March 31, 2006

Daylight Saving Time Starts Sunday

Daylight Saving Time starts this Sunday, April 2, 2006, at 2:00 a.m.

Spring forward one hour, as the rhyme goes ....

Americans might want to note that this is the last April you'll be setting the clocks ahead: starting in 2007, DST starts in March - with the US joining the EU on their sun-saving schedule. The European Union starts saving sunshine on the last Sunday each March and stops on last Sunday each October. Unlike the United States, in Europe, all time zones change at the same moment.

Why do this? It saves energy, it's responsible for less car accidents, and people like it - polls show most folk like the extra daylight hours in the evening.

And, if you don't like it -- blame Benjamin Franklin. That's right: he advocated DST right along with electricity, glass harmonicas, cast iron stoves, libraries, lightning rods, and bifocals. Good Old Ben.

Here's the American schedule for the next three years:

Year/ Spring Forward/Fall Back
2006/ April 2/October 29
2007/ March 11/November 4
2008/ March 9/November 2

Note: Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Arizona do not participate in DST.


March 30, 2006

Escaping a Long Term Cell Phone Contract

Roaming Hack has created a blog for the sole purpose of providing information to the masses on how to escape cell phone contracts. He uses Cingular as an example. In the comments (34 at the time I checked), others were giving information on Sprint and other companies.

Dr. Mercola thought enough of this site to post about it this morning. What does Roaming Hack advise? Roaming writes:

"There is a little known secret about your cell phone contract that your wireless service provider doesn't want you to know....You can cancel whenever you want without paying a termination fee....

"There is a very simple way to do this. Become unprofitable. If you're paying them $50 a month but costing them a few hundred - They most definitely will cancel you."

His secret? Create high roaming costs to the company during free weekend minutes, forcing the company to pay another company for your roaming time.

Does this work? The Hack says it does. Dr. Mercola gives it a vote of confidence. Those commenting point out that different companies work different ways, and some provide the contract language for those companies.

Of course, getting a phone on a pay-as-you-go plan saves you from a contract, and you don't have this problem. At $15.00/month minimum, this is probably the simplest way to go: maybe you don't have oodles of cell phone minutes here, but you don't need them. Not really.

March 29, 2006

How to Fillet A Whole Fish

Fish is fresher if you buy the whole fish: the meat holds its shape and flavor better. It's cheaper, too. Here's what you need to know to choose this option for your menu:

1. For info on buying fresh fish (knowing its fresh, choosing the best fishmonger, etc.) Gorton's has a great site - complete with a printable info sheet to take with you to the store.

2. You will need four tools: a filleting knife (sharp, long, flexible); a chef's knife (large, sharp); a set of needle-nose pliers (tweezers will do in a pinch); and kitchen scissors.

3. You'll face two kinds of fish - round or flat. Preparation is a bit different for each type. (Gorton's explains this well, too.)

4. As for what you do, first, you "prepare" the fish. This involves cleaning it and removing the ooky parts.

5. Then you "fillet" it, which involves cutting away large portions of the meat away from the bone. Skin stays on at this point. If you have a big fish (think shark), you don't fillet: you "steak"... you "steak the fish".

6. The next steps are to "debone" and "skin" the fillets/steaks.

For detailed instructions on all these steps, check out, (they have videos),, (more video).

March 28, 2006

Make Your Own Spice Blends

More and more ready-made blends are available on the shelf: Thai, Jerk, Cajun. Most of their ingredients are probably in your pantry already, why not just buy what you need?

For lots of blend recipes, see JoycesFineCooking.Com,,,

And Paula Deen's house blend? 1 cup kosher salt, 1/2 cup black pepper, 1/4 cup garlic powder.

March 27, 2006

4th Richest Man Lives Frugally

Forbes magazine keeps track of the rich, and lists the top four as: (1) Microsoft's Bill Gates; (2) money-man Warren Buffett; (3) industrialist Carlos Slim; and (4) IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad. Kamprad's worth is about $28 billion, according to Forbes.

What Forbes doesn'f focus upon is that Ingvar Kamprad, 79, believes in frugal living. He drives a 15-year-old Volvo: "she is nearly new, just 15 years old, or something like that." He always flies economy class. His home is furnished with his own IKEA furniture. He takes public transportation to work. He asks that all employees write on both sides of the paper.

He also avoids wearing suits, and he likes to eat at inexpensive restaurants. Rumors exist that he replaces expensive Coca-Colas in the hotel mini-bar with cheapers ones from the convenience store before he checks out, to avoid the inflated mini-bar prices.

"People say I am cheap and I don't mind if they do," Kamprad told interviewer Darius Rochebin of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation in a rare interview recently. His goal is to lead and inspire his employees, and to keep as much money circulating in IKEA as possible, so that its low-cost product can reach the most people world-wide. His goal is always to keep IKEA prices low.

Does he offer any advice? Kamprad recommends “Divide your life into 10-minute units, and sacrifice as few of them as possible in meaningless activity.”,,

Photo: Kamprad giving a lecture at Vaxjo University in Sweden, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

March 25, 2006

Sneezing? Allergies? Consider Dust Mites.

80% of those folk seeing a doctor about their allergies or asthma issues tested positive to dust mites. Yes, that is eighty percent, so odds are high that this info impacts you and your family.

Stephen King probably finds this entertaining, but most don't like the idea of these microscopic bugs and their (ahem) fecal material prospering in warm, humid environments. Like carpets, beds, and upholstery.

They are called "dust mites" because their food is the skin cells that both people and pets shed. Ewww.

How to fight back?

1. Vacuum often with a machine that has a HEPA filter. (HEPA = High Efficiency Particulate Arresting.) Don't forget to vacuum the upholstery, and the professors at the University of Nebraska suggest you also vacuum the mattresses.

2. Wash all the bedclothes every week in hot water, and dry on high heat, too. The hot temperature will kill them.

3. Use those anti-allergen coverings for the bed: box springs, mattresses, even the pillows.

4. Dust throughly weekly. Try those new "vaccuumy" wands, that hold the dust as opposed to moving it around.

5. Use one of the new Allergen Reducer sprays on the bed, pillows, spreads, etc. These work very well, I've found.

6. Use a dehumidifier that lowers humidity to under 50 percent, because these pesty dust mites love humidity levels above 50 percent.

7. Make sure the kids' stuffed animals can handle washing in hot water and drying in high heat. Then, wash them along with the sheets.


March 24, 2006

Do Expatriates Pay Less in Taxes?

There is a free report from International Living that provides details on the tax implications of living in various countries as an American citizen.

So, does living abroad mean a tax savings to the American expatriate? Not necessarily. There are some countries with low tax rates which may mean savings, such as Panama. There are other countries that have double-taxation treaties with the USA, including France and Mexico.

For a detailed answer to the question, there's a book you can order, The Expatriate's Tax Bible. Or, you can check with a tax professional who works with expatriates - either in the US, or in the foreign country you're investigating. Search Google for "expatriate accountant" and you'll find a list of pros to answer your questions.

March 23, 2006

Food as Medicine - 2

Aloe vera is amazing. You grow the spiky cacti at home, cut off a spike whenever there's a cut or some sunburn.

But did you know aloe vera can help with arthritis as well as with intestinal problems, including ulcers? Psoriasis is also benefited by aloe vera, as is shingles. Warts. Heartburn, too.

Just rub the gel from a spike onto your painful outer area (arthritic knuckle, scrapped knee) and drink the juice for the internal pain.

How much juice? That depends on what you're addressing. Dr. Weil suggests starting at 1 tablespoon after meals for some things, and the WholeHealth doctors think one-half cup in the morning, and again in the evening, is good for some others.

Also, check the juice for quality. None of the options are expensive, but some have higher aloe content than others. Always insure that "aloe vera" is the first ingredient on the list.


March 22, 2006

Favorite Thrift Store Finds

When you start shopping thrift stores, there's the thrill of finding a great deal that just never happened at the mall. For example, yesterday I was introduced to Family Thrift Store on Blanco Road, a great thrift store, by Mr. X. (There are several Family Thrifts in San Antonio: Goliad is smaller and Bandera is bigger.)

The best buy was his, not mine: for $39, he took home to his wife a gently worn Dooney & Burke purse which would cost over $300, if bought brand-new. All-weather leather, large, nice. The black with tan trim - still had the dangling duck medal on it. An identical bag is up for resale today at WildPacificProducts for $275.00.

What's your best buy story?

March 21, 2006

Five Toddler Tips

1. Put a shower curtain under their chair, especially if they're still in a high chair. After Kid Cyclone is finished, dump the food into the trash, and if KC has been really entertaining, take the curtain outside, wash it off with the garden hose.

2. Wind all your electrical cords around furniture legs: lamp cords around table legs, clock-radio around the nightstand, etc. Kid Cyclone has less chance of thinking the cords are something to pull, jerk, jump rope, ....

3. Start teaching the tot about cooking early by letting him help fill ice trays with juice, and then helping him put the cubes in his cup later; having him put the paper muffin cups into the pan, watch you pour in the batter, let him look thru the oven window as they bake, and let him pull the paper cup off the fresh, hot muffin when it's done; help him to put individual grapes in the freezer and then let him take them out later as a snack on a hot day.

4. Have an "Eat-Out" bag in the car, containing crayons, paper, and small toys which the tot is allowed to use only at the restaurant. Make these things exciting for the child, so he's happy-happy that he has the opportunity to play with these treasures. Clue: he gives lots of push to keep them with him afterwards, he bugs to get to play with these items at other times. Eating out at a restaurant is BORING for kids. It's your job to make it enjoyable for your tot -- you, your spouse, your tot, and your fellow diners will thank you.

5. Always have a spare set of clothes in the back of the car, neutrals that match lots of things. Shoes, too. Things happen. Remember to replace them when you use that spare, too.

March 20, 2006

How to Cut Up a Whole Chicken

Check your chicken prices, and you'll find that buying a whole chicken is amazingly cheaper than purchasing parts someone else has prepared for you. Yes, you are buying bones - but with a nice-sized bird, you'll have about six cups of meat for your efforts (if you're making a cassarole or soup or salad, etc.)

There are different ways to cut the chicken. If you are frying or baking, then you'll want wings and thighs - the standard assortment of pieces. For that, the technical term is "quartering the chicken."

If you want boneless, skinless chicken breasts, that's called "boning the chicken." You're seperating all the breast meat from the remainder of the bird, and you can "butterfly" that breast as well. That's separating it into two, thinner sections.

Food Network has online videos and print-out instructions for each of these techniques. Cooking for Engineers has a great list of instructions for cutting up a whole chicken, accompanied by clear photos. Hormel Foods also has nice sets of instructions, with step by step photos that are excellent. Hormel has lots of info: cleaning, brining, lots of stuff here if you're really into this subject....

March 18, 2006

Freebie Online - Fabulous Diet and Exercise Manager

FitDay is great - so great, it's a wonder that it's still free on the web. After using the freebie for a couple of years, I did splurge on the inexpensive software - but the freebie was more than enough for me for awhile and hey - it's free. Love this product, even though I may not love what it tells me (who knew there was so much fat in a peanut? in eggs? in my homemade soy smoothie?) ....

While the habit of inputing all that you eat and all the movement you make seems cumbersome, if not overwhelming, you get used to it. The more you input, the more you learn about the reality of your body and how much you're supporting it - or neglecting it. The inventory of items provided in the food selection is huge (yes, brand names and fast food vendors are included) and there is the opportunity to add your own items as well. Your homemade recipes can be inputed here, and broken down nutritionally.

According to the site, FitDay gives you:

weight loss

calorie counter
fat, protein, and carbohydrate intakes
metabolism & exercise calorie expenditure
weight loss tracking
weight loss goals and progress reports
caloric balance reports

good nutrition

food nutrition facts for any food
daily nutritional intakes
audit of personal RDAs
long term nutritional analysis
quick reference to Dietary Guidelines for Americans

peak fitness

exercise log
mileage/distance tracking
calorie expenditures
metabolism breakdown
analyze and graph mileage/distance

March 16, 2006

On the Path to Simple Living: Sharing Stories

In January 2006, Amy started a blog entitled The Great Debt Payoff. She bravely posted her family's debt and made her commitment public to simple living. As of this post, Amy hadn't updated the blog since January 11th. Sometimes blogging is stressful, managing money is never entertaining (okay, maybe for the few). I'm hopeful Amy posts again soon, with good news.

Poe lives in California, and posts her financial trek on Budget Living in Orange County. She's moving to a new condo this month, had a great plan for a cheap vacation in Mexico, and actually shares her financials.

Sylver lives in the Netherlands and has a great blog, Journey to Frugality. He's dealing in euros, and he watches Oprah.

There are many like them - people sharing their personal highs and lows in frugal living. Boston's "Jane Dough" at Boston Gal's Open Wallet not only provides a good blog of her own experiences, she has a great collection of other folks' blogs of their personal journeys.

You're not alone in this.

March 15, 2006

How to Cook - 2

Now that you have your basic equipment and the vocabulary for cooking (see How to Cook-1), you're ready to stock your pantry basics, nail down some cooking essentials, and start off with some basic recipes. Next How-To? How to create menues for the week to maximize your food dollar and your cooking time.

Stocking Your Pantry (including the fridge)

It's efficient in both time and money to have a pantry stocked with certain things. Coupon afficiandos swear by the savings of buying in bulk and by sales coordination. Chefs swear by the importance of a well-kept pantry.

There are several sites with options on what to include:,, These lists can be long, expanding as they venture into ethnic areas: Thai, Mexican, etc. Over time, you can add things like curry powder to your kitchen; it's not necessary to be international at the get-go.

Canned tomatoes - great for sauces, soups, cassaroles
Tomato sauce, tomato paste - similar use to the canned, paste is a thickener
Broth - have chicken, beef, and vegetable on hand, flavoring for rice, soup, mashed potatoes, etc.
Dried pasta - at least one noodle (spagetti) for light sauces, and one tube (penne) for thick sauces, salads, cassaroles
Rice - start with the basics, you can graduate to a risotto
Canned Fish - tuna for salads, cassaroles, sandwiches; salmon for croquettes
Canned Beans - have black, cannellini, pinto, more on hand. Tons of uses.
Peanut Butter - make sauces, dips, sandwiches, desserts
Bread Crumbs - filling for cakes (bean, meat), loaves (meatloaf)
Spices - salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, ginger, cumin, chili powder, paprika (sweet), pepper sauce, pepper flakes, soy sauce, wine vinegar, cinnamon, basil, oregano, vanilla extract
Flour - for baking, thickening
Sugar - for baking, sweetening (unless you're game for stevia)
Oils - Extra Virgin Olive Oil for salads, low-heat cooking; vegetable oil for cooking at higher heat; if you are going to stir fry, must use peanut oil - it takes the highest heat before burning.
Ketchup - condiment, flavoring
Mayonaise - condiment, flavoring
Mustard - condiment, flavoring
Tea Bags
Produce - fresh fruits and veggies that you like, don't buy farther than 5 days ahead. Dark green lettuce, tomatoes, onions, garlic, fruit in season are staples
Milk or Milk Substitute - beverage, baking, adding to soups, sauces
Nuts - freeze 'em

Cooking Essentials

Boiling Water: Put the pot on to boil and leave it. Don't add salt until the bubble are bouncing on the top, or the salt will scrape the bottom of the pot. Simmer is little bitty bubbles, slow movement. Boiling is a party.

For more essentials, there is a great, easy list at

Basic Recipes

Your goal is to be able to whip up a meal or two without having to check the cookbook. Until then, there are several sites with easy recipes for you:,,


You don't need most of what they sell. That commercial for the hot tea maker? No. However, a manual can opener is a must, as are a corkscrew and a bottle top opener. A blender and a mixer (hand mixer is fine to start, you don't have to have a pink KitchenAid) are good to have, but elbow grease works just fine if you don't.

How to Clean -2

Part of simplifying life means keeping up your property boundaries: just because the thrift store has a fabulous collection of Hello Kitty collectibles doesn't mean that you need to buy them all. It's a good deal - but maybe it's someone else's good deal, not yours. That means thinking about what comes into your home. Enforce your boundaries with yourself.

Before that becomes your focus, however, you've got to conquer the excess you already have. Odds are, if you're new to simplicity you've got lots of stuff. Lots.
The collection of surplus material goods has, unfortunately, become The American Way.

Stuff means maintenance, even if it's just storing it in the backroom closet. Simple living is clean, efficient: if you have stuff stored in the backroom closet, it's for a reason and it serves a purpose. No? It needs to go.

Simplifying Your Stuff: the Courage to Toss

There are reasons you keep this stuff, and avoid culling. Some have gone so far as delineating between different "personalities" - dividing folk by motivation: procrastination, sentimentality, perfectionism. Whatever your hurdle, jump it - it takes courage to change the way you think, and the way you live.

Stripping Away the Excess

You're changing your world by reorganizing your environment: these things take time, be patient with yourself. Task by task, step by step, you'll get it all done.

Start with a room, or a section of a room. Take your laundry baskets (see How to Clean 1) and begin sorting. Give yourself a time limit. You can be sentimental later, you're just sorting right now. Fill the baskets: keep, toss, give, put-away.

When they are full, toss the toss pile first. Don't reevaluate your decisions here. Same for the give pile: put it in bags, label them for charity, and put them in the trunk of the car, or outside the door for pick up. Get them out of sight, it will keep everyone from rummaging through them later.

Take the put-away stuff and put this stuff up. Where it should be, in a perfect world. Not in another pile, in another room. Keep gets stored.

Now, check your time. If you've got it, do another round. If not, that's okay. You'll get there. This is part of the simple life, right now: these simple steps will get you where you need to be. Drop that pressure, don't stress over this. Keep it simple as you're simplifying.

For other methods on simplifying your stuff, see:,

March 6, 2006

Food as Medicine - 1

Food One-a-Days -- if you eat the following each day, these health benefits result:

One-half cup cooked beans cuts bad cholesterol (LDL) by 10%.

Mushrooms, maitake or shiitake (if fresh, 3 oz., if dried, 1/3 ounce), cut bad cholesterol by 7 and 12 percent respectively.

One-half of a raw onion raises the good cholesterol (HDL).

One carrot cuts stroke rate in women by 68%.

Six servings of Fruits and Vegetables cuts stroke rate by 44%. Up it to nine servings, cut the rate by 66%.

Two tablespoons of cooked cabbage protects against stomach cancer.

One-half cup of spinach cuts macular degeneration odds by 43%.

Two to four stalks of celery cuts high blood pressure.

One ounce of fish oil cuts risk of heart attack by 50%.

One cup of yogurt boosts your immune system, as well as reduces colds and other respiratory infections.


March 4, 2006

Do You Get a Tax Credit?

Tax credits are good. They reduce, dollar-for-dollar, the amount of taxes owed. Sometimes, they can reduce taxes so much that the taxpayer ends up with a refund (this doesn't happen with all credits, only those labelled "refundable credits"). Credits include:

The Earned Income Tax Credit -- a refundable credit for low-income working individuals and families. Income and family size determine the amount of the credit. See IRS Publication 596, Earned Income Credit.

The Child and Dependent Care Credit -- credit for expenses paid for the care of children under age 13, or for a disabled spouse or dependent, to enable the taxpayer to work or look for work. See IRS Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses.

The Child Tax Credit -- credit of up to $1000 for people who have a qualifying child. This credit can be claimed in addition to the credit for child and dependent care expenses. See IRS Publication 972, Child Tax Credit.

Adoption Credit -- credit of up to $10,630 for qualifying expenses paid to adopt an eligible child. The credit may be allowed for the adoption of a child with special needs even if you do not have any qualifying expenses. See the instructions for Form 8839, Qualified Adoption Expenses.

Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled -- credit is available to individuals who are either age 65 or older or are under age 65 and retired on permanent and total disability, and who are U.S. citizens or residents. (Some income limitations apply.) See IRS Publication 524, Credit for the Elderly and the Disabled.

There are other credits available, so read the instructions for Form 1040 carefully, as well as the IRS information at For more questions, call 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676).

March 3, 2006

Tea, Yes; Sodas, No

Tea hasn't been called the "Wine of the South" without reason. Here in Texas (where we consider ourselves Southern when it suits us), tea has long been a staple in the kitchen. Usually, it's kept cold in the fridge, and served over ice in glasses. Lemon wedges on the side. And, the tea is sweet. Sweet tea is the general rule.

As for simple living, tea is a good idea. It's simple and smart. Filled with antioxidants, economical to make, and with stevia as the sweetener in lieu of granulated sugar, it's healthy for you and good on the budget. In competition with sodas, tea wins hands down. Green or black.

When the research is reviewed on the benefits of tea, and then compared to that compiled for sodas - which are rapidly becoming known as "liquid candy" - tea seems to be the optimal choice for home consumption.

My version: three big bags of decaffienated black tea combined with a three small bags of green tea (also, decaffienated) in a teapot, with a spoon or knife to take the heat; boiling water poured to the top and steeped for ten to twenty minutes; then, poured into a huge pitcher that has a lid, water added together with stevia to taste and some lemon juice, maybe a wedge or two. Lasts a couple of days.

March 2, 2006

'"Nuking" Food in Plastic Containers - Is It Dangerous?

While taking a "doggie-bagged" styrofoam container from the microwave, only to find a portion of the container has melded with the food, hopefully gives enough pause that this food isn't eaten, others argue no plastic containers should be trusted. Some argue that microwaves shouldn't be trusted, as well.

Microwave critics warn that the way that microwaves heat the food causes abnormalities at the food's cellular level, which lessens its nutritional value if not more. For more on this argument, visit mercola. com's collection of articles or read The Microwave News.

As for microwaving food in plastic, many criticize that the plastic containers contain chemicals such as dioxins (which are toxic) as well as others, like Bisphenol-A (which is a synthetic estrogen that may cause early menstruation in little girls). For more discussion on plastic containers, visit The Minnisota Daily's article, or dr.mercola's compilation of links.

What's the alternative? A toaster oven and a tea kettle work fine for me. I haven't noticed a loss of time since tossing my microwave, and I use glass instead of plastic whenever possible. I save the pickle jars, etc. and I find those one quart canning jars have 1000s of uses, in lieu of those disposable plastic storage options. I find the food tastes better coming from the toaster oven, and it's actually faster to boil water for tea in the kettle than it was to heat the mug in the 'wave.

March 1, 2006

Keeping Skin Elasticity As You Age

I've googled around and compiled a list of natural foods and/or supplements that help in keeping your skin taunt, or elastic, as you age.

They are: green tea; black tea; 100 mg/day of grape seed extract; cranberries; grapes; bilberry; and black current.

Why? Because they all contain proanthocyanidins, which help your body stabilize its collagen and keep two proteins critical to elasticity within connective tissue that support organs, joints, blood vessels, and muscle.

Sources:;;; Photo: Lon Chaney in costume, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
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