Black Friday; everything you always wanted to know, but were afraid to ask.

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I’m not much of a shopper, unless I’m in a saddle shop surrounded by the scent of new leather and a life-sized horse mannikin.

I’ve never gone wonky over a sale on big screen televisions and I don’t get the vapors over shoe sales. Sad to say, all the media hype around Black Friday does nothing to quicken my heartbeat like it seems to for other folks. I feel left out. I’m missing something, I know, to be so ho-hum about saving a boatload of money on stuff I don’t need.

What is wrong with me?

Black Friday is a major shopping event, a shop-a-holic’s dream come true, a shopping phenomenon, if you will.

And that does quicken my heartbeat, so, in the interest of scientific research, I unearthed a few fun facts-and some not so fun facts- about Black Friday.

  1.  The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally the kick-off to the holiday shopping season, but it never had a name, until recently.
  2. The term, Black Friday, is thought to have originated in Philadelphia, when pedestrians and vehicle traffic clogged main shopping roads and generally made ordinary life difficult. It’s also the day when retailers’ accounting books switch from being ‘in the red’ to being ‘in the black.’
  3.  People get crazy for a deal. To date, there have been 16 reported deaths due to Black Friday shopping mania.
  4. In 2018, American shoppers spent a whopping 717.5 billion dollars on Black Friday alone.
  5. 50% of the 717.5 billion dollars was spent on electronics and technology.
  6. Environmentalists criticize Black Friday as yet another consumeristic bomb as shoppers purchase items they don’t need simply because they’re on sale.
  7. On Black Friday,  in a line outside a California Walmart, a woman used pepper spray on fellow shoppers to prevent them from cutting the line. She was waiting for an Xbox 360.

The psychology behind Black Friday is even more interesting.

  • Black Friday hype awakens a psychological urgency. First, retailers encourage you to believe you want IT, whatever IT is; then they drop the bomb. “You have just one day to get IT.”
  •  When we shop or engage in exciting or impulsive behavior, we feel a little thrill. That’s the brain’s physiological response to impulse behavior. Your brain sends a shot of dopamine to your neurotransmitters, which- lo and behold-reinforces that impulse behavior.
  • Advertising sells happiness, not products. Your life will be amazing if only you buy this sweater, television, computer, I-pad. No, really…your life will be amazing!
  •  Consumer Psychology is an entire field of research. No lie. It’s research devoted to finding out what motivates shoppers to make purchases. Some of the motivators include boosting self-esteem, an ‘I deserve this’ mentality, a happiness reach, cultural conditioning, and the desire for immediate gratification. Finding out why you buy, is a full time job for someone.

But hey, don’t let any of the above stop you. I don’t want to be a killjoy.

Happy Black Friday shopping everyone!

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The Booklist; great books to read over the holidays.

Many of you will be getting together with your quirky relatives over the holidays. Why not bring along a book with interesting characters? You know, for the downtime when Aunt Martha is sleeping off her third glass of port.

Alias Grace is a favorite of mine. After reading the book, indulge in the miniseries. It was fantastic. Set in 19th century Canada, the story unravels the truth (or does it?) of a woman imprisoned for a brutal murder.

The End of the Affair is set in London just after World War II. The story is more than a fascinating love triangle. This book was also adapted for television and is excellent.

Another Graham Greene novel; The Ministry Of Fear is short, but oh so good. A man’s ordinary day spins out of control as he gets caught up in a Nazi murder plot in war torn London.

After the Fall

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I’m so honored that the Elizabeth Ayers Center for Creative Writing chose my essay as the winner of their October photo prompt contest. You can visit the Center at www.creativewritingcenter.com for online classes, retreats, and compassionate writerly advice. I highly recommend their newsletter and blog. 

After the Fall by Karen Elizabeth Baril

This year, it’s less about raking leaves than it is about love.

Dad, post heart attack, stands on the porch looking lost in a pair of baggy sweats, which are too big for his shrunken frame. He’d been lucky, the doctor told us. Really lucky.
Mom passes me a rake. “Do you want to borrow my gloves?”

I smile and shake my head. I want to feel the wooden rake handle, solid and cool, made of maple in my hand. Mom, a little unsteady on her feet, sweeps the leaves into mountains.

We labor for hours, a sweet smell of decay in the air, that reminds me of an old cider cellar. The neighbors have a wood fire going and I know I’ll go home smelling of damp smoke and leaves.

I visited a house in Connecticut one summer, a house with wainscoting painted by the impressionists. Golds, reds, yellows, blues, against the white paneling. This day takes on the light and quality of one of those impressionist paintings. On this day, every color has taken to the stage; not just the golds and yellows and reds, but the rich browns and the weatherworn grays of the trees.

Dad pitches a volley of corny jokes from the railing. Mom laughs or shouts, “Oh Don, really!” but neither one of us asks him to stop. This year, dad’s jokes fuel the labor. They’re as necessary as the rakes in our hands.

Dad tells us an old story of the tandem bicycle they’d had in England. He’d huff and puff up the hills, straining to make the bicycle move forward. When he glanced over his shoulder to see what the trouble might be, he caught mom with her feet on the handlebars. A good joke if ever there was one.

“Well,” he said, “I was young, then. I could do it.”

We rake throughout the afternoon. When we have five mounds of leaves, Mom turns to me satisfied. “We did it!” Then she drops her rake, spins around, arms towards the sky, and plummets backward onto her pile of leaves. A cloud of leaf and color rises up around her.

She lies flat on her back, moving her arms and legs in and out in wide arcs.
“Look!,” she says, “I’m making a snow angel!”

“You can’t make a snow angel in leaves,” I tell her, feeling stingy.

“Oh, I yes I can! I am!”

Dad stands up to watch. “Just look at her,” he said, “I wish I had a camera.”

I offer my hand to help mom up, but she’s not ready. She’s a child again, an impulsive girl, exuberant, making of herself an angel.

I catch a falling leaf in my hand. It’s more yellow than orange or red. I trace the veins of the leaf with the tip of my finger, out to its points and down to its stem, still soft and supple. There’s life here, I think. Life, even after the fall.

 

 

Yorkshire Pudding

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When I was a kid, Yorkshire Pudding was a staple side dish in my British-born household, especially at the the holidays. Mom would make the muffin-style Yorkshires and we’d fill them with a spoonful of meat drippings. Definitely not health food.

So when my boyfriend arrived for that first holiday dinner, I wasn’t sure what he’d think of our very English tradition- no rolls, just Yorkshires. I think he gobbled down three or four of them. Dad could see he had to look sharp if he wasn’t going to lose out on the last one. I married that boyfriend and at every holiday dinner he’d spar with dad for the last Yorkshire Pudding. That sparring became a new tradition.

Yorkshire pudding has a colorful history, dating back to the 12th century. It’s believed to have originated in the kitchens of King Henry II.  In the village pubs, meat (probably mutton) was dangled on a hook over a cooking fire. A pan underneath caught the meat drippings which were used to cook the Yorkshires, a mixture of flour, salt, eggs, and fresh milk.

The result is sort of like a moist and flavorful popover. Sort of. Trying to  describe a Yorkshire pudding to those who haven’t had the pleasure is like trying to describe the color of the sky to a blind man. It’s just not the same.

With the holidays just around the corner, I share our family recipe for Yorkshire Pudding.

Yorkshire Pudding      

4 Large fresh eggs
equal quantity of fresh milk to eggs
same with all purpose flour
pinch of salt
vegetable fat or pan drippings (best if you use Crisco…no, this is not health food.)

Mix the first four ingredients. Consistency should be somewhat like cake batter. Do not overmix. Leave to sit for 30 minutes.

Put a pat of Crisco (about 1 tbsp.) in each muffin hole of the muffin tin pan. You can make one big one in a big cake pan, but there is less fighting if everyone gets their own pudding. And they taste better this way.

Get the oven real hot-450 degrees. When the fat is just smoking, ladle mixture to fill muffin cups to 1/3 full. Bake for about 20 minutes. Keep a close eye on them, but don’t open the oven or they’ll fall.

Serve with just about anything; pot roasts and roast turkey are my family’s favorites.  Encourage guests to spoon a dollop of gravy into the cup.

Delicious.

 

5-Rules for Writing About the People You Love

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It’s easy to tell an embarrassing truth about someone else. Actually, as a writer, I get a perverse pleasure from it. I can tuck the truth into a piece of fiction and no one will ever be the wiser or I can tell it outright in an essay and call it art.

Still, sharing other people’s truths, even if it benefits my creative life, can feel awkward.  Unless, of course, the person is dead. After you’re dead, everything you ever did or said is fair game, rich fodder for my creative life. If we’re estranged that can work just as well.

But, we’re not estranged and until then, you’re safe with me, sort of. I can’t say I won’t write about you, but I’ll write so that even your mother wouldn’t recognize you. Fair enough?

Here are my 5 rules for writing about the people I love:

  1.  For every story I write about a person I know, I ask myself- is this my story to tell? Some stories are not mine. I don’t understand them or I don’t have all the facts I need to tell the story true. As a twelve-year old kid, I saw the movie, “The Trial of Billy Jack.” Okay, so I was an impressionable girl, but after I saw that movie, I switched from writing about cute boys and horses to writing long, boring, tragic stories of persecuted and handsome Native American men. Don’t rent the movie. It was awful and don’t read my terrible, terrible stories of persecuted and handsome Native American men.
  2. I never want to write something that would embarrass or humiliate someone I love. This rule brings to mind Pat Conroy’s book, The Prince of Tides. It’s probably a bad example because if you’ve read Conroy’s book, a semi-autobiographical novel of his abusive father, you know that sometimes you just have to get things off your chest. The book is so darn good.  His family disowned him after the novel’s release, but came around eventually. Here he comments in a 1996 story for The Guardian,

Pat Conroy tells the story of when his mother was dying of leukemia. She said, “Son, I find it hard to relax when I’m dying, knowing you’re going to write down every damn word I say.” When he told her that she’d be included in the film version of “Prince of Tides”, she told him to get Meryl Streep to play the part. 

3. I write the story true. No one is all villain or all hero. Yesterday, I ripped off the kid at the coffee shop. The coffee cost $2.19. I gave him 3 dollars. He gave me back $1.91. I didn’t tell him. I drove away satisfied that I took money from the donut shop that takes money from me. Serves them right for putting all the good donut shops out of business. Checkmate. Gotcha. Then I thought of how the kid’s cash drawer might not add up at the end of the night and what if this was his last day to get it right? I didn’t turn around and go back, this is a true story, remember? Later that same day, when the grocery clerk asked me if I wanted to round up for the local fire department I said yes! in a really loud voice. No one is all villain.

4. If it’s a story that will define the person for evermore, I don’t write it. There is still something about the published written word that seems like hard fact. It is very difficult to live down a defining moment even if the story appeared in a seedy tabloid. The story can dog the person forever. I think of Axl Rose, the front man of Guns N’ Roses. I mean how many times has he been reported dead only to resurface, go on tour, and record a new album? I feel like if he actually dies, no one will believe it.

5. Rules are made to be broken. Or at least, bent a little. Be careful. Be oh so careful what you share with me. I didn’t ask to be born this way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where Inspiration Lives; treat yourself to an Artist’s Date.

Hardwood
Writers and visual artists are often asked this question; Where do you get your ideas?

I’m one of those people who is never short of ideas. It’s bringing them to fruition that challenges me most. But, if you’re a writer or visual artist, engaging in new experiences can spark an idea for your next project. It’s these little artist dates, a concept I first read about in Julia Cameron’s excellent book, The Artist’s Way, that infuse my creativity. Even if you are not an artist, stepping outside of your routine can help you get creative in your personal life, maybe even helping to solve a problem that has you stuck.

When Dave was building our kitchen cabinets, I went along with him to the hardwood outlet in Enfield, Connecticut. It was an afternoon well spent. The Hardwood Outlet is nothing like your local lumber yard or a chain home improvement  store. From the moment I stepped through the doors, the scent of freshly milled wood filled my nose. I walked along the rows and rows of woods and read their names.

The names, so beautiful, were like words in a poem:

Spanish Cedar, White Oak, Lacewood, Eucalyptus, Cypress, Q-sawn Sycamore, Poplar, Walnut, Red Maple Curly, Sassafras, Maple Birdseye, Hickory, Basswood, Cherry, and Flame Birch. I thought of the forests these woods lived in and I loved that the Hardwood Outlet was committed to buying only sustainable wood, grown and harvested in eco-friendly forests.

All the wood was sold by the board foot. The old man running the place leaned in to me,

“You’re very smart to come with your husband. No man should be allowed to come in here without his wife, too tempting!” He seemed surprised to have a woman wandering the wood.

Sadly, this hardwood outlet has closed up shop, but since then, I’ve treated myself to an assortment of artist’s dates. An heirloom garden seed festival, a talk on Samuel Clemens, a dog groomer’s, a Jewish deli (even though I am not Jewish), and a state fish hatchery. Artist Dates don’t have to cost you anything, but they should help you step out of your everyday humdrum.

I’d love to hear your ideas for artist’s dates in the comments.

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The Booklist; great books to read on the throne.

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Are you a closet bathroom reader?

(You can lie about it, but you’ll have to live with that lie for the rest of your life.)

Anyway, here are a few of my favorite books for reading on the throne.

 

IMG_8115 The connection between our gut and our mood. This makes perfect sense to me. Fascinating!

img_8116 This is a great book to read while you’re ‘scatting’ yourself, especially if you love to spend time in the forest.

img_8117 I understand that some kids are afraid to poop. I don’t remember this being a problem in my family. Can we blame this problem on the millennials somehow? Just joking. I love millennials!