletes, advertisers and brands have spent years planning and preparing for.

Ten-time Olympic medallist Carl Lewis captured the building sense of anticipation best:

“The Olympics is the only event where the world stops,” he said.  “If you’re the smallest country with the fewest people in the world or the biggest country with the most people in the world, everyone’s allowed and everyone is invited, so it’s a great thing because you get to see the world and the world sees you.”

Mr. Lewis couldn’t be more right.  An estimated 1 billion people around the world are expected to watch the Olympics opening ceremony and games, and this year there are more ways to watch than ever before.  The 2012 Games are full of new records and firsts and we haven’t even seen what the world’s greatest athletes will do yet.

In terms of ads sales, this is the biggest Olympics ever.  According to NBC Universal, its ad-dollar take for the Olympics has reached $1 billion, about $150 million more than its total take for the 2008 Beijing Games.  Here are some other cool new Olympic debuts that are happening as a result of the newest technology and advertising/marketing strategies.

Live Streaming on Mobile Devices and Tablets.  The iPad didn’t exist at the last Olympics, but when the games begin Friday millions of people will watch the action on tablets and smart phones.  NBC Universal is live-streaming every athletic competition — more than 3,500 hours, including all 32 sports and all 302 medals — on NBCOlympics.com and, for the first time, on Androids, iPhones and iPads.  Users can use the free NBC Olympics Live Extra app to watch the coverage from wherever they are on their devices.  The app is free, but only customers who have a cable or satellite subscription will get full access.

The app lets users set reminders for events and share their favorite video clips on Facebook and Twitter.  During live events they can switch camera views to watch from different angles and toggle between different events happening at the same time.  If there is too much going at once, users can record events to watch later.

A companion app, called simply “NBC Olympics,” features additional content like athlete interviews and bios. The two apps are interconnected, so users can launch one through the other.

The pair of mobile apps is part of NBC’s far-reaching plan to roll out the Olympics on a variety of media platforms.  NBC is hoping that this goes smoother than its last big streaming event, the Super Bowl.  While the 2.1 million livestreams set a record for the Internet’s most watched single sports game, many users complained that the stream was blurry, choppy and had a time delay.  Let’s hope that NBC learned from the Super Bowl mistakes and have worked out all the kinks over the last six months.

Social Media.  Social media is changing the Olympic reporting landscape, becoming the most tweeted, blogged and reported event in history.  It was around during the 2008 Games, but the numbers that are attracting sponsors this year are incredible.  There were 100 million Facebook users in the 2008 Summer Games, versus 900 million this year, and roughly 6 million Twitter followers during the last Summer Games, versus about 500 million today.  Dubbed the “Social Games” for the big-spending sponsors, social media is being utilized by them to reach this huge amount of users.

One of the most popular social media activities has been to follow the athletes as they go into the Games.  While some will take a break from their social media accounts in order to focus, many will be tweeting and posting along the way.

To serve as a reminder to be careful what they post is the case of Greek triple jumper Paraskevi Papachristou, who was the first Olympian forced to pack her bags because of a racist tweet.

3D Olympics Coverage.  Those with 3D digital televisions (and the glasses that work with it) will have the opportunity to watch the Opening and Closing ceremonies, men’s and women’s gymnastics, cycling from the Velodrome, swimming, synchronized swimming, diving, water polo, full coverage of track and field, and the medal rounds of basketball in 3D.  A total of 242 hours of 3D coverage will be available over the 17 days of the Olympics (approximately 12 hours per day).

The downside to 3D coverage is that it will not be broadcast live.  Instead, the events will be aired the next day on special 3D channels from DirectTV and other cable providers.

This year’s Olympic Games will last until August 12, with more than 10,000 athletes from 204 National Olympic Committees participating.

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Foursquare Gets Even Better For Small Businesses

Foursquare has been riding the social media marketing bandwagon in a big way by becoming the best friend of many small businesses.  It’s popular with businesses because it gives them a place to put their name where it really counts—locally– and reach out to both frequent and potential customers in the area.  Not only do small businesses use the network to draw new customers, but it creates many return customers and allows these businesses to build a solid local reputation.  Last week foursquare released Local Updates, which enables brands to send customers news, updates and anything else they think the user may find interesting.

Since its launch in 2009, the free app has been used by people and their friends to make the most of where they are.   “Checking in” to a business allows the customer to share and save the places that they visit and choose new ones based on personalized recommendations and deals.  As of April 2009, there has been over 2 billion check-ins from over 20 million people worldwide.

Since the network’s early days, their Specials platform has offered incentives to users for checking in.  Merchants were able to offer both loyalty-related specials (e.g. “Get a free yoga class on your third check-in”) and specials to attract new customers (e.g. “Free appetizer with your first check-in”).  I personally signed up to the network about two years ago after I was told by a friend that an Italian restaurant by my house was offering a free bottle of wine with each check-in.

Local Updates, released last Wednesday, answers the requests of small businesses that were looking for a new way to communicate with the customers who love their businesses and are engaging with them on foursquare.  Dubbed by the network’s product manager, Noah Weiss, as the “all-new foursquare for merchants,” Local Updates allows businesses to send text or images to loyal customers (based on the frequency of check-ins or whether someone has “liked” the business), with the option to share with others.

The way the feature works is this:  whenever a foursquare user finds a business in the Explore feature, the updates will appear within the business’s profile.  Upon being notified that the user is interested, the business can keep the user up to date with the happenings of the business, whether they are customers already or potential customers.  It’s an easy way for users to keep up with news from the places they frequent, including things like special offers, a menu change, or a new shipment of the hottest shoes.  The user has the option of receiving these updates from businesses, and if they are not interested they can easily opt out at any time.  Here is an example of what an update may look like:

Foursquare is hoping that the feature will encourage word-of-mouth marketing, with the ideal course of action being for customers to have more motivation to tell their friends about the business upon receiving a message or update.  Although it is not as useful of a marketing tool for big businesses, small businesses can really benefit from Local Updates.  The free feature is an effective and affordable way for small businesses to market themselves to a large amount of potential customers while keeping their current ones happy.

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Eat like Its $19.99!

IN DOWNTOWN DELRAY BEACH

I am all for trying to save a few bucks here and there.  Downtown Delray Beach offers some really good restaurants, but in order to eat at a majority of them it will cost you.  While I consider myself a true foodie who does not mind spending a pretty penny on a delicious meal, I also realize that it’s still possible to eat well for a better price.  I’ve already shared my favorite happy hour spots in downtown Delray Beach.  Now here are a few of my favorite places where it is possible for two people to fill up for $20 or less during the other hours of the day (this does not include drinks, tax and gratuity).

Mellow Mushroom- A medium pizza, which ranges from $17.79 to $21.49 is more than enough for two people.  We always end up boxing up what we can’t finish and eating it for lunch the next day.  In addition to ridiculously good pizza, Mellow Mushroom also has a great selection of hoagies and salads.  Both come in half or whole size portions for about $6 or $9, which make it easy to mix and match if you choose.

Mellow Mushroom is located at 25 SE 6th Ave.; (561) 330-3040

Senor Burrito- Everything comes in huge, sharing-sized portions here.  My boyfriend and I used to order our own entrees, but there was always so much to box up.  I love the salad but the leftovers turn into a soggy mess before I can finish it.  Now when we go we usually order a side of guacamole ($4.50) to go with the warm tortilla chips and salsa and we split the salad with steak ($8.75) or mahi-mahi ($9.25).  Jeremy is a huge fan of Senor Burrito’s homemade flan ($4.50) so we usually end with that.  It’s the perfect amount of food.

Senor Burrito is located at 142 SE 6th Ave.;(561) 278-5757

Granger’s Bar & Grill- This is my favorite little hole-in-the-wall spot to go for good comfort food.  Granger’s has been around for a long time and has that charming old-diner feel to it.  A majority of the food is homemade and it’s always served fresh and in large portions, making it another great spot to share.  We usually start off with an order of the buffalo-style shrimp (they’re $9 and absolutely addicting) or some chili ($3.75 for a good-sized cup or $7.25 for a huge bowl).  The entrees range from $7 to $14.  My personal favorites are the grilled chicken and shrimp caesar salad and the Cajun chicken Philly.  I have also heard rave reviews about the mile-high meatloaf that is served on Saturdays and the smoked BBQ ribs that are served on Wednesdays.

Granger’s is located at 215 NE 6th Ave.; (561) 276-7881

Green Owl- The patio at The Green Owl is a great place to sit outside on the Ave. for an affordable breakfast, lunch or even dinner when it’s open late during season.  Breakfast can be as cheap as $2.50 for an egg and toast or $6.25 for the “Big Breakfast,” which includes three eggs, two strips of bacon, one sausage link and a choice of home fries or grits and a hotcake or toast.  The lunch plates and sandwiches cost from $4.95 to $6.95 and from the months of December- April the restaurant extends their hours to serve dinner.  They have nightly specials and encourage guests to “BYOB.”  The best part of that is that there’s no cork fee!

The Green Owl is located at 330 E Atlantic Ave.; (561) 272-7766

Vic & Angelo’s- A dinner date here is not going to be cheap if you order from a majority of the menu, but the specialty pizzas are huge, affordable and delicious.  The prices range from $14.95 to $20.95, and for about $2 each you can add on toppings including caramelized onions, meatballs, artichokes and prosciutto di parma.  My personal favorites are the Mulberry Street, Grand Street and Truffle & Wild Mushrooms pizzas.

Vic & Angelo’s is located at 290 East Atlantic Avenue; (561) 278-9570

BurgerFi- All natural burgers range from $6 to $10 and a hotdog will cost you around $4.  My recommendation for two people is to get two burgers or hotdogs (or one of each) and to split a large order of fries with chili and cheese ($6) or parmesan cheese and herbs ($5).  Also worth mentioning is the frozen custard shakes and malts, and sundaes.  They’re about $5 to $7 and are absolutely delicious.

BurgerFi is located at 6 South Ocean Blvd.; (561) 278-9590

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Marissa Mayer Leaves Google to Become Yahoo’s New CEO

By now I’m guessing that we have all heard the biggest news story out of Silicon Valley- Marissa Mayer has been hired as the new CEO at Yahoo.  The second-biggest news story seems to be the fact that she is six months pregnant.  Good for her, but what I’m really interested in is who she is, what she accomplished at Google and what we can expect from her at Yahoo.  Surely she has her work cut out for her, so what changes can we expect from the company in the upcoming future?

Mayer received her B.S. in Symbolic Systems and her M.S. in Computer Science from Stanford University, specializing in artificial intelligence for both degrees.  She joined the Google team in 1999 as its 20th employee and its first female engineer.  During her time there she held five different roles, beginning as a software engineer and finishing as the Vice President of local, maps and location services.  She is credited with maintaining the company’s home page for a decade and overseeing some of their most popular products including Gmail, Google News and image, book and product search.

She made her Yahoo debut Tuesday, replacing Ross Levinsohn, who ran the company on an interim basis since Scott Thompson’s resignation in May.  She is the company’s fourth chief executive in less than a year.

David Filo, co-founder of Yahoo, said in a prepared statement: “Marissa is a well-known, visionary leader in user experience and product design and one of Silicon Valley’s most exciting strategists in technology development. I look forward to working with her to enhance Yahoo’s product offerings for our over 700 million unique monthly visitors.”

By accepting the position at Yahoo, she accepted the huge challenges that come with it.  Mayer is joining the company as its fortunes have pretty much come to a halt.  Its financial performance and stock price have been steadily declining since Yahoo rejected a $47.5-billion takeover offer from Microsoft in 2008. The company’s lower profit makes it clear that Yahoo is losing the battle for people’s time and attention and marketers’ advertising dollars to rivals Facebook and Google.  Both companies have been thriving as advertisers spent more money on Internet advertising.  It currently takes Google a little more than a month to make as much money as Yahoo does in a year.

To succeed, Mayer will have to take one of the Internet’s most recognizable brands and make it more profitable.  She must apply her extensive knowledge of working on the user experience, doing for Yahoo what she did for Google.  By recapturing the audience’s attention and driving more traffic to Yahoo’s website, this will in turn help Yahoo sell more online advertising space and revive revenue growth.

She could work with Levinsohn to build on what he had envisioned- revamping the site and making it the hottest spot on the Internet by using a combination of exclusive content and material produced by a wide range of other media outlets.  He was particularly focused on improving the quality of Yahoo’s video offerings, estimating that if the company’s website was serving up professionally produced news and entertainment clips, it will attract people and they will stick around.

Mayer has yet to announce the fate of Levinsohn, declining to discuss her plans for him in a Monday interview.

Whether Levinsohn stays or leaves, Mayer will have to develop a road map for Yahoo and decide where the company fits in the Internet and mobile market that is mainly being controlled by Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.  Yahoo currently has a monthly audience of 700 million users that it plans to build on as it develops more effective ways to connect with people on smartphones and mobile devices.

As one of Google’s former top executives, it is safe to say that she knows the company’s strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities very well.  Her experience at Google has probably also given her some insight on the areas where Facebook, Apple and Amazon.com are vulnerable as well.  Mayer has already stated that she is confident that she can make Yahoo’s services “even more innovative and inspiring in the future.”

Yahoo needs a sharp leader who can build excitement and ultimately traffic and revenue.  It looks like after a string of short-lived CEOs they may have finally found a good match. The next few months will be an interesting test to see how Mayer handles the huge challenge that she is facing.  I believe in Mayer and wish her the best of luck.

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NYC Payphones Are Being Turned Into WiFi Hotspots

Except for the homeless people who use the Yellow Pages as toilet paper and the occasional tourist who needs to make a call, New York City’s phone booths don’t get much action anymore. Due to the fact that almost everyone over the age of six has a cell phone these days, pay phones have been made largely obsolete.

That is why the city has decided to transform some of these 12,360 abandoned booths into WiFi hotspots.  Last week New York City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications introduced the city’s first 10 payphones-turned-WiFi hotspots, which are spread across Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn.  Over time the city plans on extending the hotspots to The Bronx and Staten Island as well.

“Expanding public access to broadband technology across the five boroughs, be it wired or wireless, is at the heart of the Bloomberg Administration’s efforts to promote greater digital inclusion for New Yorkers,” said Chief Information and Innovation Officer Rahul N. Merchant. “Today’s announcement does just that, while also allowing us to enhance existing telecommunications infrastructure –- public payphones –- in an innovative way.”

The WiFi booths are free of charge to use for connecting a smartphone, tablet or laptop to the Internet.  It comes as part of the free WiFi that the city also offers in public parks and libraries, which the ads dub as “the best thing since rent-stabilized apartments.”

While I wouldn’t quite put this on the level of a rent-stabilized Manhattan apartment, I think it is an extremely smart way for the city to kill two birds with one stone.  Not only are they recycling all of these phone booths and saving themselves the hassle of removing them, but they are taking an innovative approach to keeping up with the changing technology.

Now if only they could do something about the cell phone service on the subways.

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What I’ve Learned About The Real World (So Far)

When I was in college, I thought it was never going to end.  I was untouchable, working two nights a week in Miami as a club bartender and making more than what most people make in two weeks.  I went out the other five nights of the week and still managed to maintain a 3.8 GPA.  And then I graduated and everything changed.

I knew that bartending was not a career, not for me at least, so I made my way into the real world.  I quickly learned that it can be pretty rough.  It stressed me out so much the first time that it was a big factor in going back to get my Master’s degree.  Another 18 months of being a student was lovely, but then I was forced to graduate and grow up once again.

I will break this article up into two parts– post-undergrad and post-master’s degree–because I learned valuable lessons each time.

POST-UNDERGRAD

I can do anything.  Now that I was finished writing papers and pulling all-night study sessions, I suddenly had all this spare time on my hands.  Take full advantage, as this is your time to live it up.  Most likely you are not employed at a serious job, married or a parent.  Nothing is holding you down and this might be the only time for the rest of your life that you have this chance.  So go backpacking, experience life in a new city, learn yoga or jump out of a plane.  In the six months following graduation, I did a cross-country road trip, moved to Los Angeles, went to Israel with 40 strangers and got into the best shape of my life.  Live a little, before life ties you down.

My college lifestyle was so unhealthy.  When I was in school, I was the vending machine’s best customer and ate Quizno’s, Wendy’s and Pollo Tropical on a daily basis.  I’d stay up for days before a big paper was due, consuming espresso and Adderall to stay awake.  Once my paper was finished and turned in, I’d go out with my friends instead of catching up on my sleep.  I don’t know how it did it.

It’s hard out there to get a job.  Not many companies are hiring these days, but when they do, there are dozens of people who will fight you for the position.  Having a large pool of people to choose from makes these companies very picky.  It seems like they all want someone who has tons of experience, speaks four languages, doesn’t mind picking up the owner’s dry cleaning and is willing to do it all for $10 an hour.

It’s all about who you know.  Given what I just said, having a good connection can be extremely helpful.  It could be an “in,” or introduce you to other important people that you can learn from.  Networking and connecting is everything, because you never know who you might need or run into at some point.  The world is much smaller than I thought.

Internships are important.  My one regret from college is that I slacked on internships.  I missed out on meeting and learning from valuable people while I was still in school, so it was harder to get a job after graduation.  Everywhere that I applied wanted me to start off as an intern.

Your first job won’t be perfection.  I consider my first “real job” to be at a fashion PR agency in LA.  I was an unpaid intern that they started paying, mostly in clothes, once I made myself valuable to my boss.   I did this by going to every vegan restaurant in town to pick up food for her, dealing with the whiny swimsuit models at fashion shows on my weekends and getting screamed at by publicists wondering where their celebrity client’s free gifts were.  It was far from glamorous, but I learned a lot and had to start somewhere.

You don’t have to stay at this horrible first job forever.  I realized fashion PR was not for me pretty quickly.  Nevertheless, I stuck it out for a few months so I had some experience on the resume and then left to pursue other things.  I haven’t looked back.

Now is the best time to go back to school.  Your mind is fresh, you haven’t forgotten everything you learned and nothing is tying you down.  If you are considering going to grad school, right after undergrad is a great time to do it.

POST-MASTER’S

It’s still hard out there to get a job.  I felt a little cooler at job interviews saying that I now have a master’s degree, but I still faced the same problems that I did post-undergrad.  I lucked out and reconnected with an old high school friend who got me in at his company.  Yeah, it’s all about who you know.

My take-home pay is not as much as I thought.  The only thing that was worse than finding out how low my entry-level salary was going to be was seeing my take-home pay amount on that first paycheck.  It makes me miss the bartending days of bringing home wads of undeclared cash each night.

An emergency bank account is important.  Last year I started a savings account that takes $40 from my checking each month.  I now have about $850 that I didn’t even miss that I can use if I ever need it.  I understand that at some point I will probably get sick or hurt and I will need it.  If not, it’s nice to know that I have a little cash to buy myself something nice.

Student loans are borrowed money.  Next month will be six months since graduation, and I will have to make my first payment.  It’s about to get real.

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Living With Grandma “Who Died?”

From time to time I will post stories that I have written about my grandmother, Betty Collura. I lived with her for about 14 months in 2006-2007, and it was during this time that she started showing the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. It was an interesting time with many significant ups and downs, but I have a unique story to tell for almost every single day.

September, 2009

I moved out of my grandma’s house to attend college in Miami in August 2007.  My grandmother was left to live alone, but luckily my parents lived only about 10 minutes away.  Just as she did when I was living there, my mother came over to check up on my grandma every morning, and she added a daily afternoon visit to her schedule.

On the day that this story took place, I was in West Palm Beach to be with my family after the passing of my paternal grandmother. While I was up there, I decided to go visit my grandma Betty and spend some time with her.

“We need to break the news to her today,” my mom said in the car as we drove closer.

I wondered how she was going to take it. My grandmothers had known each other for over thirty years, since my parents were high school sweethearts and got married. They saw each other often at my brothers’ volleyball games, were extremely friendly and never forgot to send each other birthday and holiday cards. I knew my grandma was going to be upset about the loss of her old friend.

When we arrived at the house, my grandma was overjoyed to see me. She smiled, hugged me tightly and told me how good it was to see me after “all these years,” even though I had visited her only a few weeks earlier. I knew better than to waste my breath correcting her, so I just smiled and nodded.

My mother and I sat down with her at the long wooden dining room table where she was drinking a cup of coffee and eating a large slice of red velvet cake topped with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream.  As her disease has progressed and she gets older, my grandmother eats more and more like a little kid.  She no longer has any interest in gourmet meals from her old favorite restaurants, but she can’t get enough of grilled cheese, chicken fingers, Egg McMuffins and desserts of any kind.  This scared us originally, as we worried about her health, but her doctors say that her heart and blood pressure are fine and she hasn’t gained much weight.  At this point, why not let her eat what makes her happy?

“Mom, Sheila passed away yesterday,” my mother announced loudly so that she would hear.

My grandma’s light eyes looked up slowly with a sad but confused look. She looked at my mother with her head cocked slightly.

“Sheila Kurlander, Mom.  Randy’s mother…”

“Oh, that Sheila! Really? That’s terrible! Was she sick?”

“Yes, she’s been sick for a while now. She was fighting cancer. Remember I told you she had cancer and that she wasn’t doing very well?”

“Yes, yes. Gosh, that’s terrible. What kind of cancer was it again?”

“It started as lung cancer, but by the time they caught it, it had spread to her brain, lymph nodes and kidneys,” my mother said, rolling her eyes at me from across the table. I understood that she had probably explained this to my grandma every day for the last two months.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” my grandma said sadly. “I liked Sheila.”

“I know you did, Mom. You’re going to the funeral with us next week. It’s not until Tuesday, which is six days from now.”

You must always give my grandma plenty of notice before getting her to leave the house. She needs enough time to fill the 40 pockets of her huge leather purse with anything, and I mean absolutely anything, that she feels she might need for her outing- a shower cap in case it rains, sunglasses for if it’s sunny, extra underwear (sometimes up to four pairs), entire Kleenex boxes and other random things that I can’t even predict. She has never failed to shock me.  And my grandma doesn’t attend any big event without having her hair and nails done first.

“I’d better get to the beauty parlor then,” my grandmother said in an alarmed voice.

“Mom, you have six days. Don’t worry, there is plenty of time for you to get ready,” my mom assured her. “I’ll call and make an appointment with Mary for the day before the funeral.”

“Who died again?”  The bewildered look in her eyes had returned.

“Sheila,” my mom said with a sigh.  “She exhausts me,” she mumbled as she stood up to go refill her cup of coffee.

I switched the subject to a lighter one and updated my grandma on my life in Miami. I made lots of small talk, telling her about my job, school, friends and dog.

“Coco likes to bark at all the bigger dogs on Lincoln Road, but when they get close she hides between my feet,” I told her, and she responded by cracking up.

“I love Coco,” my grandma said.  “I use to play every night with her.”

She asked questions and giggled the way a five-year old would and I couldn’t help but notice how happy she seemed. My grandma might not be all there, but it was refreshing to see her so carefree. She had certainly come a long way from the depressed, paranoid and improperly-medicated person I once began living with three years earlier.

“Hey…” she said across the table in a low voice, almost a whisper. “Who died again?”

I heard my mother groan from the kitchen. I held my breath a bit and hoped she wasn’t going to come back into the dining room to explain once again.

If there is anything I could change about my grandma’s situation (besides eliminating Alzheimer’s Disease altogether), it would be the toll it has taken on my mother.  She has lost her mother and best friend, and constantly has to worry about my grandma’s happiness and safety.  It’s caused her a great deal of understandable sadness and stress, but she’s also had a really hard time accepting what has happened.  For a long time my mother would repeat information over and over to my grandma that I knew she was just going to forget, and then she’d get upset when my grandma forgot.  I never understood why she would remind her of hair and doctor appointments that were days away.

“You do know that Grandma is still going to wake up that morning and have no clue that she has a doctor’s appointment, right?” I’d ask her.

I’m not sure whether my mother was hopeful that things might get better or if she just didn’t want to believe that this had really become her life.  Seeing the disease take over my grandma was definitely hard, but once we got her medications balanced and her moods stabilized I think things got a lot easier.   My grandma was pleasant and cheerful once again, and a majority of the crazy mood swings and depression disappeared.  There is nothing pleasant about Alzheimer’s disease, but I’m thankful that my grandma is not in any pain.  She is not even aware that she is sick.  Even though she doesn’t always remember who we are, she does seem to understand that she is surrounded by people who love her and I can sense that she is content.

Thankfully my mother did not walk back in the room and try to explain who died again.   My grandma and I sat in silence for a moment before she looked at me, shrugged her shoulders and started to laugh. I laughed back with her because I accepted the fact that she isn’t going to get any better a long time ago, but it sure was good to see her happy.

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Let’s Get Physical (In The Workplace)!

Considering that you are most likely reading this on a tablet or computer screen, you are most likely also sitting down right now.  If you haven’t gotten up in a while, you may want to do so.  Research finds that if you don’t get up and move around more often, apparently there’s a greater chance that you will not live as long as those who do.  According to several studies, sedentary behaviors like sitting and watching TV may have the potential to decrease your life expectancy, even if you exercise regularly.

According to a study published in the online journal BMJ Open, if you sit for more than three hours a day, your life expectancy is lowered by about two years.  This study’s findings are backed up by Australia’s Sax Institute, which says that even with exercise, sitting for several hours a day could cause you to die younger.

Another study tracked 123,000 Americans and found that the death rate for those who spent six or more hours a day sitting was 20% higher than for men who sat for three hours or less.  For women, the difference was even scarier at 40%.

I personally hopped up from my chair after reading these statistics and did a lap around the room.  As a recently-hired office employee who is new to sitting in a cubicle all day long, I find it particularly hard to find time to get up and walk around during the day.  I get plenty of exercise- I’m currently training for a marathon- but these studies are telling me that it may not be enough to make up for the 8 hours a day that I spend on my butt.

So what can I and all of my fellow office workers who have desk jobs do to get more movement during the day?  Experts suggest standing up as much as possible, like when you’re talking on the phone.  Also, try not to be quite as lazy.  Get up and walk to the printer instead of having someone who is already up bring the papers to you.  Don’t call a co-worker that you can see from across the room.  Getting up and talking to them in person will not only make you more active, but it can also improve communication too.

Companies can help out by allowing time for short walks- five to ten minutes each hour is ideal.  Some have even gone as far as bringing in tools like standup desks or the treadmill desk.  Yes, you read correctly.  There is a such thing as a treadmill desk.  Made by LifeSpan, it retails for about $1,999 (it’s on sale for $1,299 on the company’s official website right now). Check it out:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I personally love the idea of being able to stay active while being productive.  If my boss decided to allow these in the office, I would definitely try using it throughout the day.  But in the meantime, I will just make it a point to take a few laps around the office every hour.

Would you use a treadmill desk in your office?  Tell me in the comments!

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What They Don’t Tell You At Graduation

I would have loved it if my commencement speaker had given out tips like this at my graduation.  These were adapted from “10½ Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said,” by Charles Wheelan and I thought they were worth sharing.

1. Your time in fraternity basements was well spent. The same goes for the time you spent playing intramural sports, working on the school newspaper or just hanging with friends. Research tells us that one of the most important causal factors associated with happiness and well-being is your meaningful connections with other human beings. Look around today. Certainly one benchmark of your postgraduation success should be how many of these people are still your close friends in 10 or 20 years.

2. Some of your worst days lie ahead. Graduation is a happy day. But my job is to tell you that if you are going to do anything worthwhile, you will face periods of grinding self-doubt and failure. Be prepared to work through them. I’ll spare you my personal details, other than to say that one year after college graduation I had no job, less than $500 in assets, and I was living with an elderly retired couple. The only difference between when I graduated and today is that now no one can afford to retire.

3. Don’t make the world worse. I know that I’m supposed to tell you to aspire to great things. But I’m going to lower the bar here: Just don’t use your prodigious talents to mess things up. Too many smart people are doing that already. And if you really want to cause social mayhem, it helps to have an Ivy League degree. You are smart and motivated and creative. Everyone will tell you that you can change the world. They are right, but remember that “changing the world” also can include things like skirting financial regulations and selling unhealthy foods to increasingly obese children. I am not asking you to cure cancer. I am just asking you not to spread it.

4. Marry someone smarter than you are. When I was getting a Ph.D., my wife Leah had a steady income. When she wanted to start a software company, I had a job with health benefits. (To clarify, having a “spouse with benefits” is different from having a “friend with benefits.”) You will do better in life if you have a second economic oar in the water. I also want to alert you to the fact that commencement is like shooting smart fish in a barrel. The Phi Beta Kappa members will have pink-and-blue ribbons on their gowns. The summa cum laude graduates have their names printed in the program. Seize the opportunity!

5. Help stop the Little League arms race. Kids’ sports are becoming ridiculously structured and competitive. What happened to playing baseball because it’s fun? We are systematically creating races out of things that ought to be a journey. We know that success isn’t about simply running faster than everyone else in some predetermined direction. Yet the message we are sending from birth is that if you don’t make the traveling soccer team or get into the “right” school, then you will somehow finish life with fewer points than everyone else. That’s not right. You’ll never read the following obituary: “Bob Smith died yesterday at the age of 74. He finished life in 186th place.”

6. Read obituaries. They are just like biographies, only shorter. They remind us that interesting, successful people rarely lead orderly, linear lives.

7. Your parents don’t want what is best for you. They want what is good for you, which isn’t always the same thing. There is a natural instinct to protect our children from risk and discomfort, and therefore to urge safe choices. Theodore Roosevelt—soldier, explorer, president—once remarked, “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” Great quote, but I am willing to bet that Teddy’s mother wanted him to be a doctor or a lawyer.

8. Don’t model your life after a circus animal. Performing animals do tricks because their trainers throw them peanuts or small fish for doing so. You should aspire to do better. You will be a friend, a parent, a coach, an employee—and so on. But only in your job will you be explicitly evaluated and rewarded for your performance. Don’t let your life decisions be distorted by the fact that your boss is the only one tossing you peanuts. If you leave a work task undone in order to meet a friend for dinner, then you are “shirking” your work. But it’s also true that if you cancel dinner to finish your work, then you are shirking your friendship. That’s just not how we usually think of it.

9. It’s all borrowed time. You shouldn’t take anything for granted, not even tomorrow. I offer you the “hit by a bus” rule. Would I regret spending my life this way if I were to get hit by a bus next week or next year? And the important corollary: Does this path lead to a life I will be happy with and proud of in 10 or 20 years if I don’t get hit by a bus.

10. Don’t try to be great. Being great involves luck and other circumstances beyond your control. The less you think about being great, the more likely it is to happen. And if it doesn’t, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being solid.

Good luck and congratulations.

Here is the link if you prefer to read the full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304811304577366332400453796.html?fb_ref=wsj_share_FB&fb_source=timeline

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