Monday, June 19, 2017

Saving Money: Cost Cutting Endeavors

Mid-year cost saving ideas:

- Review all your billing statements for mistakes or reoccurring payments that should have been canceled.

- Think about cutting back on subscriptions. Look for free or less expensive options.

- Go through closets and home for things to sell online.

- Consider replacing, consolidating, or going without kitchen appliances to save electricity.

- Warmer weather in the Northern hemisphere means line drying is quick in the sun.

- Shop online through discounters to take advantage of savings. Ex: Ebates. For instance, Dollar General often has online coupons and clicking through discount sites can earn you money back.

- Consider small A/C units instead of central air. Zone cool only where needed behind closed doors.

- With careful control of water, hand washing dishes can be less expensive.

- Consider turning down the water heater and taking luke warm showers in warmer weather. Turn it up an hour before you plan to use it for washing dishes or clothing.

- Reduce your daily calories and eat simple nutritious meals. Three meals(small amount of protein, a carb, and veggies)and three 150 calories or fewer snacks per day. Good ideas here, but research online.

- Yard sales are in full swing - look for clothing and other basic necessities. Think ahead and stock up.

- Use Groupons and Airbnb for family vacations and travel off-season. We got discounted attraction tickets for our vacation destination using Groupons. There is a student discount currently running for a limited time. Consider renting a car through an online discounter to save wear and tear on your vehicle and airfare. Sometimes rates are less expensive from the airport agencies.

- For students, spend the summer CLEPing classes, most are Freshman level tests. Many free online study resources and the test is only $85. If you want to avoid a transfer fee later, add the college where you want the scores sent. We were able to do this even though the student was enrolled as a part-time student with one class. Check with the college first, though.

- Plant edibles in your yard or window. Sprouts are the easiest to grow. I keep adding fruit trees and berry bushes every year to my backyard. Cucumbers are fairly easy in a big planter or sunny bed section of the yard. Pumpkin grows every year where I discard the Halloween pumpkins. A lot of stuff grows where I kitchen compost freely among the garden beds. Easy surprise gardening.

-  I've thought about this, but I grow too attached to my fish. You could grow your own edible fish in stock tanks with an aquaponics garden.

- Remembering to buy and use discounted gift cards.

- Buy school books at Ebay.

- Do you own nails and hair. YouTube lessons. I use Sally's Beauty for supplies for my hair. Some of the  longest lasting nail polish, oddly enough is $1.00 Wet N Wild. I've gone back to this and now the polish lasts a week, or two weeks with some minor touch-ups and a top clear coat.

Image source.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Low Tech Planted Fresh Water Fish Tanks

I started two low tech planted fish tanks three years ago, and they are still doing very well. The key is adequate lighting and a light fish load. If you want a heavily planted tank, you won't get much growth without a strong light source. If you happen to have a sunny window, direct sunlight for at least 6 hours a day is a good substitute. Most people will need a secondary or primary light source.

I started with a 75-gallon tank, and a LED light bar made for aquarium plants, full-color spectrum, Edge and Marineland, but this one is less expensive. Marineland light bar prices have increased over the years. There are timers on some light bars and programmable light levels, including a blue moonlight one for the evening.

A planted tank is simple to maintain as the plants give off oxygen for the fish, so a bubbler may not be needed. A filtration system is not necessary because the fish waste is used by the plants. Partial water changes are needed every other week for optimal water quality, although it may be okay with less. I've read that established tanks can go for as long as two months between changes. I killed off some fish this way, so I'll never wait that long again to change out the water. For both my tanks, I drain and fill a five-gallon bucket.

The first thing I did was research the Walstad Method.

I purchased ordinary garden soil, the heavier, the better. I used simple top soil. If you buy soil that has a lot of peat moss or mulch, it will float to the surface. Adding 100% red clay(crafters clay) is helpful for holding down the soil, and the plants use the high iron content. I topped my soil off with some sand for aesthetics and to hold down the soil.

Inexpensive plants can be found online on Facebook groups or eBay.

A few easy low light plant choices from the Walstad link:

I didn't like the floating plants because they multiplied and blocked out light, limiting the undergrowth.

After you plant, wait for a month, testing the water quality before adding any fish.

Add fish that don't make a lot of waste. I would avoid any type of goldfish. The system is self-filtering to a point. The plants are not a high power filtration system, it's a balance that you find slowly. At first, you may have smaller plants and some algae issues. Wait for plant growth which will crowd out the algae. A heavily planted tank will outcompete algae for nutrients. Once the plants grow in heavily, you get a nice balance and adequate oxygen for fish.

Fish to avoid:

  • Plecos that grow large and dig. These are sold small, but some get over 11 inches.
  • Goldfish because of heavy waste and limited swimming area.
  • Any fish that like wide open spaces
  • Silver dollar fish which eat plants like salad
  • Any large fish

Shrimp do very well in planted tanks because of the many places to hide.

Fish and others that have done well in my tanks:

  • Golden, tiger, and cherry barbs
  • Angelfish
  • Cory catfish
  • Ghost, cherry, and bamboo shrimp
  • Apple snails
  • Clams

Mistake fish:

I added a pleco that has grown to 11 inches. It has dug up my tank a few times, and I had to add a filter with a circulation pump hose to the 75-gallon tank because of excessive waste. I am committed to keeping him/her until she passes, so adjustments were made. They like water movement, so the circulation hose keeps it happy.

I added an algae eater to my 50-gallon tank, and it got rather large as well. I didn't need it when the tank established itself, but I'm committed to keeping this fish as well.

If you want to add a little movement to keep a bio-scum(organic decay) from forming on top, add an underwater circulation fan. I added one to the smaller tank when the bamboo shrimp were alive. They liked to sit on a piece of wood and grasp the food flowing through the pump.

To aid in the growth of plants, add a little Flourish Excel.

If you get a case of the snails, add a little aquarium salt. Snails love planted tanks and tend to multiply quickly.

Excuse the mess. Both tanks need "weeding" and the glass cleaned. My pleco made a mess in the larger tank, tunneling under the soil in the back.

The first tank was purchased on sale years ago and the larger tank was found for $10.00 at a yard sale.

An instructional to a very basic planted tank on the cheap.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Homemade Gingerbread House Recipe

We are using this recipe without a stand mixer. We used our hands and plastic gloves to mix the dough.

Here is a gingerbread house template to download. We are not going to place an entryway front porch on the house.

I wrapped the dough in plastic wrap and will roll it in same. This prevents the need for flouring a surface and the roller. Here is an example of this method.

 Tomorrow we roll it out, cut, and bake. I'll update soon!

Rolled out the dough, baked, and put together tonight.

A few issues: not rolling the dough out evenly and getting the house to stay together while the icing dried.

Next time we'll add toothpicks to the edges. It was tough to get the pieces to stay together while the royal icing dried.

Don't laugh, a little kid put this together, and the icing bag broke, and some candy had to be removed because the roof was sliding off. In the end, it had to be eaten, so there was no waiting for more icing or decorations. Most importantly, it tasted very good!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

DIY Ribbon Mesh Wreath Tutorial

I saw these at a Christmas bazaar today for $50.00! It's probably a $10 project if you can use items from a dollar store, or recycle your Christmas balls and ornaments.

See here.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Free Documentaries Online

I've been enjoying some of the free movies here.

I just watched two documentaries on North Korea and now one on President Nixon.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

How to Get Rid of Flies in Compost

We've got a bad case of the flies this year in our compost.  Here's a few things that are working for us:

- Turn more brown into the compost
- Add diatomaceous earth to top layer
- Boiling water over the top
- Top with leaves

Friday, September 30, 2016

`Staving Off the Impulse to Eat Out at Restaurants

We never buy meat at the meat counter because I steer myself over to prepackaged sale meats, but the other day I happened to glance at the specialty meat area and noticed that they have marinated and seasoned steaks. The price was less than a restaurant, and it was relatively convenient. I think we'll be saving quite a bit now. Tonight we popped over to the store and had a steak meal after a short baking session with a dollar seasoned frozen vegetable pack. Finally, I found another solution that's workable for us. This was fast and easy.

The next time we have the impulse to eat out, I'll set a nice table with candles, music, and wine. Going old school again.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Free Chemistry Video and Text Course for High School and Up

Thirteen units with video and online text, and three labs. Provided by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. See here.

Free U.S. History Video Series for High School and Up

See here.

A video instructional series on American history for college and high school classrooms and adult learners; 26 half-hour video programs, coordinated books, and Web site. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

CLEP Success and 90 Day College Plan

My son passed his Algebra CLEP today. He's gotten his feet wet and feels more confident now. We have a 90-day plan for college at home - study and test for the Introduction to Psychology and Pre-calculus CLEP tests. If this works out, he'll test for 2 CLEPs every 90 days and take a class at the community college every semester. It may take less than 90 days; this a journey of discovery.

Anyone thinking of taking a CLEP test this month can get $10 off registration bringing the cost down to $70.00. Use this code: CLEPSEPT at check-out.

Primary resources we will use: and Khan Academy (free)$25 a month, may have gone up, but this is our rate)
Peterson Testing($19.95 a test)
CLEP prep for Introduction to Psychology
Pre-calculus Demystified

1/27/17 update: was not necessary, so we dropped it.

So far he's taken 3 CLEP tests(algebra 3 credits, psychology 3 credits, and pre-calculus 6 credits per community college) and passed them all with CLEP prep books, Khan Academy, and free resources online. At the official CLEP site, there are numerous recommendations for free study resources. It's worth checking out. Testing is running slower than expected because the math has been challenging, and he was taking some other classes. His next CLEP will be calculus.

Primary resource for calculus:

Calculus Made Easy
Khan Academy
Calculus Problem Solver (Problem Solvers Solution Guides)


Ran into some problems with the above resources, so purchased Calculus for Dummies with problems.
He may need some review and/or detailed explanations. So far, he's less frustrated.

Also trying an EdX class for Calculus.

6/17: Melt down with the calculus and it was taking too long! So study was reduced to two days a week with Calculus and the focus is on Sociology and English which will be CLEPed next week, and hopefully the other later this month. After this, he'll take a literature CLEP.  Hopefully, three  CLEPS will be completed during the summer to catch up.

So far, he has been credited 13 credits with one class taken in the college. A little slow going, but he should catch up during summer with his CLEPS. Troubles with Calculus really put him behind, but he will prevail. Encouraging him to use the free math lab for help at the community college.

Heads-up! CLEP test price rises $5.00 in 7/2017. Buy your test registration(s) now to save. The ticket is good for 6 months.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Free College Literature Course: Literature and Mental Health

The University of Warwick has teamed up with some famous faces, and a team of doctors to tackle these questions and others like them, in a free online course on FutureLearn.

The course is offered through FutureLearn which means it’s broken into chunks – so you can do it step by step. FutureLearn also features lots of discussions so you can share your ideas with other learners, which often can be as beneficial as the course material (as one previous student put it “a really wonderful experience and I’ve loved the feedback and comments from fellow course members”).
Here’s a run-through of what’s on the syllabus. The course focuses on six themes:
  1. Stress: In poetry, the word “stress” refers to the emphasis of certain syllables in a poem’s metre. How might the metrical “stresses” of poetry help us to cope with the mental and emotional stresses of modern life?
  2. Heartbreak: Is heartbreak a medical condition? What can Sidney’s sonnets and Austen’s Sense and Sensibility teach us about suffering and recovering from a broken heart?
  3. Bereavement: The psychologist Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross famously proposed that there are five stages of grief. How might Shakespeare’s Hamlet and poems by Wordsworth and Hardy help us to think differently about the process of grieving?
  4. Trauma: PTSD or “shellshock” has long been associated with the traumatic experiences of soldiers in World War 1. How is the condition depicted in war poetry of the era? Can poems and plays offer us an insight into other sources of trauma, including miscarriage and assault?
  5. Depression and Bipolar: The writer Rachel Kelly subtitles her memoirBlack Rainbow “how words healed me – my journey through depression”. Which texts have people turned to during periods of depression, and why? What can we learn from literature about the links between bipolar disorder and creativity?
  6. Ageing and Dementia: One of the greatest studies of ageing in English Literature is Shakespeare’s King Lear. Is it helpful to think about this play in the context of dementia? Why are sufferers of age-related memory loss often still able to recall the poems they have learned “by heart”?

Saturday, September 17, 2016