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Sunday, December 14, 2014

December 14, 2014, update! Hope to be blogging again soon!

The last year has been a year full of changes.  I enjoyed blogging very much, but at the time I was a caretaker for my elderly mother, and as her health deteriorated, it became harder and harder for me to blog. 

In November 2013, she had a massive stroke and spent weeks in the hospital.  Unfortunately, her condition did not improve, and she is now in a long-term care facility. 

Life also threw some curve balls.  I left my career of 26 years (medical transcription) and became a social worker!  I just recently returned from 2 weeks of training in another city, and now that I work 8-5 I'm hoping to have more time to blog.

Thanks again to my followers, and I'll be posting again soon! 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Shelf Life of Household Chemicals

Ever wonder why your favorite cleaning or household product just didn't seem to do the trick any more? Have you added bleach to your laundry whites only for them to come out as grungy as they were when they went in?  Get a great deal on dish soap, stock up, and then discover that your dishes aren't getting clean?  Your household cleaners might be past their shelf life.

Some items will store indefinitely, but other items lose their effectiveness after a period of time.  Some of those times are surprisingly short. I began looking into shelf life/storage possibilities when I started avidly couponing and stockpiling.  There are some things that I discovered might expire before it could be used, so I keep this information in mind when making my purchases. 

Household bleach is an excellent example of this.  It has a relatively short shelf life of around 3-6 months.  That may seem like a long time, but that is from date of manufacture.  Bleach also looses its umph when exposed to heat.  So if the bleach was bottled, put onto a semi truck, trucked across the country, then stored in a stockroom of a retail store, it will probably need to be used fairly quickly.  The bleach will not look or smell any different; however, if you have used bleach and it just doesn't seem to be doing its job any more, it may very well be outdated.  

Keep in mind that it's not as if a bomb goes off inside a bottle or package of an item that it automatically becomes ineffective on a certain date; however, it is a guideline of which to be aware so that you will know whether a product is going to be effective or if it might need to be tossed and purchase something new. 

Here is a list of other household items and their shelf lives: 

Acetone (in nail polish remover):  Unopened 1 year; opened 6 months. 

Ammonia, household:   Indefinite.  Will evaporate if left uncapped. 

Baking Powder :  Indefinitely unopened; 9-12 months opened (Check by adding 1/4 teaspoon to 1/2 cup very hot water.  If it does not begin fizzing, it's out of date and will no longer work.) 

Baking Soda:  Indefinitely unopened; 3-4 years opened however slowly loses its umph the longer it is exposed to air.  (Check by adding 1/4 teaspoon plus 1/4 teaspoon vinegar to 1/2 cup very hot water.  If it does not begin fizzing, it's out of date and will no longer work.) 

Bath Soap, bar:  18 months to 3 years. 

Bath Soap, liquid:  1 year; antibacterial soap loses its effectiveness in about 9 months.

Borax (laundry):  Indefinitely, according to the 20 Muleteam Borax website; however, it will clump/lump if opened and exposed to damp or humid conditions.  

Bleach, chlorine:  3-6 months if unopened; shorter if opened and/or exposed to heat. 

Castile soap, liquid or bar:  Approximately 3 years.  (Per Dr. Bronner's website.)

Citric Acid, powdered (active ingredient in Lemishine):  3 years from date of manufacture.  Will degrade faster with exposure to heat and moisture/humidity.  

Coconut Oil:  1-1/2 to 2 years before becoming rancid.  

Conditioner, hair:  3 years unopened; 12-18 months if opened.  May become rancid if conditioner contains oils and is exposed to heat. 

Dish Detergent, Liquid or Powder:  1 year unopened; 9-12 months opened.  

Fabric Softener, liquid:  2-3 years unopened; 1 year opened.

Fabric Softener sheets:  Indefinite though may gradually lose their scent. 

Hydrogen Peroxide 3% (as sold in drug/retail stores):   Good for 1 year unopened but only 30-45 days once opened.  (?!  Yes, it's true!)  It may still fizz but loses its strength over a period of time.  The older it is, the weaker it becomes.  It also loses its potency with exposure to light, which is why it comes in dark brown bottles.  It can last longer if stored in a cool, dark place, but once it begins to lose its fizz, toss it or use it up. 

Isopropyl (Rubbing) Alcohol:   Approximately 1-2 years.  There is a belief that this stays good forever; however, that is untrue.  It eventually oxidizes via air exposure and turns into acetone.  Refer to expiration date on bottle.  

Laundry Detergent, Liquid or Powder:  Unopened up to 1 year; opened 6 months.   

Lemon Juice, fresh:  2-4 days; 3-5 months if frozen. 

Lemon Juice Concentrate: Up to 6 months in the fridge; 1 year if frozen.

Nail Polish remover, acetone based:  1 year unopened; 6 months, opened. 

Nonchlorine Bleach (i.e., Clorox2):  Up to 1 year unopened, 6 months when opened (contains hydrogen peroxide as the active ingredient).  

Olive Oil:  2 years unopened, 1 year after opening.  Will become rancid.  Olive oil becomes cloudy when refrigerated. 

Oxygen Bleach (OxiClean):  Indefinite if kept in sealed container. 

Shampoo:  Unopened 3 years.  Opened 12-18 months.  May possibly become rancid if it contains certain oils. 

White Vinegar/Cider Vinegar:   Indefinite.  This is why vinegar is used as a preservative for canning. 

Washing Soda (soda ash):  Indefinite.  However, again, if exposed to damp or humid conditions can clump and degrade.  *Note, this is different from baking soda and is used specifically for laundry.  *

For a list of 77 items and their expiration dates, check this link:

Monday, July 29, 2013

Homemade Orange Enzyme Cleaner

I had a duh moment, and it involves this orange enzymatic cleaner that's been circulating on Pinterest.  Every once in a while I see an idea, but I drag my feet because the effort doesn't seem like it is worth it.  We finally had a whole bunch of oranges which, of course, generate orange peels, and I decided to give making my own homemade orange enzymatic cleaner a shot.  Reusing something and it's natural. Two bonus points! 

Most of the recipes I had seen were fairly complicated.  Most involved using white vinegar, and some went so far as to add yeast and sugar to this mixture.    I decided to take a different route, using clear ammonia instead, and I was thrilled with the results. 

This stuff cuts grease like nothing I have ever seen.  It's especially great for things like stove tops, vent hoods, and I have also been using as an additive it in my mop bucket to mop my floors.  I thought my floors were clean until I started using this!  You can literally see the dirt start to rise up and separate before you wipe or mop it away.  My mom is so in love with it, that I started her a batch, and she has shared the recipe and great results with others.  Here is my version of this awesome cleaning solution: 

Homemade Orange Enzyme Cleaner

Takes 2 weeks to make but worth it!

1 empty jar, the larger the better (I use a 1 quart canning jar)
Orange peels enough to fill the jar at least halfway
Clear ammonia

Place orange peels in jar and cover to rim of jar with clear ammonia.  Cap jar and allow to sit in a warm, dark area for 2 weeks.  Then, strain orange peels out and put remaining liquid back in jar.  (The orange peels will be a gelatinous consistency, and the liquid will be the consistency of syrup.  Throw orange peels away.)

To make cleaner:

Use ¼ to ½ cup orange liquid
1 generous squirt of dish soap
Water to fill squirt bottle

To mop floors, in mop bucket use:

Use ½ cup to ¾ cup orange liquid
Generous squirt of dish soap
Fill with water

Mop as usual.  No need to rinse. 

The orange cleaner is *excellent* at cutting grease, especially on stove tops!  Plus, it’s a great way to be “green” when you clean. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Frugal Vacationing

Everybody loves to take a vacation, but sometimes finances seem like they may be a hindrance to being able to take one.  You CAN take one and have a great time with a little planning and creativity.  We live for our vacation every summer.  It's the one time where we are together as a family without the pressure of everyday life.  Instead, our time is devoted to fun and relaxation.  

You don't have to go far.  Even a staycation can be fun or, if you really want to go somewhere, consider a short drive to either another part of your state or another state that is nearby. 

As soon as we finish one vacation, we start planning and saving for the next year's vacation.  We decide where we want to go, what we want to see, and then begin planning accordingly.  We put a couple of bucks aside every paycheck.  If we do something like have a garage sale or sell a household item, that goes into the vacation fund.  We have pecan trees, and we sell the pecans and bank that.  We've even picked up aluminum cans, cashed them in, and put that into our vacation fund.  It all adds up, even a little at a time.  We guard that vacation fund! 

We are the outdoorsy types.  We love hiking and getting back in the wilderness.   A day spent hiking back into the woods is the ideal ticket for us, but others might enjoy being near the ocean, a lake, a river, or out in the desert.  These are my personal recommendations for what works for us.  Hopefully, you will find some ideas to spark your imagination and help you plan a fun-filled yet inexpensive vacation for your family.

Plan your trip near a state or national park/monument.  Most offer a flat admission price.  That admission includes access to all the visitor centers, information, hiking trails, guided tours, amphitheater programs, and sights.  Some parks don't charge any fee at all!  Our choice, this year, was Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.  The admission price is $20 per carload, and that is good for one week.  Also, certain days of the year the National Park Service has free admission days.  Check this link for days:  Other parks we visited were Capulin Volcano National Monument and the Great Sand Dunes. 

Rent something with a full kitchen and cook all your own meals.  See below on how to pack/take food.  Take a pyrex measuring cup and some cheap measuring spoons, just to be sure (this is what's usually missing when we rent). 

Consider renting a townhome, cabin, or condo during the off season at a resort.  For example, in Frisco/Dillon, Colorado (near many ski resorts), you can rent a luxury condo for as little as $149/night.  Durango, near Purgatory Ski Resort and Mesa Verde National Park, has condos for as low as $105 a night.   If it's normally a summer resort, consider going in the winter and vice versa.  Off-season rental prices can be as much as half or more off the usual price. 

Pack as much of your own food as possible.  This may sound daunting, but it's actually fairly easy.  I make sure that anything we rent has a grill and/or an oven.  I plan meals ahead, make a menu, and then freeze almost everything.  Examples of freezable items are:  Boneless/skinless Chicken breasts, hamburger meat, hot dogs, steaks, lunch meat, cheese, butter, and bacon.  I even freeze milk and use it as my major chunk of ice in the ice chest (when it is thawed shake the milk for 1 minute continuously to remix if it separates).  We pack the frozen items into an ice chest, pack it full of ice, and by the time we arrive, some items are partially thawed and ready to be placed in the refrigerator to thaw further. 

For side dishes, I usually take 5 lbs. of potatoes, cans of baked beans, packets of rice/noodle side dishes, canned vegetables, and I usually also pack salt, pepper, sugar, and my own coffee and powdered creamer. 

Hoard packets or small bottles of condiments to take with you.  Jif makes single serving packets of peanut butter that are excellent to take on hikes.   See if a local restaurant would be willing to sell you a few packets of individual jellies to take, as well. 

Pack and take nonperishables such as:  Granola bars, Pop-Tarts, trail mix, peanut butter crackers, bottled water (some local water tastes icky), Capri sun, canned soda, chips, pretzels, and any other snacks you might want.  Think ahead:  If you're tempted to buy it at a convenience store on the way, pack it beforehand and save yourself a ton of money.  Homemade Chex mix tastes just as good, if not better, than Chex mix from a convenience store.  Buy whole packages of candy bars for what you'd pay for one on the road. 

Buy perishables and other unpackable items at  a store just outside the area where you will be staying.  Grocery stores near resorts and tourist attractions tend to be more expensive than in outlying cities, so stop for your perishables before you get too close.  Also, I am an avid couponer, so in the weeks before we go on vacation, I start using my coupons to get items I know we'll need for our trip.  I also keep coupons for perishables that I know we'll need when we arrive.  

On our way to and from, we stay in hotels that offer a free meal of some sort.  Usually breakfast.  Our favorite is Holiday Inn Express.  They offer a free continental breakfast that includes bacon and eggs, biscuits and gravy, sausage, toast, bagels, cinnamon rolls, fresh coffee, oatmeal, and fresh fruit.  Indulging in this can save you a significant amount, as even a run to McDonald's can be $20 or more.  Another place where we stayed offered continental meals for all 3 meals.  It's not gourmet, but it's not half bad, it's free, and it fills you up. 

Save those discount food coupons you get in the mail for places like Arby's, Sonic, A&W, Taco Bell, etc.  Use those if you must stop for food or hit the dollar menu.  

Pack picnic lunches when you go out.  PBJ, lunch meat, bread, chips, and a couple of drinks are all you need for a quick lunch without spending a ton of money.

Redeem any points from websites, credit cards, etc.  I use Swagbucks.  I make purchases and web searches through them and earn points.  I then redeem my points for gift cards.  My favorites are the Walmart E-Gift cards.  You can print out the gift card, take it to Walmart, and use it just like a regular gift card (instructions are on the bottom of the printout).   I used my Walmart gift cards to buy a good portion of the perishables we bought when we got there.   Hubster has an American Express card that he uses for business, and at vacation time he redeems his points, as well.  His favorites are the American Express gift cards.  We use those toward the end of vacation when we want to treat ourselves to eating out once or twice. 

Know your destination.  Do web searches to see what local attractions are in your area and what you can see/do for free.  There might be concerts or plays in the park,  city museums, city or state parks, hot springs, waterfalls, interesting rock formations, festivals, and other things going on that can be extremely fun.  The experiences are what you will remember.  

Be sure to stop at local visitor centers and check for coupon books.  These may be attached to maps of the area, or be on the backside of flyers and pamphlets that are usually in a cubby nearby.  We've found coupons for half off admissions, buy 2 get 1 free admission, percentage off at restaurants and other attractions.  Also, if you will be visiting something specific, check their website to see if they either offer coupons or discounts for purchasing tickets in advance.  

We drive and pack everything into a regular family car.  If you are pressed for space, devote your space to taking food.  If you are going to be gone for a week, pack enough clothes for about 4 days, then pack enough laundry soap and fabric softener sheets to do a couple of loads of laundry.  Some of the cabins we rent have a washer/dryer in them.  Other times, there's a laundromat nearby.  If you wear clothing only slightly, and it's not sweaty or smelly, then hang it up and wear it again.  Don't pack full-size cosmetics or shampoo/conditioner.  Most rental places also usually have a hair dryer available, so it's not necessary to pack that. 

Skip souvenirs; take pictures instead.  Our one indulgence is T-shirts because we wear them until they're worn out.  Each year we each buy one souvenir T-shirt .  If you want proof you visited something, consider stopping and taking a photo of yourself or your kids near the sign announcing the park, state, or sight.  Hang onto maps, ticket stubs, and pamphlets.  These make fun additions to scrapbooks. 

Consider keeping a diary while you travel.  If you are driving, note gas prices in various towns, interesting sights, places where you might get lost, funny things you, your spouse, or your kids do/say.  Note if you stop somewhere to eat, what you had, and the prices.  This may not seem important, but it can help significantly on your return trip and helps you remember why you took that photo of that goofy looking scarecrow in a field. 

Take tons of pictures!  Most cameras are digital now and can be downloaded to a computer.  Use free software to edit your photos, such as Picasa, GIMP, or IrfanView, then upload to some place such as Snapfish, Shutterfly, MyPublisher, or even local places such as Walgreen's.  Before you go, sign up for e-mail newsletters from photo processing places, and they will often send you coupons/discount codes for freebies.  Walgreen's often has a coupon for a free photo collage or 8 x 10.  Get free photo books, mugs, photo magnets, etc., and use those for gifts for grandparents, family, and friends.   I use interesting photographs, turn them into black-and-white, and hang them for decorations in our home. 

Find crazy, out-of-the way places along your route to visit and counteract boredom.  In Kansas, there are old salt mines that are now used for storage of movie archives, called the Kansas Underground Salt Museum.   There are hundreds of wind farms with huge wind turbines.  Us this as a teaching opportunity to learn about alternative energy sources.  When we come home, we usually journey through the panhandle of Oklahoma.  There is an area called No Mans Land that was at the heart of the Dust Bowl Era, and there are hundreds of abandoned homes on the prairie that make gorgeous photos and have an interesting tale to tell.  There are the Gloss Mountains, which are Oklahoma's own version of the painted desert.  They look like they are covered in sparkly, broken glass because of selenite in the soil.

Your vacation can be an adventure and vastly more entertaining than feeling like you have to go to a resort or some place touristy.  You and your kids (if you have them) will long remember the hours spent hiking, learning about wildlife, and discovering interesting rock formations much more than how much money was spent.   These are memories that will last a lifetime. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Tomato Basil Parmesan Soup

A couple of days ago, I was craving soup.  I love cheese soups, but unfortunately I'm the only one in my household who does like them, so I usually share whatever I make with my mom.  Tomato Basil Parmesan soup filled the bill.  

It does take a bit of time to make, but the payoff is worth it!  It's spicy.  It's creamy.  It's tomatoey.  It's yummy, and it is filling!  What's not to like?  Plus, it makes a ton of soup, so there is plenty to eat and plenty to share.  Serve this with an antipasto side, such as olives and cheese, plus a crusty bread or just good old-fashioned crackers.  

Tomato Basil Parmesan Soup

 ½ stick butter

1 cup minced onion (about 1 medium onion)

1 cup chopped celery (about 4 stalks)

1 cup chopped carrots

2 cans (14 to 14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained

3 cups chicken broth or reconstituted bouillon

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1  Tablespoon dried basil

1 bay leaf

2 cans cream of chicken soup

1 can 12 oz. can evaporated milk

1 cup parmesan cheese     

Salt and pepper to taste

In very large sauce pan, melt butter over medium-low heat.  Add onion, celery, and carrots and allow to cook until onions are translucent.  Increase heat and add tomatoes, broth, oregano, basil, and bay leaf.  Cover, bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove lid and add cream of chicken soup.  Blend well.  Add milk and blend.  Add parmesan cheese and blend.  Cover, reduce heat to low and allow to heat through for approximately 5 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Easy Spicy Baked Chicken

Spicy baked chicken is a very versatile dish and one that is so easy to make it should be a sin.   We make this in large batches and then store it and use it throughout the week for both hot and cold dishes.  The first night we usually eat it with rice, potatoes, and a salad or other vegetables.  After that, we may slice it into sandwiches, reheat it and eat it with onions and peppers for fajitas, toss it with greens for an easy salad, or reheat it for a quick hot meal.  

We do this on nights when it's crazy around here and want a simple, hearty meal that can be reheated as needed. We work such varied schedules that many times we eat at different times.  By making this dish, it's a way that we can make sure we all have a nice meal no matter what time we arrive home.  I make my own all-purpose spicy seasoning mix, and combine this with butter or olive oil for a savory seasoning that comes out just right.  The chicken falls apart when it comes out of the oven, and there will also be a savory au jus when baking is finished that is a wonderful seasoning for a baked potato, rice, or noodles.

Easy Spicy Baked Chicken
3-4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (or as many as you want), cut into 2 inch wide strips 
My all-purpose seasoning (recipe HERE) or seasoned salt plus ground black pepper
Butter or olive oil 

Spray a large baking pan with nonstick cook spray.  Coat both sides of chicken strips with seasoning.  Place in pan.  Either dot with 1/2 teaspoon spots of butter or drizzle with olive oil.  Cover pan with foil.  Place in 350 degree oven and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes.  

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Frugal Versus Cheap

Frugality has become very popular over the last several years due to the economy, job market, and rising cost of things like groceries and utilities.  A change in a person's living situation, or simply a desire to be debt free or spend less can set off a chain of events that lead to an examination of lifestyles and ways that money is being spent.  Frugality is a mindset.  It is a way to look at the money you have available to you, what you desire in your life, and using your resources wisely.  Unfortunately, sometimes, people can become overzealous with their frugality and go over to cheap.  What's the difference?  For some people, it's semantics.  One person's cheap is the other person's frugal.  My personal definition of cheap is when your actions take away from others or from your or someone else's quality of life.  While it's great to save, moderation in all things is best.  

So how do you know the difference?  Here are some examples below: 

Frugal:  Buying paper towels on sale with a coupon.
Cheap:  Hanging up paper towels to dry that have been used for “wet only” items.

Frugal:  Using a 2-for-1 coupon to purchase meals at a restaurant or splitting a meal.
Cheap:  Failing to tip the server or only tipping for the 1-meal price.

Frugal:  Using wrapping paper from the dollar store or buying it on sale after Christmas and storing it.
Cheap:  Using birthday, wedding, or happy anniversary wrapping paper for Christmas because you’re too cheap to buy more. 

Frugal:  Having a pot luck meal, making the main entrée, and asking others to bring sides. 
Cheap:  Having a pot luck meal and assigning things to bring so that you don’t have to do anything except set the table…. And then keeping the leftovers. 

Frugal:  Agreeing to dinner and then splitting the tab.
Cheap:  Agreeing to split a dinner tab but ordering an expensive meal, drinks, appetizer, and dessert while the other person bought an inexpensive entrée and drank water.  

Frugal:  Purchasing an outfit on sale, at a thrift store, or by using a discount coupon.
Cheap:  Buying an expensive outfit, wearing it, and then returning it to the store.

Frugal:  Agreeing to carpool to an event and splitting the cost of gas.   
Cheap:  Agreeing to a carpool and then not chipping in for gas when everyone else does.

Frugal:  Buying vegetables on sale or that are marked down and close to their expiration date to be used immediately.
Cheap:  Going home and exchanging your fresh vegetables you just bought for ones that are starting to go bad and then taking them back to the store and demanding a refund, claiming your fresh veggies went bad too quickly.

Frugal:  Buying an item on sale, and enjoying it to its fullest extent, being sad if that item tears up or becomes defective after receiving a lot of use from the item.
Cheap:  Buying an item, using it well, then having it tear up.  Going into a store, buying the same item but repacking the well-used and broken item in the box, claim it’s defective, and then demanding your money back.

Frugal:  Saving leftover condiment packages such as ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, etc., from carryout or drive through meals for later use (i.e., items that were voluntarily given to you along with your meal).
Cheap:  Entering a restaurant and stuffing your pockets with sugar, salt, pepper, plastic utensils, napkins, ketchup packets, hot sauce packets, etc. (i.e., not given to you but offered to go along with meals in a restaurant and putting the restaurant at a disadvantage by taking them). 

Frugal:  Using coupons to get discounts at a restaurant.
Cheap:  Going to a restaurant and asking the cashier to use coupons other people have turned in.   

Frugal:  Learning to cut your family's hair. 
Cheap:  Taking your kids to free haircut days at JCPenney, having the kids' heads shaved so they can go 3 months without having a haircut, and then failing to tip the hair stylist. 

These are but a few very real examples of things that people have done in the name of saving money.  You have to decide for yourself how far you are willing to go to save money, but keeping the above examples in mind can help decide if you're being truly frugal or cheap.