Grow Your Own Food One Square Foot at a Time

For years I’ve tried to grow a decent vegetable garden. It was the high cost of fresh basil—$3.50 for a few measly, wilted fresh basil leaves, ditto for a pound of somewhat reddish tomatoes—that prompted me to try. In no time I added zucchini and cucumbers to my repertoire—even corn one year.

Photo Credit:  The Self Sufficient Living

Photo Credit: The Self Sufficient Living

My harvests have ranged from disappointing to mediocre. Only one year my harvest produced enough to share with others. I’m still trying to remember how I did that. So far, I’ve been unable to duplicate the results.

One thing I do quite well is weeds. I try not to take too much credit here, but I have to tell you I’ve never seen anyone else grow weeds quite as successfully as I do.

While I love the concept of a garden that’s not only nice to look at but actually produces something we can eat, I’m not 100 percent in love with the anxiety, pressure, guilt, backaches, leg cramps, and fear of needing hip replacements.

While in the past my efforts to garden have been more of a hobby than a serious endeavor, I feel that changing. The high cost of food—specifically produce—tells me it’s time to get serious. We need to become more self-sufficient, but in a cost-effective way.

While I feel that I’ve mastered weeds, I’ve failed miserably in cost effectiveness. I shudder to imagine the true cost of the pathetically tiny bounty I’ve garnered over the years.  That doesn’t mean I’m ready to give up on vegetable gardening, only that I’m ready for a new way to do it.

How to Buy Carpet

It’s not something you buy every day. But when it’s time to buy carpet, you want to know your stuff. Make a bad decision and you’ll pay dearly for a long time, and I am not talking just about the money. You’ll pay a significant price in dissatisfaction and disappointment.

First, decide the style of carpet and type of fiber you want, determined by where it will be installed and how much money you have to spend. Visit several retail carpet stores that will let you take carpet samples home for a few days. Walk on them, view them in different light. Set a heavy piece of furniture on them to see if the fibers will “rebound” once removed.

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No matter how much pressure the sales staff pours on, remember you are not obligated to purchase from any store even if you checked out samples from them.

STYLES

Plush. Usually one solid color with even, smooth pile height. Varies from light weight (apartment-grade) with fewer tufts per square inch to heavier weights that are very dense. Comes in a vast range of colors. Shows footprints and vacuum marks.

Textured Plush. Two shades mixed with varying pile heights that reduces vacuum marks and footprints. About the same price as plush.

Frieze. Very tightly twisted tufts of yarn. More expensive than plush but wears much longer—15 years is not unusual. Durable, holds up to heavy use without matting or showing traffic patterns. Rebounds well.

Sculptured. Has two types of tufts—loops and cut pile in varying heights. Often called high-low. Doesn’t show much dirt. Often used in apartments.

Affordable Skin Care

It had to be a typo, even though I know that national magazines have proofreaders so they don’t release issues that include typos. But that was the only thing  I could come up with to explain why a new skincare product costs $1,095 for a small 1.7 oz. jar.

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I did a quick search only to discover it was no typo at all. 111Skin Celestial Black Diamond Cream retails for $1,095. All I can say is at that price, it better contain a miracle. Seriously. It almost most makes Lancome’s Hydra Zen cream ($56) and Le Lift Firming Anti-Wrinkle Cream by Chanel ($105) look cheap!

Okay, back to reality: High-quality and effective skincare should not be considered a luxury available only to the wealthy. If you are diligent, you can find high quality, reasonably priced skin care products that are equal, if not superior to their department store cousins—right in your drugstore or discount department store.

Cetaphil makes is an excellent line of affordable skin care products. For example Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser is less than $10 for 8 oz. and Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream is priced about the same. (See Cetaphil.com for more detailed information.) Tip: Walmart sells a generic version under their brand name Equate for about $6.50. I’ve had reports from several readers who insist it’s just like the real thing for a lot less.

Other cleansers that receive high marks with my dermatologist are Pond’s Cold Cream Cleanser Moisturizing Deep Cleanser ($6.99, 6 oz.); Basis Sensitive Skin Bar ($3.99, 4 oz. bar); Lever 2000 ($.89 per 4 oz. bar) and Dove for Sensitive Skin ($.98, 4 oz. bar).

Secrets of Stress-Free Vacations with Kids

Family vacations can be either delightful or disastrous—it depends greatly on your attitude and the care you devote to research and planning.

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Adjust your attitude. Here is the first rule of family vacations: Parents on vacation really aren’t. If you can unload personal expectations that you will be relaxed and refreshed when it’s over, you won’t be disappointed when you’re not. And if you do get a little R&R along the way, consider it an unexpected bonus.

Be realistic about cost. Decide ahead of time how much cash you have for this vacation. If you have say a family of five and $500 to spend, don’t even think about a couple of days at Disney World. Always consider the money you have first and then design a vacation that will realistically fit within that financial boundary.

Be realistic about time. Don’t try to stretch your available cash to cover the maximum time you have to be away from home. Divide what you can spend by a reasonable daily budget to determine how many days you can be gone. Carefully consider all the costs, not only the admission fees and overnight accommodations. Instead of full weeks, consider day trips or a weekend vacation. When it comes to family vacations, quality is considerably more important than quantity. 

Fitness on a Budget

Recently I got a frantic letter from Barbara, who lives in Florida. It seems that her teenage son has taken up bodybuilding and her husband is adhering rigidly to the Atkins Diet, both of which are protein heavy. Barb got through the first week with a major case of mixed emotions: Her husband lost 7 pounds, her son gained 4—and her food bill doubled!

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Can Barb keep her food costs down while still supporting her family’s eating choices? I know she can. Special diets don’t have to be budget-busters. In the same way her son and husband are adjusting their way of eating, Barb must adjust the way she shops.

Don’t pay full-price for protein. Tuna, chicken breasts and lean beef cuts are always on sale somewhere. If you don’t want to store-hop, you can always find some cut of meat, fish and poultry on sale in your favorite market. Eat what’s on sale and if it’s a loss-leader (that means dirt-cheap in an effort to entice people through the door), stock up for the coming weeks. Grab up the items that are marked down for quick sale and then freeze.

Buy carbs in bulk. Find a warehouse club, ethnic market, health food store or food coop that offers rice, beans, oatmeal, nuts and legumes in by the pound. Store dry items in the freezer to retain freshness.

Shop with a list. Buying on impulse can blow a budget and a diet. So can arriving at the store hungry. Eat before you get there, stick to your list so you leave nothing to chance.

Caught Between Aging Parents and Adult Children

Every day I drive by a beautiful new assisted living complex under construction close to where I live. As beautiful as this place is, it’s become a daily reminder to me for how difficult it can be to talk to aging parents about their health and future needs.

If you’re 40 or older, you’re part of the “Sandwich Generation,” and likely to fall into one of these categories:

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TRADITIONAL SANDWICH. Those being squeezed between the needs of aging parents, relatives or friends while also supporting and meeting the demands of their own children, spouses and careers.

CLUB SANDWICH. Those in their 50s or 60s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren, or those in their 30s and 40s with young children, aging parents and grandparents.

OPEN FACE SANDWICH. Anyone else involved in elder care.

DOUBLE STUFF SANDWICH. Those whose adult, post-college kids return home to live with their parents for lack of unemployment, direction and or money. Also known as the “boomerangs.”

Unclog a Drain Yourself Without Chemicals

A plugged up sink, shower or tub drain sends most people running for either a bottle of caustic drain cleaner, or a plumber’s phone number. But wait. This could well be a job you can do yourself without chemicals or a big bill.

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Assess the situation. Turn on taps to allow water down other drains in the house. If everything else is flowing freely, you can be fairly certain you have a localized clog—and probably near that clogged drain’s opening. If this is involving other drains, you could have a bigger problem that may well require a professional. Assuming it’s only the one drain, let’s move on.

Boiling water. Get a large pot and boil up as much water as it will hold. Now carefully pour boiling water down the drain slowly, in two to three stages so that the hot water can work for a few minutes in between each pour. This is the easiest and quickest way to unclog a drain if it works, which usually it does with a satisfying swoosh.

Reach in. Remove the strainer that is part of the drain plug, then reach into the drain with your fingers (latex gloves would be a good idea here) and pull out any solids. As gross as this might be, it is often all that’s needed to clear a slow-moving or clogged drain.

The Joy of Laundry

Start with one of the principles of living beneath your means: Take care of what you have. Next, add one of the most effective ways to reduce stress: Find an activity that gives you a sense of personal satisfaction. And what do you have? Laundry! No seriously.

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I’m one of those people who loves to do laundry. From the challenge of getting a stain out to the smell of clean when the clothes come out of the washer, to pulling warm sheets and towels from the dryer—all of it appeals to my enjoyment of instant gratification. I love the entire process. Even like the folding part.