Musings in Response to the Couponing Craze

As I have pondered this topic for a few weeks now, several thoughts have come to my mind. Here are my thoughts and musings…

To begin, let’s remember that the companies that print coupons do so because it is beneficial to them. They must be making money off of coupons or they would not keep printing them. Check out this article about sneaky ways that coupons actually cause you to spend MORE money. Of course, it is possible to stay strong and avoid buying things that you don’t need. But, remember that you are being exposed to a ton of advertising just by looking at coupons (coupons ARE a form of advertising).

One of my biggest concerns with couponing is the formation of an unrealistic expectation about the cost of food (see this article). Over the past few years, I have come across the concept of “unrealistically low prices.” I would like to unpack this concept for you. When my eyes were first opened to the needs of the poor and to the reality of my life in relation to the poor, I highly valued a low price on clothing and food to save money, to identify with the poor by living on less money, and to be able to give more money to those in need. As I have learned about food justice and about sustainable living, the way I spend my money has changed along with my idealogy. I first read about the concept of unrealistically low prices in a book called “The Plain Reader,” a compilation of writings by Anabaptists. The idea is that the price that you pay for something should be a reasonable price for what it is. For instance, buying a dress for $5 does not reflect the cost of the fabric, the cost of the labor to make the dress, the cost of transporting the dress to the store, and the overhead costs of the store where it is being sold. If any one of us spent several hours sewing a dress from purchased fabric, we would never sell it for only $5. This is an unreasonably low price. Some one is losing when items are sold for unreasonably low prices. The workers may not be receiving fair wages, the environment may not be treated well in the process…there are probably a combination of factors at play.

In his book “The Omnivores Dilemma,” Michael Pollan takes this even further when he talks about the true price of our food. For instance, the true price of a Big Mac at McDonald’s must take into account the way the corn was grown that is fed to the cow who is raised in unhealthy conditions and then shipped (using gas) to other locations to be processed. There is waste to be accounted for, pollution that fills our skies, top soil lost, and large amounts of fuel used. Plus, there are many people that participate in the process – farmers, ranchers, truck drivers, factory workers, advertisers, fast food workers. Can all of this possibly be covered in the dollar or two that we pay for a hamburger? My point is simply this: is it reasonable to expect to pay so little for our food? And, is it possible that we are doing this on the backs of the poor?

Personally, I want to spend my food money in such a way that I am supporting small and local businesses and farms. I want to pay a price that is reflective of the food that I am receiving, not because I like spending lots of money, but because it just seems like the right thing to do. I want businesses to succeed that have ethical practices, keep preservatives and additives out of their food, and sustain the local economy. And, really, spending my money that way is better for me, too. Fresh, local, natural foods means that my family stays healthier (and in Jedidiah’s case, more calm and rational, too). It means that the earth God gave us is treated well. It means that workers are paid a decent wage (a great way to help the poor!). I spend my money in this way by buying a share in a Community Supported Agriculture, by searching out local options in stores and in my area, and by choosing brands that I respect.

The problem is that I don’t really have all that much money. So, just like the avid couponers, I am always looking for ways to save money. Here are some ways I do this without (in my opinion) compromising my first point:

-I gladly take the items that others throw out. Our country has a whole lot of waste, and I find it completely acceptable to use things that would otherwise get thrown away. Twice a week I participate in “Manna,” a free food giveaway in my alley. Grocery stores donate all the food they are about to throw out, due to impending expiration dates. Even Whole Foods donates food to our little operation. I’ve thought about starting to take pictures of all the food I get for free – it’s truly amazing. Like the Manna of the Bible, it only makes sense to take what one can use because it’s all expiring quickly! Maybe I’ll write a whole post about Manna one day soon. I am also the recipient of many great treasures obtained through the dumpster-diving adventures of some of my friends. They know what factories to go to and get unopened food that isn’t even past expiration (the companies throw it out because it would be past expiration by the time it arrived in the stores). I could say more here, but you get the idea…

-I choose to grow some food of my own. We grow what we can on our porch, but we are limited in this department. I look forward to a time when I can have a huge garden and grow a greater percentage of our food. I think this is one of the best possible ways to have fresh, healthy, inexpensive food that is good for us and for the environment.

-I participate in a food cooperative. The cooperative buys quality food in bulk and then sells it at cost to the members of the co-op. I even bring my own containers to fill up with rice, nuts, pasta, etc. This way, I am even able to reuse my packaging! I really think it would be easy to start something like this wherever you are, as long as you had a group of people interested in helping to get it started.

Finally, I want to address the topic of stockpiling or hoarding food (something that goes hand in hand with extreme couponing). Honestly, this just doesn’t sit well with me. Biblical passages like the man with all his storehouses of grain are flashing before me. I am not completely against saving up for the future or being prepared, but I am against the kind of “catastophobia” (that’s what my husband calls it) that causes people to hoard food out of fear. In contrast, I am a proponent of “preserving the summer’s bounty.” All cultures have had to find ways to preserve seasonal foods so that they would have food for the whole year. I see this kind of like the extra portion of manna that God gave the day before the Sabbath. Canning, freezing, drying, and fermenting food when it is in season means that we are prepared when there is less food available. It also means that we do not have to buy as much at the store. And, personally (although my space is limited), I would rather have canned applesauce, dry beans, and frozen fruit to eat in the case of the hypothetical catastrophe than Dorritos and the newest flavor of boxed crackers.

SO, will I use coupons? Yeah, I think I probably will. Here and there. I see nothing wrong with saving a little money, especially on high end healthy snack options. Who knows, buying a few of these things might help some good companies get off the ground. But, I do not want to dedicate myself to saving money through extreme couponing. There are other ways that I find much more life-giving…to me, to the earth, and to others around me. I would rather spend time with people, in my garden, and cooking from scratch than sitting on the computer looking through hundreds of coupons. If I can live on less money and still spend the money I do have in a way that gives back to people and the earth, that’s what I want to do.

PS – I want to say thanks to those of you beginning a conversation in response to my last post on the current couponing craze. Many good points have already come to the surface in that conversation. I want to address those points in a later post.

Halloween and Lots of Fall Fun

We have participated in quite a few Fall and Halloween festivities this year.

1. Halloween Festival at a nearby community center. Jedidiah dressed as a ghost, and Lilia dressed as a witch. Jedidiah has it in his head this year that people should dress in Halloween themed costumes – such as ghosts, witches, bats, jack-o-lanterns, skeletons, etc. He actually told our neighbor (dressed as a fireman) that his costume did not seem very halloween-y. He said something like, “Have you ever seen fireman decorations during Halloween?” Anyway, here are a few pictures from the festival (I didn’t go with them, but they went with some of their friends). From what I hear, this free event was great. It was sponsored by the local parks district. It was not overstimulating, offered healthy snacks (a big bonus for our kiddo who can’t have food dye), and had games, face-painting, and even a reading corner! My kids LOVED it.

2. All Saints Day. That night was our annual Reba Place Fellowship All Saints Day/Dia de los Muertos event. Josh and I help to coordinate this event, so this was a busy day for us. We encourage people to honor their loved ones who have passed away. People bring art, photographs, letters, and other memorabilia honoring these loved ones, and we display it all with twinkly lights and candles. We also encourage everyone to dress as a beloved friend or family member or saint and to tell their stories. We had a Mexican food themed potluck meal (to align with the dia de los muertos aspect), then we paraded over to a nearby backyard to sit around a campfire and tell the stories of saints and loved ones. Josh took pictures on his fancy camera, but I will have to get those from him later. I was dressed as a waitress named “Thelma,” who I consider a bit of a saint. Lilia was dressed as Saint Bridget. And, Jedidiah just wore his ghost costume. đŸ™‚

3. Pumpkin Carving Party! Our friends Liz and Steve (who recently got married) had a housewarming party with a pumpkin-carving theme. Here are a few pictures from that happy evening. The kids made”monster masks.” The pumpkin design we chose was called “pickled brain.” We chose it because, well, we thought it looked cool!

4. HALLOWEEN!!! Jedidiah informed us weeks ago that he did not want to trick-or-treat this year. Instead, he wanted to hand out candy, since he had never gotten to do that before. As we live in an apartment building and don’t get any trick-or-treaters, we decided to hand out candy at our friends Katie and Eric’s house – just down the street. Their block is about the most popular trick-or-treating location I have ever seen. We equipped ourselves at 4:00 pm (the official start time for trick-or-treating) with about 600+ pieces of candy. We told each child that s/he could only have ONE piece (Jedidiah was quite stingy with this rule!), and we still ran out of candy by 6:30 pm!! Can you believe it?!

All that to say, this whole thing was Jedidiah’s dream come true. I have never seen some one so excited about handing out Halloween candy. Many of the hundreds of trick-or-treaters did not even make it to our porch, as Jedidiah and his friend Delaney ran to them on the sidewalk holding out candy. Jedidiah was literally jumping up and down with delight. His ghost costume was a little limiting, so it didn’t stay on too long. I wish you guys could have seen him, though; I had a great Halloween just watching him having a blast. We did go up and down the rest of the amazing block to collect some candy, but mostly we just handed out candy and hung out with friends. It was a great night….definitely a Halloween I will remember.

First off, here were our costumes:

Lilia, bumblebee (she changed her mind about a hundred times this week, but this is what she settled on)….

Jedidiah the ghost…

Candace the rag doll…

And, Delaney the Baba Yaga…

Somehow, I didn’t get a pic of little Soren, who was Max from Where the Wild Things Are.

Here are a few pictures of Jedidiah handing out candy and of all of us on the porch hanging out…

And, here are a few photos of the over-the-top Halloween decorations just a few houses down…

And, a few more cute photos…

Lilia and Soren are great little buddies. As you can tell, they had quite a fun time sitting and giggling together on the porch. Also a funny side note, Jedidiah told me, “Mom, you don’t know how hard it is to be a ghost. You think you know, because you’ve watched me. But, it’s harder than you think.”

Happy Halloween everyone!

A Few Thoughts on the Season

We are enjoying Fall in Chicago! Here are some pictures of a fun Fall activity we did recently: collecting beautifully colored leaves and dipping them in wax to “preserve” them. We have been learning about “preserving” in the past month or so as a part of our homeschooling lessons. We’ve talked about preserving apples by making them into applesauce, preserving all sorts of foods for the winter (canning, freezing, drying, and fermenting), how fossils are “preserved” over time (a major interest of Jedidiah), and preserving leaves with wax. It’s been a great topic!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Patterning our lives after the rhythm of the seasons has become a new anchor for me. Although I have always been vaguely aware of seasonal changes, I have not embraced them as much as I have this year. I think that it is helping the children to understand the world around them and their place in it, simply observing the predictable patterns of change in their surroundings. They take great joy in putting up decorations that reflect the season at hand and in collecting bits of nature that symbolize the changes that they see happening. Entering into this cycle of nature more fully, is helping me to find healthy rhythms, too. I have always been an overly sentimental person who constantly grieves change, especially the speed at which babies grow into toddlers and children. Somehow, this process of internalizing natural rhythms is helping me to have peace about the cycle of life that God created. I am more able to appreciate the beauty of each moment without feeling sad that it will pass. There is still some sadness, knowing that cold days are coming and that my baby is hardly a baby anymore. But, these feelings are becoming more proportional and appropriate. There is beauty in every season. I can cultivate thankfulness in my life by rejoicing in the gifts that each season brings.

Similarly, we are enjoying celebrating holidays throughout the year that help us to remember to treasure each season and to pause from our routines to rejoice and thank God for all He has done for us. This year, an older Jewish woman in our fellowship asked that we celebrate Sukkot (The Feast of Booths), her favorite holiday. With my leadership team role, I became the one responsible for organizing this celebration. The kids and I actually built a structure (Sukka) that is like a tent or shelter! We had so much fun with this project. We also laid out a spread of the “Seven Species” – foods that were the first fruits of the harvest in Israel. These included grapes, figs, almonds, olives, wheat (we made 4 loaves of homemade challah bread), pomegranate, and dates. We sang praises of God’s faithfulness, heard stories from Vera (the Jewish woman I mentioned), and walked around with candles symbolizing the light that shone during Sukka during the time Jesus lived. (The passage about “I am the light of the world” is thought to have happened during Sukkot.) This holiday celebration was a great blessing to us. Sadly, I did not get any pictures. Yet, I will not grieve, knowing this season will return next year! đŸ™‚

I hope that you are enjoying this season in your life – however it manifests itself in your part of the world!

What We’ve Been Up To

Life is full, as always! Here are a few things that have been filling our days:

-Participating in the wedding festivities of our friend, Elizabeth. (I even got to go to her bachelorette party at the top of the Hancock building in downtown Chicago!)

 

Wearing bathing suits every day. (Look closely, and you’ll even see one under her dress in the picture from the wedding!)

Making pesto from the basil we grew on our porch (and freezing lots of it in ice cube trays, to last us through the winter!).

Making a quilt square for our friends Kate and Joseph, who are getting married in November. Josh drew on the designs, and I did the embroidery work. It is a Celtic cross with a Celtic marriage knot in the middle.

Going on a Mother-Son date to an amazing one-woman dance show. (“I know I can sit still, mom. Sometimes, in the car, we get to the place where we’re going, and I just want to stay in the car sitting still. So, I KNOW I can do it.”  -Jedidiah)

Taking a trip to the apple orchard, and subsequently preserving lots of apples (more on this, soon).

Making Fall crafts…

Playing dress up…

And, just being cute and silly…

Also, we had a great Sukkot celebration this week. This kids even helped to build a sukka (booth). I don’t have pictures from this, but I hope to post about it soon. And, Josh is away this week in Indiannapolis at the Christian Community Development Association conference.

The Bird-day Birthday Party

About a month after Jedidiah’s actual 5th birthday, we finally got to have a little party with his friends. Before I write about this year’s party, let’s take a little trip down memory lane…

Jedidiah has been the source of his birthday party themes for every year of his life.

1 – Jedidiah’s first word was “duck,” so his first birthday party was a duck-themed birthday. There was a duckie cake, orange and yellow decorations, and rubber duckies for party favors.

2 – By his second birthday, Jedidiah had an all-out opinion about the theme of his party. He loved tractors, and he wanted a tractor-themed party. There was a tractor cake, car cookies, and tractors and construction vehicles for party favors.

3 – His third birthday party might have been the most random, yet. He told us very clearly that he wanted a “microphone party.” So, we borrowed an amp and microphone from a friend and had some nice open-mic time with 2 to 4-year olds. We also had an electric guitar cake with a personal-size microphone cake for Jedidiah.

4 – Jedidiah’s fourth birthday was, of course, a dinosaur party. He was in the dinosaur phase for at least a full year of his little life. There was a dinosaur cake, a dinosaur egg hunt, and dinosaur coloring pages.

And that brings us to this year…this year Jedidiah was not sure what theme he wanted to have. He has moved on from dinosaurs. He really likes fire stations and firefighters these days, but he was not sure about that as a party theme. We talked about the possibilities of doing something about Native Americans or science or birds, all interests of his. Suddenly, he came up with the idea – “What about a bird-day birthday?!” And it stuck! We decided to go with it. We asked the kids to dress as birds for the party. We had it near a beach in Evanston with a lighthouse and lots of trails and open nature spaces. The kids collected twigs and leaves to build a nest. We felted wool into birds’ eggs to put into the nest (or, at least we tried to do this…). We made bird feeders out of birdseed. And, we ate some cute (and dye-free) birdie treats. Unfortunately, our camera battery was running low, so I didn’t get very many pictures. But, it was a sweet time of celebrating our big five-year-old. Here are a few moments that we were able to capture (unfortunately, the kids had all taken off their wings by the time we took pictures of them, but the bird face paint is still evident!):