Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 In Review

As most bloggers are doing, I wanted to recap my year in writing.  Enjoy my laughs, cries, and overall wild ride that we call life!

January - I became a... Teaching Assistant.  What a wonderful experience.  I was paired with one of my favorite professors and began to teach 24 bright-eyed undergrads on the harsh reality of Interviewing.  Prepping for the job, landing the interview, nailing the interview and accepting (or rejecting) job offers became my life for the next few months.

February - Buddy came into our lives!  On 2/19/09 we became the adopted puppy parents of the most adorable little black lab ever.  Since then, he has become my husband's 'canine child' and my favorite cuddler. 

March - Coupons entered my world on a whole new level. I began following a few of my favorite bloggers: Andrea at Savings LifestyleHeather/Little Miss Know It All at Cincy SaversJenny and Emily at Mommin' It Up and so many others. Their savings tips (and also life stories) helped me realize that I can pay off my debt without living as if I am 100% broke!

April - Much like one of my favorite 'pleasure-read' bloggers Kate the Great, I don't have too much to say about April. 

May - Tessa entered our world.  My newest niece Tessa came into our lives and has provided many moments of laughter.  What a hoot!

June - My world came crashing down for a few weeks.  After over a year of working diligently on research, surveys and everything academic, it was determined that my graduation would be delayed because my thesis research was moving at a much slower rate than anticipated.  Who knew that finding young, first-time voters to take a survey would be so much work.  I immersed myself in work and let myself fall behind in my couponing.

July - 1/2 way to 50!  Seriously - I was dreading my 25th birthday like the plague.  I cried on my 20th birthday because I was halfway to 40 and here we were again - halfway to another dreaded age.  I'm glad I decided to suck it up, because so far 25 has been great and I couldn't be happier.

August - My boss returned to work from a 3 month maternity leave and immediately offered me a full-time position at the company.  This was the highlight of my year (after getting Buddy of course).  I love my job and the people I work with and couldn't have asked for more.

September - Coupons took over  my life yet again.  Josh and I sat down and made some goals for the next few months (as Christmas was approaching) and my love for couponing took over.  I also watched as baseball took over the town and my family.  I'm so proud of our Reds (even though I am a true Cubs fan at heart).

October - 30 Days of Service kicked off at church. This year, I led the way and we adopted 7 families, provided 30 babies with blankets, packed up 3000 scarves, hats and gloves for the homeless, fed 7 local businesses, donated 40 coats to Ockerman Elementary, sent 300 Christmas cards to our troops and inmates, and so much more.  It was quite an exhausting mission, but the end result is soooo worth it.

November - I DID IT!  I successfully defended my thesis and passed all of my master's classes with a 4.0 GPA.  What a feeling of relief.

December - Graduation.  2 year anniversary.  Christmas.  Need I say more?


That's my 2010 in a nutshell.  2011 seems to be promising and I can't wait to see what is in store.  What happened in your 2010 and what are you looking most forward to in 2011?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 Freebies

It's been a while since I posted some great deals/freebies.  Here are a few of my favorite free samples.  Look for Freebie Friday in 2011!

Feeling crafty?  Get 50 Free Sheets of Origami Paper from Everything in Paper Crafting

If you have a great idea for a coat drive, clothing drive, cleaning up your community, or anything that involves using trash bags, Glad will send you the bags.  Simply visit The Glad Bag Giveaway and enter your idea.  You can select the number of bags you need and what you will be doing.  It's really easy and a great way to start a revolution!

Have a headache?  Get your Free Bottle of Excedrin.

If the winter air has your skin cracked, it's time to try Vaseline Intensive Rescue Lotion.

For the potty-training days, this Pampers Potty Training Kit helps to incentize kids to use the toilet and not a diaper!

You can also check out sites like http://www.shop4freebies.com/ to see a much longer list of the best freebies, samples and downloads available.

Happy Sampling!

Extreme Couponing

Last night TLC aired a one-hour program on Extreme Couponers in the U.S.  Imagine my surprise when two of the four people profiled turned out to live within 20 miles of me!  I was immediately intrigued because I consider myself a pretty avid couponer.  I am nothing compared to these folks.

$1100 grocery bills turning into $51 OOP expense.  You really just can't beat that.  I was impressed, yet disgusted at the same time - if that makes sense.  I found myself wanting to be able to get deals like that, but I wouldn't want to hoard them in my garage the way these folks do.  A stockpile is one thing, but when you enough toilet paper to last you 40 years, it's time to share the wealth.  There are so many non-profits, shelters and food banks struggling right now.  The least that these people, who have upwards of $30,000 of product just sitting in their house, can do is to donate some of their stuff.  Even a donation of a few boxes can help, and trust me - it won't make a huge dent in a three or four room stockpile. 

Watching it, I realized that saving money can turn into an obsession, an addiction, and can alter your life.  One of the women profiled said she is known to cancel plans with her husband and friends to go to the grocery store.  And it's not out of necessity.  It's because of the rush of adrenaline she receives when shopping.  The haul that was caught on camera took over 6 hours - and shut down several checkout lanes in the store.  At some point there needs to be restrictions.  There needs to be rules.  I mean, her register shut down because she hit the 1,000 scan limit! 

So while I was impressed with the savings, part of me wonders what this type of behavior is doing to these people.  Is it making them anti-social?  Is it impacting their interpersonnal relationships?  Is it driving their very behavior?  Is it something they obsess about?  I'd love to know your thoughts.  Were you impressed?  Were you disgusted?  Were you just plain confused?

For more information on the program, visit http://press.discovery.com/us/tlc/programs/extreme-couponing/.

Disclosure:  This post is entirely based on my own personal reaction to watching a program.  TLC did not contact me about this post and all opinions stated in the post are those solely belonging to the author.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Almost a New Year

It's nearing the end of 2010 and as I reflect, a lot has happened to make 2010 a milestone year.  I thought, instead of just making a huge list of everything, I'd focus on some of my favorite moments and share with all of you.

BUDDY came along!  That's right - after a year and a half of begging my husband for a dog, we finally found Buddy.  I am so thankful for this little (well, if you consider 75 pounds little) loveable guy.  He is the most dramatic dog I know and the best cuddler!

TESSA was born!  Little Tessa is one of my most favorite people and her smile makes me light up.  I'm so proud to be her aunt and I'm determined to help shape her into an influential, powerful and independent woman.

FULL TIME JOB!  After working hard for two years, I was offered a full-time role at work.  I absolutely love what I do, and can't imagine doing anything else so I am thrilled to spend 40+ hours a week with my co-workers, doing what I love.

I met SARAH PALIN!  That's right.  I ran into the coolest guy at a Sarah Palin book signing at a local Kroger.  Palin Man was kind enough to let me borrow his jacket and stay warm while waiting outside and then offered to let me tag along for the signing and I had the opportunity to meet Miss Palin herself.  It was quite the surreal experience.

I GRADUATED with my Masters.  Three years of hard work, studying and having no social life paid off and I am now officially a Master of Communication. 

Those are just some of the highlights from my year.  It makes me very excited to think about what 2011 will bring my way!  What are the highlights of your 2010?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Quote

I ran across this quote this morning and it really hit home.  I wanted to share it with all of you:

"There has only been one Christmas - the rest are anniversaries."  W.J. Cameron

Christmas Travels

I'm not sure how many of you travel on Christmas.  We did 99% of the time when my sisters and I were younger.  My parents are both from the Chicago area, so every year we would pack up and head north for the holidays.  I love spending time with my family, but traveling can be a bear.  So here are some of my holiday travel tips (both as a traveler and a former airport employee).

Ship Presents!  There is nothing worse than a carefully wrapped package getting ripped open by the TSA because the scanner isn't getting a good read on it.  About two weeks before Christmas, ship your gifts to your destination.  That way, they are waiting on you and ready to go for Christmas morning.

Skip the Shampoo!  If you are staying in a hotel, there is complimentary shampoo, conditioner and soap in the room.  If you are staying with relatives, you can borrow or hit the local drug store.  This will save room in your bag, reduce the chance of a spill, and potentially save time in airport security.  If you do choose to pack liquids, remember you can only have 3 oz bottles and all liquids must fit in a one quart ziploc bag.

Pack for Snack Attacks!  It can be expensive purchasing snacks at a shop in the airport or a gas station when filling up the tank.  Instead of spending all of that money, pack a small bag of snacks for the trip.  This can be especially helpful if you hit construction (in the car) or get stuck with a delayed plane.

Plan for Plan F!  That's right.  Don't just have a Plan B, have multiple back-up plans.  The weather this time of year is pretty unpredictable in most of the country and the slightest shift in weather patterns can screw up all your travel plans.  We used to fly stand-by, so we always had four or five routes planned out before stepping foot in the airport.  If a flight to Chicago O'Hare filled up, we hopped on the next flight to Midway, Milwaukee, or anywhere an O'Hare connection was available.  Keep a list of alternative flights on hand so you don't have to bug an already annoyed and overworked gate agent.  If you are driving, bring a GPS and constantly check on traffic.  Most states have a number to call for traffic - write it down and call ahead. Make sure you have a few alternative routes available, and - most importantly, give yourself extra time.  There are lots of cars on the roads, the weather is not always great and a two hour drive can take six hours this time of year.

Bring a Blanket.  Whether you are sitting on the tarmack or in a car in traffic, having your own blanket is a must.  This will help cut back on the heat and gas you use in the car and keep you warm when stuck in a plane that may be experiencing technical difficulties.

MOST IMPORTANT - keep a smile on your face and a positive attitude.  The number of rude travelers is astronomical this time of year, and I am telling you, kindness goes a long way.  When I worked at the airport, I was far more likely to help out the traveler who came in and was cheerful than the one who bit my head off for something completely beyond my control.  A good attitude also helps keep the kids inline.  If your kids see you are calm and happy, they won't panic.  But, the second you panic, they panic, causing you to panic more.  It's a vicious cycle, so nip it in the bud and just SMILE!

Happy Travels to everyone and a Very Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Graduation Time

It's that time - seven years and I am 100% done with being a student.  In four hours, I'll graduate with my Master's degree and oh, does it feel good.  The idea of having free time is a new one, but one I will embrace wholeheartedly.  I cannot wait to come home and not open an academic journal, not open a 60 page word document that needs two perfect words to be complete, not have to pull out "the mean machine" (the computer) and ignore the dog.

My life will be my own again and boy, I can't wait.  So here's to a new chapter!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Countdown to Christmas - Stocking Stuffers

I don't know about anyone else, but stocking stuffers are some of the most fun gifts you can get at Christmas.  There is nothing better than the little things that make others think of  you all year long.  They can be somewhat difficult to think of, so I thought I'd share my favorite stuffers of Christmas past. 

Concert Tickets - some of my most favorite gifts are experience-oriented.  Something that I am excited to receive and then care share with others.  Last year my parents gave my husband and I each a Jeff Dunham comedy tour ticket in our stocking and we had such a blast.  In years past we have received tickets to our local theater and it is always a good time.

Favorite Candy - my mom begins her candy shopping just after Halloween and makes sure to fill each of our stockings about halfway with our favorite kinds of candy.  Mine always has Rolos, Reeses, and Butterfingers.  It's something I look forward to each year and it satisfies my sweet tooth for a couple of weeks.

Travel Games - I love games, especially Sudoku and Tetris.  Each year my mom and dad spend some time picking out a game to put in our stockings.  Then we can take them with us wherever we go. 

What are your favorite stocking stuffers?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Countdown to Christmas - Scrooge Edition and Contest!

We all know someone who loves to "Bah Humbug" through the holidays.  In fact, we're probably all guilty of letting the stress of the holidays make a Scrooge of us all at some point between Thanksgiving and New Years.  I have learned, over the years, that sometimes, having a Scrooge moment can actually save Christmas.  Yes, you read that right.  Here are my tips for dealing with a Scrooge, or accepting your inner-Scrooge.

1)  Let yourself really experience the emotion that is running through you.  Don't toss it aside because you are 'supposed' to be super cheerful.  If you have an off day or a moment of pure selfishness, resentfulness, whatever - feel it, deal with it and move on.  By dealing with it right away, you are lessening the chance of a bigger, more painful Scrooge moment.  CASE IN POINT:  A few years back my family had plans to go to Chicago for Christmas.  I planned on going, and at the last minute, I was not able to get off work.  I worked at the airport, and while the store was not 24/7, we were open just about everyday - Christmas being one of them.  So my family packed up and headed north and left me behind.  On the outside I encouraged it, as my mom's brother had passed away the Christmas before and I knew she wanted to be near her sister, but inside I was a mess.  I was left alone on Christmas.  It took me two years to finally admit it bugged me, but I harvested that resentment and it was made a bigger issue than it really was.  After all, I worked a 16 hour shift that day, so I wouldn't have seen them much anyhow.

2)  Put yourself in the other person's shoes.  Sometimes a person acts like a Scrooge to guard their real feelings.  Other times, being a Scrooge is easier than facing real life.  Instead of huffing and puffing about their huffing and puffing, be kind.  Offer words of encouragement or a simple "Merry Christmas" to everyone who seems upset.  You never know if that will make their day or not.  CASE IN POINT:  Another story from my days at the airport.  There was a passenger who ended up stuck in the terminal for two days because of poor conditions at their destination.  I was working doubles both days and this man frequented my store.  He was very rude and at first I thought it was because of the delay.  He snapped at me constantly, told me I was too slow in ringing out his purchase, complained about the size of the office he rented and nothing could make him happy.  Finally, towards the end of my second day putting up with it, I asked what his problem was.  He stood there and started crying.  Then apologized.  Then told me his story.  It turns out earlier that year he lost both parents in a car accident and his wife had been diagnosed with some rare disease that has little chance of survival.  She was in the hospital (in the city he was headed to) and he was stuck in Cincinnati.  The doctors called to say they felt she was holding on to say good-bye and he needed to cut his business trip short.  The airlines had lost one bag when he arrived in Cincinnati and his cell phone charger had disappeared at some point during his stay in the airport.  After hearing his story, I realized that he was dealing with a lot and just needed someone to talk to.  After our conversation, I told him to have safe travels and a Merry Christmas.  I was the FIRST person all year to tell him Merry Christmas.  Everyone else had said Happy Holidays.  He was so excited to hear Merry Christmas that he hugged me and promised to be in touch about his wife (I told him I would pray for her).  I never did hear from him, but the conversation, smile and hug made it all worthwhile.  Sometimes a Scrooge is just a person in need in disguise.

3)  If you are confronted with a Scrooge and don't have the time to sit and converse with that person, simply wish them a Merry Christmas and a smile and be on their way.  It's just like my momma always said - kill them with kindness. 

4)  If you are the Scrooge, take a deep breath and walk away.  The holidays are very overwhelming, so turn down a dinner party invitation or take a half day at work to take some time for yourself.  It's easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and lose track of the real reason we celebrate.  So take the time.  A few hours to yourself, doing something you love, is just what the doctor ordered.

Do you have a Scrooge moment you would like to share?  Tell me about it in the comments section and be entered to win a Christmas Surprise!  Share this tweet for an extra entry "@BuddyBits is giving away a Christmas Surprise. Enter at www.buddy-bits.blogspot.com"  Contest closes on 12/19.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Countdown To Christmas - Oreo Balls!

It's time for another recipe favorite.  My sister introduced me to this wonderful creation just a few months ago and it has easily become one of my favorite desserts to make, serve and eat!  It's quick and simple and requires very few ingredients.

1 package Oreos - crushed
1 8oz package of Cream Cheese - softened
1 package of White Chocolate Chips - melted

Combine crushed oreos and cream cheese with a blender (I use my Kitchen Aide Mixer).  Roll into walnut-sized balls and refrigerate for one hour.

Melt white chocolate chips and drizzle onto cooled Oreo Balls.  Refrigerate for 10 minutes to harden chocolate. 

Serve on decorative plate! YUM!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Countdown to Christmas - Giving Back Edition

'Tis the season.  We all hear that phrase a lot this time of year, but what does it really mean?  To me, it means it is the season to give back.  It's the season that depression hits folks full force.  It's the season that those without family suffer in silence as the rest of us gather and sometimes gloat about our family traditions.  It's the season where random acts of kindness seem to mean more.

So how do we spread Christmas cheer and help others this holiday season?  There are plenty of ways to do it.  Here are a few of my favorite.

Make Winter Gear.  Many homeless shelters and schools provide scarves, hats and gloves for those using their facilities.  Stock up on some fleece and make scarves to donate.  One scarf can go a long way.  This year my church partnered with Scarf It Up, a local organization that provides scarves, hats and gloves to shelters, school and the homeless in our area.  Tammy, our contact, told us two stories that touched my heart and I wanted to share them with you.  She said that the homeless really appreciate knitted scarves, because they can wrap their bodies in the scarves and use them as a layer of warmth under their coats.  I couldn't believe this and I immediately felt guilty for taking my down-alternative coat for granted.  The second story brought tears to my eyes.  One of the school's in our Covington area receives donations each year.  A teacher noticed that the day after the scarves, hats and gloves were given out, one of her students showed up to school wearing only the donations as his winter gear.  He walks to school each day with his brothers and when his teacher asked about his coat, the little boy replied that it wasn't his turn to wear the jacket.  He and his three brothers share one coat, and take turns wearing it.  Sometimes the only winter gear these kids get are the scarves, hats and gloves that Scarf It Up donates.  So, take some time today and make a few scarves.  You never know how far it will go.

Write Christmas Greetings.  Get in touch with someone at a local recruiting office or military base.  Ask for the names and addresses of some troops overseas who may not have a lot of family.  Send them a care package or Christmas card.  They are fighting for our freedom, and the least we could do is thank them and show them someone cares.

Carol.  While it may seem a bit old-fashioned, many senior living facilities welcome carolers into their buildings this time of year.  Gather some friends together (and bring someone who can play the piano) and gather around the piano for some old-fashioned holiday cheer.

Those are just some of my ideas on how to give back this year.  What are yours?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Countdown to Christmas - Wrapping Edition

It looks like time slipped by yesterday and I didn't get a chance to post.  So here is the post intended for Wednesday.

Wrapping is my favorite part of gift-giving.  Okay, my third favorite part.  My first favorite is picking out the most-perfect gift for someone.  My second favorite is seeing their face when they realize it is the most perfect gift.  So wrapping is third.  I really do enjoy it and I put a lot of time and effort into it.  It doesn't have to be an expensive thing either. 

One thing I love love love to do is make the wrapping paper personalized.  How do I do this without breaking the bank?  Buy two or three rolls (or ten if you have a lot of presents) of plain white or cardboard-colored wrapping paper.  It's available at most Walmart or Target stores.  Then, dig out stamps, magazines, cards, whatever it is that reminds you of your loved ones.  Then, decorate.

Well, it's not that easy.  First you will want to cut off the size wrap you will need.  Then decorate.  If I am stamping, I stamp before I wrap.  Otherwise, anything that is glued or taped on goes on after the gift is wrapped so I can make sure it's in the right spot.  Use ribbon, stickers, cut-out pictures, whatever it is that will make the wrap look as good as the gift inside.

I'd love to see your pics - so comment and leave them if you choose.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Countdown to Christmas - Great Gift Edition

We all have them in our lives.  The people who are absolutely impossible to buy for.  They either buy things themselves and leave no room for a gift or they have everything and are de-cluttering.  Well, here are three simple suggestions for the person who seems to have it all.

Gift Idea One:  Gift Card Wheel
This is one of my favorite gifts to make.  It's fun and even the person who has everything will appreciate this.  Here is what you will need:
  • 6 Gift Cards ($5 - $10 range)
  • Cardboard circle
  • Cardboard arrow
  • Brad
  • Tape
Divide the circle into six equal parts and decorate each one with markers or paint.  In each part, secure a different gift card using tape.  Once that is done, align the arrow with the center of the circle and secure with a brad.  Attach a note stating that there is a whole wide world of places to go, and when it's hard to decide what to do, spin the arrow and away you go.

Gift Idea Number Two:  The Picnic
This gift is great for children, a close friend or significant other.  Using Microsoft Word or InDesign, create a picnic menu.  Include snacks, drink and a meal.  Make it as pretty and festive as possible.  Print the certificate and present it as the "perfect afternoon" on you.  The recipient names a date and time, you do the rest of the work.  Take some time off from the technologically inclined world we have all become dependent on and have some good old fashioned fun.

Gift Idea Number Three:  Shadowbox
To commemorate a great friendship or a long journey together, collect all of the goodies that made you friends.  Ticket stubs, old notes that were passed back and forth, an album or CD cover... anything!  Arrange everything in a shadowbox and secure with glue or tape.  Watch as you bring back the best times of your lives together.

There you have it.  Three gifts that can be given to the person who has everything!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Countdown to Christmas - 19 days to Go!

It appears that my "timed" posts haven't gone up as planned, so I am going to make a more conscious effort to get online each day and post myself.  So I do apologize to anyone who was looking for the new Countdown to Christmas posts each day, as it appears several posted yesterday and again today.  (Don't forget to check out the Pictureka! giveaway).

Today's Countdown to Christmas is yet another Christmas tradition - the Christmas Card!  Who do you send a card to?  Are you obligated to send someone a card because they sent one to you?  Where do you draw the line?  Are e-cards acceptable?  So many questions and so little time.  Here are my suggestions for avoiding Christmas Card burnout.

First - make your lists (again, here I go with the multiple lists thing).  Write out all family members first.  Then, go through and write out friends, co-workers, church friends, etc.  After you have each list made, you can move on to step two.

Step Two:  Condense.  Are Cousin Billy and Susie away at school right now?  Send one family card to Uncle Jack and Aunt Betty and include your cousins.  They won't know the difference, and unless you are super close, no need to waste postage.  Also - if you are sending cards to someone because you feel indebted, don't.  Send cards to those who actually impact your life.  This may sound harsh, but your mother's co-worker's daughter, that you met once at a party doesn't need a holiday greeting from you.  Seriously.

Step Three:  Mail vs. Hand Deliver.  While it is absolutely wonderful to open the mailbox and be greeted by something other than a stack of bills, it can be costly.  If you regularly see folks, hand deliver their card.  This also allows you the opportunity to spread some Christmas Cheer with cookies (just saying, it's a nice touch).  The hand delivery is actually preferred in my mind - it means you care about me enough to remember to bring my card with you and not stick it in the mailbox with hundreds of others.

Okay, so we have covered the basics of who to send to and how to deliver.  Now what?  How about deciding between a physical card and an e-card.  In my opinion, you may only send e-cards to people like your cousins in college.  They will have a handwritten family card waiting when they get home, but a holiday greeting in their inbox during finals week will definitely bring a smile to their face.  E-cards are definitely more cost-effective, but lack the personal touch that a handwritten card (or even a photo card) has.

So obviously, the next MAJOR question is what to write?  Keep it simple.  That's my motto.  Address the card to each family member (list them out - don't say "Smith Family" on the inside of the card - TACKY!).  Then, write a small message.  The message can be generic ("Here's to a very Merry Christmas and happy New Year") as long as there is a personal message tied into it.  My favorite way to do that is write in a Scripture that reminds me of the people I am sending the card to, or a small note, "Can't wait to see you, Billy and the kids on Christmas" or "We will miss you on Christmas, but wish you safe travels".  Something short and sweet, yet more than the generic Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays.

My final tip for Christmas Card Chaos is to start early.  Start writing your cards the week before Thanksgiving and send them in batches.  This way, you don't overwhelm your postal worker and you also don't suffer from insane hand cramps.

Those are my tips to managing this most awesome tradition.  What are yours?

Countdown to Christmas - Giveaway!

Okay, it's my first Countdown to Christmas Giveaway.  This giveaway is open until 9pm on Tuesday, December 7th.  The winner will be notified by Wednesday, December 8th and 48 hours to respond before another winner is chosen.

Pictureka! provides a ton of fun for both adults and kids.  The board game is a classic, but Hasbro has made the fun portable with a Pictureka! card game - which is what I am giving away.  There are two ways to enter this contest:

Mandatory Entry:  Comment on this post and tell me your favorite game to play with family or friends.  Please include your email address in your post or email it to buddybits@gmail.com.  (Entries without an email address will not be accepted).



Optional Entry:  RT:  Countdown to Christmas with @BuddyBits!  Recipes, Holiday Tips and Giveaways!  http://www.buddy-bits.blogspot.com/.

Good luck and Merry Christmas!

Countdown to Christmas - 21 Days to Go!

Today is another recipe day.  On the table today is something that can be used as a side dish during dinner or served alone as a dessert.  It's a wonderful grape salad.

This recipe requires no oven (yay) and makes a large serving bowl size.  I find it typically serves between 10 and 12 people who take large spoonfuls.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 large bags of red grapes
8 oz cream cheese
8 oz sour cream
2 tsp sugar
3 full size Butterfinger Bars

Wash all grapes and lay out to dry. 

Combine sour cream, cream cheese and sugar in a large bowl and mix (Kitchen Aide mixer is preferred).  Once the sauce is smooth, add one cup to serving dish.  Mix in 2 handfuls of grapes.   Repeat until all grapes and sauce is used.  Then, crumble Butterfinger Bars and shake on top of grape salad.  Chill 15 - 45 minutes then serve.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Countdown to Christmas - 22 Days to Go!

We're getting closer and closer to the big day!  I absolutely love the Christmas season and everything that comes with it.  Except for one little thing - TRAFFIC!  So here is my first tip for this glorious season we find ourselves in.

If you can't use Ebates and shop online, there are ways to avoid major traffic.  First - plan your route to use as many back roads as possible.  These roads are less crowded and typically have less stoplights, thus saving time!  Next - shop in the morning during the week.  Most people do their shopping in the evenings and on the weekends.  Shopping in the morning will help you shop with less crowds and with the best selection.  Stores typically restock overnight so if you shop in the morning, you will be a step ahead of the rest.  Finally, pair up.  Try and shop with a friend or two, split up the lists and pay in cash.  Send one person for clothes, one for toys and one for other items.  This cuts down on time and also on the number of stops you need to make.

Merry Christmas and Happy Shopping!

Countdown to Christmas - 23 Days Left!

This countdown is delicious!  Below is my recipe for the most scrumptious Hershey Kiss Cookies you will ever eat!

Preheat the oven to 375.  Pour 1/2 cup of sugar into a cereal bowl.

Ingredients Needed:

1 1/2 cup flour                                          1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar                                            1/3 cup brown sugar (firmly packed)
1 tsp baking soda                                      3/4 cup peanut butter
2 tbsp milk                                                1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and blend together.  Shape dough into balls and roll in sugar.  Place 2 inches apart on baking pan (or pizza stone). *

Bake for 8 minutes, remove from the oven and place Hershey Kiss in center of each cookie.  Place back in oven for two minutes.  Remove and let cool for 10 minutes.

*While each batch is baking, unwrap the same number of Hershey Kisses as there are dough balls.  This will ensure there is no waste of scumptious chocolately-goodness.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Countdown to Christmas

I woke up to snow.  What a great way to start December and the Christmas season.  There is no better way to celebrate Christmas than with family, friends, hot cocoa, cookies and snow.  Seriously.

Everyday this month, my goal is to bring a little holiday cheer to all of you.  This is going to be done through the sharing of traditions, holiday tips, recipes and giveaways!  These will be short giveaways, typically lasting only 24 - 48 hours so that you can receive your goodies in time for Christmas morning, so make sure to check back regularly. 

Photo courtesy of http://www.free-extra.com/
Today's Countdown to Christmas Moment is all about the tradition.  Each year, as a child, I watched as my parents opened their stocking stuffers.  Favorite candy, concert tickets, homemade gifts from their wonderful daughters and more filled the stockings.  But each year, I saw my mom carefully tuck away a piece of paper or an envelope.  She never opened it in front of us, but always gave my dad a loving smile and tears filled her eyes.  Finally, one year, I asked what it was.  She said, every year since they have been married, my dad writes her a letter and puts it in her stocking.  It's full of what he loves most about her, what he is thankful for and their favorite memories together.  Each year, it's a great reminder of the love that is shared in our family.

This year, I want to start that tradition with my husband.  This Christmas marks two years of marriage and I think now is a great time to begin setting traditions of our own.  Yes, it is borrowed from my parents, but I will tweak it to make it my own.

What is your favorite tradition?  I'm eager to hear!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cyber Monday Deals

Now that we have all recovered from Black Friday, it's time for Cyber Monday!  I almost prefer Cyber Monday to Black Friday, because I don't have to deal with the hustle and bustle, elbows and feet that I do in a store.  The only downside (in my opinion) is the chance that an item may run out between the time I put it in my cart, continue shopping and then checkout.  The only way I have been able to alleviate this is to process each purchase separately - and ONLY if FREE shipping is offered on all purchases.  That way, I am guaranteed to receive my item. 

So what are the hottest deals this Cyber Monday?  Check some out below.  As always, this is not a complete list - but there are some great deals to be had!  Feel free to add more deals in the Comments Section.

Amazon.com:  Amazon has too many amazing deals to detail, but here are just a few.  Don't forget to browse the site for everyone on your list!  http://www.amazon.com/
  • We Ski Videogame for the Nintendo Wii - $9.99
  • Call of Duty:  World at War for Nintendo DS - $9.99
  • HP Photosmart Plus Wireless All In One Printer - $69.99
Walmart:  Much like Amazon, Walmart has a ton of great deals, so here are just a few.  More can be found at http://www.walmart.com/.
  • Viore 24" Class LED-LCD 1080p HDTV - $199.00 + FREE Shipping
  • Playstation 2 Entertainment Value Bundle - $388.00
  • NEXT 20" Bikes - $39.00
  • Cricut Expression Electronic Cutter (in aqua, plum, green or canary) - $199.00

Tommy Hilfiger:  30% off everything (discount will be applied at checkout - so make sure to look for it) + use code BLKFRIDAY20 for an additional 20% off.  Orders over $125 ship for FREE!

Victoria's Secret:  FREE SHIPPING off orders of $50 or more (FREE50), $25 off order of $150 or more (25OFF150), FREE Secret Reward Card with any order of $10 ore more, FREE scarf with sweater purchase (V10SCARF) and FREE slippers with sleepwear purchase (VS10SLEEP)!

Bath and Body Works:  25% off entire order with code CYBER25!

Barnes and Noble:  40% off Children's Picture Books, $5 off Toys/Games with $10 Purchase

Vera Bradley:  Large Tote Bag only $45!

You can't beat these deals - so shop away and don't forget to use E-bates to earn cash back!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Not-So-New-Years Resolutions

It has been a while since my last post on the wonderful deliciousness of Dove Peppermint Bark.  In the past 11 days I have been uber-busy with 30 Days of Service at church and preparing and (successfully) defending my thesis.  During some of this time, I let my mind wander and as I let go of the anxiety, fear, overwhelming stress and overall exhaustion, I realized that despite the hectic chaos that is my life - I like being busy.  I don't like it when I have a lot of free time on my hands.  I am slowly finding out that I get more done if time is tight and the need to get things accomplished is high.  If I have an infinite amount of time on my hands, I will dilly-dally by watching TV, reading a magazine, cuddling with my dog or finding some game on Pogo to occupy my time.

It was during all of this thought that I realized I have let go of some of the things that are the most important to me.  Spending quality time with my family and friends.  This does not include gluing ourselves to the couch and watching hours of television and not saying a word to each other.  Sure - going to a movie or watching a favorite show together is great - but where is the conversation, where are the memories in that?  Who wants to start a story to their grandchildren, "One day your aunt and I were watching Grey's Anatomy..."  No!  We want to say, "well, we sure did give your grandma and grandpa a run for their money" or things of that nature.  So, my not-so-new-years resolution is to make the effort to really spend some time with my husband, each of my sisters and my parents.  And quality time at that.  

I also realized I have neglected some of my favorite reading.  The Bible is full of intellect, stories, great men and women, but most of all - it's full of the life lessons I need and the Ultimate Truth.  I can remember days that I couldn't wait to get home to read about another miracle, another saving grace, another sinner who found his way.  Now, I let it lay there, opening it occasionally, but tossing it aside for a romance novel or tabloid.  S, by second not-so-new-years resolution is to pick up my Bible first.  Read what really matters and not some fictitious character's conquest.

My final not-so-new-years resolution (for now) is to be a better Christian.  It is my belief that by bettering my relationship with Christ, I'll become the better daughter, better wife, better friend, better sister, better employee, and overall better person that I yearn to be.  It starts and ends with Him, so let's do this thing right.

Reflecting can be painful, and let me tell you, these past few years have tried me.  Graduate school takes a lot of time and effort, and to be honest, I dealt with a lot of folks whose beliefs differ from mine on all ends of the spectrum.  The love shown to me by my husband, family, friends and church family is what got me through and now it is time to hand it all over to Him and let Him run my life.  After all, I'm just along for the ride.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dove Peppermint Bark

Okay - I love to share about my great deals and just plain awesome finds.  This is one thing I would pay full price for - hear that - FULL PRICE?! Gasp.  But seriously, this is good:

See that?!  Dove Chocolate has introduced a Peppermint Bark chocolate.  This is heaven.  Heaven melting in my mouth.  No lie.  I found it randomly walking through a holiday aisle at Kroger the other day, and our office is already on bag #4!  We love candy, but this is seriously some of the best candy ever!

This is the perfect amount of chocolate, topped with a layer of peppermint.  It's the perfect balance of cool creaminess and a nice little crunch of peppermint without being overwhelming.

So next time you are in a grocery store - pick up a bag and try one.  Then let me know what you think.  MMMM!  Happy Eating!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Black Friday Shopping Tips

This year, it seems more and more stores are offering rock bottom prices way before Black Friday or Cyber Monday.  To help with your shopping, below are sometips for shopping Black Friday deals.  You can see a more complete list for this area (Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky) at www.cincysavers.com/blackfriday/

Tip #1:  Check the ad carefully to see when the sale starts.  Two years ago, the Michaels ad came out and they had a special 3 hour sale on Thanksgiving Night.  Cricut cartridges were as low as $15 a piece when you bought five.

Tip #2:  Layaway.  Get the leaked ads - place the item on layaway, with a price match guarantee.  Get a signed and dated copy of the price match guarantee from a store employee.  I do this regularly.  I go in two weeks ahead (when I normally see the Black Friday pricing), put my 10% down, and get a signed price match guarantee.  Friday afternoon, I go into the store (with the remaining payment) and pay the Black Friday price.

Tip #3:  Spread Out.  If you insist on getting up for door buster sales, get a group together and split up.  Hit multiple stores to see who can get the door buster price.  You have a better chance of getting the deal when you hit stores that are outside of city limits.

Tip #4:  Shop online on Thursday.  Most stores turn on a special Thursday price when you order online.  So, around 9pm, start looking!

Tip #5:  Don't be brand picky.  If you come across a great deal and the brand you want is out of stock, ask for a manager and then ask if you can get a comparable deal on a comparable product.  Example:  the TV you want is 30% off regular price and they are out.  Find a similar TV (as close as possible in specs/size/etc) and ask for 30% off regular price on that TV.  Most stores will adjust, as long as you ask!

Happy Shopping!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Cold as Ice

I spent the weekend on my couch.  No, seriously, I was practically glued on the couch, willing myself to beat yet another bout of sinusitis.  It's no fun and I really can't afford to be sick right now.  I covered up, cuddled up with Buddy, watched movies and caught up on some fun reading.  I woke up and felt much better, ready to tackle the Mondays.  I even was EARLY for work because there was no cut-in-the-hill traffic.  What a great day!  To make things even better, my HR Director held the slowest elevator in the universe for me, so I wouldn't have to wait in the cold.  Super start to a Monday, right?!

I should have known it was too good to be true.

We walk into our office, which is located in an entertainment venue on the Ohio River.  We are lucky enough to have our own heat/air unit, bathrooms, kitchen, etc. and we don't have to share (I really hate public restrooms).  This lets us control the temperature, which is normally set to cool (thank goodness for space heaters).  Today, it was set to FRIGID!  No lie.  It was barely 60 degrees when we walked in the office.  Not good for someone who did everything right this weekend to avoid catching a cold. 

So I fight this insane chill as I wait for the sun to come up (it normally shines right on me until about 10:30 - but not today!), and the heat to kick in.  I turn on my space heater.  I pull on a sweater.  Then, I do the most brave thing I have done in a while.  Are you ready?  You sure you can handle this?!  I go down to my car and grab a Snuggie.  That's right - I travel with a Snuggie.  Good thing too.  Most days I think I would be the joke of the office.  Instead, today, I'm pretty sure I am the envy. 

I'd post a pic, but I think then I would definitely get made fun of.  Anyhow, be jealous.  Enjoy... and watch for a Snuggie giveaway soon.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Around The House

Earlier I wrote about alternative uses for junk mail.  In doing some 'fall cleaning', I found some alternative uses for other household items.

Lunchmeat Tubs.  If you ever have to buy lunchmeat in the tubs, they are great for so many things.  I use mine for individual size lunches, holding hair bands, and storing dice.

Wine Rack.  Our wine rack holds six bottles of wine and has a small bar across the top, which doubles as a candy cane holder during the holidays.  It's a great decorative piece!

Bread Ties.  I love reusing these to keep my cords from getting tangled together in my junk drawer.

Frozen Cookie Dough Tubs.  Just like lunchmeat tubs, these tubs have a variety of uses.  I used mine to store holiday wreaths and ornaments!  They also work for holiday lights - no tangles here!

What household items do you find alternative uses for?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween Mishaps

Do you have a love/hate relationship with specific holidays?  My biggest one is Halloween.  While I love the candy and seeing the fun costumes that my friends and their kids come up with, I dread dressing up (then usually love the outcome) and what I really, really, really hate is the scares.  I am a scaredy-cat and a very easy target, so this is a very stressful time of year for me.  Horror movies give me nightmares, blood sorta creeps me out, and I can't stand spiders.  I also almost always tend to get injured at some point on Halloween.

Case in point - more than a dozen bruised toes/ankles from tripping over my own feet or my costume from about 1990 to 2010 and a handful of small burn scars on my arm from baking Halloween goodies.  That is minor compared to the Halloween Mishap of 2010.

Halloween Mishap of 2010
It all started out on a cool, fall morning.  I woke up, got ready for church, and headed off to prepare for a kick-off celebration following our morning worship service.  All was going well, then I was asked to cut desserts.  Can you guess that happened - yep - new scar forming on my left hand, just under my thumb.  Stupid frozen red velvet cake.

After containing the 1/2 inch cut on my left-hand, it was a very pleasant afternoon.  I made the mistake of saying outloud, "if that was it, I can deal with it!".  Oops. 

The clock strikes 6pm and here come the masses.  Okay, the 20 kids who showed up at our doorstep (still, compared to the 5 last year, it was busy).  The first hour of trick or treating goes by without a hitch.  We have a great bonfire going, and I haven't caught a thing on fire.  This is my night, I can feel it.  (Do not tempt fate - seriously folks).

7pm rolls around and I go in for a few minutes to switch the laundry.  Out come the towels and our whites.  In goes the first load of darks.  The laundry basket is overflowing with warm, fluffy towels that need to be folded.  So I pick it up and make my way to the door.  Seeing as the towels block my entire line of sight, I guess at where the middle of the door is - I am right!  Phew.  I am just about through when WHAM!, I am stopped by the metal door hinge, my finger, and a sharp plastic laundry basket.  Well, guess what is jammed (I'll give you a hint - not the basket or the door hinge).  The pain is intense, and the only way to get out of the laundry room is to unjam by finger by continuing to walk through the door.  Holy heck was that painful.  I get out of the laundry room and into our bedroom and drop the basket on the bed, collapse against a wall and cry.  Like a little girl.  (Oh, I did manage to grab a paper towel to contain the bleeding).  My dog looks at me as if I am nuts.  Finally, many choice phrases and tears later, I pull myself together, give up yelling for my husband and go into the bathroom to assess the damage. 

A small hole later (yes a hole in my right-hand index finger knuckle) and an inch and a half long scratch later, I am washed up, bandaged up, and ready to get back outside.  My husband gets a good laugh at my misfortune and we continue to pass out candy.

8pm - the trick-or-treaters are done and there were no tricks.  Thank goodness.  My finger is throbbing, but not swollen and the bandaids are doing their job. 

10pm - the night is drawing to a close and I cannot wait to get to bed.  There is still another load of laundry that needs to be done.  I'm done with laundry, but unfortunately, my husband needs his clothes for class.  So into the laundry goes our final load.  That's when the earthquake happens. Okay - not a real earthquake, but when your washer goes off the wall (not literally) and starts jumping and shaking (yes literally), it feels like an earthquake (I imagine) and sounds like one too.  We rush downstairs and adjust the laundry (it was too heavy on one side of the washer), and breathe a sigh of relief.  That's three things!  Bad things happen in three!  HA!

11pm - the laundry is being folded.  We are beat.  I grab the laundry basket off of our bed to take back to the laundry room and the darn thing got me again.  Again on my index finger, about an inch under the last attack.  Not as bad as last time, but not fun, nonetheless.  Still bandaid worthy and still bleeding.  The bad things come in fours on good ole Halloween.

I give up on the day and go to bed.  Nightmares. Great, huh?!  And I didn't even watch a scary movie.  So that is why I don't like Halloween.  The only good part- my costume did a little scaring.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Remke Double Coupons - One Day Only!

I am normally a pretty loyal Kroger shopper, however, this is one deal that is too good to pass up.  Today only, the Remke bigg's in Mason, Ohio is doubling even $1 coupons.  So means that all coupons for $1 off turn to $2 off, $.50 coupons turn to $1 coupons, etc. 

The sale is too good to be true - and Little Miss Know It All has found a way to get 200 items for under $10!  You read that right.  See her magic here:  http://www.cincysavers.com/blog/2010/10/i-have-10-what-do-i-buy-3/.

So, go shopping!  Stock up, and let us know how you did!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Love a Pet and Busam Subaru

Do you ever want to buy a product because of a commercial?  How about a goodwill gesture?  Or just because of the other organizations one company affiliates themselves with?  Yeah - me too, and I'm in the public relations/marketing/advertising world!

So let me tell you how Busam Subaru may have just gained themselves a new customer (in a year or two when my car dies).

A while back, I found this random PR practitioner on Twitter, @Andrew_ShipPR.  Turns out he works for Busam Subaru (also on Twitter - @Busam_Subaru).  And November is Love a Pet Adoption Month at Busam Subaru.  (Insert warm, mushy feelings here).  Busam Subaru will donate $100 for each vehicle sold in November to one of four participating organizations:  The Cincinnati SPCA, The Midwest Boston Terrier Rescue, The League for Animal Welfare and Ohio Pug Rescue.

Busam Subaru is also letting folks like you and me help out in this worthy cause.  Busam has a pet name tag engraver on hand, letting you custom-make name tags for your pet for only $1!  That is so much cheaper than the $4 or $5 at other pet shops.  Want a preview of how easy this is?



Okay - so Busam Subaru is already promoting the adoption of pets through the efforts above, but it gets better!  If you test drive one of their vehicles during the Love a Pet Adoption Kick-Off Celebration on Sunday, November 7th, Busam Subaru will donate $1 to the participating organizations I mentioned above.  I say let's make it a priority to get our butts up to Busam Subaru next weekend.  The Cincinnati SPCA, The Midwest Boston Terrier Rescue, The League for Animal Welfare and Ohio Pug Rescue will all be on hand to answer any questions you may have about pet adoption. 

We are coming into the coldest times of the year (we think), and these pets need a warm, loving home.  Won't you stop by Busam Subaru and help?  You can also promote the event on Twitter with the hashtag #LoveAPet and Tweet about the great things Busam Subaru is doing to help the wonderful animals out there who can't help themselves. 

(Disclosure - I am receiving a name tag for my dog, but not in exchange for this blog post.  I wrote this post because of how awesome it is that Andrew Ship and Busam Subaru are taking some time to help wonderful animals).

Buddy - the reason I think everyone should adopt a pet!
Busam Subaru is located at 6195 Dixie Highway (Route 4) Fairfield, OH 45014.

New Month, New Bills, New Budget


Accessed from mises.org
 Student Loans.  Ugh.  The pitfall of my ambition and the last gazillion years of my life.  No, really.  I am 25 years old, and have been in school for 21 years.  At some point, shouldn't the educational system be paying me? 

I digress.  Back to the point of this post, I have been prolonging the inevitable for about 3 years now.  You see, you can defer your student loans as long as you are still in school.  I took advantage of this (and the fact that I am having to pay back virtually NO interest until I make the first payment) and for the past 3 years I have sent in my paperwork with a transcript and class schedule, proving I am still a student.  Apparently you need to be a full-time student, so guess what?! My loans are due.  In two weeks.  Nice of them to give me a ton of warning, right?!

So, the hubs and I decided to rework our budget to see if we have the money to pay these little buggers.  We do.  PHEW!  But, that means some rework of the budget and being extra careful not to spend money on things we really don't need.  We came up with a plan of attack which still allows us to have some spending money.  But now, my spending money each week has to cover my hair cut/color (boo), lunch (if I choose to go out), anything I want to buy, fun stuff, etc.  So, can I do it?  We agreed to $40 per week (most weeks I don't spend nearly this much), but my goal is $25 per week, using the extra $15 to save up some extra cash.

Wish me luck - this is my budget for the next gazillion years of my life.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rant and Rave

My temper is one thing that my DH does not enjoy about me.  He thinks it's funny that the smallest things can get me worked up, but he is also quick to point out that I have a bad habit of being vindictive in my thoughts and sometimes my words.  This is something that I am working on, and quite honestly, I have made a vast improvement.  Until today.

For the past three years I have been working relentlessly on my Master's Degree.  Our program requires 30 hours of classes, then I added a Teaching Certificate, which requires another 6 hours.  I am well above my 36 hours needed, and in the home stretch.  In May 2009, I began work on my thesis, examining the impact of negative political campaigns and advertisements on young, first-time voters.  After a ton of struggles along the way (another post, another time), I am in the final weeks of the whole nightmare process.

Or, so I thought.  One of the perks of grad school, and particularly, the thesis capstone process, is having to defend your work to a panel of professors and peers.  We are closing in on the end of the semester and I have yet to set a defense date.  Well, to clarify, I have had three defense dates set and then, canceled for one reason or another.  I'm to the point where I actually don't care if I graduate or not (okay, I really do care), whether my defense goes well or not (again, I do care), and whether I get honors or not (I would love to, but honestly, I really don't care about that any longer).  I just want the whole thing done. 

I am having nightmares - professors chasing me with pitchforks because my work is not 100% final - peers throwing my paper in a fire - and the best one, showing up to my defense and learning that my committee decided I'm not worthy of a degree and automatically failing me.  These are not pleasant dreams, and nightmares can't even begin to describe them.   I mean, you are supposed to wake up from a nightmare, realize it was a dream and move on, right?  Not suffer from panic attacks, anxiety attacks, and be on the verge of tears 24/7! 

So, if you are reading this, please send some prayers my way.  Send some support.  And please, help me realize that this is just another hurdle.  Because right now, quitting seems like a real choice.  Just sayin'.

Monday, October 25, 2010

30 Days of Service - How to Give Back

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I am leading an outreach initiative at our church called 30 Days of Service.  Last year we performed 30 services in 30 days and that lead to extreme burnout for those involved.  This year, I came up with the brilliant idea to spread our 30 services over about 53 days.  Brilliant, right?!

So, what is 30 Days of Service?  It's an outreach program designed to allow our church members impact our immediate community.  So what are we doing?  Below is a list of all of our different initiatives.  If you are interested in learning more - or donating prayer, time, money, items, etc - please feel free to shoot me a message or leave me a comment.

Labor of Love and The Walking Word:  These two different activities are connected, which is why I grouped them together.  With Labor of Love, church members will gather and stuff bags with information about 30 Days, an invitation to our Thanksgiving Dinner, and information on our church.  Two days later, during The Walking Word, we will distribute these bags to four neighborhoods within a mile of our church who may be able to take advantage of some of our efforts during 30 Days.

Faith Feeds:  This is one of my favorites (okay, I have a lot of favorites in this project).  Faith Feeds will be a weekly event on Tuesdays.  One church member will deliver breakfast, lunch, or dinner to the local fire departments, sheriff's departments, doctor's offices, and front office staff at the elementary schools in the area.

Free Paper Day:  Every Sunday for 8 weeks a church member will drive up to our local United Dairy Farmers and purchase 50 newspapers.  Those 50 papers will be stickered, stating that the paper is a free gift from Sand Run.  These papers go fast and we typically get some visitors who wanted to thank us in person.  It's a great way to get some new folks into the church!

Take Aways:  The Ronald McDonald House is one recipient of our efforts.  They provide lunch bags full of snacks to the children and families they touch, so we will be stuffing bags of snacks for those folks.

Good Samaritan Purse Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Drive:  Okay, another favorite!  This is our third year participating.  For about $15 - $20 you can fill up a shoebox to be sent to children overseas.  These kids live in extreme poverty conditions and most write back and become pen pals!

Blankets for Bottoms:  This is a new activity for us.  We will gather and make crib size fleece blankets to take to our local Care Net agency.  Care Net will distribute these blankets to expectant mothers who cannot afford basic essentials for their baby. 

Crafty Christmas Cards:  Showing love to our troops is important to us.  This Christmas, we will send Christmas Cards overseas to our troops and also to inmates who have little hope.  Our goal is to spread Jesus' love around the world!

Journey Group Drive:  Each of our Journey Group's (Sunday School classes) are receiving some funds to carry out their own mission as a group.  The only stipulations for receiving the funds is that the mission must be a group effort and not just turning the funds over to another organization.  This is getting a lot of buzz and some examples are creating hygeine baskets for the Women's Crisis Center, making snack sacks for nursing homes, and letting the younger kids shop for our adopted families.

Thanksgiving Dinner:  The recession hit our area hard, and many folks in our church and in the surrounding communities don't have the means to provide a home-cooked meal for their family.  We are going to have a four hour window for anyone and everyone to come enjoy a full Thanksgiving meal - turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, veggies, rolls, and more!

Cast Out the Cold:  Homelessness is a huge problem this year, and we found a local organization - Scarf it Up for Those in Need.  They knit hats, gloves, and scarves and distribute to the needy and homeless in the area.  We are going to take a small group and help them pack boxes full of winter gear so it is ready for distribution.

RedsFest:  Not your typical volunteer opportunity, RedsFest is a celebration of The Cincinnati Reds!  All proceeds from RedsFest go to the Reds Community Fund.  Our church will send about 20 people to volunteer in various aspects for RedFest and the stipend we receive will go towards our adopted families.  20 people x $20 a person = $400 for our families!

Give Thanks:  Service men and women receive little thanks for their efforts.  We will be sending handwritten letters to our police officers, fire fighters, and emergency service personnel, thanking them for their time, effort, and dedication.

Stress-Free Shopping Extravaganza:  We will open the doors of our church to host a vendor bazaar this holiday season.  25+ vendors will have the oppotunity to make last minute Christmas sales without having to pay a booth or table fee.  The doors will be open to all who want to shop for 31, BeautiControl, Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, Tastefully Simple, Creative Memories, and more!  A one-stop shop complete with door prizes every half hour.

Christmas Caroling:  "The best way to spread Christmas Cheer is singing loud for all to hear."  Thank you Buddy the Elf!  We will spread some cheer to nursing home residents this season with some heartfelt and off key Christmas carols.

Crayons to Computers:  This school supply drive will benefit inner-city children and teachers who cannot afford the most basic of school supplies.

Adopted Families:  6 families from our area (2 from our church and 4 from local elementary schools) will get a Christmas morning this year, despite what seemed to be the outlook just a month ago.  Our congregation graciously elected to adopt 6 families with small children (well, the 17 total kids range from 2 years old to 17 years old) and we will be shopping the sales to provide all of the family members with a Christmas morning.  These families need help - so any outside effort helps just as much as our efforts.


As you can see, there is a lot of momentum at our small church to spread the Word.  I recommend that everyone find some way to give back this holiday season.  If you need ideas - let me know.  I am full of them!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Kroger Candy Sale - How I Made Out!

Earlier today I posted on the awesome deals to be had at the one day Kroger Candy Sale.  I went over lunch and check out the loot:
So that being said, there are 17 total items for a grand total of $12.75!  How did I do it? 

Transaction One:
2 Bags of Nerds
2 Bags of Laffy Taffy
= $6.32
- $1/2 manufacturer coupon
- $1/2 manufacturer coupon
- $1 OYNO coupon
- $1 OYNO coupon
= $2.70 with tax
*Received a $3 OYNO Catalina

Transaction Two:
1 Bag of Kit Kats
2 Bags of Reeses Cups
2 Bags of Snickers
1 Bag of Peanut M&Ms
2 Bags of Butter Fingers
2 Bags of Baby Ruths
= $16.80
- $3 OYNO coupon
- $1 manufacturer coupon
- $1 manufacturer coupon
- $1 manufacturer coupon
- $1 manufacturer coupon
- $1 e-coupon for Hershey's Products
= $9.71 with tax
*Received a $3 OYNO Catalina

Transaction Three:
1 bag of Almond Joys
1 bag of Chocolate Covered Peanuts
1 small bag of Pretzel M&Ms
= $3.18
-$3 OYNO coupon
= $0.34 with tax

How did you make out on the Candy Sale?

Kroger Candy Sale - One Day Only!

HUGE Candy Savings at Kroger TODAY ONLY! 

That's right.  Today only in Kroger (Cincinnati area), you can save big on your Halloween Candy.

Reese's, Snickers, Kit Kats, M&Ms, Butterfingers and Baby Ruth are marked at $1.68. 
Nerds, Laffy Taffy, and Pixy Stix are marked at $1.58.

You can pair your $1/3 bags of M&Ms or Snickers coupon from the paper a few weeks back to get those products for $1.35 each! That's not bad.
Plus, Wonka products (Nerd, Laffy Taffy, Pixy Stix) have a great Catalina program running:
Buy 2 - get $1 off your next order
Buy 3 - get $2 off your next order
Buy 4 - get $3 off your next order

For even more coupon match-ups and savings, visit The New Frugal Mom at http://www.thenewfrugalmom.com/.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

How to Not Lose it During the Holidays!

"That shirt would look fabulous on Mary Sue!"  "Little Timmy will absolutely love that remote-controlled train set!"  "How can I pass up a deal like this?  I'll find someone who could use this!"  Do these exclamations come out of your mouth when holiday shopping?  I'm guilty as charged.  I am a sucker for a great deal, and often find myself struggling to pass up a deal, therefore, I end up with a ton of stuff that is useless.  Not this year.  This year I am going to defeat the monster that lies behind the thrill of holiday spending.  Here's my plan of attack:

1)  Make 3 Lists for Recipients.  That's right - 3.  My first list contains the people who will get a present from the husband and I, no matter what.  Our parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews are on this list.  My second list is who I would like to buy for.  This list contains the names of friends and their children.  I refer to this list if we agree to do an exchange.  Otherwise, I don't buy for the adults, just the kids.  This list is kept separately so that I don't buy for them in my first round of shopping.  The final list is a bit more difficult.  This is my list of who not to gift.  I only make this list because I find myself shopping and thinking "Gina's mom would love this cookbook" or "The boy in the nursery at church would love this stuffed animal."  This list doesn't contain names, but groups of people (kids at church, friend's parents, etc).  This list is a reminder that a Christmas card can be sent to these folks and a gift is not necessary.

2)  Get Ideas - and Write Them Down!  In my notebook, I have my three lists of recipients (or non-recipients in some cases), then a list of ideas for each person on my first list.  I try to write things down throughout the year as they are mentioned, that way I can spread my spending (see bullet #4).  I also won't find myself in panic mode trying to locate the one item that served as "gift ideaS". 

3)  Write Down What You Buy.  I'm sensing a theme here.  Write everything down.  In addition to my first two lists - I keep a running list of what I purchase and who it is intended for.  This allows me to keep my shopping focused and I won't accidentally purchase more than I need or duplicates.

4)  Spread the Spending!  Instead of waiting until all of the hot toys of the season come out, start shopping as early as possible.  I start my Christmas shopping the day after Christmas.  That's right.  I made my first Christmas 2010 purchase on December 26, 2009.  There are great deals to be had if you can shop in advance.  Granted, I knew my sister-in-law was pregnant and the baby would be about 6 months at Christmas, so it was easy to snag some cute winter clothes.  Watch for sales and opportunities to use e-bates!  This will save you a lot of stress and anxiety when spreading $500 over 20 people.

5)  Budget.  I struggled with putting budget after spreading the spend, but I wanted to make a point.  The earlier you shop, the easier it is to stay on budget.  Each year, the husband and I determine the appropriate amount to spend per person on Christmas.  This may lead to my mom getting one big gift and my dad getting three smaller gifts, but each person receives the same "value" in actual spend.  Starting next year (you know, 12/26/10), we plan to set aside cash at every paycheck so I shop only with cash (or credit card for online purchases).

6)  Compare Online and In-Store!  I am a Nervous Nelly when it comes to online shopping for two reasons.  One - I very easily get carried away when not having to lug items through a store physically.  Two - I am terrified of having my identity stolen yet again.  So, here is what I plan to do while finishing up my holiday shopping:  look online for the actual gifts, compare the price online to the price in-store, go with the better deal.  A lot of companies will now waive the shipping fee if you have it delivered to one of their locations.  This is a great way to take advantage of a lower online price and not have to pay for shipping.  If the deal is better in the store, I'll head that way.  If not, go online baby!

So there is my plan.  What is your holiday shopping plan?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kroger Deals

I won't be doing my shopping until a little later this week, but there are some awesome deals to be had this week at Kroger's Mega Event:

Save $5 when you buy 10 participating items:

  • Coke - $3.29 per 12 pack, $0.79 per 2 liter
  • DiGiorno Pizza - $3.99
  • Hot Pockets - $1.49
  • Philadelphia Cream Cheese - $0.99
  • Doritos - $2.25
  • Kraft Macaroni and Cheese - $0.49
  • Easy Mac - $0.49
  • Kroger Barbecue Sause - $0.49 (can you say perfect timing for my pulled pork this weekend)
  • Vitamin Water - $0.50
  • Poptarts - $1.40
  • Lean Cuisine - $1.68
  • Gold Star Chili - $1.69

There is so much more on this sale - check out http://www.cincysavers.com/ for more.  Once I do my shopping, I'll make sure to share all of my great finds!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Review: Life as We Know It

Thanks to gofobo, my sister and I went to a screening of Life as We Know It this past Monday night.  I had really wanted to see this movie prior to getting the screening tickets, so I was very excited.  The whole experience was interesting.  Unlike the Flipped screening, this time we were asked to take cellphone with video capabilities to the car and then were wanded down. 

The actual movie was great.  I really enjoyed it and would give it 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.  The plot was predictable, yet still fresh.  The acting was great, not too forced.  Let's be honest - Josh Duhamel was shirtless for parts of the movie, making it super appealing to a female audience.

I did feel like there were a lot of low points (in terms of sad moments) in the movie.  Granted, the movie is about a couple who dies and leaves their 1 year old daughter, Sophie, with their best friends (and known enemies), Holly and Messer.  There are bound to be teary moments, however, I felt like a large part of the movie included "downer" scenes (hence the 4 1/2 stars). 

There were a lot of funny moments and uplifting moments as well.  Who would have thought the case worker would be so emotionally tied into Holly and Messer as a couple?  Her impeccable bad timing led to great laughs.  The fact that the whole neighborhood (men and women) were obsessed with Messer led to funny side notes and laughter.  The tension between Holly and Messer also led to moments of guilty pleasure. 

Overall, the movie was great, and I want to go see it again.  It really made you think about the important things in life.  Not many romantic comedies make you do that, so kudos!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Restaurants.com - 90% OFF!

Today only, restaurants.com is having a blowout 90% off sale!  Enter the coupon code WOW at checkout and shop away!

http://www.restaurants.com/

Giveaway Round-Up

It's the beginning of the month, which means there are plenty of fresh giveaways to enter.  Below are just a few that I have come across.  Feel free to leave more in the comments section!

Scarves.net - Scarves.net is giving away free scarves with the launch of their site.   http://www.scarves.net/contest/

Skyline Chili - Skyline Chili is giving away 10 $20 gift cards each day in the month of October!
http://www.skylinechili.com/promo2.php?s=106

Great American Cookies - FREE COOKIE today only from 10am - 2pm in honor of National Cookie Month.  http://www.greatamericancookies.com/NationalCookieMonth10.html

Family Dollar - Family Dollar is giving away 500 $50 gift cards!  http://familydollar.com/home.aspx

Those are just a few I came across this morning. What giveaways are you finding?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

All and Starburst GummiBurst at Kroger

Right now All Detergent is marked down to $2.99.  Pair it with a $1 coupon from this past week's paper and it's $1.99!

coupons.com is hosting a BOGO coupon for Starburst GummiBursts.  Print it and you get them for $.39 each!

So how did I do?
1 All Detergent - $1.99
4 Starburst GummiBursts - $1.58
- $2 OYNO coupon
- $1 OYNO coupon
= $0.94 OOP

Monday, September 27, 2010

Race for the Cure

This past Saturday, I did something I never thought I would do.  I actually participated in a 5K.  The back story is quite interesting, so please bear with me for a moment.

Late Spring 2010
My friend Ryan asked me to join her in the Race for the Cure 5K in September.  Knowing that I needed to get in shape, I agreed.  She even had a code to allow me $5 off of the registration fee.  I began to do some initial planning for how to train, as I am not a runner.  Those plans were put on hold as I spent every waking minute of free time working on my graduate thesis.

Early Summer 2010
I found a 6 week program that seemed to work well for the training.  It was a combination of walking, running, and other exercise.  I decided to extend it out to be a 10 week program, allowing myself a few skip days, as I was still working on my thesis.  So there I started - 100 degree temperatures and I was running my heart out.  After my first attempt at running 1/2 mile straight (no breaks), I thought I was going to die and took a few days off.  Gradually I worked my way up to running a mile straight without feeling like total death.  (It still didn't feel great - I don't believe the people who get a runner's high).

Mid Summer 2010
I met up with Ryan to do a little shopping for the BFFs daughter.  She was telling me about her progress in losing her baby weight, and I mentioned that I can now run a mile without feeling like death.  My goal was to be able to run 2 miles by the end of the month (August) so I would be prepared.  Ryan asked why I was killing myself trying to run such a long distance.  I replied "for the 5K.  This isn't fun!"  Imagine how I felt as Ryan started laughing hysterically.  She informed me that she was running to work off baby weight, and that we had joined a group with a bunch of older women who couldn't run due to health issues.  WE WERE WALKING!  After the initial shock, I laughed too and decided that I have come this far, may as well keep up the running for my health.

Late Summer 2010
In the few weeks leading up to the race, I began to walk instead of run.  The weather was taking a toll on my allergies and horrible immune system, so walking became my new hobby.  I think my dog liked our extended walks as well.

Race Day - September 25, 2010
I woke up at 5:45am.  That was not fun.  I got ready in a zombie-like state, said good-bye to the husband and dog, and off I went.  Ryan and I got downtown early and walked around.  The buzz in the air was something I am not sure I can explain, but I'll try.  Thousands (I'm talking 18,000+) of men, women, children, and dogs were there, anxiously awaiting the festivities.  Booths began to appear with apparel, free samples, and trivia.  The survivors wore a distinct shirt and thanked the folks who were walking or running to show support.  Ryan and I walked around, taking it all in, and then it was time to walk.  Our goal was to walk the 5K in an hour.  We really wanted to do it in 45 minutes, but we weren't sure how crowded the bridges would be, and well, I am TERRIFIED of heights.  Our first mile was 22 minutes.  Lots of hills, and the crowd was still very thick through the first mile.  We stopped to play in the bubble machine and then kept trucking.  Our second mile was about 19 minutes, so we were improving.  Then, the fun really started.  At the second mile marker there was a rowboat, some water, and a small snack.  We stopped, and I showed Ryan the window to my office.  Then we realized we were losing a lot of time (about 15 minutes in stops so far).  We hadn't made it another 1/4 mile when we had to stop again.  An animal rescue group had a snake and turtle set up to hold/pet on the start of the final bridge.  Of course we had to stop and hold the snake and pet the gazillion pound turtle.  There went another 5 minutes.  We finally crossed the finish line at 1:15:06.  Not too bad considering we had about 20 minutes of goofing off along the way.  So, in reality, our walk took less than an hour, and we felt great!

Over $1,000,000 was raised just in Cincinnati alone for Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.  Ryan and I are already planning our team for next year, and can't wait to participate again!  What a great way to give back and enjoy some exercise with friends!

**Disclosure:  Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure did not endorse or sponsor this post.  The views in the post are those of the blogger.**

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Most Delightful or Most Depressing Time of the Year

The holidays can bring out one of two emotions - delight or depression.  If you have a loving home and people to share the holidays with, it can be a wonderful adventure full of hot chocolate, gifts, and family/friend time.  If you are alone, the holidays can reinforce the fact that you have no one.  I personally would like to challenge everyone this year to take some time this holiday season to make sure the needs of the folks in your area are taken care of.

Here are some examples of how you can positively impact the lives of those around you this holiday season:

1)  Volunteer at a soup kitchen.
2)  Offer your gift-wrapping services to friends and family.
3)  Buy some of those $1 meal tickets from McDonald's or Frisch's and carry them with you.  Pass them out to the homeless.
4)  Donate hats, scarves, and gloves to local shelters.
5)  Visit local nursing home residents.
6)  Send your local law enforcement officers a handwritten thank you letter.
7)  Seek out a family in need and adopt them for the holidays.
8)  Open your kitchen to folks who are down and out this Thanksgiving.
9)  Buy a coffee for the person behind you in line at Starbucks.

I could go on and on.  This time of year can make or break a person's soul.  Instead of spending hours in traffic to get the one toy your child wants, spend some time seeking out the less fortunate and brightening their day.  Bring your kids - they will learn the true meaning of Christmas.

If you are in the NKY/Cincinnati area and you are looking to get involved - please email me.  I would love to make you a part of 30 Days of Service.  Many more posts to come on this wonderful mission.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chutes and Ladders - Super Cheap!

Stock up on Christmas gifts now folks!  Kroger has a lot of their board games marked down, but I found one that was such a good deal I had to post.

Through Sunday (in Cincinnati area), Chutes and Ladders is marked down to $3.99 (from $8.99).  I purchased two and used three $2 OYNO coupons, making my Chutes and Ladders come to only $1.05 each WITH TAX! 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Frugal Weight Loss

Diets can be expensive.  Gym memberships are expensive and require you to drive and use fuel.  So are there ways to change your diet and exercise to lose weight while being frugal? 

YES!

I have tried many things, including some of the fad diets that came and went.  I found they were great for quick short-term results, but began to drain my money and my energy.  Finally, in an effort to lose 10 pounds by December 19 (my second wedding anniversary), I found a few ways to help me lose without spending an insane amount of money.

Visually Leave Food Behind
Plan your normal dinner meal and dish out your typical portion.  Then, as you eat, leave 1/4 - 1/3 of each item on your plate.  The visual of food being left on your plate allows your mind to wrap around the idea that you don't need an entire plate of food to fill up.  Wrap up your left overs and take them for lunch the next day.  This allows you to only plan for one meal a day, saving you loads of money at the grocery store, and allowing your waistline to benefit as well.

Deprivation No More
I have a sweet tooth problem.  Well, more like a snacking problem, but mainly with sweets.  I have tried cutting my snacking out completely, but this made me cranky and eventually led to the demise of my progress.  Now, I let myself have snacks, but in moderation and after some careful thought.  It's about eating one small piece of chocolate instead of a candy bar or using Crystal Light to flavor water instead of drinking a soda.  All small changes that over time will help your wallet and your waistline.

Less Soda, Not Soda Less
I tried giving up soda.  Let's say it went over as well as a Ford sitting in a Range Rover lot.  I was cranky, suffering from caffeine headaches, and just plain miserable.  I did notice a change in my energy level, so as I thought about what works with my lifestyle, I compromised with my goal of being sodaless, and focused on less soda.  I used to drink two sodas per day, and now I am about four per week.  I refrain from drinking soda at home, which cuts back on my insomnia as well as my budget.  Having a soda while out to dinner or at work keeps me from going stir crazy and let's me feel like I am treating myself.  I have replaced my morning soda with flavored water and still get that wonderful taste without all the calories and sugar.

Wii Workout
We have a Wii Fit at home.  I used to be hardcore at using it at least five times per week.  Lately, it's lucky to see anything but the back of the couch more than once a month.  But, my goal is to get it out three times per week and walk the dog at least two miles twice per week.  No need to pay for a gym with a 75 pound dog and a Wii Fit.

So there are my helpful hints for frugal weight loss.  What tips do you have?