Extreme Couponing (or) How Do I Pay for the Cleaning Lady?

It’s been a busy few months, my friends.

Taking on different responsibilities at work required more time at the office and added travel. I think I spent the entire month of March on the road, but it all happened so fast that I’d have to check old boarding passes to be sure.
During that time, I made a very important decision: I need a cleaning person. Someone who can dust, vacuum, and mop — In other words, someone who can keep my place looking decent so I don’t have to. I figured once a month should do the trick.
Hubby didn’t agree. Especially when my first hire was for two guys to clear out the garage.
“We don’t need to spend the money,” he reasoned. “I was going to do it.”
We all know what this means. He was going to do it only after I raised hell, waited six months, and then raised hell again. But enough, I decided, was enough. The guys did a great job, and I drove my car into the garage without sideswiping a mound of junk for the first time in five years. My marriage, I believe, is better for it.
The garage guys were a one-time charge, so how was I to justify a monthly charge for a cleaning person? The boost to my sanity should be enough, but I wanted to be sure the expense was painless.
After hearing about people getting $481 of groceries for $3.19, I decided to give couponing a try. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to rack up these types of savings on the first few tries, but I had no idea how much work this involves. People spend more time couponing than they do working full-time jobs.
It’s been less than a month since I made my declaration to become an extreme couponer, and here’s what I’ve learned so far:
1. I will NEVER get $481 worth of anything for $3.19. It takes way too much time. The most I’ve had is $89 on a $150 bill, and that was good enough for me.
2. I should leave my daughter at home. There’s nothing like a six-year-old asking for candy and what-not while you are trying to calculate coupon savings. Now I see why the people on TV usually go alone.
3. Always smile at the cashier. Check-out already sucks; it only gets worse when you have 50 coupons and a clerk who thinks you’re rude.
4. I will not stockpile. It seems like a good idea, but do I really need 65 bottles of mustard? Plus, I don’t have the space.
The cleaning lady comes for the first time this Monday, and my coupon savings have covered her fees for the next couple of months. So, all in all, I guess it was worth it.
Stay tuned!

The Tea Party

Every year when the weather gets warm, I make myself promises.

I will go outside more this year. I will plant more flowers. I will take advantage of what the city has to offer.
I fail miserably every time. I proclaim it’s too hot-humid-rainy-cloudy-or-you-name-it to go outside. The few flowers in the front yard shrivel from neglect and slug damage. And the city? I don’t see any more of it than I did the year before.
This year, I decided to do better. I’ve made no promises other than I will honor the inspiration to enjoy the season when it comes. So far, that’s meant a trip to the zoo, where I purchased a one-year membership, and a Sunday tea party in the park.
My cousin, who was on the event’s planning committee, said this was a chance for little girls to put on frilly dresses and drink apple juice from tea cups. It was indoors, so that was right up my alley, and it was for a good cause. The proceeds were for the park’s upkeep. This year’s theme was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
When E and I arrived, we followed a path of cardboard circles painted to look like lollypops and peppermints to a room swimming in polka-dotted balloons and multicolored tablecloths. There was candy as far as the eye could see.
E ate two candy rings, two chocolate-covered marshmallows, and three Hershey’s kisses in the blink of an eye. Just as she was feeling the effects of her sugar intake, the hostess announced a scavenger hunt.
We went to the registration table for an instruction sheet. The woman explained that we were to find 20 golden tickets, read the question on the back of each ticket, and mark the answers on our sheet.
“There are 10 tickets in this building and 10 tickets outside,” she said.
“Did you say outside?” I asked as I squinted at the yellow piece of paper. I looked out the window at a passerby in a tank top and shorts. It was 86 degrees.
“Oh yes,” she smiled. “They are in the garden out back and in the front yard, but there won’t be any across the street.”
It took us an hour to find 19 tickets. We wandered the yard in circles, taking a brief detour to the parking lot so I could change out of my four inch heels, which kept sinking into the ground. I couldn’t do anything about the wind blowing up my dress. I hope no one was offended.
I was sweaty and tired when we returned to the tea room to hear the winners. We took second place, which earned E a princess PEZ dispenser.
It was a good day, even though my daughter ate way too much candy and cried because I wouldn’t let her have a cupcake. I convinced the wait staff to find a roll of paper towels so I could wrap one up and take it home. She ate it today.
I’m not sure if this is the end of my outdoor adventures or just the beginning. The only thing I do know is that if I plant anymore flowers, I’m putting out some Sluggo first.

Whatever Happened to Customer Service? (or, Pastor Craig, Part 2)

In case you were wondering, I still haven’t heard from Pastor Craig. Nevertheless, K’s dinner is shaping up nicely. We’re up to 12 people, which is a blow-out for someone once who cancelled her own surprise party.

When I checked in with a friend whom E-vite listed as “not-yet-replied,” I learned that I mistyped her e-mail address.
It got me to thinking. What if I had the wrong address for Pastor Craig? I’ve embarrassed myself enough to invite him, so I would be peeved if a missed keystroke kept him from coming.
After confirming online I had the right Pastor Craig, I made another call.
I was greeted by Sally, the mechanical voice of all things automated.
I’m sorry, but the number you reached is no longer in service.

I tried 411 next.
This time, Sally seemed impatient.
What city?

Is this a business or residence?

Please state the name of the business.

I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. Please restate the name of the business.

Please restate the name of the business. (By now, Sally was getting really pissed.)

Please hold while I transfer you to the next available operator.

The operator’s voice was high-pitched and twangy.
“Do you have an address for this church?”
“Sure.” I read her the address from online.
“Say what?” My head was starting to hurt.
“I don’t have a listing, ma’am.” She sounded more annoyed with me than Sally was.
“Ok, thank you.”
Instead of saying “thank you” in return, the operator transferred me back to Sally.
Thank you for using 411 connect.

Really? Are we so busy now that we can’t say thank you anymore? We need an automated voice to do it for us?
And, I still didn’t find Pastor Craig!

Pastor Craig

A friend of mine is leaving our shared place of employment to follow her passion. It’s a move that’s both gutsy and admirable, and during the company’s peak period of 50-plus hour work weeks, I’d say it’s a pretty smart move as well.

K’s not big on parties and hoopla, but I figured an event like this deserved a celebration. After a well-crafted pitch and three weeks of begging for a guest list, I got K to agree to a simple dinner with those who know her best.

The list was short, and it was missing contact information for most of the guests, but one name stood out. Pastor Craig.
Next to his e-mail address was a short notation. “Highly unlikely that he could make it.”
I didn’t see the point in inviting someone who had little-to-no shot at coming. So I thought I’d increase the odds of an affirmative R.S.V.P. by calling the Pastor and getting the date on his calendar right away. A quick trip to Google was all I needed.
“Good afternoon, Pastor Craig’s office.”
This should have been a red flag right here. K mentioned he was the pastor of small ministry. Too small for an office, and way too small for a secretary.
“Is Pastor Craig available?”
“No, may I take a message?”
“Sure.” I gave my name and phone number.
“What is this regarding?” Something in her tone of voice wasn’t quite right.
“I’m calling to extend an invitation to an event.”
“Are you friend of Pastor’s?”
“Um, no, not exactly.” This was going downhill fast. I dodged a few more questions and hung up the phone.
A few days went by, and I didn’t get a return call. When I went back to the Web site, the Pastor’s bio and photo popped up. This man was about 20 years older than I expected.
I called the wrong Pastor Craig.
So, somewhere in Chicago, there likely is a man who has to explain why some woman called to invite him to a dinner. I just pray his church isn’t one that is full of drama.
Who am I kidding? That woman’s tone of voice told me all I need to know.
Pastor Craig, I’m really really sorry.

Crocheting Divas

Happy New Year!
I know. I’m really, really late.
I won’t bore you with a long list of whys and why nots. Let’s just say that life got in the way again.
Tonight, though, I took a break from the craziness.
E and I tried crochet lessons weeks ago. I thought it would be nice if I could pass on the tradition from my great aunt, but the initial efforts didn’t go so well. E’s short on attention span, and I’m short on patience. That’s not a good combination.
So I was surprised when E asked me about it tonight. After a few stops and starts, my little girl was able to make a foundation chain all by herself. Next stop: Potholders!