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Coupons: to use or not to use them?

11 Nov

Back in the day when I lived in Romania, my homeland, I had no idea coupons existed. I had no idea stores had certain periods when they’d discount their products (like before a holiday), given customers even more incentive if they brought coupons, so their savings would be even greater. And we are not talking lower prices for the let’s say winter clothing heavily discounted once the cold season ended; we are talking sales for produce, ice cream and even shrimp.

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That was something unheard of in Romania where (during communism) grocery stores would rinse chunks of cheese and entire salami casing to wash away the mold. Bad leaves would be peeled off the lettuce head, rotten tomatoes and potatoes hidden under the good ones and poured in the customer’s bag without the option for picking only the good ones. Nothing was wasted but rather forced down the customer’s throat because there was always a shortage of supply and high demand. But let’s leave those memories where they belong—in the past—and return to present times, shall we?giphy-2

We all receive coupons in our mail. Stores ask at check out for your email address or if you want to become a member, promising better deals. Your mail box—whether the physical one or the virtual one—gets bombarded with coupons: restaurants, stores, flights, hotels, shoes, clothing, and the list goes on, but the question is: do these coupons work and how many of us really use them? And how about sales during Black Friday and Cyber Monday? Are those really discounted prices or those are actually the real price we should pay for a blouse/pair of shoes/ TV, etc. but stores manipulate us into believing they are taking a huge cut in favor of saving us money?

Lumi, my sister has a plastic pouch labeled for all her favorite stores. I haven’t had the chance to take a photo of it but it looks similar to this one:

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You need a coupon, Lumi is the person to ask for one. She saves her coupons, cuts them out of magazines or newspapers and uses them all the time. Periodically she’ll forward me a coupon to Einstein (because she knows once a month I buy a bucket of bagels for my meeting with my author friends). Or to Barro’s Pizza, my favorite (cheap) pizzeria. Or to stores both of us like to shop at (White House Black Market or Chico’s).

I too like coupons. At any given time I have several. See this photo? These are my coupons.

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My only problem is that I forget to take them with me (maybe Lumi will gift me a pouch? For Christmas?). Or if I remember to take them, I forget to use them. Every time I try to be better at using coupons, I forget I have them or if I remember, chances are they are already expired. Oh well, it’s the thought that counts right?

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When the past haunts your present

22 Oct

“Why do you need two mascaras? They are identical,” I told Lumi, my sister the other day while at the mall.

“Cuz,” she said, moving to the next shelf and grabbing two bottles of shampoo. “When ones ends, I have another one handy.”

“But you can also go to the store and buy one when you run out of it, right?”

“That too, but I feel better having an extra one, for when time comes.”

I could’ve continued to argue with Lumi that buying two mascaras is a waste of money, potentially a waste of product if she’d have it stored for too long and it would dry out. Or chose to drop it, which I did because if anyone knows my sister, they also know, no one has ever won an argument with her. Like everrrrr. But I kept an eye on her and her buying habits and, at the end of the day I realized she has a problem: buying several of the same products, never just one.

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I know curiosity killed the cat (they say; I for one never seen a cat killed by that), but I had to know why, so after a day on our feet, and being 110% convinced my arms lengthen by at least a few inches because of all the bags we’ve carried, I teased Lumi, over a banana & nut blizzard, that maybe she needs help with her impulsive buying disorder.

Licking a spoonful of her ice cream, Lumi responded, “Do you remember living back home, in Romania? Do you remember the shortage on everything, the ratio food, the empty shelves and when they weren’t empty, the little that was there was of such bad quality that no one wanted it? Do you remember any of that?”

“I do, but what has that to do with the fact that you pack now like a squirrel on steroids?”

“It has everything to do with it,” Lumi said, lifting briefly her brown eyes at me, brown that when the sun shines, turns to green. “Communism scarred me. I used to tell myself if I ever have money and the possibility to live somewhere else, I will never go hungry, be cold, walk in bad shoes or wear terrible clothing. I used to tell myself I will never have nothing, but will have everything. And that to me means buy at least two of each product. It makes me feel . . . safe, covered, protected somehow.”

I laughed. “You definitely need a therapist.”

Later on when I got home, I unpacked my shopping bags and the more bags I emptied, the more I realized . . . I’m in the same boat as Lumi! I do buy at least two of the same product. I went to my closet, to my drawers, to my pantry and everywhere I looked, I found more and more proofs that I too am a shopaholic.

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And it got me thinking: am I crazy? Who in their right mind buys two of the same dress/shoes—not even in a different color, which might be an excuse, right? Why am I doing this?

Lumi’s earlier words came to mind and somehow they opened a flood of memories from my childhood back home in Romania. The constant fear of authorities, the poisoned indoctrination the Communist Party shoved down everyone’s throat but also the poverty . . . the constant hunger . . . the smothering feeling . . . the emptiness and helplessness I felt on a daily basis, with no hope things would get better.

And yet a lot has changed since then. I lived more than half my life under freedom and democracy, and for the past 13 years I made the U.S. my home, the best country ever (no offense, world!). A lot of the things I had witnessed/experienced during my life in Romania and under communism are just that, things from the past, a past I prefer not to remember too often for it mostly brings sad/bad memories. I also know that some of those things left scars and made me into the person that I am today. And I think for the most part I accept everything, except I would rather blame communism for my buying disorder (the other option would be to confess I pack like a squirrel on steroids and the image is not very appealing…).

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Rejection= what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (or so we are told…)

8 Oct

At one point or another in one’s life, we all have been rejected and there is no other way to look at them other than: rejections suck. Whether by a boy/girl, by a parent, by a friend,  you name it–rejection hurts. One can’t ever sugarcoat a rejection, no matter the delivery method: sandwiched, wrapped, bluntly. Bottom line, it’s still a rejection, a door closed, end of the road.

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Today’s post focuses on rejections I, as a writer, am familiar with and how I deal with them. It’s no right or wrong way to do it, it’s just my personal take on them.

I started writing summer of 2009. I chose the self publishing path for several reasons, one of them being my insecurity about how many stories would I be able to write. Was there more than one book in me? Would I be able to deliver quality work, handle deadlines?

Since then I published several novels (5 to be exact) and have several other stories in different stages of being finished. Beginning of 2016 I decided to look for an agent, confident writing is as part of my DNA as the color of my eyes. And so the query stage begun . . .

It’s still vivid in my mind the first query I sent and how fast my heart pounded in my chest, my clammy hand pressing the “send” button, as if I was releasing a nuclear bomb, no less. The empowering surge (me, the little immigrant now a proud American who turned writing from a dream into reality) combined with OMG-what-did-I-do feeling and topped with an incredible overpowering vulnerability. Let me tell you, such a powerful cocktail of emotions brought me on the verge of . . . throwing up.

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That one query letter was followed by several others. I even made myself a beautiful spreadsheet with agent’s names and email addresses, agency’s websites, date I queried them and an empty column at the very end titled “YES/NO.” I wasn’t expecting that column to fill out too soon. All agents warn you about how long it takes to receive an answer (if any). And so the waiting begun . . .

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I remember the first rejection and the hurt it brought. The second, and the third… the deep and dark hole I was spiraling down into… the self-doubt and the acute need to be invisible so people won’t see my bleeding heart. The one rejection I received within exact 15 minutes after sending it, not as one of those automated response but written by the agent from his Iphone, as the end of the email stated. And the list can go on. Every single rejection delivered one blow after another and my hope diminished accordingly.  Somehow, by the 4th rejection something snapped in my brain and the blow, while still disappointing, it’s not hurting as bad.

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To date I’ve accumulated ten rejections. Some of my author friends burn them. Some frame them. Some use them as background for dartboard.

I’m by nature a control freak and shy so putting myself out there was never an easy thing for me, afraid people will judge me and I’d never rise to their expectations. This whole querying process is one of the hardest journeys I’ve embarked on that has taught me a lot of things about myself. My mind is my own enemy so I have to constantly talk myself out of (or in) something but one day, I’ll learn to stop self-doubting myself or so help me whichever power reigns over this universe!!!

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A delusion called Friendship

1 Oct

Do you ever wonder why—during times of crisis—you react the way you react? Do you ever think that, if faced with some sort of one of those life-altering moments, you know yourself so well that your reaction won’t shock you? Like for instance, a friend tells you they decide to tattoo their forehead / hike Everest / go on Naked & Afraid Show / rob a bank, and when they tell you that, you know exactly how you’ll react to it, but in reality your reaction is quite the opposite, shocking you and your friend, to a point it alters your relationship with him/her. Shock that would make you pause for a surgical, introspective look, not only at yourself, but also at your relationship with that friend. And the deeper you look, the less you like what you see to a point you question not only how well you know yourself but also how well you know (or you thought you know) that friend.

Friends.

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We all have them and we all have heard at least once in our life the saying “you cannot pick your family, but you can (and you should) pick you friends.” We all build relationships based on likes and dislikes, common ground/morals, values, etc., and develop a support system so when we or them—our friends—fall apart, someone is there to catch us/them. We count on each other during good times and bad times, help each other pass whatever obstacle is thrown at us and eventually watch each other waltz through life.

Some friendships are meant to last a lifetime (they’ll be there to call you on your mistakes but still love you). Some are based on certain commonalities but have limitations (you might agree on politics but disagree on religion). And some friendships are there only when its convenient, through their good times and bad times, but fall apart at your first news of “I’m gonna tattoo my forehead/ hike Everest / go on Naked & Afraid Show / rob a bank.”

This past week my world titled, knocking the air from underneath my wings. For two days I dragged my broken wing trying to “float”, doing that surgical and introspective look at myself. I didn’t like what I saw, so I did what I knew best and reached out to my friends, baring my soul and letting them see my bleeding heart in its full tarnished splendor. Some of them gave me a piece of their mind, knocking me over the head, but also telling me—even though I’m stupid—they still love me. Some hugged me and told me they are sorry. And some got up and left the room.

images-1I stared at that door for a while . . .

I know it’s going to take me a while to process what happened, what triggered that to happen and that eventually my problem will have a solution and one way or another, I’ll be okay. I always am, always have, always will. I’m a fighter who, even after finding that I don’t always like the person gawking back at me in that mirror, I take responsibility for my mistakes and try to repair the wrong I’ve done. I always come back up for air, take baby steps toward recovery and eventually I will heal. But I also know that the door you closed behind will forever remain closed so. . . thank you for walking out like that, sparring me a delusion called friendship.

Happy Dog Day!

26 Aug

As a kid I feared dogs and loved cats. I lost count how many times I got in trouble (to be read: butt too tender to sit on) for hiding cats under my bed or feed them milk from my own bowl. Let’s not go there, but go back to dogs because as I grew older, dogs no longer scared me, and I totally swapped camps: dogs rock! 

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I know people love their pets and think of them as family members, so no one would think of me as crazy when I say Bella, my pooch is my daughter, right? She has two birthdays: one when her mommy gave birth  to her–April 22, and one when she became mine–August 8, and we’ve been together ever since, 14 years to be exact. A white fur ball with black button nose and coffee-bean eyes, a goofy personality and stubbornness galore, that’s my Bella, queen of the house, owner of the backyard and our hearts.

I have so many stories about her from the time she was a puppy chewing all shoes left unattended, to playing hide-and-seek, to learning tricks only if rewarded with popcorn, to falling in the pool, to hating being groomed, to eating dirt and the list can go on, but I will stop here. For a while I feared I won’t remember all the things she’d done, worried that once her time was up, time will dust her memories as it does will all our lives. Luckily I found a solution and added her to the “characters list” in my novel A World Apart; for as long as there will be books Bella will live on, not only touching my heart but that of anyone reading my book.

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I don’t think there is possible to love Bella more than I already do nor imagine a world without her, although I know her time with us will eventually come to an end. My biggest consolation is that I gave her a great life, took care of her, protected her, but above all: I loved her. Happy Dog Day, Bella!

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Happy Birthday, America!!!

4 Jul

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Hello, World, Cami’s back!

1 Feb

Let me just start by saying it was not easy. As I mentioned in my last post, for the entire month of January I went off the social media radar. Part of me wanted to see how much I really spent on it and why. Was I wasting time watching too many puppies playing the piano? Was I letting all that hype about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest get to me? Was I letting the pressure of being visible as a writer taking priority over what I was really supposed to do, which is writing?

I had to find out.

For the first few days it was really hard, so hard that I deleted all the social media apps off my phone. I was at a point were I reached for my phone during commercials, when carpooling, when brushing teeth, when petting the dog, when cooking, you name it. I always struggled to understand how addiction works, but now it was my time to admit I was OD’d on likes and the pressure that came with that thumb up button.

So, what did I accomplish away from the media? First of all I had to retrain my brain to shift focus. No more liking what others did, but rather liking what I did. I sat in front of the computer and begun writing all those stories that I had started or wanted to write but was too busy socializing. I took a short story that I had enough material to make it into a novella and finished it. I had a second story that I begun after my trip to Europe last summer and finished it as well. I begun edits for two of my critique partners. I began working out again. I’m spending more time with my family.

Bottom line, I’m doing what I was supposed to do. The pressure of being visible is still pretty heavy, but as this experiment proved, if I put my mind to something, I will eventually achieve it.

What is the one thing you wish you could do but are afraid you might fail at it?