Category Archives: General

Setting Up the Tree

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  We had a delicious Thanksgiving dinner and wonderful company!  I did some Black Friday shopping with 2 of my friends.  I really needed to get some new clothes for the boys so we went to Old Navy.  I find it a lot easier to buy clothes for them at the store than on-line.  I didn’t do a lot of other shopping.  The kids haven’t asked for much and I think I can find better deals on Slickdeals

I got a few great deals already on Slickdeals.  I like to use this time of year to stock up our birthday present closet.  Whenever I find good deals on kids toys, I buy them.  Then when the kids have a birthday party to attend, I let them pick something out of the closet.

We also got our Christmas tree today!  We go to a tree farm near our house where you get to cut down the tree yourself.  It was especially pleasant this year because the weather was unusually warm.  Every year, we watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or A Christmas Story when we decorate the tree.  And decorating the tree is very special for us.  We buy ornaments whenever we go on vacation.  So we get to remember all of our vacations as we decorate the tree.

Also after New Year’s, I check the Hallmark store every day to catch when the ornaments go 75% off.  That usually happens less than a week after New Years.  I buy many ornaments.  I let the boys pick out a couple for themselves.  And I save a couple for our annual holiday party at our house where we have an ornament exchange.

This year we are starting a new tradition.  We bought the boys an artificial Christmas tree.  We’re going to keep it in their room.  And we are letting them decorate it with all of the ornaments we’ve collected for them over the years.

I hope you all have a great holiday season!  Make sure you check Slickdeals a lot.  You can even set up email alerts if you’re looking for something specific.  And I’m sure Woot will have a Woot-off on Monday!

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Status on Vouchers and Hotels.com Promotion

During our trip to Wyoming over the summer, we were bumped from one of our flights and got $2,000 in travel vouchers on American.  I used those vouchers to book a trip to Disney for our family.  When I was redeeming the vouchers, I was nervous about a couple of things.  First, I wanted to make sure that they didn’t charge taxes and fees on the flights (because I had heard some people have had that happen).  Second, I was nervous about sending essentially $2,000 in the mail.  Here’s how vouchers work on American Airlines.  You find the tickets you want.  You can do this through their web site or through the reservation phone number.  You don’t purchase the tickets on the web site if you find them there.  You simply place a hold on them.  Then call the reservation number listed on the voucher.  They will mark the tickets as “purchased” and give you instructions on mailing the vouchers in (you have about 2 weeks to mail in the vouchers).  When they receive the vouchers and process them, the status of your tickets will change to “ticketed”.  If there is any value left from the vouchers, American will mail you another voucher with that value on it.  You will have 1 year from that issue date to use the new voucher.  To make sure they took off the fees and taxes, I wrote a note stating I wanted them taken off because I was using tax exemption vouchers when I mailed in the travel vouchers.  I’m happy to say our tickets are now in the ticketed status and I’ve received the new voucher back.  And they did take off the taxes and fees (although there was still a minor fee).

Also this Fall, I participated in the Hotels.com Key Card Collector promotion.  You got 1 free night after submitting proof you’ve stayed at 3 hotels this year and after you completed 1 night booking through Hotels.com.  I completed our stay when we went to my college’s Alumni Weekend.  The free night didn’t post right away.  I emailed customer service to ask them when it would post.  They emailed back saying it would take 4 – 6 weeks, but the very next day it posted!  Now I just need to figure out where we’re going to use it.

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15 AAdvantage Miles Per Dollar Donated to USO through 11/11/11

This is a topic near and dear to me.  I have several brothers-in-law who currently serve in the military.  Following The Frugal Travel Guy’s tradition, I ask that you consider how you could donate to help our military personnel and their families.  We have all saved tons of money through travel hacking.  It would be nice to give some of what we saved to help out people who have served our country and allowed us the freedoms we enjoy.  There are so many ways you can help.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Donate money - As the topic of this post says, you can donate to the USO through 11/11/11 and American Airlines will give you 15 miles per dollar you donate (instead of the usual 10).  Here is the link.  Not only is this a great cause, but it can also help top off your account and extend the life of your miles.
  • Send a care package – There are many organizations you can donate the care package through.  When my brother-in-law was over in Iraq, my sister sent us a list of items they would like.  The list included simple things like toiletries, food, and magazines.  It also included video games, which I had never thought about before.  You could either contact a local base and find out what the troops need or you check out Military.com for a list of sites.
  • Buy a drink or meal for military personnel when you see them out - I love this idea.  When you travel, I’m sure you see military personnel in the airport.  Stop them, ask them if you can buy them a drink, snack, meal, or book, and thank them for their service.  If you prefer to be more anonymous, if you see military personnel at a restaurant, ask the waiter/waitress if you can pay their bill.
  • If you’re in first class, consider giving your seat to a serviceman/servicewomen - On our last trip to Hawaii, I was lucky enough to actually see someone do this.  We were traveling from Los Angeles to Hawaii, which we all know is a long flight.  It was a late evening flight, so I’m sure most people were going to sleep for a lot of it.  And being in first class would definitely help.  We were sitting near the back of the plane and there was a serviceman across the aisle from us.  Before the plane took off, the flight attendant went to the serviceman and told him that someone if first class was giving up her seat so he could sit there.  It was one of the much touching things I had ever seen.  He was so grateful.  As he went to the front of the plane, everyone was clapping and thanking him for his service.  And when the woman from first class came back, everyone was clapping for her.  The flight attendants and the pilot personally thanked her.  Her response was that it was the right thing to do.  The flight attendant told her that he almost never sees it happen.  He said that she could have whatever she wanted during the flight.  They served her everything that she would have received in first class.  I was honored to see such kindness on our flight.
  • Don’t forget the families – Imagine if your spouse had to leave for a year and you knew they were going to be in harms way for that year.  Imagine how hard that would be on you and your family.  Think of how much the service person would miss that year.  The amount that the families give up to support our troops is unbelievable to me.  Don’t forget them.  If you know someone whose spouse is overseas, ask them how you can help.  Offer to babysit so they can get some much needed alone time.  Offer to bring food over.  Offer to help them drive their kids to events.  Be there to listen.

As we approach Veteran’s Day, I want to say thank you to all of those who have served our country and the families who supported them.

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Gearing up for Christmas Shopping

Christmas is one of my favorite times of year.  It’s even better now that I have young kids.  I love their letters to Santa.  I think this may be one of the last Christmases that they are going to believe in Santa.  The last couple of years, I’ve Photoshopped Santa into a picture of our living room using Gimp.  And last year, you could create a video message from Santa at portablenorthpole.tv for free.  This year, my older son asked me to take a video of Santa at our house.  I asked him why he wanted a video.  He said that you could add a picture of Santa to a picture you’ve taken (he figured that out by playing with the photo software on his DS).  So this may be the end of it for him.

We’ve had so much fun with them in past years.  We always pick out a fresh tree.  We go to one of the tree farms around us where you get to cut down the tree yourself.  Then we come home to decorate it.  We put on a Christmas movie when we’re decorating the tree.  The 2 favorites in our house are National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and A Christmas Story.  And the ornaments… :)   We buy ornaments on every trip we take.  When we decorate the tree, we reminisce about the trips we’ve taken.  Also after Christmas, I check the Hallmark Store almost every day after January 1st to catch when the ornaments go on sale for 75% off.  I buy a bunch.  I let the kids pick out a couple for themselves and save the others for our annual Christmas party we have at our house where we do an ornament exchange.

So how do I prepare for Christmas?  Here are a few tips:

  • Check Slickdeals a lot - This is one of my favorite web sites.  And it’s the November – early January.  The deals are posted fast and furious.  I check it multiple times a day.  I’ve talked about the site before.  It’s a site where people post deals they’ve found on a message board.  Users can give the deal a thumbs up or thumbs down.  Deals that get lots of thumbs ups, get bubbled up to the front page of the site.  If you’re looking for something specific, you can set up a “Deal Alert”.  The site will then send you an email if a post is added that has your keywords in it.
  • Find a Black Friday Site - There are many Black Friday sites out there.  Some of them include www.bfads.net and www.blackfriday.info.  I review the site leading up to Thanksgiving.  I look through the ads to figure out which stores I want to go to and when the stores open.
  • Create a plan for Black Friday – If I’m trying to get a hot item, I make sure I’m at that store hours before it opens.  If I’m not trying for a hot items (like last year), I made my schedule to get to each store about 2 – 3 hours after it opened.  I still got amazing deals, but I didn’t have to deal with the crazy crowds.  Also you should find out when each stores’ sales are available on-line.  For example, the last couple of years, you could get Best Buy’s deals on Thanksgiving.  So, while my husband was cooking Thanksgiving dinner (yes, I have an amazing husband who cooks), I sat at the kitchen table and did some Christmas shopping.
  • Amazon Lightning Deals - I love Amazon Lightning deals!  We are Amazon Prime customers, so we never have to pay for shipping.  That makes the Lightning deals even better.  The Lightning Deals are not just at the holidays but more are posted and they are for a lot of the hot items at the holidays.  You can usually figure out what the items are beforehand.  If it’s a really in demand item, you need to be on right when the deal opens up.  Also, don’t forget to use the US Airways shopping portal to get to Amazon, so you get miles for your shopping.

I also use this time of year to stock up on gifts for our birthday present closet.  I buy gifts throughout the year when I find a really good price for items I know my kids’ friends would like.  Then when the boys have a birthday party to go to, I let them go into the birthday present closet and pick one out.

Do you have any holiday shopping tips or special traditions?  I’m always looking for new ones.

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Connecticut Storm Damage

Frustration with Connecticut Light and Power is palpable.  We are now on Day 5 without power.  This is the second time in about a 2-months time that many Connecticut residents will be without power for a week.  When Irene hit, were without city power for 6 days.  We were fortunate to have a generator so we aren’t bad off.  But I feel for the hundreds of thousands of people who don’t.  People also had an easier time coping with the power outage with Irene because it was warmer.  The temperatures have dipped into the 20s and 30s at night during this storm. 

Here are pictures from my neighborhood.  There are only a few hundred houses in the neighborhood and you can see we have a lot of trees down.  We are by no means unique.  There are many, many neighborhoods like this in Connecticut.  75% of our town is still without power.  There are other towns that are still near 100% without power.  People are so frustrated because you would think that CL&P would have prepared better after the devastation from Irene.  Crews from outside the state are finally coming.  Although we’re hearing that many didn’t want to come because some of them still haven’t been paid for their work after Irene.  I can’t blame them, but please don’t punish the people of Connecticut for the actions of CL&P.

One of 3 entrances to our neighborhood – tree across road and power lines

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Neighbor’s house that caught on fire – No one was in the house at the time the fire broke out (around midnight).  They are saying that they think that painters who were painting the house made a fire in the fireplace to keep warm and that fire caused the fire after they left for the day.

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One of the major roads through the neighborhood – 2 trees are across the street.  People are driving between the trees and onto someone’s lawn to get through

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Trees on lines – the first 2 are about 5 house down from our house

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