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Archive for August 2010

inspired by . Sarah Jane Studios

Today is my Baby Girl’s 2nd birthday! What a little sweetie she is and in honor of all the joy she’s brought to the small pond world, I decided to introduce you to one of the illustrators I follow who specializes in artwork for or depicting children.

Sarah Jane Studios is simply a wonderland of all things sweet and inspiring for little ones. I really enjoy Sarah’s blog where she shares the little bundles of joy in her own home . And I also enjoy the glimpse it shows into the creative routines and inspiration of this wonderful illustrator. Her Etsy Shop is a delightful source of prints, invitations, printable paper dolls, mailing stickers, embroidery patterns, calendars and more. If you are celebrating a little one, as I am today, you’ll enjoy a look into Sarah’s incredible world.

Two.

Happy Birthday, Baby Girl! Two years ago today, you lit up my life with your smile, your softness, your unquenchable smile. I’m forever grateful for the incredible and beautiful gift of you.

Winding Roads

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line–or so the saying goes. I’ll bet that’s absolutely true in pristine geometry. In life, I’m not so sure it always plays out that way. In fact, I’ve realized that the winding path can sometimes yield unexpected rewards, and get me to my destination to boot.

A week or so ago, I was traveling to south central Mississippi to visit with a Small Pond Graphics restaurant client and ended up spending most of the day on the road–MS Highway 31 South, to be more precise. Oddly enough, Google thought the best (and fastest) way to get from Starkville to Magee, MS was through the curvy, two-lane highway route–a fact that may be uniquely indicative of Mississippi. Because it was true. It WAS the fastest way to get there, although 4-laned, 70mph speed limits were only a small part of the itinerary.

Stepping out of the four walls of my office and out of the mindset of the digital world proved to be quite a sigh of relief that week. One I’m still relishing. It’s interesting how a simple change of scenery can offer much-needed refreshment, even if that scenery is mostly seen from the front windshield. More interesting still is the new perspective that comes in releasing yourself from the need to get there as fast as possible.

I left early for the trip because I didn’t really know the way, and while Google may be the quintessential authority on most things, I wasn’t convinced that the back roads of Mississippi were actually included in that knowledge-base. I’m sure I have traveled that part of the state a few times in my adulthood, but the last time I really remember paying attention to it was when I was a child. That was the trip I took with my Grandmother to trace the roots of her growing up years around Smith County where I was photographed religiously beside many personal landmarks. And, I have the goofy, mis-proportioned, knee-socked, pre-teen, girl-standing-by-a-road-sign Polaroids to prove it. This time I only passed BY the sign to White Oak, MS. I didn’t actually stop to recreate that childhood photo op. But I did take my camera. And, I took my time.

The trip was an exercise in stopping–to smell the figurative roses, perhaps. Although, I suppose the sense of smell isn’t the one that got the most refreshment. (Unless, of course, you include the distinctive scent of chicken houses as a source of inspiration.) My senses of awareness and appreciation were the ones piqued along this journey. If you’ve poured over the Junkie tags list (and I’m SURE you have), you may have noticed a tiny one called “vernacular typography”. It’s a big ol’ phrase that, for me, just means hand-painted signs. Searching them down and recording them is sort of a haphazard hobby I’ve had since college. I just enjoy seeing the ingenuity and creativity folks put into communicating themselves without the benefit of cut vinyl. For the unindoctrinated, winding roads and small towns in Mississippi are the mother lode of hand-painted signs, y’all. I’m beginning to share some of the images I found over at Plop! my company blog, if you’re interested.  But, here, my mention of it is more an acknowledgement of the process of stopping. And capturing. Of driving and winding. And stopping. Of turning around and driving back where you came. To see something again. And to mark it in time with a snapshot. Whatever oddity it represents or what interest of the “designer” it communicates, the act of stopping and paying attention to something that caught your fleeting fancy is a phenomenal experience. Yes, my senses of awareness and appreciation were more than awakened.

In addition to capturing quite a few hand-painted signs, in this trip I saw turkeys. I saw rows of hay bales recently rolled and ready to be stored for winter sale or cattle grazing. I saw rows and rows of chicken houses representing one of the farming profession’s staples in this part of the state. I drove through the Bienville National Forest that boasts no cell service but stands of pine 12 feet from the road without the tell-tale reddish brown dying undergrowth produced by herbicides used to keep the normal summertime Mississippi roadside vegetation at bay. I saw the shade of those trees pierced by moments of sunlight. I saw the curves and the mailboxes and the road signs bearing the names of county folks. I saw Good Hope and Lena and Forkville. Morton, Polkville and Puckett. Yes, Grandmother, I saw White Oak.

I saw my need to get somewhere fast vanishing. I saw my own peripheral vision come into focus. I saw the journey grow just as valuable as the destination.

Signs of Life

Wow! I’ve been seriously neglecting Plop! with all my busy-ness of late. But, good news! There are indeed signs of life in this little blog. I have some great articles in the hopper and a whole list of inspired pond posts to share.

But, first, I decided it was time to let you in on one of my closet intrigues. Since I was a college student at Mississippi State University studying art and architecture, I have had a growing fascination with signs, particularly hand-made ones. My penchant for graphic design, found art objects and architecture’s sense of place all rolled into one ball of interest in my freshman year when I was assigned a project to find examples of local art for Dr. Paul Grootkerk’s art appreciation class. When you recognize the wonderful small town environments prevalent in our neck of the woods, you’ll understand the particular challenge Dr. Grootkerk was issuing. To complete the project, I decided to focus my attention on graffiti as a form of art and communication. Even in the small town deep South we have graffiti.

For centuries, men have been putting their creativity to work to communicate ideas in visual form — from cave paintings to feudal crests to favicons. It’s the essence of graphic design. That project of some 20 years ago (yikes!) began my journey of noticing the creativity people employ to convey their messages. There is something very inspiring about a person’s desire to create a sign, putting it on display, to communicate what matters to him. Closet intrigue was born. I have since enjoyed collecting various images from the small (and big) ponds I visit that document some of that creative sign making. The $10 word I use for it is “vernacular typography” — type expressed in an untrained manner, and often without the benefit of mechanical processes. The less nerdy term is hand-painted signs. I like them. I like to imagine the person who made them. I like to notice the ingenuity required to execute them. I like to acknowledge the inherent creativity and pride of place found in the desire to make them. I thought I would share some of these inspiring, funny and quirky examples as I find them. And, in the process, you can visit a few of the small ponds that produced them.

Recently I was able to take a drive through central Mississippi to visit with a restaurant client. I left earlier than needed, and I brought my camera. I’m posting an essay about the unexpected benefits of that winding roadtrip over at EyeJunkie later, but suffice it to say: the road was indeed winding, and I made quite a few turns and back turns to satisfy my need to capture some signs of life. [Read girl in heels traipsing down the side of a two lane highway with camera in hand.]

This odd little one-word message in Good Hope, MS (along Hwy 31 S) caught my attention. When I saw the word “trash,” I thought “how thorough.” Someone wanted to make sure everyone knew the freezer was destined for the landfill. But, as I drove through a little more of Good Hope, I realized that beside each mailbox was a boxy trash bin as well. It must be some requirement of waste management, a county ordinance or some attempt at protecting the beautification program from raccoons (because I don’t think we have bears here). The word “trash” took on a whole new meaning. Rather than a simple declaration, it was an instruction: “pick up our trash here.” Now that’s repurposing! And, I suppose it’s a lesson in how much advertising copy is too little copy.

Flying Light

Today is Little Drummer Boy’s first day of “big school” kindergarten. We’ve been anticipating it and talking about it all summer, and the big day finally arrived. It’s really just one more episode in a thousand new things LDB has been experiencing. When you are young, change seems so much more acceptable for some reason. Perhaps it’s because so many monumental changes in size and communication skills and motor skills are compacted into those first few years, that it really becomes “old hat.” It’s no wonder we seem ready to slow the process as we get older.

Little Drummer Boy was raring to go, all dressed up in his yellow and khaki school uniform and boasting a Bumblebee Transformer backpack–no doubt all he needs to face the big world today. The most energizing factor about the backpack seemed to be the fact that it lights up when he moves. LDB was intent on making sure the lights would show up in all our “first day of school” photo opportunities. I guess something about the red blinking lights amped up the “cool” factor. It’s hard to squelch the light. A realization I’m enjoying at the moment.

The start of school always seems symbolically to represent the ending of summer for me, despite the reality that we’ll likely have at least two or three more months of summertime temperatures in Mississippi. Beyond that, this start of school for Little Drummer Boy seems to represent the ending of his “baby-hood” and his launch into full-fledged “boy-dom.” And although I often tell him “you’ll always be my baby,” there’s no turning back now. Yes, he was raring to go. And, I have to admit that I couldn’t help but want to hold the reigns a little tighter.

In the excitement of heading down the sidewalk toward Sudduth Elementary this morning, LDB stumbled and fell while holding my hand. My heart sank for a moment — a moment ripe with emotions and memories and hopes and a twinge of worry. Will he cry? Will a fall overshadow the fun of the morning? Will this squelch his excitement for the day and this new experience?  Little Drummer Boy’s response was to stand up without a flinch and say, “I’m ok. I love you Mommy.” It’s hard to squelch the light.

Earlier this week, the latest American Life in Poetry installment graced my inBox. The featured poem, Fireflies, couldn’t be more appropriate in my mind at the moment. “Lightening bugs,” as we call them around here, are the hallmark of Summertime and catching them is a typical joy for almost any “boydom” or “girlhood.” Little Drummer Boy and Bug have had their share of experiencing the chase and the wonder of these little incandescent creatures. Baby Girl hasn’t had the pleasure yet, but I’m sure she’ll enjoy the experience with her own flair in due time. Even as a grown-up, I can clearly remember that there is nothing quite as giggle-inducing or excitement-sparking as capturing the fly in two hands, peeking into the dark space to glimpse the light and then opening your fingers wide to see him fly away spreading his light into the night sky. That moment is beautifully described in this poem, and it reminded me… There’s nothing quite as exciting as holding their light and letting it go for the rest of the sky to experience.

Last Summer after one of the boys’ excursions in pursuit of fireflies, I recorded one of my favorite Little Drummer Boy quotes. I’ve shared it before, but I was thinking of it this morning. They bustled back into the house all sweaty and filled laughter. They had caught two lighting bugs. And in their inspection, LDB announced that one of them “COULD NOT turn his light off.” If there is any one thing I can hope for Little Drummer Boy as he embarks on this year’s new experiences it is that he CAN NOT turn his light off. It’s a brilliant light that deserves to fly.

American Life in Poetry: Column 280
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006

Marilyn Kallet lives and teaches in Tennessee. Over the years I have read many poems about fireflies, but of all of them hers seems to offer the most and dearest peace.

Fireflies

In the dry summer field at nightfall,
fireflies rise like sparks.
Imagine the presence of ghosts
flickering, the ghosts of young friends,
your father nearest in the distance.
This time they carry no sorrow,
no remorse, their presence is so light.
Childhood comes to you,
memories of your street in lamplight,
holding those last moments before bed,
capturing lightning-bugs,
with a blossom of the hand
letting them go. Lightness returns,
an airy motion over the ground
you remember from Ring Around the Rosie.
If you stay, the fireflies become fireflies
again, not part of your stories,
as unaware of you as sleep, being
beautiful and quiet all around you.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2009 by Marilyn Kallet, from her most recent book of poetry, Packing Light: New and Selected Poems, Black Widow Press, 2009. Reprinted by permission of Marilyn Kallet. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Green Flamingos, Nelson Mandela and Courage

Over the last few months I’ve noticed green flamingos around Starkville. They started popping up unexpectedly on bridge railings, electric boxes and the like, your typical vandal fare. But, they were some pretty well-designed vandal fare. These repetitive stenciled green fowl were nicely composed and sufficiently funky — something a designer would enjoy. And, it ticked me off.

It ticked me off so much that I was poised to launch one of my infrequent, but soul-cleansing rant posts complete with a few of the following points:

1. Kids these days.
2. Great. My tax dollars are going to have to clean that up.
3. That whole underground starving artist thing may seem glamorous, but it’s, well, NOT.
4. Get a job!
5. It may look like art, but it’s actually a misdemeanor.
6. Your talent is a gift. Make it count.

Yep, I’ll admit I was ready to unload, but that’s not the essay I’m writing. An overloaded schedule (and maybe some poor time management skills) stepped in and allowed those uncensored thoughts some time to germinate. Although I may still feel the same way on many of the points, they’ve also reminded me of the need for a shift in thinking.

“Your playing small doesn’t save the world.”

It’s from a quote by Nelson Mandela. It’s been floating around in my brain since I read it in a transcript of a commencement address several years ago. I can’t escape it. And, before I knew it, my impetuous rant turned into a post about courage. It’s been a while since I’ve written about the pursuit of my 2010 theme word. Perhaps I’ve been too immersed in exercising some courage in a few areas of late (where exercising equals being tossed into the deep end and hoping your swimsuit top doesn’t fly off.) I suppose that the laboratory takes priority over the lecture series in life lessons just as it often does in the traditional classroom.

I read in last week’s Starkville paper that the green flamingo vandals have turned themselves into the police department. They are exactly who I imagined they were — a couple of art students at the university making their mark on the world, literally. They are offering restitution and performing clean-up duties in hopes their records can escape with only minor blemishes. I’m sure their parents are hoping the same, and that their dollars spent on higher education will not go to waste. End of story.

Only not.

I’m sure there are more personal elements to the situation, to which, as a mother, I would likely be sympathetic. As an artist, I’m sure even more sympathetic. As a person, quite challenged with the realization that talent deserves courage. The broader quote from Mr. Mandela says this…

“Our worst fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, ‘who am I to be brilliant gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?  You are a child of God.  Your playing small doesn’t save the world.”

This from a man who has seen and lived at the pinnacle of authority and power as well as the despair of imprisonment, a man who HAS changed many aspects of the world around him. My first reaction to green flamingos was to say… Your talent is being misplaced. Your education is a privilege many in the world aren’t offered. The opportunity to learn in the arts is one many in the world don’t experience — or at the least they experience it with makeshift tools and eagerly devote themselves to the instruction knowing it may be their only hope to rise from desperate living situations. The superfluous materials of stencils and spray paint are luxuries many in the world can’t afford because they need rice or flour. While my first notion was to remind those young students of these facts, my more in-depth realization is to remind myself. To challenge myself against laziness. To challenge myself against cynicism and pessimism. To challenge myself against pity and compaint. To challenge myself into embracing big gifts.

I’m talented, as each person is in unique ways. And those talents aren’t entitlements or rights. They are gifts. Remarkable gifts. It’s so typical to diminish them. To be shaken by others who diminish them. To deny them. To apologize for them. To waste them. To shirk them. To make them seem small. To use them as if they WERE small.

“Your playing small doesn’t save the world.”

Even if the only world I’m saving is the one where I sit every day, I’m realizing that whatever talents I bring to bear on that world require courage. The world where I sit deserves a courageous talent, one that is used wisely and generously, without fear and without apology. To make those gifts count in whatever tiny sphere I apply them is my privilege. My responsibility.

Responsible Facebook Marketing: Page or Profile? (part 2)

A few weeks ago I shared some thoughts on responsible Facebook marketing for businesses in part 1 of this article. My comments centered on the important impression it makes for businesses to market within the Facebook Terms of Service when using this ever-growing social networking website. Since the Facebook Terms of Service disallow users from conducting more than one “profile”, I recommend that users set up their business Facebook presence in the “page” format. While I appealed to our need for responsible (and TOS-abiding) marketing as a way of setting examples of how to conduct business in this new digital age, I also promised some more concrete reasons in a future post.

Hello, part 2. Business ethics aside, using the Page format rather the Facebook Profile option just makes good marketing sense. And, here are 5 reasons why…

1. Pages look like businesses. There are quite a few business or organization options that are available when setting up a Page format in Facebook. Creators can choose ptions like restaurant, retail, professional organization, and many other specific business types. Facebook allows Pages to be designated as a local business; a brand, product or organization; or an artist, band or public figure. Each option has built-in display items for information that is relevant to the specific type of entity. Options like hours of operation, service listings, mission statements and products are just a few of the items you can include in the information displayed on your page. On the other hand, Profiles look like people. So, your business information looks amateurish at best. Businesses don’t have birthdays, favorite quotes and movies, or many of the other items displayed in the standard Profile. In trying to apply normal business information to this more personal format, your message becomes clunky, or even confusing.

2. Pages offer business-friendly application options. These applications can enhance your Facebook marketing efforts, but many aren’t available for use on Profiles. You can add custom tabs to your Page with specific company information, integrate FB with your other social media outlets and channels, import blog feeds, post slide or powerpoint presentations, and much more by adding applications to your Page.

3. Pages give fans instant gratification. In the Profile format, users request a “friendship”, but must wait for confirmation. Even if it’s only a few minutes or hours, you’ve lost that potential customer or contact’s interest in your business. When a user “likes” a Facebook Page, they immediately gain access to all the Page has to offer, and your posts begin showing up in their stream. Yes, they can immediately begin interacting with your page with wall posts or comments based on your page settings, which can be risky. But, that opportunity fosters an open relationship of engagement with a potential client — the hallmark of doing business in a social environment.

4. Pages include a helpful set of analytics about page use. Unlike Profiles, Facebook provides data on who is interacting with your Page and how. Brief statistics are part of your account notifications and more detailed information is available to any Page administrator. These stats can help you gain a better understanding of which Facebook marketing approaches are gaining the best response from fans.

5. Pages allow for multiple administrators. While the Terms of Service disallow passing around your password information for FB Profiles, the Page format allows the creator to designate multiple administrators who can edit settings, make posts and add features to the Page. This feature is particularly helpful for organizations who may need multiple staff to be able to promote their projects on Facebook. It also helps ease the burden of maintaining a consistent message in this social outlet.

To make this a well-rounded post, there are also a couple of drawbacks I see in the current Facebook Page format. I’ve noticed quite a few requests in the FB discussion boards for development changes surrounding these two issues, and it’s possible solutions will be developed and implemented into the Page structure.

1. Pages do not currently provide notification of fan wall posts or comments. If an administrator has “liked” or commented on a post already, he will receive notification of any subsequent interaction with the post. However, there is not a vehicle for alerting administrators of new posts or comments.

2. Pages are not specifically tied to the Facebook advertising opportunities. Only profiles are enabled with administrative privileges for the FB pay-per-click ad options. Any ads related to a Page must be administered by a specific profile user. The option to place ads or change them isn’t possible for multiple Page administrators. In addition, a user can only have one credit card listing on file for advertising. So, multiple pages administered by the same user can not have separate credit card payment options designated.

Life Goes.

I always think of pink this month since a precious little girl entered my world on the 30th. That was two years ago now, and she’s made an indelible impression. This August brings many changes to my life just like that one did. Baby Girl and Bug are both moving to new preschool classrooms where they will be challenged in new ways. Little Drummer Boy is beginning “big school” where he and I both will experience his newfound independence. I’ve just completed the first month of my new business and the beginnings of adjusting to working from home. Looking back at the post I recently wrote for my friend, Annie’s modern homemaking series at SisterWisdom.com, I was reminded again today that life is nothing if not an exercise in transition. The ability to embrace change is a gift worth cultivating. As I contemplate the upcoming changes in my life and the lives of my children, I realize they are only another example of the ebb and flow of lives lived. I think my challenge as a mother, a designer, a provider, a friend, a human is to make sure those lives are really lived, that changes bring a more richer existence, and that this continued persistence of living is a slow but unmistakable upward climb.

I can’t believe I’m offering this eyecandy on the actual first day of the month. Don’t hold me to that in future posts, but I hope you enjoy the August 2010 desktop wallpaper. Nothing says change (and growth) to me like the budding of blooms. I’m looking for those metaphorical blooms in each of the places of change I’m experiencing these days. I think I can concur with Mr. Frost regarding the lessons of life.

“It goes on.”

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