Lessons from a Lap Dog

Our greatest influencers in life can take on many forms.  Perhaps it’s the teacher or coach who made an impact on you at a young age or a close friend who helped you milo and mefind the right path when it was so much easier to take the wrong.  Those are the expected, but as is often the case, sometimes it’s the unexpected that can have the most profound effect on who we are as individuals.  Observe your four-legged friend long enough and you can learn many of life’s important lessons.

  • Be fiercely loyal – Perhaps the strongest of all traits, our canine companions show us the value in providing unwavering support and dedication to those we care for most.
  • Love unconditionally – Along the same lines, if we only demonstrated a percentage of the admiration and affection our dogs display toward us, our love would deepen and our relationships would strengthen.
  • Protect what you love – My Wheaten Terrier is only 32 pounds but anytime a bigger, tougher breed (Pit Bulls, Dobermans, you name it we’ve been there) comes near, he’ll do all he can to defend me.  That’s the approach we need to take with all we hold dear; honor what/who you love and do whatever you must to always keep that person or thing safe.
  • Forgive and forget – We’ve all been there with our pups.  They do something wrong, run away and cower, only to greet you two minutes later as if the discrepancy never happened.  Just like our dogs, people make mistakes and we must find it in ourselves to let the negative feelings go.
  • Enjoy the simple things in life – To my dog, taking a walk is akin to waking up on Christmas morning.  It’s amazing how something so simple can mean so much and it’s a lesson we should take to heart.  Take time to notice the small things that make you smile and work them into your day whenever you get the chance.
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Shop ‘til you don’t drop a lotta cash

All season long, retailers slash their prices until it seems like things just can’t get any better.  Then, the holiday shopping frenzy ceases and guess what?  That sweater you got the killer deal on just two weeks ago is now adorned with a clearance sticker boasting a fraction of the cost.

Welcome to the wonderful (and a times, woeful) winter deals. ‘Tis the season of deep discounts and semi-annual sales.  Stores are trying to rid themselves of cold-weather attire and remnants of jollier times to make room for shipments of all things bright, light and pastel.  But before you rush to treat yourself to the items Santa forgot to bring, keep these dos and don’ts in mind:

Don’t be fooled by the red sticker. Yes, it’s true that stores will do a complete overhaul of their merchandise post-holiday, but as the saying goes, the best things come to those who wait.  The deals will get better and better.  I’ve found the best time to buy winter apparel is mid-February; stores are so anxious to be out with the old and in with the new that they cut prices so steep it will make you sick that you even considered purchasing the same thing at full price just a few weeks ago.  The traditional big box retailers will offer discounts, on discounts, on discounts: 50% off then take an additional 50%!  The downside to holding off until February is that a lot of the good stuff goes early so if there’s something now that you must have, you may not want to wait around.

Do stock up on holiday décor.  When we close-in on the holiday, retailers begin to mark down the items that make our homes and spirits a bit more cheerful – lights, ornaments, stuffed snowmen and the works.  However, come Dec. 26, they turn into the Grinch and do whatever they can to push these items off the shelves.  While the pickens may be slim at this point, it’s still a great time to purchase holiday decorations now and put them away for next year.  Just yesterday, I picked up these adorable ornaments for 90% off at Walgreens; some for only 10 cents!

Don’t over indulge.  Trust me, I know how tempting it is to take advantage of good deals.  But keep in mind, just because you can…doesn’t mean you should.  If you’re planning to shop, go with an agenda.  Before you leave, take an (honest) inventory of what you do and don’t need and just like you do for groceries, make a list – it will keep you focused and more accountable.  This approach has helped me when I try to trick myself into believing I NEED to add another winter coat to the collection of 53 I already have (not to mention, I live in the South).
Do shop around.  You’re going to find some great deals this time of year at the big retailers but the question is, are they the best?  If you’ve got the time, shop around.  I’m a huge proponent of all things discount store: Ross, Marshalls, T.J. Maxx.  The reason why?  I’ve seen the big guys promote the same items for full MSRP that the discount stores have at a fraction of the cost more times than I can say.  Just this week, I came across this Jessica Simpson dress at Dillard’s for $70 (freshly marked down from $130).  The next day (yes, I went shopping at the same place two days in a row), when the store was touting a huge 50% discount on clearance, it was just $35!  That same dress?  I bought it at Ross for $19.99. The discount stores compete with one another as well.  I purchased a Christmas party dress for $29.99 at Ross and found the same exact one at T.J. Maxx for $39.99 (BTW, saw the SAME dress at Nordstrom for $158)!  This process may take a while, but I like to think about it as searching for gold.  When you find THAT deal, you’re golden!

And this, my friends, is why I will never give up shopping as a new year resolution.

Five ways to wind down before getting wound up

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The dreaded transition from vacation mode to work mode is upon the many of us that were fortune

enough to have ample time off this holiday season.  For me, it’s not the piles of paper waiting on my desk that are most upsetting; it’s the fact that I’ll actually have to wake up before 9:00 a.m., won’t be able to consider my Christmas jammies as suitable workplace attire and will forgot all the valuable pop culture knowledge I’ve accumulated this week through endless movie & TV binges.  Yes, the shock of days gone lazy to days gone crazy will be difficult to manage but as the sun finally sets on another holiday season, I hope these tips will ease you back in and ensure the transition does not hit you like the frigid waters of the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Visit your happy place – maybe for you, this means getting lost in a book, catching up on episodes of Friends you’ve already seen 20 times before or going beast mode at the gym.  Whatever it is for you, make it happen this weekend because before you know it, setting time aside for this activity won’t be so easy.

Take a walk, alone – One of the best things about the holiday season is the opportunity to visit with friends and family.  On the flip side of that coin, with all the activities and running around from here to there, it can be hard to find time for ourselves.  Schedule in a 30-minute walk over the weekend to regroup, relax and catch up with the one that knows you best – yourself.

Meal planning 101: Keep it simple, stupid – On the evening before you return to work, don’t stress yourself out about putting a complex meal on the table.  Check out Martha Stewart’s 15-minute mealsuggestions or turn to my new best friend, the Crockpot.  Gather your ingredients today, throw them in the pot tomorrow morning and wallah, you’ve got yourself a no stress, no mess meal!  All Recipes.com offers a full spread of simple and delicious slow cooker meals.

Pack & Plan – Over the weekend, collect and organize everything you’ll need to return to work so you don’t run around Monday morning frantically searching for a lost file or whatever it might be.  If you’re taking lunch to the office, get a head start by making and packing it Sunday evening.

The end of the holiday season often brings with it a feeling of sadness – it means 11 months void of jolly holiday music, the comforting glow of festive lights and party after party with those we cherish most.  The good news is, life goes on and new memories are ready for the making.  Instead of basking in sorrow over the year past, map out your plans for 2015!  Purchase a planner (TJMaxx has some absolutely adorable planners embellished with encouraging slogans) and jot down all of the exciting things you already have scheduled for the year (weddings, birthdays, trips, etc).  If you don’t have anything fun planned, then go ahead, pencil something in and stick with it.  It could be as simple and random as a Wednesday evening date night on April 15.

Unplug – This is perhaps the hardest thing to do but at the same time, it’s also the most important.  In the final hours before you fall asleep, only to be woken by the sounding alarm clock, take a break from the outside world – this means no reading your email (unless it’s an absolute must), no checking the latest Facebook statuses, no PJ, duckface snapchats – nothing.  I promise, you’ll be able to catch up on everything you missed Monday morning.

Start the new year refreshed, relaxed and ready to go!

No New You

I’ve never believed in the statement, “New year, new you.”  People become too fixated on ushering in the New Year with a reinvention of themselves; an effort that often plummets like the ball over Times Square.  I see the new year not as an opportunity to re-create one’s life, but rather to build upon their current strengths and take an honest assessment of their weaknesses to identify areas for improvement.  A “New year, better you” approach.
It’s hard to be honest with ourselves about the things in life we just don’t have a strong enough grasp on.  In a world of oversharing, our Facebook feeds are filled with the successes and achievements of others.  People are quick to post the moments they are proud of – from engagements, to pregnancies to promotions; providing a platform for us to share in the joys of our friends and family.  However, it’s not too often that we share the things we are not so proud of – losing a job, refusing to give money to a homeless person on the street or going into debt. But the fact is, we all have areas of weakness and the new year presents a fresh opportunity to evaluate where we go right and where we go wrong.  The positive changes we make now set the stage for a feeling of fulfillment on December 31, 2015.
As I look to the future, there are several areas of life I know I need to get in order but again, a flip of the calendar does not mean everything must change all at once. I’m proud of my achievements and the life I live but I also understand that making small improvements now will light the way for the road ahead.  These are the areas I choose to focus on for 2015:
  • Commit to fit – I know, I know.  Sounds like I’m contradicting myself – new year, new body! But that’s not what I’m going for here.  I exercise fairly regularly but feel no guilt if a skip a week (or month).  As a women in my (errr..late) twenties, 30 minutes of activity a day is necessary and it’s inexcusable to not make it happen.  It’s not about looking better, it’s about being better in the long-term.  What 30-minute exercise routines do you find effective?
  • Know what you’re putting in your mouth – Remember when you were a child and you’d put some foreign object in your mouth, only to be scolded by your parents?  As adults, we don’t have anyone looking after us to make sure we’re only putting healthy things into our bodies. There are so many studies emerging about the damaging effects of over-processed or hormone-injected foods and for me personally, it’s time to become educated on what should and shouldn’t be part of the meal plan.
  • Focus on finances – I’ll be the first to admit that I have a serious shopping problem.  While I never pay full retail, I fool myself into thinking that I save money through bargain shopping when in reality, I end up buying more than I would have at full price.  I was never good at math, so maybe that’s in part to blame, but I know that managing my finances is one area I must improve upon to safeguard my future.  This year, I am committed to understanding my finances, budgeting (ew) and investing in the opportunities that lie ahead.
  • Make time to make memories – It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life and forget to stop and smell the roses, as cliché as it sounds.  I am making it a point to set aside more time with those that I love and when possible, taking adventures with them because the sad truth is that one day, memories may be all we have left.
  • #PIFProject – Philanthropic stories are abound during the holidays; people are acutely aware of the season of giving.  But as the holidays pass, as do the frantic donations of time and money.  To pay it forward in 2015, I will hold myself accountable to complete a minimum of one charitable act a week. It bothers me to even write that I must set aside time to do this; it should be something we as humane individuals inherently do, but the truth of the matter is time and life get in the way.  Not this year.
What aspirations do you have to become a better you in 2015?