Where Logic Meets Love

The Mini-Sagas of Married Life

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

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The Mini-Sagas of Married Life | Faith Permeating Life
My husband makes me laugh sometimes.

He goes grocery shopping. I see that he has bought me raspberry jam.
Me: "Oh, thanks. I usually buy raspberry preserves, but this works just as well."
Mike: "Sorry, next time you can get preserves."

I use up the last of the raspberry jam. Again, he goes grocery shopping by himself. Again, he comes home with raspberry jam.
Me: "Babe, remember I like the preserves more than the jam?"
Mike: "No way, I specifically looked at the empty jar you had rinsed out to make sure I got the kind you liked and it said raspberry jam."
Me: "Yes, because last time you went grocery shopping you bought me raspberry jam and I asked you to get preserves next time."
Mike: "Ok, sorry."

I have used up the raspberry jam. Mike is going grocery shopping.

Pre-grocery shopping:
Me: "Could you please get me raspberry preserves?"
Mike: "Sure."
Me: "Please get preserves this time."

Post-grocery shopping:
Mike is putting away groceries and I see him with the jar in his hand.
Me: "What did you get this time to go on my sandwiches?"
Mike: "...what?"
Me: "What is in your hand?"
Mike: "Raspberry preserves. I looked all over for raspberry jam but they don't sell raspberry jam so I got raspberry preserves."
Me: "But I wanted preserves. Thank you."
Mike: "NO, I always buy you preserves and you always tell me that's wrong and that you like jam."
Me: "Other way around. You bought jam the last two times."
Mike: "NO, I bought you raspberry preserves last time."
Me: "Look in the recycling bin."
Mike: "What?"
Me: "Look in the recycling bin for the jar I just used up."
Mike reaches in and pulls out a raspberry jam jar.
Mike: "What the -- they don't sell jam! I looked all over for jam! Oh man . . ."
Me: "Thanks for my raspberry preserves!"

Sweepstakes Tips

Friday, March 26, 2010

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Sweepstakes Tips | Faith Permeating Life
I've been Facebooking quite a bit lately about my sweepstakes entries and wins, and I thought I would share how I do sweeps. There are a lot of better sites/blogs out there about sweepstakes that can give you more detailed information, but this is just the routine that I have set up, using the technology available to me. It includes both sweepstakes entries and "freebies"--I've managed to acquire quite a lot of free toiletries and other things in the past few months that were given away just for signing up.

The Discovery
How do I discover new sweepstakes to enter? The majority of them come from three main sites: Sweepstakes Advantage, Sweeties Sweeps, and About.com Sweepstakes. About.com and Sweeties also have Freebies sites.

Because of the tools I use, I don't have to go visit these sites every day. I use Google Reader, which I love for reasons outside of sweepstakes, which allows me to get updates any time new entries are added to the Sweeties or About.com sites. Because I subscribe to Sweepstakes Advantage, I get one e-mail every day that has links to all the sweepstakes that have been added that day and all the ones that are going to expire that day.

My preference is to have the freebies sites feed into my normal Google Reader, the one associated with my personal e-mail address where I collect all the blogs and other sites I read, and the sweepstakes sites feed into the Google Reader associated with my sweeps Google e-mail address (see below). That's just because I leave my regular Google Reader open all day along with my Gmail, and often freebies are only open to the first 1,000 people or something so you have to enter for them right away. All the sweeps stuff I leave for later, when I get home from work.

I am also a fan of Sweeties Sweeps on Facebook, where sometimes she posts sweeps before she puts them on the regular site.

One other tip for finding freebies, but only if you're willing to wade through a lot of stuff: You can set up a Google Reader feed that includes Google News stories with certain words in them, so I have one that gives me stories with the phrase "giving away" or "freebies" minus stories about basketball or bingo, because those are apparently what most stories with the word "freebies" are about. Additionally, you can set up a Google Reader feed for Twitter tweets about freebies, but that's really only if you want to stay on top of it constantly!

The Setup
As I mentioned, I have a separate Gmail account I use only for sweeps. It's pretty much a necessity to have a separate e-mail address. I've managed to avoid getting any real spam, but a handful of sweepstakes require you to sign up for some kind of newsletter, so those all get funneled to this e-mail address, along with the Sweepstakes Advantage digests, "thanks for entering our sweeps" e-mails, and "don't forget your daily entry" reminders from certain sweeps. Obviously you don't have to use Gmail, but since I use both the Google Reader and Google Calendar tools, it makes the most sense for me.

There are three main kinds of sweepstakes I enter: One Entry, Daily Entry, and Instant Win. For my purposes, Daily Entry and Instant Win are handled the same way. Sometimes they're combinations, like you play an instant win game and even if you don't win, you still receive your daily entry in the grand prize sweepstakes. There are other types of sweeps, like Twitter and Facebook sweeps, blog sweeps, essay-writing sweeps, and others, but I prefer the straight-up fill-out-a-form sweepstakes.

I use Google Calendar to organize my sweepstakes entries. When I find a new sweepstakes, I look at two things: One, whether I can enter once or every day (the latter being either daily entry or instant win), and if it's every day, I see when the sweepstakes ends. On the three sites where I find most of my sweeps, this information is included in the description. Then I click in the "all day" section on the calendar for today's date, type the name of the sweepstakes, then go to "edit event details" and copy the URL into the location. If it's a daily sweepstakes, I change the "Repeats" info to "Daily" and the ending date to the last date of the sweeps. If it's a one entry sweepstakes, I type "one entry only" in the description.

The reason I include the one-entries on my calendar is so I don't accidentally enter the same one-entry sweepstakes twice. Some will just throw out duplicate entries, but some will disqualify you altogether if you try to enter more than once. Another reason I love Google Calendar--it has a search feature built in, so when I find a one-entry sweepstakes I can search on my calendar to see if I've already entered it.

When I go to do my sweepstakes entries for the day, all I have to do is go down the list--I click the "location" button next to the sweepstakes name, highlight and copy the URL, then do cmd-T cmd-V to open a new tab and paste the URL in. I know there's a faster way to open multiple sites, but I haven't found one that combines with the calendar to automatically give me a list of only those sweepstakes that are still active.

The Entry
The first time I find a sweepstakes, I judge its trustworthiness. If it's posted on Sweeties or About.com, I usually trust it, because those are pretty well screened. The ones on Sweepstakes Advantage are more numerous but a lot sketchier. Sometimes people will comment to say it's a scam, but a lot of them I have to figure it out myself. If the first part of the URL is a well-known company's site, great, but if not, I go to the Privacy Policy. If it doesn't have one, I don't trust it. The part of the Privacy Policy I focus on most is what they will do with my information. If they say they will give it to third parties, I don't enter. Sometimes it depends on what information it is--if it's my name and e-mail address, it's not as big of a deal as if it's my address and phone number. And I always enter the minimum amount of information, not filling in optional fields.

Also watch out for checkboxes--check only the ones you have to check to enter, like "I am 18 or older" and "I agree to the Official Rules." Uncheck anything subscribing you to their newsletters, unless you want them, of course. Sometimes it's unavoidable to subscribe, which doesn't really bother me since I have this separate e-mail address, but if you don't want to be inundated, check the Privacy Policy for how you can unsubscribe after they start e-mailing you. Once you've entered a sweepstakes a few days in a row, you memorize the checkbox pattern and don't have to pay as close attention to what you're checking and unchecking anymore.

Another thing to pay attention to is how many times you can enter per day. If it's more than one, I include that (e.g., 4x) in the sweepstakes name on my Google Calendar so I don't forget.

I use Safari because it has an "Autofill" button you can install on the toolbar, and so after I've entered a sweepstakes the first time, all I have to do the next day is click the button and it fills in all my info, minus any drop-downs, which are usually just State and sometimes Birthdate. This makes it go really quickly. If you're not on a Mac, there's something called Roboform(?) that only works on Windows, but it's apparently what most hardcore sweepers use.

My fingers are trained by now to open new tabs and copy without thinking about it, so I highlight a URL, cmd-C cmd-T cmd-V all in one swoop, and then click back and highlight another URL while that page is loading. That's how I'm up to 70-ish sweeps in an hour.

One helpful hint: Companies cannot require you to buy anything to enter a sweepstakes. Sometimes this means you have to mail them an index card if you want to enter, but most of the time this means you can get a free code on their site. So if it ever asks you to enter a code from a product, look for a "Don't have a code?" link or look through the rules for the "Alternative Method of Entry." I use this all the time to enter sweepstakes on My Coke Rewards.

Those are the basics. So far I've won a $10 Home Depot gift card, some recipe books, a $10 iTunes gift card (that was actually just for entering a sweepstakes), a free appetizer or dessert at TGIF's, a free pizza and two sodas from Papa John's, and a $10 Restaurant.com gift certificate. Even though these are small things, they still make a difference for us--we don't have the money to order pizza, so it's a treat to get it for free. From freebies sites I've gotten free toothpaste, tampons, a full-size bottle of shampoo, a bottle of Excedrin, and a coupon for a free Heluva Good dip.

Oh! One more thing and this might sound dumb, but it's one of the top tips I got when I started reading about sweepstakes sites: Make sure you actually want the prize. There are bajillions of sweeps out there, and you could enter them all and increase your chances of winning, but you'd probably end up with a bunch of crap you didn't want. Unless you have a quick and effective way of selling off unwanted items, don't bother--especially because you still have pay taxes on any wins. I primarily enter sweeps for cash, gift cards, and occasionally trips, but not many because I won't have many vacation days available at work this year after going to Ireland in June. I don't want to win a prize I can't use when someone else could have it instead.

I also do online surveys (got $25 recently for one of them) and also use Swagbucks, but those are for another day . . . :)

P.S. I almost forgot the most important part--you can often get extra entries for inviting a friend. I never do this (because I think it's rude to send people unwanted e-mail), but I am looking for a sweepstakes buddy who wants to find out about new sweeps and get me bonus entries, and vice versa. I just need to know your "sweeps" e-mail address if you want to be my sweeps buddy!

"Responsible" Parenthood

Saturday, March 20, 2010

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'Responsible' Parenthood | Faith Permeating Life
Mike and I practice Natural Family Planning, which we learned mostly on our own before we were married and then took a one-time Advanced class through the Couple-to-Couple League to learn the details of the charting method the CCL teaches (which I think is excellent and simple).

Because of our payment to CCL for this class, we became members of CCL and receive their magazine, "Family Foundations." The magazine is an interesting mix of articles about NFP (like finding a doctor who supports it and details about chart reading), family life, and Catholic/pro-life/similar stuff, since NFP is tied to Catholicism.

While some of the articles, mostly the NFP-centered ones, are interesting, most of the time the magazine tends to flabbergast/anger me in one way or another.

The first time, this was from a letter they published from someone who was anti-NFP. The basic idea of the letter was, "NFP doesn't work. We tried doing it but then we didn't want to wait to have sex so we had sex and got pregnant. So it doesn't work." Which is quite possibly the stupidest possible argument against NFP that I've ever heard. I guess if you have no self-control it's not for you...

But lately it's been the actual content of the magazine that's been annoying to me.

In the previous issue, there was a regular column by a woman who had been counting down to getting married, and this was her first column since getting married. What was so ridiculous about it was that the article started off saying that it was "finally time to put into practice" the NFP that they had learned. Then it goes on to talk about how they wanted to postpone pregnancy for a variety of reasons, meaning they should not have intercourse during the fertile period (Phase II of the woman's cycle).

Then, when they discovered she would be in Phase II on their wedding night, they decided to have intercourse anyway. The reasoning given was more or less, "C'mon, it's our wedding night." Hello? Is this not the exact opposite of what NFP teaches? How on Earth is this "putting NFP into practice"? Then, when they didn't get pregnant, they were relieved and went back to practicing NFP. That just annoyed me because this magazine is always talking about NFP being so "countercultural" and yet this couple, who they were holding up as some kind of model, felt they couldn't go against the "rule" that you have to have intercourse on your wedding night.

But the latest issue, the one that arrived earlier this week, just took the cake for me. I read almost the entire issue, trying to find something redeeming about it. The issue was supposedly about "responsible parenthood." After reading all the articles and all the different stories from the different families, I concluded that "responsible parenthood" means "feeling guilty if you're not constantly pregnant." Seriously. As if responsible parenthood was only possible if you spent your life having as many children as physically possible.

And the reasoning some of them gave was ridiculous. One woman said that about 18 months after each child was born, she would get really annoyed with charting every day, and she interpreted that as a "call from God" to have another child. What? You have to get pregnant because you're lazy?

I think what annoyed me most was that there wasn't a single mention of adoption as a form of responsible parenthood. (I take that back: There was one mention of adoption, to bemoan how terrible it was that anyone could "get" a child, even gay people -- and you know how I feel about that.) For me, I would feel terribly guilty about bringing nine children into this world, like some of these parents in this issue. How could I create so many children when there are already so many children living without a home? And our world getting so overpopulated? [Update: I've since learned more about the overpopulation issue!] Originally Mike and I were planning to have three children and adopt two, but I just couldn't justify bringing more children into this world than the two to "replace" Mike and me. So we plan to have two and adopt at least three, and our first will be adopted.

That is what responsible parenthood is to us -- we are postponing pregnancy to allow us to give a loving home to a child who doesn't have one. And we are waiting to do that until we are sure that we have the financial stability to provide that loving and safe home for a child.

Being "open to children" doesn't mean you have to be constantly pregnant. Mike and I are open to eventually adding to our family as many children as we can support and feel called to have or adopt.

It seems to me -- and this is pure speculation -- that people find NFP difficult or annoying, and so they excuse or justify their desire for more intercourse, and to not have to watch their cycle phases as closely, as a call to have more children. I have yet to read an article from CCL that talks about a family prayerfully and carefully spacing out two or three children, and then stopping. That's what NFP supposedly teaches: mindfulness, that you make a decision every cycle about whether or not you can financially, emotionally, spiritually, and otherwise bring another child into your family. I don't get that at all from these articles, just this vague idea that more children = better. It's as if you have to provide a justification not to get pregnant, but you don't have to provide a justification for getting pregnant.

Mike and I love NFP. It comes up again and again how glad we are that we practice NFP. And it's amazing to me how intercourse, right from the beginning, became just one of many, many ways for us to be intimate and sexual. I don't think either of us feel deprived during the times we're not in Phase III (the infertile period). It's more like, during Phase III we have one additional way of being loving that we don't have at other times. And that's it. What I love about NFP is how it provides a unique mindset about the whole of marriage, about our bodies, about respect for each other, about partnership, about life planning. It requires conversation about sex, which should be a necessity for every relationship but isn't.

I'll say one final thing about this, and if you are uncomfortable with thinking about me and Mike doing anything sexual (or if you are my mother), you should stop reading here. When intercourse is not an option for a large part of the month, you find other ways to be sexual. And while intercourse involves both parties, many of the other ways to be intimate involve one person pleasing the other. This sounds like it would be a disadvantage because you're not "experiencing it together," but think about what it does to your marriage when the primary way of having sex is being self-sacrificing and thinking about the other person's needs -- and both of you are doing this equally? It creates an other-focused, service-oriented relationship, which anyone who came to our wedding knows is what our marriage is based on anyway. [Updated to add that this is not official Catholic teaching, and to link to a later post exploring this in more detail.]
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