Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's All About the Skin

This short post is just to show a few newly created outfits in The first is my male Avatar, MichaelVincent Nathansohn and the second two are my before and after female Avatar who goes by the same name. Changing Skin changes everything. Now I have several to choose from, and when I change to one that is male, well, you see. I look like my brother. And I swagger when I walk.
Nonetheless, I find that exploring in SL is easier as a male. I've already had to block users from landing on my property, and have twice been slapped while wondering around all dressed up. Sad thing is, I've set my properties at PG, so what's up with that?
Regarding getting a bigger place, I'll postpone the major land purchase and building rezzing until after the holidays to avoid tier upgrade charges which I've just learned about. I'm am at the point now, with a yellow shirt, Khaki pants and funky blue shoes, to rez an office, install appliances and demontrate the potential of using SL to simulate work related activities to the decision makers in December.
Whew, the SL learning curve is steep, and me and my teddy-bear are ready for bed.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

No Cost Vacation to Mexico and North Pole

Friday was a good day. Not just because it was a stay-home vacation day, but because I got to travel to new and exciting locations and experience wonderful adventures, even sleeping in a box under a bridge, just to see what it was like.

How did the adventure begin? After morning toast and coffee and having checked my bank account balance online in RL, I signed into SL bound and determined not to make another real estate blunder. There I met LL employee Perry in online chat and learned about the pros and cons of rent vs. buy, island vs. mainland, private party vs. Linden.

Why is owning property important? It's not about me anymore. After a month exploring, and renting I'd decided to get a dog, and now needed someplace for him to live. I didn't want him to disappear again if I forgot to pay my rent, and anyhow, stability is important even for a virtual pet. So with Perry's advice, I signed into the land auctions, and after looking at several bid on a property that would provide me with access to ocean view, nearby homes and plenty of room for my burmese mountain dog to roam.

What will you rez on it?In my explorations over the past month, I've accumulated a 2 story house, a modern office with office furniture, a mercedes and several miscellaneous items of furniture. But I don't own the land yet, and I have no idea how much owning the land will cost me, as land use fees are based on parcel size or prims or some other concept that the LL employee on the youtube video equated to a gas tank that you could fill.
So what did you do?With 1 day and 11 hours on my hands I began exploring. I'd already been to the great wall of China, but found a link to 'featured' spaces. Being somewhat adverse to digital perversions, I choose to visit locations rated PG. I found Mexico fascinating, rented a free horse and rode it along the shore, listening to waves crash on the beach. Later I transported to a famous pub in Dublin, then back to Nebraska and finally to someplace in the great white north where I took a nap in a cabin I found there.

Now more about the horse.
Apparently when you rent a horse, you put it on like clothing, and then when you ride it gallops in line with your avatar's hip swing. You'll notice it's odd to nap with a horse attached, whether in the sand, or on a hammock, but curiousity got the best of me. Although the information card said the horse would only work in Mexico, I had no trouble teleporting to Nebraska and wondering around with the horse there, before heading to the north pole.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Yes Mom I Can Sew

I just don't sew very well. I learned that you can't turn the side to the back without the zipper sticking out like a tail. So apparently there's a reason a seamstress uses a pattern.

I'll spare you all the photos, but here's a litany of lousy stiching projects that started with my jr. high school cheerleading outfit in strechy-polyester and mis-matched thread, and ended last week with shimmery skirt fabric and a lop-sided zipper. My disgraces include:

  • A red and white polka dot mid-drift peasant top in 7th grade with uneven puffy sleeves.
  • Infant t-shirts that were too scratchy for the baby to wear.
  • A little red-riding hood in velvet that didn't quite fit Kaelynn's head.
  • A blue bunny suit for Billy that he wore, dripping sweat, off the plane to surpise his sister.
  • Elastic baby dresses with poorly pulled gathers, and ill fitting straps.
  • And numerous snap-up baby onesies that the little ones were too young to protest.

But in the last few weeks, motivated by a group of women sewing at work, I've tried again and had success at last, in creating a skirt, that fit, with a zipper, that worked. I'm the one with a hand-drawn face.

Of course it wasn't all success. See my second try below. The upholstery fabric was a bit stiff. And that pocket you see? I gave up after several tries to attach it inside out. But progress is being made, nonetheless. I wore the skirt to work, and it didn't even fall apart until the end of the day - a side seam split. Note to self "must double-stich next time."

Sparticus the Boxer-Doodle's Funny Poses

While working from home one day on the laptop loaned to me by my company, I turned around to see Sparticus, the Boxer-Doodle sitting in the entrance to my office, jubilant to have his mom home for the day. I grabbed my camera to snap a photo, and in a sequence of four pictures, got these funny poses.

It's typically difficult to photograph a black dog, and this one rarely sits still long enough to capture his likeness. But here he is, first shaking his head wildly, then sticking out his tongue, posing like an Egyptian Sphinx, and finally settling down once he realized I still had my socks on.

To a Sparticus, socks on mom = stay home day.
Shoes means work, and he becomes sullen as soon as I put them on.

Sparticus, aka Sparky, is now 2 years old. For a $15 Boxer-Doodle in box, he's been a great addition to our little family. He happily keeps me company while I'm working from home.

A Tale of Two Wardrobes

Two wardrobes aren't required of those living in year-round resort-like surroundings. My family and friends in California may even be said not to have a wardrobe as flip-flops and shorts hardly count. However, in my midwest home, the change of seasons provides a welcome opportunity to mix up the color palette, clean out the closet, and look forward to cool evenings in front of a fire.

Saying goodbye to summer dresses and short hemlines, leaves room for a bit of soul searching, in determining which items should be packed away in cedar-top bins, and which should be given away, because they probably never fit right anyhow. It's a time to say goodbye to carefree weather and plan ahead by making sure an umbrella, spare jacket and ice scraper are stashed in the car.

That pile on the bed is all the proof I need that less is more. Each item, while pretty or memorable in its own way, has passed its season, no longer fits or just doesn't match the image I hope to portray, aging gracefully, but still attempting to maintain a sporty natural image. Surely my mother is laughing out loud about now.

The end result of this twice annual ritual is a neatly organized closet, clothes sorted by color, and a feeling that I've just come back from an all expenses paid shopping spree, sans debt. The slacks in plastic are those that I love and am hoping hoping hoping I can squeeze into again before Spring.
Extra room on the closet rod is provided by those awesome "Huggable Hangers" that I got during my QVC/HSN passtime one Winter. At least those were a good buy. And now that the Spring / Summer items have been neatly packed, I'm settling into the tweeds, knits and woolens gratefully awaiting the first snow.

Global Warming - Bring it On

So the weather on the coasts has been wonky at best, and the Nebraska farms had such wet fields in October that the harvesters are just now getting the corn out of the fields. I've never really thought about global warming being real.
Perhaps its just global weather distribution, kind of like global wealth distribution only with warm winds and late blooms. Think what you like and do what you think best in any case. We all have to share this little blue dot in the universe.
Carpooling helps, so does buying local produce. At the end of the month however, if there are still flowers blooming in my yard, I'm going to start getting suspicious.
The flowers, clockwise from the top, Clematis 'Elizabeth', Verbena, shrub roses, self-reseeded California poppies and forget-me-nots, I think.
These photos were taken with my old Nikon Coolpix camera yesterday, November 7, 2009 in Nebraska.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

There's Just No Way to Explain this to my Dad

Me: Hey dad, yea, spending some time in Second Life.

Dad: What's wrong with the life you have?

Me: What? No, it's just an online virtual reality. My life is fine, it's just my avatar is . . .

Dad: Avawho? And what the hell is he wearing? What is that?!

Me: I'm having a little trouble with the gender . . .

Dad: Why is that guy wearing a skirt? Is that supposed to be you? What the?!

Me: In Second Life, my avatar is a male, or at least that's what I had intended.

Dad: So you want to be a guy? What's wrong with kids these days?

Me: I'm still me, a girl. My avatar is male ... so it (she/I) don't get hit on. I'm just having trouble with wardrobe, hair. It must know I'm a girl.

Dad: You don't need a stupid computer. Unplug that thing.

Me: Let me just spend a little time with it. Got to lose that beard.

Dad: Whatever you want. Internet crap. Just stay out of my closet.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Yes, You Can Buy a House for $22K

It's been two years and the concept of a 'flip' has come and gone but we continue to make progress on the house that by habit we still refer to as The Flip.

Siding should be done in the next few weeks thanks to Brian's cousin Jim driving up to help. Then it's caulk and stain and the outside will be done. Here's the stain colors we've chosen.

Additional Interior Views and Exterior Views are out on my YouTube Channel.

The Eyebrow Will Grow Back

Sparticus had been so good all day at the flip house, right until after Brian headed home, and then two squirrels ran down the tree and he bolted to the side yard and ran into the field below the house. I was finishing up watering the plants recently harvested from the forest when he meandered back up the hill, rubbing his face in the dirt. Did he get stuck by a bee? No. Minute little green burr-like stickers covered his face, burrowing into his fur- thousands of them. It took 45-minutes on the front porch with a comb, lots of occasional squeels and his utter resignment to having stickers removed from his beard, legs, and even between his toes. (I didn't even realize until then that a dog's toes are webbed. Are they all that way?) The stickers are gone now, he's had a bath, and in about 45 days his eyebrows and half his beard will grow back.

p.s. This is a before photo.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Getting Ready for Class

I hadn't quite recovered from the post Performance Review funk using Success Factors in at the office when an email query arrived from SDSU asking if I'd consider co-teaching EdTec 685 at SDSU with Karen Boyle of LearningGurus this fall. So not everyone hated me, but then again, I hadn't given everyone a '3' out of '5' on communication skills when they thought they deserved a '5'. What part of "required to attend and participate in meetings" hadn't they understood? But I digress.

Karen and I had interacted 'virtually' in the past only on an e-Learning project and I had never seen the syllabus. EDTEC 685 Seminar in Information & Instructional Technologies for Org's didn't exist 20 years ago. But for bragging rights and the hopes of not having to sell clothes on eBay for Holiday gifts, I replied, "count me in". And the files began to roll.

Those little Green Flags in Outlook saved the day by allowing me to tag incoming SDSU emails on everything from Blackboard logins to Wimba instructions, 2008 archived recordings and requests for my Red ID. Draft syllabus from Allison! GoogleDocs shared by Karen! Attachments from Marcie! There in my inbox, neatly organized, the course details awaited my attention.

Now it's a week before class.

Thanks to years of live synchronous corporate training, the interface tools were the least of my worries. And God Bless the prior instructors, professor emeritus Dr. Allison Rossett and Dr. Rebecca Frazee for uploading a bevy of resources: over 30 PowerPoint Decks; over 50 articles and links.

Course assignments, instructions, web pages, illustrations all needed to be read and tailored for 2009. The content area, Performance Technology (PT) is changing so fast even Wikipedia can't keep up. The best description I've seen so far is that PT is a cobbled together approach to systematically improving individual and human performance in organizations. Resources are drawn from multiple and diverse disciplines such as HR, Training, Industrial Psychology, Organizational Development, Knowledge Management, Strategic Planning, Information Technology, Reengineering and Social Media.

So we worked until 2 a.m. last night. I did anyhow, since Karen is on Pacific Time. We slogged through critical tasks to ensure we could open the course site on Blackboard, and we laughed. Through the headset I could hear her cat whining and her keyboard clicking. My dogs barked in the background and we each fell 'out' of our Wimba session at least once. We reviewed documents online, made snarky comments about formatting issues (who doesn't know how to use PPT bullets?) and laughed about shared examples we might use (drinking games on #lrnchat?) and guest speakers we hoped to sign up for class.

So we're ready now. Mostly ready. And we'll update and refresh content as we move through this semester. Wish us luck.

p.s. If you're still interested in those clothes on eBay, let me know and I'll list 'em.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

If You Saw Me in Police Car

A friend emailed this question to me suggesting I email it to see how people would respond. Here are the answers from some of my friends. Now you know.

If you saw ME in a police car what would you think I got arrested for?

  • Stealing flowers from some nursery to put into your own yard. Thief!

  • If I saw you, I’d think you were doing observations for a project. You know. A ride along.

  • Disturbing the peace with your crazy “end of the road” neighbor. Quit driving on “his” road!

  • For streaking down Dodge street

  • There would have probably been some sort of "incident" during a presentation at work, something that escalated to a level requiring the intervention of professionals from various enforcement, the psychiatric community......

  • This is funny – I cant even fathom, hopefully not for trying to strangle your youngest daughter after spending a week with her and a housefull of kids :P

  • If I saw Laura Handrick in a police car, I would think 3 possible scenarios: 1. She went berserk because thought she heard bees coming through her phone 2. She was actually making a training video, and got stopped for speeding on her way into a small Nebraska town 3. She was accused of abusing her company's email and internet usage policies

But the best was from a friend who said she could just not imagine that I could do anything wrong. Oh bless you! (And for the record, "Streaking Down Dodge Street" made me giggle, but I would never do it because Plattsmouth is just too far away to run wearing only a birthday suit.)

Next Year Let's Not Camp

A week to set up. Two days to tear down. Wet towels and mattresses, sandy floors and sticky cabinets. It was great to have the kids here for a week of Oma Camp Omaha. And now that we've done that, let's consider a cruise next year. I can hear it now, quiet ocean, kids arguing, door 'click'ed and locked. Peace at last.

Here's what we did and didn't do. We went to the Zoo, we went to FunPlex, we shopped at Pamida and Target for school supplies, we played Wii, we played in the boat, we ate at Vidlaks for breakfast, and attended mass at St. Peters, we had BBQ chicken, and bought corn at a country farm, we colored with sidewalk chalk, told ghost stories in the tent and watched "Hotel for Dogs" and "Horton Hears a Who" both several times.

We didn't make it to a hydrant party, a drive in movie or a corn maze (they don't open till fall) and we never made it out to a bonfire, a picnic at Mahoney, or the WildLife Safari. Although Kaelynn helped make garlic bread, Nathan helped make Blueberry Muffins and Kristen made brownies, we never did make it to a soup kitchen. We didn't go horse-back riding, or hike the Platte river, or go the Plattsmouth pool, but I think the kids had a great time while they were here.

The best part? 70 degree weather most of the week. Nice.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

ISD 2 Talk ROI or B DOA with NO $

After participating in my first #lrnchat session on Twitter I realized that maybe there's a topic after all that ISD'ers need my help with. Or maybe not. The question being answered is this:

How do I talk to C-Suite about $ Needed for Learning & Development? (ok, I'm paraphasing). Consider the following examples in scripted format as if you are the ISD:

ISD: "We need $10K for an EPSS system, because print manuals are too cumbersome."
VP: "Huh? Why can't they just look it up on the Internet?"
ISD: "That's what I'm saying. We can convert our content into html and link it, and it will only cost $10K."
VP: "Oh, sorry, I've got a phone call. Budget cuts. I come by later to talk to you. Gotta go."

ISD: "If we provide pricing tools just in time for the sales team, they'll be able to do their quotes on the spot. That will save a follow up meeting and wasted calls, and we've estimated it will improve our close rate by 30%"
VP: "That's $2M a year! Why haven't you done it yet?!"
ISD: "I just need your approval on this $10K investment for a Knowledge Management system that will link from their F1 key. I've already run this past IT and the Sales Managers."
VP: "I love the way you think." Signed. Done.

ISD: "I think we should have a video that can be downloaded to people's IPhones. It's really cool. We can do it for $20K."
VP: "We don't have $20K. Don't you know there's a recession going on?"
ISD: "Yes, but our training - how to feed the world in 8 easy steps, needs to get out. Mobile technology is the way to go."
VP: "Find another way. The training budget was slashed this year."

ISD: "We've calculated that we can reach an additional 120,000 potential donors by providing our content in a mobile format. If only 2% donate, that increases our ability to provide food by 320 truckloads a year. That's enough to feed 30,000 families."
Chairman: "Do it. We'll find something else to cut from the budget. Our goal is to feed the world."
ISD: "Thank you"
Chairman: "Keep bringing me solutions like this and you may find yourself on the fast track."

ISD: "We really need to do some team building around here. People are just acting all wierd since the layoffs."
VP: "What's the impact?"
ISD: "Impact? Bad morale? Stress I guess. It just needs to be fixed"
VP: "Sorry, but maybe I can write a memo or something. The last thing we need around here is more group hugs and tree climbing."

ISD: "Since the layoffs, people are having a hard time focusing, and our productivity is down about 25%. I know you don't want to cut more staff. I'm thinking you might want to consider approaching this transition in a way that will improve performance and get us back on track faster."
VP: "I'd like to tell them to snap out of it! But, okay, let's hear what you've got."
ISD: "People will get back to 'business' faster if we take a Transition Management approach that addresses their underlying fears, concerns and issues. I'd like to bring in a consultant who helped company xyz get back on their feet in about 3 weeks, saving months of lost productivity."
VP: "It's worth the money to me if we can get shorten the time it takes get productivity back on track. If we're off by even 10%, that's thousands of dollars a day wasted! Can you do it for under $10K? OK then, let's go!"

ISD: "I'd really like to learn Lectora, but the software is $2K , and I'd need an upgraded PC, Monitor and offsite training. The class is in Vegas. About $8K in all? Probably not a good year to ask, right?"
VP: "You've got that. Your PC will have to last you another year."
ISD: "Oh well, maybe next year."
VP: "Let's hope the economy turns around by then."

ISD: "I've been thinking, we've got $120K set aside for outsourcing our elearning development work this year. I'd like to cut that amount by 80% to offset the reduced income and traffic."
VP: "80%?! I'm all ears. I was thinking to cut it by 50% anyhow and just apoligize to our internal customers. You know. We've got to do our part."
ISD: "If I can get trained on, and obtain access to Lectora, we can do the ongoing programming updates ourselves AND our development time should be faster because we won't have to ftp files back and forth to India, dealing with timelags and communication issues."
VP: "Get me the specs, and I'll walk them over to IT. No reduction in output? Great idea."

So when you want to get top-management to buy into your OD, HR, Learning & Development or any other expenditure you've got to do three things.

1) Find out what they care about. And figure out how they count it. #Customers? Comp. Store Sales? Reduced battlefield deaths? Fewer missed calls? More cases sold? More votes? Fewer teenage prostitutes? Whatever. Find it.

2) Provide solutions that fix, improve or pave the way to make the organization better. Show them that the math works by building a case to demonstrate for example, how incremental increases in X (your solution) = more of Y (organizational goal/metric/$).
  • More Webinars ($10K) = Fewer Travel $ Expended ($1.2M) <--- A true example
  • Investing in a $30K LMS will reduce $500K organization wide in OSHA fines.
  • Providing information online ($5K) to prevent 3,000 hrs wasted search time ($150,000)
  • Hiring 2 interns ($10K) to allow us to forgo one consultant ($50K) for the project
3) Then measure your progress along the way (professional project plan, expense management, milestones, deliverables) and communicate your overall results. In other words, prove it. If you're not good at measurement, partner with a grad student from a business or economics (or ISD) program to help. One SAP project I led with $2M (for training/change management) saved the organization over $10M. That's a 5x return on investment. How did we calculate that? Case studies. Horror stories. Time to productivity? Savings due to error reduction. Ever heard of Hershey? How much revenue did they lose over the holidays when their ERP didn't go off smooth and they couldn't ship products?

As Michael Hammer once said, "the soft stuff is the hard stuff". It's our job to figure out how to impact the soft stuff (people, and their knowledge, skills and abilities) and prove that by doing so, the organization is better off in some MEASURABLE way.

Got an ISD initiative you can't figure out how to measure, or sell upward? Comment or send me a tweet @PearlFlipper and I'll do my best to help you work the math.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I Love Twitter = It's Time for a Policy!

At the request of management and for the record, the opinions expressed here are my own and no reflection of my employer, I've begun working on a Social Media policy with the best and brightest and youngest of our management talent and have found that the best social media policies address most of the following six (6) key items. Do you hear that lawyers, only six!

There's the IBM policy, the list from 123, the AP policy, the policy from SHRM, the policy from ASTD, even the point of view of the IFA, And the lawyers. About 30 polices later, we realized they all attempt to do the same basic thing: CYA. For your own policy however, first you'll have to decide which kind of policy you want.

The two options are:
1) To allow blogging, social media and conversation to take place between workers and customers (hey, it's informal learning, relationship and trust building).
2) To prohibit social media, at all costs, with some draconian legalese (er, whatever).

<-- this image borrowed from, um, someone's blog.
Assuming your company is bright enough to choose option 1, here are six things to consider in your organization's official social media policy:

1) Protect your company, brand, image, proprietary content and all that. You wouldn't air you dirty undies outside the front door of your office building, so why do it on the internet?

2) Use your own voice and identify that voice. If like me, you have your own personal blog, or are addicted to Facebook and Twitter, then be clear that you're not speaking on behalf of the company. I'm not. That's why my online persona is PearlFlipper, geez. Sample disclaimer: "The opinions expressed on this site are my own and in no way reflect the opinions of my employer".

3) Don't answer PR/Marketing queries. If you're hanging out in the blogoshphere, someone is likely to contact you about 'official' information. Send them to the PR department, or the laywers, if you have some. Realize you're not the company spokesperson, (unless you are . . .)

4) If you're working on company equipment, well, let's be fair and keep it work related? IM to ask questions. Follow your customers on Twitter and pay them compliments on Facebook, but schedule your movie date on your own time, after hours or during lunch. Have some respect.

5) Comply with all the other rules you agreed to in the Employee Handbook, Code of Conduct, Values plastered in the elevator lobby and all that. In other words, don't do or say anything that wouldn't be appropriate on the job.

6) Obey the law. Don't post other people's content without permission, download music illegally, take credit for ideas that aren't yours, or ahem, anything else prohibited by law.

To be safe, have a lawyer take a look at your policy, and let them add all those extra words. But then jump right in and start trusting your people to use their judgement and lever ALL the productivity tools available on the job and within the blogosphere.

P.S. The opinions expressed on this post are my own and in no way reflect the opinions of my employer. :-)

Friday, June 5, 2009

PearlFlipper Has a TheFlip

You'll have to let me know if video from new THEFLIP camcorder works. It's my first YouTube video and shows my carpool partner Lisa as I pull up in the parking lot

Lisa contacted me last year on Omaha Rideshare and our schedules coordinate most days, saving us each about $50/month. The best part? The 45-minute commute seems so much faster when there's someone to talk to.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I Don't Know What's Going to Happen to the Economy Either

Have you noticed yourself spending less, mending more, or saving those things that in better times you might have tossed into the Goodwill bin? After 40 days of giving up 'shopping' for lent, I feel guilty now, in a good way, spending on anything not absolutely necessary. A tear in the comforter ?. . . I now fix it. A loose button, sew it on. Landscaping? Well I've always done that myself, but even squeaker toys that Sparticus has pulled the stuffing out of, get sewn into a new and creative monsters.

On a recent trip to Chicago, I splurged on a few new tops, a dress and shoes, but for the most part I've been delighted to pull the summer wardrobe from storage and realize that I have years' worth of clothing and don't need anything 'new'.

As far as housing, we're resigned to finish the flip, market both properties and live in whichever is left unsold. I love the lake, for the reason that it gives my family a destination to visit.

But I love the flip for the reason that it could prove us able to turn a $22K investment in to a beautiful, albeit quirky, hillside home with mini forest. Notice the meadow where the deer must have slept? The apple tree? The narrow shady hillside? I kind of hope God prefers us to live in the smaller house, because then we'd also have privacy, more family time, no house payment . . . Any advice? How are you adapting to the economy these days?

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Tale of Two Shirts

I hate to admit that after my daughters grew and moved away, I slipped into a fashion coma. No longer was I able to ask Kristen whether my shoes matched my dress. Or whether my shirt should be tucked in or left loose.

Upon the gentle advice of a former manager, I sought the assistance of a 'fashion' consultant, a local expert who was willing to spend 3 hours with me, my wardrobe and my quirky sense of style. She defined it as 'sporty natural'. That was three years ago, and what's stuck with me is the importance of basics.

Case in point. On her first visit, she noticed I had a lot of items with embellishments. Jackets with brocade, slacks with stripes, and blue suede shoes with little turqoise beads. What I lacked were the basics to pull them together along with a mis-conception about what pieces might work. Stiff-collared blouses and silk were too fussy for me, but I didn't know that that bright cotton t-shirts were perfectly appropriate to wear under a jacket at work. I didn't dare wear heels, but later learned to buy flats with peep toes.

I also learned that saturated hues and boat neck collars tend to flatter my coloring and broad shoulders more than muted tones and v-necks. That first $240 was the best money I've ever spent, because over the next year, I saved hundreds by not buying more non-mixable fashion pieces, and instead investing in just a few carefully chosen layering pieces in comfortable fabrics.

I've also learned that all brands aren't the same and was reminded yet again this week while doing laundry. On the right you'll see a long-sleeved cotton t-shirt purchased three years ago at The Gap. It's laundered well, and I learned that the sleeves can be folded back if I'm wearing a 3/4 length jacket.

The shirt on the left was bought last week at Macy's in Chicago and didn't last one washing . . . while soft to the touch, notice the 'holes' that appeared when I pulled it from the dryer? Guess which top was more expensive??! The Macy's top is going back, along with the receipt . . . in the mail no less, since I've no intention to board a plane to make a return. And I could use your advice on where to find Ts in saturated colors, with soft fabrics that hold up well to laundering. Any suggestions? There's always The Gap.

Let's Complete the Flip Already

We're making progress on the Flip house this summer thanks to my brother Steven's recent trip. He installed the fireplace, and did a beautiful job tiling the shower with the $1.99 marble I found at Menards. But what he did most was inspire us to continue. He helped identify the products to buy, cedar trim, brick molding, slate flooring and shared his tools so that we could sand and stain the french doors. I was excited to learn to use a wet tile saw. Brian gained confidence in trimming out windows. So Thank You Steven. Even though you're younger than me (same age as Brian), you've always had a way of coming through as my big brother . . . showing us the way to begin again.