Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Black Friday shopping: a guest post by Erin Dunkle

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I won't have time to post this weekend, so I recruited my blog friend Erin to write a guest post. Erin and I have never met in person, but we have a special connection. Her husband, Geoff, is waiting for liver transplant right now (and he's been waiting patiently for a long time) and as some of you know I've been through that myself. So, needless to say, when she found me through my other blog we became fast friends (if we lived closer, I am sure we would hang out and drink wine and shop together!!). Anyway, read on for her reflections on Black Friday shopping!! And after you read it I hope you'll drop by her blog, Life With the Dunkles, and find out the latest with LiverWait '08. Please say a prayer for her husband, too.

It’s coming…

And no, I am not talking about Thanksgiving or Christmas. I am talking about Black Friday. BRING. IT. ON. This is one of those days that I get so fired up about. Okay, so, I know the economy is bad and my Roth 401K is gone, and my husband is waiting for a liver transplant, but I am throwing that all out the window (well not the husband and the liver thing) and jumping in feet first!

This is an annual tradition (one that I cannot wait to pass onto my daughter) that my family and I have done for years. It starts on Thanksgiving morning. We are up bright and early scouring the ads one-by-one, placing them in their appropriate piles, and re-reading them just to be sure nothing was missed.

The piles are typically labeled:
1) MUST-MUST have
2) If we can’t get the must-must haves then we will move onto these items
3) If we strike-out on the first two piles then let’s just buy these items so we don’t look like total losers for getting up at 3:00AM

It’s sick. It’s an addiction. I know. One year I stood in line at Best Buy starting @ 4:00AM with my mom and aunt just to walk out of there at 5:30AM with a $5 Johnny Cash CD.

This year I’m taking it up a notch. This year I will be shopping at our local outlets at midnight on Thanksgiving. That’s right you read that correctly, the local outlet mall is opening at midnight for their big “Thanksgiving Sale”. I’ve recruited some friends and my mom. Were all set to go. Since the ads have not “officially” come out (I’ve been Googling the ads for days online), I’m not exactly sure how my day will go, but one thing is for sure, tomorrow I will be up at the crack of dawn putting together my “piles”.

Happy Shopping!

Monday, November 24, 2008

The verdict

Thanks for all the feedback about the Christmas tree dilemma. Carl and I discussed this yesterday, and we decided that we are going to get a tree this year (a small one!). We pretty much live in the Christmas tree capitol of the U.S.A. (I'm not kidding -- we have at least 10 tree farms, probably more, within a three-mile radius of our house), so buying a tree supports our local economy. And, fortunately for us, we have lots of lots of ways to recycle trees around here. We usually leave ours out for the Boy Scouts (they take it away for a $5 donation). To find a tree recycle program in your area, click on over to the National Christmas Tree Association's web site. All you have to do is enter your zip code, and it will tell you where you can take your tree for recycling.

The Advent Conspiracy

So, as you all know (because I said so here in this blog), this time of year really, really drives me nuts. It's not that I don't love Christmas. I do love it. And I love Christmas because I love Jesus. Christmas is about His birth, and the fact that God came from Heaven to Earth to redeem us. What I don't like so much is how our society has turned Christmas into a holiday that is all about gifts, food, decorations, parties and, well, stuff.

This year, however, I think people are starting to get back to basics. Money is tight for lots of us, and in the context of the holiday season I think this a blessing. I won't get a Coach handbag this year, and I'm not going to get the new piano I want either. I'll admit that I am really bummed out about the piano -- but I also know that I'll get one when the time is right. It doesn't have to be for Christmas.

Anyway, back to the point of this post. Today, I heard about a very cool project called The Advent Conspiracy. The idea? Worship fully, spend less, give more, love all. Find out more in this video ...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

To tree or not to tree

I have a dilemma. Should Carl and I get a Christmas tree this year? A nice tree will set us back at least $30. At least. And if you've read my previous posts, you know that we are trying to cut back this year (read: we have to cut back this year). Then again, Christmas trees look so pretty and smell so nice. I love sitting in my living room with a book and cup of tea (or wine, or hot cocoa, or even water) and the tree and the lights and the stockings and all that.

If we skip the tree, it won't be the first year we've done this. For a while we put up a fake tree from Target, but we sold it when we moved into our current home in May 2005. I'm pretty sure we celebrated Christmas sans tree that year (and the holiday was just as happy).

Anyway, I'm just not sure what to do. Should I invest in a tree or not? If I do, I want to put it up right after Thanksgiving so I can enjoy it for the entire month of December! But that involves crawling up to the high shelves in the garage and getting down the ornaments in, like, 10 days. I just don't know.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New poll: What is your favorite Christmas movie?

Hey! I just added a new poll -- favorite Christmas movies. I actually love all of the ones on my list! If I had to pick one, though, it would probably be A Christmas Story. I'm laughing now, just thinking about poor Flick with his tongue stuck to a flag pole.

Favorite Christmas memories

I have a lot of fun childhood Christmas memories -- in part because my parents are really into celebrating the season. My mom goes all out with decorating, and my dad basically loves everything about Christmas (I'm not sure how I wound up with such a ho-hum attitude toward the holiday season). My favorite memory of all, however, involves our annual Christmas tree search. Actually, I'm not sure if we did this every year or just a couple of times -- but I like to think it was an annual event. Anyway, my parents would pick me up from school at Carl Cozier Elementary and we would ride in our blue Ford Comet out to a tree farm where we would search and search until we found the right tree. I believe it was almost always a Douglas Fir. On the way home, we would stop by the Mt. Bakery for a treat (we lived in Bellingham, Wash. near Mt. Baker at the time -- cute name for a bakery, huh??). This kinda goes to show that Christmas isn't about all the stuff under the tree, doesn't it?

What's your favorite Christmas memory?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Gift cards!

Who doesn't love receiving gift cards??! And for that matter, who doesn't love giving them? It's so easy -- you go the store, plunk down some cash (or, plastic -- which I totally don't recommend unless you intend to pay it off as soon as the bill comes) and your gift is ready to go. Nonetheless, it is important to equip yourself with some knowledge about gift cards before going out and getting one for every single person on your list. That's why, today, I am sending you all over to Leah Ingram's fabulous Lean Green Family blog, where you can read up on Five Tips for Buying Gift Cards.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I'm dreaming of a lean Christmas

I knew weeks ago that Carl and I had to cut back on spending this Christmas. We had a fun, busy and expensive year. We bought a sailboat. We went to Maui. We had to fix our car. Now that the end of year is approaching, we're out of disposable income. And, thanks to the economy, our usual source of extra funds has dwindled to the point that it isn't even worth dipping in to. I'm not complaining -- I know we are all in the same boat. It just means we have to make concessions.

So, we set a strict budget for Christmas. $50 for each of our parents. $25 each for our two nieces. $50 for Carl's sister and her husband. $25 for my grandparents. $100 for everything else, like hostess gifts, small gifts for friends, etc. etc. Total budget this year: $400 (gifts for each other don't fall into this budget -- that's separate).

Two weeks ago, that sounded completely reasonable and doable. However, I am now looking at slashing the budget even more. Why? Because I totally misunderstand the pay rate on a very time-consuming project that I recently completed. I thought this check would cover my Christmas budget and the 10 personal training sessions I just signed up for (with some $$ left over). Wrong. Now I'm not sure yet where my Christmas money -- or the money to pay the trainer -- will come from (since I freelance, I never really know when my checks will arrive).

PS: On another note, I want to say thanks to Sarah Jio who blogs about health and fitness for She mentioned my blog on her blog, Vitamin G, last week and I can see that quite a few of her readers clicked over. Thanks to all of you for stopping by. Oh, and if you aren't familiar with Vitamin G -- it is an absolute must-read blog. Perfect for when you need a break from work or kids or whatever. Definitely check it out!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Last year's Christmas mix

A few days before Christmas '07, I decided to throw together a collection of seasonal tunes. I wanted to burn CDs and use them as stocking stuffers (you know, kinda like a mixed tape -- only not). Here is the mix I came up with (plus my impressions of said songs).

1. Jingle Bells by the Puppini Sisters. I have heard a zillion versions of Jingle Bells, and this is my all-time fave.

2. Ding Dong Merrily On High by Chanticleer. This was a free I-Tunes download, and while it is the type of song I appreciate musically, I don't really want to listen to more than, like, twice. No offense to the BeeGees, but I'm not really into the whole men-singing-first-soprano thing.

3. Walkin' in a Winter Wonderland by Michael Bolton. Yes, I actually downloaded a Michael Bolton song. I said I liked it, but I lied.

4. Carol of the Bells by The Bird and the Bee. Another free download. Kindof a trip, too.

5. The First Noel by Josh Groban and Faith Hill. A song that really exemplifies Christmas.

6. All I Want For Christmas by Joss Stone. I totally regret paying 99 cents for this song. Nothing is wrong with it per se, I just don't like the whole sultry/whiny style of singing that I'm hearing in this one.

7. O Come O Come Emmanuel by Carter's Cord: A country version of the classic carol. I love this song. Listen to the lyrics. This is what I really want for Christmas.

8. Messiah Part 2, No. 44 by the London Symphony Orchestra. Two years ago, Carl and I went to a Handel's Messiah performance at a theater in Portland. I'm not going to out the orchestra here, but oh-my-gosh the entire thing was dreadful. I love this one because it reminds me of the moment we realized that horrible concert was just about over.

8. Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow by Michael Buble. A song that makes me happy. It makes me want to put on a cute dress and go to a holiday party.

9. Little Drummer Boy by Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra. Hilarious. Groovy. You must download this song!!!

New poll: If you had to pick just one Christmas album ...

We have another new poll! Please cast your vote (the poll is in the green column on the right side of the screen).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Holiday tipping: yay or nay?

When I go to a restaurant, I leave a tip. When I leave my salon, I leave a tip. And I almost always toss some change into the tip jar at my favorite coffee shop (I say 'almost' because sometimes I just don't have any cash on me!). This seems like a pretty normal tipping routine to me. But am I forgetting someone? Should I be tipping the garbage man, too?

According to some sources, yes -- especially around the holidays. The December '08 issue of Consumer Reports has a short article on the topic (page 10). While it doesn't come right out and say "you must do this" it does quote an etiquette expert who urges me to tip any and all service providers that I use regularly throughout the year.

I've been thinking it over, and I'm not sure I can fit this in the budget. Especially when the recommended tip is the cost of one session. Yikes. Let's do the math (note -- I am only including the ones Consumer Reports listed in the article's tip sheet).

1. My (fabulous) stylist: an average of $150 per session for cut and color.
2. The girl who cuts Carl's hair: $40 per session.
3. Esthetician: $25 per session
4. Pedicurist: $45 per session (they listed manicurists, but I don't get manicures often)
5. Lawn-care crew: I'm guessing $20 -- I pay the HOA and they pay the lawn people.
6. Fitness instructor (aka trainer): $75
7. Sanitation worker (aka garbage man): $10
8. Mail carrier: ??? Let's say $25.
9. Cat sitter: an average of $30 per session

The grand total: $420. That's a lot of money. I don't have that kind of money available for tipping. In fact, that is more than my entire 2008 Christmas budget. And while I absolutely love the service providers I hire, I think they would appreciate smaller gifts (like wine or cookies or a coffee gift card) just as much.

As for the mail carrier, garbage man and lawn-care crew -- well, I just don't see any reason to tip them. I have never spoken to the mail carrier. The lawn-care crew changes every week (and plus, they are hired/paid by the HOA). And as for the garbage man, well, he has a horrible habit of throwing our trash and recycle bins out into the middle of the street. He also charges us $5 if our can is even 1 ounce heavier than it should be. As the soup nazi would say: "no (tip) for you!"

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tag, you're it

So, in three years of off-and-on blogging I have never been tagged. This week, two friends (Erin and Jaime) decided to tag me. The theme is "seven random things about yourself." I'm going to alter it, just slightly.

Seven random Christmas-related things about myself ...

1. I have never seen It's A Wonderful Life in its entirety. Whenever I hear that little voice squawk the words "every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings," I want to throw a brick at the TV.

2. I love the song Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses. Is there even one girl out there who can't relate to the lyrics??

3. If you ever come to our house for Christmas dinner, don't expect to see turkey or ham on the table. The turkey is simply an act of rebellion against tradition (we really don't see what is so special about it). As for the ham, well, we don't eat pig -- ever.

4. Our great room is fairly small, and we have big furniture (our old house had more space, and we bought the furniture when we lived there). What does this have to with Christmas? Well, it means I don't have a lot of flexibility as far as where I put the tree.

5. Carl and I have been known to finish Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving. The fact that we have no kids and small families makes this pretty simple.

6. Even though Payless (the drugstore) has been out of business for years and years, I still can't get that jingle out of my head. "Merry Christmas. From Payless. Merry Chriiiiistmaaas."

7. I cannot wait to see Four Christmases starring Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn (watch the trailer -- it looks hilarious). I'll be there on opening night if at all possible.