YES YOU CAN!

Home canning isn’t that difficult!

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Back during WWII, the government encouraged average citizens to grow ‘Victory Gardens’ providing their own fruits and vegetables. Home canning was also encouraged as a way of preserving produce, and ensuring that the populace would not go hungry should supply shortages occur.  

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In our fast paced, modern society we no longer grow or can our groceries, opting just to grab our food in the local supermarket.  Home canning is a wonderful life skill to learn and is an economical to stretch your grocery budget, saving you up to half the cost of buying commercially canned food.

There are a few important things to consider first.

Canning is a process, it takes both labor and time.

Last week, I picked nearly 10lbs of peppers in a field near a local pepper festival I attended with friends. I figure I was in that field for about an hour harvesting the perfect peppers I needed. Once I got home, it took me two and a half hours to slice all those peppers, and another half hour to can them using an easy fridge pickling method that only requires salt, vinegar, and spring water. I yielded nine quarts of the hottest pickled peppers known to man.  If you discount my labor, and the canning jars I paid for, these awesome pickled peppers cost about $1.50 a jar, and will last me about a year. If you factor in all my hours of labor, and the cost of the jars, add about $10 a jar and that’d be a more accurate assessment.

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If you are an extremely busy person with a tight schedule, canning will not be a good fit for you. I usually can my vegetables two to three times a year now, the annual September Bowers Chili Pepper Festival and one or two other occasions when I try a new recipe. When I can, I can en mass. I devote the entire day to can as much as I can.  I don’t get paid on my days off, (unless I’m using PTO days from my job) so using my time productively and being economical are important to me.

Canning requires certain equipment and supplies.

There will be an initial upfront expense you will have to invest to obtain the necessary supplies essential for  canning. The good news is, one you’ve purchased them, you’ll have them for a very long time. The only items you’ll need to replace are the jars and lids. The glass jars and the bands are reusable, the flat lids are not. And if you give away jars as gifts to family and friends, you’ll need to buy more periodically.  The lid and jars are not that expensive, and come in various sizes and shapes. Wide mouth and regular mouth jars each require their appropriate size lid and band. You cannot fit a wide mouth lid on a standard size jar, and vice versa.  All standard canning jars sold in the U.S. are made by a company called Jarden Home Brands. They own Ball, Kerr, and Bernardin.

You will need the following:

  • A good home canning book
  • Canning jars and lids
  • A cooker or canner
  • A plastic or stainless steel canning funnel
  • A stainless steel ladle
  • A canning jar lifter with rubber grips
  • A good pair of kitchen tongs
  • Magnetic lid lifter and bubble remover
  • A food processor, or hand blender
  • A food strainer
  •  A good set of cutting knives and a cutting board
  • A vegetable peeler

 There are two ways to can

There are 2 ways to can- boiled water bath and pressure canning. Fruits and vegetables that are of low acidic content and are not being pickled, MUST be pressure canned to prevent the risk of botulism. Canned items are best to be used within 8-12 months. The USDA only recommends pressure canning. A ‘third’ way to can is fridge pickling, which really isn’t exactly canning, but will preserve your food for up to a month assuming you keep it refrigerated.

When canning, be sure to follow all of the USDA food safety instructions for home canning. You can download a PDF of it from this link:

https://www.healthycanning.com/wp-content/uploads/USDA-Complete-Guide-to-Home-Canning-2015-revision.pdf

Your canned foods should have a good overall appearance. Free of imperfections, good proportion of solid to liquid with proper headspace and free of air bubbles and sediment. You do not want any foreign contaminants that could lead to botulism or food poisoning of any kind. ALWAYS check the seals on the jars to make sure that they are intact and do not leak.

The advantages of canning extend beyond the savings you will reap after your initial investment in the canning equipment.  

No added chemicals or preservatives.

When you can foods at home, you eliminate the need for many of the artificial colors, fillers, chemical additives, and preservatives found in store brought food. Home canning is a healthier alternative  For me, the very best part of home canning is I determine the  ingredients, and I make it MY way. As I’ve mentioned previously, I like very hot and spicy food. If I wanted to buy Texas Pete, Tabasco, or Cholula, I could walk into any supermarket in the USA. But if I wanted a super-hot XXXX+ hot sauce made from Carolina Reapers, Trinidad Scorpions and Ghost Peppers, I’m out of luck unless I make it myself.  Right now, I’ve been playing with a homemade sugar-free ketchup recipe. The new batch I concocted tastes great! I hope you have as much luck with home canning as I have. As always, I wish you success and happiness!

Food Festivals!

Chile today, hot tamale!

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There are several things I really like.  I like my coffee, I like my ‘sweets’ (a little too much), and I like hot spicy foods.

When I was a boy, there were only four spices in the entire world. Salt, pepper, ketchup, and mustard. Or, at least those were the only spices my late mother ever heard of, and we know what a ‘wonderful’ cook she was.  It takes a lot of talent to burn water.

I never even tried salsa or hot peppers until I was at a party in college and a friend explained the concept of nachos to me, but after that initial introduction, I began to explore the world of hot sauces.  One year a seasonal kiosk opened at my local mall. I think it was called ‘Mo Hotter Mo Better’ . They offered samples of different ‘XXX+’ hot sauces, and I could buy what I liked. The first super hot sauce that piqued my young palate was Endorphin Rush. For years, this was my hot sauce of choice.

After my Aunt Arleen died, I had to move my mother into my apartment for the last five years of her life. She had cancer, and her social security didn’t even begin to cover her bills.  It was either that or my mother would have been homeless, so I had to do the ‘right’ thing. It was quite the culture clash, and a very stressful period.

My mother could not understand that bottle of Endorphin Rush in the kitchen. To her, it was death in a bottle.  She could not comprehend that I enjoyed the hot spicy kick it gave to what I was eating.  Of course, one day while I was at work my mother somehow managed to ‘accidentally’ break the bottle, and suffered the consequences of getting hot sauce into her eyes while cleaning the broken mess from the kitchen floor.  Karma, it’ll get you in the end.

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For every conceivable type of food, somewhere there is a food festival.  In big cities, these annual gastronomical extravaganzas  tend to take place in convention centers, large city parks, or the occasion ‘street fair’ which shuts down traffic in that area for the event. The beauty of food festivals is two-fold. 

Primarily, it’s for the businesses.  At least half of these companies are small start-ups, hoping to break into their niche market of choice.  They are desperate to attract the attention of food critics, supermarket chains, and specialty product retailers. Every one of them has some new twist, secret recipe,  catchy name, or flashy logo. They have to pay for exhibition space, and are offering samples in the hope of going national. They love the support of the little guy, but they are really there praying for the big retailers and restaurants to take notice of them. Many of these entrepreneurs have risked their life savings to launch their dream, and they could lose it all if they can’t compete against the sea of rivals surrounding them.   For them, the food festival really is life or death.  

Secondly, for the consumer  it exposes you to many different vendors and products which may not be available in your area. Some of these companies have fantastic  goods for sale.  Many of them have traveled from great distances,  and spent a lot to get to these food festivals.  As a consumer, you suddenly went from having a limited selection of your food of choice, to a plethora! The best part is, free samples! As you walk from one stand to another, you can sample the products as you go. The next best thing is special pricing! As many of these vendors have traveled from afar, they have packed cases of their products, hoping to sell every last good they loaded on their trucks. Most of them have multiple item deals which can save you 10-20% in volume deals. Plus, since many of these vendors are from out of town, if you were to buy from them online, you’d have to pay shipping, so not only are you getting a discount at the show, you save on shipping fees! It’s nearly impossible to get this item any cheaper than you will at the festival, so if you like it buy it, and buy a lot of it!

Save money!

Every year for at least six years now, I have been going to the annual Bower’s Chili Pepper Festival.   It’s held every year on the weekend after Labor day in Bower’s PA.

http://pepperfestival.com      @chilefestival

Fortunately for me, this event is local, only about a 45 minute drive from my apartment, or 20 minutes from my job. Each year, two of my best friends join me on this fun-filled trip. Because Berks county is largely a rural area, we have the bonus that the annual Bower’s Chili Pepper Festival is located lest than 1/2 a mile from Meadow View Farm, which has a pick your own peppers field open to the public that coincides with the festival. My friends and I scour the fields picking some of the hottest peppers known to man, and we pay a fraction of what we would at the grocery store, not to mention obtaining exotic hot peppers like Carolina Reapers, and Trinidad Scorpions which are not stocked at the local supermarket. This year I picked nearly 10lbs of peppers for which I only paid $11.50! In turn, I pickled those peppers yesterday, yielding nine quarts of super-hot pickled peppers which will last me until next year!

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I personally endorse all of the following vendors and their products, and urge you to try them.

Some of the business are local Pennsylvania business. Two have the PA PREFERRED endorsement on their brand.

Chef Tim 

 http://cheftimfoods.com       @ChefTimFoods

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Chef Tim is a great guy and his SWEET BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE is the best salad dressing / marinade you can get. No added preservatives, gluten Free & cholesterol Free, made with 7 All Natural Ingredients: Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, Sugar, Kosher Salt, Granulated Garlic, Black Pepper, Oregano. I see time whenever I stop at The Green Dragon Framer’s Market in Ephrata, and his vinaigrette can be found in over a hundred retail stores in PA, including SKH (Stauffers of Kissel Hill). If you haven’t tried Chef Tim’s SWEET BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE I urge you to do so.  

Red Hawk Peppers

http://redhawkpeppers.com/   @RedHawkPeppers

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They make a Fiery Pineapple Spread that I can’t get enough of! I buy a half dozen jars every year.

All of their products are 100% ALL NATURAL with no chemical additives or preservatives.

Pilsudski Brand Mustard

http://pilsudskimustard.com 

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This is a great mustard, and I’m nuts about their wasabi and sriracha flavors.

WOODY’S ORIGINAL  CLAMLUBE BRAND HOT SAUCE

https://www.clamlube.com/       @clamlube

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I got to admit, it was that catchy logo that first caught my eye, but the favor of these hot sauces can’t be beat!

Double Comfort

doublecomfortfoods.com      @Double_Comfort

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Memphis-inspired, award winning spices & hot sauces. Social enterprise, all profits to food pantries. Small batch, vegan, all natural

 A wonderful seasoning, I can’t wait to experiment with it in my tex-mex dishes.

Save someone’s business!

I can’t stress this enough, if you love some awesome food product you’ve tasted, support the business! Buy their products, give them as gifts, tell friends about them and share contact info on social media. Many of these new business depend upon you to endorse and support them. It takes money to run a business, and slumping sales can kill a start-up. For every great product that’s on the verge of going national, there’s a struggling entrepreneur desperate for widespread exposure.  I was saddened to discover that this year my favorite pepper jam maker was not at the festival, and she appears to have gone out of business. The website says they are sold out online, and a call to the listed number went unanswered to voicemail. I love https://jackysjamsandjellies.com/ and I was planning on buying an entire case of pepper jam. Wherever you are Jacky, I wish you well. 

Again, super hot foods are a niche market, and many of these items can’t be found in local supermarkets. The average millennial turns to Amazon.com for the majority of their online orders, so getting nationwide distribution is imperative for the small brand. As many of these products lack chemicals and preservatives, they are better for your body, but they cost more and have a shorter shelf life. Isn’t your health worth spending those extra pennies for a superior product? If you want to keep these companies alive, buy, share, and promote them. As always, I wish you success and happiness!      

LIVE BOLDLY!

Don’t DREAM it, BE it!

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Almost a year ago, on Sep 10, 2017 at 9:58 AM I launched my blog.

My first article was The 52 Week Challenge, and the purpose of that first post was to serve as both an introduction, and as a source of encouragement. Every Labor Day Weekend I enjoy a fun-filled vacation at the shore in Ocean City MD. It’s my ‘happy place’. If you followed the advice of that first post, by saving away just $25 every week, then you too should have been able to afford a fantastic getaway vacation to a destination of your choice. This year I spent even more days at the shore going down every weekend in August. I jet skied and even parasailed for the first time. I had a blast being 800 feet in the air, strapped to a parachute, while being towed by a speedboat.  

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I was not always as wealthy as I am today, but I did not get to where I am by accident. I helped myself by reading self-help books and studying the habits of highly successful people. The knowledge I gained helped me grow as an individual and I’ve changed for the better as a result.

For years, I tried imparting the wealth building tips and tricks to friends and family, but sadly many of them ignored my well-meaning advice. I want everyone to be happy and successful. Now, through the magic of the world wide web, my blog posts have been read by people in 48 countries around the world. Hopefully each and every person who visited this past year found some useful and encouraging tidbit they could utilize in their own personal journey.

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Climb every mountain 
Ford every stream 
Follow every rainbow 
‘Till you find your dream…

“Climb Ev’ry Mountain” Song from the  1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music.

We all have dreams of a better life and a prosperous future. These things don’t happen by accident and rarely are they handed to us. We need to work hard and plan if we want to be successful in our endeavors. Sometimes, this means long shifts at the day job. But if you’re working to have just enough to cover your bills, your dreams will disappear in a cloud of smoke. I’ve known people who toiled away at dead-end jobs, or who took meaningless ‘promotions’ that were paid little more than their underlings, but were filled with nightmare time demands and far more responsibilities.  I’ve had co-workers who died young from fatal heart attacks due to stress. My own father died at 57, never living to see retirement. Life is too short to be miserable.  If you’ve worked at the mall, or waited tables for years because ‘you like it’, or ‘it’s easy work’, then the only thing you’ve accomplished is to help someone else fulfill their dream.

It amazes me when I hear people advocating for a higher minimum wage because they can’t live on minimum wage. Minimum wage was never intended to be a ‘living wage’. I do understand that sometimes it’s hard to find a better paying job. When I was in college, I worked three different minimum wage jobs each week. I applied for my current job five times, and went to eleven interviews before I was hired, as a temp! The entire time I spent working multiple minimum wage jobs, I was doing little more than working or sleeping, but the point is that all the while I was also seeking the better paying job and actively pursuing it.  I never considered staying at any of my low paying jobs longer than necessary than to establish my credentials and prove that I was deserving of better jobs with higher salaries.  I also never gave up striving to improve myself.

You need to examine your life, as well as your financial situation. It’s the quality of the time you spend living your life vs. the quantity of time needed at work to reach your goals. A minimum wage job will not cut it.  The purpose of a minimum wage job is to provide training to a new employee, establish a work history, show responsibility, and prove dependability.  No employer will retain or promote a new employee who constantly displays irresponsible behavior, or a lack of dependability. If you have a history of quitting jobs, finding employment will also be challenging. No one is going to hire someone who is going to quit shortly after being hired. Your reputation is important.

Your attitude and charisma will open almost as many doors as who and what you know.

For several years now, I’ve been trying to establish a coffee shop. I’ve done a lot of research and leg work on the subject  as I’ve been building my resources. There have been several false starts. I’ve scouted more than a half dozen potential locations, and met with several potential allies. Three years ago, I received a phone call from the owner of a property I was actively and aggressively attempting to lease. I believed that this location in downtown Reading PA was a prime location as it was located near a movie theater, a community college, and a art gallery, as well as a block away from the bus terminal.
After several phone messages to the number on the leasing sign went unanswered, I crafted a courteous and well-worded business letter, which I mailed to the property owner, along with my business card and a very nice stainless steel coffee mug bearing my cafe logo.

Two days later, I received a personal phone call from billionaire department store tycoon Al Boscov. That ten-minute phone call was the most uplifting and empowering message I have ever received.

Mr. Boscov told me that he was impressed by all I had accomplished thus far, and that he was very proud of me. I can’t tell you what it meant to me to hear those words from such a successful businessman. Even thinking about it today brings tears to my eyes. It was like hearing the words of validation and praise I longed to hear from my father, had he lived long enough to see the man I grew up to become.   Words have power, and you can change the course of a person’s entire life when you give them encouragement and guidance at a crucial juncture.  Although I THOUGHT that the location was ideal, Mr. Boscov gave me several reasons why it was not as great a location as I believed it was. If a billionaire philanthropist tells you a location is not good, you listen. He saved me from a potential bad investment which I was too inexperienced to see. Before he ended the call, he told me that if he found a prime location in the city that he thought was suitable for a cafe, I would be the first person he called. I was on cloud nine for months after that phone call.  Sadly, last year Mr. Boscov passed away from cancer on Feb. 10th, 2017 at the age of 87.  Although I never met the man in person, I will never forget his kind grandfatherly voice, or the wonderful words he said.

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To dream the impossible dream,

To fight the unbeatable foe,

To bear with unbearable sorrow,

To run where the brave dare not go.

“The Impossible Dream (The Quest)” Song Andy Williams from the musical Man of La Mancha.

Don’t quit!

Life is not a destination, it’s a journey. As you travel down the road of life, you will meet many people who will try to discourage you, or dissuade you from pursuing your dreams. Just as it is important to examine your life, it is equally important to examine their lives. Always consider the source. Never take advice from people who are less successful than yourself. You’ll encounter many a wise guy or know-it-all who is filled with anecdotes, but has little results to show to back up their stories. That’s why I studied the habits of highly successful people and learned from their examples.  Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the easier it is to see through charlatans and phony pundits.

Always keep in mind that the hopes and dreams of these detractors and naysayers died long ago.

Because they were not successful, they don’t want you to be successful. Because they are poor, they don’t want you to be rich.  You’re smarter and better than them, and they are just jealous. Don’t let these emotional vampires suck the hope and dreams out of your life.

You will also encounter many false starts and set-backs as you pursue your dreams, but the important thing is to persevere! Don’t quit! Quitters never win, and winners never quit. Sometimes the end of one opportunity is the beginning of another. As I mentioned previously, I’ve scouted a half dozen possible cafe locations which all fell though, including one that was 99% a sure thing until someone threw a monkey wrench into the deal.  I’ve lost some money in the process, but it’s only money. You’ve got to spend money to make money and the knowledge I gained in the process provided me valuable insight.  My coffee shop dream is on hold at the moment while I regroup and rethink how next to proceed. I have not given up and continue to build up my cash reserves in preparation.   

As for the immediate future, I plan to edit, collate, and adapt the past 52 weeks of blog posts into an e-book. Not many people read blogs, but there are people who will download an e-book into their tablet to read,  especially if it’s inexpensive, so I might be able to reach a broader audience with my message.  If you’ve been reading http://www.InstantCoffeeWisdom.com from the start, then you’ll have read 100% of what the potential e-book will contain. Sales of the e-book will hopefully add a second revenue stream towards eventually opening That  Coffee Place.  I’m not sure what other financial topics to cover in the coming weeks, I’ve covered everything I’m familiar with, and I’m running out of ideas.  I’d love to hear any suggestions on money topics you’d like my opinion on.

“Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.”

― John Wesley

We will not be young forever, nor will we live forever. Enjoy your youth and take advantage of as many exciting and fun opportunities as life presents. Collect memories, not things. Go places, try new things, meet new people and leave your mark on life. Be the best person you can be, and treat everyone with fairness and kindness, even the ones who don’t deserve it. You could be the bright light that leads that person from their dark place.     Make the world a better place when you leave it than it was when  you entered it. Experience in person all the great things that life has to offer, don’t live vicariously through others, or waste your life addicted to your electronics. Take pictures and record your adventures!  There’s so much more to see of life when you don’t waste your time staring down at your smart phone   constantly texting, tweeting, or playing game apps.

As always I wish you success and happiness!

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Say Cheese!

Don’t Lose Those ‘Kodak’ Moments!

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Louis Daguerre produced the first daguerreotype (an early photo process) when he shot an image of the Boulevard du Temple, Paris in 1838. Film cameras didn’t develop until 1888 when Kodak invented his film process. In 1900, the $1.00  Kodak Brownie camera was introduced, and modern photography was born.  For most of the twentieth century, photography was pretty much the same. Cameras may have varied from company to company, some boasting better optics, wider shutter length settings, or built in eclectic flashes, but they all used film. Eastman Kodak pretty much dominated the market, but some swore Fuji Film was more vivid. The drawback of film is that you had to send it out to be developed at a film lab, and  then wait for the prints to arrive in the mail, or at the FotoMat booth, or the drugstore.  If you were willing to invent in a home dark room, and the chemicals needed, you could do it yourself, but most folks were content to leave it to the professionals. The only other alternative was the Polaroid instant camera. Like the early daguerreotype, the Polaroid process produced an instant print that was one of a kind, it had no negative, the print WAS the print, the only existing copy. If you wanted to copy a Polaroid photo, you needed to have the original photographed with a film camera, and of course there was slight loss of quality as this was a copy of a copy.

Today, more pictures are shot in a single year than in all of the last century. Each year over a trillion pictures are taken thanks to smart phones with built-in cameras.

Back in My day…

I have maybe five photographs of my father. My mother didn’t take pictures, she was never a photo bug. There were a few years when she arranged for a professional photographer to come to the house for baby pictures to be taken, or family portraits, but she couldn’t be bothered to buy a simple camera. The few pictures she horded were given her by family and friends, but most of those were lost as we moved like gypsies after she lost her second husband, my stepfather.

After my stepfather Alfred died, my mother had a boyfriend named Bill. In reality, this was a teenage crush that she bumped into many years down the road. He was a shutter bug, and owned a Polaroid Instamatic Camera.  That was the first camera I ever used.

Years later, when I was about 12, my aunt Arleen gave me a Kodak Instamatic. Essentially Kodak had copied the Polaroid Instant Camera and were sued into dropping the new clone from their production line. You were able to buy the film for it for a little while, but eventually it was totally obsolete after the film stock expired and new film wasn’t manufactured.

My second job was working for Olden Camera in NYC, in their computer department. It was then that I purchased my first real 35mm camera, a Nikkon automatic. This point and shot camera was pretty simple to use and lasted many years. Eventually I did get a ‘real’ camera, a Minolta SLR with various lenses and accessories.  It was a lot of weight lugging about that loaded camera bag of accessories, and it was annoying trying to explain all the settings and how to use the camera when I passed it to someone to shoot if the self-timer function was impractical and I wanted to be in the picture. Then disposable cameras came about, and I started using those as everyone knew how to work them.  The point is, from the time I brought my Nikkon in the 80’s, for  nearly twenty years I shot 35mm film.  I have boxes of negative files, and envelopes of prints, as well as photo albums.

For almost the first thirty years of my life, you were limited to film cameras, and the most you could shoot on a roll was 36 exposures. So when you went somewhere and saw something that you wanted to remember forever, you selectively shot one or two photos of it at most, because you had limited shots, and buying film, and getting it processed and printed was expensive.

Nowadays,  most of what we shoot is digital, and we send the pictures we want to share in e-mail or texts.

The sizes of the digital storage media has even changed, with most of the early media obsolete.  Yet, because the photos are digital we are taking more pictures than ever because smart phones  have built in cameras that are getting better with each new model. You still take better pictures with a dedicated digital camera than you do with a smart phone, but  even I will use my phone to take pictures if it’s all I have on me.

Pictures have value. We prize them and treasure them.

A couple of years ago, I lost a SD card with pictures that were not yet copied to my hard drive.  I was packing to return from a trip to the shore, and I think I left it on a table at the hotel. It was never recovered.  If you use a digital camera like I do, back it up frequently if not after every photo shoot. Even if you use your phone to take pictures, copy the data.  Theoretically, smart phones back-up their data to the cloud, but I still don’t trust that. This is why it is vitally important to frequently back-up and copy all your image files. If your electronics suffer a catastrophe, you don’t want to compound the blow by losing your precious ‘Kodak’ moments.  

Pictures, or it ‘never happened’!

Organize your old prints and negatives. A few weeks ago, I was searching for some old vacation photos from 16 years ago, I needed an image, and I could not find either the prints or the negatives. It was very frustrating. It’s probably packed away in a box somewhere in the bottom of the walk-in, but damned if I know where.

  • Frequently copy your media cards.
  • If you have obsolete media, copy the data off the cards while you still have an appropriate reader. Media is useless if you can’t access it.
  • if you have old Polaroid’s or prints, scan them into a digital file.
  • If you have old negatives, invest in a good quality negative scanner and digitize them.

The time, money, and effort you put into preserving your treasured photos will be returned when you can locate and share your Kodak moments. As Always I wish you success and happiness!

At Face Value!

Even a penny is a treasure!

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One of my earliest memories of my father involved him giving me a small metal treasure chest filled with old coins. In actuality, this was a just a metal coin bank, but unlike the usually piggy bank shape, this one was shaped like a stereotypical pirate chest one might see in an old movie, or in an illustration from a book on pirates. Although I was quite young at the time, I do remember three things about the incident.

The first thing was that my father originally told me a tall tale about finding the treasure chest buried in the yard by pirates. Not quite the right thing to say to a young impressionable boy with a vivid imagination. My first impulse was to grab a shovel and start trying to dig up the yard in search of more buried pirate booty. Upon realizing his mistake, retrieving the shovel and re-filling the holes in the back yard, my father confessed to making up the whimsical pirate story in jest to have a bit of fun at my expense. A kid will believe anything, they’re too young to know any better.

After a long explanation that pirates like Long John Silver and Blackbeard were not part of the modern world,  the second thing I remember was being delighted that the coins all looked different from contemporary money. I was old enough to know the difference between pennies, nickels, dimes, dimes, quarters, half-dollar, and dollar coins. A lot of the coins were from the 1800’s. This was my father’s coin collection, and he wanted me to have it to encourage an interest in both saving and collecting money. This is something which has stuck with me my whole life. A year or so later, my father died suddenly as a result of kidney failure.

The third thing I remember about the treasure chest of coins was that sometime after the death of first my father, and then my step father, my mother sold the coins to a dealer without my knowledge. It’s not like I looked at them every day, and we had to move quite a bit after she sold the house. Things ‘out of sight’ were always said to be ‘packed away in storage’ until I forgot about them. My mother only understood two things about money, she could spend it, and she never had as much as she’d like.

Bringing home the bacon.   

The origin of the piggy bank is disputed by different sources. Some say  that early coin jars in the middle ages were made of a type of clay called pygg. This word sounded like pig, and an English potter mistakenly created a pig-shaped bank when someone asked for a pygg money jar. There is little evidence to support this widely believed myth.  What is known is that sometime about 1900, the first modern Piggy Banks were sold in the USA, and they cost 25¢. Billed as a new novelty, these early clay banks didn’t have the removable stopper on the bottom of the bank. If you wanted to remove the coins, you had to smash the bank, or kill the pig, so to speak. Even to this day, whenever I empty my coin jar and take a bunch of wrapped coins to the bank, I say to the back teller that I killed the piggy bank.

I never quite understood the charm of a piggy bank, or of giving them to children to teach about saving. A coin jar works much better. It’s my humble opinion that parents who encouraged children to save money in piggy banks did so because young children have a nasty habit of putting everything they can grab into their mouth.  By making a game of putting the penny in the piggy bank, it helped keep the coins out of the mouths of babes. Of course, I may be mistaken, but that’s the nature of opinions.

The next time I became excited about coins and money was 1976, the USA bicentennial.  There was a lot of hoopla concerning our great nation reaching its second century. Tall ships sailed into NYC, there were extra fireworks around the 4th of July, a lot of patriotic symbols on all kinds of novelties could be had. And the money changed.  The  quarters, half-dollars, and dollar coins all had a special bicentennial obverse and a double date. Likewise, after a ten year absence, $2 bills were reintroduced with a bicentennial themed back depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I had never seen a $2 bill. My mother was very excited. That was when I suddenly remembered about the long-unseen treasure chest of coins, which I then asked for, only to be told that that was ‘lost in the move’. As a consolation, I was given several specimens of all the new bicentennial money, including several $2 bills. I’ve had a love of $2 bills ever since.  I even have some Canadian $2 bills, both the obsolete paper money and the two loonie or toonie coin. Canada stopped printing $1 and $2 paper money back in 1986. Canadian dollar coins have a loon (a common Canadian waterfowl) on the obverse. They were nicknamed loonies. Some Canadians even started referring to piggy banks as loonie bins. In the late 1980’s Playtoy Industries of Toronto Canada manufactured a Giant Loonie Bank. Sadly, according to a recent news article, Canada says that currency which is no longer being printed will cease to be legal tender in the near future, and will become worthless paper.

looniebin2

This takes us back to collecting coins and money in general. For the most part, money is the one collectible item that always retains its face value.  The USA considers all US currency to be legal tender. If you take a 1937 ‘Mercury Dime’ to your bank, you can deposit it into your account as 10¢. Once a bank gets a hold of old money, it takes it out of circulation never to be seen again. If you took it to a coin collector instead, you’d get more than face value. The silver content alone is worth more than a dime.  To collectors, the condition of the money and its rarity give added value beyond that of the face value. I save all kinds of old money. Some of it is for sentimental reasons, like my $2 bills. Others like my Indian Head pennies are rare. Some coins I have paid slightly above face value to get an entire set in ‘uncirculated’ condition. To collectors, uncirculated coins and collector proof sets command high value. The US Mint sells these collector proof sets for way above face value. The 2018 proof set has ten coins all bearing the ‘S’ mint mark from San Francisco with a frosted, sculptured foreground set against a mirror-like field. You get the five America the Beautiful Quarters, the Native American $1 coin, Kennedy Half-dollar, Roosevelt dime, Jefferson nickel, and Lincoln penny.  Face value, it adds up to $2.91. The US Mint sells it for $27.95 +S/h.   To me, it’s not worth the extra $25.04 for super-shiny, uncirculated coins. Some people buy these  proof sets every year for their children and grandchildren.  I’m not saying that they won’t increase in value among collectors, just that they only are worth face value if you spend them.  I can’t tell you the exact number of times some teenager came in to the convenience store I worked at back in the day with a horde of old coins. In my mind, I just knew that someone had raided grandpa’s coin collection, but the money was legal tender, and I was simply speculating on how it was obtained.  I would buy out the rare monies once they left, replacing the antiquities with contemporary counterparts from my wallet.   

I’m probably never going to cash in my coin and paper money collection, but it is a comfort to know that if something terrible were to happen, I could at least spend it for face value even if I couldn’t locate another interested collector willing to obtain the collection for a premium.     

“Loose Change” AKA “Penny Song”

Lyrics by Andrew Peterson

I’d give you all of me to know what you were thinking

And if I had one wish I’d wish I wasn’t sinking here

Drowning in this well, oh can’t you tell?

I can’t pick myself up off the ground,

Well I’ve been face down and pushed aside.

Well you know I’d rather just turn tail and run

than lie here in the sun and watch you pass me by

Cause I ain’t worth a dime.

(yeah yeah, oh yeah) Yeah, yeah (yeah yeah)

But If only I could stand up straight, I wouldn’t have to lie and wait,

I could up and roll away, never be ignored

I’ve got a feeling that I’m something more

than just a piece of copper ore, turning green and looking for

The reason I was born.

I’ve been around since 1964, in banks and bottom drawers

And on railroad ties. I’ve been passed around and cast aside

Skipped and flipped and flattened wide, Spun around

And thrown away and left alone to lie

But If only I could stand up straight, I wouldn’t have to lie and wait,

I could up and roll away, never be ignored

I’ve got a feeling that I’m something more

than just a piece of copper ore, turning green and looking for

The reason I was born.

(yeah yeah, oh yeah) Yeah, yeah (yeah yeah) na na na na na

But I heard about a penny found, lying underneath the couch

By a woman who was kneeling down, looking for some change.

Then the woman danced around and called her friends all over town

Told them what was lost is found, it’s another penny saved.

And so I find that all this time beneath the surface I could shine

Like all the gold a king and queen could measure

You see even a penny is a treasure

(yeah yeah, oh yeah) Yeah, yeah (yeah yeah) na na na na na

The 1987 movie Throw Mama From The Train stars Danny DeVito  and Billy Chrystal as Owen and Larry. Middle-aged Owen lives at home with his overbearing mother. He seems like he might be a little slow.  Larry is his writing teacher at the adult continuing education program he attends. There’s a scene that is genuinely emotionally touching  when Owen wants to show Larry his coin collection. Larry doesn’t want to see the coins, but Owen makes him feel bad when he says he’s never shown them to anyone before.  Owen slowly pulls out coins saying “This one is a nickel. And this is one is also a nickel. And here’s a quarter, and another quarter, and a penny.” Larry is annoyed at this, as the coins are all seemingly contemporary currency, and not worth anything more than face value. Owen then proceeds to explain how each coin is special to him because they were the change his Dad gave him during various father-son trips.  It’s a collection of coins from change his dad gave him, and that’s where their value lies.

Although the original coin collection my father gave to me is long gone, the special memory of the gift remains. Like any successful person who faces a setback, I started over, and in time I slowly began to amass a new collection of coins.  As my financial situation improved, I started adding things like old paper money, silver certificates, foreign coins, uncirculated coins, you name it. At face value, my collection is worth thousands. To a collector, it’s worth even more. As far as I’m concerned, it’s priceless, and not for sale. Someday, I too hope to pass my collection to my son, when I finally have a  son. Hopefully he will be able to keep it longer than I did my father’s. In either case, you can’t take it with you when you go, and a good man provides for his children, and his children’s children. Money is nice to have, but the memories we make with our loved ones are worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox. As always, I wish you success and happiness!   

Collection or Clutter?

Kitsch me if you can!

collection

Way back in 1994 when Amazon.com  first launched, it billed itself as Earth’s Largest Bookstore, they had a series of TV commercials in which contractors searching for potential warehouse storage sites  were measuring large places up to and including The Great Pyramid of Giza and saying ‘still not big enough’.  Mind you, this was back before Jeff Bezo started selling everything under the Sun.  The point was that if you ‘could’ have everything, where would you put it?

amazon

Several years ago, I took a visit down to Linthicum, Maryland to visit a guy named Thomas Atkinson. Tom has the largest collection of Star Wars toys on the East Coast, it not the entire world. He has more than 14,000 pieces on display in his home.  I saw toys that I dimly remember owing or playing with back in the late 1970’s when Kenner first started selling Star Wars toys in 1978. (Most of my toys went into the trash when my mother got evicted, which happened frequently after my step-father died.)  I also saw rarities and limited edition pieces that were so scarcely produced that owning one was like owing the Holy Grail. It was truly impressive, and to be envied if you are into that sort of thing.

The down side of his massive collection is that practically every square inch of his ground floor rooms are filled floor to ceiling with display counters and stands holding tons of toys. I was honestly afraid to move too quickly and possibly destroy a priceless relic. There’s so much to see that it’s impossible to see it all. Your mind just can’t processes everything you’re seeing.

However, Thomas is doing collecting the ‘right’ way. His collection brings him joy, but is not just a personal treasure trove that he hordes away from prying eyes.   He’s very proud of his unique collection,  referred to as The Star Toys Museum, and is willing to schedule free tours of his Museum during select times and days for small groups. This is the man’s home as well as a museum. A proper museum should house a vast number of displays, and the more to see, the better. Whenever I’ve been to the Smithsonian or the American Museum of Natural History, there were more artifacts on display than I could remember. There were signature pieces that were the crown of the display, but there were other things that you didn’t expect to see, and were surprised. If I was going to have a collection of Star Wars toys, I’d do it just the way Thomas Atkinson has. To schedule a free tour (address available upon request) or to view items from the collection, go to startoysmuseum.org.

STARTOYS

A man’s home is his castle.

My home is NOT a museum, it’s a sanctuary, a fortress of solitude, a place of privacy just for me to get away from the world.  My one bedroom apartment is just big enough for me and all my stuff. I have small collections of various types of things, but nothing so huge that moving about would be a problem. The collection that I’m most proud of is my library. It’s floor to ceiling, and fills an entire wall, with a couple of small stand alone cases on a second wall. Many of the books are signed editions and I’ve collected and read them over many years. A personal library was something I always wanted growing up, and it was something that was usually associated with the wealthy.  Are these books worth anything? Maybe, maybe not. Like most private collections, it’s NOT for sale. I didn’t buy them as investment materials, I brought them for me, because it was something I wanted, and life is too short to have regrets.  Someday after I’ve passed on, maybe they’ll be sold at an estate auction. Or, maybe friends will want a few select books, and the rest will be discarded. Or maybe they all will. Either way, I won’t be around to see it. You may have heard the old adage ‘he who dies with the most toys wins.’  I prefer to say instead ‘he who dies with the most toys, STILL DIES!’  You can’t take it with you when you’re gone.

library

Not all that glitters is gold.

Fanboys (and fangirls) are the most obsessive collectors of  toys, novelties, comic books, you name it. Many of these beloved tchotchkes are worthless, over-priced baubles. How many of these silly trinkets does a man need?  Now I’m NOT saying a person should live a Spartan lifestyle in a mostly empty home with hardly any personal possessions, but all things in moderation. You don’t need to fill every square inch of shelf space with expensive curios, and glitzy baubles. So yes, accessorize your home and put your stamp upon it, but set limits. If it’s something that you really want to own, buy it. Life is too short for regrets.  But, if you absolutely MUST own everything you set eyes upon, prepare to be poor. Most of this stuff does NOT increase in value, and if it does, it’s only during a short collectors frenzy phase. The major fad back in the mid 1990’s was collecting Ty Beanie Babies. Some of the rare ones at the time sold for hundreds of dollars. For a small stuffed animal. By 1999, Ty was all but ready to stop making Beanie Babies. Due to the outcry of a few rabid fans, they restarted the toys.  Most of these are worthless except to a very tiny group of devoted collectors, and most of them have all the Beanie Babies they want, so they’re not buying. Or selling for that matter.                

When the movie Guardians of The Galaxy came out in 2014, a co-worker gave me a Funco Rocket Raccoon POP! figure for Christmas. It’s cool, but nothing I’d ever buy for myself, let alone collect. It’s sitting on top of my desk collecting dust.  (Thanks Tony)

poprr

I have a friend named Dave. He has more than 400 of these Funco POP! figures. He thinks they are really cool looking and is trying to get the whole set. There are nearly a thousand varieties of these toys, all numbered by issue, and they range in price from $6 to $15 from what Dave’s told me. Some of them are quite rare and do sell for hundreds of dollars online to obsessed collectors.  Let that sink in for a moment. Hundreds of dollars for a vinyl doll that you can never take out of the box for fear of it no longer being in mint condition.  So for argument sake, I’ll assume that Dave has EXACTLY 400 POP!s and that he paid $7.50 for each of them. That works out to $3000. For toys. That you can’t even play with. But they make Dave happy  and to each his own, but Funco POP!s don’t grab me.   I’m happy with my one and only POP! which I received as a gift.   I can think of a lot of better things to spend $3000 on, like a fantastic vacation, or a used car.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. – 1 Corinthians 13:11 KJV

The Bible tells us we should  not store our treasures here on Earth. Yeah, when I was younger I wasted a lot of money collecting worthless junk, some of which I still have.  But as I got older, I grew wiser and started using my money for more important things.  Looking back upon the toys of our youth may evoke memories of a simpler time, or a better place. In the end, things are just things and are a part of our past, not our future. It’s not good to live in the past, but there’s nothing wrong with looking back upon it from time to time to see how far we’ve progressed. We are all here on this Earth for a limited time. People and experiences are much more valuable then trinkets which have only nostalgic or sentimental value. Oh don’t get me wrong, on rare occasion from time to time I still buy some silly thing in a fit of whimsy.  Just look at my gnomes in the kitchen. As Always I wish you success and happiness!

gnomes

It’s The LEASED You Can Do!

Why own when you can rent?

leased

It often amazes me when I see a privately owned RV sitting parked in storage on the owners driveway. Most of these so-called motor-homes cost between $100,000 and $300,000 and yet, day in and day out this Recreational Vehicle sits parked, unmoving.  Back in 2006, the late actor and comedian Robin Williams starred in a movie called RV. RV was a marginally funny, mostly forgettable comedy about a dad who tries to bond with his family by renting an RV for a cross country camping trip. Just about everything that you’d expect to go wrong does.  The film does illustrate a couple of points:

  •  Just about anything can be rented or leased.
  • If you’re going to do something infrequently, or only once, renting is better.
  • There are fewer problems with renting then owning. *

Everyone is different.

We all have different skill sets, different wants, and different needs. Our circumstances and situations may have great impact on our choices, but we still have a choice.

Growing up I wanted to get married, buy a house and have a family. None of these things happened. My reason for wanting a house was directly influenced by my desire to get married and have a family. I still can decide to buy a house if I really wanted to, but it doesn’t make sense to me in my current single lifestyle. Houses are liabilities. If you own a house, you are responsible for any and all maintenance or repairs that are needed to keep the house in good condition. So for quite some time now, I’ve been living in a rental apartment which I lease annually. The upkeep and maintenance are all included. When the water heater went out, the property manager replaced it. When the fridge died, I was given a new one. When the dryer stopped working, it was repaired. When the toilet was clogged last Saturday night, the super snaked it.  As long as I pay my rent and don’t intentionally violate the terms of my lease  living here is problem free.  Plus I don’t have to mow a lawn or shovel snow in the winter.

This past week, we’ve experienced heavy rains almost daily. This morning my co-worker told me he awoke to discover his basement was flooded. He’s got quite a mess to clean up and probable flood damage. I live on the third floor. I don’t have a basement to flood. 

In all the years that I’ve rented my apartment, had I been putting my money towards a mortgage on a house instead, I MIGHT have fully paid off the house by now, but every issue that happened to my apartment likewise, could have happened to my hypothetical house had I gone that route. I know people who have lost their houses because something serious happened and they couldn’t swing the upkeep, or they fell behind on their mortgage. Trust me, I made the right decision. My apartment is just the right size for all my stuff, and me.

home 

Two summer activities I enjoy are kayaking and jet skiing.

A kayak retails for between $179 and $900+ depending on make and model. I go kayaking less than a dozen times a year, mostly during July and August. I COULD easily buy one. Instead, I usually rent then when I want one. The usual rental cost is about $40 for a two hour rental, which is about as long as I enjoy doing it for. The great part is that I don’t have to store it, or lug it around. When I’m done, I just return it. No problem. Yes, buying a kayak could pay for itself in two or three summers, but supposed it got damaged or needed to be replaced? It’s much more important to me to avoid the hassle. Peace of mind is priceless!

freny

A new Sea Doo Wave Runner Jet Ski runs between $5,500 and $15,000 depending on the model and accessories. I can rent one for $100 per hour. I may go jet skiing only once or twice each summer. I live over a hundred miles away from the coast. It makes no sense to me to spend that kind of money based up my current living situation.

jet

Just about anything you can buy can usually be rented.

When I was best man at a friend’s wedding, I rented a tux for the day. Some women spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a wedding dress they will only ever wear ONCE. This never made sense to me. Just like a tux can be rented, some bridal boutiques do rent out wedding dresses.  I don’t care how pretty the dress is, the important part of the wedding is the marriage, not the dress. If the point of getting married is to start a new life together, wouldn’t it be better to put that money to better use then to waste it on a dress for one day? The main points of conflict in relationships are financially based. Why would  you sabotage a new life with a boatload of debt?  Trust me on this ladies, debt-free is the new dowry.  I avoid women with financial issues like I avoid the plague.  If you can’t handle money, you couldn’t handle me.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

cherry

Just because anything under the sun can be rented doesn’t always mean you should rent it. I’ve never operated a back hoe, driven a bulldozer, operated a cherry-picker, or driven a truck larger than a two-ton delivery truck.  If you don’t know what you are doing, you can seriously hurt yourself or wreck the equipment.  Always make use that anything you rent either falls within your current skill set, or comes with instructions. I was nervous the first time I went kayaking.  Before I ever got near the water, I was given basic instructions,  helpful hints, and I asked a lot of questions. My first time jet skiing, I sat through a 30 minute class and took a boating safety test, followed by basic instructions and helpful hints. I also signed a liability sheet agreeing that should I fail to follow all the guidelines I would be accountable for any damage to the wave runner up to and including a full replacement of the vehicle.

You CAN lease a new car instead of buying one, but in my case, leasing doesn’t make sense. I drive too far and too often, and car leases have mileage restrictions.  I have to own my cars. Which brings us back to everyone being different. Only you can decide what is best for you. Sometimes a lease is better than buying, other times, not so much. Always read a lease agreement before you sign it because more often than not, breaking a lease has serious financial penalties.  As always I wish you success and happiness!