Crisis management — January 18, 2023

Crisis management

I experienced an existential crisis last month whilst shopping for post-holiday sales.

Or as I called it, Monday.

This particular crisis occurred as I considered whether I should buy drastically reduced Christmas gift tags. The price was right and the tags were super cute. But when I did the math, I realized there were so many tags in that packet that I probably wouldn’t have to buy any for a decade. I legit said, “Oh, no,” returned the tags to the hanger, and marched out of the aisle without looking back.

You should know this is not the first time gift tags have caused me to experience an existential crisis. Years ago, I purchased a roll that contained oodles of tags. Finding the deal filled me with unbridled glee especially when I realized I could use that roll for years.

The dread set in a couple years later. I said to myself, “Self, how old will you be by the time you’ve used all these gift tags?” After I had pulled out the abacus, done the math, and figured out I’d be eligible for Social Security before I needed to buy another gift tag, I decided to accidentally leave that roll of tags at a relative’s house. Deal be derned.

Since then, I’ve bought gift tags on a year-by-year (or two) basis. Of course, that produces another kind of crisis. Last year I thought I had tags. I didn’t. I had to scramble to find some at the last minute. Well, at what I consider the last minute. (By the way, the tags I procured looked like little books. They were so fancy and shiny that two people, upon seeing them attached to gifts, asked, “What are those?” Uh, gift tags…from a dollar store, but not my favorite dollar store.)

Anyway, I can buy in bulk if it’s something like ibuprofen or toilet paper. You know, items I use on the daily. But not something I don’t use frequently. For reals. I’ve been working on a thousand-count box of toothpicks for approximately 15 years. Even the late professional wrestler Scott Hall aka Razor Ramon would have needed some time to make his way through that mocking box of toothpicks. The money I saved on those tiny pieces of wood wasn’t worth the damage to my psyche.

By the way, last month, on the day after Christmas, I did find a deal on one sheet of tags that should serve my gifting needs for the next couple years. That’s as far in the future as I care to plan.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

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Not boxed in — December 14, 2022

Not boxed in

For the past few months, a section of my home has resembled a warehouse. Indeed, it’s filled with various sizes of cardboard boxes. No, I haven’t fallen behind on recycling duties. Instead, this year I finally remembered to stock up on boxes so I wouldn’t be forced to empty my closets and cabinets in order to box gifts and goodies.

What’s that, you say? The post office and stores sell boxes.

I’m going to assume this is your first visit to this-here space because I do not buy boxes.

In fact, if you ever receive a gift or goodie from me in a purchased box, please know that I have recycled said box. There was a moment of weakness a couple years ago when I considered buying a box from the US Post Office. I had trekked to the post office in the rain. There were only a few mailing days left before Christmas and when the postal worker told me the box I wanted to use wouldn’t work, I said to myself, “Self, I’m going to buy one of their fancy boxes.”

To which self replied, “The expletive you are!”

So, I slogged back home in the rain, looked through the cabinets, emptied my box of nails and screws, placed the goodie inside said box, and returned to the post office. (No worries, the nails and screws eventually found a new home.)

By the way, dear readers, the US Post Office will allow us to reuse boxes if we remove the old addresses from said boxes. Although I had done so, there was another issue with the box. I cannot remember the issue at this moment. All my other reused boxes have passed inspection.

Anyway, when it comes to wrapping presents, I’ve stuffed gifts in whatever boxes I can find in the house. You know, like envelope and cereal boxes. One year, my great-niece (emphasis on great), opened her present from me, which was in an oatmeal box, and put it aside. When her mom asked her what Cook – that would be me – got her, she said, “Oatmeal.”

I don’t know what made me happier – that she didn’t question why I had bought her oatmeal or that she didn’t throw a tantrum. As I mentioned earlier, she is great. But let’s face it. Some kids would have thrown that alleged box of oatmeal back at Antie Cook, demanding a toy or, at the very least, a pair of wacky socks.

But I like to think she said to herself, “Self, it’s on brand for Cook to buy a kid oatmeal for Christmas.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Finders keepers — January 26, 2022

Finders keepers

If someone were to ask what I collect, I’d answer pens and paper. At least two drawers in a desk overflow with the items and I recently found piles of paper and an assortment of pens stashed in a closet. Not that I buy the materials. Once I studied on it, I realized I had not purchased pens since college and paper since last century.

Yet, I continue to accumulate them because I subscribe to the philosophy of the lead character in Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places, who considered it a waste of money to buy office products. What with them just sitting there out in the open, waiting for her sticky fingers to swipe them.

For what it’s worth, I don’t go around swiping staplers and tape dispensers. Or pens and paper. (For what it’s worth, I enjoyed Dark Places … until the end. The ending angered me to such a point that had I been reading a physical copy of the book, I feel sure I would have torn the book to pieces and flushed it down the toilet.)

I mention this because I never pass up an opportunity for free – not swiped – pens and paper. And because I considered buying a pen.

Somewhere along the way, I came into possession of a black gel ink pen. Perhaps someone left it on my desk and I “forgot” to return it. Perhaps someone handed it to me so I could make a note and I “forgot” to return it. Who knows.

Regardless of how it came into my possession, it might be the most favorite pen of my advanced life. Simply put, I love the way it writes. No, it’s not fancy. But I’m not a fancy type of gal.

Unfortunately, pens don’t last forever. What would I do when the black gel pen ran out of ink? How would I cope? To prepare for that inevitability, I located the type of pen on the Supercenter’s website. Although it was reasonably priced, it was still priced.

So, I held off on putting that item in the cart.

And the black ink in the gel pen continued to deplete.

Then, the other day, I had to run into the bank. And what did I spy on the customer’s side of the bank teller’s window? A black gel ink pen.

As noted before, I am not a thief. Thus, I asked the teller to whom the pen belonged. She regarded me as if I were a lunatic. Indeed, she probably considered pressing the button that alerts the authorities a crime is underway. She told me the pen was there when she arrived at work that morning.

That’s all I needed to hear. I slipped the pen into my purse whilst thanking the universe and the pen’s former owner for leaving it for me to find.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Empty talk — January 12, 2022

Empty talk

Although I’m known as a thrifty sort of gal, sometimes I wonder if I could be a little more thrifty. These doubts creep up from time to time, especially when I’m close to emptying a tube of toothpaste.

Allow me to explain.

When I was in college, one pal, with whom I am no longer in contact, shared an anecdote about another pal, with whom I am also no longer in contact. According to the first pal, the second pal’s family used a razor blade to open tubes of toothpaste when said tubes where close to empty. Why did they do this? To extract more toothpaste from the tubes. After all, as much as you squeeze that darn tube, you can never extract all the toothpaste.

It’s been dozens of years since I’ve been in college. And I’m not even sure I remember the second pal’s name. But I haven’t forgotten that anecdote. Over these dozens of years, as I’ve “emptied” tubes of toothpaste, I’ve looked at those tubes and said to myself, “Self, you know there’s more toothpaste in there.”

But what was self supposed to do? Firstly, I don’t keep razorblades on hand. Would it be cost efficient to buy them for the sole purpose of slicing open tubes of toothpaste? Secondly, I’ve considered cutting the tubes with scissors, but am I going to do that with the scissors I use to perform random household chores. Would it be cost efficient to buy a special pair of scissors for the sole purpose of slicing open tubes of toothpaste?

I answered no to both questions. Still, I wondered.

Anyway, on a related note, a few years ago, I “emptied” my first tube of hand cream/moisturizer. With that college anecdote swirling in my head, I just knew there had to be globs of lotion stuck to the innards of the sparkly tube. So, I retrieved the scissors.

As I suspected, the innards did in fact contain additional lotion. Lotion that moisturized my skin.

I made a few mistakes during that first attempt, though. I made only one cut, which I put too close to the top of said tube, and I allowed the lotion to dry. Thus, I didn’t get to use all that sweet smelling lotion.

Lucky for me, the galaxy contained additional tubes of hand cream/moisturizer. Two weeks ago, I “emptied” one of those tubes. This time, I made the first cut about a third of the way around the tube. When my little fingers had extracted all they could, I made a second cut down the tube. I also covered the tube to keep the lotion from drying.

I’m happy to report there are no more globs of lotion left inside what remains of that sparkly tube.

Of course, I’m sure I continue to throw away globs of toothpaste. But after dozens of years, at least I was finally able to put that anecdote to use.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Picture this — January 27, 2021

Picture this

Before Christmas, my family asked what I had included in my letter to Santa. I answered that I had told Santa I’m a simple woman who wants nothing more than for her loved ones to be happy and healthy.

After they picked their eyes up from where they had rolled onto the floor, my family members said, “For reals, what do you want?”

I told them that other than a laptop, I couldn’t think of anything I needed.

And that’s when it started. Apparently, during visits to my house, certain family members had been compiling mental lists of items they felt needed replacing. Picture frames held the top spot on that list.

I had to admit that one picture frame had seen better days. Although I had used copious amounts of scotch tape in an attempt to keep it together, one side would not stay attached to the frame.

“Okay,” said I. “I’ll put a picture frame on my list.”

“Oh, you’re so funny,” my loved ones said as they went through my picture frames, one by one, making little strikes on a piece of paper for each frame they felt needed replacing. When I tried to protest, they shushed me.

So, when we gathered after Christmas to open presents, I wasn’t surprised that I received five fancy new picture frames. I was surprised that, when I finally got around to displaying the frames last week – don’t judge my procrastination! I’ve been busy not completing other items on my to-do list! – I realized my family had been right. Multiple frames were held together – and I use those words loosely – by tape.

In some instances, I had also taped the photos to the frames and then wrapped additional tape around the back of the frames to, again, hold the whole thing together. I had wondered how my loved ones had been able to spot the flaws in the frames. Upon closer inspection, I wondered how the frames had not disintegrated whenever anyone picked them up or even walked by them.

Still, tossing the damaged frames into the trash represented a bittersweet moment. While I don’t remember the day I purchased the frames, I do remember the happiness I felt when I saw the price tags.

“Wow,” I recall saying to self, “these gold- and silver-plated beauties are only a dollar each.”

In retrospect, maybe that’s why copious amounts of tape were required to keep the sides attached to the frames.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

No time like the present — December 23, 2020

No time like the present

This is the first post I’ve penned on an actual computer since July.

Allow me to explain.

On a sultry summer Sunday evening, I was putting the finishing touches on a post when my aged laptop quit working. I figured the ole girl needed a break and would be up and running at suboptimal speed within hours.

That didn’t happen. Indeed, she wasn’t up and running at any speed days later.

I considered sending her in for repairs, but an IT expert/friend of a friend advised that it would be more cost effective for me to replace her.

As I appreciate the words “cost effective,” I did a quick search, saw that my preferred company had laptops on sale and planned to order one the next day.

The sale ended before I could place the order, because of course it did.

With no plans to pay full price, I decided to wait for the next sale. But what to do in the interim? How could I pen a post for my dear readers without a computer?

Well, for a few weeks, I used what amounted to a loaner. But I felt like I was taking advantage of the lender. So, then I started penning these-here posts on my iPad.

If you’ve never written anything on a pad or a tablet, imagine sending a 400-plus word text on your phone. Every week. For months. But that represents the lengths I’ll go to for my dear readers.

Who knows how long I would have made these sacrifices if not for my mom and a Black Friday sale.

Of course, at first, I did not react well to my mom’s generous offer to buy me a laptop for Christmas. I think I asked rhetorically, “Do you know how much laptops cost?”

To which she retorted, “No, because you won’t tell me.”

Our heated exchange might have also included her telling me she would spend her money however she expletive well felt like spending it.

Anyway, I consulted my preferred company’s Black Friday sales page, retrieved my abacus, and deduced that, at the sale price, she wouldn’t be dropping an obscene amount of money on me. After all, it’s not like I had my eye on a model that would allow me to play video games or launch rockets. So, I told her I would give her permission to buy me a laptop. She might have rolled her eyes.

No, it’s not yet Christmas. Yes, I am already using the laptop.

This has caused a minor controversy between us. My mom is concerned because I won’t have a gift to open from her. But I opened the box when it came to my house, so that counts, right? Besides, if she wrapped the laptop, that would constitute wasting wrapping paper and tape, which is not cost effective.

Happy Holidays!

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Bad hair day — July 22, 2020

Bad hair day

If the old saying can be believed, then we learn something new every day. I’m not sure that’s true, but one day last week I did learn it’s not a good idea to color one’s hair whilst one suffers from a migraine.

Allow me to explain.

Pre-global pandemic, I paid professionals to color my hair. Sure, there was a period of time in my youth – I spotted the first gray when I was 21 – when I washed that gray right out of my own hair.

Or at least I attempted to do so. Truth be told, I wasn’t that good at the endeavor, which was a tad messy. Indeed, when I finished the task, it looked like a beaver had exploded inside the bathroom.

Eventually, I turned to the professionals and was pleased with the results.

But then the Coronavirus descended upon an unsuspecting world, leaving me with two options – give into the gray or buy a box of color.

So, I bought a box.

Although my technique had improved, the task remained a tad messy. Indeed, when I finished, brown blobs stained the sink, the walls, and my face. But at least the gray was gone and a box of color costs approximately eight dollars, including taxes.

With that in mind, once the salons opened, I decided to continue coloring my own hair.

That brings us to last Saturday. I had spent most of the day in bed, writhing in pain due to a migraine that had haunted me for a week. That evening, however, I experienced a burst of energy. I had plans for Sunday and Monday that would involve humans being exposed to my head, so I decided to color my hair. I opened the box, slipped on a pair plastic gloves, mixed the crème (number one) and the activator (number two), and applied the mixture to my hair.

When I checked my work, I was pleased because no medium brownish streams of color ran down my head. Perhaps, thought I, you’ve found your calling. Perhaps you were meant to color hair.

With the clock ticking, I relocated to the kitchen to wash dishes while the mixture did its work. When the time was up, I returned to the bathroom.

When I checked my work, I was stunned. The top of my head was white.

Thinking I had accidentally bought a box of platinum color, I checked the box. There, I saw my friend, the medium brown model. I couldn’t figure out what had gone so horribly wrong. While I washed the mixture out of my hair, I decided there must have been a mixup at the factory. I decided I would run to the dollar store the next morning and buy another box. Sure, I had wasted approximately eight dollars, including taxes, and my time, but nothing could recoup those losses.

But at least I had gotten a tube of conditioner (number three) for my troubles. But when I picked up the tube, I saw that it was emblazoned with a number one. Because it wasn’t conditioner. It was crème.

That’s right, I had picked up the wrong tube and had applied 55 milliliters of conditioner to my hair.

The way I saw it, I had two options – proceed to the dollar store the following morning or apply the color crème and see what transpired.

So, I applied the color crème.

Whilst this experience does not represent the best method of coloring one’s hair, it did the job. Except for a few strays I missed, the gray is gone. Of course, my head itched for days. What’s more, every time I scratched said head, I spotted medium brown blobs under my fingernails. And, thanks to the conditioner, my hair was so shiny that you could see your reflection in it.

But at least it’s not gray.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Mix and match — July 1, 2020

Mix and match

If you’ve learned anything about me, dear readers, then you should know that I’m a tad thrifty. Sure, sometimes I splurge. In fact, I’ve come to realize – at my advanced age – that potato chips taste better if they come out of smaller bags.

Thus, I’ve been splurging on those jumbo packs, which contain smaller bags that are made to fit inside a child’s lunch box. Buying the snack size has the added bonus of preventing me from splurging on an entire adult size bag of chips in one sitting. Sure, sometimes I realize I want and/or need a second bag of the snack size to feed my chip addiction, but generally one bag does the job.

Anyway, as you might have deduced, I’m one of those annoying thrifty people who enjoys telling everyone how much money she saved on various and sundry items. So, as I was putting away my groceries today, I said to myself, “Self, you must tell dear readers about Super Dollar’s amazing Pick 5 deal.”

Here’s the gist: Pick 5 allows shoppers to mix and match specially-marked meat items for only $19.95. According to the abacus, this means that shoppers pay only $3.99 for each item!

Yes, you read that right!

Although I’ve been taking advantage of this incredible deal for oodles of months (please forgive me for not mentioning it sooner), its mere existence never fails to surprise me. When I reach the check out, I always triple check the monitor and, later, my receipt to make sure it hasn’t been a cruel joke.

So far, it hasn’t. What’s more, several months ago, I happened to be shopping on a day when the Pick 5 deal allowed shoppers to mix and match specially-marked items for only $14.95! I’m not going to lie, I feared I’d be arrested for theft as I exited the store. I also feared I might pass out from excitement.

I usually mix and match chicken breasts, pork chops, and bacon. And since I cut the breasts into smaller tenders, which I then spread across two meals, I’m spending less than two bucks for a meal – of chicken!

Shoppers can also select from, among other items, certain roasts and steaks, ground beef, wieners, and, wait for it, non-meat items such as cheese sticks and microwave-ready/pre-packaged mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and pulled pork.

As great as this is, if they ever offer my brand of potato chips as part of Pick 5, I might never recover from the excitement.

Note: Super Dollar has locations in Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Survey says — February 25, 2020

Survey says

If you’ve bought food and/or sundries at any restaurant and/or store in the last few years, then at least one of your cashiers has probably suggested you take part in a survey. Perhaps said cashier has even circled a phone number on your receipt and noted that by taking the survey, you’d be entered into a drawing to win monies.

In spite of my slight paranoia, a few years ago I took surveys for the Supercenter and the home improvement store. I regret to report that I didn’t win a dime and that the surveys seemed to take dozens of hours to complete. Thus, my career as a taker of surveys was short and sour.

But one day in December, as I completed some last-minute-ish holiday shopping, I swung by the McDonald’s for some nuggets. For some reason, I looked at the back of the receipt and noticed that if I took their survey, I would be able to buy a sausage biscuit or Big Mac and get another one free.

Although I’m not known for having an interest in red meat, I do enjoy the occasional Big Mac. So, I completed the survey and a few weeks later, I cashed in on the BOGO deal. (By the way, the first time I saw BOGO listed on an advertisement, I said to myself, “Self, I’ve never heard of this BOGO brand.”) In case you’re wondering, I dined on one of those Big Macs that very day, put the other one in the fridge, and feasted on it the following day. My arteries can thank me later.

Anyway, you might recall that last week I mentioned my obsession with Wendy’s Asiago chicken sandwich. (As a reminder, it’s not pronounced Asia-go.) As I completed some shopping with my sister last week, I swung by the Wendy’s for one of those delicious sandwiches. And with the memory of the McDonald’s BOGO offer fresh in my memory, I checked my Wendy’s receipt. You can imagine my exhilaration when I saw that they offer a BOGO deal – a single hamburger or regular chicken sandwich — to patrons who complete surveys.

As of this writing, my body is digesting a grilled Asiago chicken sandwich whilst a plain grilled chicken waits its turn in my refrigerator.

There’s supposedly a limit on the number of surveys one can complete in a given amount of time. However, if you have access to multiple gadgets, I’m not sure how they would enforce this. And if you don’t think I would game the system to score some BOGO chicken, then you haven’t been paying attention.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Feed your inner splurge — February 18, 2020

Feed your inner splurge

Whether it’s buying generic toilet paper that’s so thin you could read through it or re-using salad containers, you can count on me to stretch a dollar. (A dollar comprising 100 cents in change that I accumulated by scouring for said change on floors or in parking lots.)

Anyway, due to this thriftiness, it might surprise you to learn there are items and occasions on which I splurge. For example, I buy Lindor chocolate truffles. Yes, I realize a bag that costs in excess of five bucks contains only 20 truffles, which means I’m spending more than a quarter on each truffle. But every time I pop one of those delicious balls of chocolate into my mouth, I consider it (more than) a quarter well spent. Besides, I’m still using that handful of Lindor coupons I scored in November, which means the cost per delicious chocolate ball is less than a quarter.

Although I break my fast every morning with generic oatmeal and lament the fact that I can no longer find generic tea, I buy Toasteds crackers. I also spring for Nestle cocoa mix. (What can I say? Chocolate is important to me.) Of late, however, the stores have not been stocking Nestle, which has caused my stress level to shoot into the stratosphere. Recently, as I stood in the cocoa mix aisle, I debated whether I should buy an inferior brand. Finally, I said to myself, “Self, you’re not getting any weak expletive cocoa.” So, I forked over the money for a “gourmet” brand that’s actually pretty good. (It’s still not as good as Nestle, though.)

And while I don’t dine out every day of the week, I do treat myself to one restaurant meal dern-near every weekend. Lately, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with Wendy’s Asiago chicken sandwich. (By the way, take it from me, it’s not pronounced Asia-go.) When I’m feeling especially frisky, I’ll order the meal. (It’s number 13.) But I make a point to go inside and place my order so that I can choose how much ice to put in my drink. This also means that I can then guzzle said drink and top it off before I vacate the premises.

Yeah, I’m thrifty even when I’m not.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.