Saturday, June 26, 2010

It Takes the Cake!

On August 20, 1973 I spent the morning baking a chocolate cake, decorating the dining room with orange and white crepe paper streamers (Go Westlawn Bobcats!) because that was all I had. It was my parents anniversary and I was going to show them how grown up I was. I could pull off my very own surprise dessert.

I was 12 and it was their 13th anniversary. My dad was asleep (he worked nights) and my mom was at work. I scrounged for everything I could in the house, pantry and closet. I decided to use my own previous Cinderella and Prince Charming birthday figurines to top the cake. Perfect.

Now it is 2010 and my parents will be celebrating their 50th Anniversary this August. I decided to upgrade my baking skills and take cake decorating classes. I certainly didn't guess that this would open up a whole new world for me. I have found a calling that I am having a blast and my creativity is exploding. I absolutely love the creative flow and it is important for the cakes to taste good too.  No "just pretty" cakes here! Gotta have substance. Gotta go below the surface and dig deep. Looking good is important because that is what draws our eye to the cake in the first place! But once you get there, there's gotta be more.

Same thing in life. I have always believed in depth. More than just looking good. I can appreciate a good outfit, complimentary make up and the hair cut and color that rocks. Jewelry can be an especially critical accent (especially earrings). And don't forget the shoes. I have the perfect shoe for each out fit/mood that I'm in. They are all singularly exsquisite, but together, they can make the difference between cool, wow or fun!

After the first glimpse, though, there's gotta be more. Interesting facts, witty quips or long, deep conversations that pull hearts together for a moment or a lifetime. Ah-ha, that's it. Relationships. Connections. That's what I'm designed for.

Cakes have been a great celebration outlet for just that. Writing was one thing, but cakes, have an expiration. After I've written something, I will re-visit it time and time again. Tweaking, making it "more better!" Always something to correct. With cakes, when it's finished, I can tweak for a while, but at some point, we've got to eat it! And eating it is the point. I don't want something "too pretty to eat." I want it to be pretty, but come on, eat the thing. It tastes good too!

I've worked on flavors and fillings and icing to the point that I dream about them sometimes. "Does hazelnut chocolate really go with dutch chocolate buttercream?" I wonder in my twilight stages of sleep? Every detail matters to me. I wish it didn't sometimes, but it does. That is what makes me, me.

Details matter. Not all details, mind you, but the ones that do -- really do matter! Car parts for instance. Not that I can't appreciate torquing an engine head (because I have done it and know how important it is to buy the right torque wrench and torque each bolt just right, in order and then again -- IN ORDER), but I don't obsess over car stuff. Okay, so maybe I do find car part details important -- but I digress!

Digression is part of the details. As I expound any one detail, it will take me off into another arena of details that I hadn't considered or planned to go. How else can you start out discussing marriage, cakes and car engines and it all makes perfect sense?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sweet Satisfaction

I certainly have been caught off guard by this new found love for baking and decorating cakes. Who'd have thought this sweet line of sugar art would frost me with such sublime satisfaction? Not me. But it has.

I just wanted to make my cakes look pretty, and more importantly I wanted to surprise my parents this coming August by making their 50th Anniversary cake. Well, after seeing my first few cakes, my mom calls me up and asks, "So are you gonna make our cake for our anniversary?" That was her way of saying that what she had seen meant I was qualified!

My love of baking cakes started when I was 12. In 1973 my parents were celebrating their 13th Anniversary and I was trying to figure out how to make it special. I found a box of chocolate cake mix in the pantry and read the directions. My mom was at work that day and  voila, it began.

It turned out pretty good, but it just looked like a chocolate cake with some icing on it (that's all I knew how to do!). I found some plastic "Cinderella and Prince" cake figures that had topped some of my own cakes in the past and put the pair on top of the cake. I then scrounged through drawers and found orange and white crepe paper rolls left over from some Westlawn Junior High School project, and began streaming them from the dining room light. The scene was set for romance I'm sure! Well it was in my 12-year-old mind anyway.

I loved making that cake and when my mom came home, she was certainly surprised!

I made their anniversary cakes for years, but as I got older, I got interested in other things. But I always come back to making cakes and forget how much I really like it.

So this year, as their 50th Anniversary began rolling around, I wondered how I could make their cake special and make it look pretty. I found Wilton cake decorating classes at Michael's in Rockwall and tomorrow, I start course 2 of 4 one-month-long courses.

As I learn each step, I fall more and more in love with this sugar art, and I think that is what attracts me to it. I can get my creative juices flowing. There is an end, a completion to the cake. Unlike writing, where I continue to tweak and edit and re-write, cake decorating has a finality to it. I like that.

My goal is to not only make it look pretty, but to taste good too. I'm on a quest.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Creating Cakes and Cooking up Some Creative Concoctions

I have always loved making cakes. Ever since I was a kid and decided to make a cake for my parents anniversary. I didn't know how to pipe icing, but I could frost it with a butter knife like nobody's business. I've played with the icing tips and decorated cookies over the years,  but never really tried to do anything on a cake -- until now.

I enrolled in the Wilton Method Cake Decorating Class in Rockwall and I'm loving it. I have learned so much already and I really like my instructor -- as well as the other women in the class. They are from Farmersville, Crandall and Dallas. I'm from Greenville. So we are kinda scattered about. Just goes to show you that even us women in the small towns around Dallas want to know how to bake a good tastin' cake and make it look pretty too.

I cannot believe I am so pumped about putting colored icing onto a cake! But I am. I literally cannot wait until the next class! The next cake will be a clown cake. I think it will be quite cute. Of course, I never do anything exactly like the pictures.

For the flower cake above, I added the color flowers around the bottom edge and little leaves. I also jumped ahead and went ahead and "tied" a bow on the stems! After I got home and finished it (we learn the techniques in class, so we have to finish at home!), Alex's Easter candy that was still available looked so perfect with it.

I added one of the last 3 Peeps left and opened my chocolate bunny and added it to the top of the cake.They looked right at home and made the presentation so much better.

I cannot believe I have never purchased a turntable before, but it is the most prized cake implement I have purchased to date. It will come in handy for so much more I'm sure.

My instructor is Mary Shirley and she is awesome. I have found a niche that I love. I've even tossed around a cake business in my head. There's a ton of donut shops here in Greenville, but there's not really a bakery. Hmmmmmmmmmmm? Cartier Cakes? Kimmie Cakes? KimmiePie Creations? (I'm not a pie maker though, but I really like the KimmiePie thing!). Sugar Shock? Maybe not a full fledged bakery, perhaps just cakes, cup cakes and cookies? An just include whatever I enjoy making? Hmmmmmmmmmmm. Yummmmmmm. Hmmmmmmm?

I've already envisioned combining my love of collecting vintage Fiesta pottery with cakes. I eventually want to make a Fiesta cakescape? Watching "Ace of Cakes" and "Cake Boss" keeps me intrigues and inspires me to no end. I'm facinated with making mechanical cakes too. I've got to crawl first though. But I'm planning to run soon. Clear a path!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On a Mission: Columbia vs Colombia, Garage vs Tag

Saturday's Garage Sale is over and I'm halfway to Columbia! It is purposeful that I have garage sales only half a day. I used to start them on Friday and finish on Saturday, but in my experience, now I just have them half a day on Saturday. This one paid off!

I'm tempted to haul it all off to a donation or cause and forego the accumulation, pricing and all the work that goes into having a garage sale. However, because I was raising money for the Columbia mission trip, that helped me stay focused and I followed through with it. I raised $711.25 while I was at it.

Think about that, though. I really only had one big item -- a Broyhill queen bed, but most everything after that was $5, $1 or a quarter! Especially around 11 a.m., everything became $1 or a quarter! It was not going back into the house! That's a lot of . . . well, let's just call it stuff that is blessing someone else's home!  Actually, that was a good thing too! De-cluttering the house, raising money for missions. I'm multi-tasking my tennis shoes off! And for two very good causes -- people in Columbia and my home in Texas!

I knew I needed signs to direct people to the sale and had the posters all ready to go, but had not acquired the wooden stakes to "plant" them in the ground yet, when I got an idea from all the political campaign signs. Why not use wire instead of the wooden stake? Hmmmmmmmmmmmm. I could fashion a clothes hanger, just like Martha Stewart if I planned it right. I planned how I would bend and tape it to the poster (clear strapping tape, at that). I'd use staples if the tape didn't work, but that was Plan B. On a trip to the hardware store I wondered how hog wire would work? Well, I found out that I had to buy enough to build several hog pens, so that wasn't a solution. Then the helpful cowboy in the store asked what I needed it for -- he quickly figured out I look like an "indoor girl" and thought it was pretty weird I was asking about hog wire in the first place. What he didn't know is that I was tomboy growing up and both my grandparents had farms (one even raised hogs) so I was well versed in what hog wire was used for and knew full well how to use it! But I digress.

He asked if the discarded wires from the rounds of hog wire would work and I said sure, if they are long enough. "How much are they," I asked.

"Nothing," he said. "Just go pick them up off the ground by the barn!"

I liked the price even better!

So I made little wire stands/stakes for my posters and they worked beautifully. I think they were a huge part of the success of the sale. The signs read: "Tag Sale" in huge, bold black block letters and my address appeared below it and an arrow pointing whichever direction was needed. The wire easily inserted into the ground and the ends stood straight so readers didn't have to read around the bend if the wind was blowing!

Now for those of you who think I was raised up north where they actually hold tag sales, let it be known that I am a southerner through and through. Here in Texas, we call them Garage Sales or Yard Sales. I had several people ask me what a Tag Sale was. Here's my explanation.

Martha Stewart refers to Tag Sales up north. "TAG" is easier and shorter to write on a sign than "GARAGE" or "YARD." So I went for brevity and easy. I figured everyone would figure it out. Seems like they did and I was spared the "So how much do you want for your garage?" and "This yard won't fit my house," comments! I think calling it a Tag Sale made everyone curious and added to the success of the sale. Meaning -- more $$$$.

I'm stoked about the sale and it exceeded my goal by $200 to boot! But in my excitement, I was posting to Facebook about how I'm halfway to Columbia. My good friend Alley asks me at church what I am going to do in DC. Alley is from Puerto Rico and has this amazing accent, so imagine her comments in PR English with Spanish cadence. I'm trying to figure out if I said something that didn't make sense to her or what. Why is she thinking I am going to DC?

"I'm going to Columbia," I said, "not DC."

"You mean, like South America?" She said.


"Then why do you spell it C-o-l-u-m-b-i-a?" she asked. "I saw on your Facebook post where you spelled it C-o-l-u-m . . ."

"That's how you spell Columbia," I said. Seriously thinking something is not connecting in her pretty little head.

"If you mean the District of Columbia," she said. "Colombia, South America is spelled . . ." and she began to write it out for me.

I just nodded, but secretly was wondering if there was an Internet connection somewhere so I could look it up. I had to wait until I got home, but did you know that by golly, she is correct? I had no idea there were two very different Columbia/Colombia locations. So, I am actually going to Colombia now, not Columbia!

I love discovering stuff like that!

So whether you call it a Garage Sale, a Yard Sale or a Tag Sale, it is still a sale to clear clutter from my home in Texas and raise money for missions to go to Colombia. Conversely, if you are going to Colombia, you are not going to Columbia!

Now, what can I do to get the remaining $700 for Colombia? Hmmmmmmmmm. I'm on a mission.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What Was I Thinking?

It's only Tuesday, but I've already figured out that I am going to need more than a week to get this garage sale together!

Adjusting my schedule, accounting for Alex's robotics competitions, and his driving schedules, let's see. Hmmmmmmm.

I can squeeze it in on Saturday, March 27. It's a plan anyway.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mission: Cashing in on Garage Sale for Good Cause

Not sure if I've lost my ever-loving mind as some of my friends have concluded (and actually commented), but I feel called to go with several others from my church to Columbia this year. We'll be sleeping in tents, riding up and down the Amazon in little, tiny boats (unlike the cruise ships) and going from village to village.

Creature comforts that I am accustomed to will be nil. Nix the the hairdryer, curling iron and all the accrutiments that go with cute clothes and shoes! I'm kinda looking forward to no makeup and safari gear!

In order to help pay my way there, though, I am going to have a garage sale to get rid of stuff that is filling up my home. I'm having a garage sale/yard sale. Martha Stewart calls them tag sales and makes it sound a little higher class, but regardless of what you call it, I'm multi-tasking. While raising money to do something good for others, I am also trying to get rid of the "stuff" in my home that is cluttering it up and do something good for me! I love that.

Let me know if you have any words of wisdom for holding a yard sale. Any suggestions to make it more successful are most welcome. It's been a while since I've held one because they are so much hard work (and I swore I'd never have another one after each an every one I've had!). But this one is different.

I want to enjoy the process. Please pray for those whose lives will be affected by the trip. Pray for those who will be traveling with me and will have to put up with me (Jon will not be there to run interference for me!).  And pray for the sale to be successful and profitable.

Oh, in order to make it happen, I've scheduled the yard sale for next Saturday! It will keep me focused for the next 5 days!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Motivational Destiny

It was getting dark and the street signs were becoming more difficult to see. We no longer had any idea if we were closer or driving further away from our destination. Randoll Mill Rd. was supposed to be right there. But it wasn't. Where did it go?

We were not where we were supposed to be.

The workshop started 30 minutes ago, but Cindy McKinney and I finally arrived at our motivational destination. Missing street sign. Go figure.  "Finding the Creative Writing Genius Inside You" was turning out to be more than a motivational workshop! I have to confess, I was still a little giddy. It's been a while since I was a student, much less a writing student. Cindy and I were pumped on adrenaline and caffeine. Find that creative writer and unleash her. Let's go!

We arrived just in time for the good stuff. Yay!

It was good to be reminded of all those writing lessons long ago. Word clusters, web writing and word associations. Get the creative juices going and just put pen to paper. Don't worry about editing. Just let it flow.

I realized. Somewhere along the road to being a grown up, I had forgotten how to play along the way. I opted, instead, for safety. Safer to walk on the sidewalk than to risk driving into a ditch. Safety.

The instructor pops child development author Joseph Chilton Pearce's quote onto the wall: "To live the creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong."

The fear of being wrong? That hurt.

I know that fear all too well. That fear has kept me safe, but uneffective. Safe, but unused. Safe, yet withering.

That's it. It's time to be a little reckless. It's time to use the good dishes. Time to make the difficult meals for my family, rather than just for company. Time to step up. It's time to risk denting the convertible and go somewhere. Take it out of the driveway.  Drive it to the store. Drive it on a curvy road with the top down just to enjoy the thrill of the wind on my face and the smell of freshly cut hay.

But aren't you supposed to be writing? Oh yeah.

We were late to the workshop because we had taken a wrong turn. Not the driver's fault. One missing sign meant we couldn't find the right road. We would have never arrived there if we hadn't stopped to get directions. We were wrong a lot that night!

In spite of wrong turns, it was still fun having someone to talk to while we were lost. Cindy and I chatted like junior high school girls at a slumber party.

That's it. I discovered the secret to being wrong. Be sure to have a friend. It makes the ride more enjoyable, even when you are lost and late.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Earth Angel Heart Still Flying High

18 Valentine’s Days ago, I woke up to rain, but I was looking forward to the day of hearts and roses. It was my first Valentine’s Day with my boyfriend, Jon. I wondered what kind of flowers he would send, or where he’d take me for dinner.

The morning passed rather uneventfully. No call. No flowers. No date for lunch.

Harumph. All the other girls' desks are loaded with flowers, candy, cards, stuffed bears, tons of tokens of love from their sweeties.

Late in the afternoon, Jon shows up in my secure access area of work, but without flowers. I’m more than a little peeved -- (I still don't see any love tokens declaring his love for me!), but now I’m fretting about losing my job because he has somehow bypassed the acess card reader. Now he’s joking with my boss about letting me take the rest of the day off! Lo and behold, my stern, by the book, boss, says, “Sure.” But first, I’ll have to wear a blindfold.

Jon leads me out of the office building, and seats me in the car. The rain had stopped earlier in the day and the sun was out, I could feel the warmth on my face. After driving around for what seemed like forever, he finally came to a stop. We were at an ultralight air strip. We had discussed learning to fly these things, but now here I was for the moment of truth.

Well, okay. I can forgive him for not getting me flowers, but have you ever really seen an ultralight? It’s like a lawn chair tied to a kite with a box fan in the back. Seriously. You want me to go up in that, first?

The pilot, who looks a lot like Stephen King and adds an additional reason not to go up, takes me through learning the gauges. Jon did his homework. He knew this was going to be a little more difficult, so he convinced my co-worker Dana to drop hints and tell me how much fun ultralight aircrafts were!

Only room for two, so Jon sends me up first. Don’t forget these head phones, he adds. It’s noisy up there, he says, so here are the instructions in case you can’t hear the pilot. Okay, I think. This is getting exciting.

Stephen King takes me through the gauges and I halfway learn what they are used for. But the sun is getting low in the sky and we need to hustle. Within minutes we are soaring in the sky and it is absolutely gorgeous. It’s like flying. Wind is whipping your face, and oh, I can’t hear the pilot. I can’t hear the instructions in the earphones either. Oh, well. I’ll just enjoy the ride.

The sun starts setting in the west and a beautiful orange hue splays over the fields below. I see something on the ground and my first thought is how did that guy get so much shaving cream in the field. Oh, it spells something. Wait, it’s Jon. The message reads, “Marry Me!” and Jon is holding a large red heart as the bottom of the exclamation point. I love Valentine’s Day! All the pink and red hearts all day long now are quickly becoming a thing of the past. I no longer cared about flowers or candy or anything else. This was perfect.

Stephen King holds out two bandanas. A red one and green one. It’s Valentine’s Day and the red one is fitting for such a wonderful day! I make my selection and wave it proudly to Jon below as we make a low flying pass. In a moment Stephen yells at me and asks me if I’m really gonna say no. I’m confused. Why does he think I’m gonna say no?

He yanks the red bandana out of my hand and stuffs the green one in. “Oh,” I said. I guess it does make more sense that red means no and green means go! I drop the green one and it spirals down to the ground.
After we land, Jon is on bended knee with his grandmother’s wedding rings in hand and asks me to marry him. My heart melts and I gladly say yes.

Then the pilot says, “I’m glad you didn’t drop that red bandana.”

“Why,” I asked, wondering why he was so concerned.

“I didn’t tie a rock in it. I didn’t expect that you’d say no. If you had dropped it, it would have drifted into the propeller and we probably would have crashed.”

Hmmmmmmmmm. God was watching over me in more ways than one!

I didn’t get to hear the actual proposal in the air due to the loud propeller noise, but I did get to hear it when we landed on the ground. The headphones were plugged into a tape recorder with “Earth Angel” playing and followed by the sweetest proposal from Jon.

I’ve since forgotten what the gauges were and am grateful he didn’t really make me learn to fly an ultralight afterall! He still doesn’t do flowers or traditional expectations, and I’ve learned that it is perfectly all right!
Valentine’s Days ever since that one in 1992 always make my heart beat a little faster. And even though Jon is in Afghanistan this year, our hearts are still flying high. I had no idea that 18 years later, we’d still be having this much fun. We love doing the same things and we enjoy discovering new things together. So much to look forward to.


Monday, February 8, 2010

It's a Tankless Job . . .

It’s been a couple of weeks since I purchased my Rheem tankless water heater and I anxiously await the arrival of my friend to install it.

Last Saturday brought the threat of Texas ice and cold, so the install was postponed a week. Nonetheless, I had the burgers and a couple of bottles of Guinness Extra Stout ready just in case. And a case of Dr Pepper.

Dan Stilson served in Haiti for Operation Uphold Democracy in the mid 1990s with my husband Jon. They both lived and breathed the 245th Airborne Psychological Operations missions and methods for the US Army. We have shared burgers, buzz cuts and boy stories about his twins and our own son over the years. In addition to being a soldier, Dan is also trained as a heating and cooling tech, so I was thrilled when Dan offered to intall the water heater for me while Jon is now supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

It is awesome to have friends when your husband is afar, but it is even more awesome to have talented friends willing to help! Dan is not the only one who’s stepped up, but right now he’s the one who’s in the spotlight!

Dan is helping a couple of guys get started in home repair. Due to a back injury, he wasn’t excited about crawling around on the roof of my house to vent the tank, so he enlisted Eloy to come with him. He was also figuring out the tankless water heater install because he had not installed one before. Would have taken them a scant couple of hours to install the storage tank type he’s used to, but the tankless ones, well, this is new territory for all of us.

Dan was concerned that I needed to vent this thing, but I wanted to install the outdoor model in the garage, which doesn’t require venting. After a little research, Dan finally discovered that the efficiency on these tankless heaters is 92 percent. They burn so efficient that they can be installed in a basement without a vent. So a garage should be okay too.

I was ecstatic and returned to Home Depot and exchanged it for the outdoor model. Oh, did I mention I was installing it on the other side of the water heater closet, putting the unit in the garage? The unit is the size of an electric panel and that means, I get an entirely huge closet! This is perhaps the biggest motivator for me to get the tankless! Okay, I admit that I have some shallow moments, and sometimes they are daily and sometimes they are very close to the surface, but gaining a closet without having to move a wall is monumental!

A couple of other motivators for going tankless are the 30% tax refund for 2010, 30% energy cost savings here on out, some level of savings from our local electric and gas utilities (I have heard rumors, but will need to call and find out what the actual savings are), and of course, endless hot water!

Because there is no tank, the unit provides hot water only when it is demanded. At 6.6 gallons a minute, that is awesome. It is also rated to handle 2 to 3 appliances/baths at a time! Small additional fact is that it also pulls only 2 amps, so I was thinking if Dan hadn’t offered to put this thing in, I could have done it myself (I am pretty handy around tools and stuff too!). It looked kinda easy on the box and I could carry the thing without any help!

The crew was going to arrive around lunchtime so I made burgers and homemade french fries. We drank some of the Dr Peppers and saved the beer for celebrating afterward (except for Ron who's brew of choice remains Dr Pepper).

Well, I’m very glad Dan and Eloy installed it for me. I really don’t think I could have done it, especially the gas line. Dan read every instruction and made sure the correct parts were available. Eloy did an amazing job of re-routing the gas and water plumbing. He was very conscientious about making it aesthetically pleasing and covered any gaping holes in the drywall (like the one left by the old vent stack into the top of the closet and the existing huge gapping ones around the water pipes. Eloy’s business is called “Honey Do’s” out of Ft. Worth, or call 817-615-0729. I definitely recommend him.

In fact, the unit looks so nice on the garage wall, I think I need to paint the garage now to make it look right!

In addition to the help from Dan and Eloy, I enlisted the help of Greenville native, Ron Shultz, a 6’6” friend and wannabe taunter! He was curious why I kept referring to it as a water heater. “You know, most people call it a . . . “ he said. “I know. They call it a hot water heater,” I replied. My high school buddy, Mark Palmer already outted me on Facebook and asked me if I planned to heat hot water! Thanks, Mark. :)  It did save me some argument time with Ron! He’ll have to wait to get me on something else, though. They both verbally keeps me on my toes.

But Ron was invaluable for the remodel. He got the task of hauling the humongous old heater out. With a bear hug and a couple of steps, he wrestled it out the back door and down the 4-inch step into the garage. A borrowed two-wheel hand truck made the haul to the curb much easier. It also made it easier to read the manufacturer’s date. The old heater revealed it was made in February 1980. If the unit was purchased within a year of that date, that means it worked in this house for 29 years, nearly double the expected life span of most heaters.

Dumping the remainder of the water of the calcified innards of the behemoth took several more gallons. No wonder it was gasping for air. I am totally surprised this thing did not already overflow or explode.
Dan and Eloy had already hit the road back to Ft. Worth, when I realized we had not taken time to celebrate. I'm holding the Guinness Extra Stout hostage and Dan will just have to come back and visit when Jon returns so we can all catch up without any kind of work involved.

I guess I really hadn’t realized how tepid our water had become. My first shower was heavenly. The shower was as hot at the end of the shower as it was at the beginning and I didn’t have to turn the cold water down at all in order to keep getting hot water!!! I think whatever we save in gas energy, may go to extended water usage due to long showers!!!!

I love my new tankless water heater so far. Does anyone else have one they love or hate?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Clipped by Coupons

My first foray into the coupon savings world was, ah, well, er, -- interesting.

I was dying to leave the small town pickings in Greenville and go to the Metroplex, sure to get a deal and better access to cool “big city” goods, right? Just 25 miles down the road to Rockwall. Heck. If I save 60% on groceries, the $8 in gas, should be well spent.

I chose Kroger because I called ahead and found that every day was triple or double coupon day! Wow. I called every Brookshire in a 50 mile radius, but nooooooooo, they do not double or triple coupons. I should make my gas money back with the double and triple coupon savings alone.

The coupons are triple up to 35 cents and double up to 50 cents. Not bad. That translates into $1.05 or $1. “So long” Brookshires in Greenville, “Hello” Kroger in Rockwall! I even signed up for free to get my Kroger card for additional savings. Yay, me.

But wait, there’s more. Target had my Tide laundry detergent on sale for $17.99 (reg. 21.99 I noticed while I was there). Even better and I’m combining the trip so I’m beaming, because I have now made the trip totally worth the drive.

After clipping my coupons while watching Martha Stewart at lunch, I feel pretty stoked about multi-tasking and I’m certainly not wasting my time watching TV! I’m physically cutting coupons (saving money), eating at home (saving money) and mentally standing next to Martha planting that rhodendrum or cooking with guest chef Emeril and cataloging all the handmade Christmas presents I’m gonna make next year (saving even more money!). That’s a ton of savings going on in one hour!

I studied this coupon stuff ahead of time and learned that planning the menu helps make you buy what you need and keeps you on track. I took stock of what I had on hand already and made “The List” for items I still needed to complete the menus.

With The List in hand and the coupons in my purse, I head to Rockwall, set to buy $150 worth of groceries for $80. I knew I wasn’t as seasoned as the legendary Coupon Mom Stephanie Nelson who could buy $150 worth of groceries for less than $45, so I was prepared to not do as well. I’ll improve as I get this down. But I was prepared for mild coupon savings extravaganza.

Arrival at Kroger was like the first time I walked into the Redwood Forest or New York City. My jaw dropped and I just stood there slowly turning around taking in the tall trees/building/shelves. Anyone caring to notice, would have thought I was a hick and had never been to the city before. Kroger actually had a Sushi section. I’m in heaven. I stroked the edge of the bar to make sure it was real and wiped the drool from the corner of my mouth. Then I spotted the olive bar! Oh, dear. I read every name of all 10 olive selections. I’ll never get out of here in one piece. Yum.

Don’t get me wrong. I get out plenty. But when I was employed, grocery shopping was the worst chore I had. I did not want to spend one more minute in there than absolutely necessary. I was working, so cost was not necessarily a priority. Get what you need, get out. That was my motto. Besides, we usually ate out. I certainly didn’t drive to the swanky grocery stores 25 miles away!

Kroger had about 6 aisles dedicated to wine. Wow, an actual selection. I hyperventilated over some of the labels (I love the designs and typography and sometimes the cleverness of the names). Hence, the reason I bought a merlot named “Mad Housewife.” I even loved the picture on the front of the bottle. A retro looking woman in her late 20s, maybe early 30s. She was classed up and sophisticated with bakelite and faux bead bracelets, a pink frock and pearls. (I love pearls, but that’s another story.) It was humorous, clever, and the teaser on the back was amusing. Besides, it was merlot. What’s not to like? I don’t care for light, fruity wines, but this “Mad Housewife” was literally speaking to me -- and it was just $6.

Now it was time to buckle down and get serious about what was on The List. I spent about 4 hours perusing the aisles and inspecting all the cool stuff. I began to notice that I usually had to buy two or three items to get the coupon discount. Okay, I’ll have enough for two weeks instead of one I reasoned. I ended up deciding against some of my coupon purchases because the coupons would still be good for the next shopping trip and I won’t need them right away. Good thinking on my part. Less cost, less space for the stashed items.

I’m at the checkout lane and it’s my turn to go through the register. I’m excited and I can’t wait to see how well I’ve done.

I had the exact coupons in hand for the items I was purchasing. Now keep in mind, I wasn’t only buying items that had coupons, but I was buying what was needed to fulfill the menu items and utilizing some of the items that had coupons. I still needed things like milk and chicken, but didn’t have a coupon for those. Stephanie Nelson did it, but somehow I failed to find those at this point!

Total of the groceries was $189.51. Well, okay. I got some stuff I didn’t need and weren’t on the list, like the wine. But here come the coupons. Drumroll, please. I saved a total of $7.79, hardly the incredible savings I was looking for. And if you take into account, the fact that I had to drive 25 miles one way to get there, well, it takes me back to about even.. Well, I noticed that the Kroger card saved me some on the actual purchase of items without the coupons, so surely that made up for it. Oh, and the $4 I saved on the Tide will help. I’ll have to figure this out when I get home.

The drive home was not the victory dance I had hoped. Something went wrong, terribly wrong.

Here’s a few lessons I learned from this initial shopping experience. I’m sure I will learn more and get better at it as I get the process down:

1. You’ve got to learn and know the prices of items you buy regularly. I had never paid attention to the cost of items much before now. Take the Tide for instance. I thought because it was $21.99 at Target (in Rockwall), that the $17.99 was a great deal. I save $4. Reality is, I check my local Walmart and the same size of Tide was regularly $17.49. I would have saved money shopping in Greenville and didn’t have to drive 25 miles to do it. Keep a price list. I have started mine in a spreadsheet so I would have really known that Tide for $17.99 was not such a deal. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but I still had a full bottle at home already. I am tripping over the new bottle now! I’d like to know if there is a better way to keep this info updated and handy while shopping. Have you discovered a good price list strategy?

2. Know if you have coupons that qualify for double or triple savings. I realized, after going through this exercise, that I only had one coupon that qualified for the double savings. All the other coupons were 55 cents or higher and didn’t qualify to be doubled or tripled. I could have gotten that same deal locally at Brookshires or Walmart!

3. Get what is on The List and stick to The List! The $6 wine was cute and funny. But it tasted terrible. I ended up with a $6 decoration (if I decide to keep it).

4. Don’t shop hungry. Everything looked so good. While I was able to refuse the sushi and olive bar, it was very difficult and I think it led to several other items purchased that weren’t necessarily on The List or needed.

5. Organize your coupons. I’ve got to find a way to keep from sorting, resorting and dropping coupons while I’m shopping. As I get more, it will get more cumbersome as expiration dates come into play. I haven’t figured this out yet, so if you have any ideas, I certainly welcome them.

6. Find a place to store the extra surplus. When you get a good deal, get lots of it. The one thing that was a good deal was 4 tubes of Crest for $5. I probably should have gotten more than the one set, but I was wondering where it was going to go before we used it all. I am open for creative options here. I already feel as if we are stuffed to the gills as it is. Where would you store 20 extra cans of soup, laundry detergent or toothpaste?

7. It’s definitely okay to clip the coupons while watching Martha Stewart or other TV show, just be sure to find out what they really are worth before you add them to The List or drive 25 miles to use them!

The good news about my shopping trip is that we are still stocked and I haven’t had to go to the grocery store in over a week! We did eat once. So the eating out habit is improving. It also looks like since I am only 1 day away from the 2-week mark since I went to the grocery store, the $189 of groceries will hold us up well for 2 weeks. We ate well and very little has gone to spoilage. I am very pleased with that!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Running Dry

A story I heard tonight has stuck in my crawl and I can’t seem to shake it out. It’s a story about one of the most tragic fires in this country and it took place in the town of Itasca, Texas, just before World War II. The tragic fire took the lives of 263 children in an unsprinklered school. Scarcely a family in town was not touched by this horrifying tragedy. The town went a number of years without school facilities, but as it began to grow and expand, a new school was built with a brand new sprinkler system, the best money could buy. Civic pride ran high. Honor students were selected to guide citizens and visitors on tours of the new facilities to show them the finest, the most advanced sprinkler system technology could supply. Never again would Itasca be visited by such a tragedy. Years later, as the town continued to grow, it was eventually necessary to enlarge the school -- and in adding a new wing, it was discovered that the wonderful and advanced sprinkler system the town had installed all those years ago to prevent another tragedy would have never worked had it been called upon. It had never been connected to the city’s water supply!

My heart immediately went out to all those families touched by the devastation and then quickly to all the rest who thought they were under the grand guise of safety with all those gleaming sprinkler heads poking through the ceilings of the classrooms. I imagined how the administrators and school board felt when they found out they had raised all that money, hired all the right people, planned and plotted and built what looked like a very fine place for their children to learn, only to discover that the very thing that would save them when fire came, had absolutely no way of getting to them. Even if the alarms were pulled properly, even if the fire department was called, there would be no water to drench the flames out.

So many times I find myself going through the routine of Sunday worship, small group and fellowship and all those other “proper” things Christians do, except many times, I forget to complete the connection to the main source. I forget to really connect with God and go one-on-one with Him to draw deeper from His power, His guidance and His friendship. Wow. I can do all the “right” things and allow myself to “run dry” when I need a good quenching!

My grandfather, C.W. Cox, was the music leader for a tiny little church at South Sulphur, just outside of Commerce, Texas, and loved the song “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” And even though he is long since gone, he still ministers to me through this song.

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Fortunately, I don’t need an engineer or team of city employees to hook me up. I don’t have to wait for the correct type of fitting or bolt to be ordered or applied. Most importantly, I don’t have to wait until I get everything right. I don’t have to wait until the dishes are washed, the laundry done, all the errands run. I have direct access to God via prayer now. I can connect directly to the main source now. I can do it now, in my jeans or my jammies. I don’t have to wait until I get the right outfit, or all my ducks in a row (and that’s a good thing in my case!). I don’t have to wait until I lose 10 pounds. I can do it now and I can do it often. Friends are better when they are frequently encountered. They get to know you better and you get to know them. What a friend I have in Jesus.

2 Corinthians 4-12

7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Coupon Klutz to Coupon Queen?

Since I quit my job, I have figured out that one thing I have the most opportunity to affect in terms of our budget is the weekly grocery bill. Every stay-at-home mom, housewife, ex-professional turned domestic diva and thrifty shopper swears by coupon clipping. I watched a video and news clips where Stephanie Nelson, a.k.a., the Coupon Mom saves 70% to 80% on her grocery bill by clipping coupons. Stephanie is a former businesswoman who needed to put her spreadsheet skills to work while she went home to take care of her family.

I liked the way she worked, so I will put my limited skills to the test tomorrow. I have made my menu (part of the success) for the next week, clipped my coupons and plotted my route. It may take me all day, but I'm gonna see if I can at least save something! Since we ate out so much while I was working, my first goal is to see if I can cut the previous budget in half right out of the gate!