Use Shelf Liner to Stabilize Cutting Boards

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There seems to be a million single-use kitchen gadgets to solve all your problems.  I’m a big fan of Alton Brown‘s theory on kitchen tools, the only single-use tool in the kitchen should be a fire extinguisher.  Of the tools I use the most, a cutting board is near the top of the list.  A quick note about cutting boards, they hold true to the old saying bigger is better.  I see friends use these super small cutting boards, mostly because they are easy to store or are cheap and wonder how the hell they manage.  Your cutting board should be at least as big as your biggest knife diagonal on it.  I personally prefer end grain butcher block style boards, without the grooved channels as seen in the photo above, but everyone has a preference.

The biggest problem with nearly any consumer grade cutting board is that they are thin and don’t weigh a lot, because they are meant to be stored off the counter when not in use.  Because of this they can slide around while you’re working on them, especially if there’s a little water or oil on your counter top, causing an unsafe working environment.  A quick fix can be made with non-stick shelf liner, a more green alternative to wetting some paper towels and putting them down and throwing them away after your done.  Best of all, it’s usually at the dollar store, or at nearly any discount store like Big Lots for a few bucks.  It can be cut to any size you want, washed and if it tears, cheaply replaced.  Several other sites also suggest placing kitchen towels under a cutting board, my experience is that the towel is always too big, has to be folded so many times that it makes the cutting surface unstable.

The photo used above also showcases my favorite knives, Global.  Hands down, one of the best investments you can make in a kitchen is a quality chef knife.  There’s little need for a 27 piece knife set, one good chef knife will do 90% of the work you need to do in the kitchen.

How to Make Your Dog Vomit

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This article is not as sadistic as the title implies.  Knowing how to make your dog vomit could save his or her life.

Dogs are natural scavengers.  Unfortunately this may mean that will scavenge for food in your kitchen or garbage which could lead to deadly consequences.  There are many foods which are safe for humans that are highly toxic to dogs.  If your dog eats these items, it will be imperative that you are able to induce vomiting in a timely manner in order to avoid poisoning or harm.

Foods to avoid (below is a partial list of foods that are poisonous or harmful if ingested by your dog):

  • Grapes / Raisins (contain a toxin that can lead to kidney failure)
  • Onions (a large amount consumed at one time or over several days can lead to anemia as well as gastrointestinal problems)
  • Corn Cobs (can cause intestinal blockage)
  • Fruit Pits (can cause intestinal blockage)
  • Uncooked bread dough (the years can continue to rise in the dog’s intestine causing blockage or rupture)
  • Xylitol (in many gums and candies and can cause liver damage with extended or large quantity ingestion)
  • Macadamia Nuts (can cause locomotion difficulties)
  • Avocado (contain Persin which can cause vomiting, diarrhea or heart congestion)
  • Salmon / Trout (can contain parasites that are harmful to dogs)
  • Chicken Bones (can cause intestinal blockage)
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medicines (most medicines are harmful to your dog)
  • Chocolate (contains Theobromine which can cause seizures, irregular hearbeats, and difficulty breathing)
  • Coffee / Caffeine (similar in chemical make-up to Theobromine, can cause seizures, irregular heartbeats, difficulty breathing)

If your dogs ingests one of these items, you should induce vomiting.  Time is of the essence, so it is important that you induce vomiting immediately after consumption of the dangerous item.

Ways to induce vomiting in your dog (you should do this outside or in a tub for easier clean-up):

Hydrogen Peroxide: this inexpensive solution is available at most pharmacies and grocery stores.  A bottle can cost between 50 cents and a dollar.  To induce vomiting, pour 2-3 Tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide into your dog’s mouth, coaxing him or her to swallow it.  After about 5 minutes, your dog will begin to vomit and will continue to vomit until his or her stomach is empty.  Depending on the size of your dog, this can take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes.

Salt: 1 Tablespoon of salt can also make your dog vomit.  This is a little messier than hydrogen peroxide as it is sometimes more difficult to force your dog to swallow a tablespoon of dry salt.  You can try mixing it with 2 Tablespoons of water in order to pour it more easily into your dog’s mouth. Vomiting will occur within about 5 minutes and will last 5 to 15 minutes.

Syrup of Ipecac: This was previously a common household item for people with small children, but new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics are no longer recommending every household keep a stock of Ipecac.  Regardless, this remedy works for dogs.  Syrup of Ipecac can be purchased from most drug stores and is slightly more expensive than Hydrogen Peroxide (about $3 for a bottle).  Follow the directions on the bottle for dosages.  Pour the syrup into your dog’s mouth to induce vomiting.  Wait several minutes for it to take effect.  Your dog will vomit the contents of his or her stomach in a span of 5 to 15 minutes.

Of course, NEVER induce vomiting if your dog has ingested a caustic substance, seek immediate medical help from your veterinarian.

If your dog is showing signs of poisoning such as lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, blood in stool or vomit, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats, difficulty urinating, lack of thirst or hunger, etc. seek IMMEDIATE medical treatment from your veterinarian.

Keep a stock of Hydrogen Peroxide, Salt, and/or Syrup of Ipecac on hand for emergencies should they arise and always contact your veterinarian with any health questions.

You can also check out this video here.

Ask The Readers: What To Do With Old Magazines?

Magazines

This stack looks nothing like what I have at home currently, piled nearly two feet high are magazines that have been delivered over the last three years to my home.  I get most all of them promo’d to me, either industry related (from the photography I do) or tech related from work, they often have great articles in them, I just never throw them out.

I’ve often told myself that I’d tear out the photographs that inspire or impress me, get a glue stick and put them in a journal for reference.  In the more than ten years I’ve been shooting not once have I done this.  Additionally, I tend to read through them pretty fast and never read them again.

Paper recycling is not yet in my neighborhood which means I’d need to drive them someplace that actually recycles glossy paper, but I’m hoping someone has a more creative idea to put them to use?

The Cheapskate’s Manifesto: 11 Ways to Save by Cooking at Home

This is a long overdue follow-up to Mike Panic’s Cheapskate’s Manifesto.  This time, Mike and I focus on saving you money by cooking at home.  Mike already showed you how to get the most from coupon clipping at the grocery store, and hopefully you’ve been able to apply some of his ideas when it comes to buying food.  But what about stretching the food dollars you already spent?

In this article we feature a few tips and tricks that save money by cooking at home with what we already have.   Whether cooking for one, or a family, you will see that there are several ways to get more from what you already have in your pantry.

Larger Quantities, Less Often

Buying food in bulk will save you money, but allowing it to go bad before you use it will cost you even more.  Not everyone is a big fan of leftovers, but for me, it’s a reality.  I’m a single man living alone, so it’s difficult to cook one meal for dinner daily, since I eat lunch at work and rarely eat dinner.  The food I do cook for dinner will often provide me two to three lunches since most recipes will easily serve four.

Grains and Legumes

Take a look outside what might be your normal comfort zone of supersized meals with 64oz Big Gulp soda’s and look at the wealth of foods currently and seasonally available to you.  Most of the US assumes that with dinner they will get a 6-8oz portion of protein, usually in the form of meat, poultry or seafood, while a vast majority of the world makes do by sharing that same 6-8oz portion of protein with their entire family by using grains, legumes, and starches.

grains-and-legumes

Rice and beans will fill you up, provide you with much needed energy, and they store very well.  The same goes for dried pasta.  I’m partial to Basmati rice and buy it in a 10lb burlap bag. The last bag I purchased was right around $18.  Compare that with boxed instant rice or gourmet rices that sell for $6 in a one or two pound box and you’ve got one really good deal.  Store it in an airtight container and it will last you a very long time.  Long grain rice takes a bit longer to cook than instant rice, but it tastes better and is more nutritious.  Buy beans in bulk the same way.

Use A Crock Pot

A good crock pot will cost you around $30, will last for years, and takes minimal effort to cook with.  Search Google for crock pot recipes, sometimes called slow cookers, of which you will find thousands.

One of my more favorite uses is for lentil soup, which has only a handful of ingredients tastes great, and costs only a few dollars to make.  This recipe makes enough to feed eight people, and is freezer-friendly.  I also use my crock pot to make macaroni & cheese, BBQ pulled pork and countless other great eats other than soups.

Eat Seasonal Foods

Local farmers’ markets as well as the grocery stores are packed full of fresh locally-grown foods.  When foods are in season, especially locally grown, it often tends to be the least expensive and best time to buy.  Towards the end of summer my local farmers’ market has incredible deals on yellow flesh peaches.  Last summer I got about 12 pounds of peaches for $6, which is much more than I could eat in a weeks time.  When they were ripe I cleaned them, sliced them up, and placed them in small zip-lock bags and stacked them in my freezer.  They now get used right out of the freezer as part of my smoothie recipe, or I can thaw them out and make a cobbler, pies, or peach turnovers.  Bananas also freeze well.  When they get to be a bit too ripe, freeze them for banana nut breads, banana pancakes, or even smoothies.  This way you will have fresh fruits and vegetables all year long.

Freeze Leftovers

I’ve mentioned freezing a few times.  It’s not a bad word.  Properly sealed food will keep for 2-6 months in your freezer.  Like most people, I get sick of eating the same thing day after day, and I’ll use the previously mentioned lentil soup as an example.

A full crock pot of lentil soup will easily last me for lunch and dinner for nearly 4 days. At the end of those 4 days I’d never want to see another lentil again.  Making less than that in my crock pot isn’t an effecient use of energy, and not eating it all within a few days wastes food, thus throwing money away.  I will often use recycled chinese take out soup containers to put single servings of lentil soup in and freeze about half of the batch.  This allows me to pull a bowl of soup out of the freezer a month from the day I made it and still enjoy it without having to make a whole new batch.  Once you do this with a few items you’ve cooked in bulk, you can easily rotate through your own frozen food selection.  Be aware that certain foods freeze better than others.  Not all fish tastes good frozen and reheated, and the same goes for rice.

Freeze extra breads until you have enough to make homemade croutons for soups or salads.  Make your own seasoned breadcrumbs from extra breads or bagels.  They are much better than in the store and will save you at least a dollar or two.

When making pancakes, I use my electric griddle and make a large batch so I have plenty to freeze for later.  This way, I can just pull out a stack of pancakes and quickly heat them up for breakfast.

Use Substitutes

There are many foods that are fantastic substitutes for their more expensive counterparts, and they are sometimes healthier as well.  A perfect example of this is margarine for butter.  Margarine contains half the calories of butter, and is roughly one third the price.

Make Stocks

My freezer is always “stocked” with stocks.  I will buy five or six whole chickens when they are around 69 cents a pound, and process them at home.  I break down the chickens and make several separate packages of breasts, thighs and drumsticks, and wings.   All of the bones go into my large stockpot with a couple of carrots, an onion, celery, and it all gets covered with water and cooked on low, just enough so I can see a bubble once in a while, and then strained into a delicious chicken stock.  I separate the stock into smaller containers and freeze them for future recipes.  This is not only less expensive than store bought chicken broth or boullion cubes, but there is almost no sodium or preservatives, and I know it’s made of entirely fresh components.  (For you vegans out there, you can make some fantastic vegetable stocks the same way).

Small amounts of vegetables can be frozen for “soup starters”, such as carrots, onions, celery, corn, and even tomatoes.  It’s easier to dice the vegetables first so they can just be thrown right into the pot to cook

For a great tasting rice or pasta, use a vegetable or chicken stock instead of water to cook it in.  You will be amazed at the flavor!

Turn Off the Heat!

It’s a misconception that pasta needs to boil until the second it’s removed from the stove.  This is simply not true.  When I add pasta to boiling water, I stir it until it comes to a boil.  After one full minute of stirring and boiling, I turn off the heat, and don’t even cover it.  Boiling water is roughly 212 degrees.  Maybe one degree different if you live on Mount Everest.

pasta-boiling

In the time it takes for the water to come down to the ambient temperature, it will already be cooked.  This will not only will you save energy, but you will reduce the risk of having the pasta stick to the bottom of the pot.

More Than One Use…And a Little Imagination

Making stocks from chickens is a perfect example of this, but there are dozens of ways to use “by-products” for future dishes.

I went shopping two days ago and bagels were on sale for one dollar.  Most people see toasted bagels with cream cheese when they look at a bagel.  What I see is very inexpensive baked bagel chips, perfect with onion or everything bagels.  I also see bagel pizzas, hearty soup and salad croutons, and breakfast sandwiches.  All of which I make at home for a fraction of the price.

Corn Tortillas are extremely cheap where I shop, so they are a staple in my pantry.  I can buy a stack as long as my arm for less than two dollars.  Cut into triangles and baked or fried, I can make about twenty dollars worth if bought in a bag, and still have enough left over for taquitos, Mexican pizzas, or tacos.

And while i’m on tortillas, throw them in with the chicken stock you just made, and the vegetables you pulled from the freezer, a little cumin, salt and pepper, and you will have an amazing chicken tortilla soup.

Save Some Dough

Making bread at home is easy, cheap and tastes better than store bought.  The smell of bread baking at home is second to none, and the flavor is nothing like store bought.  At home I make cinnamon raisin breads, sourdough, white breads, baguettes, flatbreads, Naan, and even pizza dough and hamburger and hot dog buns.  It takes a little practice to be proficient, but nothing can replace the satisfaction and flavor of any of these homemade bread products.

dough

Yeast is relatively inexpensive.  Rather than buy 1/4 ounce packages for a dollar at the grocery store, you can buy a one pound block of quick-acting yeast at a restaurant supply store for around seven dollars.  Much less than the $64 a pound of yeast will cost if you buy it in small packages.

I’m sure you have flour, salt, and sugar at home. These are all that are needed to start baking breads, and saving you a huge amount at the grocery store.  I use unbleached all purpose flour, but you may also want to  try some whole wheat flours for a more healthy option.  Add some rolled oats, flax seed, sunflower, sesame and poppy seeds, and you can have an Artesian bread that you would pay $6 for in the stores.

Any baked bread or prepared dough can be frozen, so feel free to make a little extra for pizzas, rolls, and even breads.  I cut them into softball size portions, wrap them tightly and pop them in the freezer for later.

Keep Well Stocked

As I look around my kitchen, I see homemade spice blends, several bags of assorted beans for soups, several kinds of rice, a wealth of baking supplies, and seven shapes of dried pastas.

Any of these items, paired with a protein, can easily be stretched to save you cash, while feeding a whole army.

For proteins I have boneless center-cut pork chops I cut from a boneless loin bought for $1.49 a pound, and several bags of chickens that were 69 cents a pound that I broke down and portioned when I got home.

I have a freezer full of dough, homemade pancakes and French Toast, breads for croutons and crumbs, and topping for cobblers and pies.  There are diced vegetables, frozen berries, and even frozen mashed potatoes.

So save those small amounts of food that you would have otherwise thrown away, and soon your pantry and freezer will be well-stocked with foods that can be combined to create delicious dishes with just a little imagination.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to making more from what you already have.  Hopefully you will find some of these tips useful, and they will help you stretch your shopping dollar as they have mine.

5 Must-Have Cleaning Aids for Pet Owners

I am a die-hard pet lover living with a fastidious neat-freak.  It sometimes causes trouble.  The following 5 products have allowed us to continue in our living arrangement in peace and tidy harmony.

  • Furminator. I am a huge believer in being proactive.  The Furminator allows me to be proactive in my method of cleaning up after my pets.  The Furminator is much much more than just a ‘brush.’  It rakes your pet’s fur (cats or dogs) taking out loose hairs in the top and under coats.  Using this weekly noticeably reduced the amount of fur that ended up on my carpets.  I could not live without it. $30
  • Woolite OxyClean POD. This handy cleaning device is an all-in-one spot remover.  The “POD” contains an oxy-based cleaning fluid as well as a sponge and cleaning brush.  You simply spray the cleaner on the stain, brush it in, and then sponge it up.  It works on most any pet stain including blood.  $5
  • Bissell Spot Bot. If you want to invest a little more money into your spot removal, the Bissell Spot Bot is a perfect solution.  It’s a hands-free carpet shampooer that is incredibly easy to use.  You simply place the Spot Bot on top of the stain and select either “surface stain” or “set-in stain.”  The Bot goes to work to remove the stain in about 3-5 minutes.  Larger area to clean?  You can use the removable hose to clean larger areas, upholstery, or stairs.  $120
  • Dyson Animal. The Dyson Animal is the Ferrari of the vacuum world.  Because of it’s expense, I initially put of purchasing one thinking that it could not possibly be worth the investment.  I can personally attest that it is absolutely worth every cent.  It is the only vacuum I have ever used that truly does not lose suction; in fact, retains such a high power that it completely removes all the fur in my carpets and on my upholstery.  My house has never been so clean!  It also lasts very well even after heavy use.  I have had mine for over 3 years and it still works just as well as the day I brought it home.  $550

Regardless of your budget, utilizing one or all of these tools will significantly improve the cleanliness of your life.  Having pets can be dirty business, but with the right tools you can make your home appear pet-free with ease!

Griffin Powerdock multiple iPod / iPhone charging base

This is a guest post by Sarah of Living Vegan on her experiences with the new Griffin Powerdock multiple base charger for iPods and iPhones.

The Griffin PowerDock is for charging nearly every version iPod and iPhone and claims to eliminate family wars over power cables;  and it does just that. The PowerDock is available with two or four Apple Universal power docks; I opted for the quad model since my husband and I both have multiple i-Products and am quite pleased. Included with the base are 12 dock adapters to properly hold and support the various versions of iPods and both generations of iPhones for charging.

The option to plug in four i-Products at once has simplified and organized my life. I like clean lines in my home and try to eliminate clutter as much as possible. Being of the opinion that less is more, I am not always quick to purchase new ‘gadgets’ but the PowerDock fits into my minimalist mentality. It eliminates the untidiness of multiple cords, plugs, and power blocks coming out of every outlet. Until now, those cords were necessary to ensure that my iPhone and iPod would be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Since the base accommodates four products at once, I am able to plug in my iPhone, my husband’s iPhone, and both of our iPods at the same time. There are no more spousal arguments over whose phone deserves to be charged more than the other. It also eliminates the internal battle of deciding which is more important to charge first, my phone (so I can receive business calls) or my iPod (so I can watch the latest episode of Dexter while I run on the treadmill). With the PowerDock those marital arguments and existential struggles are all abolished.

From an aesthetic perspective, not only does the PowerDock eliminate clutter, the brushed aluminum exterior will fit into any modern living space. The dock itself is very sturdy, with a non-slip bottom that will keep it securely on your countertop or desk. The cord is long enough to reach a hidden outlet and since there is a power block built into the base, there is no need to plug it into a surge protector which further reduces the need for extraneous wires and cords.

Another feature that struck me was the environmentally friendly packaging. The base came in a small reinforced cardboard box with the instruction manual printed on the inner lid, thus eliminating the unnecessary extra packaging and papers that normally accompany the purchase of a new electronic item. Since the packing materials consisted of just the box, it was completely recyclable.

I have only one caveat, in my older (late 1800s) home, the power drawn from four i-Products charging at once draws a lot of current from a single outlet making it difficult to run anything else from that outlet while the iPhones and iPods are charging.

I strongly recommend this product to anyone with more than one iPhone or iPod in their home.  It reduces clutter, is visually applealing, and extremely convenient for charging multiple iPhones and iPods at the same time.

96th Hour of Sobriety

I thought I’d make my comeback with an extravagant entrance. Picture a ticker tape parade with floats composed of people wearing burlap sacks and holding Zimas. Visualize a nun pontificating about abstinence and the benefits. Imagine a cop confiscating an 8th of weed and the criminal being delighted. This has been encompassing me for the past few days. Although 96 hours isn’t much in the grand scheme of things it is for a person who partakes in vices.

After a month of just turning 25 I believe it’s time to clear my head. Best described to a friend, “I don’t want to let any of those things cloud me, myself and I plus this means I’ll have more money.” Of course, he did not take me seriously and retorted, “That is very true, hookers can be quite expensive.” Despite what others think, I’m dead serious. I’m about to embark on a 3 month journey of no sex, smoking, alcohol or drugs. My goal is ultimately to extend this beyond 3 months but I’m not making any promises.  In 2009 this is probably the most difficult task to grasp. By now you’re probably baffled as to why I would even choose this escapade.

Well, after a long bout of ominous dating, four months of non-stop late nights, strong drinks and a haze of THC, I’m burnt out. Although I have a strong head screwed on my shoulders. I need some clarity.
I whole heartedly believe that sex is the bane for most woes. In excess alcohol and drugs have the same effect.

Iam preparing myself for a lot of nights of, well, boringness according to popular belief. I have stocked up on a ton of books, music, movies and a few friends who support me. Perhaps my expectations are high but I’m thinking I will experience a lot of epiphanies.

My first one I’ve discovered is respect. I certainly know the definition of respect but do not know it in the context of myself. While I hold respect for a lot of people I have not respected myself recently. I have let people disrespect me time and time again. From disappearing on me for a week to emotional abuse to letting someone back into my life. The list, unfortunately, goes on. In the past I’ve known that in order for others to respect you it begins within yourself. I am now starting to remember this.  While most people will not understand what or why I’m doing this to me this is a challenge I’m willing to take in order to gain the insight I’m looking for.

The days of me acting like I’m 18 are over for awhile. I suppose this means I’m grown up or mature as they call it.

Interactive LED Coffee Table

From today’s earlier article about fwdfwdfwd, this is something that Kevin was talking about in the diggnation podcast, and I found the link on the second page and the inner-geek in me wants this.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IkmpIXd9Q90[/youtube]

The table is built by none other than Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, the same people that made bristlebots more than 2 years ago.  For just under $2,000 you can get one of your very own from Because We Can.

How to Save Money This Holiday Season: Top 5

I’m as affected by the state of the economy as anyone, and it’s caused me to really curb my usual spending for the holidays. I have family and friends all over the country, so I have the added financial burden of having the majority of my gifts shipped – which this year means I have to get creative, i.e. cheap, to make it work.

1. Wrapping: I don’t shop at “dollar stores” much as I find the products overall pretty horrible in quality, but the exception is wrapping paper, gift bags, ribbon and so on. Never pay regular retail for stuff that’s going right into the trash for the most part. Of course, because I save stuff like that, I already have a good stash to start with, but inevitably some of it will tear and I won’t have enough, so I do make a trip to the local buck shop once a holiday season. Also look around your house for creative ideas to make your wrap job unique. Newspapers, string, colored wire, yarn, paper clips – use your imagination to have an impact when you hand your gift over. Don’t worry about it looking goofy or not ‘elegant’ or whatever. It will make people smile, and remember it – and you.

2. DIY/Make Your Own Gifts: There are countless DIY ideas on the web and in magazines to draw from, but beware: If you have to go out and buy stuff to make it, you are likely defeating your goal of saving money. Be inspired by the DIY items you see, but if you have none of the items needed to make it, see if you can come up with your own version using what you have at home. I like to take pictures and decided this year to give the gift of my photography. It’s easy to get prints done inexpensively either on the web or at home (but be careful with the latter as ink ain’t cheap). It’s also easy to find inexpensive frames, and perfectly legitimate to reuse frames or get used frames at thrift stores. One of my framed photos cost me less than $5.00 but looks like it cost a lot more than that – framed photography has that way about it. Photography is one of the most accessible hobbies, artistic endeavors or casual activities around that has a really high impact on people, so don’t discount it, even if you don’t think you’re “good” at it. People love to have their stories, memories and special moments captured and displayed in photos, and photos are typically treasured for years, often becoming heirlooms, passed on to new generations. Other gifts I have made in other years are crocheted scarves, woven potholders, jewelry, note cards and post cards… If you’re good with a hammer and saw, you might use some scrap wood to make a small shelf, a storage box, a magazine rack, etc. Handmade things are always appreciated, and again, tend to stay in the family for years to come.

3. Cook or Bake: I make a Czechoslovakian pastry my mother used to make that no one else in my family has really mastered, and I love sending it to my family at the holidays – and they are thrilled to receive it. If there are strong sentimental baked-good favorites in your family, I highly recommend giving them as gifts: We all need some comfort in these hard times, everyone loves a special treat, and it’s likely you enjoy making it, so it’s gift to yourself, too. If shipping, choose something that will hold up well and be sure to pack it very carefully so it doesn’t arrive in crumbs; also, don’t send that door stop, um, fruit cake that weighs 15 pounds as it will be expensive to ship. Again, watch your budget, and the amount of time it will take you, along with the amount of energy needed. If your food of choice requires lots of oven and/or stove time, it’s not really economical.

4. Give Yourself a Low Dollar Limit and Stick to it, No Matter What: Depending on your budget and income, I recommend keeping it really low – $4-8, maybe $10 at the most. Related to that, out of necessity, you may then be able only to give one gift per person, which may be a big challenge, if you’re like me and typically like to give 2-3-4 things to each person. This is a great exercise: It makes you really think about the person, what they need, what they like, and about you, what statement you like to make with a gift, what is important to you, and to the relationship. It can be very revealing, very fun, and very satisfying to realize the best thing you can get your friend is a really great _________ for $7. Really, that’s all you need to give, and they will love it, and the pressure is off to ‘have’ to spend a lot more for whatever reason prior to this moment you had for gift giving.

5. Give the Gift of Your Time: One thing everyone wishes for is more time, so give it to someone in the form of a handmade gift certificate offering your time to help them with something they need, which in essence gives them more time for other things. You can be specific, stating “I will…”: Paint your bathroom; take your recyclables to the recycling center every month in 2009; clean out your garage; give you 5 hours of Photoshop training; etc. Doing something for someone that allows them more time to give to things they wish to spend time on is priceless, as is offering to do chores they hate but you don’t mind at all. Doing things for someone else also helps you to create stronger connections, build the relationship, which is a gift to you both.

Bonus tip: Regift! I frequently regift (i.e. give something that someone has given to me) items I have never used or have barely used, and think it’s a perfectly legitimate and morally appropriate thing to do. A couple key points are in order: “Barely used” means the recipient should not really be able to tell the item was ever used. Don’t give something that shows wear or any kind of obvious use – that is tacky, pure and simple. Keep track: Be 1000% sure you’re not giving a gift back to the person who gave it to you, or plan on some really awkward moments and possible negative ramifications. Keep original packaging if possible, if you get a gift that you know you’ll never use, so you can regift it easily. Don’t feel bad: We all have gotten gifts that just didn’t work for us, no matter that we love the person who gave them to us. It’s okay to part with it, really, and what’s the point of keeping something you will never use. Send it off to someone who truly will appreciate it – and thank the original giver (in your mind only!) for helping you in this new way (saving money by regifting it).

Some people will likely decide not to give gifts this year, and I think that’s a fine idea, too – if one was accused of being a tightwad during these times, that’s a compliment, if anything, and should be an inspiration, actually. Take on the title of Scrooge proudly if it feels right.

In uncertain times such as this economic crisis, the bonds with each other and our common values are what people historically turn to (and what was obviously forgotten in these past many years of spend spend spend), for strength and comfort, for efficiency, and for being wise financially. Use that to everyone’s advantage this gift-giving season, and beyond. It will be the greatest gift you can give – to yourself, too.

Naked hand soap dispenser on the cheap

I’m a guy in every sense of the word, but I do clean because no one wants their home to smell like a guy’s house. Fine, I clean, no big deal. Most cleaning products have a decent scent, in my case I prefer citrus, but none the less, a scent works for most of the areas that need to be cleaned. What I don’t like, is scented hand soaps.

When I’m in the middle of cooking in my kitchen, I wash my hands a lot to avoid cross contamination with regards to poultry, beef, cutting boards, knives, so on and so on. I don’t want my hands to smell like watermelon or spring rain or one of my all time hates, cucumber melon scent. Sorry, but if I’m making chicken piccata I’ve got enough aroma going on that none of those scents are going to help any.

So sometime ago while in a local store I happened to be in the cleaning isle and saw a company called Method, but the design of the products is what intrigued me as I was pretty sure they were designed by Karim Rashid – checking when I got home, I was right. As a consumer, my eye was caught so I looked to see what they offered. To my surprise, they made a manly product! Go naked is what Method calls their dye free, scent free line of home cleaners and hand wash go naked seemed to be made entirely for me. Being a thrifty consumer I also noticed the price was a bit steep, about $4 for a 12oz bottle. I bought it anyway, knowing that $4 purchase would all but eliminate the dread of having my hands smell like something other than just clean hands.

OK, I can’t be the first person to blog about go naked or even Method products, but I will now share an idea that I stole from friend and fellow Randomn3ss staff writer, Jessica. While in her kitchen maybe two years ago I noticed a thin, clear beer shaped bottle with a bottle pourer with some funky colored contents parked behind her sink next to the faucet. Asking what it was, she explained it was hand soap, bought in bulk and then filled into the glass container and topped with a typical bar liquor pourer spout.

So it took me two years or so to actually remember to do this, partly because I don’t drink so don’t often have the chance to get a glass bottle, and partly because I forgot about it. About two months ago this changed though when I bought some Jones Soda (blue lemonade is so good!) and instantly thought to save them. After enjoying a tasty beverage, I stripped the label, used mineral oil to rub off the stickiness left on the glass and sent them through the washing machine. I have a bag of pour spouts in the closet that I bought from the local restaurant supply store some time ago to use for olive oil and similar oils, so I was totally set, except for a refill of soap. You could buy these spouts online but it’s honestly much cheaper to hit your local restaurant supply store, after you figure in shipping, it’s almost never cheaper to buy these things there.

The last few times I’ve been to the store I’ve looked for the Method refill soap and have never seen it in go naked, last night I finally got lucky. It’s great to see a company understanding that a refill is not only appreciated by consumers but for us tight-wallet folks, we look for these deals. See, the 32oz refill has a suggested retail price of $6 from Method but my local store sells it for $4. It doesn’t take a math wizard to figure out that 32oz for $4 is a better deal than 12oz for $4. Now since I already had the Karim Rashid designed bottle, I could just fill it, but I really liked Jessica’s idea and had the glass bottle and topper for it.

Tonight I filled up the bottle and put the top on and really liked how the bubbles look so I snapped a photo and wanted to share this with you. If you buy a 4-pack of Jones soda or similar tasty beverage in a glass bottle, consider picking up some pour spouts and buy the refills of hand soap. Not only is it cheaper, it’s green, by reusing the glass bottles and the Method refills come in very minimalistic packaging that is also recyclable. Your wallet and the environment will approve this idea.

Thanks for the idea Jessica!