Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Good Steward

A sampling of coupons available today
I try to be responsible with what I'm entrusted financially, therefore, I am always looking for a sale or ways to save. I have clipped coupons, gone to various stores at different days and times, and am quite familiar with the clearance rack. I'm slowly mastering the art of earning rewards and using them to pay for items. All of this gives me an adrenaline rush.

I recently discovered another mechanism for saving. I became aware of Groupon Coupons, a free service that conveniently rounds up all the current coupons and offers at over 9000 retailers. If you're like me, you've probably purchased a Groupon or two or more.  Groupon Coupons is a newer service offered by the same Groupon company you've always known. Just before you check out it pays to bring out the Groupon App. If you don't see the Coupons option it's because it's under the Nearby menu option. I only mention this because it took me a while to find the coupons option on the mobile app.

I usually get lucky and find nice juniors outfits for the Little One at Kohls and great outfits for myself at Macys.

At this point, you may be pleasantly surprised at the additional savings that are in store for you. If you enjoy saving, and who doesn't check out Groupon Coupons before finalizing your purchase.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post; all opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Work Life Balance

On the fourth Thursday of each April, more than 37 million Americans at over 3.5 million workplaces participate in "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day."(source: Forbes.com)

This year marks the program’s twenty-first anniversary. Initially, this day was called "Take Our Daughters to Work Day," but then it was recognized that parents, not just mothers, probably wanted to model working for their children, not just their daughters. Regardless of what is called, when I worked in corporate America I found this day very interesting.

First, companies embraced it with gusto and planned activities for children and even provided childcare. Then the gusto faded - and as an employee, it was OK to have your children with you on this day. It wasn't an off day as you were at work, but how much work got accomplished was anyone's guess. I don't know what happens nowadays since I currently work from home or consult.

Ironically, when children were at work it was harder to work. Depending on the age of your children, it was hard for them to grasp the concept that you sitting at your desk and "working" was actually work. For example, they did not get all the details that went into making a decision, so there were questions and other interruptions. The organization I worked with pampered the kids - they had the best chocolate chip cookies and fun activities throughout the day. My children were well behaved (and cute) so other adults wanted to engage them in conversation. The mother in me would encourage the conversation while at the same time being wary of kids being kids. Work-life balance was not achieved on this day.

The premise of this day may be convoluted but the old adage,"children learn what they live," is true; children model the behaviors we have demonstrated for them in all areas - not just at home or at work.

I grew up in the Bahamas and this day did not exist back then. My father was the Foreman/Manager at the Bahamas Electric Company. He had a good rapport with his employees for as children we knew many of them by name. Oftentimes they would pick us up and drive us to school. It was then we realized how well-respected he was. I never went to his place of work but the way he spoke about his job and the respect shown to him by his employees were indicators that he enjoyed what he did. He was also generally happy in those days. On the other hand, my mom stayed home. My primary impressions of my mom were that she was a hard worker - she was not lazy; she was resourceful and she loved to sew. My mother seemed happiest at her sewing machine. I absorbed the skill of sewing from my mom. I think at one point my mother also attended secretarial school. One of the skills she learned was shorthand. She taught me shorthand;I wish I still remembered it today. I learned important lessons from my parents and how they handled work. My parents were aspirational - I saw from their example that a willingness to work opened up a world of possibilities.

Work is a part of life; it's not only something that you do outside of the home. Work is valuable and its worth is seen in how we are compensated. When children are very young, as a mother, work-life balance seems to be in the forefront of your brain. Everyone struggles with finding a balance but men view work-life balance differently from women. Many women are often thinking of tasks to be done even while at work. I hear it's no easier being a SAHM (so as an aside, I wish the motherhood wars would end; there's no need to pit moms against each other and it's even worse when it comes from other Christians). But children grow up and the balance shifts over time.

You are responsible for your life and therefore how you balance your priorities. It's nice to have companies recognize that striking a balance is important, but it's even more important that you do so.

My priorities start with God, and then I would say everything else falls into place. If I were a bit more specific I think it might look something like this: God, Me, Family, and Everything else.  My faith is central to who I am, so if God is not first in my life, I don't know where or what I would be. He's been first in my life for a long time and that's not changing. But I've noticed that when I don't prioritize myself, many of the other priorities fall apart. Over time I've learned how important it is to take care of me. This may be  oversimplified, but this is how I attempt to achieve the ever elusive work-life balance.

Seek the Kingdom of God[a] above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. Matthew 6:33 [NLT]

And yet, 
“Better to have one handful with quietness
than two handfuls with hard work
and chasing the wind. Ecclesiastes 4:6 [NLT]

How do you achieve a semblance of balance? What were your experiences with "Take Our Children to Work Day?"

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Adjustments - Small Changes Huge Dividends

Nothing stays the same over time.  In nature, plants go through a cycle. There are cycles in our bodies, nature, the economy, relationships and many more things. It's why being an athlete is somewhat challenging - your aim is to have your best performance consistently over a period of time. It's also what makes sports so exciting - as a spectator you wonder how long an athlete will remain at the top of their field. Think Serena Williams, Mo Farah or Usain Bolt.

As someone who runs, I think of the many adjustments I make to perform with a modicum of decency consistently, and then I imagine this multiplied by a huge factor for the professional athlete. You're always trying to improve or reach capacity. In popular culture this is sometimes phrased in the form of a question - "Are you your best you?"

An adjustment is a small alteration, done with the intention of producing a better result. As a runner, I've learned to shorten my stride, change my gait, temper my breathing all with the intention of going longer, faster. I don't make all these changes at once but over time. As I get better at one thing or see an improvement in my times, I am tempted to become comfortable, but then circumstance or choice forces me to adjust again. For example, after making an improvement due to some small changes, I noticed that after long runs I would eventually get a headache.  I had to make another adjustment - increase my intake of electrolytes and stay hydrated well before a run. Sometimes the little changes don't seem to make any sense, but in the long run, they usually do.

And that's the point of life - just when we think we've arrived, there's another adjustment to be made. As long as we're living it's an opportunity for constant progressive change.

Though adjustments are small or incremental it does not mean that they are easy; changing my breathing pattern is not easy nor is learning to change aspects of my personality. I have spent a lifetime attempting to speak softer or use my inside voice in certain situations. My volume can be misinterpreted, therefore, I try different techniques. Some work, some don't but it requires effort because I want a different response and a different outcome.

No area of our life can escape this need for adjustment so that we are maximizing our value and living out our purpose. Our faith gets tested by circumstance. These circumstances provide opportunities for adjustments and recalibration. These adjustments keep us humble, keep us seeking and searching and ultimately relying on God. That never changes, but how we rely on God is up to us. In the many stages of life, there are times when we think we've figured out how to trust, how to pray, how to navigate this path. But then life throws us for a loop in many forms and it seems that all of a sudden we don't know how to pray or our faith seems small. These are opportunities for adjustments.

As a believer, we have what we need to make these changes.  God has not given us a spirit of fear but of love, power, and a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7  In the prior verse, Paul told Timothy to fan the flames - put in the effort, but you don't have to figure this out on your own. Love implies relationship - we're not in this race alone; power indicates a Force that will allow us to make the changes that are necessary, and a sound mind means we can think and use resources available to us - all for the goal of constant improvement and movement.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 [NLT]

Wherever you are on this journey, make the necessary adjustment - don't give up.

What adjustments have you made recently?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Sounds of Home

Without fail, by 10 o'clock on most nights, my body decides it has had enough for the day and shuts down. If I'm on the couch all of a sudden I am sound asleep. Last night I fell asleep on the couch while watching TV. I kept going in and out of sleep until I finally went to my bed. At some point, before I went into deep REM sleep, I heard the sound of a guitar and beautiful singing accompanying it. I smiled and thought about all the sounds that emanate from a home and what they mean.

As a newlywed, it was just me and my husband enjoying each other's company. I learned he was a movie buff, and so I broadened my horizons and watched a lot of movies. As a newlywed there was the sound of laughter, love, and conversation with the background noise of TV.

Soon after, we had our first child. Now there were the sounds  of a baby - crying, pooping, laughing, aahing cooing, interspersed with the sounds of us. Us figuring it out, us talking to each other, and us sleeping. Oh, the joy of sleep. Sleep became more essential and movies took a back seat. But we kept talking and always tried to laugh. The background noise of TV receded for a bit.

More children and more sounds - until my quiver was full.

There's now some constant sounds in my world - Family Radio playing Christian music, the whistle of the kettle daily for a cup of tea, the pages turning as we all read various books, horsing around with Dad on a Friday night; board game battles; the crinkling of a bag to get to a beef patty; the popping sound as we opened the Styrofoam container that contained jerk chicken from our favorite place; the wind chimes on the front door signalling another person has arrived or left; sometimes the slamming of doors (but not often). On Saturdays, there was music - oldies, and Jamaican music played loudly throughout the house. The sound of housework was a constant also - cooking, cleaning, mopping, dusting, organising. These things weren't done in a vacuum, so more talking, and sometimes bickering. TV noise increased again as we would watch movies in my bedroom as a family because that's where the DVD was.  Of course, as we all grew and changed we all produced different sounds - boo hoos, achoos, hmms, uh-ohs, groans, moans, stomps, claps, singing, snoring, shouting, yelling and hahas; always haha. Sometimes we whispered but mostly we were loud. Our love is loud.

Noticeably absent from our lives was the sound of pets - we never had any.

And now I am here - guitar playing and singing. This moment makes me realize that all those sounds brought us here to a point of exploration, growth and creativity.

As I close my eyes, smile and drift off to sleep, I am grateful for the sounds that come from my house today; the sounds that make my house a home.

Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.
Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him.
Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands.
How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them! Psalms 127:1,3-5 [NLT]

What sounds come from your home?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Two Pounds of Gratitude

Now that I live on the West Coast, friends and acquaintances are more multicultural, in particular, I am blessed by many from the continent of Asia. Recently, the Little One had some friends over during spring break, so I planned an outing to the beach. The parents were grateful for this time as were the girls. We had a beautiful day; we even saw a seal at the beach. As I returned the girls to their parents, each parent expressed their gratitude. One mother expressed her gratitude in what appeared to be a most unconventional manner - she gave me a container of 2 pounds of sliced seasoned beef from the Korean market.

I don't mind receiving a gift of food, but I'd never gotten raw beef before. It turns out, this was quite tasty! So tasty, I am now becoming a regular at the Korean market for Bulgogi - the actual name of the dish.

But this simple gesture made me realize two things:

  • It's OK to express gratitude in a way that is unique to you. It must be liberating to be so sure of yourself, that you would buy beef for someone as an expression of thanks.

  • I appreciated the expression of gratitude more than the beef itself; the beef was icing on the cake! Her simple act made me realize that my actions were important to her and therefore I was important to her.

Being grateful is contagious - because of this, I will try to demonstrate my thanks in more realistic and practical ways. A card is nice, but if more can be done, it will be. A thankful mindset allows you to see the beauty in the ordinary; over time being grateful can become second nature.

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. I Thessalonians 5:18 [NLT]

Have you ever received an unexpected gift of gratitude? How did it make you feel?