The Hired Hand – Not just another blah-blah-blog

April 12, 2014

My smartphone was lost… and I was lost without it

Filed under: Culture,Email marketing — Darcy Grabenstein @ 10:44 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

iPhoneby Darcy Grabenstein

The other night, I thought I lost my smartphone at the gym.

Sheer panic set in. For those of you who are parents, you know the feeling. I’m not equating losing a phone with losing a child by any means, but the initial symptoms are similar. A sickness grabs the pit of your stomach.

I didn’t realize how much I rely on my smartphone until I thought it was missing. I felt almost as if I had lost a part of me. In addition to the traditional phone contacts, I’ve uploaded playlists for teaching Zumba. I have all my information loaded in a fitness app that I use every day. I have message threads from my family that I’ve saved for sentimental reasons. I’ve got my email accounts synced. I have dozens of apps downloaded for convenience.

All that could’ve been gone — poof! — in a flash.

And then there’s the issue of unauthorized access to my data, although my phone locks after a few minutes of idleness.

I’m not alone in my dependency on my smartphone. We’re so tethered to our mobile devices, that it’s hard to imagine life without them.

The statistics speak for themselves. According to Pew Internet Project research on mobile technology, as of January 2014:

  • 90% of American adults had a cell phone
  • 58% of American adults had a smartphone
  • 32% of American adults owned an e-reader
  • 42% of American adults owned a tablet computer

Marketers can’t ignore the fact that more and more consumers are accessing their information on mobile devices. Emails and websites must be optimized for mobile. Whether it’s adaptive or responsive design, it’s responsible design. It will become the norm, not the exception.

BTW, I found my smartphone hiding in the cup holder of the elliptical machine, exactly where I’d left it.

Now if only my glasses had a homing device….

September 21, 2013

A weekend walk… turned into a walk back in time

Filed under: Culture,Writing — Darcy Grabenstein @ 10:58 pm
Tags: , ,

It was bad enough when I had to move from my home state of Florida to Pennsylvania. Moving to New Jersey, however, added insult to injury.

Today, however, I’m basking in the history and friendliness of Burlington, NJ. I decided to take a leisurely stroll down High Street, Burlington’s main drag.

As fate would have it, I wandered into Virtu, a lovely little boutique specializing in – of all things – church hats. I started talking with a couple of customers, one of whom was looking for something to wear to a bar mitzvah. Go figure.

I explained that I was a relative newcomer to Burlington, and they asked if I’d been to the library. Library? What library? (That obviously answered their question.)

They proceeded to tell me that the library was just around the corner. So off I went.

Turns out that the Library Company of Burlington was established in… are you ready… 1757. It’s the oldest library in continuous operation in New Jersey and the seventh oldest in the U.S.

Burlington Library

Burlington Library

Timing is everything. As I was walking out the library door (after signing up for a library card, of course), I saw a woman dressed in full Colonial garb. I took a picture of her in front of the library and asked why she was dressed in period clothing.

She said she was giving a tour of Burlington. Cool! I asked if I could pay and join the small group, and she said I could – but that it was free. Cool!

We stopped at the Revell House, Burlington County’s oldest building and one of New Jersey’s oldest homes. Interestingly, it was built in 1865 by a Quaker distiller. (If that’s not an oxymoron,
I don’t know what is!)

It’s nicknamed the “Gingerbread House” because Benjamin Franklin supposedly ate gingerbread at the home on his way to Philadelphia. Proceeds of the Wood Street Fair, which I unfortunately missed, help preserve this historic treasure.

We also walked by the home of Ulysses S. Grant, built in 1856, which is now a private residence. I parted ways with the group, and ventured on my own back to High Street, the “main drag” of Burlington.

Temple B'nai Israel

Temple B’nai Israel

I found Temple B’nai Israel, South Jersey’s oldest conservative congregation. Then, at the advice of my fellow tour members, I visited the 300-year-old Lily Inn, a quaint bed and breakfast. There I was enthusiastically greeted by Murray Sonstein, the self-proclaimed “official hugger of Burlington.” (Yes, he gave me a big ol’ bear hug.)

So the next time you think of Jersey, don’t think of Snooki and The Situation. Think of the state’s rich history.

Word has it a revitalization is in the works for Burlington. Bring it on.

I guess it’s not so bad being a Jersey girl after all.

Check out Darcy Grabenstein on Google+

September 3, 2013

Cross off one item from my bucket list

Filed under: Culture,Media,Public Relations — Darcy Grabenstein @ 3:12 am
Tags: , , , ,

I don’t have a huge “bucket list.” Here are a few outstanding items:

• Swim with the dolphins
• Take a cruise to Alaska
• Visit the Newseum
• Take a cruise to Bermuda

The Newseum in Washington, D.C.

This weekend, I was able to cross off one of the above. I visited the Newseum in Washington, D.C. It was everything I expected, and more.

You see, I began my career in newspapers. As they say, you can take the girl out of journalism but you can’t take the journalism out of the girl.

I was lucky to be accompanied by my niece, Hannah, who is an accomplished journalist. We started our self-guided tour at the exhibit of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs. The images ranged from starving children to war-torn countries to acts of heroism. People dabbed at their eyes as they somberly made their way through the exhibit.

Like most writers, one of my least favorite sayings is “A picture’s worth a thousand words.” In the case of these photos, however, this rang true. Or perhaps the opposite. The exhibit left me speechless.

As a former journalist, my visit to the Newseum was an emotional one. And as a citizen of the world, it was a humbling one.

Pieces of the Berlin Wall stand as a monument to the media and its impact on society. Another display chronicles the Sept. 11 attack on the United States. Plastered on a huge wall are front pages of newspapers across the globe, reporting the infamous day in history.

A memorial gallery pays tribute to journalists who lost their lives in search of the story… the photo… the interview. All pursuing their passion. I paused in front of Daniel Pearl’s passport and laptop. These are my role models, my heroes.

On a lighter note, one exhibit showcases images of presidential pooches. It’s a welcome respite from the heavy themes found in the much of the museum.

Another exhibit, “Creating Camelot,” focuses (pun intended) on the photography of Jacques Lowe and how it presented a personal, intimate portrait of President John F. Kennedy and his family. To me, it represented how public figures – with the help of key media advisers and PR teams – can use the press to its advantage.

Media analysts have been speculating about the demise of newspapers for quite some time now. That made me wonder, as I walked the halls of the Newseum, whether in a few years printed publications will truly be museum exhibits, on display behind glass as a nod to the journalism of yesteryear.

Whether newspapers or magazines are around in print or digital format is inconsequential. The reality is, journalists and journalism are here to stay. They will continue to fight for First Amendment rights, uncover corruption and give a voice to the downtrodden.

I can say I’m very proud to have been among the ranks of journalists. What a noble profession.

Check out Darcy Grabenstein on Google+

December 15, 2012

From Newtown, PA to Newtown, CT… my heart aches for you

Filed under: Culture,Media,Writing — The Hired Hand @ 4:37 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

When the first news reports first started filling my email inbox, “Newtown” caught me eye. And, for a split second, a sense of terror and dread filled me. You see, I live on the outskirts of Newtown, PA – a sleepy little town probably much like its namesake in Connecticut.

Once I realized that the news reports were referring to Newtown, Connecticut, I breathed a slight sigh of relief. That sigh would soon be replaced by disbelief, tears, and sheer anger.

As a parent, I understand how we want to protect our children always, to keep them out of harm’s way. I understand the unspeakable horror, of helplessness, that fills your being when you think your child may be in danger. And the overwhelming sense of gratitude when you hold your beloved child safe in your arms again.

I can only begin to imagine the horrific feeling of loss, of senselessness, when a parent loses a child.

And I cannot understand the mind of a person who would intentionally harm innocent young children, shattering families and destroying a community.

As a nation, we are ever on the alert for foreign terrorists. Sadly, we have terrorists right in our own backyard… and schoolyard.

Unfortunately, it is catastrophic tragedies such as this that bring together families and communities. I experienced this firsthand today; my older son called from another state to tell me he finished his law school finals today, but couldn’t celebrate because of the tragedy. And he sent me a simple text: “I love you.” I found out later that he also called to talk to his grandmother, who lives in a nursing home.

He gets it. Life is short.

So to all the parents out there who’ve “had it up to here” with their kids’ attitudes, their laziness, their eye rolling, their sense of entitlement, their whatever… let it slide, at least for today. Give them a big bear hug, for all those parents who’ll never get to hug their kids again.

To the community of Newtown, CT, my heart goes out to you. On this darkest of days, take some small comfort in the knowledge that the rest of the nation – and world – is grieving with you.

And, as you look through tear-filled eyes at the holiday lights that seem to mock you, hold on to the belief that 20 tiny souls are still shining brightly somewhere in the universe.

Check out Darcy Grabenstein on Google+

November 7, 2012

Election Day: Part II

So I faced the campaigners at the poll today. Their brazenness brought to mind a previous presidential election. We were all stuck in line at the polling place (in Pennsylvania), turning up our collars to the cold – and turning a deaf ear to the campaigners working the voters like a receiving line.

One of the campaigners approached the man in front of me in line, and the voter gave the guy a piece of his mind (and mine as well). He went on a tirade, telling the campaigner – in so many words – that he had a lot of nerve, preying on voters in a last-ditch attempt to win their allegiance. I couldn’t have said it better myself (at least verbally, that is).

Don’t get me wrong. As a former journalist, I staunchly defend the First Amendment and the right to free speech. However, I also defend the right of citizens to vote their conscience and not be intimidated at the polls. My neighborhood has a high percentage of immigrants, and I can’t help but wonder if campaigners beef up their efforts at polling places in such areas.

So I decided to give the campaigners a taste of their own medicine today. I went to the polls armed and ready. No, I wasn’t packing a pistol – I was packing the weapon of words.

You see, when the campaigners thrust their pamphlets in my face, I didn’t utter a word of protest. Instead, I reached into my pocket and handed them a card with the URL of my blog written on it.

I entered the polling center with the smug satisfaction that I had one-upped them. As I exited the polling center, I heard one of the campaigners utter my name to her cohorts and glance my direction with a look of disdain. Obviously, she had used her smartphone to access my blog.

No matter who wins the election, I won a small victory today at the polls.

Check out Darcy Grabenstein on Google+

November 6, 2012

Get out and vote… and get outta my way!

Image courtesy of

After all the struggles groups such as women and blacks have gone through in order to vote in America, the right to vote is still taken for granted – or, worse, ignored – by many.

Voter turnout is typically sparse for local elections. Of course, when it comes to the presidential election, public interest ratchets up a few notches.

I’m not going to complain about those who do or do not exercise their right to vote. I am going to complain about the campaigners who get in your face at the polls – at least in Pennsylvania.

You see, in Florida where I voted for probably half my adult life, campaigners are not allowed to solicit voters within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling facility. Thank you, Florida.

Not so here in Pennsylvania. It’s like an obstacle course simply trying to make your way down the walkway and through the door. Campaigners flank the sidewalk, waving sample ballots in your face, smiling their Cheshire cat smiles, and blurting out the names of their particular candidate. In fact, one year I had to elbow my way past the campaigners and accidentally bumped one as I, like a football fullback, tried to reach the goal… the polling booth. As I passed her, I heard her outraged complaint about how I almost knocked her over. She’s lucky I didn’t go for the tackle.

I guess you can’t blame them. They’ve got a captive audience. And, during a presidential race, voters could be stuck in line for quite a while.

But seriously? Do they think I’m so naïve or uninformed that, minutes before I enter the polling booth I’ll sway my vote because of their strong-arm tactics? In my book it’s a new form of PR: Political Rudeness. It’s an insult to my intelligence.

Unfortunately, enough voters must be influenced by these carnival-like hawkers to make it worth their while. I wonder if any exit polls have been conducted to find out if these campaign tactics have a negative effect on voters’ behavior at the polls.

In any case, I will make my way to the polls today and put up a brave front against these in-your-face campaigners. (Actually, I try to avoid all eye contact. Maybe today I’ll pretend I don’t speak English.)

So who will be worth of my vote? The candidate who institutes a mandatory “no soliciting at the polls” law across the nation.

Now go do your civic duty.

Check out Darcy Grabenstein on Google+

April 22, 2012

A bit of Broadway comes to Bristol, PA

Filed under: Culture — The Hired Hand @ 11:04 pm
Tags: , , , , ,
Ben Vereen

Ben Vereen

I happen to work in Bristol, PA. My coworker told me she saw Ben Vereen the other day, so I said, “How was his show?” She replied, “No. I mean I SAW Ben Vereen!” Turns out the performer was standing on the sidewalk in Bristol, talking on his cell phone. My coworker proceeded to turn her car around, pulled up and greeted Vereen. Smiling from ear to ear, she said he was extremely cordial. It made her day.

Bristol often gets a bad rap, sometimes deservingly so (there was a stabbing in the parking lot of my office building last week) and sometimes not (the Bristol Riverside Theatre – BRT – is one of Buck’s County’s best-kept secrets).

Today Bristol redeemed itself by bringing Broadway star Ben Vereen to town. BRT! OMG! Vereen’s one-man show, “Steppin’ Out Live with Ben Vereen,” was incredible.

Vereen is the consummate performer, and he’s no youngster. At 65, he’s got more stamina than many sofa-sitting-video game-playing kids I know. He not only belted out the songs, but managed a bit of choreography here and there. He’s still got the moves.

His one-man show is the warm-up act to what will become a Broadway show, “The Last of the Showmen.” There’s already a documentary about the performer with a similar title: “Ben Vereen: Last of the Showmen.”

I was one of the youngest members of the audience, so I feel it’s my duty to share a little about this amazing performer with those of you who may not know his work…

As its name implies, the show pays homage to some of the greatest male performers of all time – Frank Sinatra (he paved the way for many African-American performers), Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. (Vereen’s mentor). For those of you who only know the Brat Pack (Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy), this talented trio – along with Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop – was known as the Rat Pack.

The show was a retrospective of Vereen’s career, and he added his own endearing brand of humor throughout. His story included references to television – “The Ed Sullivan Show” (where The Beatles made their U.S. debut), The Michael Douglas Show, and the Ted Mack Amateur Hour (think of “American Idol” for the Boomer generation). In tribute to a Philadelphia legend, he also remembered Dick Clark. He joked about telegrams, records, record players, cassette players and phone booths with dial telephones. (Visit your nearest museum for details.)

Vereen has a long list of credits to his name. On stage, he appeared in “Sweet Charity” (cast by the renowned Bob Fosse), “Hair,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Chicago” and “Wicked,” to name a few. He received an Emmy nomination for his role in the TV miniseries “Roots.” His film roles include “Funny Lady” and “All That Jazz” (about the legendary Fosse).

During his show, which went well over its allotted 90 minutes, Vereen sang songs from many of his Broadway roles. His band was talented, too: Nelson Kole, conductor/keyboard player, drummer Marc Dicciani, bassist Tom Kennedy, and percussionist Aaron Vereen (yes, that’s his son). Aaron accompanied his dad on the bongo for the coolest version I’ve ever heard of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Vereen is living his own version of that song, having overcome great adversity in his personal life. In the playbill, Vereen’s bio ends with “This one is for you, Naja!”

A Google search led me to Wikipedia, which revealed that Vereen’s 16-year-old daughter, Naja, was killed in an auto accident in 1987.

Toward the end of the show, Vereen sat cross-legged on the stage and told us about his own life-threatening car accident back in ’92. He expressed sincere thanks to his fans who sent letters of support, and offered support to others facing hardships in their lives.

Vereen’s last song brought the entire audience to its feet, and his eyes welled up with tears. (I was in the second row, so I could tell that it wasn’t just sweat from his brow.)

Thanks, Ben. You made my day.

Check out Darcy Grabenstein on Google+

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