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1. Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe

 

Being marooned in Chicago, away from our immediate families, Krista and I have instigated a tradition of hosting our own Thanksgiving dinner and filling our table with good friends.  We have claimed Thanksgiving as “ours” and have hosted every year since arriving in Chicago.  What has allowed us to lay claim to the prestigious title of “Thanksgiving Hosts for Life” is our turkey, which has literally converted a vegetarian into a carnivore (I’m looking at you, B). 

 

At the risk of losing our claim to being the couple with the best turkey in the land, I feel compelled to share our recipe (stolen without remorse from the tv show Good Eats) and inspire your friends and family to tell tales of this Thanksgiving for years to come:

 

RECIPE  INGREDIENTS

 

1 (14-16 lb) turkey
Canola Oil

 

For Brine:

 

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 gallon vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorn
  • ½ tbsp allspice berries
  • ½ tbsp candied ginger
  • 1 gallon iced water

 

For Aromatics:

 

  • 1 red apple, sliced
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 6 leaves sage

 

Recipe Instructions

 

  1. Combine all brine ingredients, except ice water, in a stock pot and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat, cool to room temp & refrigerate until chilled.
  2. Early on the day of cooking (or like we do, late the night before), combine the brine and ice water in a 5 gallon bucket.  Place thawed turkey breast side down in brine, cover, and refrigerate for 6 hours.  Turn turkey over once, half way through brining.
  3. A few minutes before roasting, heat oven to 500 degrees F.  Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and cup of water in a microwave safe dish & microwave on high for 5 minutes.
  4. Remove bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water.  Discard brine.
  5. Place bird on roasting rack inside wide, low pan and pat dry with paper towels.  Stuff aromatics w/ rosemary & sage inside bird.  Tuck back wings & coat whole bird liberally w/canola oil.
  6. Roast on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and cover breast w/a double layer of aluminum foil.  Reduce temp to 350 degrees F.  Cook until thermometer reads 161 degrees F.  A 14-16 lb turkey should take 2-2.5 hours.
  7. Let turkey rest, loosely covered for 15 minutes before carving.

 

A few tips:

 

Label your bucket.  Now that you have a Turkey Bucket, make sure nothing else goes inside!  You don’t want next year’s turkey to taste like Mr. Clean from the time you used the bucket to wash the car.

 

Be Resourceful.  If you don’t have room in your refrigerator, maybe it’s cold enough outside!  This is a little risky, but if you are sure of the forecast and can cover the bucket securely from critters, you can go “au natural” and use Mother Nature’s refrigerator.  Krista and I did this one year and put the bucket, brine and turkey in a large cardboard box on our front porch.  It made me feel very rustic and resourceful.

 

Make a test chicken!  Not only will you perfect your technique, but you’ll have a great recipe for any time of the year.  Whole chickens are a much cheaper per pound than other meats and you’ll look like Gordon Ramsey to your family.

 

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2. We’re Back!

 

After a brief reorganizational hiatus, we’re back and better than ever!  We’ve added a new component to our publishing company: Full Color Flyer and Promotional Printing!

 

We figured, if we already have a fantastic machine that we trust to reproduce our artists’ work in great color and detail, why couldn’t it do other stuff too?!!!

 

Those of you who have held our customizable kids books in your hands know how awesome those full color pages look (unless you got the coloring book, in which case I’m sure the crayon is even better!).  To have Kinkos print a fully saturated page like that, it would cost you $.49 per page!   If you’re distributing hundreds of flyers door to door, that can add up quick.   MJM Books can cut that price by more than half.

 

We’re on the lookout for anyone we can save bundles of money.  If you know of anyone who likes quality and loves money, tell them to CLICK HERE.

 

People like:

 

 

Real Estate Agents

 

Contractors/Landscapers

 

Restaurants

 

Bands

 

Night Clubs

 

Churches

 

Hotels/Bread and Breakfasts

 

Astronauts

 

 

We’re excited to be back online and hope that our new printing service will help us grow even faster and keep adding new titles to our expanding collection of heartwarming and unique keepsake children’s books.  Check out our new Short Run Printing Store to see how much you could be saving!!!

 

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3. Crowdsourcing our Marketing Department

 

It’s an exciting time here at MJM Books…  we have added another customizable kids’ book to our catalogue.  It’s a coloring book entitled I’m An Artist and even if we do say so ourselves, it’s Fantastic.   Check out the preview if you dare.

 

Our problem is: how do we let people know how fantastic it is?  You, faithful reader, know how super-special-awesome we are so we’re asking you for ideas.  How should we get the word out?  There are no bad ideas, throw them out in the comment section or let us know what you think of the ideas we already have come up with.

 

Idea 1: Create giant t-shirts and give them to every city-smashing monster we know.  Every time the news cameras capture another attack, free advertising!

 

 

Idea 2: Use a botnet http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botnet of zombie computers http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zombie_computer (see, this site is educational) to hack people’s computers, then upload the I’m an Artist http://mjmbooks.com/store/im-an-artist.html cover as their new wallpaper.

 

Idea 3: Select a fortune 500 web company, lets say Ebay.com.  Become elected chairman of the board: pay each player $50. Then as chairman, insist that the company change its name to www.you-should-shop-at-mjmbooks-instead.com.

 

Idea 4:  Use lasers to write logo on moon… permanently.

 

 

Idea 5: Hold a contest asking for video testimonials from satisfied readers and putting those testimonials on late night TV.

 

Idea 6:  Send free printable PDFs of our new book with a small and cute MJM books watermark to every blogger we know and have them offer them to their readers.

 

Idea 7: Destroy the competition.

 

 

We’re pretty sure the last one is going to work…

 

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4. Synergy

 

 

According to Wikipedia (who knows these kinds of things), synergy “is where different entities cooperate advantageously for a final outcome.”  These birds get food, the crocodile gets clean teeth, and as many birds as he cares to pick out of his teeth himself.

 

As a singer/student by day, author/publisher by night, I finally have the opportunity to synergize both sites by adding links on both, making us look more important to whoever (ahem, Google) might be watching.  As a benefit, you can finally assuage your curiosity about my singing.  Am I any good? Find out for yourself at jeffjablonskitenor.com, lombardvoicelessons.com, or lombardpianolessons.com.  All three sites point to the same place (synergistically), so go ahead, pick a card, any card…

 

Once there, you can learn about my day job, which is really more like a night job.   I have hung out my shingle to teach voice lessons and piano lessons in my home in Lombard, IL (which is near Glen Ellyn, Elmhurst, Downers Grove, and Villa Park if anyone has a friend in those areas whose singing hurts your ears).

 

Teaching voice has always been something I have desired to do.  It may sound corny, but there is a real sense of history and tradition associated with classical voice.  We are like artisans or masons, who pass down our craft through close apprenticeships of one on one instruction.

 

It is my pleasure to use synergize my music fans toward my books, now I am hoping fans of our books will become fans of my music.  Classical voice is nothing to be scared of… I mean, look at that guy… he’s much less scary than that crocodile.

 

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5. Funnies

 

We all know that I’m not the best artist… no, no… it’s true. Luckily, thanks to Bitstrips.com, in order to make comic strips I don’t have to be!  Here’s my comic strip about pilgrims…  it’s most educational.

 

 

Nowadays, you don’t have to have skills in order to be creative!!!  Lucky me.

 

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6. No Time to Read to Your Child? I Can Help!

 

by Sue Sciubba

 

Reading to your child is the number one way to help them achieve success academically because reading impacts all other subject areas. As a mother of three, I can tell you I wish I had implemented more reading into my children’s schedules. I feel it is critically important to reserve reading as a top priority, hence, my humble advice of what really worked for me and some real-life suggestions for what you can do right now. Here are a few strategies I used when my children were younger.

 

First, never buy greeting cards for children on their birthdays or for any other occasion. For the same amount of money you’d spend on a card that will get thrown away in a matter of days, you can easily buy a children’s book that will be treasured for a lifetime. I prefer those books with hard, blank inside covers because I loved to let my children color and create by drawing on them. Now, I have keepsake writing and drawing samples from my children at different ages. I always had them write their names to the best of their abilities and date the “artwork” when they were finished with their treasure. Believe me, you will cherish these books when they grow up. Tell them as they are creating, “See, you could write or illustrate books when you grow up, because you just did a wonderful job with this one!” Letting them create inside the cover of a real book is a very effective method to motivate young readers.

 

Next, when you go on family trips, always bring along a selection of books that everyone can read together and enjoy. For example, I still remember the weekend trip my husband and I took our three kids to Payson, Arizona. We read “Holes”, by Louis Sachar. The book was too advanced for our youngest, but by helping her along by summarizing each chapter, the whole family really enjoyed the book. It’s a good idea to let the older children read aloud and summarize. Be sure to include everyone, even the youngest, in the literary conversation. That way, everyone will be engaged and feel they are contributing to the family read-aloud.

 

Another way to make time for reading is to always have a “book bag” in every vehicle. Let each child create their own book bag.  Most craft stores have canvas bags you can decorate with fabric paints and rhinestones. When children feel a sense of ownership, they are always more enthusiastic about the project.  So, when your children get tired of waiting for the doctor or watching a siblings soccer match, they can read independently or you can read with them. When you are stuck in traffic, have your child read to you (whether they can read fluently or not). If they are not fluent, let them tell you the story from the pictures. As they do, ask them what they think might happen in the story, or how the characters feel.

 

Make “Word Worms”!  Take one word from a book of their choice and start rhyming words aloud with them… cat, sat, hat, and mat.  Make those words into “Word Worms” (using the paper and colored pencils you have placed in their book bags) and display them in easy to see places for quick review in your home and car. To make a word worm, draw the shape of a worm and then fill in its tummy space with all the words that rhyme with the base word you found in the book.  For example: lunch, munch, crunch, and bunch. Be sure to include eyes and a smiling face on your finished worm. This will help your children increase their vocabularies with ease and fun. They will love creating their Word-Worms!

 

Remember, the clock is ticking; father time is not your friend.  In the blink of an eye, I went from reading “Tuffy and Teddy go to School” to my son Anthony (now 21 years old), to having him assist me by proof reading my college papers!  I didn’t know until I was in college (after I decided I wanted to be a teacher when I “grew up”), that reading was so important to your child.  Reading is the base of all knowledge and all subjects point back to reading. So (and here is my final tip), find a good book, a quiet room, a comfy chair, and spend some time reading with your precious child .  It is something they will never forget. Reading will give them a head start in becoming life-long learners.  You’ll not regret it!

 

About the author:

 

sue's family

 

In May, 2010, Sue will graduate from Northern Arizona University with a degree in Elementary Education.  After traveling all over the United States and raising three children with her husband of 25 years, she returned to school to become an Elementary School Teacher.

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7. Santa Baby

 

construction worker

 

Santa baby, slip an JigSaw under the tree, for me

I’ve been an awful good boy

Santa baby, and hurry down the chimney tonight

 

Santa baby, a stainless steel propane outdoor grill,

BTU’s

hemi-powered-grill

I’ll wait up for you dear

Santa baby, and hurry down the chimney tonight

 

 

 

Think of all the games I’ve missed

Think of all the chores that still persist

Next year I could do so much more

It’ll help me check off my Honey-Do list

Boo doo bee doo

 

Santa honey, I want an Autobot and that’s

Not a lot

autobot

I’ve been an angel all year

Santa baby, and hurry down the chimney tonight

 

Santa cutie, there’s one thing I really do need,

The feed

To the Heavyweight Fight

Santa cutie, and hurry down the chimney tonight

 

Santa Baby, Fill my stockings with TexMex

And sex

A T-Rex would be fine

Santa baby, and hurry down the chimney tonight

 

Come and trim my Christmas tree

With a Hedge Trimmer, lifetime guaranteed

I really do believe in you

Let’s see if you believe in me

Boo doo bee doo

 

Santa baby, forgot to mention one little thing,

An X-Wing

xwing

The real thing

Santa baby, and hurry down the chimney tonight

 

Hurry down the chimney tonight

Hurry down the chimney tonight

 

Construction_worker

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8. Contest Winners Finally Announced! (We’re slackers)

 

So a little while back we decided to have another caption contest.  And of course we promised that we’d reveal the winner of said contest on October 31st.

 

Ummm… Hmmm… not really sure who dropped the ball on that one.

 

However, since I’m the one writing this article I can promise you this:  justice will be done!  This oversight will not go unpunished.  Someone (Matt) will be blamed.  Someone (Matt) will be thrown under the bus for their blatant laziness.  Someone (Matt) will be named guilty and may a thousand fire ants descend upon their head and chew their ears off!  Okay, so maybe that last part was unnecessary.  The point that I’m trying to make here is, well, better late than never.  (work with me people)

 

So without further adieu I give you your caption contest winner, Scot P

 

Congrats to "Scot P" for his reminder that texting while doing pretty much anything else is perilous to your health.

Congrats to "Scot P" for his reminder that texting while doing pretty much anything else is perilous to your health.

 

In other news I am also pleased to announce that we got our very first entry into our online coloring contest! Since this young lady did such a spectacular job of staying inside the lines we have decided to award her 1st prize and a free book as her reward.  Congrats to 6 year old Emma Powers from White Lake, MI for her wonderful rendition of our ”mascot” Olivia!

 

Artwork by 6 year old Emma Powers

Artwork by 6 year old Emma Powers

 

Well folks, that’s all the news for now. Be sure to check back regularly though as you never know when we may have another shot at winning your very own, one of a kind keepsake.

 

Also, remember, Christmas is just around the corner. Don’t let the perfect gift slip through your fingertips. Check out our store and get that great gift for those hard to buy for nieces and nephews!

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9. Aviod the Headache: Three Easy Tips to Backup Your Data

As many of you may or may not know, when I’m not moonlighting as a suave super cool book publisher-ninja-spy, I eek out a living as an IT nerd. Or according to my business card, a Network Consultant….

Although most of my clients are businesses I do on occasion make house calls. These house calls usually fall into one of two categories. 

There’s the:

 ”Uh, I was surfing on this totally non porn site last night and now I’m getting these weird pop-ups on my screen telling me my computer isn’t safe and I need to give them my credit card to buy an Anti-Virus program…” kind.

Or the:

“Uh, my pet rhinoceros slipped on a banana peel in my office last night and fell on my laptop…” kind. Okay maybe the rhino one doesn’t happen all that often.

In any event, the first question I ask is: “Do you have any sort of backup of your data?” Guess what the answer usually is?

People, listen to me. Computers break. They break all the time. They sit up at night and calculate when the worst possible time to crash would be… and then they do it! I have been an IT nerd for over ten years and the reason I’m still in business is because computers break. HPs, IBMs, Dells, Gateways, and yes even those precious Macs will eventually shrivel up and die.

The good news however is that these days computers are dirt cheap.  Thanks to the World Wide Web if you are a thrifty shopper you can buy yourself a whole new computer for about 200 bucks.  So, if your pet rhino does smash up your hard drive, no biggie, that can be replaced for less than fifty bucks.

HOWEVER, that thesis you’ve been working on for last six months, those pictures of your grandchild’s first birthday party, those scanned documents outlining the government’s plot to assassinate JFK… those are now gone.  Like forever gone… unless… YOU HAVE A BACKUP! 

So now that I’ve gotten the lecturing off my chest, here are 3 quick and easy things you can do to avoid disaster in the future:

  • Windows XP, Vista, and 7 all have a nifty built in program called, oddly enough, Backup.  Use this program to backup all of your stuff to an external hard drive.  Why an external hard drive?  Because it’s “external” to your PC.  The theory being that it’s unlikely that both devices will crap out at the same time.   Unless of course your house gets hit by a meteor… but then you have bigger problems.   External hard drives can be bought just about anywhere they sell electronics and can be found for under 100 bucks.

 

  • Back your data up online.  Now a days there are tons of companies out there that will for a fee backup your data and store it at their facility.  This is done via your internet connection.   Check out: http://mozy.com/  or http://www.idrive.com/ for a couple of examples.  The nice thing about backing your data up online is that your data is now stored at a separate location.  So in the event that something catastrophic does happen at your home (see meteor) your data should be safely resting at a quiet climate controlled facility for you to retrieve… once the fire department puts your house out.

 

  • Backup your data to CD or DVD.  While a bit cumbersome by today’s standards, the tried and true method of copying data to a CD or DVD is still a perfectly acceptable means of storing your info that you’d rather not lose.  In some cases, say like for storing photos or documents, it is even preferred as there are no moving parts on said CD/DVD to break.  Thus for long term data storage, backing info up on those round coasters is a great idea.  Again, Windows XP, Vista, and 7 and Mac OSX all have the capability to co

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10. Aid to Haiti

 

.

If you’re like us, your heart is breaking at the suffering and devastation in Haiti caused by the massive earthquake.  That’s why from now until the end of February, MJM Books will donate $1 from every book sold directly to the Red Cross’s Haiti Relief and Development fund.

.

To be clear, if you REALLY want to do the most good with your $15.95, you should go directly to the above link and donate it all, or Text “HAITI” to 90999 to send $10 to the Red Cross Earthquake Relief.   After we’ve all done that, if you had been thinking about buying a child in your life one of our special books, you can know that you’ll be helping just a little more.

.

For more information about donating to Haiti, avoiding donation scams, and why money is more important than canned goods, go here.

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11. Keep Your Kids Safe On The Internet

Copied Everything From the InternetAs technology continues to improve one thing is certain, the Internet will soon make it’s way into every area of our lives. We bank online, shop online, work online, and even date online.

 

The Internet is growing exponentially. New content pops up every second and, with “high speed” Internet service becoming a staple in most homes, that content is more readily and rapidly available than ever before.

 

While this is great news it also comes with a few caveats… for every kid friendly page we see on the internet there are probably a hundred pages most parents would rather their kids never find.

 

It’s no secret; kids are curious. If you put a group of adolescent boys alone in a room with a computer it won’t take too terribly long before a Google search for the word “boobies” is entered.  So what can parents do to keep their kids from viewing content that is not age appropriate?  Parent’s can’t watch and monitor their kids every second of the day.  Parents need an “always on” solution that will help filter the content their kids see.  Fortunately there is a solution to this, and best of all it’s free.

 

OpenDNS is a free service that acts as an “always on” content filtering system. With OpenDNS you set up a free account and then configure the type of content you’d like to allow or disallow.  You can filter by category or even specific web pages (ladies you can even keep your husband off those “questionable” sites… but don’t say we mentioned it!).

 

On a very basic level here’s how it works…. Computers use a DNS server to change a name to a numeric value. So when you open up the web page yahoo.com a DNS server translates “yahoo.com” to its numeric IP address (or 209.191.93.53).  Since yahoo.com is a heck of a lot easier to remember than 209.191.93.53 these DNS servers are pretty handy things to have.

 

All Internet service providers (ie.. Cox, Qwest, Charter, Comcast to name a few) also provide DNS servers for their customers to use.  Basically when you use OpenDNS you simply use their DNS servers instead of the ones given to you by your ISP.

 

So if you have concerns about where or what your kids are looking at on the web check out OpenDNS.

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12. Keep Your Kids Safe On The Internet

Copied Everything From the InternetAs technology continues to improve one thing is certain, the Internet will soon make it’s way into every area of our lives. We bank online, shop online, work online, and even date online.

 

The Internet is growing exponentially. New content pops up every second and, with “high speed” Internet service becoming a staple in most homes, that content is more readily and rapidly available than ever before.

 

While this is great news it also comes with a few caveats… for every kid friendly page we see on the internet there are probably a hundred pages most parents would rather their kids never find.

 

It’s no secret; kids are curious. If you put a group of adolescent boys alone in a room with a computer it won’t take too terribly long before a Google search for the word “boobies” is entered.  So what can parents do to keep their kids from viewing content that is not age appropriate?  Parent’s can’t watch and monitor their kids every second of the day.  Parents need an “always on” solution that will help filter the content their kids see.  Fortunately there is a solution to this, and best of all it’s free.

 

OpenDNS is a free service that acts as an “always on” content filtering system. With OpenDNS you set up a free account and then configure the type of content you’d like to allow or disallow.  You can filter by category or even specific web pages (ladies you can even keep your husband off those “questionable” sites… but don’t say we mentioned it!).

 

On a very basic level here’s how it works…. Computers use a DNS server to change a name to a numeric value. So when you open up the web page yahoo.com a DNS server translates “yahoo.com” to its numeric IP address (or 209.191.93.53).  Since yahoo.com is a heck of a lot easier to remember than 209.191.93.53 these DNS servers are pretty handy things to have.

 

All Internet service providers (ie.. Cox, Qwest, Charter, Comcast to name a few) also provide DNS servers for their customers to use.  Basically when you use OpenDNS you simply use their DNS servers instead of the ones given to you by your ISP.

 

So if you have concerns about where or what your kids are looking at on the web check out OpenDNS.

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13. Quotes about Books

 

It may seem to some like lazy thinking, but appropriating sayings, quotes, and proverbs can be quite handy in distilling complex subjects into something more immediate.  At the Harold Washington Chicago Public Library are a few quotes above the checkout:

 

Books are meat and medicine
and flame and flight and flower,
steel, stitch, and cloud and clout
and drumbeats on the air.

 

- Gwendolyn Brooks

 

Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.

 

- Groucho Marx

 

 

Books and reading are very personal subjects for most of us, and I was interested to find more famous opinions about our chosen profession…

 

It would appear that Maya Angelou would approve of a customizable kids book that peaks a child’s interest in books:

 

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”

 

Comedian Mitch Hedberg seemed to think that we may be too specialized:

 

“Every book is a children’s book if the kid can read!”

 

It was Confucius, however, who was the most complimentary of our endeavors:

 

“The book salesman should be honored because he brings to our attention, as a rule, the very books we need most and neglect most.”

 

 

What a wiseguy…

 

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14. Logic Puzzles

 

 

Sure, we all feel smart when we breeze through yet another version of the WOLF, SHEEP, CABBAGE puzzle, but the financial times (for some strange reason) has posted a couple logic puzzles that are a bit harder…

 

Beware, however, of xkcd’s scenario…

 

 

Here you go, courtesy of the financial times blog:

 

Two guardians watch over a fork in the road. One path leads to safety, the other to a grisly death. One of the guardian is a knight, meaning that he always tells the truth. The other is a knave, meaning that he always lies, answering “yes” to questions whose correct answer is “no”, and vice versa. You do not know which guardian is a knight and which is a knave. With a single question, how will you find the safe path?

 

If you don’t know the answer, turn away now, because it’s going to get a lot stickier from here. If you do know the answer, then try this, sometimes called the hardest logic puzzle ever posed…

 

There are three guardians, A, B and C. Their names are Knight, Knave and Chaos. Knight always speaks truly, Knave always lies. Chaos tossed a coin this morning to decide whether today he would behave like Knight or like Knave.

 

Your task is simple: ask three yes-no questions, each of a single guardian, and determine which is Knight, which is Knave, and which is Chaos. There is, alas, a complication: the guardians understand English but will answer in the local language, in which “Da” means yes and “Ja” means no. Or possibly “Ja” means yes and “Da” means no – you cannot remember.

 

Think you’ve got the brains to handle it??? I’ve got a solution (I worked up all by mahself!) and if you want it, you must email me at info[at]mjmbooks.com…

 

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15. Can Video Games Save the World?

 

The world is facing some pretty big problems: climate change, famine, war, terrorism, poverty… and little old you are just one person. For many people, the immensity of these problems only highlights for them a single person’s impotence against global scale issues.

 

Video games, however, are different. If you try hard enough, you WILL prevail. You can save the world/princess/lemmings through a series of levels of gradually increasing difficulty. In video games, you can be a winner, with wealth, power, prestige and (virtual) babes, even if, in life, you work at Blockbuster part time and crash on your buddy Steve’s futon. No wonder you would prefer to spend more time online than stocking copies of Twilight.

 

Extreme cases of this escapism has been in the news, with (usually Asian) gamers dying of dehydration/exhaustion after too much time online. One Korean couple recently let their real life baby starve while they cared for a virtual child online!

 

These stories are alarming, but it doesn’t end there. It may amaze you to know that we invest 3 billion hours a week playing games! It may alarm you even more to hear a video game expert assert that we need to spend MORE time gaming: she estimates that we should shoot for 21 billion hours a week.

 

 

This talk raises some very interesting points regarding the “virtuosity” that is attained by serious gamers. The skills they become virtuosic at are: Urgent Optimism (desire to act immediately combined with reasonable expectation of success), Weaving Social Fabric, Blissful Productivity (recognizing that we are happiest when engaged rather than “relaxing”), and Epic Meaning (attaching themselves to large scale causes and goals).

 

Great, those sound like fine qualities to have, but they only apply to World of Warcraft, right? You’d be surprised. Jane demos some games that she has deve

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16. How We Do It: Photoshop Layers

 

Lucky you, it’s time for a peek under the hood into what powers our customizable kids books.  I’ve already shared our dirty secret about using Photoshop to edit our images, but it has an even more important job, it actually stores each different possible combination of hair color, skin tone, eye color etc. into ONE FILE.

 

screen shot

 

Instead of having 1000 different versions of the same page (one with green eyes/brown hair, another with blue eyes/blonde hair etc.), we put each different option into a layer that can be turned on and off with the click of a mouse!

 

When all of the layers are “off” we have a blank page, but when we select “Tan Skin” layer, we get this.

 

FOREIGN LANDS

 

That’s a little creepy, so let’s give her hair and hazel eyes by turning on the “Black Hair” and “Hazel Eyes” layers.

 

FOREIGN LANDS 2

 

That’s better, but we still need some clothes.  We turn on the “Girl Clothes” layer and the “Thought Bubble” layer (since both the boys and girls wear the same clothes in the thought bubble).

 

FOREIGN LANDS 3

 

Next we turn on the background layer.

 

FOREIGN LANDS 4

 

And finally add your customized text.

 

FOREIGN LANDS Final

 

And there’s your one-of-a-kind child in her very own book! 

 

Now this is only one page.  Imagine having to turn on and off all the layers on all the pages!   Luckily, there is another Adobe program that can do that for you.  It’s called InDesign, and we use it to link all the “Brown Hair”  etc. layers on all the pages together so that one click will turn on or off that layer on ever page of the book.  Pretty nifty, huh!

 

Now, if only we could find a program that was completely hands free and could take the data from our customers’ orders and toggle the proper layers for us, Matt wouldn’t spend all those late nights manually constructing everyone’s orders!  

 

If you know of a program, or are a reasonably priced programmer, DROP US A LINE!!! 

 

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17. Welcome, Fall!

Fall became official on Sept 22nd. Over the years, I’ve had a changing attitude towards fall.  As a very young child it meant piles of leaves to jump into and, as a slightly ambitious 6 year old, a few dollars to be made from raking the neighbors’ leaves.

jumping into leaves

As a teenager, falling leaves meant that mowing the lawn was even harder and if mowing was your business (how do you think Matt became “Five Dollar Matt”?) it meant you’d soon be out of a job.

If only our mower worked this well...

Of course we can’t forget that fall contains the second best Holiday in a child’s world, Halloween.  For several years in a row, I went as a notorious Ninja candy pillager, karate chopping my way from door to door and demanding treats.

Mine was actually a black bathrobe and Ninja headband.

Mine was actually a black bathrobe and Ninja headband.

As a teenager, too old for Trick-or-Treating and too young to Bob for Beer, Fall meant that I had to go back to school and it was still too early to Snowboard.

Unless you're this person...

Unless you're this person...

I have recently fallen back in love with Fall as the Goldilocks time of year that feels “just right”.  Not to hot, not too cold.  You can still do things outside, the only difference is that now you don’t break a sweat.  And not only are they incredibly stylish, but sweaters are wholesome comfortable goodness.

Ugly Sweater

I say, “Welcome, Fall,” as we here at MJM Books begin to ramp up our PR campaign to have our Custom Kids Books included in gift guides and reviews for the Christmas shopping season.  If you have a favorite Christmas Gift Ideas website or newsletter, tell us about it.  If it’s Oprah’s Favorite Things… well we’re trying.

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18. Literacy through Comics

 

Can’t convince your little one that reading is worth their time?  I’d be willing to bet that they still think comics are cool and don’t even realize that when reading them, they are in fact READING.  I won’t “nerd out” on you and tell you that comics deserve every bit as much literary criticism as novels (you must admire my self control) and simply state that the pictures provide a very effective “carrot” for your reluctant reader.

 

Bitstrips is a site that allows users to make their own comic strips with customizable characters.  Customization… what a good idea, right?  Now, they’ve rolled out a kiddie version for schools called, well, Bitstrips for Schools

 

Bitstrips for Schools from Bitstrips on Vimeo.

 

By making their own comics, kids are empowered, and yes, tricked, into creating literature.

 

I must brag that I have been a Bitstripper since just after the site’s launch and have even had a comic featured on the “front page”.  You’ll see my lovely wife in a cameo in the second panel.

 

Anthropromorphic Orange

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19. Kids’ Rhymes and Memory

 

Growing up, I had a lot of girl friends (or, more accurately, friends who were girls).  As a consequence, I became quite good at hula hoop, hopscotch, jump rope and various hand clapping games. 

 

robot

 

When I saw a certain cell phone hawking robot on TV playing jump rope with some children and singing, “My cousin Sally, sittin’ on…”   I asked my wife if she knew that rhyme and she said, “No, I always did, ‘Cinderella, dressed in yella…’” to which I responded…

 

Went downstairs to kiss a fella’

Made a mistake,

Kissed a snake,

How many doctors will it take?

1, 2, 3, 4…

 

double dutch

 

I realized these rhymes are not the kind you find in books, but they endure in an oral tradition that many people think is extinct.  Here are some of my faves that I have never read, but remember anyhow because the rhyme and rhythm is burned deep in my brain.  The first was a great elimination hand slap game similar to hot potato, the last person in the circle when the rhyme gets to “Ker-plop” is out.

 

Down by the banks of the Hanky Panky,

Where the bullfrog jumps from bank to banky,

Eep, Op, over the top,

East side, West side, KER-plop!

 

This next hand clap song is a little racy and always caused a little tittering when it was sung.

 

Hand Clap Game

 

Miss Suzy had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bell, (Ding! Ding!)

Miss Suzy went to heaven, the steamboat went to…

Hello, operator, please give me number nine,

And if you disconnect me,

I’ll kick your old…

Behind the ‘frigerator, there was a piece of glass,

Miss Suzy slipped upon it, and broke her little…

Ask me no more questions, I’ll tell you no more lies,

The boys are in the bathroom, zipping up their…

Flies are in the meadow, the bees are in the park,

Miss Suzy and her boyfriend are kissing in the Dark!

 

One reason our custom kids books are written in rhyme is that it is more fun to read aloud. Another benefit of rhyme is that it is easier to remember and to guess which words come next as your little one attempts to read the book “all by themselves”.  Maybe, like me with ‘Miss Suzy’, they’ll even remember the texts for years to come!

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20. My Personalized Christmas Book

 

Wanna know a secret?… We didn’t come up with the idea of putting your child’s name into their own customized children’s book.  In fact, when I was six (about twenty years ago), my mother bought a novelty gift that was made by an incredibly modern device (something called a “com-pu-ter”).  It inserted my name, age, and city of residence into a story about Santa.

 

A Christmas Story

 

You see, when little Jeff (me) asked Santa to give all the grownups the unselfish give of Time, he rewarded him (me) with a ride on his sleigh delivering presents (and time, I guess).  The only problem (besides the lame moral) was that I was a precocious child who thought, “That didn’t happen!  I asked for a truck, not Time!”  I suspected that some trick was being played on me and read it exactly once (sorry Mom).

 

The story’s failed use of the past tense (indicating a false history that even a child can see through) inspired our use of the future and present tenses.  Our custom kids books say things like, “If she were big, she’d…” or “When Olivia goes to the park, she…”

 

Also, absent from a book about me… pictures of Me!!!  No wait, there I am!  Look how handsome!

 

Jeff's Personalized Christmas Book

 

Here, they got me from my good side!

 

Jeff's Personalized Christmas Book 2

 

This book’s lessons were very useful during the development of our own customizable books.  Now, your precocious children are guaranteed  to cry out, “That’s me!” instead of, ”No way!”

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21. My Personalized Christmas Book

 

Wanna know a secret?… We didn’t come up with the idea of putting your child’s name into their own customized children’s book.  In fact, when I was six (about twenty years ago), my mother bought a novelty gift that was made by an incredibly modern device (something called a “com-pu-ter”).  It inserted my name, age, and city of residence into a story about Santa.

 

A Christmas Story

 

You see, when little Jeff (me) asked Santa to give all the grownups the unselfish give of Time, he rewarded him (me) with a ride on his sleigh delivering presents (and time, I guess).  The only problem (besides the lame moral) was that I was a precocious child who thought, “That didn’t happen!  I asked for a truck, not Time!”  I suspected that some trick was being played on me and read it exactly once (sorry Mom).

 

The story’s failed use of the past tense (indicating a false history that even a child can see through) inspired our use of the future and present tenses.  Our custom kids books say things like, “If she were big, she’d…” or “When Olivia goes to the park, she…”

 

Also, absent from a book about me… pictures of Me!!!  No wait, there I am!  Look how handsome!

 

Jeff's Personalized Christmas Book

 

Here, they got me from my good side!

 

Jeff's Personalized Christmas Book 2

 

This book’s lessons were very useful during the development of our own customizable books.  Now, your precocious children are guaranteed  to cry out, “That’s me!” instead of, ”No way!”

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22. MJM Books is using Google Voice

There are many challenges to running a small business.  It should come as no surprise that funding always seems to be near the top of the obstacle list.  Thus, we here at MJM Books are always on the lookout for new and inovative ways to save money.   And since we’re always looking to help out our fellow man (or woman), when we do come across something noteworthy, we feel it is our civic duty to pass the info along.

 

Google Voice

Google Voice

Enter Google Voice. Google Voice is a new, and get this, free, application from Google.  But what exactly does it do?

 

Well first and formost the application gives the user a completely free phone number.   This in itself is a huge bonus for many small businesses as the monthly costs and contracts of maintaining an additional phone line can be significant .  

 

How the phone number works is simple, a caller dials the user’s Google assigned number and then the call is forwarded to another number.   This process is completely seamless to the caller.  So, for example, if you have a cell phone you can have your Google number forwarded to that cell phone.   Or, you can have the Google number forwarded to multiple phones at the same time. 

 

Then, to make things even cooler, your caller ID will tell you that the incoming call is from your Google number!  Now, instead of answering calls from your customers with your typical “Hello” you can add a much more professional “Thanks for calling Bill’s Widget Emporium.  How can I help you?”  This gives the impression that your customers are contacting a proper business rather than some guy selling widgets out of his garage. (Not that there is anything wrong with selling widgets out of one’s garage… but I think you get the point!  :-)   )

 

Google Voice also comes with a host of cool features like voicemail and voicemail transcription.  Anytime you get a voicemail you’ll get a nifty email with not only the voice attachment but an easy to check written transcription of the message.   

 

Currently Google Voice is in a pseudo-beta period and numbers are only given out by invitation. However, I would encourage anyone with interest in this to sign up.  It really is a great idea and has a slew of practical applications. 

 

Heck, you could sign up for one of these numbers and then give it out to all the telemarketers.  You could record a nasty voicemail message and really give those bothersome folks an earful!

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23. Holiday Gift Ideas for Men

 

Gift Ideas for Men 

 

My wife often complains that I am impossible to shop for. One reason is that I am a cheapskate who would rather have 20 bucks in the bank than a DVD of Batman Begins.  Another reason is that I am an adult, and when there is something that I want, I can buy it for myself. 

 

So, I already have everything I want, and don’t want what I don’t need.  What is a wife to do?  This article will attempt to give you some food for thought when you are shopping for your man.

 

1)      Food:  Guys love food.  Two of the gifts that I have most enthusiastically accepted were a can of cashews and a giant Snickers bar.  An upscale alternative would be a Meat-of-the-Month Club subscription (not kidding, btw), or some kind of grilling accessory that will make his meatcraft more exact.

 

2)      Hobby Enhancers: While each man has his own interests, one thing is the certain; someone has devised a way to make it even more awesome.  Whether it is a rumbling seat for his racing videogame, increased peripheral vision paintball goggles, a 10x zoom nature photography lens, or a simple book light, there is a gift to make his hobby experience even better.  This will also provide the secondary benefit of signaling that you support rather than resent his “man time” (whether that is true or not).

 

3)      Intangibles/Service:  I don’t mean coupons for sex (we know that “certain restrictions apply”).  If your man says that he doesn’t want anything, that means he doesn’t want any “thing”.  He would probably still appreciate someone else cleaning the basement, his favorite meal (back to gift idea #1), or a day to devote entirely to enjoying his gift from idea #2.  For example, when my wife gave me the final Harry Potter book, she also gave me the entire day (chore and cooking free) to read it.

 

4)      Make his life easier:  Similar to Hobby Enhancement, this category seeks to make his daily grind easier.  Does he have a long commute?  Maybe an MP3 player could make it seem shorter.  Maybe it could even BE shorter with a GPS.  Does the dog make messes, run away, etc… how about obedience school? Is his computer agonizingly slow?  Try a RAM upgrade.  Maybe you can give him the best gift, more time for himself and you.

 

5)      A Personalized Children’s Book:  No man’s library is complete without one.

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24. Exchange your Baby Einstein DVD for a Personalized Kid’s Book!

 

curly   VS.  einstein

 

Disney is now offering a refund to purchasers of the “Baby Einstein” videos.  They appear to be doing so under a looming class action suit from parents whose children did not grow up to discover make historical impact upon modern physics.

 

Most analysts agree that this recall is a tacit admission that the videos do not improve the mental growth of infants.  Some say that the videos may have even done quite the opposite.  The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests no television at all for children under the age of 2.

 

The creator, Julie Aigner-Clark, still walked away with a cool $20 million from her deal with Disney.  MJM Books is jealous!!!  Our products are books, and books have been proven to increase cognition and intellect.   Where’s our Disney deal?!

 

MJM Books recommends that anyone who has purchased a Baby Einstein DVD (or had one purchased for them), should return it for a refund and use that refund to buy a book.   In fact, let’s make it official.  IF YOU MAIL YOUR BABY EINSTEIN DVD TO US, WE’LL GIVE YOU ONE OF OUR CUSTOMIZABLE KIDS BOOKS, FREE!!!

 

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25. Exchange your Baby Einstein DVD for a Personalized Kid’s Book!

 

curly   VS.  einstein

 

Disney is now offering a refund to purchasers of the “Baby Einstein” videos.  They appear to be doing so under a looming class action suit from parents whose children did not grow up to discover make historical impact upon modern physics.

 

Most analysts agree that this recall is a tacit admission that the videos do not improve the mental growth of infants.  Some say that the videos may have even done quite the opposite.  The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests no television at all for children under the age of 2.

 

The creator, Julie Aigner-Clark, still walked away with a cool $20 million from her deal with Disney.  MJM Books is jealous!!!  Our products are books, and books have been proven to increase cognition and intellect.   Where’s our Disney deal?!

 

MJM Books recommends that anyone who has purchased a Baby Einstein DVD (or had one purchased for them), should return it for a refund and use that refund to buy a book.   In fact, let’s make it official.  IF YOU MAIL YOUR BABY EINSTEIN DVD TO US, WE’LL GIVE YOU ONE OF OUR CUSTOMIZABLE KIDS BOOKS, FREE!!!

 

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