Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Hope Springs Eternal Doggie B & B

Skipper is visiting our house this week month.  For some reason, my friend Heidi thinks that she is allowed to leave town for a month every summer and go visit people that she loves.  It's really quite ridiculous that she takes her sweet children away from me (and my kids) and then leaves her dog in their place as if he is an adequate substitute.  It makes me cry at the beginning of every summer when she makes the big announcement that she'll be leaving for the month of July, so this summer she didn't actually come right out and tell me.  In May and June I kept asking her for how long she'd be going away and she kept saying vague things like, "not as long as usual" and "would you like some more sangria?"  By the end of June, though, she really had to nail down Skipper's reservation at the Hope Springs Eternal Doggie Bed & Breakfast, so she let it slip that she was going for three whole weeks and didn't really know yet when she'd be coming home.  She acted like she had told me several times already when I came flying at her with my fingernails.

So we've got Skipper, Heidi's old chocolate labrador.  Skipper sheds a clone of himself every day:

That's just from the morning sweep.

Skipper is a very good barker and also snores like a freight train.  He has to sleep in Grandma's room when he's here -- it doesn't bother her, because Grandpa snores at almost exactly the same decibel and she's used to it.  She's leaving on Tuesday, so I have to bring in a replacement to sleep with Skipper (Dez).  For his first several visits to our house, Skipper would not eat out of his dog bowl.  It was the bowl he eats out of every day at his house, but for some reason he wouldn't eat out of it here.  We had to pour the food on the floor to get him to eat it.

Whatever he was afraid of (the broom, maybe?) must have been deep-seated because he really loves to eat.  The first time we kept him, he convinced us to feed him three times one morning.  He whined for Grandma to feed him when she got up at 5:30, and then acted like he hadn't been fed at 6:00 when Joe got up, so Joe fed him again.  And then when I got up at 6:30, he followed me around the kitchen, pausing to gaze longingly in his empty food bowl at each pass.  I assumed he hadn't been fed yet and fed him again.

This may be why my eight year old weighs 100 pounds.

It's quite surprising, really, that Heidi continues to trust us with her dog, given my family's sordid dog-sitting history.  Have I told you about the time that we house-sat for our next door neighbors and watched all their pets for them?  By week's end, their dog and their pet rat were dead.  The snakes survived only because neither of us would touch them.  The dog was not our fault.  The rat, however, met an untimely end when Flamingo Joe let it run around out on the neighbor's screened-in porch and it ran behind the built-in brick barbecue and got caught in a rat trap.  Oh the irony.

Heidi knows these stories and yet still thinks we're capable.

Last summer, Skipper was nearby when Campbell almost got eaten by an alligator, but Skipper was fine.  Trust me, I checked him all over.  Regardless, when Heidi's husband came to pick him up two days later, Skipper had a triangular gouge on the inside of his leg.  My blood ran cold when I noticed it that morning because I had no explanation for how Skipper had gotten hurt.  It took ages and ages for that injury to heal, but the important thing is -- and I tried to help Heidi see this -- Skipper was ALIVE.

Yet it doesn't matter at all that Skipper was not actually touched by the alligator -- Heidi and her husband always refer to Skipper's wound from that summer as the "alligator bite."

I'm pretty sure Heidi has blamed me for each of Skipper's ailments since I sent him home injured last summer.  That pesky staph infection, she believes, must stem from the non-alligator wound, not to mention the weird skin thing that for a while was making his hair fall out.  I don't think she can blame me, though, for the fatty tumor on his side.  When Heidi's husband dropped Skipper off with us last week, he also left three vials of pills to give Skipper.  Grandma Elsie has been faithful in giving Skip his pills every day, but I don't know what will happen to the poor guy when Elsie leaves for Durango on Tuesday.

Maybe Heidi should come home early.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What They Might Not Tell You in Your Couponing Class

A few weeks ago, I went to a TrueCouponing class at a Methodist church somewhere over in St. Pete.  Apparently, some churches will not allow TrueCouponing classes to be held in their churches and my guess is that it's because you can buy newspaper subscriptions and boxes like this there:

For those of you unfamiliar with the small differences in denominations (and before you lose heart, this is NOT the thing that your coupon class may not tell you -- I mean, they certainly don't tell you all this, but I also do not know why they would -- I'm just saying, what you are about to read in this paragraph has nothing to do with the title of this post), allow me this brief aside to explain to you the difference in beliefs among the denominations regarding selling things inside a church -- I call it the "Moneychanger Schism."  Do you remember in the New Testament when Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the temple?  You can find the story in Matthew 21:12-13.  These two verses of the Bible form the basis for many denominations' prohibition on never selling things inside church.  My study Bible's explanation of those verses says that the merchants in the temple were selling sacrificial animals at exorbitant prices and were preventing anyone from using that part of the temple for prayer.  So Jesus was angry and drove them out of the temple.  Methodists clearly don't hold to a strict reading of those verses -- the Methodists nowadays charge $35 for kids to attend Vacation Bible School.  And they welcome TrueCouponing with open arms.

If you would allow me just one more teensy weensy aside --  if your church feels a need to charge for kids to attend VBS, your church cannot afford to hold VBS and needs to skip it.  If your church takes the approach that VBS has become free daycare for parents and does nothing to grow their church, then by all means, please skip VBS.  But VBS is a church's opportunity to teach churched and unchurched children about Jesus.  It is a ministry -- not an opportunity to increase revenue or even "break even".  The church where Mace attends preschool was charging $35 for VBS this year.  If VBS is so expensive for that church that they feel they cannot do it for free, then they shouldn't do it at all.  Because at the point you are charging for VBS, it has ceased to be a ministry.

But I digress (as usual) -- I ran across these TrueCouponing people at the homeschool convention in May.  I came out of a class (I think it was "How to Restrain Yourself from Choking Your Four Year Old") and there was a line of people outside waiting for the next class, which was a TrueCouponing class.  There were probably 100 people in line and they were all carrying big filing bins like the one above.

Then a month and half ago, I saw a Facebook post advertising the TrueCouponing class in St. Pete and decided to round up some people to go with me.  So Dez, Shelya, and I went.  TrueCouponing is not your mama's coupon system (I think I may have stolen that catchy saying from someone at the class, so consider credit given).  No more sitting down with the Sunday paper and clipping and filing individual coupons.  I can give you the system in a nutshell (you can take the free class if you want, but with my Cliff's Notes version, you can probably get on fine all by yourself):

1)   Start buying several Sunday newspapers each week.  The rule of thumb is to buy one newspaper for each member of your family.  If you have an odd number of people in your house, round up to the nearest number.  From the get-go, I broke this rule.  We have 5 people in our house, but I only buy 4 newspapers every week.  So far, that's worked out okay.

2) Pull the coupon booklets and flyers out of the newspapers and file them in a bin (like the one pictured above) in hanging file folders by week.  Make sure you label each hanging folder with that week's date.  For example, tomorrow, July 17th, I will buy 4 newspapers and file the coupons I pull out of them in a hanging folder on which I will put a sticker that says "7/17/11".

3) Get yourself online and sign up on the website.  It's free and you will want to start getting their twice daily emails so that you will know when the "sneak peeks" for the grocery stores and drug stores come out.  At the class, Dez, Shelya and I were trying to figure out how the people make money because aside from selling you the getting started boxes (each box already has 4 weeks' worth of coupons in it), they don't really charge for anything.  I decided they make their money on the ads on their website.  They probably get thousands of hits on their site everyday and they likely generate lots of money from people clicking on their ads.

4) When you get your Tuesday email from TrueCouponing that tells you that the Publix sneak peek list is up, go to the website and look at the list.  Publix has great buy one, get one deals and your goal each week is to buy as many items as you can (that you actually use) that are on sale and that you can use both a manufacturer's coupon and a store coupon on (that's called "stacking").  The great thing about using the TrueCouponing site is that they do pretty much all the work for you by listing all the coupons that you could use with whatever item is on sale.  On their list, pick a manufacturer's coupon and a store coupon that you happen to have and cut (or print) those coupons out of each of the inserts you filed for that week (the list tells you which week inserts you are looking for).

5) Go to the store and save a bunch of money.

Here's the underlying principle behind this system -- buy enough of the stuff you need (when it is on sale and you have coupons for it) to last you for 12 weeks, which is the sale cycle on most of the items people regularly buy.

So, you'll need a bigger pantry to store all your fruit snacks.

And you may want to buy a full-sized freezer.

Luckily, at our house we have two refrigerators and a full-sized freezer.  But we already running out of pantry space.  This is the floor of the closet right outside our pantry cabinet:

Because this is what the inside of the closet pantry cabinet currently looks like:

See those salad dressings? I got each of those for .67 a piece.

You do have to be careful not to get too caught up in buying cereal, though.  It seems like cereal has been on sale since I started couponing three weeks ago and it's very easy to get carried away buying Apple Jacks for less than $1ish a box.  There are actually 12 boxes of cereal on top of our kitchen pantry cabinet -- they are stacked two deep up there:

It's also easy to get caught up in the deal you really want and lose sight of your pride's ability to handle the practical steps of getting the deal done.  For example, the first week I was couponing I needed to buy some, shall we say, feminine protection items.  I had coupons that would save me a $1 or so on each and they were on sale at Walgreen's.  They tell you at the TrueCouponing class not to be a slave to brand and these particular items were not a brand I customarily use -- prior to couponing, in matters of feminine protection (hereafter, "FP"), I tended towards the cheapest items on the shelf which were typically the store brand.  I was going to say that after having two children, the difference between a plastic and cardboard applicator is a subtlety that no longer troubles me, but then I remembered I had C-Sections with both of mine.

I have only one requirement when it comes to FP -- whatever the item is, it absolutely, positively, for reasons that cannot be disclosed in a family blog, cannot be scented.

Anyway, back to my shopping trip.  My intention was to swoop into Walgreens, pick up 8 packages of FP and sashay back to my car, coupon victorious.  But as I was walking into the store, the young gentleman behind the checkout counter, gave me a friendly greeting and I realized that I was going to have to take 8 packages of FP to the counter where that young man was going to take care of my transaction.  Hmmm.  My enthusiasm diminished slightly, but I gave myself a pep talk that went something like this, "What do you care if he thinks you are having the worst menstrual cycle EVER in the history of the world, you are saving sooo much money!! Go!! Go coupon diva!!"

So I found the appropriate aisle and the items and was disappointed when I realized there were only 6 packages left on the shelf.  I didn't want to buy them out of FP, that would be breaking a TrueCouponing rule (leave some for the next person), so I decided to just buy 4 packages (my coupons were save $2 on 2 packages or something similar so I wanted to leave 2 in case someone else had the same coupon).  As I was pulling the four packages off the shelf, I realized how bulky and large they were, though their size could have been temporarily exaggerated in my mind as I was envisioning piling them on the checkout counter.  As I was turning away from the shelf, I started praying, "Oh Lord, please let the lady return to the cosmetics counter, please please please."  God answers prayer, children.  She appeared at that moment at the end of the aisle and said she could check me out.

So I piled my FP on the counter, gave the lady my coupons, and paid.  She pulled out an ENORMOUS bag -- honestly, I did not know you could get a bag that large at Walgreens -- and put my FP into it.  As I was leaving my face was shade darker than normal, I admit, carrying this giant bag of FP, but I was victorious.  I had carried out my mission.

There was just one problem.

I forgot to sniff the packages.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Flamingo Farming Update

I have received many inquiries over the past several weeks regarding the progress of our sunflower growing efforts at the Hope Springs Eternal Bamboo and Sunflower Farm.  And by "many inquiries" I of course mean the one time Shelya, in passing, said to me, "So something ate your sunflowers?" After the rabbits (my mom's theory) or the armadillos (Flamingo Joe's theory) nibbled their way through the sunflower plot, we pretty much ignored the garden until Joe finally had to mow it this weekend.

Note the utter dearth of sunflower plants.  Oh wait, here's one:

I think.  I'm really not sure, actually.  But there are three other plants identical to this one randomly placed where the rows of sunflowers were originally planted, so I'm assuming these are sunflower plants.  It is possible that the vicious roving gangs of pointy-teethed bunnies or armadillos who ate our original plants had eaten some other plants before getting to our plot and then, you know, pooped out some seeds from those other plants and now those plants have blossomed, but that scenario seems a smidge far-fetched even for me, the woman who thinks her children are going to grow up to be productive members of society.

Jamie and Jason also planted some baby's breath when the original garden went in.  It's possible that this is the only plant that survived:

But I'm leaning toward calling this one a weed.  I'll give it another week or so to see if it flowers and if it doesn't, I'll wait another month and let Flamingo Joe mow it down.

The picture above is just to prove to you that I can, in fact, grow flowers in my yard.  Ignore the weeds in the foreground.  I was going to take a picture of that bed from the front, but the weeds growing immediately in front prevented me from getting a clear shot.

But in other news of the flora at Casa Flamingo, our bamboo is flourishing due to the fact that bamboo is extremely difficult to kill and not a staple in the dietary needs of rabbits or armadillos.  And since we set our pandas free in the spring, the bamboo has no natural predators in our yard.  Do you remember this itsy bitsy stick of bamboo?

And this giant hole that we made our then-three year old dig (slave labor is actually encouraged when it's your own children you're enslaving)?

Well, here are the fruits of our three year old's labor, one year later:

Not bad, right?  That's about a year and three months' worth of growth.  Here's another clump that we planted the year or so before:

I really hope Flamingo Joe is remembering exactly what each of these varieties is called because that's probably key in running a successful bamboo farm.  Your customers rather expect you to know whether you are growing a faregesia denudata or a borinda albocerea, whatever those are.

Regardless, we have a few more years before we'll be able to quit our regular jobs and live off the earnings of our bamboo and sunflower farm.  That should give us enough time to figure out what we're actually growing.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Mr. Banks, Beast and the Duck

This blog post may or may not really be for general consumption.  If you are wondering whether this post is for you, ask yourself whether, even if the children are not your own, you enjoy seeing them shock the pants off their friends and family by doing things their parents could not fathom.  If yes, please proceed.  If no, check in with me next post.  I won't be offended.

First, the back story.  We signed Casey up for drama camp this summer, said camp to be held at the school he's been attending for the past three years.  Casey has attended drama camps for the two previous summers -- one at Berkeley Prep and one at the Straz Center downtown.  He was only 6 when he attended at Berkeley, and it was definitely a good program.  The summer he was 7, he attended the camp at the Straz Center -- we weren't that impressed with that program.  But this summer, Casey was very excited because he would be attending drama camp with several of his friends from school.

When he came home the first day, I learned that he had been given two parts (the children were doing selected scenes from several different Disney plays) -- Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins and Beast in Beauty and the Beast.  Now, I could certainly see him as Mr. Banks -- cranky and overbearing are character traits Casey can readily draw upon from personal experience:

But Beast . . .  I was a little nervous about Beast because being in love, tender, and reticent are definitely NOT character traits Casey can readily draw upon from personal experience.  As the the two weeks of camp wore on, I tried to weasel out of Casey exactly what he was going to be required of to do as Beast.  He refused to tell me.  Flat out refused.  At one point, I watched the video selection online that contained the song he was going to do and realized that the scene required dancing.  DANCING!  So I asked him if he was going to have to dance and he said no.  He told me he wanted to surprise me with everything he was doing.  I was forbidden by him to attend any rehearsals, so if I showed up early to pick him up and it was his turn on stage, I had to wait outside.

Now you need to note a couple of things about this video clip:

1)  I glued those horns on that wig.  It doesn't matter how straight you glue horns onto a wig if the wearer of the wig doesn't put the wig on straight.

2) Within the first 30 seconds of the video, Casey turned and glared at me.  I don't know why and he doesn't remember doing it.

Drama Camp was two weeks long, but at the end of the first week, Mace was recruited by the director to be Donald Duck.  So starting Friday of last week, Mace started Drama Camp.  Every day, the director bribed him with a car or a dinosaur to continue coming.  Mace was in the Mickey Mouse Club number, so he had to be on stage twice, at the very beginning and then again at the very end.  I felt pretty sure he'd be fine on stage the first time, but the second time was going to be at about 8:00 p.m., approximately 30 minutes past his normal bedtime.  The video clip below is from his second appearance on stage.  The first time on stage he was wearing white gloves, but he apparently lost them in the intervening hour and a half.

He was an adorable bill-less duck and I think he did everything he was supposed to do.  Thankfully, he did not get kicked in the head by the gymnast.

So this morning, we are all still basking in the glow of a successfully dramatic evening.  Casey cried before bed last night because he was sad drama camp was over -- apparently that's an inherent side-effect of drama camp.  It makes you even more dramatic.