Avoid Early-Onset Wintertime Blues by Decorating for Christmas

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It sure seems like winter comes earlier and earlier each year to the Midwest. I do enjoy the change of seasons. I lived for a short time in a place that didn’t have very distinct seasons to speak of (St. Augustine, FL), and I really didn’t enjoy 90 degrees days in March. Cooler temperatures that usually arrive sometime in October mean busting out the big, cozy blankets, switching closets around and whipping up something sweet and decadent in the oven. These are the fun aspects of fall and winter. Likewise, I don’t mind bundling up in layers of coats and scarves to run to the store, or that our pets become even more cuddly when there’s a chill in the air.

My biggest qualm with winter is the lack of sun. I can handle 5 degrees if the sun is shining. I’d actually rather it be 5 and sunny than 45 and dreary! But, much more often than I’d like, Cincinnati doesn’t see the sun in the winter for weeks on end–or at least so it seems. That’s the tough part. And, dreary winter has arrived early this year; it’s not even Thanksgiving and we’re already seeing stretches of days with temperatures hovering around freezing and flat, gray skies.

So, even though I’m not usually one of those people who really gets into the Christmas spirit, I decided that this year I would make a conscious effort to do so. Part of this newfound seasonal excitement could also be the fact that we just bought our first home this year, and I’ve been looking for excuses to decorate it for practically every holiday this year! One main challenge we have with decorating is the fact that we have two particularly curious (indoor-only) ginger kitties who are very interested in anything that is dangly, jingly, fluffy or pointy. Basically, no indoor decorations would be safe from these two boys–particularly from the kitten, Ishmael. Ezra (two years old) leaves most decor alone, but there’s always the random item (hair ties and bobby pins are his favorite!) that he can’t live without batting around the house for hours on end.

Ishmael (left) and Ezra, July 2014

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Since getting rid of our beloved tabbies certainly isn’t an option (I think my husband would get rid of me first), we are pretty well limited to decorating outdoors for any holiday. This past weekend, I asked my aunt if she would like to make wreaths together, since she’s had years of experience with such crafts and projects and always welcome a fun break from her office work managing their non-profit organization. Well, she said that she would love to!

On Saturday, we took our box and clippers and out we went into their yard to gather greens for our wreaths. My aunt and uncle have a large blue spruce in their back yard, so we took copious clippings from that for our wreaths. The blue spruce would serve as the base for our wreaths, since there was basically an unlimited supply for us to use. Next, we trimmed branches off of a couple other evergreen varieties in their yard. Once we had crammed as many evergreen clippings into our box as would fit (plus bundles in our arms!), we ventured into the basement–our “greens workshop” for the afternoon.

My aunt had already set up the wreath forms, pins and floral wire on a table for us, along with a trash can, red ribbon for bows and scissors. (I told ya she had been crafting for years!) We spent the next hour or so creating our wreaths, based on the careful technique that my aunt demonstrated for me. For a first-timer, I think my wreath turned out pretty well!

Homemade wreaths are a fun project

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Continuing the holiday decorating theme, my husband and I decided to hang up Christmas lights on our house on Sunday afternoon. The whole process wasn’t too bad for our first time hanging lights. That being said, I’m still not aspiring to completely cover the house in lights Griswold-style next year!

Our modest attempt at outdoor decor

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Never did we imagine that the very next day, we would be engulfed in a winter wonderland! It’s not even Thanksgiving, and this is very unusual for Cincinnati.

Lights and snow…a pretty combination indeed! (with cameo appearance by Cosmo in the front window)

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Here’s to making the best of the dreary winter–even if it’s not your favorite season! You won’t catch me complaining when sundress and sunshine season returns. What are some of your favorite holiday traditions? How do you beat the winter blues? I’d love to hear in the comments below.

Continuing Education: A Lifetime of Learning

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I’ll be using this blog to share my experience and thoughts about a recent course I took at a new education company here in Cincinnati called InsightsCentral. The course was called “Optimizing New Concepts to Succeed” and was focused on designing, conducting and applying the findings of qualitative research to today’s business world. I learned about InsightsCentral when I set up a networking meeting with its founder, who also owns a research company. After having explained my background and the fact that I’m still building up my freelance business, she suggested that I take the course. I had a fairly open week in between some projects, so I decided to take her up on her offer!

The course was online, but kicked off and concluded with a personal call with the course coach Carol. During the 10-day period in which I took the course, I was the sole pupil so the individual attention was great, but it would have been nice to have some other students with whom to interact on the class discussion boards.

The course consisted of taking a new snack concept from its earliest idea as a concept statement, through qualitative research in the form of online bulletin boards and then in making recommendations to the client on how to proceed with the new snack concepts. It was really helpful that this particular study was a “real-world” study that Carol’s team had actually conducted for a client, so I had the actual data with which to work in making my analysis and drawing conclusions. Learning about concepts and theories is always informative, but having the opportunity to dig in and really manipulate the data is always the very best learning experience! Another aspect of the course that really initially intrigued me was the fact that the research was conducted using online bulletin boards, which I’ve learned is a research method that is quickly growing in popularity due to their many benefits. If I’m going to be successful in this field in the coming years of my career, I know I’ll need to be familiar with and experienced in the latest technology that facilitates such research.

If you want to learn more about how to apply the latest qualitative research methods to a business problem, I highly recommend taking this InsightsCentral course! The company plans to continue to roll out additional courses in the coming months, so I look forward to learning more about those as they become available.

As a fairly new researcher in the business world, I look forward to continue to take advantage of any and all educational opportunities that I can–both informal and more formal like the InsightsCentral course. I was trained in a variety of qualitative research methods in graduate school, but have since learned that some of these manners of thinking and methodologies are a bit outdated. In this way, it’s always best to be continually learning more about the industry in which I’ve now found myself, so I can continue to be successful and be able to effectively navigate these waters.

Collector Mania: Pyrex Addition

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Since my first couple blog posts were a bit more professional, I thought I would take this opportunity to write about a topic that’s near and dear to my heart, but a bit more frivolous. That topic is vintage Pyrex. “Pyrex?”, you ask. Well, yes, those old casserole dishes and bakeware that are probably lining the back of your grandma’s cupboards.

Like many people, I’m not really sure how and why I started collecting. But, I can tell you I only started earlier this year and I already have a couple dozen pieces. What’s the old saying about love–it happens slowly at first, then all at once? Yeah, that’s happened for me and Pyrex! I even “had” to buy a second vintage hutch to accommodate my quickly growing collection. (Speaking of that cute little hutch, my Heywood Wakefield obsession is worthy of its own post sometime in the future!)

The first Pyrex pieces I bought were from our favorite Cincinnati-area antique mall, Ohio Valley Antique Mall. My first Pyrex purchase was a pair of glass storage canisters labeled “Cookie Jar” and “Cracker Barrel.” Being the crazy fur-mom that I am, of course I bought them to hold kitty and doggie kibble, respectively. (If you must know, the Cookie Jar holds my dog’s kibble because he’s sweeter than the cats hehe.)

How it all started…

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After this first purchase, I started keeping my eyes peeled for other Pyrex pieces during our regular rounds at the local antique malls, markets and fairs. I started researching various patterns online. (PyrexLove is a particularly good resource for trivia about and photos of the various patterns.) When I become interested in something, I become…a little obsessed, maybe. I prefer the term “passionate.” I checked out patterns and prices on eBay (there are some deals to be found) and Etsy (all stores are overpriced). I even started swinging by thrift stores–Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul and Salvation Army, oh my!–on a quest to score forgotten treasures for a couple bucks. Sadly, I just haven’t had any luck with these impulsive thrift store visits. I’ve come to the conclusion that we must have a fairly sizable community of professional antique resellers in the Cincinnati area who know when these shops put out their newest wares, and are at the doorstep to quickly snatch up the most desirable items!

Humble beginnings of my collection…

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I never thought I would be a “thrifter” myself, but Instagram posts of people bragging about finding pristine #rarepyrex #inthewild (meaning: found at a cheap price at a thrift store, garage sale or flea market) inspired me to check out thrift stores. Who knew that Instagram has such a thriving vintage collector community? Well, it really does, and it’s full of some very nice, very passionate folks. Furthermore, #instasales are a wondrous, and highly dangerous, thing! There are dozens of #instashops that sell vintage collectibles, and a growing number of shops devoted almost solely to Pyrex and related vintage kitchenware. Instagram shops have regularly-scheduled sales as well as #flashsales; the lucky first buyer usually claims the desired item(s) by commenting with a PayPal-enabled email address + ZIP code. Instagram Pyrex/other vintage sales can be a stressful, hectic place when:

  • The seller has done a particularly good job at promoting his/her sale – usually via a giveaway or shop discount offered for users who share a marketing photo on behalf of the shop
  • The seller is offering highly-desired pieces at great prices
  • The seller is offering some of the rarest Pyrex out there – some pieces are known to have sold for thousands of dollars on eBay, so whenever these pieces come up for sale, they’re going to be snatched up

That one weekend I went crazy on #instasales…

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I really only have one real-life friend who shares my Pyrex collecting passion, and she lives in Florida. Even still, we enjoy sharing our finds and latest treasures on Instagram and Facebook. It’s nice to have someone I know and who’s around my age understand my love of this fun, cheerful kitchenware! Also, I have made some “friends” on Instagram through the Pyrex buying and selling community.

My older family members seem to find it a bit amusing that I collect Pyrex. My mom just can’t believe why and how there is such a sizable collector community of items she received as wedding gifts in the ’70s and continued to use in the decades following that. One day, I was over at her house for lunch and asked when I might be inheriting that ’70s Pyrex she had said I could have to add to my collection. Well, I didn’t have to wait any longer because she immediately started rummaging through her deep corner cabinets to unearth the long-buried treasure. “You act like we’re ancient,” she commented in response to my excitement at the vintage casserole dishes, mixing bowls and refrigerator dishes she had just heaved onto her kitchen counter. #freepyrex is one of my favorite patterns!

My aunt has also promised me some (highly collectible and valuable!) early to mid-’60s Pyrex, so I’ll be collecting that as soon as I refinish my Heywood Wakefield hutch.

Pyrex haul from my mom’s cupboard…

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I even committed to a visit to the “dirt market” (i.e., flea market) over Thanksgiving weekend with a good friend, since I’ve heard rumors that collectors have great luck finding cheap Pyrex there. I STILL refuse to hit up garage sales. I draw the line there! Anyway, I may have an interesting story or two to share from the dirt mall.

(Most of) my Pyrex collection as of today…

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Perhaps by the next time I write a Pyrex post, I’ll have narrowed now my collection to focus on just a few patterns…ha, right! There are just too many to love, and clearly I haven’t done a good job “focusing” my collection so far. I believe that it’s simply impossible to not be happy when surrounded by such lovely bake and cookware that’s been well-loved and used by generations of ladies–and of course, probably some men too!

What do you collect? As a folklorist and researcher, I’m always fascinated by what and why people collect. Feel free to share your thoughts below.

Qualitative Research: From Academia to Market Research

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Anyone who knows me well agrees: I was in school a long time. I’m certainly not complaining because I loved it. Hiding from the real world until I was approaching my late 20s? Perhaps. But I had some great  formative experiences and the skills I learned have proved invaluable as I’ve embarked on my professional career, not to mention a pair of graduate degrees that perhaps no one else in the world has!

Once I wrapped up my second graduate program in the humanities and had decided I didn’t want to teach, I knew I had to figure out what the heck I was going to do professionally with the qualitative research, writing and deep analysis/synthesis skills I had honed in undergraduate and graduate school. Not to mention that I needed to find a field that would help me pay off the mounting stack of student loan debt from five years of graduate school!

Enter fate. One of my PhD advisors at Indiana University dropped me a tip in class one day that was to become the basis for my future career. He casually mentioned that there were plenty of professional opportunities for we social scientist and humanities types trained in qualitative research methods outside of academia. A ha! I knew I had to find out more about this, so I set an appointment with my advisor to discuss. The first field he mentioned that I should explore was market research. So, I did. I had taken whole courses devoted to qualitative research methods, so when I began to self-educate on market research, concepts like “focus groups,” “subjects” and “surveys” were very familiar. This whole new world of research outside of academia had been opened up to me, and this was getting very exciting indeed! I could continue to do what I loved–design, execute and analyze research–and not have to deal with teaching bratty 19-year-olds.

My first real exposure into market research was when my mom introduced me to a woman whose New Jersey-based market research company had previously done projects in collaboration with my mom’s team at work. They had an upcoming food and beverage new product development project, and they needed someone to write the report deck for the focus group research being conducted on the East Coast. I chatted with the woman (who was the President of the company) briefly, and she kindly decided to give me a shot! I signed the necessary NDAs and tax paper work, and she sent me over the project details and focus group recordings and transcripts soon thereafter. The project went well, and within a couple weeks I delivered my first market research report deck to the client!

A Start to Blogging

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Hi everyone and thanks for visiting my new website and blog!

I may be new to blogging, but I’m certainly not new to writing on the web. People have been telling me for years that I need to start a blog, so with the recent purchase of my own domain (finally!) I’m going to start blogging. I’ll be using my blog to share personal interests, professional projects, new endeavors or learnings–and may even some of my travels!

A bit about me: I’m married with three fur-kids (a large shih tzu and two ginger tabbies), live in Cincinnati and am a freelance qualitative researcher and writer. I spend most of my “free time” networking to build up my freelance business, as well as–more recently–being a co-founder of a fledging affiliate marketing company. My husband and I enjoy visiting antique malls and fairs and thrift stores looking for our latest mid-century treasure! I’m excited to share more about all of these activities in future blog posts.

Check back soon for my next blog post.