Archive for the 'Shopping' Category

Jeopardy question: What is “I think I’m the oldest person here?”

Answer: Andrew’s comment while picking up a few things – including bridge mix! – for me at Harter House.

Heightened Security

We were planning for a camping trip and I needed some cheap flashlights. You know, the $2.00 kind at Walmart. There’s a big display of flashlights of all conceivable prices hanging on the back wall of the sporting goods department, so on a recent trip, I headed back there before making my usual bathroom stop behind toys and then hitting the grocery aisles.

But there were no flashlights on the back wall. Not one. In fact, some completely other display of stuff was hanging where flashlights should have been.

Well, Walmart has been moving things around lately. I figured they must now be hanging somewhere else. I moved systematically up the life jacket aisle, not expecting to find flashlights there, but trying to remember which aisle had camping supplies… and, yes! There were the camping supplies:  canteens, mess kits, waterproof matches containers, egg boxes, and many other odds and ends that I’m pretty sure no one ever uses – but no flashlights. What the heck?!? Where could they be? Could Walmart possibly have sold out of flashlights? It is camping season, but really? Or did they just stop carrying them (like Twinings Irish Breakfast Tea decaf, or my favorite brand of gel in the useful flexible tube, or Kraft Thousand Island with Bacon salad dressing)?

I then wandered around for a little while, looking for an employee in the general vicinity of sporting goods, and finally found one. I told her I was looking for flashlights and had obviously missed them.

“I’ll get you one.” And she headed back down the same camping aisle I had already perused. Halfway down on the right, she stopped in front of a large glass case. It was the kind you might find guns displayed in, or maybe video games, with sliding glass doors and a silver key lock at waist (well, for me, chest) height. And it was FULL of flashlights of all conceivable prices, including the $2.00 (but now $2.47) ones I sought. My friendly Associate whipped out her access key, unlocked the door and said, “One?”

“No, three, and all different colors, please.”

She pulled a red, a green, and a blue flashlight out of their stand-up display box – Walmart is no longer hanging many products, but simply leaving them in their boxes on the shelves; see pens, pencils, and markers, for example – and handed them to me. I thanked her and asked, “Why on earth are the flashlights all locked up?!?”

“It’s company policy. People kept stealing them. I just do what they tell me to do. You’ll have to pay for those here (at the sporting good register).”

So I did, but I must say that I was truly shocked and slightly embarrassed. Flashlights? Even super cheap ones? Stocked and sold with a level of security comparable to that of prescription drugs?!? I googled a bit and couldn’t find any information on this policy, but since time is money, I’m not sure that that qualifies as “Save Money. Live Better.”

What’s heavy and purple and costs $225.85?

48 striped beach towels!

We decided that we should provide some beach towels at our vacation rental homes, so that the guests can use those for the pool or hot tub, instead of our plush bath towels. We wanted to have about 10 for each house, so after much online searching, we located these at and ordered 48 (24 two-packs). They arrived today and the UPS man agreed that that was one pretty weighty box! I spent the afternoon washing, drying, folding, stacking and packing purple beach towels, and I will say that they make the prettiest lint you’ve ever seen.

Concerning customer service

Here is a word to the wise.

If your errands ‘o day will involve shopping at Staples, do not make my mistake of wearing blue jeans and a red polo shirt. During our ten minutes in the store, I was approached not once but twice by people trying to find specific items.

The first lady wanted to know where we had put the 17-cent spiral notebooks. I, of course, had no idea where they were, but I wandered about for a few moments and found a large stack of boxes with three 17-cent spiral notebooks on top. She was distressed that we only had three, but I opened the top box, saw colorful notebooks within, and assured her that there were many more where those three came from.

The second lady wondered where she could find “that hand-held white-out.” She was obviously seeking the Staples brand OOPS! correction tape that I use all the time, and which I thought I usually found on the same aisle as the pens and pencils. I walked her over there and looked carefully, but sadly found no OOPS! I suggested that she ask someone who worked there (insert sarcastic smiley face), and then resumed my own shopping. I subsequently overheard her asking an employee about the hand-held white-out, and since I later saw her check out and leave the store looking satisfied, I’m pretty sure she found her OOPS!

Actually, this kind of thing happens all the time. I don’t know why I am so frequently stopped in stores and questioned by people who think I work there, but I am pretty sure that yesterday it was my red polo shirt that gave me away.

Would you like a discount card?

We all know about those discount cards that many stores have nowadays. You use your card when you make a purchase, and you get some (usually miniscule) amount off. There are cards for shoe stores and grocery stores and restaurants and clothing stores and gas stations. I generally politely decline those discount card offers.

I take five prescriptions on a daily basis. I have been taking three of them long-term, and it’s possible that I will continue to take some subset of the five for the foreseeable future. Therefore, I have asked my doc to write them for 90 days, and since he’s so accommodating, he does. With refills. This means fewer emails to the doctor’s office and fewer trips to the pharmacy, both of which make my life easier.

It was time for refills. I will not mention that I have been trying for ages to get ALL my prescriptions to refill at the same time. This, of course, is impossible, which means I end up making more trips to the pharmacy, and that doesn’t make my life significantly easier. But now that we have no prescription coverage with our medical sharing plan, we pay cash for all scripts, so I don’t have to deal with insurance, and I can refill them whenever I jolly well please! So last week, I began to do just that, but then paused. It occurred to me that it might be smart to compare prices on all five meds at the two pharmacies I frequent.

I will not bore you with the details of the number calls made, messages left, or times spent on hold, but I will say that on some of the meds CVS was lower and on some Family Pharmacy was lower, so I ended up asking each pharmacy to transfer from the other the ones for which it charged the better price, and they were each happy to do that. Nice folks, those pharmacy techs.

But get this. The cash price on my 360 bumetanide tablets (a diuretic we refer to as “bum” and of which I take four per day) at Family Pharmacy was . . . are you sitting down? . . . I guess you are because you’re reading this on a screen of some kind. . . a whopping $538.87!!! That’s a house payment!!! I gasped and stammered out a thank you to the lady for that information. Then I called CVS and was relieved to learn that their price was somewhat better. I told the technician I wanted the cash price on 2 mg bumetanide tablets, quantity 360.

“Well, that one’s pretty expensive.”

“How expensive?”

I was remembering that the price at all the other pharmacies in the area is usually in the $400 range, but that CVS has been filling it for the past couple years for about $60.00. I have never told CVS their competitors’ prices, and I would sincerely appreciate you not telling them either.

“Ummm. . . it’s $409.99.”

“You have GOT to be kidding! You’ve been filling it for years for something like $60.00!”

“Well, that’s $409.99is the cash price, but, oh, I see, they’ve been running it through on your discount card.”

Note that I have a fistful of discount cards rubber banded together in a cubby on my desk, but there is no CVS discount card in that collection. I think it must’ve been some deal where they had asked me at some point in the past if I wanted to sign up for their discount card, and I had asked why I’d want to, and they’d said it would save me some on some prescriptions, and I’d said, “Sure,” and they’d put my name in their computer, and that was it. I obviously have not thought anything about a CVS discount card since that day.

“And with your discount card, it will be, uh, $27.24.”


Totally shocked and much more than slightly embarrassed, I replied, trying not to giggle with joy, “That is a WONDERFUL number. Please refill that prescription.”

I’d decided on the spot that even though I still have a month’s supply of bum here, I’d better go ahead and refill it at that price before CVS changes its mind!

I picked it up this evening, and they really did charge me a mere $27.24 for my 90-day supply. That is absolutely amazing!

Moral of the story: Always say yes to the discount card.

“Ten-Four, good buddy”

When I was a teenager, my brother was into CB radio stuff. He’d talk with truckers as they passed through our area, and “Ten-Four” was CB slang for “I hear you.”

I have officially adopted the Ten-Four method of grocery shopping, and so far, so good. It’s taken about of month of figuring, planning, and shopping with two carts, BUT this past week I was able to document that the Ten-Four method had reduced my grocery time by 35%!!! This is significant and I will now explain.

For years, Andrew and I did the grocery shopping together. [Note: “Together” means that I decided what to get, put it in the cart, and paid for it. Andrew pushed the cart through the store, put all the stuff all up onto the belt, put all the bags back into the cart, pushed the cart out to the Durango, loaded all the groceries into the Durango, carried all the groceries into the house, and (with very little help from me) put the groceries away.] But then he started attending school, and since mid-August, I’ve been doing the whole enchilada myself. Slowly. Very, very slowly.

It takes me a heckuva lot longer to do it alone, most of a morning, actually. And when I’m done, I’m beat!

Here’s the scoop. From the time I leave the house until the time I have it all put away is consistently two and-a-half hours, or 150 minutes. After spending several weeks working the kinks of out of the system, on the last Wednesday of March, I worked as fast as I could and managed to do it in . . . 138 minutes, a discouraging 92% of the time it used to take. Sigh and major UGH!

But then last week, I did the whole job in 97 minutes, which was only 65% of the time it used to take! I’m making progress.

We have plenty of pantry, fridge, and freezer space, so my basic plan is to walk through the house and look at each item and ask myself, “Do we have enough of this (Rotel or Frosted Mini-Wheats or mayonnaise or orange juice or shredded cheddar, etc.) to last ten days?” If yes, I don’t buy any. If no, I buy enough to last four weeks. Hence the Ten-Four method.

This means that instead of buying one or two of forty different things, I may buy five or six of only fifteen different things. The result is that:

~ I don’t necessarily have to go up and down every aisle every week, saving quite a bit of time while shopping.

~ The bagging and loading into the trunk is somewhat less complicated, which may save a tiny bit of time.

~ The putting away is greatly simplified in that I have to make fewer trips to the various food storage areas and do less product rotation, saving a LOT of time.

Granted, it is somewhat embarrassing to arrive at the checkout with six gallons of milk, eight packages of cheese, four bags of potato chips, four bags of tortilla chips, and ten cans of juice concentrate (because this is the week to stock up on milk, cheese, crunchies, and juice – but NOT on lunch meat, bread, condiments, or apples), but that’s OK because I am working hard on caring less about what other people think of me, as long as I am living well. After all, they don’t have to go home and put it all away, and if I can be done at 10:15 AM, instead of at 11:00 AM, I have just bought myself a full 45 minutes to do something that’s either more important, more enjoyable, or more fulfilling than dealing with groceries.

Time is so precious, and I want to use it well. Ten-Four, good buddy!

Shorter shah-PEENG?

As has been my habit for the past twenty-plus years, I do our grocery shopping every week. I do 92.5% of it at Wal-Mart, where, as I have whined repeatedly in the past, there seems to be a strong tendency toward discontinuing items – especially ones like toothpaste, deodorant, hairspray, and mascara – that I buy regularly but infrequently. Take mascara, for example. I’d buy one, and a few months later when it was getting low, I’d go to Wal-Mart to get a replacement, only to find that they no longer carried the brand and type I wanted. Then, because I was running out of it, I’d have to quickly either try to locate it at a different store or quickly find a different brand. Once I realized that this type of challenge was not just a one-time event but was occurring with some regularity, I started buying such products three at a time. That way, I at least have some margin when they cease carrying a particular item.

Last August, Andrew began attending school, and many aspect of our lives changed, including grocery shopping. For several years prior, he had always accompanied me on my weekly Wal-Mart run, “driving” the cart for me and nearly single-handedly. . .

  • loading it all onto the belt (in my preferred order, and while chatting cheerfully with the checker)
  • loading all the bags back into the cart
  • pushing the cart out to the car and loading all the groceries into the trunk
  • carrying the bags into the house, and
  • (with increasingly less help and supervision from me) putting all the stuff away

WHAT a blessing he was to me on Wednesdays!!!

But now all the above falls to me alone, with the result that the total time involved in a standard Wal-Mart run, from leaving our house to having it all put away, is two and-a-half hours. Wow! That’s a lot of time, and I have been giving serious thought to how I might recapture some of those valuable minutes for other more important projects and activities.

It occurred to me that there are some things that I seem to buy every week of my life. Produce, of course, but also lunch meat, cheese, eggs, bread, “crunchies” (our family term for things like pretzels, crackers, and chips), etc. As I meditated on my shopping habits, I realized that we do have an awful lot of storage capacity. We have a great pantry, plus a canned goods shelf and a crunchies shelf in the playroom. We also have an upright freezer and an extra fridge in the cellar. So. . . I have recently been experimenting with not buying everything every week.

For example, we use about two and-a-half gallons of milk a week, which means I’m lugging two or three jugs into the cart, onto the belt, back into the cart, into the car, into the house, and into the fridge every single week. But if I bought six gallons of milk (which lately has been dated nearly three weeks out – yay!), yes, I’d still have to do all that requisite hauling this week, but next week I could skip milk, and instead stock up on, say, three kinds of cheese and two kinds of bread. And the third week, I’d do milk again with two kinds of lunch meat, and three boxes of eggs, followed in the fourth week by, for example, loads of canned goods.

My theory is that then I wouldn’t necessarily have to do every aisle of the whole store every week, and while I would have a heckuva lot of a few things each week, it shouldn’t take as long to put the load away, because there’d be fewer different items.

My plan is to review our stash each week and ask myself, “Do I have enough of this to get all the way through one to two  weeks?” If yes, I don’t buy any of it. If no, I buy at least three to four week’s worth of it.

I’ve been endeavoring to do this system for most of a month. Give me a few more weeks and ask me how it’s working.

Ok, I repent

I repent of all the cruel and disparaging comments I have made about Wal-Mart through the years.

I know that one bad experience can color my opinion about something forever.  Refusing to ever dine again at a restaurant that caused food poisoning comes to mind.  But how sweet it is when one good experience outweighs all the bad and makes me smile!

I am soon to embark upon that hallowed tradition of writing our family Christmas newsletter.  Oh, that it were as simple as that sounds.  Yes, I have to figure out what to say (and what not to say) about six people and twelve months.  I have to write it, proofread it, email it to everyone and get their input, make necessary adjustments, go to Staples to get appropriate paper, get it aligned to print properly, print it, fold it. . . but wait!  There’s more.

The mailing list needs to be reviewed and updated.  Labels have to be printed.  (Thank GOD for Scott.  No one knows why Mail Merge in Windows 7 is so hideously tedious, but Scott is able and willing to wrangle with it once a year to get our labels printed.  Whew!)  Stamps have to be ordered, and return address labels need to be printed.  One would think that would be enough, but no.

We typically include a family photo in with the newsletter.  Usually that picture is taken by my dad when we are all together (or not) at Thanksgiving.  Then there is some discussion over which picture is the best.  It is close to impossible to get all six of us to look good at the exact instant the shutter clicks.  Well, that’s not entirely accurate.  A good picture of the six of us cna be taken.  What can’t be taken is a picture which each of the six of us can individually review and honestly say, “I like the way I look in that picture.”  Anyway, we do try hard.

This past week, I reviewed the mailing list, made necessary changes (it seems that people are moving, dying, and/or divorcing at greater rates than they used to. . . ), and got Scott’s input on whom to drop and add, AND said all kinds of wonderful things to him while he mail merged, formatted, and printed labels for me.  What a nice guy!  I also ordered stamps.  (Be it noted that the US Postal service website gets more cumbersome and less user-friendly as the years go by, so Forever Stamps really are a good idea.  I should probably buy all that I will need for my natural lifetime because eventually a person won’t be able to order them at all!).  And, in a true fit of initiative, I remembered to email the family and ask what they thought we should wear for our portrait session with Grandpa.  I even asked Katie if there was a way to Photoshop in a picture of Jessica (who lives abroad) so we could all be in one picture together.

And Katie replied that she thought we were going to use one of the family pictures that Maria (professional photographer) took of us when we were all home together last summer.  Aha!!!  Well, yes.  So I found the picture.  It was saved on my computer, and it looked pretty good.  The only problem was that it had Maria’s watermark, and I was pretty sure that if I sent it to Wal-Mart online (which is how I normally order prints), they would refuse to print it because of copyright issues.

Maria had given me a letter granting permission for our family to print any of the photos on that disk, but in order to use that, I would have to physically go into the store, explain the situation, hand them the letter (which was not especially official-looking) and hope they would print the pics.

I didn’t want to go into the store.  For one thing, everyone knows how I feel about Wal-Mart in the first place.  For another thing, it’s the Christmas season.  It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, and I am already sick and tired of all the junk on display, not to mention the swarms of shoppers who fill the parking lot with their cars, the aisles with their bodies, and the checkouts with their full carts.  Wal-Mart emphatically does NOT put me in a thankful, Jesus-focused frame of mind!

But into the store I went.  It was on the way to Andrew’s piano lesson.  We left the house fifteen minutes early, hoping that that would give me enough time to go in, stand in line to use one of their upload machines, talk to a human, explain how I really did have permission to print 160 copies of a professionally-taken photo with a watermark, persuade them to do the prints, get back out to the car, and get Andrew to his piano lesson.

The bar was set quite high, and I knew success was unlikely.

We parked and speed-walked to the photo department.  (We would have run, but I have learned that for some unknown reason, even a very short run will leave me in hip pain for a couple months.  It’s just not worth it.)  There, I fumbled with an upload machine and finally asked Andrew to make it do whatever it should do.  Meanwhile, out of the corner of my eye, I spied the elderly gentleman who is the head of the photo department.  He knows everything and is nice, but he was waiting on another customer.

I kept watching him, and as soon as he was free, I approached and asked for help.  Jim was very polite and friendly – characteristics that I value deeply in service people – and he had no qualms about accepting my permission slip.  He helped me get through the dialogues to order the prints, scanned a copy of Maria’s permission slip, handed me back my flash drive and slip, and told me they’d be ready in 20 minutes.

WHAT?!?!?  AT WAL-MART?!?!?

I thanked him and we speed-walked back to the car, arriving five minutes early for the piano lesson.  Wow!

Afterwards, we returned to the Mart of Wals, speed-walked in, found Jim just where we had left him, examined the prints (they look great!), paid for them, thanked him for his service to our country (he’s a veteran), and left.  All told, we were in Wal-Mart for a grand total of something under twelve minutes, and I have 160 copies of a fun family photo sitting on my desk, just waiting to be labeled and inserted into our Christmas newsletter.

There were probably hundreds of other customers still in the store, wandering aimlessly amid all the junk for sale, but we were not two of them!

Nice colors

November tends to be one of our rainier months.  Although I’m not much on using an umbrella, when I have to walk some distance out in the rain, or when I know I might need to help cover someone else (older folks at church, for example), I like to have a nice, big one.  We do have such an animal – an enormous, non-collapsible model that is black-and-white striped and has two layers of flaps.  It’s just perfect.

However, several hundred people work at the same company Scott does, and that means that the parking lot is huge.  Since, as a contractor, he doesn’t work fixed hours, I suspect he sometimes arrives on the late end of the morning rush, and so may have a rather significant walk to the building.  That’s why he takes “the” umbrella on rainy days.  It usually doesn’t matter, because I’m either home or parked pretty close to where I’m going, and we do own a back-up; a collapsible navy blue umbrella with one slightly bent spoke.  In ideal conditions, it keeps one person marginally dry.

I have been thinking for several weeks that it would be nice to get a second really good umbrella, and the other day I was in Wal-Mart and finally remembered to look for one.  I knew I did NOT want a small, cheap, or collapsible one.  I actually wanted one just like our big black-and-white, but maybe in a different color.  I like bright colors, so I was really jazzed to find that (A) Wal-Mart did, in fact, carry the same kind of huge, sturdy umbrella, and (B) they had one – and only one – in bright multi-colors!!!  It looked like a rainbow.  What a score!!!  I grabbed that umbrella, paid for it, and came home feeling like a victorious conqueror.  Yee hah.

This morning it was raining when Scott left for work.  We were both trying to leave at the same time, and he initially grabbed the black-and-white (zebra), but then went back into the house for something.  I therefore took the new, colorful (rainbow) one, and Andrew and I left to go help with some things at the church, as is our Thursday morning custom.

On the way, Andrew broke to me the real scoop about the politically correct nature of my treasured new umbrella.  I had not thought a lick about this, but listening to him, I did suddenly recall that rainbows are now a symbol for homosexuality.  Sweet Georgia Peaches.  I think of rainbows as meteorological phenomena that represent God’s faithfulness!  I am certainly no supporters of the gay lifestyle, but I now have a MASSIVE rainbow-colored umbrella, and I’m pretty sure no other members of Team Roberts will be begging to carry it. Sigh.

Evidently the rainbow umbrella gave Pastor Barb pause when she saw me bring it into the church this morning, although she said nothing at time.  Then Andrew then made some comment about “my mom’s gay umbrella,” and we all talked about it a bit and laughed.  (She did tell me that she knows I’m not a lesbian!)  The whole thing made me sad, but I decided I needed to make a decision, and my choice is this:  I will hold my rainbow umbrella high and let people think what they want.  I know the truth, and in spite of our culture’s continued slide down an increasingly slippery multi-colored slope, these colors make me smile.

Can I pay you now?

Andrew and I went to Wal-Mart this morning, as is our usual Wednesday morning custom, and one of the things on our list was a Wii.  Yes, I know that’s hard to believe, but we were buying a Wii.  Actually, we (no pun intended!) weren’t buying it; our vacation rental home was, but since it can’t walk to Wal-Mart, we were making the purchase in its behalf.

I, of course, know absolutely nothing about a Wii or a Wii remote or a Wii nunchuk, and I surely don’t understand why they all have to be the same color, but Andrew knows such things, so I asked him to get the electronics associate to open the Wii case, and I told him I was going on with the grocery shopping and to meet me on the other side.

Shortly he called after me that I had to pay for it there in electronics, so I turned back and began the ten minute(?) process of trying to pay for the Wii and its nunchuk.  You wouldn’t think it would be so hard.  The very helpful and friendly electronics lady rang it up and told me the total.  I swiped my card, and the screen said, “transaction invalid, keys not entered.”  Hmmm. . .  I told her that’s what it said and she asked me to try again.  I did, with the same result.  We tried it several times, with her doing whatever on the machine on her side of the counter in between.

Then she came around to my side and did something that I didn’t quite follow but which may have been essentially re-booting the little card swipe gizmo.  We then had to wait quite a long time for it to think things over, and e-v-e-n-t-u-a-l-l-y the payment screen reappeared.

I swiped my card and got to see the “transaction invalid, keys not entered” screen yet again.  At that point, she began the laborious process of canceling out the transaction on that register and re-ringing our purchases on the other register.

I had had in mind the goal of getting home by 9:45, having the groceries up by 10:00, and getting Andrew going on his academics, but that did not happen today.

Here’s a word to the wise:  If you need to pay for a purchase in the electronics department, always go the register on the LEFT.


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