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Saturday, 22 July 2017

How to Become a Most Valuable Commenter

Most Valuable Commenter by eSheep Designs
Time to recognize the great commenters among us... the MVCs!
Have you ever thought about what it is that makes a great comment, or a great commenter?

I know, I know... those of us who are at the helm of small-time blogs are not exactly awash in comments, so probably have spent little time contemplating what makes a good one.

But I've actually given it considerable thought — well over a year of considerable thought, if you can believe it — because I've received many excellent comments made by some great commenters. (Some folks call them "commentators", but to me, that word is much too much associated with sports commentators... a whole other species of animal.)


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Anyway, in the midst of that long thought process came the idea that maybe these people deserve some type of recognition. We probably all agree that someone who regularly takes the time to leave a comment is a rare being indeed. And anything that is highly valued and not very common is just crying out to be recognized with an "award".

So a little over a year ago, I started this blog post and created the accompanying graphics. The idea was to revive something that seems to have gone by the wayside since the early days of the internet: rewarding online achievements with a badge. It was something that I hoped would perhaps catch on with other bloggers, especially since anyone with any sort of social media presence these days can receive and display a badge, unlike back in the old days when only webmasters could share them.

Still, without a proper accelerant, some things just don't catch fire and that's exactly what happened with this idea for the better part of a year. Then just this past week, I came across an absolutely perfect springboard for me to launch this post once and for all.

All it is, is a simple Blogger widget (link at the end of this post) that allows me to display a list of my most prolific commenters. It's down there on my sidebar; you may or may not have noticed it. If you haven't, scroll down and see if you're on the list.

If you are, come and collect your badge!

Most Valuable Commenter Badge by eSheep Designs
Most Valuable Commenter recipient badge...

And if for some reason you can't see the list (you can never tell if a browser might have issues with some scripts; I encountered issues while testing this out), here is what it looked like just before I posted:

July  2017 MVCs at eSheepDesigns.blogspot.com
My MVCs as of July 22, 2017...

Feel free to take a copy of this graphic and place it on whatever social media platform you use. You can link it back to this post to let people know what it's all about, but that's not required. (You can write up your own blurbs about it.) For me, it's just a way to pay tribute to people who have taken the time to let me know that something here has added value to their lives. Granted, a virtual badge isn't like buying you dinner, but it's something. ;-)

By the way, that list is obviously live and dynamic and is likely to change over time. I'm not going to create rules or make it complicated; if you see yourself on that list at any given moment, go ahead and grab the badge for yourself. (Note: keep the graphic as a .PNG if you want a transparent background.)

But back to my original question: what makes a great comment/commenter? I took to an online thesaurus and found ten attributes that begin with the letter C (for "comment", of course). If you want to be considered an MVC, I'd say you need to meet at least eight of these criteria.

Copious

Yes, first and foremost, an MVC is someone that can be counted on to provide copious amounts of interaction. (That's got to be at least 50% of the whole idea behind this, right?) To paraphrase a common saying, comment early and comment often.

Consistent

Not only does an MVC comment often, s/he provide consistent, reliable opinions. We can depend on this person's comments to deliver to our expectations.

Constructive

Admittedly, we all like the "yes man" (or woman) — i.e., someone who comments regularly along the lines of "I love that!" — but on the other hand, it's interesting to see a different viewpoint every now and then... even a totally opposite one. An MVC knows how to offer that in a constructive manner.

Contemplative

It's a bonus when an MVC is capable of making deep, insightful comments that promote further discussion. As a blogger, if I get a contemplative comment, it means I've done my part well.

Coherent

Well, it's always a good thing for a commenter to be easily understood! An MVC should always be coherent. I often wonder why some spam comments aren't more coherent... maybe then I'd leave them be. ;-)


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Complimentary

Bloggers' egos need to be stroked, so an MVC understands the importance of being complimentary... but never in a fawning, gushing or insincere way.

Congratulatory

An MVC also knows how to be genuinely congratulatory when the occasion calls for it and shares in our successes.

Considerate

Of course, all of the above serves to confirm that an MVC is a thoughtful, considerate person. This invites reciprocal behaviour.

Credible

Over time, an MVC inevitably builds up a collection of comments that demonstrate his/her competence. Hence, an MVC is credible.

Courteous

Sometimes it's more common to be brash than polite online, but a true MVC will always remember to be courteous and respectful above all else.

And there you have it. Ten great attributes that define what is to be a most valuable commenter. If you've been identified as one already, know that you're appreciated wherever you drop your opinions. For those of you who have a fear of commenting — LOL — maybe some of the above will inspire you to understand how much good you can do by overcoming that fear.

If you're a blogger and want to add this widget to track your MVCs, grab the code from this helplogger post. The version I'm using has been modified from the original, which listed numbers against each avatar. I dislike the added competitive factor of numbers and decided to do away with both the simple 1, 2, 3, etc., part of the listing as well as the total comments made by each person. Yes, the list is ordered, but details beyond that are irrelevant, in my humble opinion.

If you end up implementing it, encourage your MVCs to display their badges so that we can inspire others to join the ranks of most valuable commenters.

So what do you think? Does this idea have any legs? Perhaps you have a suggestion for a variation on it that might work even better? If this floats, I'll ensure that the badge graphic is updated every year.

In the meantime, congrats and thank you to my current MVCs...


Saturday, 15 July 2017

Misleading, Excessive & Potentially Dangerous Blog Ads

misleading ad
A very misleading ad that shouldn't be allowed on Adsense...
I've been on an extensive "ad hunt" lately.

Full disclosure: I have ads running on this blog. No big reveal; you can clearly see them. Google Adsense has paid me roughly once a year since I started this blog (shows how little I make) and I get the occasional payment from my affiliate program for the Craftsy, Creativebug and CreativeLive promos. (On that front, I've recently made some decisions about Creativebug that have led me to change my ad focus for it slightly.)

That is, however, the extent of it. From the beginning, I've tried to keep the location of those ads as unobtrusive as possible. The ones running along the sidebar are not in your face and the ones within each post essentially act as dividers for my typically lengthy dissertations.

I suspect that regular readers probably don't even pay any attention to the affiliate ads that break up each of my blog posts, like this one.


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All in all, I believe this blog has been considerate of visitors in keeping intrusive ads to a minimum. If you're a blogger, are you doing your part to ensure a pleasant experience? If you're a reader, please do tell us what irks you about online ads.

Misleading Ads


About a month ago, I found out that Adsense was offering up a new (new to me; its actually been around since 2015) ad type called matched content. First and foremost, it's pretty much the same thing as any "related posts" widget that you might already have, as I do. The idea is to keep readers around for as long as possible by drawing their attention to similar content that might be on one's blog.

Which is an excellent idea, in and of itself.

However, the immediate result (seen below here) wasn't necessarily attractive. In fact, this example even shows an oddball repeated link that I can't account for, given that I obviously have sufficient posts to fill this unit.

Google Adsense Matched Content Ad Type
Google Adsense's matched content ad unit...

I tried it out briefly, only running it on my three most popular posts. When I went back to one of them (my original Wave Purse Organizer tutorial) after a week or so to see what was up, this was the ad unit that was showing...

Google Adsense Matched Content Ad Type
Sample of Google Adsense matched content ad unit running on my blog...

Excuse me, but none of those links are to my blog! You'd think that at least one of my own posts would have been a better candidate as matched content than any of the above, wouldn't you? After snooping around, it became clear that all instances of that ad unit were actively promoting outside sources about 98% of the time.

Potentially long story short, even though my related posts widget (shown below) will only appear when an individual blog post is selected, it's not getting replaced by Google Adsense's matched content ad unit any time soon.

My existing related posts widget...

The odd thing is, the main reason that I didn't slap this up all over the place from the start is that I knew this ad unit would eventually end up serving up actual ads. (Duh, why else would Adsense develop it?) I'm not a fan of ad links intermingling with content links. Just my personal opinion, but quite often, those are set up to be intentionally and deliberately misleading. Not to say that this one is — although in my examples above, they don't seem to differentiate between external and internal content — but there are definitely ad types that rely on you being unsure that they are ads.

For example, you can find this AdChoices ad unit on a well-known sewing blog. I've actually chopped it down considerably; the actual list is at least three times as long.


The first time I visited this particular blog, a variation of the above was placed within the body of the blog post that I was reading. I clicked on one of the links, and it took me to who knows where... because quite often these links are not as helpful as one presumes they might be.

Then I left.

There are variations of mixed use ad units that identify what is "ad" and what is "content". To me, if that distinction isn't crystal clear to your visitors, you're obviously trying to fool them into clicking. At best, that's not nice. At worst, the practice might end up harming your reader's computer (more on that later).

Consider this tidbit of info from MarketingCharts.com:

Blog excerpt from MarketingCharts.com...

Guess how most people feel when they've been "tricked"?


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But it's a free world/internet, so individuals tend to do as they please in terms of plastering ads on their own turf.

Excessive Ads


By the same token, I'm free to do my browsing elsewhere if I'm confronted by so much advertising that my head spins. (Or quite literally, the "loading page" icon spins... and spins... and spins....) Here's an example.

blog page with too much advertising

This is clearly TOO MUCH ADVERTISING!

The above was taken from an unidentified sewing blog and what you see here filled up my whole screen. It's actually not necessary for me to worry about mentioning the blog's name, since the ads are doing a fine job of hiding any identifying content.

Let me say for the record that there's nothing wrong with running a few ads. No reasonable person will boycott your blog just because you have ads on it. (Most of us incur some costs in creating and sharing our blogging adventures, so by all means recoup some of those!) There are even online experts who say that ads are part of an overall professional look, so feel no guilt if you have them. But as with all things in life, don't overdo it!

We get that some people do this "blogging thing" for a living and need to make money. BUT... how much of that money should come from the advertising? There should be a limit as to how many ads one wants to cram onto the screen. Having visitors run screaming for the hills in frustration — or having pages that take forever to load — surely can't be a wise business objective.

Then there's the proliferation of ads that require you to interact with them.

Have your ears been assailed by autoplaying video ads lately? Clicking on them in a panic doesn't work as quickly as you might like. (Or at all; I've read that some ads have fake mute/pause buttons!) Do what I do and set your Volume Mixer to mute your browser. You'll have to turn it back on when you visit specific sites where you do want to hear the content, but you're guaranteed of silence in the meantime.

use Volume Mixer to mute your browser
My Volume Mixer muting CNN Breaking News on my browser ...

Almost as bad are the ads and overlays that partially cover up the screen or content and require you to hunt down and then click — very carefully — on an "x" or a [close] icon to make it go away, like this:

ads that cover content

Advertising that you need to engage with to make it go away so you can see what's underneath...

Sometimes it's a challenge just to find the icon that will close the offending object. Again, the reason for the difficulty is the hope that you'll "miss" and instead click on the ad.

By the way, a close cousin to these ads are the "subscribe" notices that open up as soon as you land on some blogs. (I just got here and you're already hitting me up to subscribe?) Some people — like me — are just commitment-phobes when it comes to subscribing to blogs. I may actually visit on a regular basis, but getting smacked by that "in your face" invite every time is super annoying.

Whatever the case, I really don't understand why people choose to do business that way; i.e., betting that the percent who "don't mind" is higher than the percent who are actually pissed off.

Potentially Dangerous Ads


Scroll back up and take another look at that screen full of ads. Note the appearance of two "start download" ads.

The graphic at the top of this post (shown here again, below right; the big "x" is my creation) was an actual ad that appeared as I was drafting this very post. It was the first time that I had seen it and it really bothered me for the fact that it didn't seem very explicit about what exactly one would be downloading by clicking on it.

misleading ad
Never click on this type of ad!
I wanted to check it out, but couldn't click on it for two reasons. First, it's against Adsense policy to click on one's own ads and, second, one should never click on these types of ads!

What I did was copy out the extremely long hyperlink to a text file to sift out the URL embedded inside. Turned out to be emailaccountlogin.co — just like it says at the bottom; it's apparently an extension designed for Google Chrome that allows you to sign into your various web mail services more "easily".

Whoa, that's a winner of an idea... O_O

I decided that I don't want this ad appearing on my blog, so I added the domain to my Adsense blocked list. After confirming that my settings were blocking all ads for downloadable utilities, I've also begun to block any ad that features an ambiguous "START DOWNLOAD" as the primary graphic. (Hence, the "ad hunt" that I mentioned at the top of this post... which is likely to be an on-going task.)

Like this one:

This one probably qualifies as spyware... 

First of all, you should always read an ad carefully. "Start merging you files"? If they can't even write proper ad copy, you probably shouldn't trust it. (Virtually all of these ads that look more or less similar will take you to a page where you will be prompted to install a toolbar that might be difficult to remove.)

Oh and look here:

Ditto with this one!

Wow — that ad designer is actually getting a lot of work! ;-)

Note that the content of a blog post plays a major role in triggering the types of ads that appear on your page. If you have the word "download" in your text several times, it will likely cause your Adsense feed to run one of these ads. (So if you see one on this page as you read this, that's why... just don't click on it.)

As an FYI, I also don't run ads from various "sensitive" categories that Adsense allows by default. All of this may be overkill (and yes, it will reduce my overall Adsense earnings), but let's just say that I'd like to reduce the chances of people clicking on something and then finding malware on their systems. And I know that people who visit my little corner of the web will also visit other corners, so they may never remember where they picked up any unfortunate bits of code, but it's the principle. We all need to do our part to reduce the danger and lunacy.

Speaking of malware, remember when I covered similar ground in my posts about unscrupulous crafting websites? While handbagspurses.info doesn't exist anymore, unfortunately 4crafter.com and isewfree.com are still out there.

So again, as a blogger, do you care how the advertising on your blog is being received by your readers? Have you ever opened up the various tabs on your Adsense account to see how you can review and block adverts that appear on your site?

And as a reader, have you been sufficiently frustrated by ads that you never return to a blog or website in question? Here's your chance to tell 'em what you think!


Saturday, 8 July 2017

Striking While the Inspiration is Hot

misc crafting supplies
What did I make with this in twenty minutes?
I assume that if you're reading this, you're a sewing person and probably crafty or creative in general.

What I'd like to know is how and when you harness your creativity.

The moment you find yourself thinking, "hey I'd like to do/make that", are you then able to take advantage of that more or less immediately, or is that a virtual impossibility?

If you let go of those moments, what happens to that initial spark of inspiration? How do you keep it alive? Does it join an ever increasing list of "must do"s? (And if so, do you actually keep such a record?)

On the other hand, if you're one of those people who instantly does something the moment it strikes you, how exactly do you manage that?

I'm asking a lot of questions today, aren't I? (Jot down your answers right now and share them with me in a comment later.)


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It occurred to me recently that I'd like to know how "crafty" people craft. Obviously, those who have jobs are somewhat hindered by them, but it would still be interesting to know how they manage their moments of inspiration.

Ultimately, I'm curious about this: does crafting when the inspiration strikes produce a better final result than putting it off for some other time?

Let me give you an example. Last December, I came upon a suggestion to use a separate pin cushion to keep track of "lightly used" sewing machine needles. It seemed like a great idea since I had been keeping mine in various ways that often saw me confuse my "keepers" with my "waiting to be thrown away-ers".

Not really needing a tutorial to make a pin cushion, I quickly gathered up the supplies that you see at the top of this post and created this little guy in under half an hour. With a preconceived idea of what it should look like, I knew it would be quick. (For me, crafting on the fly requires that the project be small and easily accomplished. I have a thing for "quick wins".)

pin cushion crafted by eSheep Designs
A pin cushion in less than half an hour...

The body is made out of two circles (between four and five inches in diameter) of red felt. I cut an "x" in the middle of one of them for turning and stuffing purposes (cotton balls) and then sewed the two together all the way around the edge.

While I would have preferred to use embroidery floss, I resorted to this intriguing spool of variegated thread that was part of my care package. (That has certainly been the gift that keeps on giving!)

variegated nylon thread
Red and black nylon thread...

While it's not as thick as embroidery floss, once doubled up, it worked fine to segment my tomato and add the required definition. On the other hand, repeatedly feeding the needle through the same place in the centre of this thing was not entirely easy to do.

After my stuffed sheep project, I only had uneven scraps of black and white felt left, so I used the old "fold into quarters and cut" freehand method to create flower shapes out of what I had. Then I stacked them on top of the exposed hole in the middle of the tomato.

pin cushion crafted by eSheep Designs
This was pretty much a free form "quick to completion" project... just what one needs for crafting on the fly!

Most tutorials will tell you to close up that hole by hand-sewing it; I didn't bother. I also didn't bother securing the flowers in any way.


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For the finishing touches, I found three red buttons in my bag 'o' buttons, each with four holes. I stacked them up, stuck some pins down those holes to hold everything together and my "inspired in the moment" crafting project was done. Other than the sewing together of the circles, I did this standing at my kitchen counter, a mere twenty minutes before starting dinner.

pin cushion crafted by eSheep Designs
A quick and easy satisfaction of a crafty inspiration...

And here it is, holding two of my "can still use" sewing machine needles.

I love how this little thing turned out. Had the thought been shoved aside, it probably never would have been made. Which is certainly not to imply that this pin cushion is a life-altering addition to my world, but sometimes maybe we should just take those inspired moments and run with them.

I actually had a couple of those moments late last year. Along with this little pin cushion, a lightbulb came on in my head about refashioning fleece scarves and also about making quickie lip balm carriers. Both ideas were well received.


Don't miss the Spoonflower 2 for 1 fat quarter sale this weekend...
Take a look at my Pride & Prejudice throw pillow made with a fat quarter!


Unfortunately, I'll never be able to measure in any quantitative fashion whether one produces a better product the moment inspiration strikes versus waiting for later. I did, however, have a recent experience with a scheduled project that ended up giving me all kinds of grief. (You'll see it in a couple of weeks.) And just a few days ago, I ran an impromptu paracord bracelet making session with visiting relatives that was highly successful, because everyone involved was gung ho to try it in that moment. Would it have turned out so well had I told them beforehand that "I'm going to give you a paracord tying class tonight"? Dunno...

What are your thoughts on that?

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Celebrate Canada 150 With Me

A Canada Day tree...
Today marks the historic occasion of Canada's 150th anniversary of Confederation. It's a day for all Canadians to be proud and thankful for what they have. To be sure, our country and our lives are not without issues but most of them are miniscule compared to what they could be.

The majority of my posts are prepared weeks in advance, and this one is no exception. So while I can say that I will be partaking in some of the local festivities this Canada Day, I don't yet know what they will be... and the extent will depend on the weather.

For the past many months, however, I have been creating little tributes for the occasion and displaying them around the house. I thought I'd share them with you today.

This picture that you see here is of our birch tree in the front yard. We had it pruned last fall and a rather substantial lower branch was removed by the arborist. When I saw the flat surface that resulted afterwards, I told my hubby that perhaps I should paint a happy face on it.

Months later, we decided that it was the perfect place to display a little bit of Canadiana.

How did I do it? After tracing the perimeter of the flat surface roughly onto a sheet of paper, I sat down and drew this, which was then scanned and colourized to see if it would pass muster.


Drawing a modified Canadian flag for a branch stump...

We both thought that the design would stand out sufficiently, so the next step was to decide how to transfer it onto the tree. Actually painting it wasn't the ideal solution. After mulling it over, I decided to make something out of paper that I could just somehow glue.

So I picked up some red and white poster board, cut out the required elements and then applied several layers of Mod Podge to get this result...

My Canada Day tree "sticker"!

I figured the Mod Podge would protect it from the elements for at least the remainder of the year.

That flat surface of the tree faces the street, so it has been a unique sight for people walking or driving past our house.

My other Canada Day crafting revolves around flowers. These ones were made out of scrapbooking paper per my tutorial.

Canada Day paper flower by eSheep Designs
Canada Day mini flower...

The above mini flower is at the centre of a small potted arrangement that's been in our main bathroom forever. Hanging from the window in the same room is this larger set of flowers.

Canada Day paper flowers by eSheep Designs
Large Canada Day designer flowers...

I had previously said that if the weather cooperates, I'll hang these out on our tree, but now they look too nice to be moved from where they are! (Plus, the weather this weekend holds the distinct possibility of rain virtually every day.)


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Remember my fabulous fabric flowers tutorial? I had previously made one out of waxcloth, but for a Canada Day version, I tried ribbon.

ribbon flower by eSheep Designs
A variation of my fabric flowers made out of ribbon...

It turned out pretty well. The bonus part is that it became an almost no-sew project, since all I had to do was cut a scalloped edge along a 2.5" wide length of ribbon, gather it, and then hot glue the strip together. This particular ribbon was red underneath, so I could have reversed it for a different look.

My last decoration is a set of three "floating" maple leaves. Using the same poster board and leaf template from my tree decoration, I cut out six leaves. I Mod Podged the heck out of them on both sides and then Mod Podged a fishing line between each pair of leaves.

Closeup of one of my floating maple leaves...

Until it was time to take them outside to hang over our front window, they were strung from a light fixture in our upstairs hallway, as shown below.

Oh, and here's one final project that is near and dear to my heart since it was my first pattern for sale... I made a Canada themed flap for my Hot Hues Convertible Crossbody Fooler Bag.

Hot Hues Convertible Crossbody Fooler Bag by eSheep Designs
A new flap for my Hot Hues bag...

In truth, I don't think it quite "goes", but at least it's a demonstration of the concept behind this (occasionally controversial) bag! And it served to give me other ideas about how to use all that ribbon that I have.


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Of course, three days after our holiday, it will be the birthday celebration of our closest neighbour. I, for one, know that the US of A is turning 241. (The bicentennial being 1976.)

Floating maple leaves by eSheep Designs
Floating maple leaves...
We Canadians mostly accept that the majority of Americans know very little about Canada, other than as a deliverer of cold air in the winter. (We make fun when a prize offered on a TV game show is "a trip to Canada!" Really? Is it to Tuktoyuktuk to see the northern lights? To Jasper or Banff National Park to admire the Rocky Mountain scenery? Or to cosmopolitan Montreal to soak in the culture?) To be honest, many of us resent the lack of interest and knowledge on the part of our closest neighbour, but I'm actually fairly pragmatic about it. When you live on top of the mountain, it's hard to be concerned with what's below you.

Still, in today's world, a little knowledge can be an olive branch, so I thought I'd close this post with a list of ten fun facts about Canada for our American friends.
  1. Several months ago, I saw a video of a couple of young American girls being asked what they thought Canada's population was. After a bit of discussion, they settled on a guess of four thousand. Now, population totals are impossible to get bang on the gong, but in reality, our 150-year-old country has about 36 million inhabitants. Way more than four thousand, but on the other hand, that's just about the population of the state of California.
  2. Measured in total area, Canada is larger than the US. If you count just land area, the US is bigger.
  3. The next time you're asked to identify the capital of Canada, try to recall that our equivalent of your Washington D.C. is Ottawa, Ontario.
  4. Our metropolitan areas are much like yours in appearance; you won't instantly see a vast wasteland with nothing but igloos and polar bears as soon as you cross the border. (I actually lived in Canada's remote north for many years and never once saw an igloo. And the closest I came to a polar bear was a polar bear pelt that hung in the Yellowknife Inn.)
  5. Speaking of igloos, our weather is not so much different from yours except for the extremes. Due to our location on the globe, we don't generally get temperatures over 100F degrees but temperatures into the 90s can be experienced in all areas of the country during the summer. (And of course, Canadians refer to those temps as "the 30s", but the metric thing is a whole other matter!)
  6. The basic equivalent of your fifty states is our ten provinces and three territories. Eight of our provinces touch our longest common border while twelve of your states do the same. Since we only have thirteen entities, perhaps you can learn the names of some of them. I'm familiar with the names of all of your states and can readily list off over forty of them at any given time. (On an episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, when a contestant asked for assistance with the question of "There are exactly seven what?", 44% — the vast majority — of the audience answered "provinces in Canada". The other options were islands in the Cayman Islands, countries that end in -stan, or nations in the European Union. The correct answer is countries that end in -stan.)
  7. Speaking of provinces, maybe start with Prince Edward Island. It's the equivalent of your Rhode Island in that it's our smallest province. However, PEI actually is an island... and you can get there by car from Rhode Island in about eleven hours!
  8. Canada is not totally "to the north" of all of you. If you live in Detroit, you can actually drive south to get to Canada, to Windsor, Ontario to be exact. (And of course, if you live in Alaska, you can head east to Canada too.)
  9. We had a female prime minister waaay back in 1993. She didn't serve long, and was never actually elected to the position.
  10. Finally, in a great show of sportsmanship and goodwill, take a listen to 18,000 Canadian hockey fans — from my own home city, no less — clearly singing the Star Spangled Banner when the mic failed for Brett Kissel. I've heard jokes all my life about many Americans not knowing the words to their own national anthem... well, we know 'em. ;-)
Whatever side of the border you're on, enjoy the birthday celebrations, people!