Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Let It "V"

It's only late September, and we're already in crisis homework mode at our house. Last evening, my daughter threw herself down on the dining room chair, shaking her head repeatedly as she chanted, "I can't do it! I can't do it!" It is a cursive lower-case "v."

Two weeks ago, she missed two words on her spelling test. In one word, her "v" looked like an "r"; in another, the "v" looked like a "w." In other words, she spelled the words right, but she wrote the letter "v" wrong.

At first I felt bad for her. What a shame, to know how to spell a word but miss it because you're having trouble with one of your cursive letters. I believe I even said something embarrassingly old-fashioned like, "When I was a kid, we never had spelling tests in cursive." (Why didn't I just go all out and announce that they hadn't even invented cursive when I was in grade school?)

Then it dawned on me that it wasn't I who was deciding what my daughter did and didn't need to know. It was the teacher; the person with whom I trust my child five days a week. If she thinks that a third grader should be comfortable enough with her cursive letters to use them on a spelling test, she's probably right.

Thus, the attitude at home immediately changed to, "Well, you just have to practice your "v." Which she has been doing. But she's still not doing them the right way.

And after an hour of frantic erasing, pencil-throwing and screaming, my daughter sits before me crumpled and defeated. Which leads me to do the only thing I can think of at this desperate point: Fix the letter for her. This is on her weekly homework assignment where she must write all of her spelling words twice, in cursive of course.

I wrote the "v" on the first word for her, certain that my little bit of assistance would no doubt help her to master the letter. "Do it just like this the second time," I tell her. She tries. She fails. The word "divide" looks like "diride." She passes the paper to me and looks at me hopefully, but she knows she's missed the mark. And again she crumples.

"It's fine," I assure her. "You tried your best. Let's step away from it for now and come back to it later." But she doesn't want to come back to it later. She now hates the letter "v" and every word that contains the letter, and she wants to rid herself of all memories of "v" for the evening. I decide to leave her alone.

This morning, I opened her yellow homework folder and stared at her spelling assignment. How easy would it be for me to correct the "v" again? Wouldn't it be helping her to see what a proper "v" looks like?

But I realized, while changing the letter might help her to receive a check-plus on her paper, it wouldn't help her to take responsibility for her work, nor would it allow her teacher to see that she has a problem that needs attention. I can't be right beside her on the day of the spelling test, quietly erasing her flawed letter and replacing it with a more proper version.

Looking at the bigger picture, I won't be right beside her down the road, when she's studying for college exams, applying for a job or raising her kids. She's going to make mistakes, but hopefully she'll learn from them. And maybe learning the hard way to write a proper "v" is just the beginning of lessons that will make her a strong, responsible person, who hopefully also has great penmanship.

Learning to let go when your child is about to make a mistake: That was my big lesson of the day.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Text Messaging and Train Operating: Not a Good Mix

The article ran as a news brief in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Monday. The article titled, "Dispatcher Tried to Warn Engineer," about the deadly train collision in California last Friday, states the a dispatcher supposedly tried to alert the engineer of the commuter train that there was danger ahead, namely, an oncoming freight train. The call supposedly came too late.

Buried near the bottom of the news brief was this chilling piece of information: "A teenager told CBS2-TV that he had exchanged a brief text message with the engineer shortly before the crash. The Los Angeles station said the teen was among a group of youths who befriended the engineer and asked him questions about his work."

Now there are more reports surfacing about an investigation into whether the engineer for the commuter train was text messaging while on duty.

Let me just say this: Even if you are operating the old-fashioned cars at an amusement park--you know, the ones that run on a track--you should not be text messaging.

Does it take a train wreck that kills 25 people to scare everyone about this?

Many cities and states across the country have banned the use of cell phones while driving. . Only a handful also ban text messaging while driving, including New Jersey. (And if you've seen people drive in New Jersey, you know this is a good thing.) California has a new no-cell-phone law pertaining to drivers that went into effect earlier this year. Currently, there is no ban on text messaging in that state. And all of this refers to car and bus drivers. There is no mention of train drivers.

But doesn't it just seem like common sense that someone in charge of a train carrying hundreds of passengers should not be allowed to chat on a cell phone or send text messages? No doubt, if it turns out it's true that this engineer was texting while on duty, swift action will take place to keep this unfortunate event from happening again.

It seems, though, that some people may still not understand the potential risks of text messaging in certain circumstances. So here is my personal list of people who should not text message:

• Drivers behind the wheel-- this includes car drivers, truck drivers, bus drivers, train drivers, grocery cart drivers and tricycle drivers
• Airline pilots-- commercial or private, it doesn't matter
• Cyclists, joggers and roller bladers-- this should be a no-brainer, but allow me to beat the obvious to death
• Doctors performing surgery-- I don't care if you're only removing a wart from someone's finger; your texting can wait
• Teachers
• Students
• People seated at dining tables with other people-- in other words, how rude

Please feel free to add to the list.

P.S. Photo courtesy of download-free-pictures.com

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The First Newsletter for My Copywriting Business!


A newsletter for small business owners and entrepreneurs who want to build their companies one word at a time
Fall 2008

Diane DiPiero has written extensively about and for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Diane's copywriting services target every aspect of content—both in print and online—that small business owners and entrepreneurs need to tell their story and grow their business.

Diane DiPiero, Copywriter


QUESTION: What makes your website so good? Killer graphics? Awesome content? User-friendly design? Tell us what makes it great (include the web address), & be featured in the next newsletter!

To capture the attention of visitors to a website or readers of a brochure or newsletter, the content must “sing.” That doesn’t mean you need to employ trite slogans. The words should be conversational and catchy without being corny, and there should be a clear message.
When your content sings, readers end up humming your company’s tune, which can lead to greater awareness and increased business. Here are some ways to create content that sings. For more, visit www.dianedipiero.com/blog.
A.) Grab interest with sharp headlines (Just like memorable song titles. Think “Strangers in the Night,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or maybe “Dude Looks Like a Lady.”)
B.) Highlight great quotes from customers; give credit when possible. (Powerful words make for a powerful song.)
C.) Avoid telling your company’s whole story, especially on the home page. Tell an engaging but short story. (If they like this song, they’ll want to hear your whole repertoire.)
D.) Keep paragraphs on the short side, about 3-5 sentences. (Make it a tune they can stick with.)
E.) Avoid technical jargon as much as possible. (Wordy songs never catch on.)
F.) Be creative when appropriate; for example, when telling your company’s history or sharing employee bios. (Don’t be afraid to belt it out in an unusual way.)


If you’ve never Tweeted; you’re not LinkedIn, and you believe that Face Book is for teenagers, you’re probably someone who still believes in the power of the postal system. Many a small business continues to get its message to prospective customers, vendors or partners through “snail mail.”

When targeting through direct mail, you’ll want to create the best possible effect to impress your audience. Here are some tips from Entrepreneur.com:

• Hire a professional copywriter and graphic designer
• Have an objective 3rd party read your piece
• Personalize as much as you can
• Break up copy with bullet points and graphics/white space
• Use a "P.S." because those are frequently read
• Use easy-to-read typestyles
• Put a call to action at the beginning, middle and end of your copy


Diane DiPiero’s copywriting services are customized for small business owners and entrepreneurs.
• Newsletters (print or online)
1.) Editorial Content: Researching, interviewing and writing all newsletter articles; proofreading all copy
2.) Full Newsletter Package: Writing and layout, maintaining database and sending out newsletters

• SEO Writing
Strategic Writing: For strong SEO Results

• Web Content
1.) Writing and Researching: For new or updated websites
2.) Ongoing Content Updates
3.) Complete Web Content Package: All of the above

• Blogging
Regular Contributor: To your company's blog.

• Press Releases
1.) Writing Press Releases: Based on company news
2.) Complete Press Release Package: Includes writing and distributing press release + follow-up with media

• Speeches
1.) Speech Writing
2.) Consultant Services: Advice on content, grammar, etc.

• Article Writing
1.) Bios & Company Stories: For industry publications
2.) Ghost Writing: For small business execs + entrepreneurs

• B to B and B to C Communications
A variety of print and online options

• Case Studies
Interviewing, researching + writing of case studies

Note: Fees vary based on project scope. To receive a rate sheet with general price ranges for each package, call 216/551-1764 or email copywriter@dianedipiero.com.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Voting "No" on Absentee Ballot

The only thing more depressing than receiving a registration form for an absentee voting ballot must be receiving your first AARP card. "There must be some mistake," you say to yourself in disbelief. "I'm too young and healthy for this."

It turns out the folks in Ohio don't think I'm too old or frail to vote in person; they've sent out hundreds of thousands of mail-in registration forms across the state in the hopes of cutting down on long lines at the polls on Election Day. Voter convenience is cited as one of the reasons for the push to have citizens mail in their ballots.

I'm a little leery about this. Why is everyone so concerned about my convenience all of a sudden? Many a time I've stood in long voting lines, enduring heavy rain or snow as I waited to get inside, then watched as someone worked painfully slowly on fixing voter machines that were down and eventually stared longingly at the baked goods table while cursing myself for not bringing money with me.

No one seemed to feel bad for me then. What's with all the concern this time around?

Well, it might not be all about what's most convenient for me and other Ohio voters. This state has been plagued with controversy over its voting procedures for several years. The electronic voting system the state introduced a while back was fraught with problems. In other instances, voters in some urban areas of Cuyahoga County complained that long lines close to the time that polls were closing prevented them from casting their votes. Ohio recently switched back to paper ballots, but that came with its own set of woes.

So the best thing for all of us to do, it seems, is to stay home on Election Day--stay far away from the polling place. Help cut down on voting controversies. Do your patriotic duty and mail in your ballot!

I hate to disappoint you guys over there in election land, but I'm not biting. On Election Day, I'm walking down the street to my polling place--whether it's sunny, raining or snowing--and standing in line--no matter how long that line is--to patiently and patriotically cast my vote.

Why? Because it's the American way!

Part of the beauty of our election process is that we are able to make a supreme effort and sacrifice to get out and vote. We leave 20 minutes early for work, give up our lunch break, drop our kids at a babysitter's house or forsake dinner to stand in line with other fellow Americans. 

And when we finally get to pull that lever, touch that electronic pad or pop out that chad, we are realizing the brilliance and awe of living in a free society.

Where's the rush of patriotism when voting by mail? You don't even get the satisfaction of putting a stamp on the envelope! The state of Ohio has already done that for you.

Sure, it may be hassle-free, but what's life without a little hassle? It can actually make voting in person that much more memorable. In fact, I can recall the last several elections as if they took place yesterday.

On Election Day in 2000, I stood in an incredibly long line while balancing an infant carrier from one hand to the other. People walked by and admired my little one as I read up on the issues in the hopes of making the best possible (albeit last-minute) decisions.

Two years ago, I stood in what seemed to be a line to nowhere.  The voting equipment was down, and no one knew exactly whom to seek for advice. I could have gotten upset, but instead I saw it as a chance to chat with those around me. I started talking with a woman who, it turned out, lived just a few doors down from me. We never crossed paths until that day. If I had voted by mail, I still wouldn't know her from Adam.

I'm not saying voting by mail is all that bad. I have the luxury of being able to vote in the middle of the day and wait for as long as necessary until it's my turn. There are people whose jobs or other activities prevent them from getting to the polls. So more power to you if voting by mail allows you to have your voice heard. Go for it!

I'll admit, though, that absentee voting scares me just a tad more than voting in person. All sorts of things could happen to my precious votes.

What if my ballot gets lost in the mail? 

What if the person counting the absentee votes opens up my ballot, leaves to get a cup of coffee and then a strong wind blows into the room and my ballot flies into the trash can? It can happen, you know.

What if while ballots are being opened, a curious child walks by with a Number 2 pencil and playfully fills in lots of circles on mine? I shudder to think about that!

No, it's safer for me to take my votes straight to the polling place. While I'm there, I may meet some interesting people. I'll get to put one of those nice "I voted today" stickers on my sweater. And I'll feel a sense of communal pride. I just have to remember to bring some money for the baked goods table, and I'll be all set.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Medical Mart, Schmedical Mart?

Driving forces behind the proposed Cleveland Medical Mart addressed fans and foes at an informational meeting in Cleveland Heights last Tuesday. I did not attend the meeting, so I don't know exactly how many attendees were for the project and how many were against. The Plain Dealer published an article that stated the concerns of several people who oppose the Medical Mart idea (http://www.cleveland.com/medical/index.ssf/2008/09/taxpayers_voice_skepticism_in.html).
The Sun Newspaper also has an article today quoting objectors.

One person said the question wasn't where the mart should be built, but whether it actually needed to be built at all. The same person stated that medical conventions are no longer necessary because of modern technology.

Others were concerned about the lack of taxation without representation, and expressed a desire to have a referendum on the mart put on the ballot.

The latter idea fits in with the democratic society in which we live, especially since taxpayers have already begun to foot the bill for the Medical Mart

The other concerns expressed at the Cleveland Heights meeting leave me trembling. Here we stand in a city that even many residents believe is dying, yet there is opposition to a plan that would generate revenue, jobs and credibility.

Cleveland is a world leader in biotechnology, and home to some of the most amazing hospitals and researchers on the planet. A Medical Mart would complete the package. Just as the Merchandise Mart draws people from around the country and around the globe to Chicago, the Medical Mart could do the same for Cleveland. 

Although modern technology is amazing, there still exists a need for people to meet face to face and to see products in person. And as these people gather at a mart, they need places to stay, eat and shop. Thus the greater impact to the community.

Understandably, some people may have a fear that the Medical Mart could fail. But opposing its construction creates two other fears that are perhaps even more dangerous: 

* The fear of trying something new
* The fear of doing anything at all

I grew up in a town that had those fears, and the results were devastating. When the steel mills closed in Youngstown, many people waited anxiously for them to return. Years were unfortunately wasted hoping for the city's once-great industrial power to return. New ideas for business never really materialized, although small strides were made along the way. Today, Youngstown is making a go of it with a business incubator and other efforts, but so much time has elapsed that older folks who remember the "good old days" of the steel mills sometimes feel Youngstown's time has come and gone.

Cleveland has a lot going for it, but it needs a lot more. The city needs a major attraction that can generate jobs, draw in visitors and stimulate the local economy. Fred Nance of the Greater Cleveland Partnership believes that a convention center for the "fastest growing industry in the country" would be a boon to the region.

Fear of the unknown is understandable. But if we don't do something new, if we don't do anything at all, we have a bigger dilemma to address: How can Cleveland grow its economy and go from being a fast-decaying city to the renaissance city it was just 10-15 years ago?

Personally, my biggest fear is that if the Medical Mart is rejected, many people may see only one other way to bring jobs and business to Cleveland: casinos. And that has me trembling all over again.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

P.S. on Sarah Palin

Wow, am I suffering from Catholic guilt. I had mentioned that I was looking for some scuttlebutt on Sarah Palin, woman extraordinaire and presumptive vice presidential nominee for the Republican Party. All I wanted was to find out that her pantry wasn't well stocked, or that she hadn't cooked a meal for her family in seven months or that her closet was a mess. I didn't want or expect to hear that she had a pregnant teenage daughter.

The pundits were already laughing their heads off yesterday about this situation. But so far, Palin seems to be handling it with dignity, and I wish her the best. And if I find out that her house is a little messy during this time, I promise to let it slide.