Grocery Challenge - November

Ahhh, November. I knew you were going to be a money pit. And far be it from you to disappoint.
Edible Groceries: $227.93
Inedible Groceries: $5.70
Health: $75.00
Misc: $697.49
Restaurants: $78.64
Gas: $108.95

Edible groceries was up this month, between Thanksgiving and hosting family for Andrew's birthday party. While this is more than usual, I'm not too upset about this.

Inedible groceries? Andrew needed a new electric toothbrush. I'm so blessed to have a business to pirate toilet paper from, or this number would be higher. ;)

Health was 3 months worth of my prescription.

Misc looks to be almost all between Andrew's birthday party and Christmas shopping (which is very close to being done). Yeah, it's high. But again, it's okay.

And we didn't really eat out this month, either.

Gas is down to $1.50 a gallon here, notice how our gas bill is less than half what it'd previously been? Yay!

All around, this has been an expensive month, but definitely not disappointing. December will be kinder to us.


Black Friday Fun

Yesterday, as tradition dictates, we spent the day in a turkey-stuffed stupor with my family here in South Bend, Indiana, pouring over the ads for the biggest shopping day of the year. I was a bit intimidated, as this would be the first year I wouldn't be slumbering through the madness. My darling SIL would be initiating me in the frugal frolick that is 5am on the day after Thanksgiving.

We made tentative plans for destinations, mapping, and items to purchase. We got up early, piled into the car (my husband couldn't resist the fun, either, much to my astonishment!), and set out for destination: Walmart.

Madness, I tell you! Madness! People piled on top of more people, everyone vying for the shortest checkout line. Loaded down with flat screen TV's, the latest Hanna Montana gobblty-gook, and armloads of clothes. I shopped for about 10 minutes, then took my place in line and waited for Yasar and Chris to gravitate from their positions in the toys and electronics departments. And the entertainment began. If you're the type who enjoys people-watching, Black Friday at Walmart is an absolute bonanza! You can see the best and the worst in human behavior, all in one fell swoop. It seems that the old adage should be updated to say "all's fair in love, war, and Black Friday shopping." Women getting snarky with each other over checkout line position, people guarding their shopping carts as if they're filled with precious gems, fat women stripping down to barely-decent tops due to the intense body heat generated by the hoards. And the smell! Hundreds of unshowered, undeodorized, and probably un-toothbrushed people. Yowza. Hmmmm.

After that, it was off to Office Depot, where Chris was eyeballing a fax machine that, after rebate, would go for a paltry $10. You'd think an office supply store would be pretty low on the shopper's radar...you'd be wrong. The checkout line was easily 45 minutes. But I got to watch some of the best spirit of the season - the girl behind me was too late to get the $350 laptop she wanted, and was standing in line with her $500 next choice. A gentleman came by and gave her a pink piece of paper that entitled her to one of the computers she wanted. With a "merry Christmas", he disappeared into the crowd. After a few minutes talking to others, we found that they were only handing out those papers to those hardy souls standing outside the store at 4am. And, that same girl had been approached by someone else outside trying to scalp one of those papers to her! She was a very happy young lady, and it was such a blessing to watch her glowing with her gratitude to that kind stranger.

Last stop for us was Menards. The store was crowded, the lines long. We chose to go to the checkouts in their outdoor area, and ended up spending what seemed like forever, but was probably closer to an hour, in the 40 degree checkout. And, at the end of that miserable wait, got to watch a gentleman basically lose it on a poor cashier who was no doubt more cold and miserable than the rest of us. Not the kind of end you really want to experience, but I guess it's the reality.

Moral of the story? I now know how I'm going to make my first million. I'm going to pitch a story to the first video game company I can, called "Black Friday". It'll be better than GTA, I promise! Starting with the parking lot derby, the race for the Wii, answering trivia questions to advance your place in the checkout line, earn extra points and trade them for a Taser to get people out of your way (and might also be helpful in zapping the guys breaking into your car and stealing your bags while you're in the mall). Tell me you wouldn't buy that!


Giving Thanks

It's the eve of Thanksgiving. Most of the food is prepared, the travel plans are set. It's 2am, and a perfect time for reflections.
First and always, I'm thankful to God. For loving us all despite our many failings, and for giving us the opportunity to meet Him in heaven someday and thank Him in person.

I'm grateful for Yasar. He is my best friend, the completion of me. I know I can always depend on him, and he has our bests interests in the front of his mind. After 10 years together, he still makes me laugh. And staring into his green eyes can instill a sense of calm in my spirit. To think that God reached the other side of the world, and put His finger on this man and named him for me, it fills me with awe.

One of the greatest blessings God has bestowed on me is my son. Andrew is the light of my world. He is my reason for walking this earth. My favorite thing is when he comes downstairs in the morning and does his best to curl his lanky, 5-year-old frame into my lap, blow his stinky morning breath into my face as he says "good morning". That is my daily defining moment, and it overflows my heart.

My family is the greatest. Though sometimes they can be the most misunderstood, they are truly the most giving people I know. In times of struggle, they all band together to form this network of unconditional support. It never fails to amaze me, how we can be hundreds of miles apart for months on end, then when we finally meet again it's like slipping on a comfortable old sweater - the fit is always perfect.

I'm so thankful for my friends. My oldest ones, Joy and Melissa, who know all the dirty laundry and still choose to associate with me, who I can call and pick up where we left off, as if the miles between us are of no significance. And my new ones, Brenda, Christine, and Shari, who form the backbone of daily support I need while living so far from home. Without these women, I'd need a straightjacket and some heavy drugs.

And my new blogosphere friends, Tricia, Debbie, Pooji, and Julie, who I'd met before but never really had the chance to bond with, you guys provide the daily color in my life. Though I may not always comment on your blogs (something's awry with my Google Reader, so sometimes things slip me), I always look forward to seeing what's going on in your lives. It's comforting to know that there are others, fellow voyeurs willing to put their lives out there so others can look at them and say "hey, maybe it's not just me!" You guys rawk, you know that?

And there are many other blessings I have - 3 hots and a cot, clean running water, relatively good health. A car. The world's most awesome cat. An average IQ. Being born in the US. So many other blessings, each great in their own right. How can someone so rich have a single complaint?

What about you? What are you thankful for? Have I missed anything?
Photo by heavenly_angellourdes


Want to Save $$$? Check Your Heat!

You know, there's only so many ways to trim a household budget. We're worked very hard at saving on groceries, checked the entire house for energy vampires, and cut out as many optional expenses as possible. This is the time of year that we take a long, hard look at our thermostat.
A few years ago we got our first $400+ bill from Vectren for natural gas. Gulp! We vowed that would be the last of it's kind. So it was a hunt to find all the extra gas leaks.

First to get scrutinized was the thermostat. Did we really need a 68 degree room temp during the winter? How low could we go? I'm proud to say that we can manage as low as we feel safe that the pipes won't freeze. Our room temp is now 55 degrees. Yup, it's cold in here. But we layer our clothes like crazy. Blankets boast permanent residence in the living room, including an electric blanket for group snuggling. We drink lots of hot tea, and dine on soup fairly often. And we always, ALWAYS have slippers on.

Then the water heater. For awhile I tried turning it off, then getting up early and starting it up in time to warm for the morning showers. This didn't seem to save a whole lot of cha-ching. We turned it down to 120 degrees. Sure, we could go lower, but it's a trade-off...when the house is cold, the last thing you'd want to do is step into a lukewarm shower. Brrrr!

And finally, the fireplace. Our home was built with a beautiful fireplace gracing the living room. It's so cool, it even has a remote starter! But one night, in the middle of our gas-reduction crisis, I noticed a little blue light under the fake logs. A-ha! A pilot light! How long had that been on? It was a duh moment for me. Now we light up the fireplace of special occasions, like when we're entertaining and on holidays.

And it's all been worth it. People (read: my mother) look at us like we're nuts, but our Vectren bill has more than halved itself. We're better equipped to handle the outside cold, because the temperature difference is not as drastic. And it binds us together as a family, working towards the common goal of lower utility bills. Win-win-win!
What are you doing to lower your bills this winter? Got any new tips for me?


He's Growing Up

I'm not sure what the story is behind this picture (Andrew's saying they were "having headaches"). I'm just struck by him, and how much he's starting to turn into a young man. My baby's growing up so quick.

Letter J


My Favorite Blondies

Ready for a simple blondie recipe that'll get you rave reviews?

1/2 cup butter, room temp ($0.50 on sale)
1 cup sugar ($0.25)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar ($0.20)
2 eggs ($0.15)
1 tsp vanilla extract (pennies, from homemade)
1 1/2 cups AP flour ($0.30)
2 tsp baking powder ($0.20)
1/4 tsp salt (negligible)
1/2 bag Heath chips (without chocolate) ($1.00)

Prehet oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with pan spray, then lay down a piece of parchment paper. Having the paper overhang the sides will make blondies easy to remove from pan and cut.

Cream butter and sugar in a large baking dish. Add eggs, mix well. Beat in vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour, paking powder, and salt. Gradually add to creamed mixture. Stir in Heath bits. Batter will be very thick.

Spread onto parchment paper, evening as well as you can. Bake for 30-40 minute, until they test done. Cool on wire rack, lift out by parchment paper and cut with a pizza cutter. Save any crumbs for ice cream topping.

$2.60 for whole recipe. Makes 24 servings at $0.11 each. And spanks the pants off anything you can buy at the store.


Bliss, in the Form of a Little Pink Pill

Celexa. Even just saying the word is relaxing. Almost like a sigh.

I started taking it a few weeks ago. No kidding, I feel like a different person. That constant undercurrent of anger? Gone. The mindless mouth-stuffing? Sayonara. Relationship with Yasar? Fun again. Dealing with Andrew? Piece of cake. Life's good.

In fact, it's almost disturbing. Like Invasion-of-the-Bodysnatchers weird. My personality almost seems to have changed. I'm kind. Without stress wrinkles. I can take a deep breath and actually feel relaxed. And the reason this is so disturbing is that, hey, I've been angry for such a long time, I just thought I'd become one of those people. Forgotten was the person my husband fell in love with. I'd lost the gene for playfulness.

But you know what? She's still in there. And she's making a comeback.

So, to all you who commented that antidepressants are not denying God's power in your life, thank you. Celexa and I are getting along just fine. It feels like a miracle.


Andrew's 5th Birthday Party

If you were waiting for this post yesterday (it's okay to admit it), I'm so sorry. It had been a marathon few days, and my age is starting to catch up with me.

This is Birthday-Girl Amanda getting her Donald Duck balloon sculpture.

The kids were in rapt attention throughout the 40-minute balloon/magic show session. Lucky the Clown did an amazing job, and he far exceeded my expectations!

The cupcake decorating table was a big hit with the parents AND the kids!

We tried to organize games for the kids, but they pretty much took off on the trikes and had a blast. As far as I know, no one got hurt (hooray!)

Andrew sporting his tattoo (Spiderman riding a motorcycle). And I quote "this was the best birthday ever!"

Unfortunately there's not enough Blogger space to show you all the great pictures. The book exchange was very well received, the kids all got lots of balloon animals, and we collected a full laundry basket of nonperishables for the food pantry. The party actually went longer than we expected, no one was more shocked than I to look at the clock and see we were already past 3:30! And Jeanne Gilbert, the enrichment coordinator at Riverside MR/DD, was a lifesaver, knowing most of the kids and instictively filling in where needed. So, if you're in Troy and looking for a winter venue for your birthday party, please keep Riverside (and Lucky the Clown) in mind. You don't have to go to McD's Playland...
And a personal reflection - I was always brought up to believe that birthday parties were to be certain things - bakery cakes, lots of presents, generally expensive and, in the end, unfulfilling. I want to thank Christine, Amanda's mom, for pointing me in a different direction. I have absolutely no regrets about the way this party went, from the homemade cupcakes to the newspaper-wrapped books for the book exchange. The kids don't care about these things. They're really just there to have fun. And, from the looks of things, there was plenty of that to go around.



Somehow the dawn this morning seems very peaceful. Probably because, by the end of today, I'll have a monster headache from 30 sugar-saturated, over-stimulated kids (and the clown egging them on). Am I looking forward to this? Hell, yeah! And you too, stay tuned for pictures!

Last night I got a bit of pause from a friend when I revealed my strict 8pm bedtime. Maybe it sounds preschoolish, but I really value getting up at 5am, enjoying a cup of coffee and my Google Reader, with the morning news going in the background. Our home is situated perfectly to watch the sun come up over I-75. The cat even understands that noise is sacriligeous - he's standing at the back door awaiting his daily hunt (he caught a mouse the other day and I had the unique opportunity to watch him eat it - he hasn't been giving me any lovins for a few days, I just can't shake that scene from my head!).

But this is my favorite time of day. Before Andrew wakes up and shatters the quiet with Curious George and Sid the Science Kid, before Yasar wakes up and starts grumbling about (lack of) business. Before the traffic starts rolling outside, and my to-do list starts rolling through my subconscience.

And, as I finish typing this, I hear the telltale toilet flushing upstairs. Usually the first clue that the quiet is about to be reluctantly tucked away until tomorrow.



Letter H

I'm not sure why Andrew's not in this picture, but in the interest of completion...


And There It Goes....

Word around the campfire is that AmEx and Capital One both got bailout dollars.

Can't we, as taxpayers, demand to know what's happening to our money? My flipping taxes will be going to pay for companies who willingly made risky choices, meanwhile I struggle to deal with a dead business? Why can't we get some of those bailout dollars?

Oh, that's right...when our franchise goes under, it'll only be something like 5 jobs lost.

Nothing like knowing where you are on the food chain.


Busted, AIG! Again! What's Your Friggin' Problem?

I think I just threw up in my mouth.

Heading through my RSS Reader, they were talking about AIG's latest luxury spa visit, to the tune of $350,000. Didn't they JUST go to Congress asking for another $40 billion?

So help me God, if our government is STUPID enough to hand them the money, I'm gonna...I'm gonna......

Bend over?

Argh! God Flippin' Bless America!

Back to Being a Walmart Shopper

I started a post a few months ago about the changes at the local Meijer store...I was really disappointed when they went from 4 "U-Check" lanes to 12 of them. Not that I mind checking myself out...on the contrary, I prefer it, it gives me a chance to try to use up the change in my purse without irritating anyone except Andrew. But it looks like a sign of the times, another step in the slow death of personal customer service.

We went to do our weekly grocery stop Sunday. Uneventful, until we got to the checkout. Much to our disappointment, the penny horse rides were gone! It's something I'l posted about before, how I was willing to pay the slightly-higher Meijer prices just for the opportunity to send Andrew to the penny horse rides so I could pay more attention to the scanner at checkout. To say Andrew was devastated would be pretty dead-on. The cashier said the machines were being serviced, but the spots they resided in were conspicuously overtaken by those annoying Grab-A-Prize games (you know, those ones that cost $1 for each reach of the mechanical arm, in the hopes that maybe, just MAYBE you'll snag a $0.25 stuffed animal that will fall apart before you hit your front door). And it was totally working on Andrew, he was pulling on me for a penny to play that games (when I explained the price difference, he did me proud by saying (in an eerie imitation of his mom),"What? Forget that!".).

Anyway, the reign of Meijer over Walmart is officially over. And we have a newer horse in the running, Save A Lot.

And we'll still be frequenting the Meijer for the clearance racks in the produce section - something Walmart doesn't (won't, I asked) offer.


You Gotta Love America....

Wall Street is in the toilet, unemployment is reaching record highs, and the national debt is exploding.

But what's the news of the day?

"Which hypoallergenic dog will Obama choose for his White House pet?"

ay, caramba

T Minus 7 Days

I cannot fathom that next week my baby boy turns 5! Where on earth did all that time go?!?!?

So next week is the mother of all birthday parties. We've rented out a whole gymnasium, enough to hold the 30 kids we're expecting. We've retained a clown to perform a magic show and make balloon animals ad nauseum. Instead on dealing with those crappy goodie bags (I hate those!), we're requesting everyone bring a gift-wrapped book for a book exchange. Instead of the ginormous cake, we'll be baking a bunch of cupcakes for the kids to ice and decorate themselves. I've got a bucket full of McD's Happy Meal toys to use for prizes for our games (Simon Says, Pin the Tail, Musical Chairs, Red Light/Green Light, Giant Tricycle races). Pizza will be served (free for me!), and we'll be collecting nonperishables for our local food pantry.

I can't tell you how excited I am about this party. The very best part is that Andrew is sharing this party with his girl, Amanda. She turns 5 the day after he does (isn't that cool?), so they're going to have a great party together.

I can't wait to post the pictures! Stay tuned....


Letter G

Andrew was sick at the beginning of this week, so he's not in this picture. He's over that projectile-vomiting thing now (thank you Jesus!). :)


Ill Presidente

It's no secret that I voted Republican yesterday.

What's not so well known is that I really thought both candidates were good & bad in their own rights.

For me, this election was a win-win (lose-lose?) situation.

The part that breaks my heart is that McCain never truly had a fighting chance. After the legacy that Bush has left for our country, very few wanted to see another War President in the White House.

I actually admire Obama in his demeanor - he always appears cool and completely in control of his emotions.

Keep praying for the leadership of this country. It won't be an easy job, following President Bush. I hope Obama's up for it.


My Testimony

Our Sunday School class is going through the Becoming A Contagious Christian program, and our homework these last few weeks was to put together our testimony in a 2-3 minute bullet, and share with the class. This has been such a great assignment for me, I've never really sat down and concentrated on my salvation, how it happened and how I feel about it. It's been a beautiful and disconcerting experience.

I accepted Jesus into my heart when I was 8 or 9, at Pioneer Girls, the Wednesday night program for our church. Why did I ask Jesus to cleanse me of my sins? In a nutshell, they literally scared the hell out of me. I didn't want to spend eternity in Hades, poked by Satan's pitchfork, so I thought Jesus sure sounded like the safer bet. As an adult, I question this practice. I don't emphasize hell to my son. I highlight Jesus's love for us, and His sacrifice. I want Andrew to love Jesus because Jesus loves us, not because we need to be terrified of the alternative.

I also have some theories about being saved at a young age. It seems very likely that those who receive Jesus as children rebel against Him in their teens. Only to return when they themselves have children. This is a recurring theme in Sunday School, and I wonder how I can help Andrew avoid this trap.

And, do you think that God grieves when one of us dies and goes to Hell? I think He does, even though He's all-knowing and can pinpoint the moment it's going to happen.

I grew up in Christian schools, at least until 9th grade. And just that has been a huge step in the wrong direction. You think that kids don't notice the flaws of adults. We saw some very poor examples of Christianity in parochial school, and still do to this day. I believe that High Point Baptist Academy was pivotal in my leave-of-absence from my faith. You have higher expectations for a school that costs $6000 annually and professes it's faith in Jesus, and when they make poor decisions, and push their carnal ideals and ambitions, well, it didn't end well. High Point left scars that even today I battle. But it also left taught me lessons, mostly not in a good sense.

Andrew will attend public school. At least he won't have higher expectations that will be dashed. He'll know he's walking into a secular world, and we'll equip him as best we can. That strikes me as an intimidating responsibility, thank God He's there to help!

Today, my faith is stronger than ever. God is not my copilot, He is in absolute control. And, looking at our present situation, I wouldn't want it any other way. His presence in my life has never been more felt. Prayers are answered. My life is filled with purpose. I'm interested in being a better Christian, and a better example to those around me. I'm learning to talk about Jesus with passion instead of fear. My heart is excited!

I'm sure nosing around these dusty corridors of my mind will produce some more interesting ideas, and it's a great thing to be a thinking adult and be able to process some of these theories. Nothing trumps experience as a teacher. And since your experiences are the foundation of your testimony, I can only be grateful to have them. They were clearly God's plan, and someday I'll know why.

For right now, Andrew and I have plans. When we get to heaven together, we're going to ride on a raindrop, and skate on a snowflake. It's something to look forward to!