Saturday, November 28, 2015

Saturday Special: Holiday Hubbub
Perhaps you're one of those folks who Christmas shops all year long. Or maybe you're a serious Black Friday shopper and you spent yesterday making lists and checking them twice.

Maybe you're spending today patronizing local businesses in honor of Small Business Saturday. Or perhaps you're creating lists for Cyber Monday when you can shop from home in your pajamas.

No matter your shopping style, it's the time of year when tracking down gifts becomes a necessity for most of us. And shopping is just the tip of the holiday to-do iceberg.

Fortunately, although the holidays are creeping ever closer (as several of my Facebook friends enjoy pointing out on a regular basis), there's plenty of time to tackle things in an organized fashion. If the mere thought of getting ready for the holidays leaves you in a panic, check out this article by organizing guru Julie Morgenstern, who always manages to make planning seem not just possible, but palatable as well.

Not ready to tackle holiday planning yet? Just below Julie's article on holiday planning is one on organizing your mail.

Whatever you organize today, do it with STYLE. :-)

Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday Freebie: Tomorrow is Small Business Saturday!

Yes, I know I wrote about this on Wednesday, but I did so because I think it's important. Check out this infographic.

Don't feel like going shopping? You can still be a supporter.
  • Buy a book from a local author.
  • Buy art from a local artisan.
  • Order dinner from a local restaurant (not a chain).
  • Hire a local contractor.
  • Attend a show at a local theatre.
  • Browse in an art gallery or antique store.
  • Go to the American Express website and find small businesses in your area.
  • Create a list of local businesses to visit and patronize in the new year.
Make this Small Business Saturday the start of something good.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Where Are You Shopping this Weekend? 3 Reasons I Love Small Business Saturday
Black Friday looms. The ads are ubiquitous, and, this year, retailers seem to be proclaiming their fervor to stay closed on Thanksgiving with equal passion. Those ads make me smile.

I'm also seeing a new trend that makes me smile: Small Business Saturday ads. I love the concept of Small Business Saturday for a number of reasons.

  • I grew up in a small town, with a beautiful little downtown that provided me with all of my shopping experiences between the time I moved there when I was twelve until the time I got my driver's license at seventeen...and beyond. I felt free to roam and wander fearlessly.  I bought school supplies, Christmas presents and the best cream donuts ever.  I went to college in a small town, too, and lived there for two more years as a graduate student, subsisting on grinders from the local pizza shop.
  • I am a small business. Not only do I sell Thirty-One Gifts, but I'm also an author who does the lion's share of her own promotional work. And do you know who was most willing to offer me signings and opportunities? Small, indie bookstores. 
  • Small business Saturday encourages community. In a world that's growing increasingly scary, the thought of preserving community seems more important than ever.
True, Small Business Saturday was launched by a decidedly big business: American Express. True, AmEx has skin in the game, but its big business presence and equally big pockets helped spread the word, making the concept grow faster than it would have with merely a grassroots effort. In 2011, the United States Senate officially recognized Small Business Saturday, and in 2012, American Express used its substantial resources to provide free web ads for small businesses, giving them exposure beyond what their budgets made possible. Rather than trying to eat the little guys alive, American Express sees the mutual benefit of working together.

I don't work for American Express. I don't have an AmEx card, and I have no plans to get one.  

But I know a good idea when I see one, and I appreciate the value of cooperation, especially in a time when it feels as though camaraderie and mutual respect are in short supply.

What small business will you patronize this Saturday?  

Feel free to promote your favorite local business by leaving its name and location in the comments.

Monday, November 23, 2015

It's Here!!

My new book is out and I couldn't be more excited! For a variety of reasons, I chose to self-publish this one, so in addition to being excited, I'm also exhausted. As I gear up for the creation of the paperback version, I am, once again, grateful to have friends who are both knowledgeable and supportive, and it's clear to me that "self-publishing," if it's done right, isn't a one-person job.

At least not this one person.

I owe more debts of gratitude than I can possibly enumerate -- from my sister, who copyedited, to my friend Laurie J. Edwards who did the cover art and formatting, to my friend Karen who came up with the log line for the cover (all the way from Paris!), to those who wrote reviews of Casting the First Stone, thus providing back cover copy -- this book would not be a reality without them. I now know how people who accept awards feel. There's no way you'll ever be able to thank everyone who played a role in the process.

If you're interested in reading an excerpt, click here. And if you do read the book, I hope you'll consider writing a review.

Have a wonderful week! If you're looking for me, check Cloud Nine :-)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Saturday Special: Kid Organization Tips from the Experts

Photo: Jessica Gale via Morguefile

As I write this, the detritus of a rapidly dwindling semester surrounds me, with a fine layer of book launch panic sitting on top like a layer of gooey frosting. Meanwhile, my teenage daughter is celebrating her first Saturday off from work by cleaning her room.

Since the big kid in this equation (that would be me) has given up on doing anything more strenuous that treading water in the organizational pool, today seemed like a good day to focus on organization for kids, especially with the holidays coming. The impending influx of material goods is often a big motivator for sorting and taking advantage of the Three Rs that make up the L (Let it Go!) in STYLE.

Though I rarely watch HGTV these days, a show that was on when my daughter was small (Mission: Organization) was a large part of the inspiration for the way I view organizing. Regardless of what is -- or isn't -- on the air, their website remains a great resource, so I wasn't surprised to find that their article, "Get Your Kids Organized at All Ages" offered some great ideas, packaged into an age-by-age  format.

So, while I sit down in my definitely not organized workspace with a large portion of humble pie, enjoy some tips from the experts, whose offices most likely look better than mine does today.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Freebie: Why Be Grateful?
As Thanksgiving approaches, I'm finding it easy to be grateful. Though I love my job, three days (plus a weekend) without classes will give me a chance to catch my breath and spend some time with family without feeling as though I should be doing something else. I could just as easily focus on this break as the calm before the storm that is December -- a time when semester conclusions and holiday beginnings collide in a frenzy of opposing forces -- but that would suck the joy out of not only the break itself, but also the anticipation of fun, food and relaxation. No one wants that.

Please understand -- I don't mean to be preachy. I realize that I'm lucky. I don't have to plow through a field of terrible circumstances to find the one grain of happiness that remains. I have nothing but admiration for those who have the fortitude to do just that. Far from being insincere, they know something that many of us don't.

Gratitude reaps rewards of its own. Not only does it make us feel better, even if only temporarily, it carries health benefits as well.

But don't take my word for it. Click here to read about the benefits of gratitude, take a gratitude quiz and find out how to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

'Tis the season, after all.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

4 Characters I Met Last Weekend (Plus One it's Good I Didn't)
Creating characters is my favorite part of writing fiction. I like dreaming them up from scratch, so to speak, but since real life and fiction are intricately connected through the vessel that is the writer, the elements blur and blend. Though I've never used an actual person in one of my books, some of my characters definitely have traits in common with people I know. And sometimes, it's the other way around.

Last weekend, for example, I met Nurse Loretta from my soon-to-be-released novel, Chasing a Second Chance. She was disguised as a clerk at Macy's in New York, but I recognized her as soon as she spoke. Of course the fact that she was coming to my rescue (as Nurse Loretta does for Angel) probably colored my perspective, as did the fact that she was unfailingly kind to me, while refusing to suffer fools (other customers -- you had to be there) gladly.

That got me thinking about other characters I met over the course of the weekend. Here are a few of them -- along with one it's probably good I didn't meet.

The down-on-his-luck sweet talker. We met this man between 11pm and midnight while waiting for our connecting train at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. Quick to share his [prior] success and his sad story of the day, he was probably not who he said he was, but the desperation of his situation was most likely real. Though he appeared to appreciate the $7 we gave him "for a train ticket," his eyes lit up at the food I offered. Scammed? Probably. But in the end, we were safe, and I hope he was as well.  He left me wondering how he'd gotten from the success he professed as present truth to the alcohol-infused fast talker standing in front of me.

The Broadway "show sellers" at TKTS. These young people made a long line at TKTS seem to go faster (we even got to see a snippet of a number from Chicago). Most had the same opening line ("What show are you hoping to see?"), but they were full of energy and enthusiasm, along with a bit of trivia and insight. It was like getting an insider's view from a friend who'd seen everything, and it was fun talking to them. When I did a little research after the fact, I wasn't surprised to find that they're "highly trained working theatre professionals." They definitely had the energy necessary to bring a character to life on stage.

The jerk on the train. The train was "sold out" (more likely overbooked) on the way home, and we got split up. We figured we'd find new seats when people got off in Philly, but more people got on than off. My husband did find us seats with a bit more leg room, and while he retrieved our luggage from the overhead compartment and waited patiently to come back against the traffic of those seeking seats, my carry-on held his seat and I had to refuse many travelers. I felt bad about this in every case except one -- the 20-something guy who walked by (without asking if the seat was taken) loudly saying, "Yeah, that's right. Keep that seat for your bags." As it turned out, I didn't need to respond. Someone sitting nearby who'd heard me explain that the seat was taken called out to him, "Someone's sitting there!" followed by a sound that echoed my own frustration. The jerk on the train was a stock character. The woman who came to my defense is the one I want to write about.

Though I didn't meet the rude coffee drinker who spilled a substantial portion of his/her latte on the bench in the shoe department at Macy's, I did have a few choice words for him/her. While it's true that I should have looked before I sat, I didn't expect half a latte to be on the bench...or to soak through my pants, turning my solo shopping trip at Macy's Herald Square into a quest for dry clothing. This character may very well show up in a book, because I do, indeed, have a few things to say to her. And yes, she's already morphed into a female character because the bench was, after all, in the women's shoe department.

But without her less-than-desirable tendency to spill and run, unwelcome though it was, I wouldn't have met Nurse Loretta.

And, unlike the latte and the jerk on the train, she was a welcome surprise.