November 2010

Want to find out how you can shop for a cause and help change lives? The Enterprising Kitchen is one way you can help women and their families gain financial independence. The Enterprising Kitchen (TEK) is a  non-profit organization, based in Chicago that started in 1996. The program is aimed to help low-income, poverty stricken women and their families achieve economic independence by providing them with jobs and important life skills training. Women strive towards self sufficiency by producing and selling a line of spa products such as soaps, lotions and body oils.

I first learned about TEK as I was shopping in a popular retail store in my neighborhood. During a special shopping event, TEK were showcasing their products for the holiday season. I had walked by the table several times as I thought, ‘this is just another company trying to make a profit.’ Little did I know, this company was one that actually sought to put profits back into others who needed it! I walked up to the table as the scents of jasmine and rose from the soaps and body creams aroused my senses. I was greeted by Jade Stewart, the Executive Director of TEK who informed me that all the products were hand made by women who have either been living below the poverty line, victims of domestic violence, previously incarcerated or just down on their luck in life. She went on to inform me that all proceeds, are used to benefit job training for the women.

The Enterprising Kitchen was started by Ms. Joan Pikas who originally launched the company from home in her kitchen – hence the name “The Enterprising Kitchen”. Each product is hand made under the TEK’s brand name, Choices from The Enterprising Kitchen. One very interesting thing I also learned was that  each product is hand signed by the woman who made it. Seeing the names on the products made me realize that simply purchasing a bar of soap or a bottle of lotion could change a woman’s life. The gift packages were beautifulIy and organically wrapped with different sets including lotions, soaps, bath salts and oils. I bought two bars of rose scented soaps, and along with the mission statement on the translucent packaging, were the words “Packaged with pride by: Bisrat”. I thought this was such a sentimental notion and added a more personal feel to purchasing these spa products. I really felt I made a purposeful purchase. Jade informed me that TEK also offers custom orders where packaging can be creatively personalized with your company name and logo.

More than 600 women have been interviewed for the TEK program and of these women, 397 has received job training and support. The average wage for the women is $9 per hour. The program works as a stepping stone towards possible permanent work. TEK works with employment agencies with helping women of the program  get on the job training and graduate moving into positions at various skill levels within job fields such as health care, social services, manufacturing and transportation companies.

The Enterprising Kitchen offers several ways to get involved. The Charitable Fundraising Program where specialized gifts can be made for school, religious and/or nonprofit fundraising purposes; hiring graduates at your company after they complete a six-month transitional jobs training program; The Referral Program where a graduate can be referred for possible employment; and Product Development Program where if you have a creative eye for design, you can assist with launching new products.

Since we are in the season of giving, you can give the gift that gives back. Whether its shopping for gifts for loved ones for the holiday’s, a wedding or corporate giving, shopping with The Enterprising Kitchen is a sure way you’ll be helping others as you buy.




If you would like to get involved with The Enterprising Kitchen, please visit their upcoming open house on December 4, 2010 from 10am-5pm 4426 North Ravenswood Chicago, IL 60640 773-506-3880

Or visit them online at:

Now that you have filled up on all the delicious Thanksgiving food, are you ready to hit the shops and walk off/run off some of those calories as you shop? To help make your shopping experience more pleasant on Black Friday, Life Made Simple reached out to consumer expert, John Hildebrand. We asked John about helpful tips for making your shopping experience a lot simpler. Mr. Hildebrand teaches classes like Consumer Behavior and Marketing Strategy & Planning and other related courses at UIC. LMS proudly introduces John Hildebrand and his professional advice on making this Black Friday a more simple and pleasant shopping experience.

1) Mr. Hildebrand, can you tell the audience of Life Made Simple a little bit about the shopping experience of consumers on Black Friday?

Black Friday can be an adventure in shopping, or a commercial nightmare. Much of that is going to depend on the approach you take to it. This is not a shopping day – it’s a buying day. Crowds and limited quantities are going to make it virtually impossible, in many cases, to be leisurely. If you want to browse and shop, it’s better to wait a few days. If you know what you want and are ready to go in, find it, and buy it, then this is your day. The energy of the crowds and the thrill of the hunt may be exciting for some, for others it may prove more annoying and frustrating than anything else. Know who you are and what you want.

2) What media outlets should consumers look at for advertisement and shopping deals that are trustworthy and reliable?

It’s not so much the outlets as it is a matter of reading the ads–and the small print–carefully. Reputable advertisers can’t afford to have untrustworthy advertising so particular media won’t be as important for trustworthiness. Print ads will give you something to bring with you and reference to (model numbers, price, conditions, etc) if there are any questions–it will also help your team get exactly the right item (see below).

3) What are some things consumers should bring during Black Friday shopping to ease any stress and make their shopping experience more comfortable?

A list, a map, a team, and a plan. On Black Friday you must be strategic. In those stores where there is a big rush when the doors open, many items won’t last long. If you insist on shopping on Black Friday know exactly what it is you want. Make a list, then prioritize that list. Go to the store a day or two before and make sure you know where to find the top items on your list. Know the quickest route to get to each item.

On the big day, when possible, shop as a team–bring the whole family. Designate one person to get a cart and stay with it. If time matters, getting at the carts will be the biggest time waster. It’s also easier to move through the crowds without a bulky cart slowing you down. You can always bring the cart to your prize later if you’re buying big items.

Give everyone an item to go for first (make sure they know the right model number, color, size, etc–bringing a copy of the ad helps) and have a central meeting place where you will gather together to put things in your cart. Use your cell phones to coordinate–you have that family plan for a reason!

Get in the checkout line early. They get long fast. You can always send out ‘hunting’ parties for other things after you have the important items in the cart. If nothing else, you may have to get a second cart and check out a second time with the later items. But this way you have the option of getting out quickly with your most important purchases if you find the lines getting too long.

4) Do you think online shopping could make Black Friday shopping simpler?

Absolutely. No crowds, no stress.

5) Is there anything that consumers should pay extra attention to if they want to do online shopping on Black Friday?

Make sure you know who you are giving your credit card information to. Make sure you read terms and conditions. Watch for hidden charges (get the shipping rate–it may be less of a bargain after shipping). Make sure there is a return policy. Print out the online receipt.

6) Any suggestion for our readers who want to go shopping on the early morning of Black Friday to make their shopping experience simpler?

Plan ahead and know what you want.

So here you have it readers of Life Made Simple! If you are planning on taking part as shoppers this Black Friday, we hope that the tips from John Hildebrand were useful to you. From things to bring with you to planning ahead; we hope you can take these tips and have a pleasant and simpler day of shopping this Black Friday!

Nowadays, technology plays a pretty big role in our everyday lives.  If we aren’t on our cell phones, you might catch us on our lap tops, or even both at the same time!  Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate those blessings in our lives and one of the most important blessings is our family.  Today let us spend time with those we love the most and less time occupied with the gadgets we own.

Yesterday, I spoke with a friend about this subject and she told me, “In my family, my dad makes us put away our cell phones at dinner on Thanksgiving.  That way, for once, we can communicate with one another instead of communicating with those who aren’t even there.”

Life Made Simple always promotes the goodness of simplicity.  Simply stepping away from technology can help us appreciate the more important things in life like our families and friends. This Thanksgiving, challenge yourself in not using technology like a computer or your cell phone to communicate with others but instead focus your attention on the people who are right in front of you and be thankful for them .  Communicate with those you are surrounded by at the dinner table.  Find something new to appreciate about someone in your family today!
Happy Holidays! 🙂

Thanksgiving is tomorrow which means there will be a whole lot of cooking and even more eating!  Whether you are a guest bringing a dish to some one’s home or cooking for your own, a seasonal dessert is a must! LMS searched the web for a simple seasonal dessert that had basic ingredients and easy to follow directions.  What did we look for? Some of the Thanksgiving classics; pumpkins and cranberries.  We entice  your taste buds this holiday with….

Cranberry Pumpkin Bread

Try this Taste of Home recipe

  • 3-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, thawed
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts


  • In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, pumpkin and oil; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in cranberries and walnuts.
  • Spoon into two greased 9-in. x 5-in. loaf pans. Bake at 350° for 70-80 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely. Yield: 2 loaves (16 slices each).

Baking with Fresh Pumpkin

Big pumpkins, small pumpkins, white pumpkins, Cinderella pumpkins: what’s best for baking?   All Recipes can tell you how…it really is simple!

The holiday’s tend to bring out the best in people. It is a time when people are in a giving mood and sometimes reflect more often on what’s important in their lives. In the upcoming weeks, we will showcase simple and delicious recipes as well as highlight some ways others give thanks like those at The Enterprising Kitchen. As we approach Thanksgiving, I would like to encourage you to not only use the day to give thanks, but use the days going forward to reach out to others and give. Give – a helping hand, an encouraging word, or something in need. Don’t allow only the holidays to care and share. Each day brings new opportunities to make a difference in someone’s life.

Since Life Made Simple has covered many simple – yet beautiful things in life, I began to think about life itself. How many times have you wondered “who am I?” and “why am I here”? Does it ever feel like your life is a huge circle? What is the meaning behind the repetitive things we do in our daily lives?

The Myth of Sisyphus is a very interesting story from Greek Mythology about king Sisyphus who gets punished by the Greek Gods for his trickery. King Sisyphus is then condemned to roll a huge rock up to a steep hill forever.  As the story goes, Sisyphus would come close to the top of the hill, but the rock would roll back down – he never gets the rock to the top.

Based on Sisyphus’ myth, I would like you to consider the following: If Sisyphus had known that he could never roll the huge rock up to the top of the hill, would he still have worked so hard to get it done? There is no right or wrong answer, however, do think about what the meaning is behind this repetition.

In China, there is an old folktale similar to the story of Sisyphus called The Little Shepherd. As the story goes, a traveler comes to a small village, sees a shepherd boy and he asks him, “What do you herd sheep for?” “In order to marry a young lady,” the boy answered. “Why do you want to marry?” The traveler asked again. “In order to have children,” the boy answered. “Why do you want to have children?” The traveler went on asking. The boy thought a while and answered, “for herding my sheep!”

Both of these stories show life as a cycle in which we are repeating what we did yesterday and our children will repeat what we are doing now. When people are born, they are born into a world where other people have already worked out ways to manage the problems they will likely encounter themselves. When children are young, they should learn and practice wisdom from the previous generations. Thus, human beings develop generation by generation with repeating traditions. Fortunately, this kind of repetition is not always the same for everyone. We all find our own little beauties and unique experiences along the way.

Sisyphus was condemned to a repetitive action his entire life.  His courage and braveness were so strong that he did not hate or hesitate but just faced his fate. The story of Sisyphus teaches that no matter how difficult a situation might seem, we are strong individuals and we shouldn’t give up.

The young shepherd boy most likely learned to be a shepherd from his own father. Since a shepherds’ life is all he knew, he wanted to pass on his knowledge to his own children, hence to have children the shepherd boy must first find a wife. He too accepts his fate and takes part in this repetitive life cycle.

Hopefully this story has shed some light on life as a cycle. We start as young, crying babies needing the care of our parents.  If fortunate with a long healthy life, we end in old age with our children then taking care of us.  It’s only one life cycle that we each  go through. We might as well enjoy it from the first bud to the very last shriveled leaf!

Leaves as Life’s Cycle…

— CC

The best things in life are nearest:  Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you.  Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life’s plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.

~Robert Louis Stevenson

Thanksgiving is a week away and many of us may already have Thanksgiving planned out from the dinner menu to the day’s festivities. Thanksgiving celebrations typically include families getting together enjoying a traditional feast of a turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie- THE works! This special fourth Thursday in November is known as a holiday to express thankfulness to God, family and friends for all the blessings in our lives.

Thanksgiving is a celebration that is meant to be spent with loved ones! While you still have time to make the arrangements, Life Made Simple encourages you to plan to give to those who might not necessarily have the blessings that you have in your life. Whether you invite a friend over who doesn’t have family around or volunteer with family members at a local soup kitchen-giving back to others and your community will definitely put a smile on someones face this Thanksgiving. Now that’s something to be thankful for!

If you are interested at volunteering at a soup kitchen here are some helpful links to help you find one near you!

The Marquard Center Dining Room in Chicago

Chicago Food Depository

The Volunteer Center

Last week, Life Made Simple featured a story about Learning in Africa at the Kokrobitey Institute in Accra, Ghana. Today, we will share some personal essays directly from the students that will  give a closer glimpse of the Urban Scholars Program. These high school students are from various Chicago area schools who’ve traveled to the Kokrobitey Institute between the years of 2001 and 2005. The creative stories and poems give a very personal account of the students’ experiences while traveling to Africa – especially those who have never before traveled out of the country.

A priority of the Institute is to introduce students to the ‘Old World’ of Africa and to “build self-esteem through self-discovery and academic excellence”. For two weeks, students take classes on history, African literature, African Arts and finish with individual projects on their experience.

Below are two compelling examples of a story and a poem that were written by students who’ve traveled to the Kokrobitey Institute.

Story: Reflections  

When I first sank my black Converse into the Ghanaian sand,
I realized I was afraid I would lose my identity. My pace was
quick because, with each step,

I feared my sense of self would
slip into the soil. After spending the last seventeen years
strapped into color-coded society, coming to Ghana felt like
tripping into the Black abyss.

I was afraid that Africans would see me as white. At home
I was taught that white was the hue of emptiness: White
Americans were blank beings who traded commercialism for
culture and stole whatever beliefs they could not buy. White is
the color of fresh notebook paper. I had already been stained.
I did not want to be rewritten with the ink of the Motherland.

A staring contest with a Ghanaian street vendor changed my
fears. The way they glanced, the way they held—I had never
seen eyes that looked so much like mine. It felt as though I
was staring at myself. People say that you can only see the
world through your own perspective, but with his eyes, I knew
he must see the same as I did. Oceans and centuries had
separated us, but we share.

I was once afraid to walk here. Now, as I traipse barefoot
across Ghanaian ground, I realize that I have not been broken
but built. Before coming to Kokrobitey the Black-White
dichotomy fashioned my cultural identity: to be Black was to be
the opposite of White. Yet here in Africa, people who were the
same color as me surrounded me. Here, without the presence of
the “other,” I—the African-American—had to face the other side of the hyphen.

Over the last two weeks I have learned that culture is not a
static monolith but a dynamic entity. Never again must I fear
that my culture will crack because it breathes just as I do. It
is a product of human interaction, and it changes in accordance
with the place, time, and knowledge of its followers. Ethnicity
yields culture, but culture does not exist in a racial vacuum. My
brown skin and the traditions it signifies are products of both
sides of the hyphen.

I am African. I am American. I am Human.

Poem: History On My Shoulders

I’ve finally come back
I’ve gone through my past
My voyage was rough
But troubled waters don’t last
I’ve seen first hand
What my ancestors went through
The whips, the chains, the death….
Enough to humble you
I’ve finally come home
To see the beauty
Aesthetically pleasing
And yet there’s more to see
I’ve been to the Door of No Return
And yet I’ve come back
And when I go home
I’ll share my story with no c lack
See, I’ve shed my tears
And learned my history
Finally, I understand my story
So many emotions I’ve had in two weeks
This makes you realize how precious life can be
Everything here is so full of life
The birds, the bees, the geckos, the trees
Such a pretty sight
I’ve met people who will forever change my life
And to them I say
“Thank you for being so nice”
This trip here has taught me to be appreciative for things
Like water and food and only take what you need
I know I’ve grown from this trip
I’ve learned to slow down
And to take life bit by bit
I’ve learned how to barter
And to walk away when I see fit
See this was much more than a vacation to me
I came to get some knowledge about my ancestry
And now that I know what I know
I’ll hold on to my past, and never let go
So even though it wasn’t us. Our fathers or mothers
It may not have been you, him or her
But it happened to someone or we wouldn’t be here
If our forefathers survived that….
We shouldn’t have any fears
Some people think history is old
But to me, I think we should embrace it,
And make sure this story gets told.

Along with taking classes, students take part in field trips in the area such Cape Coast, Aburi and other local towns in Accra. An integral part of the program is allowing American students to work closely with their Ghanaian peers so they take part in community service.

The Urban Scholars Program at The Kokrobitey Institute has proven to be a life changing experience for the students who’ve had the opportunity to participate. Lives have been enriched and changed forever through this program.  Life Made Simple proudly features the Urban Scholars Program at the Kokrobitey Institute and encourages parents to give their children opportunities like this one!

“Dance isn’t a form, it’s a way of life.”


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