Spring is in the Air: Camping Season!

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Spring is just around the corner, the air is getting warmer, and the birds are beginning to sing once again.  That means it’s time to move the adventure outdoors. There are several free events and activities to do when the weather is nice and camping is one of those.  One may ask, “How can camping possibly be free?” That is a valid question. One of our best kept secrets is public land, lots and lots of public land which has been set aside by the Bureau of Land Management, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior.  They manage the public lands of the United States which total over 245 million surface acres and 700 million subsurface acres. All in all, that’s about 10% of the land in the United States. While many acres are dedicated to preserving natural wildlife, mining, logging, animal grazing and more, we are interested in the outdoor recreation these lands have to offer.

Park Locations and Amenities to Consider

The BLM operates campgrounds in western states, sorry eastern states.  They have sites in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Dakotas, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.  There are many parks and recreation areas within these states and are often free for the taking on a first come first serve basis. I would stick to areas close to home or contact the park of interest to discover if they have open spots, when’s the easiest time to find a spot, and any other pertinent information which may be needed.  One can go the BLM website and access an information page detailing some of the amenities. Not all parks are created equal, so research is a must do if one wants to be prepared for the adventure. Some parks are primitive, with no water, electricity, or bathroom facilities. Some campsites may have a potable water source at a specified location but not available at each campsite.  Others may have outhouses without running water while others may have fully loaded restrooms with showers, electricity, and outlets. These are important factors to know when preparing for a camping trip and determining how off grid one may want to be.

Activities

As diverse as the amenities are throughout the parks, so are the activities. If you have something in mind, go to the BLM website to see what each park has available.  Some of the activities include: mountain biking, hiking, fishing, swimming, horseback riding, snow shoeing, and more. Depending on which activities and what season you’re looking to venture out, the information page of each park will be invaluable.  There are also links to each parks social media accounts for up to the minute information along with phone numbers and directions. Which activities are available and during which season. For instance snowshoeing and dog sledding in winter and water sports in the summer, fall foliage hikes, and spring flower blooms.  

Additional Considerations

If you’re a person who doesn’t want to be so far removed from modern amenities, the BLM also offers reservations, RV sites, cabins, and additional accoutrements.  However, these are often not free of charge, so be prepared to come out of pocket for the niceties. Recreation.gov is a one stop site for recreational offerings the government has to offer and encompasses many more programs and agencies than the BLM.  They offer tours, cabins, campsites, sites not part of the BLM, and so much more. I highly recommend choosing an area for free camping and utilizing recreation.gov to supplement any additional excursions you may want to participate in the area. The two complement each other and recreation.gov also carries information on the free campsites offered by the BLM.

That’s a Wrap

There are plenty of adventures to be had with a little research and a little time spent planning.  Gone are the obstacles to free outdoor adventures and any reason to not enjoy some of the great adventures waiting to be had because you live on a dirt poor income.  There are plenty of free and exciting opportunities waiting to be had for those willing to take the time and research a little. These moments create memories which cannot be replaced and that last a lifetime.  Don’t allow a lack of money to stifle your hunger for adventure or your family’s.

“It’s never too late to have a genuine adventure” ~ Robert Kurson

References

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Extra! Extra! Eat More Soluble Fiber !

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Fiber has been discussed for years as a health lifestyle must have. Eating more fiber is an excellent way to establish a healthy weight and acts as a preventative measure for several chronic diseases.  As mentioned in Good Health is Money Save and Money Earned, one of the best ways to ensure financial security and stay off the cliff of financial ruin is to stay healthy. A critical step in achieving this healthy lifestyle goal and reap all the financial benefits of being healthy and strong is Fiber.  One may ask, when starting this fiber quest, “What is fiber? How much is recommended? and What foods contain this magical fiber you speak of?”

What is fiber?

To begin with, fiber is a carbohydrate that our bodies are unable to break down into sugar molecules and therefore are unable to be digested.  This lack of digestion helps in creating satiation, a feeling of fullness, after eating. This in turn reduces the amount of food one eats creating a calorie deficit which is needed for weight loss.  This also helps in preventing overeating which is essential for maintaining a healthy weight once a healthy weight has been achieved. Fiber also helps lower cholesterol levels, helps control blood sugar levels, reduces the risk of developing all cancers, aids in preventing cardiovascular disease, and also helps maintain and regulate your bowels. Yay for fiber!!  There are also two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble fibers. This article will discuss soluble fiber in more detail down below. A later article will be posted and will discuss insoluble fiber.

How much fiber is recommended?

Odds are, you aren’t getting enough fiber in your daily diet.  The average American takes in 15 grams of fiber a day. That’s about half of the daily recommended amount for both men and women according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Women age 19-30 were recommended to have an intake of 28 grams and men age 14-18 were recommended to have an intake of 30.8 grams.  The guidelines didn’t specify any older age groups among the genders. As shown, we definitely need to eat more fiber for a healthy lifestyle.

Soluble Fiber:

Soluble fiber slows the digestion of food by attracting water and creating a gel in the digestive system.  Soluble fiber attaches to cholesterol and exports the cholesterol out of the body, lowering the overall level of cholesterol which is good for cardiovascular health.  Since soluble fiber is not digested it does not contribute to sugar level spikes which helps in preventing Type 2 Diabetes and helps to maintain sugar levels in all diabetics, both Type 1 and Type 2. Soluble fiber also keeps you feeling full which is excellent for weight loss and maintenance.  It’s attraction to water also bulks up your stool as it passes through the body which keeps your bowels healthy.

Foods high in soluble fiber:

  • Oatmeal and oat bran
  • Whole grain cereals
  • Barley
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Apples
  • Citrus
  • Bananas
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Vegetables

Suggestions for incorporating soluble fiber:

There are several ways to begin introducing soluble fibers into your diet. Substituting beans for meat in soups and chilis is one way to incorporate soluble fiber.  The change doesn’t need to be dramatic and can be a gradual introduction. For example instead of cutting the meat out of the soup initially, first start by substituting half of the meat with beans.  I personally will use half turkey and half black beans to my chili. I still get the meaty flavor but I have introduced soluble fiber which equals great flavor and great health benefits. Another substitute is chips with apple slices or even a non sliced apple.  They compliment most sandwiches and they are easy to transport. If the apple is sliced it will brown but if left whole the apple will stay fresh and crunchy throughout most situations life may throw at you. Substituting three days a week with a quick overnight oat recipe instead of the bacon and eggs will also help increase the soluble fiber intake and leave you feeling full for the day.

These simple changes can create large changes in the quality of life you are living and help in creating healthy habits which will last throughout your life.  An added benefit is that eating more soluble fiber doesn’t feel like you’re depriving yourself since it is filling and delicious. Work yourself into change slowly if that’s what works best for you.  A small change once a week is a first step in the right direction and can be the catalyst for further healthy changes.

The first step toward change is awareness, the second step is acceptance ~ Nathaniel Branden

References:

Homemade Laundry Detergent Saves Money

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Those who have struggled with finances have often resorted to do it yourself activities to prevent additional expenses and to save money.  There are several inexpensive alternatives to the store bought supplies needed around the house. One such commonly purchased supply is laundry detergent.  This is an inescapable expense if one wishes to function in the world and can become pricey. There are entire aisles at the grocery store dedicated to laundry detergent and depending on the brand and what special attributes they claim, the price tends to increase.  The cheapest and most cost effective avenue is to make your laundry detergent at home. The recipes are easy to follow and one can make a liquid or a powder detergent in the comfort of their kitchen. The following are some recipes I have used and have found to be quite cost effective.

Liquid Laundry Detergent

  • 1 laundry soap bar 5 oz. (Fels Naptha, Zote, Marseille are examples)
  • ½ cup Borax
  • 1 cup Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda
  • 5 gallon bucket with lid
  • 1 mask (optional) used when making the detergent*
  • 1 set of eye protection (optional)*
  • 1 set of vinyl or latex gloves (optional)*

Using a cheese grater of a food processor grate the bar of soap then pour into a large cooking pot with 4 cups of hot water.  Heat on medium stirring frequently until all pieces of soap are dissolved. Next, add ½ cup Borax and 1 cup Super Washing Soda to the melted soap mixture.  Stir until all powder is dissolved. Pour mixture into 5 gallon bucket and add hot tap water to bucket until the water level reaches 3 inches from the top. Stir the mixture until the water and the soap mixture are combined.  Cover with the lid and let sit for 8 hours or over night, whichever is most convenient. Remove lid and stir mixture well. This is a concentrate and will need to be mixed with half water and half detergent, when using. I recommend finding an additional, smaller container to mix half concentrate and half water when needed.  This step makes doing laundry easy when you don’t have to pull out a 5 gallon bucket each time you want to do the laundry. Use ½ a cup for a medium size load of laundry, making adjustments if the load is small or large as needed.
-Recipe passed down from family and friends and written on an old sheet of paper

Dry Laundry Detergent

  • 1 laundry soap bar 5 oz.
  • 1 cup Borax
  • 1 cup Washing Soda
  • 1 large container
  • 1 mask (optional) used when making the detergent*
  • 1 set of eye protection (optional)*
  • 1 set of vinyl or latex gloves (optional)*

Using a cheese grater or preferably a blender or food processor, finely grate the laundry soap bar.  Next mix all ingredients together making sure the mixture blended well and all ingredients are evenly distributed.  Pour the mixture into a large container with a lid. Pour ¼ cup of detergent for a medium size load of laundry. Adjust accordingly if the load is small or large.
-Recipe modified from Willow and Sage

To put the cost and the amount saved into perspective, a bottle of Tide liquid laundry detergent costs approximately $12.00 at Walmart for 64 loads, lasting a little over 1 month for a larger family of five.  The DIY liquid laundry detergent cost me less than $5.00 and lasted about 3 months before I had to make a new batch; which works out to be $1.67 a month. That’s a savings of $10.00 a month or $120 a year. This is quite the savings for a small amount of work.  Depending on how much laundry your household washes, the savings will be more or less.

The whole process of making laundry detergent at home is easy and doesn’t take long to make, and the above recipes take less than 30 minutes to complete.  There is also the added benefit of knowing what you are using and the effects on the environment. All of the above have been deemed safe for humans, animals, and the environment.   If there is a reaction to the detergent or an irritant, the process of eliminating possible sources is simple, allowing the irritant to be removed quickly. Conversely the commercially available detergents often have multitudes of chemicals and combinations and therefore more difficult to determine the cause of an irritant.  I would challenge anyone to look at the chemical composition of their laundry detergent to appreciate the simplicity making laundry detergent at home. As seen in the above recipes, the detergent can be complete with a few household chemicals and laundry washing can commence.

Any additional recipes that readers may have can be left in the comments for other readers.

*Although all of the ingredients listed are deemed to be safe for humans and for the environment when properly used, I always wear a mask, glasses, and gloves when mixing chemicals of any sort, whether deemed safe or not.  I recommend the same to everyone as a precautionary measure.  

References

Art, Culture, and Science: Free Admission to the Best Museums

Often times, we see wonderful art, cultural, or science exhibits in wonderful museums in movies, television, and advertisements.  We want to know what all the talk is about and make a connection to these pieces of work. The only problem is we tend to not have enough money to pay for ourselves, let alone an entire family and the concessions which we will inevitable purchase along the way.  Taking a family can cost well over $100 dollars and often much more. The money really adds up and we often forgo the expense and the experience because we would rather spend our money on items that are necessary or less expensive.

This deprivation of the wonders a museum has to offer is no longer necessary, nor advised.  Museums all over the United States offer free admission to the public, although there are several restrictions on days and times.  These visits will need to be planned due the restrictions and a drop-in visit will most likely result in paying for admission unless you have the good fortune to arrive on a free day.    

A good place to start to look for free admission information is a simple google search.  There are often newspaper feature articles which discuss what museums, who is offered free admission, when free admission is offered, and how to visit for free.  Keep in mind that these articles can be older and I would recommend a call to the museum to confirm which days are free, what times during the day, and what exhibits are included with the free admission.  

The local visitor’s bureau is another place for information on the local tourist destinations.  They will have information on museums but additional sights which may be of interest. They are the go-to for things happening in the area and may know of additional venues which are offering free admission.  A day may consist of a day visit to the museum, then a show later in the evening, and it can all be free if it’s planned in advance. Often times residents of an area don’t visit their visitor’s bureau and may be missing out on some important opportunities to explore their city, town, or region.

Another place that offers free tickets to museums is your local library.  As stated before in Libraries: The Free Entertainment Source and More, the library is a hub of information and is part of a greater network of public attractions.  Libraries will often offer the ability to obtain free museum admission tickets for a set number of members.  They often offer museum tickets for museums outside of the local area, which is a nice perk, especially when traveling within the state or taking a special day with the family.  Some library systems allow their members to check out tickets and the whole process is digital which is quite convenient.

With all the available free admission opportunities to the museums in the area, one can’t help but go and experience the grandeur and the wonder of some of the most impressive exhibits available.

Examples from the most visited cities in the United States:

  • Atlanta Contemporary in Atlanta Ga is always free
  • Chicago History Museum in Chicago Illinois has free admission most Tuesdays from 12:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
  • History Miami Museum in Miami Florida has free admission on the Second Saturday of the month
  • Houston Museum of African American Culture in Houston Texas has free admission on Sundays
  • Laguna Art Museum in Orange County California has free admission on the first Thursday evening of the month from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
  • Mennello Museum of American Art in Orlando Florida has free admission every second Sunday of the month
  • Socrates Sculpture Park in New York City is always free

References

Healthy Hydration

Previously I wrote about the money saved by being healthy. One of the cheapest and best ways to improve overall health is to be properly hydrated.  Adequate fluid intake is obtained from consumption of both liquids and from food, particularly water dense foods which include fruits and vegetables.  Water is the main source of hydration which is readily available, cheap, and easily accessible to the population. There are water fountains, bottles of water, and most homes have running water.  Water helps to maintain your body’s temperature, lubricate the joints throughout your body, rids wastes from the body through the excretion of urine, bowels, and perspiration, and adds cushioning to organs and vital tissues of the body.  Other benefits may include weight loss through decreasing caloric intake. Water also increases exercise performance by delaying muscle fatigue during working out.

There are some out there who don’t like the taste of water or live in areas where the water is just horrific.  Don’t give up, there is hope. There are several ways to create great tasting water with little effort and low cost.  If you purchase water from the store, I recommend purchasing the largest size available. These tend to be less expensive per ounce and if your local store has a water fill up station, then you really save on money as the price for filtered water is quite reasonable for a gallon or five gallon.  The water where we currently live is awful so we purchase drinking water. Water refills are .25¢ for per gallon. If it weren’t for the horrendous taste of the water I would use the tap water. For those that don’t like the taste of water in general there are ways to spruce up your water with quick and easy ingredients.  

  • Lemon or lime wedge
    • If you are cooking with a lemon or lime, lightly score the rind and places in the water,  it will add lemon or lime flavor without using the juice.
  • Sprig of Rosemary or Lavender if you are cooking a dish that requires the herb.
    • The herb is readily available and just place it in the cup allowing the flavors to infuse the water.
  • Cucumber
    • Cucumbers ends can be used or even the skin that is left over from a salad.
  • Berries   
    • Muddle berries that aren’t going into your dish of choice.  This releases the flavors and adds sweetness to the water.

Ingredients can be added from a variety of different sources and I would encourage you to get creative.  Who knows what may happen and what new flavors you can create with what’s on hand. You also cut down on any excess food waste which may have been produced from cooking so win for waste reduction, win for taste, and a win for the budget.

So, how much water should you drink to be properly hydrated?  The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine recommends healthy women consume 2.7 liters (11.4 cups) and healthy men consume 3.7 liters (15.6 cups) of water a day.  Keep in mind that these are just averages and other factors may influence how much water you may need to consume. These can include age, physical activity levels, climate and altitude, sickness, women who breastfeed, and any number of influences not mentioned.  It is also important to note that it is possible to drink too much water may become life threatening just as dehydration can become life threatening. So stay balanced when it comes to water. A good measure is to drink when you are thirsty and to listen to your body.

A hydrated body is a healthy body and a healthy body is a body that doesn’t miss out on work and doesn’t have to visit the doctor.  So, stay hydrated, your body and your wallet will thank you.

References:

Pantry Challenge: Finale

The end of the month is upon us and all good things must come to an end.  This includes the Pantry Challenge and, I hate to say it, the family is quite happy about this ending.  My littlest had began counting it down when we had 3 days left. I’m sure many felt the same way when the end of the challenge was in sight.  I did have to go to the store on 8 separate occasions, each visit the amount steadily increased as we ran out of essentials. Aside from a bottle of greek vinaigrette and a partial bag of self-rising flour, the pantry was emptied.  I say the challenge was a success and that we were able to recoup some of the money spent on Christmas presents and festivities.

As previously state in New Year’s RESET: Pantry Challenge, we spent approximately $500 on Christmas expenditures for  family and friends. This included food, presents, and miscellaneous accessories which arose throughout the season. It’s also important to note, that as a household of five with three growing boys, two of which are in their final growth spurts, we spend anywhere from $150 to $200 a week in groceries.  This adds up to about $700 a month if we take an average. According to the USDA, in 2013 the average cost of groceries for feeding a family of four was $146 to $289, this allows a better perspective of the amount a family spends on food, excluding the occasional eating out. The lower end is also the amount that is used for SNAP benefits, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, just for information’s sake and for later use in future posts.  

So, how much did we recoup from the pantry challenge?

The receipts steadily grew in cost as the weeks progressed.  The first receipt was $10.31 and the final receipt was $77.15.  The final purchases occurred with 2 days left in the challenge and are the final grocery visit until February.  The Grand Total spent to replenish our food came in at: $257.37. This worked out to a total savings of $242.63. We didn’t save all the money we spent in December but we did save almost half.  We also were able to clear out any additional items close to going out of date and expiring, we created new and inventive dishes, and we were able clear out the more unhealthy food items, leaving room to incorporate more nutritionally dense foods and re-evaluate our family eating habits. All in all, I would say it was a success and something I look forward to incorporating into our yearly routine or maybe even bi-annually.  It was fun to see all the interesting dishes I could come up with. I made rice pudding for the first time, created new varieties of smoothies, and quick dishes that were delicious. I look forward to seeing how others did on the challenge and remember, this can be done at any time of the year and for any length of time. It was quite liberating to try combinations of foods which I would not ordinarily put together and see the results and the surprise when it was quite delicious.

One of my dishes which turned out quite well:

  • 1 bag of boil in a bag brown rice
  • 1lb 80/20 ground beef
  • 1 can of sweet corn
  • 1 frozen bag of English peas
  • 2 packets of Taco Bell Fire sauce
  • 1 tbsp. worcestershire sauce
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 tbsp. Smart Balance Margarine

Add ground beef, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper to skillet. Next cook the brown rice according to instructions. In another skillet add peas corn, margarine, and a little pepper. Combine all ingredients once cooked into a container and mix all ingredients together. Add any additional salt or pepper for taste. Add Fire sauce to taste.

This was surprising good and easy to make. Other spices can be added to enhance the flavor of the dish.

References:


Libraries: The Free Entertainment Source and More

Libraries offer an abundance of entertainment options for every member in your household.  They also come with the added bonus of being free to the public. You will need to sign up for  a library card, which should take very little time. The local library is stocked with books from almost every genre and for all age groups.  Romance, Science Fiction, Mystery, and educational, if you can think of a topic the library will have something covering that topic, and if they don’t have it they will definitely know where to get it.  A quick perusal of the catalogue will allow you to see what is available and where the book is located within the library. If the book you are looking to check out is not within your local library, the library can request the book from a library which has the physical copy.  In situations such as this, I usually request the whole series be brought to my local library. Most libraries are willing to accomodate the request, unless there is a large queue for the requested book or series. At this point, you will need to wait until it is your turn. The library also offers a wide selection of audiobooks in a number of formats, for those who are interested.  These make wonderful additions especially when driving to and from work, on family vacations, or if you have a job which requires you to log a substantial amount of miles on the road. Audiobooks can be real boredom busters on the road, especially when traveling in areas where the radio doesn’t pick up any stations.

In addition, libraries are entering the modern era and many libraries now offer digital check out of ebooks and eaudiobooks.  This has eliminated the need to wait for a physical copy of the book to arrive in many instances and is making the library more accessible and efficient for the more technologically advanced person.  One can check out the book through apps and online, negating the necessity to travel to the library. This is wonderful for individuals that are not able to make the trip to the library due to illness, lack of transportation, or any other number of reasons, including convenience.  

Libraries also carry magazines, newspapers, scholarly journals, and a variety of other printed materials for the curious explorer of random topics, current events, or how to skills.  These are often offer in a digital format as well. The local library here in Brazos County, Texas, has you register and then download the app to begin reading. Simple, easy, and convenient.  There really is no reason to spend money on such items any longer and this means more money not spent. Translaton: Money Saved.

Most often people think of libraries as a place of books, which does them a disservice as libraries are so much more.  Libraries also carry music and videos ranging from concerts and documentaries, to albums and popular movies. Some local libraries offer movie night and fun get togethers for families and young children.  They offer a variety of classes, computer access, genealogical research, and sometimes language classes for the community. Each library caters to their community and it would be wise to check out all the fun activities and services offered at your local library.  There is truly a large plethora of books, music, videos, and a multitude of services which are offered at the local library. The library is a great place to venture to when looking for entertainment and personal enrichment. To make this whole experience even more fantastic, is the fact that the library is FREE, not a penny is needed to use the service.  That’s win when looking at budgeting and savings. Keep in mind:

“Why buy a book when you can join a library”
  ~Ricky Gervais

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