Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Inn on Ferry Street

I’ve had a wonderful time spending money over the past few days (weeks?) That certainly isn't’t like me, so maybe some justification is in order, if for no one’s good but my own.

When we moved back to NC in 2005, my husband and I had a somewhat unspoken pact that we would go to Maine (my family) in the summer and Michigan over Christmas break (his family). I fully concur that this skews heavily in my favor as I spend a month in Maine (Mike comes for two weeks) and we only spend about a week in Michigan. Now that we have decided to make an annual event of visiting the hospital in Cleveland every year -Lord willing- we cut another day out of our time in Mich. That being said, we have traditions in both states that take both time and money. We also have Christmas traditions that cost much more money than I ordinarily spend. You have heard me mention in the past that I truly believe that we all spend money on the things that are important to us. It may seem crazy that I refuse to spend over 59 cents for a can of tuna and keep my thermostat set on 67 in the winter and 80 in the summer but then turn around and spend $200.00 annually on a night out for the family at Fire & Sticks (a local Japanese steak house) and a live production of the Nutcracker. Could I give that up? You bet, in a heartbeat, in fact. But for the last 10 years or so, it has become a family gift that we all enjoy to varying degrees. (I won’t lie, the steakhouse makes the requisite formal dress and the Nutcracker tolerable for my 3 boys.) It has become such a tradition, in fact, that the kids have even joked that when I am too old to get out anymore; they will bring the Nutcracker DVD and order in Chinese. I also mail about 200 Christmas cards, a feat that becomes more time consuming and costly every year. This year I am late, as usual, but it will happen! Why do I do these things? Because they are important to me. I love traditions, and family and keeping in touch. I will save all year to spend on these things.

Another tradition for my husband and I is to leave the kids with Gramma and Grampa for one night while we go out for a reasonably priced meal and find an out of the way Inn. This year we happened upon The Inn on Ferry Street in downtown Detroit, and what a great find it was! Come to find out, the Inn is actually 5 old brick houses built at the turn of the last century that have been refurbished. The night includes a free shuttle and a sumptuous hot breakfast. We were dually impressed…the cost $111.00. We had the shuttle driver take us in to Greek town, which is actually just one street about 3 blocks long. We did have a fun dinner at the Parthenon, and the music playing in the background was the same music they danced to in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Too funny. It was a great night out for us.

As I mentioned, I could easily give up many of these traditions—well, maybe not my Christmas cards—or find more inexpensive versions of them, but for now, I am thankful to be able to do them and consider myself one blessed lady!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Paying it forward

On December 23, 2 years after the wreck that put all our kids in the hospital, we went back for the second year in a row to visit, say thanks, and offer encouragement to those who were in situations similar to ours. It is such a blessing to go back to Cleveland and hard to describe the emotions.  As we visit with families in the PICU, we come away filled with gratefulness. Our ordeal was short lived. For some of these families, the hospital is a second home.  Here's a link to an article that was in The Plain Dealer, one of Cleveland's newspapers:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas!!'s obvious from my lack of posts that my time has been incredibly scarce, as I'm sure is the case with most of you. Freebie posts are nearly nonexistant as retailers all attempt to get us to BUY! We leave in a few hours for Michigan to be with my husband's family...and will stop in Cleveland to revisit the hospital on the way. My internet connection for the next 10 days will be sporadic at best, so if you don't hear from me, have a very Blessed Christmas!!

I'm including a story that has been going around the internet for a few years now. I don't know if it is true, but even if it isn't, it embodies the Christmas spirit. If you have ever been on either side of the story, you will appreciate it all the more. Enjoy:

In September 1960, I woke up one morning with six hungry babies and just 75 cents in my pocket. Their father was gone. The boys ranged from three months to seven years; their sister was two. Their Dad had never been much more than a presence they feared. Whenever they heard his tires crunch on the gravel driveway they would scramble to hide under their beds. He did manage to leave $15 a week to buy groceries. Now that he had decided to leave, there would be no more beatings, but no food either. If there was a welfare system in effect in southern Indiana at that time, I certainly knew nothing about it. I scrubbed the kids until they looked brand new and then put on my best homemade dress, loaded them into the rusty old 51 Chevy and drove off to find a job.

The seven of us went to every factory, store and restaurant in our small town. No luck. The kids stayed crammed into the car and tried to be quiet while I tried to convince whoever would listen that I was willing to learn or do anything. I had to have a job. Still no luck. The last place we went to, just a few miles out of town, was an old Root Beer Barrel drive-in that had been converted to a truck stop. It was called the Big Wheel. An old lady named Granny owned the place and she peeked out of the window from time to time at all those kids. She needed someone on the graveyard shift, 11 at night until seven in the morning. She paid 65 cents an hour, and I could start that night. I raced home and called the teenager down the street that baby-sat for people. I bargained with her to come and sleep on my sofa for a dollar a night. She could arrive with her pajamas on and the kids would already be asleep. This seemed like a good arrangement to her, so we made a deal.

That night when the little ones and I knelt to say our prayers, we all thanked God for finding Mommy a job, and so I started at the Big Wheel. When I got home in the mornings I woke the baby-sitter up and sent her home with one dollar of my tip money-- fully half of what I averaged every night. As the weeks went by, heating bills added a strain to my meager wage.

The tires on the old Chevy had the consistency of penny balloons and began to leak. I had to fill them with air on the way to work and again every morning before I could go home. One bleak fall morning, I dragged myself to the car to go home and found four tires in the back seat. New tires! There was no note, no nothing, just those beautiful brand new tires. Had angels taken up residence in Indiana ? I wondered. I made a deal with the local service station. In exchange for his mounting the new tires, I would clean up his office. I remember it took me a lot longer to scrub his floor than it did for him to do the tires.

I was now working six nights instead of five and it still wasn't enough. Christmas was coming and I knew there would be no money for toys for the kids . I found a can of red paint and started repairing and painting some old toys. Then I hid them in the basement so there would be something for Santa to deliver on Christmas morning. Clothes were a worry too. I was sewing patches on top of patches on the boys pants and soon they would be too far gone to repair. On Christmas Eve the usual customers were drinking coffee in the Big Wheel. There were the truckers, Les, Frank, and Jim, and a state trooper named Joe. A few musicians were hanging around after a gig at the Legion and were dropping nickels in the pinball machine. The regulars all just sat around and talked through the wee hours of the morning and then left to get home before the sun came up. When it was time for me to go home at seven o'clock on Christmas morning, to my amazement, my old battered Chevy was filled full to the top with boxes of all shapes and sizes. I quickly opened the driver's side door, crawled inside and kneeled in the front facing the back seat. Reaching back, I pulled off the lid of the top box. Inside was whole case of little blue jeans, sizes 2-10! I looked inside another box; it was full of shirts to go with the jeans. Then I peeked inside some of the other boxes. There was candy and nuts and bananas and bags of groceries. There was an enormous ham for baking, and canned vegetables and potatoes. There was pudding and Jell-O and cookies, pie filling and flour. There was whole bag of laundry supplies and cleaning items. And there were five toy trucks and one beautiful little doll.

As I drove back through empty streets as the sun slowly rose on the most amazing Christmas Day of my life, I was sobbing with gratitude. And I will never forget the joy on the faces of my little ones that precious morning. Yes, there were angels in Indiana that long-ago December. And they all hung out at the Big Wheel truck stop.

Let's keep paying it forward, blogger friends. We are all so blessed!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Another guest post by Abby.

(Can you read the shirt? "Why be normal?")
How did it get to be Thursday already?? And a "snow day" at that? It's more like a sleety mess day, but the kids got to stay home. They have a half day tomorrow and then are out for break. We're going to head to the mall in a bit, more to hang out than for anything else.

I'm intrigued as I read my daughter's college essays. This was an answer to the prompt: What is intellectual curiosity? For any of you who homeschool, you should love her paragraph about this topic:

I was very alarmed to discover that one of my classmates enjoyed “playing dumb” to avoid the judgment of his peers. The more I think about it the more heinous it becomes. How could someone want to be viewed as less intelligent than they really are? More worrisome, why would anyone look down on someone for acting intelligent and interested in academics? The current mores of high school society dictate that in order to be socially acceptable one must stifle all intellectual curiosity and languish in the comfort of not caring about anything that requires thought--in short, not caring about anything that matters.

Being intellectually curious requires a complete break from this mindset - a desire to learn more about the ideas presented in class, a need to develop thoughts and understand the material. This also means that intellectual curiosity, by definition, will cause you to be viewed as a borderline lunatic. But who would be normal when they have the chance to be extraordinary?

I have long been the student who gets incredibly excited about classroom topics. In the seventh grade this behavior was greeted with dislike bordering on animosity; now my classmates have learned to see it as an essential part of my personality. I would not be myself if I did not exhibit enthusiasm in my studies. Intellectual curiosity cannot be feigned, but it can be cultivated, and my formative years were spent in a setting that encouraged me not to be scared of being imaginative and intelligent.

Homeschooled with my brothers until the fourth grade, I was taught to read at age four and given all the books that I desired. We were not catered to and spent long periods of time playing in and with sand, shoe, and cardboard boxes. The one picture that I feel epitomizes my childhood is of me and my brothers crouching within one of those boxes, laughing heartily. Although this can be seen with negative connotations, I believe that it is really indicative of the fact that we learned to play, together, with anything. Our minds were not hampered by the flashing lights of fancy electronics and expensive toys; instead, we learned about the world through experience and in the process developed a lively sense of curiosity that has not been squashed out of us by our forays into a more modern society.

My classmates have given up on conforming me to the patterns of apathy that have been ingrained into their psyches. Lazy minds are lauded while searching minds are belittled. Whilst my friend may attempt to cover up the intelligence of his mind to assuage the masses, I have never felt that need to comfort people in their laziness. Perhaps by looking at me, the tiny sparks of a desire to understand and not just know, the sparks that make humans human, will be rekindled in my peers.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A few good deals.

Here's a great coupon for Sears good on the 15th and 16th only: $10 off a $20 apparel purchase and it's good on sale and clearance items. Print the coupon here:

For those of you, like me, who are signing up friends on ebate, know that the fine print reads that while you can put your link on a blog or other website, you will not get the $10 bonus if your friend signs up on your facebook. You can link on fb, you just don't get the double bonus. (Some of you have asked...) Go figure. Also, friends have to spend at least $25 for you to get the sign up bonus. I read all this after I posted the link. Still a good deal for you and your friends, but it is confusing. I have had 16 of you good friends sign up, but only have credit for 6 (and for $5 each, not $10)...I'm assuming because I linked on facebook the first time I posted.  Many stores are still giving double cash back on purchases. My first bonus check will be over $40.00. Here is the referral link if you haven't jumped on board yet; you automatically get $5.00:

If you have a CVS, make sure you scan when you walk in the door. You should get a coupon for $2 off any Advil and it works on 4 sample pack. Free headache meds are good this time of year:).

Take all of your loose change to your local Coinstar coin machine (many are in front of Walmart).

If you have $40 or more in change you can choose to get your money back as an eCertificate (basically a gift card) to iTunes, Lowe’s, Borders, Regal Entertainment or Rixty. You will get a receipt with an eCertificate number on it to the merchant of your choice. Enter the promo code off your receipt will instruct you on how to redeem your bonus $10 eCertificate. That’s like $10 for free! There have been varying reports of success on this. I have never used the machines, but some folks love them.

Sign up here for possible free samples from Ponds. Again, varying reports. Not sure if they only send out a certain amount, but I'm sure you get coupons:

Well, I must run and finish my Christmas wrapping and cards. And here's a story that let's you know that I do mess up: On Black Friday I did a $90 + shop at Walgreens, most of it free or close to it with RR and coupons. When I took my RR (jingle cash) out to use this weekend, I discovered that they had all expired on the 9th! They were only good for 2 weeks. Ouch. I am taking the jingle cash and $80 worth of stuff back today. Should prove to be an adventure. I'll let you know how it goes. 

Merry Day to you!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

He who gathers money little by little...

My computer has been on the fritz. Got a little virus that shut me down for a few days and it hasn't been up to speed since. The blessing came in the form of a friend (one of those amazing computer dudes) who fixed it for us, thus saving us $100 office visit. We took him out to eat.

Anywho. Here's a story for you. See if you can relate.

A friend of mine flips houses for a living (well, actually she rents a few also) and recently she hired a lady who was down on her luck and jobless to help her on a few projects, even though my friend really didn't need the help. The first day on the job, this lady showed up with a large coffee, two 2 liters of Coke, a large bag of chips and other junk food. My friend happened to see the receipt. She had purchased all this junk at the gas station. The total was $15.41. (No, not including gas.) My friend emailed me the story because she knew I would shudder like she did. Here is a woman who has been out of work for months. Her first day on the job, before she ever sees a paycheck, she spends her first 1.5 hours in wages on junk food...and overpriced junkfood at that! "I just had to share," my frugal friend told me, "I knew you would commiserate with me."

Obviously, spending $15.41 on junk food won't send you to the poor house, but a mentality of spending what you don't have certainly will. My good friend was frustrated. "I felt like I was throwing my money away," she told me. And in essence, she was. What a difference if the lady had brought in bread, milk and a bag of fruit from Wal-Mart or Aldi.

I read a book once (can't for the life of me remember the name) and the author was making his case for wise spending. "Look at it like this, " he said, "every time you spend your hourly wage on a frivilous product, you are forcing yourself to work one extra hour before you can retire." We can all argue about what is frivilous, the virtues of never retiring and the validity of the occasional frivilous spend, but you get the point. Don't spend what you don't have. And when you do spend, spend wisely!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Yesterday I was looking around facebook and noticed a link my niece had posted for a teavana tea giveaway ( and entered  because I love tea...and 20 minutes later I had an email stating that I had won a $50 teakettle. How cool is that??? (Thanks, Lori!) Considering that I just let my hand-me-down teakettle burn dry for over an hour one day, it comes at a good time.

Here's a link for a free sample of Seattle's Best Coffee (made by Starbucks...):

Barnes and Noble has a free read aloud story time where authors read their stories. The featured book right now is The Polar Express. I don't have small kids anymore, so I haven't checked this out, but it sounds interesting:

Get a free sample of John Frieda Sheer Blonde Highlight Activating shampoo and conditioner for darker shades from Kroger. It’s available in limited states: AL, AR, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MI, MS, MO, NC, OH, SC, TN, TX, VA, and WV only. Thanks goes to Freebies 4 mom for sharing! You should receive your sample within 8 to 10 weeks:

Do you love your slow cooker as much as I do? Here's a link for 25 top recipes:
This is part of the ALL YOU website, one of my favorites!

You can download a new free holiday song from amazon every day for 25 days. Even if you don't have an MP3 player, you can just download onto your computer and listen while you work:). Today's song is  Mannhiem Steamroller. Ahhhhh...takes me back to the college days when I first discovered:

Time to make supper. I worked nights last night and go back in at 11 tonight. Thankful for my job and my great coworkers!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Great gift ideas

We've all been recipients of some wonderful homemade gifts over the years. The older I get, the more I appreciate the time and effort that goes into some of these gems, especially as I have made some myself. Some of my favorite food items are "gifts in a jar," and I found a site online that not only has the recipes and instructions for making these (and many other items), but also free downloads to print the labels for the jar! Here's the site: Some of my favorites are soups and drink mixes. With folks feeling the pinch of the economy these days, I would think these would be much more welcome than just another knick knack to set on the shelf.

I also have kept most of the sweaters and mittens that I have been blessed with. I'm thankful now that I kept my mom's hand knit socks and mittens for the kids. These will be priceless keepsakes...especially since I'm not that talented.

If you are a baker, consider giving a gift certificate to friends/kid's teachers for cakes/cookies. You can set your own "please give me a week's notice, " etc. On my 30th birthday, my husband used one such gift to procure my birthday cake!

Why not give a gift of a meal a month-or even a loaf of bread- to an elderly friend? (Or anyone, for that matter!) Let the person know that you will be delivering a meal the "first Monday of every month at 6 pm." Then just make a double recipe for whatever you happen to be preparing that night. Not only would Aunt Emma love the food, she would love the visit even more.

My husband has a box of thank you letters that he has received from students and parents over the years. These heartfelt notes mean more than any other gift.

What are your favorite homemade gifts?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Winner, open house and nice freebies

The winner of the Christmas give-a-way is Kristen H. from California! Congratulations Kristin, on winning this nice little Christmas bonus. I hope you enjoy it.

We've had a very busy weekend, but a very good one. All the Christmas activities have started in earnest. We had a wonderful open house for our neighbors. This was a tradition we started 5 years ago. Our house was built in the 1930s and only one other family had owned it. Every year we invite the former owner back, which I honestly believe is the reason so many of the neighbors show up. I learned a long time ago that if you wait for yourself, your home or your finances to be perfect before you do something like this, it will never happen. Just go ahead and do it! Lots of pics on my facebook, but this picture is of me with the former owner, Willa Gray:

Here's a REALLY nice freebie for for two bottles of Excedrin:
You can get one each of Excedrin Migraine and Excedrin ES. The last time this promo ran, the coupon came very quickly. Sign up fast, I'm sure it won't last long!!

Free Sample of Stayfree here:

Free sample of Lanacane anti-chafing gel:

Free full size Cover girl product...join on facebook:

Free dream water coupon at WalMart:
Band concert tonight...more later:)!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Picaboo photo deal.

Missing my mom terribly today. I've been thinking about her last ever-so-weak-hug and wishing for one more. I know many of you out there understand completely, and if you don't now, you will someday. I am so blessed though, that I had her for so long and am thankful for the many lessons she taught me!

Many responses (and other great ideas) to my last blog about the "homeless packs." I just love that we can learn from and encourage each other.

This past weekend I cashed in on my $100.00 Picaboo groupon credit that I purchased for $35.00. I really love the Picaboo website. They do a great job with photo books. I will admit that the learning curve is a somewhat difficult and on first glance their prices may seem a little high, but there are many reasonably priced versions and there are always discount codes (just google "picaboo discount codes"), which can be combined with the groupon credit. I used a code for 40% off photo books (ended 11/30...I was still making the book at 10pm that night). I ended up getting six 8X11 large photobooks for $14.00 each with the 40% off code. After the $100.00 credit, I only paid $13.00 total, which included shipping. Right now the same $100 for $35 groupon is available. Click here: and then look under the city of Edmonton in Canada.  There is also a 30% off code on books and calenders: HOLIDAY30. This expires 12/30. The nicest thing about these photo books (I think) is the ability to put up to 30 + images on one page. With the listed price including 20 pages, that's up to 600 photos in one book, which breaks down to as little as 2 cents a print. It really is a great deal. There are lots of other sites also, including snapfish and shutterfly, but the picaboo groupon can't be beat!! Give it a whirl.

Also many thanks to all of you who have signed up at ebates. I am just really enamored with this site right now, partly because of the double cash back that many retailers are giving. No taxes, (usually) free shipping, no lines and cash back on all my purchases just can't be beat in my book. Today, for example, you get 8% back at Old Navy, Gap and Land's End, 35% back at and even 3% back on groupon. If you are going to shop online anyway, there is NO REASON not to sign up here first....and you automatically get 5 bucks just for joining! Click here:

Thinking about doing a post on homemade gifts and I'm looking for your very best suggestions...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

BOGO Starbucks (today only)...and helping the homeless

I'm just coming off working the night shift, but I have a feeling that if I don't write now, it won't happen, so just be prepared for muddled thoughts and spelling errors:)...

Here's a great deal on Starbucks bagged Christmas blend coffee. Today only it is BOGO at Starbucks stores, and word is that they will take the $1 coupon in the 11/21 Smartsource coupon insert. If Starbucks is your thing, this is a good deal.

Here's one from several sites that are giving conflicting reports/success: Grab some hot deals at today using a new $10 off $10 purchase coupon code 4T4T4T, or possibly the code GIVEJOY.  They are also offering “Ship to Store” for FREE. Basically grab anything at $10 and it’s FREE! It's worth a try.

Dove has new sample of daily conditioner treatment out. Click here:

Get a free sample of Sun Crystals sweetener here:

Here's a true story for you. The plight of the homeless man begging at the street corner has always bothered me... immensely. We all know that we're not supposed to give them cash, right...but what to do? I was irritated with myself for turning aside and moving on one too many times. In church two weeks ago we were challenged to reach out of our comfort zones and ACT. Prompted by other stories of friends finding creative ways to help the homeless, I decided to make up some ziplock packs. I went to Walmart and purchased the gallon size bags, socks, granola and beef jerky. I planned to add more items from my stash at home. While I was loading the groceries in the car, I was compelled to make a pack right there. I put in all the items I had and a buck. You know what I'm going to tell you next don't you?? Sure enough, on my way home, there was a gentleman on the corner holding a sign that was so tattered I couldn't even read it. It had just started to rain and he looked so totally dejected. When I rolled down the window, he looked up slowly. I held the pack out to him and it was as if I'd handed him gold. His smile was priceless as he thanked me profusely. I was so choked up I couldn't even speak. I teared up all the way home as I prayed for him. I plan to add a letter to the rest of my packs explaining that God loves them and I'm praying for them...and I will!  I'm not saying this to brag, but rather to prompt you to reach out of your comfort zone and DO SOMETHING. There is so much hurt and need in this world; the possiblities are endless. It doesn't have to be a big thing; my mom was known for dropping off one or two cookies or a cup of berries. You've heard the tale of the older man chastising a little boy on the beach for spending so much time throwing starfish back into the sea. "There are thousands," the man proclaimed, "you will never really make a difference!" The little boy stopped momentarily and looked at the man. Holding a starfish before the man's eyes before he tossed it into the waves, he simply said, "That may be true, Sir, but I'll make a difference for this one." Today, let's all make a difference for one.