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O Christmas Tree, Ugly Christmas Tree

December 20, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s the holiday season and my Facebook news feed is all cluttered up with pictures of beautiful Christmas trees.  Color coordinated beauties with each ornament placed with loving care stand guard over piles and piles of impeccably wrapped gifts with ribbons and bows.  It’s beautiful, it really is.  It’s just not how I roll at Christmas.

My Christmas tree is a hot mess.  I have wrinkled paper ornaments and faded construction paper chains.  I have Boba Fett hunting Opus just above the Lion King.  The lights on the bottom half blink and the lights on the top don’t.  The bottom third of the tree is nearly bare, thanks to thieving cats who love shiny things.  Speaking of cats, they’ve also stomped all over all of our presents, ripping paper and smushing boxes, because the water in the tree stand tastes ever so much better than the water in their bowl.  Oh yes, you heard that correctly…we have not yet passed into the world of artificial, perfectly pre-lit trees.  We still go to Lowes three weeks before Christmas searching for the least ugly tree that will just barely fit into our house, and I have the sap on my ceiling and pine needles on the floor to prove it.  It’s far from magazine perfect, but I adore our ugly Christmas tree and I still gaze upon it with wonder.

The night the Christmas tree goes up may be my favorite night of the year.  The family gathers around the giant tote of ornaments with an excitement that makes me wish I had syringes of Valium at the ready.  Tradition dictates that the kids stay out of the way while Mom and Dad put the lights on the tree, then it’s on.  Special ornaments are first, and this is the best part.  With the exception of very fragile ornaments (and we don’t have many of those), the kids are in charge of ornaments.  Every ornament comes out of its original box and gets hung willy nilly on the tree while we tell the story of its origin.  Okay, so it’s not really a story.  But it’s still cool to say, “your granny gave me this when Dad and I were dating,” or “my kindergarten teacher gave me this one and YOUR kindergarten teacher gave you that one.”  After the special ornaments, I will inevitably find the garland that was supposed to go on FIRST.  So after we thread that around the irreplaceables, then I make unreasonable demands that EVERY ornament will go on the tree.  This has questionable results, since these ornaments are plain colored balls that have no story and are really kind of boring.  This is also the signal to the cats that their newest plaything is ready to go.  We do skip the tinsel, since it’s not nearly as pretty when you’re scooping it out of a litter box, so at this point, all we need are the presents to complete our tree

The result is a Christmas tree that’s cluttered, mismatched and, overall, kind of wonky.  Just like our family.  It tells our story and that makes it beautiful to us.  It’s not Facebook feed worthy, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Sister Christian, Asparagus and my New Year’s resolution

December 14, 2011 Leave a comment

When I was a kid I hated asparagus.  There’s something about canned asparagus that tastes exactly like canned peas, which are also very disgusting and do not belong on my plate.  Ah, how different things are when they’re prepared differently…while I still won’t touch the canned stuff, I once paid $7.99 a pound for fresh asparagus.  (It was only the once, it was a drought or something and maybe I was pregnant.  I don’t know. Whatever.  I did it.)  Because of my long and storied history with asparagus, I was not prepared to give it another chance, but in my adulthood, I discovered a great love for the little green sticks.

On a related note (I promise I’ll get there, if you just hang with me), I have always disliked the song, “Sister Christian.”  It’s overplayed, it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever and it’s just not my style.  When it comes on the radio, not only do I immediately change the station, but I also make a face and sometimes a noise.  (urrgggggg)  But tonight on the way home, it came on the radio.  I didn’t change it because my only other option was some very terrible Christmas carol or something extremely static-y.  Before long, I found myself SINGING ALONG.  So now, apparently, I have a love affair with Sister Christian.

Well, so?  What’s my point?  Something that I’ve realized just recently.  Being a grown up does not mean you’re done growing up.  Even as (urgggggg) a middle-aged adult, we still have opportunities to grow, to learn new things and to embrace  new passions.  I’ve been in a blind rut for many years…get up, go to work, come home.  It’s easy to let it happen, after all, chasing after your passions doesn’t pay the bills.  (If it does, I hope you’re thanking your lucky stars every single day.)  So all this reflection brings me to my New Year’s resolution for 2012.  (If you’re impressed about how ahead of the game I am with this, allow me to assure you, I haven’t even finished Christmas shopping yet.  This is a fluke.)

So, in 2012, I vow to be true to myself.  I will try new things.  I’ll grow into myself.  And in a vast improvement over some past resolutions, I have a head start.  Just by writing this blog, I’ve already reconnected with some part of me that was buried under motherhood, marriage, and a stagnant daily grind.  I am a mom and I am a wife and I am a whatever-my-job-title-is-this-week, but those things do not define me.  What defines me is at risk of being lost every day that I wake up and sleepwalk through my day.  My promise to myself in 2012 is to excavate all the old pieces of me and fit them into new adventures, whether it be as small as writing a blog or some major change that’s still on the horizon.  Life is too short to be complacent.  We need challenge, excitement and enthusiasm if we ever hope to be better than what we are right now.

Do you have your resolutions for 2012 yet?  Inspire me with your goals.  I am, at times, akin to a ship lost at sea and, even in my (urgggggg) middle age, I need all the direction I can get.  What I really need is a new asparagus.

A penny saved

December 10, 2011 Leave a comment

I have always liked the idea of coupons, but I’ve always been too disorganized and scattered to make them work for me.  I’m the girl who has 50 expired coupons stuck to the fridge and always forgets to take them to the store.  Then came the Extreme Couponing craze and I thought those ladies on TV were, well, crazy.  (I also suspected from the start that there was something unrealistic about that show, and, BINGO, turns out there is.)  But earlier this year, my sister started couponing and I jumped on board.  Who doesn’t want to save some money, right?

The thing about couponing is that it’s grown some kind of mystique, as if there’s a secret coupon code.  Coupon classes are a booming business and people are shelf-clearing in a frenzy.  If you want to get the really ridiculous deals, then yes, a class might help you.  However, when I started down this road, my husband laid down some ground rules from the get-go.  (He acts as though I have a history of going overboard…hmmm….)

Rule #1 – You shall not spend extra money to save money.  Obviously $3 off something is a fantastic deal, but not if you’ll never use it.  I only use coupons for things that we will realistically use within the shelf life.

Rule #2 – You shall not take over my house with coupon deals.  Every square inch of our house is in use (not counting the attic or the crawlspace, but it hasn’t come to that yet.)  If I start buying too many extras, something else will be displaced.  I cleared off one shelf in my linen closet for coupon buys.  We always have extras of toiletries –  but within reason.

Rule #3 – You shall never change our brand of toilet paper, no matter how good the coupon is.  This is pretty self-explanatory.  Brand loyalty is frowned up in the world of couponing, but some things must never change.  In our house, it’s cat food, toilet paper and laundry detergent.  This makes finding coupons for “our brand” all the more exciting.

So by following these rules and collecting coupons patiently over time, I have managed to save money and gradually learn the ways of moderate couponing.  I’ve also made myself more price conscious of everything I buy, since I am often called to the carpet to explain a couponing purchase.  (I swear my husband is not a dictator, but you’d never know it when it comes to this particular topic.)  Here are a couple easy things I have learned to save a couple bucks.  Maybe you already know them, too, but rule #1 of couponing is share, and so I shall.

Just because you have a coupon now, you don’t have to use it now!  Unless it’s an item that you really need right now, hold on to that sucker and watch for it to go on sale.  I always have a variety of soup coupons, and I can count on my local supermarket to put one brand or another on sale every week during the cold weather months.  $1 off 4 cans is pretty sweet, but it’s even sweeter if they’re buy one/get one.  Obviously soup is just an example, the same goes for everything!  If you watch the sales closely enough, you will start to see a pattern and you’ll know what to expect.  Walgreens in particular is very good about matching up their sales with recent coupons.  Walmart Some other stores tend to have “disappearing items” when there are good coupons out.  Check all the sale papers and be open to shopping at various stores.

Never, ever throw away a coupon.  Get your Sunday paper every week and then pass it on.  Just because you can’t use all the coupons doesn’t mean someone else can’t.  Get yourself a coupon buddy and share your unused coupons on a regular basis.  It’s amazing how many extra coupons I get from my sister each week, although I sometimes question her opinion of me when I consistently get Depends coupons from her.  (Although I am pleased for her sake that she does not need them.)  Also, DO NOT throw away your expired coupons.  Military families can use expired coupons on base (up to 6 months after the date).  Separate them by food/non food and send those suckers to our troops!  The financial difficulties these families can encounter is often overlooked and any opportunity we have to give back is a blessing.  There are a number of addresses you can send them to, just Google it and get yourself to the post office!

Be prepared to take an extra chunk of time shopping, especially when you’re starting out.  If you can convince a patient family member or friend to go with you, you’ll make your life a lot easier.  You need to do a lot of price comparison.  Does your coupon make the brand name less expensive that the generic you might normally buy?  Is fifty cents really worth this purchase?  Watch out for coupons that require multiples.  $1 off 3 boxes of cereal is not really a great deal, unless you normally go through cereal three boxes at a time.  Take a few minutes at home to match up the coupons to your grocery list to ease the pain a little.  Also take it easy on your cashier and make sure you actually buy all the products for the coupons you plan to use and don’t forget to check expiration dates.

Don’t get so wrapped up in your coupons that you miss other great finds.  We recently discovered spices and seasonings in the Mexican food section of our grocery store (the authentic food, not the taco kits).  You can buy such goodies as garlic powder, parsley and sesame seeds in restaurant sizes for a fraction of the price you’ll pay in the spice section a few aisles over.

Every dollar counts!  You’ll never make coupons work for you if you tell yourself such lies as, “it’s only fifty cents.”  It adds up very quickly and every little bit really does help.  Think how great you’ll feel when you see $20 of coupon savings on your weekly grocery receipt!  $20 may not seem like a lot, but what if you took that extra money and put it in your savings account every week?  Worth a little extra time and trouble?  You bet it is! 

Don’t ever buy into the idea that using coupons means you have financial trouble.  First of all, who the heck cares?  Secondly, regardless of what you can or can’t afford, isn’t it just smart to save money where you can?  I never make a purchase any more without first looking for coupons and discounts.  If I pay full price for something, I feel like I’ve been duped.  Do you have more couponing tips and tricks?  Please share them!!  It’s all just a game and it isn’t that hard to start winning.  Now go get yourself a coupon binder and a newspaper and get to work!

 

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Being the little sister

December 9, 2011 Leave a comment

I have a wonderful family.  I am truly blessed from my parents to my husband and children to my in-laws.  I love each and every one of them and I recognize how very, very lucky I am.  This time of year always makes me think of family and I get all mushy and sentimental.  This year, as I break up fights between my children, I am taken back to my own childhood and my fights with my big sister.  I never would have guessed, all those years ago, that we would end up where we are today.  There was no incentive that could entice us to get along.  We fought about EVERYTHING.  But, such is the way of siblings during childhood, or so I tell myself silently, whilst I scream at my own children to GET ALONG OR STAY AWAY FROM EACH OTHER.

So during our childhood, we didn’t always get along.  But as we reached adulthood, it was like flipping a switch.  The minute she got married and moved out, we immediately became friends.  My theory is that we are both too powerful and dominant to be contained under one roof.  (Yeah, that’s it)  Today, the best memories I have, the times I’ve laughed the hardest, been loved the most and been supported without question… she’s always there.  I am the luckiest little sister in the world.  My sister is my very best friend and she comes with the bonus of a whole shared lifetime of memories for us to build on.  I could live without her, I guess, but my life would not have half of the brightness, love and laughter that it has now.

I need to thank her for many things, because I don’t tell her often enough what she means to me.  But first, credit goes to the third parties who make it all possible:

  • Thank you, Mom & Dad for having us, raising us and not abandoning us at the fire department on those occasions when we deserved it.
  • Thank you, Eddie for bringing happiness and joy to my sister.
  • Thank you, Verizon, for unlimited texting.
  • Thank you, Facebook, for providing a stage for our antics.

Now on to the main event, my dear sister, Laurie.  I love you and need you in my life more than you probably know.  This list can’t come close to encompassing everything you’ve given to me, but they’re just a few of the things that need to be said.

  • Thank you for doing everything first, then telling me what to expect.  From makeup and hair to marriage and childbirth, I always knew what I was getting into because you were there to coach me.  Thank you also for omitting the details that may have sent me running for the hills (specifically regarding childbirth).
  • Thank you for always, always being there when I need you.  And thank you for letting me be there for you and for forgiving me for the times that I wasn’t.
  • Thank you for driving me to school every day when you were a cool senior and I was a lowly 8th grader.
  • Thank you for teaching me the ways of coupons and sharing your great finds with me.
  • Thank you for sharing your family with me and allowing me to be in your daughters’ lives and for being such an important part of my children’s lives.
  • Thank you for promising to redecorate the baby’s nursery when I became convinced in my last days of pregnancy that my son might actually be a girl.  Nothing else could have calmed my pregnant crazy and even though that baby was a boy, just like the doctor said, I needed that promise to stay sane.
  • Thank you for 30+ years of inside jokes and for keeping my inner child alive.  We are probably the only adults alive who camp out at the windows when they’re calling for snow…just to be the first one to say “It’s snowing.”
  • Thank you for cheering me on without words, cause we’re not really cheerleader type girls.  Believe me, I hear it loud and clear.
  • Thank you reminding me of things that you know I’ll forget without making me feel bad about forgetting everything.
  • Thank you for doing a visual check on all of my cats when we’re out of town, even though Squeaky likes to hide.
  • Thank you for knowing all my flaws better than anyone, knowing every mistake I’ve ever made and knowing all of my secrets – and never holding any of it against me.

The older I get, the more perspective I get on life and relationships.  Friends, even close friends, can come and go.  They can, and often will, betray you in the most wretched ways.  To have a true and loving friend is a gift that can never be matched.  To get to share your entire life with that friend is to be unspeakably blessed.  “Sister” is such a special word to me, all wrapped up in happiness and love.  I am blessed beyond words.

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Ten things I want to tell my grocery bagger.

December 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Many years ago, I discovered that grocery stores in some areas of the country (and world, I would assume) expect you to bag your own groceries.  This is not a concept that I’m at all familiar with, since in my part of the world, that kind of activity is discouraged.  We have baggers at the store, whose sole purpose is to load your groceries into as few bags as possible.  In some cases the bagger is also your cashier, which is even worse, because those guys are in a hurry.

 I always prefer to bag my own groceries.  I have done my time working in a grocery store and I’ve done even more time as a consumer, so I think it’s fair to say that I know what I’m doing.  But, alas, lately every grocery store I frequent has remodeled in a way that allows ONLY the cashier easy access to the bagging station.  Okay, I get it.  Customers like me are costing your store a fortune in bags.  Those things have to be upwards of two cents each.  Pennies are flying out the door at unprecedented speed.  So I understand.  However, if you’re going to continue to bag my groceries, please allow me to provide feedback.  Here are the top ten things I wish you would keep in mind while I’m handing over exorbitant amounts of cash for my weekly groceries.

  1. Your plastic bags are flimsy.  I’ve seen toilet paper that’s stronger than your bags.  Every item with corners is a risk and every extra can tempts fate.  Choose carefully and err on the side of caution.
  2. If your manager has cut your hours, I don’t want to hear about it.  It’s fine to discuss this on your break, but it is not for my ears.  If you could stop complaining long enough to see that you shouldn’t bag apple juice and bread together, it may cease to be an issue, anyway.
  3. I have painstakingly organized my groceries on the conveyer belt because I want them bagged like that, not just because it’s fun to organize. Please respect my wishes and refrain from bagging my cottage cheese with my drain cleaner.
  4. When I get home, I’m going to make my kids carry my groceries into the house.  If a twelve-year-old girl can’t lift it, it’s too heavy.
  5. Do not put my gallon of milk in a bag.  That just encourages you to put other stuff in there with it.  (see #1)
  6. Do put my potatoes in a bag.  If it doesn’t come with a handle on it, I want it in a bag, by God!
  7. When I say, “Please put that in two bags,” I do NOT mean “Please double bag that.”  I mean I want two separate bags, both with a reasonable amount of product in them.
  8. A quick lesson on cross contamination: It’s okay to put raw chicken with raw pork or beef, because I’m going to cook all those things.  It’s not okay to put raw chicken with yogurt.  I don’t cook my yogurt and salmonella is not a fun bonus.
  9. The laws of physics are in effect inside grocery bags.  No matter how lightweight an item may be, there is still only a limited amount of space inside the bag for said items.  The whole point of handles is that they be able to meet.
  10. If you follow me out to my car, you will get the opportunity to hear a colorful critique of your performance.  Just in case you’re interested in immediate feedback.

I recognize that I’m picky and demanding about this.  But when you consider the economy, the price of groceries and the fact that I’m feeding a growing boy who consumes food at a rate I previously thought only possible by baby lions in the wild, more of my money goes for groceries than anything else.  I’m protective of my investment.  And even though, in the grand scheme of things, being a grocery bagger is not the most glamorous job, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it well or treat your customers like you care.  For those of you grocery people out there who really are doing it right, thank you.  You are a rare commodity and a pleasant surprise.  Just please be patient with me when I answer your greeting with the desperate screech, “I don’t need my milk in a bag!!”

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Deck the Halls! (and the roof, the porch and the sidewalk…)

December 5, 2011 2 comments

It’s that delightful time of year when we all crawl into our attics and basements and pull out long and tangled strings of Christmas lights to hang outside.  If you’re like me, you also find boxes and boxes of lights that you bought last year on December 26 (and say to yourself with glee, I forgot I bought so MUCH!).

 My family (including my dad, who has a ginormous ladder and no apparent fear of heights whatsoever) spent the weekend decorating for the holiday.  It was an exhausting and trying weekend, but now that it’s over, I’m pleased to announce that my husband and I are still happily married, no children have been harmed and my dad failed in his attempts to get my nine-year-old to climb to the roof behind my back.  And here’s our final result:  (insert oooohs and aaaaaahs here, please)

Merry Christmas, Power Company!

We haven’t been doing this for too many years, and I know we’re still light years (haha, LIGHT years, get it?) from the folks on the Extreme Christmas Lights show on TV, but last night one of my neighbors stepped outside and exclaimed, “Oh my God!” so I think we’re making progress.

 So, without further ado, I present to you my guidelines for Christmas decorations that are sure to cause traffic jams on your street.

  •  No white lights allowed – unless they are paired recklessly with multi-colored lights. White lights are classy and refined.  That is not what we’re going for here.
  •  Anything goes except baby Jesus.  Do not mock Baby Jesus.  Even if your intentions are pure, you are sure to be misunderstood by someone who might be willing to set your house on fire.
  •  If one string of lights is good, two (or five) are better.  Feel free to double up where ever possible.  Mixing types of lights is also encouraged.
  •  No one has any business walking on your grass.  You should seize the opportunity to reinforce that rule with booby traps.  On the flip side, keep your walkways scrupulously clear, lest you make a permanent enemy of your mail carrier.
  • Something must be blinking and something else must be static.  Bonus points if these two conditions are met on the same string of lights
  • Choose your decorating team carefully.  There will be harsh words, frustration and broken promises.  You’re going to need them again next year, so if they can’t take it, put them in charge of making coffee.
  • You do not need fancy tools.  If you have a staple gun, a roll of duct tape and a baggie of mismatched light bulbs, you’re all set.
  • If you have not risked injury or death while putting up your lights, then you’re doing it wrong.
  • You will need to bake Christmas cookies and deliver them to your neighbors in apology.
  • If you have lights left over, you’re not done.

 

Whether your holiday decor is understated and white-lighted or a jumbled train wreck of lights, may you all feel the overwhelming and sometimes obnoxious joy of the holiday season in your hearts.  Seasons Greetings!