Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Great Wind of 2011

While we didn't officially have a tornado, there was still damage in our area after some recent storms. Trees are down, and power lines and power poles, and a huge billboard. Our mail box was tossed in the street and our neighbors siding was ripped off their house. We lost electricity for ten hours and there are still many in the county with no power on day two.

One person from our neighborhood was on his way home when the storm whipped in. He just made it home and pulled in the driveway when a large tree fell and crushed his truck. One second one way and the tree would have crushed him in the cab instead of the truck bed. One second the other way and the tree would not have hit the truck.

It was slow today at work because it was still storming this morning. However, people started trickling in to purchase ice to try to save their food, propane or charcoal to cook with, and batteries. Fried chicken from the deli was also very popular today.

Whenever anyone started complaining I gently reminded them of Japan. As soon as they though of it they said, "You know what, this isn't so bad."

We sat in the living room and talked and we took early naps. Later at night one of those giant power trucks stopped right in front of our house and sent a man up in the bucket to repair a line. We opened the curtains and the grandbaby fresh from his nap pointed and cheered for his very own Tonka truck show.

It is not too bad to lose power in a warm state. I would hate to lose power in Michigan or Nebraska. I would die. Here, I am fairly well prepared for an emergency. We have food, water, batteries, candles, and charcoal. I could probably survive for an extended period, perhaps a month. How long could you go without electricity?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Oh, that's all? I love you."

When I was little I had a big brother. He was grown and mostly out of the house but he was around for periods of time up until we moved when I was approximately ten years old. I had other siblings, one sister who ran away when she was almost eighteen and I hadn't met yet, another sister much older than I who was more like an aunt at the time because of the age difference, and another older brother who took great delight at the time in picking on his younger sibling.

I so loved my eldest brother. He cooked me special meals, stood up for me whenever someone hurt me, and brought me presents when returning home.

We had two houses on my parents old property. We had the old house and up the hill we had the new house. The old house was a beautiful old farm house that came with the property when they purchased it and the new house was the one my dad built himself. My dad had worked in many aspects of construction and they were able to build and fix up properties, saving a tidy sum along the way. However, this won't be a frugal post about saving money, learning a trade, or property improvement and real estate. It's much more personal.

When my brother was not in a big city far away from our acreage he stayed in the big upstairs bedroom in the old house where I was born. The rest of us lived up the hill in the new house which my brother referred to as the shoebox for it's basic shape and lack of interest.

I clung to my big brother and tried to spend every moment with him. We cooked together and hung out in his room. I used to sit on the natural stone slabs that were placed in the hill as stairs and wait for him to realize I was waiting. I listened to the sounds of his radio drifting down and caught glimpses of him dancing past the windows. Eventually he would feel my little eyes boring into him and say, "Hey, how long have you been down there? Come on up."

We listened to albums, we played games, he read to me, and tucked me in at night. He cooked crab cakes and shrimp for us. We made Christmas cookies but we didn't have any cookie cutters so we had to cut all of those shapes out with butter knives.

Once he got into a huge shouting match with our dad. Well, it really wasn't a match because our dad was doing all the shouting. I don't remember what it was about because it was long ago and I was very little. What I do remember is hiding under the kitchen table while the voices escalated. When it became really severe I jumped out and yelled at my dad, "I love my brother! Leave him alone!" I was sent to bed for my efforts. My brother came in quietly later to comfort me. I didn't understand why I got in trouble.

When I was a small shy child in first grade a high school kid molested me on the school bus. It was horrible and I was scared. I told my parents and my eldest brother. My parents had issues of their own I suppose. They didn't know how to conduct themselves sometimes, mostly they just retreated. My mom said, "Why didn't you just hit him with your lunchbox?" That's a sentence that has certainly stuck with me for life. My father just gave me a disapproving look like I had done something wrong. My brother looked at them and shook his head, he looked at me and then he took off through the woods in the direction of the the house I had described as the place where the guy had his bus stop. No one ever mentioned the incident again in my house, but nobody ever touched me again on the bus. I shudder to think of how things would have turned out if I didn't have his help there. I'll never know what he did.

I was in high school when my brother told me he was gay. It didn't change my love for him one bit. I was out of my parents house when I learned he had AIDS. When he died I was living in a detached garage with no bathroom or kitchen with my three small children. We had to walk to my parents house next door for facilities. I had nowhere else to go, no job, no money. I couldn't be there for him in his final days. I couldn't afford to make the trip when he died. I was heartbroken, yet I had to go on for I was in survival mode. I found out he passed one afternoon and that evening I had a midterm exam in Sociology. In a fog I went to class, telling no-one of my inner pain and carried on.

My mother, ever private, told me if I had to tell anyone at all to tell them it was cancer and not to mention AIDS. This was when there was such an uproar over AIDS on every news channel. I also found that my parents had prejudices of their own. My mother actually gave me a lecture on why I shouldn't have anal sex. Can you imagine anything so embarrassing? Mother, I'm a straight female, I don't think you need to worry about that.

Fast forward a decade. I had completed my two year degree but not pursued it further because I had settled for retail management. I bought a house and worked 40 to 70 hours a week. The children were older and finances had improved (so I thought at the time) but we were deep in debt.

My son wanted to talk to me alone. He seemed so nervous. My thoughts immediately turned to what he may have done. I was so worried until he finally said, "Mom, I'm gay."

I laughed and gave him a big hug, "Oh that's all? I love you." I said, "I was afraid you were going to give me bad news." My son had officially come out at thirteen with no shouting matches, no threats, and no tears. I didn't take on a cloak of prejudice from my forebears. I only kept the love.

My dad came to the house to discuss his financial plans. He was gifting each grandchild with a small amount of money for college or vehicle expenses. He said, "I guess I will still give your son some money even though he's gay. You're letting him be like this? It killed your brother you know."

"No dad," I snapped angrily, "Being gay didn't kill my brother. AIDS killed my brother!"

I loved my brother and I love all of my children. I will always love them. I'm proud my son felt safe, and loved enough to come out and state who he was at thirteen. I know from experience, from conversations with my brother and son and friends that it is not a lifestyle choice. You are born that way.

I wish I could rid the world of prejudice and hate and ignorance and silly feuds and war. Life can be way too short. Gather all the love you can. After all, love is all you can take with you.

In a perfect world people would just be accepted for who they are. It breaks my heart to hear of teen suicides, and bullying, and to hear about kids who have to hide who they are around their families. I wish all children were allowed the confidence to live as they want to live.

If you've read this far, I'm giving you homework. Go hug your children/siblings/spouse/parents...Give huge bundles of love to everyone important to you. Life is all too fleeting. Love unconditionally, it's important. Please teach tolerance and share love.

Thank You!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Line Skippers and Other Angry Folk

Why are so many shoppers so ridiculously angry? They hate it that one person is in line ahead of them, they hate it that the prices are not the same as they were in 1973, they hate it that we don't employ enough people so we can follow them about and cater to their every whim, and sometimes they really just hate me.

I know enough not to allow their anger to spill over and ruin my day. I'm pleasant and I just laugh it off. I can endure anything for five to ten minutes. Roll your eyes, grunt, and insult the other shoppers or the employees all you want it won't affect my mood. If that is what you've been trying to do you've failed miserably. But you just enjoy your gloom and doom. You do enjoy it don't you? I mean that must be why you do it. Why else would you wallow in a bad mood like that day in and day out?

I seem to be having all the angry people all at once. Maybe they are more tense because living is getting more difficult for them at the end of the month, and perhaps they are just simply mean spirited people.

Several people have tried skipping in line this week. Some have said they didn't know there were others in line and others have said that they were in a big hurry or had somewhere very important to be. Why do you go shopping in the first place if you know you have an appointment on the other side of town in ten minutes?

I was waiting on a lady today. She had one simple and short request. She forgot her coupon and needed a refund. It only took a moment but the man behind her slammed his groceries on the counter and cussed. He looked at her again and rolled his eyes and cussed some more. I rang him up quickly and without comment. As he was leaving he decided to insult the previous customer some more by saying, "That lady was way too old to be trying to dress so young." She looked properly clothed to me. He was just looking for something to hurl out there and that was the best he could do.

Speaking of dressing, there are always interesting wardrobe choices in a grocery store. Many, many people shop in their pajamas. One lady came in and did her weeks worth of shopping in orange fluffy slippers, bright red pajama bottoms, and a yellow tshirt that said "Insane Asylum" across the front in bold letters. She topped her ensemble with a thick pink terry cloth bathrobe. She's worn that outfit a few times.

I was working as a cashier the other day and noticed several of my regulars from the service counter were choosing my line to purchase their groceries. I've been exclusively on the counter for a few months now and it was nice to have a change of pace. One of my regulars with a concerned look leaned forward lowered her voice and asked, "You didn't get demoted did you?" It's also really nice when someone has your back.

I have one more day to go before a much needed day off. I feel completely drained, utterly exhausted. I'm looking forward to getting more done around the house and figuring out something fun to do as well.

I'll leave you with this until next time: There is nothing cuter than a two year old in a diaper, his belly decorated with barnyard animal stickers, strutting down the hallway in a pair of high heels.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Waiting Time

I'm still spending time decluttering and baby proofing the house when I'm not at work. Three bookcases are finally complete and I'm left with three more to go. I must tackle those seldom used kitchen cabinets next. Those cups on the top shelf that I haven't touched in three years, do I really need them? I don't think so. This really isn't the most fascinating stuff to write about, so I haven't.

As I've stated before, no matter the state of your finances, you must find joy in your life. We took the grandbaby to the library and to the beach to walk the small pier. While he watched the sun set at the waters edge we watched the happiness on his face. When we arrived back at home we watched the grandbaby get really stuck in to an ice cream cone. Small pleasures for frugal folks tackling their debt.

I plan not to shop in April. Our pantry is stocked and we need no household goods. Besides milk, bread, sandwich meat, produce, and juice we won't need a thing. It's a good place to be because I hate shopping. We plan to take the grandbaby to the zoo and the dog for a checkup and updated shots. Other than that we don't need a thing, so all extra money will go to savings.

I'm still planning a Florida escape (from not to) and it may just be possible before the major heat settles. I dread the summers here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Some Sort of an Update

The only decision I've made so far is to hold off a little longer. I tend to be too impulsive sometimes when I get an idea to do something. I've realized I have a very emotional connection to my current debt because almost all of it was built up from Chloe's medical bills. I charged her final hospitalization and her cremation. I want very much to be rid of this remaining bit of debt, but I also want to have as large an emergency fund as possible.

Many of you were right, emergencies do happen. My car broke down shortly after writing that. It was a small bill and nothing major to worry about, but it still happened. It was enough to remind me not to be impulsive and give it a longer think. Something else may come up.

Thank you to all who took the time to comment on the previous post. You were all right, and all of your ideas made perfect sense, especially when the car broke down. Those in favor of getting rid of the debt immediately made perfect sense too and I will eventually. There's only a bit left to pay off and then I will be done. I just need to keep enough in savings so I can reach it for those emergencies that do come up.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Decision

As you know, I've been saving like mad. I want to move. There are no opportunities here. The job market is terrible. I don't have skills or experience to land a dream job elsewhere and the job market is pretty much dreadful everywhere. However, there are areas hiring more often for service type jobs in which I do have experience.

I was planning to move this spring. It may not happen as soon as I thought because we have made other changes. These changes that popped up are quite pleasant indeed. I love spending time with my eldest daughter and grandbaby. We were missing out on a lot being several states away. We were missing out on his spontaneous dancing whenever there is music, his extreme love of blueberries (just hand over the blueberries and nobody gets hurt), and his love/tease relationship with the dog. I'm glad I was still here and able to help my kids when they needed it. I have no regrets.

Here's the decision. I have the emergency fund, and I have my remaining debt. I could cancel my debt in one fell swoop and still have a little bit left over. I could put away much more in savings over the next few months being debt free and build up the savings again and not have to pay any more in interest. I just won't have my instant escape fund if anything pops up, I will be stuck here. We have jobs, we have shelter, we have family. Everything is good, so why am I worried?

I've been able to create this cushion at the same time as paying way more than the minimum amount due on my bills. My husband and I have done this together each with a part time job making little more than minimum wage. It is something to be proud of. I am proud. I also know that I can build up my savings again. I have skills now, so why am I worried over this? I could be done with this and call myself debt free right now. DEBT FREE!

I think what worries me about reducing my savings is that I won't have it there just in case. Just having it sit there gives me imaginary options. If I wanted to I could pay my bills ahead of time and take a month long camping trip through several states. Without the savings I would have to go into more debt for a week long vacation.

I also realize my debt free status could very well be short term because realistically I may have to use credit at some point in the future, although I will consider all other options first. On the other hand I may be able to avoid the credit monster completely.

So here's where I need the help guys. I'm taking this weekend to consider it, and on Tuesday I'm either going to transfer a large chunk of savings to checking and pay off everything and breathe a little easier, or I'm going to keep plugging away as usual and give the credit company even more interest but have a larger emergency fund available just in case.

I'll be honest, I'm leaning sixty percent in favor of being done with it and just forty percent in favor of how I've been doing it. I know I can build it back up, even sooner without the debt payments. I just need some positive energy and comments, lots and lots of comments. Please chime in and tell me what you would do. I know it is my husbands and my decision, I just don't want to rush into it without considering every angle. Give me your thoughts, please really, the dog is sick of me talking it over with her and she doesn't have an opinion one way or the other.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Slim Pickings

I have a theory that due to this never ending recession more and more people are turning to coupon use as a way to save money on their grocery bill. The manufacturers and marketing people are onto us. They know we look for BOGO(Buy one get one free) sales, and match two coupons with our purchase to get the items for a third of the original price or less. There have been less and less usable coupons each week in the Sunday newspaper. I've looked online for coupons as well and haven't found one worth printing for months. With the shorter expiration dates they usually expire before a good sale comes along.

I don't put all my time into chasing sales but I am determined to pay the least amount possible for those items we use in our home every week. If eggs are $2.00 in one store but $1.00 in another, I will pick them up for $1.00 when I go past that store unless it is out of my way. I will stock my pantry with non-perishable items that I use when they go on sale. The money I don't spend on household and grocery items at full price can go towards car repairs when needed, or savings, or debt reduction.

I really like a certain brand of stain remover for my laundry. It sells for $2.99 a bottle. I ran out but I knew it goes on a BOGO sale regularly. Sure enough the following week it went BOGO. I also had two store coupons for $1.00 off and one manufacturers coupon for 50 cents off. It would have cost $11.96 for four bottles. The BOGO sale saved me $5.98. I also had $2.50 in coupons. My final price was $3.48 for all four. That's only .87 cents per bottle. That was worth it.

On another note, I gave away all my large cooking pots, thinking I wouldn't need them in my empty nest. My largest pot was three quarts and that was fine for the two of us. On one of my previous trips I stopped by the Le Creuset outlet store in South Carolina and bought one pot to try. It is now my favorite piece of cookware. I've made the best soups and bean dishes ever in my little green pot. I just received a postcard from them advertising my green color on sale for 30% off. I just had to go, I love that store.

My daughter and grandbaby went to visit youngest daughter and my husband and I went to Orlando to find the Le Creuset outlet store. I love the one in South Carolina. It's in a quiet stand alone store with big trees all around and a gas station nearby so I can browse while my husband gases up. The Orlando store is located in the Orlando Premium Outlets on International Drive. It is a bustling metropolis of it's own. There are places for currency exchange everywhere, buses and trolleys, and a train ride and games for children. It took forever to find the store I wanted.

There were people rushing about everywhere with massive amounts of shopping bags from all the upscale boutique outlet stores. Some were dressed in the latest fashions and others were dressed in workout shorts, tennis shoes, and fanny packs ready for a full day of it. I noticed one major thing. We were the minority. I heard lots of voices, and heard many snippets of conversations but very very few were in English. I can't imagine shopping on holiday. I hate shopping. There were large groups of people from France and Brazil and Japan but very few from America. Is this a sign of our continuing recession or just a coincidence?

I returned home with a five quart oval pot in blue. It had a bigger discount than the green and my husband liked it. When my daughter saw the receipt she gasped. I said, "Hey, we're older and we can afford to splurge occasionally on items we really like and these pots will last forever. We'll probably pass them on to the grandbaby one day."

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

All Squished In

Daughter and grandbaby have arrived and son is almost completely moved in. So far so good, it's actually working out. We had space for most of the stuff, and we have a little storage available in the garage thanks to our decluttering and donation frenzy. Of course, there wasn't much because what she couldn't squeeze into that one car she left behind.

Grandbaby arrived cursing like a drunken sailor on shore leave after a year at sea. (Thanks baby daddy.) He's only two so the phase won't last. As soon as we are over our sporadic fits of giggles we'll correct him.

We didn't know how dog and baby would get along. This was a concern because in this small house there are no extra rooms to separate the two. There were a few minutes of sniffing and how-de-do and then baby brought out his play balls and the dog brought out her bone and her favorite squeaky toy. They are instant best friends. Grandbaby grabbed the dogs favorite squeaky toy (a blue football) held it out and said, "Mine!" and then jumped on the bed with it and said, "Ha ha." He held onto that ball all day and went to sleep clutching it that night. She only just got it back today. They are going to be just fine.

With all of this going on, my husband and I haven't much time to ponder anything else. We were excited because I managed to get a Sunday off and were planning to go on a long overdue day out but my brother left a day early and Sunday was the day when they arrived at our house. That's okay, I'm not complaining. It was still a good day. A few days ago, however, my husband called me at work and said, "Hey, guess what we both forgot?" For the life of me I couldn't think of a thing. He then said, "Happy late anniversary!" Oh well, there's always next year.