Random Neural Firings

the inner workings of a restless creative brain

The Holidays are Over-Commercialized. No They’re Not.


Everybody says the holidays are over-commercialized. We buy too much stuff people don’t want or need. Our kids have ten times more toys and crap than we had. I really don’t need another scarf or pair of gloves.

And while it’s popular to say these things – and I agree in principle – I think we’re forgetting what is at the heart of all that gift giving: the desire to give. I want to know my in-laws better so I can surprise them with a gift that will make them smile and warm their hearts and remind them of their Atlanta relatives. I love my niece and nephews and want to express that with something that makes them smile. My son’s grandparents want to get something for my son that he will love, not because they are competitive gift-givers, but because they love my son. Gift-giving is one way we express our love for others.

Now, perhaps it would be better if we gave gifts all year round, or whenever we saw something that reminded us of someone we love. And many people do that. But we have this one time a year (and birthdays) where we all stop and think of others – quite a bit actually. What is my mother-in-law’s favorite color? Does she have everything she needs for her kitchen? Would she like some art for her renovated bathroom? Now, multiply that by all my family members and close friends and I’m spending a whole lot of time thinking of people I love.

I don’t see how that’s so bad.

p.s. – I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t do a myriad of other things to show people we love them, such as spending time with them, writing notes, cooking for them, etc. Just that gift-giving is one way we express our love.

Black Friday Deals


Let the shopping begin! According to Gallup, Americans are planning to spend more on Christmas gifts this year than last (and much more than they planned to spend in 2008-2009). I don’t care how much I’m spending, I like to get a deal. Great deals abound online; Amazon’s been running Black Friday deals all week. I’ll be tweeting out deals as I see them and posting links on my Facebook page so check in with me at either place for up-to-the-minute specials.

For those of you braving the mall traffic, or standing in line at Best Buy, first of all, my lazy hat’s off to you. I prefer to click my way to great savings. But while you’re mentally debating whether or not that ginormous flat screen TV is really a good deal, whip out your phone, scan the barcode and find out if it’s being sold for less somewhere else.

You’ll need an app, of course. There are dozens, but here are the ones I use most often:

1) ShopSavvy – scan the item’s bar code and it will return prices for both local stores and online

2)  Amazon’s App – this app has a feature that allows you to scan a barcode and it will tell you the price on Amazon. You can add the product to your wish list, or buy it from your phone. And if you can’t find the barcode, or the store has it covered with their own price sticker (which happens more often than I like!), you can take a photo of the product and Amazon will use an image search to match the product. It’s pretty slick. Android version here.

And before you head out, you might want to plan your trip using BlackFriday by DealNews. The app is chock full of ads (including some “leaked” ads) and has comparison shopping tools. (You can also visit the DealNews website which is a great resource for the best deals, by product or store.)

All right, so while you’re out and about, I’ll be chasing my toddler and some good deals from my laptop. Or my iPad. Or my phone. DO NOT LET ME BUY A KINDLE FIRE or anything else that connects to the Internet. Happy Shopping!

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for up-to-the-minute sales. Follow me on Pinterest for unique gift ideas.

Santa Photo Tips


Santa photo tips

This was our first time getting a picture with Santa. Standing in line, my son was nervous (he tells me he’s “tired” and wants to go to sleep – as if!) and other kids were crying that were ahead of us. But once he got on Santa’s lap, he was fine, chatting away. I don’t think he really understands who or what Santa is just yet. At any rate, I’m THRILLED with how the photo turned out!

Of course, being the former TV director that I am, I did a few things ahead of time to maximize our chances of getting a good shot. Here are some tips I learned from my kids TV days – and a few I probably just made up.

Santa’s always in red so don’t dress your children in solid red unless you want them to blend in. I know you spent a lot of money on that dress so if you want it to show up, pick a different color. Speaking of colors, generally speaking, all white can freak the camera lens out a little bit and your little one might look all washed out (or if you’re dark skinned, the camera might have trouble with the stark contrast). But – if your Santa has on a lot of white around his face, as this one does, then they have probably already lit the shot correctly for that. An all-white (or mostly white, just to be safe) dress could be very cute and complimentary to Santa’s outfit in that case.

Don’t be afraid to choose a fun outfit, or one that has sentimental meaning for you. If your son is wearing his favorite race car shirt, he just might be more comfortable, and you’ll have that special memory of the time he lived in that shirt. We were the only ones in line in pajamas, but all the moms around me told me they loved that idea.

Practice some facial expressions ahead of time. We do this naturally around here anyhow, as a game: Show me your happy face! Let’s all do sad faces! Angry face! The expression we used for this photo was his “surprised” face. (His on-demand happy face/smile looks forced right now.)

In addition to talking up the fact that hey, we’re going to go see Santa this week, I also pulled up photos of kids sitting on Santa’s lap to show my son. I felt that way he could better understand what it meant to “go see Santa.”

Just like any other time, let them take their lovey or a favorite toy. You can’t see it very well but Santa is holding one of my son’s stealth fighter jets in his hands.

Best of luck with your Santa shots. We got ours done early but that’s cuz this particular Santa at this particular Mall has, like, a 10-year waiting list, and we were lucky to get a reservation. I wasn’t able to get one last year.

Wise Words


My friend, Cara’s, Facebook post today:

“While wrangling my son to stand still in line at the store today, an older woman behind me said ‘You’re in the time of your life when a lot is asked of you and a lot is asked of him.’ So, so true. And yet, as parents, we often forget about the latter. A great reminder to be patient with our little ones even when they are not patient with us!”

Cara and her line-mate are right: we do ask a lot of our little ones. They are learning and growing and just as overwhelmed with everything at times as we are.

Funny Facebook Post


My friend, Cara, had a funny conversation with her 5-year old son that she posted on FB today:

Son: This is the grossest thing — two girls at school today were licking and kissing me!
Me: Did your teacher tell them to stop?
Son: No, she didn’t see them.
Me: Well, did you tell them to stop?
Son: Uh, no, because I liked it!

Wow. I’m looking into my future folks and it’s scary.

What About a Wall-E Party?


My son won’t turn 3 till November but I’m already starting to come up with ideas for his birthday. Originally, I thought we’d go with an airplane theme because he’s been sort of into them (his PopPop has a plane and is doing all he can to encourage Hunter’s fascination). We live near a small, private airport that has a great playground and “hangar” with tables for parties. I thought this could be a fun place for a 3-year old party (although I dread the thought of carting food and decorations any further than my kitchen).

That was my thinking until my son started wanting to watch “Wall-E” all the time. Literally, first thing in the morning, he wants to watch and begs for it all day long (even watching clips on the iPad when we let him).

So maybe I’ll go with a Wall-E theme instead (assuming he’s still into Wall-E in a few months). But will try to resist all the official Wall-E party supplies and do our own thing. How about some of these ideas:

  • Take some of his old shoes, fill with dirt, plant an herb – line ’em up as a centerpiece
  • Mini Rubiks cubes for party favors
  • A Coleman cooler filled with “treasures” for the kids to take home
  • Sporks as the lone utensil
  • Boiled eggs decorated to look like Eve  
  • Sandwiches cut out to look like Wall-E , like these from Anna The Red’s blog  
  • Boxes decorated like trash, stacked up and strewn about
  • Will try and find someone to make a 3-dimensional Wall-E cake (like the 3-D bus cake I had last year)    

So there you have it! My early, early, EARLY stage planning. Poor kid’s room still isn’t decorated (and we’ve lived in this house a year now so really, I have no excuse) but I’m planning his birthday party.

Losing My Religion (R.E.M.)


The first time I saw the video for “Losing my Religion,” I instantly thought the visuals reminded me of a Caravaggio painting. I took a few art appreciation courses in college and Caravaggio was one of my favorite artists. He was famous for his dramatic interplay of light and dark (chiaroscuro) and the way he used light to capture/memorialize a moment in time. His subjects freeze mid-sentence.

It seemed to me that this video used a similar palette (mostly browns, similar to Caravaggio) and created a series of moments frozen in time. And then there was the way Michael Stipe was lit “there in the corner.” It was visually daring and instantly memorable. Can’t you just see Stipe standing there, karate chopping the air, in that empty little room?

This is the song where I first fell in love with R.E.M. I knew some of their songs before but crushed hard after this. This is the song that made me go who are these guys again? Conversely, this is the period when my husband thinks the band sold out. Personally, I love them still and if you haven’t heard their album Accelerate which came out a few years ago, download the title track. You might just fall back in love with them. Even my husband begrudgingly admits that it’s a pretty good album.

You all know the lyrics and what they’re about. Michael Stipe calls it a “classic obsession pop song.” Have I said too much already? Y’all wanna just listen?

What am I missing on Facebook?


I love Facebook. It’s allowed me to reconnect with my best friend from high school (hi ya’, Mel!) and get to know some other women I didn’t know so well but am growing to know better and love. There’s a group of us that keep a group chat going, sharing our joys and sorrows. Literally. It’s been years since I’ve had a group of girls I could open up to so candidly. We all just vomit out whatever’s on our minds and the other four rush in to share their similar experiences. It’s amazing and has been a great sanity booster.

I don’t know who started it, but one day our conversation went from gossiping about people who annoy us to a deeply personal topic: depression. One after another, we all weighed in with our struggles with depression over the years. I had no idea. Cuz you know, on Facebook, we all celebrate our lives. Our status updates read like a Leave it to Beaver episode: “My kid got straight A’s!; My husband is so sweet and just cooked this great meal; My baby’s growing up!; Going to the beach next week!” Once in a while we’ll post that we’re tired, or overworked, but it’s still garden-variety “regular” life.

Reading about my girlfriends’ experiences was a like taking a bucket of cold water to the face. If the five of us have ALL suffered with depression – and we all come from different backgrounds – I wonder what is lying beneath the surface of the rest of my friends? You know, the ones I don’t have time to talk to any more? I’ve been so grateful for Facebook giving me an easy way to stay in touch with so many people, but I have to wonder: what am I missing? How are their lives, really? Are they OK?

I’m not suggesting we all start sharing our pain and discomfort on Facebook. But what I’m learning is that it is VERY helpful to have a group of people you CAN be open and honest with. Whether in real life or online. I used to have that but marriage and motherhood . . . well, you know the rest.

p.s. – the photo is from my 40th birthday when I celebrated in Florida with some girlfriends. Among other beautiful rituals, they each gave me rocks they decorated with wishes for my life. The rocks and the blue ceramic bowl pictured above sit on my shelves in the living room now as a reminder of the loving power of girlfriends.

Romeo and Juliet – The Song


Boy pines for girl who doesn’t even know he exists. She mocks him, she laughs at him, he mourns:

“All I do is miss you, and the way we used to be
All I do is keep the beat, and bad company
All I do is kiss you, through the bars of a rhyme
Julie, I’d do the stars with you, any time.”

It hurts my heart every time I hear “all I do is kiss you through the bars of a rhyme.” That lyric slays me every time. Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) wrote it but I first heard the song a couple of years back when The Killers covered it. I’m sure the purists hate Brandon’s voice on the cover, but it’s the version I’m most familiar with and so it sounds “right” to my ears. It doesn’t really matter who sings it, though. It’s an exquisitely crafted song about heartbreak. Just listen.

I told you this blog was random!

U2 – Mysterious Ways


I’m a casual fan so I can’t tell you for certain that this is my all-time favorite U2 song, but it’s certainly one of my faves. And I love the video! I worked in television when “Mysterious Ways” came out. I used to keep a video cassette in the VCR (remember those?) and would rush to the TV to hit the record button for snippets of music videos, commercials, show opens – anything with an effect, a background, a type treatment even – that I thought I could copy in my work. This video had that magic. The distorted field, the way the video bends and moves in time with the music. It’s one of those rare instances (in my opinion) when a video really brought a song fully to life. You can see the notes.

And lyrically the song is just genius. Sing it with me: “Johnny take a ride with your sister, the moon; let her pale light in to fill up your room . . . if you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel, on your knees boy!” Oh yeah. Good stuff.

The Opposite of Lent


I watched this 3 minute video, featuring Matt Cutts, on TED Talks today. The speaker’s premise is simple: try something new for 30 days. It’s like the opposite of Lent. Instead of STOPPING a behavior, try STARTING one. Instead of giving up sugar, try adding a serving of vegetables. 30 days is just long enough to make a habit of something, too.  Mr. Cutts  started small and found that as he completed each 30 day challenge successfully, he grew in confidence and took on bigger challenges.

I watched the video and immediately thought of what I want to do for the next 30 days: watch a video on TED each morning. I mean, seriously, I always put off watching because I think I don’t have time when, duh, they’re never longer than 6 minutes and I can surely find 5 minutes or so to watch smart, inspiring people impart wisdom. It’ll be a GREAT way to start my work day, get me thinking and motivated. And surely something I would look forward to doing for the month of July.

If you aren’t familiar with TED, get thee over there right away! Famous people and some who aren’t famous but should be, all videotaped giving short, interesting mini-lectures.

Chillin’ with PopPop


He loves hangin’ with my Dad. And Dad loves to get down on the floor with him and play “vroom vroom” with his trucks or fly his planes around. They have a lot of fun together.


Looking for more great photos? Grab a cup of tea or coffee and check out more Wordless Wednesday entries at: SevenClownCircus

My Most Favorite App Ever (Tech Tuesday)


I love Grocery IQ. First, the fine print: it’s free and available on iPhone, Android and iPad. So you don’t even have to think about whether or not you want to spend the money or whether it’s available on your phone. It is available, unless you have a Blackberry, of course, but if you have a Blackberry, you’re already used to getting the short end of the app stick. (It’s free because Coupons.com owns it and wants you to use their coupons. I don’t have a problem with that.)

This is my favorite app, hands down. I use it every day. It solves a problem I have – multiple grocery/drugstore/Target lists laying around on pieces of scrap paper, scattered around the kitchen, and NEVER IN MY PURSE WHEN I NEED THEM. It also solves the memory/responsibility problem. What’s that? It goes something like this:

Chris: We’re almost out of paper towels. We should remember to get that next time we’re at the store (transferring the responsibility to remember to me).

Me: (scrambling for one of my scrap papers OR barely listening/registering what he said because I’m wiping snot off my son’s nose) – Uh, yeah, sure, and uh, we need garlic. I think we’re out of garlic. Do you know if we’re out of garlic? And lemons? (transferring the responsibility to look to him)

Fast forward to the next day at Publix as we’re cramming the kid into a “car” cart and rushing to the bakery for his free cookie:

Me: what was that thing you said I should remember to get?

Chris: Uh, uh, uh . . . oh gosh, what was it? (wiping chocolate off son’s mouth)

This app SOLVES all that and more. Next time you run out of something, whip out your phone, and add it to the list. You can choose which list because the app lets you organize by store. Which is perfect for me because some of the items we like are only available at certain stores. So I have a Whole Foods list, a Publix list, a Target list, and so on. The app is smart and uses predictive text, so as I start typing, it pulls up a list of suggested items – including brands they carry at your selected store. Once you add the item, it automatically categorizes by department, so all your produce items are grouped together, deli items together, etc. How freakin’ awesome is that???

Maybe you don’t care which store you get your toilet paper from. That’s fine. When you add your item, just pop it in the list for “any store” and it’ll show up on your list no matter which store you’re at.

Back to the kitchen and the oatmeal you just ran out of. You also have the option to scan the barcode and pop it into your list that way. Nice. Or click on the coupons tab and see what deals are out there. You can send those coupons to your printer straight from the app, too.

Or, let’s say you’re working late and don’t have time to go to the store, but your husband does. You can EMAIL HIM THE LIST right from the app! (Or, if he has the app on his phone, too, you can sync the lists.)

I’m telling you, GroceryIQ is the THE MOST USEFUL APP EVER. At least, until I come out with my own app, which I hope to launch in a few weeks. For real! Pinch me and all that.

You Look GOOD Future Self! Writing Challenge Day 7


Day 7’s Challenge is:

There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

What would you say to the person you were five years ago? What will you say to the person you’ll be in five years?

(Author: Corbett Barr)

Hello Sherean Five Years Ago – I would tell that bride-to-be that being married is in most ways, easier than dating. It’s an exhalation, a relief, a joy. The so-called “work” of marriage is worthwhile and sure beats the work involved with being single. I’d tell her not to fear pregnancy and motherhood. She’ll do better than she thought.

I’d suggest she buy Google and Amazon stock, bank all her profits to weather the Great Recession (which I mostly did, but sure could have done some more), and keep working out with her trainer. I should have never stopped that! In fact, that is my biggest regret of the last 5 years. Between the pregnancies and miscarriages, the moves (two of them), the house building, the birth, my son’s therapy and my resulting malaise, I quit working out and I have the extra pounds to show for it.

And to the person in five years, I say: Good job! You did what you had to do, what you needed to do, and what you wanted to do. Keep it up. And holy crap, you look good for 51! 🙂

Here’s the back story on the 30-day challenge.


What’s Holding Me Back? Ha! Writing Challenge Day 6


I’m still catching up on the writing challenge. Here’s Day 6:

The idea of “being realistic” holds all of us back. From starting a business or quitting a job to dating someone who may not be our type or moving to a new place – getting “real” often means putting your dreams on hold.

Today, let’s take a step away from rational thought and dare to be bold. What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to accomplish but have been afraid to pursue? Write it down. Also write down the obstacles in your way of reaching your goal. Finally, write down a tangible plan to overcome each obstacle.

The only thing left is to, you know, actually go make it happen. What are you waiting for?

(Author: Matt Cheuvront)

N/A, as in Not Applicable. It’s not that I’m fearless, per se, but my fears run more towards extreme heights, bungee jumping, and bugs. Not the kind of fears that hold me back in life. The challenge asks of something you’ve always wanted to accomplish but have been afraid to. I can think of literally nothing. This does not make me special, or especially unique. It’s a character trait (some would call it a “flaw”) of a serial entrepreneur.

I used to keep that Goethe* quote around:

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

And I believed it. Want to start a business but don’t have money? Write a strong business plan, make a compelling case, and raise the money. Don’t know how to raise the money? Ask everyone you know. Somebody else does. Don’t know how to set up a company? Buy the “For Dummies” books. That’s how I figured out what type of corporation I needed to be. Have an idea you’d like to patent but don’t know where to start? Google it. In fact, these days, you can pretty much Google anything you need to know.

So I’ve done this a few times and am embarking on another business venture, right now, as we speak (so to speak). I have some ideas for mobile apps. I knew nothing about developing mobile apps so I started emailing tech folks I know and had a chance to meet with or talk to 4 different programmers and/or companies. I’ve never marketed a mobile app before but plenty of people have, so I Googled it, took notes, and wrote a marketing plan. I couldn’t afford the initial development out of pocket so I considered two options: 1) revenue share with the developers or 2) increase credit card limit and pay on credit. For a myriad of reasons, I chose #2. I figure my odds of actually breaking even are 1 in 10. Making money even less.

But you know what? The only way I’m going to learn and understand the app market is to dive in. I might fail with this first one, but I’ll bet you I’ll succeed somewhere.

If you want to know how it goes, follow me on Facebook. We should be launching this first one in a few weeks!

*I put an asterisk here because there is some debate as to whether or not Goethe actually wrote this.

Here’s the back story on the 30-day challenge.

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