May 31, 2006

Good Phone Deals - Pay as You Go Plans

Tracfone is a national pre-paid wireless phone option that includes free voice mail, free caller ID, free call waiting, and other options -- all for a very, very reasonable price. Better yet, you have no long-term contracts and you pay only for minutes you use. However, so do Verizon and Cellular and dozens of other companies. (Googling the phrase "prepaid wireless" brings up over one million hits.)

Which should you choose? Try the comparison feature offered at MyRatePlan.Com. You enter your zip code, then choose the features you'd like, and voila: a comparison chart for your consideration - but one that doesn't include all the plans available. Consumer Search has rated the various plans and votes TMobile as number one. Consumer Reports offers lots of good advice and company comparisons, as well.

I've been using a prepaid plan for over a year now - in no small part because I rarely use my cellphone - and have been very happy with it. I can pay for more minutes online, and I average about $15.00/month. The only drawback, which sometimes isn't a drawback at all: the caller does not see your name when you call them, only the number and the phrase "private caller."

May 27, 2006

Great FREE Web Hosting/Publishing Site offers a great service: not only free web hosting, but also a wide array of extras: free webpage design, including things like a photo center, a calendar, and forums, and it's relatively easy and quick to get up and running. (On a test run, I created and published a test site to the web in less than an hour. With photos.) One of the best ... a great find.

May 22, 2006

Menu Planning 102

When planning a family menu, you're really planning a collection of meals. And each meal is a collection of portions. The question of how much do you have to cook for a meal translates into how many portions do you need (or want)?

Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta
1 slice of bread
1 tortilla
1/2 bagel or 1/2 English muffin or 1/2 pita
1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal
1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta

1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
1/2 cup of other vegetables, cooked or chopped raw
1/2 cup of vegetable juice

1 medium apple, banana, orange
1 cup berries, cubed melon
1/2 cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit
1/2 cup of fruit juice

Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese
1 cup milk
1 cup yogurt (artificially sweetened)
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup cottage cheese or ricotta
1 ounce cheese

Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts
1 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish
1/2 cup of cooked dry beans or 1 egg counts as 1 ounce of lean meat.
2 tablespoons of peanut butter or 1/3 cup of nuts count as 1 ounce of meat.

1 teaspoon oil, butter, margarine, mayonnaise
1 tablespoon salad dressing, cream cheese

Another form of reference:

Fist or baseball - a serving of vegetables or fruit
A rounded handful - about one half cup cooked or raw veggies or cut fruit, a piece of fruit, or ½ cup of cooked rice or pasta
Deck of cards - a serving of meat, fish or poultry
Golf ball - one quarter cup of dried fruit or nuts
Tennis ball - one half cup of ice cream
Computer mouse - the size of a small baked potato
Compact disc - the size of one serving of pancake or small waffle
Thumb tip - one teaspoon of peanut butter
Six dice - a serving of cheese
Check book - a serving of fish

For fun, try the Portion Distortion Quiz - it's very enlightening, if somewhat scarey.

Sources:,, National Institute of Health.

Menu Planning 101

Grocery shopping becomes more efficient, faster, and cheaper when you plan your week's meals in advance. Your family's health gets a boost, too, if you include a focus on nutrition as you plan. The problem: it's hard to do, and it takes time. The good news? Life can become more balanced, and simpler, once you conquer weekly menu plans.

Considerations include cost, time, your level of cooking expertise, and overlapping nutrition concerns with all of these as well as your family's taste preferences. Nutritional factors include things like the American Heart Association's daily requirements (6-11 servings of bread, pasta, and starchy vegetables) or the American Diabetes Association's Pyramid - which is slightly different than the Department of Agriculture's new MyPyramid. There are others: South Beach, etc.

Once you have your nutritional parameters determined, you're ready to plan. For one week, you will need 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, 7 dinners. 21 meals.

They don't all have to be that different. Plan a basic smoothie recipe, and then have a variety of frozen fruit to use during the week for variety. Breakfast is done for most of the week. Salads for dinner: have several salad bags in the fridge, with a variety of "inserts" -- chicken, nuts, egg, cheese, mandarin oranges, cranberries, carrots, tomatoes, avocado, etc. Ditto for pasta. On Sunday afternoon, cook a casserole or two and many of your week's meals are ready for you: leftovers are great comfort food. Remember gooey sandwiches are great: improvise. Meatloaf for dinner is a meatloaf sandwich lunch. Grilled chicken breasts for dinner can be a great honey-mustard chicken sandwich the next day. Get a slow cooker and you've got several meals at the ready.

Don't make menu planning harder than it is ... strive for excellence, not perfection.

For serious planning, is a free site dedicated solely to meal planning. Susan Nicholson offers weekly plans, for free, with recipes and grocery lists, at So does ArcaMax delivers 7-day menu plans to your email inbox each week, but no grocery list. Pinespring offers a nice option: you input a food item, and it returns with various recipes to make with the item.

Finally, there's the paperwork. OrganizedHome offers a great selection of free downloads: from "freezer inventory" to "shopping list" to weekly and monthly planner sheets.

May 11, 2006

Stress 101

Stress, left unmanaged, can result in many things: fatigue, headaches, irritability, changes in appetite, memory loss, low self-esteem, withdrawal, cold hands, high blood pressure, shallow breathing, nervous twitches, reduced sex drive, insomnia, other changes in sleep patterns, gastrointestinal disorders, as well as detrimentally impacting the body's immune response, thereby contributing to cardiovascular disease, cancer, endocrine and metabolic disease, and skin disorders. Many psychiatrists report that most back problems are caused by stress.

What happens? Inside your body, stress immediately results in an increase in adrenaline; eleveated blood pressure and a rising heart rate; muscle tension; a shutting down of the GI tract/digestion as the body prepares to fight or flee; rising cholesterol as fats and sugars are released; thickening of the blood, with a tendency to clot.

What to do?
1. Exercise. This is the fastest, immediate stress reducer. Walking is fine.
2. Consider your ways. Make changes to lessen the sources of stress.
3. Consider your diet. Cut out sugar, pre-fab food, caffeine, drink more water.
4. Ask for help. No man is an island.
5. Confess your sins. Take responsibility for your life. Manage yourself.
6. Pray. Whenever you catch yourself worrying, turn it into a prayer.
7. Sleep. Take a nap, make sure you get 8 hours during the night.
8. Stop and take several long, deep, full-lung breaths during the day.
9. Make a gratitude list. Stress distorts perspective; look around and recognize the good things that exist in your life - including the basics: you can see, walk, etc.
10. Take time-outs during the day. Every hour, get up, get out, stretch for a few minutes. Move.
11. Take supplements, including: B-Complex, to help your nervous system; Vitamin C, for adrenal function; Liquid Minerals, because these are depleted within one hour of the stressful situation. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends: American, Asian, and Russian Ginseng, Brewer's Yeast, German and Roman Chamomile, Kava Kava, Lemon Balm, Skullcap, Tyrosine, and Valerian. MSM is also recommended by various health care providers to fight the effects of stress upon the body.

Sources:, valerie saxion,, University of Maryland.

May 6, 2006

Office Stuff - Cheap and Free

For great buys on business cards, notecards, stationery, etc., check out VistaPrint. The free business cards are nice, the only catch is a small ad ["from VistaPrint"] printed on the back.... They have a sale going on now, for various items -- and if you order, you'll get regular notices of other bargains and sales.

For free paper, take your old inkjet ink cartridges to Office Depot. Turn one in, and get a ream of paper. Free. There is a similar offer at Office Max, but only for certain ink suppliers. Office Depot doesn't care, they'll exchange no matter the source/manufacturer. The catch: only one ream per day.

For ink jet and laser printers alike, for both ink and specialty papers, try If you live in San Antonio, you can visit one of their stores. Really great prices, and lots of kudos, quality awards, etc. - see the site for details.

Check out GotVMail for virtual office needs, great buy at $10/month. Lots of positive feedback for them, here.

May 4, 2006

Free Legal Help

If you live in Texas, you can get free legal advice on several issues at TexasLawHelp.Org.

AARP overs a series of FAQ-type articles, as well.

The American Bar Association has a pretty map of the entire country (yes, even Puerto Rico is included) where you can click and find free legal advice that pertains to your state's jurisdiction.

The California Courts have a nice overview of free legal services as well as practical advice that may pertain to more than Californians (e.g., "Solve a Problem Without Going to Court").

There's a lot of info over at LawGuru.Com, too - where lawyers answer questions and those answers are then compiled into categories (bankruptcy law, adoption law, etc.) with search capabilities.

May 2, 2006

Buying a Bike 101

Various news reports relate that more bikes than cars were sold in 2004, 2005, and assumedly, two-wheelers will continue to win the sales race in 2006.

How to Choose the Right Bike?

Several sites offer tips, including:

1. Know your type. Do you want a road bike, a mountain bike, a touring bike, or a racing bike?

2. Know your fit. Make sure that the handlebars and seat are positioned properly, and that you have the right frame height and length.

3. Don't forget accessories. You might want a bell, or a horn, or a basket to tote things.

And remember, you never forget how to ride a bike - but if you're picking up riding again after several years, it won't be the same at the start as it was back in your teens. Start slow and be good to yourself.


May 1, 2006

Simple Living: the Shakers

Simple living isn't a new idea. Before the American Revolution, Shakers came to New York seeking religious freedom. They are an offshoot of the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, officially calling themselves the United Society of Believers.

They reached their height of popularity at the time of the Civil War, when their numbers reached around 6000. The Shaker community declined afterwards, some historians opining that their homemade works could no longer compete in a marketplace fueled by the Industrial Revolution. There is only one original Shaker community left, which was founded in 1783; it's located in Maine and has its own website.

Shaker furniture is known for its clean, simple lines and construction, which conformed to the Shaker philosophy of cleanliness, order, and economy. "Hands to work, hearts to God," is the Shaker motto; one of their most popular songs is "Tis a Gift to Be Simple."

To view lots of reproductions of Shaker furniture designs, check out Woodworks. For more on the history of the Shakers, check Wikipedia.

Sources: DIY, SabbathdayLake,, ShakerWoodworks.
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