Friday, May 30, 2008

Is It Time To Review Your Insurance Coverage?

Our recent fire got me to thinking that everyone could probably do with an insurance needs checklist. It is better to review your personal, professional, and family circumstances and your insurance coverage in peace and quite prior to some catastrophe making you wish you had more appropriate coverage after the fact! Here are some basic things to consider when deciding upon what type of coverage you need in your insurance policies. It should be noted here that this not exhaustive and might not encompass everyone’s needs or situation but can be a good starting point.

  • Do you need life insurance? Do you have a spouse or someone that you would want to be the beneficiary in the event of your death? Some people use a life insurance policy as a savings plan, as they build up equity over the years. Since any interest is paid is rather small, this is generally not the best savings plan. Also if you’re younger you might elect to go for term policies, where you don’t build up equity, these can often be cheaper than the traditional life insurance policy. As you get older, you might want to go for the more traditional plan where you build up equity because your premiums become more and more expensive as you get older, especially when starting a new policy, because the insurance companies view you as a greater risk. Give some thought to why the benefits might be needed when determining the amount of the policy. If you’re a couple with young kids, you might want a policy that would pay out enough so that the surviving spouse would be able to cover funeral arrangements and live for a year or so without working and that your house is paid off. These kinds of things can financially trouble a family after one of the parents dies.
  • What should your medical or health insurance look like? This is a tricky one because so many people are unable to afford medical or health insurance. There is also a wide variety of plans available to choose from. If either your or your spouse is not covered under a policy through work (maybe a stay at home parent), you’ll want to make sure that your spouse is covered as well as any kids still living at home or attending college. Some policies wouldn’t cover kids that aren’t full-time students, or after they reach a certain age, so you’ll need to check this.
  • What type of auto insurance do you need? You’ll want to find out what the legal requirements are for your coverage. If you have a newer vehicle that you’re making payments on, you might be required to have a more elaborate full coverage policy with some type of replacement value, in the event that your vehicle is declared “totaled”. You’ll need to keep in mind that the replacement value assigned is often an appraised value of your vehicle at the time of the accident and not your purchase price, so what the insurance company is likely to pay out is not necessarily what you would have to pay in order to buy your vehicle brand new again, it is more likely to be a lot less then true replacement value, this can come as a big surprise in the event that you need to use it! As your vehicle becomes older, full coverage becomes less and less attractive because the value assigned to your vehicle becomes less and less, and keep in mind that your payout will be minus your deductible. Don’t forget to cover all the drivers within your household; you don’t want one of your kids to have an accident with your vehicle and then find out that you’re not covered. You’ll also want to look at the accidental damage coverage to make sure that you have the right coverage. The more things that your policy covers with smaller or no deductibles, the more expensive the policy will be. Are you penalized if you actually make a claim? Is your insurance company likely to drop you or raise your premiums? How good is your insurance company at paying claims? Do they pay quickly or do they drag their feet?
  • Do you need renter’s insurance? If you’re living in an apartment and have a lot of things that you’re worried about having to replace in the event of a theft or some disaster, this type of policy would pay a certain amount to cover your items should such an event occur. The higher the monetary value of your stuff, the more expensive the policy is likely to be. You’ll want to make sure that you understand how you’re covered, it could be that certain natural disasters, conditions, or acts of God, would result in the insurance company not honoring your claim. If you don’t have a lot of expensive items or you feel that the likelihood that you would ever use such a policy is low, you might opt to take the risk of not having a policy.
  • What type of home insurance do you need? There are a lot of different types of policies available and you might be contractually bound to have a certain type of coverage as long as you’re still paying for your house. Some things that plague homeowners include water damage, fire, natural disasters, and theft. Water damage is a lot more common than you might think and I have heard that often this is something that is coming out of the homeowner’s pocket, which can be very expensive! Will your policy pay if arson is determined to be the cause of a fire or if someone in your family does something to cause the damage? Are you covered in the event that someone is injured at your home? A visitor could slip on a wet floor, fall down the stairs, get bit by your dog, or any number of things. What kind of coverage do you have for natural disasters and acts of God? Many insurance companies have provisions where they refer to “Acts of God” which often allows them to reduce or not pay a claim. There are a lot of victims from Hurricane Kathrina whose insurance companies refused to pay any benefits. I have heard that earth quake insurance is so expensive that most people can’t afford the premiums.
  • Do you need any disability coverage? With this type of insurance you would get a policy that will pay benefits in the event that some injury would result in your inability to continue in your current line of work. The benefits and provisions can vary greatly. Many famous people have had large and notorious policies but if you’re a surgeon making your living with your hands, there is a very real threat that something could happen to reduce usage of your hands or that you lose total usage of one or both hands, resulting in the end of your career as a surgeon. You’ll want to carefully decide if you really need such a policy and to what extent. If you want to have milling dollar coverage, this can be expensive, while statistically the odds of such a disability occurring might have been extremely low.
  • Do you need any special accidental insurance? In Germany, there is a special policy offered to cover accidents that you might have. I have jokingly referred to it as “klutz” insurance. Depending upon where you live, you might need such a policy or it might be covered under other policies that you have.
  • Do you need pet insurance? In order to enroll our puppy in puppy classes, we had to show proof that we had proper pet coverage. This might not be a requirement where you live, but you never know!
  • Do you need any other special insurance policies? While I have mentioned many of the common policies above, your circumstances might require you to look at other types of coverage. Do you need any special coverage as a result of your profession (i.e. medical malpractice insurance)? Do you need any special coverage as a result of the business you own or run (i.e. stores where you have customers visit you, might need to have additional accidental insurance for injuries sustained by people in your store)? If you have a boat or a motorcycle, you might need some type of policy to at least cover accidents and injuries. You’ll want to make sure that your current coverage doesn’t already handle these circumstances or if you do truly need any other policies. It might even make sense to expand some of your other coverage rather than getting new policies.

With most types of insurance you’ll need to determine if you truly need a policy and what type of coverage to get. The more likely it is that you’re likely to need such insurance generally results in higher premiums. In general, the more you’re covered, the higher your premiums generally are. You’ll want to consider your own personal risk tolerance before spending the extra money, because it very well might turn out that you paid for coverage where the statistical probability of you needing the coverage was so low, that you could well be spending money on coverage you’ll probably never need.

Do you want to have all of your insurance coverage through one company? The biggest advantage to this would be that you might be eligible for some type of customer loyalty discount and your administration of the policies might be less complicated. On the negative side, you might be putting yourself in a riskier situation this way. Because not all policies from all companies are the same nor do all companies pay (or not pay) claims in the same way, you might find that you have better conditions by spreading out your policies. We have an agent that has the ability to search through several companies and policies to present us with several options and help us decide what policies are best for us. Maybe all of your insurance needs can be handled by an agent working for one insurance company, but it is worth considering.

When ever there is a significant life change you should review your coverage. If you’re a young person leaving home for the first time, you might want to decide if you need some kind of renter’s insurance coverage. If you get married or have kids, your needs will change. If you buy a house, your needs will change. A change in your career might mean that you should review your coverage. If you go into business for yourself, you’ll want to review the coverage that you need. The death of a loved one might also mean that you need to review your coverage. You’ll want to review your coverage periodically to make sure that your policies are providing proper coverage and still relevant (maybe you sold the motorcycle and don’t need any policies for it any longer)

While most insurance should be bought with the hope that you don’t ever need to make a claim, as life becomes more and more complicated, the chances become greater that you’ll truly “need” one of your policies becomes greater. I hope that you’re all able to avoid those great life tragedies, but if (and when) they do happen is not the time to review your insurance coverage! Do you have any tips about insurance coverage? If you have any other comments, I would love to hear them. If you liked this article, please consider subscribing to the blog via RSS or email, share it on or on Digg and pass it on to anyone that you think might appreciate it. Thank you. :)

On Deck…

I’ll be publishing posts about…

  • The next in my series of weight loss strategies
  • My next Spotlight on the web.
  • More on productivity, web 2.0, social networking, family, parenting, health, and other things that you can use.

Other Posts That You Might Also Like to Read…

Monday, May 26, 2008

Happy Memorial Day!

"Flags 3" courtesy of paulafrog

I just wanted to write a quick post and wish everyone a Happy Memorial Day! In the U.S. Memorial day is always celebrated on the last Monday of May and it marks the “unofficial” start of Summer. This is also a bank holiday in the U.K. as well.

"steaks" courtesy hbeyhs

Many people will grill up tons of hot dogs, hamburgers, and all kinds of other stuff while some people will have a picnic or lots of other outdoor activities (weather permitting), some people will watch the Indianapolis 500. For those kids that have finished their school year and those not quite yet finished yet, there are dreams of all kinds of Summer fun and the hope and anticipation that only the start of Summer can bring.

In it all we should take some time to remember that this holiday was started to remember those people lost in wars and conflicts protecting American’s freedom. While there is a diverse opinion about if the U.S. should have gotten involved in Iraq and if our soldiers should be staying there, make no mistake, most of those Americans that are against the U.S. involvement there, do support the troops and have nothing against the men and women that proudly serve their country. For those of you that have lost family members in the military through conflicts in support of the freedoms enjoyed by Americans, we honor your lost family member(s) today! While remembering those soldiers that have died for their country, why not take the time to honor those serving today, and dearly departed family and friends. Maybe you could pay a visit to the cemetery where a grandparent, parent, brother, sister, of friend is buried.

I hope that those families separated by missions in Iraq (and everywhere else) will be able to see your loved ones soon. I also hope that in the future the military is used prudently and wisely, and all efforts are utilized to minimize the loss of those serving their country. Happy Memorial Day, everyone! Have you lost a loved one in one of America’s wars or conflicts, do you have family or friends serving in Iraq or elsewhere in the military? Do you have a story to tell about them? If you have any other comments, I would love to hear them. If you liked this article, please consider subscribing to the blog via RSS or email, share it on or on Digg and pass it on to anyone that you think might appreciate it. Thank you. :)

On Deck…

I’ll be publishing posts about…

  • The next in my series of weight loss strategies
  • My next Spotlight on the web.
  • Insurance needs checklist.
  • More on productivity, web 2.0, social networking, family, parenting, health, and other things that you can use.

Other Post That You Might Also Like to Read…

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Customer Is Always Right

"Sign" courtesy of Thadz

It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages. Henry Ford

A merchant who approaches business with the idea of serving the public well has nothing to fear from the competition. James Cash Penney

I’m sure that you have heard that “the customer is always right”, I have tended to look at things more along the lines of “the customer is not always right, but the customer is always the customer”. I don’t wish to take credit for that quote but I don’t remember where I first heard it from. People often have crazy requests, thoughts, beliefs, and demands; certainly it is not always a good idea to honor everyone of these things, but by taking them into proper consideration you just might be surprised by multiplier effect. Your customers will value your services more, possibly giving your more business directly or indirectly through word of mouth advertising that you can not buy. Customer service is just good business and should be a way of life for all of us. Much or our frustration in the course of our days come from the customer service that we receive or don’t receive.

It is the service we are not obliged to give that people value most.

James Cash Penney

America has long had an image in the world of providing excellent customer service. I have a somewhat unique position of being an American living abroad, so I can often see things from the outside looking in. A couple of years ago, when the family and I were in the U.S., my wife remarked that the customer service mentality seemed to be gone or had gone down hill, from her previous exposures to it. I’m constantly amazed by the way businesses treat their customers or let their employees treat them, while this might not be the same thing, this is how people view your business, and it manifests itself into the customer’s view of your business and becomes their reality. You can be sure that dissatisfied customers will often abandon ship at the first chance they can or if they have no other chance to do so, will only buy the bare minimum. Without service there are only products and there are a lot of products sitting on shelves waiting to be picked up.

A store's best advertisement is the service its goods render, for upon such service rest the future, the good-will, of an organization. James Cash Penney

Without customers you wouldn’t have a paycheck. As stated in the Henry Ford quote above, employers only handle the money. Even if you work for the government, you do have customers, you just might not think of it that way. If your customers don’t feel that their patronage is valued or they feel mistreated, eventually, you’re likely to lose some or all of them. If you lose all of your customers, then your business won’t be able to sustain operations and profitability (note that government services and monopolistic companies don’t necessarily follow this pattern but they still need to worry about satisfied customers because there or other outcomes that could be just as unpleasant, if not worse, for them) and will eventually have to shut your doors. We all have our jobs or functions to do, but it is because there is a customer that we are able to do these things.

A customer service attitude should be adopted; it should be at the center of all we do. Think of how much better the world would be if more people developed this developed and lived this attitude. Darryl Heron

Unless you’re a hermit or a recluse, you have many customers in your daily life, you just don’t realize it. If you work for a company of almost any size; you have bosses, co-workers, other departments, and clients that make requests of you. They are, in fact, all your customers. How often have you asked a colleague to do something for you, something that might have even truly have been part of their normal job responsibilities, and they treated you like you were an annoyance. Maybe, you have even been the one looking at your colleagues as an annoyance. The bigger the company, the harder it is to really maintain a true team spirit that is so often “pushed” by management. In a lot of companies there are OLAs (operational level agreements) between departments that describe service levels and so on, this is especially true if they’re more mature in doing Service Management (a foundation in I.T.I.L.), but this doesn’t really regulate the relationships between co-workers. Treating your colleagues as valued customers, showing them courtesy and working with them, can only help move your company in a positive direction. By showing respect and courtesy to your co-workers, they’re more likely to do the favors that you ask of them, this is especially true if you aren’t in their reporting line.

Courteous treatment will make a customer a walking advertisement. James Cash Penney

In an era where everybody is always trying to be the cheapest, customer service can differentiate your product or service from your competitors. It is hard to always beat the competition in price and if your product becomes a commodity in the minds of your potential customers, they will surely buy the cheapest product unless they’re convinced that there is real value in your product. Aside from quality that stands out from your competitors, customer service is one of the biggest things that can add value to your product in your potential customers’ minds. As long as there is still the possibility to readily move production and service to off shore locations where the labor markets are perceived to be lower cost, then it is harder and harder for your product to win the cheapest category within your field of competition. Furthermore, the higher the profit margins in your field, the more competitors will be drawn in, further pushing the “cheaper” envelope.

The Golden Rule finds no limit of application in business. James Cash Penney

Providing excellent customer service can help you to build your product or service into a brand that people know, trust, and buy. Many companies spend a lot of money on advertising, marketing, and trying to build “brand” awareness and image, but if the customer service isn’t there, most of this effort is wasted. It is far cheaper to maintain customers than to reach new ones, so if someone is already using your product or service and are happy with it, they’re more likely to continue. If they are enthusiastic about your product or service, they’re likely to “sell” your product through countless endorsements to family, friends, co-workers, and people they meet on the street. You just can’t buy that kind of advertising and promotion. Your satisfied customers are more likely to try out your new products or services, and are often good candidates for add-on business, without the need for as much advertising and promotion. Good customer service can even promote new products and services. Happy and satisfied customers can be used in advertising and marketing campaigns and they’re more likely to come off more genuine than some high paid celebrity that is only “paid” to be a spokesperson.

If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person's point of view and see things from that person's angle as well as from your own. Henry Ford

Remember that customer service doesn’t end with a sale or contract signing. Many products break, there are problems or questions in their operation and use, customers would like the opportunity to provide feedback on the product or service, or any number of other things can happen after the point that the customer has bought the product or service. It is in providing this outlet that many companies fall down. Calling your company’s hotline and looking at things from a customer standpoint can be an eye-opening experience! If your hotline is staffed by a call center, this might be become the image of your company in the eyes of many of your customers and potential customers, so this needs to be a pleasant experience. Sadly, more often than not, it isn’t. Between confusing voice menus and agents that don’t know how to interact with real people, don’t speak clearly, and don’t care about the customer, you might be driving your customers to your competition. Don’t neglect servicing your products, regardless of if your products are serviced by your company, franchised locations, or dealerships; bad experiences here can drive your customers away and you might not even know it is happening.

There are probably a million (or billion) reasons why you should provide good customer service. Certainly, if you can become excited about your job and show interest in your customers, it won’t hurt your company’s bottom line and you just might find after a while that you enjoy the relationships that you build with some of your customers, they might even become your friends. Do you have any positive or negative stories that you want to share about service that you have received? Do you have any tips to those responsible for providing customer service? If you have any other comments, I’d love to hear them. If you liked this article, please consider subscribing to the blog via RSS or email, share it on or on Digg and pass it on to anyone that you think might appreciate it. Thank you. :)

On Deck…

I’ll be publishing posts about…

  • The next in my series of weight loss strategies
  • My next Spotlight on the web.
  • More on productivity, web 2.0, social networking, family, parenting, health, and other things that you can use.

Other Post That You Might Also Like to Read…

Monday, May 19, 2008

Lessons Learned

Within the project world, somewhere before you shut down a project, you should have a least one lessons learned session, where you capture items that have been learned from the project. This is something that can and should be applied in other areas of your life as well. The lessons that you learn in life are a big part of your never ending life’s education. Your own life is probably full of them, things that you have learned from experience. They can be as simple as don’t cross the street before looking both ways.

A famous quote once went (before being “modified” by a recent president) “Fool me once, same on you, but fool me twice, shame on me”. So while it is human to make mistakes and it is even expected that you’ll make lots of mistakes in your life, you should avoid to keep making the same mistakes. One version of Hell, must be a person doomed to eternally making the same mistake(s), realizing that they’re making the mistake and doing it anyways.

Within the project word, you try to get key project members together for at least one session where they discuss lessons learned from the project. This doesn’t have to be negative, it can be positive lessons or things that we did right that we should do again. Some projects do periodic sessions to make sure that they capture more of the lessons and that they can apply them before the project is over. Discussing and communicating lessons learned is all that more important in those big projects/programs where communication can be an issue, certainly efforts need to be made to make sure that the left side knows what the right side is doing, the more people involved the more likely it is that someone has learned a lesson worth sharing. It is most certainly a crime when a project makes the same mistake twice (or continues to make the same mistakes) because lessons weren’t learned or communicated. Often times projects/programs and companies keep reinventing the wheel when they don’t need to (and it isn’t one of their deliverables)! I have thought for several years now that every company should create a lessons learned database that is highly visible within their company. While it might not need to be right on their intranet homepage, there should be a highly visible link to it from there. Everyone in the company should be able to see the lessons learned by projects in the past so that they can avoid making the same mistakes. Within the operations and ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) they will often already make use of a Know Errors database, companies might also consider that their employees have read access to this as well. Maybe a wiki might serve this purpose, but the point is that the information is easily accessible and can be leveraged by your company.

Within your work and personal life, you should be recording your lessons learned. If you’re working on some project or activity, before you walk away from it, never to look back, do your own review. Ask yourself…

· What did I do right? You’re looking for things that are repeatable in other contexts. You do want to keep in mind that you’re not writing a manual (that could be goal of a different activity).

· What went wrong? Please remember this is not an exercise aimed at placing blame. This is only to identify where things could be done differently if given similar enough circumstances.

· What can I, or should I, do differently next time? If it seems like there a lot of ideas for one item, you might want to think about have a brainstorming session (where the goal is to list as many ideas as possible without judgment and they’re evaluated separately so that innovative ideas aren’t discounted or dismissed)

This is a really good exercise, especially if you have experienced failure in something you attempted or did. It can help you to receive some closure and to move on. Before wrapping up your session, you might ask other people whose opinions you value, how they have handled similar circumstances or what they might have done in your shoes. You might just be surprised to see how many other people have faced similar circumstances.

After you have recorded your lessons learned, don’t horde your knowledge and experiences, be willing to share. You might be able to share this with other family and friends. Maybe you can share it with colleagues at your company or within your industry. You might even think about being a mentor and sharing it that way. I think that it is really tragic that mankind can’t harness the knowledge of our species, so that we don’t keep making the same mistakes. Certainly some things we all have to learn for ourselves, but there are so many others where we could benefit from someone else’s lessons learned.

So next time you’re getting ready to end an activity or project and you think that there are some things that could be learned from it, why not do your own lessons learned session? Have you made use of lessons learned?If you have any other comments, I’d love to hear them. If you liked this article, please consider subscribing to the blog via RSS or email, share it on or on Digg and pass it on to anyone that you think might appreciate it. Thank you. :)

On Deck…

I’ll be publishing posts about…

  • The next in my series of weight loss strategies
  • My next Spotlight on the web.
  • More on productivity, web 2.0, social networking, family, parenting, health, and other things that you can use.

Other Post That You Might Also Like to Read…

Saturday, May 17, 2008

DSDS Final Tonight

Note: Some of you might feel this post to be off topic, so please feel free to skip this post if you would like.

Tonight is the final of Deutschland sucht den Superstar (commonly called DSDS). DSDS is the German version of American Idol. We’ll be watching (and listening) to see if Thomas Godoj or Fady Mallouf wins.

There is little doubt that the whole Idol franchise has been a success. There are several versions around the world and there have even been some global competitions with various Idol contestants. Kelly Clarkson and Carrier Underwood have been a couple of successful American Idol winners and appearances on the show helped launch careers for Kellie Pickler, Josh Gracin, and Jennifer Hudson.

I started watching DSDS with the final of season one, where Alexander Klaws beat out Juliette Schoppmann, then didn’t see it again until the final season two (won by Elli Erl). I became hooked during season three, where Tobias Regner won. Season four was won by Mark Medlock.

American Idol and DSDS have tapped into a Big Brother reality tv kind of pulse. They command a large audience of views who call in (or send SMSes with the mobile phones) to vote for their favorites with the lowest vote getters being kicked off. There have certainly been some controversies where marginally talented candidates managed to continue while seemly more talented candidates were kicked out due to efforts of some very enthusiastic fans. When viewers call in to vote they’re charged a fee for the privilege of voting. Callers are not restricted to voting only one time, so some fans will call in multiple times, taking away the truly democratic element. This seems to be purely a means of making money.

During the third season of DSDS I was struck but the talent of the final four candidates and thought that any of them could probably have a successful career if given the chance. The winner Tobias Regner and Mike Leon Grosch went on tour together and three of the four produced records. Watching season five this year I have thought more and more that some of the candidates could really harness the power of the internet to connect with their fans and pursue their careers. Within Germany, it seems to me that they don’t really promote the winners that much or that well, three of the past winners have disappeared after releasing their albums and going on the initial promotional tours, while last year’s winner, Mark Medlock, allied himself with perennial jury member, Dieter Bohlen, will be releasing his third album. Mark even did and album with Dieter Bohlen and they toured went on tour together last year. During the this and past seasons, it has been evident that the fans really come out to many of the promotions to see their favorites, so it would seem that the potential is there if properly harnessed.

I enjoy it when the candidates are able to sing more than one song in an episode. This can really show the canidates that have talent and range of their voices. It can also help to negate a bad song selection for or by the candidate. A few shows ago the theme was songs by Mariah Carrey for the women while the man had to sing a song of Take That. I thought singing Mariah Carrey songs was too restrictive on some of the women, as not everyone had singing styles or voices that lent themselves to her type of song. I like the idea of the candidates singing a variety of songs with different themes or genres, but think that if more of the candidates could do two or three songs more often, this would give us a better chance to see how good they really are. I really enjoy seeing some of the candidates develop their singing skills and abilities over the course of the shows, some of them really take advantage of the coaching provided. I would like to see more candidates continuing on longer instead of kicking one or so off every week. Maybe they could have a regular season followed by some kind of playoff. There could be the regular season of 8 to 10 normal shows and then a playoff or series of playoffs resulting in two finalists that the audience could vote for.

I’m sure that there will be a lot of viewers of tonight’s show and that there will be a lot good music sung. I guess that we’ll find out who wins tonight! Do you have a favorit Idol or Superstar? Do you have any ideas for improving the shows (please refrain from obscene suggestions). If you liked this article, please consider subscribing to the blog via RSS or email, share it on or on Digg and pass it on to anyone that you think might appreciate it. Thank you. :)
On Deck…

I’ll be publishing posts about…
  • The next in my series of weight loss strategies
  • My next Spotlight on the web.
  • More on productivity, web 2.0, social networking, family, parenting, health, and other things that you can use.
Other Post That You Might Also Like to Read…

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Fire Destroyed Our Backyard Shed Yesterday!

I just posted a story about the fire we had early yesterday in our backyard shed at the family blog (you can find the story here) The fire destroyed our backyard shed and has somewhat changed my posting schedule for the week. The main thing is that everyone was physically uninjured and that the damage wasn't worse than it was. Since there are a lot of houses close together and almost all of those homes have garden sheds that are made of wood, the damage could have been a lot worse, so we can feel lucky that things were not worse!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

My mother with me as a baby

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone! I’m sure that the greeting card companies and florists would love to hear me say this but I think that every day should be Mother’s Day. All of our mothers have done so much for us over the years, much of which we don’t give much thought to or have thanked them enough for!

Even those people that didn’t have the world’s greatest mom, have a least some praise and thanks that they could give to their moms. For the rest of us, we owe the world to our moms. Being a father now, I can now see things from a whole different perspective than I did as a kid and can have that much more appreciation for what my mom did by watching what my wife does now. I’d like to add that I believe my wife is doing a wonderful job, even though it might not always come across and I certainly can’t give her enough praise and respect for what she has done and is doing!

Mom with her father and sister at my sister Nicole's wedding

My mother lost a battle with cancer on September 11, 2001. I owe the world to my mom and would like to acknowledge some of her accomplishments as well as describing her nature.

  • She and my dad raised the three of us.
  • She had at least one dog at all times of her life, at one time we had as many as six, with most of them being big dogs. I have to admit that we lived on some property at that point so it wasn’t like we were keeping 6 dogs in the city.
  • She fed the birds, squirrels, and chipmunks on a regular basis. At one point there were over two hundred Goldfinches on our porch, unfortunately, we didn’t capture this moment. We once took a trip to the Pointe Pelee National Park of Canada to see some of migratory birds that could only be seen in the Southern most point of Canada.
  • She always seems to have some kind of rescue project going on. She nursed all kinds of injured birds that hit our sliding glass door leading to our porch. These rescue attempts included a baby chipmunk and baby skunk.
  • She loved babies and kids. Whenever we went anywhere that there was a baby, you could almost always bet that she would hold that baby, if we were there long enough.
  • She worked to receive an RN (Registered Nurse) and BSN (Batchelor of Science in Nursing). She started her pre-requisite classes for nursing school at the same time that I started going to college. She showed determination in getting degrees at a point in her life when many people are only studying the newspaper. She was proof that an education is possible at any age.
  • She was a neo natal intensive care unit nurse. She loved taking care of all the prematurely born babies. In her hospital, she took care of a lot of crack babies and babies born with all kinds of other additions, in addition to those babies that were just born prematurely, so she did see a lot of babies that didn’t make it as well as those that were starting life with some cards stacked against them.
  • She loved to read. She seemed to always have a new book.
  • She loved and adored her grandparents. She used to tell us stories about visiting her grandparents and working in their restaurant. I believe that I developed a love and respect for my grandparents from her.
  • When her mother developed cancer, she went down to Dallas to help take care of her. She worked in the same hospital that grandma was being treated in.
  • Because grandpa was a traveling salesman, she moved a lot as a kid. She lived in Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, California, Texas, and Michigan is a result of grandpa being moved around.

Mom with Heather, Caitlin, and Jacob

Of course my mother did some of the other normal motherly things. She nursed the three of us when we were sick or injured. She was there to listen to our problems and give her advice. She was the glue that held the family together. I know that I owe so much of who I am today to her, it is hard to imagine how different I would be if she hadn’t been there for us.

So on this Mother’s Day, I’ll take a few moments and honor the memory of my mother. I hope that you’ll let you mom know that you love her and that you appreciate all those motherly things that she has done for you in your life. Is there something special about your mom that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear you story along with any other comments that you might have. If you liked this article, please consider subscribing to the blog via RSS or email, share it on or on Digg and pass it on to anyone that you think might appreciate it. Thank you. :)

On Deck…

I’ll be publishing posts about…

  • The next in my series of weight loss strategies
  • My next Spotlight on the web.
  • More on productivity, web 2.0, social networking, family, parenting, health, and other things that you can use.

Other Post That You Might Also Like to Read…

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Use PhotoRazor to Reduce the File Size of Your Digital Photos

A screen shot of PhotoRazor

Have you ever wanted to reduce the file size of your digital photos? Maybe you wanted to send pictures off to friends via email but since you can't compress zip digital photos with Winzip (or other normal compression software) you were weary about sending those huge files, either because of a storage limit to the size of email attachments that you can send or that your email might exceed the storage limits of the recipiant(s). Maybe you wanted to add a photo to a presentation or documentation but didn’t want the file size to balloon out of control. Maybe you’d like to add some photos to an online service but are worried about reaching the storage limit to quickly. Why not use PhotoRazor to reduce the file size of your photos?

PhotoRazor is a freeware application that can be found at Stormdance. You can read more about it here. It is a relatively simple application that only reduces the file size of photos, so it isn’t bloated with a lot of hard to understand and use features and it is very easy to use. One recent picture that I reduced went from 589 KB down to 57.2 KB, so you can see that PhotoRazor can greatly reduce the file size of your photos.

A folder of mine opened up in PhotoRazor

After downloading and installing it, you can use the “Choose Folder” button to select the file location of your photos, found under “1.Select Photos”. The contents of your selected folder will appear on the right side of the PhotoRazor. Whatever photo you might have selected will be displayed in the center of the application. You also have the ability to rotate your photos here as well. If you move your mouse over any of the photos that are small thumbnail size on the right, a slightly larger version of that photo will pop up (you can see this in use in the second picture that I have included with this post). Next you can decide how small you want to make your picture size in the “2.Size & Quality” section of the application. As you can see I have my picture quality set at 85%. You don’t want to reduce the size so much that your picture quality suffers. Under “3.Resize & Save” you can select all of the photos in the folder to resize and to it in bulk or you can select one or some of your photos. By default PhotoRazor stores your smaller pictures in a new folder created within your original folder called “small photos”. You can change the location here if you’d like or give the folder a different name. Clicking on the “Resize Photos Now” will then create new smaller photos for you. Your new smaller photos will have the same name as the originals but with “m_” placed in front of them. Because new files are created, your originals are still in their folder and unchanged.

There are lots of reasons that you might want to have smaller file sizes made of your photos. PhotoRazor is a handy little application to do this for you that won’t cost you and arm and a leg. Have you used PhotoRazor before? What to you use to reduce the file size of your pictures? If you have any other comments, I’d love to hear them. If you liked this article, please consider subscribing to the blog via RSS or email, share it on or on Digg and pass it on to anyone that you think might appreciate it. Thank you. :)

On Deck…

I’ll be publishing posts about…

  • The next in my series of weight loss strategies
  • My next Spotlight on the web.
  • More on productivity, web 2.0, social networking, family, parenting, health, and other things that you can use.

Other Posts That You Might Also Like to Read…

Monday, May 5, 2008

Making Healthy Meals Kid Friendly

Anna showing off her creations!

Have you ever had problems getting your kids to eat or maybe you would like to jazz up a boring meal? If you’re a parent, I’m sure you had the situation where your kids either said that they weren’t hungry or didn’t seem interested in what you had planned. For the parents and non-parents alike, I’m sure that you have gone to fix something to eat and not been excited about what your options were or felt that you were making the same boring things over and over again. Since presentation is everything, as some people say, why not add a little fun and pizzazz to your meal?

I was surprised to see how excited my girls were about eating dinner yesterday. One of the biggest reasons that they were excited about it was because they were making it! My wife had taken out some cookie cutter shapes that we have and let the girls apply them to their meal. Our kids are at an age where they love all those arts and crafts and there are many days that I think that would do nothing all day but cut stuff out and glue it! They often enjoy helping to make dinner. I must admit that this is one of the most excited that I have seen them about one of their projects.

A close up of the plates

You can do this with a lot of things, so feel free to improvise. Based on an idea in Koch's noch mal, Mama! the girls applied the cookie cutter to bread, cheese, assorted lunch meats, and cucumbers. For the basics you make this healthy by using low fat cheeses and lunch meats, healthy breads, low fat/salt prezels (or other healthy snacks) for garnish and further appearance. You can also use your cookie cutter to jazz up your peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and give all sorts of fun shapes to carrots, apples, and so on. While the kids will probably like the shapes, they really enjoy that they do it themselves. It also helps if you get excited about their creations. My daughters really enjoyed that I took pictures of their creations. While you might not necessarily want to take pictures, you could do that especially since with digital cameras, you’re in control of what you print.

One word of caution, like many things in life, if you use this took often it will lose its excitement and your kids might just find it boring. You can probably use this idea for a few meals and then store the idea in the back of your mind (or somewhere else) and use it again later, so that it becomes new again. I pasted a link to the book at above, but the book that we have is in German. Cornelia Trischberger is the author listed on our book. The book being offered at is lists as Doreen Paal, I'm assuming that this author translated the German book. Here is the book we have at Cornelia Trischberger has also written a book called
Jetzt koch' ich, Mama!,
which has listed under the author Sybille Engels, so I believe both books have been translated by different people. One of my searches revealed Cornelia Trishcberger and Doreen Paal in a couple of entries together. In the event that you do happen to order either book and end up with the German version by mistake, I'd happy to get whatever receipes you'd like translated into English.

By using a cookie cutter, your family’s imagination, and involving them in creating the meal, you can really make your meal experience much more rewarding for everyone. Do you have any tips that you use to make your meal fun? If you have any other comments, I’d love to hear them. If you liked this article, please consider subscribing to the blog via RSS or email, share it on or on Digg and pass it on to anyone that you think might appreciate it. Thank you. :)

On Deck…

I’ll be publishing posts about…

  • The next in my series of weight loss strategies
  • My next Spotlight on the web.
  • More on productivity, web 2.0, social networking, family, parenting, health, photography and other things that you can use.

Other Post That You Might Also Like to Read…

Brining Your Kids Art to Web 2.0

Teaching Our Kids About Money

Family Activities

Why Not Have A Fruit Day?

The Power of One" as a must have diet book.

A Winning Attitude And Weight Loss

Weight loss strategies from the “Lose Weight with The Power of One: A Motivational Journey to Nutritional Sanity”:

Friday, May 2, 2008

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father’s Day! While Father’s Day (Vatertag) is usually celebrated in June in the U.S., May 1st is when it was celebrated in Germany this year. I thought that I would dedicate this post to my father, John Heron.

This year Father’s Day in Germany happens to fall on May 1st. May 1st is also a national holiday celebrated across much of Europe, sometimes called “May Day” and/or “International Workers’ Day”. The observance of Father’s Day in Germany changes yearly dependent upon when Easter occurs because Father’s Day is celebrated at the same time as Ascension Day (Christi Himmelfahrt). This year all of these things came together.

When most of us look at who we are today, a lot of us will immediately give credit to our mothers. Our mothers did an awful lot of us but we should not overlook dear ole dad. While mom might be the glue that holds the family together, the chief care giver (administering band aids and other medicinal remedies when we need them), and a whole slew of other important (and often unglamorous and unrecognised roles) our father’s were the backbone of the family and often the disciplinarians.

When you look at all the kids growing up today in single parent homes or coming from divorces, I realize that I was very fortunate to have a father that was around. A lot of fathers today aren’t really involved in their kids lives and you can see that there is a definite lack of a male role model with many kids growing up today. My dad was there and for that I’m grateful.

Here are some things that he has accomplished in his life or that he should be credited for…

  • He quit school to raise his younger brother and sister when his father passed away. While many people have done similar things in their lives, you don’t have to look too far to see cases where people wouldn’t have made such a sacrifice.
  • He later received his GED (High School Equivalent degree). While he quit school for one of the “right” reasons, he went to the trouble of getting his GED. You have to admire to adults that go back to get there GED. Many of whom when they were younger didn’t realize the value of an education or circumstances didn’t allow them to finish high school!
  • He ran his own business delivering milk to residential homes and businesses (this is how he met my mother). He started out working for someone else and then bought the route. Running his own business helped give him some skills and attitudes that have served him well in life.
  • When he saw that the writing on the wall about the milk delivery business drying up, he became a plumber. He didn’t cry over spilled milk, but moved forward and started working in a new profession. Mom helped him study and ultimately pass the exam and his certification.
  • He was willing to work on the other side of the state or in another state, in order to provide for his family.
  • He taught himself about the stock market and managed to put together a nice retirement within a relatively short period to time.
  • He and my mother wanted us kids to have the chance to grow up outside of the city. They bought a house in the Ortonville, Michigan area. They owned that house for almost 20 years. My dad was born and raised in Detroit, so he wanted to show his family something other than city life. Prior to Ortonville, we had lived in Livonia, a suburb of Detroit.
  • He spent countless hours trying to keep that old Ford tractor running so that he could mow the lawn or whatever else that he needed to do. Because we lived on a good size piece of property when we lived in the Ortonville area, he had to mow a couple of acres with a tractor, because a push mower would never have finished the job. He also used the tractor to clear the drive way of snow and to maintain the gravel driveway that we had (especially after a lot of rain had shifted things around).
  • He was one of six bothers and three sisters, so I think that he passed on some of his big family ways to us. He used to say things like, “he who eats the fastest gets the mostest”, being silly, but if you didn’t eat quickly in the house that he grew up in, your portions would have been greatly reduced.
  • He gave me a love of music. He is a far better singer than I am, but he has all sorts of music trivia that he seems to have passed on to me. Much of the music that I like can be attributed to his interest in the Beatles, Motown, and so on.
  • He is proud of his Scottish heritage. He parents came over from Scotland and even came from the same town. I was fortunate enough to take a trip with him and my Aunt Betty to Scotland last year. It is a trip full of memories that I won’t forget! My sisters and I used to love to hear him sing the Scottish songs that he new (I still love to hear him sing them).
  • He encouraged all of us to get a college education. My sister Heather learned the skilled trade of being a wood model maker and my sister Nicole did get an Associates Degree in medical billing, and I graduated from the University of North Texas, so we all did this to varying degrees (pun not intended)
  • He taught all of us how to drive a car (and a manual transmission no less)! While we all had the driver’s education classes that were offered at our local high school, it was dad that took us all out in the car for the practice that we needed and where we really learned the mechanics of driving. The driver’s ed class only had automatic transmissions, so we all learned how to drive a stick from him.
  • He showed mom a great deal of respect and you could tell that she was the love of his life.
  • He has demonstrated that there is life after retirement. He always enjoyed his work and thought that he wouldn’t be able to retire, but he has found that he enjoys himself and has been able to travels a lot. Since I moved to Germany he has been here three times.
  • He is optimistic, always looking at the bright side of things.
  • He has perseverance. Michigan’s economy has always been boom or bust. Things tend to go well when the auto industry does well and badly when the auto industry is down. These boom and but cycles really affected the skilled trades (including plumbers) but he always managed to find a job. Looking back, he probably took some jobs that didn’t really excite him, but you never heard him complain about any of the jobs. He did eventually get a job with General Motors, where he was able to work at for several years before retiring.
  • Since my mother passed away in 2001, he has had to take over some of her roles in the family. My sisters and I were all grown, so it isn’t like he had to be both parents for us as we were growing up, but families continue after the kids are grown (sometimes they might not be fully functional but life goes on). Sometimes he will do things with the grandkids to help out my sisters. Of course he doesn’t do things the way that mom would or did, but then nobody else can ever be mom.
  • He moved back to Michigan to be near his family. I think that Michigan has always been in my dad’s heart, so I was surprised that mom was able to talk him into moving to the warmer climate of Las Vegas. They both loved it out there. After age and health seemed to have caught up to his siblings and two of his brothers passed away, he decided that he wanted to be nearer to his family back in Michigan, so he sold his place in Vegas. He seems to have sold that house at a good time, because the market has dropped in Vegas since then.
  • This year he and a friend decided to go to Florida to experience baseball’s spring training. They watched a few games. When I heard about this I was reminded of those fantasy baseball camps that some people go to. I thought that he must have had a ball.
  • He joined the “70” club. In March he became the 7th of his siblings to turn 70. When I see the lifestyle that he leads, I can’t really imagine him being 70.
  • In October, 2007 he had a heart attack and by-pass surgery. We were all surprised that he had a heart attack since he has led an active and mostly healthy lifestyle. He has been more active and concerned about his diet than most people his age. We were all relieved that he made it through the surgery alright and he recovered very well.

I have posted a picture of my dad holding me by his old milk truck in addition to a collage that I did of pictures from our trip to Paris in 2007. I feel most fortunate to have had dad as my dad! Maybe you can take some time out to let you dad know how much you care about him and thank him for some of those things that he did for you. For those of you celebrating Father’s Day later in the year, you still have time to do something nice for your dad, and even if your Father’s Day already passed, I’m sure that he would appreciate your thoughts and gestures later on as well! Has you father been there for you too? Do you have some fond memories of your father? If you have any other comments, I’d love to hear them. If you liked this article, please consider subscribing to the blog via RSS or email, share it on or on Digg and pass it on to anyone that you think might appreciate it. Thank you. :)

I recently posted an article about 100 posts at the DC Heron Family blog, feel free to check it out.

On Deck…

I’ll be publishing posts about…

  • The next in my series of weight loss strategies
  • My next Spotlight on the web.
  • More on productivity, web 2.0, social networking, family, parenting, health, and other things that you can use.

Other Post That You Might Also Like to Read…