Wednesday, December 29, 2010

And the cleanout begins. . .

I wrote a blog post last week about how I am quitting selling on eBay.  I contacted someone who sells and he is going to sell some of the stuff I have left.  Much of it will be going in a garage sale as some of it was bought back when stuff sold better.  For instance, I found a cake pan that used to sell for about $15 a few years ago, now it doesn't even get a $3 bid.  So, that's in the garage sale pile.

I am using the stopwatch function on my new iPod to see how long it takes me to get this room cleaned out.  I've worked on it only about 3 1/2 hours so far, and have gotten so much out it's unreal.  There were three bags of trash (each a 30 gallon bag), and a 30 gallon trash bag full of recycled packing materials I'll take to the man who is going to sell for me. 

I've found interesting stuff both to sell and of my own.  I found a winter hat I wondered what happened to it.  I found my handheld GPS for geocaching I've been looking for it for a while. 

I decided I need to get rid of a lot of stuff, and recently we had company and I had to get a bedroom "guest worthy".  Cleaning that room out took a long time because I was emotionally attached to so many of the objects in that room.   But with my eBay room, most everything was brought in for resell, so there is no sentimentality on the objects.

I'll be glad to reclaim this room.  Seems like over the last few years the entire upstairs became a "junk room" and I'm out to change that.  I didn't do an work in this room today because we had to much trash because of my three bags out of that room and Christmas I thought it would be pushing our luck to set out so many trash bags!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Review: Divanomics

Normally I don't post book reviews on my blog unless I've been given a book free to read and review.  Another new one came in the mail today, so soon you'll be seeing a review for Walls: Why Everybodys Stuck (and Nobody Has to Be) but today the book I'm going to review is Divanomics: How to Still Be Fabulous When You're Broke because I feel because many of my posts have to do with saving money, it's appropriate to review.

I thought of Divanomics as a "money saving guide for the other half", and I'm certianly not the other half!  I realize that the word DIVA is in the title, and I realize that some people probably have never shopped 'lower end retail', but there was a whole chapter devoted to shopping at Walmart and Target and the bargains that can be found there!  There was also a short bit on how she gets stuff with coupons and rewards points at Neiman Marcus.  Now, I think that's the first time I've ever even WRITTEN Neiman Marcus and I've certainly never been to one!    I will have to say that I was impressed that even though it was a Christian book she didn't seem to think that Dave Ramsey is god of financial advice.  (I've encountered some Christians with that attitude, almost to the point they seems to think if you are not listening to him exclusively you're in sin even if you're debt free!)  She mentions Dave Ramsey, but also mentions Suze Orman.  She did give a nod to but most of the coupon talk was dealing with coupons you can use at higher end department stores.  She also gave some suggestions like instead of going out to dinner you can have a fun night at home with friends playing games.  (Wow!  Who knew?)  Overall I give this three stars.  It kept my interest because of how to "save money" on designer fashions, etc. but for people who didn't already live that kind of lifestyle, I'm not sure how helpful this book would be.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Book Review: LITTLE STAR

Little Star is a children's book which would be perfect for a bedtime story around Christmas. The illustrations are beautiful. It's a charming story about the star that led the shepherds to where Jesus was born. However, I was a bit bothered by the fact that the star shone so brightly he burned out, and with an illustration of a gray, wilted looking star in the book. Some children, including myself as a child, would find this disturbing. I would have rather the star never shine brightly again and remain a “Little Star”. Although the story ends on a happy note, it still was a bit unsettling to see an illustration of a 'worn out' star. Overall this is a wonderful book for young and old. I highly expect it to become a Christmas classic! 

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Good Name is Better than Great Riches

When I was a child I had a bookmark with my name on it.  It also said "A good name is better than great riches."  I spent hours looking at that bookmark thinking how I disliked my name, but over the years I came to realize it didn't mean a good GIVEN name, but the name we earn for ourselves.  That verse in the New Living Translation reads:

Choose a good reputation over great riches; being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold.

I've been an eBay seller for eleven years now.  I quit my job yesterday.  I've had one too many people call me a liar.  It's interesting how I have a good, honest reputation in this area, but on eBay people are quick to call me a cheat when I've done nothing wrong.

In fact, my grandfather's name was so strong in this area that I needed to get gas about 4 years ago and didn't have any cash on me.  Even though my grandfather has been dead since before I was born, I told the elderly man working at the gas station who my grandfather was, and that was as good as any ID I could have shown.

I've been taught you are honest, and being called a theif, liar, cheat, etc. is something I can't tolerate, so I decided to quit eBay.

I was writing in my journal last night musing over the fact of WHO quits their job four days before Christmas without other ideas in mind?

One of my hopes yesterday was to find what eBay calls a "Trading Assistant".  That is someone who sells stuff for you on eBay and takes part of the profit.

I contacted one yesterday, and we talked for about an hour today.  It sounds like not only is he willing to sell the stuff I have collected from yardsales and auction that is in my current possession, but he may be willing to sell stuff that I collect in the future, so I have a new job title as of today.  I'm now a picker.

This feels like the second best Christmas gift I could have received.  (I was baptized earlier this month, and that was by far the best Christmas gift I could have received.)  What being a picker means for me is I will still get to do the part of eBay that I LOVE -- the going out and hunting for stuff to sell.  But it also means I can give up the parts I hate -- the taking photos, writing descriptions, dealing with customers, some of whom are unreasonable, and the packing.

So I will still be using the knowledge I have gleaned from 11 years of eBay selling, but now I will be able to pass the work that I hate on to someone else.

Obviously I haven't taken any items to this man yet, so it's still not set in stone this business relationship will work out but I feel very good about this.  And if this one doesn't work, I'm going to try to find someone else who is interested in doing the same thing.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Annie Chun Dinner Party Win

Recently Annie Chun Asian foods had a contest where 250 people would win everything for a dinner party for ten!  I received an e-mail that I was a finalist, and then had to do a survey about my party hosting habits.  I was a finalist!

I received an e-mail the other day saying a box that weighed 27 pounds was being shipped to me, and I couldn't imagine how stuff for a dinner party for 10 would weigh that much, but here are the contents of the box:

A more detailed list of contents;

5 boxes  Annie Chun's Pad Thai Noodles
3 boxes  Annie Chun's Chow Mein Noodles
6 bowls  Annie Chun's Rice Express Black Pearl Rice
8 bowls Annie Chun's Rice Express Sticky White Rice
1 bottle Annie Chun's Go-Chu-Jang, Korean Sweet Spicy Sauce
1 bottle Annie Chun'S Chinese Stir Fry Sauce
2 bottles Annie Chun's Korean BBQ Sauce
1 bottle Annie Chun's Pad Thai Sauce
2 bottles Annie Chun's Thai Peanut Sauce
11 pairs chopsticks
1 Oxo Good Grips Silicone Flexible Turner
model release forms for people who attend the dinner party to sign
recipe cards
10 coupons for $1 off Annie Chun products
4 coupons good for totally free Annie Chun products so if you want frozen / refridgerated items you can get them for free (such as Wontons, Potstickers, etc.)

I'm really looking forward to my dinner party, but don't know at this point when I will have it!

Account of Savings

Here's my "Account" of savings today.

First, I had won a $10 BookCash certifitcate, so I decided to go to Barnes and Noble to get a new book.  The cashiers had never seen such a thing before, but thankfully even as busy as they were, they were very nice about it.  :)  So I got a new book for $3.35.

Then I went to Giant Eagle to fill the car with gas.  I had 20 cents off on a gallon of gas because of grocery purchases.

Then Mom and I went to CiCi's for lunch.  I had signed up for their e-mail club and had been e-mailed a coupon for "Two can dine for $9.99"  We got two buffets and two drinks.  (One complaint about the drinks, Mom isn't suppossed to have sugar or caffeine, and there's nothing there that fits both of those.  She has to choose between sugar free or caffeine free.)

After that I went to CVS.  I had over $30 in Extra Care Bucks that expired this week.   I also had a 20% off my total coupon.  And I had a buy 2 get 1 free Zhu Zhu pets coupon.  Because those were on sale buy one get one, I could have gotten four for the price of one, but all they had was the ninja ones.  Now I think Zhu Zhu pets are cute, but seriously, ninja hamsters?  Who thought that one up.  

What I did get though:

FOUR caffeine free Diet Coke (they had buy 2 get $1 off coupons on the side of the boxes, so I was able to use two of these coupons)

ONE Revlon nail polish

ONE Thermacare neck wrap

One Revlon lipstick

TWO boxes of Hello Kitty Band-Aids

ONE Physician's Formula blush

I bought the makeup mainly because I could get Extra Care Bucks back and there wasn't much that caught my eye today, so I thought that might be the best way to use my ECBs.

In total I paid $6.97  (and $2.48 of that was sales tax!).  I saved $55.51.   And I received $22.79 in ECBs back. 

And upon returning home I arrived to an e-mail saying I won a $20 iTunes gift card, also in the mail were coupons for totally free Jelly Belly Jellybeans and a totally free 20 oz. Sprite.

I also saw where Barnes and Noble online had a coupon for 25% off one item, free shipping.  I had a Barnes and Noble gift card I had gotten free, so decided to use it, and ordered myself a book.  Between the Barnes and Noble deals I've been getting and the free books I've been getting if I agree to review them on my blog, I should have a lot of good reading for a while!

Not a bad day at all!  :)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Fotos -- Christmas ornaments

Each year, I love putting up the Christmas tree because I have so many ornaments that bring back so many memories.  The one from 1980 that started a tradition of my family being the FIRST to put up our Christmas tree -- the first Saturday in December -- putting it up that early then was unheard of!    There's the wooden block with "Joy, Peace, Hope, Love" written on it that was a gift to everyone who went to church a certain Sunday when I was in college.  I rode to church with a friend that day, and we're still friends 20 years later.

This ornament was given to everyone in 1981 by my 2nd grade teacher.  She only taught a half year because she had a baby.  We had close to 40 DIFFERENT teachers that year, sometimes even one teacher in a morning, one in the afternoon.  I was so happy to find out I got this teacher for 2nd grade, but only had her a few months.  Then the school board finally found someone to fill her spot, and that lady later moved to the jr. high and was my drama club sponsor in high school.  But this ornament was made by my original 2nd grade teacher.  Yes, those are real lifesavers from 29 years ago!

An ornament made by me in school.   This one is only 27 years old.  Plaster ornament we painted with watercolors.  I loved my 4th grade teacher.  I was able to see him again last summer (he moved away about 20 years ago).  It's so weird to hang out with your 4th grade teacher and have him ask you to call him by his first name.  Seems almost disrespectful.  After all, he was almost an icon of my childhood we all loved him so much!  This ornament always reminds me of him.  Some of my best school memories happened in his classroom!

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem. . . . I bought this one in Bethlehem in Israel.  Nothing too exciting about it except that it was bought in Bethlehem.  There was a store there with lots of Christmas stuff, and this is obviously one of the ornaments I bought.

Now tell me, have you ever seen a more frightening angel?  I bought this one in Denmark and thought it was hillarious because it's so scary!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

20 years and three friends

I had a wonderful time last week when two college friends came to town.  One was doing a show near me and we were able to get together for an afternoon.  It was a wonderful time, and I'm thankful for reconnecting through facebook and getting to meet up!

For lunch, I wanted them to try one of my favorite mom and pop type places to eat.  We deicded to get a grilled chocolate sandwich to split between the three of us.  I've never had one before, but as weird as it sounds, it was amazingly good.  It was homemade bread, grilled, with a Hershey's bar in it.  Sounds strange, but very tasty.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Sometimes Unrecognizable Church

I recently was able to review the book Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality and the following is my review:

Been to church, sang the songs, got a few dozen t-shirts. Unfortunately, that's what Christianity has been reduced to in much of America. We get up on Sunday morning, dress in our Sunday best, or if we're in a seeker-friendly church, we'll put on our best pair of jeans and polo, and spend two hours looking perfect.
But we're not perfect, and neither is the person sitting behind us, our cell group leader, nor our pastor.
This is a book I wish existed a few years ago. I went to a friend who was a pastor and asked for something to read that cut out all the clutter of church, something that took us right back to the Person of Jesus. What he recommended was a book that pointed out all the flaws in the institutional church.

Michael Spencer has done a fantastic job of shaving away everything that is not of Jesus. Getting us back to what God had in mind. He understands some people have walked away from the church because of the pretenses that are rampant in the church. I loved how he mentioned that it's fine in prayer requests of the gory details of an ingrown toenail, but we mustn't dare mention personal problems such as rebellious children, mental illness, or a shaky marriage. If we can't turn to the church for help and strength, who can we turn to?
He strips away the idea that if we have issues with the way things are in organized Christianity, it might not be the fact that we are deceived sinners, but we might be seeing something that does need changing. In my own church, something that Spencer has discussed that we have also mentioned from time to time is going out to eat. Yes, the waitress knows we are from church. The way we act, even down to the tip we leave leaves an impression on who we are – and Whose we are. One of my friends often leaves a tip equal to or higher than his meal. He says he doesn't want to leave a bad impression of Christians to our server.

Spencer also recognizes the fact that the Vending Machine Jesus is still the Jesus worshiped in many churches. Worship God and He will give you monetary riches. Of course, there's the more popular trend of worship giving you a great sex life with your spouse. Money and Sex. There really is more that God cares about than those two things.

While this book appears to be church-bashing, it is far from it. He admits we NEED the church but also recognizes that the church is sometimes not living up to what God had in mind.

If this book had been available to me a few years ago, I would likely say it would have been one of the most influential books of my life. However, I struggled with these issues on my own and came to much of the same conclusions that Spencer did. It was fantastic to see in print the very issues I wrestled with and eventually had to come to grips with a church that is not always what God had in mind.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

I would appriciate it if you could CLICK HERE and rank my review.  Thank you so much!

Didn't win, but I think it's cute

I thought I'd share a contest entry for Dean's Dip's "Be Our Avatar" contest.  This didn't win, but I still think it's cute. 

Fuzzbutt loves his veggies, but you better not even come near his Dean's Dip!

Monday, December 13, 2010

85 cents more . . .

Last week I got a $5 Register Rewards at Walgreens for spending over $25.  Well, my order total after coupons came to $3, so I expected to be able to do that again after coupons.  Evidently they changed it because my order after coupons came to $24.15 and I didn't get a $5 Register Rewards.  My favorite cashier offered to void everything and ring it all in and I could by a candy bar, but I didn't want to make her go through all that bother.

There were a number of grocery items this week that were on sale that we eat, so I bought a number of them.   It certainly wasn't anything to write home about.  I spent $24.15 and saved $22.88 and got $7 back in Reigster Rewards.  I haven't added my receipt to my W Card yet, but I should get 70 cents on that from this purchase.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Walgreens this week

No picture this week because I got my mother a number of stocking stuffers, and I know she reads my blog!

Just as I was getting ready to go into Walgreens this week, a friend called.  He was in town to do a magic show.  (I would say I'm the only person I know who is friends with a professional magician, but we have a lot of friends in common!)  He asked me before another friend and I met him for a late lunch to pick up a pair of fingernail clippers for him since I was at Walgreens.  He insisted he'd pay me back.

I had a number of Register Rewards, which were going to expire this week, so I used them all, even though this wasn't a great Walgreens week.

I spent a total of $3.66 and had 60 cents added to my W card, so a final cost of $3.06

What I got

Kraft mayo with olive oil
2 packages of Angel Soft 9 roll toilet paper
1 pair slippers
1 pair black and gold socks for a friend as a stocking stuffer
1 Lifesavers candy box for my aunt for Christmas
2 pairs of aloe moisturizing socks (LOVE these)
Revlon fingernail clippers
4 packages Walgreens paper plates
6 stocking stuffers for Mom

Total before coupons was $47.91.  I didn't realize I was that close to $50.  I received back a $5 Register Reward, but had I bought $2.09 more I would have received another $5 Register Reward.  D'oh!

My favorite cashier was ringing me out.  When she saw I got all that for $3.66 she let out  a yell.  My friend who was with me asked her if she was okay.  She was just amazed at how good I did again this week!

Once we meet my friend for lunch, he asked how much his fingernail clippers were.  I'm bad in math, believe it or not, so I just told him they were free.   He said they couldn't be free, and my other friend started saying that yes, indeed, they were.   Finally I said I got $50 of stuff for $3 after coupons, with $5 to spend on my next order, so if he wanted to figure out the final cost of them, that was fine, but I wasn't going to worry about it.  After I explained my shopping trip, he never again mentioned paying me the $3 for fingernail clippers.  :)  Of course, he bought lunch for my friend and me, but even if he hadn't, I wouldn't have worried about a $3 pair of fingernail clippers.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Fotos

Some photos of my Christmas decorations.  I have a collection of oddball nativities, and I took photos of some of my favorites.

Duck nativity:

From Russia:

African American nativity

Native American nativity:

Fisher Price Nativity:


From South America:

From Sweden:

Another from Russia:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Very Ninja Christmas

My weekend guest left this morning, so I'm back to blogging.

I was accepted for another House Party.  This one was for American Ninja Warrior, and I received buttons, magnets, a t-shirt, and temporary tattoos.  I was suppossed to be able to stream the seasion premier of American Ninja Warrior, but it didn't work with my Wii, and I couldn't burn it to DVD.  House Party was as helpful as possible and even said they would overnight a burned DVD for me, but since Fed Ex and UPS don't deliver overnight where I live on Saturdays that was impossible.

Instead we watched a TV show from 1993 called "Brought to you by Santa" of some of the most amazing and funny Christmas commercials ever made from around the world.  It was a huge hit, and everyone really enjoyed it.  After all, Christmas isn't Christmas until Santa slides in on his rotary shaver.

We made Christmas cards, played other games including moving jingle bells from one bowl to another with chopsticks, a "Right" and "Left" passing a prize game using the Christmas story, ate Mexican food, and had a fun time!

Some photos:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Happy Chanukkah

Although I'm not Jewish, two menorahs have been added to my holiday decorations.  This is one I bought new in Israel in the most facinating shop I've ever been in!  It was owned by an elderly Jewish merchant and sold everythign from $2 dreidels (which I bought one of them) to menorahs that cost thousands of dollars.  He was a burly guy, and the sign out front said, "We do ear piercing".   Just a facinating shop, and I loved the heart in this menorah.

My other menorah is an antique I believe.  I would guess it's from about 1920.  I found it in a junk shop for $5 a few years ago, and I wish this menorah could tell tales.  I believe it's Eastern European in origin, and I would love to hear the stories of where it's been and how it came to be in the United States.  I think it's just beautiful.  Each year these two pieces come out during the holidays.

Monday, November 29, 2010

My "niece" and "nephews"

I became an "aunt" again in August.  My "nephew"   L was born then.  I have dear friends whose children call me "Aunt", so I have to be the fantastic Aunt to them.  I give them gifts and spoil them rotten when I can.  That's an auntie's job.

Well, they currently live four hours away by car.  (Which is better than last year.  Last year at this time I traveled 20 hours by plane to visit them!)

I was happy they were in visiting for Thanksgiving, and I was able to spend the morning with them.  And someone stole my heart!

While  "L" was smiling, "I" and "K" were enjoying hot chocolate.  :) 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My Black Friday

I saw a great blog post the other day about the TRUTH about Black Friday.  Of course there are exceptions, but for the most part the stuff that is on sale is not as good of quality, that these are not "once a year" prices, but you can likely find the same items at just as low prices elsewhere during the year.  Again, there are exceptions to that, but I certainly didn't find anything that would warrent me going out at 4 in the morning to get!  (In fact, I was busy talking to an old friend.  He called at 2 in the morning and we talked for five hours, so I certainly was up to go out if I wanted to, but I didn't see any reason to.)  And I certainly didn't see anything worth cussing cashiers about as one woman on someone else's facebook page claimed to do.  (Wow, let's really celebrate Jesus' birth by using the F word because something we wanted was sold out!)

The one cannot be missed item for me I ordered online Thanksgiving Day.  It was a Christmas tree, and ours got ruined.  It was on sale for $38, and I have a $15 mail in refund.  I also had a $10 off anything at Lowe's coupon, but the website wouldn't accept it.  I decided to order it without the coupon so I wouldn't have to go and hope to get the tree before it sold out.  (I've not yet gotten my e-mail saying my tree is ready to be picked up, but I'll call tomorrow if I haven't gotten one.)

After a couple hours of sleep, I got up, and then yesterday afternoon I hit the stores I planned on hitting.  I wanted to go to Walgreens and CVS.

I did order a few things online.  I ordered 4 years subscription to Reader's Digest for Mom for $14.  (Usually it's about that much for a year.)  I also ordered a photo collage from Walgreens.  It was free after coupon.  I picked it up yesterday.

My first stop was at Walgreens.  Here's what I bought:

8x10 collage photo print (a gift for Christmas)
Gilette Scrub Clenser
Colgate Enamel toothpaste
Planter's mixed nuts
TWO cases of 24 count bottled water
one two-liter of 7up (I'm planning a party next weekend)
Olay body was
Oral B toothbursh
Robitussin to go
Crest whitening toothpast
Thermacare wrap for neck/wrist/arm
4 count Advil PM
Gum Flossers
Old Spice Body Spray
Just for Men Shampoo/condition
Nivea Shave Jell
Secret body spray
Scunchi non-slip pony tail holders

My total after coupons was $37.39.   I had coupons for the olay body wash, the Gum flosswers, Crest, and Colgate.  I also had Register Rewards from my last trip to Walgreens.  I saved a total of $41.17.  I received back in "Jingle Cash"  (what register rewards are called this holiday season (was $40.50.)   So for $37.39 I got all this plus MORE than what I paid that I can spend next time I go to Walgreens.  Nice haul.  Plus I have a $3.50 mail in refund on the Planters nuts.

I do have to say kudos to Walgreens in preperation of their Black Friday sale.  Instead of having to search the store for things that I don't buy unless they are free, I was able to go right to an end-cap and they had everything displayed, so it was easy to add everything to my cart.  I also took a paper and a marker and checked off each item as I added it!  Made shopping very simple. 

Then I went to CVS.   They had a deal online where if you bought a $25 CVS gift card, you would get a $5 promotional gift card, so I ordered one and got $30 of gift cards for $25.  So, I already had a $5 savings.

At CVS I got:

1 Colgate sensitive toothpaste
1 L A Looks styling gel
1 bottle of laundry detergent
1 Listerine Pocket Packs
5 M&M King sized candy bars
5 Reese's candy bars
1 Carmex lip balm
1 Snuggie, desinger print
4 bottles of Sobe
2 Gillette deoderant
1 Phillips ear bud headphones

My total was $12.03 after coupons and gift certificates.  Add the $25 I paid for the $30 of gift certificates and it was a total of $27.03 paid at CVS.  I received back $34.85 in Extra Care Bucks.

My trip to Lowe's (went anyway even if the tree wasn't available)

2 bricks of rat poison (not pictured)
1 box of 8 containers of rat poison  (We live in an old house and this is the time of year we'll often have unwelcomed intruders)
2 small poinsettias

I had a $10 off coupon so I paid just over $6 there.

So my Black Friday summary:

Spent in total  $136
total of "stuff" bought:  $418
mail in rebates will net me  $18.50
Extra Care Bucks:  $34.85
W card savings:  0.40
Register Rewards 40.50
cash back from my credit card:  $1.36

So if you take what I spent and subtract all the above (which of course the ECBs and Register Rewards aren't exactly like cash, but let's go ahead and do it for this example) then I spent a total of $40.39 for $418 of stuff, or a savings of 90%. 

The Christmas tree and magazine subscription is not pictured:

Holiday Cards, part two

Recently Shutterfly offered bloggers 50 free Shutterfly cards if we'd write a post about some of their products.  I did, and my cards have arrived.

In fact, before that offer I had attended a House Party and we got codes for free photo books.  I made a photo book for my cousin of the snows we had last winter.  I was able to personalize it and even put some photos in the book of his house and business during our blizzards last winter.   I'm really dreading winter because all I can think about is last winter.  But winter will come even if I don't want it to, and I might as well use some of the photos to make a book about the winter we'll talk about for years to come!

 I had a code for five free cards, and I have a handful of Jewish friends and don't feel like I should send them a card that says Merry Christmas.  For a number of years I went with a more generic "Happy Holidays" but decided last year to revert back to "Merry Christmas".  The year I had visited Israel, I sent along photos of me at Bethlehem with my Christmas letter and me at the Western Wall with my Hanukkah letter, so I try to do something very similar for both greetings when I don't do a "holiday" card.

These are my Hanukkah cards this year (which I must get out soon as Hanukkah starts at sundown on December 1!)  There are 8 snow photos on the front of the card, and the bottom corner says "Snow Kidding"  The inside has another snow photo and says "May your winter be warm with the thoughts of family and friends!  Happy Hanukkah!"

Because I got free Christmas cards last year and never mailed them out, nor did I mail my Christmas letter from last year, I decided that because the cards I got last year are a little dated (me in front of the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg Russia) and I can't exactly use them another year, I'm going to mail both cards this year.  For that reason I chose a flat card from Shutterfly as my Christmas card.  Part of the reason is I hope to keep TWO Christmas cards and TWO letters under one ounce.  As verbose as my Christmas letters tend to be, this may prove to be difficult!

I chose one where I could add seven photos.  It says "Wishing you a Merry Christmas  From  (us)  Just don't dream of a white Christmas!" 

Let  me point out here that the photo to the right of Merry Christmas is our next door neighbor's van.  I took that out of an upstairs bedroom window last year.  The day before the van had been driven, but we had a "snow hurricane" in the night, and we had tons of snow dumped on us.

As always, I'm highly pleased with the quality of the items offered by Shutterfly.  As a bargain hunter, paying full price for their items is not something I would likely do, however, they often have sales, free card offers, etc. and as always, I very much enjoy ordering from Shutterfly.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Debt the Halls

While watching TV tonight I saw the average family will spend almost $700 on Christmas this year. Personally I can't imagine. Of course, I save prizes from sweepstakes and contests through the year. I also keep an eye open at garage sales for items that would make great gifts. Sometimes you can find things that are brand new, or other times you can find things that are no longer sold that would fit in great in a collection. (My aunt is getting a few garage sale items including hand-forged alumimum, which she collects, as well as a signed, numbered, framed print of a local landmark. She will love all of these.)

When I was growing up my grandmother used to give "Care Packages" to Mom and my aunt. She'd get two boxes and put in her spare bedroom. When there was something buy one get one free, she'd buy it, and one item would go into each box. My mom and my aunt used to roll their eyes at these gifts, but after Grandma went into the nursing home, they each said how much they missed them.

So I've found that "Care Packages" are often welcome Christmas gifts, especially to people who are struggling financially. I've given a number over the years, and because I can get groceries very cheap sometimes, I can give much more value wise than if I were to go and buy something retail for my family. Not everyone appriciates these, so they aren't a gift I would give just anyone. College kids really love these. Teenagers in high school? Not so much -- with the exception of teen girls and a huge basket of make-up.

One year I watched sales, and I was able to get almost $1000 of gifts for about $50 - $100. These were good gifts, too. Things like photo books with family photos, etc.

I try to buy gifts as cheap as possible, but only if it's something that the recipient would like. I don't want to be like the lady I once saw on TV that when she went to a dinner party instead of a bottle of wine, she would take Pine-Sol becase she got it free. Even when working with not a lot of money, gifts need to be something that will be appriciated!

But I don't understand why people go into debt at the holidays. I was reading entries at a contest recently and a number said they couldn't afford for their children to "have a Christmas". Since when is money a requirement of "having Christmas"? Yes, I realize people want to give stuff to their children and people they love, but I do hate the phrases as "We can't give them Christmas" or "They won't have a Christmas." Christmas is a date on the calendar, and it's going to happen to everyone gifts or not. It's like that old joke, "Do other countries have a 4th of July?" and you expect the other person to say, "Of course not, silly, that's an American holiday," and then you reply, "Oh, so does their calendar go from July 3rd to July 5th?"

It seems that Christmas has lost not only its original focus but also it's secondary focus of family and friends and love and has become an all out buying session seeing who can get the most gifts. Some of my favorite memories include friends and gag gift exchanges at the holidays. Or how my best friend and I used to make mix tapes in the 1980s as our Christmas gifts. Very little money invested. Or the time that my best friend and I decided to make Christmas cookies. We decided to get creative and still laugh about the batch we made with Cocoa Wheats. (Don't try it!) or how we loved our peanutbutter and jelly cookies. Memories with family and friends. That's the most valuable part of Christmas.

I don't remember a thing I got one Christmas when I was little, but I remember staying up late when I was about eight years old putting together a puzzle with my dad that he got for Christmas. We were watching "Miracle on 34th Street", and what I would give to have another few minutes with my Dad. That is actually one of my favorite memories of Dad, and certainly not something that could be bought. Sure the puzzle was a Christmas gift, but it was the putting it together with him that made it special.

Personally, this year, I'm hoping for little STUFF. I'm decluttering and I can't tell you how many 30 gallon trash bags of stuff I've gotten out of the house. Not to mention the stuff we've given away or have set back for a garage sale. We don't have the room for stuff. I want junk out of the house. We don't have room for knick-knacks, etc.

My mother asked me today what I want for Christmas.

Sure I'd like a laptop and and iPod. (My current mp3 player is about 6 years old and I can no longer add anything to it because the software is no longer supported.) Other than that, I can't think of anything "stuff" wise I'd like.   Of course, those aren't in the budget, if I ever get new ones, I'll have to win them.  Well, I do need a new pair of shoes, but because of my big feet, I have to buy those myself. The pair I'm currently wearing I won in 2006 and since I don't have winter boots (not a good thing when we got about 10 feet of snow in February!), they are what I wear year-round.

I read once that people who desire experiences over things are happier people. Most of what I want is experiences. I want to return to Israel. I want to see a weekend show of a friend who's a professional magician. I want to go to Ohio and visit some friends whom I haven't seen in years. We became friends at church camp when we were in high school. I want to go on a weekend retreat with my church.

Of course, these things can't be gift wrapped and placed under the tree. Instead, I'm hoping for things that will help out with regular household expenses and allow me to put a little money back (if possible) to these things.

Obviously, with the problem with the bathroom, there's little extra money, so whatever I might receive will likely go towards paying off what we had to put on credit cards because of the bathroom.

I am still in the voting contest at and I'm asking for everyone to vote. If I win that, that will help a lot with paying off expenses. It will allow me to get my mother a recliner for Christmas (and she needs one for medical reasons). If I win, it would be a huge blessing. So if you could vote daily through Tuesday, it would be much appriciated. (My photo is the one of the guinea pigs with the fire truck.) Thank you.
Please don't go into debt for Christmas. You don't know what is around the corner. We had no idea that we'd have $1400 of bathroom expenses a couple weeks ago. What if you were to put $800 of Christmas gifts on your credit cards and find out you needed $1400 of work on your bathroom the next day? Please spend wisely, as generously as possible, but not going into debt.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

First time, disappointed with something free.

I'm a firm believer in NOT COMPLAINING about free stuff.  If a company is generous enough to give it away then I believe a person should be happy with it.  I've received some odd freebies over the years.  Like the Arm and Hammer Shaker.  What did you do with that?  I've received weird t-shirts, weird mouse pads, etc.  But they are free, and I don't complain. . . at least when there are no strings attached.

With House Party you are expected to host a party with the supplies given.  I've had some great parties.  When I saw the American Ninja Warrior party, I applied to host, knowing that the box wasn't as good as some in the past.

What did I receive?

Well, first off, I'm still clueless as to how we're going to be watching the American Ninja Warrior show because there was no DVD included.  House Party has yet to fill the hosts in on how this will be accomplished.  I did receive an e-mail saying we'd get details at a later point.

In my box was the following.  (Keep in mind we had to invite 14 people, so 15 items each in the box is usually standard.)

1 t-shirt for the host (not my size, but that's okay, often t-shirts aren't my size.)
2 Ninja Warrior magnets
15 Ninja Warrior temporary tattoos
15 Ninja Warrior buttons
and this is the one that is upsetting to me
FIVE Ninja Warrior headbands

A number of my friends have asked if they can dress as Ninjas to my party.  I said that was cool.  I may have more Ninjas than I do headbands.  Now, if I end up with six Ninjas, I won't be able to pass out a headband to each.  I'm definately disappointed that the box only allows for 1 in 3 party attenders to receive a headband.

I'll come up with a solution, I'm sure, but I'm not happy about 10 guests not receiving headbands.  And it's not like something I can buy since these were made specifically for the party.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A man giving $1 Million to charity. . .

I saw this article the other day where a man is attempting to buy Thanksgiving dinner for six for under one dollar.  My first thought was "Why is this even news?"  I mean, how many of us who coupon and refund could do this?  I figure a number of us could.  Of course, often my mother and I have gotten a turkey TV dinner for Thanksgiving since it's just the two of us.  So, a dinner for six could feed the two of us for DAYS.

Especially with the refunds in my state for alcohol purchases this could be super easy.  (My state forbids the purchase of alcohol for an alcohol refund, so beer companies will often do things like "Buy $10 of frozen pizza and get $10 back after mail in refund".

This week I had a $10 off a $50 gift certificate purchase, $10 off $25 of Thanksgiving items, $6 off $10 of baking supplies, and $6 off $10 or more turkey.

So buy the gift card first before you buy the rest of your items.  (That's what I did.)  Then because I had the turkey refund I used the "Thanksgiving items" as vegetables, stuffing, etc.  Of course, I'm not even thinking of using coupons yet. 

A feat like this would be easier if you live in a city, esp. near a store that adds up your total spent before coupons are deducted.  Some places have deals like "Spend $250 and get a free turkey."  Okay, for instance, with my cereal deal I got $90 of cereal free.  That would be a huge step towards a free turkey.

But for me, I live in the middle of no where.  My town doesn't have a high school.  It's 20 minutes to the closest McDonalds.  There are three stop lights in my entire county (I think.)  We don't even have a "normal" grocery store in my town.  My choices of grocery stores in the next town are Foodland and Wal-Mart. 

I do a lot of my shopping an hour away.  That's where pretty much anything is for us except for Wal-Mart.    There I have choices of Kroger and Giant Eagle. 

But I believe given the time and want-to I could do Thanksgiving dinner for one dollar.  It's too late to plan to do so for this year, but I truly believe it's possible.

BUT. . .  I loved in the story where he said that he wants to eventually give one million dollars of items to food banks.  I never thought of it before, but I think that's a fantastic goal, and I think I will see if I can give one million away in my lifetime.  (I think all couponers should take on this challenge!)  Of course, I won't limit it to just stuff I got with coupons, but also with sweepstakes wins, etc. And not just to charity, but also to people having a rough time.  I know sometimes people are too proud to go to a food bank, but if you tell them you got the stuff free with coupons, they don't mind taking it!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It's 10pm. Do you know where your toilet is?

I know "It's 10 pm.  Do you know where your toilet is?" sounds like a silly blog post title, but recently my toilet was in my bathtub!

This actually begins a few years ago.  My bathroom needed some work done, and we hired a handyman.  First he never did get hot water to my sink.  (I have it now.)  Then he put vinyl flooring in -- UPSIDE DOWN.  Well, the perfectionist that I am didn't like upside down vinyl, so he put in other, this time right side up, but never fastened it down.  I started curling at the edges of the floor -- and in the middle where he chopped it up to put it down. 

After a couple toilet overflows we had our current handyman (different guy) take a look at it.  What he found really didn't surprise me.  The toilet had rusted off the cast iron pipes.  It was just sitting there on top of pipes.  But it had leaked enough the floor was rotted.  (That didn't surprise me, I knew the floor was wet because of the gaps in the vinyl from the previous handyman.)  Our current handyman told us that it was lucky that I hadn't landed in the laundry room the floor was so bad rotted.

Well, thus started our week of bathroom renovations to fix the necessitites.  First a new floor had to be put in.  I'm glad the joists were still good!  The first picture reminds me of Asain toilets!

Then of course we had to put new flooring on top of the floor because even though it was money we didn't really have, you can't have a bathroom floor of plywood! 

Then the basics started returning.

I'm thilled at a bathroom floor that I won't fall through, and I also really like flooring that isn't chopped up in places and curling away from the floor.   I'm still doing some basics in the bathroom and trying to decorate and get a little better organized on less than a shoestring budget.

In all the cost of the bathroom was around $1400.  Money that we don't really have to spare.

So, I know I've been begging for votes, but with a chance to win $2500, I really need the votes.   Just go to and you can vote daily.  My picture is the guinea pigs with the fire truck.  I really appriciate the votes, and just by voting you might win a $50 Fandango gift certificate!

So, I know where my toilet is now.  And I like it no longer being stored in the tub!  :)

Monday, November 15, 2010

What's "UP" at Rite Aid.

I did well at Rite Aid today.  I returned the previously mentioned $5.29 toothbrush, then did my shopping.

Today's trip included:

package of Huggies diapers (in my "newphew's" size.  I figure he's still too young to know that Christmas gifts should be "fun".  lol!)
4 Right Guard deoderant
2 Colgate 360 toothbrushes
1 Colgate Total toothpaste
5 cans Green Giant Vegetables
1 can chicken broth
3 cream of chicken soup
1 cream of mushroom soup

I spent a total of $9.93.  I received $9 back in UP rewards.

My receipt said I saved $43.38 today.  They were out of a few other things, but I'm still happy with this haul.  I'm beginning to see my Rite Aid is likely going to be out of a lot of the items that are on sale with UP rewards, but obviously I can still do well.  :)

Also, please don't forget to vote for my photo at  My photo is the one of the guinea pigs with the fire truck!  Thanks so much!  You can vote daily, and every vote helps.  (And you might win a $50 Fandango gift card from DumDums just for voting!)