Tag Archives: free

Extra, Extra, Eat all about it!

Every year I tend to my gardens–some years better than others. I have beds of annual and perennial herbs and flowers, and two raised vegetable garden beds–with plans to add more! There are just two of us and we and we haven’t quite mastered the art of preserving food. Oh sure, I dry some herbs and freeze some fruits and veggies, but mostly we pick as we need to use it. And I find myself wondering “What the heck am I going to do with all of those beets!” And “does anyone need bunches and bunches of sage. Since my compost bin has not actually yielded any compost, I am still at the stage that I feel wasteful sending my edible garden waste to their unproductive demise. So it was with glee that I saw this flyer.
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What a great idea! I am so excited about this and can’t wait to see what I come home with. Why don’t all communities do this? In fact, this isn’t quite my community and I am going to see who I need to talk to about this to get one in my own park district. I’ll make sure to post after I go the first time and let you know if there is any progress with getting one established in my own community.

Please share if your community has creative and economical ways to get not only people to eat better, but like-minded people to get together.

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Twelve Posts of Christmas–Music to Your Ears

I didn’t intend to write about this topic, but as I sit here filtering through Christmas music it occurred to me that the way we get our Christmas music fix has changed quite a bit in the last few years. Not too many years past, you either had FM radio or CDs–multi-disc changers if you were fancy. I used to have a 300 disc carousel and player (I spent a lot of money in college). Now, it was not just filled with Christmas music–those accounted for only about 9 CDs– and it also housed my husband’s CDs (he brought the Britney Spears to the marriage.) Regardless, the CD player got used less and less often even though my husband and I really enjoy music. I finally sold the darn thing a couple of years back when I finally admitted it to myself that it just wasn’t the way I was listening to music anymore. There are very few CDs you can listen to anymore from start to finish. And taking out the CDs to listen to in the car was annoying and inconvenient. As I started using iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora I wasn’t even listening to CDs anymore. Oh. You’re not too familiar with all of these? Well let me tell you not only how they can improve the quality of the music you hear, but also, often, save you money–with a focus on Christmas, of course.

Let’s start out with iTunes, which surely everyone has heard of. iTunes is not free. At least not always. However, did you know that almost every week you can download a free song. Just go to “music” and scroll around. And guess what you get in December? Ding, ding, ding. Christmas music. Today (December 12, 2013) you can download Kelly Clarkson’s “Underneath the Tree” for free! But the beautiful thing about iTunes is that you can choose exactly what you want, design your perfect playlist, with your favorite artists. Love “O Holy Night” but want to decide exactly which version buy dozens and dozens of artists is best? On iTunes, you can do that before you buy it! The answer is Mahalia Jackson’s version, by the way. So instead of buying a CD where you really like only half of the songs, you get to search through hundreds of thousand (not an actual statistic) of songs until you get your perfect playlist. And let’s face it. For those of us that love Christmas music, we may add something every once in a while, but we rarely take it away, so once you have your list, you don’t need to spend much more money to add to it. Plus, for those CDs that you do own, there are many ways to download those songs onto your computer to get them on your phone. Then you can pluck your most favorite songs and put them on your Perfect Christmas Playlist.

A coworker told me about Spotify a few years ago. It’s a great site that allows you to listen to entire CDs in addition to playlists. Spotify used to only be available through your computer, and I spent many, many hours listening to Jack Johnson’s entire catalogue of music at my office. Until recently, if you wanted Spotify through your phone or iPad, you had to pay for premium service. It is now free everywhere. What!? This is very exciting. I haven’t used Spotify in a little while because I changed jobs recently and never got around to putting it on my computer. So I didn’t know. I just downloaded it now on my iPad. Literally, just now. It’s awesome. If you know there is an entire CD out there you like, type in its name and chances are it’ll pop up. You can listen to the whole thing. No purchase necessary. And, to make your perfect Christmas playlist, all you need to do is create playlist category and then when the song you love is playing, hit the “+” sign and it is added to the playlist. It’s so easy. My perfect Christmas playlist is being created on Spotify as we speak.

Lastly, there is Pandora. On Pandora, you create stations for the music that you like. As you listen to those stations, you can thumbs up or thumbs down songs. These actions help your station get personalized to you. You can choose broad categories like “Rat Pack Christmas” or “Hipster Christmas” and Pandora will begin playing songs in that genre. And because you interact with it, your “Hipster Christmas” will sound much different than my “Hipster Christmas.” You can also choose multiple artists if you have eclectic musical tastes. My favorite “station” is my Jack Johson/Otis Redding/ Pam Tillis/ Mana/ Norah Jones station. It’s pretty awesome.

Pandora and Spotify do play occasional advertisements on the free service. But they are very brief and infrequent. Both are available in apps for your smart devices to make taking your perfect Christmas playlist EVERWHERE.

My perfect Christmas Playlist (incomplete):

The Man with the Bag– Kay Starr
O Holy Night– Mahalia Jackson
The Merriest– June Christy
Santa Baby– Eartha Kitt
Baby it’s Cold Outside– any version with Ella Fitzgerald
Old Toy Trains– Nick Lowe
All I want for Christmas– Mariah Carey
The Christmas Song– Nat King Cole
Father Christmas– The Kinks
Christmas (baby please come home) –Darlene Love
Blue Christmas– The Perishers
Please Come Home For Christmas– Bon Jovi
Merry Christmas Darling– The Carpenters

Picky Eaters

I know little bit about plants.  Okay, okay–I know quite a bit about plants, probably more than the average person. Nonetheless, I am still surprised that many people don’t know how to recognize wild raspberry brambles. I always kind of thought that picking wild berries was a rite of passage of any midwestern kid (I am from Illinois). Yet, I get strange, if not horrified, looks from people when I eat berries straight from the bush, or pick mulberries from the tree. It’s almost as if because the fruit is not presented in a plastic clamshell, there must be something wrong with it. I admit, this is sometimes true. Foraged fruit tends to be less pretty than store bought, and sometimes more…I don’t know…insect-y. But this is good! It means the stuff has not been doused with chemicals. And do we really have to talk about what the FDA considers acceptable for insect parts in the processed foods you consume… we can, if you stubbornly insist you never consume insects. But if you are that much in denial, I don’t want to ruin chocolate for you. Back to the subject. Once you get past the fact that food does not all come from the grocery store, you realize that there is a world out there of stuff you can eat!

Since I am not homesteading or living off the grid, I am not going to eat things that I have to boil a couple of times to get the toxins or tannins out, or that I have to douse with butter and and garlic to overcome the bitterness.  I mean, I don’t have to eat this stuff. The point is, I want to eat delicious, healthy things. If they are free and found in nature, then it’s even better.

Some of my favorite things to forage are black raspberries, mulberries, and apples. Remember, I live in the midwest, and these types of fruits abound in the spring and summer.  However, most areas have lots of food that can be foraged. If you have no idea where to start, go to your library and get a book. Or look on-line. You will find a lot of options and the only trick is to decide how adventurous you would like to be. For example, I keep reading cat tails are edible…but I don’t see myself plucking them anytime soon.

Now, I happen to live in an area that has rural areas, conserved areas, and state and county parks and preserves. I have a few go-to places with wide, open fields that I know I have permission to pick and explore.  But beware, you can’t just pick fruit, flowers and seeds from just anywhere.  It may, in fact, be illegal, if not just rude and tresspass-y.  I recently found out, however, that State parks in Illinois allow people in the collect edible “fungi, nuts and berries on Department owned, leased or managed lands where such collection would not be incompatible with resource management activities…and where such collection is for personal use only and not for re-sale.”17 IAC 1/10(a) (3). From what I understand, though, you can’t go off trail to collect it.

Perhaps this is where I should add the disclaimer that there are a lot of poisonous and toxic plants out there. And many plants that are diuretics. And some plants that give you that woo-woo feeling. Please do your research. Do not pick something you do not recognize.  If looking through a book or website does not give you the knowledge you need, attend a program put on by your local university extension office, conservation district, forest preserve, or state park. Or go with a friend that knows a thing or two about plants, and has a few favorite spots for picking!

Where (Young) Eagles Fly

In this post I want to talk about a free program that few people know about: Young Eagles.  This is a program promoted by the Experimental Aircraft Association (“EAA”), and its hundreds of chapters across the country.  Did you know that there is a probably an EAA chapter near you that offers free flights in really cool airplanes to kids–okay, okay, they probably also offer free flights for adults, too, but it’s all about the kids, right?

Anyhow, some chapters hold several events a year, some only one or two, but there are there are almost 1,000 active local EAA and divisional Chapters and Squadrons all over the world so, chances are, you live by one.  You may not even realize it.  I mean, why would you be interested in general aviation unless you are a pilot?! However, general aviation is about more than just having an expensive hobby. It is important to keep it alive at the grass roots level and you should expose your kids to a Young Eagles flight and general aviation immediately for many reasons:

1) It’s really cool. Cooler than cars and trains. And it is totally accessible.

2) It can help foster an interest in science and technology. Aviation incorporates many scientific principals like lift and drag and deals routinely with meteorological influences, engineering design, and gravitational force.  Do you want your kids to be engineers? Take them to a Young Eagles Rally and before you know it, they’ll start building rockets and start talking about Newton’s first, second, and third laws.*

3) You can’t be an astronaut unless you are first a pilot. There are also many other careers that an interest in general aviation can lead to: meteorologist, rocket scientist, engineer, A & P mechanic, as well as careers in avionics, government at all levels, and the private sector.

4) Young Eagles flights are FREE!

NOTE: getting a pilot’s license is not free. It can be the opposite of free. However, if you start young, there are many programs available through the EAA that can help defray the cost and get a kid pretty far.

5) It can take up a nice chunk of your day if you have nothing better to do with the little rugrats.  Many Young Eagles events offer other amenities like flight simulators, pancake breakfasts, tours of the airport, and if you’re my local chapter, cows, a pond and a walking trail.  By default, airports are usually large tracts of land.  They can be fascinating to explore.

Are you ready to take them?  Your child can particiapte in a Young Eagles flight if they are between the ages of  8 and 17.  They will go in whatever plane the volunteers for that day are flying, which can be anything from a Cessna to a Stearman. The flights generally last between 15 and 20 minutes.  Kids will receive an official Young Eagles logbook, signed by the pilot. And there is nothing that says that your kid can’t go on multiple Young Eagles flights.

Now, this does require a leap of faith….you are, after all, sticking your child on a small plane with a probable stranger.  And the name, Experimental Aircraft Association, doesn’t help.** There is nothing experimental about it.  The program has a phenomenal safety record, the pilots are trained, and the events are well-coordinated. And, c’mon, it’s free. The pilots and volunteers donate their time and their planes and their gas because they believe that keeping an interest in general aviation alive is important.  Plus, it will be the coolest thing your kid will do all year.

Read more about the program here: http://www.youngeagles.org/flightplan/flight.asp.  Find your local chapters at either of the two links above.  Then call the Young Eagles Coordinator to ask about upcoming progamming.

And if you keep thinking, why should my kid have all the fun, then go here: http://www.eaa.org/eagleflights/

*results not guaranteed

**Emphasis added for Irony

They don’t call them smart phones for nothing

I am not against spending money or buying things…just ask my husband. I just like to know that I am not leaving money on the table when I shop. A little bit of effort can support your nasty little latte habit…and loads of other bad habits.

If you shop online a lot, you probably already know this. But just on the off-chance that there are some of you out there that do not…I feel that I am honor-bound to share this information. Never, ever finish an on-line purchase without checking for online coupon codes. Ever. Even if it’s a small or local retailer. Popular (with me) sites are retailmenot and couponcabin but there are many, many more. I usually just use the search engine. For example, if I am shopping at, let’s say, Old Navy, I would type in “online code Old Navy” and see what comes up. Retailmenot and Couponcabin also have apps you can download on your smart phone. You can also use the apps Couponsherpa or SnipSnap, which I will discuss more detail below to see if deals are available for your purchase.

Now, are you ready to save some real money…or at least have your iPhone pay for itself? Then keep reading…

If you are at an actual, physical store, use an app called red laser to compare prices for other retailers on the items you are purchasing. Many stores will match the competition’s prices. If not, they may go ahead and offer some sort of discount. Many store managers are empowered to give a discount. Just ask. Most people don’t ask. You’d be shocked at what happens when you ask. One time when the manager could not come down any more on an item already on sale, my husband convinced him to throw in some batteries, just because. A reliable source told me that when he worked at Walmart one of his managers would routinely offer a 15% discount.

There are also many stores where you can upload a coupon instantly to your smart phone even if you forget it at home. For example, at Michaels or Hobby Lobby you can easily find the link to the smartphone coupon on their respective sites. However, not all stores make it as convenient. For those more inconvenient stores where you find the latest must-have, try downloading the app couponsherpa on your smart phone. Couponsherpa takes coupons from the web and allows you to access them on your smart phone. This app is my new favorite.

Several stores like Walgreens and CVS, have their own apps you can download and check for coupons at the store prior to checking out. However, deals at these sites tend to be item specific. For a fantastic blend of everything, try the app SnipSnap. Also my new favorite. On SnipSnap you and I and the rest of the planet upload coupons. Any coupons. Some may be of use to you. These could be on an item you are already buying, like, for example, Tide detergent, or for BOGO offers at restaurants, or to get a free something. If a coupon exists, people are uploading it. What this means for you on top of using everyone else’s great savings is that the moment your favorite Macy’s and Kohl’s coupons come in the mail, you no longer have to shove them in your car or purse and then forget all about them. You can put them in SnipSnap with a couple of quick photos and now you have them. Forever. Throw away the cards so they don’t litter your house, purse, wallet or car. Or, better yet, let someone else get the trash and let them upload it and just use theirs.

SnipSnap is the app I designed in my fantasies when I became frustrated with never taking my coupons with me. BUT, my dream app had one more fantastic feature. You could scan an item to figure out if you had a coupon for it, or could find a coupon for it, or could find a coupon for a similar item or category. SnipSnap stops short of that. That’s okay. These apps have come a loooong way in a short time and my perfect coupon app is sure to come.

When you first upload SnipSnap, try this: type in the word “free” in the search box. I bet you’ll find something tempting. For free. I would just recommend that you go inside and order to make sure the coupon works.

All of these apps are free. And they’ll bank you a lot of lattes.