The Annual Black Friday Report

This adventure began year before last. My daughter and I wanted to experience together the annual American celebration of gross consumerism called Black Friday. She had never before done Black Friday (or BF as we now affectionately refer to it), but my daughter had finally come of age and it was time for her introduction to this important rite of passage. We are, after all, Olympic quality shoppers. Doubt our status as shopping athletes? One of our favorite things to do as mom and daughter is to drive many hours from our home to revel in the shopper’s paradise that is known as Dallas, Texas. Northpark Mall at Christmas is the closest thing to shopper heaven...if you can find a parking place.

Anyway, I digress. Our experience the first year, 2011, (call it the nexus year) was a disappointing bust. We waited until we’d slept late the day after eating all that Thanksgiving food to rise from delicious slumber and venture out into the melee. Were we excited? Oh, yes we were! We hit the stores around noon rather than at midnight. By then, the raging storm of shopping activity had dulled to a gentle breeze. The stores had even picked up and straightened up their merchandise. We spent our time wandering from store to store in search of Black Friday hysteria. In our desperation, we finally hit upon the idea of going to Toys R Us. The toy store had to be where all the manic shoppers were congregating. Surely, there was a toy that every child under the age of twelve must have this year, but even TRU was woefully peaceful. There were no more shoppers there than on any given Saturday. This wouldn’t do. We were looking for chaos. We wanted the adrenaline rush of being part of the crowd. We would do it different in 2012. We would venture out at midnight when all the best sales started.

So... when November 2012 rolled around, my daughter and I put on our big girl panties and hit the stores at midnight. We were so proud of ourselves. We thought we were brave. We thought we’d experience a new kind of shopper’s high. We thought surely 2012 would be the year we were one with the shopping universe. To our delight, the amount of traffic reminded me of Christmas Eve when it falls on a Saturday. Our pulses raced with excitement. We hit one of those big box chain stores first, and yes, yes, yes, there were crowds waiting in line to purchase a television that was on sale. I think our local store ran out shortly after midnight. Apparently, people will stand in line in the freezing cold hoping to be one of the lucky ones. We didn’t do that. We didn’t need another television. Not in 2012 anyway. We darkened the portals of numerous retail establishments that night. We studied discounts (yeah, I know, the “retail price” is marked way up so the store can mark it way down on BF), we chose our items, and we stood in line. And stood in line. And stood in line. We arrived home with our purchases about three in the morning and collapsed in bed. When we finally woke up, we wondered what we had purchased the night before that was worth the aching feet in the morning. More lessons learned. We would do it different in 2013. We wouldn’t stand in line at Kohl’s, no matter what great sales they had going.

So here we are, November 2013. My daughter and I have survived another BF experience. We wore comfortable shoes, we selected our stores carefully, and we shopped. We had one rule this year. Do not stand in a long line unless we are holding something in our hands that we absolutely cannot live without. As we meandered from store to store, we realized there was NOTHING a person could buy that was worth standing in line that long, so we ditched the cute little snowman trio and left Kirkland’s empty handed at nearly two in the morning. We had an arts and crafts day planned mid-morning with my daughter’s boyfriend’s mother. We needed our rest, so we could craft. We headed home and collapsed into bed. Next year, we will do it differently. We’ll sleep late and venture out at three in the afternoon. After all, it’s not about the deep discounts; it’s about the shopping.

But my story isn’t over... I ended up with the cute little snowman trio anyway. My daughter and I went home, got some sleep, and went back out at three in the afternoon. There was only one of the taller snowman left at Kirklands. I checked out the scene. The lines were much shorter in the light of a day. The snowman trio and I came home together yesterday.

Ah, my friend, I’ve learned much from shopping on Black Friday, and when I figure out what I’ve learned, I’ll...um... Yeah, I’ll get back to you on that.


Red Nose Optional - An Early Tale of Christmas Cheer... Or Maybe Not

I'm going to tell you a story about a reindeer. A reindeer in spandex named Conrad. A reindeer in spandex named Conrad who didn't make the cut at the North Pole.

Well, actually, he wasn't a reindeer. He was a giraffe. This did not deter him from pursuing his dream. Not one bit. All of St. Nick's old reindeer had retired with a pension of hay and hot chocolate. He had heard from an unidentified source that Santa was recruiting new talent for the annual run, so Conrad stole a rack of reindeer antlers from a hunting shed in Siberia while the hunter concentrated on eating his borscht with a bent spoon.

The journey northward seemed endless, but at last he found the fabled village. Billows of brightly-colored sparkles belched from the stacks of the toy factory. Elves scurried and hustled about their business. The Day was only weeks away. Conrad's blood pressure rose as he waited in line nose to rump behind a long line of other smelly butts outside the staging shed where the jolly old elf housed his sleigh.

The line stretched across about a hundred yards of freshly fallen snow. "How long you been standing here?" he asked the mammal ahead of him. He blinked when the animal turned its head. The other applicant was not a reindeer.

"A couple of days… weeks… hours… I don't know." The yak stomped a hoof in a mound of something that smelled vile. Wisps of steam rose from the pile. "The old guy is kind of… slow." He slung his heavy rack from side to side, dislodging a few tenacious flies. "Name's Formaldehyde. But you can call me Al."

"Conrad. But you can call me Con."

"Nice to meet you." The yak studied Con's outfit. "What's with the spandex?"

"Oh, this. Well…"

"Hey, if it's personal—"

"No. It's just… Okay, I ran away from the circus—"

The yak melted into fits of laughter. "Oh man, that's rich. You ran away from the circus? Why would you leave a good gig like that?"

Con cleared his throat, loosening the phlegm. "Well, there was a little problem with dynamite and an elephant—"

"Whoa, buddy. Did you dynamite an elephant?"

"Of course not. I swear I never touched the elephant." Con tried his best to look offended. "No matter what that clown says I never laid a hoof on her."

"Well, if you did, I wouldn't blame you. Elephants are kind of—"

"Hey!" said a rather large pachyderm while turning a malevolent eye on Al.

Conrad stepped back from the menace. He'd seen enough of elephants to last him a lifetime.

The yak turned his back on the elephant and continued his probing into Con's embarrassment. "What happened?"

"Well, you see… I swallowed several sticks of dynamite."

"Okay, you got my attention. Why would you swallow dynamite?"

Conrad puffed out his cheeks. "It really wasn't my fault. Lion Tamer was standing in the door of Pretzel Woman's trailer. You know, he was always talking to PW. I think he had an itch for her. She could do this thing… Never mind. It's not important." He cringed and shook his head at the memory. "Knife Thrower stopped throwing knives after the… um… accident, so he threw fireworks that looked like sticks of dynamite. Made for an exciting show. Well, we had a new guy in the manager's office, and he got mixed up. Ordered real dynamite. So when Knife Thrower was passing her trailer, Pretzel Woman sneezed, and the Lion Tamer got a face full of spray. PW is known for her bad breath. Lion Tamer backed into me, I tripped Knife Thrower, and Pretzel Woman knocked the dynamite out of Knife Thrower's hand." He looked hard at his audience. "Are you sure you want to hear this?"

Several animals nodded.

"Okay, well, I was yawning. I do that a lot. And I sort of… you know… swallowed the dynamite."

By now the waiting hopefuls had gathered around them to hear Con's sad tale of woe. Most of them stared at Con with wonder and awe reflected in their eyes. After all, it's more customary to run away to the circus, than from the circus.

"Go on," urged an elk.

"But I'd had a lot of hay for supper, and you can imagine the gas build-up—"

"Oh, yeah, man," said an alpaca. "That can be murder."

Con stared at the alpaca. How much did he know?

"I belched, the dynamite flew out of my mouth, and the elephant… It wasn't pretty."

"That's awful, man," the yak said.

"I had to leave. No one could be sure if I'd expelled all the TNT yet." Con felt a familiar rumble in his gut. "Guys." He backed away from them. "This can't be good."

A collective look of horror spread across the contingent of would-be Christmas Eve replacements.

They don't call it the North Pole any more. It's more like… the North Crater. And Con? There was no room on the team for someone with such a ghastly gastrointestinal disorder. Word is that operations might resume in time for Christmas next year.

I would like to spread the joy of reading this holiday season to one lucky grand prize winner chosen at random by Rafflecopter by giving away at 11:59 pm CST on December 31, 2013 a

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#NewRelease - Hopeless - Keri Neal

Just released by my good friend, Keri Neal!

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On her seventeenth birthday, Jade is filled with hope for the future. She and her boyfriend Pen are in love, she is finishing her final year of high school, and she is finally safe from the Fallen, who wanted her blood to fulfill an age-old prophesy. Pen is not as comfortable with the truce they made to protect her, so he makes a new deal with the Arches and leaves Jade alone.
But not for long.
A new Guardian is assigned to protect Jade. Blake is rude and offensive, his methods unconventional. Because of his dedication to her she trusts him with her life. Best of all, he knows about the Surge—her telekinetic ability—and is eager to teach her how to control her power. With Blake’s help, Jade learns she can defend herself against the evil forces that want her blood with or without the Arches protection.
Then… Pen comes back.
He doesn’t like the idea of someone else looking out for Jade, but an army of evil is on its way to destroy her, and Jade needs all the help she can get.



The subtle noise woke me out of deep sleep. I stared into the darkness of my bedroom and waited. After a few minutes I heard it again.

Tap. Tap.

Something was scraping my window. The Santa Ana winds were always heavy this time of year, but the sounds it caused never bothered me before. This was different. Keeping my eyes on the window, I slid out of bed and dug the Louisville slugger out from behind my nightstand. I gripped it hard and tiptoed to the source of the noise.

Tap. Tap.

It wasn’t getting louder, but I knew without a doubt something, or someone, was outside my window. I approached with caution, ready to start swinging. Then something caught my eye. It was a leaf. I tilted my head to get a better angle, and the rest of the twig took form.

Breathing a heavy sigh, I tossed the bat onto my bed and put my head in my hands. My dreams had been so restless lately. I was starting to hallucinate. I laughed at my paranoia and opened the window to retrieve the stray twig.

The moon was an amazing presence in the clear sky. Summer was ending, signaling the beginning of cooler nights in the Southern California desert. I sucked in the clean air and let it fill my lungs. I loved this time of the year, when most of the smog was chased away by gale-force winds. Leaning out the window I watched the leaves dance on the Mulberry tree. A pair of glowing eyes glared back at me from deep within the branches.

I leapt back. Remembering the open window, I made a grab for the sill to slam it shut. I wasn’t quick enough. The eyes grew a body and pounced. I screamed until I heard footsteps in the hallway. Gary reached into the room and flicked on the switch, filling the room with a light that caused me to wince.
When my eyes adjusted to the room, I noticed several things at once. Gary was standing in my doorway, his Chargers pants and white t-shirt vibrating as he fought to catch his breath. In his left hand was a nine iron. The intruder was unmistakably male. Despite the ski mask, his muscular figure was well defined by a too-small black t-shirt. Both men ignored me as they stared each other down from separate ends of my room.

“Jade had a nightmare. You came to check on her. She was fine. You went back to bed.” The guy’s voice lilted with an accent I didn’t recognize.

The golf club fell out of Gary’s hand and hit the floor. I was having an out-of-body experience. There was no way Gary would fall for this guy’s impression of the Jedi mind-trick. But even as I thought it, he turned on his heel and scuffled back to his room at the end of the hall. I began to panic, the giggling bubbling up from my gut making my breath choppy. If my Surge was ever going to cooperate, this would be the time.

Holding my breath, I closed my eyes and focused on the center of my gut where the Surge originated. Nothing happened. It didn’t make sense; if I lost control when I was upset, then I should’ve been blowing the doors off the hinges. But I didn’t, I just stood there stunned as a feeling of dread washed over me. Behind my eyelids I saw Pen, his beautiful face staring back at me with adoration. He would never know how much I loved him. I was going to die and I was all alone. I opened my eyes with a determination to face my death. The intruder hadn’t moved except to turn his head.

The floor creaked as he shifted his weight and ambled toward me. He reached up and tore off the mask, revealing spiky black hair. His smile was cocky, as if he was proud of himself for being so clever.
Suddenly a pair of arms wrapped around me from behind. I blinked up into the intruder’s eyes, and in the next moment he was gone. I was somewhere else. It was dark, but I could smell pine needles and hear branches crackle as the wind blew through them high above me. I was almost certain I was in the mountains somewhere, but it was too dark to tell. Whoever had brought me here still held me tightly.


I spun around to throw my arms around him. He’d come back! Somehow I knew he wasn’t gone for good. He wouldn’t just leave me forever. Not after what we’d been through. But instead I was faced with dark eyes the color of onyx. A stranger, not Pen, had saved me from the supernatural being. I should’ve been grateful. Maybe shook his hand and exchanged emails. He seemed nice enough as he stared back at me with his head tilted in that way Pen did when he was trying to feel my thoughts.

All of these reactions would have been a normal way to react to someone who had just saved your life. I, however, was not a normal girl.

“Who the hell are you?”

Keri Neal designs book covers. Flightless is her fourth published book. She lives near Austin, Texas with her husband, two children, two hamsters and a snake. She crochets, sews, reads, paints and loves all things artsy & craftsy.  
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