Monday, May 30, 2011

Chattanooga & A Schedule Change

An Ariel View of Downtown Chattanooga
 It's been 10 days since my last post. In that time I've been on vacation and found out about a pending change that will have a ripple effect on my life.

Late in the afternoon on Sunday, May 22, Paula and I left to go on vacation in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It's just 3 hour drive. It was the first part of Paula's 50th birthday trip. We spent 4 days there enjoying all the tourist attractions and restaurants we wanted to see. Among the places we went were: Rock City, the Tennessee Aquarium, and Ruby Falls. We had a great time and did a lot of walking. I'll be writing more about that in upcoming posts.

When we returned on Friday while checking my work email I found out that my request for a schedule change has been approved. Starting the first full week in June I will be working Tuesday through Saturday. I will have Sunday and Monday off. I am so happy to finally get this change. I have been asking for it for nearly 9 months.

This will mean that I will be able to start going back to church on a regular basis. I will be able to participate in children's ministry and do ventriloquism again. Once again I will be writing more about that in future posts.

I just wanted to check in and assure my legion of blog readers that all is going well. I've been having fun on vacation with my wife and I'm very optimistic about the prospect of returning to being an active church member and taking my ventriloquism to other churches around the area.

An immediate benefit of my pending work schedule change is that I have 5 of the next 8 days off. Monday, May 30, I'm off for the Memorial Day holiday. I work on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday and Friday are my current schedule's days off. I work on Saturday. On Sunday, June 5, I start my new schedule so I'm off that day and on Monday the 6th. So I have 5 out of the next days off. I like this new schedule already.

So that's what's going on with me since my last post. Hope you weren't too worried about me. I've just been busy; but I'm back now. Let the posting begin again.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bike Lessons

A lot of life's lessons come to us in the form of metaphors. The first time many of us learned that positive thinking and determination are the biggest element in overcoming life's obstacles is when one of our parents read the words "I think I can, I think I can" coming from "the little engine that could."

Principals and behaviors that work in small circumstances many times transcend into being applicable to life's more extreme or complex circumstances.

With that I would like to present to you some of the lessons I've observed as the result of the bicycle riding I've been doing these past few weeks. These might seem rather cliché but they are sound principals that are scriptural. At this point I haven't connected them with "chapter and verse" but I will. When I do I'll use that association to help me in my Christian walk.

Get On & Go
I maneuver the bike off the carport and moving the right pedal counter clockwise into its starting position. Then comes the moment when I throw my leg over the frame and transfer my weight back onto the seat and make the first rotation of the pedals. My bike ride begins. I move out of my driveway with the optimistic belief that I'm going to enjoy a nice trip around "The Grove" and return without having any problems along the way.

I might have been sitting on the couch thinking about going for a bike ride all day. But before that first pedal push it meant nothing. My faith and desire to go for a ride was meaningless nothing until I actually got on the bike. Without action ideas have no substance. The most important step in any journey is the first one.

Gear Up For Tough Hills
Going downhill is really easy and a lot of fun. I can pedal in a low gear (by low I mean a low number on the gear indicator) but don't necessarily have to. My momentum keeps me going. But as I look ahead I can see a hill coming up. I know that when I get to the beginning of that incline I'm going to have to go to get over it. I shift into a higher gear that provides some power pedaling and builds up some speed with which I can go into the hill.

In life things can seem to be going smoothly. You can be cruising doing everything right almost effortlessly but there's a hill up ahead. If you can see the tough times approach you can get ready for it by being as intense in the easy times as you need to be on the hills. Of course a lot of the times you don't see the hills on the horizon. That means you should never let your intensity or efforts in life become too lax or careless. Stay strong; you never know when you will need the momentum.

Keep Pedaling
Although I push hard in a lower gear as I'm going downhill because I see an incline coming up; inevitably I have to start working on getting up the hill. The momentum I gained is soon used up by friction and getting up the hill becomes a bit difficult. I'm slowing down, so I shift into the easiest gear and pedal as best as I can. I may slow to a crawl but I keep going. I set my eyes on a goal close me, a landmark, instead of the top of the hill. I tell myself to keep pedaling until I get to that goal.

When I get there I pick another until I've conquered the hill. Setting my sights on immediate goals is helpful but the most important thing is to keep pedaling. When I think of doing this I remember the advice of my favorite Disney character, Dory, from "Finding Nemo": "Just keep swimming." Walt Disney, himself, always said "Keep Moving Forward". The Apostle Paul urged us to keep running the race. On a bike this principal would be "Keep Pedaling.

It’s Okay To Coast
Once you get to the top of the hill and you're going downhill again you start gaining speed without pedaling. You're coasting so you can sit back, take a breath, and for a brief moment enjoy your success in climbing the hill. Catching your breath is okay. A period of recovery and rest is as much of an important part of the ride as anything else. Its okay to coast. Enjoy the ride. That brings me to my next principal.

Look Around
So far this bike trip has seemed like it's been all work and no play. Well not as of now. The best thing about riding a bike is that you get to be in a place where you can observe and enjoy your surroundings. Like Matthew Brodrick said in the movie "Ferris Buhler's Day Off", "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop to look around once in while you'll miss it."

Even if you've driven or walked down the road on before; riding your bike gives you a different perspective on your surroundings. In my car a certain route to my church many times. But when I ride my bike down the same roads and look around, I notice things I've never seen before. I never realized just how many baby goats are in the pasture to my right. I didn't see the barn behind the house 50 yards off the road. One of the houses has a 3 legged dog running in the yard. Those are just a few of the many things I've seen because I rode by them at a slower pace and was looking around.

The act of observation not only results in new discoveries; it also helps you appreciate the details of the world God had created. King David would never have written the Psalms that praise God for his greatness if he had not seen it in the world around him.

So look around you never know what you might see or be inspired to do.

Stay Curious
After I've completed a bike ride to a place I've wanted to go for a while (such as riding to my church from home or riding down Cemetery Road to Scottsville Road in Bowling Green) I ask myself a question: "Where else can I go on my bike?"

When I had my job delivering auto parts on a daily basis I would always take the time to drive down different roads. This was to see if I could find a shorter route to my customers. I discovered so many short cuts and interesting places by doing this that I still do it to this day.

As I ride and I pass streets or roads I've never been on before I always wonder "What's down there?" I try to always stay curious. Sometimes I decide to go down a road just to see where it leads. My sense of adventure helps me exercise my mind and my imagination at the same time I'm moving my body on my bike. I highly recommend you do your best to stay curious and feed that curiosity by exploring your sense of adventure.

So there you have the lessons I've learned just by riding my bike. I'm sure there will be others as I gain more and more "over the road" experience. I hope I've encouraged you to take these bike lessons and use them in your own life.

As I wrote at the start of this post; I'm sure all of these principals are scriptural. As I've been writing I've made some specific connections. Now I have to just write them down and apply them to my life the way God wants me to.

So I guess my bike has now added another benefit in my life. It helps me physically, mentally and most importantly, spiritually. That makes it one of the best investments I've made this year.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Everybody say "Cheesecake Factory"

These 3 pictures were taken last Saturday night. My family traveled to the Green Hills Mall in Nashville. We had dinner at The Cheesecake Factory; a very popular restaurant.  It was a celebration of Michael's 30th birthday; which was May 10.

The picture of me was taken at a store called "Teavana". It's a tea specialty shop on the bottom of levels of the mall. We had time to shop and browse both floors because we had a 1 1/2 hour wait for our table.

The other pictures were taken while we were eating our dinner. It was the 2nd time in a week that the 6 of us got together to celebrate a special occasion. We had a great time.

For me the main part of the meal wasn't all that great; but the desserts were outstanding. Michael, James and Brandi had cheesecake. Heather had strawberry shortcake. Paula and I ordered a piece of a chocolate tower cake. It was a 4 layer, 4 inch high, chocolate cake with chocolate mousse, chocolate chips and whipped cream. It was decadent. Even though we shared only about 1/2 of the piece we both ate too much. We felt a little nauseous on the way home. But it was worth it. LOL

We'll be together again later this month to celebrate Brandi's birthday. It doesn't matter where it's going to be. Hanging out with each other seems to be something we all enjoy.

That's something I'd come to take for granted with my family in Pennsylvania while I was growing up. I'm very proud of the fact that it's now become a tradition with my Kentucky family as well.

Monday, May 9, 2011

From "Citizen Cane" To "8 Mile Man!"


Last Saturday night during a family get together to celebrate his birthday my brother-in-law, Woody (Paula's half brother) pointed something out to me that I hadn't realized.

After seeing my status updates on Facebook last week he commented, "Ron, you've gone from walking with a cane to riding 8 miles on your bike."

His comment was a very kind comment on what God has done in my life. I had only thought about progressing from walking for exercise to riding my bike. I hadn't thought about how far I've come since I started my weight loss effort and what my life was like when I  had to use a cane.

It's been over a year since I stopped using it. I had pushed the memory of its use into the back of my mind. Woody's remark got me thinking about it again.

Nothing brings back reality into the forefront than looking at pictures. I found a picture of me standing in front of Chicago's Wrigley Field back in July 2008. I put it side by side with one of me on my bike just last week.

If seeing is believing you can see how far I really have come. I'm 180 pounds less from one picture to the other. What a difference 2 years makes. God has worked nothing short of a miracle in my life and I am grateful to Him for all He has helped me to accomplish.

I am not what I should or want to be with my weight loss yet but the difference so far cannot be ignored. As a matter of fact looking at these pictures it can be nothing but appreciated.

I would have even thought to make the photographic comparison if it hadn't been for the kind comment made by my brother-in-law. Thanks Woody. We might have been spending the evening celebrating your birthday but it was you who gave me an unexpected present: The gift of perspective.

Bark At The Park


 This past Sunday, for the 2nd time in 3 weeks I had a "doggie & daddy" day with Dory. This time we attended the Bowling Green Hot Rods "Bark At The Park" game.

Riding with Dory in the car is a lot of fun. She loves to sit next to me and look out the windows. Walking with her a cross the parking lot after parking a block away (in the free parking area) having made that walk so many times by myself these past couple of seasons was the start of the fun.

Inside the park things didn't start out to well. I had some ticket and seating difficulties but it all worked out so I won't go into details here. I will say that amid my problems getting through the gate and finding a seat, Dory got a bit nervous and decided to answer's nature call right in the middle of the concourse. While I was cleaning it up I absentmindedly let go of Dory's leash. She wandered away from me. A young girl grabbed her leash and held on. When I discovered my mistake I panicked and quickly looked around to find my pup just a few feet away. I thanked the girl and took Dory back.

Once we found our seat down the 3rd baseline we settled in to watch the game. We shared a hot dog and stood for the national anthem. Dory didn't allow me to sit idle very long. Just like the 5K a couple of weeks ago she was interested in the other dogs at first but then became more interested in her surroundings. She wanted to walk and explore the park. We walked down the left field concourse with Dory sniffing all the way. She touched noses or said "hello" to other dogs every once in a while. Mostly all she wanted discover her new surroundings.

I took her to the designated doggie area behind the batter's eye just outside the center field fence. We took some time to take some pictures (the center and right hand picture at the top) then came back to our seats for a few minutes. Dory made friends with a little black Yorkypoo next to us. But mostly she just wanted to rest before insisting on getting up to explore again.

Soon we were walking to get a drink at one of the large water dishes set up in the park. She lapped up the refreshing liquid and insisted on putting her right front paw in the dish large plastic storage container that served as a water dish. I don't have any idea why.

For the rest of the afternoon Dory decided that she was going to take periodic walks around the park. I got to watch a lot of the game but missed the Hot Rods scoring the runs that would eventually be the winning margin.  They won the game 5-2.

Before we left we had our picture taken with the Hot Rods' "grease monkey", Roscoe (see first picture). The team mascot's alter ego is the son of one of Paula's co-workers/long time friends. It was cool to get have him pose with us.

Overall we had a good time. Dory really enjoys getting out, meeting other dogs and discovering new places. I may consider taking her to the Humane Society's Puppy Paddle in September. I know she won't go swimming but she'll enjoy the day out.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Dinner Memories On Mother's Day

With today being Mother's Day, of course, I am thinking about, remembering, and missing my own mom.

Just recently I scanned half a dozen pictures of her into my computer. As I looked at those still images of her at various times of her life I was saddended a bit by how distant I feel from her sometimes. 

My memories of her and all the things she taught me and did for me while giving me a childhood I fondly remember, are part of my life every day. (Yes, I do realize that I remember, speak of, and write about my life growing up from an idyllic perspective).

The picture above was taken as she was cutting up celery for the bread stuffing (aka "dressing") for our dinner on Christmas day in 1978. It was a very typical of where my mom spent an important portion of her day as I was growing up. Sitting in her chair at our dining room table prepping things to be put on the stove or cooking right there on the table in her ubiquitous electric skillet.

Her assistant (which could have been either dad, Shari, Peggy, or me) would take the bowls, pots or pans of whatever needed to be simmered, broiled, or baked to the stove in the kitchen. He or she would also bring mom all the things she needed from the cabinets, refrigerator or the pantry just inside the cellar door. That's how mom made supper most of the time. She got everyone in the family involved.

Being a life long lover of food I often reminisce about how much I loved the many meals my mother made from her cooking station. A lot of the time she would serve prepackaged foods that only had to be warmed in the oven or on the stove or in the skillet.

Entrees by Encore, Dinty Moore beef stew (served over flat 1/2 inch wide Pennsylvania Dutch brand egg noodles), and Swanson pot pies were some of our favorites. Of course there was always potatoes and a vegetables to go with it. Baked beans and apple sauce and occasionally cole slaw or pickled eggs (the last two I didn't touch) were also frequent parts of our meals. 

About twice a month we had pasta. The varieties that came to our table included spaghetti, vermicelli, rigatoni, twists (rotini) and shells (conchiglie). All were served with Ragu or Prego sauce. Mom add always added a pound of ground beef for flavor. On special occasions we'd have baked ziti or lasagna with buttered garlic bread.

My favorite pasta dish that my mom made was Italian style perogies. A dish I introduced to our family after I had it, believe it or not, in my middle school cafateria. 

Now for those of you who don't know what perogies are to the left is a a picture of the package of the brand mom used. you can see what they look like. They are pockets of pasta with mashed potatoes, cheese and onion flavor inside.

The most popular way to serve perogies in our area was deep fried. They were public swimming pool snack bar staple in the summer. But they can also be boiled and served they same way as pasta.

Mom lined a 2 inch deep pan with cooked perogies covered in spaghetti sauce with slices of mozzarella and grated Parmesan cheese. She baked them until the sauce was hot and the cheeses were melted. They were delicious. I'd love to have them again. But unfortunately any type of pasta is on my permanent "do not ingest or you'll regret it" list.  

But the thing that set my mother apart from others in the "dinner making business" was her casseroles. These were delicious combinations of foods that some might not think would go together or would taste good the way they were combined. But my mom was the "Casserole Queen". I don't know how she came up wit them or where she found the recipies but she was very creative in the kitchen.

Here, in ramdom order, are 4 of my favorite Mom's casseroles and dishes with their descriptions.

Frankly Cheesy: This was sort of a variation on Fettucinni Alfredo. It was a combination of sliced hot dogs, egg noodles, onions, cream of celery soup, and grated cheese. It was baked until it was crunchy on top and the cheese was melted. If you sprinkled grate Parmesan cheese over top before you ate it made it even better. It was very good. A bit greasy at times but good.

Macaroni, Corn and Spam: This dish pulled no punches and was simple to make. The three ingredients were: elbow macaroni, Spam cut up in 1/2 inch cubes, and a couple cans of sweet corn. They were mixed with mushroom soup and were baked in the oven until hot. You knew it was done when it was no longer soupy, but not dry.

Souper Burgers: Although this was not technically a casserole this was one of Mom's "signature" dishes. Her version of Sloppy Joe's. Ground beef, browned with the grease drained was combined with 2 cans of Campbell's Alphabet Vegetable Beef soup in its condensed form. Heated in the afore mentioned electric skillet and flavored with just the right combination and amount of ketchup and mustard. It was ready when it was hot and thickened enough to be spooned onto hamburger buns. This was a very popular dish. Not just with our family but with some of my cousins who would occasionally spent weekends or a week during the summer at our house. My cousin, Gary, would always request to have Souper Burgers every time he was at our house. 

Hash Pinwheels: This was by far the most unusual combination of ingredients of any of mom's dishes. You made a pie crust with Bisquick and rolled it out flat in as close to a rectangle as you could. Then you spread a can of corned beef hash over it. Starting from the end you rolled the pie crust so it was round and long like a Swiss Roll cake. You would then cut that roll into 1 inch slices so that they when you placed them on a cookie sheet they looked like pinwheels or perhaps unbaked cinnamon buns. You would then bake them long enough for the pie crust was brown and flaky.

While the pinwheels were in the oven baking you made the sauce on top of the stove. It was a white sauce made from a milk base with several different types of grated cheese, and a couple teaspoons of mustard to give it some flavor. On low heat you simmered and stirred the sauce until was hot, well blended, and smooth. 

Once the pinwheels were finished baking you served them with enough sauce to cover but not smother them. 

This dish was by far my favorite of all the "casseroles" that Mom made over the years. I liked Souper Burgers as well but Hash Pinwheels were my favorite. But no matter what was on the table I always asked for seconds.  My mind, stomach and taste buds remember all 4 of these dishes fondly. I miss not being able to have them again.

In today's world of nutrition conscience diets I'm sure some of these dishes would be considered unhealthy. But you must remember my mom was feeding a family of 4 (5 before my sister Peggy got married) on a one income household. She had to find a way to make her food budget stretch as far as possible. So she found ways to prepare inexpensive food so it would go a long way and taste good. I believe she accomplished it pretty well; except when she made liver and onions (YUCK!)

Anyone who has tried or makes a habit of trying to eat a healthy diet knows that it's rather expensive. Even though I don't know for sure I imagine it was back in the 1960's, 70's and 80's as well. Sometimes as a parent you have to do your best with the opitons you're given.

I still get the urge to try some of her old reciepies every once in a while. But since most of them were high in carbs I'd have to find a way to make them with low carb ingredients. I don't know if they'd be the same.

If the way to a guy's heart is through his stomach one of the ways my mother made her way deep into mine was with all the dinners she made for me for the 25 years of my life that I live at home with my parents. The meals I've mentioned are just a fraction of what she made for us. I'm sure if my sisters were to give their input for this post they would mention foods and casseroles I haven't.

Mom's success in her role as meal planner and cook for our family is one of the things about her that I loved. I haven't even mentioned desserts, the special holiday dinners, and hundreds of dozens of Christmas cookies she made for the whole family over all the years of her life. Let's not forget the coupon clipping, creating menus for a two-week period, and the hundreds of trips to the grocery store. All so she could make her family happy at the dinner table.

That brings me back to where this post started, the picture at the top of this post. From what I've just written you can see how a snapshot of Mom preparing dinner at the dining room table is an appropriate representation of who she was and an example of how much she gave to us. 

No matter what she was making for her husband and children there was always one thing Mom put in all her dishes, casseroles and dinners. And even though she has been gone from this world for nearly 7 1/2 years; I can still feel that one common ingredient she put in all she did for us, not just in the kitchen, but in all that she did for us. That was her love. I can't wait to see her again someday. I'm going to ask for a 2nd helping. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My "72 Hour Notice"

Back on March 20 when I started my 6 week layoff from work I thought I would be going back to work this past Sunday, May 1. On April 20 I received a call from the Human Resources department and was advised that my layoff had been extended for an additional 6 weeks. I was now scheduled to return to work on June 11.

But then I got some confusing messages. I saw on TV and read in the newspaper that the call center was looking to hire 2nd shift employees. I couldn't figure out why they were hiring but extending the leave of an employee with over 2 years experience.

Trying hard not to stress or worry about the situation I set my sights on just enjoying having the month of May off. Then on Monday I received a voice message on my cell phone. Once again it was someone at the HR department. The message advised that I was being called back to work.

One of the guidelines given to us in March was that we could be called back to work at any time. However the company would be courteous enough to give us 72-hour notification. In compliance with that provision I am scheduled to return to work on Saturday May 7. I will be working my same schedule which means Saturday through Wednesday with Thursday and Friday off.

I'm okay with going back to work. The way the economy is these days I'm grateful for a full time job.  It will mean a return to getting a full paycheck again. That will be good for our budget. But it could effect the vacation Paula and I were planning for the end of the month. Also I will be going back to working on Sundays. This means I can't attend or participate in any church activities. That bothers me most of all. But it is what it is.

So after today I have 3 days of my layoff left. Life takes strange turns when you don't expect them. That's what keeps things interesting. I have to remember God is in control. There must be a reason for the early return. I'll just have to be open to find out what it is.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Return To "Down Under"

I ended the month of April with a day of recreation at a unique local zoo. It's "a little piece of Australia" about 20 miles from our driveway. Kentucky Down Under is a unique facility that offers its visitors the opportunity to see animals from a continent over 9000 miles away.

This was my 2nd trip to the park. The last one was in 2004 with Paula, James, and my Pennsylvania family (who were here on vacation).

On Saturday, my wife and I  went with my son, Michael and daughter-in-law, Heather. They asked us to go with them because the park was having "county days". Patrons from surrounding counties only pay a $5 admission charge. It's usually $22.

The park hasn't changed much since the last time I was there. The walk up the rather steep hill from the admissions building to the main area was a lot easier this time.

The first thing we did was walk through the bird garden area. There we saw a Papuan Frogmouth, my favorite of all the birds. We also saw a Laughing Kookaburra. I can't help but think of my dad every time I hear the word "Kookaburra". He used to sing a song about it all the time.

We took a little walking tour of the "Outback" area of the park. In this exhibit we saw a black swan, an emu, wallabies, and kangaroos. We even got to pet one of the kangaroos. You can see a couple of the kangaroos in the picture at the top of this post.

Next on our agenda was a tour through the Kentucky Caverns cave. Because we'd had several days of heavy and intense rain in the area prior to our visit, the cave was very wet inside. There were droplets falling on us from the cave ceiling all the while we were walking through. It wasn't slippery but we walked through a lot of puddles on the pitted floor. The picture at the top right side of this post shows Paula, Heather, and Michael walking up a set of rather steep steps in the middle of the cave tour.

Because of the dripping water, the puddles, the relatively dim lighting, shadows, the steep steps, and the cave formations we had to duck under or squeeze through, the tour was a bit more difficult than I though it would be. It was fun but I was afraid I'd slip and throughout the entire tour.

Upon exiting the cave we walked around the park's nature trail; stopping at the observation deck. We would go see the sheep herding demonstration at the grazing pasture and the shearing demonstration (no wool was actually shaved) and a lecture in the Wool Shed area.

Without a doubt the highlight of the day for me was the 2 visits we made to the "Land of Lories". It's a giant enclosure that houses a group of rainbow lorikeets. You go through the first of two doors into a little shack. There a park employee takes your ticket and gives you a small white paper cup (its like the cup you get after dinner mints in at a wedding reception) with about 2 table spoons full of liquid "nectar" in it.

The attendant makes sure the first door is closed before opening the second door to allow you to enter the aviary. Once inside you are rushed by at least 3 birds. They know you have something for them to eat. If you're not ready for their approach it can be a bit alarming. It seems as though this "nectar" is some type of "birdie crack". They land on your arm, your shoulder, and even your head to try and devour every drop of what's in your cup. Even after its empty the lorikeets use their brush shaped tongue make sure they get every drop.

Once your nectar is gone so are the birds. They fly away searching for the next visitor with a full cup of food. At least that's the usual behavior. But when I was in the aviary the first time, the birds were interested in me for a reason other then the nectar in my cup.

As I mentioned we had been walked around the park's nature trail before we went to feed the birds. The day had gotten a little warm and some of the trail was up hill. So when I was in the enclosure with the lorikeets I had been sweating just a bit. The perspiration formed small beads in my hair. One of the birds, who had been sitting on my shoulder, discovered the salty liquid and began to lick my hair.

If you look at the first picture at the top of this post you'll see my feathered friend getting an extra treat from my hair. It may look like he's whispering in my ear but he's dining on my perspiration. That may sound a bit gross but that's what happened.

The rainbow lorikeets are beautiful birds. Their combination of blue, red, green, and yellow feathers make them look so cool. I enjoyed being in that aviary so much I took a second turn at feeding them after we visited the Wool Shed.

About noon we walked back to the front of the park and visited the gift shop. In an aquarium in the side room what led to the rest rooms there was a large glass terrarium that held a pair of blue tongue skinks. They looked just like the one James got shortly after our last visit to the park.

We bought some souvenirs and some of their homemade fudge. I also bought a "Kentucky Down Under" magnet for our refrigerator.

Once we were done shopping we decided that there wasn't anything else in the park that we wanted to do. All four of us were hungry so we left to get something to eat. We went to a local Cracker Barrel restaurant for lunch before heading home.

It was just after 1 o'clock when we got back to "the Grove". We were all pretty tired but agreed that we had a good time. Although their regular admission price is a bit steep ($22 for adults and $13 for kids 5-14 years old); if you're ever in our area, and are looking for something different and interesting to do,  I recommend  you visit "Kentucky Down Under" at least once. It's a fun and unique experience.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Cashing In With Coupons

Last month as the price of gasoline reached close to $4 a gallon we realized that the extra money we'd be putting in our gas tanks had to come from somewhere else in our budget. The question was; where could we make a cut in our expenses most effectively and with the least amount of difficulty?

The answer was literally delivered to our door. It came in our mailbox and on our doorstep in the form of manufacturer's discount coupons.

Each week our Sunday newspaper has inserts with pages and pages of coupons. The newspaper is a bargain to begin with. Back in February I took advantage of a special offer that got me 30 weeks of 7-day newspaper delivery for only $30. The Sunday edition alone is $1.75 a week. That's a savings of $22.50 right there. 

Because we are a member of their shoppers club and have their special credit card, our local grocery store chain, Kroger, sends us exclusive coupons in the mail on a regular basis. But up until recently we had only occasionally been taking full advantage of the discounts those coupons.  

Last week all that changed. We spent about $200 on groceries but saved about $50 using coupons. This was done by using coupons for items that were already on sale. For instance a 4 ounce tube of Crest toothpaste was on sale for $1.00. I used a coupon for 50 cents. The Kroger store doubled the value of the coupons 50 cents or less. This made the cost of the toothpaste $0. It was free. A lot of the things we bought were "stock up" items. What I mean is that we bought multiples of items so we could use a coupon. Now we won't have to buy those items for a while.

An example of this is shaving cream and body wash. It may take us  a month or so to use a can or bottle of these product, respectively. Again with the use of a coupon we got them for less, saved money, and won't have to buy these items for at least 3 months or longer.

While I did do some of the shopping I can't take any credit for doing the work it took to get those type of savings. Clipping coupons, finding sale items, and calculating the savings has all been done by my wife.

Paula has discovered, The website is run by Stephanie Nelson, who is known as "the coupon mom". She's appeared on national TV shows such as Oprah, The Today Show, CNN and more. The banner on the website reads "Cut Your Grocery Bill In Half". By using this website my thrifty bride can find items that are on sale at the stores in our area. She can also search to find any unexpired manufacturer's coupons for those sale items. The website even identifies the specific date and flier in which the coupons were included in the newspaper.

From what Paula has explained taking advantage of the tools on this website and customizing them to help you takes some work and some focus. Over the past month I've seen her consistently look through and cut out coupons, create printouts with charts and tables about sale items, and make out shopping lists to make sure we buy the things that will save us money. She has done a great job at finding the best bargains.

Even if we only go grocery shopping twice a month saving $50 each time is the equivalent of the price of two tanks of gas (at least for now). If you're interested in finding more check out the website for yourself. If you want more specific advice in regard to what Paula does just contact her via Facebook.

It may not be easy but it's worth it. So start clipping coupons and search your grocery store fliers. You never know how much you can save until you try.