Beating Boredom

Don’t they look bored??

Boredom, or as the French call it ennui, is a hard thing to beat.  If you are trapped, as I am, in a horizontal position for several days at a time, you may want to find some other method of entertaining yourself than watching endless videos on YouTube (though have you guys seen the video of Henri, the cat having an existential crisis??  HILARIOUS!).  While these can be fun, spending hours on the internet can make one feel like a waste of space.  So here are TheBrainInJane’s five tips for keeping the creative juices flowing and beating bed-ridden boredom.

1. Manual Labor!

If you are confined to your bed through illness or temporary physical disability, take advantage of the time you’ve been given to make something!  Everyone knows that a handmade gift is a gift from the heart, so if you once learned how to knit, crochet, quilt, or make those friendship bracelets we all wore in middle school, create something!  If you’re really sick, perhaps woodworking wouldn’t be the best option here, but you’d be amazed how therapeutic making something with your hands can be.  Turn on the TV, pull out the cross stitching or what have you, and have at it!

2. Scrapbooking!

Remember how your mother used to make photo albums of your family vacations?  If you’ve ever had the pleasure of going through an old family album, you know how wonderful these keepsakes are.  If you have a Mac, iPhoto has great tools for making photo albums and slideshows.  Applications like Flickr and Snapfish also allow you to design your own albums.  If you’ve got all your photos stored on your computer, how often do you browse through them and enjoy them?  Beat boredom by building your album of memories.

3. Write!

Why do you think I’m writing this blog post right now, folks?  That’s right: I’M BORED.  But writing this is forcing me to think of (hopefully) interesting content, and that’s setting the little gray cells a-tingling.  If you don’t have a blog, think of the last restaurant you went to and write a review on UrbanSpoon or TripAdvisor.  Or think of the last book you read and write a helpful review on Amazon (but don’t be *that guy* and throw in any spoilers).  OR, and this is even better, get out pen and paper and write a letter to a friend!  Letter writing is the COOLEST, and people are always touched to get letters.  Trust me.  I love getting letters.  HINT, HINT.

4. Give Yourself a Manicure.

That one’s not just for the ladies.  Some of you dudes could really use manicures.  I’m not even kidding.  Man grooming is not a sin, people!

5. Call/Skype Someone.

I’ve Skyped five times today!  Okay, admittedly three of those times were with the same person (I love you, Mom), but it was lovely nonetheless!  Talking with someone else about their day can help you get your mind off of just how much it sucks to be bed-ridden.  Ask a friend what they’re up to, or how they’re getting on.  Listening to someone else’s stories, raves and rants can strengthen your friendship, give you some great stories to tell at cocktail parties (omitting any sensitive details, of course) and generally brighten your day.

Those are my beating boredom tips!  Now that I’ve written this, I’m going to break out the crochet hook and put on a Jane Austen movie.  Because Jane Austen always helps.

#Hashtag of the Week 4

Michael-Jordan-Championship-RingsThis week’s trending topic is #MJ50.  If you’re wondering what on earth that stands for, it means Michael Jordan’s turning 50 today!  Happy birthday, Michael Jordan!  Not only is Mr Jordan by consensus the greatest basketball player of all time, he is also one of the most successful celebrity endorsers, and the inspiration (as @bostonkid17 on Twitter put it) for the “greatest sneaker ever made.”

Michael Jordan’s talent and global fame combined to lift basketball’s international popularity.  His participation along with Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and other big stars on the 1992 Olympic “Dream Team” further helped to make it one of the world’s favorite sports.  But more than bringing basketball to new heights, Jordan’s personal image as the world’s greatest player made him an incredibly popular figure throughout the 90s, and therefore a magnet for celebrity endorsement.

Marketers dream of a celebrity endorser like Michael Jordan.  Nike hit the jackpot when they created the Air Jordan sneaker which eventually led to the spinoff Jordan Brand, which in 2010 made $1 billion in sales for Nike.  He has represented brands like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Chevrolet and Gatorade, and as a result is constantly on Forbes’ top 100 celebrities list.  With such success as this, it’s no wonder that celebrities are always looking for endorsement deals and brands are willing to pay big bucks for them.

But I think we should give Mr Jordan his due.  Do we really think that any celebrity today, be they Lady Gaga or Tiger Woods (whoops!) holds a candle to what Michael Jordan has done for the brands he represents?  Really, to me they are all just following in his footsteps, trying to be as successful as he has been in maintaining an equilibrium between his personal image and his brand (for, after all, there is no better example of a personal brand than Michael Jordan’s).

Today, we are inundated with celebrity endorsements.  I learned on TV yesterday, for instance, that Rafael Nadal apparently plays online poker!  Who knew?  And while stars had been lending their clout to marketing ventures long before Michael Jordan came along, I would argue that he did it biggest and he did it best.  He has set the bar for profit-making celebrity endorsement, and brands who don’t have him are still looking for their own “Michael Jordan.”

So for being the most bad-ass godfather of celebrity endorsement, I congratulate you Mr Jordan!  Here’s wishing you a very happy birthday.



Brain Candy

I do love myself a little brain candy.  “Brain candy” is something enjoyable that doesn’t require much thought, effort or mental exertion.  It’s candy for the brain!

Everyone likes a little brain candy every now and then, right?  I mean, if we were to always read heavy, intellectual books, or always watch dark and challenging films and always have deep, harrowing conversations would we feel all warm and fuzzy inside?  It certainly never hurts to push the limits of our understanding and expand our education, but sometimes a girl just wants to relax a little and giggle.  While some like to get their brain candy by watching TV, romantic comedies or reading fashion magazines, I like to get mine by reading book series like the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith.

1-no-1-ladies-detective-agency-450hI love these books because, as an unnamed reviewer from the Daily Mail apparently wrote (according to the dustcover) “Tolerance and humanity underpin the whole of this wonderful, hilarious, totally addictive series.”  Well said, Daily Mail reviewer!  There is just enough tension to keep you hooked on the stories, and McCall Smith’s simple, straightforward prose catches you in its rhythm.  As you read of Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi’s adventures, you can almost see the Botswana landscape and feel the hot African sun on your shoulders.

McCall Smith, a Scottish medical law professor, was born in what is now Zimbabwe and spent several years teaching law at the University of Botswana in Gaborone.  That must have been when his love affair with Botswana began; you can sense his love and respect for this peaceful southern African nation all throughout his series.  Never having been to Botswana myself, I cannot attest for how accurate his portrayal of local life and culture is, and he could very well be writing about an idealized place that exists only in his imagination.

Be that the case or not, I still love these books.  They’re hilarious!  And they don’t just paint a rosy picture of warm and fuzzy humanity.  These are, after all, detective stories involving theft, violence, jealousy and other examples of the evil of which we human beings are capable.  And they’re not always tied up in a neat little bow at the end.  There is always an acknowledgement that sometimes there is nothing we can do about some ignorance, irrational hatred, or close-mindedness.  Mma Ramotswe and Mr J. L. B. Matekoni show us that all we can do is our very best to love, understand, respect, forgive and listen.

I choose to enjoy this kind of brain candy, because it is candy with some substance.  It’s like a chocolate covered strawberry: there’s the sweet of the chocolate as well as the vitamins and healthy properties of the fruit!  And, to quote St. Paul “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”


Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of Lent, the 40-day period leading up to Easter Sunday.  Traditionally, it is a time of fasting, penitence, self-examination and anticipation of the celebration of Easter.  (Fun fact: Carnival and Mardi Gras – French for “fat Tuesday” – were traditionally celebrations of excess the day before Lent began and all fun was banned.  That’s why we eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday!)

chi_rhoOne popular lenten activity is self-denial of some kind.  Every year I hear people talking about what they’re giving up for Lent.  Usually it has something to do with food: alcohol, chocolate, sweets, soft drinks, what have you.  It’s usually something that is considered a minor vice, something unhealthy or slightly naughty.  It’s also usually given up with a bit of an ulterior motive: if we give up an unhealthy food that we like, then perhaps we’ll feel good about showing self-control, and lose a few pounds while we’re at it.

One Sunday before Lent a few years ago, the priest at my church back home preached about the practice of giving things up for Lent and how he had observed that it has become more of a popular thing to do rather than any kind of spiritual sacrifice.  So he suggested the idea of adding something for Lent!  Why not add something to our lives that we have heretofore not done?  Something that adds value not only to our lives, but to others’.  Perhaps we could volunteer, do a chore that a brother, sister, spouse or parent hates, or even write to someone we haven’t been in touch with for a while and ask how they’re doing.

That idea really struck me as lovely, and that year I started to write letters with a few friends with whom I had lost touch.  My letters were answered and have led to some wonderful correspondences.  Since then, seeing how such a small effort on my part brought a little sunshine to someone’s life, I have tried to add something like this to my routine each Lent.

I’m not particularly spiritual, and I don’t know if doing this is making me a better person or anything.  But it certainly makes me feel better.  It feels like a step towards being slightly less selfish, less self-centered.  In doing something, no matter how small, for someone else, I try in a tiny way to imitate the vast compassion and love of Christ.  But even if a person doesn’t believe in Christ and religion isn’t his or her thing, I think anyone can agree that doing something for someone else feels good and IS good!

Because I’ve had so much fun learning to cook over the last year, I’d like to add a volunteering activity in a soup kitchen to my lenten routine.  The idea is that hopefully the habit will stick, and continue to provide fulfilling and enriching experiences long after Lent 2013 is over.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll make a new friend, hear a cool story or have my heart touched by some small but beautiful gesture.

The Cockroach Spelled Disaster

I should have known when I spotted the enormous cockroach on the wall that things would go all whack on Sunday.  The horrible creature was easily 6cm (just over 2 inches) long and it came creeping out from behind the TV stand in the hotel room.  Chico and I were up at 5:00am to leave our Miami hotel, drive our rental car to the airport, return the car and catch our flight home.  They say bad things happen in threes, but on Sunday, three bad things in a row led to a fourth, the consequences of which all led to a fifth bad thing.

Chico’s reaction was swift and merciless: he whacked that cockroach right off the wall with a rolled up magazine.  It lay on the floor, slowly expiring and cursing our day with its dying breath.  And boy, was it ever a powerful curse.  After the cockroach came problems with checking out of the hotel (bad thing #2).  Then the valet parking attendant with our car key disappeared for several minutes, making it impossible for us to even leave (bad thing #3).  By the time we left, we were running over half an hour late.

Now, both of us travel a lot.  I have been flying regularly since before I can remember, and never in my life have I EVER missed a flight. Perhaps for this reason the prospect of missing our plane seemed to be the most disastrous thing possible.  I went into full-fledged panic mode.  After making every wrong decision possible (bad thing #4), we finally deposited the rental car, sprinted to the metro rail, and ran through the terminal to our check-in desk where we were definitively informed that we had, indeed, missed our flight.  Bad thing #5, the supposed worst, had happened.

While we stood there trying to find a way home, all the “we should haves” came out.  We sure were able to think clearly in retrospect!  I have been in stressful situations before.  I’ve faced deadlines, decisions, uncomfortable situations, you name it!  That eustress (or “euphoric stress”) was always a positive driver.  But missing a flight must have been my boogeyman because I realized that I have never been so overwhelmed by stress in my life.  It was disturbing to think about how quickly any capacity for rational thought had evaporated.  It was doubly disturbing to think this stress was caused by something so inconsequential as missing a flight.  Sure, we had to pay for a new one-way ticket home, but the cost was entirely reasonable and no more than we would have spent on another night in Miami.

Photo 2013-02-11 18 22 14This distress was useless and counter-productive.  And really, when is stress ever anything but?  (Unless, perhaps, you’re being chased by a starving wolf pack in the frozen arctic, but that’s another kind of stress.)  I also remembered my post about failure and realized that missing this flight, though a kind of failure, really wasn’t all that horrible.  Everything in life can teach us a lesson, and the lesson to draw from this misadventure is that stressing out does not help anything.  It is a downwards spiral that can blow a relatively minor problem way out of proportion.  So I have decided that I will not let stress get the better of me like that again.  To help me, I am reading “The Mind Gym” (Sphere, 2007) and their chapter on stress management.

After all that, Sunday turned out to be our most fun day in Miami, and Chico and I were able to thoroughly relax and enjoy our visit.  You can read some of my reviews on TripAdvisor.

#Hashtag of the Week 3

Now that I’m back from a holiday and my house hasn’t been broken into, I can confess that a trip has been the reason for my silence.  I had fully planned to blog while away (at least one article), but WordPress doesn’t work too well on the iPad.  Besides, I was in Florida to enjoy the sunshine, not to sit in the hotel blogging!  But now I’m back and it’s time to look at the #hashtag of the week.

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 7.23.55 PMLast week, #beattheflu was trending in Canada, and I thought it would be interesting to see what public health-related Twitter feeds were saying about it.  It turned out not to be anything to do with public health, but a clever Twitter marketing cooperation between @naturallysavvy and @AVogel_ca. bills itself as a “guide to natural, organic and green living.” They have 8,615 followers on Twitter, and they use their website to promote organic and/or natural products and brands.  A. Vogel is a producer of natural, plant-based remedies for stress, insomnia, flu, weight loss, etc.  Judging from their relatively short Twitter feed, A. Vogel has been on Twitter only since the end of last year.

The #beattheflu conversation, hosted by Naturally Savvy, invited followers to ask questions about flu prevention or dealing with the flu.  Naturopath and biochemist Josée Fortin, tweeting on behalf of A. Vogel, followed the conversation and would recommend A. Vogel products to help answer followers’ questions.  Naturally Savvy would then retweet or quote A. Vogel’s suggestions.  Two lucky tweeters were selected (I’m not sure how) to win an A. Vogel flu and cold buster kit, and the Twitter event was billed as informative and fun.  Simples!  All of Naturally Savvy’s followers were then made aware of A. Vogel’s wonderful new products.

I have to admit that I am skeptical about many products that are billed as “natural”.  Having learned much about the practice of greenwashing in a corporate social responsibility class (thanks, Dr. Leonidou!), I know that words like “natural” and “organic” have very different meanings in different countries and to different companies.  Brands liberally splash these words on their products, and in truth they actually mean very little.  Be that as it may, this is a clever strategy on A. Vogel’s part to use a perceived expert as a brand advocate.  These Twitter parties are a great form of word-of-mouth marketing, and A. Vogel is using Naturally Savvy’s power as an opinion leader quite cleverly.

Not only that, but they selected a hashtag that attracts attention.  North America is experiencing a particularly nasty flu season, and tweeting parents who are concerned about keeping their families flu-free are a large and lucrative market.  They are using a kind of fear appeal – that is, appealing to people’s anxiety about the flu and presenting their products as the “natural” solution.  The hashtag was well conceived and I would be curious to know how much A. Vogel’s sales have increased as a result, if at all.


I am having some technical difficulties with my devices and have limited access to the interwebs, which is why I have been FORCED into silence on this blog. However, I will soon be back and posting again.

This imposed hiatus has made me realize just how addicted to social media I am. Seriously, I’m a junkie and this cannot possibly be healthy. But rest assured that like a true addict as soon as my drug of choice is available again, I’ll be right back at it! (This is not to make light of addiction, which is a serious condition.)

See you soon, Internet! I love you!

Ice Skating and Failure

Yesterday was a beautiful, cold, typical Montreal winter day.  The sky was perfectly blue and the temperatures hit -12°C.  Chico and I decided to break out the ice skates we bought last year (and used maybe twice) and head to a nearby park to skate.

Park Lafontaine
Our Nearby Park

We laced ourselves into our skates and tentatively stood up and inched forward.  As always when first putting on skates, I am really, really, REALLY nervous.  It takes a while for me to get into the rhythm, and I skate with my eyes peeled on the ice in front of me, evaluating its state of smoothness and likelihood to trap me into a painful fall.

After a while, and feeling more adventurous, I picked up speed and got into a good gliding motion.  But then, I hit a rough patch.  The blades of my skates got caught in the choppy ice, and a law of inertia came into play: my upper body stayed in motion while an external force acted upon my feet.  My skates slowed and my torso kept moving and WHAM!  I ended up flat on my stomach, arms sprawled ahead and looking extremely undignified.

As soon as I stopped moving and was able to ascertain I wasn’t injured, I broke into a peal of giggles.  “So that’s what falling feels like?” I asked myself.  “Is that as bad as it gets??  Man, that was NOTHING!”  And I got up, dusted myself off and skated off, my whole body much more relaxed, less tense and more ready to enjoy the skating.

A friend once said that if you don’t fall over on a ski outing, you don’t learn anything.  That was certainly true of my ice skating excursion.  And it got me thinking about the value of failure.  We are often so terrified of failure.  But we fail (ha, get it?) to consider just how useful failure can be.  Rare are the cases when our failure will result in something horribly disastrous, physically painful or hurtful to someone else.  Most of the time, if we make a mistake or mess up, we will at worst embarrass ourselves, be humbled and perhaps a little humiliated.  But hey, that’s all a healthy, learning opportunity.

Falling flat on my stomach on the ice yesterday reminded me that I needn’t be afraid of failure.  That doesn’t mean I won’t try to avoid it, but I won’t be afraid of it.  I’ll probably mess some things up in the future, but hopefully I’ll be able to dust myself off and keep skating.

Power Outages & Oreos

So Beyoncé’s pyrotechnic show caused a power outage at the Superbowl last night!  Did anyone else hear about that??  Crazy stuff, right??  Oh wait, apparently I’m late breaking the news, because during the now-famous post-halftime power outage, Twitter users posted up to 231,000 tweets per minute about the sudden gloom.

Responses to this year’s Superbowl commercials have been mixed, though apparently most people agree on one: the Budweiser bit featuring a baby Clydesdale has become the third most shared video in advertisement history, according to Unruly media.  Psy’s pistachio commercial, Crackin’ Gangham Style, certainly made me giggle; The Big Kiss commercial is creating buzz just by being gross (seriously, only click if you can stand smooching noises); and Seth Rogan and Paul Rudd’s appearance in the Samsung Galaxy commercial is admittedly pretty funny.

But my favorite was the Whisper Fight from Oreo and then their response to the power outage.  In a stroke of genius, Oreo had someone on hand to whip up this baby:

Oreo is right on the money

Congratulations, Oreo!  For what it’s worth, you win The Brain In Jane prize for best commercial!  The video combined with the brilliant response to real-time events show that Oreo and their agency 360i have what it takes to stay relevant and clever and get people talking.  Well done!

#Hashtag of the Week 2

super-bowlA major trending topic in North America this week has been, unsurprisingly, the #Superbowl!  Woo-hoo!  American football!  How FUN!

Alright, I have to confess that I know very little about American football, and I have little to no interest in the game (rugby is my bag, baby!).  However, the Superbowl is more than just a football game.  It is a showcase of all that is good (?) about US culture.  The concert at half time features some of the US’s top artists (and sometimes foreigners, like that crazy Paul McCartney!).  Perhaps an even more important representation of American culture, though, are the Superbowl ads.

The Superbowl captures a HUGE national audience, and advertisers know that they have to step up to the plate (whoops, is that a baseball analogy?) to break through the clutter.  And the pressure is on to perform: with a price tag of about $4 million for a 30-second spot, a flop would make for a pretty expensive failure.  Over the years it has become tradition for brands to prepare their cleverest, most attention-grabbing ads for the Superbowl.  Some have lived on in our collective memories (we all remember the first time we encountered the man our men could smell like) and others have gone down in history as the worst ads ever.

Ad Age published an article listing the commercial spaces bought by which companies, but I’m afraid I spent so long on the article that got mad at me and demanded I subscribe in order to continue reading.  Needless to say, I did not subscribe.  However, I do remember that the list includes giants like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Chevrolet and Oreos, among others.  There are also some relative newcomers on the scene such as  Some brands release their ads for some pre-game exposure before the big day, while others keep them dead secret until Superbowl Sunday.  They hope the clips will go viral, and eagerly look forward to the online conversations their spots will generate.  Already Twitter is abuzz with comments about the pre-released ads, and a significant number of tweets with the #Superbowl hashtag have nothing to do with football.  It will be interesting to follow the reaction to this year’s commercials and see if they have better luck than Volkswagen so far.

If you weren’t planning to watch the Superbowl, perhaps you’ll reconsider simply for the pleasure of seeing these commercials.  Who knows, you could see the ad that will spark the next viral video craze!  Or, if you can’t even bring yourself to watch it for the ads, you can browse through Mashable’s top ten Superbowl commercials of all time.

Happy Superbowl Sunday!