January 21, 2012

I Miss My Milton's MultiGrain Bread - Because It Will Go Moldy

There's a certain brand of bread that I prefer, and it's becoming impossible to find on the shelves anymore.  It's Milton's MultiGrain (you can see it for yourself, over there in the image). 

Here's the thing: not only is this bread vetted by WholeFoods and the American Heart Association, it tastes really good and you can actually see the seeds and nuts that are a part of the recipe

Plus, and Dear Reader, this may sound yucky but it's the truth nevertheless: this bread goes bad quick.  You can't just leave it in a bread box or setting on the counter and expect it to be just fine whenever you get around to grabbing a slice or two.  No, no, no.  Do that, and you're gonna find mold.  That's right: mold.

Which sounds bad, but it's good.  Why?  Fresh food goes bad.  Food with preservatives does not.  Well, maybe eventually - but it will take awhile. 

For example, take a slice of white bread and a slice of Milton's and place them side by side on the counter.  Leave them there.  Milton's will get icky pretty darn quick.  Toss it.  Then, keep count on how many days .... or weeks ... it takes for that other piece of bread to go bad.  And it may never get mold on it; it may just dry out. 

Yes, I've done this -- Milton's vs a slice of thick white store brand "Texas Toast" bread that my friend Bill likes to use for sandwiches.  

The dried out white bread slice might be less icky ... but think about it.  All those preservatives keep that white bread slice from getting green mold all over it, but do you want to have all those preservatives in your body?  Or your kids? 

Bacteria isn't bad.  That's why Jamie Lee Curtis is selling you that yogurt and why you're reading more and more about probiotics

And that's why I prefer Milton's MultiGrain and I'm thinking about contacting the company to find out where I can buy their product here in San Antonio (the search function on their web site for my zip code tells me nowhere, but I'm not giving up yet).

January 13, 2012

Energy Saving Curtains – I’m Loving Mine So Far

This week, the temperatures here in San Antonio dropped from a pleasant low 70s/high 50s range to yesterday, where the high was something like 48 and the lows got into the 20s.  Which means this week was my first chance to really test out how my new Energy Saving curtains really worked.

I love them.

Not only do these things block noise, which gives me a better night’s sleep, but the heater isn’t coming on nearly as much.  I haven’t got my new utility bill yet, but I know it’s going to be less – it’s that obvious. 

There are negatives, of course.  In the bedroom, I replaced some very pretty Battenburg Lace curtains with these babies, and the new ones are not as pretty and there’s a lot less light now.  I didn’t buy full blackout curtains, but these “energy savers” do make the room lots darker. 

This can be solved by a tie-back or two, so I’m not that concerned with this issue.  Truth be told, at night the thicker curtains make the room much cozier for sleeping than the lace curtains did.  I’m losing the beauty of the sunlight coming through the lace to get this, but right now I’m okay with it. 

I’ll keep you posted on what the utility bill does this month and next month, too.  I’ve been these curtains in most of the house now, so there should be a big difference. 

January 10, 2012

Students Offered Some Good Bargains Today at Kindle Daily Deal

For today only, Amazon has a Daily Deal that looks to be pretty darn good for students (and book lovers and those who love to learn).

Seems that the Kindle Daily Deal for January 10th is an offer of 80% off Kindle books for students.  This works best if you have a Kindle, of course, but you don't have to have one of their e-readers to read their books (which are published in a proprietary fashion so you need an Amazon product to read an Amazon product).

You can download free software to read Kindle Books on your PC, Mac, or phone.  Just visit Amazon.com.  I do use Amazon for PC occasionally, it works fine. 

As for the student bargains today, Amazon is also promoting its Amazon Student membership for college students.  It's free.  And for the first six month, members get free 2-day shipping with Amazon Prime shipping benefits.  Other stuff, too. 

I like Amazon.  Good prices, good customer service, and I tend to believe their reviews.  Okay, yes.  I admit, there are some reviews that seem phony for some stuff.  Nothing's perfect. 

January 9, 2012

Cheap Phone 4 U: $10 Tracfone Package With Unlimited Double Minutes

I’m in the minority, I suppose: I don’t like to use a cell phone, I don’t think it’s worth the time investment to spend lots of time on apps in a smartphone, and I avoid the phone for hours at a time, in order to write.  I do have one, though.  And I’m always trustworthy to carry my little, old school flip phone with me when I hit the trails with the dogs or walk around the neighborhood.

Which means that all too often, I forget my phone at the house when I zip off somewhere in the car.

I know that I’m not the only one that does this.  I have a friend with two small children who seems to be in search of her phone on a weekly basis, especially since her 4 year old has discovered how fun that phone can be.  Doesn’t do her much good on the road if the phone is at the house, and that happens a lot.

Maybe if you have OnStar, this isn’t a big deal.  Maybe not having the phone in the car isn’t a big deal to you – it’s a relief.  However, for me (and for several others I know), one of the places that a phone is important is when you are away from home. 

Not that I’m condoning talking on the phone in the car.  I’m not.  I’m pondering having a phone with you when you’re toodling around in case you’re running late, you’re lost, you’re trying to meet up with someone, or heck, you’ve got car trouble. 

Tracfone in My Car - $10 Dollar Package Got Me a Lot of Bang for My Bucks

Which brings me to this great package I found at WalMart for $10 from Tracfone.  That’s right: ten bucks.  It’s a throwaway phone, with a charger for the outlet and the car lighter, a carrying case, and a Bluetooth so you hook up your ear to the thing if you’d like.  Double minutes, unlimited.  And all sorts of coupons and while I have to read this carefully, I’m thinking it’s got rollover minutes as long as you re-up before the end of your “service days.”  There’s also a $10/month plan.  None of this stuff is on a contract.

So, I bought one and set it up in my car.  I’m not giving the number out and I’m not planning on chatting with it.  However, the next time I’m driving off for the day and discover I’ve left my phone on the charger, on the desk, in my jacket pocket, etc. – well, I won’t be out and about without the security and the convenience of a cell phone in the car. 

Thought you might think a good idea for you or your mom or your teenager, too.

Have a great week, Dear Reader. 

January 6, 2012

Television Benefit: Melissa D’Arabian and Her Ten Dollar Dinners – Great Food Fast and Cheap

Television.  It can be so good or so bad, depending upon how you use it.  I suppose this is true for most things, now that I think about it.  One of the great things about TV for me, at least, are the cooking shows.  I have truly learned how to cook from watching PBS shows like America’s Test Kitchen and other channel shows (I like Mad Hungry but I don’t follow it regularly).

However, there is one cooking show that I think stands head and shoulders above the rest, from a simplicity perspective.  It delivers on a promise to feed four a complete dinner for ten bucks and with good, tasty food to boot. 

It’s Ten Dollar Dinners with cook Melissa D’Arabian on the Food Network

What’s the big deal?

Well, the recipes don’t taste good, they taste great.  And they don’t take many ingredients.  (Good for time and for money.) And they are easy to put together.  It’s simple living in a kitchen. 

Now, you can follow the recipes online or in Melissa D’Arabian’s cookbook and that’s fine.  That will get you there.  There’s an added benefit of watching her TV shows, though.  Maybe more than one.

In her show, where she’s cooking a $10 Dinner on the TV screen, Melissa D’Arabian adds tips and tricks that are great and that you don’t get in the books or recipes.  Thinks like buy up Italian sausage when it’s on sale and freeze it.  Buy milk that’s about to hit its expiration date by going to the grocery store early in the morning (she goes around nine o’clock) – if your family drinks dairy. 

You get the idea, Dear Reader.

I am a big, big fan of Ten Dollar Dinners and Melissa D’Arabian and I think, Dear Reader, you might like what she’s doing, too. 

January 5, 2012

Tax Problems for Americans Overseas: Expats Seeking a Simple Life Finding Complicated Mess in New Tax Laws – FATCA and FBAR

It’s beyond the scope of this blog to go into all the intricate details of the new tax legislation passed by Congress that is reeking havoc around the world for Americans living abroad.  Besides, the idea of going into all the tax law details just gives me a headache, how about you Dear Reader?

However, for those of us that are living overseas already or who ponder and daydream about living in a foreign land with beautiful vistas, fresh fruit to be picked off the trees, and a cheaper cost of living (especially medical and dental care) … and I suppose for every fan of House Hunters International, there’s big stuff happening now that’s hurting American expats.

It began as an attempt to collect unpaid taxes by the federal government, where officials were concerned with fighting tax evasion.  Laws were passed.  Yes, they are already on the books.  Now, the IRS is implementing those laws through IRS regulations and there’s the rub.

What’s going on with FATCA, FBAR, and the American Expatriate?

Okay first there are two laws involved here: the Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act  (FATCA) and the Bank Secrecy Act.  The Bank Secrecy Act requires American citizens living overseas to report their overseas bank account details each year to the Internal Revenue Service by filing Form TD F 90-22.1, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR)

FATCA requires foreign banks to report account information to the U.S. government on all their American customers and if the banks don’t do this, then the federal government imposes huge fees upon these foreign banks for failing to comply.  Nevermind that they aren’t American institutions and have their own set of privacy laws, financial regulations, etc. 

The banks are reacting by doing things like ditching their American customers rather than mess with the whole FATCA deal.  Some countries are insulted and are ignoring FATCA (like China). 

Meanwhile, FBAR requirements are causing nightmare situations for expats all over the place.   One good article with lots of real life stories appeared this week in The Atlantic.  Entitled, “The FATCA Chronicles: Tales from China, Canada and Estonia,” this is the third in a series of articles by James Fallows discussing the expat situation and the new laws trying to thwart perceived tax evasion by the feds. 

Problems include American expats who are signatories on foreign business accounts that have no American income following through them; same thing with foreign accounts held by foreign-citizen spouses; and those with dual citizenship. 

For details on what this means to expats, check out GlobalTaxHelp’s FATCA and FBAR summary and follow the blog posts at US Expatriate, written by a CPA whose practice focuses on expatriate tax issues. 

January 4, 2012

Poached Eggs: Cheap, Fast, and Easy to Cook

First things first, eggs have their critics but ignore them right now because poached eggs are a good thing to know how to cook.  And poached eggs are a great thing to have in your family menu plan. 

They are cheap.  They are easy. And poached eggs can be used in so many ways: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Here’s the thing:  they can be hard to do.  Some say.  I haven’t had a big problem – but I do a couple of things that help.  First, I never think I am so clever at cooking that I can just dump an egg into the water.  I always use a little cup to gently lower the egg into the pool.  One at a time.  Slowly.

Also, I don’t let the water boil … I let the water get just … about … to boiling, then the eggs go into the bath. 

And, I’ve done it without vinegar.  It will work if you don’t have vinegar handy.  (I’ve also used rice vinegar, balsamic vinegar, whatever was in the pantry, and things turned out fine.  You so have a taste difference, but that’s not a bad thing.)

Here’s the deal.  Eggs are cheap. Poaching means no fat to cook them.  And the runny centers are KEY to how these things can spark up a salad or a sandwich. 

For more:

Here’s step by step instructions on poaching.

Here’s a recipe for a great salad using poached eggs.

As for sandwiches, I like a runny sandwich (wet, to coin a famous author of murder mysteries).  I like to take great bread, homegrown tomatoes, thinly sliced cheese, some dijon mustard or yes some Miracle Whip or both, lotsa romaine lettuce, and get all that ready for a poached egg to set on top.  Smush together.  The egg oozes.  It’s hot, it’s oh so good.  And doesn’t cost much. 


January 3, 2012

Is Candy Spelling The Ultimate Simplifier? Maybe. Sorta. Kinda.

I don’t watch reality television much, but I surfed by this show yesterday – a repeat of HGTV’s Selling Spelling Manor

Wow.  Aaron Spelling’s monster mansion – Spelling Manor – has been sold by his widow and she’s moving to a Century City condo and getting rid of an amazing amount of stuff.  Anyone downsizing or who has downsized can find something with which to identify here. 

Admittedly, there’s much to be said that all of this is the Anti-Simplicity lifestyle.  True, so true.

However, this woman has undertaken a major life change and she’s gone through all those same pangs other simplifiers have:  letting go of the vase that has memories but needs to be tossed; boxing stuff for donation; giving away things that you’ve discovered in the attic stash to someone who’ll love them. 

Look, this country is in a depression and we all know it even if so many are too afraid to use the word.  Is it the Greater Depression?  I don’t think we know yet.

However, when so many are having to scale back and scale down, maybe knowing that Aaron Spelling’s widow Candy has vacated Spelling Manor to live in a condo the size of her former attic may help them feel they are not alone.

Just don’t ask about the slabs of pink Italian onyx going into the kitchen or the private swimming pool being built on the 42nd floor. 

Happy week, Dear Reader! 

January 2, 2012

Happy 2012: Where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light….

Dear Reader, welcome to a blog that I’ve been writing since January 2005, some years with more dedication than others.  I’m hoping that I’ll keep to a better writing schedule here this year than last, fingers crossed.   Did I make this as a New Year’s Resolution?  Not really. 

I did take the time to count my many blessings as one year passed into another, and thanked God for them.  The big and the small.  One of the things that I thanked God for blessing me with was this blog and the ability to write it, the simple life I’m living, and you, Dear Reader, who sometimes leave comments or sending emails to me.  The internet is amazing, isn’t it?  People connecting who would otherwise never meet.

I’m not Catholic.  However, I do appreciate a lot about the Catholic Church and one of those things is the Catholic observance of the New Year.  Here’s a discussion of how Catholic families all over the world celebrated New Year’s Day yesterday.  Thought I’d share this prayer from St. Francis of Assisi, which I find particularly beautiful.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

R. Amen. —St. Francis of Assisi

God bless you and yours, Dear Reader.

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