It’s Peanut Butter Cookie Time!

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While neighbors and friends are losing their jobs, homes and financial security it’s a magical time of year also known as Girl Scout Cookie time!

Now why would I advocate buying these morsels of goodness when times are tough? Why did I spend just shy of $15 on four boxes? The answer is multi-faceted.

First and foremost I used to be a scouting girl and cookies are the highlight of the year. Maybe not for the parents stuck sorting 1,500 boxes and sending their children to stand in front of every store in town peddling sugary goodness but I do this for the children. I thumbed through that catalog of prizes and wanted them ALL when I was a kid. Cheap necklaces and stuffed animals, posters and pencils. I can’t imagine what they award now. Succeeding at selling cookies was the highlight of my year. Finding out the troop leader stole all our funds was the lowlight. So beyond reconnecting to my youth it’s a way to give back to the girls.

My second excuse reason is: have you tried these cookies? While more expensive than anything I can whip up in my kitchen, these cookies rock my world. But four boxes? I must be insane.

Cue reason #3: they freeze well. Hmmm, a frozen Thin Mint on a hot summer day. Lovely.

Reason the fourth: movies have been made about cookie time! If you don’t believe me try finding “Troop Beverly Hills.” No seriously, if you find it let me know, I recall it was hilarious and full of 80s goodness.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to support my community and give back to those around me by consuming cookies. Win-Win!

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A hero has fallen

In a final testiment to the suckitude of 2008 I found out Tuesday that an alumni of my high school was killed in Afghanistan on December 31st. Benjamin Tollefson was the final soldier to die in this conflict in 208 and will be laid to rest today.

I didn’t personally know Ben or his wife but his older brother Jeff and I were biology lab partners and friends. In a small school your classmates are often life family and this certainly feels like losing one of our own.

A man who lived to serve his country has died and it fills me with sorrow. I cannot comprehend the family’s grief.

I’d like to ask you for a moment to put aside your feelings on this war and its politics.

Today a young woman is a widow.

A young son will never know his father.

A brother, son, husband and grandchild has been lost.

There are no words to convey understanding, to take away the pain. We may never understand why Ben died but we can be thankful for the life he lived. His service to the country was a small part of his 20 years on earth, but I am thankful.

No Theme Tuesday

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I ran out of ideas for themed days so this is just something I’ve been thinking about.

I really dislike listening to complainers. Not just complainers but whiners too. You know who I’m talking about, people who focus on the situation they’re in and circumstances which are never their fault instead of changing the circumstances.

Now, lest I become a complainer about complainers, here are my four tips to build a bridge and get over it!

1) Identify the problem and where you went wrong. If you trusted someone you shouldn’t have, admit it. If you didn’t notice a car trouble until it became an expensive fix, admit it! This not only puts the situation in perspective and accurately assigns blame but it becomes a learning point so you don’t repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

2) Focus on a solution. Yes, it’s great to vent to our friends but that gets old really quickly, especially if you have a life filled with dra-mah! Look for solutions, ask for help and focus on changing the future instead of wallowing in past mistakes. I’ve found the people who don’t want to hear answers thrive on misery. Who wants to be around someone who doesn’t want to be happy?

3) Check your attitude. No one like a blame shifter and hearing “there’s nothing I can do!” is quite annoying when there are solutions to be tried. If you just need to wallow or are genuinely having a difficult time accepting a rough situation acknowledge it and you’ll be surprised how caring people can become. It is important to note that sometimes nothing can be done right now. In that case identify when and how you can act.

4) Finally, look outside yourself. If you’ve ever been caught dramatizing your cold with a raspy “I’m dyyyyyying” within earshot of a friend of colleague who has recently lost a family member to cancer you know how small our problems truly are in context. Even if you’re experiencing a difficulty that is quite serious, try to recall that physics have proven the sun and starts do not revolve around you and this, like all other times, is simply a season. This too will pass.

Money Tip Monday

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Over the past year I’ve really focused on saving money, increasing my earnings and investments and paying off debt. Through that time I’ve found a variety of techniques work and many that do not. So here’s a collection of tips that do work and how they save me money.

Today’s Tip: Shop Consignment Stores

It seems like a no-brainer, especially to those who are no stranger to thrift. But for most household items I can find them gently used at a consignment shop, garage sale, or donation center for pennies on the dollar. This Christmas many presents came from such locations including Christmas tins to hold candy, gift sets and even an awesome Lego set for a friend’s son for under $10! (As a reader of this blog I’m sure she won’t mind if I share my secrets)

Many of my books come from these shops and can be picked up for 50 cents or a dollar each. Compare that to $8 or $15 new and I’d be a much poorer reader.

When it comes time to comb through my closet and collect the items that I no longer wear I will take the clothes in like new condition, wash, iron, hang up each item and turn them in at my local consignment shop. The money isn’t fantastic but since I go every four to six months I don’t expect a large return.

Because children grow so quickly and it’s often hard to keep their “too small” clothes separated from the “just right” and “too big” ones, consignment and thift stores are a treasure chest for kid’s clothing. Or, they used to be.

Raise your hand if you’re aware of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

Anyone?

I didn’t think so. I wasn’t aware until a blog I follow reported on the consequences of this Act which goes into effect February 10, 2009. One mandate of the Act is that every item of clothing for children 12 and younger sold after February 10th must be tested and certified clear of lead and phthalates. If an item of clothing does not have such testing performed it will be considered hazardous and illegal to sell.

Big changes for the thift store and used clothing industry.

When I visited the local Goodwill the employee at the register had no knowledge of this Act or the ramifications for her store. While corporate is probably well aware the trickle down might take some time.

Many reporters have come to the conclusion that consignment and second hand shops will stop accepting children’s clothing immediately and focus on pushing out existing inventory before the Act takes effect in February. At that time any unsold clothing will be relegated to the dump where the possibly lead laden clothing will be harmless.

Short term this will help the savvy shopper who has cash on hand and can swoop in to pick up loads of children’s clothing at a steep discount. Long term this Act may do more harm than good.

I’m well aware it’s a “hot button” topic as children’s safety is a concern and lead and phthalate clothing can be dangerous. I’m not in favor of creating laws that put poor families at risk however I’m also not in favor of removing what is often the only option for low income families when it comes to clothing their children.

At a time when the economy is struggling to regain its foothold, putting thousands of second hand clothing stores for children out of business seems foolish. Not only will more people be out of work having lost the ability to sell their product to the public but more families are coming to rely on low cost clothing and will have nowhere to turn.

Shopping Sunday

Happy Sunday! This is by far my favorite day of the week and the one that has the most predictability. I start whenever I wake up and leisurely get dressed and feed the dogs.Then I head out to the Dollar Store where I can pick up two copies of the Sunday Paper for $2.16.Then comes the fun part.I usually lounge on the couch with my recycling bin and a movie while I go through the paper.It’s important the movie does not require much attention as I’m rapidly distracted by the week’s deals.The BBC series Planet Earth is a favorite.

I set aside the bulk of the paper to read through the articles during the week but today I focus on the inserts.There’s a quick perusal through the Parade magazine and the cartoons before I turn to the advertisements.

My favorites (in order) are:

  1. Walgreens
  2. Target
  3. Rite-Aid
  4. Staples & Office Depot

Most others are set aside as I either have no interest in their merchandise (Sports Authority), hate going to their stores (Long’s Drugs) or need to avoid temptation (Best Buy, CircuitCity).

I cannot wait until CVS completely takes over our Long’s Drugs.I have access to their corporate head quarters, maybe I should call and ask.

Now there are many people out there who catalog each and every coupon, its value, restrictions, origination point, etc.

I’m not that ambitious.

This is the most I’ll record:

January 4, 2009: $2.16

  • 4 Red Plum total value is $338.85
  • 4 Smart Source total value of $275.30
  • 2 General Mills total value of coupons $22.20

My reasoning is simple. Why duplicate what others already do?I use the wonderful site MoneySavingMom for help on rebate deals at the drugstores.

In contrast to the General Mills inserts which yielded a coupon or three on every page, all of them for food and therefore useful, the 4 inserts from Smart Source are full of fillers and other useless coupons.Smart Source contains $275.30 in coupons plus 9 Buy One Get One Free coupons and finally the Red Plum inserts contain $338.85 in coupon offers plus 2 Boy One Get One Free coupons.

The coupon totals for two papers is $636.35.

Want to know why I spend two hours a week buying papers and going through the coupons? I have $600 reasons why.Even if I don’t use a majority of the coupons they do yield a large amount of savings each week.

Here’s my Walgreen’s plan for this week (contrary to the title I don’t do all my shopping on Sunday, just plan for it):

(2) Garnier Fructis Shampoo & Conditioner

Sale price $2.99

E.S. Coupon ($2.00)

MF Coupon($1.00)

Final PriceFree

(2) Healthy Choice Café Steamers

Sale Price $2.50

MF Coupon($1.00) off two

Final Price$4.00

(2) Reynolds Foil

Sale Price$0.99

MF Coupon($1.00)

Final PriceFree

(2) Excedrin Extra Strength Tablets

Sale Price$5.00 each

MF Coupon($2.00) each

Out of Pocket$6.00

RR Coupon$5.00

Final Price$1.00 on two

(2) Softsoap Liquid Soap

Sale Price$0.99

MF Coupon$0.34

Final Price$0.64

Total cost out of pocket $11.26

RR coupons earned previously: $10.50

Real out of pocket: $0.76

Receive back in RR Coupons: $5.00

Stay at Home Saturday

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Generally I like to stay at home on my Saturdays until I go to work in the evening. This week of course no work so even more time to be productive. Yes, I try to be productive on my vacations. Stop looking at me like that.

Sunday is my one day off each week and I’ll detail tomorrow how I spend that time, usually out of the house. So Saturdays are really my day to get house stuff accomplished. And there are a lot of house projects.

As I wrote on November 17th, it was a long process to close on this property. After so much trouble I wanted to open that front door and kiss the carpet. Instead I was distracted by the sound of gushing water and two inches of water on the kitchen floor. The broker (a.k.a. soon-to-be-unemployed-idiot) stood there, dazed and confused, while I rushed in and picked up a water line, jamming it into the sink. This line can be seen in this photo, dated October 13th, draining into the sink. The line provides water to the dishwasher but had been disconnected.

unflooded kitchen
unflooded kitchen


When the broker turned on the water at the property without contacting the City Water Dept (against our permission and against HUD rules) this line was filled with water and began to flood the house. When I walked in on November 17th I was beyond furious and edging on irrational.

What followed will be detailed in my new writing project due out in a few months titled “Hell is a Place Called Escrow” but I’ll let you know I stopped myself just short of slapping her silly.

Instead I cried.

My dad arrived and we started to fill buckets. We sopped it up with towels from my trunk, scooped with plastic cups procured at McDonalds. Dad quickly ran to the local rental company in town owned by a relative who opened up and rented us a wet/dry vacuum so we could continue the work.

The carpet squished. The further we walked on it, the more it squished. The water had saturated 85% of the living room carpet area. It had also hit the walls and went up. Then over. The other half of this duplex is owned by a wonderful family and inhabited by a great renter. Their concern for my feelings over the damage to their property was mystifying.

What follows is a photo diary of the damage done and the aftermath. Repairs have taken weeks and are still incomplete as we make our case to HUD (the seller) about the broker’s actions and their responsibility to deliver the property in the condition it was promised.

The water damaged wall
The water damaged wall

Tearing out the drywall
Tearing out the drywall

Water saturated insulation
Water saturated insulation

the wall without insulation or drywall
the wall without insulation or drywall

Drywall again
Drywall again

Finally Friday

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It’s Friday and although I worked 3 days and now I have 5 days of vacation, it’s a good time to recap what I’ve learned this week. This is, by the way, what it sounds like to be in my head. Just a warning.

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Working for 38 hours in 3 days is insane.

I am apparently insane.

Vacation time is worth its weight in gold.

Can you weigh time?

I once measured the speed of sound.

One nanosecond equals a size seven woman’s shoe or a J. Day forearm.

This information is brought to you by all-nighters in college.

When gallons of milk are two for the price of one you should buy it.

Even if you’re single, live alone and rarely drink milk.

You can freeze milk.

More importantly, you can defrost milk.

Defrosted milk tastes fine.

This is straw, NOT hay.

STRAW!
STRAW!


Thank you wikipedia!


Straw looks light and fluffy, doesn’t it?

Straw is heavy.

Straw bales are hella heavy.

The easiest way to move a straw bale, absent your friend Hercules dropping by, is to roll it.

I now have much more appreciation of this guy:

this is a sport?
this is a sport?

Except the kilt. I will continue to mock the kilt.


But this was not the example I wanted.

Googling “scottish guys roll heavy crap” will return few usable images.

There are a number of male scottish rock and roll bands.

And they have websites.

The ‘sport’ I was attempting in rolling bales of straw is called grappling.

No thanks to wikipedia.

Googling “crazy people who lift heavy shit” will remind you to lift with your legs, not your back.

Thanks Google, thanks a lot.

Lifting heavy things for fun or sport is called grappling.

this is a grappler
this is a grappler

Yes, his beard is kissing the giant rock.


This is me rolling a straw bale

010209_no-image

<!–[if !mso]> <! st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } –>

Right… you think I’d get a picture of that?

You’re crazy.

Apparently Googling “no image available” in their image search does not cause the space/time continuum disruption I was hoping.

Alas.

This is my backyard pre-straw:

pit of dispair
pit of dispair

This is my backyard post-straw:

pit of dispair covered with straw!
pit of dispair covered with straw!

Straw is an excellent mulch.

Mulch is a funny word.

45 minutes of raking wet leaves and distributing straw is hard work.

I’m halfway done with strawing the backyard.

Only because my compost bin is full.

And my back started to hurt.

Compost goes out on Tuesday.

I can get right back to project strawing next weekend.

If the weather holds.

Who thinks I can train my dogs to walk on the un-muddy half of a backyard?

Me neither.