Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Mom, apple pie, and...poetry?  Most people don't consider rhymed verse the great American pass time.  Nor do we often connect homers, chewing tobacco, and public scratching with the likes of ee cummings or Langston Hughes.  Yet, there's a delightful little magazine out there that manages to combine the two.

Okay, I'll admit it, I'm not a poet by nature.  I've written short stories, essays, even a piece for the AKC Gazette, the magazine of the American Kennel Club.  Poetry tends to be reserved for when I want to be obnoxious, when I've had a few too many, or when I want to aggravate the heck out of my sister, who is a poet.  I did, however, have one poem published in my life and it just happened to  be about baseball.  Actually, it combined my mother and baseball and didn't mention crotch scratching.  It was called The Utility Player and came out in the Spring 1994 issue of SpitballSpitball is, yes, a literary baseball magazine.  It is filled with not only poetry but fiction, non-fiction, and art as well.  Curl up with the latest issue and an over sized plate of nachos and you have the makings for a great afternoon.

The reason I bring up Spitball is because people often think that poetry can only be about serious issues.  It's the place to rage against an abusive parent, lament the politicians who've brought us to this state of affairs, ponder the meaning of it all.  Obviously, there are plenty of poets who write about those things, but maybe that's not your style.  Plenty of poems have been written about the green grass in a meadow.  Give me the green grass surrounding first base.  Many have written of the pain of losing a loved one.  I can write about the pain of being a Cubs fan and nearing the centennial mark since our last World Series win.

In case you weren't aware, this month of April is not only the first full month of the baseball season but also National Poetry Month.  There's a great website called Nudged to Write, where you can find all sorts of links, prompts, and information about both National Poetry Month and poetry in general.  The site is owned by Nancy Breen, former editor of Poet's Market and a widely published poet, as well as the aforementioned sister of mine who I like to aggravate with my poetry.  It was while reading some of her writing prompts that I got to thinking about the baseball-poetry connection.  I know she would approve of writing about what you know and love.  And I'm sure she'd agree that there is room in the poetry world for all topics.

NOTE:  If you sign up for the Nudged to Write newsletter, she'll send you a free e-book of writing prompts based on famous poets' works.  I love a freebie almost as much as I love baseball...and nachos.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Last week I posted a recipe for TAGALONGS SHAKE.  Today I have a recipe using Lemon Chalet Cremes, the lemon sandwich style cookie.  The recipes were provided at The Girl Scouts of Western Ohio Cookie Rally my daughter attended last month.  I haven't made any of these personally, so I can't vouch for the taste.  I intend to try them out when we receive the cookies in February and I will update with my evaluation.  If anyone tries the recipe out before I, I'd love to have your opinion in the comments section!

Crust ingredients:
* 1/2 box of Lemon Chalet Cremes Girl Scout Cookies
* 1/2 stick butter, melted
* 1-1/4 cup chopped pecans

* 2 packages lemon flavored instant pudding plus required milk
* 16 oz. whipped topping 

Mix crust ingredients and press the mixture into greased 9" x 9" glass baking dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes and then allow to cool.  For the next layer, prepare the lemon-flavored instant pudding according to package directions.  Spread over the crust.  For the final layer, spread the whipped topping over the pudding layer.

Monday, February 21, 2011

52 Letters in 52 Weeks - #6

A couple weeks ago I became aware of Renee's blog at The 2011 Letter Project.  She is a homeschooling mother who is trying to collect 2,011 letters this year from all over the world.  This is just the kind of project that appeals to me and it just happens to fit in with my own 52 Letters in 52 Weeks Project.

I dropped a small package in the mail to Renee last week and it hopefully has arrived by now.  I wrote a letter telling her family about Cincinnati, where I grew up, as well as the city to the north where I now live.  I told her about two of my favorite Cincinnati destinations -- Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal and the Cincinnati Zoo.  I explained how Cincinnati got the nickname "Porkopolis" (think slaughterhouses) and how the winged pig has become the mascot of the city.  I tossed in some brochures for local Cincinnati destinations including King's Island amusement park and Coney Island, King's Island's predecessor along the Ohio River.

I also sent her a Cincinnati treat -- a can of Skyline Chili.  Cincinnati is well known for its special chili, which is significantly different from the Texas-style chili most people are used to.  For a brief history of Cincinnati chili you can out the Wikipedia page, which will not only tell you some of the more unusual ingredients in Cincinnati chili but also tell you the difference between a two-way and a five-way. 

The best thing about Renee's project is that she posts pictures and information about the letters she receives, so we all get to share in her project.  I encourage you to check it out for a good read and if you're interested in sending them a letter, shoot her an e-mail and she'll be happy to send you contact information.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cincinnati Zoo Adoption -- Another Way to Say "I Love You"

For most of my son's 11 years, we have given a yearly Valentine gift to the Cincinnati Zoo in the form of their A.D.O.P.T. program.  Through donation to this program you can "adopt" an animal of your choice from the zoo.  My children love animals and the Cincinnati Zoo is one of their favorite outings.  In addition to our sight-seeing romps, my children also attend classes where they learn about animals and are given the chance to touch various critters in a safe environment.  (One of our favorites has always been Minnie, the Chinchilla.  You've never felt such soft fur!)  The Zoo also has an annual Festival of Lights in December, a Hall-Zoo-Ween celebration in October, Zoo Babies in the spring, and some of the most gorgeous flowers to be found in the city.

In addition, they are working hard make the Zoo environmentally friendly and to live up to their reputation as "The Greenest Zoo in America."  They incorporate wind power, green building practices for new construction, energy efficient products, and water conservation into daily operations.  This year they are embarking on a new project with solar energy.  A huge parking area will be covered with a canopy of solar panels, the largest urban, publicly accessible solar array in the country.  It is expected to generate about 20% of the Zoo's energy needs and they are hopeful that some sunny and cool days they can be off the grid completely.  It's this kind of innovative thinking that gets me excited, and hopeful, about the future.  (Please check out this link to the Zoo's website for more information or watch the brief video below.  It's awesome!)

Since I have two animal-loving children, they take turns choosing the animal of the year.  This Valentine's Day belonged to my daughter and she chose to adopt the manatee.  We received a lovely certificate with their names and the occasion on it, as well as an informational sheet on manatees.  (We're frequent contributors to Save the Manatee Club as well, so these gentle giants have a special place in our hearts.)  Higher donation levels come with even more perks such as Zoo shop discounts, Christmas ornaments, and docent-lead tours.  It's a nice way to give back to the Zoo for all the knowledge and joy they've given my children.  And it's a good lesson for the kids as well.

If you're planning a trip to Cincinnati, be sure to check out and pay then a visit.  Tell the manatees we said "hi"!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Last week I posted a recipe for THIN MINT BROWNIES.  Today I have a recipe using Tagalongs, the Girl Scout cookie with the peanut butter filling dipped in chocolate.  These recipes were provided at The Girl Scouts of Western Ohio Cookie Rally my daughter attended last month.  I haven't made any of these personally, so I can't vouch for the taste.  I intend to try them out when we receive the cookies in February and I will update with my evaluation.  If anyone tries the recipe out before I, I'd love to have your opinion in the comments section!

Makes 2 servings

* 1/2 box of Tagalongs Girl Scout Cookies
* 6 cups of vanilla ice cream
* 1 cup of milk
* 1 can of whipped cream
Mix cookies, ice cream, and milk in blender.  Blend until desired thickness.  Serve in tall milkshake glass and top with whipped cream and garnish with crumbled cookies.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


When my son made his ill-advised comment at Christmas that his upcoming iPod gift was a "snooze-fest", I made the decision that I was going to severely cut back on my gift-giving.  Every minor holiday somehow has become a mini-Christmas.  Last year for Valentine's Day my kids each received candy plus a Pillow Pet from me.  They loved them.  It was a successful gift.  Other gifts, however, were not so popular and left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

In an effort to teach my children that less is more and that there is as much joy in giving as receiving, I informed them that this Valentine's Day they'd receive only candy.  The money I would have spent was instead going to a cause close to our hearts.  We are animal lovers in our family, particularly dogs and cats, and we care passionately about pet overpopulation.  We support numerous no-kill shelters, help to finance low-cost spay and neuter clinics, contribute to the Cincinnati Pet Food Pantry who distribute pet food to low-income owners, and have ourselves adopted three stray animals that wandered into our yard.  Knowing how much they loved animals, it seemed obvious what to do with the Valentine gift money.

My mother, sister, and I took my two kids to PetSmart today.  I gave them each the amount of money I spent on last year's Pillow Pets and let them pick out items from the League for Animal Welfare's wish list.  My son  chose canned food.  They were in need of food for dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens.  He carefully picked sizes and flavors he thought were appropriate.  He also chose a 28 pound box of scoopable kitty litter.  My daughter took the decision a little less seriously.  She fell passionately in love with a stuffed squeaky toy which she wanted for herself but agreed to pass on to the shelter.  She also picked out some soft dog treats.  She wandered off with Grandma while I filled in the gaps from the wish list with a 6' nylon leash, a large Nylabone, and a box of small Milkbone dog biscuits.  As usual there was a rescue group at the PetSmart and we saw several sweet dogs walking around wearing shirts that said "Adopt Me."  It's all I can do not to come home with a 40 pound bag of dog food and a 40 pound dog.

Looking at the dogs.

We have a particular fondness for hound dogs.
During the 30 minute drive to the shelter we listened to Bill Cosby cd's in the van.  Upon arrival we hauled in the bags, as well as some afghans I made from scrap yarn.  I had dozens of small balls of yarn from past projects and I crocheted them into ugly but functional afghans.  They use them folded on the cat beds and in cages.  After dropping the supplies at the front desk we went to the back to view the animals.  We started with the dogs, who live in very clean kennels and are easily viewed behind the glass.  We aren't allowed in to pet them, probably for liability reasons, but we wave hello to all of them and read their stories on the cards pinned to bulletin boards.  We also saw our sponsored dog, Connor.  We have $10 per month automatically deducted from our bank account each month to help with his care and maintenance until his adoption.  There's an adorable picture of him on the bulletin board wallowing in a filled kiddie pool.

From there we moved on to the half dozen or so cat rooms.  In these we are able to pet, cuddle, and play with the critters.  Despite my desire to take home every animal at the shelter, I'm always left feeling happy when I leave The League.  A traditional kill-shelter I find almost intolerable to visit, as I know if I don't take the dogs home many won't live long.  Of course, taking home every dog and cat is impossible, so I'm left depressed and miserable.  I always tell my kids that the worst thing that will happen to the animals we see at The League is that they will simply stay at the shelter forever.  And it's a beautiful shelter.  Each dog has his or her own kennel with a flap door so he can go into an enclosed area outside at will.  The cats live about 6-8 to a room, with plenty of climbing apparatuses, beds, and toys.  The cat rooms too each have a flap door that opens into a fenced area outside, complete with a bird feeder just outside the fence, giving the cats plenty to stare at.  Everything is clean and all the animals are well cared for.  The only depressing element is that I know there are some pets who have homes that aren't taken care of nearly as well as these animals in the shelter.
Do these cats have it made or what?

When we arrived home we were greeted by our own two cats and our big hound dog mix who sniffed us for the next 15 minutes in wonder.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

52 Letters in 52 Weeks - Letter #5

I had to explain to my 78 year old mother why she was receiving a letter from me, since she lives 6 minutes away by car.  As part of Katy Wolk-Stanley's 52 Letters in 52 Weeks Project, I'm dropping lines to everyone I can think of and while there's probably no "news" my mother hasn't already heard from me via e-mail, telephone, or in person, she seemed an obvious choice for my fountain pen.

I often tell my son he is "pure awesomeness."  If he gets that quality from anyone, it's from his grandmother.  My mom is an award-winning cook (ribbons, baking contests, recipe contests), an award-winning quilter, a blogger, and an all around cool person.  Lately her blog, Lillian's Cupboard, has been featuring Civil War quilt blocks she's making from Barbara Brackman's patterns.  She's seen a big increase in traffic to her own blog because the instructions given for the Civil War blocks are sometimes confusing, especially to novices, so my mother has taken it upon herself to give step by step directions on how she did each block, complete with pictures.  Based on the comments she's received, many a new quilter is considering her a godsend.

Every Sunday the kids and I go to her house for lunch, which ensures I get at least one decent home cooked meal a week complete with dessert.  (My own culinary skills and interest are both mediocre and my kids refuse to try anything more exotic than a piece of grilled steak.)  My mother often posts the recipes for these meals, complete with pictures, on her blog.  If you ever need a meal idea, her blog is the place to go.

Joan Fontaine - 1939

Her sewing skills have also been put to good use over the years.  She's made everything from clothes for my children to quilts for Project Linus to cat motif tote bags for the League for Animal Welfare's Christmas party craft sale.  In 1995, as I was planning my wedding, I saw a black and white photo of Joan Fontaine from her 1939 wedding and I wanted that wedding dress. 

My mother and father - 1952
I had also been inspired by my mother's own dress from her 1952 wedding, which was borrowed from her future sister-in-law.  It was much too heavy for her May wedding and too big, but she looked stunning.  I wanted a dress like my mother's and Ms. Fontaine's -- simple cut with a 40s/50s feel, shimmering white satin, and no embellishments.  At the time every dress I looked at was dripping with sequins and beads and pearls.  The solution?  My mother to the rescue.  For a fraction of the cost of a purchased dress my mother sewed a beautiful white satin dress with a full skirt, puffed sleeves, and faux pearl buttons up the back.  I wore a strand of pearls and pearl earrings my then-fiance purchased for me, along with a veil of handmade lace my sister made.  It was exactly the look I was going for.

My husband and me - 1995
My son commented the other day, after seeing a paw print patterned blanket and pillowcase my mother whipped up at my daughter's request, "Is there anything Grandma can't do?"  Outside of riding a bicycle and playing guitar, I don't think there is.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


I have the feeling I'm not the only parent of a Girl Scout who is going to find herself in possession of way more boxes of cookies than can (or should be) consumed in a few months' time.  In case you're looking for options for your cookie stash, I'll be posting some cookie recipes which were provided at The Girl Scouts of Western Ohio Cookie Rally my daughter attended last month.  I haven't made any of these personally, so I can't vouch for the taste, but I figure you can't go wrong with anything containing Thin Mints.  Once the cookies are delivered in late February I plan on making each recipe myself and will update you on any changes or additions I feel are necessary.  If you have good luck (or bad luck) with any of the recipes, please let  me know in the comments section.

* 1/2 box of crushed Thin Mints cookies
* 1 box of brownie mix
* 2 eggs (3 eggs for cake-like brownies)
* 1/4 cup of water
* 1/2 cup of vegetable oil

Crush Thin Mints into medium size chunks. Mix all ingredients into mixing bowl. Do not use electric mixer -- batter will be stiff. Spread batter evenly in greased 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan. Bake in center of oven at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting. Serve with mint-flavored tea.

Monday, February 7, 2011

52 Letters in 52 Weeks - #4

Letter #4 in the 52 Letters in 52 Weeks Project was mailed at the end of January to my friend Kerry who lives in New York City.  Like me she's a Cincinnati native; unlike me she married a man who quickly whisked her to the Big Apple while I migrated to the suburbs, otherwise known as the "Big Snooze."  Actually I'm much better suited to the somewhat quieter experience of Ohio than the crowds of Manhattan, yet hearing of her experiences makes me feel like I'm getting news from another galaxy, especially since Kerry doesn't have any children and has a busy career.

I filled her in on our frequent snowstorms.  When I get a return letter I'm sure it will be filled with insinuations that I'm a complete wimp considering what NYC got blasted with in December.  Just to be a thorn in her behind, I mentioned how the traffic in my small town is getting to be just impossible and she wouldn't believe how much they're charging for one-bedroom apartments around here... 

Friday, February 4, 2011


Part of my effort to reduce my food expenses, as well as to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, is to eliminate food waste as much as possible.  I'm the queen of the Bermuda Triangle Refrigerator.  Lovely, expensive foodstuffs have been known to disappear in there, only to be found months later moldy and biologically hazardous.  This week I finally got around to cleaning out my fridge.  I was astonished at how much expired food was in my refrigerator.  Astonished...and ashamed.  It's not just the money lost but the thought that there are people who are having trouble feeding their families and I'm throwing away $15 worth of expired yogurt.  I'm disgusted with myself.

I could berate myself over this, and I probably will, but I'm trying to regard this as a learning experience.  Sometimes we all just need to have a light shone on our faults.  Once we're aware we can do better.

To that end I'm making a trip to a nearby park with a lake this morning.  It's freezing here -- only about 13 degrees -- and there's still lots of slick stuff left from an ice storm this week.  At this park are several dozen ducks who can't be having an easy time either.  I have bread that's just on the verge of turning stale.  Yes, I should probably make it into crumbs and use it to coat chicken or something, but being the animal lover that I am, I'm choosing to make use of it by feeding it to the hungry critters.  More environmentally friendly than throwing it away.  Easier than having to find a use for it in my own home.  My kids helped me feed the ducks a couple weeks ago and they seemed very grateful.  They rushed us and got within a couple feet of my large hound dog, so I figure they must have been hungry.

Lastly, I've always loved this song and have found myself singing it over the years whenever I'm mad at myself for a failure.  It applies as well to dieting as to food waste as to parenting mistakes.  Or, as I've heard Judge Judy say, "You need to put a period and move on."  Sometimes forgiving ourselves is the hardest thing.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


When I started this blog I said no doubt my attempts to change my lifestyle would be full of hypocrisy.  I got hit full in the face with it this week with my daughter's Girl Scout cookie sale.  She's a 7 year old Daisy and this is her first cookie sale.  They're hoping to have the girls average 40 boxes of cookies each.  Sigh...

I'm trying to dramatically reduce our food expenditures this year.  Even more important, I'm trying to greatly reduce our garbage output and make "greener" purchases.  What do I do, then, about cookies that are housed in a plastic tray surrounded by plastic wrap and inside a cardboard box?  Hardly eco-friendly.  And the $3.50 per box price tag?  Not the most expensive snack in the world but hardly a frugal option either.  I know this is the most important fundraiser for the girls and even on a social level it's almost a rite of passage for a Girl Scout to sell cookies.

What to do?  How do I balance my ecological concerns with the money making necessity of the cookie sale?  How do I justify buying overpriced boxes of cookies?  My daughter's very young and door to door selling would terrify her.  I know I'll be spending some time with the troop sitting outside grocery stores hawking our goods but there's no guarantee of success there.  Relatives have been helpful in meeting that 40 box quota, but what about the rest?  Do I buy them myself?  Do I scour the neighborhood begging subdivision inhabitants for help?  Do I buy them but donate them to the food pantry? 

I'd love to hear from anyone who has come up with the solution to my cookie dilemma. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

52 Letters in 52 Weeks - #3

Letter #3 in Katy Wolk-Stanley's letter writing challenge was sent out a couple weeks ago to an old friend named Richard.  He and I worked together twenty years ago when I was in advertising and he was a photographer.  We were very close for the five years or so we worked together and then he went on to bigger and better things.  Thanks to the Internet we managed to keep in touch with e-mails, but since these usually came about once or twice a year, a thorough letter was in order.  I figured he would appreciate the extra effort I put forth by writing the letter by hand with my Waterford fountain pen.  He used to do calligraphy for his wife and designed his own seal to use with sealing wax on his envelopes.

One thing Richard and I had in common back in the day was a love of music, particularly 60's British Invasion, so I told him about our family's trip to Cleveland last year.  We went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so I told him all about John Lennon's piano and Mick Jagger's pants.  (By the way, the latter has a teeny, tiny waist.)  I told him about my recent attendance at the David Cassidy concert at The Newport Syndicate and about my son's report on George Harrison for English class.

I hope to get a letter back, complete with my name in calligraphy and nice red sealing wax on the back.

David Cassidy


We are, unfortunately, a typical fast food family.  I'm ashamed to admit it.  I blame part of it on my children as they never like what I cook and my husband is almost as picky as the children.  Mostly I blame myself, as I am the kitchen gatekeeper and I have 95% of the say on what goes down my children's throats.  Like a lot of people, though, my kids are involved in activities.  They aren't over scheduled -- each is allowed one activity, two if they're not too time consuming.  For instance, my daughter takes gymnastics one night a week and is a Girl Scout Daisy.  The latter has twice monthly meetings and the occasional weekend activity, so it's a very moderate time commitment.  Even with a relatively sane schedule, we inevitably find ourselves rushing through dinner time.  My daughter has to leave for gymnastics by 5:20, my son for twice weekly karate by 5:10.  Throw in the occasional doctor's appointment, dentist check up, or after school activity and dinner time becomes a nightmare.  My solution, unfortunately, tended to be a quick trip through the drive-thru.

I know the obvious health problems associated with over consumption of fast food.  In addition, as I always say to my husband, "Geez, they charge an awful lot for lousy food."  Between fast food and convenience foods, our monthly food total was very high.  Last year, for instance, our average monthly food expenses were $957.  That includes eating in, drive-thru runs, restaurant meals, and any purchased snacks (such as amusement park candy) for myself, my husband, and our 11 and 7 year old kids.  We go out to eat almost every Saturday afternoon with my mother and sister and I have no intention of foregoing those meals.  We've done it for almost 40 years (i.e., my entire lifetime) and it's an enjoyable part of our week.  As a result I know I'll never have a rock bottom food budget like some.  Since we're fortunate enough to be going the frugality and simplicity route voluntarily my food budget goals are more moderate.

I knew training my children out of the fast food habit would be difficult.  My daughter in particular likes so few foods, especially protein, that Chicken McNuggets sometimes almost seem like a healthy option.  Since they dislike my cooking, have a limited number of meals they'll even try, and we have those rushed evenings, I knew we'd need some inspiration to change our ways. 

We're all huge animal lovers in our house and support a number of animal charities.  One close to my heart is the Grayson County Humane Society in Leitchfield, Kentucky.  They are, unfortunately, not a no-kill shelter, but they do the best they can with extremely limited resources to care for abused or abandoned pets and find them homes.  They get no government money, so they stay open solely through donations and volunteers.  On their website they had a link to become a Grayson Angel.  To be an "angel", you commit to giving $1 a day, regularly, to the shelter.  Knowing how much my children love and are concerned about these dogs and cats, I told them we were going to cut back extremely on our food budget for the month.  (I originally tried to do a "Food Stamp Challenge" similar to Katy Wolk-Stanley's on The Non-Consumer Advocate blog, but we failed in that one.)  I told them if we stuck to it for a month we could save enough money over what we spent last year to be an "angel" for the next year.  This they were enthusiastic about, particularly my son.  I can easily win them over by showing them a picture of one of the little doggies at the shelter.

For the month of January we spent a total of $561.47.  I know, this is hardly a great accomplishment for a true frugal gal, but considering our average last year of $957 per month, we shaved just short of $400 off of our food bill.  More importantly, I'm signing us to become Grayson Angels.  The little bit of sacrifice or deprivation we might have felt from the lack of trans fats in our diet were more than offset by the good feelings we have knowing that some animals are going to get a little bit of help.  I guess it's all about finding the right inspiration.

Snickers, who turned up at our door on Halloween 2002.

Milky Way, who turned up in our front yard just before a blizzard in 2008.

Franklin, who turned up in the neighborhood wearing a choke collar with no tags in 2003.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Or maybe I should say the ultimate break on coffee.  I'm not normally a coffee drinker, although I have a fondness for Maxwell House International Cafe's French Vanilla flavor.  Since the beginning of the year, as part of my effort to reduce my carbon footprint, I've been trying to set the thermostat low during the day when the kids are at school (and my husband is working upstairs in his office surrounded by heat-generating computers).  I turn the thermostat down to 65 degrees when the kids leave and usually keep it there until my son comes home around 3:00.  Then it goes up to 67, sometimes to 69 depending on the amount of complaining I hear from the children.  Because it can get quite chilly in the house during the day, I find myself having one or two cups of coffee a day.  I already had a can of French Vanilla Cafe in my pantry from last year (normally my coffee consumption is very sporadic), but I was getting near the bottom and debating whether the $3.39 price tag for a new can fit in my food budget for the month.

While mulling over the decision in Meijer, I came across two sets of shelves near the milk with clearance items.  On it were cans of Maxwell House International Cafe in Peppermint Mocha Latte flavor.  They were marked down to $.84 a can.  I debated for a while.  My first instinct was to scoop up every can I saw.  However, I'd never had the flavor and was concerned I would find it undrinkable and then have bought $10 worth of coffee for nothing.  I bought two cans and tried the flavor that day.  It was wonderful!  Next morning I scurried by up to Meijer and found the shelves empty of coffee.  Apparently everybody else found it a good deal as well.  I did some excavating and managed to find two more cans hidden behind other items and quickly purchased them.

My savings went beyond this, however.  It just so happened Maxwell House was having a deal that week (I knew from the cash register-generated coupon) for a $1 coupon towards my next shopping trip if I purchased two cans of International coffee.  So, I got the $1 coupon the first day and when I bought two more the following day, I received another coupon.  That brought my $.84 can of coffee down to $.34!  Cha-ching!

Granted someone could argue, as my husband did, that I don't need coffee and even if I did choose to drink it, there were even cheaper options.  I have no delusions that I'm hitting rock bottom with my grocery budget or spending habits, but my $.34 can of coffee is a huge improvement over the regular price, to say nothing of the cost of a cup from the famous chain coffee shop just down the hill from me...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

52 Letters in 52 Weeks - #2

I have been faithfully taking part in Katy Wolk-Stanley's 52 Weeks - 52 Letters Challenge (  However, I've been unfaithful in blogging about my letter writing, so today I begin catching up...

As a child, Carolyn was one of my close friends.  She left Cincinnati just as we were entering our tween years and moved to California.  She lived near Hawthorne, California (home of The Beach Boys) and occasionally sent me surf reports to make me jealous.  I was a rabid fan of Dennis Wilson, the drummer, and had he not tragically drowned in 1983 she probably would have sent me fake stories of spotting him in the waves.

Like many childhood relationships, we grew apart over the teenage years and only had sporadic contact through the 90s and into the new millennium.  I mailed her a long, lovely letter week before last, telling her of Ohio's unusually cold and snowy December.  As I stare out my dining room window to my snow covered backyard and the deer that wander in to snack from my bird feeder, I have no doubt that any day now I'll receive a cheery missive from California telling me of the warm sunshine and the author's ever darkening tan...just to make me jealous.
My children in Virginia Beach

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I wrote the other day about my Once Upon a Child outing and their $1 clearance sale.  After getting pants for both my kids which should last them for the next year, I spent several days being haunted by the vision of those shirts, skirts, jackets, and sweaters just hanging there with their pretty little orange clearance tags.  I figured after two days the good stuff was long gone, but I kept thinking each item was at least a $3 savings to me (that's if it was purchased full price at the consignment store) and that if I spent an hour and only bought three items it was the equivalent of earning nine tax-free dollars. 

I drove the six minutes to Once Upon a Child and found the place was still bargain nirvana!  I grabbed a cart and quickly purchased next-size or two-size-up long sleeved shirts and sweaters for my daughter, enough to take her through next season and beyond.  I also got my son a couple sized-up sweatshirts and long sleeved shirts and even one short sleeved polo shirt.  I also managed a nice hooded jacket and pair of gym shoes in like-new condition for my daughter.

Total number of items:  38.  Total cost:  $38.00 + tax.  Total if purchased at regular Once Upon a Child prices:  $218.50.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


No, I'm not talking about overindulging in the Christmas spiked egg nog.  I'm speaking of laundry.

One of my goals for the month of January was to reduce our electric usage.  Part of this was financial, most was environmental.  One way to accomplish this was with reducing my dryer usage.  I normally use the dryer for all our laundry, especially in the winter.  My goal for the month of January is to reduce my dryer usage by 50%.  So far I've surpassed that goal and am feeling fairly proud.

I have a finished basement with a small unfinished area roughly 10' x 10' that houses the water heater, furnace, sump pump, freezer, and some storage shelves.  It is a quirk of our home that the basement is the warmest place in the winter.  Our first home, a split level, was warm on the highest floor, cool on the ground floor, and freezing in the lower level.   There was a good ten degree difference between upper and lower level.  In this house the upper level gets warm but so does the basement.  That's actually not a bad thing as the basement is our rumpus room holding the Wii, most of the kids' toys, t.v., and gym equipment. 

This small unfinished area is the warmest spot in the entire house.  The downside is that nobody's ever in there.  Who wants to curl up with a book on a cement floor next to a water softener?  I realized, though, that this would be the perfect place for my drying racks.  I have one wooden rack purchased from the Lehman's catalog and a tall rack purchased at Ikea.  Between the two of them I have room to hang roughly two loads of laundry.  And the space is so warm that most things dry in less than 24 hours.  Where my adjustment has been is in doing laundry every day.  If my goal is to hang the laundry I have to make sure there are enough clean clothes to last until the stuff actually dries.  I can't wash something now and have it be dry in an hour as I'm accustomed to. 

What has happened, much to my amazement, is that I haven't cut my dryer usage by 50%.  I've cut it by at least 80%!  For me that's a big accomplishment.  Some of the clothes are coming out extremely wrinkled and while I'm not the fussiest dresser in the world (my husband works from home, I'm home all day, and my kids could care less), I don't want to look like I slept in my clothes.  For the most wrinkled items, I let them get almost completely dry and then load them into the dryer and give them a 10 minute fluff.  This does not make them wrinkle-free.  It does, however, take the worst of the wrinkles out and get them to a level of smoothness that is acceptable to all concerned.

I haven't done the actual calculations to figure how much money an hour's worth of dryer usage costs, but based on some general estimates I've seen around, I figure each load not dried in the dryer saves about $.30 to $.40 in electricity costs.  While $10 a month in electricity savings alone doesn't seem like a big deal, I figure the environmental impact of the reduced electricity makes it totally worth it.  Plus, $10 is $10...

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Yesterday I mentioned my goal of buying used versus new and to that end I hit up the Once Upon a Child $1 orange tag sale last week.  I had expected a small rack of clothing and very little selection and had swung into the parking lot with a van full of groceries since I was certain I'd only be a few minutes.  Thankfully (for my groceries' sake) it's been freezing around here and I knew my groceries were good for a while.
What I found inside was HEAVEN.  I saw row after row of beautifully organized clothing with orange tags dangling.

My son is 11 years old and a few months ago was wearing a size 14, occasionally a 16.  He decided to surprise me at Christmas by chunking up a little and complaining of tight pants.  My first stop was the boys' section.  The boys pants only go up to size 18 and, unfortunately, the pickings are slimmer at that age.  I managed, though, to find about half a dozen pairs of pants in size 16 or 18 in nice condition and plain enough that he won't mutiny if I insist he wear them.  Even on sale for one of the minor brands I would have paid $9.99 for one pair of jeans new.  At Once Upon a Child these pants would have cost me anywhere from $4-$10 each.  Many of the pants were by brands that I would never purchase new, such as Old Navy and The Gap, because the prices are beyond what I'm willing to pay for something that will be outgrown in six months. 

Next stop was for my daughter who is 7 years old and extremely tall for her age.  She's very thin but has a very long torso which means she outgrows her shirts because they've gotten too short, not because they're too tight.  Right now she's wearing a size 8 and has plenty of pants and shirts for this season.  I planned ahead.  (I'm learning quickly that part of the key to buying used is to anticipate needs since snow boots in size 4 may or may not be available when it's snowing and that's her foot size.)  I purchased half a dozen pairs of pants for her as well in size 10.  Again, they were $1 apiece and even used would have cost $4-$8 each.
My mind was on my groceries sitting in the car, so I didn't want to linger much longer.  I did take a quick swing through the shoes and boots.  I found a nice pair of boots that were not on sale but were a size and a half bigger than my daughter's current size and for $4 I thought they were worth grabbing.  Also not on sale were a pair of roller skates for $4 and I've been wanting to replace my daughter's outgrown Barbie skates.   Lastly I got a pair of white sandals with that lovely orange tag that will be perfect for my daughter's Easter outfit.

When my purchases were rung up I spent a whopping $33.50 for 16 items, including a pair of skates and a pair of boots.  The receipt also shows that I would have spent $104.50 for these same items at "regular" price (i.e., normal Once Upon a Child prices).  When I think of what each of these items would have cost new, especially those Old Navy pants, I start to swoon.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


My goal this year is two-fold as far as spending goes.  Number one is to spend less.  Number two is to buy fewer items new.  One of my favorite blogs is The Non-Consumer Advocate by Katy Wolk-Stanley (  I'm constantly inspired by her even if I often fail to follow her lead.  One of the things she advocates is buying used.  She has pointed out numerous times not only the financial benefits of buying used but the environmental ones as well.  I really considered the latter during the Christmas season when I found myself overloaded with shipping boxes, packing peanuts, and brown paper from numerous online purchases.  Christmas morning there were the toys' cardboard boxes, little bits of wire that held dolls in place, clear plastic covers, etc.  The environmental impact was overwhelming even though I recycled as much as I could and I almost exclusively use cloth gift bags.

With Ms. Wolk-Stanley's inspiration accompanying me, I hit the new year with a fervent desire to buy used.  The gods were smiling on me last week and, I like think, encouraging my first efforts.  I've always been a consignment store shopper for my kids' clothing, starting when my 11 year old was in the womb and I discovered I could buy a week's worth of onesies used for less than the cost of one new one.  Normally my preference is for a charity consignment store in my hometown of Loveland, Ohio called Truly Blest.  Last week, however, I received an e-mail that the Cincinnati/Dayton area Once Upon a Child stores were having a $1 clearance sale.  Everything with an orange tag was a dollar.  I swung by after my grocery shopping expedition at Meijer so that I wouldn't waste gas making  a separate trip.

Frankly I usually find this Once Upon a Child overpriced for used merchandise and I really thought there would be a small rack of clearance items that would take 5 minutes to go through.  Boy, was I WRONG.  Tomorrow I'll tell you about the cornucopia that awaited me...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

52 Letters in 52 Weeks - #1

My aunt, Shirley Ritchie, passed away last month.  She was my mother's only sibling and although in her mid-70s, she died too young as far as we're all concerned.  She was one of those memorable people, a force of nature with a bigger than life personality.  All those cliches.  In her case they happen to be true.

Once she passed her tomboy stage in the mid-1940s, she went full-on glam.  I remember her best from my childhood in the 70s.  She had teased up white blond hair, usually with a bow, bright red long fingernails, and rings on every finger.  She had a nice figure and fit in perfectly in the decade of hot pants.

I just received a package from her husband, Don, containing three of her many rings.  There was a note tucked inside that said he found these in her jewelry box with my name on them.  I was very touched.  I don't necessarily share her sense of style, but the day she died I told everyone I was going to paint my nails blood red and wear all my rings at once in her honor.  Having these is even better.

My Aunt Shirley on the left, my mother on the right
While at my son's karate class tonight I composed letter #1 in the letter writing challenge to my Uncle Don, expressing my gratitude for the gift.  I let him know how much Shirley meant to me, how he was in our thoughts, and how we understand his loss.  I felt good expressing my feelings to him.  Hopefully he will feel the same knowing how much his family cares.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


As a kid I hated school, but there was one thing I loved -- new school supplies.  There was something about walking in that first day with a clean notebook with no writing, no wrinkles on the pages, no bent corners.  There were those long, newly sharpened pencils and the crayons that still had their pointy tips.  Even during the year, while most of my enthusiasm for school was long gone, I could still get a thrill out of starting a new notebook or getting a clean pink eraser.  I didn't realize it at the time, but this obsession with the school supplies was merely the beginning of a lifetime obsession with fresh starts.

I like the first day of summer vacation, the first day of school for my kids, the first day of each month, and, of course, the first day of a new year.  There's something about the feeling of renewal that comes with January 1st that has a magic for me.  Every year I go into January with high expectations, beautifully worded goals in my planner, and hope in my heart.  Forget the fact that most of it is down the drain by Valentine's Day... 

This year I'm feeling not only my usual January optimism, but a sincere hope that this will be a year of growth and change for my family.  The first day of the year was spent at my mother's with family as always.  Today, though, was my first test of my new commitment to spending less money and using fewer resources. 

The one Christmas activity we had not managed during the Christmas season was going to the Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo.  It's always a bit of a pain to go as this event draws huge crowds and sitting in traffic just to get a parking spot tends to be a yearly painful ritual.  We were also cursed with unusually cold temperatures for much of the month (down in the low teens or single digits in the evening), as well as an unusual amount of snow.  Combined that with the kids' regular activities and special Christmas activities, and...well...the month just got away from us.

My 11 year old son wanted to do one more "big" thing today before going back to school tomorrow and I mentioned that this was the last night for Festival of Lights.  He happily agreed and my sister accompanied my two children and me.  The biggest issue I face right now in my goals is thinking ahead.  Too often I get wrapped up in some project at home and we end up with fast food because I hadn't planned dinner.  My daughter consumes dozens of juice boxes because I forget to make a fresh pitcher of juice or I forget to bring her Sigg bottle with me.  This time, though, I thought ahead.  I grabbed my Built neoprene lunch bag and shoved in Sigg bottles -- water for my son, juice for my daughter, iced tea for me.  I also packed some crackers in case they suddenly decided they were ravenous as we passed the $5 bags of popcorn.  My final step was to tell them in no uncertain terms that I was absolutely not buying anything in the gift shop, I was not buying food or drinks, and I was not stopping for fast food on the way home.  My son didn't ask for a thing.  My daughter once asked if we were getting a snack (as we just happened to be passing a cotton candy vendor) and otherwise didn't ask for a thing. 

We have family passes to the Cincinnati Zoo which includes free parking, free tram rides, free train rides, and free carousel rides.  While I guess the pass itself isn't exactly frugal, I feel that it's money well spent as the Cincinnati Zoo is a popular outing with my kids and I like to lend support to the zoo where I can.  All in all the outing cost only as much as the gas to get us there and back and I didn't produce any garbage in the process.  We enjoyed the lights (which a few years ago were switched over to LED for greater energy efficiency) and it was a nice way to wrap up the Christmas vacation.  More importantly for me, I feel it was a step in the right direction for my goals this year.  I feel like a passed my first test (or maybe a pop quiz, anyway).