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Tips for Closing Out 2011 and Preparing for a Rockin’ 2012

Thanks to Amber Ludwig for today’s insightful guest post:

We are all winding down the 2011 year (hard to believe it went by so quickly!) and resting up to take charge in early 2012. It is important to really take that time to REST because January is an often hectic month where business owners, like you and me, are eager to expand, build and conquer. We are FULL of inspiration and creative ideas. Many also feel financial pressure from spending a little too much over the holidays, and expansion in business usually requires a budget to play with. Today I hope to provide some tips for consideration to help you through this transition.

Shop at Amazon and Donate to the Poor at No Extra Cost

Amazon has it all: Low prices on computers, office and kitchen supplies, electronics (including iPads and iPods), sports & outdoor gear, tools, automotive, and of course, books and movies. It doesn’t take much to get free shipping, too.
Use the code below to access Amazon, and I’ll donate 100% of my commissions to programs that enable the poor to create a world without poverty. I currently donate to and the I always donate 100%, so bookmark this 
page and use it all year:

It costs the same to use the link. Just use it every time you go to Amazon, and the commissions will occur automatically.

My goal is to donate $1,000 this year, so please send a link to this page to your friends.

The Most Romantic Movie You Never Heard of

Blog by  Tracey E. Bennett, Queen of Conversation

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Remember Ravel’s Bolero from the movie "10"? This video is its visual equivalent. It’ll make you want to grab your honey and KISS! Or dance, maybe in the sheets. The music’s great, too.

OK, turn down the lights, turn up the volume, and bring on the most romantic movie you never heard of.

What are your favorite romantic movies? My top one is American President. Remember when Annette Benning came out of Michael Douglas’s bathroom wearing only his white shirt? Hot! Hot! HOT! Santa brought me a shirt just like it (warm, warm, warm!)

Today’s paper nominates these must-see romantic movies: 

  1. Shakespeare in Love
  2. Titanic
  3. The Notebook
  4. Like Water for Chocolate
  5. Ghost
  6. P.S. I Love You
  7. Love Actually
  8. Don Juan De Marco
  9. Say Anything
  10. Moonstruck

Feel free to add your favorite romantic movies to the list. Or favorite scenes…

Calling Customer Service: How to Get a Person on the Phone

You’re calling customer service. But you land in a maze — or daze. How do you get a person on the phone? You could get your problem handled in a jiffy if only someone would talk to you.

Here are 8 tips adapted from Reader’s Digest:

1. Don’t push any buttons. The computer will assume that you have a rotary phone and send you to a real person.

2. Push zero. Sometimes that sends you to a helpful soul.

3. Press a mess of buttons.

4. Mumble. It confuses the system and might send you to human land.

5. Speak Spanish. Many operators speak English, too.

6. Select the cancel-service option. It’s easier to hang on to a customer than to get a new one, so the company might bend over sideways to satisfy you. To do that, they have to talk to you, so you’re in.

7. Swear. [I swear Reader's Digest recommends this] because swear bunnies go to the head of the line. [Do try this at home, not on the bus.]

8. *** Go to *** for a list of 900 companies and their get-a-human-on-the-phone numbers.

++++++++++++   ++++++++++++   ++++++++++++

How’s your track record with customer service? What tips and tricks do you use to get a person on the phone? Please go the comment section and share your secrets.

Good Valentine’s Day Books and Relationship Books

Here’s a list of good Valentine’s Day and relationship books. Two of my very favorite relationship books are:

The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate – by Gary Chapman. You you only buy one relationship book ever, this is the one to get. It changed me and the way I fill my partner’s “love tank.”

Falling Into Manholes: The Memoir of a Bad/Good Girl – Wendy Merrill. A witty memoir of trying to put the “fun” in dysfunctional relationships. Wendy’s book pitch was funny enough to air on the Jay Leno Show. Look for it on YouTube.

I also enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert’s new bestseller, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage.  This meditation on marriage moves from “We don’t want to” to “Oh, we’ve got to” to “Yes, we want to marry.” It’s warm, insightful, informative, and of course, beautifully written.

And here’s a sexy how-to, hot off the press this month:

Love Her Right: The Married Man’s Guide to Lesbian Secrets for Great Sex! by Dr. Joni Frater and Esther Lastique.

(Click on the blue titles to get book details from Amazon.)

OK, here’s a longer list from Sam Horn. Take it away, Sam…


Well, Valentine’s Day is around the corner.

Are you looking for a book for your significant other? Want a fun “how to” book to either find the love of your life or bring more love into your life?

The biggest-selling book on romance and relationships in the past couple years is:

Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment by Steve Harvey. It has almost 800 (!) reviews on and is still ranked in the top 100 a year after its publication.

Here are a few of the other intriguing options out there:

Better off Wed?: Fling or Ring – Which FInger to Give Him? – Alison James

The Man Plan: Drive Men Wild – Not Away – Whitney Casey

What Was I Thinking?: 58 Bad Boyfriend Stories – Barbara Davilman and Liz Dubelman

I Used to Miss Him…But My Aim Is Improving: Not Your Ordinary Breakup Survival Guide – Alison James (A creative, witty author)

1001 Ways to Be Romantic: Now Completely Revised and More Romantic Than Ever – Greg Godek [a classic!]

What Your Mama Never Told You: True Stories About Sex and Love – Tara Roberts

Finding the Love of Your Life - Neil Clark Warren

Dating and Mating: Reading the Body Language Signals – Darren G. Burton

Stumbling Naked in the Dark: Overcoming Mistakes Men Make with Women – Bradley Fenton

What Men Won’t Tell You but Women Need to Know – Bob Berkowitz

How to Duck a Suckah: A Guide to Living a Drama-Free Life – Big Boom (yes, that’s his name)

And of course, two of the granddaddys:

Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex – John Gray

He’s Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys Greg Behrendt and Liz Tucillo

That best-selling book by Greg Behrendt not only spawned a movie and a new career as a talk-show host, it inspired several copy-cat books such as:

He Just Thinks He’s Not That Into You: The Insanely Determined Girl’s Guide to Getting the Man that She Wants – Danielle Whitman

Be Honest–You’re Not That Into Him Either: Raise Your Standards and Reach for the Love You Deserve – Ian Kerner

And, if you want a daily supply of smart posts about dating, mating, relating and romance, be sure to check out the witty, insightful blog by The Dating Goddess:

The Dating Goddess has a loyal following and has been quoted in the Wall St. Journal. After reading a few of her fun and fascinating books (Date or Wait: Are You Ready for Mr. Great? and You’ve Got to Kiss a Lot of Princes [an ebook available for free on her Web site]), you’ll quickly understand why she’s a popular go-to resource on the topic of dating and mating, romance and relationships.


Visit Sam’s blog: and friend her on FaceBook.

How to Split the Check Without Looking Cheap


Have you ever gone to dinner with friends and ordered only a drink or appetizer? But when the bill came around, you got stuck with a chunk of it? How do you pay your fair share—that is, for your smaller portion—without looking or feeling cheap?

Here’s a tip from Ramit from Scrooge Strategy. He’s all about saving money, and he’s got a good tip about saving face, too.

#2: Eat before you go, then just order appetizers.

Most of us willingly deceive ourselves about the price of eating out. If you’re going to a sit-down restaurant with a server—and you’re eating out with friends—you need to add at least 30% for tax, tip, and the inevitable shortfall that happens whenever 5+ people order food and drinks. Yet we see a menu and say, “Hey, $15 for dinner! That’s not too bad.” Add in everything (and I’m not even counting gas/parking because nobody ever does that) and you’re still talking about more like $20 to $30 for the entire meal.

Eating out is about more than food, it’s about the company. Try this just once: Eat a little before you go, then just order appetizers.

Tactical tip: The key is that you must ask if it’s ok to just pay for the appetizers, not split the bill equally. Your line is: “Hey guys, I ate before I came, so is it cool if I just order an appetizer for myself?” Everyone will say “sure, whatever,” of course. And when the bill comes, you need to remind the person who’s figuring out the bill that you ordered a small amount. “Hey Mike, can you just subtract my appetizer out? I’ll pay for that and add tax/tip if it’s cool.” Since they already agreed earlier in the meal, you won’t get pushback.

I want to highlight how difficult this will be on the first couple of times. One of my friends recently decided to live in a couple hundred dollars on food for the entire month. When I asked him to join a bunch of us for dinner, he came and ordered nothing. “How come you’re not ordering anything?” I asked. He explained what he was doing (which I thought was really cool), but admitted it was incredibly difficult to go out to a restaurant with a bunch of people and only order ice water. Fortunately, you know to start slow and just order an appetizer. Although it may seem awkward, try it once or twice and see if you can do it. You’ll get the benefit of hanging with your friends, but save $10 to $50 per meal.
Tracey here. I just signed up for Ramit’s free 7-day quickstart course, and that was one of the tips. You can sign up here: Scrooge Strategy. (No, I’m not an affiliate. Just giving credit where credit’s due.)
I welcome your comments, questions, and stories.

Get Malcolm Gladwell’s Book, What the Dog Saw, Free

What the Dog Saw If you loved The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, you’ll like Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, What the Dog Saw. It’s a collection of his New Yorker essays. You can buy it as usual. Or you can read all the articles online for f-r-e-e-e-e. You can’t beat the price.

Click here to read Gladwell’s essays online.


Thanks for reading my blog. And now I’d like to invite you to get all my posts delivered by email. See the box on the right “New Post Alerts”? Click one of those icons and sign up.

A Great Source of Conversation Topics

The Teaching Company logo
Do you love to learn? At home? At your own pace? Do you love to talk about what you learn?
Then scoot on over to The Teaching Company. Do it before Oct. 5, because they’re having a big sale. Courses include more than 2,000 hours of material in literature, philosophy, history, fine arts, science, religion, music, etc. You will never run out of stuff to talk about.
This is not a money maker for me. Not a nickel. I just think their courses are great. I downloaded a course in modern economics and listened while walking the dog. My brain was awash in statistics, but I understand now why a little inflation is good and a lot is not, and how Wal-Mart provides economic benefits even to folks who don’t shop there.
Are you a stargazer? I love Professor Alex Filippenko’s “Understanding the Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy, 2nd edition.” He’s an enthusiastic, talented teacher. And I’m eager to start the series on Egyptian history.
The Web site says,
“The Teaching Company brings engaging professors into your home or car through courses on DVD, audio CD, and audio downloads. Since 1990, great teachers from the Ivy League, Stanford, Georgetown, and other leading colleges and universities have crafted over 250 courses for lifelong learners like you. It’s the adventure of learning without the homework or exams.”
Check it out: The Teaching Company
Some of the courses have snippets on YouTube. Go there and search “The Teaching Company.”
p.s. If you miss this sale, sign up for their catalog because every course goes on sale sometime during the year.
What are your favorite sources of knowledge? Comment!

3 Kinds of Conversations: How to Ask for Help

cirrus clouds

There are three kinds of conversations:

  1. with yourself
  2. with others
  3. with God/the universe/Higher Ups

This is a true story about a close encounter of the third kind. It’s one thing to talk to the universe, and another to get a reply.

It happened to Audrey last week. Her home is in New York, but she’s been my Honolulu neighbor for 4 years because she’s taking care of her dad, Charlie, and her bed-ridden mom. I think Audrey’s a saint because her mother isn’t, not by a long, loo-ong shot.

But even saints have needs. Audrey needs to go home to take care of her leaves-up-to-the-ankles-and-covering-the-car property. Its abandoned appearance almost dares a rascal to set a match to the place. When she found out that the “friend” she paid to take care of the yard and mail wasn’t doing his job (talk about a rascal), she cried.

How could she leave her mom, who had fired/threatened/chased off professional caregivers? Would her mom even be willing to live in a hospice facility for the ten days Audrey needed to be gone? Would her mom live through it, or die just for spite?

Dr. Bruce, a handsome young gerontologist stopped by, as he sometimes did. Audrey poured out her frustration. As he was leaving, Dr. Bruce said kindly, “Everything will be all right.”

Audrey said, “I need help, and I need it NOW!”

She dove into the swimming pool and did twenty laps, kicking out her stress.

As she climbed out of the pool, the doorbell rang. “I’ll get it,” said Charlie.

“No, I’ll get it.”

“I’ll get it.”

“No, Dad. Let me do it.”

Dripping wet, she dashed to the front door. Three women in their early twenties greeted her. “I’m Sister Sarah.” “I’m Sister Vanessa.” “I’m Sister Margaret. We’re Mormons, and we’re spending a year and a half in Hawaii doing service. Is there anything we can do for you?”

Audrey’s a giver. She gives generously and rarely asks for anything. She listened to the three women and asked many questions. While she didn’t jump on their generous offer, she’s considering it. Three reliable, eager, and open-hearted women could do the job of caring for her mom for a few hours a day.

Audrey’s aware of the universe’s exquisite timing: She asked for help, finished her laps, and beat her dad—who would have said, “No thanks, bye”—to the door.

Our front door is 200 feet from Audrey and Charlie’s, and I’ll tell you, these three souls didn’t ring our bell.

It reminds me of a plaque from my B & B days:

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. – Hebrews 13:2

Conversation question:

Have you had a conversation with God/the universe/Higher Ups and gotten a reply? Tell me about it in the comment section.


How to Ask for Help

This comes under the category of conversations with others.

After hearing Audrey’s story on Saturday, I found a relevant web page. Gretchen Rubin, of  The Happiness Project, wrote:

One of my Secrets of Adulthood is “It’s okay to ask for help,” and one of my resolutions is to “Ask for help.” Why I find this simple act so difficult, I don’t know. But I know that other people do, too—for example, the excellent Marci Alboher just wrote about how to ask for help.

That’s two kinds of conversations out of three. I hope you enjoyed reading about them. I’m eager to read your comments.

Hello! This Is Your Back-Up-Your-Computer Wake-Up Call

Imagine for a moment that your computer got stolen or crashed. Imagine that you threw out important files and didn’t know it. How miserable would you be?

Laptop computer
It’s Not a Matter of IF Your Computer Crashes, But WHEN.
Everybody’s computer crashes eventually. Mine crashed 9 years ago, and I haven’t balanced my checkbook since. (But that’s another subject….)
BTW, this is not an advertisement, just a helpful poke in the ribs. I don’t make a nickel, but I hope to earn your everlasting appreciation.
I started using’s free backup service 2 years ago. They provide 2 GB, which was enough for  all my documents. I also back up my computer daily on a 500 GB hard drive.
But I got to thinking…. What if my computer and external hard drive got stolen or a hurricane blew them all away?
My book manuscripts, iTunes, emails, addresses…. All gone…..
As my stepdad used to say, my tits would be in the wringer.
In April I bought’s unlimited gigabyte 2-year plan. (Amazon has cheaper storage, but I couldn’t figure it out.) Mozy took 3 weeks to back up 125 GB. That’s an outrageous length of time, but it was worth it. Now it backs up new data in minutes.
Ahhhh, the peace of mind. And it’s less than 5 bucks a month. Sign up now for the free or paid plans.
Do it soon, ok?
And Now, as Paul Harvey Used to Say, for the REST of the Story:
I wrote this post on May 19 and saved it in my drafts. It was prophetic because the night before, in an uncharacteristic fit of computer housecleaning, I deleted a folder containing my finished book, Do You Squeeze the Toothpaste in the Middle? Playful Questions for Dates and Mates. Also in the folder was a draft of my next book. And I didn’t discover the problem for more than 3 weeks.
The data was long gone from my external hard drive.
But I had Mozy. Because the restore wasn’t working and, it seemed, neither was Mozy’s support, it took 8 days to restore my data. One grumpy letter from me and one long-distance phone call from a helpful Mozy tech guy later, I’m good to go. The guy admitted that they dropped the ball. I appreciated his taking responsibility.
So there you have it: disaster averted.
Computers always crash in one way or another, and you lose your data.
BSTS, right? Better Safe Than Sorry. So what are you waiting for?
Set up your back-up system(s) right now. Pronto. Immediately. Hurry up. Go to