My favorite ingredient of 2014- Vinegar!

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It’s a natural antibacterial and so much less toxic than some of the chemical cleaners I have purchased in the past and works just as well. If I use vinegar to clean I also add a few drops of an essential oil like eucalyptus to offset the vinegar smell.

I haven’t tried all these uses but consider using vinegar to fix any of these problems!

In the Laundry

 – Clothes will rinse better if a cup of vinegar is added to the last rinse water. The acid in vinegar is too mild to harm fabrics but strong enough to dissolve the alkalis in soaps and detergents.

– Get rid of lint in clothes. Add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle.

In the Kitchen

– Do have stubborn stains on those aluminum or stainless steel pots and pans? Even if you just have burnt stains that won’t come off, try this: boil 1 cup vinegar, 2 tablespoons baking powder and 1 cup water. Take a scouring pad and gently remove stains!

– Clean the refrigerator by washing with a solution of equal parts water and vinegar.

In the Bathroom

– Kill germs on bathroom fixtures by using one part vinegar to one part water in a spray bottle. Spray the bathroom fixtures and floor, then wipe clean.

– Sprinkle some baking soda around your faucets, tubs and toilets and pour some vinegar into each. Let it have its chemical reaction and clean away with a sponge. 

Around the House

– Cleaning windows by using undiluted Vinegar in a spray bottle. Dry off with newspaper.

– Spraying undiluted vinegar on trash bags, discourages raccoons, skunks, cats, etc from tearing them up on trash night

Here are 165 more uses for vinegar if you are interested!

I’ve also started drinking Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar drinks to improve my body’s PH balance and boost my energy. They are tasty but be warned its an acquired taste. 

 

 

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Music and Photos = Two of my Favorite Things For Free

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Continuing with the Christmas Spirit. Go to People.com for an iTunes download of 8 Country Christmas songs. I don’t really consider Kelly Clarkson Country but free is free. Once you click on this link you will be taken to the download page. Click on “Get it Free on iTunes”. iTunes should automatically open on your device and take you to the download page. Super easy you can even do it on your iPad or iPhone. 

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I’m also really excited about the second freebie I recently ran across. I take tons of photos with my phone but that’s where they live forever in my phone or on my computer. A new company called Groovebook is out to change that. In short Groovebook is an app (Apple or Android) that prints up to 100 photos from your phone into a 4.5″x6.5″ monthly photo book. The 40-100 photos you select are printed on perforated paper for easy removal or keep the photos together as a book. Once you download the app you are asked to sign up for the monthly service which is only $2.99 which includes shipping. That’s cheaper than my drink at Starbucks! I ordered my book last week so I can’t wait to see the finished project.

Want to try one of your own for free? Follow these steps: 

  1. Download App
  2. Pick Photos
  3. Order using code MENCHIES. It will ask for your credit card number which will be used for next month’s Groovebook. You can cancel your membership as soon as you receive your first free Groovebook and will not be charged for future books. Who knows maybe you will like it and want to continue? 
  4. Wait for your free Groovebook! Image

Holiday and Black Friday Shopping Tips

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I remember getting up before sunrise and driving to the nearest mall the day after Thanksgiving hoping to score the “deal of a lifetime”. The tradition was fun and the deals were the best of the season. Once stores started offering ridiculous deals like TVs for $99, (even though they only had a couple per store) the fun tradition turned into a madhouse. Every year it seems like stores offer better and better deals earlier in the season and not just on one day. Here are some shopping tips to keep your sanity over the holidays and won’t have you waiting outside of a store at 3am on Black Friday.

Plan Early- For the most part the recipients of your holiday gift giving aren’t going to change drastically year to year. So why not get a head start on shopping? Each year I make an excel spreadsheet with the names of the people I need to buy for and how much I want to spend. I also jot down a couple ideas of items to pick up and once I purchase a gift I update the list. This year I have already purchased my Christmas Cards from Shutterfly at 40% off and picked up a great deal on a toy for Toys for Tots. It may be tempting to wait for a “blow out” deal a couple days before Christmas but remember selection will be limited and you will most likely end up spending more than you intended too. Since I do enjoy visiting the mall around the holidays, I usually leave the week before Christmas to pick up a few last minute items and shop for some great bargains for myself!

Check Blogs for Hot Deals- One of my favorite websites is http://hip2save.com. This blogger has her finger on the pulse of internet bargains. She has partnered with the Today show so I find that some of the deals she writes about sell out quickly because of her giant fan base. For example today she posted about a 25% off promotion at the Disney Store. This deal would be a great opportunity to pick up some personalized items for the kids (young and old!) on your list. Year round the blog can get a little coupon heavy with groceries. However, closer to the holiday shopping season, her posts are geared more towards holiday gift giving.

Online Shopping- Not only do you save gas and the stress of circling for a parking spot at the mall. Online shopping can be done at any time of the day!  You can also earn extra cash back with Ebates.com and know you are getting the absolute cheapest price by checking Retailmenot.com for coupon codes.  Since my family lives in another state I ship all my gifts to my Grandparents house which is so much easier than checking additional baggage on the airplane. Don’t forget to price compare the Black Friday Deals with online prices. You may find an equally attractive price online on Amazon.com or another online retailer. Try clicking on the Shopping Tab on the Google home page. Enter in the item you are looking for and Google will bring up multiple online and local retailers and prices.

If there is a deal on Black Friday that you absolutely must go to the store for here are some additional shopping suggestions.

  • Make a list of stores, items on sale and store hours.
  • Devise a game plan of which stores to go to first.
  • Fill up the car with gas the night before. Every minute of sleep is precious it’s going to be a busy day!
  • Shop with a friend! There might be a really long line, so alternate who is waiting in line and who is shopping.
  • Keep those receipts. Many stores will offer price adjustments if the price goes lower. There is a lot of excitement so holding on to those receipts isn’t a bad idea if you find yourself caught up in the hype.
  • Stay focused and consult your list. There are a lot of good deals out there, but is it a great deal for you or someone on your list?
  • Wear comfy clothes. Black Friday is not a fashion show, it’s shoppers on a mission!
  • Bring snacks. You may find equally long lines at Starbucks or any place other shoppers are grabbing a quick bite.
  • Be nice and relax. Remember Black Friday is an adventure. Some shoppers will run for items like their life depended on it. That doesn’t have to be you. Hopefully a positive attitude and some kindness will rub off on other shoppers.

Good Luck!

Searching for that Perfect Something

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Remember the days when we had to drive store to store to find the perfect piece of clothing or gift we wanted? Ultimately most of the time I settled for something not quite perfect, probably paid more than I wanted and left only slightly satisfied. Here is one of my favorite websites I use to find that perfect “something” online. 

Shopping for a specific type of shoe or piece of clothing? Try www.shopstyle.com. For example I put in “Womens Flat Brown Boot” in the search field. The Shop Style website then presented me with photos, prices and links of multiple options. Sorting by price, popularity and new items can speed up your search when you get a little overwhelmed by all the options. Other cool Shop Style features include setting sale alerts for items you want to watch or a sale alert for every item in your search criteria. If you find something you like and want more information or to purchase it, just click on the photo and viola you are directed right to that item on the store’s website. Don’t forget to check www.retailmenot.com and Ebates.com for additional discounts. 

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Never too Early to Start Christmas Shopping

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Through 10/26 Walgreens is running a pretty spectacular deal on photo gifts. Choose from a Reusable Shopping Bag (reg. $12.99!), a Mousepad(reg. $9.99!), a Laminated Placemat (reg. $9.99!), an 11 oz Full Photo Classic Mug (reg. $11.99!), or a5×7 Photo Book (reg. $9.99!) for only $5! 

  • To make the deal even sweeter, get an additional 4% cash back through Ebates.com
  • Save an additional 30% cash back on orders over $20 with code SOMEGIFT and ship for free with code FREETOSHIP20

Hope you can take advantage of this great deal!

Amazon Wish List. The Internet is Your Shopping Mall!

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It’s no secret the holidays are one of my favorite times of year. I love the decorations, parties and who doesn’t love the presents!  When it comes to gift giving everyone loves a little direction. I will admit I am really hard to buy for. Even my husband who sees me everyday is usually at a loss for what I want on any given holiday. So in comes the Amazon Wish List!

The Amazon Wish List is my go to website when I’m creating any sort of registry or wish list. The thing that sets the Amazon Wish List apart is you can add anything from the Amazon website and any item from other websites. Setting up an Amazon Wish List is easy and your family will thank you when it comes time to exchange gifts! 

Step 1: Login or create an Amazon.com account.

Step 2: Go to Your Account and select Your Wish List from the drop down menu.

Step 3: Name your list. You can also make it private or share with only certain people. If you make your list public your friends and family can find the list by using your email address. 

Step 4: In the left column under Wish List tips, click on Add items to your List from anywhere. This link will allow you to download a button for your internet browser bar so you can add items from any website with the click of one button. 

Step 5: Start wishing! Your Wish List button should be to the left of the internet address bar. I went to Sephora.com and found a perfume I wanted to add to my list. I pushed the button and a pop up window appeared that looked like this. If you are shopping for clothing it’s also helpful to put a size and color into the comment section. 

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Ta-dah! My Wish List is now updated.

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Hope this nifty tool will help you receive the gifts you want and also help your family and friends stay sane around the holiday season!

Is Organic Produce Worth it?

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Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 9.14.20 PMWhat is organic and why should we care?  Organic produce is grown without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. One reason we all should care is our food supply has changed over the past 20 years and no one informed the consumers. Genetically modified foods became quiet replacement for our conventional fruits and vegetables we grew up on. In my opinion how can we really know the health implications of these fruits and vegetables that were grown from chemicals?

There is a huge movement in the United States against Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOS). Expect to hear more and more about them in the near future. Some states are lobbying to pass laws that will require companies to label their products that contain GMOS. Sounds fair to me, let the customers decide with their dollars.

Making the change to organic fruits and vegetables doesn’t happen overnight. Some stores have limited selection or prices that are just out of reach. However, Organic.org posted the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables in our stores.

12 Most Contaminated

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Grapes (Imported)
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes

On the bright side Organic.org also posted a list of produce that is the least contaminated.

12 Least Contaminated

  • Onions
  • Avocado
  • Sweet Corn (Frozen)
  • Pineapples
  • Mango
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet Peas (Frozen)
  • Kiwi Fruit
  • Bananas
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Papaya

Make a change for your health and start researching what is in our food. One of my favorite websites is www.foodbabe.com. Check out Food Babe’s  video on a Lean Cuisine product labeled 100% Natural but is actually full of GMOs. Click here for the video.  Grocery shopping will never be the same again!

 

Travel: Washington D.C. a Tale of 3 Airports

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Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 10.05.59 AMIf you are considering a trip to our nation’s capital. Let me give you a local’s perspective on the pros and cons of your airport options.

The price difference between the three airports can be big depending on what airline you take. However, if you are traveling to DC for just a weekend you may want to splurge a little on DCA so you don’t waste a lot of transit time.

DCA: Reagan National Airport

Directly on the DC Blue Metro line. Very easy to hop on the DC Metro and get to DC in about 20 minutes. Cost is less than $5 a person. The metro is very easy to use. Just purchase a ticket at the machine and swipe when you enter and exit at your destination.

BWI: Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport 

From the airport you take a free 15 minute shuttle to the BWI train station. Both Amtrak and the regional Marc train lines run through the BWI station and get you to DCs Union Station in about 25 minutes. The downside is depending on when you land at BWI you could wait up to an hour for a train if you arrive at an off time. Both train lines schedules are available online. (Timetables:  Amtrak and Marc) I think it would be safe to assume you could deplane, get your luggage and be at the train station an hour after you land. Amtrak train tickets are between $12 and $20 if you book two weeks in advance. The  Marc train takes a little longer but is only $6. I’ve also taken the SuperShuttle to BWI and it’s about $37 a person, $12 for each additional person in your party. However the airport is  about 50 miles from DC and traffic can get pretty bad around rush hour. The train is really the best way to go.

IAD: Dulles International Airport

There is a 5A metro bus that leaves from Washington DC and Rosslyn, VA that takes about 45 minutes and costs about $6.  Since the airport is about 30 miles from Washington DC, leave lots of time for traffic hang ups.

The DC Metro system is really easy to use, and as long as you aren’t traveling during rush hour, getting around with your luggage should be pretty easy. DC traffic can be unpredictable so the DC Metro is really the best way to get around. Having a car is more of an inconvenience because you will need to pay to park it. Bring some change because not all of the meters accept credit cards. Street parking is free on Sundays and Holidays. You can usually get free 2 hour parking in Georgetown or some other neighborhoods. But be prepared to move you car to a paid spot after 2 hours. The DC Parking Enforcement have a pretty sophisticated system using your license plate number so you can’t just move your car to the next street.

Unique Things to Do and See in Washington DC

Tour of the Capital:  You can request a tour of the Capital building from your congress rep. Approval might have a 4-6 week turn around time so you have to make the request early.

Tour the White House: I believe there is a 3 month lead time for tickets to tour part of the White House. Be prepared to give a lot of personal information so they can screen you!

See DC on a Double Decker: I’ve done the night tour on  the Big Bus Tours.  It’s a great way to see the city in 2.5 hours. If you have a couple of days it might be fun to get the full city tour. It’s also a great way to rest your feet after seeing all those museums!

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Visit another  country without leaving DC: Things to Do DC organizing everything from Embassy events, pub crawls to cooking classes. It’s a great way to mix with the locals and see a different side of DC beyond the historical stuff.

Local Art Events: Check out the Pinkline Project for interesting art and theater events.

Discounted Events and Activities: Visit Goldstar.com for discounted activity and theater tickets. Check back often, the list is always changing.

Try out New Restaurants: One of my favorite apps is Scoutmob or Scoutmob.com. Unlike Groupon or Living Social, Scoutmob doesn’t require you to purchase the deal ahead of time. Once you locate a participating restaurant you want to visit, just show the 50% off discount on your smart phone or print out a coupon from the web. It’s a great way to try new places!

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I promise to write-up a full DC uncovered posting in the future. These are just a few highlights.

Favorite Places: Have you been to your Library lately?

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ImageRemember life before iPads, email and Words with Friends people actually used to sit in one place and read books? Yes, it’s a bit of a foggy memory for me too. Books used to represent an adventure waiting for you to unfold.  Now tablets and mobile devices literally give you the world at your fingertips.

This week I want to share with you my love of the library. Given my short attention span it fills my quest for my ever-changing interests. Many librarians have told me “Wow, you must really love music” as I’m checking out 20 cds or “Ma’am we have a limit of how many you can take home”!

I’ve had 3 big moves in the past few years so I’ve been able to compare features from several libraries.  Eight years ago I was shocked to walk into my local New Jersey library and find current DVDs, music cds from top 40 to opera and a section of just New York Times best selling books.  I thought this is my tax dollars at work! Anyone who has ever paid property taxes in New Jersey can attest, sometimes garbage pick up twice a week just isn’t enough to feel like your absorbent taxes are going to something that is actually going to enhance your life.

When I moved to Washington DC I was excited to find out I could take hundreds of classes online for free with a real instructor and homework! The classes range from “How to be a Life Coach” to “Becoming a Property Manager”. Check with your library to see if they are a member of the www.universalclass.com website.

My next library experience was in North Carolina, I learned how to download books onto my iPad with an app called Overdrive. Digital books were especially convenient when I went to Morocco, who wants to carry a month’s worth of books in a bag? They have thousands of books available in digital form as well as audio books. At first I found it a little awkward to read on the iPad but eventually I got used to it. You can also change the background to sepia, which is easier on the eyes, and adjust the type size, font and brightness.  The books can be checked out for 21 days and automatically delete when it’s time to return them. If you check out the same book in the future, the app will remember where you left off. Every couple months I’ll sit down at my computer login to my library account and compare the digital download lists to the New York Times best seller lists. There is often a wait for the really popular and new titles. I waited about 3 months for Gone Girl. However there are still hundreds that are available for immediate download.  I read more now than I ever have.

I also learned to love audio books also available for free on Overdrive.  They are perfect for long drives in the car or during my daily 5-mile walks.  Sometimes top 40 music seems more like the top 10!

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I feel it’s only fair to mention the dark side of the library and maybe why some people stopped going in the first place! Overdue fines! I once had a fine of 17 dollars for a few DVDs and books that I took on vacation. In the long run I feel like 17 dollars is much less than what I would have spent if I purchased them all.  However, in the digital age you can always renew online. The only time I wasn’t able to renew my books or media online was when someone else was on the waiting list.

So how do you take advantage of all these amazing (and free) things at your library? To get a library card you need a current drivers license with your local address, or if you just moved bring in a utility bill with your name and address along with a photo id.  Don’t forget to ask about the digital media the library offers. When I signed up for digital book downloads I had to create a pin number at the library.  This is much easier to do when you are at the library rather than sitting at home ready to read some digital books.

Happy Reading!