Category Archives: Money Saving Tips

Preserving Cilantro

We grow our own cilantro–partly because it is very easy to grow, partly because it is hard to find fresh herbs in our area, and partly because it is just so delicious!

I usually plant way more cilantro than we could ever use before it bolts when the weather gets warmer. Although cilantro is a great cool-weather plant, it doesn’t last forever. In our area, it bolts as soon as the summer heat starts baking it. The seeds it produces are coriander, a very nice spice…but not a good substitute for the flavor of fresh cilantro.

So, how to preserve that freshness? Freeze it!

Method

Begin by washing and chopping the cilantro stems and leaves. I prefer to use a small food processor, but any type of chopping method should work just fine.

Little hands love playing with the washed cilantro.

Little hands love playing with the washed cilantro.

Once the herbs are chopped to your satisfaction, spoon them into ice cube trays.

cilantro cubes

I prefer to use trays that make the smallest cubes so that I can use smaller amounts of herbs once they are frozen.

If you have any liquid left over from your chopping method, such as the juice that collects at the bottom of the food processor, pour that into the herb cubes until they are full. Use water if there is not enough liquid. The idea is to have enough in each cube to bind the herbs together when frozen.

Once the cubes are packed and filled, freeze them until solid. Dump the cilantro cubes into a Ziploc bag and stash them in the freezer for a day when you don’t have the fresh stuff.

Use in soups, casseroles, salsa, or anything else where you want the great cilantro flavor but the fresh texture isn’t required.

Almost any type of leafy herb can be frozen using this same method.

Can You Re-Use Canning Lids?

 

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Rarely does a home-canned batch of anything I make come out with matching lids. Why? Because I re-use most of my canning lids, leading to many mismatched lids, some with a prior year’s label still written on top, such as this batch of sunshine juice that has one re-used metal lid, two re-used plastic lids and one new lid.

When I first started canning, I bought brand new lids for each batch and tossed the once-used ones in the trash. But one day I thought about how much that was costing me and how much it was wasting…and I decided to try re-using them instead.

Even though canning companies that sell the lids do not recommend re-using the metal lids, I have had no problems re-using them at least two or three times as long as they are not bent. If you plan to re-use your lids, be careful when you pop them loose to use what’s in your jars. If the lip of the lid is bent, it won’t seal properly.

One downside to re-using the lids is that you may occasionally have a lid that doesn’t seal quite right–probably because it was ever so slightly bent. Of course, you probably won’t know that until after it’s too late to fix it. But I figure that’s where the fridge comes in, and I just refrigerate the unsealed jar and use it before the product spoils.

Another way to re-use lids is to buy lids intended for re-use, like the Tattler lids pictured above. These work a bit differently than one-piece metal lids because they have a rubber gasket and separate plastic lid. But they’re not difficult at all to use once you try them. They are a little spendy, though, so you’ll need to use them for several seasons before you’ll get your money back compared with purchasing the metal lids. I purchased mine about four years ago, though, and they’re still going strong, so I expect they will more than pay for themselves.

Do you re-use lids?

Omaha Zoo review

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Going to the zoo, zoo, zoo…again! Zoos may be one of our new favorite places, and the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha was a fantastic place to visit.

We had a brief stop in Omaha as part of our summer vacation so we decided to check out the zoo we’ve seen advertised along the interstate during several previous drives through Omaha. The zoo is literally right next to I-80, making it an easy stop on trips to and from pretty much anywhere along that interstate. One of the great things about this zoo is that you can easily make it a short stop to let the kids get some energy out or an all-day adventure.

Although it rained throughout our visit, many of the zoo’s exhibits are indoors so we had fun anyway. I absolutely recommend the aquarium portion and the jungle building even if you only have a short time for a visit. Both are indoors but they put visitors right into the action. It’s no dull trip through a building full of caged animals!

The jungle building walks visitors through a rainforest with monkeys and birds roaming throughout exhibits. Hippos, tapirs, rays…oh, my! Even though the animal areas are actually separated from each other, the building is designed to make it feel like more of a natural habitat. And the zoo does a great job of grouping friendly animals together, such as in an area that housed tapirs and monkeys or another that held a snake and turtle together.

The rainforest had a rope bridge and waterfalls, too.

The rainforest had a rope bridge and waterfalls, too.

The aquarium has several large tanks of colorful fish and, on the day we visited, a touch tank of sea stars. The best part, though, is the walk-through tunnel where sharks, tuna and other fish literally swim overhead and all around you. Very cool and something I would not have expected to see from the Omaha zoo!

Shark week, anyone?

Shark week, anyone?

Eli’s favorite part of the day was feeding the fish at a pedestrian bridge over the zoo’s small lake. There’s a monkey habitat on an island in the lake and a ton of brightly colored koi in the water. If it happens to rain on the day of your visit, take a break on the covered bridge and invest a few quarters in fish food. The little pellets cause a feeding frenzy down below as the koi swim on top of each other to grab them. (And if you forget quarters like we did, you can probably use a few leftover pellets dropped on the bridge by previous visitors.) Several hours and a nap later, Eli was still talking about the “fish and monkeys.”

The monkeys are a hoot to watch, even if you don't like feeding fish.

The monkeys are a hoot to watch, even if you don’t like feeding fish.

Overall, we cut our visit a little shorter than we would have liked because a certain somebody (not me, I promise!) was getting a bit fussy. But we were there at least four hours and didn’t see everything they had to offer. So, I’d say the $15 admission price is a bargain for a full day of fun! And they allow visitors to bring in food and beverages so there’s no need to spend extra cash on meals and snacks while you’re there.

As I’ve said before, Omaha isn’t really that far from our corner of Kansas, and we plan to be back for a long weekend sometime. The zoo will definitely be included in future visits!

The Henry Doorly Zoo and Visit Omaha kindly gave us free passes to the zoo in exchange for this review. But the thoughts and opinions herein are entirely my own.

Discount Travel in Omaha

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The travel bug has bitten our family hard this summer! But instead of planning far away trips, we are focusing on all the fun things there are to do in our area.

It might not seem like there are many fun things to do around northwest Kansas, but I’ve been surprised by the options available in within a half-day’s drive. A long weekend can feel like a mini-vacation and doesn’t have to cost much.

One of the best ways I’ve found to experience local attractions is to take advantage of discounts available. The folks at the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau reached out to me to help get the word out about their free savings card. Anyone can request one at their website: http://www.visitomaha.com/omaha-adventure/savings-card/#.U5kGXtEg_IU. And while you’re there, you can also request a free travel guide and get all kinds of visitor info.

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The card has good discounts at several family-friendly attractions, including the zoo and children’s museum. We plan to visit the zoo later this summer when we visit Omaha, and I’ll be sure to post a review of that, too.

In the meantime, if you live anywhere near Omaha, check out their website…you might be surprised what the city has to offer.

And if you aren’t planning to visit Omaha, take a few minutes to check out the visitor’s bureau websites of the towns near you. You might find discount programs you didn’t even know were out there!

 

 

 

How to Clean a Paintbrush

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My hubby and I spent several hours last weekend painting our house–inside and out. I find that painting is a multi-day process for me since I tend to get bored with it quickly. Or, the weather kicks up and the project has to stop for a bit.

So, cleanup becomes important since I never know when I’ll be able to get back to the project and I don’t really want to throw away nice brushes. But brushes can be a hassle to clean and, if the cleaning isn’t thorough, the little paint gunk left in the brush gets into the next painting project.

Fortunately, my dad was a professional painter for a while and he showed me how to clean a brush properly without using chemicals (unless you’re using oil-based paint).

Step 1: Rinse thoroughly.

The easiest way to get paint out is to rinse it under warm water. Tip the brush upside down and let the water run down into the bristles to get out all the paint stuck in there. When the water basically runs clean, move on to step 2.

 

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Step 2: Use a wire brush.

Take a wire-bristle brush and scrape down the bristles of the paint brush, sort of like combing the paint brush’s “hair” with the bristle brush. This breaks loose all of the little dried bits that get stuck in the paint brush’s bristles. DO NOT scrape from the bottom up. Always start at the metal part of the paint brush and scrape down.

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Step 3: Rinse and repeat.

Rinse the brush again. I like to use warm water because I’m kind of a wuss when it comes to cold. Repeat step 2 as necessary until the brush is nicely cleaned.

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Homemade Baby Wipes

Baby wipes and toilet paper are two of my least favorite things to buy. It just irks me to shell out hard-earned money to buy something that’s only going to be used for a few seconds.
Fortunately, before my son was even born, one of my friends gave me a plastic container, half a roll of paper towels and a recipe for homemade baby wipes. They’re wonderful, and the gift easily ranks among the most helpful I received.
I love knowing exactly what is in them, and they seem to work even better than store-bought wipes­–at a fraction of the cost.
If you have young kids (or older ones who like to make messes), you might want to give these a try. Or, if you are looking for an inexpensive but very useful baby gift, you might pass the recipe on to a friend.

Homemade Baby Wipes

  • 2 cups distilled water
  • 3 Tablespoons baby oil
  • 1 Tablespoon baby shampoo
  • 1/2 roll of paper towels (a full roll cut in half cross-wise)

Mix water, oil and shampoo in a container large enough to hold the half-roll of towels. A tall, narrow container designed for loaves of bread works well.
Add the towels and put the lid tightly on the container. Turn the container upside down and let sit for 10 minutes. This gives the paper towels time to soak up the water mix.
Remove the cardboard tube from the paper towels and pull wipes from the center.

Overspending on Clearance Deals

Last week, as I was meandering through the grocery store in search of Thanksgiving ingredients, I stopped by the clearance shelves and I heard voices.

“Take me home,” said a pie past it’s “best by” date.

“Me too,” said a slightly dented can of veggies, heavily discounted, of course.

“We’re such a great deal!” yelled a pack of unpopular nutrition drinks.

I’m a sucker for a good deal, it’s true.

Such savings can add significant wiggle room to my family’s budget, like the time I found 10 torn boxes of travel food pouches for my son at less than half their normal price.

But “savings” are only savings if they actually save me money.

Sounds obvious, I know, but how many shoppers (face it, ladies, it’s usually us) load up their carts with “good deals” that end up costing more than the items we would have purchased instead?

Guilty.

That dented can of veggies, for example, isn’t a good deal if my family won’t eat that particular veggie. Yet it still tempts me.

And it’s usually still cheaper for me to make the pie myself than buy the discounted one. That is, if we need pie at all.

The nutrition drinks might be a great deal, but we still have some left from the last time I found some on sale.

I’d be better off buying a can of veggies my family will actually eat while they’re on sale and skipping the pie and nutrition drinks altogether.

But they call to me like little happy voices of thriftiness, tempting me to overspend my family’s grocery budget.

And the little buggers succeed every once in a while. Why else would I have about 20 bottles of barbecue sauce in my pantry? Or packages of drink mix we don’t really like? Or two bottles of dressing we probably won’t use?

Ugh. But as tempting as it was to purchase these things, I also can’t bring myself to throw them out.

They’re technically edible, I reason, and I might use them someday. Many cannot be donated because food banks typically don’t take food past its date stamp.

Maybe it’s the chorus of little voices that keep me from throwing them out.

Whatever it is, it takes ruthless control for me to resist the awesome deals and let them haunt someone else’s shopping cart.

Maybe the slogan “just say no” was invented by a thrifty shopper and only later applied to drugs?