Thursday, January 31, 2013

Harmony & Hope

I think it's safe to say that we have all been touched by cancer in some way. Whether we have battled it ourselves or watched family and friends do so, cancer permeates our lives; infecting all of us, whether literally or figuratively.

While I myself have not lost any close friends or family to cancer, I know many people who have, and I have experienced what it is like to lose important people in my life so I do understand how heartbreaking that can be, especially when the cause is out of your control. There is no question that it changes your life and your outlook on it.

But know what else can change your life and outlook? Music. Charity. Both of these things individually and combined, not to mention the sharing of them between people can bring so much joy, healing and much-needed funds that will ensure more and more people are changed by cancer, not for the bad, but for the good and positive.

The choir that I sing with every Wednesday night - the Dalhousie Health Professions Chorale - along with the Chester Brass Band, are performing in a concert on March 3rd that is the epitome of these two elements working together. We will be performing a whole bunch of really fun and touching music, including music from Queen, amazing musicals such as Wicked and Chess, a few traditional celtic and religious pieces thrown in for good measure, and even some Michael Jackson! (there will be NO moon-walking, though. Sorry)

All the funds raised through this concert will be donated to the Canadian Cancer Society, specifically directed to the Beatrice Hunter Cancer Research Institute/Cancer Research Training Program. This is a Nova Scotia program that funds students training as cancer researchers, and it currently funds a PhD candidate and an MSc student at Dalhousie University. Since I work with graduate students on a daily basis in my job at Dal, I also feel a special connection to the cause in this way. AND I understand how much time and effort goes into research like this!

However, the fact is, NO funds will be raised without the generosity of people like you! If you want to enjoy a fun and relaxing night of music and entertainment, please consider buying a ticket to the Harmony & Hope concert (I mean, if nothing else, you will get to see ME and there's nothing wrong with that!). You can even dedicate a song to someone special (Valentine's Day IS coming up)!

If you can't make it on the 3rd, you can still support the cause - I joined the fundraising team for this event and I would love it if you would donate through me! Even a couple of bucks helps, if that is all you can spare. And it is SUPER convenient because it can all be done online! Need I remind you that tax season is coming up?? (*ahem* !tax-receipts! *cough*). Visit my personal page to make a donation here. I even made a $25 donation to myself to kick-start things, so I am putting my money where my mouth is. Now it's your turn! Thank you SO much in advance!

Help me and all the wonderful singers and musicians support cancer research in Canada. The fact is, without money, there can be no research and without research there will never be a cure. Help us keep harmony and hope alive for all Canadians.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Gifts Engraved With Love

I have wedding gifts on the brain. One of my closest friends is getting married this summer, so in addition to the responsibilities of being a bridesmaid, I have been doing a lot of thinking about what to get them as a wedding gift.

Oddly, I find buying gifts for close friends can be easier and more difficult in equal measure – you know them well, so you would think it would be easier to pick something out that they would like, BUT the trick is getting them something personal. You want their gift to be something useful, something that will help them remember this special day and that speaks to them as a couple. Somehow a gift card to Walmart just doesn’t seem to quite cut it, know what I mean?

One idea that I keep coming back to is engraved or personalized gifts. What’s more personal than a keepsake engraved with initials, a special date or other symbol that represents the couple and their life together? What I really like about engraved gifts is that you know they are not going to get the exact same thing from someone else (I mean, honestly, how many gravy boats does one couple need?!).

I found some good ideas for engraved gifts on this site. So many wedding gifts can be just cheesy and saccharine, but there are some elegant options. For example, this bottle of champagne with an engraved pewter label would be perfect for the wedding night! 

I love the heart design on the label:

A set of personalized flutes would match nicely and be a nice keepsake of their special day. It would be rather romantic to share a glass of bubbly each year on their anniversary from the very flutes they drank from the day of their marriage. 

(What is really neat about this particular engraved gifts site is that you can type your message into the provided field and it immediately appears on the product photo – you can see what the message would look like in real-time. Very cool way to make sure you like what you see before ordering.Try-before-you-buy = love).

My friend is obsessed with photography and decorating her home, so a personalized gift that combines these two loves would also be a great choice. I love this wedding frame:

It would be great to include personalized text in the windows on either side of the photo – perhaps the words from their first dance song, or handwritten portions of their vows. Or my scrapbooking obsessed friend could even scrapbook these sections using clippings from her wedding invite, fabric swatches, pressed flowers from her bouquet, etc. Again, personalized! Sure, I could get her any old frame but it is so much more special to include their wedding information somewhere.

A photo album would also be a great engraved gift for her (considering I KNOW she’s going to want to print, like EVERY photo from the day off for safe-keeping). Again, I could have their names and wedding date engraved on the front of this one – more organized AND more beautiful.

On the other hand, a personalized gift from the couple to, say, members of the wedding party would also be a great idea. For example, I wouldn’t be averse to receiving one or two (or ten) of these personalized gift chocolate bars:

They could personalize it “To Kim – Our Beautiful Bridesmaid” on the wrapper, along with something about what awesomely good ideas I have.

What? Wedding gifts are still wedding gifts as long as they are going to someone IN the wedding. Come on, it’s not ALL about the bride and groom….ok, so it is but what do you want from me? I’ve gotta take advantage of any chance to get free chocolate!

I’m not sure what exact wedding gift I will end up deciding on for them, but I know it will be personal and it will hopefully be something they appreciate for years to come. I hope their personalized gift will serve as a reminder of their special day and what it meant to them.

What about you? Have you ever had to buy a wedding gift for a close friend? Would you consider an engraved or personalized present? I would love to hear your special wedding gift ideas!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Pod Squad

I attended my first Halifax Podcamp this past weekend and I'm so glad I finally got there.

Podcamp is an "unconference" about social media and marketing, which basically means it's an informal conference - anyone can host a session and discussion is encouraged. Best of all, the entire day was FREE!

Although I don't do any marketing or social media work at my day job, I hope to someday and I am very involved in social media in my spare time and hope to pick up more contract work to keep my communications skills up. So, the information was certainly useful to me on a personal level and I think anyone who spends a significant amount of their time on social media or marketing activities would find the information helpful, whether it's your day job or not. Learning new things is never a bad way to spend a Sunday!

I attended 3 sessions altogether - Branding in the Digital Age, How to Get Good Ideas, and the 5th Annual State of Social Media in Atlantic Canada.

The first session (delivered by Sean Williams of Brand Bandit) reminded me of being in PR class, but in a good way. He refreshed my memory on the basics of branding and brought up good points about how a brand is about the emotional side of a company or person as much as the physical and practical points.

The second session (delivered by Mike Hayes of Free Agent Factory) revolved around strategies for coming up with ideas. A lot of the suggestions Mike gave seemed like 'no-brainers' (two heads are better than one, rest up, fuel your brain, etc) however they are also things that most of us don't remember to do when we're actually in the moment. I will definitely keep some of the tips in mind next time I am sitting down trying to get some ideas on paper.

The third session (delivered by Giles Crouch of Media Badger) was basically the keynote of the conference (if there was a keynote) and presented the findings of the annual survey of social media activities in Atlantic Canada. Some of the findings were really surprising (activity on Linkedin increased by 67% over last year) and eye-opening (women are 8x more likely to share content then men). It was all a fascinating exercise in psychology and it was nice to see some local stats. This session was definitely important education for anyone who deals with social media and marketing in Atlantic Canada. (Psst you can read the report highlights here).

Not only did I attend a bunch of free, great sessions but I also had a lovely latte and croissant (prosciutto and provolone - gah!) from Two If By Sea - one of the best cafes in HRM (imho) and an even lovelier brunch at Nectar Social House with fellow Podcamper, Megan. Wow! This place is gorgeously decorated inside and the food is delish. My poached eggs parisienne was a refreshing detour from my usual eggs benedict and (coincidentally) our waitress was a fellow tweep who recognized us from our avatars (did I mention the Halifax Twitter community rocks?).

I also had a twist on the usual mimosa - a "nectarosa", which was cranberry juice and champagne. Very refreshing! I will definitely be back to this little downtown Dartmouth gem!

Social media is so much fun when your local community is so active, friendly, supportive and interesting. I'm proud to be part of the Halifax social media tribe!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Golden Girls

You guys, I stayed up for the ENTIRE Golden Globes ceremony last night! I really can't explain how I managed to do that, especially since most of the show was mind-numbingly boring and cloying, but there you go! I think I partially have the hilarious live-tweets to thank for getting me through! (check out my recap from last year, if you're so inclined)

I have a love-hate relationship with awards shows - I kind of like how shallow and over-the-top they are and how everyone looks awkward most of the time (it's entertaining). And it IS nice to see someone who you think is deserving win. But I also hate the awkwardness and shallowness, 99% of the time the jokes and "banter" between the presenters is just terrible (seriously, who writes this crap?), and most of the acceptance speeches are devoid of originality and go on way too long.

But let's be honest - the main reason we all tune in is to see the FASHION! I HATE watching the red carpet (just read this tweet and you will understand what I mean) but I love looking at all the pretty dresses.

Let's start with the good news first, shall we?

My 4 Favourite Looks

Michelle Dockery

I just thought this was very regal and elegant, but also different with the ornate gold top. The styling is perfect too.

Naomi Watts
I absolutely love this deep wine colour! The dress fits her really well - it's form-fitting yet still covered up so it's a bit sexy but still elegant. I also love the neat little train in the back - adds a touch of glamour without going over-the-top.
Claire Danes
Another colour I absolutely adore. Although this dress is quite simple, it is cut really well and it fits her personality. Claire always seems to nail a great, electric colour with a tousled, casual, girl-next-door styling and I think it suits her and how people see her. Plus she just had a baby like a month ago - HELLO?!

Lucy Liu
This is very different and I could see a lot of people hating it, but I really loved it. There are so many monochromatic dresses on the red carpet that it's nice to see a vibrant, lively print for a change. The full skirt and refined print give it an old-fashioned air, but I feel like the acidic colours, fishtail braid and simple jewelry keep it modern and fun. 

And now for the bad news....

My 4 Least-Favourite Looks

Halle Berry
Oh Halle, you are so beautiful - why do you always wear the weirdest clothes? I feel like she tries way too hard. This dress has WAY too much going on - strange print, cut-out hip, super-high leg slit, elastic tube top. This dress looks like it cost $19.99 at Sirens (and the same can be said for most of Halle's wardrobe, imho). KISH (Keep It Simple, Halle).

Jessica Chastain
It PAINS me to put Jessica on this list because I adore her and usually she looks gorgeous, but I just can't deal with this loose top. There were many moments throughout the night where I thought her girls were going to make an appearance, and it's just not flattering. Her whole top half looks droopy and frumpy. I do love the colour and her hair, but the shape is just all wrong on her. I still love, you Jess.

Emily Mortimer
Ok, I officially do not like ANY part of this outfit. She looks like she's wrapped in tinfoil. While I like me some sparkly-ness, this is just too much with the sleeves and the severe high neck that looks like it's choking her. And the sequins look cheap to me and the grey shade is really blah. Plus, there is absolutely NO other styling. Her hair looks like she just ran a comb through it and left, and her black clutch is completely out of place here.
Tina Fey
This is another choice that pains me because I adore Tina as well, and there are things about this that I like. I LOVE her hair - it frames her face beautifully - and I actually don't mind the lacy print and the accessories. However, this reminds me of a bad bridesmaids dress with the white...boob collar (?) on the top. And I'm not sure about the cropped bottom - I feel like it would have been much more elegant in a floor-length style (and more flattering). Not the worst, but definitely not my favourite (Tina looked way hotter in the glittery green halter she wore for the opening of the show).

Other observations:
* Definite trends were all-over glitter and what can best be described as "boob keyholes".
* Many ladies who seemed imprisoned in their dresses (Lena Dunham looked like she might fall over as she left the stage!) - they did not look comfortable or like they could even move. At all. Weird.
* Most people looked very unimpressed in general (Tommy Lee Jones looked like he was going to beat up Jennifer Lawrence for her Meryl comment!).
* A lot of things won that I have never heard of (Game Change), don't get the hype for (Homeland), and there was a clear obsession with American politics permeating it all (Lincoln, Game Change, Homeland, Zero Dark Thirty, Bill Clinton presenting).

Highlights for me were:
* Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell presenting together (they were hilarious and they NEED to host next year!!)
* Tina and Amy inserting themselves into the audience in weird costumes and Amy canoodling with George Clooney
* Adele high-fiveing Bond
* Jodie Foster's acceptance speech (the first part did not make sense to me, but her comments about her mother were so touching and poetic - did she make that up on the spot?! If so, wow)
* Tina and Amy referring to Bill Clinton as "Hilary's husband"
* Ben Affleck's TWO wins (for Directing and Best Drama - take THAT Oscars!!).

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a bunch of movies to see before the Oscars!

Did you watch this year? What were the best/worst moments for you? Did any dresses, presenters or winners stand out for you?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New Year, New List

 Ah the first post of the new year - the post where I'm supposed to talk about what an awesome year last year was and how I'm so pumped for this one. And those things are true!

However, I can't help but harbour a tiny wee bit of cynicism for those posts - I don't know why. Perhaps I'm just a wee bit cynical about everything. Maybe it's the overt "cheeriness" and optimism that gets me, not to mention how humorous I find the flurry of "life-fixing" activity that occurs at the beginning of January - everyone jumps on the diet and lifestyle change bandwagon and sets ridiculously lofty goals for themselves, basically setting themselves up for failure.

I do think setting goals is important (I wrote about them here and here, after all), but I tend to be of the non self-disciplined persuasion so I generally need a bit of a kick in the pants to not only make goals, but actually fulfill them. Even so, there is no denying the importance of writing down or at least envisioning where you want to go, even if we're talking only in the next year. I think we all want to grow and improve in some way but this improvement is not likely to ever happen unless we put effort in.

I definitely believe in always improving and growing and trying to get the most out of life that one can. I just don't believe anyone should be a 'slave' to their goals or their lists. It's important to put pressure on yourself but to also cut yourself some slack.

I took a leap with my goal-cynical self and signed up for the 30-Day Push Challenge. The program is run by Chalene Johnson, who is a well-known fitness and lifestyle guru (remember TurboJam?). The idea is that you get an email from Chalene every day with a specific task you have to complete and a link to a video and post that provides some comments and advice regarding how to get the most out of each task. There is also a Facebook group where anyone doing the challenge is encouraged to post their tasks and any other thoughts or questions they have throughout the process.

Generally I am skeptical about "motivational" and "self-help" programs like this, but there was no cost to me, I like Chalene, and I thought perhaps it couldn't hurt to have some support in setting some goals for the year. I have been enjoying the Facebook group - it is definitely motivating to hear others' goals as well as their reservations - it makes you feel like you're not alone in the process.

One of the first tasks was to create a list of top 10 goals, based on your 3 main priorities (i.e. the things in life you will not compromise on). These goals are supposed to be things that, if you accomplished them in the next year, you would be absolutely ecstatic - you're not supposed to think about how realistic each goal is - if you want to see it happen, it goes on the list! Anyway, I thought I would share mine with you:

TOP 3 PRIORITIES: *this is something I think a lot of people don't really take the time to think about - I think many of us just know, but I'd be willing to bet that if asked to write them down, you would have trouble putting them into words! Try it!*
1. Constantly learning and growing
2. Being there for my family
3. Financial security and comfort.

TOP 10 GOALS FOR 2013:
1. Get a new job, ideally in the University where I currently work that pays $10,000+ per year more than I am making now and allows me to use my communication/pr skills
2. Apply for and/or start a Masters Program
3. Gain more PR experience to add to my resume
4. Pay off then get rid of one of my credit cards
5. Take a couple of trips with my boyfriend and/or friends
6. Develop a more regular fitness routine (a minimum of 30 minutes of activity each day)
7. Make an effort to eat more fresh vegetables and eat less sugar
8. Gain at least two more freelance writing clients
9. Push myself to be more outgoing and social at work
10. Reduce stress by developing strategies to worry less, be more patient, more in the moment and use better time-management

In addition to these overall goals, I would also like to spend more time on creative pursuits - more specifically, I'd like to spend a min. of 2 hours per week on something artistic, whether that is a drawing or painting, a craft, or playing the piano. I would also like to get back into going for a hike with my boyfriend once per week - we did really well with this for most of last year, but have been pretty lazy the past few months. These are both items that are stress-relievers, ways to spend quality time (with myself and my boyfriend) and they also tie in with many of my top goals.

Who knows if I'll end up sticking with these goals, but I guess the important thing is that I am putting thought into my future and on improving myself and that never hurts! Really the key to achieving goals (imho) is having a positive attitude and support - I've got the support, so if I can keep the cynicism at bay, I'll be crossing items off this list in no time!

What are your thoughts about goal-setting? What things would you like to accomplish this year?