Category Archives: Saving Money

Five Favorite Holiday Movies That Make Great Gifts

If you’re stumped for a gift for your grandparents, grand aunt or just some grand “older” friends, holiday movies might be the answer.  They are inexpensive, will bring back memories (or maybe create some new ones) and are perfect for people who already have just about everything.

There are about a dozen movies I like that fall into the holiday category but the 5 listed below are at the top of my all-time favorites list.

A Christmas Carol
George C. Scott is my favorite Scrooge. I love his portrayal and I think Charles Dickens would have, too.  A solid script, good acting by all of the other players and a superb performance from Scott make this a favorite.  The costumes and the cinematography are also exceptional.  And some of the visual effects combined with the sound effects make for a few scary scenes.  All in all, a good story, well done.

Holiday Inn
The dancing of Fred Astaire, the singing of Bing Crosby and the romantic rivalry between the two make this a fun film to watch over and over again.  One of the things I love best about Holiday Inn is the music which is tied to a lot of the major holidays of the year.  In fact, Irving Berlin created or reused a number of songs with holiday themes including Washington’s Birthday, Easter Parade and what would become one of the bestselling recordings of all time, White Christmas.  I love this film and watch it at least 4 times a year!

The Bishop’s Wife
When an angel (Cary Grant) comes down from heaven to help a Bishop (David Niven), some not so heavenly sparks fly in this romantic, holiday comedy as the angel falls for the…Bishop’s wife (Loretta Young).  Toss in Monty Woolley and the Mitchell Boys Choir and you get a heavenly film for the holidays.   This is the original version and only available as an MGM set (with 2 other holiday movies) or as a download at Amazon.  But you can buy it from Turner Classic Movies for $12.99.

Holiday Affair
This  romantic comedy has a well-known cast of actors including Robert Mitchum,  Wendell Corey and, in the female lead, none other than Jamie Lee Curtis’s mother, Janet Leigh (also of Psycho fame).  Leigh plays a war widow who can’t afford to buy her son a toy train for Christmas. Mitchum buys the train and that’s when things get complicated.  Watch for Harry Morgan of MASH fame who is hilarious as a night-court judge who tries to get a handle on who is really in love with whom and who stole the salt and pepper shakers.   The movie is out of stock at Barnes & Noble but you can download this one at Amazon or or buy it in a set of with 3 other holiday movies for under $10.00.

Christmas In Connecticut
Barbara Stanwyck did some fine comedies in her career and this movie was one of the best. Stanwyck writes a food column for a very upscale magazine (think Gourmet) but she can’t cook.  It wouldn’t have mattered except her publisher decides to send her a war hero for her and her husband (which she doesn’t have) to entertain over the holidays. Stanwyck has to line up a husband, a baby and a chef who “helps out” in the kitchen to cover all the fibs she told to get the job. The result is hilarious.

I also love (and own) Love Actually

and The Psych holiday episodes, (Gus’s Dad May Have Killed Some Guy and Christmas Joy).

I own every one of these movies and sometimes I watch them in July!  But since it is the holiday season, it looks like it’s time to pop some popcorn, light a fire in the fireplace and settle in to a night of watching these holiday favorites with my favorite guy.

Happy holidays everyone!

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The Gift of Life

It’s the holiday season so I know you get them too.  Appeals for money from every possible type of charity there is.  Who do you share your post tax income with?  How do you choose?

Before being laid off, we gave to many of these charities every year, often without reading about them, without knowing where the money was going.  We still give to charities but, since 2009, our criteria for giving have changed.  We’ve had to be more careful about what we give and which charities get the nod.

Here are the 4 groups we support and why:

  1. Heifer International– Heifer’s gifts aren’t fruit baskets or silky scarfs or fine wine.  They are grounded, living gifts that help indigenous people become self-supporting, able to feed themselves, their families and sometimes, their whole village.  This year we donated enough money to buy three flocks of chicken and two honeybee hives for people in other countries.  These gifts will keep on giving for years after they arrive in their new homes.

    Give a gift of life through Heifer International.

    A gift of chickens can feed a family or a village or both

  2. Sunday Breakfast Mission–  The Sunday Breakfast Mission started small – feeding holiday dinners to homeless and jobless men in Wilmington, Delaware.  Last year, this charity served more than 200,000 meals to hungry men, women and children and provided shelter for close to 300 people . Sitting in my warm home, with my full refrigerator and my full life, I know that this is one charity I have to support, no matter what.

The first two charities support people.  The next two support the planet.

  1. The Audubon SocietyAnsel Adams once said, “It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.”   I’m not ashamed to admit that I support this organization precisely because it does fight our government; it does insist that our elected officials and the 1% of this nation that continues to get wealthy off the entire country’s resources be held accountable for the damage they are doing to our planet. If we don’t stand up for this world, the ecosystems, wildlife habitats and the birds and animals who live in them, with us, who will?
  2. Nature Conservancy – this organization fights to protect ecologically important land and water in every state in this country and in 30 other countries around the globe.  Donate to Nature Conservancy and help buy endangered land and waterways, help to build coalitions between governments and between and with the residents who live in the area.  Their work is rooted in science, their conservation projects are practical and their outcomes are there for every one to see and enjoy.

There are other charities we support in smaller ways, like the Ocean Conservancy and the Sierra Club.  We still drop money in the Salvation Army buckets and give gently used clothing to the Goodwill but we like the 4 charities listed above because their work will live long after our money is gone and our lives are over.

If you have a little extra cash burning a hole in your pocket this holiday season, you might want to think about sharing it with charitable organizations like these and with people who need food, shelter, and livelihood a whole lot more than they need a new car, a new phone or a new toy.  You might think about giving the gift of life.


Filed under Budgeting, Gardening, Life & Death, Saving Money

THINK Before Buying Holiday Gifts

Okay, I know Black Friday is upon us.  I know some of you are getting up very early or staying up very late to get the best bargain on the latest toy, game, boots, fill in the blank.

But before you dig your credit card hole a bit deeper, before you create a huge pile of “stuff” that will be opened with glee and tossed aside without a second thought, I am asking you to think.

That’s right, think.  Drop the pen.  Put down the list.  Stop perusing flyers and catalogues or crawling web sites and take 5 minutes and ask yourself just one question?

What gift did you get 20, 30 or 40 years ago that makes you smile, right now?

Was it the most expensive?  The biggest?  The latest?  I will bet you it wasn’t.

Over the years, I have been given many big, expensive gifts – jewelry, exotic vacations, works of art.  Nice gifts but not my favorite gift, the one I am smiling about right now.  For me, that gift was a used rocking chair.

A big Christmas gift without a big price tag.

My favorite Christmas gift is this rocker restored by my husband.

My husband found it on the side of the road, put out for trash pick up. Carefully, lovingly, he restored the oak to its full glory.  Removing the shredded fabric and compressed batting from the coiled springs, he rebuilt and recovered the seat with warm, rich velvet.

This oak chair sits, today, in my sewing room.   I see it every day.  I sit in it, often, when I am doing finishing work on clothing or a craft project.

The total cost for this wonderful gift could not have been more than $10 but I remember crying when I saw it by our tree.  Do you remember getting a gift like that?   Not made in China or Taiwan?  No batteries required?  Not mass-produced? Lovingly made by someone you know, just for you? Those are the gifts you remember, you cherish.

If I go back even further for favorite holiday memories to when we were kids, the highlight of our Christmas morning was finding a big juicy orange in the toe of our stocking.  Sounds ridiculous but there it was – five kids racing for the mantle (yes, a real fireplace mantle) pulling down stockings and pulling out the candy cane and walnuts, to get to the bottom, to get to the orange.

Why would an orange be such a big deal?  Oranges weren’t available in December in the North.  No one was trucking them up from Florida or across the country from California.  Back then, an orange was a rarity – a real treat.   Definitely not a big ticket item but a childhood moment I treasure, a wonderful memory of holidays gone by.

Want to have happy holidays filled with warm memories?

Don’t spend too much money on too many things that no one will need or treasure even two weeks after the holiday has come and gone.  Think…and get gifts that really speak to the young, the old and the in-between people you love.  This year, build some holiday memories yourself, memories that will make you smile, 30 years from now.

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My Sustainable Life

Who knew that when I started learning to live on my 2 1/2 acres almost 20 years ago that my lifestyle would become…dare I say it…popular?

As an executive at a multinational corporation, I was literally laughed at whenever one of my peers found out about my hobbies. I was odd man out, you see.

I hated golf.  I really couldn’t stand the pretensions of the “oenophiles” I was forced to travel with.  And I really loathed back stabbing, expense account dinners where the targets of the next round of lay offs were discussed as we plowed through enough wine and food to keep at least one of the “peasants” gainfully employed for 3 months.

I loved (and still love) raising my own fruits and vegetables.  I own chickens and if my husband ever loosens up a bit, will have a goat or two in the back yard, as well.

My life in the dirt began when I tripped over one small book one Saturday morning.   The Victory Garden by Jim Crockett.  Almost 50 years old, Crockett’s book is still hailed as one of the best books for beginning gardeners and it still has pride of place on my gardening book shelf.

Over the last 30 years, with the help of books like Nancy Bubel‘s Seed Starters Handbook, I now raise all my own seeds.  This past summer every plant in my garden — 5 varieties of tomato, 2 types of pepper, 2 of cucumbers and 2 of eggplant and zucchini – were all started in my basement along with butternut squash, lettuce, spinach, basil and parsley.

Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening and Patricia Lanza’s book on Lasagna Gardening, helped me expand my knowledge and increase the size of my garden 5 fold.  I use cold frames in the spring and fall and a combination of raised beds and row cropping to increase my yield.  And I learned a whole lot about what I can raise and what I can’t.

I’m aces with tomatoes — all heirloom or organic seed — from Grow Italian or Territorial Seeds.  My blueberries yield over 60 quarts every year and my Montmorency cherries are a close second with 50 plus quarts.  Pear trees are just starting to bear fruit and the pluots are eagerly anticipated every summer.

But my fig trees are good one year and not so good the next.  And the peach and apple trees bear really bad fruit – spotty and buggy.  Cantelope grow beautifully in my soil but taste like dirt.  Broccoli Rabe comes up fast and easy but flowers before I can harvest it.

Early days for tomatoes, peppers, cukes, squash, and onions.

The garden when you could still see the ground.

Potatoes love the soil but always fall prey to Colorado Potato Beetles and wire worms.

Knowing what I can’t grow upset me when I was a younger gardener but this old girl understands that knowing what she can’t grow is even more important than knowing what she can.  Why?

I no longer waste time or space on those veggies and fruits that just are not going to produce.  I spend that time honing my skills at growing and harvesting the myriad of foods that like my soil, my weather, my temperatures, wind and rain.

So as winter approaches, I spend time gazing at the pill boxes full of seeds that are resting in my refrigerator.  I plot and plan what I will grow and draw a garden diagram I know I will never follow.  And I spend quiet hours re-reading the books by my old friends that have helped me create this sustainable life of mine.

And every day, I give thanks for being able to live as I do, in harmony with the natural world.


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How Money Can Shape Relationships – Part 2

Money talks…and sometimes it yells.

At least that’s what the decibel level in our house was like when we were growing up.  If the topic was money, we got out of the house, fast.  Dad was going to give Mom a verbal dressing down for how she spent it.

That was my early, late and constant introduction to how money was managed.  But this approach wasn’t really a problem as long as I was the one earning it and spending it.  All that changed when I got married, 27 years ago.  And the change was radical, painful and yes….loud.  There was a lot of yelling in the early years and, on my part, not a whole lot of insight as to why.

The first time my husband and I engaged in combat over cash was literally prompted by how much I tipped a waiter.  When I was flush (read gainfully employed) Pat and I used to love to eat out.  Since we both worked in Center City Philly, there were a thousand different ways we could spend our money on dinner.  And we did.

Pat usually paid the tab but one night, when the check came, he wasn’t at the table so I paid.  When he came back, he looked at the tip and the total and asked one simple and in hindsight I have to admit, innocent question – why did I always tip 20% then round up to the nearest $5?

I didn’t know why  And it didn’t seem like a big deal to me.  But he kept asking – as we walked out of the restaurant, walking down the sidewalk to the car and all the way home – he kept asking.  Pat was actually only asking why the tip had to be for an even dollar amount.

I thought he was questioning my right to spend our money on such a big tip.  And I lost it.  I think if he could have run, he would have.  The tip battle was round one of an almost 5 year fight over whose money it was and who had the right to decide how to spend it.

We never got to the point that one of the couples we knew did – separate bank accounts and splitting the bills.  But we did do some serious damage to each other and to our relationship.  In this entire 5 year fiasco, I must admit, I was the one who was wrong and I had my Mom and Dad to thank for it.

I never would have figured it out and I am guessing our almost 3 decade marriage would never have survived if I hadn’t asked my brother Bob (a plumber who was also an extraordinary poet) a casual question about his desk drawer full of paychecks.

When he explained that he earned money but didn’t like it, didn’t spend it (his wardrobe consisted of jeans, t-shirts with his business logo on them and cheap sneakers) and did NOT want to talk about it, I recognized a  link.  And Bob and I talked it through.

I learned how much he was affected by Mom and Dad’s constant bickering and monthly brawls.  And suddenly, I realized just how much they had affected me, too.  I could also see very clearly how my parents relationship was affecting my relationship with my husband.

I went home.  I apologized.  I explained.  And Pat and I began to heal the wounds that battling over money caused.

Was it fast?  No.  Even today, when a check is not written into the register or there is a question about an expenditure, I feel the wings of my meat-eating, money monster start to unfurl.  Even today, I have to remind myself to breath, to relax and to work with my husband to get the answers he wants and needs.

I have to agree with the man behind the Retrospective Entrepreneur – money breaks up more marriages than infidelity.  Think about that the next time you are putting on the gloves for yet another round in the ring about the cash.

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Dottie Domestic’s Solar Dryer

Are you looking for a new dryer?  Clothes dryer that is!  I got mine about three months ago, all the way from Ireland.  It is stainless steel with brass accents.  It dries fast but doesn’t shrink the clothes or wear out the fibers.  There is just one hitch. My new dryer is a Breezecatcher – a  4 arm outdoor clothesline!

Described by happy customers (including me) as .. “superior product”…..”a work of art”…. “an excellent design” …..”a thing of beauty”….”superb workmanship”….”better than off the shelf products,” each Breezecatcher is hand-crafted, durable and designed to last.

And the Breezecatcher saves money by saving energy!  My electric bill dropped by $73 the first month I used the Breezecatcher  instead of the clothes dryer.  Every month this summer I have saved between $70 and $80 just by hanging out our clothes.  And I only do 2 loads a week!  Imagine how much a family of 4 could save.

And there is the added advantage of reducing my carbon footprint!  When my small effort is added to the savings of all the people in the United States who used Breezecatchers in 2008, we saved  2,062,500 KWHs or the equivalent of 885 tons of CO2.

And there’s one more advantage to hanging clothes out to dry.  It’s a little old-fashioned but standing outside listening to birds, watching my Westies play, hearing the chickens cluck, brings me real and treasured moments of peace.  There is no noise other than those natural sounds, no media, no, activity – just the birds, the breeze and me.

So consider saving money and saving your sanity by buying a new dryer for your back yard.

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It’s Tough To Change Banks

Who thinks about how deeply embedded you are in one bank until you have to change to a new one?

After 28 years at Wilmington Trust, we are moving on.  Why?  M&T Bank bought this fine Delaware institution and the changes are rolling in.  Yesterday I received a book (really, a book) on what is going to happen when they make the merger final.  Thousands of words and dollars were spent on this glossy page turner, but it was still confusing and complicated.  What was clear was this unwanted change was bringing with it new fees and less confidence, much less confidence.

So, we are forced to say good-by to a good friend and the great team in Greenville and take our chances with another locally owned financial institution, Sun East Federal Credit Union.

Started more than 60 years ago by Sun Oil employees, this credit union has grown conservatively and prospered.  Are there as many branches as M&T?  No.  Are there as many fees?  Definitely no.  Is it locally owned and personal?  Yes.  In fact, when we open our new accounts, we will be share holders, members of the credit union, not a number on a list of customers M&T is sucking into its very large maw.

But, back to the original thought, changing banks is not all that easy and our finances are pretty clear-cut.  We only have one small home equity loan.  We will have to get a coupon book, set up a new loan at Sun East and move that over.  We have direct deposits from 3 places — all of them have to move.

And tracking down auto payments to long-standing vendors means combing through old statements to make sure no one gets missed.  Bill paying was easy this way but now we have everything from ADT to EZ Pass accounts to move from one financial institution to another. Debit cards close then open with new numbers.  Checks get shredded and new ones issued.

We will probably miss some bits and bobs that needed to be closed, transferred or updated.  We will surely get calls from some companies authorized to debit but unable to do so because the money is gone and so are we.  But making this change is worth it.  I don’t know Sun East at all but there is more trust level with this group than there is with M&T — the out-of-town bank that is taking over our familiar financial partner.  It is definitely time to move on!


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Dottie Domestic Considers The Toilet Paper

My granddaughter spent last week at our house.  She is 12 years old, small and beautiful…and she consumes toilet paper like a platoon of soldiers.  Suddenly, I understood why my Dad was so crazed about how fast we girls ran through his stockpile.

Dad had three daughters.  Each daughter had a daughter.  When we came to visit, Dad hid his toilet paper in the bottom of the clothes hamper in his bedroom.  Why?  Between the 6 of us, we could go through two rolls of toilet paper a day.

So what?

Dad was a depression baby.  And toilet paper was a luxury even though, back then, a roll might cost him a quarter.  If Dad were alive, today, he would probably stock the bathroom with leaves and lock up his toilet paper.

Buy toilet paper at the store and 8 rolls will cost you about $8.00.  Even if you buy it in bulk – 30 jumbo rolls will still cost you $26.00 – 100 times what it cost Dad.  And, have you noticed that the rolls are getting noticeably smaller but the price isn’t?

Bottom line, toilet paper is a pretty practical consideration!  So, how do you wrangle toilet paper to the ground, cut down on use and save some cash?  The old-fashioned way; you start counting sheets.

I know, sounds ridiculous but once I started counting, I realized that I was hauling on the toilet paper roll like I was pulling the cord to start my lawn mower.  Ten, twelve, sometimes fifteen sheets at a time rolled off.  I was ripping through rolls at the rate of three a week!

By counting sheets and limiting the number I use, I can make one roll of Scott toilet paper last about 8 days – saving trees, saving money and yes, I think bringing a huge smile to my Dad’s face.

And if you want to save even more money, I have two suggestions.  Check out Amazon’s Subscribe and Save – I love it.  You get 15% off the regular price and free home delivery.  Not ready for that, Google “coupons” for your favorite paper products company and start saving money and trees.

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Calling All Gardeners – BEST Soaker Hose

Okay, I don’t do product endorsements.  Really.  But this time I have to.

I have been an organic gardener for close to 25 years and every year, without fail, I struggle with my soaker hoses.  They are tangled.  I have to pin them to the ground and wrestle the kinks out.  While trying to thread them through my garden, the ends whip around and invariably smack me in the face.  They are damaged but you can’t see the holes until you lay them out in the garden, pin them to the ground and turn on the water.

I have created the Fountain of Trevi in my own back yard…year after year after year.  But NOT this year because I went looking and I have found the world’s best soaker hose thanks to the Internet, and Al Gore.

Manufactured by a company I never heard of (Bosch) in a state I used to fly into almost weekly for business, the Gilmour Flat Weeper Hose is spectacular.  It is made of material, not recycled rubber that breaks down in the sun.  And, believe it or not, this hose is guaranteed for life.  Yep, for life.  Gilmour will replace the hose, free of charge, if it does not provide, “…complete satisfaction.”

Here’ are a couple more wonderful features for this hose:

  1. It comes in 25 foot, 50 foot and 75 foot lengths.
  2. The individual hoses can be coupled together to create longer hoses.  I currently have a 125 foot hose snaking around ALL of the plants in my garden and there are 65 plants spread out in my plot.
  3. You will NOT have to wrestle with these hoses like you do with those alligators made of recycled rubber.  When they are not filled with water and soaking your plants, they flatten and can be rolled up like a piece of yarn  on a skein.
  4. The price is definitely right.  Priced by length, the 25 footer is $10.99.  The 50 footer is $13.00 and the 75 foot long hose is just over $15.00.

For a one time investment of under $50, I have soaker hoses I will be able to pass on in my will.  If you garden, give them a try.

Oh, and check out the Nelson Faucet Adaptor-High Flow, 4 Outlet Manifold.  The cut off valves work great and are, for lack of a better word, ergonomic,  They fit your hand and are BIG, you can see if they are on or off and you can actually get a grip on them and turn them on or off easily.

Side note: If you’re an organic gardener,  join people across the country who belong to Grow Girls Grow Organic on Linked In.  Lots of sharing and learning going on and it’s all about gardening, all the time.


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Sony Playstation Security Breach & How My Credit Card Companies Reacted

When the email from Sony arrived in my inbox my first reaction was  WHAT?

My personal information and that of 77 million other users was compromised.  Specifically, the email said, name, address (city, state, zip), country, email address, birth date, password and login, and handle/PSN online ID were taken.  The hacker may also have taken billing address and password security answers.

That’s enough information for ANYONE, even an over the hill writer like me, to be able to steal identity and start opening up credit card accounts.  But that’s not the worst news Sony delivered.  The email also said, “…while there is no evidence at this time that credit card data was taken, we cannot rule out the possibility.”

So, in a nutshell, me and 77 million other people were in the position of having our identities stolen, our credit cards used and our credit scores seriously damaged.  I hit the phone and called the companies of the only two credit cards I have.  The reactions of these companies could not have been more different.

Barclay’s MasterCard

ME – Explain, explain, explain that Sony had been hacked and I needed to change my password and I couldn’t get into the account.

Customer Service – Gee, I can’t help you with that.  And technical support  doesn’t open until 8AM.  Can you call back?

ME – I need help now.  I can’t get into my account.  I’m worried.  Is someone from Security available to help me?

Customer Service – I’m sorry the Security team doesn’t start until 8AM.  Can you call back?

ME – Oh, sure, fine.  I’ll call back in a few hours, after the hacker has opened a couple hundred accounts and charged a couple of thousand dollars to each.  REALLY?

Customer Service – Really…sorry.

American Express

ME – I am calling because my Sony account may have been hacked….

Customer Service –  We know all about this issue and we have set up a system to help our customers with it.

ME – Really?

Customer Service – Yes Ma’am.  We are offering to issue new credit cards with entirely different account numbers on them to any customer who is concerned.  We will pay to ship the new card via UPS and yours will arrive in 3 days.

ME – Really?

Customer Service – Yes Ma’am.  And we’ve stepped up account monitoring and will let you know if there is unusual activity.

ME – Really?

Personal Note

I have had an American Express card for more than 20 years and I willingly pay the annual fee because I know that the person on the other end of the phone is ALWAYS going to be ready, willing, able and available to help me whether I am asking about a charge, disputing a claim, or worried that my identity may have been stolen.  Always.

So which card would you want to own?

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