Sunday, January 25, 2009

Yes We Can (Save Money)

I probably don’t have to tell you that the Internet is a wondrous thing. But did you know you can find lots of money-saving coupons on the ‘Net (and make your own Obama-type poster like the one to the right for free)?

I know these subjects don’t seem to go together but as you might have guessed from my recent blog entries, they’ve been on my mind lately – the frugal thing and our new president.

On the frugal front, Internet coupons have saved me a few bucks on online orders -- free shipping or 15 percent off the total cost -- simply by typing in coupon codes I found online with very little effort. You also can find coupons to print out for use at the grocery store, restaurants, retail stores and other walk-in establishments.

I’m including this link to an MSNBC article on how to save $1,000 a year with coupons (sounds pretty ambitious, but it might be fun to try). It recommends some specific coupon sites like I’ve had luck at, too.

I’ve also simply gone to and typed the word “coupon” and a company's name in the search box in hopes of finding a money-saving coupon or a code to put on the blank on many online order forms where it says “apply discount” or “enter coupon code.”

The Google search returns a number of web site addresses where you can check for appropriate coupons. Some sites, such as, will even tell you how long the coupon is valid and the success rate of people who tried using it.

Is it worth the time and effort to search for the coupons? I’ll let you be the judge of that but if you ask me if it's possible to save some money this way, I've got to say -- YES, WE CAN.

If you want to make your own free poster like the one above to proclaim this or anything else, go to You do have to register your name and a password but basically, the site lets you upload any picture you want and it will put it into a format inspired by the well-known Obama poster by Shepard Fairey. You can add your own custom caption and then download it into your computer and print it out in any size, or insert it into an email, if you like. Give it a try!

And if you know of any other Internet sites that are great sources for saving money, please share!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It's a new day....

"I woke up this mornin' feelin' brand new... Cause the dreams that I've been dreamin' finally came true...."

I can't help it. I just have to sing along with Will.I.Am today....

Did you watch yesterday? No. 2 son left his campus at 3:30 a.m. to be part of history. No. 1 son had to drive to work at the very time our new president was giving his inaugural address -- and said he saw TWO cars on the road on his 10-mile drive. Everyone else was either on the National Mall or watching on television. How about you?

"Remember: It's you and me together." Yes, it's a new day.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Frugal Times

Tuesday, on Inauguration Day, I’ll be guest blogging -- and showing off my picture with the president once AGAIN -- over at the “Working Stiffs” mystery writers’ blog if you care to pay a visit.

But today, in honor of our new president and the belt-tightening measures he’s likely to suggest in the current economy, maybe it's time to reconsider what makes a good hostess gift these days.

Expensive chocolate used to be a wonderful gift for anyone who invited you to their home for a social event. Not so much anymore. The hostess is usually on a diet and she’s unlikely to share the chocolates anyway -- especially if she can re-gift them or return them for cash.

What about a nice candle? It can come in handy during extreme weather events like our recent ice storm, but one candle doesn't give off much light if the electricity gets shut off for non-payment.

A bottle of wine has always seemed like a good choice. But these days it’s important to know if your hosts have given up alcohol because they can’t afford it anymore -- or if they’re drinking too much as a way of coping with their dwindling finances.

With flowers, which can be pricey during the winter, there’s always that awkward moment when the hostess scurries around to find a vase, usually at the very instant her dinner needs the most oversight. It can be even more awkward if her crystal is at the pawn shop.

So what is a good hostess gift these days?

I say slap a big bow on a nice, thick steak and you're all set. A week's worth of groceries in a pretty gift bag also might be a thoughtful gesture. And homemade goodies are always welcome –especially if they’re in the form of a big honking casserole or vat of soup large enough to feed the family for a few days.

If you'd prefer to give something a little more discrete, simply slip a generous gift certificate to the local grocery store or gas station into a gracious thank you note.

In colder climates, consider bringing along a stack of wood for the fireplace or wood stove. Not sure if your hosts own either one? A blanket or heavy socks might be a safer bet.

Think consumables. Think frugal. As long as you remember to wrap your offering in a lovely ribbon, preferably one that can be reused or burned for fuel, you’re golden.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"Ah, Mom? Funny story….”

Husband No. 1 and I are now officially in “empty nest” status and considering changing our phone number so our children can’t call us anymore and disturb the peace and quiet that’s descended upon our house. I think of it as the Zen of Empty Nest.

The Christmas Eve telephone exchange with No. 1 son not long before he was to board a flight to spend less than 24 hours at home is a good example of how this state of calm can be disturbed. It seems his police academy had presented him with a list of items to purchase by 6:15 a.m. Friday – a difficult task when any store stocking them would be closed on Christmas Day and there were only a few hours of Christmas Eve remaining to snag them all. "Mom, I'll have to go to Wal-Mart when I get there,” he advised.

“But, honey, you don’t get in until 7 p.m. and we’re having dinner and then going to church. Besides, Wal-Mart probably closes early on Christmas Eve, like at 6.”

“Why? Don’t people have to still do their shopping?”

I bit my tongue and said, “You'll have to find a Wal-Mart there. Let us know what you can’t get and we’ll try to find it here.”

And that’s how we ended up frantically searching for a bathing suit with a mesh lining at 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve in a geographic area with over two feet of snow on the ground.

It reminded me of the days of hyperventilating as we were still hunting down that special gift “from Santa” hours before the Big Guy was supposed to arrive. At least a bathing suit wouldn’t require the drama and trauma of the late-night Christmas Eve struggle of putting a toy together for Santa to leave under the tree.

It took a few telephone calls, but we eventually tracked down mesh-lined bathing suits at the local sporting goods store. Husband No. 1 volunteered to brave the frantic, last-minute shopping crowds, returning only slightly bruised and aggravated with bathing suits in two different sizes, just in case.

Imagine our surprise hours later when No. 1 son showed us the list. The bathing suit was required Monday, not the next day. “Ooops, sorry,” he said with his most angelic smile.

Fast forward to this week. Husband No. 1 drives No. 2 son to the airport an hour away and puts him on a flight to the Baltimore-Washington Airport so he can get back to school for “Welcome Week” activities before classes resume Monday.

As instructed, No. 2 son reports in when his plane arrives and then begins the public transportation marathon back to campus. He gets to his dorm at approximately 6 p.m. “It’s awfully quiet here,” he tells me, “and apparently the dining hall doesn’t reopen until Saturday.”

“You mean there are no activities and you could have stayed home longer?”

“I guess,” he says. “But don’t worry, I’ll find someone to hang out with.”

By 7:30 p.m., I’ve made three calls to advise him which important items he’s left behind, each revealed as I try to return his room to some sort of order. “Call me if there’s something else I’ll need to mail you tomorrow,” I say.

Then Husband No. 1 and I settle into our favorite chairs to enjoy the Zen of Empty Nest. I define this as the state of denial where if you don’t see your children, you don’t have to worry about what they might be up to at that moment. And there’s a sense of peace that comes from not having to argue with your child over whether he should drive the family car to a destination an hour away at 10 p.m. in an ice storm. Or if coming in at 3 a.m. might wake you just hours before you have to report to the job that helps finance his college experience.

At 9:45 p.m., the phone rings. No. 2 son’s name flashes on the Caller ID. Has he realized something else was left behind? Does he miss us already? Has he decided to come back home and transfer to the local university? Nope.

“Ah, Mom? Funny story….” he begins. My "Mom Intuition” kicks in. It tells me this story won't make me laugh.

“I’m on a train to Philadelphia,” he says. “I thought you might want to know.”

“Philadelphia? Dare I ask why?” Across the room, Husband No. 1’s eyes widen.

“I met up with Sarah and we’re going to visit our friend,” he tells me.

“So, just today, you’ve been in NH, Maryland, DC and now Pennsylvania?” I ask. Nice to be young, I think.

“Guess so. Whoops, gotta go. I’m losing service. I’ll call you Sunday.”

Not if I can get the phone number changed by then.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

2009 -- Everything is Possible

As we move into the new year, I’m having a difficult time saying goodbye to Christmas.

No. 1 son relented and let us fly him home for 24 hours, a wonderful gift to a mother dreading her first Christmas Day away from a child. As No. 2 son observed, we managed to get in most of our holiday traditions with only minor schedule juggling. We spent time with people we love. And my beloved husband gave me the incredibly thoughtful gift of guest blogs -- the first is below -- so I can spend more time on my novel.

Although I’m very hopeful about the new year, I don’t want the Christmas glow to end. That's made it difficult to make a decision on New Year’s resolutions. It might be more fun to make unresolutions – things we resolve NOT to change. Or should I follow one of the umpteen suggestions for life changes, like using a daily online habit tracker to help “get control” of my life?

As I sit here surrounded by holiday decorations and waffling about resolutions, Frank has plunged into 2009 (as you can read below). But we both believe that in 2009 -- everything is possible. Don't you?

New Year Guest Blog -- from Frank Cook (aka Husband No. 1)

Ahhh, the New Year. The sheer magic of flipping over the calendar.

What I like about the New Year is the sense of renewal I get – that all the failures of the past year are over and I can start all over with a clean slate. New plots, new characters, new story twists. Ready to go.

Somehow I convince myself that all the things I didn’t accomplish last year, I will accomplish this year. And, what the heck, I might as well add a few things to this year’s list – after all, I’ve got 12 long months to get everything done. Lots of time.

If you think about it, we all get several opportunities throughout the year to remake and rededicate ourselves.

For me personally, if I’m not seeing a lot progress on my New Year’s manuscript by, say, early February – I feel free to abandon it for the moment and convince myself with utmost confidence and that I can restart the engine on Feb. 25 – the first day of Lent.

For the last five decades, Lent has been a great time to stop bad old habits and develop new good ones. Ten pages per day. How hard can that be? All I need is dedication. Lent: A great time to stare steely-eyed into the future and know I’m just 40 days away from a finished manuscript (as well as being healthier, 10 pounds lighter, and having a clutter-free desk).

On the other hand, if the pages, pounds and clutter still aren’t flowing by the time Lent ends in mid-April, I’m never too concerned – and I never ever concede failure.

Fortunately for my zen self, my birthday comes at the end of May. And what better time to start life-changing programs than on your birthday? Every year I look at my birthday and know a better me is just on the horizon. It’s simply a matter of prioritizing and keeping one’s eye on the prize.

Of course, if somehow the weakness of those around me manages to undermine my birthday dedication, it is not a big deal. Coming up is Sept. 1, the traditional day of new beginnings for almost everyone in America. Sept. 1 is the day we all went back to school. The day we all started with a new teacher, a new attitude, empty notebooks and an open mind. Beginning on Sept. 1, anything is possible. What better day, even as an adult, to clear the clutter of the last many months and look forward to a tomorrow that is full of promise.

But, if my September makeover hasn’t quite caught on by mid-October, an ominous chill sets in on my psyche. I look back over the last 10 months. Are those few pages all I’ve got? Have I really gone 14 chapters without murdering anybody? Has my protagonist really not had sex since page 1?

What started out as a pleasant pursuit those many months ago now turns into a dark forced march. Thanksgiving looms on the horizon and then it’s a steady slide toward Christmas.

Progress must be made. Now! Manuscripts must be typed. Pounds must be shed. A new me must emerge, dammit!

And finally Christmas. Acknowledgement, concession, reconciliation and resignation. Too late to do anything about me now. I must accept who I have been throughout the year and graciously forgive myself my little setbacks.

Besides, there is no time to dwell on the past. New Year’s resolutions must be written! A new me awaits!

Along with being a great husband, Frank Cook is a multi-genre author -- writing mysteries, four non-fiction books including the best-selling "21 Things I Wish My Broker Had Told Me," as well as newsletter and magazine articles.