Conflicted About Reward Cards

rewards-programsI have a love/hate relationship with reward programs.

I love it when I finally discover that I’ve earned $350(!) back from using my Visa credit card.

I hate it when I think about all the times I’ve used my Staples rewards card to end up earning nothing. (As a result of this apparent road-to-nowhere program, I only whip out my Staples card when I know I’ll save on a particular item.)

I love it when I use my Wegman’s grocery card for my weekly purchases; I usually accumulate up to $10 in “savings” every trip.

I hate it when the bookseller cashier looks at me incredulously when I reply that I don’t have a Border’s/Barnes and Nobles card. Am I the only one who refuses to take advantage of the bookstores’ rewards program?!?!? (For some reason, knowing that a list is being kept of of all the books I buy creeps me out.)

My ambivalence about rewards programs was stirred up yesterday when my trash hauler launched a new program to encourage recycling, RecycleBank. We can earn points through the amount of refuse recycled each week and redeem them for fabulous prizes. (Well, maybe not fabulous prizes, but certainly more than I’m getting now, which is simply the satisfaction of being green).

But that means someone/somewhere will be tracking my trash. Yuck! That privacy-invading thought definitely gives me pause. However, after realizing that RecycleBank points can go to an giftcard to feed my Kindle habit, my privacy need has diminished. I sign up for the program!

A quick inventory of my participation in rewards programs reveals:

Wegman’s card (always used)
Staples, CVS, Safeway, Giant cards (only used when purchasing sale items)
Food Lion card (only used during my beach vacation six years ago; time to throw that one out)
Smoothie King punch card (never remember to use)
Hair Cuttery card (recently thrust into my hands by my stylist: I’ll probably toss that one, too.)

What do you carry in your wallet?

And how do you balance .. privacy … ease of use … and actual rewards given the effort … when deciding whether to participate in a rewards program?

One Woman’s Trash Is Another Woman’s …

clutterOur church had a White Elephant sale this past weekend. My daughter volunteered at the sale and ended up being the person who sold large paper bags for $5 to prospective shoppers. Armed with their paper bags, the bargain hunters were allowed  to fill the bags up to the brim with as much stuff as they wanted. Caitlin encouraged me to take advantage of the great deal and stock up.

No offense, fellow parishioners, but the LAST thing I want in my house is your old stuff. I have nothing against used items – witness the used cars, DVD’s, clothing, games, etc. in and around our house. However, there was absolutely nothing I needed (or even wanted) to buy on that Sunday morning.

In fact, I need less stuff, not more, in my life. That’s one of the reasons I was so intrigued by the blog of a friend of a friend. This wise woman decided to get rid of one item per day for an entire year (in 2006, to be exact). The interesting and entertaining account of her shedding 365 items can be found at A Year of Trash.

Back here in 2010, my “trashy thoughts” were reignited when Wise Women Laurie passed along a blurb from a personal organizer outlining ways to declutter. Below is the target list of things that can be tossed out, recycled, or given away.

I’ve highlighted in green the things I know should be exiled from my home. What’s in your home/office/car that just needs to GO?!?!?

Let go of:
All spice and most cooking supplies that are over a year old
T-shirts or ball caps that haven’t been worn in six months
Keys that you haven’t used for a year and don’t know what they unlock
Sheets, towels, and throw rugs with rips or stains or no longer fit current beds. (Hint: Your local animal shelter may be able to use them.)
Old or worn shoes that you do not wear
Half the books you have already read and half the books you have had for a year without reading
Jewelry and clothing that need to be mended
Any clothes you haven’t worn in a year or that do not fit
Kitchen utensils and serving pieces that you would be embarrassed to use if you were having the boss to dinner
Receipts, bills, and statements that are more than 16 months old
Your toothbrush after three months, and your bed pillows every year
Computer files and email
Old electronics like phones, computers, and monitors that can be recycled; anything electric that you don’t use.
Any magazine more than 2 months old; newspapers more than a week old
Any more than 2 plastic garden pots in each size, or no more than a shopping bag full of plastic grocery bags
All medicines and vitamins that are past their expiration dates, or that you have not taken for a month
Cosmetic and grooming products that are less than half full, or that you haven’t used in 2 months
While you are at it, weed out obligations; dump energy-sucking or stress-contagious friends and think seriously about banning that junk food. Once you get started, isn’t this simplification just so satisfying?

The Art of Living Solid

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions but in having few wants.”

~Esther de Waal, author and scholar

dinner-tableDuring this past month of January, our family ate dinner at home 30 of 31 nights. The exception was Mike’s birthday dinner at a steakhouse. For a family with menus from every restaurant within a 10-mile radius stuffed in our glove compartments (and who ever keeps gloves in there, anyway?), this streak is nothing short of miraculous.

When we sat down for dinner each cold and dark January night, I would announce the number of days we’d managed to refrain from take-out or dinner at a restaurant. “Day 17 of living solid,” I would intone (mimicking a SunTrust Bank ad campaign that’s on the air right now).

My kids have been less enamored with the vow to eat home more. I tried to make it more palatable by selling it as a pseudo-game, “Let’s see if we can make it through the whole month of January.” Not particularly impressed with that game, those kids. Then, last night, as I started to pull out pots and pans to prepare Tilapia fish, french fries and green beans (I mean, what’s not to like with that at-home menu?!?!), Caitlin frantically exclaimed, “It’s February 1st – we can eat out tonight!”

When I shared that we were keeping up the money- and calorie-saving resolve, she lost it. She lost it like only a 17-year old, tired-from-last night’s- sleepover, frustrated-because-she-can’t-understand-her-English-assignment, aspiring actress would lose it. It wasn’t pretty. She ended up choosing to not eat the dinner de  jour and dig out some pizza bagels from the freezer.

That’s OK. I was unfazed by the tantrum and her turning her nose up at the dinner I prepared. I will have my revenge satisfaction when tonight I declare, “Day 33 of living solid.”

“I do want to get rich but I never want to do what there is to do to get rich.”

~ Gertrude Stein, writer

BTW, both of the above thoughts were featured in the magazine Real Simple. You can sign up for a daily dose of simple wisdom by going to the site, scrolling to the bottom, and signing up for the Daily Thought newsletter.

“Waiter, I’ll Have What SHE’S Having”

when-harry-metI’m a pretty decisive person. For example, I’ve noticed that, 99% of the time at restaurants, I’m the first one to decide what to order, close the menu and put it aside. Others at my table take a few more minutes to peruse the choices, pose questions (“What are you going to order?”), and eventually choose. (And sometimes, that choice is up for debate up until (and even after!) the food is delivered.)

Now, maybe that’s not a fair example of my decisiveness as I love to eat and have no food allergies. But, I still think I lean toward the decisive-end of the continuum, something I was reminded of after thumbing through Suzy Welch’s new book, “10-10-10: A Life-Transforming Idea.” (How’s that for a long way to go to get to the point of today’s post? My apologies to those of you who read the title and thought I was going to share tips from the Kama Sutra.)

Welch’s premise is that life’s tough decisions should be analyzed through a 10-10-10 lens. Namely, as you wrestle with a problem, you ask yourself: What are the consequences of each option being considered – over the next 10 minutes? 10 months? 10 years? By tuning into the immediate-, short-, and long-term impact of the various choices, you allow the “right” decision (for you!) to bubble up to the top.

I had two reactions to this approach:

  1. Frustration/Envy. 10-10-10 seems like yet another example of a simple truth packaged in a new way and selling like hotcakes. Don’t even get me started on, “The Secret.” Darn that Suzy Welch. Why couldn’t Anne and I have come up with that catchy hook first?!?!?
  2. Curiosity. Hmmmm … Do I analyze decisions similarly? Certainly not at restaurants, where the first ’10′ dominates my thoughts (my satisfaction over the next 10 minutes). The latter, longer-term 10′s (impact on my waistline and overall health) are usually off my radar.

I’m more familiar with the decision-prompting question: “What would you do if you learned you only had 30 days to live?” This question (usually invoked for significant decisions) is designed to help people identify and make time for what’s most important to them.

My version is a tad more graphic: “If I were to be hit by a bus tomorrow, would I be satisfied with how my overall life was going?” You may laugh, but I truly imagine myself sitting up in Heaven either smiling with satisfaction or clucking with regret.

Now, for life-changing decisions, I still won’t make a snap decision after using this “rule.” Usually, I’m too ambivalent to immediately know the right path (true for even decisive people). But, I do know that, if I’m on the wrong path, I continue to see a regret-filled Elaine-in-Heaven and that image begins to haunt nudge me in a certain direction.

The problem is – that’s the Elaine I’ve been seeing lately … Sigh. I KNEW there was a reason I picked up that book. Darn that Suzy Welch …

“My Whole Life Is HAVE To”

steve-martin“My whole life is HAVE to,” says Steve Martin’s character in the 1989 movie Parenthood; he is lamenting all the responsibilities – wife, kids, parents, house, job – packed into his life.

When I catch that movie on TBS for the 12th or 88th time (some number in the double digits), I have various reactions to this scene. Sometimes I want to hit “Gil” upside the head and lecture him that all of these burdensome responsibilities he’s moaning about are what constitute life’s blessings. Other times I silently cheer him on and think, “You’re so right, Gil! Give yourself a break. Head for Tahiti for a week (or month, or year).”

I will confess that I’m experiencing a lot of Tahiti-fantasies myself lately.

More specifically, I mentally toss around the question, “What would it be like to do ONLY what I want for a day?” (In my wilder fantasies, I broaden this time frame out to a week or even a month.)

Other than the hours of 9 to 5 when I’m being paid to do someone else’s have-to’s, I would ignore others’ needs and do only what I wanted. No need-to’s, have-to’s, or shoulds. No driving anyone anywhere. No coming up with meal plans. No touching base with anyone simply because, “Uh oh, I haven’t talked to them in a while.” No blogging on Tuesdays and Thursdays. (I would blog, except it would be when I chose to post versus on a schedule.) No making doctors appointments for myself or anyone else.  (I could check my calendar and add dozens more tasks to this list, but I think you get my point.)

There are times when doing all the above things gives me immense satisfaction and a feeling of exhilaration. There are other times that I slog through my have-to’s and feel like I’m pushing a rock uphill.

For the last several years, I have indulged this fantasy of doing absolutely nothing for anybody on the day after Christmas. I call it PJ Day and, for the entire day on the 26th of December, I remain in pj’s, watch TV, read, eat leftovers, and completely ignore everybody. Really – I’ve got them trained to barely talk to me and they certainly know not to ask, “What’s for dinner?”

It’s heavenly.

But why should I have to wait until I’m utterly exhausted after the holiday whirlwind to take a break from juggling the needs of kids, spouse, dog, family, friends, neighbors and, oh, yes, my own needs. What would it be like to juggle only one ball – my ball – for more than just the day after Christmas?

And, why does this feel like such radical thinking and so utterly self-centered as I write this? Why do I feel the urge to justify and/or apologize for these thoughts?

How Busy Are You?

busy-beesI was in a colleague’s office the other day, and we were lamenting the stress we feel when our days are crammed with non-stop activity. She pulled a paperback off her bookshelf and loaned it to me, How Did I Get So Busy? The 28-Day Plan To Free Your Time, Reclaim Your Schedule, and Reconnect with What Matters Most by Valorie Burton.

The title immediately grabbed my attention because I regularly ask myself that rhetorical question: How did life go from 0 to 60 so quickly? Well, maybe not starting 0, more like 15-20 mph; and on some days I’m hitting 75-80 after saying ‘yes’ to the multitude of activities and people I enjoy.

Burton offers this series of questions to assess how busy you are.

I feel as though I’m constantly trying to catch up at work.

I feel as though I am constantly trying to catch up with personal responsibilities.

My life feels out of balance.

My breathing right now is shallow.

I am regularly late to appointments and scheduled activities.

There’s rarely a break in my schedule.

My shoulders are not relaxed right now.

I eat lunch at my desk at least once per week.

I sometimes work straight through lunch.

I have not had a vacation longer than seven days in the last year.

I have not gotten together with friends for fun and conversation in over a month.

Keeping up with household chores is a struggle because of time constraints.

I am dissatisfied with the amount of quality time I am able to spend with my spouse or significant other.

I am dissatisfied with the amount of quality time I am able to spend with my child.

I don’t take time to exercise.

I resent the things I do for family or friends because I have little or no time for myself.

The fuel light in my car has come on at some point in the last two months because I have not had time to fill it up.

My mail is piled up because I haven’t had time to open or sort it.

I have missed paying a bill on time in the last three months because I was too busy to notice the due date had passed.

I sometimes run out of socks, jeans, or other clothing items because I haven’t had time to do the laundry.

I don’t have time to write thank-you notes.

My to-do list rarely gets completely checked off for the day.

I work late more than once per week.

At least once per week, I skip meals because I am too busy.

Burton suggests that if you check off 6 or more of these statements you are “too busy” – 17 or more statements and you are “out of control.”

What do you think of her list? Where’s the line between being energized by your busyness or drained by it? And, if you checked off only a handful of these statements, are you feeling satisfied with your life?

Decked Out in Duct Tape for The Prom


What happens when you combine an industrious young man, an open-minded young woman and yards of duct tape? One-of-a-kind outfits for prom! This young man (along with friends and family who labored alongside him) crafted this colorful matching tux and dress.

Given the unique design, no need to worry about that “sticky” situation when another girl shows up with the exact same dress. Indeed, their fashion choice brings new meaning to the idea of “being attached at the hip.”  Can’t you just imagine them dancing together to Lionel Ritchie’s “Stuck On You?”

OK, OK, I’ll stop now. But, aren’t they terrific?!?!?

Prom Flashback

prom-golf-balls Over the weekend, I was zipping along a well-traveled road near my house when I saw a colorful, sandwich-board sign in the median.

“Jennifer. Prom? Stu.”

The invitation’s simplicity and boldness brought a smile to my face and warmed my heart. As I continued along, I caught the answer in my rear view mirror: “Stu, Yes!” painted on the back of the sign.

(I went back on Sunday morning to take a picture of the sign so you, too, could be nostalgic along with me, but, alas, the sign was gone. So, I found this equally creative, even if less high impact, invitation on the Web.)

To me, these sweet invitations invoke an era of days gone by, before the hyped pressure to be uber creative and over-the-top when asking a date to prom, a frenzy fueled by sites like Prom Spot, “the #1 prom planning site from The Knot.”

Of course, the sign also got me thinking about my own prom experience. I attended the requisite formal dances in both my junior and senior years (prom and senior dinner dance, respectively.) Both times, I went with guys who were more friends than love interests, and I have absolutely no idea how either guy asked me … or, even whether they asked me. (Although I think they must have because high schooler Elaine was not self-assured enough to ask a boy out.)

I had a fine time at both dances. I remember it was fun to dance and people-watch. But, I also remember feeling sadly deflated at the end of the night.

Back at home taking off the much-sought-after dress and climbing into bed, I realized that there was no more possibility that the prom fairy would sprinkle her magical fairy dust on me that night. It simply was not my turn for heart-stopping passion nor leg-popping kisses (the latter reference courtesy of Anne Hathaway in the movie “Princess Diaries”). Despite months of anticipation and teenage fantasies, prom night was just another night of hanging out with friends, notwithstanding the beautiful dress and balloon-filled ballroom.

Will Jennifer and Stu have different, more endearing prom memories to share in another 30 years? The romantic in me really hopes so. I guess those teenage dreams never die …

Dare I ask, how was YOUR prom night (regardless of whether you actually attended the dance)?

Making Connections – Easter Style

lynns-easter-egg-tree-003Coming off of Wednesday’s blog – A Brand New Day – I’ll have to share how my sister spent her 41st birthday last Saturday. This year she has vowed to take things more slowly, breathe in, and enjoy every moment – or at least a good number of them. This is one example of how she is executing her mission.

So together with her daughters and her two neighbors and their kids (because it’s always Better When We’re Together), they embarked on an afternoon project of creating an Easter Egg tree.  They blew out the eggs – first using an exacto knife to crack a small hole in each end, then stuck a thin piece of wire (or paperclip) in to break up the yolk.

Following Martha Stewart’s lead on how to decoupage the eggs (click here for directions) – they all created beautiful eggs to hang on their Easter Egg Tree of forsythia branches – just starting to bloom.  So a delightful afternoon was had by all – a beautiful decoration created for Easter, and fun family and friend time spent together. 

It’s a Brand New Day

rise07212007sizedYesterday may have been a great day for some; it was probably an awful day for others.  Probably for most of us, it was a hectic day….because that’s just how we all lead our lives.  This blog takes just a little time out to reflect on what is right and good in our lives – and how we must recognize it and honor it.  And remember that tomorrow is always a brand new day.  If you haven’t come across the latest song by Joshua Radin, here it is, and appropriately called Brand New Day.  It is one of my current favorites.

Listen to this song as you read the rest of this blog, as it goes so well with some prose a friend sent along.  Yes, it’s one of those emails that gets circulated to many, but these sentiments are worth sharing, just in case you haven’t seen it:

Too many people put off something that brings them joy just because they haven’t thought about it, don’t have it on their schedule, didn’t know it was coming or are too rigid to depart from their routine.

I got to thinking one day about all those women on the Titanic who passed up dessert at dinner that fateful night in an effort to cut back.  From then on, I’ve tried to be a little more flexible.

How many women out there will eat at home because their husband didn’t suggest going out to dinner until after something had been thawed?  Does the word ‘refrigeration’ mean nothing to you?

How often have your kids dropped in to talk and sat in silence while you watched ‘Jeopardy‘ on television?

I cannot count the times I called my sister and said, ‘How about going to lunch in a half hour?’  She would gas up and stammer, ‘I can’t. I have clothes on the line.  My hair is dirty.  I wish I had known yesterday, I had a late breakfast, It looks like rain.’  And my personal favorite:  ’It’s Monday.’ She died a few years ago. We never did have lunch together.

Because Americans cram so much into their lives, we tend to schedule our headaches.  We live on a sparse diet of promises we make to ourselves when all the conditions are perfect!

We’ll go back and visit the grandparents when we get Steve toilet-trained.  We’ll entertain when we replace the living-room carpet…   We’ll go on a second honeymoon when we get two more kids out of college.

Life has a way of accelerating as we get older.  The days get shorter, and the list of promises to ourselves gets longer. One morning, we awaken, and all we have to show for our lives is a litany of ‘I’m going to,’ ‘I plan on,’ and ‘Someday, when things are settled down a bit.’

When anyone calls my ‘seize the moment’ friend, she is open to adventure and available for trips.  She keeps an open mind on new ideas.  Her enthusiasm for life is contagious.  You talk with her for five minutes, and you’re ready to trade your bad feet for a pair of Roller blades and skip an elevator for a bungee cord..

My lips have not touched ice cream in 10 years.  I love ice cream.  It’s just that I might as well apply it directly to my stomach with a spatula and eliminate the digestive process  The other day, I stopped the car and bought a triple-Decker. If my car had hit an iceberg on the way home, I would have died happy.

Now…go on and have a nice day.  Do something you WANT to……not something on your SHOULD DO list. If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say?  And why are you waiting?

Have you ever watched kids playing on a merry go round or listened to the rain lapping on the ground?  Ever followed a butter fly’s erratic flight or gazed at the sun into the fading night? Do you run through each day on the fly?  When you ask ‘ How are you?’  Do you hear the reply?

When the day is done, do you lie in your bed with the next hundred chores running through your head?  Ever told your child, ‘We’ll do it tomorrow.’  And in your haste, not see his sorrow? Ever lost touch?  Let a good friendship die?  Just call to say ‘Hi?

When you worry and hurry through your day, it is like an unopened gift….Thrown away….. Life is not a race. Take it slower.  Hear the music before the song is over.


The secret of joy in work is contained in one word - excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.
Pearl S. Buck

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