Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 The Year of Transition

To say that 2011 was a year of transition would be an understatement. I started the year as a PhD student at Michigan State University, living a thousand miles away from my husband and feeling very disconnected from the things that mattered most in my life. I am finishing the year living in the same apartment as my wonderful husband, back working in the private sector for a great company and focused on the things that really matter to me. While there are some things that did not fall into place as I had hoped; overall, it has been a pretty good year and I am very grateful for that.

Until recently, very few of our plans have gone the way we anticipated the past couple of years. This has meant that we have spent a lot of time in a holding pattern. Waiting to make decisions until pieces fell into place, or we had come up with an alternative plan. Since I am the type of person who likes to have control and a plan, this has made the past few years a bit stressful. It is hard when you are doing everything in your power to get things to go the way you want and they keep falling apart. I am slowly learning to accept that life often takes us down an unplanned path, and it normally turns out okay. 

As 2012 approaches, there are a number of things on the radar, but I am running my first marathon on January 8, and want to keep my focus on that now. Once I have completed the marathon, I can solidify my race list and other things I would like to accomplish next year. I also think that you can change your life at any point and there is nothing really all that special about January 1.  I am hoping 2012 will continue with the momentum and good things that have happened during the second half of 2011 and things will continue to move in a positive direction.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Traditions…Old and New

My husband and I recently celebrated our third wedding anniversary. Like many other couples we each brought our own traditions into our new family. I am a big fan of having traditions because in the craziness of life these simple activities can provide some stability.

Since I started my PhD the fall after we got married, this is the first year we were able to spend the entire holiday season together. This has allowed us to really think about the old traditions we want to keep and the new ones we would like to start. Here are some of the traditions we have decided to create for our family.

Molasses and Oatmeal
Christmas Cookies – This is not a tradition that is unique to my family, but some of my favorite Christmas memories involve baking with my mother or grandmother. These women taught me how to bake and this is still one of my favorite traditions. I made a couple of batches of cookies this weekend, and it really put me into the Christmas spirit.

Celebrating Christmas through the Feast of the Epiphany – Growing up, the Christmas decorations were normally taken down by New Year’s Day at the latest. Once Christmas was over and the presents were opened, it was a blink of an eye and the decorations were put away until the next year. In my husband’s family, they kept the decorations up through the Feast of the Epiphany and this is the tradition we chose to keep. In addition to the fact I love Christmas, I think this reminds us that we are celebrating the birth of Jesus.

An Ornament from St.
Augustine, FL. One of our
favorite places.
Collecting Ornaments – I am not someone who collects keepsakes or knickknacks or really anything. I don’t like clutter and most of these things are just something else to clean around. My one exception to this rule is ornaments. It is something I began doing as a young adult and it is something that my husband and I continue currently. When we go on vacation or do something special, we often look for an ornament as a souvenir. This means that our Christmas tree is full of memories.

As my husband and I are together for longer and start to think about having a family there are other traditions we would like to begin. One is having matching stockings for each member of the family, and another is celebrating Saint Nicholas Day. Hopefully our, currently hypothetical, children will continue some of these traditions when they have a family of their own.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

In search of the perfect cupcake

A few years ago, while I was living in Orlando, a cupcake shop opened just around the corner from where we lived. I had heard about the cupcake trend, but this was the first place close enough to visit. I am pretty good at baking and make some delicious cakes and desserts myself. I also have a sweet tooth, so I was very excited. From the beginning, the cupcakes at Sweet by Good Golly Miss Holly were amazing. Since it was right around the corner, it was not long before I developed a cupcake habit. Sweet is still a must hit location when visiting Orlando. 

While I no longer live in Orlando, I still have a love for cupcakes and have been looking for anywhere with cupcakes that are even remotely close to as good as those from Sweet. When I was living in East Lansing, I went to every cupcake shop that I could find. I think there were four or five places in town, which is actually a large amount for such a small local. Unfortunately, none of cupcakes were very good.

Cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcake and Sprinkles
This summer, we began our quest to find a cupcake place in Richmond, but have had little success. I went to the place that everyone recommended and the cupcakes were really dry. I went to the cupcake place close to home and they were tini-tiny for the price and I tried to go to the place with the cute name, but they have terrible hours and pretty bad reviews on yelp. It was then that I started to look more closely at the reviews for the cupcake shops in the area and found an interesting pattern. People who had been to cupcake shops in major metro areas such as DC, New York or LA, rated the local shops much worse than locals. With this discovery, my hopes for a great local cupcake shop were dashed. 

The final question for me was, how does my favorite cupcake shop compare to those in larger cities? Well, the past few weeks, I have had to spend some time in Northern Virginia for work and these trips gave me a chance to visit both Georgetown Cupcake and Sprinkles Cupcakes. First I have to say that both of these are the best cupcakes I have had outside of Orlando. I got a cocoanut cupcake from Georgetown Cupcake and a black and white cupcake from sprinkles. I enjoyed the cupcake from Sprinkles Cupcakes more than the one from Georgetown Cupcake, and would go back there if I am ever in the area. It is also the only cupcake to ever come close to those from Sweet. 

I know that the cupcake trend did not start in Orlando, but I can say that Sweet by Good Golly Miss Holly cannot be beat. I guess it just gives us another reason to visit Orlando more often. 

P.S. Sorry for the terrible photo. I only had my phone with me.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Weighting in on the Great Mitten Debate

Image from Travel Wisconsin
Earlier this week Travel Wisconsin used an image of a mitten shaped like the state of Wisconsin on their website to promote winter tourism in the state. This created an uproar with people from across the lake, in Michigan, complaining that Wisconsin stole the concept of being a mitten. This is an interesting case and since I was born and raised in Wisconsin, lived in Michigan while working on my PhD and currently work in marketing, I have a different take on the whole debate.

I completely understand where the concept came from. When explaining the geography of Wisconsin, it is easy to hold up your left hand, fingers together and thumb close, and point to parts of the state.  It is a simple visual prop, and when dealing with people who aren’t even really sure where Wisconsin is, it works well. I didn’t even realize it could be controversial until the first time I used the gesture with my husband, who spent a number of years in Michigan growing up. I am not the only person who uses the hand explanation for the state.

Michigan is also a mitten, but only if you forget about the Upper Peninsula, which they seem to do when it is convenient. When you add the UP, Michigan does not look like a mitten, and the two mitten thing is a real stretch. The thing Michigan needs to remember is that you really need two mittens to even have a chance of having fun in the winter. 

Looking at this from a marketing and communications perspective, there are two things that this campaign really highlights. First is that you really need to get out of your head and your perspective. If you are from Wisconsin and have lived there your entire life, the mitten image totally makes sense, but to someone else it may not. Second, it shows the importance of doing research and testing things before implementing them in a campaign. It is likely that the mitten controversy would have showed up in the results if they had done a little research. This would have saved them some public relations and crisis communication money on the back end.

It will be interesting to see if this additional publicity will help or hurt winter tourism. I prefer winter travel to locations where outdoor activities don’t require mittens at all.