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Confessions of a Mystery Shopper….

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Mystery or secret shopping is a form of market research aimed at gathering information from the customer’s perspective.  First used in the 1940’s, today is used by most industries around the world.

 Confidentiality is crucial when “mystery shopping” as neither establishment nor personnel know when it happens.  The element of a surprise visit, by an unknown person, is the single most important aspect of any project. When a shopper is identified (either in-store or afterwards) the assignment becomes invalid and the shopper is not paid.  The object for each project is to measure staff’s product/service knowledge, overall attitude and ability to interact with customers.   

Mystery shopping assessment tools range from a simple questionnaire or phone interview to audio and/or video recordings. Some users are retail stores, fast-food and hotel chains, banks, and movie theaters.

Compensation for each assignment is established in advance, but always paid after the requested information is received by the firm. Mystery shoppers are independent contractors, not company employees. Each shopper is responsible for reporting his/her income. 

 As in many industries, mystery shopping has not been exempt from fraudulent perpetrators. In most cases if a mystery shopping advertisement mentions “Western Union,” it is likely to be a scam.

 Mystery shopping does not pay well, therefore anyone offering a large sum for a project, is a scam.  The maxim… “If it looks too good to be true….” also applies to mystery shoppers. 

No legitimate mystery shopping company will asks for money prior to the completion of a project. Genuine mystery shopping companies use company e-mails. 

Worked for two legitimate companies, enjoyed the experience and knew the pay would not be great. Was able to pick and choose projects that interested me and fit into my schedule…… and yes, once was “discovered” and not paid for the assignment.    

 

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Walking the Labyrinth.

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When telling someone I have been “walking the labyrinth”…. I get a blank stare or a questioning look.

The ancient practice of “labyrinth walking” has been used for centuries by different faiths for spiritual centering, contemplation, meditation or prayer.

Labyrinths are found in many religious traditions dating back 4,000 years.  In Western tradition, labyrinths first appeared in Christianity among the Crusaders. They were believed to be a symbolic representation of the pilgrimage to the Holy Land for those unable to make the trip to Jerusalem.

Later, labyrinths appeared in churches, the most celebrated example is found on the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France.

Today labyrinths are found in many sizes and shapes, made from just about any natural material. They are built in a permanent fashion from stones, cut into turf, formed by mounds of earth, or imbedded designs in the floor of buildings.

Entering the serpentine path of a labyrinth, one  walks slowly while quieting the mind and focusing on a spiritual question or prayer. When walking the labyrinth, you meander back and forth, turning 180 degrees each time you enter a different circuit until you arrive at the center rosette. The basic designs are: 7, 11 or 12 concentric circuits. Today, most labyrinths have 7 concentric circuits.

There is no ‘correct’ way to walk a labyrinth—the journey is strictly personal.

A common misconception equates labyrinth with maze.   Mazes have twists, turns, dead ends; they are puzzles to be solved. Labyrinths, on the other hand, are unicursal: you walk the same path going in as you do coming out. There is only one, open, unobstructed path the walker follows into the center and then walks back out.

Tai-chi, Meditation in Motion.

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Tai-Chi, an ancient Chinese art for health and relaxation, is the least know of the martial arts. Referred to as “meditation in motion,” it is based on the Taoist Yin and Yang philosophy: the attraction of opposing, yet complimentary forces which create harmony in  nature.

The exact origin of Tai-Chi, a series of form or set sequence movements, is unknown but believed to date back 500 years to a remote Chinese village. There are four main family styles: Chen, Yang, Hao and Wu Chuan.  Once upon a time, family styles were the sole property of a single family who taught it exclusively to members of their household. While Chen is the oldest, Yang is the most commonly practiced in the West.

A question frequently asked by beginner Tai-Chi students is: “How many movements in a “form?”  The simple answer is: one. Tai-Chi is a single, circular movement, where each sequence flows smoothly, gently, gracefully into the next one.

The main difference between styles is the speed and pace of performance and the way the body holds the poses in terms of posture and intent.  Some exhibit large movement or low stances, others rely on smaller movements and higher stances. All share a characteristic smooth, flowing motion that develops from the movement of the waist, driven by the power of the legs exerted against the ground. The softness of the relaxed upper body, together with the driving power of the lower body, gives a Tai-Chi practitioner’s body the appearance of whips or snakes in motion.

Anyone can do Tai-Chi; there is no physical limitation and is suitable for all ages.

It can be practiced in any place, any time.  It is an exercise system which gently increases the body’s range of movement, helping increase body awareness, while exercising internal organs.  It is the combination of mental and body rhythmical activity; joining strength exercise with alert relaxation. The purposeful slowness of movements aids relaxation, stress reduction, body balance and coordination.

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Quinoa, the mother of all grains.

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FAO, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nation, has officially declared 2013, “International Year of the Quinoa.”

In the Inca language, quinoa, (pronounced KEEN-WAH) means “mother grain.”  People living on the mountain plateaus and valleys of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile have been eating quinoa for the past 5,000 years.  It made its US debut in the 1970’s.

Quinoa is a grain like seed that was first cultivated in the Andean Mountains of South America where, thanks to its significant nutritional value and hardiness as a crop, was crucial in local diets. Quinoa was one of the few foodstuffs that could thrive under the unforgiving environmental conditions of the high, mountainous regions. Apart from the seeds, the leaves are also edible.  Until the Spanish Conquistadores prohibited its consumption and cultivation in the 16th century, the Incas also used quinoa in sacred, religious ceremonies.  The Spanish considered this practice heretical and a threat to Christian faith and teachings. Unfortunately, they never learned how to cook, prepare or eat quinoa. The seeds are naturally coated in a bitter tasting chemical called “saponins” which prior to cooking, needs to be washed off.  Without this step, not surprising, the Spanish found the taste revolting.  Instead of quinoa, the natives were forced to plant less nutritious crops: corn, barley and potatoes. The Spanish had no way of knowing that “saponins,” which made quinoa unpalatable, made it a hardy crop. The bitter taste was nature’s protection against preying birds, other pests, thus assuring bountiful harvests. Disobeying the Spanish prohibition, some natives grew quinoa illicitly in fields located at higher altitudes, away from prying eyes. Because of the Spanish Conquistadores, quinoa eventually fell into centuries of obscurity.

Fast forward….. quinoa is considered a whole grain that can be prepared in the same manner as rice or barley but  with a higher protein content than most cereals. It has higher levels lysine than wheat and its amino acid content is considered well balanced for both human and animal nutrition.  

Preparation is easy; cooks in less time – just 15 minutes – than other whole grains.   For one cup of quinoa you need two cups of liquid, add a bit of olive oil, sea salt and lemon juice and – yum! It is gluten-free, cholesterol free whole grain, is kosher for Passover and is almost always organic.

 

 

Why the Dali Museum is in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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Industrialist A. Reynolds Morse and wife Eleanor began collecting Dali pieces in 1942 when they befriended Salvador and Gala, during their U.S. hiatus (1940-48). For the next 40 years the Morse’s assembled the largest private Dali art collection in the world.

Until 1971 the collection was displayed in the couple’s Cleveland (Ohio) home. Years later it was moved to Reynolds’ (Injection Molder Supply Company) office building in Beachwood, Ohio. By the mid 1970’s the collection, once again, outgrew its home thus a search for a permanent location began. The Morse’s stipulation for donating the collection was to keep it intact; therefore most of the large, well known museums were literally, out of the picture.

On January 18, 1980 St. Petersburg attorney James W. Martin came across the Morse’s unusual request in a Wall Street Journal article: “U.S. Art World Dillydallies over Dali.” He organized a dynamic group of community leaders who flew to Ohio and presented the Morse’s with a plan to find a suitable location for their collection. On a visit to St. Petersburg, the Morse’s accepted an idea to remodel a marine warehouse on Bayboro Harbor, a location that reminded them of Dali’s childhood home on the Mediterranean. ….. and THAT is how and why on March 10, 1982 the first Dali Museum opened to the public in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Fast-forward thirty years, January 11, 2011, to the opening of the new, modern, Salvador Dali Museum. Overlooking Tampa Bay, the striking building is a concrete trapezoid wrapped in undulating waves of glass and steel. The curving dome – “Glass Enigma” – is composed of 1,062 glass triangles, no two identical.  Another architectural feat is a soaring spiral staircase of solid concrete that’s a nod to Dali’s fascination with the double-helical structure of the DNA. The section which houses Dali’s art is enclosed within a foot thick concrete in all directions. Standing over 75’ high, the new structure can weather a direct hit from a hurricane – withstand a category 5 – and open its doors to the public the following day.

Salvador Dali, born Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dali i Doménech, Marquid de Púbol in Figueres, Spain (May 11, 1904) was known for his eccentric, attention-grabbing, indulgent, unusual and grandiose behavior, would without a doubt be thrilled with the new museum that houses:  96 of his oil paintings (8 masterworks), 125 of his drawings and watercolors, 2,500 of his prints and photographs, 250 of his objets d’art, and a library with 5,000 books either about him or his works.

La Piñata.

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Does “piñata” bring to mind a child’s birthday party, Latin culture or Mexico?

This colorful, simple tradition – made of cardboard and Paper Mache stuffed with candy and small toys –   originated in China and arrived in Europe via Marco Polo (1254-1324).

Marco Polo observed how small figures of cows, oxen and buffaloes covered with colored paper, adorned with harnesses and trappings, were an integral part of  the Chinese New Year celebration. The mandarins would strike the figures with colored sticks until the content – seeds – would spill. These were burned; the ashes gathered and  were kept in the homes throughout the year as tokens of good luck. Upon his return to today’s Italy, Marco Polo described this tradition which eventually found its way into the celebrations of  Lent.

The Italian word “pignatta” means “fragile pot,” which is fashioned to resemble clay containers for carrying water.

The custom of  the “piñata” spread to Spain and sailed to the New World (XVI century) with Spanish missionaries who used it  – as another means - to  attract converts to Catholicism. The custom was easily accepted by both Aztecs and Mayans because they each had a similar tradition. Part of the birthday celebrations for Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war, called for their priests to place a richly decorated clay pot adorned with colorful feathers on a pole. As an offering to the god, the pot was filled with tiny treasures. When broken with a stick or club, the content spilled to the feet of the god’s image.

Records show the Mayans as sports lovers who enjoyed a game where each player was blindfolded while hitting a clay pot suspended by a string. Spanish missionaries incorporated and modified this Aztec and Mayan tradition into their religious teachings. Records show missionaries covering the “piñata” with  colored papers.  The decorated “piñata” was a representation of Satan, believed to wear attractive masks to disguise his identity, and thus draw people to become sinners. Blindfolded participants hit the “piñata” in an effort to fight the forces of evil. Once broken, the candies and fruits that spilled out were said to serve as rewards for keeping the faith.

Eventually, the “piñata”  lost its religious association.

Today it stands for fun and entertainment, not only for Latin-American children, but for children and adults of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities.

Chanel No. 5, a timeless fragrance.

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Upon hearing “Coco Chanel”, what image pops into your head, her “little black dress”, signature “boxy jackets and knee-length skirts” or “Chanel No. 5” perfume?

In 1921 Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel (born in 1883), founder of the House of Chanel, debuted  Chanel No. 5, a perfume that would become the single most recognized women’s fragrance in the world.

Ernest Beaux, the creator of the fragrance, had strict orders: it should smell like a woman, without the smell of any particular flower, no roses, no lilies of the valley, it should be a composition of fragrances. He came up with two sets of samples numbering them 1-5 and 20-24.  Madame Chanel had to make a choice and she chooses sample number 5. In this practical, unglamorous manner, Chanel No. 5 was born.

For the design of the fragrance, Madame Chanel followed her classic principle: less is more. She selected a simple presentation: a rectangular glass bottle with the top resembling Place Vendome inParis.

Being superstitious, the new perfume was launched on the fifth day, of the fifth month of 1921.

In the creating process of  the Chanel No. 5 fragrance, Ernest Beaux used, for the first time, the synthetic component “aldehydes” which he mixed with fragrances of rose and jasmine. The fragrance of aldehydes is pure and fresh, reminiscent of the odor of clean linen just brought in the house from the fresh frosty air.  It is believed; Coco chose this particular fragrance because it reminded her of the simple scent of cleanliness, fresh laundry and scrubbed skin of her childhood and youth spent in an austere medieval convent in south-western France.  Others say the inspiration originated from Beaux’s visits to the Arctic Circle and the smell of water at midnight. The unique smell of frozen lakes and rivers fascinated him so much that he decided to replicate them in his creation.

When Madame Chanel was asked where a woman should wear fragrance, she responded, “Wherever she expects to be kissed.” Not wants to be kissed, mind you, but expects to be kissed.

In 1954 a reporter asked Marilyn Monroe what she wore to bed and she replied “just a few drops of Chanel No.5.” Needless to say, perfume sales spiked.  To this day, it is said that someone, somewhere in the world buys a bottle of Chanel No. 5 every 30 second.

Next time you’re in Paris, make a point of visiting the Chanel boutique at 31 Rue Cambon.

You’ll enter into a glittering shrine to fashion and fragrance, and yes, the fragrance you’ll smell  will be Chanel No. 5.

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