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.

coffeeworld

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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Help Yourself!

Are self-help books all they’re cracked up to be?

 

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If you walk into any decent bookstore, you’ll notice that a large section of the store is devoted to self-help books. Self help books usually fit very nicely into three inter-related categories:

  • Wealth
  • Health
  • Relationships

Depending on one’s  personal situations, one of these three categories may be more important to you than another, but from my personal view point wealth (or financial stability) is the lynch pin that holds the other two components in place. The stress and worry associated with poor financial decisions will ruin both your health and your relationships.   Fighting about money is the number one relationship killer. With such a huge selection of self-help books and authors to choose from, you might wonder if self-help books really work at all.

A mind not to be changed by place or time. The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n. – John Milton

John Milton was a 17th century English poet. His most famous work was Paradise Lost, a long narrative poem which basically expands upon the biblical story of Adam and Eve from the book of Genesis.

In the 1997 movie The Devil’s Advocate, Al Pacino  plays a character named John Milton, a lawyer who is  actually Satan in disguise. At one point during the film, Pacino utters this quotable dialog : “The worst vice is advice”. It’s a statement that’s a little confusing, but I found it to be both funny and profound. Some people are in the habit of advising other people about anything and everything, even when they have no worthwhile advice to offer.  So it’s very important to be able to discern if the advice given is of any value. I cannot tell you how many times people (who didn’t know what they were talking about) gave me bad advice which had I been foolish enough to act upon would have had disastrous consequences.

If you’re considering seeking out a self-help book, then you’ve already made the first step in problem solving, admitting to yourself that there’s a problem. The second step is gathering information so you can formulate a solution. The third step is putting that information into practice, but the forth and final step is the real key to success. That forth step is maintaining the third step while improving upon and refining it as new and better information comes along. Practice makes perfect, quitters never win, and winners never quit.      

All the good advice in the world is worthless if you fail to apply it. Therein lies the problem. Most people looking for self-help books are ACTUALLY seeking quick fix solutions to their problems that require little or no effort on their part. They are NOT expecting to discover PERMANENT life changes.

Take diet books for example.  (At the risk of insulting any actual dietician or fitness expert who may have written a really sound book, I’m NOT going to mention any specific book title, or author.)  

Average Joe is 100 lbs overweight and hears  about a fabulous new diet book by a well respected author, and he immediately orders a copy. The book arrives and after a month of making all the tasty  meals, Joe loses 25 lbs. He pats himself on the back uses his new diet book to prop up the short leg of the table, and goes to the all-you-can-eat buffet to reward himself. A month later, he has gained back the weight he lost, and blames the author and the stupid book. Then he hears about another new diet book and repeats the process over and over.  The problem isn’t the advice he received, it is that he stopped following it the moment he saw positive change, and resumed all the bad habits that caused the problem in the first place.

If you want to stop a problem,  you MUST stop going all the things at caused the problem, PERMANENTLY! You don’t go back, ever.   Occam’s razor, dictates that “the simplest explanation is usually the correct one “. If you keep wondering why all your problems keep happening to you, it’s because the problem isn’t the problem, the problem IS you. To quote Shakespeare  “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves”  You’re not a victim of your circumstances, you’re a volunteer and it’s up to you to break the vicious cycle that you’ve trapped yourself in.

As I’ve said many times, I grew up poor because my father died when I was young, and my mother didn’t have the intelligence to handle money. If you gave her one dollar, she’s spend two.  I broke the vicious cycle of poverty that had trapped most of my family by seeking wise council on money and financial matters.  I put these practices into place years ago and never stopped working my way towards financial freedom.   This is why I’m successful today. I realized that my way of thinking was what caused the problem, and I actively sort out better information from someone smarter than myself.  This is because a greater intelligence is always needed to fix a problem than the intellect that caused it.  

So as your trying to figure out which of the near infinite self-help books will provide the answer to your problem, let me give you a ‘short cut’. The best self-help books all offer the simplest answers, and often quote the Bible.  If you read enough of them, they all eventually seem to offer the exact advice.

  • For wealth–  Spend  less then you earn,  live within your means, and save and invest.
  • For health– Eat proper nutritious meals and exercise regularly.
  • For relationships – Be good.  

It’s just common sense, not tricks or gimmicks.  

Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe. (Proverbs 28:26)

You may have heard it said ‘God helps those who help themselves’. This is NOT biblical. You will not find that phrase anywhere in the Holy Bible. Benjamin Franklin popularized it.  The Bible tells us that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, and also encourages us to seek wise council. It is the first and the greatest ‘self-help’ book, timeless and perfect.

Here are a few helpful  proverbs form the Bible:

Proverbs 12:15

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.

Proverbs 11:14

Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory.

Proverbs 13:10

Through insolence comes nothing but strife, But wisdom is with those who receive counsel.

Proverbs 19:20

Listen to counsel and accept discipline, That you may be wise the rest of your days.

So if you’re seeking the ultimate self-help book why not try reading the time tested original first. As always I wish you happiness and success!

Staycation Getaways!

Adventures in your own backyard.

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Now that summer has arrived and the weather is warm and sunny, it’s getting harder and harder to be at my day job working, because I spend a lot of time day dreaming about being off anywhere else and enjoying myself. Most people usually take just one summer vacation between Memorial Day and Labor Day which mark the unofficial beginning and end of the summer vacation season in the USA.  I used to go away every Memorial Day weekend, but I gave that activity up years ago for two reasons: One–trim the budget, and Two–It was no longer ‘fun’ doing what I was going that weekend each year.

I still go away EVERY Labor Day Weekend to Ocean City MD, for a grand 5 day vacation at a great hotel located right on the beach.  It’s my most expensive trip of the year, and I budget for it and save up using the 52 Week Challenge savings method.  Aside from that, my summer activities are confined to day trips on weekends,  like renting a kayak on the lake at nearby French Creek State Park.

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I live in Lancaster county, located in south central Pennsylvania.  For size comparison, Pennsylvania is roughly the same square miles in area as the entire country of England. Not the biggest state, but a sizable land.  Fortunately for me, I own my own car, and where I live places me within 160 miles of five different states. In roughly three hours or less (depending on traffic) I can reach parts of Delaware, Maryland,  New Jersey, New York, and of course a sizable chunk of Pennsylvania.  My only barriers are any toll roads, and the cost of a tank of gas. My Hyundai can get between 350 and 400 miles on a full tank depending on travel conditions.  In my circumstance, this location affords me a plethora of nearby State Parks, lakes, mountains, rivers, forests, and beaches that can be explored in three hours drive or less in almost any direction I choose, many less than 100 miles from my home.   

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100 miles is about 161 kilometers. It’s been joked that the difference between Europeans and Americans is that Americans think 100 years is a long time, and Europeans think 100 miles is a long distance.

Everyone knows the word vacation, and it means different things to different individuals. In the UK and parts of Europe, I’ve often heard them use the term holiday instead of vacation, but in the USA holidays refer to specific days like Memorial Day, Labor Day, Independence Day, Christmas, etc. It is fitting to call a vacation a holiday in a way, as a holiday is a day for celebration when many people are allowed to stay away from work or school, and often a vacation serves the same function. A trip to get away from all the stress, drama, and toil of day-to-day life. A few years ago, some brilliant mind in an advertising office somewhere coined the catchy portmanteau  ‘staycation’ by combining the words STAY and VACATION. It sounds much better than saying ‘taking time off’, ‘getting me-time’ or ‘day-tripping’. I have embraced the staycation as a legitimate excuse to getaway without really going away.

One of the perks of my day job is that my Sunday off plus a rotating day-off schedule means that every seven weeks I automatically get a three day weekend as our work week schedules begin on Saturday and end on Friday. Two of these always fall during the summer. I also have the maximum number of vacation days and sick days you can attain in my position due to my seniority, though I reserve  my vacation days for specific events, and sick days are really meant to be used for serious illness and are frowned upon by upper management when used for mental health days, blue Mondays, or any form of sickness because they really don’t want you to use sick days at all, as if that makes any sense.

So yes, I am fortunate and can take time off to enjoy summer.  I hope that everyone who reads my blog on a regular basis understands that with careful budgeting, prior proper planning, and a minimum amount of travel expense, they too can enjoy both summer vacations and staycations.

What’s in your ‘backyard’?

Assuming you have your own car, or can carpool with a friend:

  • A simple Google search for beaches, or state parks nearby can give you several ideas for low cost or even free places near you to swim, hike, camp, or picnic. All you have to do is be able to get there, which means having a car and the money for gas and tolls.
  • If you are stuck for ideas on what to do with your free time, you can check out value deals for day trips and activities at LivingSocial.Com LivingSocial is an online marketplace that allows its registered users to buy and share things to do in their geographic area.
  • If you enjoy meeting new people, you can always find new groups and clubs to join at MeetUp.com 
  • If you’re into tours,  museums, historic places or various other ideas for day trips, you can check out TripAdvisor.com  for nearby attractions.

If you don’t own a car, or can’t drive:

A lack of personal transportation will significantly limit your ability to explore many of the aforementioned activities, but it doesn’t make them altogether impossible. Always remember, when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains however improbable must be true. If there’s a will, there’s a way. In New York City for example, it IS possible to go to the beach, botanical gardens, museums etc.,  all by bus or subway. That was how I got to go to the beach at Coney Island growing up. 

There are Bus Tour companies that offer many inexpensive  day and even weekend trips to many locations that leave from the Bus Stations in most major metropolitan areas.  It costs me less to take a bus round trip from nearby Reading PA to Queens NY then it does for me to drive the 169 miles to my Aunt’s home due to the cost of gas and tolls, BUT I’m then limited to the quirks of the NYC bus and subway system to get around, or taxis and Ubers/Lyfts so it’s quite restricting.

I’ve taken enjoyable bus trips to Washington D.C many times to see the monuments and museums in my Nation’s Capital. Come to think of it, I should do that again, it’s been a while. The last time I went to D.C. was for a Pro Life March in 2006. That particular trip was free and charted by local churches, but it was a cold January day, and I was very limited in what I was able to do because of the weather, time, and activity constraints. But FREE is FREE, and I got to show support for my beliefs with like-minded Christians.   

  • Pro– You don’t have to drive to and from  your destination, that’s the Bus Drivers job.
  • Pro– You can sleep on the bus if you’re tired, just don’t miss your stop.
  • Con–You are limited to what you do by the arrival and departure times of the tour bus, and if you see an interesting detour on the way to your destination, you can’t pull over and explore it. (I once discovered an Elephant Museum driving on 30W instead of taking my usual PA Turnpike on the way to Ohio two years ago.)     

 

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And of course there’s always biking or waking, or even picnicking in local parks or your own back yard.

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The point is summer only lasts so long, and everyone can find something enjoyable to fit their budget IF they stop making excuses and truly apply themselves.   As always, I wish you happiness and success!          

What’s for Dinner?

The importance of cooking at home and meal planning.

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You may have taken notice that obesity and diabetes have been on the rise in the USA over the past few decades. One of the principal reasons for this is due to overly processed foods laden with high-fructose-corn-syrup, salt, fillers,  transfats, and preservatives. Traditional home cooking started moving to the ‘back burner’ in 1954 when Swanson Foods began promoting it’s ‘T.V. Dinners’ to tired housewives as an easy alternative. Just pop it in the oven and 30-45 minutes later dinner is served right on a disposable aluminum dinner tray. No fuss, no mess.  Decades later with the introduction of the home microwave, these ready prepped pre-packaged dinners  were re-designed with plastic containers for microwave use.

Add to this, changing gender roles during the 1960’s (a side effect of  its so-called Sexual Revolution), kids cereals with secret toy surprises, fast-food restaurants, and cheap junk food and we’ve created a generation that knows zero about home cooking. I remember an incident within the past five years when a friend was making a omelet for her boyfriend and  ‘googled’ instructions which were totally off base. Fortunately I was around to save the day. It just blew my mind that a thirty-something had never made an omelet. She was equally surprised that I, a GUY, knew how to cook. She does make an awesome baked mac-and-cheese however, so I’ll let her slide.   

My mother was a ‘talented’ cook. I say that because she was the only person I knew who could burn water.  Imagine my surprise the first time I discovered that scrambled eggs were NOT supposed to be black and crunchy. Once when I was driving cross-country with a friend, he asked if we could stop at the next restaurant. I agreed. When I drove right past the next diner without stopping, he said “Why didn’t we stop?” I asked him if he noticed the sign that read “FOOD JUST LIKE MOM USED TO MAKE” and told him I was doing him a favor.

Knowledge is power!

There is NOTHING un-manly about cooking. The finest restaurant chefs around the world are predominantly men. My favorite celebrity chef is Gordon Ramsey. I don’t tend to watch many cooking shows because I don’t eat animals, and many of the cooking shows demonstrate recipes that are not vegetarian friendly.    

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So yes, there was a great need for me to learn how to cook at an early age.  My first cook book was the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. I was in college, and furnishing my first apartment, so I made sure to have everything I needed for the kitchen, including a how-to book. Real men READ the instructions before they attempt the project, and cooking is no different. It’s just knowledge, technique, and mastering the skills.  The internet was still in its infancy,  so googling anything was not an option. Add to the fact that that I became a vegetarian in college, and suddenly I had to learn stuff about cooking that was NOT in Better Homes.  I remember the first time I make my own soy milk. What a mess.  

You get what you pay for!

As you probably know, eating out is expensive. Cooking at home is cheaper, and can be healthier for you IF you learn to cook healthy meals.  You can also save money by planning menus for the week, and eliminating waste from spoilage.  You may be tempted to save money by buying cheap groceries. Avoid this mistake, or you are risking your health. So what if you can purchase packages of Raman noodles for  only 13 cents each ,  and you figure you could eat three square meals a day of Raman noodles for an entire year for just $142.65. Do you want  to eat the same thing every meal for a year? I sure as hell don’t.  Such monotony is not only unhealthy, it’s a little bit insane. And have you ever read the ingredients on a bag of Raman noodles? They contain a food additive called Tertiary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ), a preservative that is a petroleum industry byproduct. They’re also incredibly high in sodium, calories and saturated fat.  If this is the only thing you can afford to eat, I feel sorry for you. You may have saved money, but you’re ruining your health in the process.

Try to plan meals using fresh healthy ingredients. Have a supply of non-perishable kitchen supplies like olive oil, flour, spices, baking soda, etc. Just as long as it’s stuff you need and use. Honey lasts forever! And only use 100% pure maple syrup, throw away that Log Cabin pancake syrup it’s bad for you. Buy whole spices and grind them as you need them, they will keep longer. You can even set up a window box of herb plants to harvest your own basil, thyme, parsley, cilantro, or rosemary to add fresh herbs to your cooking.  Canned foods can be healthy IF they are organic, and contain a few preservatives as possible. Alternately you can learn home canning and can your own healthier foods.  I have canned my own jars of the hottest hot peppers known to man because the store brought hot peppers were not hot enough for me. Plus because they only use vinegar and kosher salt as the preservatives, they are much better than what you buy in the store. I have also made my own ketchup, with NO corn syrup or chemicals, just a  couple of healthy ingredients.

Although some ‘doomsday preppers’ may recommend having a year’s supply of food in your larder, I think this is excessive. I recommend no more than three months supply of most non-perishables, unless it’s something hard to come by, like the hot peppers I pick in the field myself once a year for my home-canned jars of super-hot peppers, or the awesome handmade Pepper Jam I buy from  Jacky’s Jams and Jellies at the Annual Bowers Chilie Pepper Festival

Next, based on your family size, look up healthy meal recipes that suit your tastes on the internet.  Plan out the recipes for the week based on how long the fresh ingredients will keep.  Remember, organic fruits and vegetables have shorter shelf-lives because they are free from pesticides and chemicals.  After you’ve arranged the meals for the week, create a shopping list of all the ingredients necessary. Double check the recipes to ensure that you have everything you need on the list. You don’t want to find yourself in the middle of cooking a meal and suddenly realizing you’re all out of Pride Of Szeged Hungarian Sweet Paprika Seasoning Spice! By having a rotation of meals, you will never be bored eating the ‘same-old, same-old’. Remember to include special meals for birthdays and holidays in your planning. For example, for Christmas each year I make a vegetarian version of the traditional Christmas Lasagna that my late aunt Arleen always made each Christmas when I was a young boy. There was also another special baked pasta dish that she made me on my birthday, a baked spaghetti pie which I loved growing up, which I have likewise adapted to my vegetarian lifestyle.     

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Take your shopping list with you to the grocery store, and avoid impulse buying. Stores routinely place items they are  promoting in the entryway, on isle end-caps, and near checkout lanes to encourage you to buy sale items you really don’t need. These will destroy your budget. Stick to your list. If-and-only-if you see an incredible buy on something that you regularly use and need, and you can justify the purchase, or even double-down with a money-saving coupon, then grab that extra item. Beyond that ‘shopping emergency’, STICK TO YOUR LIST! If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. You do not want to be the person who went into a store for one quick item, yet departed an hour later with a filled cart.     

No good at planning meals, try a meal kit service!

Two months ago, I decided to try Hello Fresh. It’s a meal kit delivery service. They have no contract, you can cancel the service any time prior to the weekly ship cut-off time. I had a coupon and figured I would try it for a month. They had a vegetarian plan, (not vegan) that offered three weekly meals designed for two persons. I live alone, but this just meant that I could cook three times a week, and save half for leftovers so I was able to stretch my dinners to almost the entire week. The greatest thing about the meals are that everything is provided (except salt, pepper, cooking oil, or butter, things which should be in stock in every kitchen all the time, so no worries there).  All the meals come with color photo recipe cards and step-by-step instructions. They are pretty easy for anyone with basic cooking skills and a modest kitchen.  Each meal takes about a half-hour or so to make, typically runs from 500-700 calories per serving, and most (but not all) of the ingredients are organic, non-GMO.  Let me tell you, I have been cooking things like asparagus, artichoke hearts, farro, couscous, avocado,  arugula, zucchini, etc. These are items I would never have freely purchased at a store. And yet, because I know I can eat them, they have been shipped to me and I am committed to trying new foods.  Let me tell you, my meals have never been as varied and flavorful. There has been nothing I have received which I have tried and did not love.  Although Hello Fresh is not marketed as a weight loss plan, because the servings are always less than 800 calories at the most, and all healthy ingredients, I have been losing weight.   Some of my friends have claimed that $59.95 a week is expensive, but as I’ve said I did have a $30 off coupon that first week. I’ve also managed to win an online Hello Fresh photo contest  which got me a discount on two weeks of meals.

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I have a promo code which gives each new  user  $40 off their first week, while at the same time  gets me a discount as well for referring them.  Plus, by not needing to shop for all the ingredients, I’m saving time  so it’s so worth it. I’ve loved cooking these meals so much that I’ve been buying professional cookware, knives, and chef tools for my kitchen.  Plus I feel great, and feeling good about yourself is a cornerstone of happiness.  If you would  like to try Hello Fresh and live in the USA, you can get $40 off  your first purchase by using my exclusive promo code EXPRESSOM . If you live in Canada or the UK, I’m not sure if it works for Hello Fresh CA or UK, but if it does work, please let me know so that I may pass that information on.  If you’re committed to cooking and eating new foods, as well as feeling great, I urge you to give Hello Fresh a try. As always, I wish you happiness and success!      

Opportunity only knocks once?

Unleashing  your inner potential.

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The word genius means exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability. It used to be a word that described the ability to do something remarkable, but sometime during the 1800’s the definition changed and began to refer to the person, not the potential. As a result, a line was drawn in the sand, and people were classified. You either were born a genius, or you weren’t.  This is a lie.

We are all born the same way, and we all die eventually. Aside from accidents, tragedies or illnesses which may cut our lives short, we have decades in which to learn, and potentially improve our lives. The sad reasons that the majority of the populace fails to do so is largely because they either don’t know to improve their lives, don’t believe they can improve their lives, or flat out don’t want to . There’s really nothing that can be done for that last group, you can’t help people who don’t want to be helped.

“If you don’t believe that you have potential, you will never try to reach it.”

­­–John C. Maxwell

There are millions of millionaires, thousands of billionaires, and countless entrepreneurs in the world today. The most envious ‘unsuccessful’ people demonize these ‘successful’ people as being greedy, arrogant, undeserving and a plethora of other negative adjectives. Despite this I have never heard of a person with zero income, zero savings, and zero resources starting a business, creating jobs, and hiring employees.  Those who consider these highly successful individuals to be role models often refer to them as being ‘financial geniuses’.  They are said to have been presented with opportunities and met with influential people who in turn, helped them reach their potential. Maybe, maybe not.

I’m not going to deny that sometimes there is an element of ‘luck’. I am going to say that those who had that ‘luck’ worked hard to make that ‘luck’. In other words, what some people would refer to as ‘luck’ is not some random chance. It is the end result of years of study, countless attempts, and lots of hard work. You may have heard that old saying ‘opportunity knocks once.’  It does. It knocks once to let you know that it exists, and that it’s just on the other side of the door waiting for you to seize it. It doesn’t go away, it’s always there waiting for you to reach out and grab it, but you have to believe you can achieve it first!       

 “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

– Jackie Robinson  

The role of a father in a family is to provide for his children, and his children’s children.  This refers to not only the essentials of food, clothing, and shelter, but also guidance, knowledge, hope, and  opportunities.  If you raise a child to believe that there is no hope, no opportunity for improvement, and that things will continue to get worse, you crush their spirit. My father died when I was a young boy, but not before instilling in me that belief that anything I wanted in life was attainable though knowledge, hard work, and persistence.   If you want your children to be successful, you must first strive to be successful.  The more resources and knowledge you have to pass on to your children, to greater the chances  they have for success.

“Deliberately seek the company of people who influence you to think and act on building the life you desire.” –Napoleon Hill   

If you really want to be successful, you need to surround yourself with people who are more successful, and cut ties with all the negative ‘sad-sacks’ who keep trying to discourage you. Many of these ’emotional vampires’ thrive on seeing you fail, because it makes them feel better about themselves because you can’t achieve your dreams either. Misery loves company and these dream-crushers will find every dark cloud they can to wrap around your silver lining.

Every choice you make in life has consequences.  Good choices usually lead to good outcomes while bad ones have negative outcomes.  A single bad choice made early in life can set you back years, if you ever recover at all. And the more poor choices you make, the more cumulative the fallout becomes. Surrounding yourself with losers who apply peer pressure to encourage you to travel their path will only end badly.   This is the real reason behind the other success cliché, “it’s lonely at the top.” Think back to your high school days. How many classmates did you have? Of those, how many went on to be successful? I mean REALLY successful, not just getting by. Odds are that one-in-a hundred became super-successful, and one other became very-well-off. Yet back in high school, you were all more-or-less on equal footing. Of all the people I went to high school with, today I speak to only two of them, and only once or twice a year.  Earlier this week, I bumped into someone from high school who remembered me, but I didn’t know their name, face, or anything about them. 

On the other hand, if you surround yourself with winners, these individuals will be there to advise and encourage you.  You’ll be able to get valuable insights which will help you avoid the mistakes of others. Some may even offer to help you in  your endeavors. Successful people love to help others became successful.  The key here is to be genuine, and not have hidden agendas.  I have had some former friends who asked for assistance and had zero intention of fulfilling their end of the agreement. They intentionally took advantage of my kindness. Thus ended our friendship.  

As you go further on in life, you will find along the way friends will come and go. Some will not be able to accompany you on your road to success, and you need to let them go. It may be hard, but it will be worse for both of you if you try to make them stay. Thrust me, I’ve cut a lot of fair-weather friends in my life, it’s never easy, but looking back it was always the right thing to do. Most people can only accommodate five close friends in their life at most. Any more than that and you will be neglecting family or your own personal time. Friends are great to have, but that the only real constant in your life will always be your family. This is because you can choose your friends, but family is forever.

“Life reflects your own thoughts back to you.”– Napoleon Hill

When people are happy inside, it often shows on the outside. Successful people tend to be happy people. And when they project this positive energy outward, it tends to attract like-minded people. No one wants to be around depressing, unhappy people. Your attitude in life will open or close doors for you more often than the situations you find yourself in. People tend to respond positively towards happy congenial people. Just as what you know, who you know, and where you are in life are all important, the final piece of the puzzle is how you behave.  Charles Swindoll once said “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” So the best way to be happy and successful is to start by being happy. Focus on all the good, healthy positive things in your life. If you start counting your blessings you will find that you have more things in your life to be happy about than you realize. And smile, it’s contagious. Before you know it, you’ll attract positive people to your life to fill the spaces left by the negative ones you cut from your social circle. And each new person will bring new knowledge, new opportunities,  and new adventures to share. As always, I wish you happiness and success!