Archive | March 2010

Coupon Clipper Extraordinaire

Some people have said I have a “problem.” Today, I need to take the first step: admitting I have a problem. But then again, is being obsessive about saving money and getting ridiculous deals a “problem” or is it just that others are jealous? This past week, I have seen three really impressive pay-offs and thought the time had finally admit I have a “problem,” but, in all honesty, I look at it more as an opportunity to brag.

My husband has playfully suggested that I add a credential to my name: CCE (coupon clipper extraordinaire). I suppose I can see why. Take my trip to the pharmacy this morning, where my total purchase rang up as $44 and some change. I had selected four items and they all fell under a “buy one, get one free” offer, so the total due dropped to $22.78. Then I pulled out my coupons — $4 off if you spend $20, $2 off a specific product and $10 off any product of a certain brand. This brought my grand total to a whopping $7.91 for a beyond natural smoothing primer, photo ready foundation in vanilla, super lustrous lipstick in coffee bean and nail polish in vixen.

Now, it’s true that there is something to be said for the fact that I wouldn’t have bought any of these items if it weren’t for the $10 off product coupon AND the buy one, get one free offer, but I almost never buy make-up, so to get so many new products for under $10 was a worthwhile bargain.

But wait, it isn’t just at the pharmacy where I aim to save more than I spend (a nearly impossible feat — I usually average around 30% savings). Yesterday the grocery store was having a triple coupon day, meaning that for any coupon with a value of 99 cents or less the store would take off an additional amount double the face value of the coupon. So, with a stack of coupons in hand, here’s what I picked up yesterday for $29.41 instead of the original $50ish price tag:

  • Reynolds Foil
  • Betty Crocker warm delight minis
  • a box of Total Raisin Bran
  • Archway Dutch cocoa cookies
  • Smart Balance mayo
  • 2 cans of Swansons chicken
  • organic soba noodles
  • clear nail polish
  • 4-pack of Guinness
  • Alouette cheese & veggie spread
  • 4 bananas
  • 2 lb bag of carrots
  • 4 pack Yo-Crunch yogurt
  • 16 oz Daisy sour cream
  • a box of Benefiber sticks

I was impressed with myself, but even more so when I realized that the Guinness was $6.99 and the soba noodles were $4.99, neither of which were on sale … so everything else on the list was purchased for about $17.

There are people out there I would consider ultra-crazy couponers, who will troll websites and spend half their life looking for deals. I’m not one of those people (yes, this may sound like denial, but I’ve already admitted to a “problem”). I clip coupons from the Post on Sunday morning and keep on eye out for special coupons I might receive at the pharmacy. Some days, weeks and months are better than others when it comes to utilizing the coupons that I’ve clipped. I have had trips to the grocery store that involve not a single coupon. I swear. They’re just really rare.

Whether or not I get my groceries for half price every trip or just two or three times a year, it makes me a little bit giddy to know that I am capable of saving a ridiculous amount of money (usually on things that I need and want) now and again. So to those who say I have a “problem,” I respond, “Yes I do; let’s have another round!”

Housework Weekend

Mulch. If one word could sum up our weekend, it’s mulch. Last year we made a vain attempt to tame the front yard in May after the weeds had had a chance to really dig in. It took days. In fact, I believe the struggle with the weeds lasted over three weekends. This year we decided to get at them early.

After an early morning struggle to determine whether it made more sense to go to our local hardware store or Home Depot, our inability to access either stores phone number (thanks to non-functioning internet service) led us to the local store even if it was likely to cost more. Our local hardware store is pretty awesome. It’s packed into three old row houses, with a garden area in a neighboring empty lot. The aisles are about two feet wide and are crammed from floor to ceiling with nuts and bolts and gadgets galore. I found some child-size gardening gloves that actually fit my hands (the cute ducks and alligators didn’t hurt either), a foam kneeling pad and some potting soil. My husband wandered around “aimfully” (while we know where most of the areas are now, we always end up asking for help, usually to be directed right back to where we had been looking in the first place and just couldn’t see it), picking up various odds and ends to complete some projects back at home. And on the way out, we stocked up on, you guessed it, mulch!

Once we returned home, my husband went to work on the front yard straight away. The soil (and I use that term loosely) is mostly clay and not conducive to many plants, so we’re trying to amend it. Mulch is a key part of the process, but it’s really just the last of many steps. First he set to weeding out dandelions and what oddly appeared to be spring onions, then turning over the soil around our plants to mix in the decomposing mulch from last year and finally laid down a thick cover of new mulch to deter any new weeds (we hope).

At first I was putzing around out front with our seedlings, but then I went to check on our internet service. When I found that it still wasn’t working, I decided it was a better use of my time to sit upstairs (where it was decidedly warmer than out front) on the phone with our internet provider’s customer assistance for 40 minutes, explaining which light was blinking—it was quite exhilarating, let me tell you! Eventually when the internet problem had been solved, I figured I should head back out to the chilly outdoors. I set to work relocating our seedlings that had grown like wild in their tiny starter pods, into larger containers. Hopefully their new, larger homes will help the cucumbers and cherry tomatoes grow sturdier and ready for the actual garden plot. Even though they are taking off, it isn’t nearly warm enough for them to be planted in the ground just yet.

While I am looking forward to the chance to start gardening and spend more time outdoors, my allergies have done their best to keep that vision foggy and interrupted with sneezes. I have resorted to actually taking allergy medicine and switching to my glasses when my eyes can’t seem to take any more from my contacts. The fact that my contacts bother me in the spring is a bit of a conundrum to me, too, because they seem to block out the onion vapors that cause my husband to tear up. You’d think the same would apply to the stuff blowing around in the wind. I’m not a fan, but I digress.

After spreading the mulch and re-potting the seedlings, we set our sights on the inside, my husband tackled a few projects while I cleaned up the kitchen and did the laundry. The highlight of the day was finally hanging a photo collage in our dining room. The long wall in there had been awfully lonely for the past year, but we were having trouble finding something big enough to fill the space. Also there is now an old four panel window that’s been turned into a full-length mirror hanging in the stairwell and hooks are adorning the inside of closet doors.

But that was yesterday’s fun. Today we targeted our efforts on an area of the house we hadn’t really been in all winter: our back porch. Of course, having not been in the room for a number of months meant that I had to confront continued irritation from my allergies. Before, it pretty much looked like a tornado had come through and not bothered to pick up after itself (naughty tornado). After a few hours of sorting things to be trashed, recycled or stored someplace else, the room has been vacuumed and the pantry area looks neat and well-stocked.

I think it is fair to say we’ve had a productive, house-project-completing weekend. And it’s only 2 p.m. I think it is safe to say that we are going to take the rest of the weekend off…

Attack of the Killer Ants!

Yesterday morning I came down the stairs to find my husband heroically battling a mighty army. He had managed to stem the tide and had vastly reduced the foe, but they seemed to still be struggling onward. And he had to go to work, abandoning me to their dogged (though decimated) onslaught. He may have pushed back the first wave, but it wasn’t over yet. Many more battles would come throughout the morning hours, but through perseverance and strength of character, I knew that in the end, I would be able to claim victory!

* * * * *

Alright, that might be exaggerating things a wee bit, but a fair number of ants (approximately 50-100) came over for breakfast. And lunch. In fact, their scouts may have started with a midnight snack.

Apparently they quickly noticed that we had lowered our defenses by opening up the house for spring (goodbye storm windows, hello screens) and found our kitchen a safe refuge from the first big spring rain we had during the night. Oh, and we had been rather lazy the last couple of days, so there might have been some dirty dishes in the sink that could have lured them in. Unfortunately for the ants, my husband and I were less than pleased to play hosts.

He took a good stab at eliminating them before leaving for work (too be honest, I’m not sure if he was going to tell me about it or not, because he was almost heading out the door when I found him mopping up. That’s sort of his MO: trying to fix anything wrong before I notice and then not telling me about it so I don’t “fret my life away”—to use his words).

I spent the next six hours checking in on the kitchen every hour or so to see if there were any survivors or stragglers. Okay, perhaps I do “fret” a bit, but at least now that I work upstairs it was a lot easier for me to check in on things. Between clearing off and cleaning the counter, wiping down the stove, washing the dirty wine glasses and a couple plates, mopping the floor and spraying organic bug killer everywhere (which seems like an oxymoron, but the stuff works like a charm), I think the battle has been won.

But with ants, I am certainly not going to say we’ve won the war. As a deterrent against future aggression, I decided to redouble our defenses by putting out a few ant traps. I just hope that the fight we showed will be enough to encourage them to make their home elsewhere for awhile.

I love spring—the daffodils and tulips, sunshine and warm breezes—but I’m not so fond the creepy crawlies spring brings with it. However, I doubt Superwoman was fond of the filth she cleaned up either.

Spring

During the past week spring has certainly sprung on the East Coast. And while I am no fan of “springing forward,” there are many benefits of the spring season.

• The daffodil and hydrangea bulbs that we planted last spring actually came back this year! This is shocking to me for two reasons: first, that the pile of snow they were under for weeks didn’t freeze them and, second, the fact that they are planted in clay with just enough night dirt around them to hold them in place shouldn’t really be sufficient for survival.

• The sun is shining and I went for an early morning walk wearing jeans, a tank top and short sleeve sweater one day this week.

• Our garden seedlings have started to sprout — the cucumber and cherry tomatoes are going wild, followed by a few herbs. The various peppers are lagging a bit, but I am sure they will catch up. Can’t wait until the time comes to start harvesting our fresh herbs and veggies!


• It’s finally possible to wear shoes without socks … really I am incredibly grateful that I don’t need to wear five layers every day anymore.

• It’s now light out until after 7 p.m. I’m a big fan of this.

• I opened a window in the bedroom and let fresh air in the house for the first time in months (as long as we don’t count my husband’s adventures on the porch roof during Snowmageddon…)

• I am now wearing shorts, not sweat pants, to jazzercise. It’s probably not a good sign that the space, which doesn’t have air conditioning, is already hot … how will I handle working out during the summer?

All I know is mother nature had better not be fooling around, I hope that this warm weather is here to stay!

Tip #8

8. Make the evening his. Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or to other places of entertainment. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure, his need to be home and relax.

I am lucky to be married to someone who is an exceptional cook. Although I do love to eat out, his mad kitchen skillz (yes, he is that hip in the kitchen), make me love eating at home. Sometimes I even enjoy eating vegetables. It’s like the world has gone a little topsy turvy.

I know that my husband feels obligated to rush home from work so that he can start cooking dinner, which is probably the opposite of allowing him time to relax in the evening. And I’ve made it pretty clear in  Tip #2 that I in no way discourage this behavior, so I suppose I am not trying very hard to understand his “world of strain and pressure.”

But we are not complete hermits and when we go out, we like to make a night of it. A night out for us tends to be fairly standard — dinner at a fancy restaurant during restaurant week or at a nice place with our theatre discount card in hand (hey, no one complains about a free glass of wine!) before taking in a show. Since we tend not to dine-out often, we like to make it count when the opportunity arises. After consuming an appetizer, dinner and often dessert, a stomach ache also tends to play a role in our nights out — maybe that’s why we don’t do it too often!

In an attempt to avoid becoming totally reclusive, we really enjoy hosting dinner at our home and try to do it at least once a week. It is quieter and more comfortable to be with friends at home than at a restaurant. But while we love hosting, I think I am beginning to prefer repeat visitors. I am growing tired of giving “the tour” (or, more likely, I am just tired of going up and down the stairs…)

Since we tend to spend a lot of nights at home, we like to “go in.” Sometimes my husband will cook dinner that goes with the show or movie that we are watching (think Belgian stew for a Poirot mystery or shepherd’s pie for Harry Potter), or we retire to a “room of entertainment” following dinner — the dining room for a board game, the basement for a movie or the study for a bit of on-demand Netflix watching.

Given the fun that we have staying in, I think it’s safe to say we’ve found a good balance of good food and entertainment in our lives.

Happy (Belated) First Birthday, Home!

I can’t believe it has been an entire year (and a day) since we bought our house! In honor of this momentous occasion here are some of the challenges and some of the fun times we have shared with our house over the last 12 months:

• On the morning we settled, we went to the house bright and early for our final walk through, but found out the sellers had changed the combination to the lock box. After a few phone calls, breakfast on our realtor and about an hour later, a second set of keys arrived from the sellers. We set off on a whirlwind final review, arriving at our settlement only 15 minutes late … Did I mention we settled on the 12th because no one wanted to settle on Friday the 13th?

• Apparently in the 1930’s, galvanized metal plumbing was all the rage, or just cheap. Consequently, all of the plumbing needed to be replaced as tiny pin hole leaks were forming throughout. Sounds like a big job right? I have to admit we were mildly disappointed the day we came over to see all the work, only to discover our plumbers had only made two small holes (about one square foot) on the main level, no holes upstairs and removed minimal amounts of the ceiling in the basement. It didn’t even merit a picture.

• Our first meal in the new house consisted of a pizza sub from our favorite Italian deli, bbq chips and birch beer in wine glasses, on the floor, in the dark. It was pretty awesome, I’m not going to lie. That did merit a picture.

• After a marathon week of painting, spackling, unsealing the windows, minor carpentry projects and installing a dryer vent—all with the help of our family and friends—we were ready to move in. After a long day of packing, cleaning and moving things between the apartment and house, you can imagine my dismay when I got into the shower and the water coming out of the nozzle was like a light drizzle at best … but that would have to be dealt with the next day.

• Moving from a one-bedroom English basement apartment into an actual house means we have a lot of extra room now. With that extra room (and crucial spare bathroom) has come a number of guests. Whether they were here for a vet school externship, a short business trip or just to see the sights, it’s been great to see so many friends and be able to host them in our home.

• Granted the extra space is sort of a double-edged sword. Great for company, but when it comes to cleaning … ugh … well, you already know about my ongoing battle with the dust bunnies. Every time we set out to clean the house, I turn nostalgic for our little apartment.

• Transforming each of the rooms has been a rewarding experience. I won’t say it was all fun a games (picking paint colors off those little swatches can be a bear!), but each room has really come together. I’m particularly pleased with the office, which is great now that I spend so much time in it. We stained the bookshelves a deep brown, picked up a cozy leather armchair for reading and finished it off with a rug my husband brought back from Asia.

• We hosted Thanksgiving for my husband’s brother and sister-in-law from down the street and his uncle and cousin from California. The turkey turned out like a Norman Rockwell painting and my apple cake was a big hit!

• My husband and his uncle made interior magnetic storm windows that have really helped keep the heat in without detracting from our stained wood molding. Unfortunately our boiler wasn’t coming on during the late fall/early winter so there was little heat to keep! Instead I just baked a lot and left the oven door open afterward to warm things up. (Thanks to a bud who’s dad works on furnaces, we found out it was actually the thermostat that was the problem. Whew!)

• During “Snopocalypse” (36 inches over four days), we were awoken with a dull thud outside our bedroom window. The storm had decided to take down our front gutter, which had landed on the two-plus feet of snow accumulating on our front porch and straddled over to our neighbor’s porch.

• We have a little room upstairs that is too small for a bedroom and my husband doesn’t want it to be a walk-in closet. When we finally had an open house we tried to solicit suggestions. Most people said it would be perfect for a nursery, but as you know from a previous post, we’re just not quite ready for that. This past week I had an epiphany (okay, okay, my mom had an epiphany and I’m stealing it): a craft room. We’ve been collecting things (like wine corks) and mulling random projects (like a picture wall) for some time and it would be nice to have a place to work on them.

• This past year has taught me a lot about patience and perseverance. There is always something going wrong when you own a house. Whether the 80-year-old boiler won’t start or the shower won’t stop leaking or you have 2 feet of snow covering your entire roof there is always work to be done! Sometimes it drives me crazy, but I’m also learning to roll with it and realize that it isn’t the end of the world.

But in honor of the house’s first birthday with us, it’s time to kick back, have a celebratory bottle of wine and let that pile of junk sitting on the stairs that needs to be sorted through sit just a little bit longer…

A Whirlwind Getaway

After my husband spent eight days in London, it seemed only fair that I enjoy a getaway as well. And although the central valley of California may not be quite as glamorous, it is much warmer, much sunnier and it has the House of Shaw, where I can get my favorite iced mochas.

My whirlwind trip began today at 4:45 am EST, when my loving husband stumbled out of bed with me to drive out to the airport. A few hours later, with an iced latte, ham & cheese croissant and giant water bottle in hand I was on my way to California where I will spend four days and nights at my parents’ house carrying out a slew of exhilarating activities — packing, packing and … wait for it … packing!

Apparently when you get married, move to the other side of the country and buy a house, the time has come to stop storing things at your parents. At least they seem to think so. Frankly, I am totally okay with the current situation, but my parents have the crazy desire that their spare bedroom be free of my childhood books, prom dresses and old theatre pictures.

So, housewife activities will be set aside while I spend the next few days filling boxes — an activity nearly as exciting as doing dishes … which hopefully my husband will be doing before I get home. I left him a few other chores to do as well, but we’ll see how well he does once I get back.

Of course while I’m here in California, there’s no harm in doing a little wine-shopping; I think a bottle a box seems like a fitting reward!