7.08.2013

Surprise Me

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about mentors. I believe they play a crucial role one's personal and professional successes. Thankfully, I've been blessed with several remarkable mentors throughout my life who have provided advice, devoted time, opened doors, made introductions, and even funded my endeavors. I wish more people pursued mentorships with people they admire. It may seem selfish to search for a mentor, but in reality, I believe the mentor benefits along with the mentee. Well, definitely not as much, but still. 
 
My current professional mentor and I met while I was working at The Richards Group. He's an author, copywriter, TV producer, and all-around stand-up guy. After we had gotten to know each other and I initiated the awkward "you're-awesome-and-I-want-to-be-like-you-will-you-be-my-mentor" conversation (allowing this label to evolve organically is probably a better idea, in retrospect), I received an email from him that will forever rival all other emails that I will receive in the course of my lifetime. 
Here's what it said: 
“Many years ago, I had a crazy-brilliant creative partner. Lives in Woodstock, NY, now. We’re still friends. We were a very tight-knit team. Sometimes, when we were on the road and eating at great restaurants—this was in the days of outrageous expense accounts—when it was time to order, my partner would tell the waiter, 'Surprise me.' He wouldn’t give a hint about his tastes, wouldn’t answer any questions. Just 'Surprise me.' I’ve done that a few times myself, and it’s really fun. The waiters love it, too. 
Well, sometime last year, I realized something: I’ll trust a waiter to surprise me, with the full expectation that it’s going to be a great experience, but I wasn’t trusting God to surprise me. I’d be real specific about what I’d pray for, as if there were reason to be suspicious of anything outside the realm of what I could imagine I needed. So finally I started saying, sometimes, to God, 'Surprise me. I’ll let You decide what You think’s good today.' 
And surprise me He has. It's been one astonishment after another. You're one of them. At a time when I really needed a kindred spirit and a challenging intellect in my life, in you dropped out of the blue—such a completely unexpected person and in such an unexpected way. A wonderful surprise I could never have designed.   
The specifics I would ask God for are so dull and uncreative compared to His surprises. This is fun. I’m grateful. Thank you.”
As a dumb 20-something just out of college, I was flabbergasted to receive such an email. It was truly an undeserved shot of confidence. But I sent it to my parents, knowing they would love the message. My dad later asked for permission to post it on his personal blog, a church blog, and then a church newsletter. It's an honor to have this lovely letter shared with others; I hope its spiritual impact on others is as moving as its personal impact on me. I still intend to frame it and hang it with the family photos in our hallway.
 
So, to the reader: If you don't have a mentor, find one. Your age or level of expertise doesn't matter. There will always be someone better, smarter, and more experienced at what you're doing than you are. And that person can help you achieve higher levels of success. 
And to my mentors, past, present, and future: You inspire and sharpen me. I promise to pay it forward and then some, particularly when I get past my dumb 20-something years and have more wisdom to share. But in the meantime, this is fun. I'm grateful. Thank you.

8.16.2012

Raceslip Update

Most of you know that earlier this year, my brilliant entrepreneur of a husband launched Raceslip.com, his second venture in the automotive industry. For those of you who don't, Raceslip is a social media site that propelled drag racing into the 21st century (read: digital time slips sent to your phone, an online database of your racing history, and the ability to challenge friends). We launched at several Texas tracks and plan on expanding the service to drag strips nationwide.

Although we have huge goals for Raceslip's future, I'm pretty dang proud of our first five months, in which we:
  • Broke attendance records at North Star Dragway with Ricekillers.com's Thursday Night Throwdown event in June, with over 200 vehicles racing and 800 people present
  • Ran an extremely successful Facebook photo contest that reached 14,500 unique users 
  • Recruited multiple sponsors, including Dallas Mustang, Nitrous Outlet, Dynosaur Performance, Lone Star Performance, Procharger, True Street Motorsports, and more
  • Garnered 415 "likes" on our Facebook page
  • Continue to add weekly site updates that improve Raceslip's functionality and overall user experience
So check us out if you haven't already, especially if you're a drag racer. Find us at Raceslip.com, "Like" us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter


3.25.2012

Hughes Reviews Koko FitClub

I recently saw a TV spot for a new fitness franchise called Koko FitClub. It looked intriguing, as it seemed unlike the typical gym/meat market concept, which I hate. To me, it's very demotivating and uncomfortable to enter a two-story building full of machines and make up my workout as I go, all while being stared at by strangers (read: while being oogled by strange men). Ladies, you know what I'm talking about! I wanted something different. 

So I scheduled a tour at Koko, a brand that I knew nothing about at the time. My friends and family had never heard of Koko either. So I visited the Dallas/Addison location for a tour and one supervised workout. And because I'm me, I also asked a bunch of questions. Here's what I learned from my research:

Although Koko seems like a neat concept for a fitness center, it's $89/month and you MUST sign a one-year contract. It is non-negotiable, even if the franchise is new to the area and has very few members, as was the case with the brand-new Dallas location when I was considering sign up. Koko doesn't believe in running introductory specials or promotions in general, so don't hold your breath about getting a deal.

The staff at the Dallas location was friendly during my tour, but they did not follow up with me or even return my calls for days afterward. I had to do all the pursuing. It seemed to me they would rather NOT make a sale than bother to follow up, negotiate a reasonable price and/or contract length, or have any sort of promotion that could possibly drive sales/membership or brand recognition in the community. Free trials are not allowed; you are only offered one free session with a trainer talking to you the entire time, and you're expected to make a year-long commitment based on those 20-30 minutes.

The feeling of being watched is almost worse at Koko, as the workout area literally consists of one small room with machines facing each other, which is also combined with the reception area. No chance of blending in with the crowd here, albeit a small one. Also, there are no locker rooms, only a one-person-at-a-time bathroom. Most locations have no showers, but the Dallas location does have one unisex shower.

When I wrote corporate to express my initial excitement about Koko that quickly turned sour with my lackluster experiences and discoveries, the CEO very politely avoided all the above complaints and issues I reported, informing me that the timing just didn't seem right for me to join Koko, but she hoped I would consider it in the future. Actually, had Koko been willing to work with me, even with a 6-month contract at full price, I told the salesperson I would sign up same-day. So it's not a timing issue at all. It's a brand issue, and I will personally not be considering Koko in the future.

Bottom Line: No likey. Koko has a cool idea, but their execution needs help. I'm not sure how successful a company can be long-term with this rigid, high-priced, and unreasonably long contract, combined with terrible customer service and zero amenities. If you are still considering Koko, make sure to further your research by reading other third-party reviews on sites like Yelp before signing their contract. And best of luck on your quest for long-term health!

2.15.2012

@GD_Wisdom

For those of you who know me, I don't tweet. In fact, I've never really seen the point of Twitter. Until recently.

My company just completed an expansion, and everyone got shuffled around. So I now share an office with my graphic designer, who truly says the darndest things. At the end of the workday, my stomach hurts from laughter and my makeup has been ruined by happy tears. Unfortunately for everyone else, I'm usually the only person to hear these remarkable tidbits.

But because her random brilliance desperately needed to be shared with the world, our social media manager decided to begin tweeting my verbatim reports of our designer's observations to a special account entitled @GD_Wisdom. I suggest you follow it immediately. I did, and I have now become addicted to recalling our more enjoyable office moments via Twitter. I'm pretty sure it will be the funniest part of your day, too.

So I report magical comments firsthand, our social media manager tweets said reports, everyone gets an ab workout.

You're welcome.

2.07.2012

Hughes Reviews Portlandia

It's crazy how pop culture infiltrates our lives. I'm fascinated with that. Before Old Gregg, we never drank Bailey's. But last fall, during our vacation in California, Eric and I were shopping in a liquor store when he began suggesting Bailey's in Old Gregg's voice. It was over. We were falling down in the aisles, exchanging lines like we'd just seen it for the first time. People were looking at us like we had already been drinking. It was definitely one of those "you had to be there" type of moments. But even though it was a worldwide YouTube sensation, Old Gregg was our inside joke there in that liquor store. I love that. And you know what? We bought a bottle of Bailey's. Since then, we've bought many.

Lately, I haven't seen too many cult videos on YouTube that really do it for me (a.k.a. warrant incorporation into my daily life). But a co-worker recently shared a sketch from Portlandia called Dumpster Diving that grows on me every time I watch it. And I feel the need to share it so that my co-worker and I aren't the only ones saying "Ohhhh! Ohhhh!" in annoyingly high-pitched tones at far-too-frequent intervals throughout the day. Because it's kind of in my normal vernacular now. And that's pretty scary and/or lame. Thanks, pop culture.

Anyway, if you haven't heard much about it (I hadn't), Portlandia is a sketch comedy show that employs a unique blend of dry wit, inside jokes, and randomness. It's actually kind of addicting. I would compare it to British humor, in that it's pretty out there and you either get it or you don't. Fred Armisen is super versatile and clever as the male lead, with an awkward sort of stage presence that only adds to the humor in Portlandia's bits. Some are better than others, like this commentary on a ridiculous fad in the design world... Put a Bird on It!

Bottom Line: I likey. And if you're kind of random like me, you probably will, too. Check out Portlandia on IFC on Fridays, 9:30pm CST.

2.06.2012

What a Coincidence... Or is it?

I'm a sucker for nostalgia. That's why The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is one of my favorite movies. It's not a cinematic masterpiece or anything, so I'm a little embarrassed to admit that it ranks high up on my list, but I do think it was extremely underrated. There have been few movies that resonate with me like this one (or require quite as much Kleenex).



For starters, it's a period piece, which many times translates to nostalgia. But it's also philosophical, dealing with the fleeting passage of time, love in all forms, broken dreams, perspective, letting go, memories, forgiveness, and the inevitable. And these themes are like kryptonite to the extremely sentimental. But I think that anyone can see themselves in this film in some form or another. It's one of those movies, like Forrest Gump or O Brother Where Art Thou?, that I just have to watch if it's on TV.



But the most thought-provoking theme in Benjamin Button is a topic I've been reflecting on quite a bit lately: coincidence. One of my favorite scenes about coincidence involves Benjamin (the truly ageless Brad Pitt) narrating over a montage of clips showing unrelated people who, through a string of seemingly insignificant events, create a chain reaction of events that impacts Benjamin's ballerina love interest, Daisy, in a big way:



"Sometimes we're on a collision course, and we just don't know it. Whether it's by accident or by design, there's not a thing we can do about it.



A woman in Paris was on her way to go shopping, but she had forgotten her coat - went back to get it. When she had gotten her coat, the phone had rung, so she'd stopped to answer it; talked for a couple of minutes. While the woman was on the phone, Daisy was rehearsing for a performance at the Paris Opera House. And while she was rehearsing, the woman, off the phone now, had gone outside to get a taxi. Now a taxi driver had dropped off a fare earlier and had stopped to get a cup of coffee. And all the while, Daisy was rehearsing. And this cab driver, who dropped off the earlier fare, who'd stopped to get the cup of coffee, had picked up the lady who was going to shopping, and had missed getting an earlier cab. The taxi had to stop for a man crossing the street, who had left for work five minutes later than he normally did, because he forgot to set off his alarm.



While that man, late for work, was crossing the street, Daisy had finished rehearsing, and was taking a shower. And while Daisy was showering, the taxi was waiting outside a boutique for the woman to pick up a package, which hadn't been wrapped yet, because the girl who was supposed to wrap it had broken up with her boyfriend the night before, and forgot. When the package was wrapped, the woman, who was back in the cab, was blocked by a delivery truck, all the while Daisy was getting dressed. The delivery truck pulled away and the taxi was able to move, while Daisy, the last to be dressed, waited for one of her friends, who had broken a shoelace. While the taxi was stopped, waiting for a traffic light, Daisy and her friend came out the back of the theater.



And if only one thing had happened differently: if that shoelace hadn't broken; or that delivery truck had moved moments earlier; or that package had been wrapped and ready, because the girl hadn't broken up with her boyfriend; or that man had set his alarm and got up five minutes earlier; or that taxi driver hadn't stopped for a cup of coffee; or that woman had remembered her coat, and got into an earlier cab, Daisy and her friend would've crossed the street, and the taxi would've driven by. But life being what it is - a series of intersecting lives and incidents, out of anyone's control - that taxi did not go by, and that driver was momentarily distracted, and that taxi hit Daisy, and her leg was crushed."



I love that definition of life. But it's impossible to say what things in life happen for good reason (what I would call serendipity), what things happen for no apparent reason (what I would call mere coincidence), and what things are "God things" (like answered prayer or a customized trial containing a lesson we need to learn). And so goes an internal debate I've been pondering for awhile now.



An example of this concept happened just yesterday. It was Mom's 60th birthday, so we met for a Tex-Mex lunch and margaritas. As we got in our cars to leave, I waited for her to back out of her parking space first, which was a few over from mine. I glanced over my shoulder to see if all was clear, when I saw her minivan stopped in the middle of the road... without Mom in the driver's seat. "Oh no," I thought. An unhappy birthday surprise had indeed transpired, as a black little Altima coupe had parked just out of view and Mom backed right into it. We tried to find its owner in the restaurant, but to no avail. Mom left her number under the windshield wiper with an apology, and we left.



Happenstance #1: The car belonged to a young 20-something girl, who had just been involved in a hit-and-run. And because her car had taken the "hit," she was extremely grateful and appreciative that Mom had been honest and left her information. So instead of being upset with Mom, the girl was shockingly pleasant.



Happenstance #2: Mom had hoped she'd ran into someone who would be nice to her on her 60th birthday. Not only was the girl surprisingly agreeable, but they bonded over the fact that today is actually her birthday: only one day after Mom's.



Happenstance #3: The biggest coincidence of them all is this: the girl's 49-year-old father had died that same morning, just a few hours before Mom ran into her newly fixed car. She and her mom had stopped to eat before heading to the funeral home to make arrangements. Of course, Mom felt absolutely terrible. But she also had an immediate, and very dramatic, paradigm shift about her dreaded 60th birthday. Talk about perspective!



This series of events made me recall Benjamin's definition of life, that if XY and Z hadn't have happened, our lives wouldn't have intersected with this girl who was already having what was sure to be the worst day of her life thus far. The poor thing was on a collision course that day; she just didn't know it when she woke up.



"Along the way you bump into people who make a dent on your life." Benjamin's simple yet profound words make me wonder whether that literal dent Mom put on that girl's life can be chalked up to mere coincidence. It certainly wouldn't be considered serendipitous. But if those involved analyzed the situation from a deeper perspective, it could even be a God thing, spurring a paradigm shift and a potential chain reaction nobody could've foreseen.



All that to say this: Do the people who "make a dent in our lives" or the things that happen to us every day occur through coincidence, serendipity, or because of a higher power? Could one ever tell the difference?



"You never know what's coming for you."
-Benjamin Button


2.02.2012

Hughes Reviews

Because I live and breathe branding in my career, I have long planned to start a consumer blog as a fun side project. The problem is, if I proliferate my own personal media by starting another blog (that one's for you, ad folks), neither blog will actually stand on its own... As you may have noticed, my posting frequency is insanely sporadic. So my brand reviews will stay on DMH, with the hopes that my posting habits will become less haphazard and possibly result in a blog that's not a total joke.

Because I'm the most blunt person I know, and when I have a strong opinion I love to share it with anyone who will listen, I'll only post about a brand/company/service/product when I either love it or hate it. If it's just "meh," then I'll not waste anyone's time with an assessment. So there will be no "1 to 5 star" grading system here... I'm too much of an "all or nothing" kind of person for that. Nope, it's either thumbs up or thumbs down for me.

Let the bloodbath, I mean, the fun begin! Yay!

Look Again

"Once upon a time, we believed the world was flatthat beyond a certain point, there would be nowhere to go. And though we now know the world is round, we still fear falling off imaginary edges, too often thinking there's only so far we can stretch, so hard we can push. The most dangerous limits are those in our own head. When you feel you're at your edge, look again. You can go farther."
- Matthew Wakem

11.15.2011

What You Don't Know (Until You Buy a House) - Part II

FACT: Even if it looks clean, by all means, clean it. The nightmare sellers actually did something nice for us on the day we closed: they had the house professionally cleaned. I'm not sure if this practice is typical, but we weren't expecting it (especially from these people). So on the surface, the house looked clean. But if you were to, say, open a kitchen cabinet and examine even the top shelf... Watch out! You'd be in for an unexpected layer of filth and dog hair. So although the carpet was only several months old and freshly vacuumed, we went ahead and rented a steam cleaner before we moved all our stuff into the house.

While Eric epoxied the garage floor, I slowly and mind-numbingly cleaned all the carpets. When I emptied the first batch of dirty water into the tub, I couldn't believe the insane amount of dirt, hair, and bugs that had settled into our "new" carpet. Even in the low-traffic areas of the house, where the carpet seemed virtually untouched, the used water continually kept its nasty brownish-black tint.

Bottom line: When purchasing a house, disinfect every square inch. Even if the house was just flipped and everything is brand new, take the time to thoroughly clean it. If nothing else, you'll be ridding your home of the dust created by the contractors or dirt tracked in by other potential buyers who saw the house before you. It's well worth the time, and you'll be glad you did.

FACT: Once you close, finders keepers. The weirdest thing about our home-buying experience was all the crap we found around the house that the sellers forgot to pack. In fact, we found three giant boxes worth of stuff just sitting around in drawers, cabinets, closets, or the attic. From serving platters to gift certificates, from toothbrushes to place mats, from a completed application for a passport (SSN and all!) to an electric razor, it's like the sellers forgot to do one last check around before locking the door for the last time. You know that last thorough check you do after you stay one night in a hotel room? Yeah. These people lived in the same place for 15 years and forgot to do that.

Case in point: A few weeks ago, while in the attic trying to solve an issue with the HVAC system, my brother turns to my husband and asks, "What's that shiny thing hanging from that rafter over there?" Turns out, it was a sword. And not just any sword, but a family heirloom: an army saber with an intricately engraved blade, which includes a man's full name. The last name matches the seller's, but the first name is different, so we guessed this must have been his father's or grandfather's military saber. The almost crazier thing is that they still don't realize they left this treasure behind, or I'm sure we would have heard from them.

You may be thinking, "You jerk! You know you have a family heirloom belonging to the sellers and you haven't contacted them to come get it?"

Well. We tried that with the aforementioned three giant boxes of stuff, which we so graciously offered for the sellers to pick up, though our agent recommended keeping what we wanted and giving the rest away. Because, once you close, you are the legal owner of everything on the property. But Eric being the saint that I am not, he decides to handle it... Despite my pleas to take our agent's advice, because I'm so done with the sellers at this point.

He calls the seller, who says they are busy and will have to get it later. Fast forward a month after closing, and the seller's crap is still sitting in our living room. At this point, we are being way more than courteous and are essentially acting as a free storage unit for our ungrateful sellers. So I tell Eric that if the boxes aren't out of the house by the next trash pick-up, it's all going to the curb. He agrees. So he texts the sellers and tells them their stuff is now outside, next to the garage near the back alley. And so it sits for 36 hours, just before trash day.

The cherry on top? They left the stuff they apparently didn't want on our driveway so that we could dispose of it for them, without any explanation or a even a "thank you."

So unless the sellers show up at our front door, on their knees with a peace offering... The saber is mine.

Bottom line: If you happen to find items your seller left behind, offer it to them once, if you are so inclined. It's a nice gesture. But if they don't show appreciation for your decency and/or drag their feet, it's yours to do with as you please. After all, it's your property.

11.11.2011

What You Don't Know (Until You Buy a House) - Part I

What a whirlwind life has been lately... Over the past five months, I've started a new job, we bought our first house, my brother got married, we moved (actually, those last two events happened over the same, extremely long weekend), then we topped it all off with a vacation to Monterey, California. All big life events (and all very happy), but now that things are calming down a bit, I'm content to just be home these days.

For my 27th birthday, I asked for Lowe's gift cards. Think what you will, but that makes me feel depressingly old. Aren't I supposed to want something fun and irresponsible? I think after six years of apartment living, which we actually loved for the most part, I'm finally feeling that nesting sensation. Mundane things I never thought I'd be excited about are now my preoccupation: replacing hardware, painting, fixing broken odds and ends, unpacking... The moment I emptied the last box in the kitchen, I felt I had just finished a marathon. Totally exhilarating. And when we hung my vintage crystal chandelier in the foyer (which has been a much anticipated event, let me tell you), my heart simultaneously pounded with excitement and melted with pride.

Unfortunately, the sellers of our beloved new abode were completely inept slobs, which has presented some issues for me, an OCD neat freak who color-coordinates her closet. These nuts built the house in 1996, lived it into the ground, then sold it to unsuspecting, first-time home buyers who were bound and determined to live in this subdivision: us. The negotiation process was a frustrating disaster, thanks to the childish tactics of their agent, who was literally the most unethical "business man" one could imagine. But once the house was finally ours, I exhaled a sigh of relief: we would never have to think about that insane agent or those nasty sellers again!

Guess again.

From the seemingly ubiquitous dirt and dog hair to their shoddy craftsmanship, I actually find myself "thinking" about those people much more often than I'd like. So without further ado, here are some lessons we learned from the home-buying process.

DISCLAIMER: I absolutely love our home now that we've made it our own, and none of the issues we've encountered have been insurmountable. In the end, the pros outweigh the cons and I'd buy all over again tomorrow. So this isn't a warning not to buy, just to be cautious and particular when you do.


FACT: Sellers can suck. As can their agents. We had our sellers over a barrel, and they knew it. But we also really wanted this house, and we may have shown a little too much of our hand. It was listed at midnight, we had a showing booked by 12:45am, saw it at noon the next day, and made an offer by 1pm. It was a whirlwind romance. But the sellers were already under contract on a nearby house, as we learned from their genius agent (more on him in Part II). So they HAD to sell it, and fast. They should have put it on the market far earlier, because even with a strong offer on their house within 12 hours of it being listed, they still requested a short sale with extra time on the back end to move.

Their lack of planning (and thinking) makes sense to me now that I live in their old house, where an unfortunate amount of DIY projects were executed by quite possibly the most unhandy man in the universe. So in retrospect, it's not surprising that the sellers were irrational during the negotiation process and the agent representing them was downright rude. According to our wonderful agent, this is somewhat common, particularly with Ebby Halliday, who was coincidentally the employer of the selling agent.

Bottom Line: Beware of sellers who are unfairly demanding, indignant of your offer (given that it is reasonable, as ours most definitely was), and/or too proud of their house to realistically negotiate. And if their agent perpetuates this attitude instead of diplomatically mediating, you're in for some very frustrating negotiations. Chances are, it will be even worse if he or she works for Ebby. Yay!

FACT: Love is blind. Universally, the seller does the least possible fixing and updating of anything prior to selling the house. If they do, know that it was probably thrown together in the cheapest, quickest way possible. And if you probably wouldn't notice it during a showing, fuhgeddaboudit. Even if the house looks amazing when you see it for the first time, even though it might still be awesome when you do your walk-through, there are two major problems.

First, if you're really in love with said house, you fail to see it's flaws. It's like a new relationship. You are so obsessed with your potential home, you don't really notice the missing grout in the shower, the hardware that's hanging on by a broken nail, or the unfinished shelving inside the wet bar (all unfortunately true for us). And you certainly don't notice the problems with the little face lifts it has had, because they look great! That cute little vintage-style pedestal sink? Beautiful. The installation behind the sink? Abhorrent. You know when you do notice those issues? After you're "married" to the house. When you are enjoying the honeymoon phase, these seemingly little problems slowly uncover themselves, and you think, "Oh wow, that's interesting." But those "interesting" little idiosyncrasies really add up to one super-annoying problem over time.

Secondly, you don't know what exactly to look for. Because Eric's and my fathers are both contractors, we assumed they and the official inspector could diagnose every problem, long before we ever signed on the dotted line (not to mention 100 of them). But nobody can survey every inch of the house, even if they're experts. And some of the problems just aren't apparent until you live there, because you're experiencing the house in a way the inspector just couldn't... Like our toilet with the overflow drain that was installed above the top of the tank. Sometimes there just aren't enough towels.

Bottom Line: When it comes to looking at houses, take off your rose-colored glasses and see things realistically. Look for little things, not just the dealbreakers. Because when you think you've found "the one," you tend to get giddy and overlook the flaws.