The Elegant Solution of the String

My brother writes from Switzerland, where he lives. Occasionally, he writes of amazingly elegant and simple solutions that I believe are out of the realm of coming out of the American mind. I don’t mean this to be demeaning, it’s a wonderful awareness of different problem-solving abilities in different cultures. Here is the story:

“I was coming home [riding a bicycle] on a paved, two-lane-wide road without lane markers, common around here. I saw a road sign that signaled ‘cow crossing,’ but it was in an odd place and beat-up looking. I mistakenly assumed it had been left there by accident until I came upon the cows blocking the road and coming toward me.cows in road

I’ve mentioned before that the Swiss stake out fields that have been turned into pastures by putting frail poles strung with a single thread of electrified fence. The cows could easily walk through, but because
of the shock, won’t. Thus, when farmers herd them down a street, they block of side streets with string, and the cows, mistaking it for electric fence, respect that.

Well, this herd was being herded down the street with string. The shoulder of the road was lined with electric fence. The farmer and his wife carried some string perpendicular to the road and to the fence
lining it. The farmer formed the corner, and his children and a farm worker brought up the rear, shaping the line of string into a rectangle. The cows carefully stayed within it as the group walked down the street toward the barn.

As they saw me coming, they narrowed the rectangle, freeing one lane for traffic, and I, and then one or two cars, passed through. The cows carefully stayed within the string.”

Image: courtesy

–Quinn McDonald is the sister of a clever observer and a bicycle rider, who is pretty damn smart and is teaching her to overcome her fear of word problems. Quinn is a writer and creativity coach. (c) 2007 All rights reserved.

One phone, no training

The iPhone has been tempting me for months. It saves me from dragging the laptop on airline trips and lets me watch movies on those same trips. Like most e-gizmos, there are a zillion features I don’t use. I love audio books, and can load them onto the phone as well. But my purpose for buying it is to have a calendar, appointments and email capacity all at once–and have them synch with my Mac.iphone

Here’s the problem. It’s the same problem I run into again and again. I go to the store and ask about the iPhone. The smiling associate looks at my husband (who is with me because we are running errands using the same car, not to buy the phone) and asks him if he is an AT&T user. My husband says he is, but that the phone is mine, and I’m an unhappy Verizon user.

The associate, undimmed, brings out a folder, which he shows to my husband, about sharing the phone and family minutes. My husband says “The iPhone is my wife’s.” I add, “It’s for my business.”

He finally looks at me, still smiling, and shows me the family features. After we straighten that out, I ask, very specifically, if the iPhone will synch with the computer I own. I name the model, the operating system, and the version. The assistant nods his head, yes. A warning bell sounds in my head. He has not listened. He has not heard. I repeat, and he laughs, turns to my husband and says, “yes, yes, sir and ma’am, it indeed will.”

It indeed does not. iPhones require OS X Tiger, 10.4.01 and I’m one short.

This is a training issue. To return the phone, I’d lose $44, the “restocking fee.” That protects untrained employees, or employees who were napping during training. Updating my computer will cost about $130. Nothing left to do but stand like a doofus at the “Genius Bar” and get the upgrade.

This kind of bad treatment isn’t necessary. I would have bought the phone anyway, but had a better opinion of AT&T. I left Verizon for this kind of bad customer service.

Listen up. If our fate is to be a consumer culture, we are going to start turning against bad service and bad training. It won’t be long till it starts to show up in company’s bottom lines. Don’t make me stand up on my desk and hold up a “consumer’s union” sign. I will.

birthday cake–Quinn McDonald will spend much of her birthday getting her damn birthday present to work on her older computer. She is a writer and creativity coach who believes in training. See her work at (c) 2007 All rights reserved.

Images: cake,;  Non-working iPhone,

New Word Needed

NOTE : 10.16.07  Winners of the drawing are Lisa, Mari Mann, and DJ.  I couldn’t draw just one winner. Congratulations!

Frequent blog commenter Pete told me that the world needs a new word for ‘blog post.’ I agree. “Blog” sounds like something my cat throw up after rolling in it. It’s not worthy. To make matters worse, blog is the whole content of a website, and we have to go to two words, “blog post,” to identify a single thing.

images4.jpegHow efficient is that? So here’s the challenge. We need a good, useful word for a single blog post. It has to make sense, maybe even have a good explanation. (I’m always up for a good explanation.) I’ll have a drawing for a winner. If you leave a post and want to be in the drawing for a set of One Sentence Journaling Prompt Cards, let me know.

1. Give the word and definition or story to go with it.
You can also. . .
2. Vote for another word
3. Tell me if you want to be in the drawing.

Here’s an example:
E-scroll. It ties together the old notion of words written on a scroll with the new idea of scrolling to read an entire post.

OK, your turn.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. See her work at (c) 2007 All rights reserved.  Image:

Web 2.0 isn’t bringing us closer together. . .

Web 2.0 may be a great way to interact personally without ever meeting anyone, but I’m already tired of it.

My phone rings. I’m on the Do Not Call list, so I pick it up, knowing it can’t be a telemarketer. But it’s a charitable organization, using telemarketing techniques. Calling me at dinner.
“I’m on the Do Not Call List,” I explain.
“Well, Ma’am, we are an exception to that list,” the caller proudly proclaims “and your number came up on my screen.”
“Just because you found a loophole doesn’t mean I have to talk to you.” I answer, and hang up.

I get an e-vite for a party. I have to check my calendar and ask my husband, too. Before I get the chance, I get six “reply to all” responses from people who pushed wrong buttons, want to know if I’m bringing a gift, and one from someone who said her party is the same day, but she just hasn’t had time to send out her e-vites yet. What am I supposed to do with that information?

Moving down the list, I’m invited to Link In with someone I don’t know. Dump it. It crawls out of my trash can and informs me I haven’t answered it. I mark it as spam and dump it again.trash

Another invitation to check out some books another person is reading and see if I want to make suggestions on what she should read next. I don’t know this person. I know her website. I may get her newsletter if she’s the person I think she is. I dump the email.

The next day I get a reminder that this person is waiting for me to join her virtual book club and tell her what to read. The least I can do, the email says, is “compare what I’ve read to what she’s read.” I roll my virtual eyes. That could take years. And I don’t. want. to.

I’m perplexed. Web 2.0 has no room for the polite silence of “I’m ignoring you.” And worse, perfectly fine business emails are getting dumped because the ether is clogged with virtual taps on the shoulder. It’s the junk mail we hated when the postal service left it at our door. It’s not more lovable now that it’s called Web 2.0 and gets here faster.

I send an email letting her know I don’t know what she should read next. And I add, “what if I suggest a book and you don’t read it? Is there a page where I can express my disappointment? How about if I suggest a book and you don’t like it. Is there a survey where you can question my taste?”

And I get back, “This is all standard Shelfari text, not mine.” And there’s the problem. She signed up without knowing what the program would send out in her name. Now she wants to be not responsible for it. It doesn’t work that way. If you run into me with your car because you haven’t taking a driving lesson, it’s still your fault. And if you crawl into Web 2.0 with its endless networking, relationship marketing, and “personalized” emails, it’s you I’m going to be cranky at when you can’t control what you signed up for.

Even the Web needs responsible users. Be one.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She rides a motorcycle and understands how easy it is to get into dangerous situations without wanting to. See her work at (c) 2007 All rights reserved. Trash can image:

Make Your Own Journal Cover

Links to useful places about journals:

Here’s a great video showing how to make a gusseted pocket on the inside cover of your journal.

Want help on writing on that blank first page?

My  other website, Raw-Art-Journals, is for journal keepers who can’t draw.

You can create your own custom-made journals and covers with a little ingenuity and almost no money. If you already enjoy collage, scrapbook, or other paper arts, you have all the materials you need.

3 journal coversIf not, all you need to get started is a pair of scissors, some good glue (I like Golden’s Matte Medium), a 1-inch paint brush (the kind you get at a paint store, not an art store) and some interesting papers–you can use old maps, pages from abandoned books, even cut-outs from magazines.

journal coverWhat makes these journals easy is the Circa rings.  You will need a special punch.  The portable one is about $30; the tabletop one is about $60. Or, simply use a regular hole punch and use the smallest binder rings available.

Warning: Rollabind also makes those disks, but I can’t recommend them after reading the horror stories about non-delivery and non-communication. Even the BBB rates them with an F and has an alert out about them. The Ripoff report has a steady stream of complaints that go back several years and are added too almost weekly.

I first made the journal by cutting a rectangle of light cardboard 1/8-inch larger than the sheet of paper I wanted to use. (In this case, the paper is pre-punched and from Levenger’s. It’s nice paper stock and you can write on it with markers, felt-tips, and fountain pens.)

Before I punched the holes, I covered the covers with papers. On the front cover, I used pages from antique doll-house books I found at a yard sale. Coat the entire cover with matte medium, lay the pages on it, and as you put down each page, paint over with more MM. Once I had them all down, I painted several layers of Matte Medium over the completed piece, allowing it to dry between each coat. Three coats should do it.journal, inside cover

On the inside, I used art paper, marbled with inks. Simply coat the entire inside cover, place a piece of marbled paper over it and trim to fit. Easy-peasy. If you want to finish the edge of the cardboard nicely, use a chisel-end marker and run it over the edge of the paper.

I added an old library due-date-card holder, again, I found it at a yard sale, although you can now purchase new ones at teachers supply stores. I have the real library card in it, and use it as a bookmark, although you can easily store some punched index cards for notetaking.

Don’t have a Rollabind punch? Here is a link for making covers without any punch at all: Mutant Journals are journal covers made from unlikely, but not uncommon item.

Another Mutant Journal is made with wildly inked and resist watercolor paper. I even give you the name of the poem, so you can enjoy that, too!

You can make these covers from a variety of papers to suit your mood. The papers are expensive, so I made a protective coat for my journal. In addition to being waterproof, it protects the journal cover when I toss it in my bag.

Tyvek journal coverTake a used Tyvek envelope (Fed-Ex or Priority Mail envelopes) and place the journal so the edge with the rings lines up with the short, unopened end of the journal.

Mark where you want to cut the envelope, using the journal as a template. While the journal is in place, mark where the rings are, so you can punch them to match the existing journal.

I put a tab on it, so it would fold over the journal if I’m carrying it in the rain or writing outside on just-washed coffee-house tables, or one that has ice-tea rings on it.

Cut out the shape. Cut open the bottom if it was part of the edge of the envelope, but do not cut open the back. Leave it joined and punch the holes. Doing this creates a spine that is more protective than two separate tyvek cover

I sewed a button on the cover side, and cut a slit in the flap. Now the journal shuts and I can toss it in my bag. It’s not beautiful, but I don’t need it to be. I need it to protect the journal cover, and it does a wonderful job.

Want more articles on journaling? Visit this page, you’ll find a list of links.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist, writer and creativity coach. See her work at All images, Quinn McDonald. (c) 2007 All rights reserved.

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Sodium Lauryl What?

You know sodium lauryl sulfate for what it does. It makes your shampoo foam up in big, puffy, luxurious clouds. It has no other purpose. Studies proved that people get the feeling that a shampoo is “better” if it foams up, so in it went. If you use hair coloring, out it goes. Sodium laurel sulfate strips the color right out of your hair. The higher on the list of ingredients the faster it strips.

So I was amazed (and then, on second thought, not) when the shampoo recommended for color-treated hair, had it in the top three ingredients. Years ago, I switched to a shampoo that didn’t have it in the first three ingredients at all. Not sodium, not ammonium, not lauryl, lauryth, or any other kind. And my hair color started to last longer.

I finally settled on a shampoo that has plant ingredients for the first three items on the list and was surprised to find that my temporary color, meant to last about 6 weeks, lasted for 8 on my totally-gray hair. (Temporary color is not meant for hair that’s more than 60 percent gray.) The woman who does my hair didn’t believe me at first. She checked the dates and the type of coloring and was as amazed as I was.

No foaming bubbles takes some getting used to, but when I added up what it saved me in hair appointments, no bubbles became less of a problem.

You can find shampoo with no sodium/ammonia/ammonium laurel/laureth sulfate in the first three ingredients (or simply not there at all) at a health food store (like MOM’s) or at Trader Joe’s.

–Quinn McDonald admits she has her hair colored. But not often. See her work at (c) 2007 All rights reserved.

Why I Teach

It’s not the money or the prestige. (Best read with irony.) I teach adults. I create the courses. Whether it’s business communications (Writing for the Web, for example)  or Journal Writing for Perfectionists (currently running online), each time a class starts, I feel a surge of possibility.

images1.jpegWriting is a lifelong effort. No class can teach writing in two days–the length of most of my business classes. I hope to create tools that the participants can use to create their own vision, their own connections. Armed with the tools, participants have to figure out how to use them for their own purposes, how to hone them, how to make them work when the going gets tough.

Once they have the tools, anything is possible. Here’s what I love most: students learning from each other. Seeing an “Aha!” travel around the room. It almost always happens student to student, a special connection that works when one student “gets it” and manages to express it so someone else catches the idea.

“Education” comes from the Latin word “educare.” It means “to pull out of,” rather than “to stuff into.” And it works every time.

–Quinn McDonald is a seminar leader and instructional designer. She teaches journal-writing courses and business courses. (c) 2007. All rights reserved. Image:

Jewelry Books For Sale

In case you don’t get my newsletter, you might be interested in knowing I’ve got my jewelry books up for sale, now that I’m not making jewelry anymore.

books for saleThere are hardbacks in the top chart, softcovers on the bottom. As these sell, I’ll be putting others up. I also will sell my books on tassel-making and a few groups of beading paperbacks. Keep checking back at the website.

Questions? Contact me at QuinnCreative [at] yahoo [dot] com

Retire: Really?

Many of my friends are starting to take early retirement. Tired of the work world and filled with a desire to travel, garden, or enjoy their houses, they are bailing out of the rat race, because, they tell me, the rats are winning.

For the first month, it’s bliss. Often, though, the dreams about retirement begin to thin out. It’s hard to live without a regular income. Most of my friends aren’t wealthy, and the lack of a regular paycheck can’t easily be replaced by penny pinching as an activity.

For the retirees who are wealthy, there is often a vacuum created by a lack of identity. We are our jobs after a while. It’s how we think of ourselves. It’s what we do most of our waking hours. And often, it’s what we ignore our families for.

images-1.jpegWhen your hobby, which was fit into stolen moments, suddenly has to bear the burden of making you feel worthwhile, it can’t hold up it’s side of the bargain to amuse, entertain, and keep you busy.

At that point, retirement doesn’t look like the promise you’ve pursued all your working life.

Because I own my own business, there is no regular paycheck. I also don’t have to deal with co-workers’ quirks, habits, and demands. OK, I also don’t have someone to gab with.images.jpeg

I love what I do, and because I do many things–training, life- and creativity coaching, developing and running seminars, giving speeches, freelance writing–I don’t get bored. I feel like my work is worthwhile. It occupies me in an interesting way because problem solving is a major part of my work.

Retire? Not me. Working, learning, exploring are all fascinating to me. I don’t have to work crossword puzzles as long as I’m figuring out how to solve a marketing problem for one client, researching an article I’m writing, and figuring out who has paid me and who is late.

And until I can’t think to work, I’ll keep the projects going. It’s a good way to be alive.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who creates journal-writing classes for people who want to explore their lives. Or their retirement. See her work at (c) 2007. All rights reserved. Image: top, Bottom: