Vote by Mail!

Ladies & gentlemen, it’s time!

Time for what?

TIME TO REGISTER TO VOTE BY MAIL!!

Today, I received a form that I had requested online. The form is an application to vote by mail in the upcoming November 3rd presidential election.

It’s been filled in and mailed back. My ballot will arrive about 45 days before the November election.

Why This Matters

This year especially, this matters SO. MUCH.

And it’s easy to think that November is a long time from now, that we all have time to do this stuff later.

But November will be here before we know it, and now is the time to request an absentee ballot.

Rules Differ by State

All states differ, so a quick Google search of your state’s voter registration site should help you find all the information you need.

Where I live, we are being encouraged to register to vote by mail.

Your state may be different, but please be sure to find out.

Get Others Registered

Tell your friends. Tell your family.

Also, there is a frightening push against voting by mail by the Republican party, and especially the president (who voted himself by mail in the Florida March primary…).

There are many organizations fighting to defend peoples’ right to vote. The NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund (LDF) is one of them.

There’s also Fair Fight, run by Stacey Abrams. These organizations can use our support.

Consider Volunteering

Typical poll workers are retired folks, people who are right smack in the most at-risk age group for infection from covid-19.

If you are young, healthy, have no underlying health conditions and feel safe doing so, consider volunteering as a poll worker in November.

Hopefully most people will be able to vote by mail, but after June’s fiasco in Georgia, who knows how things will turn out.

Vote, Vote, Vote!

Share on social media! Tell your friends! Send links! Help people navigate the site to get themselves registered.

Please let’s not be complacent about this.

Happy Swiss Day!

Today is August 1st, which means it is the Swiss national holiday!

This is the day we celebrate cheese, chocolate, alp horns, yodelling and all things Swiss.

Okay, there’s more to Switzerland than that. So in honor of August 1st, here’s a list of fun facts you might not know about Switzerland!

1. Switzerland has four official languages

German, French, Italian and Romanche. The majority speak German, followed by French, then Italian and finally Romanche.

2. Romanche is pretty cool

Romanche is a Romance language spoken by about 60,000 people, mostly in the canton of Grisons.

It kind of sounds like a blend of Italian, French with a touch of German.

3. Switzerland is made up of Cantons

What are Cantons? Well, they’re kind of like states, just much tinier.

There are twenty-six in total, but I’m not going to list them here. It’d made this article too long. You can find the list here.

4. The original three Cantons formed in 1291

According to legend, in 1291, the leaders in Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden got together and said, “We hate the Habsburgs!”

They agreed to work together to form an autonomous region inside the Holy Roman Empire, and gradually other Cantons joined the party!

5. The Swiss flag is square!

Apparently, the only other country to have a square flag is the Vatican City. Go figure!

There’s More!

There’s a lot more to Switzerland than chocolate, cheese and cows (though those are admittedly very important elements in our culture.

Take a look at Mission 1st August, a website put together for this year’s rather unusual Swiss day celebrations. It’s full of fun activities, recipes, videos and more.

Happy August 1st to all my Swiss friends out there!

Fear, or Worse

26. Fear: What scares you a little? What do you feel when scared? How do you react?

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

I fear being paralyzed by fear. I also fear my own cluelessness.

For example. The other day, I was expecting a package. It was after dark, but I saw movement through the window next to our front door. I naturally assumed it was the delivery.

I opened the door to find myself looking at a black man. He was holding up his phone, getting ready to take a photo. At my feet on the doorstep was my package. As soon as I opened the door, I knew what was happening. The deliveryman had placed the package and was taking the photo that would show up in my delivery notification.

I understood that. I knew that that was the situation. I smiled, and I said, “What have you got for me?”

For an instant as I looked into his face, I saw fear in the man’s eyes. It took him just a split second longer to grasp that I had understood the situation correctly, and was smiling in a friendly way at him.

He apologized for delivering so late, said he was running behind. I said, “It’s no problem, it’s nothing urgent. I’m just excited it’s here. Good night, and take care!”

He said, “You, too,” gave me a smile and a wave as he walked off. I saw relief in his eyes.

What does this have to do my fear?

In the wake of the brutal killing of George Floyd last week, what has struck me most (other than the barbarous killing of a man over an alleged counterfeit $20 bill), was that the other police officers either participated, or stood aside.

They stood aside as their colleagues choked the life out of a man. Over a twenty dollar bill. Was the man’s life not worth more than twenty dollars?

Apparently not.

Fear at Play

I don’t know what kept them silent. Why they stood aside and watched (and by watching, condoned) what was happening.

I can only assume it was fear. Fear of the bully who was the lead perpetrator of the violence. Fear of the man they were crushing. Fear of losing their jobs. Fear of losing control over a population of black Americans they’ve been accustomed to subjugating.

My Fear

I fear finding myself in their situation, and doing as they did.

Either not speaking out to stop the violence out of fear, or tacitly condoning the crime by remaining silent.

We all like to think we’d be courageous enough to speak out in a situation like that. But I honestly don’t know that I would be. My own fear might paralyze me.

Fear, or Worse

Worse, my blindness to injustice might keep me silent.

I like to think that if I were witnessing a man being choked to death, I would say something. But what if the aggression isn’t so blatant? What if it’s a non-violent micro aggression against a person of color? Would I be brave enough to point it out?

Would I even realize it was happening?

I don’t know.

I must inform myself. I must pray for empathy. Pray that in whatever situation, I am able to put myself in the other person’s shoes and feel what it is like to be them. And then act accordingly.

Because what everyone needs to remember (or learn for God’s sake) is that

Black
Lives
Matter.

Lockdown Mode

It’s official! Our governor has joined many in imposing a stay-at-home order.

Other than grocery shopping, medical care, going to essential jobs or getting exercise, we have to stay inside!

UNTIL JUNE THE TENTH.

June 10th. JUNE TENTH.

That is… Let me see… MORE THAN TEN WEEKS FROM NOW.

That is just mind-boggling. We’ve already been home for two weeks, and just the thought of not being able to leave the house for any extended purpose for that long is enough to set me nervously twitching.

What can I say that you don’t already know?

This is HARD. This is BORING. It’s CONFINING. It’s ANXIETY-PROVOKING.

It’s so many things in ALL CAPS.

Learning to live with it

This situation has brought forward so many insecurities I had about myself as a mother, a spouse, a housekeeper, a knitter… Even as a reader.

(Yes, you can be insecure about your reading skills, choices, tastes…)

I’ve had a lot of time to look long and hard at my insecurities. And as I look at them, they gradually lose some of their frightening power. It’s like I’m getting to know them all, one by one.

I’m becoming more aware of insecurities I didn’t know I had, and little by little coming to understand them.

That’s not to say I’ll come out of social distancing cured of all my ills and ready to take on the world like She-Ra.

Though I can still dream…

But perhaps this time in social isolation will help me to better accept my insecurities and understand how they play on me.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll figure out how to face one or two of them.

An Uptick in Readership

I got an email from Google Analytics the other day. It told me that suddenly I’d had quite an uptick in readership of my blog. Hooray!

Progress?

This was exciting news!

Don’t get me wrong, my numbers are DISMAL. Absolutely abysmal. It could be because I’ve shamefully neglected this blog over the years. It could also be that I’ve never really written this blog with a mind to SEO or driving clicks.

But suddenly in February my numbers weren’t quite so dismal. (They were still bad, but not rock bottom bad, you know?)

What had happened??

I assumed that this was because I had returned to writing on a fairly regular basis.

I write an article and then automatically publish it to a number of social media platforms, including the (rather neglected) Facebook page I have for this blog.

But as anyone who works in the blogosphere knows, the more you write, the more people read.

So, hooray!

But that’s not all…

Granted, writing more frequently and publishing more on the blog is bound to attract a few more readers. However, what seems to be the catalyst in my readership increase is…

Drumroll please…

RAVELRY!!

Yup! That wonderful website, that glorious database of all things yarn is the reason for my (slight) increase in traffic on my blog.

Let me explain.

I checked out a local Stitch n’ Bitch group back in the fall, and as they haven’t kicked me out (and even seem glad to see me!), I’ve started to attend regularly.

The lovely ladies of this group have generously added me to their Facebook page, and also to their list of Ravelry friends. And since I have links to my blog sprinkled around my Facebook page and my Ravelry profile, BAM! Some of these curious souls clicked! And voilà!

I would never have known the reason for my blog’s sudden surge (HA!) in popularity (GUFFAW!) had one of my fellow stitchers (n’ bitchers) not mentioned to me last night that she had been reading my blog.

So to all you wonderful ladies of the Stitch n’ Bitch…

THANK YOU FOR READING!

It really does mean a lot to me.

And here’s where you can find my Facebook page, and my Ravelry profile.

losing_faith_in_social_media

Losing Faith in Social Media

Up until now, I’ve been billing myself as a social media specialist. I’ve worked as a social media manager, and I’ve done some consulting work in social media for small businesses.

But the truth is, I am losing faith in social media.

Lately, I’ve felt that social media is used far too much for marketing; it’s turned into an echo chamber (especially Facebook); and its value for providing engaging content has dwindled.

Social Media Marketing

I have written about social media marketing on this very blog. It has been, after all, my métier! But while I practiced social media marketing in my professional life, I find myself being put off by it in my personal life.

Ads are everywhere.

Every time I log into Facebook, Twitter, and even Instagram now, I am faced with ads. This, of course, is completely to be expected! How else are these platforms going to make money to develop for their users? But what irks me is the way advertising is done.

Facebook right-hand column ads are notoriously bad. Twitter “promoted tweets” are hardly better. Instagram’s sponsored images are, at least, a little less annoying, since the images are usually nice. But for the most part, the ads are tacky, tasteless, and irrelevant–or worse, tastelessly relevant (one particularly badly timed ad for baby clothes showed up after I had had a miscarriage).

To be fair, that’s mostly because the people advertising have no idea what they’re doing, or how to target their ads. It’s no wonder management are constantly doubting the ROI potential of social media advertising.

Most brands get it wrong.

Then there are the brands that pay so that their content shows up in my newsfeed. There are very few brands that inspire enough enthusiasm for consumers to actively engage with them. Nike and others are the exception to the rule.

For the most part, the promos, Facebook contests, and “relaxed language” that brands try to use in social media fall very flat. It’s artificial, forced, and awkward. All things that are poison to social media users.

The Echo Chamber

This mainly applies to Facebook, due to their filtering practices. As soon as you like one or two baby pictures, wedding announcements, or articles of a feminist nature, that is all that you see in your newsfeed.

Just because I got married, had a kid, and have feminist sympathies, does not mean that I want to see only wedding shots, baby photos and articles about why the heating in my workplace is inherently sexist.

Looking at my Facebook feed, you’d think that breastfeeding mothers are being expelled from dining establishments all across North America. I can tell you that I’ve been breastfeeding in public on a regular basis for more than nine months (and in more than five countries!) and no one has ever asked me to cover myself up or nurse my child elsewhere.

The algorithm of boredom

It seems like Facebook is targeting content at me based on what its algorithms think will delight, incense, outrage, move, and otherwise scintillate me.

On the contrary, I now find Facebook extremely boring. It’s a sad, uninteresting person who only wants to hear their own ideas and opinions shouted back at them. There is no back and forth, no debate (I don’t count people hurling insults at each other and spewing vitriol as debate), and very little room for thoughtful interaction.

I’d much rather have a face-to-face conversation over a coffee, than kill even 5 minutes on Facebook.

So what does that make me?

I’ve called myself a social media specialist. I’ve maneuvered myself into this niche of online content marketing. And yet I find it boring.

The one social media platform I enjoy spending any time on is Instagram, and that’s because my closest loved ones are there. I keep my profile private, and share moments of joy from my daily life with those I love best.

But other than that, I’m over Facebook, Twitter, and the lot. So what do I do now? Career change? I can’t very well market myself as a social media expert when I spend very little of my own time there.

Well for the moment, I cannot be said to have a career. I’ll just have to continue writing (which I do like), trying to read broad and varied content, and keeping up my knitting, which is a great way to meet new, and interesting people.

Is there any way I can make meeting people through crafts my career? Any ideas?

How to Move Across the World and Stay (Relatively) Sane

Pardon my silence, dear readers! It has been a hectic couple of months.

In September, Chico, Bug and I picked up and abruptly left Montreal, headed back to the old country (or at least the old continent). We are still very much in transition, but one thing is for certain: we will not live through another Montreal winter. Huzzah!

We will miss a lot of things about Montreal, especially the good friends we’ve made there.

Since our move was pretty quick, and quite an adventure, I thought I’d tell you a bit about it and give some helpful tips for how to move across the world and stay (relatively) sane.

Selecting a moving company

Friends of ours who left Montreal in the summer had a devilish time with their moving company. It was such a fiasco, we were determined to avoid such a mess.

In an earlier life, I worked for an international company, managing expatriates’ moves all over the world. So I felt like I had a handle on how to approach this.

First, look up moving companies. I did a Google search of moving companies in Montreal and then read online reviews. I ended up choosing AMJ International and Westmount Moving for estimates. They got pretty good reviews, and they also responded quickly to my calls.

They each came in to do a survey and estimate the volume for the move. The key is to make sure both companies estimate the same (or similar) volume. If not, you’ll want to figure out where the discrepancy comes from (did one company forget to look in the basement? etc.).

After that, it’s a matter of comparing the quotes, and picking the one that seems most reasonable. Compare the “origin services” and “destination services” offered to see that they’re comparable (parking permits, crates for special items, etc.), and then pick your company.

We chose AMJ, simply because we knew people who had worked with them and were happy. Either company would have been fine, though.

A word on scheduling

Never, ever, EVER schedule your move for the same day you fly out.

Have I made that clear enough? Good. Here’s why: THINGS GO WRONG.

We were lucky; our movers were great. But we had friends who weren’t so lucky. They had scheduled their move for the same day they traveled, with packing and moving on the same day. It was a nightmare.

If not otherwise specified, ask that the movers come in one day for packing, and a second day for loading. Also, ask that yours be the first move of the day. That way, they’ll arrive early and finish early, leaving you time to do other things.

Some organizing tips

Make notes:

The movers are professionals, and they work FAST. They’ll make notes on the boxes, but you might want to make your own. If you can get in fast enough, make a note of which boxes contain the essential items you’ll want to unpack first when you arrive.

Move out before the movers arrive

I recommend booking a nearby hotel room once the packers have come in. They can leave your bed and some linens unpacked if you like, but you’ll probably be more comfortable in a hotel.

That also allows you to leave whatever suitcases you’ll be taking with you out of the way so they don’t get packed up.

We actually booked a hotel room for the night before, since they were arriving early in the morning and we needed to get the Bug set up with a baby sitter outside of the house. That leads me to another point:

Arrange daycare for children.

You’re going to need to focus on the movers, answering their questions, making notes on the boxes, etc. That’s why I recommend getting your kids out of your hair.

We were lucky enough to find a babysitter to stay with our Bug for two whole days while the movers did their magic. She even came in and babysat on our last evening in Montreal so we could enjoy a fabulous dinner at la Fabrique with friends!

Whether they’re at daycare, school, or with a babysitter, you don’t want to have to worry about keeping your kids out of the way of the movers.

This might sound easy, but…

Reading this, you may think, “Wow, it sounds like Jane really had things under control.”

There you’d be wrong.

For a couple of weeks leading up to the move, I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off, always thinking of just one more thing to do.

They say that next to divorce and a death in the family, moving is the most stressful thing in a person’s life. That is entirely true. There’s always last-minute details to iron out, people to say good-bye to, and a suitcase that’s waaaaay over the weight limit.

We managed to pull it off in three weeks, and if we can do it, anyone can. Just organize yourselves as you do best (I am a notorious list maker), and know that sooner or later it will be over.

Once the container is sealed, things are out of your hands, and all you can do is look forward to the new phase in your life that is to come.

 

 

Necchi_sewing_machine

Learning a New Skill: Keeping the Brain in Shape

In a post early this year, I wrote about how useless New Year’s resolutions are and how I wanted to forgo traditional resolutions and replace them with goals. I talked about either learning German or taking a creative writing class.

Having been foiled by scheduling conflicts for the creative writing class, and having ruled out the German class, I find myself turning to other options.

Enter, my grandmother Frances’ 1966 Necchi sewing machine:

Necchi_sewing_machine
Talk about vintage, baby!

My mom mentioned this spring that she wanted me to take the machine and put it to good use. As it was, it was sitting in our house in Massachusetts, rusting.

A senior citizen learns quilting in order to keep sharp. Source: NPR.
A senior citizen learns quilting in order to keep sharp. Source: NPR.

Earlier this year, I read an NPR article discussing how research shows that learning a new skill helps to keep your brain sharp. The more challenging the skill, the better. So I decided that sewing would be a good skill to pick up!

My girlfriends from the Montreal Stitch n’ Bitch were delighted when I mentioned this to them, and they plotted together to give me a kit for my birthday that would draw me into the sewing world.

See that book on the table by the machine? That was one of my gifts. The other was some fabric and a little sewing kit, as well as a “gift certificate” for one sewing class to learn to make a baby’s bib.

A long, rainy Sunday afternoon later, this was the result:

Okay, so it's not quite straight, but it's a start...
Okay, so it’s not quite straight, but it’s a start…

Thanks to Taloline, PerrinPimPim and OuakiDou for the lesson!

All this has combined to lead me to contact the Zig Zag sewing school here in the Plateau to enquire about sewing classes this fall. Today, my enrollment was confirmed and starting on the 15th of October, I’ll be taking a beginner’s sewing class!

My goal is to start quilting, as I just love the designs I’ve seen, especially from my sister-in-law’s twin sister on Instagram (here’s a link, though she might be private). We’ll see where this goes!

Trouble Sharing My Post?

News flash!

Facebook seems to be struggling to share my last article. If you’re having some trouble but you really, really, REALLY want to share my previous brilliant post about how NOT to accept compliments, you can copy and paste this link:

www.thebraininjane.com/how-not-to-accept-compliments

Let me know in the comments below if you’re having trouble.

Amy’s Baking Company Goes Ballistic UPDATED

If you’ve been on Facebook (or the internet, for that matter) today, you probably heard about Amy’s Baking Company in Scottsdale, Arizona and how they went absolutely bat-shit crazy on social media.  They were featured on Gordon Ramsey’s American version of his show: Kitchen Nightmares, and boy was it EVER a nightmare.  Read on to learn why the internet exploded with fascinated delight at the train wreck, as Amy’s Baking Company went ballistic.

Amy's Baking Company
Owners Samy & Amy

It started back in 2010 when a local food lover decided to give “ABC” a go on a Saturday.  He wrote a review of his experience on Yelp, and let’s just say it wasn’t glowing.  I linked to Yelp just there, but because of the enormous volume of reviews that have been posted since this fiasco began, here is where you can read the original 2010 review that sparked Amy’s first tirade.

Yeah, if you read it, Amy Bouzaglo actually did call her reviewer “ugly” and a “moron”.  But if you think that’s bad…

Gordon RamseyEnter Gordon Ramsey.

Known for his foul-mouthed straight-talking, Ramsey is famous for telling failing restaurant owners exactly what’s wrong.  He does not mince words.  Considering her track record of receiving criticism somewhat poorly (to put it mildly), it’s amazing Bouzaglo invited Ramsey in in the first place.

If you watched even a glimpse of the video clip linked to above, you can imagine that things turn sour mighty quick.  The entire show was a fiasco, and for the first time in one of his television programs, (SPOILER ALERT) Ramsey actually gave up and walked out on a restaurant.

The show aired on Friday, 10 May.  Cue: The it-shay itting-hay the an-fay.

It began with a post to their Facebook wall protesting the accusation that they withhold employees’ tips.  If you visit their Facebook page now, you won’t see everything else that went on, because it has all been deleted.  BuzzFeed does a pretty good job of summing it up (and those are real screen shots of posts they actually made – I saw them myself earlier today).

Facebook RantWhat went on?  Ranting, raving, LOTS OF ALL CAPS, invocations of God’s support, defensive responses (in once choice response they called the commenter a “slut”), and sheer madness.  They blew up at Yelp and at Reddit (thread now taken down).  Kelly Clay at Forbes very helpfully drew some social media lessons for brands out of the whole experience.

But I would argue that another lesson could be drawn from this: This is sheer GENIUS!

Amy’s Baking Company has gone viral.  People who have never set foot in Arizona are writing reviews on Yelp.  They reached an enormous TV audience with the show, not to mention they set Reddit alight.  Some commenters and reviewers are even saying they actually want to go eat at the place to see if the owners are really as insane as they seem.

And that’s why this is genius.  They say no publicity is bad publicity, and if these people are smart (that’s a big if) they’ll recognize this as a golden opportunity.  I’ve heard of restaurants that are known for an “act”: a tyrannical manager, perhaps, who entertains the guests with his belligerence, or (more banal) singing wait staff.

They’ve already got the publicity, now they just need to milk it.  If they embrace the crazy and really go whole hog, they may actually carve a niche for themselves – but only if the quality of the food makes up for the terrible dining experience.

I say go for it, Amy and Samy.  If it was all an act: well done, keep it up!  If it was real: God help you, but don’t change.  You’ve dug Amy’s Baking Company into a hole and you’re so far in you might as well just keep digging.

 

Update, Friday 17 May 2013

If you head over to ABC’s Facebook page, you’ll see that they’ve announced a grand re-opening on Tuesday, 21 May at which they plan to tell their side of the story.  I get the feeling that things are just going from bad to worse.  Have fun digging to China!