Onward. With love.

One day last week, I noticed a small present outside my front door. Its giver had wedged the small wrapped rectangle into the center of an M&M wreath another friend had left.

No tag. No “To:” or “From:”. Just the rectangle, carefully wrapped. I brought it inside and opened it, the paper winter cold.

It was an ornament. A Wonder Woman ornament.

I’m not sure how many people know how sentimental Wonder Woman is to me, how symbolic I’ve made her, how she is my Truth Teller (Brave Girls might know what I mean).

Does anyone know about the small Wonder Woman action figure that sat on my desk at work for the past six-plus years, front and center below my computer monitor? I’m fairly certain I’ve never told anyone about her, nor written a word.

It reminds me I should get her out of the box of things gathered on clean-out-my-desk-day that went straight from trunk of my car to floor of my garage. Maybe Wonder Woman deserves a spot on my stove or the windowsill above my kitchen sink.

Anyway, I now have a Wonder Woman ornament, given to me by someone whose identity I may never know. And I want to tell you, dear anonymous friend, how much I love her. And how much strength there is in kindness. And how someday, I will pay all this big-hearted generosity forward.

Thank you.

***

Opportunity knocks … only once? Twice? How does that saying go?

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I thought I had a job. A great job, in journalism. A dream job. One I’ve always, always wanted. Oh, in a really beautiful place.

I flew to this dreamy place for an interview last week. I had new clothes, fresh hair and polished nails. I had my confidence, my smile, my poise. I had the hope of a new beginning.

The publisher and I hit it off. She showed me the market, introduced me to the staff, had me edit a story (oh, editing, how I’ve missed you!), set me up in a hotel with a view of the lake and the mountains, told me they were very excited …

But it wasn’t meant to be. And as much as I want to explain, I have to leave it at that.

I spent a few hours in the aftermath being really sad, a few more being really scared and then a few more remembering how great my life is in all other aspects.

So. Onward.

***

I saved the best update for last.

My dad gave my mom this ring 32 years ago.

I don’t know the story, but I wish I did.

It is beautiful.

It is perfect.

And now … it is mine.

On my finger. Diamonds and sparkle and true, true love.

The love of my life asked me to marry him on Christmas Eve. He took that ring of my mom’s and had it spiffed and shined and made mine.

He asked me after midnight, after a long strange but wonderful day, while I was brushing my teeth.

I hugged him and said, “Can we get married tomorrow?”

I was kidding. Sort of.

I hugged him some more and said yes and then we listened to records. His eyes lit up, and he smiled that smile that melts my heart … I knew then, no matter what happens, we will make it.

Perfect.

The ring and the man and the babies and the love. I still wake up every morning and for a second or two wonder if this is really my life … it is.

How lucky am I?

***

The wish is late, but the sentiment is real: Merry, merry Christmas! I hope each of you got exactly what you wanted this year, too.

Maybe this year will be better than the last

We were talking last night, my boyfriend and I, about long-ago music.

About how songs can mean whatever you want, even if the songwriter didn’t intend them that way. About what songs we remembered from movies, about cover songs and cover bands and how most of the time one well-placed, well-done cover song can be amazing but cover bands we can do without.

About singing harmony and about lyrics and about vocal quality. About why I don’t like Elliott Smith.

About other stuff, too.

I can’t remember who brought them up, but one of us did (probably me): Counting Crows.

I was a huge fan from about 1995 to 2003. Yet, I lost all of my music back when I lost my husband and Counting Crows has fallen from grace so much for me since then that I haven’t replaced them.

So today, I googled. And I listened.

And, oh, Adam Duritz, how I loved you and your lyrics.

I loved your music so much for a while that I’ve decided — today at least — to forgive you for the Coke commercial and for “Shrek.” I’ve decided today to listen to you again, like I did before you sold out.

Man, you are good.

I’m forgiving you for the cover of “Big Yellow Taxi” with Vanessa Carlton and I’m forgiving you for “This Desert Life.” (And for “Hard Candy,” for that matter.) I’m even going to forgive you for this bit of news I just read on countingcrows.com – that you’re putting out a COVER album in March. Oy.

No, instead, today at least, I’m remembering you for “August and Everything After” and (thank you) for “Recovering the Satellites.”

I’m even forgiving you the orange shirt in this video:

“A Long December,” live, 2002

How great is this song?

All those things we seek

And just like that, the snow that blanketed our lawn, our roof, our trees for the past couple weeks is gone.

A little rain and a little mercury rising did away with all that white stuff.

This boy is sad.

Just like his mom as a kid, he LOVES playing in the snow.

Some of my favorite memories are of Wisconsin winters in our backyard, building snow forts and snowmen with my dad, my cheeks turning pink and my fingers frozen.

There was just something about snow, despite its cold, that invited that feeling of magic, of possibility, of creation and of shelter.

All those things we seek as adults.

Reminds me that even as grown-ups, we’re not that far removed from childhood.

I assured my son snow will come again.

Buckets of joy

The rockstar boyfriend and I have been playing ping pong.

Maybe once a week, maybe less, but fairly consistently for the past couple months.

His parents have a ping pong table in their basement, and well, it’s FUN.

I’m not very good. The rockstar is quite good. He’s got this spin move he does sometimes that’s funny and awesome at the same time.

But while I’m not very good, I’m getting better.

We played tonight, and had we stopped at best two out of three (despite a 7-0 run on his part during one game), I would have won. Instead, we played a fourth game and he won.

(The little girl actually came down and told us it was time to go home during this game. I then glanced upstairs and noticed my son had his coat and boots on. It wasn’t that late, really. I swear).

Anyway, ping pong … kinda rocks.

Is this an acceptable opinion to hold? Can I still be cool? Or is liking ping pong something that just happens when you enter your thirties and sort of synonymously lose whatever cool you still had?

F it. It rocks. Either way.

***

My blog hit 10,000 visitors today.

Can I just say: “Woo-hoo!”

The site meter is at more than 10,000 actually. When I started writing this post, it read 10,080. Since Nov. 4. Five weeks ago.

Incredible.

And pretty. freaking. awesome.

I know that’s not staggering traffic for some blogs written by women with kids trying to figure this crazy world out. It’s also not staggering compared to what that website I used to work for gets (you know … that one? I forget the name).

But for me, doing this very-little-on-the-side project all on my own? Completely awesome.

Thank you. So much. I hope you’ll keep reading.

***

Finally, a song from the “just because I love you mix” CD the rockstar gave me today:

Willy Tea Taylor – “Life is Beautiful”

Enjoy!

Mom Saves Money: Smart shopping

I really want to use coupons.

Really, I do. I actually enjoy flipping through the Sunday ads, scissors in hand, clipping those glossy little $1-off-my-favorite-makeup-brand rectangles.

I’ve tried buying a coupon organizer that I’d keep in my purse.

I’ve tried organizing the coupons by category in different envelopes at home.

Nothing has worked. Ultimately, all those well-laid plans to save money fall by the wayside and I end up at the store sans glossy rectangles.

Today’s guest blog, though, makes me want to give it another go. If you take Nicole McDonald’s word for it, clipping coupons and watching sales can be SO WORTH IT.

Nicole McDonald, momsavesmoney.net

Stockpiling is smart shopping.

I know. Some of you hear the word “stockpile” and think it’s synonymous with hoarding. If you’ve watched TLC’s “Extreme Couponing,” you’ve seen the giant stockpiles that some coupon users accumulate over time. It is called extreme for a reason.

But don’t let that scare you from having a modest stockpile to save huge amounts of money on groceries and toiletries.

You don’t need an extra room or a garage that can be taken over with products. A small pantry, freezer or extra cupboard will suffice. And it’s worth it: Stockpiling 3-4 months of goods can save you an insane amount of money.

What is stockpiling?

Stockpiling is simply the accumulating of goods or items for future use. People throughout the years have been doing this by canning their fresh veggies and fruits or freezing/preserving meat from a deer, cow or pig. Now, we think of having a small mini-mart in our home to store non-perishable items.

Why stockpile?

Stockpiling when grocery prices are rock bottom means you won’t be forced to buy that item at full price when you run out. For example, this week 5-pound bags of flour are as cheap as 49 cents in the Omaha area. Crazy cheap, right? Well, I propose you purchase 3-4 months worth and store it in your cupboards to use throughout the winter.

Let me show you how much money this will save a family who uses just one 5-pound bag of flour every month. The regular retail price of a 5-pound bag of flour is usually around $2.99.

4 bags of flour at 49 cents each = $1.96

4 bags of flour at $2.99 each = $11.96

You saved $10 over the next four months just by buying flour at a ridiculously low price and stockpiling. In fact, the four months worth of flour cost less than one bag at full bloat retail.

Now, do that with butter, cheese, sugar, canned goods, frozen veggies, etc. and you can imagine how much you will save over time.

Here’s another example: Canned vegetables are as low as 29 cents in Omaha this week. These retail for at least 69 cents, if not more. My family eats about 10 cans of veggies per month. Let’s say we buy four month’s worth of vegetables now.

40 cans of vegetable at 29 cents = $11.60

40 cans of vegetables at 69 cents = $27.60

That’s a $16 savings for just a little pre-planning and stockpiling.

Note: If you are a new stockpiler, you will spend a little more on groceries at first, but soon you will find that you will spend way less at the grocery store because your pantry is full. In fact, if hard times hit, a good stockpile can get you through the rough patch. Ask any coupon user who’s lost a job and they’ll tell you their stockpile kept them from starving.

Don’t go overboard

Sales are cyclical and you only need 3-4 months of stockpile before the next sale on those same items. No need to buy two or three year’s worth of flour and clutter your cabinets, a modest amount will get you through until the next sale. Don’t forget to check expiration dates and rotate your pantry. There is nothing more frustrating than spending money on food and have it go to waste. Only buy what your family can reasonably use before the expiration. If you find yourself with more than you can use, donate it to your food pantry.

How to spot rock bottom prices

I recommend paying attention to your store’s retail prices. You can even make a small price book of your most commonly purchased items. When the price is 75 percent or more off retail (with sales and/or coupons), that is when you stock up.

I NEVER pay more than $4 for a jumbo bag of diapers or $1 for a box of cereal. I NEVER pay anything for toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo, razors, floss, makeup, tampons, contact solution and more. In fact, I make money buying some of those items. I combine coupons with sales and stock up when the prices are low. I am never again forced to pay ridiculous retail prices because I have a modest stockpile that I acquired at the lowest price possible.

Even if you don’t use coupons, following sales and building a small stockpile will save you hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars over time.

Nicole McDonald writes about freebies, coupons, deals and product reviews and hosts giveaways at www.momsavesmoney.net.