Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Shaws Steals

I can't go to bed tonight without sharing the amazing grocery shopping experience I had earlier this evening. (Note: the only reason I'm up so late in the first place is because Nathan has decided we should take an entirely unplanned trip to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving - despite the fact that I had a rehearsal tonight and have another rehearsal Friday night, meaning it will be a whirlwind of a trip!)

I was able to convince FavoriteBoy that we should pack sandwiches and make the drive without stopping to buy food by promising to buy him some snacky things at the store. So off I went to Shaws this evening, coupons in hand. I planned to get the best deals I could, but I was very pressed for time and resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't be able to do my best couponing work. I bought:

1 can of cashews
1 can of dry roasted almonds
2 packages of Craisins
2 cans of Pringles
1 box each: Wheat Chex, Corn Chex, and Cheez-Its (to make Chex mix)
2 bags of Lundberg Rice Chips (my Dad introduced me to these and they are yummy!)
3 boxes of Wheat Thins
1 box of Triscuits
2 12-pack boxes of Coke (I was able to get these for nothing, and figured I might as well stock up for future parties, etc.)
2 gallons of milk (I don't drink milk and certainly don't need this much, but buying it actually gave me overage towards my other purchases)
4 blocks of extra sharp cheddar cheese
4 turkey kielbasa sausages (to freeze for another time)
2 bags of Ocean Spray cranberries
2 packages of Thomas's English muffins

If all these items were regularly-priced, and I didn't use coupons, this shopping trip would have cost $107.26.

I paid $39.31 and got back a $10 catalina coupon and a $25 Shaws gift card. If I'd had time, I could have applied the gift card to my total right there, making it $14.31 out of pocket, but I was already late to a rehearsal because the checkout computer had crashed before I could pay, and seemed to take a long time to fix - which is why the manager gave me the gift card! Also, while I stood by the register waiting for the employees to get things sorted out, I saw lots of customers ring up their purchases and then walk out without the catalinas that had printed, so naturally I snagged those that were left behind - score!

Please be assured that I do not usually buy so much junk. The crackers, Chex mix, and Pringles were merely my way of spending a lot less and preventing road-trip purchases of chicken fingers, fries, pizza, burgers, etc.

I'd call that shopping trip a great success!

Friday, November 21, 2008

PS22 Chorus

Music changes lives.

I believe that.

An elementary school music teacher in Staten Island believes that, too. His name is Mr. B, and he believes that the arts are an integral part of any successful school curriculum. His 5th grade chorus program is changing a lot of lives. The chorus has sung with famous pop icons like Tori Amos and Karen Peris.

I'm sure some of my music educator peers would say things like, oh, the kids should be learning classical music, and they should be belting less and using their head voices more, but you know what I think? This teacher is giving these kids exactly what they need. He is connecting with them in a unique way and teaching them to express themselves eloquently. He is taking a group of kids, many of whom are from underprivileged homes, and giving them voices. Those voices empower them and give them confidence and a niche of their own, a sense of belonging. The musical experiences these kids have will stay with them for a lifetime - a lifetime filled with music. What a gift.

There's a lot of energy and joy in those videos.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Family Visit

My parents came to visit me over the past weekend! It was so much fun, but three days wasn't long enough. I wish the two coasts of this country were not so far apart.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Church Invention

Does anyone know how you go about getting a patent? I've had this brilliant idea for a church-related invention. Every congregant will be provided with an electronic device like those used on TV shows for audience members to vote. The pulpit will be equipped with a trap door directly under the pastor/priest/minister, and when a majority of the congregation has "locked in their votes" that the sermon should, in fact, be over, the trap door opens and the preacher plummets through the floor (to a soft, pillowy landing - I'm not being mean), and the organist begins the postlude.

Thus ends church, and always in a timely fashion henceforth.

What do you think?

A Homemade Christmas

Remember when you were little and you made gifts for your family and friends each year for birthdays and Christmas? Have you done that lately? I know I haven't - five years of having college exams up until just a few days before Christmas sort of precluded having time to make gifts. This year I'm making things for family and close friends, and I'm so happy that I have the time to do so, and I think the people I'll be giving gifts to are exactly the kind of people who will appreciate my time and effort more than they'd appreciate a $10 DVD, anyway. At least, I hope so!

The first homemade gift I decided to make was lip balm, inspired by Cocoa at Chocolate on my Cranium. While the initial purchase of ingredients and chapstick tubes (I ordered them online) was a definite expense (around $50), it wasn't comparable with what we would have spent on Christmas anyway, and the amount of chapstick I can make from these supplies brings the cost down to around 15 or 20 cents a tube. I dragged my friend Story into the scheme and we spent a couple of fun evenings making lip balm.

The result? Pink Grapefruit, Lime, Peppermint-Rosemary (similar to Burt's Bees), and Vanilla. All scented with essential oils (no fragrance oils) and 100% natural, and definitely the best lip balm I've ever used. The lime is my favorite so far, with pink grapefruit a close second. We're envisioning cranberry and cinnamon on the horizon!

Next I decided to make magnets, inspired by Angry Chicken (who does some super cute crafts and sewing projects). I got super-strong neodynium magnets and Diamond Glaze from this Etsy shop, and wooden discs from a local wholesale craft store. Again, I pulled my friend Story into the crafting craze, and we glued cute paper onto the discs, glazed, attached magnets, and... done!

Finished products:

We've also made some glass marble magnets:

I'm completely in love with these magnets, and feel a compulsion to make more magnets than any one human could ever need, so it's a good thing I have plenty of people to give them to for Christmas! And yes, I realize that lots of the people we'll be giving gifts to read this blog, but that's okay, because this is your chance to comment and say, "Hey, I espcially like such-and-such a set!" I just couldn't wait until after Christmas to share these fun gift ideas.

Nathan and I are planning to spend less money and more time for family and friends this Christmas, and so far I must say the process is vastly more enjoyable than the usual Christmas shopping process! And the money we save can be used to make Christmas a little brighter for people less fortunate than ourselves. (For just a few ideas, check out World Vision's Gift Catalog, where you can give animals, clean water, education, and much more. You can give someone hope this Christmas.)

Serendipitously, my sister-in-law Jenn just shared a wonderful post on her blog about The Advent Conspiracy and her thought that in giving more and spending less, we come nearer to the heart of God and the true meaning of Christmas. Last year Americans spent $450 billion on Christmas. Just $10 billion would provide clean drinking water to everyone in the world, saving 1.8 million lives a year by preventing water-borne illnesses. You can find out more about the Advent Conspiracy (make sure to watch the great video), and learn how to give clean water through Living Water International.

If you have ideas for handmade gifts, please comment and share! I'm particularly wondering what kinds of handmade things might be guy-appropriate.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Human Rights and Poverty

As I said in my last post, I believe that pro-life Christians should be more than anti-abortion. The most basic right, the right to life, is being denied not only to the unborn but to untold numbers across the globe as well.

Radical Islamists in Somalia tried a 13-year-old girl for adultery when her family brought her to the police because she had been raped. She was stoned to death for her "crime."

Christians in Somalia face persecution from the predominantly Muslim community. One Somali man, who was well-traveled and had studied in Europe, returned to his native country to help his people by establishing a school - only to be killed because he had converted from Islam to Christianity.

Just a few small stories from one small country; there are millions of other lives and stories like these, stories of people suffering from persecution, disease, and poverty.

All I hear about on the news each evening is our own "economic crisis." How times are so hard that Americans are having to cut back to "only" eating out once or twice a week, or trading childcare with friends instead of paying full-time nannies. Even those with real hardship - with foreclosed homes or dependence on food stamps - cannot compare their problems with the lives of those in third-world countries who cannot afford one meal a day, and have no shelter or food pantry to turn to. Twenty percent of the world's population lives in absolute poverty.

Can you even imagine what it's like to be in a constant state of hunger? With no walls around you and no roof over your head, no clothes to provide even a little warmth? No prospect of an education to help you overcome your circumstances, and no hopes of even imagining a life that could be different from the poverty-stricken one you know? Can you imagine being a mother or a father unable to feed your children or provide them with health care and the education they would need to overcome the life they were born into?

I can't really imagine it.

Makes our problems seem a little insignificant, doesn't it?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pro-Life Issues

Weighing on my mind lately has been the fact that so many Jews and Christians voted for Obama. While I understand that not everyone shares my worldview and I don't expect atheists to live according to a Judeo-Christian code of ethics, It's hard for me to imagine a God-centered worldview that allows this course of action. I believe that when a person makes a decision, he or she will be held accountable for it. I'm a sinner and will be held accountable for many things. But I did not, and never could, cast a vote to put a man in office who, by the power vested in him by my vote, would enact policies that did not protect or value the sanctity of human life. Obama will someday be held accountable for his position against the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act and his position in favor of partial birth abortion, and I believe that those who put him in a position to influence these life-and-death issues will also be held accountable. It just boggles my mind that people who believe in the God of the Bible could elect a man with these kinds of beliefs and such a pro-choice voting record, a man who believes that babies born alive during late-term abortions should be left for dead.

I understand that the issue of human life is bigger than abortion. I personally am opposed to the death penalty, for example, and I know that poverty, war, and disease are robbing untold lives around the world every day. I also understand that many believe that being opposed to the war in Iraq/Afghanistan is as much a "pro-life" issue as abortion because of the loss of lives for our troops, and may have cast their votes accordingly. There is a big difference, though, even if you truly think our country's actions in Iraq are not the right course of action at this time. Our men and women serving in the armed forces choose to put their lives on the line for their country, and they should be honored for that brave choice. Unborn children never get that choice, or that honor. They are deemed nothing but a few cells, a blob of tissue.

Jessica has written a very good post on a similar topic: Wanted Children. Go read it!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Post-Election Life

Since Obama became our country's President-elect, I have come down with a nasty cold and my beautiful fish Poseidon died.

There must be some cause-and-effect going on here, I'm just sure of it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Assorted Thoughts

Well, I'm not the happiest I've ever been. I did not vote for Obama, and I did not want him to become our next president. I am concerned about a lot of things that will likely transpire in the coming years: the state of the Supreme Court, the state of our national security, and the future of the abortion industry, to name a few.

I think that in the course of the next year, people will discover a lot of things. They will discover that you can't put your trust in a human. That they shouldn't have thrown around words like "hope" and "believe" with such levels of messianic zeal when speaking of anyone short of Jesus Christ. Jesus is, after all, the only one who can truly offer change and the only one in whom we ought to place our hope.

At the end of the day, when Obama is President, there will still be economic troubles. We will still live in a culture of debt. There will still be energy woes, oil companies, and irresponsible lenders to complain about. Oh, and America will still be a great nation founded on the greatest of principles. Let's not forget that.

Many are saying that Obama's presidency will cause a dramatic shift in the way the rest of the world perceives the United States. Perhaps so. Other countries have loved to cite America as a racist nation, and that will have to change. But the American president doesn't have the power to change everything overnight - thanks to the way our government is established. Obama can not fix the market tomorrow or end the struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan. And countries that hate America, if they are honest, hate some of our virtues as well as our vices, and we are not going to bring an end to capitalism or freedom. We are still a nation founded on the same principles we were founded on four years ago, and 232 years before that as well.

We live in a country that has come a long way since 1861. While I am certain I will disagree with many policy choices in the next four years, I will say this: I am proud to live in a country that is free and democratic. A fair election and peaceful passing of power should not be taken for granted. The Constitution still stands and the flag still waves. Diversity is a good and beautiful thing, and we have taken another step toward that infamous dream, that dream deeply rooted in the American dream:
"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

...And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

God bless America.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Thriving in College #2

Here's the second installment of a series of musings on college life and learning, directed toward my younger brother - or anyone else who might find it helpful!

Thriving in College #2: The Privilege of Study

My college orchestra conductors often opened rehearsals with a prayer thanking God for the opportunity to work hard. Think about that for a moment. We often thank God for times of rest or relaxation, but we forget to feel gratitude for the privilege of time to work.

Your college years are unique. You will likely spend the rest of your life doing work of various kinds, but you will probably never again have the time you have now to devote to study. Use it wisely. The process of obtaining a college degree is a time of possibility. What you accomplish in college has the potential to expand your work opportunities and increase your wage-earning ability. But besides the long-term benefits of a college education, intellectual growth is a satisfying accomplishment in and of itself.

Odd as it may sound, I actually wish I had four or five uninterrupted hours a day to study or practice the way I could in college. You too may find yourself looking back someday with longing for the days when you had the privilege - and it is a privilege - of studying and learning without the responsibilities of post-college life.