Merry Madness

I’m going to change things up a bit today and talk about one of the bad sides of Christmas: the last-minute shopping. Now, I’ve been known to run out for a thing or two at the last possible minute, but I know what I’m getting into going in, and I don’t condone the insanity that plagues many shopping centers on the days leading up to Christmas. That includes wrongs perpetrated on the sides of both stores and shoppers. It’s just a foolish, unnecessary, stressful mess.

IMG_5239.JPG Just looking at that image gives me post-traumatic stress symptoms. :P

I’m going to tell you a story of the year I worked at a Zellers department store during Christmas. I was seventeen, just trying to make a few bucks as a seasonal worker, and I was scheduled to work 9-5 on Christmas Eve. The stressors were many, my friend. Let me tell you about them.

Stressor #1: The store was packed beyond capacity. It was chaos as panicked shoppers – many of them who were literally just starting their Christmas shopping – shoved their way through the store. They were hurried and frustrated. They were fighting with store employees and fellow shoppers alike. And it was no one’s fault but their own, but you wouldn’t dare point that out.

Look, I know that everyone is busy around the holidays, and we don’t all have the luxury of being able to just run to the mall whenever we feel like it. However, if you start your shopping on Christmas Eve and start getting belligerent with everyone because the store is so busy, or because it doesn’t have the particular toy you need…well, I just have absolutely no sympathy for you. Even accounting for other holidays and store closures, there are over 300 other days in the year that you could do your shopping if you just think ahead a little bit. Your poor planning skills are not the fault of the other shoppers or the poor cashiers that you inevitably wind up harassing.

Stressor #2: Lay-Away is the invention of the devil. Approximately half the damn town thought they would be terribly clever by doing their shopping ahead of time, putting it all on layaway, and then come in to pick it all up on Christmas Eve. People, please don’t do this. You may find it hard to understand, but when five thousand people all make this same plan, and each person has several hundred dollars worth of stuff to pick up, it takes quite a while to track everything down and process it before you can leave the store with it. Honestly, the guys and gals who manned the lay-away counter that year deserved a goddamn medal.

Stressor #3: We were horribly understaffed. As is a common(ly horrible) thing with department stores, this particular Zellers regularly tried to run with as few people as possible, even during times that they knew would be outrageously busy. On Christmas Eve that meant that from open to close, each cashier had a constant line that never dipped below 8-10 people deep, and we had exactly zero help from floor staff. You know those people who are on the sales floor to help answer questions and the like? Well they’re also there to be able to hop on an empty cash if it’s too busy, but this night we only had two of them, and they were run ragged the entire night by crazed shoppers looking for toys that had been sold out weeks ago. So we had no help. I literally didn’t even set eyes on those two girls for the entire shift.

Stressor #4: There is absolutely no empathy and employees start getting treated like robots. I remember at one point my coworker was told that it was time for her to go on her break (the first one in over 4 hours, by the way). Since we had no one to take her place on the cash, I was instructed to facilitate the break by incorporating her line into mine (in other words, serve one of my customers, then one of hers, and so on, so that no one had to wait too long). It was the easiest and most fair way to handle the situation, but people flipped the hell out. They started shouting about how they’d already been waiting forever and that my coworker should have to finish the line before she got her break (which, as mentioned earlier, would never have happened). And more than one customer actually tried goading me into the fight by suggesting to me that my coworker was a “lazy bitch” who was leaving me to do all the work by myself while she buggered off to have a smoke or something. I barely got through those 15 minutes without punching someone.

Oh yeah, did I mention all the fuss was over a 15 minute break? Her first in over half the shift? Yeah.

Stressor #5: People kept trying to steal stuff. No, really. The one that sticks out in my memory is this one young kid – maybe 12 or 13 – who was buying a large, round Christmas tin. He looked visibly nervous, and when I picked up the tin I noticed that it felt too heavy. I opened the lid to find that he’d put a smaller tin inside…and another smaller tin inside that…and a further smaller tin inside that. I gave him a look, and he averted his eyes and pretended not to notice. So I scanned all four tins, took his money, and watched him leave the store in a big hurry, which made me wonder if he didn’t have something in his pockets as well.

And stuff like that kept happening all day. People hid shirts inside other shirts, or ripped open packs of socks and underwear to stuff extra sets inside. Sometimes they shoved small toys into the front of play sets with open-front boxes and pretended that they thought it was included. I never confronted anyone, and just scanned it all properly, but it made my frustration level go way up because I had to scrutinize every item everyone brought me.

Also, who goes through that kind of crap for an extra pair of socks?

Stressor #6: The goddamn registers didn’t work properly. I don’t know about Zellers stores in other parts of the country, but the Zellers store in my hometown had a reputation for never updating their sales properly, so the registers never rang in with the correct prices. On that Christmas Eve there were a mega-ton of sales going on, with completely random new ones being announced over the PA system every hour…and none of them rang up properly. Since a lot of the sales were things like, “25% off women’s shoes in brand x, y, and z” or “30% of kids clothes from sizes x to y” it was effectively impossible to keep track of everything, so every customer had at least one item that they insisted was scanning in wrong, but you had very little way to know for sure. And there were lots of sales that were very subjective, like “$20% of ‘Learning Toys'”, so then you got into arguments like, “Well, building blocks aren’t really a ‘learning’ toy, but they do have the alphabet on them so I guess maybe that makes them educational?”

To top things off, remember those floor workers I spoke of earlier? Yeah, normally we would call one of them to check into the sale for us, but as I mentioned they were completely inaccessible, and if you bothered to call one you’d just end up sweating at your cash register for 20 minutes while angry shoppers screamed at you to hurry up. So what did I do to handle the onslaught of people insisting that this item or that item was on sale? Well, here’s the thing: our registers did not need supervisor access to do a price override. So, yeah…you can see where I’m going with this. It definitely wasn’t the “right” thing to do, and I knew it at the time, but on that day, Christmas Eve, with hundreds of people crammed in the store at once and everyone losing their minds left, right, and center, all I really cared about was getting everyone rung through and out of the store as quickly as possible.

———-

The entire thing was a learning experience for sure, and I have to admit that I’ve had a lot more empathy for cashiers during the holidays ever since that experience. Because here’s the thing; as much as you last-minute shoppers may want to get angry at the stores for running out of the item you want, it’s really your fault for not going out to get it sooner. And as much as you want to bitch out the cashier for things not ringing up properly, she’s not the one who programmed the registers and has no way of knowing the proper price for every item in the store. And as much as you want to kill the other customers who are getting in your way and holding up the register with an outrageous number of items, they’re just doing the exact same thing you’re doing, so hey, stop being such a hypocrite.

So my advice is two-fold, as we approach the final shopping days before Christmas and things begin to get a little intense:

1. Take a moment to stop, think about what you need to get done and get bought, and do your damnedest to work out a plan to do it before the last minute.

2. When you start to get filled with rage toward a store employee, stop for a second and put yourself in their position. Imagine if you were the one working a cash register on Christmas Eve (probably at minimum wage), getting berated by every single person who so much as looks in your direction. I guarantee you’ll suddenly feel a lot calmer and a lot less judgmental.

My final thoughts? Try to treat each other respectfully during the season. Period. :)

Have you ever worked retail during the holidays? Do you have any horror stories? Maybe a story that proves that not everyone is a maniac shopper? Please share!

A Special Talk about Specials

Let’s talk about Christmas specials for a moment.

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That intro? I killed it.

Now, I am sure there are lots of people out there who hate watching the same specials year after year after year…but I am not one of them. My husband and I love Christmas specials, and there are plenty that we watch every year, without fail. In the past couple of years that list has grown full of things like the Spongebob Christmas specials, the Sofia the First “holiday” special, and other such stuff, but those are just add-ons, things to entertain the little missy. These are some of the real important specials, the ones that have to be watched, or else it just feels like something is missing from the holiday:

Santa Claus is Coming to Town
This well-aged Rankin-Bass special takes some large liberties with the lore of Santa Claus, but it’s a cute take on the jolly old fellow’s origins. Fun fact: we have a copy of this movie-length stop-motion picture in high definition, and it’s so clear that you can see the strings everywhere. Kind of amusing.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
As a grown adult who is more aware of such things, this other beloved Rankin-Bass special has become known as the tale in which Santa is a total jerk and Prancer is totally sexist. That said, it’s a classic and I love it. And nowadays I get to hear my daughter exclaim over the arrival of the Bumble, which is just hysterical.

Garfield’s Christmas Special
Who doesn’t love this special, honestly? It’s right up there with the classics for sure, and one that definitely can not be missed in the Tobin household. It has such a cute story, in my opinion, and no matter how many times I watch it I never get tired of hearing Garfield sing the words, “electrical contracting”.

A Charlie Brown Christmas
Because of course.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Ah, the Dr Suess tale of nonsense words as read by Boris Karloff. So many nonsense words… Read by Boris Karloff… It just seems ridiculous somehow. But, of course, this is a wonderful tale to partake of near the holidays.

Christmas Vacation
Chevy Chase and his supporting cast really do an amazing job of encapsulating the wonders and woes of the holidays. And it’s funny as hell. I’ve watched this movie every year (sometimes two or three times in one year) since I was about seven years old, and yet the same gags crack me up every single freakin’ time.

Prep and Landing
What the- Oh, you thought I was just talking about classics, didn’t you? Well, I kinda was, because those ones are the best, but I wanted to mention this newer special because it’s so cute. It’s the CG-animated tale of the elves who help prepare each house for Santa’s arrival, and it has an adorable sequel that focuses on the importance of family.

There are a lot more specials that I could mention because we have quite the collection to work with, but those are just a few of my absolute favs, so I thought I’d share. :)

What about you? Do you enjoy watching Christmas specials each year? What are some of your favorites? Are there any that you absolutely can’t stand? Please share!

Accountability Wednesdays: The LAST ONE!

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Guys…guys…guys…can you believe that it’s almost the end of 2014? Like, seriously. I’m wigging out a bit.

And with that, you may have noticed that the next two Wednesdays are Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, which means that I definitely will not be writing accountability posts. Therefore this is going to be the last one! I’ll include other stats and whatnot into my “2015 Goals” post when I write it, but as far as 2014 is concerned this is the last of the accountability. Woo! I actually feel a bit liberated. So let’s get this over with!

Goal #1: Lose ten pounds and become healthier overall.

This was not a good year for this goal. There were a lot of excuses (good and bad), a lot of roadblocks, and a lot of reasons to spend my time on anything other than exercising. In the end, not only did I not lose ten pounds, but I actually gained several. As of this date I’m weighing in at about 2 lbs higher than what I began with in January.

The upside of that is that, strangely, I feel a lot more comfortable in my skin now than I did at the beginning of the year. I have my trouble spots, I have my little bits that bother me, but all in all I’m happy with the way I look, which I think is much better than actually losing the weight.

In addition to that we have the health issues, which are slowly coming under control. I had a lot of tests done on my gastrointestinal track and was eventually given a medication that helps to stop the stomach spasms that plague me whenever I travel. Then I was later given a medication for the anxiety that no one really realized I had until I mentioned to my doctor that I was the kid who threw up on the first day of school every year. Said prescription is not something that I can take every day forever (the effects weaken as you take it too much), but at least it’s available for me when I need it, and knowing that it helps proves that it’s a treatable condition. Two thumbs up to that.

So all in all, I guess it was a good year for this goal. My original intentions for the goal were not realized, but I came out of it happier and healthier, if in different ways.

Goal #2: Be more active on social media and work hard on my author platform.

I’m on the fence about the success of this goal. I definitely took a couple of steps in the direction by joining Self-Publisher’s Showcase, tweeting more often, and finally recently giving in to Instagram, but I don’t know that the results have been so great. Over the course of the year I think I gained something like 80 new followers on the blog, maybe 50 new followers on Twitter, and a whopping 10 subscribers on YouTube, and while that’s great, it doesn’t feel like a lot compared to the amount of work I put in. Then again, I have a full-time job, so maybe the work I put in just feels like more than it really was.

In the end, things have been pretty good, but I hope to expand upon this goal in the future by looking to gain more followers on all mediums, as well as more readers now that I’ve got something for sale for them to read.

Goal #3: COMPLETE my zombie apocalypse novel, Nowhere to Hide.

You all know how this goal went! Though it was stressful at times and I definitely wanted to give up more than once, I managed to slog through the editing process not once, but twice, and with the help of my wonderful beta-reader I think I wound up with a much better novel than I started with. I then scoured the depths of the internet to learn how to properly format a manuscript for self-publishing purposes, designed my own cover with the use of a photo taken by my very own father, and painstakingly slapped it all together on Create Space until the result looked correct. Then I ordered the first ever print copy of my first ever completed novel and just about cried on camera as I did an unboxing video of it.

Of course it hasn’t all be unicorn rides and fluffy kitten snuggles since then. I’ve sold approximately 30 print copies (mostly to family), and approximately 15 e-book copies (mostly to NaNoWriMo friends), and I gave away almost 200 e-book copies for free on Halloween, so all total I’ve made something like $60 or $70 on this book thus far. Marketing yourself is a difficult business, especially because you have to be careful not to be annoying, and zombie novels are not for everyone, so I’ve got a long road ahead of me. But in the end, I’m just so happy to have actually done it, to be able to say that I am a published author and that my book is available on Amazon and Kindle. That is super-cool, and it just motivates me to write more, to publish more, and to prove that I can be a professional fiction writer while also working a day job to support my family. Boo-ya.

Goal #4: Write 500,000 words.

Well I’ve been very positive in this post up to now, but there’s not a lot good I can say about this goal. At the beginning of the year I reduced my previous year’s goal by half, thinking that surely I would be able to handle it, but there were many road-blocks in my way.

Now, mind you, most of those road-blocks were completely reasonable ones. For instance I spent several months putting writing aside in favor of editing so that I could publish the novel. I also had a hard go at NaNoWriMo this year because I was working and thus only able to do my daily writing by hand. In addition to those blocks the length of my blog posts went down this year as I struggled to schedule stuff in advance so that I could work on more important things. All in all, it just turned out to be a pretty stressful year for writing. But the good news is that I did manage to keep up with the blog, only missing three or four scheduled days the entire year, and I’m also coming out of the end of 2014 with a very-nearly completed first draft of Book One of my upcoming “Other World” series. So that is definitely something!

———-

In the end, the year was full of ups and downs, as is wont to happen, but it was a pretty good one overall. I have my (relative) health, my small group of followers, my awesome self-published book, and the makings of more books coming into the new year with me. I think all of that deserves a celebration, so I’m going to spend the last two weeks of this year not worrying about anything except Christmas and having an awesome time with my family. How does that sound? ^_~

The Important Tradition of Adding Holiday Pounds

Food is a very important part of Christmas. You know it, I know it, and everyone else knows it. Anyone who denies it is lying.

In my household the feast of foods begins on Christmas Eve. This is when I make a big ol’ ham, using a modified version of my grandfather-in-law’s recipe. I start by slow-cooking the ham (if possible – occasionally we’ve gotten one that was too big for the slow cooker) all day. At the beginning of the slow-cook I’ll spread a nice coat of brown sugar on top of the ham, and during the last hour or so I’ll throw some pineapple slices on top (if I remember to buy them…pineapple slices are this meal’s cranberry sauce for me). To serve with the ham there is a delicious sauce that is basically made of pineapple juice, brown sugar, and raisins. Depending on what we’re feeling like I’ll make either potato salad or cheesy scalloped potatoes to go with the ham, and by early evening we are all quite docile and ready to sit back and relax with some Christmas shows.

Now, things may change a bit this year since my daughter is now old enough to be very aware of Christmas, but usually I would get up early on Christmas morning and cook a breakfast of eggs, bacon, and toast, and we’d eat before the little one ever woke up. This year, however, it’s very likely that she’ll be the first one up, so we may have to change things up and possibly have our breakfast as a mid-morning break from opening presents. I am not cruel enough to bring a 4-year-old downstairs on Christmas morning, let her glimpse her toys, and then make her sit and wait while the adults flitter about eating bacon.

And then, of course, there’s the coup de grace…the Christmas dinner. I make my stuffing from scratch with torn up bread, celery and onions, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper, and butter, and pack it all in the bird. to cook the turkey I forgo the traditional roasting-pan-in-the-oven in favor of an electric roaster, which is basically just a really big slow cooker. Before I start cooking I paint the turkey with butter and flavor with poultry seasoning. Then I cook on high for an hour or so to get things moving before turning the temp down low so that it slow-cooks throughout the day. And I baste regularly, of course. When the turkey is nearing completion I set the potatoes, carrots, and turnip to boil, and get mashing with lots of butter. My mother usually makes the gravy while I’m handling everything else; she makes it from scratch using the turkey drippings, the boil water from the veggies, flour, and soy sauce. Make a box of Stove Top just to make sure there’s a ton of stuffing (because, duh), and we’re ready for the most important meal of the season!

IMG_5238.JPG(Honestly, I could probably just have this and still be happy.)

And then it’s off to the living-room floor to exhaustedly help missy de-box her presents. Usually this step is accompanied by rum and eggnog.

Do you look forward to Christmas food as much as I do? What kinds of food-related traditions do you have? Do you do the cooking yourself or let others feed you? Please share!

Let it Snow…in the Comm Room

Sometimes we are unfortunately enough to have to work or otherwise be away from home during the holidays. As you read this post I’ll be on the last day of my 14-day shift on the Alberta oil sands. With the full day it takes me to fly out here and the full day it takes to fly back, that means that I will have spent the first 16 days of December over 3000 miles away from my family instead of enjoying my decorated house, reading Christmas stories to my daughter, baking goodies, and wrapping presents.

But I count myself lucky, because I will be home for the actual holiday. When I was young my mother used to have to work Christmas Day every year. And while I’ve been working on the oil sands I have known several of my coworkers to be stuck working their regular shifts during the holidays; some of those coworkers have multiple kids under 10 and didn’t get to see them open any of their presents. So I count my blessings that I get to be home during the most important part of the holidays, and so do my current coworkers because our site is shutting down for Christmas. (Yay!)

With that thought in mind we’ve been unusually cheery and giddy at work the past few days. One of the boys brought an iPod filled with Christmas music and a Bluetooth speaker to play it on. We’ve been sharing ideas with each other about what to buy for kids/spouses/parents, and teasing the hell out of the ones who haven’t done any shopping yet. And look! I decorated our comm console!

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The point that I guess I’m trying to make in my roundabout way is that knowing you’re going to be with family and friends soon can make even 12-hour shifts in the dead of winter feel a hell of a lot easier to deal with. So I really, truly hope that all of you are able to spend your holiday with someone special. I know I can’t wait to get home to my special someones tomorrow. Maybe we’ll even make some more snowflakes together when I get home. What do you think?

Authors Answer 6 – Author Mistakes

TraceyLynnTobin:

To be a real professional you have to be able to see and admit to your own mistakes. Check out what myself and 11 other authors are owning up to.

Originally posted on I Read Encyclopedias for Fun:

For the rest of December, we have a guest author! I’d like to welcome Michael J. Sullivan, the author of the Riyria fantasy series.

As we all know, authors are people.  And people make mistakes.  This is why we write drafts and do a lot of editing.  This is why editors exist.  It’s also why authors often have beta readers pick apart their books.  It’s a reason I also use a critique group.  They help catch many of my mistakes.

pink-erasersQuestion 6: Which mistake or bad habit in writing is the most difficult for you to stop doing?

Michael J. Sullivan

There are plenty of things I do wrong, but I wouldn’t classify them as “bad habits.”  I have a system that works well for me, so my “habits” are generally positive ones. For instance, I write at the same time every day, right after I wake up and…

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Gift Ideas You May Not Have Thought Of

Gift shopping can be hard, especially if you don’t have all that much in common with the person you’re buying for. So with that in mind, here’s some random gift ideas you may not have thought of.

Does your recipient like tea?

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Go to DavidsTea.com right now. There are dozens and dozens of loose-leaf teas to choose from, in all kinds of different categories, and there are always gift sets available as well. The pricing for the loose tea is based on weight, so the cost depends on what you choose, but considering how many cups you can get out of a bag, the price is actually quite reasonable. They also have a host of tea-related gift options, such as mugs, kettles, steeping nets, filters, tea additives (honey, sugar sticks, etc.), travel kits, and so on. It is literally your one-stop shop for tea, and as someone who has tried many of their teas, trust me when I say that they do their job well.

Does your recipient like nerdy stuff/collectibles?

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Consider purchasing them a few months worth of a nerd-and-geek subscription box service. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, and you don’t even have to go to the store to buy it. For between $20 and $35 per month, your recipient gets a monthly box full of nerdy collectibles and fun stuff, and you can order it all online, from the comfort of your own bed. Personally, I suggest Loot Crate, both because I have found it to be the superior nerd box, and because you have the choice of paying monthly, or for three, six, or twelve-month chunks. But beware! Your credit card will be automatically charged when whatever time period you’ve chosen expires, so you have to make sure to cancel the subscription before that happens.

Does your recipient like beauty products?

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See above suggestion, but replace “Loot Crate” with “Ipsy“. For $10/month ($15 in Canada) your loved one can get a beautiful little make-up bag with 5-7 beauty products in it every month. I have personally found my Ipsy bags to have a value of about $35 in products, so for a total of $120 ($180 in Canda) your recipient gets a total of approximately $420 worth of products over the course of the year. Just remember, as with the Loot Crate suggestion, that Ipsy charges your credit card monthly, so you have to remember to cancel the service so that you don’t keep getting charged after your gift budget has run out.

Does your recipient like to read…like, a lot?

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If you have a loved one who rips through whole books faster than most people can read the summary on the back cover, you may want to look into getting them a Kindle Unlimited account. KU is basically Netflix for readers; for $9.99 per month your reader has access to a library of over 700,000 ebooks and audio books. And they don’t even need an actual Kindle to use the service. If your reader has a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, they can download the free Kindle app and instantly start enjoying the vast digital library that you’ve just purchased for them. And remember, this is another monthly payment gift, so work out with your recipient when you’re going to remove your card from the account so that they can keep their subscription going undisturbed.

Does your recipient like video games…but you know nothing about them?

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Clueless parents and grandparents, I’m talking to you. Here’s the first step: find out what game console your recipient has, and make absolutely certain you have it correct. This really isn’t so hard. Just ask, and write it down so that you don’t forget. Don’t give me any of that bull about how you’ll remember. Write it down. Right now. Now that you’ve done the hard part, go to your local Walmart, Target, or wherever you know that has those huge racks of gift cards, and pick out the one that matches your loved one’s console. If they have a Playstation 3, Playstation 4, or Playstation Vita, you want this one:

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If they have an XBox 360 or an XBox One, you want this one:

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And if they have a Nintendo Wii, Wii U, or a Nintendo 3DS you want this one:

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With this gift card your recipient can pay for the online account that is required for most consoles now, or they can buy digital downloads of games directly to their console. And all you had to figure out was the name of the console. You’re welcome.

So those are my suggestions for some gifts you may not have thought of. How about you? Any ideas for gifts that people may not have thought of? Please share!