» Archive for December, 2008

Why aren’t there coupons at Christmas?

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008 by kara

Lately I’ve been clipping, saving, and using coupons in order to stretch our household dollar. I use a plastic coupon wallet which is carefully divided into different types of grocery store products, and it’s populated with coupons (of course) and a darling little coupon trimmer made by Franklin (which gives you a good idea how old it is, Franklin is now Franklin-Covey), a nicely-functional pen and of course coupons.

I misplace my coupon wallet occasionally, which is really frustrating but understandable because it’s too large to fit into my purse. So at the end of a shopping trip I usually toss it in on top of the groceries in one of the sacks for the trek into the house. Sometimes, though, the wallet falls out of the sack inside the car and ends up underneath the seat, or I leave it in the cart…well, THAT only happened ONCE and I realized it before I even got in the car. Whew. That was close.

The last time I truly misplaced it, I actually lost out on a free sweatshirt from Quik–I had saved all but one proof of purchase to mail in for a free Nestlé Quik hoodie, and I lost the damned coupon wallet. Couldn’t find it anywhere. I actually went to Target and Kroger, the two stores which I frequent, to ask if anyone had found it in a cart and turned it in to lost & found. Nothing.

I harassed my sister Mary up in Michigan, because she’d been visiting us around the time I misplaced the wallet, and I hoped that she’d remember the last time I had the wallet. I must have asked her about it at least 50 times, trying to jog her memory to see if she recalled its last sighting.

I tore the damned house apart, all the while visualizing that hoodie fading away from me like a foggy vision torn apart by the breeze. Grrrr. I HATE losing out on a deal, especially one I’d worked so hard for! I bought those bottles of Quik with coupons, and it took quite a while to collect enough coupons to buy all the necessary bottles at a discount. So there was quite a lot of time and energy that had already been invested into this hoodie.

I went through my entire car and trunk multiple times, stopping short at pulling up the carpeting, because let’s face it–it would show if it had worked its way underneath the carpet and I just didn’t see any telltale lumps.

After a few weeks I bit the bullet and bought a new coupon wallet, exactly like the first one–except this one was cobalt blue and clear, not pink and clear. I began repopulating my new wallet with coupons, and it took a little while but I finally got my coupon stash back to its usual population.

And then for some reason I was in my hubby’s truck and poking around in the armrest/console storage thingie, and THERE WAS MY COUPON WALLET. With my coupon trimmer, my nice, smooth-writing pen, all those Quik proofs-o-purchase, and my shopping list from five weeks ago. I was so happy! And then I was so angry! Because guess what the date was! It was THREE DAYS PAST THE DEADLINE TO MAIL IN THE DAMNED QUIK SWEATSHIRT OFFER.

Mary said “Go ahead and mail it in anyway–it’s not that far past the deadline. I’ll bet they honor it!” So I wrote out the check for postage and handling and tucked it in the mail. I wasn’t very optimistic, but it was a very cool sweatshirt, and Rick really likes Quik.

Six weeks passed and I was starting to feel kind of optimistic about the sweatshirt, because how long would it take them to tell me to “Stuff it! You’re past the deadline, lady! No sweatshirt for YOU!” So they MUST be packaging up my X-Lg Sweatshirt and mailing it out to me!

The next day, I got back my original envelope, marked “Return to Sender–No such address.” So they must have rented that post office box just until the offer’s deadline. But WHY did it take the USPS so long to return my envelope, then?

*Sigh* Yes, I really need to find a hobby.

Getting back to my original topic, which is losing my coupon wallet. I’ve done it again, lost the wallet, can’t find it in any of the expected places. There wasn’t anything as time-critical in there as the Quik proofs of purchase this time, but I did have some Ball Park Frank coupons for the Black Angus dogs, which are NOT to be missed! These things are the Cadillac of hot dogs! Mmmm…black angus…

So after a couple weeks of pissing and moaning, I got out the old pink and clear plastic backup wallet and prepared to start building up my coupon library again. But I didn’t count on it being Christmas season. Apparently retailers think that consumers are so busy buying Christmas gifts that they STOP USING things like shampoo and toilet paper and dishwasher detergent until after New Year’s Day.

I’m here to tell ya that ain’t so. The coupon pickings have been mighty slim over the past few weeks, and I’m feeling like I’m missing a limb when I comb through the sales papers on Sunday. I try not to buy something until it’s on sale AND I have a coupon for it, which means that my grocery list is composed with careful timing. I try to have a backup toothpaste or antiperspirant before we run out, but I have to make sure that I’ve purchased that backup as frugally as possible.

Anyway. If you’re a shopper in the Knoxville area, and you’ve come across a cobalt blue and clear plastic coupon wallet in the basket of your cart, treat it with love. You’ll need to sort through the coupons to get rid of those that have already expired, and the coupon trimmer is pretty much worn out by now–I’ve just kept it as a mement0, really. Enjoy, and may it fill your Sundays with coupon obsession just like it did mine.

Detergent deal and a sad commentary on my life

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008 by kara

Yesterday I went to Big Lots on Kingston Pike here in Knoxville, to stock up on household stuff and health and beauty supplies. I’ve found lots of really good deals at Big Lots, but you’ve got to keep an eye on the prices: For example, a 64-ounce bottle of a brand-name liquid hand soap (all right, I know you can probably guess what brand it is, but still) was FIVE BUCKS, and I know that I can get that same size, same brand soap at Target for $4.64.

I also can get the Target brand soap (same size, same scent) for $3.05, I think–which means I don’t buy the brand-name hand soap refill at all anymore–unless it’s on sale and I have a great coupon.

Since we’re now a one-income family, I’ve made it a priority to try to get the most mileage out of each dollar possible. It’s kind of a game to me to see how much money I can shave off the grocery bill by combining coupons with sales or buying store-brands over national brands, and some days I hit a home run, which is gratifying. Other days I lose coupons and forget which store has the sale and that’s a downer, but suffice it to say that I enjoy challenging myself.

One of the cost-cutting measures I’ve made in the past year has been to change my laundry detergent from Method to Purex. I looooooooove Method’s Fresh Air scent–it’s so very clean, and I personally think the detergent does a great job, especially on whites. And it’s very concentrated, which means that even the 64-load bottle is teeny–but that shizznat’s EXPENSIVE compared to Purex: At Target, the 64-load bottle is $14.99. Before the summer gas-price debacle, I used to could get a 32-load bottle of Purex for $2.34 on sale, with even more savings if I had a coupon for it.

I don’t see coupons for Method brand products very often. 🙁

So, as much as I love the Method detergent, I couldn’t accept the price difference per load: Twenty-three cents per load for Method, compared to SEVEN cents per load for the Purex. Scent and other aesthetics are ludicrously important to me, but so’s money. I bit the bullet and continued to buy the Purex.

Fast-forward to last night, and my quest for household staples. I didn’t really expect to find laundry detergent at Big Lots but I thought I’d look anyway. Since I’ve misplaced my coupon wallet (AGAIN, dammit) I didn’t have any coupons for detergent (which brings up another question regarding why there are no COUPONS in the paper around Christmastime, but I digress), so I wasn’t bound to purchase any particular brand.

I saw an endcap for a big bottle of a national-brand detergent with a smaller sample bottle of liquid fabric softener cello’d to it but I passed that up because I don’t use liquid softener. And then! Lo! Behold! I turned the corner and was greeted by rows of the sweet, petite, curvy Method detergent bottle! Thrity-two ounces of household bliss for only $4! O, joy! O happy day!

Well, it wasn’t Fresh Air scent, it was Sweet Water, Method’s signature scent,but still! I like Sweet Water, too! I put four bottles in the cart and felt that I should have taken more whilst I could lay hands on it, but that might have felt like I was obsessed.

I was mentally rubbing my hands together and chuckling all the way home (I’m telling you, scent is VERY important to me, and I love doing laundry with a lovely detergent!). When I got in the door, I couldn’t WAIT to tell the Pumpkin about my find! I must have looked like a junkie coming home with a badly-needed fix. I explained about the price difference and how that prevented me from using this wonderful detergent and my eyes glittered as I toted the liquid gold to the laundry room.

And the Wonderful Pumpkin suggested that I check the other Big Lots in the area to see if they maybe had this same detergent, but in the Fresh Air scent. I love him so. He completely understands me.

But in the midst of my rush of joy, I realized that I was all ecstatic about laundry detergent. LAUNDRY DETERGENT. How shallow is my life that something as mundane as a sale on laundry detergent can elevate me to ecstasy? :::groan::: I have REALLY got to find a job or do something to broaden my world a little more.

I’ve decided I will go back and buy more today. It really is an excellent bargain for an outstanding laundry detergent. I’m just a little abashed that I was going to approach this with the same verve which I might have used in my youth to pursue INXS concert tickets. Sad, sad, sad.

Are we too stupid to make decisions for ourselves?

Monday, December 29th, 2008 by kara

So I was just ranting about my stove’s cooktop and how much it pisses me off that I can’t simply set a burner temperature to one constant level by turning a knob. I’ve had a lot of trouble using this range, and I just found out from the owner’s manual that the cooktop will “keep the burner set to the temperature that (I) have selected.” I was marveling that I didn’t select a TEMPERATURE, I’d selected a RANGE of temperature for the burner, which I am prepared to adjust if it’s not exactly what I want. So the stove is yanking that rug right out from under me, and to me that’s presumptuous–how can the damn stove know what I want??!

This started me thinking about all the advancements in safety and convenience that are now built into everything. I can recall when anti-lock brakes were introduced for automobiles, and how they were trumpeted as a great safety advancement. For me, they were a great disappointment and frustration–I’d grown up driving cars that had plain ol’ power brakes, and I learned to FEEL the brake pedal and the car when I was braking in slippery conditions. If I discerned that the car was losing traction and the brakes were beginning to lock up, I would let up on the brake, adjust my braking tension and let the wheels become free-rolling again, and maintain control of the car that way. Never had any trouble with standard power brakes.

In fact, I believe I’m a better driver because I learned to drive in Northern Michigan winters without them. As a result, I am very aware of how my vehicle handles in slippery conditions, and how it responds to my adjustments.

Oh, and I was always careful to AVOID FOLLOWING TOO CLOSELY OR DRIVING TOO FAST FOR CONDITIONS. That helped keep my ass out of the fire on MANY occasions. But now there are anti-lock brakes on every vehicle, and drivers have adapted to depend on them functioning even during regular driving conditions, when locking up the brakes would signal to old-timey drivers to SLOW THE HELL DOWN AND GET OFF THE ROADS.

It’s been proven that vehicles with four wheel/front wheel drive and antilock brakes create a false sense of security in drivers because those features mask the very real hazards of bad-weather driving. Just because four wheel drive gives you better starting traction, that doesn’t mean that you should drive as fast as you would in normal conditions. And four wheel drive may help you go faster but it doesn’t help you stop faster on slippery roads, either. Oh–and while antilock brakes may help you stop in a more-controlled fashion on bad roads, they’re going to INCREASE your stopping distance, so it’s even more important NOT to drive fast and tailgate in bad weather. If you’re already driving beyond the prudently-safe speed because you’re depending on four wheel drive and antilock brakes, then you have no tricks left to pull from your sleeve from in a crisis.

What happens to modern-day drivers who might be accustomed to depending on these safety features to keep them safe, and fail to learn safe defensive driving techniques? What happens if the anti-lock sensors FAIL?

If you drive a car with anti-lock brakes, you’re instructed to apply constant, increasingly-firm pressure on the brake pedal when stopping, and to allow the anti-lock sensors to “pulse” the brake pads for you, which avoids locking up the wheels and loss of traction. If you’re old enough to remember driving with plain old power brakes, or even *gasp* non-power brakes, you know that when you’re stopping and you feel the car lose traction, that you’re suppose to “pump” the brake pedal, to slow the wheels without losing traction. With non-antilock brakes, your brain acts as the ‘computer’ to evaluate incoming data, make a decision, and choose a reaction strategy, and then to instruct your body to execute that strategy.

Note that the proper reaction to using antilock brakes in slippery conditions is completely opposite to the technique for using non-antilock brakes. Yeah, it took a little bit of getting used to–just like learning to react to a skid in a front wheel drive vehicle, as opposed to reacting to a skid in a rear wheel drive car. Ideally, you’re supposed to steer INTO a skid if you’re driving a front wheel drive vehicle and you lose traction–this is supposed to allow the front wheels to regain traction and to pull you through the skid. If you’re driving a rear-wheel drive vehicle, you turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction of the skid to counter the unwanted direction, and get the back wheels “back under” the car.

I’ve been in a skid in both types of vehicles, and have found that (as long as you have the presence of mind to REMEMBER THIS SHIT AND THEN PUT IT INTO PRACTISE) it’s very helpful to drop the transmission into neutral while you’re steering into the skid. This disengages the front wheels from the engine and thus from the torque of the engine while it’s winding down, and it allows the front wheels to regain traction much more quickly than they would if they were still being controlled by the speed of the engine. HAH! Make an automotive computer that will do THAT level of thinking for you.

I’ll never forget the first time the antilock brakes deployed on my mother’s car. I was screwing around, trying to do doughnuts in the Glen’s Market parking lot in Rogers City late one snowy night, and all of a sudden the brake pedal felt like it was trying to take off from under my foot. I thought I’d broken it, thought it was going to blow up underneath me. Mind you, I’d deliberately mashed that thing to the floor, TRYING to lock up the brakes and put myself into a nice funhouse skid. But the antilock brakes said “OH NOES! This is not safe! You’ll lose control! Don’t worry–I’ll save you!”

Crap. No more doughnuts, no more motorized daredevil screwing around. Score one for the fun governors of the world. These are probably the same killjoys who insist that we put doofy-looking helmets on our heads while we’re biking and four-point harnesses with high-back seats in the new Radio Flyer ‘wagon.’

Come ON, people! That’s not a wagon! THIS is a WAGON, complete with a metal bed upon which you can clonk the back of your head, hard plastic wheels that will take the skin off the top of your foot when it runs over you, and a steel handle suitable for tying your faithful family dog to (or hitting yourself in the forehead with–that’ll leave a mark).

I wonder if we’re losing the ability to think critically and react effectively to crises because we have so many machines to “think” for us. Even in something as basic as writing a letter (er, e-mail), the spellchecker makes it unnecessary for us to have to actually look up a word in the dictionary…heck, Merriam-Webster online makes it unnecessary to even have a physical dictionary in the house!

I’m all for safer products, but only to a point. I have to wonder if all these ‘safety features’ and conveniences added on to modern products are only serving to dumb us down rather than make our lives easier. If I don’t have to THINK about the burner setting on my range, does that make me less-capable of dealing with things that I DO have to think about, such as what speed I drive my car? If I don’t have to THINK about steering the wagon while keeping the handle away from my face, does that make me less-vigilant about OTHER objects approaching my head at high speed?

Going back to the Radio Flyer, it was a rite of passage for us children to have dumped out of the wagon on the terrifying and exhilarating flight down the hill in Geoble’s Woods–it was fun until the wagon started tipping, then it was scary, then it was painful. We learned valuable lessons from that–don’t navigate hills that are beyond you and your wagon’s capabilities, and sometimes something is painful enough to override the fun-ness of it all. I’d like to think that these lessons were corrollaries of natural selection–not quite as harsh, but still serving to highlight the stronger and smarter of the species. Always look for the handle-shaped bruise on the other kid’s forehead before following them down the hill in your own wagon.

Oh my GAWD do I hate my cooktop

Saturday, December 27th, 2008 by kara

I didn’t choose the appliances that are currently in my kitchen. That’s nothing new: I haven’t chosen the appliances in ANY of my kitchens so far. I’ve always just lived with the appliances that were there when we moved in. The difference between our previous houses and this current one is that I just haven’t had a tremendous problem with the kitchen appliances until we moved here. We haven’t had the luxury of renovating our kitchen to our own tastes yet, but I’m REALLY looking forward to doing that now.

In our last house (aka “The Beautiful Little House in Saline”) the kitchen had been newly renovated by the previous owner, probably to make it easier to sell when she found a larger place. She was not a kitchen fan, however, so everything was very gently used. That definitely worked for us!img_1967There’s a picture from when we were looking at the house. Please note the high chair is NOT ours. 🙂

The kitchen was beautiful, with like-new appliances and more custom cabinetry and storage space than any other kitchen I’ve ever seen. It was a great layout with lots of counter space and a built-in, Corian-topped bar, which allowed me to be very productive, plus it boasted a really nice gas range. I grew up cooking on an electric range/oven, and frankly, the idea of natural gas and pilot lights frightened me at first. After I’d had a chance to use a gas range, I understood its superior performance for cooking. Immediate heat, and immediate LACK of heat–you can control your cooking temperature much more efficiently with a gas range than with an electric range, which has heating elements that heat and cool slowly, which must be figured in to your cooking time.

Plus, if you want to get fancy-shmancy and do something like ‘roast peppers until blackened’ you can do that over a gas range without having to go outside and uncover the grill. We hosted more get-togethers in the Beautiful Little House In Saline than anywhere else.

So, yeah. If you’ve not figured it out by now, I REALLY miss that house and its kitchen.

Fast-forward to the current day, and our current house. It’s not bad, really, but it’s not great like the Beautiful Little House in Saline. It’s got a huge, amazing yard that’s already fenced, on a dead-end street with mature hardwood trees in the front yard. It has 2 1/2 bathrooms which is absolutely vital for me, and really nice for guests. There’s a rec room downstairs with a fireplace and laminate wood flooring with a walk-out slider to the backyard, which will be fantastic for entertaining, once I get it whipped into shape.

But there’s no hardwood floors hiding under decrepit carpet for an instantaneous and INEXPENSIVE UPGRADE here, no almost-new kitchen appliances, and sadly enough, no huge, horsetrough-sized 1960’s bathtub. It’s only taken Rick and I the purchase of three houses, but I think we’re really beginning to understand what’s really important to us both in terms of home features.

When we bought this house, we bought it for the location and for the yard, and the rec room and all the bathrooms. We knew there’d be things that needed to be redone, like the french doors to the backyard deck that were hung incorrectly, and now are warped and harder to open and close than someone else’s bank vault, and the tired-ass carpeting that really needs to be ripped up and replaced with hardwood flooring…and the kitchen. We knew that we’d like to remodel the kitchen in whatever house we bought, unless of course we lucked out and found one in which the previous owner had already done that.

So we accepted that we’d have to live with the older-but-still-perfectly-functional appliances until we could get some money together to design our own kitchen.

But that won’t be happening for a while. The fridge is new, so I can’t complain about that. The dishwasher is old and noisy, and not very efficient, with weirdly-sized racks that fit none of our drinking glasses. I’m considering using my former boss’ tip for breaking dishwashers to try to get a new one courtesy of our home warranty. He shared this one day while we were talking about our old dishwasher back in Highland Township. He said “If you really want to break it completely, make a pan of lasagna, eat half of the pan, then leave the other half in the fridge, uncovered, until it dries out completely. Then put it in the dishwasher without scraping anything out. Apparently, this will kill the dishwasher, breaking the impeller or something else that’s really expensive, and it will be less costly to just buy a new one.”

I said “You speak of this as if from personal experience.” He just said “Yep. Dried lasagna is hell on dishwashers.”

But the dishwasher is not that important to me. We usually run it at night when we’re going to sleep, and the noise is actually a pleasant mask for drowning out incidental sounds that might keep us awake.

The stove, on the other hand, is a problem. it’s my biggest bitch and I’m certain that Rick is very very very tired of hearing me swear and cuss it out every time I use it. It’s a Whirlpool RF376PXDZ 1 with a Ceram by Schott cooktop. I do have to admit that the ceramic solid surface is much easier to clean after a boil-over, which is fortunate–because I have so goddamned many boil-overs with this range. The heating of the burners doesn’t seem to be consistent or even predictable. If I put a pot of potatoes on to simmer for mash, it takes for-freaking-EVER for them to even come to a boil, and then when I try to turn them down, there is no setting low enough to keep them simmering without boiling over. Dammit. I AM NOT A NOVICE. I KNOW HOW TO BOIL POTATOES FOR MASHING.

And if I’m trying to heat broth for making gravy? Can’t get it hot enough. Same for stir-frying–you’re supposed to get that oil hot before you even put food in the pan–but it takes forever to get it hot enough and I never seem to wait long enough, so it’s more of a stir-simmer.

But on the OTHER hand, if I’m making rice pudding? Which requires a hellaciously long simmer at a very low heat? This stove will burn that shit EVERY time. I don’t think it’s my cookware, because all my pans have flat bottoms, which is a prerequisite with this cooktop.

In fact, I just downloaded the manual for the stove, and it says “Cooking on the ceramic glass cook top is almost the same as cooking on a coiled surface units, but there are a few differences:

The surface unit will glow red when it is
turned on. You will see the element cycling
on (glowing red) and off – even on HI
setting -to maintain the proper tempera-
ture setting you have selected.”

Okay. That explains a lot, the whole ‘element cycling on and off’ thing. This is one of those computerized ‘advancements’ which are supposed to do half the think-work of cooking for me, “to maintain the proper temperature setting you have selected.” Wait a minute–I selected the number on the freaking dial–that should either be low, medium, or high, or various settings between those intensity ranges.

If I set it on “HI” I want that puppy to heat up and stay heated up. If I turn it on “MED” I want it to STAY on MED. There’s no temperature dial on those knobs–I didn’t expect it to be keeping track of the actual TEMPERATURE of the element. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’M the person operating the stove and cooking the food–isn’t it MY job to monitor the temperature, and adjust the damned knob accordingly??!? No WONDER the bastardly thing isn’t working right! It’s trying to THINK for me!

*Sigh* Gimme another quality gas range, which will allow me to set the height of the flame–and keep it right there for me.

And yes, I do have control issues–why do you ask?

Bah. Dammit. Turkey THAWED, for once.

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008 by kara

Okay, you’ll love this: You’ll remember from previous posts how much trouble I have de-freaking-frosting a frozen-freaking-turkey in time to prepare it, right? I bought Rick a 20-pound turkey as a Christmas present (he really LIKES turkey) and wanting to be PROactive instead of REactive, I put the damn thing into the fridge a week ago. On the bottom shelf.

And because turkeys in my refrigerator NEVER thaw, I didn’t bother putting the dang thing on a plate. It just plunked and skidded on the bottom shelf of the fridge, where I assumed it would remain FROZEN just like the last two have done, until I took it out the day before preparing it to thaw it in a cold-water bath.

Yep. You guessed it. Checked it this evening, and the damn thing DEFROSTED. All over the bottom of my refrigerator. SHIT.

You should know that ‘cleaning the refrigerator’ is one of my least-favorite activities. It’s tied for first place on that list with ‘having a gynecological exam’ and ‘dental work.’ Why? I don’t really know, because it’s not as germ-laden as picking up dog poop in the backyard, nor as cleaning the bathroom. I just HATE IT. Don’t know why. So I wussed out and cleaned the fridge using a bunch of Chlorox wipes and paper towels. I know I should have used hot soapy water with a little bit of bleach, but screw it. I am lazy, and proud of it. And yeah, now the turkey is sitting on a serving platter. Better late than never, I guess.

Is it Christmas yet?

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008 by kara

This year I’m just waiting for Christmas to be done with. I haven’t been in the holiday spirit for quite a while, and just now, tonight, CHRISTMAS EVE, I put a bunch of Christmas cards in the mailbox.

Because that happened after 5:30 p.m., I’m guessing that nobody will get their cards until after Christmas. But it’s the thought that counts, right? And I haven’t stopped THINKING about anybody–I just couldn’t muster enough energy/Christmas spirit/whatever to get the cards out and address them.

That’s sad, because one of my favorite (and only) holiday rituals is sending out Christmas cards to everyone in my address book. Even if I’m too lazy to take time during the rest of the year to catch up with their lives, Christmas gives me the opportunity to think of each and every friend and family member, and wish them well while writing out their Christmas card.

My sister Andrea has always included a family photo in their Christmas cards which I find to be a wonderful touch, especially as her children have all grown up now. From what I’ve heard corralling adult children for a group photo or other activity is about as easy as herding cats, so she is to be applauded for consistently getting that photo every year. Plus, it helps us stay in touch with her family since they live on the other side of the continent. Literally.

Rick and I did a family photo for last year’s Christmas cards, our first one. At that point, we only had Belle (black lab & beagle mix) and Riley (English springer spaniel fieldy), so a group photo was do-able using the timer on our digital camera. Of course, Belle and Riley were looking up at RICK AND I and NOT at the camera, but hey, what did I expect?

This year, we have added Skipper and Gigi, our two cocker spaniel foster failures, to the mix, which would have made using the camera’s timer a fruitless and pointless endeavor. Karen agreed to come over and squeak a toy and then take the picture for us while Rick and I each got a couple of dogs in a headlock, but things just got so busy with wrapping at Borders and stuff that we never got together to get the photo. Next year, then. I think I’ll even start addressing the envelopes now, just to get into the mood.

I do hope that you and your loved ones can find some peace and joy this holiday season, whatever it is you’re celebrating. And I hope that you’re lucky enough to be near the ones you love, and that you can tell them how much you love them.

Why dogs need rescue: A prime example

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008 by kara

So yesterday was Cocker Companions Rescue’s final day of wrapping at Borders Books in the Turkey Creek Shopping Center in Knoxville. Did I tell you about this? Borders Books is very generous–every Christmas season they offer free wrapping to their customers, and then they invite various not-for-profit groups to come in and do the wrapping in shifts, allowing the volunteers to keep any tips for their organizations.

Borders furnishes the wrapping paper, tape, bows, and everything else, and all the volunteers have to supply are the materials explaining about their group in particular. What a fantastic opportunity for us as a dog rescue group to make contact with people who wouldn’t ordinarily hear about Cocker Companions Rescue!  While we wrap, we can explain our mission and talk about why cockers need rescue, and make some money to pay off our bills at the same time!

Plus, it’s a neat way to try to get into the holiday spirit, which I’ve really been lacking this year: Just try being bummed out while you’re wrapping gifts for someone else, and seeing everyone rushing around to find the perfect gift! We’re gonna hafta send the people at Borders a REALLY NICE thank-you card.

Anyway. Yesterday was our last wrapping shift for this season, and about half-way through, an ELDERLY GENTLEMAN was standing in line at the register when he asked me (me!) “why you’ve gotta have those dogs outside harassing people who just want to shop?”

You’ll notice ‘elderly gentleman’ is capitalized. That’s because I don’t know this man’s name and any other descriptive words I’d use for him would need lots of asterisks in the middle to mask their true nature from some delicate minds out there in Interwebz Land, Gentle Readers.

The ELDERLY GENTLEMAN proceeded to question me (again, why ME?) why we have to be so invasive with our ‘rescue stuff’ and WHY rescue is necessary for dogs. “Whose business is it if I’m abusing a dog, anyway? It’s just a DOG, after all. It’s nobody else’s business what I do with my dogs. They’re JUST animals.”

Honest to Pete. That’s what he said. I don’t know WHY he chose to address me.  Anyone who knows me knows that I have a terrible temper and very little patience for ignorance.  And there were three other CCR volunteers behind the wrapping table right then, including Karen–ANY of those people would have been far less potentially violent than I am. Maybe he’s an adrenalin junkie, and recognized my thinly-masked potential for extreme violence. Maybe he was actually hoping for a fight, and knew that I’d be the most sporting opponent of all the dog lovers there.

My first impulse was to hurt him terribly with the tape dispenser clenched in my left hand. Since I’m right handed, I realized immediately that this would be far less effective than I truly desired and not worth the assault charges, and put that impulse behind me. He has no idea how close he came to genuine, extreme pain.

My second impulse was to explain to this ELDERLY GENTLEMAN that attitudes like his are the main reason that rescue IS necessary, and that thankfully most people do NOT share his cavalier attitude toward animal neglect and mistreatment.

But since I’m not very good at thinking or talking in a pinch like that, I probably would have just unloaded a garbled stream of explicit verbal abuse on him. Luckily I stopped to consider that I was in a business which was being overwhelmingly supportive to my beloved organization, and that I was REPRESENTING said organization, and that anything other than a civil reply would reflect badly on both the aforementioned. Therefore I chose instead to fix a cheery smile on my face, terminate this pointless and brainless discussion, and wish the ELDERLY GENTLEMAN a happy Christmas. Very loudly. And with several additional, unspoken wishes for his future health and happiness. But the strain was telling, and even though I was still technically smiling, (muscles at each side of my face contracted, showing teeth) I was officially done talking with this man.

Karen noticed at this point that my expression was no longer a legitimate smile but rather something infinitely more frightening, and when she intervened I advised her that it was pointless to try to explain our concerns to this asshat and just let him go upon his jaundiced little way.

The ELDERLY GENTLEMAN continued loudly expressing his views, that dog rescue was foolish and unnecessary, as well as an invasion of privacy and that HE’D never come back to Borders if they were all foolish dog lovers like the dog rescuers.

Karen ran outside to check on the volunteers who were showcasing fuzzies, and found that they’d already had an encounter with the ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. They agreed to keep our darling furkids far away from this troll when he exited.

Back in the store, the ELDERLY GENTLEMAN had finally been rung up and was on his way out of the building. What was truly gratifying is that all the customers who’d been standing in line around him came back to us and apologised for his rudeness, many of them making a contribution to our donation jar. Thank God for wonderful, caring, open-minded people like these, because they help to balance out the rest of them who cause misery and suffering wherever they go.

Not everyone is like the ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. In fact, his type make up a minority of the population. But there are enough of them, and the damage they do is sizable enough, to keep rescue groups in business.

And thank goodness for all the others out there who help to balance him out–the people who care and contribute, who stop to share the stories of their own beloved pets, and who empathize with us in our efforts to help make life better for these noble beings. They give us hope that maybe we are accomplishing some good. So thank you for YOU, Gentle Readers, you know who you are.

Missing family and being away for the holidays

Monday, December 22nd, 2008 by kara

It just doesn’t feel like Christmas for us, at all. I don’t think that will change, especially since we’ve only got a couple of days before Christmas is all over us. I think the worst part is the fact that we’re going to be away from our family and friends for the second year in a row. Last year at Thanksgiving and Christmas, we had just finished buying our house here in Knoxville, and we were still getting settled, as well as being VERY short of money; it was a given that we’d tough out the holidays being apart from everybody.

This year, however, is going to be the second consecutive year we’ve spent away, which we didn’t really plan on doing. We’re staying home and being particularly careful with money because we’re faced with the possibility that Rick may lose his job. His company has kept him and his co-workers in suspense since about mid-October with several sizable layoffs, restructuring and rumors of the company folding, and I’m here to tell you that this protracted mindfuckery is torturous. Are they trying to wear most of their employees down and make them find employment elsewhere? That would certainly cut down on the number of severance packages they’d have to fund.

And while my hubby is a sterling, valuable employee who brings home the bacon with startling regularity, I am not half as valuable as is he. I don’t have a usable college degree, and the last eight years of my work experience consist of technical support for outdated computer software on an operating system platform which holds less than 25% of the commercial and business marketplace. So it’s a good bet that I’M not going to be able to find a job (or even three or four jobs) making what Rick makes. In the time we’ve lived here, I’ve become very active in dog rescue instead of being employed for a paycheck, and that’s very rewarding to me personally. Rick agrees that this is important work, and he’s glad that I’m able to do it as well as spend much of the day at home with our own dogs–but let’s face it, rescue really don’t pay well. Scratch that–it don’t pay AT ALL, and that’s not helping us to pay the heating bill and buy prescription kibble for the dogs.

So due to our lack of funds, we’re staying home THIS year as well. And we’re not buying presents because we may not have any income after December, so we’re triply knocked out of the holiday spirit. Even the most basic of holiday activities, sending Christmas cards and baking cookies, has no appeal for me right now.

I’m not adjusting well to being away from our family and friends. I really, really, really miss everyone, much more than I thought I would, and especially around this time of year. And with the gas prices and the precariousness of our employment situation down here, we haven’t made it home as often as we thought we would, which makes Tennessee feel even further from Michigan.

And today we got bad news about Rick’s grandpa–his blood pressure and heart rate dropped precipitously this morning, landing him in the intensive care unit with plans to install a pacemaker. Rick’s grandpa has been through a lot of different trials in his life and he’s had some health issues recently, so we were very concerned. Very fortunately, his pacemaker installation went well and he’s now in a regular hospital room instead of in the ICU, but this just underscores the need for us to plan a visit home, soon. We’ve been away too long without a visit. It won’t be in time for Christmas, but we’ll make it home to see everyone sooner than later.

The many facets of rescue, and the joys of transport

Sunday, December 21st, 2008 by kara

Since I’m not doing anything else worthwhile in the field of employment right now, I try to do as much work as I can in dog rescue. I like dogs, generally speaking, and in fact, I generally like most dogs better than some people. Dogs can’t really speak up for themselves and I think that they deserve to have as many people going to bat for them as possible. And there are a surprising number of dogs and companion animals that need rescue.

For example, over 12,000 animals were euthanized at the Young-Williams Animal Center here in Knoxville, TN during 2007. That’s a lot of companion animals who didn’t find their way back home, or into a new home. On the other hand, my sister Mary was having difficulty in adopting a dog from her local shelter back in St. Clair, MI, because there were so few stray animals that the shelter had a WAITING LIST of people who wanted to adopt. Talk about the difference between ‘night and day’. Mary adopted her newest little boy, Dudley, from the Young-Williams Animal Center back in August, when she and her son and daughter were visiting. Here’s Dudders:

Dudley Knoxville, now of St. Clair, MI

I’m here to tell you that this darling little guy really fell into a bed of roses in my sister’s house. He’s very loved and indulged (but NOT spoiled, never spoiled!) and thank goodness for that, but what about all the other animals who aren’t lucky enough to find their forever home with someone who will care for them so well?

And why are there so many unwanted animals here? The general attitude toward companion animals is very different here than it is in my home state. Many people seem to view their pets not so much as living, sentient beings as possessions. There are many ‘backyard breeders’ and puppy mill owners who get a male dog and a female dog of a particular variety, and then they put “Part A” together with “Part B” and end up with a litter of (badly-bred) purebred puppies, which they then turn around and sell. Just try to explain to someone like this that it’s unethical to exploit a companion animal so shamelessly for profit, without caring for the animal and at least offering medical care and love in exchange for its reproductive capabilities, and you’ll be greeted with a blank stare and “Well, it’s JUST a DOG” as an explanation or rationalization.

And much of the problem also lies in unintentional litters, resulting when people don’t want to spend money to alter their dog–or don’t bother to do so. Many people in this part of the country don’t seem to understand the importance of spaying and neutering their pets, and then accidentally end up with a litter of little animals for which they need to find homes.

I talked with a woman a few weeks ago who had never been a pet parent before. She and her husband had gotten a male dog as a companion for their female dog. They didn’t realize that even though they’re supposed to be brother and sister that they could (and WOULD) still get together and make puppies. They ended up with a litter of EIGHT. Then they weaned the puppies at FIVE WEEKS OF AGE and proceeded to sell them off because they didn’t want to be inconvenienced by the puppies over the holidays. This presents a number of different problems, the biggest of which is that the puppies, lacking the guidance of their mother and interaction with their littermates, are missing out on VITAL, ESSENTIAL lessons on being a happy, well-balanced dog. In order for puppies to grow into calm, self-assured and mannerly dogs, they need to be around their mother and siblings so that the mother can discipline them, and so that they can learn from playing with their siblings that biting HURTS and that they shouldn’t do it to other dogs and people, among other basics truths.

Separate a puppy from its family too soon and you end up with a fearful, potentially fear-aggressive dog that will require tremendous training and conditioning to become a good canine citizen. Those lessons taught by Mommy and littermates are vital to the healthy and timely development of the puppies’ personalities, and as long as the puppies can stick around long enough to learn them, their training needs are cut by more than half.

These people didn’t realize that they were potentially harming all these puppies psychologically. They were just concerned with getting rid of them as soon as possible. The woman did say that she was worried that someone would get the pups and start a mini-puppy mill and that she didn’t want her puppies to be used for breeding, but she didn’t do anything to PREVENT that from happening.

So just from this one situation there are eight puppies out there who may potentially act out as a result of lack of socialization during their development, sold to people who don’t have any experience with dogs and who won’t be able to deal with the behavioral problems…who may eventually turn around and take their “rotten, mean, snappy” dogs to the shelter, or turn them over to a rescue for someone else to deal with. And that’s only eight puppies so far–what if those puppies grow up and, unspayed/neutered, start unwanted families of their own? More dogs for rescues to try to help.

Here’s an alarming statistic: An unspayed female dog and her mate, all of their puppies, and all of their puppies’ puppies, will produce 67,000 dogs in only six years if none of them are ever spayed or neutered. PLEASE, people, spay and neuter your companion animals, and leave breeding to the professionals who care about the health and well-being of the animals, and have the knowledge to preserve the integrity of the breed. There are so many animals out there that are in need of rescue, that you shouldn’t have to “make your own.”

And spay/neuter will NOT change your dog’s personality or make them fat. Dogs become fat for the same reasons that PEOPLE become fat: Too much food and too little exercise. In fact, spay/neuter can protect your pet from diseases associated with reproductive organs, like prostate, ovarian and uterine cancers and pyometra. Unlike humans, dogs do NOT need to have a litter of puppies to feel “fulfilled”–they’re fulfilled when YOU, their human, pay attention to them and love and cherish them.

If you’re concerned about cost, there are more than likely many low-cost spay/neuter clinics around you. For instance, at Planned Pet-Hood in Harriman, TN, spay/neuter services start at $25. Cost is determined by the weight and sex of your dog, but whatever type of dog you have, Planned Pet-Hood makes it imminently affordable to have him or her fixed. No excuses. The Young-Williams Animal Center of Knoxville has a whole page devoted to the need for spay/neuter services here and they even offer a FREE spay/neuter program for Knoxville city and Knox County residents, so AGAIN, no excuses.

So we’ve talked about how dogs come to need rescue. How about the ways that they need help? There are so many: A rescued dog most likely needs veterinary care, may need to be groomed and cleaned, and lots of times they also need to be socialized, which is a another word for ‘learning to live companionably among people.’ They also need to find their way to wherever it is that they’re wanted–a place they can call home. For many dogs, that home is sometimes miles away, either with a foster home which can help the dog become more appealing to potential adopters, or with a ‘forever home’ with a new petparent or family.

How do rescued dogs make it to their new homes, which can be thousands of miles away? This can be difficult because dogs don’t drive very well, and lacking opposable thumbs, they don’t have jobs so they can’t have credit cards to buy themselves plane tickets to get there. And regardless how much you may love dogs and want to help them, I’m guessing there are very few people out there willing to drive across the country to pick up their new best friend. That makes this next part pretty awesome: There are people across the country who want to help rescued animals, who voluntarily work together to donate their time, gas money, and chauffeur services to move these dogs (and other animals) around.

Some people, like me, are associated with rescue groups, and they’ve learned about transporting these dogs through their rescue contacts. Others are just caring people who want to help–a couple of weeks ago, I met a wonderful woman who drove a leg in a transport of a senior citizen Brittany spaniel named Snoopy. She read an advert on Craig’s List asking for help transporting Snoopy to his new foster home in Michigan, and she volunteered to drive him one of the legs in his journey from Alabama to Michigan. Seriously! I’m getting ferklempt just thinking about it.

Yesterday I helped with another transport, this one for National Brittany Rescue and Adoption Network (NBRAN). I and 28 other people agreed to drive 23 legs from Little Rock, AR to help get three Brittanies to their new foster or adoptive homes in Vermont and New Jersey. Some of these people were co-pilots who helped wrangle the dogs, and let’s don’t forget the dogs’ overnight host, too.

Isn’t that amazing, that so many people agreed to come together and arrange their schedules to move these lucky dogs? Kathy Boje was our coordinator this time, orchestrating all of us into the proper places and times, which is an epic accomplishment in itself. And even though bad weather in the northeast paused this transport in its second day, other arrangements are being made to get these dogs to their new homes by Christmas. Even though I often feel helpless and disheartened by the never-ending need for rescue, all I have to do is think of the wonderful people I’ve met while doing a transport, and their help buoys me up and reminds me that I’m not alone in caring.

If you’d like to help, you can use the amazing connective power of the interwebs to search out rescue groups in your area. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of doing something purely for the benefit of someone else, plus maybe a loving, appreciative lick on the nose. 🙂

More yeast-bread whining

Saturday, December 20th, 2008 by kara

My Wonderful Pumpkin is champing at the bit for me to cut this loaf of freshly-baked banana bread:

Freshly-made banana bread

Mmm. Look at that thing. That is a loaf of steamy, hot, banana-y goodness right there. Still too hot to slice, because I just took it out of the oven. The Pumpkin’s gonna have to wait a few minutes.

That’s how we sold our house in Michigan, by the way. Every single time we had a showing scheduled, I’d run through a do a quick cleaning, and then I’d bake something. Sometimes the baking was nothing more than a casserole dish of apples, Splenda, cinnamon and butter, thrown into the microwave for 10 minutes and allowed to stew. Then after the showing, I’d come home and dish them up with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top and enjoy dessert.

But the banana bread…oh, the banana bread. Heavenly. Does anyone out there NOT like banana bread?? Anyway. The woman who was looking at our house was pregnant, and when she encountered the heavenly scent of freshly-baked fruit loaf, she was hooked. Was that wrong of me? >:)

She even mentioned it at closing: “You know, that banana bread…that was pretty cruel to do to a pregnant woman.” Hmm. That WAS cruel of me. I should have sliced some for them and left it on the breakfast bar with some honey butter.

But if I can make such a celestial loaf of banana bread, WHY can I not make a simple loaf of yeast-risen bread?? Arrgh. I’m going to go make a tuna sandwich and see how well tuna and banana get along.