Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Great Shopping Survey Experiment

My usual response is a mumbled “Thanks,” as I stuff the store receipt into my purse. The survey that the cashier has helpfully highlighted in pink remains unanswered as well as all of my chances to a sweepstakes for a gift card if I simply “go online and complete a brief questionnaire about my shopping experience.” 

What started out as a mandatory salutation from bored salespeople coupled with an offer for their store credit card at a handful of stores has become part of nearly every transaction at retail and restaurant chains across the country. It seems as though everyone wants your opinion and is willing to give you certain shopping perks in exchange for it.

I decided to host an experiment to see just how much my opinion mattered to those cash register receipts.

For a period of about a month, I decided to complete every survey from everywhere I shopped or dined that offered one. I answered each one honestly and independently from one another and recorded the time it took to complete, the ease of the process and what the promised payoff to me was.

Not much, was the resounding answer.

The Good:

Of the 15 surveys I completed only two from retail stores and two from restaurants offered something tangible. Dick’s Sporting Goods emailed me a $10 off coupon immediately after completing their six minute survey, and Off Broadway Shoes gave me an instant $5 off my purchase at the register if I texted a number they provided. I appreciated that instaneous savings. 

And of the two out of three restaurants I tried, Sticky Fingers Smokehouse and Outback Steakhouse gave me a code for a free dessert and an appetizer respectively.

The Not Bad:

JCpenney is offering a button after a purchase at their store. You go on the website, enter in the code from the back of the button, and you are instantly notified if you’re a winner. 

I didn’t win, but by this point, I was used to it.

The big, bad waste of time:

Every other retail store I sampled entered me into a sweepstakes of varying prizes. Best Buy and Home Depot were the most generous with a chance at a $5,000 shopping spree, while Joann Fabric and Craft Center offered a mere $25 gift card. None of this mattered since to date, I haven’t won a dime.

The average time it took to complete a survey was about 7 minutes, but Toys R Us took a whopping 13 minutes. But if you’ve ever stood in line at this chronically understaffed store during the holidays, anything under an hour seems like a bonus. Pier 1 Imports was the only one I chose to answer by phone, and I think this added considerably to the time devoted to a $7 clearance floral stem.

So after a couple of hours of visiting store websites and placing numerical values to whether signs printed in Spanish enhanced my shopping experience, I can’t say that it was worth the investment. To be fair, I am not a particularly lucky person nor am I particularly patient. The nebulous sweepstakes offers seem awfully shallow when stores are asking customers to invest additional time to advance their consumer research. While the store got my time, age, and annual income, all I got in return was a receipt eight inches longer than necessary, strange 800 numbers calling during dinner and a Blooming Onion.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Being a light in darkness

Today, like you, there are things I want to un-know.  Images I'd like to un-see. My throat is tight, my eyes bloodshot, and I have a dull headache from crying before sleep.

The anger hasn't come yet--I know it will will eventually--but I'm just too sad to let that in yet. The few times an articulate thought or word comes to mind, it is quickly replaced by just this overwhelming sadness, that I know we all share.

So this morning when Stevie woke up and announced that he had written letters to our Congressmen and I should do the same, I admit to having trouble with that task.

But after reading what he wrote--so precise, straightforward and right--I knew I had to follow suit.

So I did.

December 17, 2012

Dear Senator;

Earlier this morning, my seventeen year old son wrote you a letter regarding the very timely issue of gun control. As we all are, he is sickened by the events of last Friday’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School and feels passionate about doing whatever he can to prevent this sort of atrocity from ever happening again. He asked me this morning if I, too, would write our elected officials urging them to action by ignoring the regurgitated rhetoric from the NRA and initiate and support stricter gun control in this great country.

As articulate as my son is on this subject, I find myself not nearly as so this dark day. Steven is the oldest of our four children, with the youngest being a Kindergartner. Like most parents I’m sure, every time my mind tries to formulate an argument or words of wisdom, protest or outrage, my heart breaks a little more imagining my beautiful daughter and her precious classmates sitting at their desks. I find I am rendered paralyzed by these thoughts.

But my hope is that you as one of our elected officials won’t be as lethargic in words and most of all action. While I’ve heard the arguments and rhetoric my entire life, maybe now things can truly change. Maybe today we redefine who and what “the bad guys,” are, what “just for sport,” is, and the math that says more guns make us safer. Because the day of those talking points are over, and we must as nation come together in common sense to ensure that human life trumps politics, lobbyists and barbarianism.

I know it is too late for the 26 innocent children and teachers murdered last week, but it’s not too late to fall on the right side of history.


Tracey Henry

And here is my son's:

Dear Representative:


            I am reaching out to you in wake of the December 14th Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. This devastating attack has shocked the whole world, and it has also shed an international light on American gun policy. Compared to those of the rest of the developed world, the United States has the loosest gun laws and also the highest gun-related death rate. I see that the National Rifle Association donated thousands of dollars to your campaign in the 2012 election cycle. I would love to believe that these donations do not influence the way you vote on behalf of your constituents, but I would be lying to myself. You voted “yea” to national bills that authorized the allowance of loaded guns in national parks, the repeal of the firearm ban in Washington D.C., the Trigger Lock amendment that would require guns to be sold with trigger locks, and a bill that protected gun manufacturers from liability in some cases of injury or criminal actions. You identify yourself as a “prolife” representative, and I understand that you view the Second Amendment as a fundamental right of every American, but you also need to protect the life of every American and your supporting of these irresponsible gun laws does not protect the American right to life. According to Mother Jones since 1986, there have been at least sixty-one gun-related mass murders in the U.S. Of those mass-murders a majority of the firearms used were purchased legally. The Harvard Injury Control Research Centre has found substantial evidence linking the number of guns to the number of homicides.
            A CNN poll taken in August found that about 90% of Americans support stricter background checks in order to purchase a firearm. A Republican pollster, Frank Luntz, conducted a survey on behalf of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and he found that 63% of former and current NRA members agreed that the age requirement for a firearm purchase should be twenty-one. Also 74% of NRA members support more-thorough criminal background checks on anyone who wishes to purchase a gun.
            So Congresswoman Blackburn, I am asking that you take action to combat the issue of gun control in the United States. I understand that the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 did not result in the lower homicide rates that were promised, but the massacres in Newtown, CT and Aurora, CO were both caused by semi-automatic assault rifles. I ask that you seriously consider supporting the Assault Weapons Ban that Senator Dianne Feinstein promises to introduce at the beginning of next year. I also ask that you support legislation to improve mental health facilities and mental health institutions, so that the psychopaths committing these heinous crimes will be treated before they decide to massacre dozens of people. I would also implore you to strengthen background check requirements for gun purchases.
Finally Congresswoman, I would ask you to seriously consider the lives of the twenty children massacred by Adam Lanza last week. These murders could have maybe been prevented with stricter legislation. There is no way to know for sure, but you do have the chance to stop this massacre from happening again in the future, and I ask that you please take advantage of this opportunity and change the American gun policy. Do not listen to the manipulative voices of the National Rifle Association. Listen to your constituents. The people of Tennessee and the American people care more about their lives than their guns, and you have the chance to be a superhero and stop these horrific killings from happening in the future. Thank you for your taking the time to read this letter, and I hope I will be able to support your campaign next election cycle due to the new gun policies you will hopefully support in the next few years.

Thank you,
Steven Henry

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Paring down the Pear Tree

You will no doubt read at least 10 articles on how to cut back this holiday season. You will receive tips and newsletters that tell you how to de-stress by letting things fall by the wayside because it’s just not worth the effort.
Well, this post is an attempt at just the opposite: to encourage you to go back along the wayside and pick some of those holiday projects back up. This has nothing to do with gifts. It has nothing to do with going to 28 different stores to find coordinating wrapping paper and ribbons. What it does hope to serve as a warning not to confuse a meaningless task with a meaningful tradition.
Our family has a Christmas cookie that we make once a year. It’s such a long and involved process, that you need a year in between to recover and gain the courage to try it again. It’s made with yeast, cinnamon and sugar and you have to follow the cryptic directions of my great-grandmother’s broken English and horrible penmanship on a yellowing recipe card, but somehow a very delicious German Twist comes at the end of an eight-hour baking day.
It’s not an overly-sweet cookie; it doesn’t come from a refrigerated tube. It rises, gets kneaded, rises again, gets rolled, folded, rolled and baked. It doesn’t look like a Disney character when it comes from the oven, so it’s not really appealing to many under the age of 40, but it’s been in my family’s Christmas table for generations.
Every year I attempt the cookie with varying degrees of success. My kids like to help for a little while, but it’s not the most fun kitchen chore. But I do it nonetheless because it’s always been done.
This year, I almost passed up cookie day. I had lots of excuses -- we have just moved, there’s so many things I have to do around the new house, I haven’t unpacked the rolling pin yet. But as I was reluctantly assembling the ingredients at dawn last Sunday, my oldest son came into the kitchen.
“Are you making German Twists today?” he asked.
I sighed. “Yes, I think so.”
“And are you going to send a box of them to Great-Grandpa like you do every year?”
I stopped, recalling that special man. “Yes.”
“It was his mother in-law who made this cookies every year, right?"
I smiled. “Yes. This is what Christmas tasted like to him for the last 70 years.”
“Cool,” he said walking out of the room.
It occurred to me that kids -- and adults -- don’t remember the gifts or if the wrapping paper matched or what the centerpiece looked like, but it’s those truly unique family customs that make holiday memories.
So when you’re cutting back this holiday season, skip the extra trip to the mall and not the batch of cookies or whatever tradition holds meaning for your family.

This is a post I wrote 2 Christmases ago for the Tampa Bay Times. We lost my grandfather last year, but I will be making those German Twists and putting on Christmas to the nines nonetheless.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Christmas Potatoes

If you’ve been a Suburban Diva reader over the years, you know that it wouldn’t be the holidays without a transcript of the Christmas decoration discussion between my husband and I. If you’re new to this subject, let me enlighten. 

When it comes to holiday decorating, I am inspired more by House Beautiful, he, Animal House. I’m Lord and Taylor, he’s more Lord of the Flies. I’m all about It’s a Wonderful Life, he’s a Lifetime Original movie. Potato, potahto.

So this year we gathered as we do every first Saturday in December to discuss the decorating plan. Now that the kids are older, we have allowed them to be on the planning committee, but they do yet realize they are non-voting members.

Him: What’ll it be this year, kids? Tacky or classy?

Five voices in unison: Classy!

Him: Tacky it is! Great choice.

Me: Honey, we’re still kind of new to this neighborhood, don’t you think we should ease off just a bit?

Him: Ease off??? This is the perfect time to strike! Establish who we are as a light entity.

Me: Um, I think Middle Tennessee Electric Company has that title. And the sun.

Him: Exactly. I want others to be drawn into our orbit.

Me: (Mumbling) And I kind of want our house to be hit by a meteor, so I guess that works out for both of us.

Him: What was that, dear?

Me: I said that sounds stellar, darling. Let’s get started.

A few hours later...

Son: Dad, I saw these new poles they have in the store now that are made especially to hang Christmas lights. They come with little plastic hooks that attach to the gutter so you don’t need to climb on the roof anymore.

Him: Where’d you see those? In the ladies skirt department?

Son: No, but it might work better than the golf club and kitchen tongs we’re using now.

Him: You know, back in my day, we didn’t have fancy things like poles and “grounding wire” and “ladders with all their rungs.” We hung lights with frayed cords and asbestos bulbs. My Dad would take me out in 4 feet of snow and a lightning storm and have me string lights on a rusted weather vane 8 stories high on a pitched roof. Barefoot.

Son: How was there lightning in a snow storm?

Him: Because that’s how things were back then--TOUGH. But we liked it because that’s what Christmas is all about.

Son: Mom! Dad’s turning into a villian from Scooby-Doo again.

Me: It’s Christmas. This is what it does to him. (Noticing progress.) Um, honey? Not to be critical, but do you think that manger you’re constructing is rather....tall? And shiny?

Him: Not in the least bit. If the original had been to this scale, perhaps it wouldn’t have taken the Wise Men until January 6th to find Him.

Me: He was born unto a Virgin, not under a Virgin Mobile tower.

Him: Potato, potahto.

Much later that night, after I slather sunscreen on the kids and we all go outside to admire the finished product.

Me: Please don’t look directly at the lights, guys. View it through this piece of cardboard with a pin prick through it.

Kids: That’s so cool!

I look over at my husband who is standing on the sidewalk with a tear in his eye that I don’t believe resulted from the glare of the LED lights on the team of reindeer.

Me: Oh honey, it’s beautiful. What’s wrong?

Him: Nothing. I was just thinking that the kids are growing up so fast and soon they will be doing this with their own children someday soon.

Me: Not if I don’t get those lead capes across their torsos while we’re standing here.

Him: (Ignoring me.) It seems like just yesterday I was standing on the sidewalk with my Dad admiring our illuminated masterpiece. (Glances over at smiling children.) And I’m so proud of all of them.

Me:   Aw, because of their cat-like reflexes when you drop hammers and staple guns from the roof?

Him: (Wiping the tear away.) No, because already at their young ages they’ve learned to ignore the neighbors slowing down in front of the house and threatening to call the Homeowner’s Association. 

Me: The milestone we as parents dream of.

Maybe it’s more Ground Control and Major Tom thing. Potato, potahto.

At least it’s merry and bright.

©2012 Tracey Henry