Quick and Easy Breakfast Ideas

School time means new shoes and an unspoiled 64-pak of crayons. It also means getting back to a morning routine. This year, make breakfast a required subject in your house. All you need is fifteen minutes and tips, tricks and hurry-up secrets.

healthy breakfast: banana smoothie

FRUIT SHAKES. Start with the basic recipe and then customize with what’s in the refrigerator: Pour 1 cup juice, 1 cup water, 1 egg (optional), 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 cup crushed ice in the blender and blend until smooth. Customize your smoothies by adding fresh fruit, yogurt, protein powder, leftover pudding, applesauce—even left-over Jell-O.

FROZEN BANANA SLICES. Keep peeled banana slices in plastic bags in the freezer. Add them to any fruit shake or just plain milk.

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Three Secrets of Successful Budgeting

I wish I could come up with a better word than “budget” for managing money. While I’ve made peace with the word, for me it still conjures up synonyms like whip, drudgery and cruel master. Personally, I prefer the more elegant term Spending Plan, but for now, because budget is so universally understood, let’s just go with it, all preconceived notions aside.

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While there are many ways to budget, none are perfect. A budget is a tool you develop to fit your lifestyle. There is no single, guaranteed budget method, form or spreadsheet.

No budget is fail proof. Even a template or financial software that fits your temperament and lifestyle is not guaranteed to change your life in the same way a power tool sitting on the garage shelf is not going to put together that new wall unit for you, while you kick back and watch TV. You have to do the work.

Budgets are extraordinarily useful, a lot like training wheels. They can help you get going and give you confidence as you learn to balance. There may come a time that you’ll become an expert “cyclist” and outgrow your need for the training wheels. Or you may want to leave them on for confidence and security should you hit a bump in the road. 

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Scary Tricks Just Waiting to Be Played on You

Blood-curdling stories, tricks and treats are all part of Halloween fun. But the last thing we expect are spooky tales from our friendly lenders, bankers, and credit card companies.

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PAYDAY LOANS. You’re broke but payday is still two weeks away. You request to borrow $100 from the Payday Loan Company. They make you write a personal check to them for $115. The loan shark makes you sign a contract with all kinds of find print and agrees to hold the check until your next payday. In two weeks the shark deposits the check or you can get your check handed back to your VOID stamped on it by paying $115 in cash. But you’re as broke now as you were then, so for only an additional $15 cash you can extend the loan for another two weeks. In other words, the cost of the initial loan is a $15 finance charge—or 391 percent APR! Then you have to pay another $15 to start over. Soon you owe more than you borrowed in the first place. Payday loan companies are in the business of bleeding people for as much money as possible and then forcing them into bankruptcy. Now that’s freaky.

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Still the Most Perfect Homemade Holiday Gift

To me, homemade Christmas gifts are the best gifts—both to give and receive. In the past I’d begin to scramble about this time of year to come up new and unique ideas for my long list of friends, neighbors and colleagues.

The purpose of these gifts is to deliver my love and best wishes for the Holiday Season. And if I can weave into these messengers a small Wow! factor, well that’s a bonus.

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What always made this so challenging was my list of criteria. My homemade gifts had to be easily mass produced. They need to be consumable, attractive and appeal to a wide range of tastes. And above all, homemade gifts must be affordable.

Several years ago, I came up with a gift idea that just nailed it. That was the year I made homemade Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract. This was such a hit it has turned into an annual tradition. No more scrambling for me.

Vanilla Exract

Each year about this time you can be sure the top cabinets in my kitchen are filling up with big glass canning jars that must be shaken every few days.

While in the past my extract-making has been limited to just one type (vanilla), this year I’m branching out to include lemon, almond, coffee and chocolate extracts. I was surprised to discover that the basic instructions for making pure extracts are about the same, regardless the flavor.

Any pure extract is a “tincture” where alcohol meant for human consumption extracts the flavor from the beans, fruits or nuts. Whether making an extract for baking, health purposes or for flavoring a beverage, it’s simply a matter of combining the food item with alcohol then giving it time to “extract” in a dark environment.

What makes an extract pure is that it has nothing added but the food item to be extracted—no corn syrup, fillers, sodium benzoate, colorings or other mystery ingredients found in most commercial flavorings and extracts—even those labeled “pure.” 

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Perfectly Boiled Eggs, Every Time

Eggs. They’re nutritious, delicious and cheap! Cooking them properly is quite simple, provided you know the secrets.

A perfectly boiled egg has a yolk that is set all the way to the center and it is clean, a beautiful yellow color with no hint of ugly green where the yolk and white meet. A perfectly boiled egg slides smoothly away from the cracked shell.

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Prick the shell. Us a push-pin or needle, push it right into the large end of the uncooked egg, in about 1/4 inch, and into the egg itself. This will pierce the tiny air bubble (present in every egg) that in an un-pricked egg expands as the egg is heated and cracks the shell. This tiny hole allows an escape route for the air.

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Best Inexpensive: Luggage

Over the past few weeks I’ve received an unusual number of requests for my take on the best inexpensive luggage. That suggests to me that many of my readers are making plans to travel over the coming winter holidays. How exciting! I am honored by the trust you put in me to help you identity your best inexpensive option.

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LUGGAGE. Over the years I’ve owned and beat up quite possibly every style and type of luggage out there. Hard-side made of polycarbonate (as opposed to soft-side made of canvas) with sturdy interior construction is my luggage of choice. For me, soft-side luggage doesn’t do a great job of keeping the contents neat and well-protected. Well-made hard side construction gives luggage the best chance of withstanding the rigors of airline and cruise ship baggage handlers, too.

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How to Unshrink Wool and Other Highly Useful Tips and Tricks

You know that beautiful sweater you accidentally laundered with the kids play clothes—and now looks as though it was made for your toddler. Today I have a trick for you for how you may be able to unshrink it back to its original size, shape and glory—plus a few more equally useful tips.

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UNSHRINK WOOL. Mix a solution of one gallon lukewarm water and two tablespoons baby shampoo. Soak the shrunken garment for about ten minutes. Now the important part: Don’t rinse! Simply blot out all the excess water with a dry towel and very gently lay it flat on a fresh towel. Reshape slowly and carefully stretch it back to its original size. Dry out of direct sunlight or heat. This tip comes from the Wool Bureau who verifies this technique will work provided the fibers have not become permanently damaged.

LOST SAVINGS BONDS. Can’t find them anywhere? Provided you have a fairly accurate memory, you may be able to get the bonds replaced. The Bureau of Public Debt, the branch of the U.S. Treasury Department that issues all the various types of bonds and treasury notes, has come up with a simple system for replacing bonds. First you will need to get Form PDF1048. Fill in the approximate issue date along with your complete name (as it was then), address and Social Security number and if possible the bond serial numbers. Whomever gave them to you may have recorded those numbers so keep looking. Once the form is processed the Bureau will issue you a new set of certificates. You can get the form by writing to: Bureau of Public Debt, Parkersburg, WV 26106. Visit the Bureau’s website at www.publicdebt.treas.gov for more information. If you should find the original bonds in the future, don’t try to cash them. When new ones are issued, those originals will be cancelled.

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Secrets of My Inflight Survival Plan

You may know that I travel a lot. What you probably don’t know (and how would you since I’ve only told about three people, ever) is that I have a flight routine, which I adhere to strictly. Honestly, unless you knew this ahead of time, you would not be able to detect this at all, even if you were my traveling companion.

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After watching the news with airline personnel talking about inflight safety and how to respond if there is an emergency in flight, I decided that my personal routine might not be so weird after all.

NATURAL FIBERS ONLY. I wear only clothing made from cotton, linen or wool when I fly. Statistics bear out the fact that most people who die in a plane crash don’t die from the crash itself but from the related fire and smoke. Because I assume I will be exposed to both before I get to my destination, fiber content is important. Man-made fibers like polyester, rayon and nylon don’t burn. They melt. And they melt at a fairly low temperature on the scale of melting things. I do not want my clothes melting into my skin. Cotton, linen and wool do not catch fire quickly, which will buy me time.

LONG PANTS, LONG SLEEVES. Exposed skin is going to be a problem in a fiery situation. Mere seconds could mean the difference between getting out of there or succumbing to the conditions. If my skin is burning my chances are reduced. I wear long cotton pants, long sleeved shirt, top or jacket and shoes with cotton socks. It’s my armor. Always. And if my jacket has a hood, all the better. 

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