Holiday Traditions: Wrapping Paper Roll Sword Fights and Ugly Christmas Stockings

My Mom grew up on a dairy farm, so her family opened their Christmas presents every Christmas Eve. Apparently the cows didn’t care that it was Christmas morning. They still wanted to be milked. Go figure.

I always loved telling this story when I was a kid. Somehow this story made it okay that our family never participated in the traditional Christmas morning depicted in movies; i.e., children wake up early on Christmas morning, shake  Mom and Dad awake, then run down the steps and scramble to open their presents. I liked it this way though. We had our own traditions.

We successfully carried on Mom’s Christmas Eve tradition every year that I’ve been alive until last year. Which I have to say I have no complaints with, since 27 years is a pretty good run to keep a tradition going.

All families grow and change, so those childhood traditions tend to change in turn. Many of us will always hold those favorite memories of holiday traditions close to our hearts as we get older and hope to pass these traditions on to our own children. Here are a few of my fondest memories of holiday traditions with my family.

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Christmas 2012

We always had an open table at Thanksgiving. Our immediate family is pretty small, so we would always invite any friends that didn’t have their own family gatherings to attend to join us for the day. The more the merrier I say– it was fun to have a full house. Anyone was welcome to come give thanks with us and this made me realize at a young age how blessed I am to have such a great family, but also how much it means to others when you reach out and include them on a day where they otherwise may have been lonely.

Dad and I would always go pick out the Christmas tree together at one of those tree farms where you pick out your tree and then saw it down yourself. Well, Dad was the one using the saw for the most part I’d say. We’d bring the tree home and decorate it with Mom. He would help with the ornaments to some extent, but what he really liked doing was putting on the tinsel. Mom would always have to tell him not to put it on in gobs. “One string at a time, Dad.”

My brother is 11 years older than me. Every Christmas Eve he would come home before our family dinner and use Mom’s wrapping paper. (Who hasn’t done this?) We would always save the cardboard tubes from the wrapping paper, tape them up with almost an entire roll of strapping tape (much to Mom’s dismay), and then go outside to duel. I guess you could say whoever’s “sword” stayed in tact the longest won. The cardboard was usually shredded to pieces by the time we were finished though, so it was hard to tell.

I remember Mom making a birthday cake for Jesus when I was four, and we would always talk about the real reason for Christmas being Jesus’ birth before opening presents. I’m pretty sure I understood there was no Santa by the time I was two, but I tried not to ruin it for all of my friends until they got a little older. 🙂 After we opened presents, I always liked to lay underneath the tree and look at the lights through the branches. Sometimes Mom would lay and look up at the lights with me. I never wanted to get up. I could stare at the Christmas tree all night, and sometimes I did.

My nephew, Brayden, singing Happy Birthday to Jesus

My nephew, Brayden, singing Happy Birthday to Jesus

My memories from the holiday’s aren’t of favorite Christmas presents, they are of times spent with my family. I had the ugliest stocking that had my name written on it in black magic marker. Every year I refused to get rid of it, no matter how many times Mom tried to buy me a new, pretty stocking. The ugly red stocking was mine, and always had been, so there was no replacing it.

Happy Holidays,

Amanda

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Social Media Meets Destiny

New opportunities are incredibly exciting. You work hard to get that new position or promotion, but when you’ve finally made it through the trials and are on the starting line, jumping that first hurtle is sometimes a lot harder than you thought it would be. The grass is always greener on the other side, right? Butterflies are fluttering in your stomach. What if I don’t live up to the new boss’ expectations? What if I’m not as good as I thought I was?

I returned to U of L last fall to finish my degree mostly out of boredom. I had been a server for ten years and no matter how much I love to meet new people and talk to them about food and wine, I began to realize that my brain needed some exercise. I used to be the student looking for an “easy A”, but since I’ve been back, I want to soak up as much information as I possibly can to prepare myself for entering the real world.  I enjoy pushing myself, and though I miss spending more time with my family and friends, I’d be lying if I said small moments of wanting to pull my hair out weren’t 100 times better than letting complacency set in.

Too bad getting rid of writer's block isn't this easy.

Too bad getting rid of writer’s block isn’t this easy.

When it comes to almost everything, practice makes perfect. I have always enjoyed writing, but much of my life I have either lacked the motivation to commit to writing on a regular basis, or I was afraid that I wasn’t good enough (whatever that means), so I would give up. I’ve taken many writing classes throughout college, literally “forcing” myself to write, because I did have a strong desire to improve. Though I knew I had potential, I wasn’t sure if there was a perfect niche for me.

You wouldn’t think that failing a class would come by the hand of destiny, but I’m beginning to believe that maybe that was the case for me. I hit a rough spot six years ago, questioning what I wanted to do with my life. Unfortunately I failed a few classes before I decided to take a break from college. Obviously, retaking these classes was at the top of my list when I returned to U of L. 

Imagine a class centered on strategic communications writing six years ago. Now imagine how much that class would have changed over the course of the last six years while I was on “hiatus.” Many of the concepts I was introduced to in strategic communications writing have changed so drastically in the last ten years since I was a college freshman. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn most of the concepts we touched on if I had graduated on schedule in 2006. The more traditional public relations side of communications has evolved in tandem with our society that is ever becoming more mobile and saturated with social media. I enjoyed my introduction to public relations so much, that I decided to take my remaining 400 level credits in a class completely dedicated to all things social media. PR is becoming more intertwined with social media by the second, so I am grateful that the stars aligned, and I am completing  my degree now.

Blogging twice a week this semester has shown me that I can be dedicated to writing– I just had to find the right avenue. No matter how painstaking the process can be at times, one of the most satisfactory feelings I have ever had is spending an inordinate amount of time writing a piece, but when all is said and done, I can sit back and be proud of my work.

Thanks Professor Freberg for showing me the way!

– Amanda

How Hashtags Created the New Rules of Crisis Communications

Who hasn’t wondered who posted the first hashtag? The story of the first hashtag isn’t particularly glamorous, but it is a story of persistence paying off.

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The above tweet was the first post on Twitter to include a hashtag. As a co-founder of BarCamp, an annual conference for hackers, Chris Messina had been looking for the best way to create a group connection on Twitter for what had seemed like ages. Using the # sign before a topic made it easier for workshop goers to connect with each other.

The concept didn’t go over so well at first. Messina even approached the co-founders of Twitter with his hashtag idea, but was quickly sent away with not much more than a comment stating, “Hashtags are for nerds.”

Messina didn’t give up though. A few months after his first hashtag post, wildfires broke out in San Diego, California. When Messina suggested the use of the hashtag #sandiegofires to his friend who was reporting on the fires through Twitter, many people in the area started using the #sandiegofires hashtag to acquire important information about evacuation sites in the area. This was the first time that a large audience was able to actually see and be a part of using a hashtag to respond to a crisis situation.

Much to everyone’s surprise, six years later hashtags are central to the Twitter universe. Hashtags have also become an important part of every crisis communications situation, just as they were an integral part of dealing with the first #sandiegofires crisis.

Let’s take a look at an infographic that puts planning and managing a social media crisis in to perspective.

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Planning for a social media crisis is just a important as learning how to respond to one. Melissa Agnes is the president of Melissa Agnes Crisis Management. She prepares national/global organizations and brands for crisis situations, as well as helping organizations reign in crisis situations that have already materialized.

Having a pre-determined hashtag strategy is something that needs to be organized before a crisis – and this goes for companies, organizations and schools, just as it applies to government officials and emergency responders. -Melissa Agnes

Making sure your brand understands the differences between an issue and a crisis is the beginning of being able to remedy both. Issues within a company can quickly expand into a crisis situation if not handled in a timely fashion. Issues may hurt your company in that specific moment, like pulling off a band-aid, but a crisis can wound your brand for life.

Remember:

  • Have a crisis communication strategy that includes hashtags.
  • Monitor the conversation around your brand, using Hootsuite or other social media monitoring tools to stay in the loop.
  • If a problem arises, identify that your crisis is in fact a crisis and not just an issue.
  • Respond quickly. Ignoring the issue is not an option.
  • Let people explain their side of the story, but try to stay in control of the situation by having it on your turf, i.e., your Facebook/Twitter page.
  • Never get into a public tiff with users.
  • Take responsibility for your actions if your brand made a mistake. Users will respect your brand much more for being honest.

Best Wishes,

Amanda

 

Musical Interpretation: Black + White = Gray

I grew up Pentecostal. Not long hair and long skirts Pentecostal. More like loud music with drums and guitars, where blue jeans were appropriate, and fire and brimstone frequently came from the pulpit. I am completely aware that this is not what comes to mind when most people think about church. Let’s just say a lot of my friends growing up didn’t like to spend the night on Saturdays. Don’t misunderstand me, I have no problem with it. We are all just used to certain things, and I understand why my upbringing confuses some people. Let me give you a perfect example. When I was ten years old, a lady at the Bible bookstore told me she’d heard a rumor that my church handled snakes and bit the heads of chickens, and she wanted to know if it was true. I had no idea what she was talking about. I was 10! Of course I told her that it wasn’t true, but that moment will forever be seared into my brain. What was she talking about? 

I know everyone goes through the whole “question everything” phase at some point in their growing up process. I have a tendency to be a perfectionist, so I took everything I was taught growing up pretty literally. I remember the exact moment that I felt like I finally had it all figured out being directly tied to music. Specifically, an indie band called Pedro the Lion and a man named David Bazan. I will openly admit that I was naive, but I somehow learned a very poignant  lesson from listening to Bazan’s lyrics and meeting him in person quite a few times. White is not always good. Black is not always bad. There is a gray area.

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David Bazaan Living Room Show

Bazan never categorized his band as a Christian band, but he is a Christian, and something inside of me believed that his faith was real. Even though every fiber of my being didn’t understand how this could be possible if he drank beer and said four letter words starting with f. Ten years later, the fact that I used to look at life this way seems ludicrous. I could totally be wrong, but I believe that living a life riddled with guilt for every little mistake you make is not what God intended for us.

My favorite musical artist is Maynard James Keenan from Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer. Many people debate on whether he is an atheist, or on the other side, is he sharing his own ideas on the nature of God? No one really knows, because it’s not something he speaks openly about. I don’t really care either way. I find his music inspirational in a multifaceted way, and that’s all that matters to me. What does a poem, a work of art, or a song mean to you? I think that many artists express their creativity, share their ideas with the world, and then leave the interpretation up to us. They aspire to be catalysts and spur us to think for ourselves.

Yours Truly,

Amanda

LocalView: A Louisvillian’s Best Friend

While scrolling through my Twitter feed a few weeks ago, I ran across a tweet for a new local app called LocalView. I’m kind of a foodie, and I’m also pretty frugal, so within the first five minutes I was in love.

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Whether you’re a Louisvillian by birth or you’re just visiting for Derby weekend, LocalView has everything you need to know about what’s happening around town and how to keep your wallet a little thicker while you’re out and about in the city.

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Local View Deals

LocalView is available for both iPhone and Android devices. Currently there are LocalView applications centering around Louisville and Bowling Green, Kentucky. The app has deals for restaurants and retail stores, as well as events and activities. The best part is you don’t have to hassle with buying anything before you go out. No printouts or waiting 24 hours before you can use a deal like with Groupon or Living Social. With your cell phone or iPad, the vendor will take care of everything else from the deal page that you see above. The app uses GPS to check that you are in the business’ location before allowing you to redeem the deal.

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Restaurants, happy hours, delivery places, events and attractions are a few things you will see as you maneuver through the application’s tabs. You have the option of searching for specific businesses and events, but the app uses your device’s GPS to list the spots closest to you. LocalView gives you a sneak peak of the places you’ve been thinking about checking out, or it might just introduce you to your new favorite spot for girls night out or a lunch date with your favorite book. If you want to make yourself hungry, there is a section of the app called “Feast Your Eyes” where you can upload recent pictures of your night out on the town, or check out where other foodies have been dining.

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If you would like to follow LocalView for daily updates on events around the city, check out LocalView Louisville on Facebook or @LocalViewLou on Twitter.

Best Wishes,

Amanda

Creating Viral Content: Are Some People Just Really Lucky?

I feel like I’m getting mixed messages on whether actually trying to create viral content is a good thing or if it really is just a moment where the stars align and the nyan cat pops out. 🙂

I know she’s old news now, but how does a little grey pixelated cat who’s running through the sky get over 100 million views on YouTube? I love cats. I still don’t get it.

Our social media class at the University of Louisville  discussed  viral content and real time marketing today. Emotional triggers can be a key part of spreading viral content– and when I say “emotional triggers,” in this instance, I don’t mean something that brings tears to your eyes or makes you burst out laughing. For example, a consumer enjoys the sense of being the first to know about exclusive content. They also like the feeling of being an “insider” or one of the “cool people”. I found myself recalling Adam Lefkoe‘s guest talk to our class last month.

Being in on the joke, that’s what the internet is about…. –Adam Lefkoe, WHAS 11

Lefkoe also reminded us that we should focus on the purpose of creating different, meaningful content, not just content that we want to go viral. So, this brings me back my original question: should we try to create viral content or just let it happen organically?

As with most things in life, I believe there should be a delicate balance of the two. A few years ago, Google believed that viral content no more than just plain luck. That opinion has changed pretty drastically over the past few years.

Potentially Creating a Viral Story:

  • Plan: determine the specific interests and behaviors of your target audience
  • Create an Original Story: include emotional triggers and engage audience in conversation
  • Distribution: find the right social media channels to create a buzz around your content that may spark the interest of traditional media outlets
  • Momentum: push your content through multiple platforms to build momentum

This may be a little disheartening to many of us who love to write, but the average reader only consumes about 20% of the content on a web page . Hours of creative brainstorming and editing for your blog post down the drain? Not necessarily.

Not all content is going to go viral. Sometimes you may just be in the proverbial “right place at the right time,” but nevertheless, there is a science behind creating viral content. If “skimability” helps you catch the eye of your audience, “sharability”  allows your audience to easily share content with their personal followers over multiple social media platforms.

Cheers,

Amanda

“The Devil’s Holiday”

When I was a child I was told that Halloween was “the Devil’s holiday”. To this day, I really don’t know what that means. I was given books and pamphlets about why I wasn’t allowed to participate in Halloween activities, but I think maybe I blocked the information out. 🙂 My friends at school would always ask me every year why I couldn’t go trick or treating with them. That was my go to answer, mostly because I didn’t know any better. “Halloween is “the Devil’s holiday.”

A book I had as a kid

Usually when people find out that I’ve never been trick or treating they freak out a little bit. What do you mean you’ve never been trick or treating?!? I’ve come to realize over the years that their childhood memories of dressing up like Cinderella, Batman, Rainbow Bright, or the Lone Ranger (I’m trying to span a few generations here) come flooding back to them at this moment and they feel kind of sorry for me. You never got to dress up? EVER? Really? Not even as a fairy or something harmless?

I am not trying to bash my parents. (Love you all, because I know you are reading this!) My parents are very strong Christians, a fact that I am eternally grateful for and has definitely helped shape me into the woman that I am today, so I am not complaining. I had a great childhood, and if not getting to celebrate Halloween was the worst thing that came out of it, I would be the luckiest person alive for sure.  Still, it’s still a bit of a sore spot.

I don’t want to get into a religious debate in this post, or really even go in that direction at all. What bothers me most about the whole thing is that for whatever reason I feel like I’ve missed out on some integral childhood experience that almost everyone else I know has had at some point. Some adults still get really excited about Halloween, which further fuels my irritation. Without the foundation of childhood memories related to Halloween, it’s really no fun as an adult now that I can dress up and go to Halloween parties if I want to. I have never really had the desire to mess with the whole thing, even though I wish I wanted to. I haven’t yet, but I vow that someday I am truly am going to go all out and dress up from head to toe!

I know my parents had my best interests in mind when they made their decision  to not allow me to go trick-or-treating or carve Jack-O-Lanterns, etc. Children are impressionable, and I’ve found that since I’ve grown up they’ve loosened up a bit on things that they used to be sticklers about. I’m pretty sure I was in my 20’s before my Mom wrote “from Santa” on one of my Christmas presents. I was definitely made aware at an early age that I was receiving presents on Christmas because we were celebrating Jesus’ birth, not because I had been a good girl that year and Santa had stuffed his jolly self down our chimney. I have no problem with this, because I believe Jesus’ birth is the real reason we buy presents for our loved ones on Christmas. Santa Clause embodies the spirit of giving and generosity too, so I don’t really see what’s wrong with that either.

As I’ve found my own path through life, I don’t really see what the difference is between going trick-or-treating and having an Easter basket or setting out cookies and milk for Santa. They’re all traditions passed down from generation to generation. They’re all moments for family and friends to come together and  make memories. When I have children, I may decide to explain to them the reason that Halloween came about, and why I didn’t celebrate the holiday when I was a child. On the other hand, I may not. I might just let my children be children; have fun, eat candy, play dress up, and then worry about the grown-up reasons behind everything when they get old enough to really understand them.

Yours Truly,

Amanda