Jan 31, 2012

A World of Its Own

New York has always seemed like its own world to me. Granted when I lived in Boston, NYC wasn't quite as foreign in comparison to my then home but still had its own definite flavor. Now living in suburban Austin, it almost couldn't be more different.

First, it always cracks me up that you can get anything delivered in New York. My first experience with this phenomenon was my freshman year of college when on a visit here I learned that you can have Starbucks delivered to your door. Hilarious! Who has their coffee delivered!? And on my last trip I'd be lying if I told you I didn't seriously consider having a glass of wine delivered after a particularly stressful flight.

Possibly more funny than either of those beverages being on-call though is what I'm looking at in the terminal at JFK right now. Two rows of monitors advertising that you can order your food from the monitor and it will be delivered to you. Yes! You can have food delivered within the terminal! (Note: as I see some moms traveling with multiple small children I think this convenience must be a god-send to them so for them, OK. For the rest of us, just pure laziness.)

iphone_picAlso in the airport and cracking me up are the stools for these order kiosks. The are bolted to the large desk type thing but have a wheel on the bottom. Does one not cancel out the other?

Of course housing prices also set New York apart. Last night visiting with Alan and Aleks, they told me about a friend who spent $560,000 on a 1,000 square foot apartment. Holy mole. It's like you know, in your brain, that it's an expensive city. But it takes a story like that to really have it sink in how expensive.

iphone_picAnother funny and somewhat foreign thing about NYC is how mundane otherwise iconic locations are. The crazy arch thing that I don't know much about but that you see in movies all the time. Just part of the view from our conference booth yesterday. Or the Empire State Building from my hotel window You know, whatevs.

Speaking of normal but not, the people. Alan works in film and has worked for Martin Scorsese. I've known this but I always assumed that meant old Scorsese was at the top of some big pyramid and Alan and he were maybe in the same building once-per-project but never in the same meetings. I'd be wrong. They are on a first name basis and even have a running joke with each other. No, they don't go out for beers but then again, I don't go for beers with my CEO and I'd say he knows me. Suffice it to say, pretty darn impressed by the cuz.

Oh and Aleks, Alan's girlfriend, regularly dines on the lunch creations of Tom Colicchio who is only my favorite Top Chef judge. Who has that kind of awesome food delivered to the office?! I'm more than a little jealous and wish I had learned this at lunchtime instead of at 11p last night. I definitely would have adjusted my sandwich plans.

AND this is just crazy. My conference was in a building at NYU. Yesterday I'm in the elevator leaving the conference and I hear a familiar voice say my name. My roommate from my first semester of college! Yup, just there in the same elevator in New York. A big city but somehow a small world at the same time.

Finally, I'm very proud to tell you I've broken my no-pictures-of-people streak (I might even be turning over a new picture-taking leaf for 2012). At the eleventh hour, I remembered my challenge to self and had Aleks take a picture of me and Alan.

I think you'll agree that our different personalities shine through.

Jan 29, 2012

JetBlue, I heart you

Hotel View
View from my hotel in SoHo
Flying into NYC today I had my first JetBlue experience. While Southwest will always be my true love, JetBlue might be my airline mistress.

First, instead of being 5 seats and an aisle wide, it's just four. Nobody gets stuck in that dreaded middle seat (at least not on whatever model I was flying today). Second, they advertise more leg room and by George, I think it's true. I don't really have legs given that I'm 5'2" (or 5'3" if you ask Erin) but even my little legs felt like they had more room. Lovely. Third: snacks. I remember back in the good old days you got at least a snack on all flights and meals, albeit rarely good, included on some. Oh so many moons ago. But today not only did JetBlue give me a snack, it was a legit snack in terms of size and brand.

Finally, the most impressive part of all: my flight landed not on time but THIRTY MINUTES EARLY. When was the last time you had a flight land early? I can pretty confidently say I've never arrived that early before. It was amazing! It allowed me to see my lovely Kristin 30 minutes sooner (not that I took a picture to prove this to you...).

It's for all these reasons that I say, JetBlue, I heart you.

Jan 28, 2012

Reverse the Curse

Tomorrow I fly to NYC for work (where I'm speaking at Social Media for Nonprofits with a bunch of people who are much fancier than me, humbling experience for sure).

Last year when I went to NYC I was able to see a few Deltas and my cousin Alan. However I took no pictures, therefore have no proof, and just require you to take my word on it. (I did however blog about and photograph food from trip.)

Actually on all my biz trips combined last year I batted a perfect .000 for pics of people. To quote the pre-2004 Red Sox, this year I aim to reverse the curse. Send me nagging texts or something y'all. Clearly I need the help.

Jan 27, 2012

Roma Boutique Hotel

Rome - done!

We started looking at Rome hotels earlier this week and came to a decision today. Ultimately the decision required a second assessment of our budget; Rome is an expensive city. We threw a bit of caution to the wind, did another search and within about 10 minutes, booked our hotel.

(Note we did about the same thing for our honeymoon. Spent months researching and when the time came to book, quickly changed our minds and made an impulse purchase.)

We'll be staying 2 nights at the Roma Boutique Hotel which looks just lovely. The room includes breakfast and has a king size bed, both things we place a high priority on. (My hubby is 6 feet tall, king beds are a must.) It's also very close to the Spanish Steps and seems close to the Vatican which is my no. 1 priority in Rome.

Very excited! We're just one hotel away from having it all booked!

Jan 24, 2012

Man v Bathroom

You've heard of Man v Food but unbeknownst to me, at my house today it was Man v Bathroom.

Ross regrouted the tub last week and was keeping a close eye on it to see if it separated again like it had done in the past. That sneaky tub, it did. So today he tackled it again and it looks good as new.

Our toilet in the master bathroom had started running about a month ago. Not consistently...seemingly only at night actually (or maybe that's just when it was quiet enough for me to hear it). It wasn't anything a little jiggle couldn't fix so we were focusing on bigger priorities such as company parties and puppy dog parks in our time off. Apparently today it became too much for the hubs to stand. I came home not only to it fixed but to the whole tank gutted and rebuilt. We're now the proud owners of fancy low-flow toilet plumbing in our master bathroom.

If you aren't a homeowner, it's possible that these upgrades are lost on you. Goodness knows they would have been on me when I had a landlord. I would have simply notified said landlord and then come home to it magically fixed. Granted, since I have a wonderful hubby, my personal experience isn't that much different but I know how much work he puts into it. You should see how proud he is every time he tackles a new house project, especially the ones he's teaching himself for the first time. I'm so proud of his productivity, his new handyman skills and of my fancy freshly grouted, eco-friendly upgraded master bathroom.

Jan 22, 2012


I took a brief break from Friday Night Lights this weekend to watch Moneyball on BluRay with the hubs. Since we're both big baseball fans and since the book is one of Ross' favorites, we'd been really wanting to see this movie. In fact we had every intention of seeing in the theater but you know how it is, one thing leads to another and since movies are only in theaters for about 5 days now, it doesn't take much to miss the window of opportunity.

But anyways...

Though I'm not a huge Brad Pitt fan (I mean I think he's good looking but eh whatever, not into the hype), I loved him in this movie. He was really well cast. A bit of a gritty, muscular baseball look to him but sunny and tanned just like you expect a California boy to be. I also love the actor (Jonah Hill) they cast to be Peter Brand, Pitt's Ivy League genius awkward 20-something sidekick.

As we were watching it I thought about a post from the office blog and the point it drove home: when you can't win with business as usual, it's time to change the business. Even if we ourselves never actually change the rules, it's a romantic notion to daydream about, one perfectly fit for the romantic game of baseball.

Finally I indulgently loved how the movie included a few scenes from that old familiar part of Boston. Ah, nostalgia, how I love you.

Verdict: see the movie!

Jan 21, 2012

Hollywood Night

Last night we wrapped up 2011 with our annual party. In addition to being a fantastic party (I'll get to the details, just wait) this year was even more fun for me because having been there a year, I know everyone much better. Also Ross was able to join and since we've had a few functions with my immediate team recently, he knows them and their spouses. We even started with a little happy hour with them. I'm telling you, I work with some wonderful and fun people and despite spending 40 hours per week with them, I really enjoy seeing them socially too.

Anyways, back to the party. It was at a new-to-me location this year, the One World Theatre in Westlake. The theme was "Hollywood" and our party planner nailed it!

It began with complimentary valet parking, always a nice way to start the evening. Then they literally rolled out the red carpet up to the doorway. Our CMO and VP of Sales were greeting partyers on the red carpet with microphones, conducting interviews, asking who you were wearing, etc. ("A local designer"...ie I couldn't remember the name of the cute little boutique where I bought my dress.) As you walked through the door the "paparazzi" stopped you for photos.

Everyone was dressed to the nines. Ross bought a new tie for the occasion (I love his new tie, it's gorgeous) and paired it with his good pinstripe suit. He looked dashing, handsomest man there. I wore my gray dress from our own Christmas party and accessorized with some new black stud earrings and a big black cocktail ring.

The food and drinks were great. The decorations were awesome, lots of red and white. The annual awards were presented with videos from the Oscars dubbed over with our own audio. (I became the voice of Angelina Jolie.) One of our favorite things though was a flip book making booth. It was so fun! And the little book is great. So great that I wanted to share it and while I can't upload a flip book, I'm sharing the next best thing: our homemade video of our flipbook.Enjoy!

Jan 19, 2012


My yard and my neighborhood haven't been this green in months. It's January. Doesn't it usually not work like that?

Oh and it was 80 degrees out today. I think that's fairly odd for winter too.

Jan 18, 2012

Welcome to 2012

Dear Cheryl, welcome to 2012.

When I was asked for approximately the 400th time about calling someone via Skype this week, I decided maybe it was time to get with the program. Tonight my friends, I downloaded Skype.

New headshot
Then I got crazy and decided I should have a mildly recent headshot to fill the avatar screen so that required some photo selecting and editing. (And now I'm wondering, should I maybe update LinkedIn, Blogger, etc for improved consistency and recency? Oh the really tough and important questions in life.)

Then - ooh! I can add contacts! Yes let's do that. Let's search my Facebook. I bet I find a dozen or so...or like 500 people I know who are on Skype. Apparently I really was last.

I didn't have the patience to sit down and add all of you. I apologize. I added Anna, AJ and my cousin Anthony because as A's I got to all of them before I was bored. The real purpose was to be able to call Kevin so I added him and on my way to K I saw Joe's pic and figured I might as well round out the Renaud family listing. So I have those five people. One day I'll get crazy and add the other 495 of you. Or you can find me. I'm CLBlack425...just like my username for nearly everything is. Creative right?

Watch out! Now that I've joined 2012, I'm gonna Skype you!

(That sounds somewhat violent doesn't it?)

Jan 15, 2012

Better Luck Next Year

Well the Texans loss to the Ravens was a bit of a heartbreaker. Between Jacoby Jones making a laughing stock of the special teams and TJ Yates throwing not one, not two but three interceptions...sigh. Our defense played great; if only the offense could have matched it.

However Mom & I decided there is a small consolation prize in losing today: we don't have to travel to New England to be demolished. I've seen the Pats play and I had no dreams of the Texans beating them, especially outside, in January in New England. So it would have just been one more game to risk injuries and possibly end the season with an unnecessarily disheartening massacre.

So on our first year ever in the play-offs, winning one and going out with a (frustrating game but) respectable score ain't so bad. Until next year Texans...

Jan 14, 2012

1H 2012

The first half of 2012 just got busier.

If you read my California Girl post, it already looked fairly busy. Ha! That's nothing compared to what's on the books now:

  • January: 3 speaking engagements, 1 in each city: Austin, Phoenix and NYC
  • February: This is the month I sleep. So far nothing other than Valentine's Day here.
  • March: Co-hostessing Brittany's Baby Shower, Cirque du Soleil date night, Janice's Bridal Shower, SxSW, Boston for Jane's wedding, start California trip
  • April: Finish California trip, Easter, Ross' birthday, my birthday
  • May: EuroTrip
  • June: Orlando to speak at TechKnow
As Mom used to say to me in high school as we drove from one cheerleading practice to another, "it's a good thing you like to be busy."

Jan 13, 2012

23 Hours in Phoenix

It's a Friday night and Lexi and I are curled up for an episode (or two) of Friday Night Lights. That's because after 23 hours in Phoenix, I'm a sleepy lady.

Instagram pic from front of AZ hotel
Since I'm sleepy, I'll give you the very brief version. Yesterday afternoon I flew to Phoenix to join up with the McPherson Co-op, a group of fundraisers and marketers for PBS stations across the country. I enjoyed dinner with the group, where I ate delicious chicken and learned TONS about the world of public media. As the intersection of charitable work and broadcast journalism, I found it to be super interesting.

Then this morning I spoke to the group about social media and shared a few ideas for how they could use it back at their stations. Shane, from KLRU (Austin's PBS station) spoke with me on the topic and is definitely leading the charge in terms of social PBS stations.

And after speaking but before reaching the 24 hour mark in the wild wild west, I was back on a plane and headed to Austin.

Let's honor Shane and his team here with a teaser video for a show on our local PBS station that I do believe I will have to start watching.

Jan 10, 2012

Ruby's Pet Peeve

Some cars shake when you approach 80 mph, some car speakers pop when you try to rock out, some cars can barely make it up an on-ramp if they are low on gas. It's their way of telling you to not to drive so damn fast, to turn the music down or to fill up with gas already.

My little Ruby car is scenario three. She really hates being low on gas. Most cars can be "on empty" but still have 20 or so more miles in them.

Nope, not Ruby. One time I was on empty when I brought her home. The next morning I was about to go to the gym, turned the key and got nothing. Freakin' crickets. Ross was standing in the garage and he looked at me with the biggest "No way" eyes I have ever seen. I tried again and she started to purr. I immediately filled her up at the nearest gas station, cost be damned.

Today we had a little trouble with a wee hill, really had to stretch the little juice we had to get up what I didn't even realize was a slight incline until now, despite driving the same route for 2+ years. (You were above E old girl! Come on!) We promptly made a pit stop.

I love that little car and I'll probably consider buying another Hyundai when the time comes. In the meantime, I'm gonna make sure her little car belly is full (or at least half full) o' gas 24/7.

PS Musings about my car's gas habits led me to an idea and subsequent blog post about donor record keeping. OMG I am such a nerd.

Jan 8, 2012

Consumer ID

In cop shows they often go through the victim's trash with the idea that you can tell a lot about a person from their trash. Are they health nuts with nothing but organic groceries? Or are they Chinese take out aficionados? Maybe that receipt from the corner store will break open the case.

When I'm in the (always lengthy) line at the grocery store on Sundays, I find myself mindlessly staring at the purchases of the person in front of me and IDing them based on consumer habits. Apple juice and Pediasure probably mean there's a wee one at home. Sticky buns, soda and potato chips, especially when not accompanied by fruit, milk or vegetables, speak for themselves. Mountains of chips, Gatorade and deli meat either mean there are 5 kids in the family or possibly just 1 teenage boy.

Our shirts also said game day
What does our grocery shopping say about us? Well, yesterday with beer, cranberry juice, sausage and jalapeno poppers it said "game day!"

But our regular weekly grocery trip consists more of fresh vegetables (but rarely the organic ones), boxed rice or pasta mixes, 1% milk, fish, steak or pork, chicken, store brand tortilla chips (every week like clockwork), a small bouquet of cheap flowers and maybe a sweet something like this week, a pint of (light) vanilla ice cream. I think you'd say that we're a small family, probably with no kids (I mean come on, no juice boxes), who are mostly healthy and who don't put a lot of stock in most name brands.

Or maybe I just think that because I am us. While groceries don't actually define us, I'm still curious: what do your groceries say about you?

Jan 7, 2012

Hotel San Giorgio - Here We Come!

One more EuroTrip hotel booked!

Late last month/early this month I created a short list of lodging options for Venice, Vienna and Rome with the idea that Ross and I would pick our hotels together from that list. This morning we knocked out Venice!

Hotel lobby
We'll be spending two nights in the Hotel San Giorgio. As Venice is a spendy city to visit, we'll be staying in an economy double. But since I'd rather be out and about enjoying Venice, a small room is no problem.

Among the reasons we selected this hotel were the good reviews on TripAdvisor, the central location and the inclusion of breakfast. (We're all about included breakfasts to help power us through the day.)

Jan 5, 2012

Review: Wired and Dangerous

I don't know if I would go as far as to call it a new year's resolution, but instead of just blogging about moi all the time, I would like to spend more time this year reviewing books, movies, events, restaurants, destinations, etc. I'm thinking we can sum them up as the lifestyle section of the blog. (In fact, I think I'll create a new "lifestyle" label. Yes, yes I will.)

Last month I read Wired and Dangerous, by John Patterson and Convio Summit 2011 keynote speaker, Chip Bell (hence the interest). It was definitely a work read so to be honest it took me a little while to get through. It was a good book, and I'll hit some of the highlights, but you know how it is, after working all day, who relaxes with a work read?

Like I said though, good book. The big idea is that consumers today are more demanding and more vocal than ever. We're more demanding because a few stand-out experiences, like working with Amazon and their amazing customer service, have really started to raise the bar. We're also demanding because we're less tolerant of human error - just think of how often you go to the self-check out lane or ATM instead of conversing with a real person. It's just like they say, if you want to get something right, do it yourself...so we do.

We're more vocal somewhat on accident. Many moons ago if we had a bad experience, say at the airport, we would moan about it to our friend who picked us up after the flight. Now we tweet about it from the runway, consequently reaching way way more people. We've also started to learn that if we moan in a public enough way, someone might fix it for us right then and there. Quite reminiscent of Pavlov's doggy experiment.

All that means that as customer service people, we have to work a lot harder to make our customers happy. You have to remember what their most recent site search, recommend books based on their last purchase, alert them of deals based on their habits. Admittedly, it is a little daunting.

Throughout the book John and Chip share personal stories of customer service gone wrong (very funny in many cases) and customer service gone oh-so-right (make you say WOW). And even if you don't think your job is about customer service, their stories help you see how all of our jobs are about customer service in one way or another. It's a good read for thinking about how you approach your job, your clients, the retention of clients and all the people who are serving you and their performance and the fact that maybe you should cut them some slack for simply being human. After all, it happens.

California Girl

It's been unofficial for a while but now it's official - for six nights this spring I'm gonna be a California girl! I'll be adventuring first to San Diego to see Kevin for two nights and then on up the coast for a four night business trip to San Francisco. I've never been to either city so between that and seeing little bro, and knocking "San Diego Zoo" off my bucket list, I'm quite pleased.

Hotel in San Fran
This officially solidifies the first half of 2012 as just pure crazy. Pure wonderful fun crazy. Check it out:

  • January: 3 speaking engagements, 1 in each city: Austin, Phoenix and NYC
  • February: This is the month I sleep. So far nothing other than Valentine's Day here.
  • March: Cirque du Soleil date night, SxSW, Boston for Jane's wedding, start California trip
  • April: Finish California trip, Easter, Ross' birthday, my birthday
  • May: EuroTrip
I totally dig it.

Jan 4, 2012

2012 Resolutions

It's quite late but I'm still up (and yes, mostly because I had to watch just one more episode of Friday Night Lights). I just read several of the Deltas' new year's resolutions and I have to admit, I felt kinda left out. So I'm going to share just a few of them (the others I'm trying not to jinx so you'll just have to wait until I achieve them to learn about them).

  • Travel. It's lookin' good. EuroTrip and Boston flights have been booked and tomorrow I hope to book my San Diego plane tickets. With any luck, I'll accompany all those flights with hotel rooms. A January sub-goal is to book hotels for Rome, Venice and Vienna and to come in near-ish to budget. Those might be mutually exclusive clauses; we'll see.
  • Work out 4x per week. I pretty much do this now but I'd like to 1) keep it up and 2) nail it even on busy work/travel/social/whatever weeks.
  • Take my vitamins. Well, I just realized that I've already missed the boat on doing this every day. (I need to take them with food so today I took 1 to work with me where I was going to eat breakfast and I just realized I never took it. Damn.) However, maybe I can still come in at 90% or higher and score an A overall for this.
PS Seeing as I shared 3 resolutions right here, it looks like I'm not going to achieve my original resolution (which makes 4 total shared resolutions I guess) to have less resolutions.

Jan 2, 2012

Latest Addiction

In high school I read Friday Night Lights and it quickly became one of my favorite books of all time. (Summary: small town loves high school football and goes to the extreme to support it [Interesting note, our friend Stacy grew up out there in West Texas. He and even more so his older brother, were high school students at that school during the time the book takes place.]) I was stoked in college when they made a movie of it but was sorely disappointed when I saw it. Such gratuitous teenage sex, drinking, drugs, etc and they totally changed the ending, I mean as dramatic as making the Titanic not sink. I was so disappointed in fact that when they made a TV series, I didn't even bother. I figured it was the same characters from the movie in a "what happens next" sequel style series.

Fast forward many moons to this holiday season. Our new BluRay player is smart and thus we can stream in Netflix. Totally awesome. The Friday Night Lights TV series was filmed here in Austin so locally it's discussed often and many people I know, with varying entertainment interests, have raved about the series. Rave reviews, filmed in my (new) hometown and now free on-demand via Netflix. What the hell. I'll give it a shot.

Well that was three days and 12 episodes ago.

First, the TV series is not an extension of the movie. It's just loosely based around the same familiar story of a small Texas town infatuated with its high school football team and the holy grail of winning state.

Second, the characters are so loveable. The coach with his guidance counselor wife and their daughter who is so over football. The unlucky start QB who suffers a major injury. Then the self-conscious second string QB forced to step up as an underclassmen and who develops a crush on the coach's daughter. It's wonderfully cheesey, dramatic and wholesome.

And finally, the oh-so-familiar scenes. It's like looking into my life at times. In some ways, literally: the game scenes were filmed about a mile from the house at Pflugerville High, which I just confirmed via Wikipedia but which I ran across the house to tell Ross when I recognized the district office building in the back of one game scene. (This makes living in a town with such an absurd name a little better. The realtor should have told us this back in 2009; I would have felt a lot cooler moving to P-ville if she had.) I also recognized the shopping center across from our house with the ridiculous ice cream sundae shaped building. You can't fake that kind of ridiculousness folks. And according to Wikipedia, there's one future episode filmed in Boston, including a segment at BU.

But beyond the neighborhood scenery, the plot has some crazy familiarity. Like the scene where the football players dress in drag as cheerleaders for a pep rally. Oh Friday Night Lights, that was so CLHS circa every year 1999-2003. Or the CheerAmerica Classic which I'm pretty sure I competed at and won my division in back in sophomore year of high school. And while we thankfully didn't have any injuries as severe as the starting QB in this series does, my sophomore homecoming date, starting QB Michael, did break his femur one week before the dance.

So basically take my new home, plus my high school years and add in a little more drama and scandal and you've got Friday Night Lights. It's no wonder I'm addicted. The only thing standing between me and all five seasons is the inability of our internet to stream both Netflix video and Ross' new online computer game addiction.

Jan 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

2012 is here! At our house you can tell its New Year's Day because the Christmas decorations were all down by lunch, Christmas tree scented candles have been replaced by "soft fluffy towel" candles, the wreath on the door has been replaced by a "Home is Where the Heart is" Valentine's decoration and the Texans are on the TV. Sounds like January to me.

When Ross and I started 2011 we decided we just wanted to have a normal year. I kinda giggled at the idea of a "normal" year (I mean, really, what's normal?) but I have to say, it was. We didn't have any life changes and thankfully our families all remained happy and healthy. I know most years won't be so wonderfully uneventful and for the most part that's good (because it often takes an event to get to the next great thing). But after our crazy 2009 and a fairly eventful 2010, I'm very thankful for our blissfully easy 2011...and am breathing easier now I can say it without knocking on wood.

Here's lookin' at you 2012.