Observations and Oddities

Monterrey- Who, What, When, Where and Why

When I returned from my recent mission trip, I found it impossible to sum up the experience in a quick “elevator speech” or social media post, so I decided to revive my old blog in order to share about the trip. This is the first in a series of posts recapping my time in Monterrey.

When telling a story, I generally find it helpful to start with the basics. So, for the first post in this series, I thought I’d start with the basics of the trip- the who, what, when where and why.

Our mission team was lead and formed by Eastside Christian Church’s student pastor, Zac and included 8 high school and college students and 7 adults: Jenn, Hannah, Kailey (my daughter), Joe, Graham, MaKayla, Kelsey, Olivia, Jordyn, Susan, Christie, Jenny, Tricia and myself.  I mention the team members by name as I want you to love them as I have learned to through this trip, but only by first name to not impose my story upon theirs. If you know any of the other team members, I encourage you to ask them individually about their adventure. While we all followed the same itinerary, each individual had a very unique experience that only they can share.

The team

The team

Our trip was facilitated through Back2Back Ministries, a Cincinnati based ministry that specializes in global orphan care. Back2Back currently serves sites in Mexico, Haiti, Nigeria and India. Back2Back’s model is to serve alongside existing organizations that support orphan care. In Monterrey, they serve children’s homes, facilitate foster care (the first such program in Mexico) and offer the Hope program which provides homes for teens leaving the children’s homes. I could spend pages describing these services, but encourage you to visit Back2Back’s website to learn more.

While in Monterrey, our team, along with a team from Miamisburg Christian Church served at one of the 6 children’s home supported by Back2Back. The home, Casa Hogar Douglas (Douglas), houses approximately 40 school-aged children. More about Douglas and how we specifically served in upcoming posts.

The trip lasted seven days (July 18-24), with 5 full non-travel days onsite in Monterrey. We were hosted at Back2Back’s 5-acre campus, a short distance outside of Monterrey.  The city is the 9th largest in Mexico, and the third most wealthy Mexican city. It is the capital city of the northeastern state of Nuevo Leon and is situated approximately 150 miles from the U.S. border.   The city is an industrial center and exhibits a significant divide between the wealthy and the poor- very few people in Monterrey are considered “middle class”.

The city itself is rather “Americanized”, offering us views of many American restaurants (Starbucks, Chili’s, Carl’s  Jr., McDonalds and Buffalo Wild Wings) and stores (Wal-Mart, Costco, Home Depot, Sears) on the drive from the airport to the campus. Advertising can be found in both English and Spanish and you can even visit Parque Plaza Sesamo (Sesame Place) while there.

Views also include the beautiful Sierra Madre mountains, which surround the city and the campus itself. The campus is located outside of the city in an area that would be considered “country” by the metropolitan residents and where many of the wealthier city dwellers own weekend or vacation homes. Campus consists of a number of buildings offering dormitories for mission guests and interns; housing for staff members, a dining hall/kitchen, medical clinic, swimming pools, a soccer field, basketball court, gathering areas for worship and learning events and 6 Hope program houses (more on the Hope program in future posts). The campus is surrounded by high walls topped with razor wire, a locked gate and protected by a night watchman. While these features were at first intimidating, it quickly becomes apparent they are very standard for the area to prevent theft. (Back2Back was actually the victim of a theft while we were there- something I’ll describe in a summary of Wednesday’s activities). The feel of the campus is welcoming and safe- a self-contained community.

One of the walls of the campus is painted with the Back2Back logo (which represents their 5-point child development plan) and the phrase “haz la differencia en uno”  which translates to “be the difference in one.”  That phrase sums up one the key “why’s” behind this trip.


A view from campus.The “haz la differencia en uno” sign with a backdrop of the beautiful mountains.

From a student ministry perspective, our Eastside students participate in a ministry called One21 which was formed by a group of Cincinnati and Dayton area youth pastors to resource a generation to live like Jesus with hearts on forever. Through One21, our teens participate in a variety of events (camps, retreats, etc.) that are designed to empower them to live a life like Jesus. One21 partners directly with Back2Back to provide the additional experience of serving orphaned and vulnerable children around the world.  As such, the experience further empowers our teens to impact the world for Christ. It completes a circle of teaching them to first develop a personal relationship with Christ, then to share that relationship in community with other believers (their student ministry life groups) and the finally to share that relationship out in the world in order to “be the difference in one” (or many).

From a personal perspective, there were several “why’s” for my participation in the trip. The first was an opportunity to serve beside my daughter, Kailey. While I was fully prepared to step aside and let her go on this trip without me, she not only allowed, but invited me to come along on her experience. I’ve watched Kailey grow into an amazing Christ-filled young woman with a heart for service. Our experience in Monterrey not only grew us both, but also grew us closer together as mother and daughter and as Christ followers.

Other reasons included my own desire to serve; working through an undefined call in my heart to somehow serve orphans as we are called to do in James 1:27; and simply a need to further grow in my own relationship with Christ. Each of these was definitely provided for on the trip and in very unexpected ways which (you guessed it), I will share in the additional upcoming posts.

The experience was life changing for many, if not all of our team members. For me, it has opened my eyes to directions that I would have never considered before and built connections that are clearly intended to be part of my continued spiritual growth. While we provided much needed services to Back2Back and Douglas during our time in Monterrey, we are likely the largest benefactors of the experience.

Stay tuned for entry 2: Travel Day and Arrival on Campus.


A lesson in obedience

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straightProverbs 3:5

It’s time to dust off the old blog. Admittedly, it’s been awhile since I’ve felt inspired to write much to share with the world (or the 2 dozen or so people that will actually read this). But this week the urge struck once again.

I’m sure folks will wonder if my words are inspired by the tragedy that stuck in Newtown, CT last week, and maybe in some ways they are. While not a direct response to that awful event, there is definitely a correlation as both the tragedy and the lesson I plan to share in this entry are intimately connected to the existence of significant hurt and need in the world around us and how we choose to respond to it.

There will also be friends and acquaintances that will take pause when they notice this entry begins with a Bible verse and not my typical sarcastic banter. It should come to no surprise to anyone who truly knows me that there are spiritual undertones in many of the things that I share, but it’s rare that I am so direct with a tie to my faith. That said, anyone looking for great spiritual teaching laced in deep Biblical knowledge and framed with understanding of the historical context in which this verse was written may want to stop here.  My spiritual “teachings” tend to be more of the variety that can be understood by my four-year old Sunday school students (and myself).

You see, I tend to find God teaches me some of my greatest lessons in the most mundane of circumstances. Maybe it’s simply because I tend to be more open to listening when I’m wrapped up in simple tasks, or maybe it’s because the way I best understand the love and relevance of God is in easily digested tidbits.  I am stubborn and willful and a sometimes wanderer. As such, my moments of learning are often accompanied by debates and arguments with Him and often the feeling that he laughs lovingly at me when I finally do admit he’s right and finally “get it”. I guess my creator does know me pretty well, after all.

This week’s moment is no exception.

It begins with a simple task- giving away toys and clothes my daughter has outgrown. I regularly purge items from our household; and in preparation for the onslaught of Christmas gifts my children are about to receive, I had recently cleaned out bedrooms and closets to rid our home of no longer needed items. My favorite way to remove these items is to offer them on Freecycle. (If you’re not familiar with Freecycle, think of it as a free version of Craigslist. People post items they need and items they have to give away online and exchange for free. I’m pretty certain its genesis was based on efforts to be green and to reduce the amount of goods that are simply thrown away, but it seems to have developed into a great giving community. I encourage you to check out your local Freecycle group online to learn more.)

I enjoy the process of connecting with someone who can benefit from something I have to offer. I sometimes even use it as a bit of a service project, seeking out needs posted to the site by others and doing my best to fill those needs even if it’s not an item I personally have to offer. The blessings I’ve received by giving to people that I meet through the site have far exceeded the value of anything I’ve given away.

So this week I was once again giving a variety of things away on Freecycle, including a set of American Girl bitty baby twin dolls.  I knew these would be a much wanted item and hoped that I would be able to give them to a little girl who would just adore them. Within two hours of the posting I had nearly 30 requests for the dolls- most accompanied by tear evoking stories of job loss, foster children, poverty, and illness. I found myself obsessing over who I should “award” the dolls to. With each potential wish answered I left another unfulfilled.

It’s a small thing, I know- giving away dolls. However, the decision soon became more than I could bear. I decided the best approach for making my selection would be to put all of the names in a hat, pray over it and ask God to help me pick the name of the person who would be most blessed by the receipt. So, I did and when I drew the name it came out “Sharon.”

Sharon was one of my least preferred potential recipients. She had shared no reason for wanting the dolls in her response to my post. She had simply said “I would like to have these. Thanks.” This is where the arguing with God began. “Really?” I thought/said. “What about Elizabeth- the one who said this would just MAKE her daughter’s Christmas? Or Jace,-the one with the brain tumor? There are so many I’d rather pick than Sharon.”

“You asked. I answered.” I could hear God speak to me. “But I guess it doesn’t matter, because you’re not going to listen anyway.” (that last sentence may have been me speaking to myself).  The guilt spread quickly and the verse found at the top of this page came to mind.  I was wanting the selection to be based on my own understanding, rather than trusting that God had a plan that would lead me to the right answer. I was still hesitant to respond to Sharon versus Elizabeth, but chose to obey and sent the email to Sharon letting her know the dolls were hers- doubt still lingered as to whether she was the right choice

Within minutes, I received this email response from Sharon. “Talk about prayers  answered…  Not  to  give  you  a  whole  bunch  of  info  that  you  really  don’t  need  to  know … but  to  show  you  how  good our  God  is …  our  granddaughter  has  come  to  live  with  us  along  with  her  Daddy  our  Son.  Money is tight and  they  have  endured  an  ugly  divorce.  As  a  grandma  that  wants  the  best  for  her  we  are  indeed  thankful  to  have  her  here.  Well  for  the most  part  Christmas  is  bought,  and  wrapped  and  the  wallets  are  empty.  Just  the  other  night  our  girl  said  Nannie  I  really  want  an  American  Girl  baby  for  Christmas.  Not one of  the  characters  but  a  baby.  Up popped your offer.  I  had  no  sooner  sat  down  to  the computer  and  literally  prayed … “Lord  you  can  make  a  way  when  there  seems  there  is  no  way!”  and  just  like  our  abundant  Father …  our  girl  will  have  2  babies …  Our  God  is  so  good.”

Goose bumps. Tears. Admission: “You were right. Why did I ever doubt you? Lesson learned.” The sound of God’s gentle laughter at my resigned acceptance with the feeling of a comforting hand on my back, the kind that you feel when someone tells you “it’s OK, I still love you.” Even when you’ve hurt their feelings, done wrong by them or simply let them down.

Yes, it was a mundane event- I was giving used dolls away, not choosing the recipient of a lifesaving organ donation. However, it was an instrumental lesson. A lesson of obedience. A lesson of submission. A lesson of faith. Presented in 4-year-old simplicity, but incredibly impactful.

May you find truth in simple tasks, too- maybe even when reading a random blog post on Facebook.

$32.20 per month

$32.20 per month.

This is an estimate of what I spend on diet soft drinks for my own personal consumption each month.

4 12 packs of cans at $2.50 each
12 20 ounce bottles purchased from a vending machine at $1.35 each
4 drinks ordered with restaurant meals a at $1.50 each

 I know.  It’s a lot.  I’m an admitted Diet Coke/Diet Mountain Dew addict.  It’s bad.  Really bad.  I am fully aware of how poor a choice this is for my health and that Diet Coke is capable of removing tarnish from century-old pennies and Diet Mountain Dew is helpful in dissolving mouse carcasses (or something just as disgusting but still along those lines), yet this knowledge has had little impact on my willingness to cut back my soda habit.

What has caused be to take a new look at my habit is my experience of reading a book called “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.” This book is by one of my favorite Christian authors and chronicles her nearly year-long experience with attempting to remove some of the excess in her life and the spiritual journey she took along the way.  The book moved me, and has made me start to think about the excess in my life.  The exercises the author (Jen Hatmaker, who from here on out I will simply refer to as “Jen” because her books make me feel like she is my actual friend) undertakes in the book are extreme, and she in no way implies that all readers should emulate her actions. She clearly states that this was her personal experience and everyone’s looks different.

A discussion of soft drinks is the first step in my version of the experience.  One of the excesses that Jen tackles in her book is food.  I’ll let you explore her book on your own if you’re interested in her approach, but mine is still somewhat undefined.  I can say that my food goal is something along the lines of simplifying and getting back to basics.  By simplifying I don’t mean switching to TV dinners and minute rice to simplify my effort, but to simplify what it is that is going into my body and the bodies of my family.  Kind of a whole foods/in defense of food ideology, if you will.

At first I felt a little guilty that my first step was more about health and not about anything spiritual, but I really felt like it was the right step for me. Lucky for me, God finds a way to teach you where you are.

You see, as I started this assessment of food excess in my life (just this week), I made the decision that my diet soda consumption had to stop, or at the very least decrease significantly.  So, over the last 4 days I have consumed only one diet coke. While most people’s thoughts would be along the lines of “Woo hoo!  Good for me! I’m on my way to kicking my bad habit,” mine went another way.

I often refer to my “need” for a diet coke. Soft drinks are a staple on my weekly grocery list. I visit vending machines with great regularity without a second thought about dropping $1.35 for a 20 ounce bottle full of chemicals I can’t even pronounce.  Then I realized that this manufactured need is just the tip of the iceberg of the excess in my life. It’s a small component of all the waste I allow in my life and the lack of awareness of the significance of my even my smallest actions.  I need water. I don’t need carmel color, citric acid and aspartame (caffeine, however is it’s own subject entirely- not to be covered here).

Tonight I took the time to look at the economic impact of my addiction- $32.00 a month!  Holy cow! For $32 a month I could sponsor a child in a third world country. For $32 month I could pay a needy neighbor’s water bill. Half of the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day- I spend half of that on diet sodas.

 I often say I wish I could do more to serve others, but my budget is limited.  Maybe the real issue is that I am too busy serving myself instead of authentically seeking ways to serve others.

And now I see that the first step wasn’t about Diet Coke at all.

Never forget

I struggled with whether or not I wanted to make a 9/11 post on Facebook today. I considered the standard “where I was when the planes hit’’ note; a heartfelt thank you for the first responders who on that day and everyday ran in when others were running out; a note of appreciation for our servicemen and women who put their lives on the line to ensure we continue to live ours in the land of the free; prayers for the families who lost loves ones and still grieve each and every day;  a simple God bless America- but none really summed it up for me.

As I’m sure many others did today, I reflected on many things related to that fateful day 10 years ago. I remembered the feelings of disbelief and fear as I heard (and saw) the news. I reflected on the fact that the one thing I desired most that morning was to get back home to my husband and daughter where we could just be together. I relived the grief and fear. However those memories were not the ones that most occupied my mind.

Over and over, rather than remembering the terror, the pain, the horror, my mind turned to the days and weeks following the attacks. The days when people flocked to churches, searching for faith, peace and answers. The days when families reconnected and refocused on the most important things in life. The days when we were united as Americans- cloaked in patriotism, goodwill and unity.  In the shadows of one of the darkest days in our country’s history, the United States blossomed and the words “proud to to be an American” resonated with me more than any other time in my life.

Now, here we are, 10 short years later.  We pledge to never forget the lives lost, the acts of amazing heroism, the day that changed the world; and as a whole, we remain true to that promise. However I wonder if we would extend that commitment to never forget the beauty of unity, service to one another, and return to faith that came in the days following what effect it might have in our world today.

I, for one, commit to making a dedicated effort to honor those lost and those who continue to sacrifice for our freedoms by striving to live the life that so many of us sought in the aftermath of terror. I will flock to my church in search of faith and peace and answers. I will focus on my family and try to keep my priorities straight. I will seek unity, exercise goodwill through service to others and display my patriotism.

I will not forget.






A Mothers’ Day Memoir

The annual celebration of mothers often incites people to share tales of their children’s births, touching memories of those no longer with us and precious sentiments about the things our mothers have taught us or given up for us over the years. While I could write pages on any of these subjects, I have chosen to instead document 10 moments that confirmed for me what it is to be a mother.

  1. Waking a peacefully sleeping baby, just to assure myself she was still breathing.
  2. Reaching into my purse in search of keys, only to pull out a pacifier.
  3. Paying three times what I should for the Christmas gift my child just had to have.
  4. Crying during a first grade performance of a song about Egypt.
  5. Applying the “mom arm” technique during a sudden stop of the car.
  6. Spending hours and hours, into the wee hours of the night, making the perfect Barbie cake.
  7. Sobbing hysterically (the textbook definition of an “ugly cry”) while witnessing my child in pain and knowing I couldn’t ease it.
  8. Singing every word of the High School Musical soundtrack with my daughter (and being able to identify the actors, characters and scenes involved with each song).
  9. Sitting in a parking lot, making frantic phone calls and refusing to leave until I know exactly why police cars and fire engines are surrounding my child’s school, while simultaneously considering the various ways I could bypass the emergency vehicles to get to my child.
  10. Digging through the garbage to find misplaced homework assignments.

They may not be the memories that will ever grace the front of a greeting card, but they are the ones that have made me Mom.

Not so extreme couponing- part 2

Facebook can be blamed for credited with introducing people to a variety of new hobbies. Some fall in love with virtual farming, others manage zoos or wage mafia wars.  For me, the vice is couponing.

It all began very innocently.  A friend of mine suggested I “like” his wife’s couponing page  and, wanting to be supportive, I obliged. I quickly became intrigued by the steady flow of posts promoting the new “deals” she finds daily and took some time to explore her website.  I admit to being a bit judgmental of couponers in the past, thinking it to be a pastime for people with way too much time on their hands.  But knowing the writer of this page and what an intelligent and busy woman she is, my viewpoint soon changed.  If she found time to do it and was that successful at it, I thought, I could, too.

In the beginning, her site was my couponing primer. I would read her found deals and then try to duplicate them in my weekly shopping. It was helpful to mimic her actions, as it taught me how to find the deals and how to work the combinations of sales, store coupons, manufacturers’ coupons and promotional offers.  It also taught me not what to do, as I made a few saving mistakes in those first few weeks. But like all good students, I was eventually able to depend less on my teacher and venture out on my own. I do however, still visit her site and follow her Facebook posts as she is still my mentor and I continuously learn from her expertise.

I promised in my last post to share some more information about my couponing practices. I’ve covered how it is I got started. Now, for the other tidbits I promised to dole out:

Find your own guru
My guru is the friend’s wife I’ve described above. Her site, www.midwestcouponchick.com, is my primary reference tool.  If you live in the Indianapolis area, her site could be a great reference for you, too. If you live somewhere else, simply try Googling (that is a verb, right?) “coupon blog” with your city name.  You’ll want to find someone in your region to follow so that you’ll have access to the same stores, sales and coupon policies your guru posts about.

I encourage the use of other’s sites not just so you have someone to learn from, but to save you time. There are tons of these sites out there, with people who are already taking the time to scan the ads, search the net and visit the stores to find the best deals. What’s amazing is, they happily share this information for free on their sites.  So, accept their generosity and save yourself some time and hard work.

Think outside of the box

Walgreens stacking deal. Hefty one zip bags, regular price $3.29 each. Starburst jelly bean eggs, regular price $.99, on sale for $.75. I used a 2 buy one get one free store coupons and 3 $1.00 off coupons on the bags, a $1.00 off 2 store coupon and $.50 off 2 manufacturers coupon on the candy and $3.00 Walgrees cash. Grand total out-of-pocket: $1.01.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned from couponing is that the big box stores are rarely the places where you will save the most money. Before I took up the habit, I did most of my shopping at Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart. Now, I rarely set foot in those stores. Some of my best grocery deals come from places I would have considered the most expensive before: Target, Walgreens and CVS.

The trick is shopping at stores that give you a variety of ways to save. The three stores mentioned above are great for the practice of “stacking” or using both a store coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon on the same item (get Target coupons on their web site, Walgreens coupons from their weekly circulars and in their monthly coupon booklet). In addition, CVS and Walgreens offer in-store cash rewards that can make the deals even more beneficial.

Be sensible
To make the most of my habit, I shop at 5 stores every week: Meijer, Kroger, Walgreens, CVS and Target. I explained three of these above, the other two are favorites due to their double coupon policies. For me, this is really not a big deal because all 5 stores are within 4 miles of my house and of each other (in fact I have two Kroger and Walgreens locations and 3 CVS locations in the same 4 mile grid). If this is not the case for you, you’ll obviously want to consider the tradeoff of driving all over the place while burning your nearly $4 per gallon gasoline.  A deal is only a deal if it saves you money.

Don’t be a snob
One of the cardinal rules of couponing is to not be a brand snob. I admit to struggling with this one a bit, especially when it comes to my health and beauty products and my laundry detergent. If you’re not overly brand loyal, you’ll be able to benefit from more savings opportunities. For me, I’ve had to find a happy medium. I do try new brands in product categories that don’t bother me as much: frozen vegetables, paper goods, etc. and I won’t pass up a free deal even if it is a brand I won’t use. I take the items I can get for free or nearly free, but don’t meet by brand pickiness, and donate them to the food pantry at my church.

1 +2 = free

Better than free. Suave deodorant, regular price $1.19, on sale for $.88. Use 3 $.50 off one coupons, at a store that doubles. FREE deodorant, plus $.36 overage credited to my other purchases.

Free items-this is probably the topic that sparks the most interest. Getting free items is a very common occurrence for me anymore. Of course, you can’t get everything for free, but there is a selection of items you can get for free on a very regular basis. For instance, since I got into the couponing groove I have not paid for toothpaste, toothbrushes, dental floss, deodorant, muffin mix, cake mix or cake frosting. I also often get frozen vegetables, candy and pasta for free. There are all kinds of free opportunities out there. They are generally a result of a good sale plus a stack or a sale plus a double coupon, or a coupon plus a promotional deal, or a combination of all of the above.

I now have a list of items that I truly believe I should never pay for along with a collection of arbitrary guidelines of things I will never pay for more than a dollar for, etc. It’s funny what kind of rules you can establish around your couponing process once you get used to it. What I’ve found is that now that I know what kind of prices I can get on a regular basis, and now that I have established a decent stockpile, I can be more patient and wait until the deal is right before making a purchase.

Be patient

Once youve established a stockpile, youll be able to wait for the deals, improving your overall savings.

If you’re just getting started with couponing, be patient.  While you can save a substantial amount right off the bat, it’s more likely that it will take a few weeks for you really to start seeing the savings you’re looking for. I took a couple of months before I hit my stride. Once I had spent some time building up my coupon supply (I buy 3 Sunday papers each week, print coupons online and do electronic couponing ) and creating a basic stockpile, I really started seeing the savings. I now spend about 50% less per month than I did before couponing.

 Have fun
The process of couponing involves some work, but I encourage you to have fun with it. For me, it’s a strategic challenge. I am somewhat addicted to the game, getting truly excited when I score a great deal and equally disappointed if I miss one (I’m still really mad about missing a $0.28 fabric softener deal a few weeks ago). If you hate doing it, then don’t. Go to the big box stores and get the lower everyday prices. If you do love it, then I wish you well and hope to see you and your binder at a nearby store sometime soon.

Not so extreme couponing

The combination of my recent Facebook posts regarding my couponing habit and the season premiere of TLC’s Extreme Couponing has generated several questions from my friends about how exactly it is I manage my “personal savings program”.  While I have no intention of turning this into a couponing blog, this is a subject that I do have some true passion for, so I think a post or two may be in order.

To those who prefer my sappy, silly and sarcastic content, I promise to get back to basics soon. However, today the tone will be a bit more instructional in nature.

To keep myself on track I think we’ll give a Q&A format a try.

Q. Are you like the crazy people on TV who spend hours and hours on their couponing and have shelves and shelves of stockpiled items?
A. Yes and no.  Yes, I do spend a decent amount of time clipping, planning and shopping. Yes, I do stockpile some items. No, I am not like the people on TV. 

I promise this is not a statement of denial.

 I spend about 2-3 hours a week clipping coupons, organizing them, searching the ads and making my lists. I then spend a about another 2 hours shopping.  This is generally a Sunday afternoon activity.  I clip coupons over lunch with my family, then organize and plan after that.  I spread my shopping out over the course of the week.  (To give you some perspective, I spent a least an hour or two planning even before my couponing habit began. My old style was to explore cookbooks and build out detailed meal plans before writing my shopping list, so the amount of time I spend now is not a big stretch).

My stockpiling is relatively minor. My linen closet holds a collection of body washes, dental care items, shampoo, conditioner, soap and deodorant- enough to last my family a few months.  A storage cabinet in my basement holds a few weeks’ worth of dry goods and a shelf in my laundry room boats an ample supply of household cleaners.

I do not own a second refrigerator or a deep freeze and have no intention of obtaining either.

stockpiling doesn't have to be extreme

Q. Why do you stockpile?
. It’s a matter of simple math.  If you can purchase something for pennies on the dollar (or get it for free) why not take advantage of the deal while you can?  It saves you in the long run.

Q. How much do you really save?
A. Admittedly, I used to be the person who scoffed at the people using coupons in front of me in line at the grocery.  I wondered how much difference a 25 cent coupon could really make.  After being properly indoctrinated into the couponing society, I now save 50-60% off my monthly grocery bill.  Others do much better.  I really am a very moderate player in this game.

Q. I’d like to try couponing, but I’m not organized enough.  How do you it?
A. I am, by nature, an organizer.  However, I don’t believe that you have to be as OCD as I am in order to be an effective couponer.  The “secret” is what you see on the TLC show or in the hands of a shopper in your local store- THE BINDER. 

Coupon binders are as varied as the individuals who build them.  Mine is a simple three-ring binder filled with clear baseball card sleeves. Each card slot holds a collection of identical coupons.  My binder is also divided into 25 sections, such as dairy, produce, frozen, laundry, H&BA, paper goods, pets, etc.  In this instance I am pretty extreme.  Most people I know have far fewer categories, but as I alluded to before, I’m a bit of an uber organizer.

In addition, my binder holds my shopping list, labeled envelopes for each store I will shop at, copies of the related store ads, a print out of any electronic coupons I’ve added to my store shopping cards and a pair of scissors.

I shop primarily from the envelopes which I fill with the coupons I plan to use prior to going shopping.  The binder is along for the ride so I can seize any additional deals I may stumble upon.

the essential tool- the binder

There’s a lot more I can say about the process, but I really want to build some suspense into this intriguing series of posts, so I’ll just leave you hanging for now.  I promise at least one more post in which I will offer more details on what got me started, how to find deals, what stores are the best for couponing, introduction to coupon vocabulary (terms like “stacking” and “Catalina” are key), which items I NEVER pay for and more.   If you have specific questions, I’d be happy to offer my best answer. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I love saving money and will gladly help you do so too.  Just leave a comment here or on Facebook and I’ll either respond back to you directly or include the answer in a future post (or both).

In the meantime, start scouting out binders, cleaning out closets and storage rooms to make space for stockpiling and sharpening your scissors.  There is some saving to be done!

My Series of Unfortunate Events

I don’t generally use my blog as a place to chronicle the events of my day, but today is one of those days that you just have to document for posterity’s sake.

Before I begin, a brief disclosure: I am fully aware that there are plenty of people in world who are having days much worse than mine and do not intend this as a feel-sorry-for-me story. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. My day got such a bad start today that it was simply comical and I thought I might bring a smile or two to those of you that read my randomness. So, here it goes- a series of unfortunate events.

Chapter 1: The Parking Garage
I’ve successfully made it to the parking garage down the street from my office- on time, in a cute outfit and having a good hair day. I have the world on a string! Then, next thing I know, I’m on my way up the ramp of the 8th floor of the garage and my car loses all engine power. I hit the breaks to keep from rolling backward and the people behind me look at me like I’m nuts for just stopping. Honking commences (it’s 8:30 a.m. in downtown Cincinnati, the garage is a little busy). I get out of the car and ask three people to back up, so I can let my car roll backward into a corner so they can pass. I then stand there looking distressed and placing SOS calls from my cell phone as my co-workers and other corporate downtowners drive by and gawk. Garage staff comes to help, thinking they can just jump the battery- garage traffic blocked again. I know it is not the battery, but they insist on trying for nearly 30 minutes.

Finally, I convince them I will need to be towed and we call for a truck that can clear the low ceilings of the garage. They say it will be a lot easier to tow me out if we can get the car down to the bottom of the garage, so two garage employees and a really nice guy who had just pulled into the garage, push my car up the ramp so I can turn to the down side and coast to the lowest level of the garage. I cannot express how much fun it was making all of the tight turns around the corners of the garage with my power steering not working, but I somehow made it safely to the ground floor.

Chapter 2: Back to From Where I Came
The tow truck arrives and picks me up without incident. I ask the driver to take me and my dead car to my neighborhood mechanic rather than trusting a random downtown garage (I live about 25 miles away from work). When I get there I realize I cannot find my keys. I think maybe they are still in the car, but they are not. I empty my purse and computer bag onto the hood of my car- they are not there. I search the cab of the tow truck- still not there. They are also nowhere to be found in mechanic’s parking lot. I check my coat pockets and find that the pocket I most likely would have put them is has a hole in it. Guessing my keys are on the floor of the parking garage downtown. I let the mechanic know that I will have to have my husband bring a key later, because apparently I am an idiot. My tow truck guy says he has to head back downtown anyway, and that he will check with the garage for my keys and call me if he finds them (nice guy).

Chapter 3: In Search of a Rental Car
The concierge guy from the garage drives me to the Enterprise location in my small town- they have no cars. In fact, not a single Enterprise location on the east side of Cincinnati (including the BIG one at Kings Auto Mall, that keeps an inventory of 300 cars) has a car. They say maybe by Friday. The driver takes me to a local place that the garage works with regularly and they also have no cars. Apparently all of the rain and last week’s black ice have left all of the car rental places empty and the body shops full. I decide God is trying to tell me to go home and I choose to listen.

Chapter 4: My Situation Wreaks Havoc for Others
The shop we took the car to is literally right down the street from my house, so as the driver brings me home, we see that there is a major car accident right in front of the shop. We turn onto my street and stare for a minute- trying to establish how such a bad accident happened in that location. The driver then notices that my tow truck is back at the shop- he guesses that maybe the tow driver found my keys in his truck after all and has brought them back for me (maybe this day is getting better?).The driver calls back to the shop to ask and finds out, that no, my keys have not been found, but that my tow truck driver was involved in the accident that we were just observing. Apparently he is the one who hit the badly damaged car lying in the ditch- an incident that occurred only because of my situation.

Chapter 5: Working from Home
Finally settled at home (thank goodness for that keypad on the garage door) and I sit down to log-in to the office VPN- thankful I have my work stuff with me from finishing up some writing last night at home. Up pop the VPN errors- I’m unable to log in. I spend the next 30 minutes on the phone troubleshooting with the help desk (although kudos to my tech guy for being super helpful) to realize that something is just randomly screwed up with my VPN client and that we have to install another one to get me reconnected. It’s a glitch, no explanation for why it happened, but it did.

It’s at this point in the day when I realize it is probably good that I am now back in the safety of my home where I can remain safely contained and no longer be a danger to those around me (or those who are around my tow truck driver). It’s also at this point when I am finally able to look back at the course of my morning (its only Noon) , have a hearty laugh and realize that this is a story I just have to share.

Lessons learned

As I was working today on the copy for a new brochure, I heard a voice from my past.  It was my high school English Composition teacher saying to me “one sentence does not a paragraph make.”  Now, you should know that I am a professional communicator.  I work in marketing, where the rules of writing are a bit more casual than the rubrics of formal composition.  As such, it is perfectly acceptable for me use a standalone sentence as an opening paragraph. It is also acceptable for me to use the occasional run-on sentence, to start a sentence with “but” or “because” and to break a myriad of other proper writing rules. However I can’t help but hear the echoes of one of my life’s educators in my head as I apply the skills she helped me hone.

Today, for some reason, this resonated a bit more with me than it has in the past and I started to look back on some of the other great things I have learned from teachers throughout my life. While the list that ran through my head included people from various walks of life who had crossed paths with me in a wide variety of roles, I kept finding myself focusing on the professional educators that were (along with my parents) charged with the task preparing me to be an effective, functioning  adult. 

These teachers performed all of the obligatory tasks- I learned to read, write, spell and tabulate. I understand (a little more than) the basics of life science, anatomy, U.S. and world history and geography.  I can even speak a little bit of Spanish.   My teachers did their job. They taught me the required subject matter. They saw me through the system and prepared me to be an employed grown-up.  But when I reflected on the things that they taught me that have most impacted who I am today- it had nothing to do with what was in the lesson plan, or what I needed to know to score well on the ISTEP test, or even what the requirements were to earn my college scholarship.  The things they really taught me are far more important.

I found it fitting in the wake of recent events, to list a few of the things I’ve learned from teachers along the way. As people are pondering the monetary value of the service educators provide, I’ve gathered a few of the priceless things they gave to me in the bullets below.  This list could go on for days and days, so I mean no disrespect to those who may not be mentioned, or by leaving out additional things I learned from those listed, but here are a few that stand out:

  • Mrs. Willis taught me in kindergarten that it is OK to be proud of your talents and to share them with others without feeling like you are different or showing off. I was an early reader when many of my classmates were just beginning to explore the concept. She would have me read to the class during group reading time, something that made me very self-conscious.
  • Ms Tonies taught me that you shouldn’t cave to peer pressure.  A classmate had dared me to bite him. I knew better, but he was one of the “cool” kids and I was not.  I caved to his pressure and was immediately reprimanded and sent to the hall for a one-on-one conversation with Ms. Tonies (and, I feared, the paddle).  However, I received no corporal punishment. Instead I was given the 8-year old equivalent of the “if your friend told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it?” lesson.
  • Mr. Guerin (OK, so he was a principal at the time) taught me that if you want something, you should tell someone that you want it, ask what it will take to get it and then work hard to do just that.  As a fifth grade student, I wanted nothing more than to be asked to participate in Project Challenge (an extra curricular learning program). However, an invitation was dependent on teacher recommendation and honor roll grades.  The grading period in which invitations were extended I received one of very few C+’s in my K-12 educational career- in handwriting.  I was devastated by the fact that something so (in my esteemed ten year-old opinion) insignificant, could keep me from my goal. I plead my case to Mr. Guerin.  After helping me see that handwriting was indeed important, and gaining my commitment to work hard to improve my script, Mr. Guerin offered me the chance to test for inclusion in the program.   I made it and improved my handwriting grade immediately.
  • Mrs. Grossman taught me that I had a natural talent for teaching.  I was never a student in Mrs. Grossman’s class. However, I did help lead a junior Girl Scout troop that met in her classroom after school when I was a junior high school student.  As such, she would often still be there, grading papers at her desk, silently observing how I interacted with the girls I was directing.  One week she stopped me and told me that I should really consider being a teacher, having been impressed with how I was able to connect with my girls and to really get them excited about what we were learning.   I did major in elementary education for a brief time in college before realizing it wasn’t really for me (I don’t really like kids as much as I thought).  However, years later I found that she was very right as I found myself in a job I loved- educating adults as a corporate trainer.
  • Mrs. McNeely told me I had stage presence. Following my first performance in a high school drama club production, she pulled me aside in the lobby and informed me of this. It was one of the biggest confidence boosters of my life and has been instrumental in helping me become a comfortable (and pretty effective) public speaker.
  • Dr. Hall taught me that the appropriate answer is usually “it depends.”   During the discussion of confounding variables in a Sociology 201 class, Dr. Hall taught me that things are hardly every black and white and before making a judgment  one should always consider what other variables there may be that have been overlooked. The foundation of critical thinking, a lesson I am reminded of on a daily basis and one that I believe has helped shape my character as an adult.

It is my sincere belief that individuals are created by their unique combination of exposure to- and experience with- others. It takes others’ contributions to create who we are. In my case, I feel blessed to have had some amazing people help make me who I am today and to continue to have others who are helping shape who I am still becoming.  My teachers have provided more than their fair share to this monumental task and I think one more recognition is appropriate as I close this entry.

Mrs. Talley taught me  that “once sentence does not a paragraph make.”

The Thankful Game

Lately, one of my pastors has been encouraging us to the play what he has dubbed “the thankful game.”  His purpose is to keep us focused on the important things rather than getting caught up in life’s little distractions and inconveniences.  So, after being quite grumpy about my nasty commute home last night (for a brief synopsis of this event see my Facebook page ), I’ve decided to play a round of the thankful game.

I am thankful for the following:

  • That no one was critically injured in the accident that caused my chaotic commute (A miracle in itself when you realize a van tumbled off on overpass and a semi was completely engulfed in flames and no one involved was wearing  seatbelt. Read more here).
  • That I didn’t leave work a few minutes earlier, as it could have put me in the middle of the accident
  • A nearly full tank of gas, an empty bladder, a charged cell phone, a granola bar and a book
  • That my children were safe at home with their dad and not stranded somewhere waiting to be picked up
  • Friends and family who called, texted, and posted to Facebook in order to both check on me and keep me entertained
  • My iPhone- plenty of entertainment to be found in that 2.5 X 4.5” box
  • That, for the most part, people remained calm and polite and didn’t act incredibly stupid in the traffic mess
  • Public servants such as the police officers and firefighters who worked long hours in blistering cold to deal with the aftermath of the accident
  • Alternative routes and navigational systems
  • That the alternative routes were only covered with light ice and snow and not the dreadful stuff my friends and family in other regions are dealing with
  • The warm house I had to go home to, even if it was at the end of the ice-covered hill that my car was not able pass
  • The family waiting for me in that house, and the fact that they are all healthy and safe
  • The yummy leftovers that were in my fully-stocked fridge upon my arrival at home
  • The job I was coming home from
  • A pastor that reminded me to be thankful
  • A God who has blessed me with everything listed above and more
  • Those of you that will take a few minutes out of your busy schedule to read this post