Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Fight To Be Frugal

Gas is $3.19 a gallon near our house. So we drove down the road where we know it's going to be less, $2.95 a gallon last night in Ypsilanti. Since we needed to visit the Secretary of State to purchase vehicle plates, I dropped Wendy off there and drove to get the cheap(er) gas.

Cars were lined up, even blocking part of a five-lane highway. When I got in line myself, cars were turned every which way trying to maneuver. It was like the bumper car ride at the local amusement park, except cars were inches away from eachother trying NOT to bump. Soon I learned why. There was only one pump open. But I was in the right line, quietly waiting, happy as a clam, as horns blew and drivers stewed around me.

That's me. I'll go the extra mile to save a dime. I have one of those rewards credit cards from the local department store, which occasionally has a special day where I can save 15 percent on general merchandise. This includes phone cards. Since we have one of those cell phones where you pay for minutes by purchasing a pre-loaded phone card, I can save $3 on a $20 card.

But last time I tried this, there were no $20 phone cards to be found in the store. They started at $30 and went up. We don't use our cell phone card that much. Has anyone noticed the conspiracy afoot with businesses all trying to get you to consume more than you ordinarily would? Like discount coupons you clip now ask you to buy multiple quantities before you get a discount?

Bunch a hooey, I say. So I went scouting for a $20 phone card. Inspected each check-out line, since I knew they usually stock them there. Only $30 or $50 cards. Dang! So I went back to where they sold them in bulk. Maybe hidden among them was a $20 card. Bingo! I had to remove about 100 $30 cards from their spool and replace them, but I got my $20 card. And I only paid $17 for it. El Cheapo Dave strikes again.

Frequent flier miles, loyalty programs, stores like Costco and Sam's Club where you pay a tidy annual membership for the privilege of buying in bulk, buy now pay later . . . I say beware. It's a fight to be frugal. Here's a little story I heard recently: my cousin went to a casino with $50 to spend. Of course, many casinos now have slots that don't accept quarters or coins of any kind. You pre-pay your money and get a card that resembles a credit card, then insert the card into the slot machine of your choice.

My cousin did that, putting her card into the slot machine and pushing the button to spin the wheel of fortune. Except that she inadvertently pushed the wrong button. Instead of betting a quarter or a dollar, she was letting it all ride. One spin, goodbye $50. I think these cards are a win-win proposition for the casinos; how many others have made similar mistakes?

So back to my cheap gas. It took me nearly a half hour, but I got it. Then I drive on to the Secretary of State, hoping that Wendy was finished there. Nope. She had taken a number along with about 50 other people waiting there. See, Michigan has closed many of its Secretary of State offices in its efforts to save the state money. It would be more than another half hour before we would finally get our turn.

*Sigh* Everyone's fighting to be frugal nowadays.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Don't Outlive Your Liver

Checking my sitemeter recently, I noticed someone from Jeromeville, Ohio had been visiting my blog regularly. Everytime I checked my blog, he had been there too, almost as if he were shadowing my every move. Then I figured it out. It was ME. Somehow, my Verizon internet provider had switched my location.

I don't even know where Jeromeville is, but I'm sure not anywhere near Ann Arbor, Michigan. Then later I noticed another frequent visitor to my blog from Henderson, Indiana. Turns out that was me too. Verizon had changed up again. Big Dave was on the move!

Don't know where I'll end up next. I did notice on my sitemeter that I've had my 18,000th visitor (of which about 5,000 were probably me). That's since I started blogging about two and a half years ago. Throughout that time, my most popular blog, at least for international visitors, remains one I wrote on my search for Creme de Grand Marnier back in January of 2006. Just in the last few days, that blog received hits from someone in Turkey and another in Israel.

In fact, this past week I received a comment on that blog. A reader said he had a bottle of Creme de Grand Marnier in its original packaging and was interested in selling it (it's no longer being produced). Well, maybe he can sell it to that visitor from Israel. From what I know now, that bottle of Creme De Grand Marnier is no longer a potable liquor.

I'm no expert on alcohol, though. So here's one hit on my blog that was kind of surprising. A visitor from England ran across my blog by Googling the phrase, "How far can I push my liver?"

Whoa, that's scary! I'm wondering if this Englishman wasn't a bloke in a pub with internet access whose buddy just asked, "Are ye up for another pint?" I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say that if you're asking how far can you push your liver, you've already pushed it far enough.

That blog hit was almost as scary as the visitor from Malaysia who found my blog by Googling, "Russians need to take at least two shots of vodka before going out of their house." That so? Thank god my son who studied in Russia this past summer survived. Must be a lot of tipsy drivers wheeling about the roads there.

Anyway, I hope my blogging buddies out there celebrate Thanksgiving in moderation. Happy Turkey day! Eat, drink and be merry. But whatever you do, don't push your liver too far.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Crafty People

So I was in line for the annual holiday craft show at the old neighborhood high school this past weekend. This is by far the biggest local event of the year. Outside it's bumper to bumper. Inside, it's elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip. Very crowded. And of course, almost all women.

So I am in line and the lady taking the $3 entrance fee asks, "Aren't you a crafter?" I tell her, no. She responds, "Oh, I'm sorry", as if the question were offensive somehow.

Hea, what can I say. Somewhere muddled in my double helix of DNA there's a shopping gene.

Besides, I like to Xmas shop for my own people, co-workers and the like. The big attraction at this particular craft show is any non-electrical outdoor Christmas decoration on a pole--something you can drive into the ground. Snowman birdfeeders, Santa on a stick . . . stuff like that.

Last year I ordered from a crafter about a dozen hand-painted Christmas boxes for my colleagues at work. I planned to fill each with Christmas candy. But this lady didn't have enough on hand; she would have to make them first. We arranged to meet at a local coffeehouse then for the delivery.

A couple weeks later, as I approached the coffee shop from across the street, I spied a little girl about seven years old whose nose was pressed against the glass inside and whose eyes got bigger as she watched me approach. Then a big smile crossed her face, almost as if I were Santa himself coming to meet her. It was the crafter's daughter. To watch her mother make a "big" $60 transaction was obviously too cool for her.

I thought about all the time this lady put into these boxes, not to mention paying for the raw materials, then driving about 30 miles one-way to deliver them to my town. It makes me wonder how much money these crafters make. Just purchasing space for a booth can run easily over $100 for the local show.

A co-worker of mine says his wife is a crafter herself, displaying her home-made scarves and comforters at various craft shows. When my colleague asked her what her financial goal was at the latest event, she said her primary goal was to pay back her set-up fee and break even. But he said this was pretty much the financial equivalent of buying all the materials, spending hours creating the crafts, then going down to the local streetcorner and giving them away free.

This didn't seem to phase his crafty spouse. Afterall, it's the thrill of creating something personal, then knowing that somebody is paying for the privilege of putting it into their own house for everyone's enjoyment.

Guess this is a difference between men and women. The joy of sharing around the holidays is enough for women. For men, there's got to be a profit in it too.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

BD's Yard Of Horrors

Yeah, I know Halloween is over. But because of a groundswell of requests--well, a couple of you anyways--I decided to try to put up some pictures of "Big Dave's Yard of Horrors"--much like it looked like on October 31st.

Absent this year was my nephew Mike who has hidden in that coffin above in past years. This year's trick-or-treaters seemed to remember, as many left plenty of space between themselves and the coffin as they approached my porch, some even casting a sideways glance to make sure nothing human or inhuman emerged.

A father asked his young boy, who appeared to be about ten, to go ahead and open the coffin lid. His charge steadfastly refused. But the dad was too curious as to what might lie under the door that said, "Do Not Open." So he approached carefully, flashlight in hand. As he did, the boy kept right on his coattails. "Go ahead, dad," he said. "I'm right behind you."
So they got to see my "weredummy." A few others peeked inside during the course of Halloween night too. "See it's just a dummy," one mother told her young kids. But I did notice that NOBODY poked the shape inside just to make sure.

I did lose one trick-or-treater too. One little girl stood in awe of my dangling skull with muslin stripping. Despite coaxing from me and her own mother and dad, she could not take her eyes off the skull, which twirled in the wind, to come get her treat. Eventually, while I was serving other trick-or-treaters, she and her parents turned and walked back down the drive. Felt bad about that.

Nearly all the other trick-or-treaters passed through my yard of horrors cheerily and without comment. Not even my Michael Jackson dummy seemed to phase them. Finally, I had to ask one little girl dressed in a ballet style skirt, "Isn't my yard scary?"

"I'm not scary. I'm a princess," she replied as she turned away to go to the next house.

Hea, I didn't ask about you! (I thought to myself) Then another much older teen came up my walk saying, "That coffin sure is creepy." So I asked what he thought of my Michael Jackson. "Michael Jackson IS creepy," he responded.

Again . . . not what I asked! Sheesh. Maybe my Michael Jackson dummy needs a little work. I'm no Michaelangelo. If anyone has any suggestions on how Michael can be improved for next year, let me know.