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Thursday, December 09, 2004 :::
What's Hot and What's Not: Kelpie and Friend Journey to pick out Toys for Tots

Like most organizations, ours is gearing up for another exciting yearly tradition, the annual Toys for Tots drive. Today was pay-day, so a gal pal from work and I will be conducting our great toy experiment, a pilgrimmeage to find out what kids like these days.

At this point, I am most intrigued by the re-appearance of some old favorites from my youth such as the highly coveted Cabbage Patch kids, Connect Four, Life, Operation, etc... Of course, there are some games where technology has "revolutionized" the way kids play some of our old favorites. For example, it seems that Battleship has gone electronic and I am not sure how I feel about that either. Then, the game Clue has been "modernized" where game pieces are supposed to look like the characters, but from what I see, one looks like overworked man, another like Jasmine from Aladdin, and another like "Mr. T" from the A-Team. Fascinating!

Some new toys interest me now as well, such as the Sponge Bob, Square Pants snow cone maker. I will bet that any child would be excited to withdraw a snowcone from the mouth of a large yellow sponge! YUMMY! ...and it seems our fascination with robots will never quit! There is one in particular that has made America's #1 toy, the Robosapien Robot, a black and white robot that runs, walks, kicks, picks things up... And all of this you may have for the cheap price of $89.00. Of course, for that price, I often find myself thinking the robot should do chores as well. ;-) (Heck, I might even pay twice that amount if I could have that).

Lately, I have found myself looking at websites, talking to children, anything to get into the mindset and figure out that age-old question: What do children want? Little girls will never tire of Barbie it seems and Disney never runs out of dvd ideas, such as the new "Princess Diaries II." ..but everything, like life, modernizes, updates or moves out of style.

I continually find myself wondering what happened to old favorites like -- those plastic charms we used to wear thinking we were kewl, which have now been replaced with the expensive silver and gold variety. ..or, My little Pony, laser guns for laser tag, Uno which I think are all due for a comeback.

I guess I am conducting my own little focus groups to find out what is hot and what is not. By this time tomorrow, I will have my toys in hand, and I simply hope that the children will like what I buy. (I know how difficult I was to buy for at that age). ...Well, I guess there are some things I realize I very much miss, too and occasionally, it's nice to be a kid.

For those looking for ideas, like me, check this out:

::: posted by Heather at 1:42 PM

Friday, December 03, 2004 :::
Kelpie Influences the World through American Sports

I had the best time yesterday evening at the US-Algerian Business Council dinner. At first, I was a bit apprehensive though -- imagine walking into a room with 60 - 70 + people speaking fluent French and not knowing a single soul. I gave it the old college try though, using my 1 year of 9th grade French to make friends with Algerian policy and business leaders. (From an outside perspective, French is and will always be one of the most beautiful languages to speak and hear, atleast to me.)

Anyone who knows me knows that I am an INFORMATION JUNKIE! So of course, well before I attended the event, I learned a few pieces of information about the people and workings of Algeria, which served me well at times. Although, there were discussions that I thought would be taboo, but were something that people enjoyed discussing, like the French-Algerian war and the influence of the Terror Watch lists on support on Arab-speaking countries. It was fascinating, and refreshing to hear a fresh perspective on things as well as understanding the needs of North Africa!

Interesting facts about Algeria:

President: Abdelaziz Bouteflika, re-elected to second term
Election Issues: Safety and civil accord
Population: 32.3 million (UN, 2004)
Capital: Algiers
Area: 2.39m sq km
Major languages: Arabic, French, Berber
Major religion: Islam
Life expectancy: 68 years (men), 71 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 dinar = 100 centimes
Main exports: Oil, gas
GNI per capita: US $1,890
Internet domain: .dz

...and then, a gentleman from an Algerian-based NGO asked the question I love to answer -- I want to understand football and baseball, can you tell me a bit about them! I explained the goals of football and basic penalties to make sure he would understand the basics and am in the process of forwarding websites to help him understand the sport -- penalties and their consequences, terms -- both slang and common, etc.. Oh yes, and I also ended up getting a really excellent jab about the Dallas Cowboys for Football and the New York Yankees in baseball. It's nice to set people on the right path to understanding American sports, especially if I can get people to support teams other than the dastardly teams I just mentioned. The Red Sox are my favorite and the Redskins for football, but I fought off the urge to tell them the teams I support, focusing on telling them about the wonderful array of US teams to support in this country, other than the two mentioned above. (More jokingly than anything else). ;-)

I have so many other things I could discuss, but I must get back to work. Sports are like an international language and understanding what's popular is always good. So, if anyone has some international sports or interesting international experiences they can explain to the bar, we are all ears.

::: posted by Heather at 1:44 PM

Tuesday, November 02, 2004 :::
Who will be our New Neighbor?

I wish to offer a little levity during this time of decision, instead of worrying about who will lead our country, I choose to think of this decision as "who will be our neighbor?" As many of you know, I work in Washington, DC, in a location very close to the White House, a place that is literally right across the street from my office.

...and EVERYONE has been trying to find out who the neighbor will be. Will it be Bush, will it be Kerry? We still don't know. I could sit here and talk about the future implications that such a neighbor will have on our country, but I think I would rather talk about something more practical. How should I great the neighbor -- whether he be new or old? Should I send a fruit basket? Perhaps invite them over for dinner? Ask to meet with them to discuss the state of world affairs (or perhaps they get tired of such drivel).

I am not sure -- could you advise? I don't think I am the only one going through such indecision. People from all over the world have visited our roof, trying to find out who will be moving in to the new Pennsylvania address. Men and women with cameras, pen and paper have been trying to predict who will be living in the big White House.

Today alone, I met some lovely people from Britain, France, Germany, South Africa.... Even Australians are caught up in the excitement. People on the other side of the world are moving a little closer to us, thanks to this election. It's almost as though America is in a state of Pangea -- like we are all together again! This is very exciting -- like we are all watching the same sporting event with different predictions! I, for one, will miss this camaraderie with our newfound neighbors.

I have been touched at the many people who have shown how much they care for the fate of our people. They worry about our image in the rest of the world, American foreign policy and I have seen a general love for us that I have never seen before. It's very touching. I just hope that in the end, there will always be a welcoming presence from our newfound friends and neighbors who have been waiting and looking with us -- whether these neighbors be tuning in to their television sets, listening via radio or peering in the newspaper, you are all neighbors and friends of the United States.

I think a few people have thought the peering a bit annoying and have put words in the mouths of others. I certainly hope that no matter who wins, that people will remember the closeness we felt over the past few days and that no matter what, we are all neighbors, all of us living and working by Pennsylvania Avenue. ...and all of you who truly cared about our election and our people, no matter which person you felt best for the job, the simple fact that you cared about us -- stayed up a little later than usual to see who would lead us in the future or read your local paper to see who would lead us for another four years, I just wanted you to know, that you, too are our neighbors. ...and we appreciate the fact that you care!

::: posted by Heather at 11:16 PM

I want to ask the question we all want to know....

Who Will Live in the Building Across the Street from my office?

Yes, I don't care who runs the office, but who will live across the street from my office? I was kind of hoping for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Harry Potter, someone interesting, but instead, we have the President of the United States. ...Not Harry, not Buffy...

It seems as though everyone else in the world is fascinated to find out who the new neighbors will be. People from Britain, France, Germany, South America... Even Australians want to start the "welcome wagon."

I will be sad to see our neighborly roof-dwellers leave. It's been fun talking with them, asking their opinions, watching the questioning looks in their faces as they look to a big white building for the answers to their questions. Countries, in spite of differences have gotten a little closer than in years past, Americans showed up in force to vote for the person they wanted as their neighbor and together, we watch the t.v. as friends and neighbors all over the world. It's like America isn't just us anymore, but a group of people who care about the future of our people and the image we show to the world.

The questions I have are not who will rule our country? Who will elect our Supreme Court Justices? Who will represent us before the National and International community, but what would one bring to ones neighbors to say "hello." Perhaps I should send a fruit basket, a couple of tickets to a major league football game, or perhaps a fruit cake... I am not sure -- any advice?!?

::: posted by Heather at 11:16 PM

Tuesday, October 19, 2004 :::
Kelpie's Random Musings on Fear: The Catalyst for Action

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I have one thing in common (aside from a shared fascination with men who brood) -- we both hate to take tests. ...and the only thing worse than taking a test is taking a test I did not plan to take, which happened to me yesterday.

What makes this event so strange is that I have seen a number of shows that play on our fears. Fear Factor, an American show about people doing the things they fear most for a shot at $50,000 and Buffy the Vampire first season which plays on the inner-most fears of the Slayer and her friends. One of Buffy's all-time greatest fear was taking tests, and she ended up in a long test that she was unprepared to take. This IS thing I fear most, and it happened yesterday.

I walked into my Chinese class, normal as could be, and then I saw the sight that feared me most, a mid-term exam on my chair. I felt my knees buckle, my spine slouch, my stomach churn, as I sat staring at the offensive form in front of me. I later discovered I had looked at the syllabus wrong, which factoring in everything else I was going through at that very moment led to additional panic and issues above all else. I took the test, which I am sure I failed miserably, but with a little luck, a ton of extra credit and some deep groveling, I think everything will be okay.

I am laughing a bit about it now, but there even now, my stomach tightens, my breathing gets heavier and the stress comes washing back over me. I keep thinking -- tests would be an excellent fear factor challenge. Take 20 of the most impossible questions to answer in the world and see how the contestants do. Of course, they would probably add in a spider to be eaten at the end of each section for good measure.

Okay -- back to my point. I guess the more I come to terms with my lack of preparation and fear, I realize that it is irrational. I also know that a lot of great people have irrational fears -- some fear dogs, close spaces, flying, heights, etc... They are not rational, and yet we all struggle with them every single day.

I know what I did -- I finished the test, got upset with myself, left the room, came back in and finally just owned up to the fear. I think the first thing everyone must do in life is realize their fears and consider whether or not this is rationale.

Take my fear of tests: In high school and college, so much more was riding on the line and I did not fear tests at all. Now, even a little Chinese class that is not degree oriented or anything of the sort has me nervous. It's not like taking the SATs in high school nor is it going to determine my life's path. So, what is there to fear?

Another fear, birds: For anyone who has watched the movie The Birds, you know what I am talking about when I tell you I fear those winged creatures of pure, malevolent evil. ...and the people who feed these creatures I think need to be shot! (just kidding there). I constantly worried that a bird would let loose on my clothing or worse -- anywhere on my person -- especially face or hair. The worst happened about three weeks ago where I had to take in my suit jacket to the dry-cleaner, but nothing truly terrible happened.

Why do we have these irrational fears? I often find myself wondering this and felt compelled to share my experiences. Perhaps I will always fear a test or birds that flock together in groups. Maybe one will hit its intended mark being my person, face, hands of hair, but the lessons we learn in how to deal with our worst fears happening and what comes from these experiences is not entirely bad.

Fear can also be a positive catalyst for action as well. I have already decided to mark down page numbers and dates on my syllabus to make sure such actions do not happen again. Also, I will be numbering pages for assignments in the future.

In addition, fear led me to Toastmasters after I faced a hostile audience when at the age of 24 I had to inform people who had been working in their jobs for 20+ years of political actions that were not positive to their work. It was not a pretty sight, but in the process, I immediately got into Toastmasters and learned to speak on a number of issues, especially those subjects that are uncomfortable to discuss with a group.

Finally, I look back on perhaps my greatest personal triumph over fear that started out with my own ignorance and misunderstanding and the sick humor of a classmate. A classmate told me that a friend of mine had HIV/AIDS. It was a rather cruel joke as the person did not have this tragic illness, but I realized the fear within myself, not just for my friend, but selfishly for myself. This lesson though led me to many volunteer opportunities within hospices and organizations that work with HIV/AIDS patients in the area which I lived. I learned a lot in the process, faced the fear and also made an impact on the lives of some folks who needed a friend.

Perhaps my confessions of fear will show people to follow my lead and face things head-on. I also hope that in the future, people will challenge me on the things I fear most and help me do some good in the process.

::: posted by Heather at 1:05 PM

Friday, September 17, 2004 :::
Black Bear Ale Introduces Kelpie to King's Palace

I witnessed a momentous occasion last night at a little place called the Tune-in. It's not just any event either, I watched the INVENTOR of the alcohol-inspired card-game KING'S PALACE by the supreme inventor, Black Bear Ale. Mind you, I still do not know how to play, but from an outside perspective, it looks like a combination of go-fish, 52 pick-up, and poker to name a few. Now, King's Palace is not the type of game you play in a stuffy, pretentious bar filled with stuck-up people, but the everyman's game! You will see this favorite at: kewl parties in Michigan, the home school state of the founder and Washington, DC bars -- the Tune-Inn, Hawk n' Dove and Cap. Lounge to name a few.

... Black Bear Ale is a a true representation of what makes this country great -- our ability, as a people, to invent something completely kewl and entirely new! No one else in the world can invent a card game quite like King's Palace and I am very proud to say I am friends with one of the fellows who invented the game (we have the patent numbers to prove it, too)!

Hats off to Black Bear Ale, you are a genius!!! Whatever my friend Black Bear Ale decides to do with King's Palace -- take it to kewl bars around the world, keep it one of 'DC's best secrets or show it to unkewl pubs in the US to help their business as a benevolent act of charity, this game has "it." Next time any of you wander around the 'Hill, especially the 'Tune-inn, look for two wild and crazy fellows with fistfuls of cards and watch 'em play.

According to Black Bear Ale, it's newcomer-friendly, with newbies able to pick it up fairly easily, and do well in the beginning, too. So watch for the amazing game, King's Palace, coming to a great hole-in-the-wall bar near you in Washington, DC.

::: posted by Heather at 1:59 PM

Friday, September 10, 2004 :::
Kelpie Loses Best Friend: The Family Dog

My little brother passed away yesterday. I am just a little melancholy today because of it. He was a very special boy with happy brown eyes, white and reddish-brown colored fur and smart as a tack! Plus, he found us, not vice versa, wandered onto our farm one day, stuck out his paw to say he was a friendly boy, and he was ours ever since.

He was older, between 15 and 16 to be exact, so I know it was his time to go. He simply could not move or see anymore, but he will be sorely missed by me. ...and I just wanted to have a moment of silence for my favorite little man, one of my best buds! He is dearly missed.

::: posted by Heather at 11:56 AM

Wednesday, September 08, 2004 :::
This is a public service announcement from bailey'sirishcream.blogspot.com:

There is a Reason Why Country Kids and City Kids Never Get Together...

First, the city kid! Distinguishing characteristics are jeans that hang well below the waist and are suspended by a belt (depends on style, really), baseball caps of local sports team, loud-crankin' music, always has someplace to go (i.e. piano lesson, softball, under-21 club) all of which are usually covers to go drink and party with friends, extreme street smarts and parents who actually leave the house. In this case, LTT.

As discussed with Les Trois Towers (LTT), a perfect city kid who grew up in New York, there is a perfectly reasonable explanation why country kids and city kids never get together -- it would be the end of the world as we know it! Why you may ask -- simple, country kids have large resources, but no street-smarts and always get foiled by the parents. City-kids have scarce resources, but on the occasion they do get a weapon resource, they are not afraid to use it and seldom get caught by the 'rentals.

While going to a baseball game on my Birthday, I made this interesting discovery. Les Trois Towers once ended up with a water balloon in hand, launching it off his friend's balcony at a random passerby. Both LTT and friend fled the scene, off into their plush condo in New York, never to be discovered. I also have urban friends who took joy rides in their parents car at young ages, and were never caught! (Sneaky little devils)!

Disgruntled country kid of the worst kind: Wears whatever her mother tells her to wear, telephone implant in teacher's head to mothers, telling her everything the country kid does as a secret spy would, trying to be kewl, but realizing you are atleast two months behind the East and West Coasts, slightly shut eyelids, a facet of country life with little to do with only one power of freedom: the friend's house, disgusting resources to disrupt the lives of normal people, but little street smarts and even fewer opportunities to showcase these things. In this case, me!

Those who know me realize that much to my disatisfaction, I grew up on a 35-acre farm in the middle of nowhere. We had rows and rows of soybeans, lots of corn, private gardens that had everything from the hottest pepper, ripest tomatoes, juiciest fruits, you name it! We also had a stable without horses, and a dog. ...oh yes, and we had lots of guns to greet visitors (both wanted and unwanted), etc... In short, a farm kid had all the potential to get into a LOT of trouble, but none of the street smarts, so it was okay.

My friends and neighbors had even more. Now, mind you, at the time, my street or neighborhood consisted of 2 houses on my street, with my closest friend a whole 1/2 a mile away. ...but my friends had livestock -- mostly in the form of horses, pigs and sometimes cows and chickens.

I was bad once when I was young, and for once, this time I did not get caught. I went to a friend's house to play, we ended up getting bored and decided to try our hands at 1corning. So we waited awhile for a car to come along (we were on a deserted street) and finally, a truck came barreling down the gravel road. Suddenly, I and my friend sprang into action, each pelting his worn-out Chevy with our rotten ears of corn. He freaked, jumped out of the car and came at us with a shot-gun. Thus, we got over our boredom, freaked out ourselves and promised NEVER to do that again as we ran in the cornfield to get away (Bonnie and Claire, the female version of Clyde we were not, let me tell you). Then, my friend's father caught word of it and she was toast. Fortunately for me, I was a new friend so their parents did not have my mother's phone number and to this day I do not know how I escaped this one.

All this made me realize something important later, that there is a reason why country kids and city kids don't intermingle. One reason -- total kid domination and anarchy would soon ensue!

Imagine Les Trois Tower having a cow pie, tomato, strawberry, or any other country resource that could be used and harnessed as a weapon instead of a water balloon? People would be worried to walk down the street, Guiliani would have had to go after kids instead of criminals, the Tomatilla Festival would have been started "just because."

...another scary scenario -- what if city kid would have driven the get-away car from another farm for country kid or told country-kid to stand still in random farm and no one would be caught? This could lead to dire consequences and thus create an environment of total chaos that would make the Tomatillo Festival in Spain, look like kids play.

Moral to Kids and Parents: Do not allow any country kid to spend any amount of time with an urban child until they are out of college. Later, if possible. Otherwise, perhaps you will be the one who initiates cow patty throws and Tomatilla wars outside your house, all of which will lead catastrophy. Thank you!

1Corning is a "sport" in Indiana where you duck into the cornfields when they are high, usually right before harvest time, hold a bunch of corn ears and wait for cars to go by. Then, you pelt the cars with corn, freak out the driver and duck back into the cornfields.

::: posted by Heather at 6:08 PM

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