Friday, October 31, 2014

Make Groceries: Chocolate Syrup

Homemade Chocolate Syrup


3/4 cup cocoa powder                          -- $1.98 / lb = .60
3/4 cup granulated sugar                      -- $0.52 / lb = .20
1 pinch salt                                           -- $0.33 / lb = .01*
1 cup boiling water                              -- .05 / gallon = .01*
1 tsp vanilla                                          -- $0.20 / oz = .03
Total cost:                                       $0.85 / 10 oz. ($0.09 / oz)

1. Boil water (5 minutes).
2. Mix boiling water with sugar, cocoa, and salt in sauce pan.
3. Stir on low heat for 3 minutes.
4. Mix in vanilla, then pour into clean jar and let cool, then refrigerate.  (Jar is washed out jelly jar.)

Notes:  Makes about 12-14 oz, depending on how carefully you scrape the pan.  Homemade variety can get 'crunchy' if you heat too high or too long in the mixing process, so for smoother mix, do 2 minutes, 30 seconds and mix it without heat on the hot pan the last 30 seconds.

Total Cost Materials:                                     $0.09 / oz
Total Time: 8 minutes @ $10.00/hr                 $1.33  
Total Cost Time / Materials:                         $0.21 / oz

Comparison Shop:
Hershey Chocolate Syrup

Total Cost Materials:                                    $0.12 / oz   ($2.99 / 24 oz)
Total Time: 1 minute                                    $.16 @ $10.00/hr
Total Cost Time / Materials:                         $0.13 / oz 

High Fructose Corn Syrup
Corn Syrup
Contains 2% or Less of: Potassium Sorbate, Salt, Mono and Diglycerides, Xanthan Gum, Polysorbate 60, Vanillin, Artificial Flavor.

1. Find in store and buy.
2. Open and use.

Home made chocolate syrup wins on ingredients - no artificial flavors, no HFCS, and no preservatives or smoothing agents.  Home made is more expansive only if you are counting your time, but is so worth the effort.  My S.O. thinks homemade taste better.

I got (picture) framed!

Frames are a go to for decorating the walls of the happy home.  Whether it be loaded with photos of family or self made art, often the perfect frame and matting make the overall appearance 'fit' nicely with the room.  Problem is, you can spend upwards of $150 for large frames and as much in the matting.  Not having that kind of money, I have assembled my basic how-to for wall decor for the real-life home.

1.  Do some math.
  •       Figure out the budget, or at least how much money you willing to spend - if you only have $10 bucks, stick to that!  It will take more time and effort, but it can (and will!) be done!  My budget was $25 total.  I turned down framed mirrors, cool frames and a few neat images because I didn't love them and while cheap were too high priced for my budget.  
  •      Measure the area you want to decorate, or get an idea of what size frames/items you are going to need to fill the space in question.  Sometimes, the not-quite-perfect item is chosen because of its size and then made to work great, while a perfect frame is useless because it's 2" too big.  
  • Image from -
    check out their cost analysis and testing of them!
  •      Use post it notes to mark out where the studs are in the walls you are decorating are (use the 1- 3/4 wide ones or cut them to that size, so where the post it note is shows the width of the stud.  Studs should be 16" from each other, sometimes 24" apart in pre-1940's/older homes)  If you have ideas of hanging any but the lightest items between studs, make sure you add in the cost of a proper drywall anchor system.  Check out this great site that priced and tested the different kind of anchors available.  

2.  Know where to find affordable frames/art:

  •     Rummage sales are the cheapest, as people are looking at moving it that day and usually price it accordingly.  Also, if you are on a budget, you can always try negotiate to make something in your price budget.  If you have cash, let it help you negotiate.  
  •      Thrift stores are the second best for affordable wall art, though can be hit or miss with pricing.  If you are on a low budget, make sure to visit these stores on their sale days, or have your coupons in hand when you go.  
  •      Department stores often clearance out or sale item their wall hangings in a predictable schedule - during or just after 'back to school' days, just after holidays, and at the end of 'seasons'.  Keep an eye out for wall art at the 'discount' department stores like Family Dollar and Big Lots, as they go through large amounts of 'mass made' wall art that for their size are decent priced, and occasionally go on sales of 25% off or more.    
3.  Keep an open mind when you look.
  •      Try find wood frames, as these (in my opinion) hold up better over time.  Also, wood frames always take paint well after a quick sanding, so you can stain, paint, or spray paint the color you want.  Plastic frames are okay, though as larger frames will tend to warp or crack if there are constant environment changes or direct sun.  You can only spray paint plastic, as other paints won't stick well.  Metal has similar issues, and though hold up better than plastic they are heavier and the hanging method needs to be double checked. 
  •       Don't base final decisions on color, but the condition of the frame.  Miscellaneous frames can be made to go together by painting/staining them all the same color, and different material frames can be matched with paint.  Over at The Broken Plow, she has a nice blog post about converting small frames into a wall o art. However, they need to be in good condition.  Tight corners, straight un-warped sides and well fitted non-scratched glass are essential.  Small divets or dings can be filled in and painted over, and scratches smoothed and painted over, but you need the corner biscuits or metal cleatings to be holding those corners together tight, tight, tight. 
Photo from The Broken Plow, who posted a nice step-by-step
show of her making a wall-of-art with these frames.
  •     Check the back- make sure the back is easily opened if you are making any changes to the artwork, as those that are 'papered' at the back can be messy to try open up and change.  Also, check what kind of hanging system the piece is made for, and if you think it strong enough for what you want to do with it.  Sometimes, a frame is worth the extra buck or two if it has a heavy duty hanging system already present.  Plastic frames are harder to hang because you can't drill into or use the plastic in any way besides how it was built to hang.  You already should have thought about wall anchors, but to keep it cheap, consider lighter weight hanging kits bought at a dollar store or heavy style hanging items pieced together from found items.  I've made makeshift hangers from popcan tabs, thumbtacks, ribbons, command hooks, Popsicle sticks and belt buckles before.  Just figure out where you want it to hang, how heavy it is, and be creative/do your homework.   
  •      Consider the matting - it really makes an image pop, but often will not be the color you'd choose.  You can paint matting (use flat coat spray paint or acrylic paints with a smooth brush) and either tape the angled edge before painting or go over afterward with a silver/gold/color sharpie marker to make the beveled edge stand out.  You can try cutting your own matting, as sheets of matting can be found in the discount bin of framers shops/departments or random discount/overflow stores, or made from chipboard/cereal box cardboard.  It is hard to make that bevel, but you can get creative with layers this way, which sometimes makes more impact that a perfect bevel, anyway.  Also, you can custom mat a large picture frame to fit two or more different images if that's what you have to show off,  making them different sizes if that's what you need.
4.  Go beyond frames if it's fitting:
  •      Shelves can be decorated to be more dimensional and just as artistic as a hanging pictures.  Show off your collection of whatever, or just use it for interesting found items, or as a rack for smaller picture frames you can swap out.
  •      Go to or do an image search in Google and search 'DIY wall art' for ideas of using 'something else' to decorate that wall.  Various materials can be converted to wall art - toilet paper tubes, rugs, placemats, cloth material scraps, plates, beans, leaves, sticks, shopping bags, magazines, trivets, corks, strings, tacks - the list is endless. 
  •      Blank canvases are like, well, a blank canvas for your artistic notions.  Buy them on sale at craft stores or with 40-50% off coupons and go to town with your medium of choice.  You can paint over old canvases you may find for a few dollars at rummage or thrift stores.  Also, cut pieces of wood that are sanded and gessoed/painted or stained can be a clean canvas and give added appeal to the right art style.  
  •      Really big pieces of styrofoam or chipboard or pink foam can be covered in fabric of choice and become giant pin-up boards for whatever catches your eye.  I had one as a kid, and often made my own 'pin' images with colored push pins, aside from sticking up my latest school art projects.  
A few other notes to consider during your wall-decorating adventure --
  •        If at a thrift store/rummage sale and you LOVE it, I mean, just can't stop staring at it, BUY IT THEN.  It will likely not be there later, and it is not often you find things that catch and hold your attention so well.  Creativity will make it fit in with the house, because if you love it, it will be reflected in other things.  
  •        If you DON'T love it, DON'T buy it right away.  Wait for a sale, or a coupon, or at least until you have shopped enough to verify that it is an awesome price for what it is.  
  •       Take your time, and if the white walls drive you crazy, just tape up some images from magazines in a fun collage until you find the perfect items to hang. 
  •       Use your time wisely and perform actions on a lot of items at the same time - save up items and spray paint them all at the same time, or color them all on the same day.  This way, you aren't trying to remember what paint or pencil or etc. you were using a week later.  Wait until you have all the items gathered and painted, then get them on the wall.  When you are hanging, map out with brown bag paper the where and plan the how to hang for each item, and do each one by one until they are all up.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Goodwill Hunting!

Things I didn't know::

In a random 'pop-in' on a Thursday afternoon to a local Goodwill store, I heard over the intercom some lovely news - "This week's tag color clothing is only a dollar today."  What?  

I quickly started sifting through and found 4 pairs of jeans that I tried on, and all fit!  Then I dashed about, and found 2 tops I loved.  Scampering to the men's department, 2 polo shirts for the boyfriend.  While carting past a rack, I found a pair of dress pants that just needed a little stitch to hold the fastener in place. Darting to the check out, I saw the cutest skirt for a buck and grabbed it.
Total cost: $10.

In the spirit of frugal, my shopping met some good points I try keep:
  • ESSENTIAL: The money spent was for essential items = clothing.
  • RIGHT PRICE: Aside from garage sales, I couldn't have paid less for what I got.
  • EXTRA BENEFITS: The proceeds from sale help serve people with disabilities/those facing obstacles to enter the workforce.
  • LOW-IMPACT: Items bought were used, so no new resources were used up for my purchase. 

I asked about the return policy, as I wasn't sure if the shirts would fit the Mr., and they said bring it back within 14 days with the tags attached and a receipt, and I can turn it in for store credit.  I'm glad I asked, because I made the mistake of not trying on that cute skirt and discovered it was made for more petite derriere than I possess.  Oh well.  Both shirts fit him, so my skirt will go in the car to be returned next Thursday, when I hope to find some more dress pants for a dollar to ready my work wardrobe for full time!

More Ways to Save at Goodwill Stores:
I looked up the Arizona Goodwill website, and found these other great deals that I didn't know happened -


And, MORE deals I didn't know about:


A Word of Warning::

Don't touch the metal hanger racks when looking through clothes.  Your hand could look like this if you do.  (The store wasn't dirty, per se, just the racks are never emptied to be cleaned.)

The fix: simply push together the clothes to create a little space in the section you are looking at, then use a walking motion with your first and second fingers to gently flip through each piece of clothing, looking at the front of each article of clothing for tag color/appearance.

Store Locations::
Locating stores can be done by going the Goodwill website store locator, and typing in your zipcode.

For anyone in the Mesa area, I printed this card for myself of stores within 15 miles to keep in the wallet, for when I am around town and want a less-guilty shopping excursion.  It should print out to credit card size.

What's the best deal you found at a your favorite Goodwill or Thrift shop?

Cleaning out the medicine cabinet

Cleaning out the medicine cabinet - it sucks. So I made myself ground rules to get through a giant box of miscellaneous 'medicine'.

First, go through everything and TOSS what you should:

1. Expired = Out.
2. Less than a full 'use' left (antibiotics, etc) = Out.
3. Not used in the last 2 years = Out.
4. Appears 'old', like faded or stained labels, dirty or grimy containers = Out.
5. Is cracked, broken (like eye shadow tubs) or contaminated = Out.
6. Is rusted, 'sticky' and/or not washable = Out.

Second, condense what there is:

1. Multiples of same get packed together- e.g. all bandaids go in one big band aid box, or ibuprofen from two different bottles (if same mg) put into just the one bottle.
2. Different types of same/similar packed together - all metal contraptions (nail clippers, tweezers, eyelash thingy) goes in one large cup, all types of cough drops go in one baggie.
3. Items used for similar reasons 'go' together in a container or box, etc - e.g. laxatives, anti-diarrhea pills, and butt ointment can be together; allergy pills, nasal decongentants, and cough syrups can go together.

Third, set into groups:

1. Items used daily in on group - daily vitamins, regular prescription meds, qtips, toothpaste, floss, contact solution, make up remover, etc.
2. Items used weekly in another group - nail trimmer and tweezers, lotions, razors, bandaids, etc
3. Items used occasionally in the third group - cough drops and sniffle pills, Vicks rub and rash ointment
4. Items used rarely can be placed elsewhere if bathroom real estate is at a premium- burn cream, large bandages, anti-fungal, etc.

Fourth, put into place:

1. Find a source of same items to use for keeping things together - using the same container makes things look neat. I use Gatorade bottles because I can get a lot of them free - I cut the tops off and gather items together in each, and because they are see-through, and I can just grab the cup with the item I want.
2. If you can't find them the same, make containers the same with paint, contact paper etc. for a unifying look.  If something looks neat, you'll be inclined to keep it neat.
3. Place the most common used items in the most easily seen/accessed areas.
4. Store extra and rarely used items away from the bathroom, if possible. The high humidity can ruin many things like paper packs and pills, and so will shorten shelf life.

Review the Trash:

1. Empty out all of the containers, putting solids in a baggie and liquids into a container. Bring these to a medication dumpsite, or mix in kitty litter/sand and throw in the solid waste bin. Don't flush old meds, as then they get in our water supply.
2. Make sure to use a permanent marker and block out your personal info on the labels.
3. Recycle what you can:
  • Paper/cardboard boxes can be recycled with paper products.
  • Plastic containers can be recycled - look for what kind of material they are made of. Pill and medicine bottles are usually #1, #2 or #5 plastics, so it’s important to check the bottoms and determine what and where you can recycle them. 
Check out the Gimme 5 recycle bins in Whole Foods stores or university recycling centers. You can get Recyclebank points for dropping them at Whole Foods, you just need a Gimme 5 login and points are given on the honor system.
  • Blister packs would need the aluminum backing completely removed before being recycled.
  • Toothpaste caps are recyclable - the tubes are not.
4. If you reuse containers for things, thoroughly wash them. I've seen people turn empties into funky door wreaths, melted jewlery, key hiders, bobber key rings...
5. Take off bits and pieces of the trash for other crafty reuse - In the world of miniatures, toothpaste tube caps can be dollhouse lampshades or baby wipe containers, mirrors from make up fit in dollhouses, and eye shadow tubs make dollhouse bread tins. In crafts, old eyeshadow can be used like chalks, and blister packs made to bubble over letters.

Consider how to not accumulate so much crap again:

1. If you use something regularly, buy or ask if you can get the largest amount you'd use in a time frame, to cut down on the number of bottles/packaging you get.
2. See if your pharmacy has any 'take back' policy for empty containers.
3. If you don't know if a med will work, buy the smallest package of it you can.
4. Keep a note page inside the med cabinet with any 'keep in mind' concerns, such as who shouldn't get what, bad reactions had with certain meds, or what not to take together. This can be referred to quick when you wake up with sniffles and need to pick anything up. Also, keep a permanent marker somewhere on hand.
5. Write the date purchased on items that don't have expiration dates so you can gauge how old they really are.
6. Keep a 'rule of #', where you don't allow yourself more than so many of any item. For example, no more than 6 nail polish colors, 6 eyeshadows, or 6 bars of soap. It prevents things from going bad or getting old/unpleasant from sitting in storage, and saves you money.

Free Magazines and How To Actually Read Them

I am currently receiving multiple free magazine subscriptions in my mailbox, and I realize I feel kinda guilty.  Not for getting them free (hah!), but because there are more eco-friendly ways to receive the same kind of information.  But, then I think about all the crazy good things I can do with them, and I hope things will balance.  So, I share with you today how to score free magazines AND what to do with them afterwards!

Magazine companies make money more from the ads in them more than the subscription fee.  For this reason, sometimes it is advantageous for the company to give out subscriptions to increase its 'subscriber's base' and so make more money on the ads.  

1. Go to deal websites like  and check out their freebie pages.  I know Hip2Save has a special tab just for magazines under their freebie tab.  These sites post recent 'free magazine' subscription offers, through other websites or deals, and often specify each as 'no cost/no obligation'.

2.  Some of the sites that those sites are sending you to, like, offer free subscriptions to 'businesses'.  Make sure to provide an email you don't mind getting some ads in as the site does send 'further offers' email.  Others will have you perform a survey and get 'points' that you use toward subscriptions.

3.  Special sites let you collect or earn points, and these can be cashed in for magazine subscriptions among other things. is one for the soda pop drinker (or one with access to a recycle center). is a great site for accumulating information on recycling and reduction while being rewarded for it.

4.  Share with neighbors if you each get a magazine or 4 that the other is interested in.  Organize a day where you each deliver the previous months mags and you can meet up and swap, or leave on the back door.  Arrange ahead of time if you or the neighbor wants them back.

1.  Now that you are receiving a nice collection of magazines, make sure to READ THEM.  Keep them around where you end up with spare minutes.  Keep 'quick reads' with short articles in the car, fitness mags in your gym bag, and household mags near your couch.

2.  Take note of the ideas you enjoy in them.  I will take phone pictures of the articles or recipes that I like, so I have a digital account of what I like.  You can then Pinterest them.

3.  Cut out ideas or recipes IF AND ONLY IF you have a place to keep them organized.  Otherwise, they will just become paper clutter.  I keep recipes to digitize/use in a folder by my cook books (gone through once a month).  Articles I keep in a shoe box by the magazines by the couch, also gone through once a month. If you see an idea that you want to share with someone, cut it out and send it with a personal letter to them (snail mail is still meaningful, and everyone likes knowing someone is thinking of them.)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fruit Fly Fever

Once upon a time, we had fruit flies.  They were IMPOSSIBLE.  Never so many to make you gag, but enough to really, really annoy you in the kitchen.  I think they were breeding somewhere down my kitchen sink, but nothing I poured down there killed them entirely, and nothing else appeared to be attracting them.  So, we started our attack.

1.  The shot glass with vinegar.
Premise:  Attracted to fermentation, the fruit flies dip down for a sip, and drown in the swill.

Actuality:  Attracted to fermentation, the fruit flies buzzed around the glass, had a drink on me, and one or two fell in.

2.  The vacuum.
Premise: A fruit fly can not fly faster than the force of suction from a Dirt Devil stick vacuum.

Actuality:  A fruit fly can outmaneuver all but the most direct affronts from a vacuum.  However, watching your boyfriend chase fruit flies through the kitchen with a vacuum is PRICELESS.  

3.  Spritz and wipe.
Premise: Wet the fruit fly down with spray bottle of vinegar while cleaning, then squish with rag. 

Actuallity: Try wet the fruit fly down enough to prevent flying, then attempt to squish with rag while two more flies buzz by your head. 

4.  The paper funnel in a jar.
Premise:  Attracted to a bit of fruit or fermenting thing in the jar, the fruit fly travels down the funnel and is unable to find the opening again, so is trapped.

Actually:   Attracted to a bit of fruit or fermenting thing in the jar, the fruit fly cautiously travels down the funnel and is usually unable to find the opening again.  They are trapped, but they are not dead, and releasing them or killing them is a hassle. 

Find skinny top fairly deep jar (I used a spaghetti sauce jar).  Place piece of banana in bottom of jar.  Take a piece of paper, curl into funnel,  and tape the funnel to the jar mouth lip to ensure no escapes.  Wait. 

I ended up pouring in vinegar, dumping in some baking soda and covering the hole, effectively knocking them out from the CO2 level.  While they were unconscious, I swilled them around in the jar and flushed them down the toilet.  Not the gentlest, no, but it was winter and I wanted them gone quick.  Other ways of disposing them would be to set the whole jar outside (where it won't attract attention) and let them freeze/cook/dehydrate to death, or setting them free (you know who you soft-hearted folks are) far from your house.  

I keep a much cleaner kitchen after having to have to have dealt with them. If I see one, I will stop at nothing to kill it immediately.  

Ever had fruit flies?  How did you stop the infestation?  Let me know!