How I Book Really Cheap Travel

Recently, while packing up files and expense records, I came across a file for a  business trip that could have been very expensive but was so cheap, I am still amazed.

I traveled from Los Angeles to Denver as the Speaker for the Dept. of Interior Employee Book Forum. I had plenty of notice making it possible to book travel, hotel and car well in advance. Check out these details for how I cut the cost of airfare, hotel and rental care by more than half.

travel word scheme and computer keyboard

FLIGHT: I try to keep my travel with the same airline to build up my frequent flier miles and usually that works pretty well. I’ve found that in most cases, AA is very competitive. However, this time cheapest AA roundtrip fare for flights that fit my schedule for this particular trip was anything but reasonable—$755. Wow! At first I was sure I’d made a mistake. But no, that was indeed AA’s best price. I put the reservation on “hold” to give me time to shop around. Most airlines will do this for 24 hours.

I went straight to and input the very same information. Within 30 seconds the site returned many options for the same date, time and destination. The cheapest: $196 roundtrip including all fees and tax on United with one small twist. I would have to depart from LAX (Los Angeles) but return to SNA (Orange County). That’s perfect for me given that at the time I worked closer to LAX but lived closer to SNA. Realizing I was about to not spend $559, I booked it on the spot.


Take the Luck Out of Potluck

I grew up as a preacher’s kid in the era of the all-church potluck, a kind of ritual that took place regularly in the basement of the church. The food was, at best, bland. That is until the advent of Lemon Jello, when things took a decided turn for the worse.


To this day, I don’t know where it came from, but my father became the proud owner of two 55-gallon drums of lemon Jello powder, divided up into small, unlabeled, non-descript packages. We knew it was lemon Jello because he told everyone that it was. You would have thought the man struck gold for the joy it brought to him. Imagine two gigantic, industrial-strength drums of free lemon Jello.

The assignment for all the church cooks was to take as much of this stuff as they could handle and to come up with amazing potluck dishes using the lemon Jello. Not wanting to disappoint the preacher, everyone (it seemed to me), accepted the challenge.

These people dutifully made lemon cakes and lemon puddings; lemon pies and lemon drinks. The results were not good, even though my father declared each lemon Jello offering to be better than the last. The truth is that no matter how hard these cooks tried, whatever they made with the lemon Jello was not fit for human consumption. 


EC Father’s Day 2016 Gift Guide

Since Father’s Day is a week away and since I have a feeling you’re as surprised by that as I am and since most of us have dads, know a dad or have a dad figure in our lives—once again I’ve taken the liberty of assuming that you might appreciate some help coming up with an awesome Father’s Day gift. And don’t worry—Amazon Prime shipping can deliver most, if not all, of these gifts in plenty of time for the big day.


BBQ Grill Tools Set. This 16-piece BBQ set is made of sturdy stainless steel construction and just as neat as a pin! if your Dad likes things well organized with easy access—and he’s a man of the grill—this is the set of tools he wants and needs! $42

Nordic Ware 2 Burner Backsplash Griddle. Watch Dad turn the kitchen (or outdoor grill) into a diner for making great breakfasts (lunch, dinner) with this Double Burner Backsplash Griddle. It features a raised edge that allows for easy flipping-whether cooking eggs, meats or veggies and is two burners wide. Ideal for frying multiple foods at once. Drip reservoir in front collects excess grease and oil, and backsplash prevents spillage. Cast aluminum is durable and easy to clean. Made in the USA. $40

Bosch 2-Speed Drill/Driver Kit. 12-Volt Max Lithium-Ion 3/8-Inch 2-Speed Drill/Driver Kit with 2 batteries, charger and case. Great power and absolutely the best drill/driver for common household projects. $99.


Don’t Throw That Out!

Ever walked into the kitchen to get that first cup of coffee only to discover someone left the ice cream on the counter all night? Or the milk? Or discovered an opened bottle of wine in the back of the fridge? And what’s with those bags of stale chips in the pantry? I don’t hate spoiled food as much as I did before I discovered so many clever ways to use up items I used to throw out.


Sour milk

It often happens in warm weather, with even a limited milk supply, that some of it gets  sour before it can be used. Don’t throw it out, even if there is only a little. Sour milk is a valuable kitchen asset! Have a clean glass to pour the remnants in, and keep it in the fridge until you have accumulated one cup. Then plan to use it as soon as it thickens, since milk becomes bitter if it stands too long. Note: Recipes using sour milk must include baking soda.


  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon shortening
  • 1 cup thick sour milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 400 F. Sift the flour, salt, and soda well together. Rub in the shortening with a spoon. Add the milk and stir lightly. The dough should be soft. Drop by spoonfuls into greased muffin tins and bake in a hot oven for 15-20 minutes.


What Can I Make With THAT?!

One of my most popular food columns from 2014 back at many reader’s request!

If your refrigerator is at all like mine, it harbors an odd assortment leftovers and “almost gones!” So what on earth can you do with that? Try some of these suggestions on for size:

Salad dressing. It’s a rare refrigerator that doesn’t have an assortment of almost-empty salad dressing bottles. Here’s what you can do with any oil and vinegar dressings like Caesar, Italian or other vinaigrettes–even the low-fat varieties: Mix them together for marinade for beef, pork, chicken. The oil adds flavor, the vinegar (or other acid like lemon juice) tenderizes. You need enough to coat the meat or poultry, then cover and refrigerator for at least an hour before roasting, grilling or baking.


Applesauce. That last bit of applesauce in the jar will make a wonderful coleslaw dressing. Make sure you have about 1/2 cup applesauce left in the jar and then add 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 teaspoon onion powder, 1/3 teaspoon celery salt, 1 teaspoon prepared mustard, 1 teaspoon sugar, 2 tablespoons water. Apply the lid, shake well and toss with 4 cups shredded cabbage or packaged coleslaw mix. Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to meld. Yield: 8 servings.


Paycheck 101: A College Grad’s Guide for How to Manage an Income

There you are, a college graduate with your newly-minted degree in one hand and new job in the other—or confidence that you will have one soon. For years you’ve waited for a real job with a real paycheck so you could get a decent car, apartment and a respectable wardrobe. After all, these are the things you so richly deserve for having nearly starved to death for lo these many years.


Well, not so fast, Buckaroo. Before you do a thing we need to go over the fundamentals of managing a paycheck―a small detail that may have been overlooked in the courses you took to prepare you for the real world.

When net is gross

You may have figured your annual salary―a number that has you seeing dollar signs. That is your gross salary. Do not fall in love with it. A $35,000 annual salary when reduced by 30 percent for “withholding” for taxes, Social Security, etc., then divided up into 52 weekly paychecks suddenly looks more like $470.


How to Eliminate Odor of Gasoline Spilled Inside Family Vehicle Plus GIVEAWAY!

Recently a message showed up in my inbox that made my heart sink. I couldn’t help imagine what it would be like to lend my car to someone, only to have it come back to me with a little something I’d not counted on. And what if that condition was permanent?! Thankfully, I have good news for one desperate reader.


DEAR MARY: I have a problem that I can’t solve and was wondering if you would be able to help.  Someone borrowed my car recently and transported a small generator in it.  Somehow, the gasoline spilled out inside my Explorer and left a very intense gasoline smell. I have tried everything I can think of and nothing has removed the smell.  I steamed cleaned it with carpet shampoo, sprinkled it with baking soda and vacuum it up, saturated it with Nok-Out at least three time to no avail. Any ideas? Lisa

DEAR LISA: My first response to your dilemma was to wonder if this “someone” was at one time on your list of friends (relatives?) but I won’t go there. Instead, I do have a solution for you and one that does not involve pushing that SUV off a cliff. It’s long, so bear with me.

This is definitely a job for Nok-Out—an odor-eliminating product that is non-toxic, fragrance-free and absolutely works wonders providing it is used specifically.


Get Rid of Crawling Insects Fast and Easy Without Poisons

Got creepy crawly insects like ants, centipedes, cockroaches, silverfish or bedbugs trying to take over your home or garden? Don’t call an exterminator quite yet. I’m confident this is a problem you can fix yourself—cheaper and faster!


If you want to treat your home for insects, but you don’t want to poison yourself, your pets or the earth, your very best option is to use food grade Diatomaceous Earth to get rid of centipedes, bed bugs, ants, silverfish, cockroaches, fleas and all other household creepy crawlies.

Diatomaceous Earth (DE), an off white talc-like powder that is the fossilized remains of marine phytoplankton. If you could take a look at it through a microscope you’d see that it resembles shards of glass. When sprinkled on a bug that has an exoskeleton (centipedes, bed bugs, ants, cockroaches, bedbugs and fleas do) or placed strategically so that bug crawls into it, the DE cuts into that bug’s exoskeleton, which causes it to dehydrate and die.

Here’s the most amazing thing about DE: It kills bugs but doesn’t hurt mammals. You and your pets could eat it without harm. In fact, many people add DE to their daily diet to promote good health.