Link

Thumbtack.com

http://www.thumbtack.com/Altered-Edge-Solutions-Port-Saint-Lucie-FL/service/797734

Since starting my business, one thing I am always looking for are new and inexpensive ways in which to advertise myself while also cross-promoting others.  I am a firm believer in Pay It Forward, so if there is ever a time that I am unable to do something for a client, but I know someone else and I trust them to do the job, I put their name up as an alternative.  I have had a lot of positive feedback from the clients as well as building strong ties to other businesses that return the favor.

One of the places I advertise through is a site called Thumbtack.com.  This is a wonderful site!  If you are looking for a dog walker or pet sitter, you sign up, give the zip code you are in and start searching for pet sitters. You list what it is you want, hours, days, and any other information you feel is relevant to the job. Those of us who ARE pet sitters get notified that you are looking for a quote.  We look at the information you provide and where you are located and submit quotes directly to you.  We never see other quotes and we are contacted by you if you decide to work with us.

The vast array of people who are available for you to hire is amazing.  Need a DJ?  How about a wedding planner?  Catering, makeup artist, magician, face painting, event photographer…even pet sitter. As of 2012, there were over 260,000 service professional in the US that were listed with Thumbtack.com.   And, the best part is there are never fees for the consumer.  As a service professional, I am charged per quote, so I make sure that what I am submitting for prices are the best offer I can make for a job that I want to take.

The reviews that we get from the clients mean a lot to us.  According to the Thumbtack.com site: Thumbtack works to ensure its reviews are from real clients who have hired its service professionals. Some reviews are collected and verified by Thumbtack’s team by phone. Thumbtack does not receive any advertising money from service professionals, so we have no conflicts of interest.  

So not only do you get a chance to have service professionals submit quotes to you on jobs that you want done, you also get to review them based on references of previous clients.  Overall, it is a win-win.  Check out Thumbtack.com and let me know how you did with the service professional that you hired.  And if you are on the Treasure Coast in FL and are in need of a pet sitter or dog walker, give me a chance to submit my quote to you 🙂

Until next time ~ God Bless,

Jessica Martinez

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Aside

I like shopping.  I don’t love it, but I do it when I need to.  Occasionally I like to just browse and see all the new and cool stuff.  Anyone who knows me also knows that I never buy retail and will only get something if I am under the impression that I am saving money or have a coupon for it. Some call it being cheap whereas I like to view it as being a smart shopper.

It is more than just shopping!

Enter the mystery shopper.

I started doing this a few years ago.  I am always looking for new and easy ways of making money so that I can spend more time with my kids, while also getting them out into the public so that they get a hands-on education about certain things that I think are important.  There is nothing as thankless as working retail.  And from what I have seen of the next generation, saying Thank You is very low on their list of priorities.  I take my kids around and make sure they see both the good and the bad, but most of all when they see someone doing a good job, they should tell them and thank them.  The flip side is that if they see someone NOT doing their proper job, they shouldn’t feel they have to stay and shop there.

I am able to combine a few tasks by mystery shopping.  First, I only take jobs for places that I would want to go even if I was not getting paid.  Second, I teach the kids the importance of customer service and to  deal with the public in a responsible way.  Lastly, I want to make sure they are being smart shoppers by comparing prices from various vendors.  Business is business and I want them to understand it so they can be good business leaders when they get older.

Sometimes kids are allowed; sometimes they are not.

Now, they don’t actually do the mystery shopping and in some cases, I am not allowed to bring children with me.  But there are times when I can bring them with me and I explain to them what I am supposed to notice.  It has surprised me how observant my youngest it.  After the shop I have asked her about a cashiers name or color of hair and so far, she has not been wrong.  My oldest just goes to find things to add to her Christmas list.

As with any job, there are pros and cons.  Mystery Shopping is no different.  First of all, if this is something that sounds interesting to you, be aware that it is NOT something you can do for a career.  You will not make enough money to support yourself.  Mystery shopping is something you can do to get free lunches, to be reimbursed for things like oil changes or haircuts—stuff you do in the normal course of your life.  I am sure there are some people who will argue the point, so let me just say that here in south Florida, an hour from West Palm Beach and 2 hours from Miami and Orlando, it is quite limited as to the types of assignments that are available as well as how often you are allowed to do them.  Most companies have a rotation, such as only 1 time every 90 days, so even though they may pay well, you cannot bank on doing them that often.

More than half of your time will be spent on the computer.

The parts of mystery shopping that can be tedious are the setups.  There are literally hundreds of companies out there they offer legitimate jobs for an independent contractor to sign up and be a mystery shopper.  Going through the paperwork, writing an essay to prove that you have a command of the English language and are able to answer the questions being asked, making sure you have a PayPal account set up and a separate work email that you use for all the offers from the different companies takes time.  In some cases, you are required to print out certificates or paperwork that give you permission to be in a company or allows you to come in and perform an audit while the business is open and serving customers.

Once you have done the set, there is the actual shopping part and that is usually quite fun.  While performing the shops, you must keep track of times, names and descriptions of the staff you encounter, making sure that receipt and pictures are accurate and  most importantly, making sure that you have actually gone in and performed what the Mystery Shopping company is paying you to do.  Asking about the wrong product, ordering the wrong meal or going to the wrong store will waste your time and money as you will not get paid for doing a job that you did not do the way you were hired to perform.

Finally, you go back home and you scan in the receipt, upload the pictures and fill in the questionnaire that is assigned.  This can be quick or lengthy depending on the level of writing that is required.  I have had some shops that I can fill out the paperwork in less than 10 minutes and others that have taken up upwards of 30 minutes.  Of course, I make so many spelling and typing mistakes that it is a miracle that any of my reports get accepted.  I thank God for the inventor of spell-check.

Once all that is done, you submit your competed work and wait to get paid.  And wait.  And wait.  It can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months to get paid for jobs that you complete and that were accepted.  That is an important clarification.  Just because you answer all the questions and submit it does not mean that it will be accepted.  Some companies have a disclaimer that state you need to be available up to 24 hours after submission for any follow up clarifications. 

An example:  I submitted a report over the Memorial Day weekend and then went off to a family function that lasted the whole weekend.  I did not check online in my work e-mail and when I finally got back on Tuesday morning, I found that a clarification e-mail was sent and since I did not respond in the appropriate amount of time, my shop was rejected and I did not get paid for my time, travel or the money I spent (that I was supposed to get reimbursed for).  This does not happen often, but it is important to know and follow all the rules if you want to get paid for the job.

The pros of mystery shopping are the ability to go to places you wanted to but have not yet had the time.  My favorite is to go to various restaurants that I like and to be able to get my whole meal paid for while having a nice time.  Being able to use your acting skills is also kind of fun.  Occasionally, I get jobs that are loads of fun and pay really well and when that happens, I just love my job.

My next post will be about the different kinds of shops and some companies that I can recommend as reliable and honest in their requests and payments.  There are quite a few out there and they are free to sign up for.  Never pay to be employed by a mystery shopping company!  Please feel free to leave a comment and let me know if you have questions and I will try to answer them to the best of my ability.

Until then, take care and God Bless.

Jessica Martinez

Aside

1) I have to admit, I get addicted to new gizmos on the internet quite quickly.

2) There are talents that I do not possess but I see those same talents in others and it makes me wish for their ability.

You put those random sentences together and you get the reason why Pinterest.com and Loveit.com are my favorite sites.  

These sites have, in my humble opinion, some of the most positive and inspiring posts on the internet today. I check in everyday and I see what is new and find out who likes the same things I do.  I also discover new and wacky things I had never even considered in the past and I am proud to be associated with these sites.   People have this need to share the beauty of the world and there is no greater way to do that than through photography.  Both Pinterest and LoveIt are picture based sites that you are able to customize into your personal walls of joy.

Bacon Roses from “All Things Bacon”

I started with Pinterest.com with an invite from a friend of mine.  I puttered around and then started to really waste more time than I should have marveling at the fabulous photos that others put up of some of the most amazing things!  It spanned hundreds of years, all over the globe and with just about any topic that you could conceive.  It was marvelous.  I started out with just 4 boards of general ideas.  I am now up to 29 boards.  One of them is called All Things Bacon.  Another is just about barns.  I am working on one that is strictly about chocolate.  It is a wonderful way to find out about so many great sites, people, recipes and places.

Then, of course, the asshat lawyers got involved and started making a fuss about copyright infringement and so on and so forth.  That annoyed me. I felt that my little corner of internet joy just got groped, and not in a good way. Sort of like a teenager… by security… in an airport. Gross.

To some extent, I could slightly understand why those who take such wonderful photos would want credit, but on the other hand, if the photos are online to be seen, why can’t we spread the joy to others by pinning them to our boards?

This brought about the site LoveIt.com.  This site is almost exactly like Pinterest, however they are working on being different.  I was invited through my Klout.com perks so it is still in its Beta phase. This is what the site states:

LoveIt.com logo squirrel

LoveIt is a visual, powerful platform for individuals & groups to discover, collect, organize and share the things they love.

  • Private & public collections
  • Powerful drag & drop organization tools
  • Follow feeds and sources, as well as people
  • Patent-pending image recommendation engine

I am hoping that with their image recommendation engine, maybe those people who have taken the photos will get there recognition. Whatever it takes to keep the lawyers out of it. I will keep you updated. As a point of reference, initially I did not give credit to those who took the pictures, but shortly after I, I realized that it wasn’t nice not to give props where they were due.  Now I try to make sure that credit for the pictures is given by either name or website where I found the photos.

Praying Mantis on a bike: by Eco Suparman.

Check them out.  http://pinterest.com/bonusmum/

Take a look and if you need an invite, let me know and I will send you one.  As for me, I belong to both and when I need a little happiness and wonder in my life, I log on and look at the beauty of the world.  God has given us such wonder as well as the gifted/talented people that bring it all to me.  I am able to smile, acquire some inner peace and most of all feel a small glimmer of hope.  Hope is a hard thing to find, but if you visit these sites, you will see it and it will make you slow down and start to dream a little.  Try it and tell me what you think.

Marble Caves of Patagonia, Chile. Taken by Noelegroj Photography

God Bless and until next time, I wish for you joy and the occasional piece of dark chocolate.

Jessica Graefe Martinez

Aside

Cycle of Learning

 {EAV:6d71885fb0e28940}

I have been blessed with the ability to stay at home and educate my kids.  Some think I am crazy, other believe that I could not possibly offer as much as a traditional school can, while yet a different group applauds me and says that they wish they could do it as well.  In either event, I do home school my kids and I am thrilled to do it.

That being said, I do dread the moment that they realize they are smarter than me.   And it will happen.  You and I know that I am  not that smart on all things.  There are days that I need help remembering why I walked into a room, and I am going to be teaching and educating? 

Knowing that I will need help in certain subjects, I went ahead and started looking in advance.  I have found scads of websites, both free and pay-for sites, that are both outstanding and useless.  Trying to weed through and find the kind that work for my situation is time consuming and a little frustrating.  However, I have come across a fabulous website that is interactive and educational and actually fun.  It is called Learni.st and I have been able to set up educational boards from various sites that I have found useful and keep them all in one place.  Check it out!

Lesson Plan – Create a Water Cycle | Learnist.

This is my first one and I have already devised a lesson plan for my oldest to make up some boards for certain subjects.  It has been loads of fun to do things that I normally wouldn’t do while bring a new way of learning to my kids.  Books can be SO boring to always teach from, so this has opened a new window of opportunity for us.

If you have a good site that you want to recommend to learning K-8th grade, please feel free to leave a comment here.  I keep looking for more and can honestly say, that through all my contact within Empire Avenue, I have found some truly outstanding sites. It has been great fun and the best part of it is, we are all learning together.

To check out Empire Avenue, go to this link:

http://empireavenue.com/?t=e24632&s=c

God Bless and I will check in with you again soon.

Jessica Graefe Martinez

Aside

I am completely and totally hooked on the internet.   It is like the line from the Eagle’s song Hotel California,  where “you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.”  I have found that once I discovered the web and signed in, oh so many years ago, the addiction has since only gotten worse.

So much to do, so little time.

I have been having a hell of a time trying to keep up with the entire myriad of social apps and networks that I think I need in order to keep current with life.  I have discovered that I have more resources available to me than I have time in my day.  So with that little nugget of knowledge, I have made the decision to try and downsize.  The key word here is Try.

But what do I get rid of?

This becomes more difficult to determine with the advent of new and ingenious devices and software.  It is important to point out that I have a mediocre knowledge about technology and how to use everything I own.  I use the Fly-by-My-Pants mentality of learning.  Basically, I have the knowledge of one who learns by mistake or when someone, who has a clue, introduces me to the finer points of using an app or new software.  Sometimes, when I can’t find anyone or have used my maximum amount of brain cells on a subject, I type my problem into the search bar of YouTube and watch a video tutorial.  This has actually passed me in my accounting class for business school.  True story.

Right now, I am using a wonderful new browser called RockMelt and it has fabulous integration of sites.  It also shows my contacts status and whether or not they are online, all in one handy screen.  I can see who is posting what from all over the world and I never have to leave my front screen.  The problem is, there is so much that is going on that I literally get over whelmed.  Whether it is news that is being posted on Al Jeezera–English, updates on Twitter, or even a new comic that will certainly make me laugh on The Oatmeal, the amount of information and my insatiable need to know is causing problems in other parts of my life.

I have kids?

My two children, the loves of my life, get quite annoyed when they ask me to do something and my standard response is, “In a moment, darling.”  Their annoyance is not that I ask them to wait, but rather it comes from my lack of remembering to actually go and help them.  Breakfast time has gone by with me buying stock on Empire Avenue, and yet forgetting to heat up the oatmeal for my youngest.  My oldest asks me what the weather is going to be like and I log into weather.com to see what it says rather than just look out the window or watching local news.

I no longer subscribe to any written newspaper nor do I pay for any kind of network TV service, such as cable or satellite.  I do subscribe to Netflix and Hulu+, along with being a proud member of the Amazon.com world.  This is an important place for me as I also have a Kindle that I would be lost without.  I home school my kids and my oldest takes her advanced science classes online along with ELA and her Art.  All of us have our own e-mails, YouTube accounts and Facebook pages.  We don’t even use the landline phone in the house for 90% of our phone calls.  If it is not via FaceTime or Skype, then it is on our cell phones.  Our entire life is based on the concept of having and using a computer.  If satellites were knocked out of service, my whole family would come to a complete and utter stand still.  I am not even sure I know where a real flashlight is, because my daughter has an app on her iPod touch that is a flashlight.  At this point in time, if we even lose electricity we’re screwed.  

So what needs to be removed in order for me to not be so overwhelmed?  Well, it seems obvious to me that I need to grasp to concepts of limits.  Not only about how much time I spend online, but also with what I spend my time on.  I really don’t need to know what is happening right this minute in India (via Times of India or TOI), nor do I need to know the latest of what Ryan Seacrest is doing (via E!online).  And although I love reading about very interesting things that happen in New Zealand, a country that I would love to visit, having to access it every day (via NZH, aka the New Zealand Herald)  it is not really all that necessary in the running of my life.  Unfortunately, this is the kind of stuff I have to remind myself of daily, as almost everything I see is interesting to me.  If I don’t make myself a mental note to do this, my oldest will enter 6th grade and I won’t find out about it until two weeks later.  

Why this sudden need to Know? 

When I was in high school, the only thing I seemed to care about was whatever sport I was in, whatever was going to happen during the weekend and whether or not I was going to be the popular kid (I wasn’t, but I am OK with that).  I did not care what was happening in the world and I certainly didn’t care about anyone outside of my immediate circle– unless it was Bryan Adams, any actor that was in Sixteen Candles or any movie/song by Prince.  Thankfully, I have gotten so much better as I have matured.  I actually care about what happens on Earth and beyond, not just what is going on in my little world.  That stated, I will still watch Sixteen Candles if I see it in reruns.

The world wide web settled into my daily life in the early 1990’s and became a major factor in my education in 1994.  I used the internet for a majority of my research for college and quite quickly all the various sites started to become second nature.  I loved everything that was offered…well,  except those annoying pop-up ad’s.  I went from paying for AOL to finding free ISP’s through  dial-up, then to having cable and eventually to using DSL.  I have learned so much and, for once in my life, I actually want to turn off the TV and open up my Kindle or my laptop and learn more about the world.

Yes, interact.  Many have scoffed at me and the idea that I can be on the internet and have real interaction.  Apparently, the only way for some to interact is all up in someone else’s personal space.  The internet, I have been informed, closes me off from the “real” world.  I disagree most whole-heartedly.  Not only do I interact with people who I have lost touch with from my youth, I also make plans, get information, act on that information, save money and learn 1000% more than I did in school or by watching regular TV.  I also get a lot less annoyed with the internet as opposed to with people.  When something annoys me online, I can walk away and no one thinks I am a complete jerk.  Not so much in real life.

I am not dismissing going out and having one-on-one contact with actual human beings, but I don’t think I am using one kind of interaction versus another.  Like anything in life, it is all about balance and moderation.  Which if you listen to my kids, are not skills that I seem to possess in any quantity at all.

Answer the question.

So, I still have to figure out how to make the various demands of my life blend around my wants.  Obviously, I need to make that boundary line more visible in the morning to ensure that my kids don’t think they are raising themselves.  Additionally, I think the use of some kind of timing device should be in place for any one site that I land on.  But let’s face it:  the fact is that with 24/7 news cycles and the ability to be online every minute of the day all around the world, wanting to know NOW has become a major element in our culture.  

Part of me wonders how anyone can even get a fair jury trial anymore.  Let’s face it, most everything that happens has a court of public appeal where we all have the ability to voice our opinions and be the judge and jury before we have facts.  Streaming online, instant pictures/videos and phones that are connected to the world have made “on-the- spot” reporters.  Those who are standing near anything that is happening can hold their camera phones up and record, then post, what has happened within minutes of it occurring.  This type of “reporting” is a trend that makes news channels, and their so-called objective reporters, almost obsolete.  It is a great way to get first-hand accounts of the situations, but it seems that once the news stations get a hold of it, the editing process ends up taking away from the authenticity of the video.

I digressed.  One of my issues is the ability to get sidetracked super quick.   Notice how I have yet to make any decision about what internet usage to cut out of my daily life.  All I seem to know for sure is that I keep finding reasons to watch, read and be connected.

Strap a pair on

As any parent knows, there comes a time when you have to let your kids go as they grow up.  You have to trust that when they are out of your sight that they are going to do the right thing and hope that what you have taught them, they will remember and use.  To have a boat-load of common sense also helps.  So, like a good parent, I am going to cut the cord on my online obsession and just let some things go.  I will work on my blog more, keep in contact with my friends through actual conversations versus direct messaging (DM), and possibly—just possibly—unplug and make sure my kids are getting the best part of my attention.  It is a work in progress; however I know that it takes time to make major changes if you don’t want a massive backlash.

For me, keeping in contact with those who want to chat, blog or interact with me is important and I want to do it all the time.  But first, I need my coffee in the AM and my kids to give me a hug after I feed them breakfast.  After that, they are on their own until noon.  Showing them how to work within limits and boundaries is as important as teaching them math.  The only way to really make a point is to do it yourself.  So, my online activities will be less during my time with them and more on my “free time”.

Leading from the front is a mantra from one of my idols, Richard Marcinko.  If I can emulate that, then I will be doing well for everyone involved with my life.

Until next time, I wish you happiness, health and a winning lottery ticket.

Jessica Graefe Martinez

Aside

You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by; but some of them are golden only because we let them slip by.  ~James Matthew Barrie

The passing of time shocks me.  Not the ACTUAL passing of time, just my perception of time.  For me, depending on the kind of day I have had, it either goes insanely fast or just quickly.  Lately, I have added a new speed: hyper-drive.

There just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day.  I am not sure if that is the way it has always been or if this is a fairly new observation for me, but although I am exhausted at the end of the day, I still go to bed thinking of all the things that I still need to get done or that I didn’t have time to accomplish today.  When did my life get to be so hectic?  And why I am allowing it to continue?

It occurred to me that the things that I love to do, such as blogging, tweeting, face-booking, and pinning with Pinterest, take up a large amount of my “free time”.  Home schooling my kids, earning a degree in business and taking freelance jobs are part of my work day.  House work and being a mom—and trust me, that’s more work than almost everything else combined—takes up so much time. 

Then there is the “to and from” aspects of daily life that never seem to be included in the actual time commitment of your day.  You know what I mean: time to get to the doctor’s office and back; actually going to the store, driving back and unloading groceries; the time it takes to get to Te-Kwon-Do class and back.  To make matters worse, on the way back from whatever you went out for, you end up stopping off to pick up something else that was on your list, making the actual time increase without even knowing it.  It can be justified as multitasking and getting more stuff accomplished, but it is just another way that your time is sucked out of your allotted 24 hours-in-a-day.

It has gotten to the point where I get annoyed that I have to wait for the water to boil.  “Really?  7 minutes before I can put in the pasta?”  These are word I have actually uttered in my kitchen recently.  My oldest looked at me and said, “Jeez Mom, relax a bit before you have a stroke.  It is only water.” 

I stopped and looked at her, a myriad of thoughts screaming through my head.  “Only water?  No, it is the beginning of a dinner that is going to take a total of 22 minutes to prepare, then we have to eat, clean the kitchen up, put away the food, take out the trash, make sure showers are taken, school work finished, blah, blah, blah!”  Luckily, those thoughts stayed in my head.  My daughter has no idea how much has to get done in order for my world to be a happy place.

Then it dawned on me.  I have more control over my happiness than anyone else.  Although it is important for my kids to understand the importance of time management and getting their huge list of stuff done, it is also equally important for me to prioritize my life so that I don’t have a stroke over something as simple as waiting for water to boil.  Perhaps I need to change the way I look at the importance of what I am doing.  You know: The Big Picture.

The problem is, in the world that they will be emerging into as adults, the concept of slowing down and smelling the flowers seems to be achieved by people who are:  1) not concerned with money as someone either gave it to them or they are old enough to have earned what they feel they need, 2) do not worry about materialistic concerns or 3) either have, or are recovering from, some kind of life altering situation such as a terminal disease, combat or the shock of what it means to be a New Parent.  Yeah, I know a lot of new parents who stop caring about the laundry getting done or the kitchen floor being swept when they are in the haze of new parenthood. (And I don’t blame them one damn bit.) 

But for the majority of people, having a hectic schedule is par for the course.  And quite frankly, I like having nice stuff and keeping up with what is current.  However, it does appear that we are always in search of more and more gadgets to make our life (supposedly) easier, and on the ultimate quest to discover a quicker, faster way to do what we do.

But what do we do with all that extra time we are (supposedly) saving ourselves?  I know that I am not using it to relax and be calm.  In fact, sometimes I actually feel guilty when I get “caught” sitting down working on the computer with the TV going in the background.  My youngest asked, “Mom, why do you have the TV on when you are not watching it?”  I told her I was listening to it while I was working so I could get caught up on the shows that I liked.  She tilted her head at me and said, “But if you are not watching them, how can you understand what is going on?”  In her 8 year old world, multitasking is not something she comprehends.

But it got me thinking that here I was, working on the computer, semi-listening to the TV show, and checking my various accounts while simultaneously waiting for the popcorn to finish in the microwave.  I wasn’t really enjoying any of it and I was only really giving everything just a sliver of my attention.  

So will I change?  Well, maybe a little. I know I want to enjoy certain things better, such as spending time doing stuff with my kids, without all the distractions of the electronics.  I told them I would set aside time when all the computer stuff would be Off and my attention to them would be On.  They liked this concept a lot and let’s face it, they are only young once.  All the money and materialistic stuff in the world cannot replace their youth and the memories I will have of us together.

For a small amount of time, I want to learn how to relax.  It seems stupid that I would have to practice that, but I do.  I have to learn how to prioritize my life to make time to actually de-stress.  I know there are classes for this kind of thing and that does not shock me—making an appointment to learn how to relax—but I am going to try it the old fashioned way.  Turn off everything, go out of the house and walk.  Maybe to the beach, maybe around the block, but in either event I will be putting 100% of my energy into one thing at a time.  If I do nothing else during this time, at least I will be putting my new sneakers to good use and get some exercise.  Wait, is that considered multitasking?

Have a great weekend!