Sep 30, 2009

You Can't Give What You Don't Have

Remember the old TV show "Let's Make a Deal"? Monty Hall would say to a lady in the audience, "I'll give you fifty dollars if you have a hard boiled egg in your purse." Sure enough, the exuberant lady would pull out the egg and collect her cool fifty. She came prepared. She had watched the show often enough to know what kinds of things Monty was likely to request.

We can only give what we have.

Had the lady not brought along the egg, she could not have presented it at the appointed time. Ok, thanks, Captain Obvious. What has this got to do with anything? It's about relationships.

Miserable people give away their misery. If you don't have joy, you can't give joy. If you only have misery, then that's the only item in your "bag." Do you wonder why some people leave you feeling drained every time you're near them? Misery drains your energy. It's hard to keep people propped up all the time. Maybe you'd be doing them a favor to let them prop themselves up once in a while.

Joy comes from giving & serving others.

When you get out of yourself and start living for others you build joy in your heart. Only when you have it then are you able to give it away. Forgive the ones who spread misery. They can only give what they have. Maybe you can share with them the secret to having the joy they need, instead of propping them up.

To whom are you gong to bring joy today?

Sep 29, 2009

Rebate Card Ripoffs

The first rule of Financial Literacy is (are you taking notes?):

Everyone wants your money.

We got some new cell phones last summer. The advertised price was "after rebate" because if they told you that you'd have to front the money, you might not want to buy such a costly phone. So let's say you really like the phone and you agree to the after-rebate price.

Now the fun begins.

The sales representatives gives you reams of paperwork to turn in to get your rebate. You dutifully cut the box apart to send in the code printed on the side. You send in forms, receipts, etc. and now... you wait. Weeks later you get a text message on you phone saying they received your forms. Weeks later still, you get a message saying your rebate is on the way.

On that fateful day, you go to your mailbox to find.... cards? What?

Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. You don't really get a rebate, you get a prepaid Visa card that is supposedly good at any merchant who takes Visa. When it's activated. What?

Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. You will get instructions with the card that you have to phone a toll-free number to activate your card. Furthermore, you have to know the last 4 digits of the cell phone number to which this card is issued. They'll give you a hint: the last digit.

Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. If you buy more than one cell phone, be sure that the phone numbers do not end in the same digit. If they do, how will you know which cell phone digits to use to activate which "rebate" card?

Maybe you're a lucky guesser.

And maybe you'll be lucky at the checkout at Walmart, and get a clerk who actually knows how to redeem these dumb things for your purchase. If your card is less than the purchase amount, good luck.

Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. You are responsible for knowing how much (to the penny) is on your card. If you have forty-two cents on your card, you have to tell the clerk "I have forty-two cents on this card" so she can program in the forty-two cents to deduct it from what you now owe. Hope she figures it out before the card expires.

Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. AT&T secretly hopes that you'll give up in frustration without redeeming the full amount of your card, because if you let it expire (120 days) before you figure it out, they get to keep the money.


Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. Canada doesn't even let AT&T use them. They get checks. Wish our lawmakers were looking out for us as well. Good luck with that.

Everyone wants your money.

Who are you going to hold accountable today?

Sep 23, 2009

Teens & Jobs

Talking to teens today. All others, listen in if you want.

We all wish our parents had that "magic money tree" growing in the back yard, but the fact is, most teens have jobs to support their lifestyle. Wearing a hairnet & nametag may not be your career goal, but it is a first step in the working world. It builds character, and gets your foot in the door.

Teen unemployment is the highest it's been in 60 years. Have you applied for a job and then wondered why you never heard back? There may be some valid reasons besides the economy. Consider these pointers.

1. Timing

If you are applying for a job at any kind of restaurant, do NOT disturb them during their lunch & dinner rush hours. A good time might be 2-4 p.m. when they have time to speak to you. If a store sells clothing, Saturday afternoons are dreadfully busy. Try Tuesday mornings instead. If you must go in on a weekend, try to arrive within the first hour they are open.

2. Dress

What do you look like when you walk in? Do you dress smartly, as one who would well-represent the company? Or do you look like the creature from the Goth Lagoon? If a store sells clothes, they want a sales staff who has some sense of fashion. Banks and law firms sell "confidence" and so do not want tattoos and piercings. If you're applying for a job detassling corn, at least wear the clean jeans without holes in them.

3. Resume

Have a resume with you, even if the company doesn't ask for it. You can always offer to leave it with them in case there are openings in the future. Be sure to have all the names, address, and phone numbers of all your personal and professional references with you, so that you aren't phoning home every 5 minutes.

4. Mom

Speaking of phoning home, leave Mom at home. When I see helicopter moms helping their offspring fill out an application, I know they mean well. But I also wonder if Mom is going to be there every day to help Junior do the job, too.

5. Gratitude

If you are granted a moment to speak to the manager, remember that he is doing you a favor. Shake his hand (no dead fish - practice a firm, but not bone-breaking, shake). Thank him for his time. Good manners will take you a long way. If you are called in for a formal interview, be sure to get the manager's name (& correct spelling) so that you can follow up with a brief thank you note when you get home. No, not an email, not a text message. I'm talking about a real hand-written note of thanks for his consideration, in an envelope, with a 44 cent stamp, delivered by the US Postal Service.

Thoughtful people are always in demand. Going the extra mile is the edge you need in this economy.

6. Electronic applications

These are a bit trickier, as you don't have the opportunity online to impress anyone with your warm smile and firm (but not bone-breaking) handshake. The best thing you can do for this kind of application is spell everything correctly, and don't leave blanks. If the application includes psychological testing questions, be your best (human) self. There might be a question like "Have you ever been tempted to steal..." and if you say "no" they'll know you're a liar. So yes, it's ok to be truthful on these tests. Also, pay attention to duplicate questions. They may ask the same question (worded slightly differently) more than once, just to see if you'll answer it the same way. Again, if your answers don't match, you're a liar.

I always tell the truth. If their computer doesn't like me the way I am, then this is not a job I'd be happy in for long. I'd rather work for a human who shakes my hand without breaking bones, anyway. That "good manners" thing works both ways, you know. Good luck.

Whom will you impress with your good manners and thoughtfulness today?

Sep 22, 2009

Textbooks – What a Racket!

At one particular parochial school, parents are required to buy textbooks for their children. New textbooks run about $75 from the school office, but Amazon usually has used ones for about one-fourth of that price.

One mom searched Amazon for a 3-year old Math textbook for her son. There weren’t any available for less than $60 - used! I suppose the seller thought it was a case of supply and demand. If we think you MUST have this book, you’ll pay what we ask.

Smart Mom said “Oh, yeah?”

She searched a little more and found Glencoe’s Mathematics: Applications and Concepts - Course 1 in the Florida edition instead of the Alabama. They look the same on the cover except the tiny state outline in the corner. Why would Florida children be required to learn different math concepts than Alabama’s children? For a 75% discount, it was worth the risk of finding out.

She ordered the Florida book.

When it arrived, she compared it to an Alabama version, and found a few differences. The operative word is “few.” At the beginning of the book, there are pages thanking that state’s “contributors,” some pages on preparing for the state’s achievement test, and some pages aligning the concepts in the book with the respective state’s standards. That’s it.

By the time you reach page 1, there is no difference!

Glencoe publishes identical books for two states (or maybe 50 for all we know) with a slightly different cover and a dozen pages of state-specific information before Chapter One ever begins. From page 1 to page 679, the student will be on the same page as his peers, with a book that, bought used, will help his family buy groceries for another week.

What a racket.

Moral of the story: don’t let the school tell you what you have to have, unless they are willing to buy it for you. Don’t get sucked into paying too much for textbooks. The publishers are laughing all the way to the bank. Mom saving $45 for an extra 5 minutes of research proved a good use of her time.

Be smart. Shop around.

On what purchase are you going to compare prices today?

Sep 21, 2009


There was a weird sun-rain today. That's when the sun is shining and yet it's raining. While waiting at a stoplight, I saw a most amazing double rainbow. If you look above the first rainbow, you'll see another one, which reflects the first.

As if the rainbow were not impressive enough, how incredible is the technology that allowed me to snap a photo of it on my cell phone, and send it wirelessly to my computer at home?

Suppose the only things you had tomorrow were the things you are grateful for today?

For what (and whom) are you giving thanks today?

Sep 19, 2009

Beautiful Distractions

I taught a Vacation Bible School class years ago that, simply by chance, turned out to be a class of boys. We used drama to memorize our verses. We used action to play out the Scripture. We charged from one station to the next like the good Christian Soldiers that we were.

The pencils maintained their pristine points, while the workbooks gathered dust on the table.

If I'd had ONE girl in that class, I could not have taught the same way. We'd have had to do the workbooks at some point. I was so grateful to be able to reach & teach the boys without workbooks.

William Campbell Douglass II, M.D. has a newsletter about common sense medicine. He talks about the distraction that pretty women pose to men in academic (or other) settings. Here's what he says:

Their drop-dead good looks make our minds turn to mush.

When I had a few moments free from the distractions of the pretty women in my life, I read about a study in the Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology that looked at how these women damage our thinking.

The study asked men to perform a simple memory test. Then, they repeated the test after talking to other men, and talking to beautiful women. What they found was unsurprising: The more attractive the woman, the worse they did on that test.

Women, on the other hand, performed about the same on their tests no matter who they spoke to, proving once again that whoever called them the weaker sex was probably weak in the head.
Single gender classrooms work.

A respected medical journal verifies what my experience teaching all-girls, all-boys, and mixed classes has long ago taught me. "Male and female He created them." They do not think alike. I'm thankful for the differences. And I'm thankful for this information because every time there's a single gender class to teach, my hand is going up fast.

How are you going to use your knowledge to help someone today?

Sep 16, 2009

School Fundraisers

Here they come again - the neighborhood children with fliers of products for them to sell around the neighborhood. You've seen them: cheesecakes, wrapping paper, soup mix, so on. The schools are in a pinch. I buy their stuff. I support my schools, and my neighborhood kids. But $10 wrapping paper is getting old. Gift bags (reusable) are more eco-friendly. And I've tasted that cheesecake. Sorry - um, no thanks.

Here's a cool idea I read about here:

This fundraiser has almost no overhead. You get a LaZBoy recliner donated (out of somebody's basement) for a day. You sell raffle tickets (this site said 25 cents, I'm thinking a dollar) and if your name is drawn, you get to sit in the recliner during each of your classes. The Student Council (or whatever group is doing the fundraiser) members put the chair in your first period class. After class, they come and move the chair to your second period class, and so on.

What kid would not love this?

Most middle and high schoolers I know have a dollar to spare, and every one of them would take this chance. The best part? Money is raised for a good cause, kids are spending their own money, not Mom's, and I don't have to eat nasty cheesecake that will go straight to my hips, nor wrap Christmas gifts with paper that will be out to the trash on Dec 26.

Wrapping paper - $10
Cheesecake - $14
The memories (and yearbook photos) of "LaZBoy Day?" Priceless.

How are you going to help your school raise funds today?

Sep 14, 2009

Isn't That Special?

A friend of mine is considering changing her children's school, because they won't let her daughter have her cell phone on an overnight retreat. The child has medical issues, and the mom wants to be sure the daughter can reach her.

I completely understand the school's policy. This is a Christian school, and the retreat is a religious experience. Texting your friends will not add to your spiritual growth. I completely understand the mom. "The policy is 'stupid' because my child has needs that other children don't have." Well, ok, I don't agree the policy is stupid. I agree that Mom might have a legitimate concern.

Her child is special.

I don't mean that in the Olympic sense of the word. I mean it as, "no one loves my child more than I do, and the lioness claws come out if I think my child needs defending." My children are special, too. I'm guilty of defending them. Every mom is. That's why kids have moms - to speak for the voiceless, to defend the young. It's a great system.

Changing schools is not the answer.

Every school is going to have a policy you don't like. Until you've met the other 29 kids in your child's class without health issues and seen what they do with cellphones that do not add to their spiritual growth, you would not appreciate the school's policy. It's not pretty.
Teens across the country are being charged with child pornography for sending inappropriate photos from their cell phones, and lives are being destroyed because of bad choices made by immature teens.

So you can't blame the school for having a policy. What you can do is sit down with the principal and find out what your other options are. Can an adult keep possession of the girl's phone during the retreat? Can the girl use an adult's phone to check in a couple of times each day to say "Hi it's me nothing's wrong" ? Can she skip the retreat and do an alternate assignment like a project, report, or essay?

Schools and parents are never going to agree on everything. It's because each side has information that the other doesn't.

Share the information. It can only help the kids. Especially the special ones.

Who are you going to (nicely) defend today?

Sep 12, 2009

Achievement Tests

When I was in lower grades, we used to take what were called "achievement tests." They were computer graded tests (bring two sharpened number 2 pencils, fill in the bubble) that were designed to assess your achievement. What have you learned? How do you and your school rank nationally? The teachers stressed the importance of doing our best and following directions exactly, because these were important tests. And yes, they are. Achievement is good.

Reaching a goal rocks.

My boys played soccer. Each year after the awards banquet, they'd come home with some sort of trophy. Up it went on the shelf for Mom to dust. As I dusted the trophies, I felt bad that I didn't have much pride in them. They didn't represent anything more than attendance. You show up, you get a trophy. Big deal. A trophy should represent an achievement, otherwise it's just a piece of plastic gathering dust on your shelf.

A certain athlete is alleged to have used steroids to beat another athlete's record. I can't say if he did or did not use steroids, but if he did, then he knows in his heart that his trophy is worthless. Steroids are cheating. Or put the steroids-users against other steroids-users, and the non-users against the non-users. At least that levels the playing field.

How would you feel if your teenager bragged about beating a 6-year old in chess? Where's the competition? What has he achieved?

Which brings us back to the first point. I remember being quite proud of my scores on the achievement tests. My children derive a great deal of self-esteem when they master some academic material, or reach a goal.

No one has to "teach" them to feel good about it. Self esteem is derived from mastery.

I've never won a trophy. I don't want one, either, unless it represents an achievement. I don't need more plastic to dust.

Who are you going to encourage to achieve today?

Sep 11, 2009

Can You Hear Me Now?

A while back, I had some really good news. It had been a long time since this had last happened, so I was pretty pumped. I ran into a former friend of mine at the post office, and greeted her warmly and shared my good news - I was sure she'd want my life's update. Well, she was polite, but that's about it. She left abruptly.

I pondered this all the way home. Was she mad at me? Did I say something wrong?
Yeah, I did. I should have asked how she was doing. In my excitement about my news, I forgot that maybe she had news, too. I recalled times when people told me all the great things going on in their life, and my envy prevented me from sharing their joy. Maybe my friend has recently gotten some bad news that she needed to share, but didn't feel comfortable popping my bubble.

Then I remembered other times when my feelings were hurt by well-meaning friends. Do the friends even know how much they hurt me? Probably not. And I didn't, at the time, realize that I was probably hurting my friend at the post office. Only later did I think that it was even possible.

Next time I run into a friend or used-to-be friend, I'm going to be purposeful about talking less and listening more.

The world does not need someone to talk; it needs someone to listen.

To whom are you going to really listen today?

Sep 10, 2009

Mother Guilt & Personal Responsibility

As a mother, I'm inclined to take the blame for everything that's wrong in my family's world. You're cold? Let me get you a sweater and fix hot cocoa. You're hungry? Here's some food. From the time they are infants, moms are programmed to respond to their needs. If Mom is smart, there comes a point where she must allow them the privilege of taking responsibility for fixing their own problems. It's tough to let go, though, because I can do things better and faster.

They might make a mess, but they'll also learn how to fix a sandwich.

There is a policy in my house: I only wash the clothing that is in the laundry room. That makes sense, of course, since that's where the washer is. However, it doesn't stop children from complaining that the item of clothing left under their bed is not clean and ready to wear when they want it.

I suppose it's easier (although childish) for them to complain than to discipline themselves to keep their clothing where it belongs.

Then there is the inevitable frustration of clothing that found its way in the laundry room too late for the last load. When I hear "I need this RIGHT NOW and it's not clean!" then I have to take a deep breath and realize that this could easily turn into a "I'm so sorry, what can I do to make you happy" guilt fest, or a shouting match. One of us has to be the grown up. So I say something like, "Let me get this straight: I failed to read your mind, and now you're angry?" This usually buys me time as they puzzle through what I just said. My point, though, often comes through: if you want something, tell me. If I can help you, I will. If I think you need to help yourself, I'll make that clear, too.

Don't allow yourself to be bullied by people who want you to do what they should be doing, by those who expect you to read their minds, or by those who want to absolve themselves of guilt by putting it on you. You have enough problems of your own - don't take on those of others.

Who are you going to teach to be self-sufficient today?

Sep 9, 2009

Spend it Before You Leave, Please!

I worked at Kmart in the late 70s. They paid us in cash. Yes, cash. We'd go, one at a time, into the Personnel Manager's office. She and a store Assistant Manager were there. She'd hand you an envelope with your cash, and ask you to count it before you leave, to verify you were paid correctly. The flap of the envelope documented your hours, pay, and deductions.

As you can probably guess, more than a little of that cash stayed behind at the store before we left for the day. I need peanut butter, I have cash... it follows.

What a great sales strategy for them. Had they given us a payroll check, and we took it to the bank, cashed or deposited it, then came back to the store to spend our hard-earned wages, some of those dollars might get spent elsewhere in the meantime.

Since bank accounts are free in many places, there's no excuse not to have one, but let's say you don't have an account. There are places that will cash your payroll check, such as Walmart, and your local bartender. If he knows you, and your boss.

Chances are not good that your company will cash your payroll check.

Today, you don't get a check any more. If you don't have a bank account for direct deposit, (which is required for government jobs and probably some others) then you get a debit card with the money "pre-loaded." It's all electronic, electrons bumping into other electrons as the so-called money "moves" from the company's account to the employee's.

We're back to the Kmart opti0n now, aren't we? I have a debit card with funds loaded. I think I'll swipe-swipe my little card at the checkout as I pick up peanut butter on my way out the door...

We've come full circle.

Now instead of spending our cash before we leave, we're swiping our debit card before we leave. Careful. It's easy to get "spendy" on payday. Especially when it doesn't look like money.

On what are you spending your hard earned money today?

Sep 7, 2009

I Was Always on My Mind

The road to hell... as they say.

I heard Kevin Skinner on "America's Got Talent" (love him!!!) sing an old Willie Nelson tune. The lyrics are something like, "Little things I should have said and done, I just never took the time. But you were always on my mind..." No I wasn't. YOU were always on your mind.

Love compels to action.

If you are thinking fondly of someone, yet fail to communicate that thought, you may as well never had it at all. How hard is it to pick up the phone & say, "Hey, I was thinking about you - how are you doin'?"

Do you know how much joy you can bring to someone for a mere 44 cents? Let me clue you in: many elderly people are probably not on SMS, email, Twitter, Facebook, or Linked In. They do, however, go to their physical mailbox each day. If you see a funny cartoon that reminds you of your 5th grade teacher, cut it out, drop it in an envelope (with or without a note) and send it on its way. Took you all of a minute and a 44 cent stamp, to bring untold joy to another.

What a bargain!

I know couples who have been married 50+ years. How does that happen? By being generous of time and action. You do for each other, you give your time, your attention, and all those acts of love daily: fix coffee, pick up socks, laugh as his or her jokes, send a text message saying "Thanks for being mine," bring home a single flower, help with the dishes... It's not a big deal; it's a thousand little ones. You don't stay married by being selfish. Two selfish people can barely stay married 6 months. For God so loved the world that he gave.

Love = giving.

You have to give to be happy. It's an essential ingredient in marriage, the secret for positive relationships and successful families.

Who is on your mind today?

Sep 2, 2009

Move, or Get Run Over! Technology in Education

I saw an advertisement for a slide rule today. The ad made me laugh. "Bow down," it said, "to the original pocket calculator." Yeah, they helped guys in the 60s get other guys to the moon. But I didn't go to high school in the 60s. I went to high school in the groovy 70s where digital LCD electronics were just becoming popular. We joked about a classmate of ours who was age 18 and still a sophomore. We snorted that he must have had a "digital class ring": Class of 76, class of 77, nope, better make that 78...

At the dawn of the digital age, calculators were still very expensive and couldn't do much beyond the basic 4 functions. And yet our teacher was trying to teach us the slide rule. I saw the future and refused to be restricted by the past. I refused to learn it, period. I got a 34 on the math portion of my ACT without a calculator nor slide rule. I did not see the need to learn abacus, either, thankyouverymuch.

Turns out I was right.

I agree with the educator who said (tongue in cheek) that any teacher who spends education money on maps & globes needs to be shot. This is the digital age, the web 2.0 age, the era where the internet has the information you need, and can locate it faster & more efficiently than kids spinning a globe. Some educators feel that learning 50 state capitals is useless, as one can easily look them up. Well, memorization is not a bad skill, but when it comes to actually finding Montgomery on an Alabama map, well, Google Maps beats kid-with-Rand-McNally hands down.

I like chalk boards and white boards, but Promethean boards are engaging and interactive. The students, who grew up on PlayStation, X-Box, and Wii, have remotes that let them "vote" or select an answer, and the teacher can see at once who voted and who did not, and who does and doesn't understand the concept. It's the same lesson, only in a language that students understand.

Let's get rid of the maps & globes, World Book Encyclopedia while we at it, and bring in the iPhone. I have literally a world of collective knowledge at my fingertips and you want me to learn slide rule? Get out of my way. Old methods of learning are quaint. Some are even groovy, but they're the language of a different generation.

Which generation of students are you teaching today?