Monday, November 23, 2015

Retail Therapy


                  I first heard this phrase--Retail Therapy--while on vacation in New Zealand, maybe ten years ago.   The meaning was explained to me as shopping to cheer yourself up, to make yourself feel better.  I suppose the phrase is somewhat self-explanatory.   And people do engage in this behaviour, some more than others.   

      I don't go to shopping malls much anymore.   Somehow the endless trudging under artificial lights, burden down by my outside coat becomes tedious before much time has elapsed.   I must also admit that as I became older, the models in the clothing store windows no longer reflected me in style, size or appearance.   That didn't help.    Nor did the changing room mirror should I venture to try on a garment.

      I do recall the pleasure, almost a thrill, of finding the perfect item, preferably at a perfect price.   Waiting in line only enhanced the anticipation.   I suppose the height of pleasure came when the item was wrapped in tissue and placed in the store shopping bag.   You'll noticed I skipped over the part about paying.

     I used to have the habit of purchasing clothing for the lifestyle I thought I had, or perhaps wanted to have.    Maybe it was the one reflected in the women's fashion magazines so widely available.   Hung in my closet the item might wait anxiously for some time, longing for just the right occasion to be debuted.   I might even receive the credit card bill before I'd even enjoyed the admiring comments that I secretly expected would occur.    I would pay the bill right away to remove the connection between expense and the garment.   Too gauche to consider money where such loveliness was concerned.

     But hanging in my closet with the clothing that received regular rotation, some of the bloom dissipated from the rose.   Perhaps, just perhaps the outfit wasn't me, a little voice whispered.   It was still lovely--wasn't it? But it wasn't quite me.   Could I change myself to be more like the outfit?   Would my lifestyle be upgraded in the near future?

       After a year I was forced to face reality.   I had worn the item three times and I'd had to make myself do it.   Yes, there had been a couple of compliments but had they been preceded by a raised eyebrow?   It was true the fuchsia tone was a shade on the bright side.   Yes, I loved fuchsia but realistically, in smaller doses.   I forced myself to face reality.   Navy blue would have been more useful;  I wasn't comfortable with the attention a bright colour could attract in winter.

     That was the bitter truth:   Retail therapy, despite the negative affect on my wallet, had not delivered long term happiness.   But there was a treatment, if not a cure.    The outfit was placed at the back of my closet where it could no longer laugh at my foibles on a regular basis.

Monday, November 16, 2015


A Spork

I've heard about travelling lightly and I'm a big proponent of carry-on only travel, even before airlines starting charging exhorbitant amounts to check a suitcase.   But I haven't considered living in the same way.   Leo Babauta who writes on Zen Habits is trying this out as a lifestyle change.   It seems he travelled for almost a month with one modest sized back pack and enjoyed the benefits so much he is going to try it at home.  As a life style counsellor of sorts he may feel he should test out things before recommending them.   I have always enjoyed reading Zen Habits so I never dismiss Mr. Babauta out of hand.  

One bag living  would mean a minimum amount of clothes, hand washed daily, one set of eating supplies, and  stringent limits on anything else that smooths daily life.   It is true that those folks who have an iPhone or equivalent Smart phone encompassing a computer, camera, telephone and GPS in one, not to mention Apps for just about anything you might imagine, manage to limit their technological baggage considerably.

Now that I am planning, and definitely not anticipating, moving house in 2016 I can't help but regard with  a mixture of scorn and regret all the things I have accumulated.   I was grateful to read that Mr. Babauta does allow himself--and his family--the luxury of furniture.   Too bad, that is the most difficult and expensive to move.   Denying himself a second spoon or fork means he would have to get up to wash off said spoon if a meal included both soup and ice cream.   But Leo is a vegan so ice cream wouldn't be on his menu anyway.  But I have a suggestion Leo may not have considered:   A spork!

Monday, November 9, 2015

You get what you pay for?

I've written before about not being a fan of free books (except for the library, of course).   Some/many writers disagree with me.   Those who find it is successful in increasing sales/adding readers say it works best when the first book in a series is free.   Kind of like the first shoe in a pair is free.  (I'm joking!)  Writers are sincere in their belief that it is unfair to ask readers to take a chance on an unknown (to them) writer.   Free takes away the fear.

With the new (as of this summer) subscription system at Amazon, writers sign up to have their e-books exclusively published on Amazon.   Paperback or hardcover books can be published/distributed widely.  Books in the Kindle Unlimited library (KU) can be borrowed by subscribers and authors are paid a varying amount based upon pages read.   I believe the present renumeration is $.0053 per page. 

On this blog  author Andrew Updegrove gives a lot of detail (probably more than most readers care to wade through) about the results he obtained with a recent free promotion where he made his books free for a period of time, presumably the maximum of 5 days.   The goal was to obtain follow up sales and some book reviews, hopefully favourable, or at least not lose money on the venture.   Judge for yourself if he was successful.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Lottery tickets

     I'm old enough to remember when gambling was illegal.   The only lottery available was the Irish Sweepstakes, based on a horse race in Ireland.   You had to know somebody, who knew somebody to be able to purchase a ticket.  It all seemed deliciously semi-illegal.  The winnings were something around $135,000, an enormous sum in those days.  We could while away some hours, planning the best use from homes to cars to vacations to renovations.   

     While the goals for the funds have remained static, the methods of potentially obtaining them have not.    At some point the governments realized that gambling could be  a source of revenue for them.   What had previously been the purview of religious and charitable organizations could increase government coffers.  No more poker parties in someone's garage or surreptitiously purchased tickets;  casinos, on-line poker, bingo and lottery tickets became an important adjunct to government coffers.   Occasional trips to Las Vegas became weekly bus trips to the local slot machine heaven.

     I've read that your chance of winning a lottery ticket is as likely as being eaten by a shark or struck by lightning, fates I would prefer to avoid.  Some people seem to mess up no matter what.  But, as the ads state, someone has to win and you can't win if you don't play.  I've also read that a substantial percentage of people figure winning the lottery into their retirement plans.  The financial community has rebutted this, demonstrating calculations that indicate that the same $5 a week you invest in lottery tickets could provide you with a substantial windfall of your own after 20 years or so.

     My father used to buy a one dollar ticket twice a week on the federal lottery.   But at least he did it thoughtfully.   When the jackpot exceeded a pre-determined amount, he would refrain from buying a ticket.    His reasoning was that while a million or two could be divvied up and spent thoughtfully, $20 million would change things too much.   I don't know if he thought his children would end up lounging  their lives away on a tropical beach or in a downtown flophouse in a drug induced stupor.   Probably not that extreme.   More likely, he knew that too much money could be as much of a problem as too little.

     I related this to my daughter, who was delighted to offer a quote she had heard:  "I know money can't buy happiness, but it will do until happiness comes along."   I think she was only teasing!

Monday, October 26, 2015



Food.   We need it to survive but it's about far more than survival.  Food has psychological overtones, cultural ramifications not to mention political messages.   At a basic level,  we think it shows love.  Most of us buy it at the supermarket or maybe farmers' market.   We expect a wide variety of  nutritious and even unblemished produce to await us.  A few talented individuals grow their own.

Ireland's infamous potato famine came from a crop that did not originate in Ireland.   Potatoes were imported to Ireland  from the New World, aka North America, yet  the humble potato became a symbol of Ireland.  Reliance on monocrop led to disaster when the potato blight struck.

Going back millions of years,  misconceptions about hunter and gatherers--the first human cultures--are entrenched in our belief system.  Their lives did not simply involve wandering around a verdant paradise picking nuts off trees and hunting woolly mammoths.   We assume that the women collected and the men hunted.   But the traditional male and female roles we assign to that era originate in our own belief systems.   But there's no proof of this.  This way of life continued for almost two million years,  perhaps, in part, because hunter/gatherers could pick up and leave for more abundant resources over the hill.  

But their lives were more complicated.   There were social connections among groups, including trade.  Although we think that there must have been a lot of hungry hunter/gatherers waiting for the next herd to pass by, in reality they had more security than the next phase of human evolution, the agriculturalists.  Agriculturalists stayed put and were at the mercy of crop failure, insects, weather, soil degradation, not to mention enemy incursions.  Famine happened to agricultural societies.  This way of life  only started about ten thousand years ago and slowly spread to other areas of the world.

Hunter/gatherers thrived because of their limited numbers.    Some people today fish and even hunt but it wouldn't be possible on a large scale today.      We need organized, mechanized food production to even attempt to feed seven billion plus people.   Some people aren't happy with factory farming methods, pesticide and herbicide use, irradiation and genetic modification.

Is there another solution in the wings?

Monday, October 19, 2015

This Sounds Familiar

  This article in the Huffington Post concerns a man who had an embedded chip in his hand.  It seems relevant to my novel, A New Premise.  Here's an excerpt:

      Alexa remembered the old days when people used money: the paper and coins or plastic cards.   People had different amounts of money at their disposal and could save it up and spend it however and whenever they wanted . . . and wherever.  Workers were paid different amounts depending on their education and experience as well as the job.  Now, the government set wages and salaries and controlled rents and interest rates. Everyone received a base amount, an allotment.   Saving money, or hoarding, as it was now described, was not allowed.  Describing how things used to be sounded unbelievable now but Alexa knew well that was the way it had been.

      Nine years ago everything changed.    Alexa had been twenty-eight years old; a special year because Max had been born.   She still had high hopes of her marriage to Jack.  Then terrorists had flooded the world with money and cards that were fake but indistinguishable from the real thing.   Not coins though; they were too expensive to manufacture, apparently.   She had thought it ironic that while elaborate preparations had been made against missiles and other weapons, a different type of destruction was being secretly planned. 

      The terrorist’s cards and bills could somehow be used to obtain unlimited amounts of money without detection.   Everything was chaotic.  Banks closed.  Stores would only take silver or gold coins; who had any of those lying around?   Some would take smaller coins, half dollars and dollar coins, the older pennies, nickels and dimes been phased out although lots of people had a jar of pennies somewhere.  But not much could be purchased with them.   Most people could barely get together enough of them to buy a loaf of bread.  

     Then came the riots.  Many people were killed or just disappeared.  Stores and businesses lost millions, billions of credits or dollars as the money was called then.    When the government came up with the idea of the implanted microchip or grain as it came to be called, it seemed the best solution.  It was supposed to be a temporary solution.  People were desperate for someone to take charge and fix the situation.

     Alexa remembered her mother’s scathing remarks that it used to be that only the family dog had an implanted microchip but her father had shaken his head at her and that had ended the conversation.  Everyone was afraid, even afraid to speak.

      I'm going to start putting  up excerpts from my novels, especially when it is relevant to a current issue. 

Monday, October 12, 2015


From a prompt at my Writers' Group:

Remembering can be a lovely, warm, cozy pastime, even when it is a solitary one.  You sit in an easy chair, mug of tea or coffee close  at hand, and let your mind wander back to some half-forgotten event or unexpected pleasure.   The sun always seemed to be shining and in your mind's eye, any images of yourself had you at your most radiant and slender.

With a close friend or relative, with whom you are on amiable terms. time spent in mutual reminiscences can be equally pleasurable.    You usually recall events slightly differently and then there are the delicious tidbits of gossip which can be enjoyed without guilt since the event is by now long past.

Less pleasant are the remembrances that are tinged with regret or recriminations.   You recall when a lover, now a spouse, forgot to bring you flowers for an important relationship milestone or when an adoring child, now a mostly absent adult, declared that you were the bestest mom in the world.  Some  other memories can still bring waves of grief that leave you shaking.

Perhaps it is advisable to cultivate those memories that bring you joy and as for the rest, pack them away with the now too small dresses  and company dishes that need to be hand washed before and after each use.  Focus on the memories, not the regrets.