Saturday, April 3, 2021

Participating in the American AstraZeneca Vaccine Trial



I knew Covid was coming.  I had been watching it since December 2019, and when I had a doctor's visit in January I asked what I could do to help improve my immune system.  By March 2020, I had a doctor's visit, and I said if he knew of a vaccine trial, I wanted in.  He chuckled and said a vaccine was a ways off.  I knew it was, but I wanted in as soon as one was being developed.

I have more medical issues than I care to discuss, and I remember mid year in 2020, my husband having taken medical leave of absence and us having to pay over $1,200 a month for insurance.  I remember crying and asking my husband if we would live through 2020.  He said we would do our best.  When I heard in July Moderna was starting vaccine trials, I tried to get in, even though it would have meant driving about 12 hours each way.  I kept my eyes and ears peeled.

Finally, in November, I was doing some searches I do to look for contests and sweepstakes to enter.  I was on a TV station in my state, and I saw there was an AstraZeneca trial going on in that town.  I set my alarm so I could start calling for info first thing in the morning.  I left a message, didn't hear back within a few hours and called again.  I was determined.  I answered a few questions and was told that I would have a 66% chance of getting the AstraZeneca / Oxford vaccine.  My appointment was scheduled, and a few days later, I made the 3 1/2 hour trip to the study center.  I had to answer a lot of questions and finally I was given the shot.  I said it felt uncomfortable going in.  (I had the flu show about six weeks prior, and it hadn't felt like that.). I was told it could be because it was cold.  

My husband and I hadn't been much of anywhere for a long time, and being 3 1/2 hours from home, by the time I got to the car, I felt kinda lousy.  We had talked about all the great places we might get takeout from -- possibly Papa Johns, Long John Silver's, or Chipotle.  I was feeling so bad, I was grumpy, and I said for him to get food wherever.  As he was driving to Chipotle, I was feeling so bad I wasn't sure if I would want to eat.  But a chicken burrito made me feel a bit better.

For whatever reason, the foods that I want when I am not feeling well are always a cheeseburger with fries and/or ice cream.  Halfway home, I started complaining I wanted ice cream.  We found a Sheetz and I ordered a milkshake for curbside service.  I dozed most of the rest of the way back to home and went to bed immediately.  It had been a seven hour day, and stressful.

The next morning, I woke and while I told the study later, "I felt like I had been hit by a truck", it was more accurate that I felt like there were a dozen weighted blankets on me.  I didn't think I could move at all, but I had to go to the bathroom.  I made myself get up, but every muscle, joint, and even my tiniest toenail felt like it was too tired to move.  (Yes, I know there are no nerve endings in my toenails, but I have never felt like that before.).  The next day I felt fine, and I had to think that maybe just the trip wore me out that bad. 

For my next shot, I was prepared to feel the same way, but I didn't, so I was wondering if I had gotten the vaccine or not.  My arm itched, and the injection site was a little sore, but I have a lot of medical issues as well as allergies.

So life resumed, my husband going back to work, and since I had a 66% chance of having had the vaccine I started doing a few things I hadn't done in a year -- like going into a store, still being very cautious because there was a 33% chance I didn't get the vaccine, and even if I did, the vaccines are more likely to make Covid-19 less severe than to eliminate it completely.  

I put my name in to get the vaccine from my local health department.  At that point, the study would be unblinded to see if I got the vaccine or the placebo.  So when I received the call, I had to tell them that I would call them back.  The lady seemed very confused, didn't think I could have gotten the vaccine in November, etc.  I called the testing site and it was unblinded.

Obviously, I achieved what I set out to do -- receive the vaccine.  Part of the study was I could quit at any point, but I am thankful for having received it, and I will remain in the trial.  There have been lots of questions over the AstraZeneca / Oxford vaccine, and I can't help but wonder if the blood clot issue happened more in people who already had Covid as that was something that could happen with Covid.  Were post-Covid numbers being compared to rate of blood clots in a pre-Covid world?  

I have spent much of the past year watching Dr. John Campbell from England on YouTube, and I felt safe enough (and still feel safe) taking the AstraZeneca vaccine.  It is approved in the United Kingdom, and while it has yet to be approved in the United States, I feel confident enough in it that as of now, I will not be taking another vaccine.  Obviously, I'm still taking all precautions, such as mask wearing, and my husband sewed me an adorable guinea pig mask.  I carry around hand sanitizer, and I haven't met up with friends or family in over a year now.  (I'm hoping that last one can change as the weather is getting better and more vaccines are being distributed.) 

I think I made a good decision to participate.  It was well informed, thanks to Dr. Campbell, and such an important vaccine to take part in the study.  While it hasn't been rolled out in the USA yet, I am hopeful that it will be, and I am happy I could take part in such a needed -- and historic study.  I had a lot of friends be in medical and psych trials in college, but I never participated.  I now realize how much people willing to participate are needed.  Hats off to everyone who has ever participated in a study like this!

Friday, March 26, 2021

When Buying Generic Brands is a Sign of Wealth

FTC disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.

One of the things I am so appreciative of is being able to purchase store brand / generic items.  To me, that's a step up in the financial world.  I know it seems counter intuitive to see store brands as a luxury, but I often think this way.

I don't often talk about WHY I got into becoming a coupon queen / frugalista, but it isn't a pretty story, and Mom always told me not to air dirty laundry, but as I've grown older, I think it's important to tell your story and own what you have been through.  

When I was a freshman in college, my dad was hit by a drunk driver.  I was 16 (yes, a freshman in college).  Eventually I had to drop out of college, and  our finances were horrible.  We had to pay everything out of pocket for a while, and when the court case was finally settled, Dad got next to nothing for pain and suffering.  He moved out, and Mom and I were left to our own devices.  We found a place near us that would sell 50 pounds of potatoes for $5.  (This was in the 1990s.)  When we sometimes had $2 a week for groceries, this was about all we ate for over a year.  Once a month or so we would splurge on a can of tuna to split so we could have some protein.  All the while, Dad was actually feeding his dog pork chops.

I got tired of the constant potatoes and decided to learn to use coupons.  This was before any TV show, and it wasn't considered 'cool'.  I learned to be able to rack up significant savings.  One of my best trips I got $158 of groceries for $10 and was able to mail off for $20 in refunds from that.  That was far from the norm.

I heard people say they couldn't buy brand names because they were too expensive.  I said I couldn't buy generic because I couldn't afford it.  Back in the day, a package of Lipton rice or noodles was $1.29 (which I think is even more than they are now, and this was 20 years ago!)  My store tripled to 49 cents on Wednesdays, so I could take a 40 cent coupon for Lipton noodles and walk out paying 9 cents.  The generic was WAY more than 9 cents.  Same with Ragu spaghetti sauce.  Every three months it went on sale like clockwork for 99 cents.  I would trade coupons and have a couple dozen 25 cent off coupons which would make a jar of sauce 24 cents.  The generic was at least $1 more than that!  I could get Kellogg's Cornflakes for free.  Obviously, store brand cereal wasn't free.

In more recent years, I have watched lots of YouTube.  One of my favorite shows is Good Mythical Morning, and in it, I have learned that Kroger has a very strong 'store game' when it comes to products.  Meaning their store brand is of better taste and quality than many name brands.  Dollar General chips are better than many national brands according to Rhett and Link's blind taste tests.  

Last time I was in Kroger, I added 5 boxes of Kroger brand tuna helper to our cart and felt rich doing so.  I was paying $1 a box knowing that the Better Crocker brand would sometimes go on sale for 50 cents a box.  Yet, my husband and I prefer the Kroger brand.

I still save as much as I can in as many ways as I can, but now if I know I prefer the store brand (Kroger Ketchup rocks -- the only better I've ever had is Sir Kensington's ketchup and the only time I've ever had it was when there was a great deal through the iBotta app).

For the most part, I do buy what is cheapest even yet.  Recently I bought some Oatsome milk because I was able to get it free after iBotta.  They also often have free stuff on the app through Walmart.  I'll get it.  I figure what I don't like or can't use I can give to someone who can.  

But, for me, at this point in my life, I see buying generic as a luxury that I am so thankful I can afford when it's something I like better than name brand.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Is Your New Year's Resolution saving Money? You NEED these apps!

 FTC disclaimer:  The post contains affiliate links.

One of the most made new year's resolutions is to save money.  I've pinched pennies my entire life, and here are the apps and savings sites I plan on using in 2021! I used to keep a great notebook of how much I saved, how much I spent, and what I got in the mail each day.  I think I'll start that again in 2021 as I love reading back through past
notebooks from the 1990s!

1. Ibotta.  This is super easy to use, and I especially love using it with grocery store pick up because I don't have to hunt for the items needed for the refunds.  Please use my code of mtgkg when you sign up.  What I like about this app is they often give small savings on "any brand" items, and are having more and more totally free items.  For Thanksgiving 2020, there was over $20 of items including a 3 pound turkey breast you could get full purchase price back on.  These savings CAN be combined with other savings app.

2.  Fetch.   You can download this on the app store or Google play.  Please use my code of NP7PE when you sign up.  This is simple, you just scan your receipts and they will give you money back based on what you buy.  I never buy anything out of the way unless there is a full purchase price back on an item. You can even connect your Amazon account and earn points from your Amazon purchses.

3. Rakuten.  This was once called eBates.  Start your shopping through here and you can earn cash back.  In the years I have been a member, I have gotten hundreds of dollars back on stuff I would have purchased anyway!

4.  TopCashBack I tend to use this a little more than Rakuten because there is cash back for sites I often order from that Rakuten doesn't have.  Examples are eBay and ThriftBooks.

5. I use Swagbucks as my main search engine.  I earn about $25 a year just using it for my normal searches.  Also, if you print coupons to use, you can go through swagbucks first to print them, then earn points in your account for ones you redeem on top of using iBotta and Fetch for rewards!  

These are the apps I use the most.  With most things, once you get too many apps it takes more time than the savings it creates, so the only one that I have to pick from each time is when ordering online who gives better savings? TopCashBack or Rakuten.  It's been so much easier for me as I have gotten away from paper coupons and just am using store apps to download coupons to my card, and a few savings apps.  

I've been a coupon queen for almost 30 years now, and I have to say that my savings isn't what it was in the 1990s, but it doesn't take nearly as long now, either.  :)



Saturday, January 2, 2021

Super Easy Peanut Butter Banana Fudge


This post contains affiliate links.

Growing up, fudge always signaled Christmas to me. My aunt made the best fudge, and in more recent years I've been on a quest to find a recipe that is as good as what she made. She never made peanut butter banana fudge, but my husband made this for Christmas and I wanted to share because it's amazing. 

 You need:

16 ounces Maranatha Natural Peanut Butter with Banana (Or for a lesser banana flavor you can use less than 16 ounces and some regular flavor creamy peanut butter - the Maranatha nut butter has a strong banana flavor)


12 ounces of evaporated milk (do NOT use sweetened condensed, use evaporated)

1/4 cup BUTTER (NOT margarine)

7 ounces Fluff

1 tablespoon vanilla 


Bring the sugar, milk, and butter to a boil.  Stir constantly for 6 minutes.  Remove from heat and add peanut butter and Fluff.  Add vanilla. Beat with mixer until thoroughly combined. (My husband used our KitchenAid Mixer)

Pour into a 9 x 13 inch glass dish and allow to cool.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas Eve 1983 -- Terra Alta WV - When the Power Was Out

Photo is of our tree 1983.

 Ask anyone over the age of 35 in my small town, and they can tell you all about Christmas 1983 because it was so unusual.  It was the most unique Christmas eve of my life, and I know there will never be another like it -- I was still a child, and although I was old enough that Santa no longer visited me, there was still the awe of Christmas and the joy of childhood surrounding the holidays that I will never be able to relive.

My dad was working at the equivalent of 911 as a dispatcher.  He was to get off work at 4, our annual party usually started at six.  I was in the living room listening to Marty Robins and Bobby Helms records on the old record player with the 8-Track tape deck.  I was bouncing off the walls because I was so excited that my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandmothers and step-grandfathers were going to converge on the house, and of course presents.  (Now I know the real gift was all the family's PRESENCE and not the physical gifts of my Bob Ross Joy of painting set I received that year.)

I drug my small little toddler table to the kitchen.  Mom always told me I needed to sit there to make room for the adults.  I idolized my cousin who was six years older than I, and I begged her each year to sit with me at this tiny table.  She was tall, unlike me, and her knees were taller than the table.  But I didn't want to have to sit by myself.  She dutifully sat with me, and while I can't remember much except being thrilled she was sitting with me.  She would have been a senior in high school that year.

As I was using Windex on the table, "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" slowed to a stop as all the lights went out.  Mom was outside shoveling snow so Dad wouldn't have to do it after working all day.

I didn't think anything about the power going out.  I mean, I was a kid, and Christmas was still magical.  Little did I know how unique that night was about to become.

Mom came in, chilled from being out in the cold.  I looked up weather history for our town, and winds were as high as 33 miles an hour and the temp had a HIGH that day of under 20 degrees.  Mom curled up in her snug sack -- a 1980s version of a Snuggie -- only it didn't have arms as it draped around you. She was in her gold and brown blanket when she picked up the rotary phone that was canary yellow and called her sister.  They started out talking about the turkey because Mom was baking the bird for dinner that evening, and she was worried about food poisoning if the electric didn't come back on soon.  (In reality, it would have just been undercooked at that point, and since there was no heat, there really wasn't any worry about if it would be "fit to eat" as she kept saying as she also called my grandmother to get her opinion on the fowl.)

I pulled the afghan that Grandma Bessie made over me as I was starting to get chilled by this time.  We had natural gas for heating, and it relied on the electric to kick on, so in addition to no electric, we had no heat. I was worried about Christmas -- would it be cancelled?  (I have since learned Christmas always comes, it's parties and festivities that can be cancelled.). As I fretted over if my cousin would be joining me at the toddler table, I braided the fringe on the afghan to help calm my nerves.  Mom watched the clock that Dad had given her the previous Christmas with worry as she bit her fingernails.

Dad came home at about 4:30 and said power was out all over the area.  The substation in the next town was down.  He rummaged in the olive green fridge and cussed about all that was there for him to eat there that day was salami, which he detested.  After he ate something cold, he called his brother to see how they were.  My aunt and uncle were not just okay, but doing great.  They had wood stove.  My dad wasn't always very good to his brother, but my aunt and uncle invited us down if we got too cold.  By this time, Mom was holding our guinea pig in an attempt to keep both her and the guinea pig warm.  Mom and Dad discussed the invitation and decided to wait a while to see if the power would return.  I was worried about my goldfish, Abraham Elizabeth. I had won her at a carnival two years prior.  Mom had lit a couple candles in the living room for light and I put the fish bowl near one to try and keep her warm.  Finally, Dad called the sheriff's office where he worked and told Mom it didn't look like electric would be restored anytime soon.  So we bundled up and headed to Dad's truck to drive the mile to my uncle's house.  Mom wouldn't let me bring the goldfish because she said moving the bowl to the truck in the sub zero weather and then into the warm house would be worse for the fish than leaving her at home.  We took the guinea pig in a box high enough my uncle's dog couldn't get to her.

After we got out of our coats and boots, reveled in the warmth, we started noticing we were hungry.  It was probably about 7 pm by this time, and we had eaten lightly all day expecting a huge meal that evening.  My aunt was going to bring the tossed salad to our family gathering, so we gathered around the table and had salad for Christmas eve dinner.  

Dad was a volunteer EMT and he had his pager with him.  It was a monstrosity of a thing -- much larger than a pack of cigarettes.  It kept going off about Santa being sighted in different towns in the county all night long.  The dispatcher on duty was having a boring evening, and for kids like me, even though I didn't believe in Santa anymore, it was so much fun to hear Santa was seen in Tunnelton -- then Kingwood, and then Terra Alta. 

My dad and my uncle decided to go check on some elderly folks to make sure they were okay.  This was before warming stations were opened during a disaster.  I fully expected them to return with a few people, but they didn't.  My aunt loved candles, and she had candles everywhere.  She lit them all, and it gave such a magical glow over everything.  The candle light reflected in both my mom's and my aunt's owl-like glasses, and I curled up on the couch under some afghans just enjoying a Christmas that was so different.

With all the candles, the wood stove going, and all of us talking, my aunt started to get warm.  She took off her sweater.  She was wearing a flesh colored turtleneck underneath, but in the dim candlelight, my dad couldn't tell she had anything on and the look on his face was priceless.  We all laughed about that.  

All around the living room, we dozed, until very early in the morning all the lights came back on.  Somehow it was decided (maybe because I was so asleep?) that I was going to spend the night there since it was warm and Mom and Dad would go home.  I remember padding up the stairs to sleep in the bed with my aunt as my uncle spent the night on the couch.  It was so odd the next morning waking in a house that was not my own on Christmas morning -- one of only twice in my life that has ever happened.  I called Mom and Dad headed down to pick me up.

Our usual Christmas breakfast of pancakes with turkey gravy was held off until December 26 that year because the turkey was still in the oven, and Mom always made the gravy with leftovers.  Mom, Dad, and I opened gifts from each other, and it was later that day that everyone came to our house for the Christmas celebration.  It was 24 hours later, but the food was just as good, conversation of the previous night was the main topic, gifts were opened, and my senior in high school cousin joined me at the toddler sized table.

On the first day back to school, our class was all abuzz about how different our Christmas was -- so much so that my 5th grade reading teacher said, "Okay, we're going to go around the room and everyone can tell about your Christmas eve, so we can get back to learning."  The only story I remember was of a boy who lived in our state, but his power was serviced through Maryland.  He said they had electric but they looked out and saw West Virginia without electric and that their Maryland neighbors had it.

Memories are often formed when we don't know they are being made.  Sometimes it is something different that makes the usual unusual.  I am sure that this year, 2020, will be remembered by many people for a lifetime.  My husband and I are joining his family over Zoom for dinner and gift opening.  We are a first time aunt and uncle ourselves, and we have yet to meet the precious bundle of joy.  She is now nine months old.  We had hoped to visit earlier this year, but I got sick the week she was born, and then lockdown happened the next time we thought we would be visiting.  I am planning a time capsule memory box for her, and I took a photo of our first Facetime since that was the first time we met her.

So, maybe this year will be to the children of today like Christmas 1983 was to me -- different, and it is my most vivid memory of childhood Christmas because it doesn't blur together like so many other of the holidays do.  I even remember I got a toy Adam "computer" that year.  (It would play Colecovision games and had a cassette of a Buck Rogers game that came in the package.) 

My goldfish survived the night, and for whatever reason, my mother always read a lot of books where people died.  One of the books she gave me for Christmas was about a girl whose brother died.  I read it over the next few days, and had already cried enough knowing my goldfish wasn't going to live much longer that I didn't shed any tears when my fish died at age 2 years, 3 months.


Christmas 1983 wasn't what anyone would have asked for, but I will always remember it as one of my favorite Christmases.  

Saturday, November 28, 2020

50+ Gift And Stocking Stuffer Ideas for Tweens and Teens


 FTC disclaimer:  This post contains affiliate links.

It's so hard to shop for tweens and teens.  I try and stay away from electronics because really, do they need more encouragement to spend time looking at a screen?  Here's some of my favorite gift ideas for tweens and teens.

Something they can use for a lifetime is always a good idea.  My husband has a MUCH younger brother.  A few years ago we started getting him high quality age appropriate tools.  Examples are a light with magnet extender that can be used to pick up nails (great fun for a nine year old as he hung it from the living room chandelier), a tape measure, and a hammer.  Good quality tools are expensive and can last a very long time.  So it might seem weird to gift your tween or teen a screwdriver, chances are, they will appreciate it for decades to come.  Girls also need tools.  When I was in college, there was only one girl on the floor in my dorm who brought a tool set to college, and you'd be
amazed at how many times we visited her to borrow from her basic tool kit

Along the same lines, if your tween / teen shows interest in a hobby, get them good supplies.  Do they like to draw?  Good quality colored pencils (even good for those who aren't into drawing because a high quality colored pencil is SO much better than the cheap ones and you do need them through college.)  Try getting them into a new hobby -- crochet hooks and a skein of yarn aren't expensive (sometimes as low as $10 for both), and you can find lots of tutorials on YouTube.  Same with knitting needles.  Or find a small cross stitch kit such as this Pusheen one that would be of interest to get her started on a new hobby.  What about a wood burning set?  

One year, I gave a tween boy a S'mores maker.  My mother thought I was ridiculous, but he loved it.  Speciality appliances can be a hit.  Remember, college isn't too far off, so they can be the cool kid with a small fridge in their bedroom now and take it to college in a few years!  Other great ideas are a movie theater  style popcorn popper.  Something the family can enjoy until they move out on their own.  What about a cotton candy machine?  They are around $50, and can turn hard candy into spun cotton candy -- the one I linked to can even use sugar free candy, and not all of them can.  Cuisinart makes a soft serve ice cream maker
that has a mix it ins where things like sprinkles, chocolate chips, and cookie pieces can be mixed right into the ice cream.

Other great ideas can be something that's normal but can be cool.  Why not a lamp for their room with a glass base where they can store small treasures -- seashells from the beach, rocks, etc.  There's always items that hold memories that are small and you don't know what to do with them, so this is a great way to store some of those things.

Blankets these days are not your normal blanket.  Why not get them one that looks like a burrito, pizza, poached egg, or waffle

If they don't have a good sleeping bag, now might be the time to get them a good quality one that doesn't have a cartoon character on it.  I went to so many sleepovers, camp outs, and camps as a teen I totally wore mine out.

Board games have gotten a bad rap over the years but a few that seem to be favorites are Pandemic where everyone works together to either win or lose as a group.  Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride are other favorites.  Exit games play like an escape room in a box.  (The Exit games are considered legacy games and are good for only one play.)  Just this year there is the new Cards Against Humanity Family Edition.  This isn't just the old Cards Against Humanity with inappropriate cards removed, but all new cards and plenty of potty humor.  (I actually want this for myself!)  In the past I have taken my original set and removed all cards inappropriate for the under 18 crowd and it's been a huge hit with tweens and teens.

With virtual schooling still being a thing, why not get them something to make it easier or more enjoyable?  Some ideas are blue light blocking glasses, USB warming slippers, USB warming gloves,  and a fun or unique computer mouse like this one that looks like a Volkswagen Bug, or a nice lap desk with storage so they can go to school in bed on the couch. 

Grilled cheese toaster bags.  You put cheese between two slices of bread.  Put it in the toaster.  I use these all the time -- it's best if you butter the toast after it is done before you eat it.

Doesn't every teen need six inch wiggle eyes to adorn their bedroom door?

You can't go wrong with S'mores, and the three pack of S'mores Chapstick is sure to be a hit in flavors of graham cracker, marshmallow, and chocolate.

Funky socks such as "If you can read this, bring me pizza"

LED face mask

A jar of peanut butter they don't have to share.

A poop knife.  (Yes, it's a thing.)

Shakespearian Insult Coffee Mug

Large assortment of hot cocoa K-Cups

40 Count Frito Lay variety chips

An "Instant audience" device that cheers, rimshot sound, boos, and has cricket sounds

An extendable fork so they can steal fries from someone else's plate.

Bullet Journal / fine  liner pens in 48 colors

Light up cactus table lamp

dip holder for ranch, cheese, ketchup that hooks onto a plate

DIY / Make Your Own Bath Bombs

A fidget Cube

Magnetic Putty

A hammock for outside (or one with a stand for their room)

And adult workout jump rope

A nice auto seal water bottle

A wireless doorbell for their room.  There was a girl I went to college with who had one for her dorm room and everyone thought she was the coolest!

A bed shelf

Monday, November 16, 2020

Giveaway -- Sweepstakes Wins Record Book Ends 11/23/2020

 FTC disclaimer: This Post contains affiliate links

Back in 1998, I discovered sweepstakes thanks to a coupon site I visited.  I wish I had started keeping track then of things I had won in sweepstakes and giveaways and freebies I received, but I didn't.

I decided it would be a great giveaway to give one of my lucky readers a Sweepstakes Wins Record Book.  This would be a great gift for yourself or anyone who loves to enter contests.  It is under $10 at Amazon, and would make a great stocking stuffer

It is 100 pages long and has a chart on each page where you can put the date of your win, what the win is, the sponsor, and value!  

Giveaway is open to the USA only (APO and FPO addresses are welcome as
well. ) Winner has 48 hours to respond to the e-mail.  Must be 18 to enter.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Our Family Tradition for the First Snowfall

FTC disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.

I have become so tired of hearing the words "unprecedented" and "things might look a little different this year", but the truth is, 2020 has not been a fun year for anyone.  So, this might be just the time to begin a new family tradition.

I've been able to share this with other families, and it has become a favorite.

I remember when I was little maybe about 4 or 5, Mom came into my bedroom in the middle of the night to wake me up.  I asked her what was going on.  She told me to go look outside.  

The house I grew up in had a huge picture window.  While it sounds lovely, the truth was we were on the main road of a town of 1500.  Privacy curtains weren't really a thing in the 1970s and 1980s, and we had different people tell us over the years how they would stand on the sidewalk outside our walk and watch TV (with no sound) over the years.  So everyone could see inside.

But this night, the picture window was almost magical.  Outside were the biggest, fattest snowflakes I have ever seen coming down.  There was a streetlight right outside our house, and it illuminated them into something magical to a small child.

While I sat mesmerized by the show, my mother headed to the kitchen.  She made some popcorn (this was in the days you had to make it on the stove) and hot chocolate.  She brought the bowl to me while I was sitting backwards on the couch so I could watch nature's display.  The hot chocolate was sipped silently by the two of us until we finished our literal mid-night snack and I headed back to bed.

That began the tradition of every year popcorn and hot chocolate at the first snow.  It's a simple tradition, but one that I still look forward to every year.  I oft make hot chocolate in the Keurig, but I keep a 40 count assortment of flavors on hand to be able to make it a little more special.  I also keep a package of Abuelta hot cocoa on hand for special occasions.  This is a Latino favorite with some cinnamon in the beverage and the best hot chocolate I've ever indulged in -- and it's priced right, too.  Just over $3 for a package of 6 tablets (makes 4 cups each).  

It's been over 40 years since I sat at that picture window and watched with wide eyed wonder as snowflakes drifted to the ground.  I'm looking forward to when my neice is old enough that I can share this tradition with her.  Although, I'm sure at first we'll have to eat graham crackers for safety reasons, but the sentiment and love will still be in our celebration.

If you are curious about the cup in the photo above, it is a Starbucks cup I bought off eBay.  I spent a summer teaching English in Asia before Starbucks was much of a thing, so while I usually only buy mugs on location, I wanted one from where I had spent a summer!  It is the mug I used for this year's first snowfall tradition.




Thursday, November 12, 2020

Amazing Cash Back Deal! Spend $40 get $40 back!

 FTC disclaimer:  This post contains affiliate links.

Whenever I shop online I always try to go through a cash back site.  I joined eBates (now Rakuten) years ago, and my cash back from just that site is over $700 in the last ten years.  If you start your shopping there, you can get a small amount of cash back.  There are sites like Kohls (and who doesn't love saving at Kohls?).  There are other big stores like eBay, Macy's Target, Ulta, Old Navy, Chewy, and plenty more.

But this is huge news

If you are a new Rakuten member and join between now and December 25, you can get $40 cash back when you spend $40 at any of their stores.

That's right, that's a whole Christmas gift free!  Or if you sell on eBay, you could use it for free shipping supplies if you order through a place like Office Depot.

This offer is REALLY easy to use.  Just SIGN UP FOR RAKUTEN and start your shopping from their site and spend $40.  Their payout date would likely be February 15, and who can't use extra cash anytime, but especially in February?

So, this is a way to make that LOL Surprise more able to fit in the budget, or be able to put the latest American Girl Doll under the tree this year!

Of course, you could also use it for things like groceries at walmart.com so what are you waiting for?  Join today!


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Veteran's Day Memories from the 1980s -- The Christmas Shopping Season Kickoff


 When I was growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, there was no "Black Friday" as we know it today.  What my family did was, since my aunt worked in a bank and had Veteran's Day off, that was the beginning of our shopping season.

When I was five or six, I asked for money to buy Christmas gifts for everyone.  My mother gave me $20 (probably about $50 today).  Even so, that doesn't go far when you are buying for 10 people.  The mall that year had artists in the middle kiosks, and there was a man who crafted things from seashells.  They were priced right and I bought several for people on my list.  I asked my mom to buy me a small amount of pipe tobacco for my uncle, and the hardest person to buy for was Papaw.  So I left his gift for last, and in so doing, I had under $1 to spend.  I found the best gift ever for him at the grocery store -- he drank coffee all day, and I can remember his dress shoes clipping from the table to the coffee pot for refils, so in my six year old mind, the perfect gift was a trial sized container of Taster's Choice coffee for 29 cents.  The great thing is, that gift went down in legend, and when I was a senior in high school, I gave him a larger container of coffee and said that was the rest of his gift from when I was 6.  Everyone had a great laugh about that.

Another year, I was still very little, probably still in Kindergarten, and my mother had always warned me about germs, not to use combs that belonged to other kids at school, and was a bit overprotective about my health.  She had somehow burnt her hand badly on the toaster.  I remember I was terrified of her hand, not understanding how germs and contagion worked.  After going to the mall and Hills, my aunt, cousin and I stopped for dinner at Long John Silver's.  I always ordered the Billy Boneless chicken meal for kids.  There wasn't a toy with it, but there was a treasure chest where they would give you a coin, and you would get a bubblegum machine type prize from the chest.  I remember Mom touching one of my hush puppies.  I was terrified I would catch her burn (it looked terrible.). I don't remember how I reacted except I didn't want to eat the hush puppy thinking it would turn my skin looking like hers.  I do remember that she told me how bratty I acted and how embarrassing it was, and I got spanked when we got home.  I remember thinking how it was unfair but worth it so that I wouldn't look like her burn all over my body.

When I was eight or nine, my aunt bought an old Scout.  I can't remember if it was my cousin or me (probably me) who named it "The Old Blue Heap".  I think she bought it in part to show her ex husband how poor she was as much as having a car her teenage daughter couldn't whip around town too fast in it.  Well, since we live in West Virginia, there are a lot of hills everywhere.  When we were going up a hill in the next town there was this man running along the Scout waving.  We all turned and waved to him.  Then we saw him still waving.  We thought he was being friendly, so we waved again.  He continued to run along side us and we hit one of the only stoplights in the town.  He was huffing and puffing and signaled for us to roll down the window.  I think it was the gas tank that was dragging on the ground.  Whatever the case, we had to go home, and since everything was closed that day, we just went to go shopping in our car, not my aunt's vehicle.

One of the last times I remember Veteran's Day shopping, my aunt decided we were going to go to the big mall in Pittsburgh.  She and my mother were country girls and hated to drive in the "city" of 35,000 that is an hour away from where they grew up.  So, that year instead of Mom going along, it was my aunt, her ex-husband, my cousin, and me.  We made my second trip to Pittsburgh (2 1/2 hours away -- my first trip was in first grade when we went on a field trip to the zoo and our bus broke down on the way home.). The mall was amazing to me as a 10 year old from a town of about 1500.  There were escalators, which looked fun, but I was actually terrified of them!  Mom had been trying to get me to find a pair of boots for a long time as we lived in the snowiest town in West Virginia, but it wasn't until we were at that mall that I found a pair -- moon boots.  My aunt questioned me -- was I SURE my mother would be okay with them?  I told her Mom would just be happy I bought boots.  Sure enough, that's what I heard my mother say into the phone later.  

That is the last Veteran's Day Christmas shopping kickoff I remember.  My cousin graduated high school that next spring and for whatever reason our tradition wasn't continued.  I always think of Veteran's Day as when the shopping season begins.  Some people think it's too early to think Christmas, but that's when we started storing gifts in closets and in others' homes until the tree would go up in December and the secret surprises could be wrapped and tucked beneath the twinkling tree.