Sunday, July 28, 2013

Backyard Canning Time!

Backyard Canning Time

Do you have a backyard that is brimming with delicious produce? If you are like me, your postage stamp garden is teeming with all kinds of fresh goodies that are far better than what is sold at the grocery store. Tomatoes, squash, grapes, herbs, berries are all at their peak of freshness. If you haven't done so already, select a date and 2 or 3 hours this week to harvest and preserve your treasures. 

1. Lemons: Pick the ripest, freshest lemons and preserve them. It couldn't be easier! Because of the high acid content, you don't need to worry about botulism. This is a great project for people who are new to the canning game.

2. Mint: Pull up all of your mint from the backyard and create mint jelly for the holidays. Once again, this is an easy starter project. If you are like me, you planted a tiny mint plant a few years ago and it took over the garden.

3. Berries: I planted some berry bushes against my fence 10 years ago to deter the neighbor's dog from mauling my cat. It worked! The neighbor moved and my cat is safe. I'm still left with the legacy of blackberries though, so time to make jam.

What are you going to work on this week?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Assisted Living in Santa Barbara

Moving from your home to a facility is never an easy experience, but with the right tools, the transition can make a huge difference in the quality of life for your loved ones. Last week, I spent several hours searching for assisted living in Santa Barbara for a loved one. Frankly, there are no bargains when it comes to senior living in Santa Barbara, nor should I search for one when it comes to a high quality of life for someone in their third age. I am not covering individual homes that are "Golden Girls Style" here. Only covering reputable, licensed facilities that I investigated.

For those of you who don't know the difference when it comes to living in 'a home,' here it goes in layman's terms.

1. Independent Living: Some meals and housekeeping included. These include Vista del Monte, Val Verde, Casa Dorinda, Encina Royale, and several more. The best deal appears to be Encina Royale. They have beautifully landscaped grounds, club house, golf course, and you even get to own your home in this 55+ community. Most of independent living properties have large initiation fees and continuing levels of service as you need to move to assisted living. Val Verde is building 100 new homes right now, so it can be difficult to navigate their property. Even though Casa Dorinda in Montecito is very expensive to enter, they keep monthly fees flat no matter what type of care is needed, so in the end if you are in the assisted living wing, it can actually be up to $2,000 less than other homes.

2. Assisted Living: These offer meals, housekeeping, bathing assistance, incontinence assistance, medication management, laundry, memory care, and more. The only thing they normally don't offer is heart and respiration monitoring. Their rates are up to $2,000 more per month depending on level of care. Some of these properties feel very clinical - like living in a hospital, while others, such as Villa Santa Barbara, feel like a luxury hotel. When evaluating these properties, make sure that you compare levels of care equally. Villa Santa Barbara had an all-inclusive rate while Alexander Gardens had several additional fees. Initially while looking into Villa Santa Barbara, we thought it was more expensive, than Alexander Gardens, but after a full evaluation, it was actually significantly less. The most significant difference that I discovered here was the cleanliness of the rooms and the way that the staff treated its residents. In one facility, I was shown a filthy room with stains on the walls and clumps of dirt on the floors. The resident manager apologized and said that the room was just vacated and they didn't have time to clean it yet. BIG RED FLAG - weekly housekeeping is included in the price. The other big difference is the way the staff speak to guests. In 2 properties, it appeared that the staff only used first names to the residents, spoke in baby words, and was condescending. If you witness this - RUN! Villa Santa Barbara on the other hand, treated all residents with respect and in a friendly manner that would be expected from a hotel.

3. Rehabilitation Centers: This is where your loved ones go after surgery if they are unable to take care of themselves. Medicare and MediCal will cover 80% of the expenses for 100 days after surgery. Don't expect to get much rest at one of these, because you will be awakened every couple of hours for physical therapy, vital sign checks, laundry, bathing, and more. Keep an eye on the progress or decline of your loved ones here. If it appears that this environment is actually creating a decline, then speak to the physician about moving right away.

4. Nursing or Convalescent Homes: This is the end of the line. If your loved one needs round-the-clock care after leaving the hospital, you will need to look into these.

In order to find the best property that offered immediate availability, I used This service was free to me and the knowledgeable operator did the leg work to find a property in my price range, based on the expected level of care.

If you are going through this experience, you can also pick up publications in the brochure racks at the Goleta Community Center that will help you either find home care or other services that are helpful to seniors. Good luck.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Skype me Baby!

For the past 4 years, I have enjoyed keeping up with family and friends with Skype. While living in Australia, my daughter got to know her American family through this amazing service so when they met for the first time, she knew everyone by their face. I even used Skype to telecommute from Australia to the USA. My clients thought that I was just around the corner. Little did they know that I was around the world.

Skype is a VoIP (voice over internet protocol) system that allows me to make video and traditional phone calls to anyone in the world for little or no money.  These services can be free for people who want to Skype others who already have a free Skype account set up on their devises. The only challenge is arranging times to call because both parties need to have their Skype accounts open at the same time.

I upgrade my account for their premium package for convenience purposes. For around $75 per year, I make and receive unlimited calls in the USA to my family and business contacts using my computer, Ipad and Ipod. The system even has built-in texting and voice mail. Compare this to the $0.10 per minute phone charges that I currently have on my prepaid telephone, and compare it to several people who currently spend over $100 per month on smart phone calls, and I'm saving big.

I upgraded my subscription by adding a local phone number for my jewelry store so that customers have an easy and non-intrusive way of reaching me.

Of course, there are drawbacks. Occasionally, my father has a hard time understanding me when I speak into my computer's microphone, but it is easy to fix by plugging a headset into the computer. The biggest drawback is when I get an unexpected video phone call when I have bedhead or when the hubby decides to walk shirtless behind the computer on his way to the kitchen? Simple cure? Just toggle off the video portion and continue the conversation as always.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Great prices at Vons right now

Today, I took advantage of some amazing grocery store savings and plan on creating pre-prepared meals for the next month. My entire meat bill was under $40. You can do this too.

Farmer John Louisiana Brand Hot links - 12 for $5 ($5 Friday deal) - Perfect for Summer Grilling!!!!!

First I separate package into 3 groups of 4 links each using freezer bags. I freeze 2 of the packages for later in the month. I then refrigerate 1 package for grilling this weekend. It expires in July so if our plans change, it is fine. By separating out these hot links into 3 packages, it helps to control our portion sizes. I already know that these are delicious and if I cook all of them, my husband and I would probably eat 2 each and regret it later. As it is, we will complement the meal with Rice a Roni (99 cents) and a green salad with tomatoes. The entire meal ends up costing around $1 per person not including charcoal. If we decide to save on charcoal, we can use the stovetop grilling pan.

3 1/2 lbs of 80/20 Ground Beef - $10.23. Meatloaf, hamburger patties, spaghetti, and chili

I am not purchasing the low fat beef, because the flavor is in the fat. Instead, I'm reducing the amount of beef that I use by adding fillers and stick to appropriate portion sizes. First, I separate the large package of meat to 4 portions. These portions end up being a little less than a pound each. I extend each of these recipes to 4 servings by adding either cooked rice, beans, or breadcrumbs, and nobody misses the reduced meat usage.


  • 3/4 lb ground beef
  • 2 slices of bread - diced
  • 3 small squash diced - whatever you have on hand. I'm growing zucchini and yellow so I'm using it here.
  • 1 tablespoon of dried onions
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of mixed spices
  • 8 tablespoons of ketchup

Mix all ingredients together with my hands and shape it into the form of a loaf. Place in a loaf pan and cook in a 350F oven for 40 minutes. Cool and Freeze for later or eat this evening with mixed salad and watermelon for dessert

Gourmet Hamburger Patties:

  • 3/4 lb ground beef
  • 1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon of mixed spices

Blend all ingredients together and flatten and form into hamburger patties. You can add an egg before forming the patties but you will need to cook them immediately. I prefer to separate the hamburger patties using rounds of parchment paper. Freeze for later use. Cook them in a frying pan from their frozen state. Do not defrost.


  • 3/4 lb ground beef
  • Can of Prego
  • 1/2 container spaghetti

Defrost and brown the ground beef. Combine the jar of Prego or Ragu and heat throughout
Meanwhile, boil water and add dried spaghetti. Cook until done
Combine the spaghetti and sauce.


3/4 lb ground beef
Chili seasoning package
Can of tomatoes or fresh tomatoes
Can of kidney beans

Defrost and brown the ground beef
Add chili seasoning, tomatoes and kidney beans

Whole Pork Loin: $18.54 for 8 lbs. The butcher sliced half of the pork loin into individual servings and left a 3 lb roast. I froze each package into 3 servings per package and left the pork loin whole.

Australian Pork Parmi: Pound each pork loin piece until it is very thin. Dredge in bread crumbs and spices and plan to fry up in 1T of oil.

Pork Chops - season and bake or use Shake and Bake

Pork Roast - I will coat the pork roast with applesauce and season with slices of preserved lemon and then will bake until done.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Prepaid Cell Phones vs. Paid Plans

For the first 10 years of owning a cell phone, I enjoyed receiving a free phone with a 2 year cell phone service commitment. Just like most people, I love shiny new gadgets and couldn't resist the offers of the latest and greatest phones. I started to get a bit antsy with the bills as I noticed new usage charges and taxes every month. My $29.99 monthly plan would end up being closer to $40 every single month! Adding to the frustration, I would receive calls from telemarketers from my phone company, suggesting that I move to a different, more expensive plan several times per year. Does this sound like you?

Finally, in 2011, I decided to switch to a prepaid plan. The phone itself is very basic, and if it breaks, I'm not worried about it. When it loses its sparkle, I can always spend another $40 to get a new one. The best part is that through AT&T Wireless, I only pay $15 per month or $25 for two months. If it appears that I am going to use all of my minutes, then I top up the account. The only true annoyance about the phone is that I often receive calls from bill collectors from the previous owner of my phone number. It can be pretty irritating to receive one of these calls and then when I hang up, to see that I was just charged 10 cents for someone wasting my time. Still, this could have happened with a traditional cell phone plan.

I love the bells and whistles of smart phones, just like most people, so I carry an IPOD Touch. I've loaded all of the apps that I need on it other than GPS, which came standard with my car. The benefit of the IPOD touch is that whenever I am within wifi service area - library, coffee shop, home and work - I can make and receive unlimited free phone calls using Skype. Now, if only I can break my addiction to the app, Candy Crush!

Thursday, May 9, 2013


Santa Barbara on a Shoestring, 2nd Edition has just been published on Kindle!

Seven years ago, I wrote the first edition of Santa Barbara on a Shoestring for a fledgeling market of Kindle users. At the time, our wonderful town had 3 bookstores on State Street, several factory outlet stores, no 99 cent store, Best Buy or World Market. Times have certainly changed! Now, 22% of all books are read electronically, smart phone money saving apps are the rule, and the way we save money and time has changed dramatically. The new version is only $3.99 and for a limited time, it is free for download for Amazon Prime members.

Now that I've revised and posted the book, I will start blogging again on this site. I hope that you will subscribe to learn about the latest ways to live well on a budget.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Santa Barbara City College Adult Education Series

One of the best deals in Santa Barbara for adults is the Santa Barbara City College Adult Education system. I've taken jewelry, internet and computer courses and have been impressed by the quality of instruction and the price. Due to state budget cuts, the cost of the programs are now fee-based, but they are still far less expensive than if you were to take these classes anywhere else.

Right now, I'm taking a wire wrapping class with a delightful teacher named Mary. Even though I've been making jewelry for years, she is bringing a new slant on jewelry making for me.