Toyota Dashboard Safety – Maintenance Icons

Posted in Vehicle Safety at 9:33 am

There is a fix for being fully informed that your car needs maintenance as your child falls out of the car. (& yes my children are always buckled in – that’s not the fix I’m talking about.)

A while ago (3,000 miles or so) I complained that Quick and Cheap Oil Change didn’t reset the maintenance required light on the dashboard – causing me to discover that in Toyota cars it overrides the door open icon. (Quick – what is more important – knowing that your child might fall out or that you’re overdue for an oil change? Who makes these decisions?)

I discussed it with the nice Toyota maintenance people (top to bottom they do seem pleasant, informed and concerned but it’s an uphill battle to keep me as a customer against ‘minor’ design decisions that are just unsafe for the American chauffeur-mother lifestyle. (and with an SUV they were going for the gay single or midlife-crises male client?)

The Toyota staff listened carefully, agreed that they would certainly notify Toyota of the problem and told me that the manual tells how to get rid of the maintenance light. Just make sure the trip odometer is on trip a, hold down the reset for 30 seconds. (Does anyone hold down the key for 29 seconds accidentally? – seems a bit long unless they think people are resetting milage while driving & are loosing track of the time their hand is through the driving wheel and on the reset button?- but I digress.)

I am a nerdly person. As a small child I read encyclopedias cover to cover. I read the car owner manuals cover to cover for my first three cars. I no longer do this. I read about hybrid operation.  I looked up wind shield wiper fluid delivery when I couldn’t figure out how to wash my windows. I would have looked up how to set the clock when the time changed but I managed to figure out the H and M buttons on my own. You look up things in the car manuals that you expect to find there. I do not expect that my husband will be able to overrule a maintenance icon before I’ve had a chance to see it. I expect that this is something that a mechanic takes care of after he fixes the problem (services the car).

Toyota: I am very happy with the motor of my hybid Highland. Could you please spend a little more time on the dashboard/safety programming?


Mad Cow Disease Safeguards

Posted in Just A Thought at 8:55 pm

I can not tell you how pleased I am that in 2003 the FDA was able to find the one cow in the US with Mad Cow disease (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)). (Actually they found all three, but who’s counting?) I am only a tad nervous that our friends to the north have recently found another mad cow – but with our expertise at keeping out illegal aliens, pills and infected cattle I’m sure we’re in no danger.

Of course, if there were any danger, the Prionics Check Test or other similar test would find it and keep our meat supply safe.  But the US is not some little country like Ireland that gets blanket coverage by testing twice as many cows in one day as the US tests all year.  It would really be expensive for us to test all the cows in the US so there’s no real point in testing very many of them – after all, damage from panic would be far worse than having  a small number of our citizens suffering dementia and premature death.

Besides, the FDAis quite certain that we have taken all steps necessary to keep both our food supply and that of cats (the other animal prone to prion infection) safe.

However,  just to play devil’s advocate, why aren’t we periodically running the Prionics Check test on all the cats that die in a given period?  If BSE is found we could then test all livestock and have much greater assurance that prions are not getting into the food supply.

 Just A Thought.


Happy Anniversary Carnival of Family Life

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:23 am

I somehow forgot to hit the send on my submission this week (I meant to submit the silly story of how an auction took over not only my life but almost lost all my cousin’s possessions).  Even so, it’s such a nice carnival I wanted to wish The Canival of Family Life happy birthday.


Auctions & Your Family Life

Posted in Running A Non-profit Auction at 7:30 am

If you commit to running an auction you can say good bye to your family life outside of the auction preparation for a while.  My family always was involved – in nursery school my children would put the labels on the envelopes for the gift certificates, as they got older they helped wrap baskets and on one occasion where the auction was held at a hotel that we had taken rooms for the night, they helped pack and collect items for the buyers (after guests and alcohol were out of the room).

It gets so consuming you sometimes lose track of other threads of your life that are coming up.  One year I received four boxes of items, delivered to my home, that included high-end purses, a few assorted collectibles, some clothes and a few pairs of shoes and boots. Some of it seemed slightly worn.  No return address anywhere.

I puzzled over the contents – did someone clear out their closets and wasn’t really clear on what we wanted so they sent everything? I called around seeing if anyone else working on the auction was expecting a shipment. No luck.  Perhaps I could auction a couple of the items and send the rest to a consignment store?

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Fortunately, before I disposed of the items, my cousin called. She was planning to move in with us briefly between the end of her college and her return to Europe in 6 weeks. Since she really was a very organized girl, she shipped all her items to us early. It never occurred to her that I would attribute boxes of clothing to anything else.

The Year Before The Auction – Location & Theme

Posted in Running A Non-profit Auction at 7:13 am

There are several elements that must be covered with any fund-raising event but several specific items must be kept in mind to ensure a good auction. (Most of my comments are directed at preparing for silent auctions since one often takes the best of the silent to offer in a live auction.)

Auction Location

The ideal silent auction venue will have a spacious room that will hold enough tables to display items and bid sheets.

How many tables? First determine how many items you’re likely to get – past contribution levels are the best guide. In a school you can get as many as one item for every 2 families. (They’ll be combined – 150 is a good maximum number of items to permit.) A small charity can figure on 40-60 items. Each item will need a bidsheet. They will need to be arranged along the edge of the tables – using 12” per item will give enough room for people to get in to bid in a popular section and allow last minute additions if necessary.

If you expect to have 60 items think of getting ten 6’ tables if they will be against the walls or five 6’ tables if they will have traffic on both sides. (Be careful with rectangular tables that are not against a wall. By the time you put bid sheets on each side there is not a lot of room left to display items. This is fine if everyone is giving gift certificates – a couple of picture frames illustrating the items would fit. Baskets might not. Round tables hold a little less – I would use three 10’ tables for 60 items.

There must be room at some areas for a significant crowd to watch/bid. If hot items are grouped (sports items/ teacher- or children-created items) people will crowd to watch the competition. If the crowd stops the bidders getting through, you have a problem.

Sound system – a clear sound system that can be heard announcing the end of the auction will create the excitement and tension that leads to abandoned bidding on an item or two and will minimize people bidding after the item has closed. (A nightmare worth significant effort to prevent occurring.)

Lighting over the tables should be good. If you have dark corners people bid less. Often you have little control over this – just don’t put the items you expect to go for the most in the darkest areas.

Look at expected traffic patterns. Will a bar pull people to the far tables? They might go looking for a hot table, but bidders get easily distracted by friends at an event and don’t always go looking to make bids.

Command Center – Ideally the people collecting and processing the bids will have a separate room very close to the auction for their operations center. If there is no room available, part of the room with outlets should be screened off.

Room Availability – How long before the event will a room be available? With phenomenal planning and execution on everyone’s part, I once set up an auction of 140 items in 2 hours but the volunteers were really tired by the end of the event. The night before is definitely preferable.


Any fundraiser should have a clearly articulated destination for the funds. Charity X’s or School Y’s general fund doesn’t really resonate with potential donors. Building a specific facility or teacher benefits result in more generous donations.

In addition, specifying the theme of the event helps the Auction Coordinator develop donations and a look that supports the theme.


The more people you can involve in all phases of the event the better your donations. Get the chairs in place as soon as you know the location. Catalogs presented as journals can contribute a significant amount to an event – especially if they’re done as keepsakes (in a school – include pictures of each class and encourage pictures of children in the ads) and are done on a regular basis. I’ve found the following structure gets lots of people involved without killing anyone:

Event Chair(s) – responsible for the overall event, sets theme, location, overall look, menu, activities. Responsible for keeping the sub chairs on track.

Auction Coordinator – reports to the Chair but handles the auction end of things. May be one of the co-chairs of the event.

Item Procurer Chair – the person with connections. In addition to asking the community for items, this person will put together a committee to develop more exciting, larger donations. (The event chairs can be expected to come up with a couple of large donations also.) This person will also be responsible for making sure all items arrive before the auction.

Catalog/Journal Production – Produces the book that describes the items to be sold. This can be anything from something produced on the school copy machine to a glossy color book with ads. This person gets the raw ads from the Journal ad manager and the item descriptions from the Item administrator and turns them into a catalog for the event. They may work with a graphic designer and a printer. (being a graphiic designer is a definite plus.)

Journal Ad Manager – the person who collects the ads and solicits local businesses to support your event. This person makes sure all ad materials are in hand and gets them to the Journal Production person.

Item Administration
This person manages the committee that tracks and handles the items from initial arrival, gets them combined and described for the catalog and bid sheets, produces gift certificates generated by the organization, makes sure that all items are in hand and in the correct locations for the event, processes the bids, gets the items to the buyers and generates the thank you notes. A geeky process person is required.

Item Set up – the person who gets items ready for presentation at the auction. They collect props to illustrate items – pictures of teachers, sports paraphernalia to illustrate sports tickets. Their committee wraps baskets and create a beautiful look for the auction room. (Attractive presentation contributes a lot to the bottom line.) This is a great committee to get a large number of volunteers with limited time involved so that they get a chance to see the items they will be bidding on later. It therefore is best to have a very artistic, social person.


Running A Great Auction

Posted in Running A Non-profit Auction at 9:38 am

I love auctions for schools, churches and charities. (I’ve run over 20 of them for various schools and charities.) They are the most painless way of supporting your favorite cause. Volunteers get to have guilt-free coffee klatches with their friends (“I don’t have time to clean my house – I’m working on the auction.”) A well-run auction will maximize bids, minimize extra volunteer work and result in everyone feeling good throughout the event.  This series will cover the considerations and mechanics of running a good auction.

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Auctions are wonderful fundraisers – they just require man-weeks to man-months of volunteer time. (Quite often the most active volunteers are those that command a very respectable consulting fee. Do not make the mistake of calculating the worth of the volunteer time put into the auction – just signing over their paycheck for the time would probably dwarf any amount you could hope to raise, but don’t worry about it – no one ever signs over their whole paycheck.)

If you want to have an auction, the better you understand the dynamics and plan it for your community the more you will raise. Nothing breeds more subtle resentment amongst volunteers than trivializing their contribution by failing to sell items, selling items for less than the volunteers themselves would have paid or failing to collect money. Annoying volunteers is really bad – either they are your biggest donors or they talk to your biggest donors. With some planning eveyone will have a happy, profitable experience.

To jump forward to a specific:

Failing to sell items can cast a pall over an entire event. If you get a dealership to donate a car & you push it as your premier item and no one bids, everyone thinks the event failed even if it raised a record amount on other sales.

At one series of auctions a staff member had her relatives donate vacation homes several years running. The first year Board members bought the homes well above market value, wishing to support the staff person in getting great items for the auction.

The next year each family donated the homes again, specifying an off-season time because it really had been inconvenient giving up their summer home for part of the summer and stating a value equal to the highest house rental in the neighborhood during the peak season. The staff member uncritically listed starting bids at a couple of hundred less than the stated value and was shocked when nothing sold at the auction.

The following year we researched the value of nearby homes for the period being offered and started the bids at 75% of that value. The bidders thought they were getting a good value and actually bid some of the homes slightly above the market value of the homes in the area.

While it was less than the bid of Board members during the first year, it was the optimum result for the item – donors weren’t strained by giving the homes, buyers didn’t feel ripped off when they checked the price later (& they do because they want to figure our what portion of the purchase price is tax-deductible) and volunteers were happy because the work they put into presenting the item paid off in a donation to the charity.


Carnival of Family Life

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:06 pm

Sorry I checked out for so long – School auctions can be totally consuming – we raised over $140,000 but we left the bodies of volunteers strewn over beds all over town. (Actually it wasn’t that bad – we’ve all worked together before and were able to do a great job with a lot less time than previous years but we did cram a lot in to the last few days.)  Anyway, while I was gone DigitalRichDaily posted last week’s Carnival of Family Life. Check it out.


Mother’s Day Gifts

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:46 pm

Visit Zazzle.comI love coffee. I also like to get Mother’s Day gifts. My idea of the perfect gift is a coffee cup my kids have made. (I have simple needs – my first couple of Mother’s Days I just wanted a wheelbarrow for my garden. My sweet but silly husband kept buying me jewelry.)

Anyway the gods of commerce have been slow to recognize my need for a place I can point my kids at to get my point across. (not to mention all the cub scouts, soccer players, school actors and other assorted kids with besotted parents that I have been taking pictures of.) Finally a decent place has accepted my application – Zazzle.

They will let you put a picture on mugs, t-shirts, caps & other cool things (please note I make the least amount of money on the coffee cup but it is definitely the best thing). Even better they let you design your own artwork. Even better than that they let you design your own artwork without buying anything.

Anyway, check it out.


Protect Your Child From A Shooting – Read

Posted in Just A Thought at 5:25 am

This week started with a trio of tragedies: floods, the massacre in Virginia, and the death of a local senior on a charity trip to Ghana. The following are my thoughts on how to protect your child.

There are some things in life you cannot protect your child against – airplane parts falling on your home, a crazy person entering a building and shooting the students. You would not reinforce your home to withstand debris from space, you shouldn’t be running drills to handle violent attacks – the cost of teaching your child that their world is unsafe when in reality it isn’t. is too high.

There are things you can do however, to significantly protect your child from a shooting. Conventional wisdom says ask the parents of the children your child has playdates with if they have guns in the house. You then remind them to either store their guns safely with ammo in a separate location or check them for the next 8 or so years at the local precinct or rifle club. Of course, this path gets short-circuited the moment the questioned family lies about the gun, looking to avoid a confrontation.

A much better solution is to read Guns: What you Should Know by Rachel Schulson to your children and their friends when they are young – starting around 3 and through 1st grade. Not only will you insure that a significant number of small children in your community know to leave the room if someone has a gun, it is in a form no gun-owning parent will object to.

If, in the process of reading the book, a child volunteers that their parents have a gun, it is probably not productive to ‘confront’ that parent. File this under the same category as the time they tell you about their parent’s fight. (If you have kids, you are not going to have a moment of privacy for the next several years – it may be your fights or other embarrassing actions that are being broadcast to the neighborhood by your 4-year-old). Hopefully everyone involved is ignoring children’s stories unless safety issues are involved. Instead, read the book every few months to the children (all of them) and consider scheduling more playdates at your house.

Most kids grow up and have families of their own with no problems. Being shot by a demented person at school is about as likely as having an airplane fall on your house – much less likely than winning the lottery. Gun accidents are unfortunately more common and, for the most part, preventable. Do your part.


The Downside of Teaching Your Children to Garden

Posted in Abrupt Climate Change at 7:13 pm

When I first moved to town I had a fabulous ‘landscaper’ (that’s what you call the person who mows your lawn on the East Coast).  He wasn’t like the other landscapers in town who would come in fair weather or foul and mow the lawn (no one really minds huge ruts in their lawn as long as the grass is short and they get paid – right?), blow all the leaves away and remove any trace of non-conformist vegetation – even if was the rare new hostas planted by the homeowner all by themselves without paid help.

JB can identify most weeds and plants after a couple of weeks and if he couldn’t he’d tell you to leave them, in case they were those rare seeds finally germinating that you’d planted 2 years ago.  Sometimes he’d cheerfully tell you to not pull the weeds for 5 more weeks because in about 4 the butterflies that ate them would be coming through.  If the ground was soggy or a 100-degree heat wave was going to hit for the next week your lawn wouldn’t get mowed – he didn’t care if it looked terrible – he wanted it to be healthy.  Eventually JB moved on to the care of the snazziest garden restaurant in the city that probably employees a dozen landscapers (I was married there – it really is pretty), but this story is about his past.

I’m not entirely clear where JB picked up his love of gardening but he had it at a young age.  (That’s a long time ago. I think he might even be a year or two older than me.)  In any event, it came as no surprise to his mother when he asked her to watch his ‘cherry tomatoes’ while he went away for a week on a school trip.  Shortly after he got back he was visited by his father who pointed his pipe at one tray and asked young JB – “That would be your brother’s Weed”(& I’m sure he used a capital W) “wouldn’t it.”  JB answered a quick “Yes Sir, and I’ll make sure he gets rid of it.”

Speaking of gardening – don’t forget that Mother’s Day is coming & organic roses not only keep pesticides out of your home, they keep the mothers (and fathers) who pick them healthier than standard flowers.  (I am pretty sure that is not grammatically correct but you get the idea.)
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