Gadgets and gizmos

I’m lucky to be a part of several formal and informal professional networking groups. One such group, a group of synagogue communications professionals, met a few weeks ago. The topic: Gadgets and gizmos we use at work to help us do our jobs better.

We spoke about Doodle (scheduling meetings), Canva (graphic design), HootSuite (scheduling social media posts), If This Then That (connecting your various apps to each other), Evernote (note taking), Sign-Up Genius (sign-up forms), and many others. We had a great time comparing notes on these great apps and websites.

It made me think: What are people using in their personal lives that are great gizmos and gadgets that you’d like to recommend?

Comment here or on Facebook for a fun discussion!

Parking lot sign

I’ve seen this parking lot sign twice, chuckling to myself each time:

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Sign reads: “10 MPH. Caution: Cars backing out.”

Cars are backing out of spots in this parking lot, so be cautious.

Ohhh … is that how parking lots work??

(And by the way, some of these cars will probably not be backing out, based on the way they are parked. Maybe the sign be updated to say: “Caution: Cars backing out. And also maybe pulling forward if they pulled through the lot. So basically, parking lot cautionary rules apply.”)

If the world was like an airline…

Adam and I had a great trip to Israel, with a bit of an extra-long, unplanned detour in Turkey. The ups and downs of our flights to and from Tel Aviv reminded me that airlines and airports are very special places, where people tolerate much more than they would in the real world.

If the world was like an airline…

DELAYS

“Hey Sam, I know we called our lunch for 1 p.m. and it’s 1:10 p.m. now. You’re probably already at the restaurant but I just wanted to let you know that I won’t actually be there until 2 p.m.”

“Sorry, I meant 3 p.m.”

“Actually, make that 4 p.m. You’ll still be there, right?”

“Never mind, so sorry to do this but I actually have to cancel. Maybe we can try again tomorrow?”

REROUTING

“I know you’re on the way to our meeting at Corner Bakery in Skokie that is scheduled for 10 minutes from now, but I’m going to need to move our meeting to Panera … in Iowa City. See you there!”

LOUNGING

“Welcome to the doctor’s office waiting room. We understand that you will be here with us for the next three to seven hours. Unfortunately, we will not be able to provide you with any of the following: WiFi, couches, two chairs next to each other, outlets. Instead, we are happy to provide you with limited food for purchase and an unlimited amount of hard, cold floor to sit on.”

VOUCHERS

“We are so sorry for our delay in calling your number here at the DMV, causing you to be here for several hours. As a slight consolation, here’s a voucher for the Dunkin Donuts next door, please grab yourself a donut on us (if they accept the voucher … which they might not). Bon appetit!”

 

Luckily, we made it home safely, and of course we appreciate everything airlines do to keep their passengers safe. For now, I’ll just be grateful that for the most part, the rest of the world does not operate on this kind of system.

The case for gift cards — still true today!

Thanks to Facebook Memories, I was reminded that exactly five years ago today, I wrote about my favorite gift: Gift cards. Since this post still rings true today, I thought I’d re-post it as a reminder for those of you doing last-minute holiday shopping for your loved ones.

The case for gift cards
Originally posted Dec. 21, 2011

Dear Reader,

If you should ever have to give me a gift for any reason — be it Chanukah, my birthday, perhaps an anniversary, or maybe even a very futuristic Mother’s Day — I hereby henceforth declare my written permission for you to purchase for me a gift card.

Here’s the part where you gasp. A gift card?! What an impersonal gift! But I’ll repeat: You have been granted my official permission (is anyone out there a notary?) to get me a gift card and call it a day. And yes, believe it or not, this can even apply to boyfriends and mothers.

When it comes to gifts, I can see how I may be difficult to shop for. I’m usually at least a season behind the rest of the fashion world (I just bought my first sweater poncho and I’m still not sure how I feel about it), I’m pretty particular about jewelry (I like silver but I’m not a huge fan of gold), and I like dollars but I don’t like any scents (haha, get it?). For whatever reason you’re buying me a gift, I am so grateful, and the last thing I would want to do would be to stress you out.

A gift card to one of my favorite stores (or really any store! I can find something anywhere!) is a nice way to put your gift to good use. As my personal shopping budget comes up a bit shy of the million-dollar mark, these gift cards come in handy to update my closet with the best fashion of 2009 or that iPod-pulverizing blender I’ve been wanting.

I do understand, though, the need for wanting to make a gift more “personal.” A gift card may be construed as cold or lacking in creativity. But if you’re feeling a bit of “gift card giving blah,” here are a few ways to make a gift card gift shine a bit more like you.

Be creative in your choice of gift card store. Maybe you’ve heard that I like scarves (it’s true!) and you have a favorite scarf store. I’d love to try a new store, and a gift card is a wonderful incentive.

Pair the gift card with a related gift. My mom often used to get people a gift card to Blockbuster along with a couple packs of popcorn, and I thought it was the cutest thing. What about a gift card to Old Navy on top of a fun pair of mittens? Or a gift card to a sports store with a nice water bottle?

Wrap the gift card in a big box. It’s fun to unwrap a piano-sized box shrouded in paper reminiscent of the 4th of July. It’s even more fun to find a little box inside of a big box. Make me work for the gift card. Heck, send me on a scavenger hunt around the neighborhood to make me find the gift card.

Write me a poem. You can include a thoughtful, creative card with your gift! Make a collage of pictures and memories of us. Scrape up your sonnet-writing skills or write about how I’m Lively, Interesting, and Active. Your creativity in the card is worth more than the gift.

So, use this guide to the gift card when thinking about what to get me or other people. Happy Chanukah, happy birthday, happy anniversary, happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and happy Wednesday!

What makes a “good” White Elephant gift?

white-elephant-gift-clipart-1“Should we keep these mugs that the Mazda dealership sent us with their logo?” I ask.

“Maybe — they might make a good White Elephant gift for my office,” Adam said.

Blog readers, I am here to ask you / vent about this: What exactly makes for a “good” White Elephant gift?

Back up. Around the holidays, many offices / groups of friends / families hold some kind of gift exchange. Instead of a more traditional (and religiously exclusive!) “Secret Santa,” some groups hold a “White Elephant” exchange. As far as I understand, the rules of this game are that people are supposed to bring a gift from their house or buy an inexpensive gift from the store that would make for a funny or random present.

Adam loves these exchanges and goes around all year looking at items as potential gifts. Mazda mugs! Mixing bowls with a drawing of ducks! The lamp from an old Aladdin Genie costume! People are going to love this!

I do not understand how to play this game.

These items are literally junk. Are we just playing a game of “pass around the junk from one person to another”? Is this assuming that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure? Because I finished tidying my house according to my celebrity tidying icon, and I’m not interested in accumulating items that other people think are tossable.

When it comes to junk, what makes one item a “good” White Elephant gift and another a “bad” one? Is it the humor involved?

The other piece of the White Elephant game is that you often do not know who will be receiving the gift in the end, whether people choose from wrapped gifts based on an assigned number, or people “steal” gifts, or a crazy set of laws that look straight outta the Gemara. If I knew who my intended recipient would be, I’d buy or find an amazing perfect gift that reminds that person of our friendship and a joke we once shared or a known love of ducks on mixing bowls. But the gift receiver is basically a stranger, which makes humor and personalization impossible.

The last thing I want to do is get a dorky gift that says something about me … but it’s hard to know how to avoid that.

So, dear friends, tell me: What guidelines do you use when selecting these gifts, and do you find this game enjoyable?

In the meantime, I’ll be off searching my closets for … oh boy, I’m so bad at this game I can’t even make something up to be funny here … an unopened pack of napkins with Disney princesses?

Thanksgiving table topic ideas

I’d like to suggest that tomorrow, as families come together to celebrate Thanksgiving, let’s avoid the heavy topic of the elections altogether. What’s done is done, and while we all have a lot we can do to continue to make a difference in our world, maybe this Thanksgiving should be a time to focus on lighter topics. Not necessarily “small talk,” but just more fun topics.

If you need some ideas, I’ve compiled a list of my recommendations for topics to discuss.

Lia’s Recommended Thanksgiving Table Topic Discussion Ideas

  1. Podcasts. Who listens to podcasts and what are your favorites? And for the technologically challenged, how the heck do you download them?
  2. TV show reunions. With the highly anticipated Gilmore Girls revival coming this weekend, what other TV shows would you like to see reunited?
  3. Go-to recipes. I love to ask friends this theoretical question: “I’m coming over to your house in an hour for dinner. You can stop at the closest grocery store for one or two ingredients, but you basically need to whip something up that you already have in your house. What would you cook for dinner?”
  4. Strange allergies. A lot of people have “normal” allergies like gluten or dairy, but does anyone around our table have any particularly unusual allergies? Tell us what life is like being allergic to pickles!
  5. Other dream jobs. If you didn’t work in your current job, what would your dream job be?
  6. Thanksgiving stories. What’s your funniest Thanksgiving memory?
  7. Comfy clothes. What article of clothing that you own makes you feel most comfortable?
  8. Old items. What is the oldest item you own that you still use? For example, up until I changed my name last year, it was my library card.
  9. Books that changed your life. A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about the five books that changed my life. What books have changed yours?
  10. What’s top of mind? Everyone has a topic that’s on the top of their minds. For me, I love talking about “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” — for a while it seemed I had no other topics of conversation. If you were to wear a name tag that said “I want to talk about ______,” what would it say, and why are you interested in it?

 

I hope these help fill your Thanksgiving dinners with flowing, interesting, non-divisive, non-political conversations. Happy Thanksgiving!

A dinner party with no small talk

Wow, the weather has been so nice lately! How’s work going? Do you have any upcoming travel plans? Okay, now that the small talk’s out of the way, let’s get to the real meat of our conversation.

Namely, this article, sent to me by my friend Carla. I like small talk as much as the next person does, but I’m thinking that this may inspire me to host my own “small-talk-free” dinner party. Who’s in?

Saved by the Max

On this sad day in our world, I have so many words flowing through my mind, but none of them are any better than what my fellow Facebook friends have shared. So, go to my Facebook newsfeed (or yours), read it, cry, and then come back here and smile, because last week my friends and I ate at the Saved by the Bell popup restaurant and there is still some good in this world.

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Any place with cutouts of my favorite Saved by the Bell characters, plus themed food on the menu (i.e. “Mac and Screech”) is a place that brings a smile to my face.