Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving: Simply Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is easy: Simply give thanks.

When I used to think of Thanksgiving, I used to think of family gatherings with turkey, macaroni and cheese, greens, and sweet potato pie. But all that changed a few years ago. As I began to prepare my Thanksgiving meal the day before Thanksgiving, I felt a chill gently tap me on my shoulder. As I continued the meal preparation, I even thought I saw the formation of a faint cloud as I exhaled. 

Within the hour, frigid cold shoved polite chill out of the way. And I realized it was time to check the thermostat. That’s when I discovered the furnace was no longer working. 

We were having guests for Thanksgiving the next day, but rather than cancel the dinner, we decided to use the fireplace in the family room and have our guests gather together in that room.

It worked out well. Very few people knew we did not have a working furnace. With the oven going in the kitchen, a diligently manned fire blazing in the family room, and the familial love we had in our hearts, no one complained about being cold.

The following day we called a furnace repair company, which had a domino effect -- a call to a second furnace repair company and then a call to a third furnace repair company. But the verdict was the same. We needed a new furnace. My husband and I were upset that we were faced with this unexpected expense.

Eventually, we made our selection. It was a tough job trying to choose a dependable yet affordable unit, but we did it. The following Monday the workers arrived. The clinking, clanging, and banging drowned out the jargon-laden dialogue between the workers. This went on for quite a while until it became quiet. One-by-one the workers had left the basement to congregate in an area outside. They confirmed what one worker had suspected: the smell of gas. They made an urgent plea for us to call the gas company. Subsequently, we were notified we had a gas leak—a serious gas leak that involved a backhoe, a gas crew, and a new underground gas line.

Well, our anger over having to purchase a new furnace was replaced with feelings of thanksgiving. We had been spared the devastating consequences of having a serious gas leak. We were thankful we still had our lives, and we were thankful we still had our home. I believe in prayer. I pray daily. A portion of my prayer focuses on my family's protection. That prayer had been answered. We were protected from the devastating consequences of a gas leak. The cost involved in the purchase and installation of a furnace was microscopic compared to priceless things we could have lost.

So this Thanksgiving, as I give thanks for all the things for which I am thankful—family, health, protection, wisdom, good memories, emotional well-being, education, career, and the like--I also give thanks for the time our furnace stopped working. It led to the discovery of a problem that we were able to get fixed before something terrible happened.

Today, thousands of people will prepare delicious gourmet and soul food meals. And the preparation probably began days ago. It did for me. But don't forget the main point, which is an easy one: Simply give thanks. Give thanks not only for what you have but also for how you were able to have it.

For what are you thankful? This is the story in you. Share it.

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The Best Black Friday Shopping Strategies

These Black Friday strategies will help you rise above the crowd. I look forward to shopping on Black Friday every year. I've been doing it for over 30 years now, and I’ve learned more than a few good strategies over the years.

Start Early
Start shopping before Black Friday. For years now, retailers have been slowly extending the holiday
shopping season. Some retailers have started Black Friday sales the week of Thanksgiving. Take advantage of these sales, especially for popular items that may become scarce as we approach Christmas.

Analyze Sales Ads the Day Before  
Don’t just look at prices. See what else retailers have to offer. A good price and a gift card may be better than some sales--but only if you can use the gift card for something you really want.

Understand the Return Policy
Why buy from a retailer if you can’t return an item if you aren’t satisfied? The return policy should be clearly posted in the store. You can also visit a retailer’s website to learn about its return policy. Sometimes return policies are different for different items.

Make a List
What do you want to buy? For whom do you want buy it? What sizes do you need? What colors? Write it down. And bring the list with you. Cross off the items as you purchase them.

Map out Store Locations According to Time
Many Black Friday coupons are time-sensitive. So, this should determine the order in which you go to retailers.  

Sustain Yourself
Pack a snack. It’s a tough job navigating through stores. A bag of raw organic nuts can be very filling. This is usually my snack of choice. You can keep them in your pocket or purse. I also recommend you bring a water bottle. Small ones fit nicely in cargo pants pockets. Depending on how long you will be shopping, you may want to bring a practical lunch. In Michigan, it’s usually cold on Black Friday, so leaving your lunch box in the car is usually OK. Remember, everything will be crowded--food courts, fast food restaurants, and bathrooms. If you take medication, even over-the-counter meds, bring them. For future reference, keep one of the empty containers your meds came in. You can use it to put one or two pills in it to carry with you. If you lose the bottle while shopping, you'll still have the remaining meds at home. And if you're stopped by the police, you won't have much explaining to do.

Think about the Weight of it All
Bring along a collapsible shopping bag on wheels. They are helpful for carting heavy items from the store to your vehicle. Consider bringing a back pack or a large tote bag for carrying several small bags.

Clip Coupons
Clip coupons in advance. And bring the coupons with you. Don’t forget to read the fine print. Some coupons are passes that you can use repeatedly. Other coupons have limitations. You may not be able to use them on Bonus Buy items. I hate that.

First and Last
Go to large department stores first. They usually have the time-sensitive coupons. And they become crowded fast. So, save boutique/small store shopping last. Small retailers are usually not as crowded as large retailers.

Dress Smart
Wear comfortable and practical clothes and accessories: cargo pants, waist pouch or small shoulder strap purse hidden under your jacket, and comfy shoes. Wear a light-weight jacket, even if it’s cold outside. You just need something to keep you warm from your vehicle to the store. Once you reach the mall or large retailer, you will be uncomfortable in a heavy coat, scarf, gloves, and boots. And never wear a turtleneck sweater. I learned the hard way. If it rains, a rain hat is more practical than trying to maneuver an umbrella.

Fill up the Car
Make sure you have gas in your vehicle. It’s not uncommon to encounter bumper-to-bumper traffic near large shopping centers and malls. This is not a good time to run out of gas.

Choose your Shopping Partners Carefully
Black Friday is not a day the kids will enjoy. Leave them with a reliable sitter. Besides, some of the shopping may be for them anyway. If you shop with a buddy or a group, make sure they have as much stamina as you do. If not, drive in separate vehicles so they can leave when they are ready. Consider splitting up in the store and setting up a meeting time and place. You and your buddies can shop for items in different departments.

Be Smart
Protect yourself and your possessions. Leave expensive purses and jewelry at home. Don’t go out to your vehicle to put in your packages. If you need to put something in your vehicle, do so, and then drive to another parking space so it appears you are leaving. Place packages in the trunk, not on the seats. Moreover, be alert. Create a plan for what you will do if someone follows you or acts suspiciously. Consider carrying pepper spray, but make sure you can access it quickly.

Don’t be Sucked In
Avoid the crazy people. When a retailer warns you that quantities are limited, believe them. Don’t even make an attempt to be one of the thousand people vying for one of the few items. To maintain your dignity and your sanity, it’s best to pay a little more money for the item at a different store.

Say Ahhh
When you return home, draw a bath spiked with Epsom salt (the whole bag) and a few drops of lavender. Soak for at least 15 minutes while you relax and reflect on your conquests.

It Ain’t Really Over
If you believe you’ve missed out on something, look forward to Cyber Monday. This is the big sale day for online shopping.

  • Don’t forget to enter coupon codes when “checking out” your online shopping cart. 
  • Manually select the delivery mode. Some sites have a default setting, which can be the most expensive delivery mode. 
  • Take advantage of free shipping. You may have to order a particular dollar amount though. 
  • Use a credit card, not a debit card. You don’t want to tie up your money if something goes wrong. 
  • Review all options. You may want to pay for it your merchandise online and pick it up in the store. Review the return policy. Some retailers will allow you to return the merchandise at any one of their stores. For other retailers, you may have to pay to ship the merchandise back to the retailer. 
  • Once you make your purchase, check your email for your confirmation number/ticket. Keep this until your merchandise arrives. 
Unfortunately, some people feel the need to "accept" your package(s) for you. So, notify FedEx and/or UPS to establish a delivery plan: a specific day and time you will be home, or let them know you will pick up your package from one of their centers.

What Black Friday memories do you have? This is the story in you. Share it.


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Friday, November 13, 2015

Telling Your Story in Six Words

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.  ~ Maya Angelou

You have an untold story just waiting to come out. But if you are not into writing long memoirs, consider writing a six-word memoir to share your story. I learned about the six-word memoir several years ago from Smith Magazine's Six-Word Memoir website. The website has inspirational ideas, examples, contest descriptions, and galleries. I used the idea in a memoir writing workshop I facilitated, and my students enjoyed the exercise. 

The possibilities are endless; see for yourself:

Six-Words, 2010

It's easy to get started:

Brainstorm for Ideas
Reflect on your life, experiences, and accomplishments.

Write down your responses to the questions above without thinking about the number of words. Skim through your ideas, and select the best one. Then condense the words to six.

Select a Topic
If you're having a little difficulty generating ideas, or if you're thinking, "I'm sooo much more than six-words" think about various topics, and write a six-word memoir for each topic. For example, I’m a brave person (well, most of the time, anyway). So, my six-word memoir for the topic personality might be

This lady doesn’t run from spiders.

If I want to put a little attitude to it, I might write

This lady don’t run from spiders.

But this six-word memoir is only a fraction of who I am. It does not reflect my creativity. So, to address it, I might write

My imagination, where dreams are conceived

Here are some topics to get you started:

  • Social life
  • Love life
  • Finances
  • Character
  • Spiritual life
  • Career
  • Emotional

Use a Thesaurus to Find Synonyms
To find sophisticated and interesting words, use a thesaurus. If you're an Internet surfer, I recommend thesaurus.com. Better yet, use a creative source such as Evans’s The Gilded Tongue: Overly Eloquent Words for Everyday Things. You’ll find remarkable words that will add interest to your six-word memoir. Mind you, people will have to use a dictionary to discover the meanings, but if you are a mysterious person, this method is perfect for you. For example, if you cannot control your shopping habit, you could use oniomania. And if you are unpredictable, you could use aleatory (Evans, 2006).

Now, Shout it from the Roof Tops
Publish your untold story. Frame it, put it on a t-shirt, bumper sticker, or a poster.

You can even get family members involved. Have each family member create his or her own six-word memoir. It's a way for them to use critical thinking skills and to express their individuality.

How would you describe yourself in six words? This is the story in you. Share it.

Connect with me on Pinterest to view creative ideas about writing:

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Evans, R, (2006). The gilded tongue: Overly eloquent words for everyday things. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books.

Six Words. (2010). Six-word memoirs: The video story. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZOxhHXZW6o