Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hot Pockets

Some of you may have been wondering what's happened to me.  I've been taking a little hiatus due to the hectic holiday season.  I'll be back soon with more of my usual lengthy posts.

In the meantime, I just wanted to pop in here and tell you about a little brainstorm I had.  My heater is out of commission, and while waiting for the repair guy to show up, I had a great idea!  I have some of those cloth heating packs you microwave with the rice inside.  I popped one in the microwave and then slid it inside my sweatshirt, which is the kind with the big pocket on the front.  I am sitting here typing away on the couch, toasty warm!  This would be a good way to keep your heater turned down low and still stay warm, particularly if you're just sitting around.  If you don't have any of those heating packs, you can make a quick one by tying some rice inside a clean tube sock.

Hope this helps you to keep your heating bill low, and your comfort level high!  Happy Holidays, everyone!

Monday, November 15, 2010

I Dig Freestores!

Saturday was the first gathering of LAfreestore. The LAfreestore is the project of Krisha, a student of Sustainability Studies at Cal Poly Pomona. It is a community exchange designed to bring together members of the community by the sharing of goods, services, smiles and great conversation. This type of exchange is good for many reasons. It's good for the environment since it keeps usable goods out of landfills. It's good for the soul because when we give to others we give ourselves something equally valuable. It's good for the community since it provides people a place to gather and exchange all sorts of ideas and things.

The origins of LAfreestore can be traced way back to the Digger movement in England in the 1600's. The Diggers were an agrarian, communal society, so called because they grew their own food. They began as the "True Levellers", a protestant movement that got their economically egalitarian views from a passage in the Book of Acts. The Digger colonies were completely wiped out by wealthy, influential groups of Landowners by 1650. The movement resurfaced in San Francisco in the 1960's, led by a bunch of improv actors and activists. They opened up stores where they gave away goods, services, medical care, transportation and temporary housing for free. They also prepared "Digger Stew" from donated and stolen vegetables and meat, and fed anyone who was hungry. From there, Freestores popped up in other cities throughout the sixties, with the largest in New York.

My friend and I had heard about the event through someone else, and we were not quite sure what to expect. Being big fans of Freecycle, which is an online version of the Freestore, we wanted to check it out. We gathered together some used clothes and shoes, paperback books and toiletry items in tote bags and set out. This first gathering was held in the Eagle Rock section of Los Angeles, in the parking lot of the Casa Princesa Cafe.

When we arrived, we were greeted by friendly volunteers who took our items to place out on the tables. We could look around and take anything we wanted. No money changed hands. We were encouraged to wear tags naming any skills we could offer to other community members, such as babysitting, housecleaning, Reiki massage or even telling a good joke! These name tags were intended to start discussion between us, and it worked! Before long we were chatting with each other, helping each other to pick out clothes, telling jokes and sharing stories.

All of the items were clean and in good condition. I was surprised by the variety of stuff available. There were children's and adult's clothes, food, shoes, books, jewelry, CD's and movies, housewares, toiletries, even some seed packets! Next time I'm going to bring containers of seeds I've saved from my garden! We didn't stay very long, but the event was scheduled to last until 2:00 and a band was scheduled to play later. At the time we were there, there were about 30 people, but the idea is that people come and go throughout the day, so I'm sure many more than that were in attendance.

Right now, the intention is to hold these events twice a year. If you are interested in volunteering, or just want more information, you can visit the website: www.lafreestore.weebly.com or follow the group on Facebook: http://goo.gl/Lrof. A few pictures of the event have already been posted on Facebook, and people are sharing their finds. Watch for the date and location of the next gathering! Hope to see you there! If you are not in the LA area, why not consider starting up such an event in your own community? I'm sure you would find it to be a very rewarding experience!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

When Times Are Tight, Give Thanks For What's Going Right!

Times are hard, and many of us are feeling down. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, let's take time this year to be thankful for the things that are going right in our lives. Are all of your family members healthy, or has someone recently recovered after a long illness? Are the kids doing well in school? Are you still in the family home? Do you still have a job? Are you receiving unemployment or food benefits which are keeping your family from being truly destitute? Does your family have active military members who are safe, although they are far from home? Do you have a lot of supportive, nurturing friendships that you treasure? Things may not be perfect, but let's still not forget to count our blessings.

There are many ways of incorporating this into the holiday celebration. My sister has a small fabric memo board with ribbons to hold the messages. This year we are going to put out a jar of paper strips printed with "I am grateful for..." and a pen underneath the memo board. Each family member will fill one out, tuck it into the memo board, and we will read them during dinner. Some families have a small branch that they stick messages on, some write in a pretty book, others put them in a nice vase. No matter how you do it, you may want to include this activity into your Thanksgiving Day. It may help your family to feel a little more positive about their circumstances.

I wish you all a fun and relaxing Thanksgiving, surrounded by family and good friends.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Squash Those Soup Cravings

Got a craving for soup? Cold weather got you wanting something warm and nourishing? Make what I made for lunch the other day. It was really easy. I used a microwave-safe casserole dish with a cover. I combined one 15 oz. can organic butternut squash, one 12 oz. can evaporated milk, garlic powder and salt to taste, a dash of pepper, and a dash of ginger. I microwaved the whole thing with the cover on for seven minutes, stirred, and enjoyed! It was delicious, quick and healthy too! If you don't have ginger, you could substitute nutmeg or sage. Both taste great with squash.

I hope this simple soup recipe hits the spot. Anyone else have a speedy, effortless soup recipe to share?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Beautiful Bloggers, Take A Bow!

I was recently honored with the Beautiful Blogger Award by my friend Preeti Bhatt (aka Zengirl) over at Heart and Mind http://tinyurl.com/2bbk7pd. I was in good company, with other fine bloggers Vaishali Honawar from Holy Cow, Earth Vegan Blog, Evelyn Parham from Becoming Healthier, Farnoosh Brock from Prolific Living, and Sybil from AlternaView.


If you are not familiar with Preeti's blog, Heart and Mind, you should really drop by and read some of her recent posts, including Feeling Overwhelmed? 8 Ways To Find Relief From It http://tinyurl.com/29uqcqg. Preeti is a fine writer, who focuses on finding balance in your life between what the heart desires and the mind wants. You can subscribe to her blog on the homepage, so you don't miss any of her valuable posts!

One thing I am supposed to do as a part of receiving this award is to share seven things about me that my readers don't already know. Here goes:

1. I am a tea fanatic. I absolutely love trying new types of tea, and I rarely try one I don't like, but my all-time favorite is Earl Grey.

2. I am an avid reader. When I get busy, I really miss finding time to curl up on the couch with a good book and my cat.

3. I haven't driven a car in over 20 years. This is really odd for a resident of Southern California. I lived in cities where there was great public transportation for so many years I got out of the habit.

4. I love to garden. Where I live right now, I only have space for containers, but still grow about ten types of vegetables in addition to other types of plants.

5. I am a crafter. I enjoy rubber stamping, jewelry making and many other crafts.

6. I am a violinist. It has been many years since I have played, but I intend to get back in practice one day.

7. I have travelled quite a bit, all over Europe and the Middle East, and have lived abroad as well as in five different states in the US.

The most fun part about winning the Beautiful Blogger award is getting to select up to five other deserving bloggers to bestow the award on. This was a real challenge, as I follow so many fine, worthwhile blogs, written by smart, imaginative writers with lots of great information to pass on. After much thought and consideration, I selected the following five bloggers:

Terria Fleming at Daily Good. Terria writes about people and organizations who are doing good in the world through kindness, caring, and green living. If you are looking for something to counteract all the negativity in the news every day, this blog is it! You can subscribe to Terria's blog, or follow her using Google Friend Connect. Read some of Terria's latest posts here, including Best of Remodeling With Great and Unique Homes, about some truly unusual green homes, and The Love Kitchen, about 82 year old twins who are doing their part to end hunger by providing over 2,000 meals a week to Knoxville's hungry. http://dogoodanddowell.blogspot.com/

Fern at Life On The Balcony. Fern provides some great tips for the gardener who is either an apartment dweller, or severely space-challenged. If you enjoy Fern's blog, please subscribe. You can also follow her on Twitter. Check out her recent posts, including When You Can't Garden Outdoors Anymore, Grow Vertically Indoors, and Master Gardeners Dig Succulents. http://lifeonthebalcony.com/

Babe at Frugal Babe. Babe's focus is on living a rich life, without spending a lot of money. Her and her husband paid down a large amount of debt in a very short amount of time, while running a business and keeping a household afloat, so she knows what she's talking about! She would love to have you subscribe or follow her Tweets. You'll find her recent posts, including Ecofrugal Baby - Win Your Copy Here (there's still time to win) and A Better Gift Giving Guide (just in time for Christmas shopping!) here: http://frugalbabe.com/

Jenn Fowler at Frugal Upstate. Jenn specializes in tips, tricks and techniques for living a good life on a budget. Make sure you visit her Crafts/DIY section for some unique and creative ideas. Her latest posts include Frugal Skills: Coloring Your Hair At Home and Poll: Planning For Holiday Spending. If you're looking for recipes and menu plans, Jenn has you covered here too. You can subscribe to her blog by email or RSS feed, as well as following her on Twitter. http://www.frugalupstate.com/

MJ at Making Do With The Not So New. MJ has lots of great reuse projects on her site, and she even has them organized by material used, so if you are looking for something to do with say, chopsticks, you can go directly to the relevant projects. She welcomes tips from her readers, so if you have any to share please get in touch with her. According to the cool map on her blog, MJ has readers from all over the world, and I can see why! You can follow MJ using Google Friend Connect. Some of her recent posts include Patching Holy Holey Jeans and the clever Bottle Top Bag "Clip". http://makingdowiththenotsonew.blogspot.com/

I hope you enjoy browsing through the blogs of the award winners I have chosen. Maybe some of you will find a new favorite!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dual-Use Dynamos

I like objects that can serve more than one purpose. They save money, and they save space. What are some dual-use items in your house? Here are a few of mine.

My microwave is used to heat up food, and also sometimes to store foods I want to protect from bugs, and my cat. One example would be freshly baked cookies. If left on the counter, they might be subjected to the lick test by our resident feline taste taster. When placed on a plate in the microwave they are sealed away safely from the eyes of the cat and from those of Mr. Bargain.

Another kitchen item I use for two different things is my plastic microwave plate cover. Not only is it great for preventing splatters when reheating food, it also makes a good colander for rinsing a few veggies under the tap.

Corks are another multiple use item. When they are done sealing my wine bottle, I reuse them for sealing bottles of cooking oil or vinegar. I also prop my washing machine open with a cork after use to allow it to dry thoroughly, preventing mildew.

Chopsticks are a similarly versatile item. When they are not being used to shovel Chow Mein into my mouth, I use them for various craft purposes. They are good for gently popping the bubbles around the edges of the mold when making soap. They are also good for tying wicks around to hold them upright in just-poured candles until they become solid. Another use is poking decorative doodads through the mouth of small bottles or glass ornaments.

On many occasions I have used a juice glass turned upside down as a cookie or biscuit cutter. Simply roll out the dough, flour lightly, press the glass down into the dough, then twist gently to loosen.

Rubber bands aren't just for holding groups of objects together. I use them all the time for holding plastic baggies in the dishwasher so they don't fall down onto the heating element while being washed. Place the baggie around six or so prongs, and pull the rubber band down over it to hold it on. The baggie will fill up with water. Once the machine is finished washing, simply empty it out before pulling the rack all the way out.

These are just a few of the dual-use items in my house. Please share some of yours. I 'm looking forward to learning some new uses for the objects I already have at home!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Savings To Spare With Pommes De Terre

My favorite fall pantry staple is potatoes. They are frequently on sale this time of year. Despite the current carb-phobia, they are nutritious, cheap, versatile and filling. Potatoes contain many vitamins and minerals, as well as a type of starch that helps regulate insulin and cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Potatoes can be prepared in so many ways. They can be baked, and stuffed with cheese, meat, vegetables, etc. They can be layered in a casserole, grated and made into potato pancakes, or simmered in a stew. They are excellent fried or mashed. With over 3,000 varieties of potatoes worldwide, they are featured prominently in most ethnic cuisines.

If potatoes are not already a part of your diet, why not pick up a bag today? Try a new recipe from Allrecipes.com, Myrecipes.com or Epicurious.com and come back and share your new favorites with us!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Straight Buzz From The Hive

It could be that the bees pollinating my veggies are trying to communicate telepathically with me. I don't know what it is, but it seems all I have been reading lately are tips about bees or honey. Since I'm long overdue at posting here, I thought I'd share a few with you.

One thing I read was that a simple spoonful of honey could substitute for cough syrup. Since I am in the midst of a miserable summer cold right now, I thought I would test this one out. I ran out of cough syrup last night, and every time I lay down to sleep I would get that tickle in the back of my throat and start coughing. After awhile, I threw back the covers in frustration and made my way to the kitchen. Plundering my collection of honey packets from cups of restaurant tea (I never use the packets when I'm out because they make my fingers all sticky) I found a couple and ripped them open. I squeezed a couple directly into the back of my throat. This did relieve the tickle long enough to let me drift off to sleep. Would it work for a really bad cough? Probably not. Would the effects be terribly long lasting? Not likely. Could honey substitute for cough syrup in a pinch? Sure!

This brings me to my second tip. Honey is also a natural antiseptic. Try it out on those summer cuts and scrapes! People swore by it before Neosporin was invented! Researchers have even found one type of honey (Manuka) to be effective in treating some MRSA infections.

I had never heard this tip before the other day. Someone said their doctor recommended taping a penny to a bee sting. The copper would make the swelling go down and neutralize the reaction. There were several people that claimed to have tried this with success. Since I don't relish the thought of deliberately going out and getting stung to test this one out, one of you will have to let me know if this works. I can't wait to hear (not that I'm wishing a bee sting on you)!

One fun fact: honey is the only food that never spoils!  Fruit has been found in Egyptian tombs, preserved in honey, which is edible today.  Hope you find these tips to be the bee's knees! At least one of them ought to come in handy at some point if your house is anything like mine.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Not Just For Peasants Anymore

Now that summer is in full swing, many of you gardeners will be up to your sunhats in tomatoes and fresh basil. What to do with this sun-induced surplus? Make Bruschetta!

As far back as the 15th century, peasants were enjoying this delectable appetizer. Today, it holds much more wide-spread appeal. Pronounced (brus'ketta), the name comes from a Roman word meaning "to roast over coals", as the bread was originally roasted over the fire before being topped with the other ingredients.

There are many variations in preparation. The most common is toasted bread, rubbed with garlic and topped with tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper, and fresh basil. Less common versions include red peppers, olives or other vegetables, meat, beans or cheese. Typically, you use a crusty round of bread, such as a sliced baguette. Quality extra virgin olive oil tastes the best.

When I had a bigger garden, this was my go-to dish for family July 4th celebrations. It was enjoyed without fail by relatives of all ages. Now I make it in much smaller batches just for us, since my container garden isn't up to those quantities!

I hope you enjoy this recipe. It goes particularly well with a glass of wine! Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Chianti, and Sangiovese are excellent paired with Bruschetta. If you prefer a sparkling wine, try Prosecco. Let me know how you like it!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bag Some Swag!

Just in case any of you are not yet signed up with Swagbucks, you should sign up, pronto! I love Swagbucks because it pays me for doing something I do anyway - search the Internet. Since November of 2009, when I started using Swagbucks, I have redeemed eleven $5 Amazon Gift Cards, just from doing a few searches a day.

To use Swagbucks, you can either download their toolbar, which I didn't do, because I don't like to download a bunch of stuff, or you can remember to go to the website to perform your search. It's very simple to use, you just type your search in the way your normally would. If you win bucks for your search, a notification will come up in the upper right corner or at the top of the screen, flashing. Search results are provided by Google and Ask, and I've found them to be reliable.

I have discovered a few tricks from using the site for the last nine months. If I perform a search and don't get Swagbucks right away, it helps to check all pages of results. Sometimes they pop up on the second or third page. You can get 50 Swagbucks for registering your birthday on the site, and one Swagbuck each for checking the Survey section and the No Obligation Offers section (just select "skip" for each offer you're not interested in) and participating in the Daily Poll. If you care to participate in any of the surveys, you can earn bucks that way too. It gives you an indication how likely you are to qualify for each survey before you start. I like this, because if my odds are slim, I don't waste my time! If you do any shopping on the Internet, you can earn points like that.

Don't forget to check Twitter, Facebook and the official Swagbucks Blog. From time to time they will give out codes that you can input to get additional Swagbucks. You can also win Swagbucks if your name comes up as the Hourly Random Winner on the site. I have never seen my name come up, though. Fridays are MegaSwagbucks Days, and you can win more Swagbucks per search on Fridays.

When you have some Swagbucks accumulated, browse around the Swag Store until you find something you want to redeem them for. At the time I'm writing this, my preferred prize, an Amazon e-card, is going for 450 Swagbucks. After you order, they send you an email you need to confirm, and then you have to wait a week or so for your prize to post.

If anyone wants to sign up, please use my link:


They give you 30 Swagbucks just for signing up. Once you are signed up, you can also earn points when your referrals earn points.

I hope you like Swagbucks if you sign up, and that you are able to earn a lot of great prizes! If you have any questions about Swagbucks, feel free to leave a comment and ask me.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bushels Of Uses For Seasonal Bounty

One of my favorite things about this time of year is the abundance of delicious, fresh fruit. Your neighbors are begging you to take it off their hands. It's on sale at every grocery store, and available at local farm stands. The only question is, how to use it all up before it spoils!

Stone fruits, such as peaches, plums and nectarines have a myriad of uses. They can be grilled, tossed into salads, blended in smoothies, cooked into jam, sliced up and made into a topping for ice cream or crepes, baked into pies or cobblers, canned, frozen or dried for later use, or made into wine or liqueurs.

Melons, such as cantaloupe, watermelon or honeydew, can be scooped out with a melon baller, and frozen for later. The texture will be slightly less firm, but it will still taste great. They are terrific in salads and in chicken entrees. They can be dried and eaten later, or frozen into sorbets. They can be juiced. Watermelon rind can be made into pickles.

No matter how you eat them now, or preserve them for later, summer fruits are a delicious way to add important nutrients to your diet. Please share your own ideas for using the fruits of the season!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

You'll Go Bananas For This Icy Treat

Hot summer days are here. Are you looking for an easy, healthy alternative to ice cream? Look no further! This sweet, frosty treat has no fat or cholesterol if you use soy milk, and very little if you use nonfat or low fat milk. It's also full of vitamins and minerals, and pretty inexpensive, too. The soy milk or juice version is great for those who are lactose intolerant, or vegans.

I always buy some overripe bananas on sale, peel them, and keep them in a gallon-size storage bag in my freezer. When I want a treat, I pull out one or two, break them into chunks, and throw them in my blender. If I want a more ice cream-like concoction, I add low fat milk or soy milk. If I want more of a sorbet, I add whatever fruit juice I have laying around. Add it a little at a time, until you get just enough where it can blend without bogging down the motor, but not so much that it's too thin. You want it as thick as possible. If I want chocolate "ice cream", I add a little hot cocoa mix. If I want fruity ice cream or sorbet, I add a little jam or a piece of overripe fruit. Blend until smooth. Use a rubber scraper to transfer the mixture to a bowl. Place the bowl in the freezer. Remove it every fifteen minutes and give it a stir, until it freezes to the right consistency.

Enjoy your guilt-free summer treat!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Cheap Cheats

There are little tricks we can employ in every area of our lives to save money. I like to call them cheap cheats. Each of them will save just a few cents here and there, but using all of them together can really add up over time. I'd like to share a few of mine with you.


-Make your own pickles for pennies. Buy a cucumber on sale. Plunge it into boiling water using tongs for a few seconds to kill any bacteria. Slice thinly and pack the slices into a jar of juice you've saved from store bought pickles. In a few days they are ready to eat! Every few times you'll have to buy a jar of pickles from the store and start over.

-Use clean hotel shower caps you've collected while on vacation to cover bowls in the refrigerator. Make sure the plastic doesn't touch the food, as it's not food safe plastic. I wash mine in the top rack of the dishwasher and reuse them. Just make sure they can't fall through to the heating element and melt!


-Flatten the toilet paper roll slightly with your hand before you put it on the holder. It won't roll so easily, preventing family members from accidentally rolling out too much at once and wasting paper.

-Water down those little shampoo samples left over from the hotel and use as hand soap. Just save a pump dispenser from store-bought soap and use it over and over again.

- A small rubber band wound a couple of times around the base of your soap or lotion pump will keep too much from dispensing at once.


-Use newspaper or catalog pages to clean grease out of pans, pet messes- anything too nasty for your washable cleaning rags. No need to buy paper towels.

-Even though we use our reusable grocery bags, we still manage to accumulate some plastic ones. Use these to line trashcans instead of buying trash bags.


-If you use fabric softener, the sheets can be cut into narrow strips, and still work just as well. This can really stretch a box.

-Vinegar added to the rinse cycle is an even cheaper, natural fabric softener.

Heating and Cooling:

-Keep the windows open at night and early in the morning while it's cool, and close them before it starts to heat up.

-Close all the blinds on the sunny side of the house until the sun goes down or goes around the other side.

-Reverse the blade direction on your ceiling fan in the winter to help push the heat down from the ceiling.

Do you have any cheap cheats of your own? I'm always interested in hearing your money-saving ideas.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Packaging, Schmackaging

My biggest pet peeve when I go shopping is excess packaging. Boxed snacks with little individually wrapped portions inside, shrink-wrapped flats of plastic water bottles, tiny toys in huge clam shell packaging with cardboard inserts, they all drive me nuts.

Although I see some small signs of change lately from manufacturers, there is still a lot of room for improvement. What can we do to send a message to manufacturers that we don't want this waste to continue?

-Email the manufacturers of your favorite products and ask them to make packaging that can be reused for something. Once upon a time, jelly came in juice glasses with a disposable top. After eating the jelly, you could drink out of the glass. Flour came in cloth sacks that could be used as dish towels. Let's bring this practice back.

-Buy staples in bulk and store them in reusable containers. When companies sell fewer of their over packaged offerings, they will have to change their ways or risk losing sales.

-Purchase the new, concentrated versions of things like laundry detergents, which come in smaller containers. Manufacturers actually prefer these nowadays anyway, as they help them to save on shipping costs.

-Find ways to reuse containers that products come in. Cat litter buckets can be used as planters after drilling holes in them, for instance. Remove labels from jars and coffee cans and use for storage. Plastic food trays or small boxes can be used to organize drawers.

-Give locally made handcrafted toys rather than the over-packaged plastic junk made overseas whenever possible.

-Buy a filter and filter your own tap water. Stop buying those ridiculous bottles!

-Purchase a used item. Yard sales and thrift stores are good places to buy household items that are still in great shape, and they usually don't have any packaging!

The practice of over packaging is not going to change overnight. After all, packaging is designed not only to protect the products we buy from damage and theft, but also to entice us to buy the products. However, with a clear message from consumers, and the pressure of increased shipping and packaging costs, change will eventually happen. In the meantime, don't forget to recycle any excess packaging you can't avoid!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Take Me To Your Loss Leader

What is a loss leader? A loss leader is a product sold by the store below cost. This is meant to get you in the door in the hope that you will buy other more profitable products at the same time. It also gets you in to the store more often thereby increasing the likelihood that you'll buy more stuff each time you're there. For instance, I usually only grocery shop once a month, but if there are some cheap sale items I need that week, I'll go again. The store only has a few of these items in their flyer each week, because they want you to come in on a weekly basis. Typically, loss leaders are found on the first or last page of a store's flyer. The price will seem unusually low to you. Better than the typical sale price.

In order to benefit from these extremely low priced items, you need to do several things. First, you must avoid the temptation to buy other items that are not available for a good price. Second, if the loss leader is an item you use regularly, you should buy as many as the promotion will allow. When something is on sale for a great price, and I am the only one in the family who uses the product, I will ask other family members to buy some for me too. Lastly, don't drive all over town to pick up one or two items that are on sale. That will just eat up all your savings in wasted gas. Plan to stop at each store when you will already be in the area on another errand. Try to plan the most efficient route to hit all your stops.

Don't forget, you can still use a coupon on these heavily discounted items to maximize your savings. If you don't have one already, check the online coupon sites. I usually just do a web search "coupon kraft macaroni and cheese" or whatever the product is. Make sure you check the date of the resulting hits. You will find some outdated ones too.

Hopefully, this post has inspired you to check your sale flyers, head to your nearest grocery store, and fling open the door, shouting "take me to your loss leaders!"

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Birthday Booty

Ok, I got your attention, but that's not what I meant at all. Get your mind out of the gutter! I'm talking about all the free stuff you can get from companies on your birthday.

If you like Starbucks, just register a gift card with them, and you'll get a free drink on your birthday. If you keep reloading and using the same card, you will earn a star with each visit. When you reach 30 stars, you will get a free drink every 15 visits, as well as on your birthday. There are other benefits too, which you can read up on at the website.

I like to browse around at this cool store called Anthropologie. It's expensive, so I rarely buy anything there, but I signed up for their club. Last year on my birthday they sent me a cool little sewing kit. This year they sent me the cutest necklace made out of a birthday candle. If you live near an Anthropologie store, you should sign up.

Join the email lists of all the restaurants you regularly dine at. Many of them will send you a coupon for a free dinner or dessert on your birthday. Sometimes they require that another meal be purchased, but you're probably not eating out alone anyway.

Ice cream chains such as Baskin Robbins, Coldstone Creamery and Dairy Queen typically offer a free cone on your birthday. This year with the economy being bad I got a buy-one-get-one coupon from Dairy Queen, which I thought was a little cheap considering those type of coupons are often found in the local paper anyway.

Check with all of your local movie theaters, since many of them offer a free movie or snack bar item on your birthday. If you rent movies, many of the rental chains offer a free rental on your birthday with membership.

Ski resorts typically offer a free lift ticket on your birthday (or a free ride for summer birthdays) and many golf courses give you a free round of golf.

Local bowling alleys will usually give you a free game on your birthday. They may require you to rent shoes, though.

Speaking of shoes, I found a coupon in my email from Payless offering me a 20% discount on a pair of shoes during my birthday month. Not a bad discount if you needed a pair anyway.

Someone just told me Krispy Kreme offers a dozen free doughnuts on your birthday. I hope so, since mine's coming up soon! I know Dunkin' Doughnuts gives you a free medium drink on your special day.

Don't forget to use your junk email address when you sign up for all these freebies. Otherwise, your regular email will be full of ads all year! Register with all the stores and restaurants you normally visit, and I promise when your birthday rolls around, you will have all sorts of offers!

If you know of any birthday freebies not mentioned here, please leave a comment and let us all in on them!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Each One Reach One

This post was inspired by Zengirl over at Heart and Mind. She has a great article this time with a lot of thoughtful suggestions about how you can help your unemployed friends. You can check it out here: http://tinyurl.com/2ckxd7z .

Let's face it, a lot of us are struggling financially right now, even if we are not unemployed. I have a few additional suggestions on how you can help your friends and family to help themselves.

Are you a whiz at using coupons? Why not share your knowledge with your friends and family so they too can save a bundle at the grocery store? Here is a quick lesson on how to use coupons for those who are not as savvy: http://tinyurl.com/25fzbc9 .

Do you regularly get a lot of items for free by taking advantage of rebates? Share your secrets! If you don't know how to rebate, here's a quick rundown: http://tinyurl.com/5uoyn7 . Don't forget about drugstore rebates. If you live near a CVS, Rite-Aid or Walgreen's, you can get most of your toiletries for free. If you're not familiar with how the different programs work, here are some links that break it down pretty well: CVS: http://tinyurl.com/22tsoa9 Rite-Aid: http://tinyurl.com/2dld8wf Walgreen's: http://tinyurl.com/24lcu4v .

Is your thumb a vibrant shade of green? Why not help an agriculturally-challenged neighbor to plant and maintain a few tomatoes or a zucchini plant? Start small so you don't overwhelm the fledgling gardener.

Do you have Little House on the Prairie-type skills? Help a friend learn to make jam, bread or yogurt, or learn how to can or dehydrate produce. Then they can take advantage of those great supermarket produce markdowns, or their own garden surplus if they are talented in that area.

Are you a Knit-wit or Stitch-witch? Pass those sewing and needlework skills on! Making useful items from old clothing or altering cheap yard-sale or thrift store finds can be a valuable skill.

If each of us taught only one other person a skill that would help them to save money and improve their life, what a difference it could make!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Home Green Home

An article I came across recently about a man who builds houses out of at least 80% recycled materials gave me the idea for this post about green homes. The man's name is Dan Phillips, and his Texas company builds low-income housing for single parents, artists and low-income families. He works together with a non-profit that helps to secure financing so that these individuals can take out an affordable mortgage to buy their home. He employs unskilled, minimum-wage laborers and teaches them valuable skills which they can then take to better-paying future jobs. So, his homes are great because they are keeping useable items out of the dump, they are providing job training for low-skilled workers, and they are giving poor people the chance to own their own home rather than living in housing projects. Because of the way they are constructed, these homes all have a one-of-a-kind look. You can look at some photos here:


Yurts are another type of "green" home. Based on the tents used by Central Asian nomads for centuries, they are lightweight, but weatherproof and strong. They consist of a durable fabric cover, and a wooden frame. The door is framed in, and there is a solid floor. Plumbing and electricity can be hooked up in these structures. They are easy and inexpensive to erect, use minimal materials, and have no negative impact on their surroundings. They can also be quite beautiful, as you can see here:


Tailor-made for minimalists, the Tiny House ranges from 65-140 square feet, and comes on wheels so it doesn't need a building permit. You can buy them already constructed, or build your own. They have a tiny kitchen, mini bathroom, a living-dining area, and a loft bedroom. They can be hooked up to plumbing and electricity, or use tanks and solar power like an RV. The heater runs on propane. You just tow it to where you want it, and you're ready to go! Slightly larger versions, the Small Houses range up to 800 square feet, all in one large room. You buy the plans for these, and build them yourself on location. Why are these homes green? If you live in such a small space, you use very little energy, and consume very little in general. Check out some photos here:


Aptly named, the Earthship uses mostly recycled materials such as used tires and aluminum cans. The tires are filled with earth, stacked up, and plastered with adobe or cement to conceal the tires. The cans are plastered over and used to make thin, curving interior walls. This type of house takes advantage of passive solar power to heat the house. The insulating effect of the earth in the tires keeps it cool. These houses often include systems to capture rainwater and reuse greywater. If artfully constructed these homes can be much more attractive than they sound, as you can see here:


The Straw Bale House has a traditional wooden frame, but the thick walls consist of bales of straw that have been plastered on both sides. These walls provide excellent insulation that minimizes the need for heating and cooling. These houses sometimes have a Hobbit-like quality. You probably noticed one incredible example at the previous link, before the Earthship as you scrolled down the page.

Living in one of these unusual homes can be a challenge. Short-sighted or simply unfamiliar with these types of homes, city officials can refuse to issue permits for them. Insurers sometimes have a hard time determining their value to insure them. Banks sometimes balk at loaning money for them. If you can get past these obstacles, you could really enjoy living in one of these inexpensive, environmentally sound abodes. Wouldn't you like to hang your hat in a place that will make your friends and family "green" with envy?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Brew Up Some Cheap Fun

From time to time I like to write about inexpensive party ideas. I've been attending quite a few teas this spring, and it occurred to me that teas are an economical and relaxing way to reconnect with friends. If you go to a tea house, it can cost $25 or more per person, but having your own tea is much more affordable, and lots of fun!

One of your friends probably owns at least one teapot. Someone else most likely has a set of china you can use. As far as teacups go, I think it's a lot more fun to have everyone bring a special teacup and tell its story. The one with the prettiest garden can provide cut flowers for the table.

Those who bake can be responsible for lemon bars, brownies, shortbread or sugar cookies, etc. You must have scones for a tea party, in my opinion, but these are just as good made from a mix. You just add water, drop by spoonfuls on a cookie sheet, and bake. Non-purists could opt for muffins instead.

The habitual tea drinker in the group could provide some loose tea. Teabags are just not the same! You might need to provide some herbal tea as well, for those who are trying to avoid caffeine.

You'll need some jam (I like strawberry or raspberry, but in the fall apple butter or cranberry might be better) and some lemon curd for the scones. There is an easy recipe here http://tinyurl.com/yf6zad6 for lemon curd.

There are lots of recipes for tea sandwiches on line. The best way to make tea sandwiches is to use cheap white or wheat sandwich bread that has a square shape, and to cut the crusts off AFTER you've made the sandwich.

My favorites are egg salad, cucumber and chicken salad. The egg salad is pretty self-explanatory. The trick to the cucumber sandwiches is to slice the cucumbers really thin with a mandoline or food processor, then sprinkle with salt and place in a colander in the sink to drain for awhile. Spread both sides of the bread with cream cheese, layer the cukes on, slap them together and cut the crusts off. My secret chicken salad recipe contains canned chicken, broken up into tiny pieces, dried cranberries chopped small, diced walnuts or pecans, a little celery, and mayonnaise. I don't measure, I just add some of everything until it looks good.

If you want an additional savory item, you can buy some of those mini quiches, or some stuffed mushrooms. I don't think you really need them unless your pals have big appetites! I also like to put a few strawberries or grapes on the tray.

You can have your tea indoors in a pretty room, but if the weather's nice, why not have it in the garden? Real silverware, china and cloth napkins provide a touch of elegance. Tiered serving trays work best, but if you don't know anyone that has any, you can just use pretty plates or platters.

It's fun to have a theme for your tea, such as roses, lavender, fall leaves, etc. Let your imagination run wild decorating in keeping with your theme. It's also fun to wear hats. Have a contest to see who can wear the prettiest or craziest hat. The winner gets a prize.

I hope you have a wonderful afternoon tea! I would love to hear about your tea party experiences, favorite recipes, etc.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Anniversary, Mother Earth!

Today is the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day. I propose a toast! While you sip your champagne, why don't you look over my annual list of green tips and see if there are some ideas in there that will work for you?

1.Take shorter showers (or shower with a friend!)

2. Switch to washable dish cloths. They can be used a lot more times than sponges before they need to be discarded.

3. Buy as many things second-hand as possible.

4. Use a reusable coffee filter or tea ball rather than paper filters or teabags.

5. Raise the thermostat a few degrees in summer, and lower it a few in winter.

6. Reuse towels many times before washing (make sure you hang to dry thoroughly in between uses!)

7. Use junk mail and computer misprints for scratch paper (use both sides!)

8. Save veggie and pasta cooking water to water plants (make sure to cool it first!)

9. Reuse "trash" around the house (ripped pantyhose to tie up plants, pill bottles to store buttons, screws, etc., plastic knives written on with Sharpie as plant markers).

10. Send e-cards rather than paper greeting cards.

11. Buy more food locally and in season.

12. Bring packing peanuts and air pillows to your local UPS store for reuse.

Hope this list has given you some new things to try. See you next Earth Day for the next installment!

Monday, April 19, 2010

No Owe 'Em Poem

In honor of National Poetry month, I have penned a little acrostic poem on the subject of saving money. I hope you enjoy it!

Pay down those credit cards
Eat meals at home
Never pay full price
Negotiate a discount
Yard sale shop

Purchase staples in bulk
Invest your money wisely
Need something? Check freecycle
Clip those coupons
Hold stocks long-term
Interest rates vary-shop around!
Negotiate a raise
Get a rain check

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Frugality - A Foreign Concept?

With the state of the economy, frugality is very popular in America right now. Despite our newfound thrift, we are not the only country to value saving money. Whether by necessity or by choice, other nations have been pinching pennies all along. I started researching frugal traditions in other countries to see what we could learn from them.

In Germany, the waste management department in some towns runs a place called the Sperrmull where unwanted items such as furniture are stored. People in need of furniture or appliances can go and look through the inventory, and take what they need, free of charge. Some American cities have a "big trash night" when you can put large items out for disposal, and I have seen people out picking these items up. The problem is, whatever is not picked up ends up in the landfill the next morning. I am not aware of any American cities that use a system similar to the Germans. We should approach our local waste management authorities and request such programs be developed.

In wintertime, rather than turning up the heat, the Japanese have traditionally warmed their beds with a Yutanpo. The Yutanpo is a hot water bottle traditionally made from metal or ceramic. Some modern versions are made from rubber with cute prints or pictures of animals on them. Although Americans sometimes use hot water bottles, it is more to alleviate aches and pains than to save on heating costs. This would be a cheaper alternative to the electric blanket!

Another smart Japanese tradition is to build storage compartments in under the floor, with a cover that can simply be lifted off. This allows Japanese citizens to live more efficiently and inexpensively in a smaller space.

Chinese commuters often walk, bike or take the subway, saving on the cost of owning a car. It also allows them to incorporate more exercise into their routine. There is also a Chinese tradition of exercising at scheduled intervals throughout the workday, leading to better health and lower health care costs for all.

A Nigerian invention, the Zeer Pot, allows people in the developing world to keep food cool without electricity. A small clay pot with a lid is placed inside a larger clay pot. The space in between is filled with sand, creating insulation. Water is added to the sand twice a day to keep it damp. Food is kept cool by evaporative cooling. Colin Beavan tried to use this type of cooler during his No Impact project. He didn't have a lot of success with it, but from what I've read, this type of cooler doesn't work well in high-humidity environments, which New York in the summertime definitely is!

The Dabbawala is an old Indian tradition that is currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity. For about $6 a month, Dabbawalas pick up hot lunches from office workers' homes and deliver them to their offices. Wives, daughters and sisters traditionally remain home and prepare the meals in the course of their daily chores. During the recent economic boom, workers began to eat out more in fancy restaurants. After the economic meltdown, Indians have turned back to frugal ways. The lunches are packed in tall lunch pails called tiffins. Dabbawalas balance as many as 50 of these pails on long boards balanced on their heads and rush through traffic. Special train cars are reserved for the Dabbawalas on the subway so that they will not be delayed. A new variant of the tradition has sprung up delivering healthy snacks to students and office workers working evening overtime hours.

What are some frugal foreign traditions you've heard of? I always find it fascinating to hear how people in other parts of the world live, and it often gives me ideas about how I can change my own daily routine to be more efficient and economical.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Eggcellent Uses For Easter Eggcess

So Easter is over, and you have bowls full of colored hard-boiled eggs, or Tupperware full of uncooked eggs from blowing eggs out to decorate them. What can you do with this embarrassment of riches?

Uncooked eggs can be stored covered for 2-3 days in the refrigerator before use. Some recipes which use a lot of eggs include omelets, french toast, flan or custard, homemade mayonnaise, quiche and souffle. Cakes made from scratch also use a lot of eggs. You may be wondering how you measure out a specific number of eggs when they are all cracked together in the bowl. One large egg is about 1/4 cup, or 4 TBSP, so you would mix the eggs up thoroughly and then measure.

Hard-boiled eggs are equally versatile. Although it is not safe to store them at room temperature for more than two hours, they can be stored up to a week in the refrigerator. If you are not going to use them within a week, you can chop them and freeze them in freezer bags. After thawing in the fridge, they are fine to use in egg salad or as a salad topping. I usually make egg salad or deviled eggs out of my leftovers, or slice them on a salad. Some people like to pickle them. There is even an Indian recipe for curried eggs http://www.indianfoodforever.com/non-veg/eggs/egg-curry.html !

Now that you have a few ideas for using up all those eggs, what about the shells? Egg shells can be composted, or if you don't have a compost pile, you can simply crush them and sprinkle them around the base of plants to keep slugs and snails away. When left relatively whole, they make good tiny starter pots for seeds. Just plant the whole thing once it sprouts! Another use for them is to clear drains. Crush them as finely as possible and let them sit in the sink drain basket. Every time you run the water, a few will go down the drain. They act as an abrasive, and over time will keep your drains running smoothly. They are also good for removing tea stains from tea pots or thermoses. Leave crushed shells overnight in a dampened pot. The next day, add water, swirl and rinse. Your stains will have disappeared! I have even seen pretty mosaics pictures made out of the colored shells!

What are your favorite use-'em-up tips for eggs? I'm always looking for some fresh ideas!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Eggsquisite Eggs, Naturally!

Do you use the same old egg-dying kits with the tablets every year? Are you looking for a more natural alternative? This year, try dying your eggs with vegetable and herbal dyes. The most vibrant colors are obtained by boiling the dye right along with the eggs. Adding one teaspoon of vinegar before boiling helps to set the color, with one exception. If you are using onion skins they will react with the vinegar to make a brownish color. Bring to a boil, and then simmer about 15 minutes. Immersing the eggs overnight in the dye will result in the brightest color. If you don't want speckled eggs, you will have to strain all the organic matter out first, using a coffee filter. Read on for some ideas on how to get specific hues.

Pink - beets, cranberries or raspberries

Orange - onion skins, carrots, Paprika

Red - red onion skins, pomegranate juice.

Yellow - carrot tops, Turmeric, green tea

Blue - canned blueberries, red cabbage leaves, purple grape juice

Purple - Red zinger tea, violet blossoms + 2 tsp. lemon juice, red wine

Green - spinach leaves

Brown - strong coffee, black tea, Black Walnut shells

To create interesting patterns on the eggs, try putting rubber bands on the eggs, or tying with string or cheesecloth before boiling. You can also draw patterns on the egg with a crayon before dying.

I hope you have an eggceptionally fun Easter!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Dress That Cress For Less!

About to serve salad with dinner and you've discovered you're out of dressing? No need to run to the store! You probably have everything you need in your kitchen to make your own dressing. Not only is your own homemade dressing healthier, because it's free of additives and preservatives, but it's a lot cheaper. You also avoid using all those bottles, and it helps to use up the odds and ends languishing in your fridge.

The first thing you'll need is a glass cruet, or a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Next you'll need an oil. Vegetable oil, canola oil, olive oil, any oil will work. After that you'll need something acidic. Any type of vinegar, pickle juice, the juice from a can of olives, lemon juice, orange juice, or grapefruit juice will work. The fruit juices are particularly nice when making dressing for a fruit salad. As long as you have three parts oil to one part acid, any combination will do. Add salt, pepper, and some spices if desired, and shake. Keep the ingredients of your salad in mind when deciding what combination will taste good. It's best to make small quantities. Since your dressing is not full of preservatives, it won't keep as long as store-bought.

Dress that Cress, bathe that Boston Bibb, splash that Black-Seeded Simpson. Experiment and have fun with it! Be sure you write down your most successful combinations so you can recreate them again. I'd love to hear about some of your tasty triumphs!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Make Haste, Avoid Waste!

Mr. Bargain just left on a long trip, leaving behind half a large container of yogurt. I don't care for this particular brand. Immediately, the gears in my thrifty brain started whirring, thinking about how I could use up this yogurt.

One way would be to bake it into some muffins or a quick bread. Martha Stewart once featured an article about how to age plant pots, encouraging moss to grow on the pots by brushing with yogurt. If you are interested in trying this, here's a link:


According to some information I found on the Internet, yogurt is good for septic tanks. I don't have a septic tank, but this may prove useful to someone. If the weather was warmer, I might be tempted to make a smoothie with the yogurt. This week's weather is putting me more in the mood for cocoa than smoothies, however!

It doesn't ultimately matter what I decide to do with the yogurt. The important thing is to cultivate this way of thinking in your daily life. The Internet can be a fantastic waste-not resource. Simply search "uses for _" for lots of great ideas.

I recently applied the same thinking process to some mediocre apples I had. I could have dried them to make dried apple slices, or apple doll heads, or I could have chopped them up in some chicken salad. I decided to give them to my sister to make fruit salad for her son.

What you don't want to do is wait until the item in question is covered in mold, or reduced to a pile of mush in the fridge. I have been guilty of procrastination in the past, but I try to avoid this costly habit.

I hope this post encourages you to make haste and avoid waste in your household. How about sharing your great "use it up" ideas?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

T'd Off!

Are you teed off because some of your favorite t-shirts have shrunk or become stained under the arms? Would you like some ideas on what you can make out of them so you can still enjoy them? Then this post is for you!

One very timely t-shirt craft is the reusable bag. Simply cut the neck and sleeves out to make handles, turn the t-shirt inside out, and sew the bottom closed. Then turn right side out again. If you want to get fancy, these can be embellished with buttons, ribbons, beads, etc. There is no need to hem the handles. T-shirt material doesn't ravel. Tote your books or groceries in style!

Scarves are another fun thing you can make out of t-shirts. There are many, many types of scarves you can make. I'll just talk about three of them here. The first is made by sewing wide strips of t-shirts together, and cutting fringe. There are easy instructions here:


The second type is made by cutting loops from the body of the t-shirt, wrapping them around your hand a few times, and tying them together with narrow t-shirt strips. Learn how here:


Another is made by laying 4" squares of t-shirt material end to end diagonally and sewing them all together to make a thick, ruffly scarf. There are excellent instructions at a very fascinating blog called Ruffles And Stuff here:


Is your bed or couch looking a little bare? Why not whip up a few pillows featuring your favorite t-shirt slogans? One type of pillow is made by cutting two squares or rectangles out of your shirt, pinning with the right sides together, stitch three sides, then turn right side out, stuff, and stitch the remaining side by hand. Another type is an easy no-sew pillow which is made by cutting fringe on a large square of material, knotting the fringe together on three sides, stuffing, then knotting the remaining side. This type works very well with larger t-shirts. There is a step-by-step video here:


These are just a few ideas to get you started on reusing your old favorites and some not-so-favorite and possibly downright ugly free t-shirts you may have accumulated! There are so many great ideas out there for recycling old t-shirts that I will probably do a second post with more ideas in the future. I'd love to hear about how you have reused old t-shirts too!

Monday, February 15, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make - Lemon Curd?

If you live in Southern California, this time of year you, your friends and your neighbors all have lemons that seem to multiply on the tree like Tribbles in a Star Trek episode. What to do with this citrus windfall?

My sister has a really easy but good Lemon Curd recipe I'd like to share with you. Lemon Curd is great served on scones, waffles or English muffins, as a topping for cheesecake, or a filling for crepes or thumbprint cookies. Try it over ice cream too!

1 cup white sugar
3 eggs
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
In a microwave-safe bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs until smooth. Stir in lemon juice, lemon zest and butter. Cook in the microwave for one minute intervals, stirring after each minute until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. Remove from the microwave, and pour into small sterile jars. Store for up to three weeks in the refrigerator.

Hopefully this post has given you a new idea about what to do with all those lemons. After all, you can only drink so much lemonade!

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Gift That Keeps On Growing

One of the most popular Valentine's Day gifts has always been cut flowers. While I enjoy cut flowers, I think they are wasteful. They are expensive, and even if cared for properly, don't last long. If you have them delivered, that adds even more to the inflated price tag.

In time, Mr. Bargain learned to buy me a plant instead. Over the years I have received miniature rose bushes, hydrangeas, topiaries in the shape of a heart, carnations, even a Venus Flytrap! Most of these have survived as reminders of Valentine's Days past.

If you really miss the cut flowers, why not try some bulbs? They can be forced to bloom inside, and then later transplanted outdoors. Or try an African violet, which with proper care will continue to bloom for many years to come. You can even buy plants at the florist with a few cut flowers stuck in with those plastic tubes that hold water. When the flowers die, you can remove them and you have a houseplant.

Keep your love in bloom with a plant, and avoid the expensive and wasteful cut flowers this year!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pamper Your Honey For Less Money

Valentine's Day will be here before you know it. For most of us, times have been tough and money is a little tight this year. What are some ways to show your significant other you care without using every last coin in your piggy bank?

Start the day out right with breakfast in bed. If you have a heart-shaped muffin pan, bake some muffins. If you have heart-shaped cookie cutters, you can use them to make pancake hearts. If not, you could draw syrup hearts on top. If your partner likes eggs, make heart-shaped eggs, or Toad-in-the-hole (cut hearts out of the middle of toasted bread, place on cookie sheet, and bake an egg inside). Put everything on a tray with tea or coffee, juice and a flower. Write a romantic message on the bathroom mirror with lipstick or tuck a note in your sweetie's pocket if she or he is going to work.

Spend the day together if possible. Take a hike, have a picnic, walk on the beach, build a snowman or have a snowball fight - whatever your climate allows. Later, watch a romantic movie, rented from Netflix or Redbox, or you could watch your wedding video.

Have a nice dinner at home, including some of your partner's favorite dishes. If you must go out, make it the day before or after. Restaurants always have a "special" (expensive) menu on this day. Instead of champagne with your meal, substitute Prosecco, a much less expensive but delicious Italian sparkling wine.

If you plan ahead, you can make a gift instead of purchasing one. A clever handmade card is much more thoughtful than a storebought card. Make some fortune cookies (recipes are available online) and write romantic fortunes to insert. Grow some flowers or herbs in a small pot. Fill a pretty jar with strips of paper, each listing something you like about your partner. Burn a CD full of romantic music. Make some handmade chocolates, or lip balm or candles. The web has a wealth of how-to information.

Cap off the evening with a massage or a bubble bath a deux. And then...well let's just say it doesn't cost anything and it lets you turn the furnace down a notch!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Organize Your Stash Without Lots of Cash

One of the most common New Year's Resolutions is to become more organized. I have a few cheap organization tips for different areas of your house that I'd like to share.


Use empty clean jars for storing grains, beans, pastas, etc. If you can see it, you'll use it. A small area on the jar can be painted with chalkboard paint, allowing you to write the date when the food will expire. This also works for leftovers in the refrigerator.

Stacked empty rectangular boxes, such as water cracker boxes, make good graduated platforms for displaying spices in your cupboard so that they can all be seen at the same time. The back level should be no more than three boxes high, or it will become wobbly. The next level would be two boxes high, the next one box high, and the final row of spices would be placed on the shelf itself. These platforms can be covered with contact paper to make them more attractive.

Cup hooks screwed into the ceiling of your cabinet provide more space for hanging mugs.

Cardboard box bottoms (or Tupperware with broken lids) make great dividers in your drawers so that the contents are all sorted and easy to find.

An old dish drainer makes a good holder for pan lids inside your cupboard.

Silverware can be sorted in mugs in your cupboard if you are lacking in drawer space.

Plastic shopping bags can be corralled in empty tissue boxes or baby wipe containers. I know we are all trying to use cloth bags, but these still seem to accumulate.

Extension cords can be coiled into empty paper towel or toilet paper rolls to keep them neat.


Shoe boxes make good under-bed storage, just write the contents neatly on the side. If you have a broken-down old dresser, the drawers can be re-purposed as under-bed storage. Attach casters to the bottom so that the drawer can be pulled out easily.

Large Ziploc bags can be vacuum sealed using your vacuum hose to compress bulky comforters, etc. for storage. Those heavy-duty plastic bags that new sheets and blankets come in work great for this purpose.

Jewelry can be neatly sorted in muffin tins or ice cube trays in drawers.

Again, box bottoms make good drawer dividers for socks, gloves and accessories.

Scrap fabric can be used to make drawstring bags to organize small items. These can be hung from hooks in the closet. Old v-neck t-shirts also make great bags to store shoes, purses, etc. in the closet. Just stitch the bottom closed and hang on a hanger. Other t-shirts can be used, but a wider opening must be cut.

Kids' Rooms:

A cubby-type organizer can be made by hot-gluing sturdy boxes together. Paint or cover with contact paper to match the room.

Small toys can be stored in milk jugs with the tops cut off, leaving the handle intact. Make sure the edges aren't sharp.

Baby wipe containers, deli containers, drawstring bags and large Ziploc bags also make great small-toy receptacles. If the container is not clear, include a label with a picture of what is inside eg. doll clothes, balls, dinosaurs, etc.

Office/Craft Room:

Chargers, power-cords, etc. can be stored in large Ziploc bags. Write what they go to on the outside to avoid confusion.

Magazine holders can be made from old cereal boxes, cut down slightly. Cover with scrapbook paper or contact paper to pretty them up.

Small office supplies can be stored in jars or muffin tins in a drawer or on the desktop. The tops of the jars can be covered with paint or pretty paper.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. I'm sure many of you have some tidy tips of your own. Do tell! Hopefully these hints have made it a little simpler and more fun to get your house in order!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Give Sickness The Cold Shoulder This Winter

If it seems longer than usual between blog posts the last couple of weeks, it's because I have been down for the count with a miserable cold. Lying at home, feeling like my head is being squeezed in a vice, I just can't think at all, let alone write something creative.

Why did I catch this cold? I'm convinced it's because I braved the crowds for a day of after-Christmas sale shopping, and I forgot to employ my secret anti-viral weapon. What is this secret weapon you may wonder? Saline nasal spray.

All last winter, despite being surrounded by snuffling, shuffling runny-eyed rhino virus victims, I avoided catching a single cold. I employ several germ-shunning strategies. First, I wash my hands frequently, after contact with public places, sick people and oft-touched surfaces, and always before eating. Second, I avoid touching my eyes or nose or mouth when my hands aren't clean. Third, I turn my head or when possible move quickly away from those uncovered sneezes that people sometimes let fly. I try to get enough rest, and eat right. But most importantly, I use saline nasal spray after I have been in big crowds, or small gatherings where someone is sick.

For whatever reason, when I got home from my post-Yule shopping, I forgot. Now I'm paying the price. I first read about saline nasal spray in an article a doctor wrote about how to avoid getting colds. Along with the usual advice, he mentioned that saline nasal spray can kill any germs that have made their way into your nasal cavity before they get further into the body, and it also keeps nasal membranes moisturized. Dry, cracked membranes allow germs to infiltrate more easily. It's an inexpensive, completely natural preventative measure, and for me it has always worked. I usually get several bottles for free every winter when the major drug stores offer it as a rebate item in December or January. Give it a try.

Now, what should you do if you have already succumbed to the cold bug? Get plenty of rest, drink plenty of hot herbal tea, have plenty of soup, and plan better next time! Inexpensive store-brand Benadryl should lessen your symptoms until it has run its course. I hope you are feeling better soon!