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Send a Christmas Card & Save the World

diy-christmas-card-photoHave you mailed your Christmas cards yet? Do you send them out or have you stopped altogether? What if you could actually save the world; or perhaps closer to home-  a life — by the simple act of mailing a holiday card? The title of this post may seem a little over dramatic but I stand by the sentiment and I’ll explain why.

No, there is no gimmick or marketing ploy here. I don’t work for a greeting card company and I make this suggestion out of sincere concern for where our society is headed. We are rapidly tossing out traditions in the name of progress and the overused phrase, ‘being more politically correct’. We can say we’re too busy or we’re saving money…. but why not be willing to say you’re too lazy or just don’t care?

I’m not judging anyone here. I realize this just isn’t important to some people. If you choose not to send out cards– for whatever reason; that’s fine by me. BUT– if I can encourage you to just consider participating in this time-old tradition… then it was worth my time.

I just read an opinion piece by someone who is sending out their cards (this year) for the last time. Some of their justifications are: a) not getting enough cards in return, b) thinking the recipient will be disappointed if there isn’t a gift card or cash inside, c) it takes too much effort, and d) it’s easier to just send a message online.

I understand how someone might come to these conclusions but I also think they are shallow assumptions and, well– just plain wrong. I also see some of those excuses as just plain selfishness.

Who doesn’t like receiving Christmas cards? (Unless, it’s because it makes you feel guilty for not mailing them out?) The comments from people attached to the above mentioned story all disagreed with the author’s perceptions and want to receive cards. They like this traditional token of holiday cheer.

So how can a silly thing like sending a card save the world?

Here are a few of my points to consider:

  • Communicate, connect, share. Show someone you care. Isolation can be a terrible thing. Your act of thoughtfulness could be the only positive thing someone experiences today. You may be reaching out to someone in desperate need. Someone you know may be feeling completely alone and disenfranchised. You’re card could go a long way to brighten someone’s day.
  • So much Conservative emphasis is on the cause of world problems being the fault of the breakdown of the family. One of the ways families stay connected is through holidays and traditions. As society places less value on the family, society starts to fail.  Whether it’s a biological family, chosen family or coming together as a community— society needs ways to connect that are positive and unite us– giving us strength. Eliminate traditions… eliminate family and a peaceful society is the next to go.
  • Can’t afford to send everyone gifts? Why not a simple, heartfelt note inside a card? This can mean so much more than a gift that will soon be forgotten. A few kind words letting someone know you are thinking of them can go a long way.
  • The Christmas card tradition keeps many people in different industries employed. Authors, artists & designers, sales, marketing, transportation… all benefit.
  • “It’s easier to say Merry Christmas on Facebook.” Yes, it is easier. It takes no effort at all. I’m not belittling the sentiments– I’m saying it isn’t the same thing. AND– not everyone will see it. If that’s your substitution– it isn’t working.
  • “Christmas cards are a waste of money and negatively affect the environment.” Not true. Many cards are made of recycled paper and can be recycled again. The paper industry, by it’s very existence, contributes positively to the environment through replanting and maintaining forests and environmental systems.
  • “Christmas cards aren’t PC.” Really? The celebration of Christmas goes far beyond religion. How many people do you believe are really offended by Christmas cards? If this is a concern of yours: How about a generic holiday card? It’s the idea behind the card that counts. It’s letting someone know you are thinking about them.

Screen-shot-2012-10-27-at-6.24.06-PMSure, a Christmas card can be viewed as a small, meaningless thing.  How about parades? Can we get rid of those next? And Fourth of July fireworks? Do we really need to celebrate birthdays anymore? If you take cards, along with many other small, meaningless things away– what are you replacing it with? What do you have left? We are slowly chipping away at many of the elements that have allowed society to connect and to function successfully for many years. Individually, they don’t seem like much but they are a small part of a whole.

It’s all about living and sharing.

Call, write, visit…connect. let someone know you care.

Here’s an idea: I’ll go one better… you can get rid of Christmas cards but throw an annual holiday party for all your family and friends instead. Is there any better way to connect and express your appreciation than in person? Holidays are for sharing. Nothing is better than being there and sharing an experience. Only, you’ll have to make sure they’ll all be able to attend on the date you select.

Of course, you’ll also have to send out invitations…. which is a card…


Christmas Gift Idea: Things Every House Should Have

mystery giftHoliday gift buying gets more and more difficult each year. I HATE gift cards. Even though some people may love getting them– they just seem so impersonal. I don’t like to spend a lot on potentially unwanted tchotchkes either.

What is the point of exchanging gift cards? I give you a $20 gift card and you give me one back. Okay. What was accomplished? Why not just pass the $20 bill back and forth and call it a day? Giving a gift card to someone is not the same as exchanging gift cards. Understand?

Gift cards or E-certificates are great to send to people miles away; or a last minute gift. I’m just not a fan of them when their are other alternatives.

mystery-giftSo what do you get the person that is impossible to buy for?

While I was decorating this weekend, it struck me– how many little things I kept needing that you normally might not think about. It’s great if you already have them and extremely annoying if you don’t.

That gave me the idea for a perfect, inexpensive Christmas gift that everyone can use: Things That Every House Should Have. This is a gift you could put together for any occasion! It’s a gift that will last throughout the year.

Now this isn’t an emergency kit (which could also be a possible gift solution) and it’s also not a crafter’s kit (another good one). How about a collection of simple items that everyone needs and you could use everyday?

If you make up several of these gifts, you can buy multi-packs of items and break them up.

Here are some suggestions you might want to include:

  • Transparent tape ( I prefer invisible archive- safe tape)tape
  • Electrical tape (available in many colors)
  • Wire (I like Ook 18mm gauge- there’s a wire cutter on the package!)
  • Twist ties
  • Scissors
  • Utility knife,ook
  • Pen
  • Pencil
  • Sharpie or permanent marker
  • Small screwdriver
  • Thumb tacks and/or nails
  • Plastic cable ties (come in many colors)Scotchbrite
  • Safety pins,
  • Sponge (I like Scotch Brite)
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Thick rubber bands…

14inch50LBCableTiesYou might also add:

  • Batteries (AA are the most common and I’d recommend including four, if any)
  • Hammer
  • Spool of ribbon or string
  • Duct or masking tape (both do leave a residue)
  • Chalk
  • Felt pads (for the bottoms of furniture or bottoms of deco items that can scratch surfaces)
  • Velcrogoofoff
  • Needle and thread
  • Goof Off: Heavy Duty Spot Remover and Degreaser (can clean most anything)
  • Dawn Dish-Washing Liquid (best eco-safe, grease remover)
  • Wet Wipes
  • Lens wipes (good for any glass, computer & phone screen, etc.)
  • Aspirin… the list could go on and on.

I don’t recommend those little picture hanging kits– they are usually cheaply made and hard to work with; nails are too tiny and bend, usually not enough wire to be useful.

I’m also not a fan of those adhesive “easy release” hooks and hangers. I’ve tried them and they don’t usually hold the claimed weight (if they stick at all), can be affected by temperature, and do often leave marks.

Use your imagination.

Whether you fill a stocking, a gift bag, a box or a tool kit– this is a gift that: shows some thought, gives you some room for a little creativity; and is something that everyone can use for months to come.

You might want to include a poem or a “thinking of you every day”- type note to personalize it.

This little kit could also make a great birthday, anniversary, graduation, open house, or friendship gift.

AND — you can always add that gift card. If you really must.

Happy Gifting!

Savings, Loss or Scam: Is Pet Insurance Right For You?

petvetI’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months looking at pet insurance and seriously considering the pros and cons of it. With two new puppies in the house and having gone through added medical costs in the last months of Roxie’s life, I decided I really needed to investigate the pet insurance options.

Pets are an investment. Pets are expensive to care for; they become valued members of our family. So how can we best protect them and be prepared for emergency situations?

Pet insurance seems like an easy solution, right? Well, maybe. It’s not as affordable as you might think. It also doesn’t cover everything you’d hope it would. In fact, reading through some policies will leave you scratching your head, wondering exactly what it does cover.

Unfortunately, navigating your way through the various policies, coverages and fine print is as complicated for pet insurance as it is for human health insurance. Many options, deductibles, varying premiums depending on the coverage; lots of exclusions and vague language that suggests many of the policies won’t pay out– at least, not the way you would expect. You don’t always get what you pay for.

A Financial Decision

The idea of pet insurance sounds like a good investment… but is it worth it? It’s always a good idea to educate yourself before making such an important financial commitment, no matter how logical it sounds to you initially. Do the numbers, compare and read before you sign.

Coverage could be the best way to go for people on a tight budget, that might not be able to afford a large unforeseen expense. It’s also a good option for people that, by making a monthly payment, will give them a sense of security and peace of mind.

For people that can afford an immediate and unexpected outlay of cash; coverage may not be beneficial. Especially, if your pet lives a long, healthy, incident-free life.

injured-dog-278x218There are two main options to consider first: pet insurance and/or a wellness plan. These are two different protections that do not cover you for the same expenses. Some companies offer one or the other and some offer both options– charged separately. Pet insurance starts with a chosen deductible amount and can cover medical care, surgeries, emergency procedures and some medications– BUT, what is covered depends on the individual policy.  A wellness plan does not carry a deductible (in any of the examples I have found) and can cover many of the reoccurring, yearly costs of preventative care. These can include: health check-ups, vaccinations, heartworm, flea and tick preventatives, spaying or neutering, and sometimes even discounted grooming services. All plans are different, as are the costs. Many I found are $25-$40 a month per pet.

Pet Insurance

Most companies offer plans with deductibles of $0, $100 or $500. The better the coverage, the more it costs. Most companies do not cover preexisting conditions. Yearly wellness and preventative care are not covered by any of the pet insurance policies, from any of the companies I researched. When looking at insurance, make sure you read the complete policy to be sure all your concerns are covered. There are many exclusions you would expect to be covered. Several companies also provide additional coverage (riders) for more specified health concerns, adding to the cost of your plan.

The least expensive plans I could find, providing what I would consider average or basic coverage, was just over $2,000 a year, with a $500 deductible, per pet. Policies easily climb in cost up to around $6,000 a year.

In the long run, most pet owners do not benefit from the coverages. In some cases, the policies are written in a way that the companies could legally avoid any actual payout. It’s legal– but I still consider it a scam. Negligence is subjective. Most policies will not pay for services that are needed as the result of what they consider owner negligence. Many accidents and incidences such as the ingestion of foreign objects, could easily be classified as negligence.

I also found that, except in the most extreme circumstances, most people pay more for insurance coverage than if they paid for medical care out-of-pocket. In most of the cases, this costs pet owners $2,000-3,000 more annually for the insurance, even if minor unexpected medical services were needed.

Is-Pet-Insurance-Necessary-01Wellness Plans

One of the main benefits of a wellness plan is that you pay a monthly premium that spreads the costs of preventative care over the course of the year as opposed to all at once. On average, the cost of a wellness plan is pretty much equal to what you will need to spend each year on your pet anyway. Some wellness plans offer discounts for multiple pets so there could be a savings there. If you have a wellness plan that covers all office visits, you might find you are more likely to be proactive regarding any early signs of possible illness.

Insurance is a gamble. You put out a sum of money now, in the hopes that it will pay off (protect you) in the future. If you carry insurance, pay monthly premiums and actually need medical treatment, then it’s could be worth it.

Important to Note

I’m purposely avoiding too much discussion on specific companies.  I recommend doing a review and complaint search online before you commit to any company.

I do have to point out that where most policies’ deductibles cover annual costs, Trupanion’s deductibles are per incident. I did not even notice that fact until it was pointed out to me in one of the articles I read. Each accident, illness or incident would require you pay a deductible for each, prior to insurance paying for anything.

I found a really good article in Consumer Reports you should look at before purchasing pet insurance. It will help you along the way, give you some idea of what to look for; and help in deciding whether this is the best decision for you and your pets. It compares several polices and gives several incident scenarios that might help you decide.

002qi1cdgy6l5o97izq68Alternative Options

If you are disciplined enough, you might want to consider putting a certain amount aside each month, maybe opening a savings account; to accumulate funds in case of an emergency or to cover future expenses. There’s always the risk you might be tempted to use the money elsewhere; but if you end up not needing to use the funds over the lifetime of your pet– the money is still yours.

I also found a company called Pet Assure that offers a 25% discount program, for an annual fee, on all services. They have rates for individual to unlimited family pets– which could provide a huge savings. There are no exclusions with this plan. The program does require services through participating facilities. There may be other programs out there you might want to look into providing a similar savings.

Our Decision

Michael and I decided that at this point, neither pet insurance nor a wellness plan was the right decision for us. We might sign up for a discount program in the future; but again, at the current time it does not benefit or protect us financially, in a way that we need.

I hope this helps some people considering coverage. Coverage is a personal decision. Never let anyone pressure you into committing to a policy that makes you uncomfortable. The most important thing is that you do the very best you can to keep your furry family healthy, happy and safe.


Beautiful Christmas – Before You Start Decorating

I took Belle to doggie daycare for half a day yesterday and took advantage of the time to start decorating our house for Christmas. I got five trees up, including the 20 foot foyer tree; not lit or decorated– but they are up– and that’s a start!

IMG_5462I want to share some of my experiences and some tips on how to make the most out of your Christmas decorating in a few posts over the coming weeks. I know it’s not Thanksgiving yet and even if you don’t plan on starting until then; it’s not too early to shop or at least begin thinking about what you want to do this season.

Whether this is your first time decorating or you consider yourself an old pro, I hope you find some ideas that will help you make the most out of your holiday decorating.

Before You Start

Especially if you are new to decorating, or looking to expand your efforts this year, here are some things you really should consider first:

  • Budget. What’s your budget? Are you recycling old decorations or purchasing new for the first time? How can you save money?
  • Storage. Where are you going to store all your decorations after the holidays?
  • Time. How much time do you have to decorate AND take it all down?
  • Size. How can you make the most of what you have? Is there such a thing as too much?
  • Design. Do you have a vision in mind? Don’t know exactly where to start?

So, those are the five big things you should decide before anything else. You should consider these points in that order too. It’s great to have ideas first– but if you don’t ultimately follow these steps, you could find yourself coming up short down the line.

IMG_5434Budget. If you have an unlimited budget then you can skip this step. Most of us are trying to make the most of what we have; and believe me, it’s easy to go way beyond what you intended to spend if you’re not careful. Something that may start out as a simple idea can snowball. Before you know it, you’re either out of money or over extended.

Example 1– Trees need a lot of decorations and lights. The bigger the tree, the more you need. I always find if I think I need 6 strings of lights– I end up needing 8 or else I’m taking them all off and stringing them back on the tree again. At least with the ornaments, you can re-space them if you run out. I’m not saying you can’t have a simple, elegant tree. I’m saying that it’s so easy to start and then find yourself needing much more than you anticipated.

Example 2– Garland and swags. Yes, you can measure the areas you want to hang garland and swags and you can get a pretty good idea of what you need. Don’t be surprised though, if you don’t anticipate the extra you’ll need depending on how you drape it. I reuse whenever possible but garland doesn’t last forever. I’ve also noticed you can’t always find suitable garlands readily available form season to season. Prices have also doubled and even quadrupled in some stores this year.

Three ways to save money are: 1) Start early and watch for sales. 2) Don’t forget to check dollar and discount stores! You’d be surprised at what you can find. 3) Maybe go simpler this year and then make the most of the clearance sales after Christmas for next year.

If you wait too long, most of the good stuff will be gone. Don’t expect to find the shelves are still full after Thanksgiving. Trendy items and single color lights (even red or green) tend to sell out early.

A good rule of thumb is: What ever you expect to spend… double it. What ever you can afford to spend, cut it in half and start there as your budget amount.

IMG_5348Storage. Many people make the mistake of not considering what they are going to do with their decorations when they come down. You may not have room to store a large artificial tree and all the trimmings. You may have to go with a smaller, compact option. Another alternative is to use a live tree but that might not fit in your budget year after year. Know how much space you can afford to dedicate to storing your decorations before you buy– unless you expect to throw out or donate them when they come down.

Storage space isn’t so much an issue for me, the organization of it all has been a huge challenge. This past year, I actually took the time to separate out my decorations in containers and label them with the contents. This helps so much when you start to decorate the following year. Don’t skip the labeling part– You may think you’ll remember what’s in that box on the top closet shelf and a year later– your memory is gone. I label the top and at least one side of each container and make sure I store them with the label side out.

Proper storage does take a little extra time but not as much as you might think. It definitely save you time later on.

WARNING: I know it may seem obvious…. Don’t store items that can freeze or melt in an non-climate controlled area like the attic or an unheated garage. Candles and snow globes might not look the same when you open them the following year.

One more thing– when you take your tree down: It may not seem important at the time to separate out your ornaments (if you use sets of things) but do it. When you open the box the following year, you’ll be glad you did.

IMG_5224Time. Last year was the first year I wasn’t still decorating Christmas Eve. Biting off more than I can chew is an art I have mastered and a bad habit to break. I highly recommend starting early if you plan on a lot of decorating and think you might run into a time crunch. Procrastinating can also create a holiday stress load you don’t need.

Same as with your budgeting: Whatever time you think it will take, double it. Whatever time you have available, cut your time expectations in half. Start there and if you complete everything, you can always add more later.

We used to host the same group for Thanksgiving and Christmas and Michael always preferred that Christmas wasn’t up for both holidays. This created a big time crunch because of the amount of decorating I do every year. Some years I waited and some I started early depending on what the schedule looked like. My preference is to have everything up by Thanksgiving so the time before Christmas is open for holiday fun.

By all means, allow yourself enough time to enjoy decorating! For me, it’s one of my favorite parts of the holiday season.

Don’t forget, you have to take it all down! This is my least favorite part. It takes time. You may want to leave it all up a few extra weeks to enjoy, run out of time– and then find you’re still taking it down before Easter. Yes, that’s happened to me.

Size. This directly relates to the other four considerations. How big do you want to go? How much room do you have for storage? How much can you afford to spend? How much time is it going to take?

I love a fully decorated house, inside and out. But simple and elegant or warm and homey is great too. Know and stick to your limits!

IMG_5242Design. Here’s a chance to show off a little of your personality. Your ideas and creativity here, are your only guide. I highly recommend considering 1) colors and themes and 2) whether your design will vary from room to room or encompass the whole house. Make sure, what ever you decide, compliments the everyday design of your living space. Complimentary or contrasting colors and be very effective. Using one or two primary colors can also give a very elegant and designed feel to your decorating.

I love Christmas decorations so much, I’d be hard pressed to say I’ve seen a really ugly, tree, house or room. Christmas is the one time that I think its perfectly acceptable to be completely gaudy if you want to… It’s really your choice.

Christmas decorations can completely transform a space either good or bad. A tree that’s too big can make a room unlivable and hard to navigate. One that’s too small can look dwarfed. To compensate here, especially if storage is an issue: consider using a tabletop tree as room accent as opposed to a 4 foot tree stuck in a corner or behind the couch.

Colored lights are great — keep in mind you might not want blue or purple lights next year. White is classic, multicolored lights can be more casual and whimsical.

Last year, for the first time in many years, I used the inexpensive glass ball ornaments (that have been around for ever) on several trees. By limiting them to a few colors, (gold and white, silver and white, etc.) and using a couple different sizes; I was surprised at how really beautiful they looked. It’s a very cost effective way to decorate, you can use them in groupings and arrangements as well, and if you have to get rid of them because you can’t store them– they are cheap to replace.

I also love a traditional family ornament tree. Not only is it totally unique to your family but the sentimental value is priceless. That can be included in other decorating elements in your house as well. Saved treasures from your children’s, or your childhood, can be used for a warm, sentimental touch.

IMG_1244Go For It!

I hope this helps some of you in getting the wheels turning! I’d love to hear from you and have you share your own thoughts and ideas. I’ll be posting more though the season. If you’re new to my blog, check out the archives from last November and December for some easy ideas and suggestions.

Happy Decorating!


Why I Grocery Shop At 3 AM: A Nightmare

It’s 3:00 AM, no traffic and I pull into the empty parking lot. I park up front in the first spot close to the door. I approach the door that glides open, revealing a clean, quiet shopping metropolis just waiting for me. I nod, or say Good Morning, to the familiar faces of employees, busily stocking shelves and taking inventory as I move quickly through aisle after uncrowded aisle gathering the items on my list. Something in the produce department not on the shelf? No problem. There’s someone there, willing to get it for me from the back. The only other shopper in the store– and I swear, he’s there every time I go at this hour– is an older gentleman using one of those electric mobility scooters. I go to self check out, scan my items as a friendly cashier rushes over to assist and engage in a little small talk as they help bag my items. Then I’m done. This is the only way to shop!

I do most of my shopping at a local super store chain (grocery and department store combined) in the early morning hours and I love it! It’s a quiet, quick and efficient use of my time. I can do a full grocery shop and browser through the other departments (and always the pet aisles) in about an hour.

This particular chain has a great phone app that allows me to clip manufacturer coupons, store coupons and incentives AND form a shopping list for a quick and easy shopping experience. Store coupons (or sales) and manufacturer coupons are stackable for additional savings. If for some reason the coupon or discount doesn’t come up at the register, there’s always someone there to quickly correct it, no questions asked.

My receipt shows me my total combined savings over regular retail prices– and so far this year, I’ve saved over $2,800! I love this place.

That is, I love this place at 3:00 AM.

1a11b-shopping-cart-grocery-store-retail-consumerYesterday, I went at 11:30 AM. What was I thinking? The store was crowded with typical shoppers that have no concern or awareness of anyone but themselves. Kids are screaming, wandering shoppers leave their carts blocking aisles; and I have to wait for the two retired gentlemen to wake up from their conversation about how bad the Bears are this year and move out of the way.

Oh yeah, the reason I had to go at this normal hour was two fold: There were two, one day-only coupons I wanted to use; and I needed to have a quick adjustment done on my eye glasses at the little in-house vision center. (If only they were open at 3 AM!)

I got my glasses fixed at the front of the store and headed into the chaos. Swerving, dodging and taking detours, I navigated my way around the myriad of confused shoppers blocking my path.

The special coupons I had were for 40% off a men’s outerwear and an accessory item. I wanted to get Michael a new heavy duty coat for work and for shoveling snow at home. I found a good Dickies brand coat under a sign that said Men’s Outerwear and 20% off. Perfect. The discounts would stack and I would get the $80 coat for about $38. I also picked up a pair of gloves, already 30% off, plus the extra 40% off.

Avoiding the crowded aisles, I headed to the back perimeter aisle to head over to the pet department. As I was passing through, I found some pet toys on final clearance, 90% off. As I was picking out a few, I happened to glance to my right. In the distance, coming towards me down the aisle was my 3 AM friend on his scooter. )Why was he here now?) Seconds after I spotted him, a woman on her cell phone crashed her cart into the side of his scooter. He wasn’t hurt but I’d bet he was a sailor in his youth, if you get my drift.

ab31038.jpgI was nearly done with my shopping and headed to pick up my fridge and freezer items, not yet too annoyed by all the people– I reach the dairy section to find: No whole milk. How does a store that size have no whole milk? They barely had any 2% milk, either but I refuse to buy that anyway. (Sugar is added to 2% milk to replace the fat, actually making it less healthy for you!)

So then, I move through the meat section, which apparently, at noon is a social gathering spot; reach the produce section to find the bagged, chopped salad shelves empty too. This really wasn’t going well.

I headed toward the registers to check out and in the center aisle where they display sale merchandise, I found the large jars of peanut butter on sale for $1.49 if you bought eight. Well, eight is a lot but it has a long shelf life; and we go through a lot of it with the dogs. Sell by date was October 2016, so in the cart it went. Shopping done– just had to pay.

I’m not sure if any of this is annoying or amusing enough for anyone to continue reading–BUT– it took me 45 minutes just to check out!

45 minutes to check out in an empty, self-scan checkout lane!


Well since you asked….

The peanut butter was really on sale for $4.99 not $1.49. I had to go get the sign to show them their mistake… They gave it to me for the lower price… but it took almost 15 minutes just to change the price in the computer, for me to get it at the posted price. Then the register wouldn’t give me the extra 40% off on the coat because it was work wear not just outerwear that they claim was excluded– but not listed on the app coupon OR the text message, I’d received. This was what got me in the store at that ungodly hour. I made them take it off my tally, I wasn’t paying that much. (The guy that had gotten in line behind me was sighing loudly and cussing under his breath at this point.) Then the gloves? Same thing. Only they couldn’t claim a reason why I wasn’t entitled to the discount, so that took even longer to figure out. The original attendant had just gone on break… and the replacement didn’t know how to do price adjustments. Suddenly, every self checkout was at a stand still because every one needed assistance. I was never more relieved to finally get out of a store in my life!

This is exactly why I try to only shop off hours or online as much as possible.

That would be the end of the story… except– stupid me, I forgot eggs. When I got home and started to make meatloaf, I discovered we were completely out of eggs. You can’t make meatloaf without them.

So— I was forced to drive to the nearby grocery– that I hate with a passion– just to get eggs. (I won’t name any names but the store’s a real gem.) And yes, it took me almost a half hour just to buy a carton of eggs.

The End.


P.S. — The meatloaf was delicious! <wink>


A Healthy Lifestyle: What You Eat Is Probably Killing You

Bye-tombstoneThe food you eat on a daily basis is probably killing you. I’m not saying this simply for shock value, I’m saying it because it’s true. You may fool yourself into thinking you’re eating healthy because you only eat organic, are vegetarian, follow a low fat or high protein diet but the bottom line is… our food supply holds many dangers we need to know about.

I hope you’ll read this before you rush to judgement and click away to another page. I’m not a doctor or a scientist– I’m just a consumer that has the same struggles and concerns regarding health and living a good long life, just like you. What I hope to do in writing this, is to encourage you to look beyond the commonly accepted perceptions regarding the food you eat (and other products you are exposed to) and to stay healthy.

The three most important things I have to say are:

1) Educate yourself;

2) Don’t trust the packaging; and

3) Listen to your body.


It’s really that simple.

Educate Yourself

Last month another of those infamous reports came out damning high protein consumption and equating it to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. (Seriously? Is that really a logical comparison?) A few days ago another report came out saying salt wasn’t as bad for you as previously stated.

So who can you trust? I think most people realize that the results of many of the studies released to the public are funded by companies that stand to gain financially if the results are in their favor. Universities and medical institutions are funded, at least in part, by corporations. So my advice is: Don’t just accept a single report you hear in the news– Do your own research!

Do you know what GMO stands for? You should. (I‘ll be discussing that in the near future.)

Hot Dogs cause Cancer. At least, that’s what we’ve been told. Have you stopped eating them? Do you know what it is about them that was supposedly linked to Cancer? Are you putting you and your family at risk eating them? Do the research.

Don’t Trust the Packaging

Do you pay more for poultry and eggs that are free range? Are you aware that ‘free range‘ is not a term that is closely or specifically regulated? Have you purchased eggs because the package has a picture of a happy chicken in a field running free on the carton? Misleading packaging is not a crime.

I’ll repeat this: Misleading packaging is not a crime.

The way I understand it, it is perfectly legal for companies to use misleading pictures or words like some uses of words like: organic, all-natural, fresh, etc. — In their company name, brand and description because there is no law against it. It only becomes a crime when it can be proved in court that it was misleading and caused documented damages. (Example– all spring water doesn’t come from springs and all cows don’t happily munch on grass under apple trees.) There are regulations regarding the use of certain wording in a product name, or list of ingredients— and this can indicate whether the product is certified, which is where it can really get confusing and misleading.

So are you over-paying for the organic celery over the plain celery,  or purchasing the low-salt or low-fat products because you think it’s healthier for you? Read the label. (I’ll go into more detail about organic foods in my next post.) You could be wasting your money. You should know and need to know that anytime manufacturers takes something out of a product— they have to put something else in just to make it taste good. What they put in– could be worse for you than what they’ve removed!

Listen to your body

Are you gaining weight? Are you dieting but can’t lose weight? Do you frequently feel sick after you eat? Do you take medications to allow you to eat certain foods? Are you always tired or always hungry?

Listen to your body.

It isn’t just about over consumption or specific food allergies. There could be a variety of factors that could be affecting you physically or mentally, based on: what you eat, the amount, or combination of foods you eat… and how your body reacts.

Listen to your body.

I love chocolate. Too much of it makes me sick, as does too many chocolate-covered strawberries or too much chocolate & peanut butter. It doesn’t mean I’m allergic to it— but too much causes a negative chemical reaction in my body so I have to know when enough is enough.

We are all different. As a result, foods are going to affect us all differently, as well. Sure, there are known factors that can affect most of us– but there are also different reactions for different people. This is why I believe the food pyramid and popular diets aren’t helpful to all people. You can use them as a guide but you have to modify any healthy eating regiment based on what your body is telling you.

It’s Up To You

Obviously, we have to eat to survive. I’m only trying to encourage you to make educated decisions when you purchase your foods and not rely on the marketing or trust that every food sold is good for you. Food is a business. Businesses have to make money. Sometimes, the bottom line outweighs the nutritional value of the foods that are sold. You have to make a conscience effort to not be fooled.


(In the near future I’ll be writing posts about organic foods, GMO, chemicals in processed foods, contamination of our food supply and more nutritional concerns that affect us all. Feel free to comment or contact me if their is a topic you’d like me to explore.)

Decking The Halls For The Holidays: Part One- Getting Ready

I thought I’d share a series of posts on one of my favorite pastimes: Decorating for the Holidays. From trees to garlands to centerpieces– for some, decorating can be a daunting task. Whether you’re a novice or a pro, and whether you love or dread decorating, I hope you’ll find a few of my suggestions helpful as you begin adding a little magic to your home.

IMG_1680 - Version 2Here we are, one week before Thanksgiving and if you haven’t already, its time to start thinking about decking the halls. I want to start with a few tips that might help spark some creativity before you either haul out the old decorations stored in the attic or hit the stores in search of the perfect holiday items.

Most important: Let your creative juices flow! Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Express Yourself!

Best Tip of the Day: Use Ribbon and Picks & Stems* to hide imperfections and add the finishing touches to your holiday decor.

Five Things to Consider Before You Start:

1. Cost– It might be a good idea to have a budget of how much you want, or can afford to invest in your decorating. It’s very easy to spend more than you intend if you don’t nail down an amount as you start your planning.

Do a little research before you buy anything. What may seem like a simple idea could end up costing you a lot more than you anticipated. Ten ornaments are not going to decorate your whole tree and three strings of lights aren’t going to be bright enough. Be prepared to purchase more than you originally thought you’d need or have a backup plan if you run out.

You can save a lot of money on future decorating by shopping the after Christmas sales where you can usually save 70-90% off retail. In recent years, a lot of retailers are marking down decorations by 50% a week or two before the holidays just to clear the shelves.

Some stores have sales running now. If you wait until after Thanksgiving weekend, you are probably going to pay premium prices. AND– the longer you wait, the smaller the selection.

For the Christmas Fanatic— Keep your eyes open year round for items that might be used seasonally. I’ve found lots of end-of-season clearance bargains where I can find large quantities of items for pennies on the dollar. I have a Victorian house so it’s easy for me to incorporate spring, wedding, and other specific floral bunches and floral picks & stems*  into my holiday decorating. I also have at least one Christmas tree that I decorate with a natural or woodsy theme, making many fall clearance items a perfect addition.

2. Storage– Be realistic about how much space you have for storage. Many holiday decorations are fragile and require careful packaging and storage which takes up even more space. Christmas trees take up a lot of space. I know a lot of city apartment dwellers still prefer buying live over investing in an artificial tree because of limited storage space.

3. Time & Space– Decorating can be time consuming. It can also be very relaxing way to spend your free time if you aren’t in a rush. If this is your first year decorating or you are trying something new– allow for more time. I suggest taking the time to get organized and sort out what you have before you actually start decorating. I always find I’m missing a box or have less of something than I remembered. There’s nothing worse than getting deep into a project and discovering you don’t have enough to finish. When computing your time equation, don’t forget the time you’ll need to take it all down after the holidays are over and store it away.

You can do wonderful things in a smaller space if you put some thought into it. A small tabletop tree in a loft can be as equally effective as a 10 foot tree in a larger home. A few small additions to your space can do wonders to create that holiday atmosphere.

IMG_12444. Theme– Are you going to have an individual room theme or overall theme to your decorating? A color theme, perhaps? Themes are great but can be limiting, especially if you are on a tight budget. Keep in mind that trendy styles and colors might not satisfy you in future years. Consider what will work best with your year-round decor and lifestyle first.

When considering color, remember green ornaments don’t stand out on a green tree. Also, colored lights can be a challenge. I found years when simple red or green Christmas lights were impossible to find! Make sure you have enough before you start!

5. Purpose or Repurpose– As much as I love new decorations, I find it’s more fun to find new uses for old ones. There are elements of my decorating that stay the same from year to year and others that I always change, at least make alterations. I often use items in my holiday design that aren’t specifically intended for Christmas decorating.

Try to incorporate items you already have into your holiday look. The everyday items on your mantle or table don’t necessarily have to disappear until January. Unless you want something completely different, try adding a little garland, artificial poinsettias, a few ornaments… and you can achieve the same festive look.

Holiday decorations that may start to look tired and worn and don’t stand up well on their own, may still work perfectly as part of a larger grouping or display.

Keep in mind that effective Holiday Decorating does not necessarily mean you need to completely transform your space into something different. Try simple accessories and you may be able to achieve the same results. No matter how elaborate your decorating plan becomes, don’t let it become so overwhelming that you aren’t able to take the time to relax and enjoy the beautiful atmosphere you’ve worked so hard to create.

*Picks & Stems– Artificial flowers, berries, fruit and baubles used to accent floral arrangement.

Next Up: Selecting and Prepping Your Christmas Tree

Green Christmas

IMG_0708Decorating for Christmas has always been a challenge here at my house. In order to do it right — I need to start in October. Trees in every window, lights outside– it’s a challenge but I love every minute of it.

As a kid, I was decorating my room as far back as I can remember– starting with an old silver tinsel tree that was a hand me down from an uncle. I’d swipe a few ornaments from the family tree, made ornaments with my grandma, and found bits of tinsel here and there to make things merry and bright. I’d even rescue live trees, carelessly discarded the day after Christmas, drag them home, sneak them in my room and decorate them all over again… sure to be on display until the needles dropped. One year I even tried to spray paint a long-dead Christmas icon, only to have the few remaining needles cascade on the floor.

When we became the proud owners of 321 Division Street, Christmas became an even bigger obsession. I spent hours and hours decorating– every year trying something new. There have been displays better than others and some years more conservative than over the top. Every year has been a new, highly anticipated challenge.

IMG_0692This year, Michael made me promise to go simple. Well, actually he said, “We ‘re not going to be home for Christmas this year so no need to decorate.” That was months ago– and halfheartedly agreed. EXCEPT… well, 1) It’s me. 2) It’s Christmas. 3) We don’t leave until Christmas morning.

Needless to say, the halls are decked and trees are twinkling.

IMG_0451The big difference this year? I went GREEN. Not the color, I went eco friendly with all LED lighting. The technology uses only a fraction of the energy (up to 90% savings) but comes with an initial price tag common to new technology. I’ve added a few stands of LED lights the past couple years and watched for pre and after Christmas sales allowing me to reach this point. One frustration: I’ve already noticed the quality of the light strings (the wire) aren’t any better than the traditional lights so I seriously doubt any of them will last the purported 20 years.

I found some color changing landscape lights that I focused on the house itself which adds tremendously to the atmosphere. It creates a big impact with little effort. I simplified the number of lights on the porch and found battery operated LED candles that come on are go off automatically after five hours, for all the windows. Everything else is on a remote for easy on/off on a nightly basis.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the look and the energy savings is certainly a plus.

Of course I’m already looking forward to next year– and pulling out all the stops.



Pizza Cheat Day

If you told me I had to pick only one thing to eat the rest of my life it would be pizza hands down. Thin, double crust, stuffed, New York or Chicago style, even frozen— it doesn’t matter, pizza is my favorite food. I can’t resist a hot steaming slice, dripping with melted cheese and loaded with spicy goodness. Well, at least until now.

Since Michael and I began our journey towards healthier living four months ago, we haven’t had pizza– not that pizza is bad for you– but it carries a lot of the carbs we are trying to avoid in our current stage of eating reform. This is where Cheat Day comes in. Cheat Day is something we invented when we were on a strict diet several years ago as a way of rewarding our progress and in an attempt to not get too bored with the dietary regime. It’s not a pig out day where it’s okay to eat everything in sight. It’s just an opportunity to eat something that doesn’t fit with the current plan.. a cheat. Of course, I realize now this is how I should always eat, making rich foods and desserts a luxury, not a staple.

Last May I bought a Groupon certificate for a local pizza joint, didn’t use it right away, started the low carb diet and found we were faced with the coupon expiration. So Michael suggested a cheat day (our first since June). I was working Monday night and when I got off, I drove across town in the pouring rain to pick up our order on the way home.

I’d been looking forward to this all day. I mean, it’s PIZZA! Mention it and my ears perk up like a dog hearing the words special treat.

So I called to place the order from my car, figuring it should be ready by the time I got there… and when I mentioned Groupon, like a sign from God (“Thou shalt NOT consume carbs in the form of pizza.“) — the drama started.

The restaurant wasn’t going to accept the Groupon.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Apparently, Groupon routinely oversells, extends contracts and generally fails to completely inform its clients about the details of the services they provide. Anyway, in this case, the restaurant was under new management and I was told they would give me the same deal but I would have to pay for it and get a refund for the certificate from Groupon. This should have been a red flag… skip the cheat day and move on. But, since we’d already made this our plan for dinner, I agreed and placed the order.

I picked it up, they were very nice and apologetic and drove home. When I got there, Michael was just finishing blowing leaves– yes, in the dark and in the rain– and we were both starving. My mouth was watering from the aroma alone.

To make a long story even longer… I mean, short… the pizza was good. We filled up quickly, actually left a few slices… and then the pain set in. Going from less than 20 carbs a day to at least quadruple that amount in one sitting is not a great idea. I went to bed feeling bloated and sluggish regretting our decision.

I tossed and turned for a few hours and finally gave up on sleep. I got up, cleaned the kitchen, had an extremely engaging political discussion with a former student on Facebook and headed to the gym to work off my cheat meal.

Was it a good idea? In theory, yes; reality, no. I think next time I’ll go for a delicious, loaded salad. Perhaps my new favorite food.

My Weight Loss Update: 10/24/12:

Started: End of June

Goal Date: Mid-December

Starting Weight: 245 lbs.

Goal Weight: 185 lbs.  (which I haven’t been since my 20′s)

Current Weight (after 10 weeks): 197 lbs.

Total Weight Loss So Far: 48lbs.

Weight Left To Lose: 17 lbs.


Coupons: Savings or Time Waster?

Do you use coupons? Are you obsessed with it? Do you avoid coupons because they are more of a nuisance or are you embarrassed to use them?

If any of you have seen TLC’s Extreme Couponing, you’ve seen people buy hundreds of dollars in merchandise for pennies on the dollar. I’ve heard for years of people doing this but seeing it in action makes me crazy. First, the people literally spend hundreds of hours collecting and sorting coupons and then they have whole rooms dedicated to storing their treasures. Most all the stories I’ve seen, feature people that have stores that double the coupon value, enabling them to get items for free or close to it. I have yet to find any local stores that do this, making these kinds of savings in my neck of the woods, nearly impossible.

Does anyone really need 500 tubes of toothpaste or 700 rolls of paper towels? The people on the show call it stocking up but I call it hoarding. In their defense, many of the extreme couponers keep only what they need and donate much of what they buy to local food pantries, which I think is an excellent idea. My question is: Why can’t I find these bargains?

I actually helped a friend move a few years ago and they had tubs and bins of deodorant, soap, razors, etc. that were purchased with coupons. Most of those items have a long shelf life– but they also had an overstock of perishable items that had expired. I, of course, gave them a hard time about it and we had a good laugh over it– but seriously– when is a bargain really a bargain?

I don’t know anyone that doesn’t like to save money. The trick with coupons is knowing if you are really saving money. Coupons are a marketing gimmick. Manufacturers use coupons to entice you to either try a new product or switch brands. The questions you need to ask yourself are: 1) Do I need, or would I purchase this anyway? and 2) Is this brand a better value than my regular or store brand? Consumer confidence plays a big role in purchasing but many people don’t have the luxury of buying certain name brands. The bottom line is that people make purchases that they feel comfortable with.  Another importance part of perception is quality vs. quantity. Are you really getting the same value?

Where Do You Shop?

There are many options out there when it comes to grocery shopping– and again, a lot of the choice has to do with people’s comfort and perception. Local chains, discount markets, buyers’ clubs and specialty markets all have their pros and cons. Most will accept manufacturer’s coupons and some will take coupons from other stores. You have to know the individual store’s policies ahead of time. I’m finding I can’t just go to one store anymore for a number of reasons. First, I might not like the quality of all their selections or they may not carry particular brands. Second, I’m trying to increase my fresh and healthy eating and the most convenient local grocery chain has serious issues with the freshness of their meat and produce. I can’t shop once for the week there because the fresh products will spoil. In fact, I won’t buy fresh meat unless I’m going to use it that day because too many times the meat has turned by the next day.

Another thing to consider is value. Buyers’ clubs are not always the cheapest. I think that is a misconception I’ve run in to on multiple occasions. You can save substantially buying some items in bulk but not others. Chances are individual items are the same price or slightly more expensive at buyers’ clubs than other stores because they believe you’ll pay the higher cost because of the convenience and savings on your overall bill.

My Coupon Experiment

So for the past six months I’ve been trying to be conscious of shopping sales, couponing and finding the best values. The best way to save is often by combining the store sales with the coupon discounts. Many times I’ll find a comparable product that is a better value than the sale, the coupon or both combined. The biggest mistake is to go and buy a product just because you have a coupon for it. Another thing I’ve found is that many items with coupons are not on sale the week the coupon comes out but might be on sale the following week. Most manufacturer coupons have an extended expiration date. So if an item isn’t on sale, you may want to save the coupon to use at a later date with the chance that it might go on sale, saving you more money.

I get most of my coupons online. There are various sites that offer weekly coupons from various manufacturers that you can print yourself. There are also a number of coupon groups on Facebook that will alert you to special saving opportunities. You can get coupons from manufacturers’ websites as well — but be aware that the price you pay is more advertising email in your inbox.

When I shop, I do try to shop the sales and stock up on non-perishable items to get me through to the next sale. Soup, for instance, is often on sale for $1 a can, so why would I pay $2.69 for it when it’s not on sale? This also goes for drinks. There is a lot of competition for water, ice tea, juices, coffee and sodas. They aren’t always on sale but when they are– I stock up on them because I know I’ll drink them. I also know soda will always be on sale around holidays, so that’s a great time to stock up.

I had several coupons for sunblock and suntan lotions and thought I’d check out the prices for my upcoming cruise in December. I was lucky to find one product ( a small tube) on clearance– regularly $9.99, clearance was $2.19 plus I had a $1 coupon saving me nearly 90%! I found another coupon for the same product but when I went back to the store it was back to regular price so I didn’t buy it. These are the kind of deals that you want to watch out for.

Last week, I bought 10 packages of shredded cheese, good until the end of the year, that was on clearance. (We are on a low carb diet so we eat a lot of cheese.) It so happened that the manufacturer was also running a deal that gave you a coupon for a future shopping trip. In this case, buy 10 items and save $10 on your next trip. So the cheese was marked clearance at $1.49 (reg. $2.79), I spent $14.90 and got a coupon for $10. Ten 8oz. packages of cheese for $4.90. That was a great deal.

I went shopping today with my fist full of manufacturers’ coupons, my $10 off coupon from last week, a $3 off store coupon and watched out for the sale items. I only used a fraction of the coupons I took with me but saved 47% on my entire purchase. $19.05 was from manufacturer’s coupons. Not bad for an amateur.

Remember a bargain is only a bargain if it’s something you can really use.