January 30, 2006

Book Signings

Book signings are a good idea. Not only are they free entertainment, but they are supportive of writers and book stores and the printed word. And, heck: they make for great gifts.

Yep, gifts. Authors are more than happy to sign their work - and while they are traveling the circuit promoting their newest book, most are more than happy to sign copies of previous publications. Giving a book the author has signed is a great thing - especially if it's personalized. Your local bookstore should post notices in advance, and chains like Barnes & Noble provide online information.

PS If you go to a cookbook signing, odds are high that there may be cooking involved. This cannot be a bad thing. I just mention this for those of you who like those Saturday morning tasters at the grocery store. Not that I've ever sucumbed to that temptation, of course ....

Role Models

Several profiles appear in an 1998 article from USA Today that is still available online today. An example or two:

Peter Mui changed his life: once earning $75,000 a year (1998 dollars) in publishing, in his new life he's living on $16,000-$20,000 a year instead. He rides a bike instead of driving a car. He looks happy in his photo.

The Padal family moved into a 888 sq. foot home from their their 2,000 sq. foot house - higher quality of life, and time to enjoy it.

There's more. I'd love to know what these folk are doing now - eight years later. So, I've written to USA Today and asked if they'd be interested in following up on this story.

We want to know.

What's the Secret?

Actually, there are six secrets, or tricks, to successful frugal living according to Deborah Taylor-Hough. Deb's got a great frugal living site called A Frugal, Simple Life and as part of that site, she writes of her own experiences in "One Income Living in a Two Income World."

The article lets you know that there are a lot of us out there in the world. She's heard, "It must be nice making so much money you can be home with your kids. We could never afford to do that." Sound familiar?

Deb and her family of five have been doing this for over ten years now. Nice to know she's out there -- she offers ezines, newsletters, and audiotapes if you're interested.

When Did Making Sense Become Alternative?

This is the question posed by Pat Vereto as part of her article on living frugally on about.com. She writes, in part:

"When did owning a vehicle outright and not needing a credit card to go shopping become wrong? When did supplying at least some of our own needs with our own hands become unnatural?

"This attitude has developed only recently, within the last few decades, anyway. Not so long ago, it was a good thing to sew your own clothing, have a garden, and cook from scratch. Now it's "quaint" or "alternative," or just plain weird.

"Egads. When making sense becomes "alternative," it's scary.

"Making sense takes a lot of commitment. You can't be frugal once or twice a week and expect to gain anything. You can't be dollarwise and penny foolish. You have to train your mind to look at the whole picture, and not the one painted for you by the salesman, either!"

This is a great read when you're needed some encouragement. We all do.

Homemade Cat Food

Cat food recipes can be found at Kitty Cuisine, eHow.com, and cdkitchen.

Be sure to avoid chocolate, alcohol, garlic, onions, pork (yes, this means bacon), raw fish, raw eggs, tomatoes, grapes, raisins, milk (yes, milk) or bones. These are all bad for cats.

For kittens, try the frugal recipe at about.com.

Farmers' Markets

First of all, shopping at a farmer's market is fun. You're talking to the folk who grew the stuff and odds are high that less than 24 hours prior to your purchase it was still on the vine, in the ground, etc. Some of the stuff isn't as shapely or magazine-cover perfect as what you find in the grocery - but that's part of the fun, too. There's something so authentic about a turnip bearing a striking resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock's profile. (This also may help the kids eat the turnip.)

Second, it's tasty. This stuff is fresh - and cooks up well. I still remember the corn from that market over off of IH35South. And the big, fat tomatoes from the truck parked at the market next to the Archery, off McCullough Avenue. The melons!

Third, it's somewhat cheaper - but I find that is less true of the markets inside the city limits than the ones closer to the county line. Buying in big batches is better on the pocketbook, if you can gather a group to share.

How to find your local market? The USDA has a site that gives you a list of markets in your area, for example there is a USDA site for Texas where various counties and cities are listed, with links to the registered markets in the area. The USDA also provides lots of other information: for instance, there is a new Seniors' Farmers Market Nutrition Program where Seniors get coupons to use at the FM.

Life is good on a Saturday when you take a drive on a sunny morning, good music and maybe a glass of tea in the cupholder, tour the Market, chatting with the farmer folk, and then come home, finding recipes to match your finds, and then fill the house with good smells. The meal's always good. Always.

To me, it's one of the best examples of what simple living means - an abundance to be experienced in order to be appreciated. Go find your market - Spring is coming soon.

More For San Antonio Green Thumbs

Jerry Parsons recommends Manuel Flores' site be listed here as a San Antonio gardening reference. So, here it is. Actually, the site is useful even if you're not in Texas.

Why listen to Dr. Jerry Parsons? Not only is he a well-known, and well-respected, horticulture expert - this is a man who took the Texas Bluebonnet and turned it lavender (Barbara Bush Lavender), pink (Abbott Pink), and Aggie red (Texas Maroon ).

January 28, 2006

Give Cockroaches a Natural Death

The University of Nevada has a great .pdf file that provides lots of ways to win the war against cockroaches using natural methods. Safer and cheaper than calling the Man with a Truck ....

Written by Dr. Robert H. Stauffer, Area Extension Specialist, the tips include:

1. Sprays - such as 2 oz of Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap per gallon of water, or 3 ounces of rosemary oil per gallon of water. (Dr.Bronner sells his peppermint soap for $1/oz at his site. You can make your own rosemary oil, an online recipe appears at RecipeSource.)

2. Repellants - roaches apparently hate okra, so putting raw or stewed okra around will repel them, as will stewed cucumber peel or crushed bay leaves.

3. Dusts -- boric acid kills those suckers though it may take 10 days for them to die. Good news - if the boric acid powder stays dry, it remains effective for years. Don't pile it, layer it. The Doc recommends mixing it with food the roaches like: he reports that "they are especially fond of beer" and are quite fond of sweets, grease, and the like. (He provides a long list here.)

Boric acid takes no prisoners: it also kills termites, carpenter ants, palmetto bugs, waterbugs, ants, fleas, and silverfish. For more info on boric acid, Al's Home Improvement Center has lots of detail. There, 2 gallons of boric acid are sold for $16.50.

(I've been told that Boric Acid is essentially what the expensive Sears treatment involves, where they take off all the light switch covers, etc., and spray a white powder behind the walls -- but I don't have confirmation of that.)

4. Baits -- recipes provided include a bowl of epsom salts: once consumed, the roach's digestive system is impacted and it dies. Other baits are provided, they include boric acid and a cute one where you get the roaches drunk on beer and then stomp them to death.

5. Traps -- good one with a greased Gatorade jar filled with temptation for the roaches, others with shaving cream or electrical tape.

January 27, 2006

Filial Responsibility Law - Adult Kids Sued for Care of Parents

Thirty states have filial responsibility laws. Does yours?

Matthew Paluka explains that they are "...statutes that establish a duty for adult children to care for their indigent elderly parents. When enforced, the statutes can require the adult child to reimburse state programs or institutions that have cared for the indigent parent with either a one-time contribution or installment payments."

Paluka explains that in the past, Medicaid practices have curtailed states from requiring adult children to care for their needy, elderly parents - but his report also discusses the amount of Medicaid funding that would be significantly impacted by Filial Responsibility enforcement.

Recent changes in Medicaid legislation, as described at ElderLawAnswers.com, may result in litigation seeking to enforce these filial responsibility statutes, as nursing homes try and find help to cover care costs and expenses that are not covered by the federal government. The forecast involves lawsuits pitting nursing homes against the kids.

Perhaps elderly parents and children should stop and consider their options now. More information in that regard is also provided at ElderLawAnswers.Com.

See also: Filial Responsibility Laws, Medicaid, and Long Term Care Insurance

January 26, 2006

Organic Gardening: How-To-Do

Bruce Deuley, who has a morning show on KAHL-AM every weekend, has a fantastic site called Organic Matters providing lots and lots of information on organic gardening.

What's that? "Lawn and garden care without the use of toxic chemicals, pesticides, or herbicides," Deuley explains.

Oodles of tips appear on how to use ordinary, easy to find items - like cornmeal or epsom salts - in your lawn and garden .... Recipes are included. A really good site: it even has podcasts of Deuley's radio shows.

January 25, 2006

Paper or Plastic?

Leaving the crafting question aside (paper wins), which is better: paper or plastic bags at the grocery store? The Institute for Lifecycle Environmental Assessment, after much scientific study, voted plastic in 1990. However, in 1990 the Simpsons had just started on TV and Bush the First had only been president for one year. Perhaps more data is needed.

The plastic bag folk provide a site that breaks the choice down into three components - reduce, reuse, recycle -- and they suggest plastic is the better option. (Duh.)

However, even the paper people at treehugger.org vote plastic is the lesser of two evils, after much consideration. Wow.

So, I guess the answer is .... plastic, please.

Books To Inspire and Encourage

Well, any list of books to inspire and encourage your Simple Quest has to include Walden by Henry David Thoreau ... which is available to be read, in its entirety online for free. As is Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay Self-Reliance.

Not everyone seeking a Simple Life is a transcendentalist, however. Those interesting in simplifying life run the gamut -- for example, spiritually-speaking, Jews and Christians and Hindus and Buddhists all can be, and are, participants in the simplicity lifestyle.

Much can be said for The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham as well as Pathways to Bliss by Joseph Campbell, and The Story of My Life by Helen Keller. Heck, I get a lot from the Wizard of Oz, if you must know - as well as anything by PG Wodehouse. Laughter is good.

Personally, I found Joyce Meyer's Approval Addiction: Overcoming Your Need to Please Everyone and Stephen Covey's Living the 7 Habits: the Courage to Change both to be very helpful.

Five O'Clock and Six a Day

Member of the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Mary Kay Ash deserves respect even if you absolutely hate the color pink. From the book Time Tactics of Very Successful People by Eugene Griessman, these time tips from Mary Kay herself:

1. be a part of the five o'clock club - start your day early; and
2. every evening, make a list of "the 6 things I must do tomorrow," then, the next day: do them.

Why heed Mary Kay's advice? Well, for one thing - she began the Pink Company in a Dallas storefront at the age of 45 with $5000 in her pocket and her son to help her. Maybe the lady who made Pink Cadillacs famous (Aretha notwithstanding) isn't the model of a Simple Life - but she certainly knew how to manage her time. We can learn from that. (Personally, I think she's great.)

VoIP - What About Those $25 Vonage Ads?

You've seen the advertising - an amazing cornucopia of telephone services for $25 and so easy to install, even the technology-challenged have no problem with it. Vonage can offer this service because it's using the internet, piggybacking on existing broadband cables and the like, to serve its customers. Think of the low overhead involved.

How can they do it? Through VoIP, "Voice over Internet Protocol," which is explained in great detail at HowStuffWorks.Com and at Wikipedia.

Should you switch? Yes, but maybe later ... VoIP service is only as good as that of your internet service provider. The reliability assumed with standardized phone service just isn't there for VoIP yet. Think power failures, viruses and worms, things like that.

And, importantly - there's the 911 issue. Right now, using VoIP means that the 911 system cannot automatically discern the source location of the VoIP call. If you call 911 and cannot tell them your address, they won't know. For this reason alone, perhaps it's best to wait on VoIP until the providers get these kinks out of the service.

January 23, 2006

Accurate Deductions for Your Donations

There is a great software package available today, that helps you to determine the proper value of the donations you made during the previous year, for tax purposes. It's called It's Deductible, offered by the TurboTax folk HERE.

January 20, 2006

Gardening Tip: Check the Locals Online

Gardeners at whatever their level of mastery know that it's all location, location, location. What works on the coast doesn't work inland, what works in the North doesn't jive with the climate of the South, etc. The best advice and information has to be from your local experts. So, search for their sites online - nurseries, master gardeners, botanical societies, gardening clubs. For example, in San Antonio, we have WOAI-TV's gardening show site, the San Antonio Botanical Garden's Gardening Guide, Dave's Garden, and Jerry Parsons of the Texas A&M Cooperative Extension Service.

Growing Herbs from Seeds

Fresh herbs are available in most markets now - at a price. Nurseries offer plants for your garden, but better yet - you can grow your herbs from seeds. A great beginner's site is offered by the West Virginia University Extension Service; it includes advice on starting your garden from seed. Others offering good information are the folk at the North Carolina State University Extension Service, and Connie Krochmal in a great article over at Suite 101.

Where to buy seeds? Check out the list of organic seed offerings at Sustainable Life.

Stop Osteoporosis With Sunshine

Your body will create enough Vitamin D for itself, if you will give it 15 minutes of sunshine, three times a week. Without sufficient Vitamin D, you risk osteoporosis if you're an adult, and rickets if you're a child. In America, many people can't (read that won't) get themselves outdoors to even meet this minimal need - so practitioners like Dr. Andrew Weil are recommending supplements at 1000 mg or more of Vitamin D to meet the insufficiency. Sunshine is free.

Source: MedlinePlus, Dr.Weil.Com.

Exercise Stops Alzheimer's Disease

Evidence is mounting that exercise prevents Alzheimer's as well as other types of senile dementia. In a recent study, healthy seniors exercising for fifteen minutes, three times a week, lowered their Alzheimer's risk by as much as 30 percent.

Reports USA Today, quoting Eric Larson, the study's lead researcher:

"The study, published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine, suggests that even a short, brisk walk every day might ward off the disease.

"'We don't know if exercise makes the disease go away,' Larson says, and the study doesn't provide direct proof that exercise will ward off dementia. Still, 'this is the best evidence you're going to get short of a clinical trial,' Larson says. To get hard proof, researchers will need to assign people to an exercise group or a control group and then keep track of them for many years."

Source: USA Today article appearing on January 17, 2006, written by Kathleen Fackelmann.


Buying gold online has been made easy by sites such as BuillionVault, and GoldMoney.

For more information on how to invest in gold, visit WorldGoldCouncil, and for beginners, check out Gary North's article. It's excellent.

How to PIF the Mortgage ASAP

Lots of the Simplicity books (as well as those folk over at the Daily Reckoning) think renting is better than buying - but if you're already in a mortgage and want to stay there, at least pay it off as fast as you can.

How? You can make an additional payment each year, either lump sum (think bonus time, or refund time) or by paying an extra 1/12th of your monthly payment each month. If your payment is $1000, pay $1083.33 each month ($1000 divided by 12 = $83.33). At year end, you will have paid that extra month's payment. Or, you can calculate an amount to pay against principal, so you can pay the loan off in X years, and you decide the X.

Why? You save a ton of money by cutting off the interest. For details on all this math, go HERE or HERE.

Big Rocks in the Pickle Jar

Stephen Covey calls it the "Big Rocks" story, Jeremy Wright calls it the "Pickle Jar Theory." Either way, here's the idea in a nutshell: Stop and think about your week. List those things that must be done, however distasteful. The trash must be taken out, the tax return must be filed. Those are your rocks. Schedule them first, and do them first. Maximizes your energy, and your time. And lessens your stress, to boot. For detail, go read the jumps.

Franklin Covey Goes To Target

Franklin Covey stores can be found in malls - or you can save time and trouble by visiting their online shop. For time management, FC sets itself about by incorporating the techniques made famous by Stephen Covey in his set of books. You know them: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, The Eighth Habit, First Things First.

The site itself has some nice freebies: helping to create your own mission statement, for example. Once that's determined, you build upon it - establishing your roles in life, and your goals within them. Each day, what will you accomplish to move you toward accomplishing these goals?

It's an excellent system with many loyal followers, personally and professionally. However, in the Simple Way, you can forego the high cost of the FC stores and get yourself over to Target.

Through an alliance with FP, Target offers time management products that are cute, complete, offered in various sizes, and with all the bells and whistles you need to be an FC-er. Cost at Target: $20, comparable cost at FC: $100+.

Couldn't locate them online at target.com, looks like you have to visit the calendar/office supply section of the store to get the deal. And the Covey books to master your new purchase? Free, at the library, of course.

Cooking From the Hip 1: Good Recipe Site

Cooking from the hip occurs when you stand in the pantry door, pondering what you can put together without going to the store. A helpful "hip" site is The World's Healthiest Foods. There, you can choose ingredients you want to include, those you want to exclude, click the mouse, and voila! Recipes abound - and especially nice, a separate vegetarian section. Cool.

Cabbage w/o Gas Masks

By placing a tablespoon of sugar and a tablespoon of salt into a pot of rapidly boiling water, stirring till dissolved, and then adding your shredded green cabbage, you can cook your cabbage without the notorious cabbage aroma wafting through the house. The salt boosts the heating/cooking power, and the sugar helps with the green coloring, as well. Key: cooking that cabbage fast. The water needs to be very hot, and the shredding maximizes your surface area.

Source: Alton Brown, Good Eats, Episode EA1C10.

January 19, 2006

Reuse Pretty Bottles

Those pretty, and empty, glass perfume bottles (as well as cool wine bottles, etc.) can have a new life providing light - clean them well, then fill with oil and a wick. Nice.

How to do this: use funnel to fill the clean glass bottle with lamp oil. Put the wick in the bottle, with the end of the wick placed into the oil. Let this sit for a bit (15 minutes is fine) and then light the top of the wick. Nylon wicks last lots longer than a standard candle wick - you can expect about 6 hours of light for each ounce of oil.

Cost? A 48 ounce bottle of ultra pure lamp oil (various colors are offered) sells for $8.99 at Lamplight Farms. Nylon wicks are of nominal cost at your local craft store.

Be Very Careful with Canned Tuna

During December 2005, the Chicago Tribune ran a series of stories dealing with the levels of mercury in canned tuna - and how that information was not being provided on the product labels. In particular, a type of tuna that carries a high amount of mercury is routinely included in your "chuck light" variety of tuna - a separate concern from the already established danger of albacore tuna. (The FDA suggests that you limit consumption of canned albacore to no more than 6 ounces per week for kids, and women who are or who may become pregnant.)

The complete Chicago Tribute series appears HERE, and while registration is required, it's free.

Some of the information that the Tribune provides:

The Symptoms of Mercury Poisoning -

For small children:
Subtle decreases in learning abilities
Delays in walking and talking
Decreases in attention or memory

For adults:
Numbness in hands and feet
Loss of concentration, coordination or memory
Blurred vision
Hair loss

Sources: EPA, FDA, California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Dr. Jane Hightower

Also from the Tribune:

"So is eating fish bad for me?

Not necessarily. Many fish species, such as salmon and sardines, provide Omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for the heart. But large, predator fish, such as swordfish and shark, should be eaten with caution because they generally contain the highest amounts of mercury."

"What is mercury?

Mercury is a metallic element (Hg) that occurs naturally in rock and soil, and is released into oceans by underwater volcanoes. It also is released into the environment from the burning of fossil fuels, including coal. Bacteria in water convert the metal into a toxic form known as methylmercury, which becomes more concentrated and dangerous as it moves up the food chain."

"How can I reduce my risk of mercury contamination?

Eat fish such as salmon that aren't predator fish, which accumulate mercury when they eat smaller fish. Small or short-lived seafood, such as shrimp, crab, scallops and tilapia, have the least mercury."

"Is there a safe place to buy fish?

No. Shopping at supermarkets, health food stores and gourmet fish shops is not safer. Because mercury is ubiquitous in the world's oceans---and once it gets into fish it cannot be removed---it likely does not matter who catches the seafood, processes it or sells it. There is no evidence that buying premium brands helps."

Sources: ChicagoTribune.com, Mercola.com

January 18, 2006

529 College Savings Plans

More and more advertising is appearing for various forms of 529 Savings Plans. These are plans providing various ways to save for college. Are these good for you? Want to know more? Check out SavingsforCollege.com where the plans are explained, in great detail.

Epinions - Online Comparative Reviews

Epinions is a fantastic site for comparison shopping. Take, for example, its review of Upromise - a site promising to help folk save for college via a 529 plan -- where every time you shop, a bit of money is automatically saved for you in a separate account.

Epinions reviews an extensive amount of products, dividing its database into the following topics:cars, books, movies, music, computers & software, electronics, gifts, home and garden, kids & family, office supply, sports, travel, and more.

FYI, Epinions' bottom line on UPromise: recommended.

Freebies Online - A Blog Collection

There is a blogger who collects freebies offered online for you. He's the Slant Eyed Bargain Hunter.

Great Grocery Savings

The Grocery Game is different from other coupon sites. Each week, Teri Gault provides an online list for your specific zip code: in it, "rock bottom" prices on hundreds of products are itemized; then, manufacturers' coupons are coordinated with those products so you can maximize your food budget dollar.

How does Teri do this? She has databases that track manufacturers' coupons together with weekly sales and specials, both advertised and UN-advertised. This gives you much more purchasing power than clipping coupons alone. All you need, she says, is your Sunday newspaper, a pair of scissors, and her site list.

How it works: you stockpile (which Teri says takes 12 weeks to fully implement) and thereafter, you buy only on a needs basis. Teri explains that items are placed on sale according to "Categorical Sales Trends," i.e, only certain categories of items are on sale each week. Teri explains, "[f]or example, let's say the supermarket is divided into categories: frozen foods, deli, dairy, toiletries, cleaning products, etc. Only two or three of these categories will be featured on sale in any given week. So if you shop each week only for what you need, you will only be able to save on 10% or so of the categories in the store, but you will have to over-spend on the other categories. In other words, about 90% of your purchases will not be at their lowest prices.

"When you are "stockpiling," you only buy the items that are at their "rock bottom" price with a good coupon. This cuts down on high-priced, "need" shopping. You end up building your own "store" at home comprised of items that you stockpiled at the lowest possible prices. After about 12 weeks of stockpiling, you should have a well-rounded stockpile. Your "need" shopping diminishes and you save even more as you pull items from your "store" at home."

Why bother with her site? Teri explains:

"People who are great at coupon-ing typically spend hours each week preparing for their shopping trip. These "coupon pros" research sales in the ads, matching up their coupons to those sales. Once at the supermarket they soon discover there may be twice as many more un-advertised sales. So, after spending many hours at home with the sales ad, they spend even more hours standing in the supermarket aisles sifting through their coupon files once again, searching for even more coupons to match those sales. This is what we call making a career out of coupon-ing. Unfortunately, most of us don't have the time for this type of shopping.

In contrast, members of The Grocery Game eliminate all of those time consuming hours and usually save even more time and money than most "coupon pros". Even "coupon pros" can make costly mistakes. Just because an item is on sale doesn't mean its time to play your coupon. The Grocery Game databases differentiate between "phantom sales" and "rock bottom" sales, saving members even more money. Now, the best possible savings are quickly accessible to "coupon pros", busy professionals, overworked moms, single adults and anyone who wants to cut their grocery bill by as much as half or even more."

The site has lots of encouraging stories -- and images of grocery receipts with remarkable savings. Amazing ones.

And, you do pay to participate. But it's cheap. And, there's a $1.00 (one buck) trial offered -- which covers 4 weeks. That should be enough time to see how this works for you....

January 17, 2006

January 16, 2006

Books About Simplicity

There are several books to read when considering simplifying your life, or honing those skills and moving forward even more. Among them:

Choosing Simplicity: Real People Finding Peace and Fulfillment in a Complex World by Linda Breen Pierce. This book collects stories from those who have downsized their lives, and relates their experiences and whether or not they regret the change. This makes it a bit different from those giving tips and counsel on HOW to simplify. Here, the author conducted a study and writes about those who have actually simplified. A good read.

Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence by Joe R. Dominguez and Vicki Robin. This is the must-read choice for any Simplicity bookshelf. It's the cornerstone, the landmark, the Big Kahuna of your reading choices.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Simple Living. Yes, there is one.

Living the Simple Life : A Guide to Scaling Down and Enjoying More by Elaine St. James. Good tip book - some you may like more than others (it's easier to cancel the paper than it is to eat the same meals, week after week) but it is one that you'll go back and re-read, and learn more each time.

Voluntary Simplicity, Revised Edition: Toward a Life that is Inwardly Simple, Outwardly Rich by Duane Elgin. History of the movement, discussion of spiritual motivations behind downsizing. Another Must-Read.

The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs. Talks about choices. Simple living as making conscious choices: you can still wear designer if that's your preference, but you buy your duds in places other than the mall. Helps to understand the wide variety of lifestyles available within the "voluntary simplicity" world.

Others to check out:

Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic by John de Graaf, David Wann, Thomas H Naylor.

Twenty-First Century Economics: Perspectives of Socioeconomics for a Changing World edited by William E. Halal and Kenneth B. Taylor.

Thrift Store Shopping - Tips from the Experts

There is no shame in being smart, and shopping thrift stores is just plain smart. When you find that great bargain, it's brilliant.

As Adele Meyer, executive director of the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, explained in the Modesto Bee, "People are more conscious of recycling and saving money and are less into conspicuous consumption," Meyer said. "Now, people brag about how much they saved on something. It's become a way of shopping."

There are goods available in thrift stores that are high quality, useful, fun, and worthy of consideration - the fact that they are very low cost is an added benefit. Knowing how to shop, and where, can take a bit of time to learn.

Several sites offer great tips on shopping thrift stores. Nattie Gilbert of Colorado offers some great suggestions at her site, including:

"Go potty before you go, because secondhand stores often don't have public bathrooms. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Eat before you go.

"Make a list of what you are looking for including sizes, colors, etc. If I am trying to match something, like a coat to match a skirt, I would bring that skirt with me to the store. I usually let the clerk know so they don't try to charge me for it.

"I keep a list for used store purchases like a grocery shopping list. When someone outgrows a pair of shoes or pants, I write down that item on the list and the bigger size to start looking the next time I go thrift shopping.

Look carefully for stains, rips, etc. Take the time to try clothes on and test electrical items. It can save you a lot of hassle trying to return items.

"Many stores have strict or no return policies. My favorite local store will let you return an item for in store credit only within 30 days with receipt and tag still attached to item.

"Watch for store specials, sales, and coupons. Ask the clerks, if you don't see any posted or advertised information."

DigsMagazine has some good advice on choosing thrift stores:

"The big nationwide thrift stores like Salvation Army, Goodwill, Value Village and (my personal favorite here in town) Savers generally have lots and lots of stuff, but the problem with these places is that every thrift store treasure-hunter in town is probably rifling through the same stuff. Check out some of the lesser-known, locally-run thrift stores in town as well — they'll frequently have a smaller selection, but when you do make that rare fabulous find, it'll be at a real bargain. One of my best thrift store scores was a big, white, 60s space-age-style fiberglass coffee table that I snatched up for a mere $20 at a tiny, out-of-the-way thrift shop run by a small local charity. The table had apparently been sitting there for weeks, just waiting for my boy and I to stumble across it. You can bet that at a better-trafficked store, some other 60s-design-loving hipster would have snatched that table long before we'd ever chanced upon it."

And remember, a thrift store is not a consignment shop. As esortment.com explains, "A consignment shop is a privately owned business, usually much smaller than the thrift store. People bring items to the consignment shop to be sold, at which time they will receive a percentage of that sale. Items may sell for one half to one third the original store prices and profits are put back into the store. Items in consignment shops are usually of a high quality and have been laundered prior to being put on display. No clothes or items are accepted that are damaged or not usable."

How to find thrift stores in your area? Google for "thrift stores" and the name of your city. Citysearch.com also offers a nice, long listing - but it will include flea markets and consignment shops with the true thrift stores. The example for San Antonio is HERE.

And, of course, the best way to learn of good thrift stores is to ask around. From Ginny, about those here in SA: "the ones I like are the Good Will on Dezavala and I-10, the Good Will on Blanco at 410 and the Family Thrift Stores close to Ingram Park Mall at 410 and next to Henry's Puffy Tacos on Bandera inside Loop 410 a few miles."

Becoming an Expatriate

There are those who daydream not only about simplifying their lives, but about changing their locations while doing so. The American Expatriate is commonplace in several areas of the world. It's not just Rick Blaine living in Casablanca anymore.

Explains ShelterOffshore,

"The very first step towards successfully downsizing is sitting down with your partner and together making a list of all your dreams for a simple life. After all, if you don’t ultimately know where you’re going in life how on earth do you expect to get there! This list should be unrestricted by thoughts of money, time or practicality and should be your ideal downsized or simplified life. This is the life that you need to actively think about every day and see in your mind in vivid colour. The more you focus on the finer details of your perfect life through visualisation the quicker this ‘dream’ will become your reality. Make sure both you and your partner are in agreement about the fundamentals of your new life and that you both actively think about this every day.

"You now need to begin putting the practical steps in place to achieve your ideal - I don’t know how visualisation works but it does work and if you keep focusing on what you want you will find the practical aspects of achieving your simple life easier! Work out where in the world you want to live, examine property prices in your ideal location and find out what you can afford. Think about the money you have in the bank and how much you will need to live on. Be realistic about all the financial areas of your new life - downsizing is of course all about living on less - but you will still need money to afford to live! Will this money come from savings, the sale of your house, a part time job, a new business? Be hard on yourself and very realistic when it comes to every financial aspect of your new life because it is always, always money that lets people down. And I don’t mean it’s a case of not having enough, it can be a case of imagining you will not encounter high costs of living in your ideal country and then moving there and discovering your assumptions were wrong and the cost of living is higher than anticipated and will require a readjustment of your new life plan."

EscapeArtist.com provides a lot of jumps as well as ebooks to educate those interested in this process. So does TransitionsAbroad.com.

For personal perspectives, check out Expats in Britian, an Expat in Chile, an Expat in France since 2000, and an Expat in Germany-- and don't expect everyone to like you: some may share Bill Grimm's opinion of the "ugly American expat."

[For More Info, check out my April 2010 post regarding expatriating - lots more links and books, too.]

Spices: Saving & Storing

How long are those spices good that are stored in the pantry? Here's the answer from the executive chef of Gourmet magazine and one of the top internet spice suppliers:

From Sara Moulton, this advice:

"If spices are kept in a cool dark place they should last for at least 6 months. After that you can still use them but you will have to use more in order to get the same potency. You can tell when their flavor is fading because their color fades: paprika and red spices go from bright red to dull brown, dried green herbs go from green to dull gray. When you buy dried herbs and spices, buy them in small quantities."

Source: SaraMoulton.com

From online, reputable SpiceBarn.Com:

"Whole herbs and spices last much longer than crushed or ground. Many people prefer to buy the whole form and crush or grind as needed. Herbs and spices can be crushed with a mortar and pestle, or a coffee grinder. Check ground spices for freshness at least once a year. If no aroma is detected, the seasoning needs to be replaced. Heat, sunlight, and dampness cause herbs and spices to lose their flavor and aroma quickly.

1. Store away from moisture as dampness will cause caking and loss of quality. Store in tightly covered jars and use clean, dry spoons for measuring. If you live in a high humidity area you may experience difficulty with caking.

2. Store in cool place away from light. Do not store in a window or in sunlight. Do not store near heat sources such as the range, dishwasher or refrigerator. Spice racks are nice, but not the best way to store your spices.

Shelf Life: Whole spices----2 to 5 years; ground spices---6 months to 2 years; leafy herbs-------3 months to 2 years; dehydrated vegetables---6 months

Tip: Make a note of the date of purchase on the label; then check them once a year and replace as needed.

Source: http://www.spicebarn.com/storing_spices.htm

January 13, 2006

Acrylamide - Pass On the Fries & Chips

Acrylamide causes cancer, although no one can say for sure what amount of the chemical has to be ingested before it becomes dangerous. Once thought to be a product of industrial waste, three years ago acrylamide was discovered in many human foods -- particularly, fried potatoes in the form of french fries and potato chips.

What is it? From the EPA: "Acrylamide is an organic solid of white, odorless, flake-like crystals. The greatest use of acrylamide is as a coagulant aid in drinking water treatment. Other uses of include: to improve production from oil wells; in making organic chemicals and dyes; in the sizing of paper and textiles; in ore processing; in the construction of dam foundations and tunnels.

"The list of trade names given below may help you find out whether you are using this chemical at home or work: 2-Propenamide;Acrylic amide; Ethylenecarboxamide; Amresco Acryl-40; Acrylagel;

"EPA has found acrylamide to potentially cause the following health effects when people are exposed to it at levels above the MCL for relatively short periods of time: damage to the nervous system, weakness and incoordination in the legs. Long-term: Acrylamide has the potential to cause the following effects from a lifetime exposure at levels above the MCL: damage to the nervous system, paralysis; cancer."

The California Attorney General has filed a lawsuit based upon acrylamide, demanding that fast food companies and chip manufacturers warn the public that this toxic chemical exists in their products. As reported in their August 2005 Press Release:

"Filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Lockyer's complaint alleges the companies have violated Proposition 65, a landmark ballot initiative enacted by voters in 1986. The law requires businesses to provide "clear and reasonable" warnings before exposing people to known carcinogens or reproductive toxins. The defendants in the lawsuit are:

Burger King Corporation, french fries
Cape Cod Potato Chips, Inc./Lance, Inc. (parent company), Cape Cod potato chips
Frito-Lay, Inc./PepsiCo, Inc., Lay’s potato chips/Lay’s baked potato chips
H.J. Heinz, Inc., Ore-Ida frozen potato products
Kettle Foods, Inc., Kettle Chips
KFC Corporation, KFC Potato Wedges
McDonald’s Corporation, french fries
Procter & Gamble Distributing Co./Procter & Gamble Manufacturing Co., Pringles
Wendy’s International, Inc., french fries

How bad is this stuff? The Environmental Protection Agency find acrylamide so dangerous that only 0.5 parts per billion in drinking water is considered safe. One small serving of French Fries is 800 times that amount (400 parts per billion).

Sources: mercola.com, foodrisk.org, epa.gov, Califoria Attorney General's Office.

January 11, 2006

Affluenza - the Movie and its Sequel

Affluenza was first shown on PBS and developed such a following that a sequel was made, Escape from Affluenza. PBS offers a site page devoted to Affluenza - which includes a fun online quiz, if you like that sort of thing (I do).

Buying a copy of the movie is surprisingly expensive: amazon.com offers the original for almost sixty bucks. The sequel is listed on amazon.com, as well, with three buyers waiting and no copy for sale.

If you live in the Seattle area, the original was shown together with the Walmart movie this past November at Camp Long. Googling the movie's name reveals periodic showings around the country; however, nothing on the shelf at the San Antonio Public Library.

So I'm requesting the librarians there check into it, and hoping for a repeat on PBS sometime soon.

Homemade Dog Food

It's cheaper and smarter to make your own pet food rather than buy the commercial products. There are several sites with dog food recipes, including: PetGrub, Ehow.com, and Natural Recipes. For those dogs that don't like their veggies, try putting some of the cooked meat together with the cooked veggies in the processor (unless you like chopping a lot) and make a hash from it. Works every time ....

Why avoid commercial pet foods? Check what the veterinary professors relate at nzymes.com and Shirley'sWellnessCafe.

Cleaning Burnt Pans

I've discovered several methods online today to clean a burnt pan:

1. From Pioneer Thinking: slice up an onion put it in the pan and add enough water to cover the burnt part, put on the stove and heat until the water is boiling, then take off and leave to cool. Let it stand for a few hours, the black should then come off fairly easily.

2. From Ehow.com: Wash away as much of the food as possible, using cold water for eggs, chocolate and starch-based foods. Fill the pot with water. Add 1 to 2 tsp. dishwashing liquid and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, then cover the pot, turn off the heat and leave the pot to soak for 30 minutes. With a wooden spoon, scrape away as much of the burned food as possible. Rinse well. If burned areas still remain, cover them completely with a generous amount of baking soda. Drizzle in just enough water to create a thick paste, smearing the paste up the sides of the pot if needed. Set aside for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Without rinsing the pot, add 3 parts water to 1 part distilled vinegar to cover the burned food by at least 2 inches (5 cm). Boil for 10 minutes and then leave overnight. Repeat steps 2 through 5 as needed.

3. From ThrifyFun: Put hot water in the pan along with some vinegar and let it sit overnight. This also works well with cleaning your stove top burner pans.

Grape Seeds = Good 4 U

Grape seeds can be taken in supplement form or you can just eat the real thing. Why bother? Because they contain Oligomeric Proanthocyanidins ("OPCs"). Dr. Mercola (see jump below) explains that grape seeds contain antioxidants that are 20 times stronger than Vitamin C and 50 times stronger than Vitamin E. He recommends juicing raw, fresh grapes with their seeds and then drinking the juice.

Valerie Saxion (jump below) explains that grape seeds (or 100-200 mg of OPC):

-inhibit some aspects of the Aging Process

-remove Lipofuscin from and inhibit its formation in the Brain and Heart

-help combat vericose veins (although Dr. Weil prefers Germany's treatment with horse chestnut-seed extract, see jump below)

-help to prevent and reverse Atherosclerosis

-help to prevent abnormal Blood Clotting

-help lower your cholesterol

-improve the strength and elasticity of Blood Vessels

-help to prevent Hemorrhage

-help to prevent Hypertension and lower Blood Pressure

-reduce the risk of blood clots

-increase blood flow

-help to prevent damage to the DNA

-help to prevent Bloodshot Eyes, by increasing the strength of the capillaries, thereby preventing their unwarranted leakage as occurs in bloodshot eyes

-enhance the health of the eyes including being a good treatment for (diabetic) retinopathy

-help to prevent Short-Sightedness

-improve various aspects of Sight

-stimulate Hair growth in persons with Hair Loss, by stimulating the proliferation of hair follicles; this helps combat Male Pattern Baldness.

Sources: ValerieSaxion.Com, Dr.Weil.Com, Mercola.Com

January 9, 2006

Circus for the Kiddos - Free Ticket

Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey invite your baby (infant up to 12 months) or your adopted child (any age, within 12 months of adoption date) to their festivities - for free.

Movies For Free

You can see relatively recent movies for free easily by checking them out from your local library. Here in San Antonio, it's even easier than simply roaming the shelves: by going to the local public library website, choosing its search function and limiting that to "VHS/DVD" results, you can review the entirety of the city's film library from your chair.

Once found, put a hold on the selections and choose your closest branch. The library system will bring the various selections to your branch, no matter how scattered they may be in the county. Once they are corraled at the branch of your choice, you pick 'em up, watch 'em, return 'em. Free.

How current is the local library's selection? Well, I couldn't find recent releases as shown on RottenTomatoes.com -- but I could find Sideways as well as the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, both Academy Award nominees for 2004. Not bad.

SuperSize Me

Supersize Me is not a new film - but definitely one that's worth your time. Having been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2004, and winning awards at the Sundance Film Festival as well as from the International Press Academy and the Writers' Guild of America, its reputation for quality is well established.

How does it help simplify your life? By helping you avoid fast food, which is bad on your budget and on your body. The film encourages an appreciation of the simple ideas of cooking at home, of knowing what you're actually eating, and of understanding how the nutritional value of your food impacts the quality of your life.

Get the DVD, used, for under ten bucks at amazon.com. Or better yet, rent it for free at your local library. (The San Antonio Public Library alone has 20 copies on its shelf.)

The Walmart Movie

The Walmart movie everyone is talking about has an unusual distribution method: in all probability, you can see it for free somewhere in your local area. Entitled "The High Cost of a Low Price," the film's site allows you to input your zip code, and the site responds with a listing of times and locations for the next showing near you. You can also buy a used DVD at amazon. com for less than ten bucks.

The First Post: Purpose and Contents

The purpose of this blog is to organize and consolidate information appearing around the web and elsewhere dealing with simplifying life. Everyday Simplicity seeks to help those considering a lifestyle change as well as those expert at living an abundant life in a frugal way.

Topics will include:

Shopping Tips -- from bargain hunting to thrift stores, the art of shopping well will be covered
Health Tips -- meeting physical, mental, and spiritual needs the Simple Way will be addressed
Beauty Tips -- natural cosmetics and fashion finds from a Simple perspective
Seniors' Tips -- seniors have unique needs that are addressed in a Simplified Way
Kids' Tips -- kids get special Simple attention, too
Saving Money Tips -- from insurance to the grocery budget, savvy saving the Simple Way
Investing Money Tips -- the most bang for your buck, the Simple Way
Food Tips -- outside of recipes, food is discussed from a Simple Perspective
Herb & Garden Tips -- growing herbs, vegetables, flowers, and great yards Simply
Time Tips -- some Simple ways to save that most precious commodity
Recipes -- an expanding collection of Simple Recipes
Freebies -- free stuff found on the web and elsewhere
Books to Read -- great reads that help on the Simple Path
Movies to See -- films that touch on living simply
Instances of Excess -- spotlights on the Uncontrolled to remind us of where we used to be
Simple Living Kudos -- attaboys for the role models
Inspiration & Encouragement -- quotations and remembrances and testimonies to cheer you
Great Simple Sites -- links to Simple Living Sites: we're cooperative not competitive here
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