Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Today is Christmas. While the air is moist here in Miami, not cold and crisp like a Dicken's novel, I have accustomed to listen to traditional Christmas songs indoors, set the air condition to a freezing 73 degrees, wrap myself in a scarf, while gazing out my kitchen dining window at swaying palms, choppy blue and green bay water and neighbors splashing in the clear blue pool and bouncing a fuzzy green tennis ball across the net. This is Christmas in Miami, not white but blue and green and I am thankful it is not below freezing temperatures.

Despite difficult times around, I am grateful for many blessings. For my family, for good health, for the improved health of my mother after an accident this August, for my friends and their support during a recent loss, for my children (pets) and their unconditional love and the valuable lessons they teach me, for having a beautiful home, and a stable job with health benefits. Despite some difficult moments this year, I am still blessed in many ways.

I wish all of you a Merry Christmas. No matter your religion, my Christmas wish is a wish of new beginnings, joy, hope and peace for all mankind.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Remembering Pepe Francois



Recently I faced a deep, personal, loss. My baby boy, a young, five year old cat died suddenly on Tuesday, December 16. The pain is greater than I imagined. Sudden death has that impact. This cat taught me valuable life lessons such as patience, sacrifice, and accepting any amount of attention and affection with eternal gratitude for life's little blessings.

His name was Pepe Francois and because he was a special cat and brought me immense joy, I have created an entirely separate blog in his memory.

Please CLICK HERE or his photo above to learn about this angelic creature and incredible soul.
Humans could learn so much from pets.

To all my friends and relatives, thank you for your sympathy and well wishes.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Books Read by Sexy Potato Peel Club

The Sexy Potato Peel Book Club has read more books weighing as much as ten bags loaded with Idaho potatoes. That's a heavy load. That's because we're not afraid of hardcover books.

Most of our books are classified fiction, with a peppering of "historical fiction" and few non-fiction. Many we would consider Babe Books (similar to Chick Flick movies). Normally the main character is a female and overcomes personal and physical struggles with miraculous inner strength. I love the female hero books. They motivate and inspire me.

Starting with the most recent, here is a list of books we have read:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Club (fiction)
To Kill a Mockingbird (fictional novel)
One Thousand White Women (fiction)
Those Who Save Us (fiction)
Molokai (historical fiction)
SnowFlower and the Secret Fan (historical fiction)
Thousand Splendid Suns (by Khaled Housseini)
100 Years of Solitude (famous Spanish novel we read in English)
Running with Scissors (a memoir)
The Lost German Slave Girl (historical fiction)
The Alchemist (novel)
Marley & Me (memoir)
The Courtesan (fiction)
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (memoir)
The Kite Runner (fiction) by Khaled Housseini
The Glass Castle (memoir)
The Orientalist (historical fiction)
The Mermaid Chair (fiction)
Paper Life (fiction)
The Secret Life of Bees (fiction)
How Soccer Explains the World (non-fiction)
The Tao of Pooh
The DaVinci Code (fiction)

If you would like our collective opinion or assessment of a book, use the comment section directly below and the Sexy Potato Peel Club will answer you within 48 hours! (That's because normally one of us is travelling--normally DA is jetting between the islands and Miami for work).

Stay tuned for our individual number one picks!

Victoria's Secret Panty Scam

Perhaps since I'm normally well organized with receipts and rarely have to do an even exchange without one, I was not aware of a new policy change at Victoria's Secret stores! Here's my experience. [Note: I apologize in advance if sharing a transaction for purchasing a panty seems TMI --too much information. All I can ask is to concentrate on the transaction of trying to exchange an item. ]

Yesterday I visited a VSC store to exchange an item. A month ago, I received a gift card for a free panty (as a regular catalog shopper of day wear, VSC rewards their customers with these lingerie treats--great marketing). So when I went to redeem my panty, one store did not have my size (the free panty is a specific style and limited to one of four solid colors--selection is very limited). Given that the card expired relatively soon, I picked one panty in different size, and decided to come back another time to exchange it when they had my size. (Note: panties and lingerie are not great values at Victoria's Secret--you're buying the brand name; on the same day I saw an exquisite black and white, matching bra and panty set at Target for half the price of VSC).

At first I thought, I don't really need the panty, maybe I'll exchange for something else of equal value, a bath gel or soap. So I visited a Victoria's Secret store locally and was told that since (I had left the receipt at home to show it was a free panty, yes silly me) I didn't have the receipt the panty was worth (after scanning) "$2.50 on sale" when the tag showed $7.50. I saw the indoor promotion of 3 for $15 which makes it $5 a piece. I asked how did it ring up $2.50 when the lowest value on the store floor is $5.00? The cashier and manager said that's the clearance value. I then asked, "Do you mean I could buy more panties of that style for $2.50?" I asked with mounting excitment thinking I hit the jackpot day for stopping by. "No, that's the sale value when you don't have a receipt," explained the manager. Something was wrong here I calculated.

"You mean if I exchange or return this panty without a receipt, it's only worth $2.50, but if I buy one now off the shelf, it's worth $7.50?" The manager confirmed it. "That sounds like a scam!" I exclaimed. "It's a new policy the store implemented because of theft," continued the cashier.

"So if I come with an item that has a tag and clearly not worn, your store automatically assumes I stole it and offers a "clearance value" that does not exist?" I fumed.

"I'm sorry Miss, that's the new policy," stated the cashier with calmness and slight guilt realizing the line of customers behind me were eagerly listening and patiently waiting. The customer next to me chimed in "Oh yes, same thing happened to me last week when I wanted to exchange a gift. You're screwed if you don't have a receipt even though the tags are still intact."

Ok--then I'll just exchange it for the SAME PANTY but in a different size. An even exchange--harmless, right?

I picked out the exact same panty in my size for what I assumed would be an even exchange. At the register I'm told I have to pay $5.00. "WHY?!" I asked. "Because the panty you brought is only worth $2.50 without a receipt (even with the tags) and the one you are purchasing is $7.50, for one panty," explained the cashier.

"Ma'am," I started calmly, "There is absolutely no way I am going to pay any money for the exact same panty," I finished with a clear conviction in my voice but maintaining Victorian grace. The cashier signaled the manager and he authorized the even exchange.

"Unbelievable!" I exclaimed again. The bright pink and black striped decor on the wall suddenly appeared all red in my glaring eyes. Victoria's Secret was becoming a red zone in more than one way. Marketing to young girls for one, and this new policy to combat theft which only hurts the customer. I was afraid to ask if this policy was across all merchandise. What happened to my once-favorite store? I used to work there for many years during college and post college years.

When the cashier rang up the transaction, she politely wished me a Happy Holiday and I thanked her for her patience and explained I realized it was not her fault but that the policy was unfair to customers and commented it needs to change. There are other ways to combat theft.

LESSON LEARNED: If you don't have a receipt, the value of the item is grossly below the least expensive value in the store. So if you buy a gift for anyone from Victoria's Secret--GIVE THEM THE RECEIPT which is tacky sometimes. Or better, to protest this new policy, WRITE TO VICTORIA'S SECRET AND STOP SHOPPING THERE until they change the policy. While it may be legal, it certainly is unfair to the buyer and recipient.

What do you think? Please post a comment, we'd love to hear from other shoppers and your opinion of this policy change!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Sexy Potato Peel Club

If you are reading this blog for the first time, then allow me to introduce the Sexy Potato Peel Club--a book club of six, independent, intelligent women ranging in age from 40 to 60 years young. For an introduction to the book club, please read my posting From Bond Girl to Book Worm.

As a followup to the introduction, this potato peel will share our rules and non-rules for the SPPC. Basically answering those often-asked questions from curious minds.

First, we aim to hold our meetings every two months. Initially the meetings were more regular, once a month. Then life takes over and getting six women together is a challenge. Climbing Mount Everest might be considered an easier feat.

The venue: we rotate the club meeting at each member's home. The hostess is then responsible for providing finger food and wine. While "potato peel" has a literary meaning for our book club, "finger food" takes on a new gastronomic definition for the SPPC. It means a three course meal, whether home-made or picked up at a local, boutique market such as Gardner's Market. The other requisite is red and white wine!

The minute I share this morsel of information, inquirers fill in the blanks automatically. "So you spend more time eating, drinking and probably discussing women's issue." How did they guess? The three-course meal is the first major clue, and the wine says it all.

While we do discuss the book, most of the evening is spent going around the circle for each member to share her latest adventures, family news, job highlights and lowlights, dating and relationship sagas, and travels within the 50 United States or around the globe. Oh yes, and we discuss and debate news and politics. Collectively, it's part Sex in the City, part Desperate Housewives, CNN, and the Travel Channel all in one ready-to-roll-out drama series. Nonetheless, we look forward to each book club meeting with great anticipation.

What's the process for selecting books? Good question! The hostess is responsible for providing a selection of three to five books, a combination of fiction and non-fiction. Normally we check New York Times Bestseller's list and print out summaries and review. Then we each vote and majority book wins. Our group majority prefers fiction (five out of six), so normally I get outvoted for the non-fiction. I enjoy learning new subjects, whether it's history, culture, geography, anything. However, with more and more "historical fiction" books, my appetite for facts is fulfilled with historical or cultural backdrops while the storyline fancies our imagination.

Which books have we read? Stay tuned for part three of the Sexy Potato Peel Club.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Frugal Duchess of South Beach


Last night I went to hear the author of Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money at the Books & Books in Coral Gables. My friend and book club partner Sandra, spotted the email and pointed it out to me and thought it would lend to my money blog "We'll Show You the Money".

Sharon Harvey Rosenberg draws from her personal life growing up in Phildelphia, PA and moving to the suburbs. Her parents, educated and wise, set the foundation. Now she lives in a condo overlooking the ocean in South Beach, FL. Not shabby!

While I have just started reading the book, here are some reviews on Amazon.com to give you an idea.

If you are a graduate of "Tightwad Gazette" or a prodigy of "America's Cheapest Family" then this book may not add to your repetoire, except Sharon does share many current websites and blogs on frugality which bring you up to date.

However if you have wondered how people who earn less than you are living the good life (legally) without daunting debts and the pressure of paying interests and bookies, then this book will inspire you to evolve and adapt to a new way of thinking about money.

Nowadays with looming news of mortgage crisis, stocks sinking, job layoffs... this is the right time to turn a new leaf, a new page and get this book to help you become financially stable and have peace of mind for the future.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

From Bond Girl to Book Worm

So I've taken down the Bond Girl wallpaper of my blog (it's so easy to "redecorate" a blog) now that my Bond mania has subsided and I'm pulled by a constant force of nature...

The most fascinating aspect of my life which receives the most attention and, therefore, I get the most questions is about (drum roll please…) my book club. It’s curious to me why my participation in a book club would elicit so much interest. Often the questions are the same from all inquirers and usually in the same order. How did you get involved? How long have you been a member of the book club? What types of books do you read? Which are your favorites? I now open the closet door to reveal and share this fabric of my life tucked away, not hidden, three- fourths down the closet row.

Yes, for years now, I have been a member of a book club that my friend Lisa and I started. Lisa Schmick (now Lisa Evans) used to live across the street and we became friends through our dogs. In other words we met outside while walking our dogs. As two, single, independent, smart women who dote on their daughters (our dogs), Lisa and I met two to three times a week to get the girls together for playtime (our dogs Mon Cherie and Samantha). While the girls ran up and down the indoor condo hallway for their exercise (and yes they were well behaved and did not bark), Lisa and I often discussed an array of topics—usually work, dating fiascos, plans for travel, investments and books. When we learned we each read the same book “The DaVinci Code” the idea of starting a book club was conceived. Lisa contacted several coworkers from her past jobs—all women. We decided to keep it a women’s book club. In our first meeting, there were about seven to eight women. Then one member moved, one could not spare the time between work and her husband, and others faded way. The original three members to this day are Lisa, Leslie and me. Then coincidentally we each introduced one, smart, avid reader of books to the book club. Lisa brought Adrienne, Leslie introduced Dorothy Ann (DA for short), and our last member to join is my neighbor Sandra. Since Sandra’s induction, we have remained a solid six members for the past three years.

When a member of the original group wanted to invite a man, she was nearly beheaded. Later, once our club was bound like a book with six chapters, and someone wanted to bring a seventh member, the majority voiced “no” over emails. We were more than a club—we were now friends that shared more than literary discussions. We shared sensitive details of our personal lives. A new person would be an intruder.

So who are these six independent, smart, successful women? Well you all know me by now. Then there’s Lisa, a financial controller for a boutique luxury cruise line. Adrienne who also works with Lisa on marketing for the cruise line. Then my neighbor Sandra, who works in the medical field; Leslie, a Human Resources specialist, and Dorothy Ann (DA), who’s worked with CIGNA healthcare for eons of years. All of us are single with the exception of Lisa, who broke the cycle and became a new bride this year. Her and Bob, a firefighter, live happily with two dogs in the Gables.

Do we have a name? Not formally. Recently when I ran the idea by the group an unexpected silence fell across Leslie’s living room. I turned to Adrienne who was all for the idea earlier in the day but caved in when Leslie and DA objected. “No if we have a name then we’ll fall apart,” said DA. Interesting theory. Later I thought to myself, we’re not a rock band that always breaks up after reaching celebrity stardom nor do we have plans of becoming famous (well actually I did envision us as guests on local news shows given our groups dynamic, and potpourri of book selections; I saw us as the Beardstown ladies of the book club. The Beardstown ladies are a group of women who started a financial investment club and made millions.) Secondly, we’re not a marriage where half of all matrimonies end up in divorce. We’re a group of friends that have one thing in common—our passion for reading. Recently in an email, I announced to the group that soon I would blog about the club and call it “The Sexy Potato Peel Club”. This was my name of endearment for a bond of women, a group that I looked forward to meeting every couple of months to discuss the trials and tribulations of the main character of the book and then turn to our own. After dissecting the challenges faced by the protagonist, our personal struggles often seemed trivial. Reading is not only stimulating and enriches the mind; it is also therapeutic for the mind and soul.

Yes there’s a story behind the name, but like any good book, the history and meaning of the name will reveal itself in chapters to come along with the unfolding of characters that make up the sexy potato peels and the range of books that shaped our reading and our book club.