Christmas in July: Brainstorm Gifts

Now, if you fit into the 'other' category and you don't think you have an easily recognizable talent I think you might find this less of a challenge than you thought. I'm going to suggest making coupons for your friends. Gifts really should say something about them - not about you. So, the fact that you might be talent-less is immaterial. Your friends or relatives may need something and you may be able to meet that need. Your job is to figure out how to do this.

Take the next couple of weeks and months to watch or listen or carefully read their emails to see what they most need. Does an elderly friend need someone to take them to the mall once a week? If so, is it something you could do occasionally? Do you have a young mom on your block who needs a few minutes a week to walk to the school to pick up her older child during the younger child's naptime? If so, could you spend 20 minutes holding down the fort?

Maybe you can't take care of everyone forever, but you can help out occasionally. Make up some coupons. Mother's Helper Once a Month. Trip to the Mall. And my personal favorite, Date Night Babysitter. There is no greater gift to someone in need than meeting their need without them having to ask. People will be more touched that you recognized the real need in their lives than if you gave them another blue sweater with cats on it like Aunt Mary. I promise you and it's the best Cool Idea I know of.

Christmas in July: Time to Get Crafty

If you have more time than money let's start planning!! I hope you have your list of ideas from yesterday. If not, go get it ....

Good. For those of you with easily recognizable talents like knitting, crochet or cooking and baking, I'm not going to do a lot of steering. I'll mostly be guiding because individual skill levels will dictate more of what you will do than anything else. I will caution you to cut your plan in half. Why? Because you don't want to end up with half an afghan on Christmas Eve! So, think hats, washcloths, dishtowels and other small items that can be finished quickly.

So, for knitter/ crocheters or other handworkers [quilters, tatters, etc.] - your local craft store will have some excellent guide books. So will your library. I've browsed through the One Skein Wonders book a couple of times and remember bookmarking a couple of items. Now I wish I could remember what they were:) Also, if you are a remember of Ravelry there are some wonderful ideas. Whether you want to make something with a holiday focus or just something that can be done in a short time frame this is a great resource. My local yarn store has a great blog and although I can't afford to buy yarn there all the time they are a great resource and I love them dearly.

If you cook or bake you might just be in the planning stages at this time of the year unless what you make freezes well. If so, then you can probably go ahead and get started, too. I mostly use family recipes as resources but there are some great online sources as well - Kraft, Food Network, All Recipes, etc.

So, start planning and get your fingers moving. I have 5 skeins of yarn I got at the craft store on sale that I think will knit up some quick scarves if I do them on large needles. Then in November I'll start baking cookies and making fudge [I don't have the freezer space to start this early] and I'll also be making some Cookies in a Jar gifts this year, too. Personally, I love to give handmade gifts to friends at the holidays. I like to think a little bit of me goes to each and every one of my friends.

Join us tomorrow for more of the the Christmas in July discussion when we look at what seemingly talent-less people can do to help their friends and relatives during the holidays.

Wonderful Wednesday

Just a reminder, in case you didn't see it further down, the $25 certificate for $2 from has been extended to July 31. Use discount code: Napkin. Grab the blue button a few posts back and enjoy!

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This morning we enjoyed seeing The Clone Wars at Regal Cinema this morning as part of the Free Family Movie Festival. Comfort's favorite character is Master Soda. Yep, you read that right. LOL.

Join me back here tomorrow when we'll continue the Christmas in July series. See you then.

Christmas in July: Bring out your Talents

Talking about talents in July might bring back horrible memories of end of summer camp talent shows but I assure you I have nothing like that in mind. We've spent the previous week looking at raising money for holiday shopping but I'd like to believe that money isn't the only thing we have to give our friends and relatives. We each have something unique about us. Something that can translate into a gift.

Today sit and brainstorm what your gift might be. For some it might be easy. If you are the 'one' in your family that everyone wants brownies from then you can make brownies. But maybe you secretly want to move away from brownies and into fudge or knitting. Or maybe you don't have an easily recognizable talent. Perhaps your talent is that you are incredibly patient. Or maybe you don't think you have a talent but you have every other Tuesday off of work.

Sit and doodle some ideas because the rest of this series is going to focus on how we can utilize our talents, and some time and planning, to make gifts for our friends and family. See you back here tomorrow for some more awesome and definitely Cool Ideas!

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And keeping with the Christmas in July series these really would make great gifts to people that you know well. If you know their habits and likes or even their travels grab some certificates and give them a treat.

** This deadline has been extended to July 31st so everyone has a few extra days to grab some extra certificates.

Christmas in July: Let's Go Traditional

For the last day of this part of the Christmas in July series in which we are looking at ways in which to make out-right cash in preparation for the holidays we'll be looking at traditional ways to bring in cash.

If you've been listening to the news or the radio at all you've probably heard or seen a piece on 'How to spiff up your Yard Sale'. Last week while I was traveling I saw the the Today show for the first time in F-o-r-e-v-e-r and they had competition between two families to decide the best way to handle a yard sale. I didn't find that piece in their archives but here is another with some great tips.

This can work well depending on the type of stuff you have to sell and the area in which you live. Remember though that there are other options. For children's clothes there are great resale stores in most areas. Books can also find homes in second-hand stores. But what about other, harder to place items? Or maybe you live in a more remote area or you have difficulty getting around?

Then let the internet work for you. EBay and Craigslist are modern-age forms of the yard sale except that they are not limited by time or geography. If you have never sold anything in these venues before you might want to just dip your toe in the water and try it once to learn the ins and outs of the process. Make sure that you take the necessary precautions in regards to communications, information transfers, and money exchange, etc.

And there you go. Today is now just over a little less than six months until Christmas so let's start pacing ourselves for the planning that this will entail. I truly think that if we are careful to plan ahead then the meaning of the holidays will continue to shine through for each of us - no matter what form th holiday takes for you.

Christmas in July: Search your way to Cash and Prizes

I know that I've posted about Swagbucks before. In fact, there's a link in my 'Stickies' section so that the post is always at our fingertips because Swagbucks is an awesome way to search your way to cash and prizes.

How? Just use Swagbucks the way you would Google or Yahoo search engines. It's powered by the same engines as and gives great results except that also randomly gives out Swagbucks!

There are also Swag Codes for additional Bucks. These also come out randomly. Sometimes you see them on the homepage or on the Swag Blog or on the Facebook page or on someone else's blog. But the best way to get additional Swagbucks is my referring other people. It's as simple as that.

So, what can I use my swagbucks for? Almost everything under the sun! I've traded mine in for Amazon e-certificates but now they do Paypal, too. It takes 80 swagbucks for $5 into Paypal vs. 45 Swagbucks toward Amazon but if what you are after is cash then this is worth it and if you are doing internet searches anyway you'll rack up the Swagbucks quickly enough.

The Swag People make it fairly easy. You can download a Swagbucks search toolbar if you use IE and there's a drop down box for the Firefox search area. Whew!! How easy. It's right there at your fingertips. So go and get started and to make it even easier click on the gigantic Swagbucks banner in the righthand sidebar and it'll magically take you to the land of the Swagbucks. Now go and get started and begin learning things so that you can pick up more Swagbucks!! It's a Cool Idea!

Christmas in July: Online Product Community

My biggest money maker- by far - is not one that I can fully share with you. I wish I could. But I can share with you how I got there. I started signing up for some survey companies this time last year with the hope of making some extra money for the holidays after reading a post on Deal Seeking Mom. I took surveys on Survey Spot mostly. If you've been on Survey Spot you'll have noticed that most don't actually pay any money. Somewhere in there though I took a survey that got me an invitation to a private online community.

Huh! What is this? I don't think I can tell you what company it's for and I'm not going to jeopardize the deal by getting close but I can tell you that I've seen surveys for similar communities run by Wal-mart, Fidelity Investments, etc.

So, what does this mean? Product communities like to get feedback about new ideas and shopper habits before products 'go live' and in exchange for your honest and private feedback you receive compensation. Most of these communities pay in Amazon certificates. What you owe them is 5-15 mins of work every week in exchange for whatever amount they choose to offer.

So when you are filling out surveys sometimes it 'pays' to fill one out even if it doesn't pay in cash. I always fill ones out that say 'Moms' or 'Women: We need your help'. You never know when one of these surveys is going to turn into an invitation for something wonderful and helfpul to long-term and this is such a Cool Idea!!

Back to School Gets Cool!

Another short hiatus in the Chistmas in July series so that I can bring you this important information:

It's almost that time again! I love getting ready to get new school supplies and can't wait for the list to come out each year. If you are in this category - or even if you are on the other end of the spectrum - try this sweepstakes from Nestle where you can enter daily to win $5000 for back to school essentials, a $2000 Literacy Grant for your school and a Mead messenger bag full of Five-Star brand school supplies. Check it out and enter every day.

Also, Box Tops for Education has begun their Better Back to School Sweepstakes and they are giving away 5000 to 12 winners. Enter every day until October 4th. Not a bad way for your school to start out the year if you win!

Christmas in July: Mystery Shop for your Gifts

I've have posted before about my various Mystery Shopping adventures. One great way to pickup some wonderful gifts for people during the holidays is to combine this with Mystery Shopping.

Last year my Mother-in-law got a lovely jar of lemon curd from Williams-Sonoma and my mom got a fantastic jar of gourmet salsa and my best friend got a great paring knife. These items were purchased as part of my Mystery Shop. Sinclair Consumer Metrics was my first Mystery Shop company and in my area they also do shops for Pottery Barn, PB Kids, West Elm, etc.

These shops are popular, as you can imagine, so if you decide to signup you'll need to keep an eye on the schedule and sign up quickly once new shops open up. But I can say that these shops make great ideas for gift giving/ stocking up because they are for stores that people may consider to be 'treats' for themselves and that means that even finding some small treat can be special for them.

Another company that I have yet to get on the schedule for because of it's popularity is one that schedules the shops for Plow and Hearth gardening stores. I've also seen shops pop up for Brookstone. Right now I'm seeing a lot of Fashion Sunglasses shop requests. Mostly you won't know what stores the company 'shops' until you sign up unless you know someone who already works for them but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It might be something you kow you'll need or turn out to be a place you can pick up the perfect gift for someone you know.

So, start early and stock up on your gifts. Work the schedule well but make sure that you fulfill on the shops that you take. Mystery shopping for your holiday gifts is definitely a Cool Idea and one that we can all take advantage of!

Wonderful Wednesday

The Christmas In July Series will resume tomorrow with another great post but since I didn't post a Wonderful Wednesday last week I wanted to get back on track this week. Here we go: Weekly Promo Offer 300 x 250

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And there you go. Kinda looks like there was a theme, doesn't it. Well, add it to your stockpile or donate the samples to your local women's shelter.

Don't forget to return tomorrow for another installment in my Christmas In July series. It's Definitely a Cool Idea!

Christmas in July: Trade your Time for Cash

It's true that while most people would agree that the holidays are not about giving gifts the first thing we generally do is get ready to go shopping. So, let's get this out of the way:

What is the best way to get out-right cash?

If you can get signed up for Focus Groups this is great. These are low time commitment/ high cash reward earnings. For some great information on where to get signed up visit Moneysavingmethods and RealWomenRealMoneyWorkFromHome.

However, these are few and far between so don't put all your eggs in this basket. Another option are survey companies that also pay in cash. Lightspeed pays in Amazon e-certificates and in Paypal [Unfortunately, they are not recruiting right now so we'll keep our eyes open for more infomation].

HCD, which I just posted about, pays in cash. Survey Spot pays in cash but has very few cash paying surveys. Valued Opinions pays in cash. Mindfield Online Panels is another that I just posted about. Your2Cents, which has just become Toluna, is another I just cashed out with. Also, Focusline Surveys pays in cash and gives you the percentage likelihood that you'll be accepted for the survey. I haven't cashed out with them yet but only because I have a few bucks still pending distribution into my account.

But how much could this really be? Is it worth putting in the time? I just cashed out 6 months of Mindfield [$11 by PayPal], Lightspeed [$30 by Paypal], Valued Opinions [$20 Visa Card], $20 from Your2Cents and soon I'll have $29 to cash out with Focusline.

So, there's $110 that is ready for me and that doesn't include additional pending money that will be ready for me to cash out in a month or so. I am 'this' close to the cash out threshold with a few other companies and should add another $40-50 to my total.

Personally, I think this is a pretty good total for just using my random down time for surveys instead of vegging in front of the TV. And there's no doubt that this money will help as we begin to plan out our holiday shopping. So, if this is interesting to you check out the companies listed above. I can guarantee that they pay out. There are others that I can guarantee from working with them but I haven't yet reached the payout threshold. Other survey posts will be forthcoming, too. For me it's been useful. Your mileage may vary.

Decide what works for you and your needs but if you have excess time but can't necessarily work outside the home due to child/ elder care needs you might consider this as an option for some extra cash. That's what I've done and it has helped. It's definitely a Cool Idea!

Christmas in July: Series Opener

I'm starting a series focusing on planning ahead for the holidays and I have my friend April to thank for making me think about it. First off, let me virtually introduce April. I met her about 5-6 years ago [wow, has it been that long?] when my team moved to a new building and our cubes were next to each other. She was away on her honeymoon when I arrived and when she got back I noticed that everyone came by to see her. She's the popular girl, I thought. I'm quiet and I keep to myself most of the time so she didn't think very highly of me. I was right about her. She is popular and also very nice. Thankfully she learned to like me:)

April, like many people, starts the count down for the holidays very early in the year because she loves Christmas. This year I'm looking at the holidays from the perspective of how we can make them meaningful with what we have around us. Whether that is time, money, services, food, etc.

We'll look at what we can do to prepare for our kids' holidays, as well as, their teachers and others they need to provide gifts for. Because this takes time, and in some cases, money we're starting now so that we don't break the bank or emotional budget. Come along for the ride and if you have ideas I'd love to hear them!

Back Home!

Stomach bugs plagued us all a bit last week - Joy had it the worst and then I got a touch of it the day I left and DH got it Thursday and Friday. Let's keep our fingers crossed that it'll bypass Comfort all together. She does not do well when she is sick!!

And now that I'm home I'm wiped out. Exhausted from spending my days in workshops and my evenings catching up and talking with some really wonderful people. I saw some of my favorite writers and a couple of times had to sit on my hands so that I wouldn't be 'that' person who ran across the lobby to 'help' them get their luggage to the car. Yep, that just screams 'stalker' doesn't it! Instead I nodded and smiled and acted like a professional. Or at least I hope I did. Maybe the smile looked really goofy. Odds are since I know this particular author is definiely not a morning person she didn't notice anyway.

And when I got home the kitchen was a wreck. Veggies that I got at the farmer's market Tuesday afternoon were worse for wear so I chopped them and put them in the freezer. I took the trash out and emptied the dishwasher. I scrubbed the sink and swept the kitchen floor. Oh, there's much left to do but hopefully this will make walking into the kitchen tomorrow morning a little less scary.

And the blog will return to it's usual topics as well. In fact, coming up will be a week-or-so long series. Hope you enjoy it!

So, You're New to Romance - Where Do You Start

Well, I have some favorites and you can probably tell who they are by looking at What A Cool Idea! Books. Jennifer Crusie is funny and there's food and dogs. Jayne Ann Krentz's books take place usually in Seattle and sometimes involve a bit of woo-woo or paranormal. She also writes historical romance under the name Amanda Quick. Also, check out historicals by Cathy Maxwell. I don't have any on my page yet because I read them all before I started the blog but I think there's one coming out this fall. And if you are ever stuck for a book Nora Roberts has enough backlist to keep us all busy for a few years so you can't go wrong there.

But here are some other's. Women who are up for awards tonight in fact. The romance industry has an award called the RITA. It's a big freakin deal. Listed below are the finalists by category.

Best First Book:
Her One Desire by Kimberly Killion
No Good Girls by Jean Marie Pierson
Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs
Passionate by Anthea Lawson
Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas
Strangers in the Night by Kerry Connor
The Secret Soldier by Jennifer Morey
Your Roots Are Showing by Elise Chidley

Contemporary Series Romance:
A Mother’s Wish by Karen Templeton
Adopted: Outback Baby by Barbara Hannay
Antonides’ Forbidden Wife by Anne McAllister
Falling for the Lone Wolf by Crystal Green
Last-Minute Proposal by Jessica Hart
Texas Heir by Linda Warren
The Children’s Doctor and the Single Mum by Lilian Darcy
The Cowboy’s Christmas Miracle by RaeAnne Thayne
The Right Mr. Wrong by Cindi Myers

Contemporary Series Romance: Suspense/ Adventure:
A Sexy Time of It by Cara Summers
Cold Case Connection by Kathleen Long
Danger Signals by Kathleen Creighton
Lethal Attraction by Diana Duncan
Strangers in the Night by Kerry Connor
Tall, Dark and Lethal by Dana Marton
The Man Behind the Cop by Janice Kay Johnson
The Secret Soldier by Jennifer Morey
Twin Targets by Jessica Andersen

Contemporary Single Title:
No Good Girls by Jean Marie Pierson
Not Another Bad Date by Rachel Gibson
Out of Time by Samantha Graves
Snowfall at Willow Lake by Susan Wiggs
Sweet Talk by Susan Mallery
Tall Tales and Wedding Veils by Jane Graves
Twenty Wishes by Debbie Macomber
Your Roots Are Showing by Elise Chidley

Historical Romance:
Duchess by Night by Eloisa James
In Bed with the Devil by Lorraine Heath
Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas
Seduce Me at Sunrise by Lisa Kleypas
The Edge of Impropriety by Pam Rosenthal
The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne
To Seduce a Sinner by Elizabeth Hoyt
Where the Heart Leads by Stephanie Laurens

Inspirational Romance:
Deep in the Heart of Trouble by Deeanne Gist
Faking Grace by Tamara Leigh
Finding Stefanie by Susan May Warren
Love Starts with Elle by Rachel Hauck
Mulberry Park by Judy Duarte
The Convenient Groom by Denise Hunter
The Perfect Life by Robin Lee Hatcher
Where Love Abides by Irene Hannon

Novel with Strong Romantic Elements:
Last Dance at Jitterbug Lounge by Pamela Morsi
The House on Tradd Street by Karen White
The Paper Marriage by Susan Kay Law
The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
Tribute by Nora Roberts
Where Serpents Sleep by C.S. Harris

Paranormal Romance:
Dragon Wytch by Yasmine Galenorn
Mine to Possess by Nalini Singh
Moonstruck by Susan Grant
Seducing Mr. Darcy by Gwyn Cready
The Darkest Night by Gena Showalter
The Healer by Sharon Sala
The Undead Next Door by Kerrelyn Sparks
Thunder Moon by Lori Handeland

Regency Historical Romance:
Duke Most Wanted by Celeste Bradley
Mr. Cavendish, I Presume by Julia Quinn
My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne
The Dangerous Duke by Christine Wells
The Edge of Desire by Stephanie Laurens
Three Nights of Sin by Anne Mallory

Romance Novella:
“All He Wants for Christmas” by Jill Shalvis in Heating Up the Holidays
“Blame It on the Mistletoe” by Terri Brisbin in One Candlelit Christmas
“Only You” by Jacquie D’Alessandro in It Happened One Night
“Our Day” by Jean Brashear in The Valentine Gift
"Penance” by Sharon Sala in Aftershock
“Snowy Night with a Highlander” by Julia London in Snowy Night with a Stranger
“The Fall of Rogue Gerard” by Stephanie Laurens in It Happened One Night
“Thicker Than Blood” by Meljean Brook in First Blood

Romantic Suspense:
Killing Fear by Allison Brennan
Night Secrets by Cherry Adair
Now You Die by Roxanne St. Claire
Scream for Me by Karen Rose
Stop Me by Brenda Novak
Take No Prisoners by Cindy Gerard
The Angel by Carla Neggers
Triple Exposure by Colleen Thompson

Young Adult:
Hell Week by Rosemary Clement-Moore
How to Hook a Hottie by Tina Ferraro
Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs

So, there you go. All the Finalists for the 2009 RWA RITA Finalists. This is a good place to start and shows some of the breakdown in sub-genre. Enjoy!

Thank Goodness for the Women

An article in the NY Times this spring quoted Kelly Gallagher, VP of Publishing Services of R.R. Bowker, discussing who actually buys books these days. So, who is today's book consumer:

  • The average book reader was 45 years old

  • Women comprise 65% of buyers

  • More than 50% of book buys were impulse purchases

  • The fiction market is predominantly female, except in science fiction where men still dominate the purchases.

During this economic downturn the romance industry is doing it's share to help bump the publishing industry along. In 2007, the last full year I found statistics during my search, the romance industry sold $1.375 BILLION. Freakin amazing when you figure a lot of that is $4 or $8 at a time.

And that is pretty much why the industry is still flourishing is this downturn where one of every book in five sold is a romance novel. People - and women in particular - are looking for something hopeful and happy. They have limited money and time and they know that for $4 to $8 they can get several hours of enjoyable entertainment that will always have a happy ending. Personally, I think that is definitely a Cool Idea!

Romance Fiction: It's just for Women

Well, I might beg to differ. Sure it's an industry that is mainly for and by women and I appreciate that. But there are men who write romance fiction. Some write alone under pseudonyms, some under pseudonyms with their wives, and others - like Bob Mayer - who collaborates with Jennifer Crusie writing Romantic Adventure, writes under his own name.

Also, NPR had a great essay two weeks ago by Jack Murnighan, the author of Beowulf on the Beach, in which he confessed his love of romance novels as part of their Guilty Pleasures series. He talked about hiding the books in his briefcase and reading them during faculty meetings but also being surprised to find out that women had some of the same fantasies that men had and that this had been a great surprise to him when he first started reading romance.

Personally, I realize that one of the reasons that romance fiction has difficulty being taken seriously is because men aren't involved as writers and readers. Sometimes that bothers me a little because it seems unfair to the women who are working their fingers and hearts out to produce some great books. But then again, this is also an industry that was built around women writers who sat and wrote their novels while their kids were napping. There's something very impowering and fantastic about that and it's a wonderful story to share with our sons and daughters even if stories of women breaking into the business like that now are few and far between.

Who am I and Where Am I going?

This isn't an existential posting about the state of the universe. It's a post about a change of roles for the week. For the first time in almost four years I'm not with my kidlets and I'm taking care of my professional life.

I have a professional life? Well, actually I do. Not only do I write this blog everyday but I also write fiction. Three guesses as to what kind of fiction I write. LOL

Odds are if you've looked through the types of books I post about you'll see a trend. Sure there are the 'book club choices' and a few non-fiction books sprinkled in but mostly I read romance novels.

Really? Yep, I read romance novels and I love them. Here I am college educated with a Masters of Science in Business and I read romance novels because I like books about characters and I believe in justice. I used to read mysteries but those are stories about puzzles for people who believe in justice. I decided I like people and characters more than I like puzzles so I switched about seven years ago.

A lot of people are reading romance novels and the Academy has noticed. Recently there was a conference at Princeton University where one of the presenters was Mary Bly, Professor of Shakespeare at Princeton and daughter of Robert Bly who was the author of Iron John, who writes romance novels under the name Eloisa James. She commented that, "Romance novels insist that women's physical desire is significant." Here's the rest of the article from USA Today.

And that friends is the difference in romance novels currently being written and those that probably gave the genre a bad rap. So, if you haven't picked up a romance novel in the last decade give one a shot. Check out some of the books that I've posted about and over the next few days I'll be posted about some other books in other sub-genres of the romance industry so stay tuned! It'll definitely be Cool!

Resolution Recap - July Midterms

Kinda sounds like the election cycle doesn't it? I assure you that it's nothing so prolonged.

Remember at the beginning of the month I thought that maybe I could go this whole month without grocery shopping except for perishables. I promised check-ins for accountability so here I am.

I did add to the stockpile a bit last week and here's everything I bought:
  • Worcertershire sauce was on sale/ with a coupon for something like $.54 for an 8 oz. bottle. That'll last us for many cookouts and through our winter of homemade barbecue brisket.
  • Also, there was a great deal on Huggies at Kroger. I snagged as many as I had coupons for - which I think was 4 packs of diapers.
  • We also bought 4 gallons of milk, 1 double pack of eggs, and some bananas at Costco.

So, this is all that we've bought. We do continue to go to the Farmer's Market to make our weekly CSA pickup but this isn't new money spent. This was money spent last year.

Sure another trip to Costco will happen this weekend for milk but that's life with two toddlers. In fact, DH will be making that trip this week since I'm going out of town. They'll probably get a rotisserie chicken while they're there or grab a hot dog but I'll cut them the slack.

Stay tuned for more about our month of little or no shopping. We're half way there!

Guilty Pleasures Can Still be Frugal

This past week I have bought more clothing for myself than I have bought since I had to shop for maternity clothes four years ago. You know how it is once you have kids. Other needs take over. Theirs - usually - and with less time and money other things take priority.

For the most part this doesn't bother me. I like classic clothing so styles that are 'in' or 'out' never really matter. In fact, I'm a jeans and t-shirt kind of person. And as for shoes, most of the year you can find me in Crocs, Birks, or sneakers since I require shoes that are flat and fit my wide feet.

But next week I'm going out of town to a conference and I need some new clothes. I've lost weight this past year and I need clothes that also don't have years of food smeared into them. And as a bonus I treated myself to a couple of new pairs of shoes. Not that I don't have some lovely Birks but the flame orange Crocs are going to stay home!

And here's my confession. Of all the shopping in the world, I love shopping for shoes the most. I learned early on that shoe shopping was a safe place for a 'big' girl like me to go with her Gidget-like friends. Shoes don't care if you are 10 or 20 pounds overweight and when you tell the lady that you wear an 8 1/2 or a 9 it's not a value judgement about your ability to keep a Snickers out of your mouth.

My friend Hope has a writing blog that is full of mirth and great stories about writing. She has a different perspective on shoe shopping which she will be posting shortly. Definitely check it out. I've had a sneak peak and you won't want to miss it. Not to mention that Tartitude includes some good pictures of Man Candy!

But even having shoe shopping as a 'safe place' to go I also grew up spending my own money at the Mall on weekends. I knew the value of the dollar and how to translate it to shoes. What does this mean?

Well, it might be a bit of a surprise that I made a deal with my mom that I could get the-most-comfortable-glorious-spectular-wonderful pumps that had every been on my feet [low heeled Ferragamo's at $500] for my wedding if I could find a dress for $250 thus making the grand total of dress and shoes the same as what we had budgeted. Sadly, I do not own those Ferragamo's but they were like butter on my feet. And seriously, I cannot believe I even had $500 shoes on my feet at one time!

It means that I buy for quality first and cost second. The shoes I bought last week are ones that I scouted out over a month ago. I went to DSW and saw them when they were $65 and knew I wouldn't spend that much on shoes for me even if they were going to last for 10 years. And these shoes probably will. So, I played the odds. Shoes usually go on sale around the middle of the season they are made for so I figured they would be a good sale around the 4th of July. Armed with this knowledge and my best friend, who also possesses coupons from DSW because she signed up as frequent shopper, we went out to see if the shoes were still there.

Not only were the shoes still there but the shoes I'd worn around the store the day I did my recon work - because my own shoes were killing my feet - were still there. Both pairs were now marked down 40%! On top of that there was the coupon for 10% off anything over $50. The Grand Total for both pairs of shoes was the same as one pair.

Could I have gotten shoes somewhere for less money? Yes. Would they have lasted as long? Probably not. I now have two pair of excellent quality flats for less than $50. I have other shoes in this brand and none of them are less than 5 years old and I predict that I'll be wearing these shoes for another 5 years, at least. And when I meet meet Hope next week for the first time perhaps we'll talk about our respective shoe shopping adventures. I figure we'll have lots of things to talk about though. She's a funny woman.

So, whatever your personal style of shoe shopping - go for cheap and replace often or quality and wear them into the ground - but make sure that you shop smart. Either way can work well but make sure that you aren't spending more money than you should because otherwise you're just throwing money away and you don't need me to tell you that that kind shopping just ain't smart or frugal or a Cool Idea!

Seventy Percent off Weekly Promo Offer 300 x 250

Save 70% off of $25 Gift Certificates when you use code SEVENTY. Pay only $3! Offer ends 7/13/09. Remember that certificates can be purchased for anywhere you might be traveling or for here at home and they are good for a year.

Mindfield Online Internet Panel Surveys

I just cashed out some money in my survey account! Woohoo!! If you are interested in building up some extra money for the holidays what better way then to start your Christmas In July fund by subscribing to some survey companies that pay in actual cash.

Mindfield issues invitations pretty regularly and in each invitation it will tell you how long the survey will take and how much you will get paid. You can't get clearer than that. Of course, there's still a chance you won't qualify but that's part of the business.
I usually do these surveys while Comfort and Joy are napping or, in a pinch, during our post-dinner video. Since most are only 15-20 minutes it's usually easy enough to get them done in and around our schedule. Sometimes I smile to myself that in the time it took Ariel to rescue Prince Eric from the hurricane I made a couple of bucks!

One nice thing about the cashout threshold is that it is only $5. Nicer still Mindfield pays by PayPal so no worrying how long the check will take 'in the mail' and then remembering to take it to the bank. So, get started. Signing up is easy and definitely a Cool Idea!

New Promotion with HCD Surveys/ Facebook

I'm cross posting this on my blog and my facebook account:
The HCD MediaCurves™ Panel is looking to expand their panel and decided to offer a little Facebook-launching present for helping to grow their panel. Here is the special promotion running this week: When you sign up to join the panel and complete your profile, they will get 100 points ($1) to start your account. I will also get 75 points as a referral. It's a win-win and a Cool Idea!

All you do is follow this link to register and learn more about the panel.

I think I've talked about HCD/ Media Curves before but let me tell you again that you will get some really cool surveys. They poll panel members on behalf of clients such as Pfizer and GE – and a lot of them are fun studies about entertainment, politics, sports, and national events. They are reported on but also get reported in the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, Fox News, etc. It is fun participating, and you earn cash for each survey too!

Yep, you heard that right. Surveys are based in points but points are cash in HCD-world. So follow the link and sign up. It is definitely a Cool Idea!

Cow Appreciation Day at Chick-fil-a

Chick-fil-a is offering a free meal to everyone who dresses like a cow on Friday, July 10th for Cow Appreciation Day. I'm posting this a day early because this might take some preparation. Check out their site for a Starter Kit and information on the Photo Contest where you can win free chicken for a YEAR! That would definitely help my meal planning!!

If you are on the road this year and can't pull together a costume you can still enjoy many of the other amenities of Chick-fil-a - like the restaurant locator which offers Trip-style information and let's you know how many miles it is to the next CFA with a playground. And stuff like that which has been a lifesaver for us many times.

So, enjoy your chicken and let me know if you went dressed as a cow!

Wonderful Wednesday

We're headed out to enjoy some free Summer Fun seeing the kids movie at Regal Cinemas so this post will go up in stages today.

FREE sample Fiber One Cereal, snack bar and $5 in coupons

FREE Ziplock Pack-and-Go Gift Pack to the first 10,000 who sign up

Friend Starbucks Ice Cream on Facebook and get a coupon for a free pint!

FREE sample of Kotex Ultra Thin Overnight Pads

FREE Sample of Viva Paper Towels

3 FREE Pure and Natural Diapers from Huggies

FREE Samples and Coupons from P&G Everyday Solutions

And there you go! Lots of stuff to keep us busy so get started!!

Staples Printer-A-Day Giveaway

Did you see this in your weekly Staples circular? Every day for 12 weeks Staples is giving away a HP OfficeJet 8500 Wireless All-in-One. You can enter every day and perhaps one of those people will be you! Definitely a Cool Idea!

Sundae On Monday

We missed ice cream last week due to a night time meltdown so I'm posting this as a reminder to myself and I'm thinking I might need a treat.

Patriotism Swells in the Heart of the American Bear

I just love this line from The Muppet Movie. It makes me giggle. And today as we sang "America, The Beautiful" in church I thought of this line as we sat. Because of all days of the year, the Fourth of July is all about ritual and celebration as a nation. It's one holiday that we - as an entire nation - celebrate together. It doesn't depend on religious affiliation or region or whether you say 'soda' or 'pop'. I know that our friends who are diplomats from other nations don't celebrate it but they'll hang out for Hot Dog diplomacy if you ask nicely.

The Fourth of July is also an essential part of our American story and story is one thing that sets us apart as humans. Other animals grieve and have rituals but they don't have stories. Humans have stories. How has the Fourth of July written itself into your family's story?

Several years after we'd been married and my mom had moved back to take care of her mother she confessed that of all the holidays this was the hardest to spend apart. You see we had a ritual for the day. It was almost identical each year. My brother and I both marched in a fife and drum corps and odds are if you went to any bicentennial celebrations from 1976 to the early 1980s you probably saw us. So, the day was spent in the parade in Fairfax, VA then home to bake brownies before we picked up our adopted Aunt and went to see the fireworks in Vienna, VA.

The brownies were key. They were Duncan Hines from the box. We made them together taking turns each time who got to lick the bowl or spoon. It's hard to mess up brownies. However there was one year - the year of the Exxon Valdez brownies - where my brother made them by himself in a glass dish and the brownies were very thin with the oil floating on the top. Ick. We laughed about it then and they became part of our family story.

Now, with my own family, we are still making our story. Yesterday the weather could not have been more perfect for July in Virginia. The sky was blue the sun was out and it was cool enough that one could be outside without turning into a sticky puddle of goo. We went to the farmer's market, then for the free admission day at the Botanical Garden, then to a friend's farm for a picnic and swimming. The only similarity to last year was that I baked brownies and we went to see the fireworks. This year, however, at the request of our friends I made Ina Garten's Outrageous Brownies. I make these for EVENTS and not for every day because they take a pound of butter and something like 2 1/2 pounds of chocolate and require chilling in the fridge overnight. I usually prefer instant gratification with my brownies but these are awesome brownies.

For the fireworks we luck out every year because we live in the most awesome neighborhood ever. The city does the fireworks at the Carillon at Byrd Park and we live about 6 blocks away. We don't worry about traffic. We leave 20 minutes beforehand to find a good spot and we are home about 20 minutes after they are over. In fact, if there weren't any trees we could probably see the fireworks from the girls' bedroom

And today Comfort has been telling everyone with ears all about her Adventures yesterday. Even the Adventures we didn't get to. We didn't get to see the butterflies at the botanical gardens. The line was just too long for a family with two toddlers but we saw lots of pretty flowers and a turtle sunning itself in a pond and we enjoyed the Children's Garden before the meltdown hit and we carried a flailing Joy back to the parking lot. But the meltdowns are part of the story, too, just like stories from labor and delivery where there is pain and blood and hard choices. Life is real and we should remember it that way, too, sometimes.

So, I hope that you had a wonderful Fourth of July. I hope that you have a new story to tell, a rich story to tell, and I hope that there were brownies. Amen!

Mystery Shop Recap

I mentioned that I had 6 grocery Mystery Shops in the past couple of weeks. Here's a bit of what I learned about myself.

I rely on The Grocery Game A LOT for my list ! So the shops that were at the end of last week were easy to plan for. The ones that were over the weekend when The Grocery Game is not yet available were harder and I had to wing it. Also, by the sixth one I didn't really have anything left that we really needed and bought some things that were niceties for us.

The Good News is that Goldfish Crackers are on Sale at Kroger for 99 cents. I bought some at each store. We are a house of toddlers and it was time to stock back up. It's also good to remember that not only can the Campbell's Label for Education be turned in to your school but when you register your Kroger card the eLabel will be credited to your account, too.

And, as if anyone needed this reminder, grocery shopping is tiring. There's a reason that it's called work. I'm glad that I got paid for these shops and had this opportunity but next time I'll remember to spread the shops out better in my schedule.

And after this marathon of shopping I think that July will be a non-grocery month - other than milk - but we'll see. It's a good idea to reassess our needs every now and again and right now we're up to the gills in some things so it's time to eat our way through the pantry like we did in February. I'll post updates throughout of the month so make sure you come back and see how we're doing. Celebrates the 4th of July is helping to celebrate the 4th of July holiday with a special discount code: FLAG which will discount all certificates 50%. The $25 certificate is regularly priced at $10 so until July 6th you can get it for $5. That is a deal.

Also, new inventory is in place now that it is the beginning of the month. Stock up for home and for wherever you might be traveling this summer. Each restaurant has their own rules and certificates are generally good for a year. Enjoy!


I've been in love with IKEA since I walked into the original store in Woodbridge with my friend Wendy soon after it opened in the late 1980s. I went back later that month with my mom and I still have the desk lamp that I bought to take to college [it still has the same bulb in it, too]. Much of our furniture is from IKEA. Many of our linens are from IKEA. I just LOVE IKEA. I love the color, I love the practicality and I love that there are things that aren't made for me and that don't resonate with me. They are for other people. That's okay. There will be something wonderful for me right around the corner.

Just recently I found another reason to love IKEA. Joy took a red crayon to our dining room chairs. After I closed my eyes and counted to at least ten I found a tea towel and, rubbing with the grain of the wood, the crayon came right off. Now, this might have worked with any chair. I don't know. But I was effortless with my IKEA chair.

I also love that IKEA keeps trying to do different things for its customers. There used to be coupons throughout the year for special items at discounted prices. Sometimes there still are but there are still two yearly sales you can always count on and one of them is going on right now. Until July 5th prices on almost everything in the store are 20-60% off. So, if you are in the market for furniture or looking around to add some color to your home or patio don't forget to check out IKEA during this summer sale. It is most definitely a Cool Idea!

New Month Brings New Coupons

And I'd like to introduce Cellfire coupons to my readers in case you aren't familiar with them. I'm new to them, in fact. Cellfire is another brand of coupons that can be downloaded to your store [Kroger or Safeway brand store] loyalty care or to your cellphone making it nice and easy to keep your coupons nice and tidy all in one place. Now how Cool is that!! Just sign up and get yourself started. It's very similar to the program - you load them to your card - they will not double, and you can only use them once. Also, you need to load them by July 13th. I'll post again to remind you. Really. If you have any questions please don't hestiate to check out the FAQ.

Here are some great deals from Cellfire:
  • Save $.55 on MultiGrain Cherrios [I'm going to use these in a make my own granola bar recipe since we don't eat peanuts in our house.]
  • Save $.55 on a 32 oz. Yoplait Yogurt [It's time to restock on yogurt and I'm going to try to make my own again.]
  • Save $.50 on Nature Valley Bars [in case the above doesn't work out]
  • Save $.50 on any Six cups of Yoplait Yogurt [ditto]

And since it's the beginning of the month that means that has been restocked. Go on over to the right hand side and make sure that you get all the stuff you want before they disappear. Summer is a great time to try new things and save ourselves some extra money along the way. Stay tuned and I'll keep sharing the Cool Ideas!

Wonderful Wednesday

There is a great sale at Bath and Body Works right now. First, Buy 3 Signature Collection bath products and get 3 free. Second, get 20% off All Purchases of $25 or more in stores or on lines [code 9809 until July 5]. And Third, save up to 90% on clearance items in stores only.

I took advantage of the sale in January and bought a bunch of items that I've been using as gifts throughout the year. This may be a good time to begin to remind us all that it's not a bad idea to begin to pick up holiday gifts. So, if you have women in your life that would enjoy being pampered this would be a good time to stock up.

FREE Sample of Dove Calming Night Body Wash

FREE Sample of Aveeno Nourish +Shampoo and Conditioner

FREE Sample of Nescafe Taster's Choice Stick Pack

TRIAL pack of o.b. tampons