Monday, November 29, 2010

Holiday Handbook: Money and Mayhem

The holidays. At times, hectic. Hopefully not horrific. Possibly holy (if you are so inclined). Occassionally hilarious. And, if we are lucky, for the most part happy. Join me on Mondays as we find ways to navigate the Season with style and smarts, and, most importantly, without losing our sanity.

Christmas morning is proof that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Anyone who has seen the look on a child's or loved one's face when they open that perfect gift knows that feeling. The memory is priceless. However, too many priceless presents add up. Come mid-January, when we open those credit card statements, we know exactly how much priceless really costs!

So, in a country still reeling in recession, the question becomes how can we create priceless moments without breaking the bank and maxing out the cards? Here are a few suggestions.

Make It an Event: Instead of spending a lot on friends and extended family, have a big night out at a favorite restaurant and make it a big celebration. Otherwise, have everyone over and have each person bring a dish or a game. The gift is the gift of togetherness and that is something you'll never want to exchange!

The Three Wise Men: I have a friend that has three boys. Her philosophy is simple, Jesus was the Son of God and he only got three gifts (one from each wise man), so why should each kid get more? I know that won't go over well in every home but if your kids are young, this could be a good tradition to start! LOL!

Exchange It: If you aren't doing it already, consider a gift exchange. Let all the adult siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins put their names in a hat, you are only required to get a gift for the person who's name you pull. It also helps if you set a price limit.

Go In Together: For parents or grandparents, pitch in and get one big gift from all of you (if you can decide on what to get).

Start Early: Sure it's too late to do this now but keep it in mind for next year. Start right after Christmas and take advantage of sales all year long. Put those perfect gifts up in a closet. This glut of gifts also comes in handy if you end up needing a last minute birthday or shower gift!

Save Up: If you bank with a credit union or certain banks, you might be able to start a Christmas fund. Put a little aside out of every check (do a direct deposit if possible) and by next year, you'll be in a position to have a great holiday shopping season.

List It: This is one you can do now and one I swear by. Make a list of who you are buying for, what you want to get them and how much you plan on spending. It also makes Christmas shopping a lot faster and easier if you add where you plan to get the gifts to your list.

Weekday Spree: If you can take a day off of work and do your Christmas shopping on a weekday morning. I take my list and I do the majority of my shopping on a Wednesday. No lines. No fuss!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Holiday Handbook: Not So Great Expectations

The holidays. At times, hectic. Hopefully not horrific. Possibly holy (if you are so inclined). Occassionally hilarious. And, if we are lucky, for the most part happy. Join me on Mondays as we find ways to navigate the Season with style and smarts, and, most importantly, without losing our sanity.
Thanksgiving is days away and it officially kicks off the Holiday Season. As we plan to stuff the turkey, glaze the ham and settle in for a day often filled with family and football, it's a good time to make sure we get real and set some realistic expectations.
Norman Rockwell makes some wonderful portraits of American families, especially at the holidays, but let's face it, he's never pictured evil in-laws, overly sensitive sisters, drunken uncles, prickly parents, bratty kids, noisy neighbors and the otherwise un-PC people who sit around your holiday table.
So here are some tips that can make the holiday more enjoyable than ever.
Spread It Out: If you are hosting dinner, give others a chance to participate. If your aunt makes a mean macaroni and cheese, then let her make it. If your sister knows how to buy a wonderful cake, let her do it. More than food, the holiday is about family and friends, give your self time to get out of the kitchen and enjoy them.
Have an Ally: I have an aunt, I love her dearly and I know she means well ... but what she calls 'honesty', the rest of us call inappropriate and rude, at best, and cruel and mean, at worst. So my cousins and I have each others back. I swoop in when she starts in on my cousin's divorce or my other cousin's employment issues. They swoop in when she starts on my weight gain and single status. We don't start an argument, we just try to change the subject and if that doesn't work, we make an excuse to get out of her presence for a minute. It works.
Make It Kid-Friendly: We all know about the kiddie table for dinner, but give the kids activities that keep them occupied and make them age-specific. Toddlers might appreciate coloring andwatching Jacks' Big Music Show but I doubt your teen would find that appealing.
Focus on Fun: A lot of times we make things worse by dreading them. Instead of focusing on the in-law from hell or the seemingly endless hours of football, focus on reconnecting with your favorite cousin or delving into that delicious peach cobbler.
Remember the Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. I'm focusing on the acceptance part here. For example, I have the wisdom to know I can't change my aunt, so I have to work on accepting her. I can enjoy her company (while she's being good!) and excuse myself when she 'gets started.' You can't change people but you can change how you see them and how you react to them.
Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Plan with a Purpose

Long time readers of this blog (both of you! LOL!) know I'm big on planning and list making. I'm a huge believer that a little organization can go a long way to saving time, reducing stress and just generally making you more productive.

I was thrilled when I came across this video, courtesy of friend, fellow blogger and spiritual coach Diannia Baty. She does some really provocative work on her blog
Way Over the Rainbow. Recently, she posted a few videos from Jack Canfield, co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soup series. I loved this one minute clip on why a little planning the night before can make a big difference in your day.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Helping Hands

Good and decent people believe in helping one another. We do it because we know what it’s like to need a helping hand. We do it because we hope, that if we were in need, someone would help us. We do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Last week, as I rushed from errand to errand, I ran out of gas. Ironically, my next stop was the gas station. As I waited for AAA several people stopped and asked me if I needed help. For many of us, helping is in our nature.

Recently a good friend of mine extended a helping hand to someone and he ended up getting that hand burned. He had made a casual acquaintance of a guy he’d see often at the track. Through their conversations, he learned that this guy, in his early 20’s needed a break. He was living with his girlfriend, who was expecting their child. Due to a few bad choices, he had a hard time finding a job and he really needed one.

My friend, who had been on his job for three years, recommended him for an open position. It wasn’t much but it was steady work. After one week on the job, he’d already been late twice. The second week, he was a no cal, no show. Both my friend and his manager talked to him and tried to impress on him the importance of showing up and being on time. The third week seemed to be better. However, it didn’t last. By week four he was back to his old way. And then, then a cell phone for one of the visiting executives came up missing. All signs pointed to the new guy as the thief. It turned out that he had stolen the phone and he was promptly fired.

My friend is embarrassed and angry. Embarrassed because the guy was hired in large part due to his recommendation and now he looks bad. Angry because this guy took advantage of his trust and made him look bad to his boss. My friend says he’ll think twice before he sticks his neck out again.

And he should … but I do hope that this experience doesn’t turn him off to helping people all together. The lesson here isn’t that sticking your neck out for someone is wrong. The lesson is to get to know the person a little bit better first.

Community is about people working together and I feel that compassion is a vital part of community and a part that is too often missing. I’ve heard it said that all that is necessary for evil to win is for good people to do nothing.

We must be willing to do something.

It’s funny but after AAA showed up, I made a bee line to the gas station. As I was getting out of my car, a woman asked me for $3. She was unemployed and having trouble making ends meet. Her mother had agreed to loan her some money and she was on her way to her mom’s house but she didn’t think she had enough gas to make it there. I smiled and told her I knew what she was going through and I gave her $5. Hopefully, she’ll do the same for someone else.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Be the Change

One of my favorite quotes is from Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I think a lot of times, we want to see the change first, in someone else, before we change. Needless to say, this doesn’t really work.

Case in point: I know a woman who is mean, condescending and downright rude to service people. Yet she is amazed that she has such a difficult time getting the help she ‘deserves.’ She laments to anyone who will listen how stupid and unprofessional most people are (and those are her words, not mine).

As someone who worked in customer service once upon a time, I always try to be kind and considerate to the person on the other end of the phone or the one who stands behind the cash register. Granted, I’ve had some rude customer service people but not nearly as many as this woman.

If she would just change her energy and her demeanor, she’d be surprised at the result.

It goes beyond customer service though. We want our kids to be honest, but we tell little white lies and half-truths in front of them and then get shocked when they lie. We want our spouse to listen to us but when he or she talks, they can barely get a sentence out.

Be the change you want to see.

If you want respect, give it.
If you want kindness, be kind.
If you want to be heard, listen.
If you crave courtesy, show it.

If for no other reason than to show the other person how they should act towards you. We learn a lot more through demonstration and action than we do through just words.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Your Own Best Friend

If your best friend suffered a major setback, what would you do?
Would you...

a) Be there with the Kleenex and a shoulder cry on?
b) Comfort her and let her know everything would be okay?
c) Sit down with him and help him map out next steps?

d) Call her stupid, ask her why she always messed up and tell her that things would never change?

Normally, we do a-c for a friend in trouble, and we reserve d for ourselves. We understand the need to be understanding and compassionate to others; but we reserve the meanness, criticism and outright cruelty for the person who matters most.

Sometimes, a little dose of 'tough love' might serve as motivation - a swift kick to get you up and moving. However, too much tough love becomes a paralyzing force. It immobilizes us and stops us from moving forward. It turns a failure from a temporary setback into a permanent fixture. Sometimes, we can shame ourselves so badly that we actually end up taking two steps backwards.

When it comes to your self-talk or inner monologue, talk to yourself as you would talk to a best friend. Be gentle. Be kind. Like you would with a true friend, you want to also be truthful, but there is a way to deliver that truth with grace and caring.

Be to yourself the kind of friend you would love to have, the kind of friend you already are to your friends!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Getting Up Gracefully

One of my most embarrassing moments (and there are many) occurred at IKEA. I was there with my boyfriend at the time. We were heading down the stairs. He was a few steps in front of me when the cute (but clunky) shoes I was wearing caused me to stumble and fall. I fell fabulously down several stairs before grabbing on to Shaun’s leg to break my fall. He turned and looked down at me, apparently unaware of the scene I had just caused.

By this point, people on the stairs had stopped. Some were concerned; others were holding their laughter until they knew I was okay. And, I was. I quickly jumped up, laughed it off and said something about “those darn shoes.”

A physical fall is relatively easy to overcome, but a real fall — a failed relationship, a firing, a divorce, a bankruptcy or foreclosure, an illness or a death can be devastating. Those are falls that can’t be laughed off with a throw-away comment or a quick regaining of composure.

So how do you get back up after taking a demoralizing fall?

First, you feel it. It is not cowardly or weak to cry or get angry or sulk around depressed. In fact, it’s the smartest and strongest thing you can do. Suppressing emotion is not the same as dealing with emotion. Refusing to acknowledge what you are feeling doesn’t make it go away or make you feel it any less. Burying emotion down deep inside of you makes them grow and fester. Eventually they erupt, usually in some unexpected and destructive way. As a coach friend of mine says, “The only way to get through it is to go through it.”

Once you begin to feel a little better, once the heart has had its say, turn it over to the head. That’s right, put on your thinking cap. Ask a few critical questions.
  • What can I learn from this?
  • What could I have done differently?
  • What will I do differently the next time around?
If you learn something from the experience then it is just that — an experience — and not a failure. When people bring up your so-called failure, you can educate them with what you have learned. If you choose to address them at all, some people just aren’t worth the time and the aggravation. Keep your head up and keep moving.

Finally, recognize that you are in good company. The most successful people, from athletes to entrepreneurs to musicians, have all failed and in many times failed gloriously. It isn’t the failure that defines them but the success that came after those ‘learning experiences’.

They came back smarter, stronger and more sure of themselves. And you will too.

Monday, November 1, 2010

To Vote or Not to Vote

A little known fact about me. My bachelor’s is in broadcast journalism … but I have a minor in political science. So, I wanted to divert today’s post from the usual life coachy topics and talk about voting. Tomorrow is Election Day. Almost all American adults can exercise their right to vote, if they so choose. However, many of us don’t exercise this right and that’s fine with me.

I know at first glance that sounds positively heretical but hear me out. The right to vote is comes another ‘R’ – one no one likes to talk about – responsibility. You have the right to vote but you have the responsibility to make informed choices about who represents you. If you aren’t going to make an informed choice, I’d rather you not vote.

Voting because you recognize someone’s name or because he or she was a funny guest on a talk show is not an informed choice.

Case in point, in the spring, the democrats of South Carolina selected Alvin Greene, to run for the U.S. Senate against seasoned incumbent Jim DeMint. Greene is a man with no political background, and who did no campaigning prior to the election. Since he did no campaigning, no one knew who he was or where he stood on the issues. Sure he’s a democrat so you can assume you know his platform, but no one had heard the man actually speak.

Many people think he won because his name was first on the ballot or because his name sounded similar to 70’s soul singer Al Green. To their horror, when the actual Alvin Greene emerged, he could barely articulate his thoughts and had no real knowledge of the issues.

Voting matters and you should vote for people who represent your views and your interests. If you don’t know the views and interests of the people you are voting for, you are making some potentially bad decisions.

This is a midterm election and tomorrow, many people will not vote because, they say, “It’s just a bunch of local and state races and maybe a senator or congressmen. It’s not like we are electing the president.” However, in my estimation, midterm elections are just as important as presidential elections. Most of the issues that affect us the most are decided on the state or local level.

Unhappy with property taxes? It’s up to the city or the country to regulate those. They control the revaluations that determine your tax rate.

Tired of crime? It’s the local officials that run the police department and the local district attorney’s offices that prosecute criminals. And if it isn’t a federal offense, it’s up to the states to make sentencing laws.

Problems with the schools? School boards are always local and local and state governments play a much larger role than the federal government does in educating your kids.

Want more jobs? The states have the power to create the incentives and packages that will attract business and the tax rates that will pull them towards your state or drive them away.

Finally, you don’t have to vote in every single race. If you know whom you want to vote for in terms of congress people and city council members but you aren’t sure about the judges and other issues, then stick to voting in the races where you know what’s going on. There is no rule that says you have to vote in every race.

When it comes to voting take responsibility for exercising your right.