Monday, December 31, 2012

The Dawn of a New Year

The Dawn of a New Year

We humanoids are essentially a species that looks for opportunities for reinvention. With the dawn of a new year, we believe that the clock resets and we can start over, hit reset, and reinvent ourselves to begin anew. That is why we tend to make resolutions for bettering ourselves in the New Year. The Chinese sweep out the old at Lunar New Year. We westerners vow to be better versions of ourselves every January 1st.

I don’t make resolutions because I’ve never kept to one for more than 5 days. After 52 years of failing in my resolutions, I’ve abdicated that practice and replaced it with my goals to focus on positive thinking.  In my earliest Al Anon meeting in Hong Kong, when my desperation and feelings of negativity blackened my heart, my home group suggested that in times of difficulty, I should go through the alphabet and try to think of something for which I was thankful for every letter. I’ve practiced this exercise many times since 1993; however, my inventory is ever changing.  The basic list remains the same. And while I strive to achieve these goals every day, it is important to remind myself regularly to keep on my path to enlightenment, peace and serenity. For 2013 I want to focus on the following:

A          Accept what is
B          Believe in a higher power
C          Care about people I love and my environment
D         Decide to make every day a celebration of life
E          Embrace what is good in the world and my life
F          Find the good in every situation; sometimes it may be hard – but there are always lessons of value;
G          Gratitude is a key to contentment; be grateful for what I have;
H         Happiness is not an illusion; it is within us all;
I           Imagine the endless opportunities we have as citizens of America
J           Joy can be found in the simplest things – finding beauty in the song of a bird, the beauty of a flower, the sound of the sea;
K         Kindness begets kindness; be kind and expect nothing in return;
L          Love completely, be loyal, value life;
M         Make every day special with a positive attitude
N         Never give into despair, there will always be a rainbow after a storm
O         Opportunity knocks; we just have to be open to the call and willing to take a risk; change can be good;
P          Practice patience & positive thinking: when I do I feel contentment; when I don’t I feel at a loss.
Q         Quite time alone for reflection and introspection is never wasted; it is healing.
R          Respect for the opinions of others can open our minds. At times I’ve been guilty of pressing my opinion without give due consideration to the opinion of others. I have to accept that opinion is not fact and in listening to others I may learn something or change my mind.
S          Spend less. Things ultimately do not make me happier. People do. This is one of my greatest challenges. I do not need more stuff. I need to use what I have and appreciate the people who are close to me.
T          Think before speaking.  For someone born during the year of the Boar, this is a particular challenge. I could fit not just a foot but an entire shoe store in my mouth.
U         Understand the world does not revolve around me.
V          Value the people in your life and your blessings.
W        Welcome new people into your life; they just may bring additional joy, blessings or opportunities for growth;
X          Xeriscape -  plan a sustainable landscape suitable to your microclimate to utilize what is supposed to thrive in a particular environment
Y          Yellow flowers in the spring make me happy. I love daffodils!
Z          Zealous appreciation of life brings fulfillment to every day!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

If the United States were a Corporation and Congress its Management Team

If the United States were a Corporation and Congress its Management Team

After watching the reports from CNN today regarding the malfunctioning machine we call Congress and its collective inability to reach a consensus on a plan to avoid the so -called fiscal cliff, I started to wonder how these buffoons would fare if the USA was a private sector corporation with a governing board and stockholders to which they owe a fiduciary duty instead a government institution with elected officials and taxpayers to which Congress owes and breaches its fiduciary duty.

Those who work in the private sector for stock corporations must establish measurable goals for a calendar or fiscal year. At certain times throughout the year, one must report on one’s progress towards reaching those goals and if one is “not on plan”, establish a course of action to get back on plan. Failing to make headway towards achieving one’s goals sometime results in what we in the real world know as “a performance plan”. This requires the collaboration of one’s supervisor or team and the individual to take specific steps to improve one’s performance. Failure to improve often results in termination of employment. In this world, the performance bar is raised every year and in order to meet one’s goals, one must achieve greater proficiency at one’s work every year.  If one achieves one’s goals, and the corporation has earned a profit, there is a potential for a merit raise. This should not be confused with a cost of living adjustment or a salary increase merely to thank one for showing up for work. The increase is based upon achievement. If one does not achieve, there is no increase. If the corporation did not earn a profit, there is no increase.  My ability to increase my earning potential depends upon my own efforts in conjunction with a high performing management team. As such, if my company makes a lot of money and I achieve an increase, the stockholders are paid a dividend, and the CEO and top executives who made that possible deserve big bucks.

If the USA were a corporation the stockholders would receive no dividends and the management team, Congress, would deserve no remuneration.  It is clear this Congress has not achieved any goals. Its scorecard would be blank. And a corporation would not put Congress on a performance plan for more than 500 days. Pretty much it is 90 days and out. Congress has had more than 500 days to put together plan to avoid the fiscal cliff and has failed. If the USA were a corporation, its stock would have plunged lower than Enron’s after the debacle; it’s ability to borrow money faster than Bernie Madoff; it’s reputation faster than Lance Armstrong’s.  And every member of Congress would have been unceremoniously fired. In the private sector there is no room for prima donnas (unless they own the company), making excuses, or blaming others. If we need to get something done, teams figure out how to get it done. Sometimes that means rescheduling a vacation, making significant compromises, and keeping the focus on the customer.  Congress has forgotten that we, the tax paying public, are the customers and the stockholders. And Congress has breached it fiduciary duty to us all.  In the private sector, they would not be reelected; they would not keep their jobs; they would be sued by the stockholders and, in some cases, prosecuted for malfeasance.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Learning to Say NO!

Learning to Say NO!

“No” is a simple word but one that is anathema to many of us in modern society.
We are a society that wants to be liked. We want society to approve of us and give us the stamp of approval. However, learning to say “NO” is one of the greatest gifts were can bestow upon ourselves.

We all want to be liked and accepted. It is part of the human condition. But continuously saying “yes” when we want to say “I don’t know”, “maybe” or “NO”  causes additional work and stress for everybody. Those who say “yes” when they mean “no” are filled with resentments and often either abdicate their roles at a critical time or dutifully fulfill the obligation but without any passion or buy in.

Learning to say “no” and accepting that saying “no” is okay is something many of us do not learn until middle age. Somewhere around they age of 45 we accept that the world will survive without us and it is perfectly fine to opt out of an obligation or to decline to participate from the outset.

It took me a long time to learn the word “No”. I “volunteered” or agreed to chair too many committees or hold too may community service positions that I really didn’t want to hold to fit in. Part of the gifts of aging includes the understanding that saying “no” is a perfectly acceptable option.

A.     There is no need to provide an explanation. Just say “no”, I am not available to do that.

B.     It is okay to say “no” after you say yes, as long as there is no critical deadline in the immediate future.

C.     When one says “yes” when one means “no” one deprives others of an opportunity to excel who may really want to perform the task.

D.    Additional stress is rarely worth it.  Be true to yourself. Celebrate who you are by saying “NO”.

E.     Celebrate what is. Today I had a ski slope driveway covered in ice. My spouse and I had to clear it. Nobody else was available. We do not want ot UPS guy to sue us for having a dangerous walk or driveway – ergo, we dealt with the condition and removed the ice.

Practice saying “no” when you mean “no”. Even if you believe you have a moral duty to say yes, say “no”.  The world will not explode. It is okay. It is right to say “no” when you mean “no”. The person asking will find an alternative and it may be a better option.

This is a lesson I learned later in life, but it is a valuable lesson. The world will continue to turn without us. Say “yes” if you mean it, but stand firm with “no”if you don’t. Be true to yourself for a life of peace and serenity.

Friday, December 28, 2012

I Love Musicals!

I Love Musicals!

I am an unabashed fan of musicals from the early Busby Berkeley movies to the production I saw of Les Miserables this afternoon. I love the songs, the spectacle, and the sheer fantasy world of people breaking into song and dance often without regard to plot. Musicals are entertaining diversions from everyday life where people break into song and dance when they are happy, sad, in love or attempting to stir the masses. People either love or hate musicals. While I love musicals, my spouse can think of no greater torture than being restrained and forced to watch “Mama Mia” with the lilting tunes of ABBA filling the air.  Ok – just the thought of ABBA makes him cringe. But musicals make me feel good! For me there is nothing better than watching a musical theater production or movie and then replaying my favorite songs over and over in my head. And when I can’t remember the words, I just make them up.

I was raised on show tunes and movie musicals. My parents played the cast recordings of Oklahoma, The King & I, South Pacific, Damn Yankees, The Music Man, Kiss Me Kate, Show Boat, Camelot, Man of La Mancha, Carousel, My Fair Lady, West Side Story, Mary Poppins, and The Sound of Music on the stereo constantly.  I loved watching old movies of Gene Kelly dancing in Singin’ in the Rain, Brigadoon and An American In Paris or Fred Astaire in Top Hat, Roberta, The Gay Divorcee, Funny Face, Easter Parade, Holiday Inn and Blue Skies. It is not possible to be glum while watching a musical.

And yes, I love the Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats and Phantom of the Opera. I’ve seen each play at least 5 times.  I even loved the movie version of Evita with Madonna and Antonio Banderas. But really, I will watch anything with Antonio Banderas!

But my favorite musical of all time is the Cinderella by Rogers & Hammerstein that was filmed for television in 1964 with Leslie Ann Warren, Stuart Damon, Celeste Holm, and Ginger Rogers.  The entire family sat down to watch it every year when I was a kid.  I can still sing most of the words to the songs “Impossible” and make up the words to “The Prince is Having a Ball” and “In My Own Little Corner”.  While writing this I decided to check to see if I could nab a copy on DVD for some viewing nostalgia. Uhm…apparently it is out of print – 3 copies available starting at $197.99.  Guess I’ll have to be content with snippets on YouTube and my fond memories.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Getting the Best Deal Shopping Online

Getting the Best Deal Shopping Online

A little extra effort can result in amazing savings when shopping online. For many purchases, comparing prices from site to site can help one find the best overall deal. The additional effort to locate an online coupon code can turn a deal into a steal. I’ve never found an online coupon code for, or – but most online retailers do offer coupons for free shipping or an occasional discount.  It is also critical to take into consideration shipping costs and sales tax before completing a purchase.

It does take time and patience to find a bargain; but persistence and creativity can often rule the day.  Sometimes the same item will vary wildly in price from one site to another.  For example, if I find a shoe or boot I like, I will check,, Nordstrom,,,,, or any other site that pops up when I Google the brand and style. Most of these retailers also encourage customers to post feedback on fit, comfort, value and quality.  If there is no feedback I will have to take a chance, wait till there is feedback, or order only from a site that allows free returns.

Then, do a Google search for the retailer you are using for any potential coupon codes, i.e. – “coupon codes for”.  The result may bring up pages and pages of coupon compiling sites. Some will show useless coupons. Some will say there are no current coupons. Some will show expired coupons only. Some sites will have several that may or may not apply. But it is worth checking several sites. I’ve found the elusive 50% off coupon on my 11th page! Even if you have a coupon code from a catalog, it often pays to go through this step because retailers will often send different customers or potential customers different offers. Why? If you are already a regular customer they don’t have to lure you to shop. If you aren’t a regular customer – they want to reel you in.  And while some coupons will say “one per person” – many online retailers don’t keep track of anything but the expiration dates.

And of course – there is always eBay! Look for the sellers with high positive feedback. The optimum score is, of course, 100%.  Read the feedback or send an inquiry to the seller if you have a question. And always use PayPal to pay.  I’ve gone through the dispute process once when some plants I bought arrived DOA and PayPal refunded the entire purchase price. Todd & I even bought one of our cars on eBay. My favorite source for top quality reproduction Victorian jewelry is an eBay seller in Tel Aviv! 

So if you’ve hesitated to shop online until now, try it! is the gold standard; but there are countless sites offering deals that no brick and mortar store can because of the overhead.

And ALWAYS look for a coupon code. At least get the free shipping!