Let’s Talk Peaches

I love peaches but I think they are the most challenging of fruits to select and ripen.  You never know what you are going to get once they ripen. You can be anticipating perfect peaches for a pie and you may just wind up with a pile of tasteless mush.

I’ve learned just to stay away from the slightly green ones which I am sure some expert would disagree with me on. I like cling-free peaches just because they are easier to split and slice. Your peach, your choice.

Peach and Potato Partnership

I know the literature says put in a closed bag with an apples but apples aren’t exactly cheap. Unless it’s those sad apples in the store that have been in their own storage for the last six months.  I just hate to buy one fruit to ripen another. And then you have to remind yourself to buy an apple to ripen a peach or put it on the list.

How to improvise?  I spied a small red potato in the kitchen and thought I would try that. I seem to always have small “c” red potatoes so no extra purchase there. The ethylene charts indicate potatoes are slow emitters but I thought I would try them anyway.

It worked. After 3 days, my hard, yellow peaches turned into perfectly tender, yellow-red globes of lush.  The peel came off in nice thin layers opening up to a beautiful yellow, slick, juicy fruit.  Perfect, perfect, perfect.

I keep the same potato in the bag for weeks. Perhaps the ethylene collects in the bag. Not sure.  Regardless, I have used this technique all summer. It won’t correct a mealy peach. A mealy peach is a mealy peach and it happens in the “conditioning process.”

Let me know how this works for you!  Share your comment below!

Donation Day! Non-cash donation management

Today is non-cash donation day. Once a month.  Only.  OK, maybe one or two more extra times during the year but no more than 14 donations dates for the year. I went to this method after entering almost 30 donation entries into TaxAct several years ago and having to assess thrift store estimates for over 800 items.  I thought I was going to pull my hair out having to sit and enter all those individual donation entries with the date, organization, address, thrift store estimate, and other details for 30 date points with six different organizations.

Data management is not my strong suit for a prolonged period but I can maintain a certain level of self-control over numbers in small chunks of time. Key word – small. Less than 30 minutes if possible. I had to streamline this process so during our tax prep time in early Spring, when we are already ISed, (Itemized-Stressed), I can perform more of a final quality check rather than total data entry for a year. Image

The Process

1)      Identify the organizations you prefer to contribute to. I use four and keep their addresses in a Word document to cut/paste later into TaxAct. I stayed with www.CharityPickup.com as it provided a level of efficiency for me. Pickup dates are all managed via email. No phone calls to track me down. The two organizations that participate through a rotation process are Houston Achievement Place and Texas Paralyzed Veterans – local orgs so that meet another requirement. I have two others that I use as well.

2)      Search the web for the most current Donation Value Guide. If you are using a tax service, your tax service may have an autocalculator for clients.

3)      Create a log sheet and an Excel spreadsheet with the date, organization, number of items, item description and thrift store estimate.

4)      Identify the frequency of donations and create a “setup” area in your garage, bedroom, closet, etc. If you don’t have the space, at least identify the donations through your normal decluttering process and list the item and location of it in your house on the hard copy log sheet below.

5)      Ideally, as you are spot decluttering, add your item description and thrift store estimate to the hard copy donation log sheet.  We do have a “setup” area, so I tend to collect things in the area and the day before or morning of the pickup, complete the log sheet. It’s more efficient for me to do it all at one time – a similar type of mental task all at one time instead of entering as I go. The setup area may shift, things may get moved, etc.

Time requirement – approximately 30 minutes to log, box, and move to the porch.  Time varies based on the number of items and how organized the “setup” area stays over the 30 days.

6)      Once I have the donation receipt, I enter all the thrift store estimates into the spreadsheet to autosum.

Time requirement – maximum 5 minutes.

7)      Mark the hard copy donation sheet as entered. File with the other monthly donations. Done with prelim work!

8)      During you tax prep time, enter the 12 – 14 donations into your tax program or give your spreadsheet and organization info to your accountant.  Time Requirement – 30 minutes. Done!

Total time estimate for the year:  8.66 hours/year based on 14 donations times per year.

Ta- dah! Back flips and handsprings are now indicated. And continuous monitoring to improve the process.

Storing Strawberries

I love strawberries. Not the gigantic cloned, red, white and green ones we usually get in stores that look like they represent someone else’s national flag. You know the ones I am talking about that when you slice them they are actually hollow on the inside. What’s up with that? I prefer, as I am sure you do, the small to medium sized, beautiful glossy, all-over ruby fruits sprinkled with little brown seeds, with no hint of white, off white, cream, sand or alabaster near their crowns or green variations near their tips. Yes, I will splurge on organic if the price is right for this fruit.

So how to keep them lovely for several days so you can enjoy a daily pleasure moment of real, juicy strawberries?

I did some research. Keep the moisture out. Remove the mold spores. Store flat. One website said to wash with a vinegar solution and allow to dry. Results for me? A slight vinegar taste. Perhaps my percentages were off but I wasn’t wild and crazy about vinegar on my fruit anyway. So I did some experimenting and these options seem to work consistently over the last month with different strawberry purchases:

1) Prepare a solution of one tablespoon lemon juice (out of a bottle) and 1 cup cold water.

2) Place strawberries in a colander. Sprinkle the lemon juice over the berries to coat. I suppose you could make a larger quantity of solution and dip them. Whatever you choose.

3) Rinse and let air dry flat on some paper towels. You could use a hairdryer on very, very low heat or cool to expedite the process just be careful on too much heat. I do use a hairdryer on mushrooms after washing to keep them from soaking up too much water and it works marvelously. Beats trying to dry them with a cotton towel and much quicker.

4) If at all possible, store flat in one layer. If not, place back in the store container with a paper towel lining and use strawberries first from the bottom of the container.

Yes it seems like a lot of work. Time it though. Prep time and work time isn’t more than 10 minutes and you have a lot less chance of losing yummy natural goodness and worse, from a DA perspective, wasting money by wasting food, which is a real no-no in the DA world.

Keep me posted!

Six Staycation Helpful Hints

I honestly never thought we would never be a staycating couple. We’ve generally been able to take time off from work and enjoy at least one true vacation a year.  With our true vacation, we celebrate the nucleus family, “vacate” work, shake off routine and experience the world in some new and interesting manner. But times do change.  Work conditions change. Family situations evolve and you may find yourself needing a break from work or your situation but not your wallet.

We staycated this last weekend and actually learned a lot about our habits and ourselves. You may be staycating for economic or logistic reasons, but staycating can also be a personal learning and enrichment process to reset your Contentment Compass.

My husband and I are pretty structured. We enjoy checklists, project lists and activity schedules.  We prefer not to “fritter” away time, but we do understand the importance of clearing the mind. The thoughts below may not work for everyone, but here’s what we learned:

1)      Define your goal – do you want to recreate your normal vacation routine or create a totally new experience? For example, what do you normally do on vacation? Sleep late? Eat breakfast in? Have a morning or afternoon activity or both? Stay at boutique hotels or the rustic cabin on the lake for seclusion? For a new experience, do you want to create a Tuscan holiday or a spa weekend in the Texas Hill Country or Sedona but just can’t get away?

2)      Define Your Time Frame – Have a specific “departure” or start time and a “return” or end time.

3)      Define some rules – For example, no chores. No reading or sorting mail. No eating at home other than maybe coffee in the morning.  No eating at the usual and customary haunts. Visit locations outside your area code. Learn at least one thing new every day.  No emails other than what you read on your phone.  Computer time is only on the netbook or iPad and only once a day for a specific period of time during the day.

4)      Determine prep work – I personally found a clean car mentally equated to a rental car mentality. I didn’t get distracted with noticing the grass on the floor mats and the dust on the armrests.  Do what you normally do before you go out of town for any period of time. Get your major chores done so you won’t feel compelled to do it during your staycation.  Mow the lawn, water the plants, change the litter box, etc.  You may choose to give away fresh fruits and veggies to your neighbors if you are going to eat out for several days in a row. Then buy only food that you would normally buy on vacation.  It’s hot here in Houston in the summer.  I manually water the garden every day or so and it takes about 20 minutes. It’s a chore however pleasurable it can be at times. After the staycation, I thought about asking my neighbor who normally waters and cares for the cats to come over while we are out and about. Honestly, I would do it for her – so maybe next time. Seems trite but it’s about vacating your routine, your work and clearing your mind.

5)      Create your staycation language – Have some fun with this. Is your home the “hotel room” or cabin? Make your home office or computer the “business center.”  Your kitchen can be the “refreshment center” or “breakfast buffet.”

6)      Celebrate – Add in a special timeframe to celebrate and say “good-bye” to your staycation. My husband wisely included a cocktail time before our “flight departure” return  to relax and be thankful for what we have.  To be truly content.

Have you taken a staycation? What worked for you?

Next: Creating your Staycation Environment

A Primer to Medical Insurance Terminology

Explaining “healthcare lingo” in “lay” terms is essential to facilitating the medical insurance conversation with your young adult. Analogies are even better but this can be challenging when there are few other industries or business products that equate to the complexity of health insurance.

With auto insurance, your rates are based on your age, gender, specs for your car, driving record and whether you are grouping your auto insurance with your homeowners and umbrella policy. Rather cut and dry compared to health insurance. In addition, with all of the payment levels of copays, deductibles, out of pocket and co-insurance, it’s easy to envision an unending stream of money flowing out of your checking account if you don’t understand the process.

There are so many products and packaging to meet a variety of consumer needs. As reimbursement strategies, benefit plans and consumer contributions to coverage have evolved over time, the consumer must stay abreast of these changes in order to purchase the best coverage.  As a baby boomer, I can only equate understanding insurance to attending an all-day social media class with no baseline computer skills or knowledge of LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube or Twitter.

Some process things to remember:

Medical providers (physicians and healthcare institutions) determine their own charge for services.

Medicare and Medicaid determine what they will pay medical provider for services.

Insurance companies negotiate with medical providers to determine allowable amounts and allowable charges based on “group” or contracted rates.  That’s one reason why it is even more important to have insurance so you are not paying the “regular” charge for services.    

There are dozens of terms to understand for healthcare insurance. It can be overwhelming. If you have no insurance or healthcare knowledge, start small.

Below are some standard definitions.

Current Types of Plans and Services – non Medicare/Medicaid information

Fee for Service (FFS)  or indemnity plans – plans that allow the consumer the choice to go to any doctor or healthcare facility.  Generally, these plans are more expensive but do offer choice.

PPO – A health plan that is designed to encourage consumers to use a network of selected healthcare providers.  Your expenses should be lower if you use a physician or hospital in the network than if you go to providers outside of the network.

Open Access – plans that allow you to self-refer to physicians, particularly specialists without obtaining prior approval from a primary care provider.

Health Savings Account – A tax-advantaged savings account that individuals and employees in group policies can open to pay for qualified medical expenses. HSAs may only be created in conjunction with a high deductible health plan.

High Deductible Health Plan – A plan with higher deductible than a regular plan.  The plan description will define the plan as a high deductible plan. The U.S. Department of the Treasurer specifies the annual deductible requirements.

Medical Exchange – State marketplaces designed to improve the access and selection process of insurance for the consumer. MEs will calculate premium subsidies, enrollment, quality oversight, certification of qualified health plans that can be sold in the exchange.  Available in select markets and expected roll-out nationally: 2014.

There are many websites to help with more detailed information and instructions. Some of my favorites are:

http://www.fairhealthconsumer.org/glossary.aspx#H

http://www.gettingcovered.org/about/

http://www.learnvest.com/knowledge-center/i-want-to-get-health-insurance/

 

Next:

Medical Cost – Definitions and Processes

 

 

What’s New with Celery

You know celery. You buy it, use a couple of stalks to create a base for a stew or gumbo and then it can sit in the veggie drawer for a couple of weeks turning brown and begging for attention.

For storing, I’ve found the best methods are to cut and store in water, or cut, roll in wet paper towels and store in a ziplock bag. Anything to delay browning before you can think of something clever to use it for and usually that thought passes rather quickly when there are so many other interesting veggies in your bin.

I do keep celery on the counter while cooking. My husband says I eat a whole meal before eating just through the tasting, retasting and third-tasting of dishes. So the celery gives my fingers something to do and really does limit my tastings.

Last night I was challenged to create something unusual with celery. As I was cutting the celery, I realized it was rather like iceberg lettuce. Light green, crisp, full of water, and a little limited on nutritional value as compared to other dark green or colored veggies. So what to do to dress it up?

I mentally reframed celery as a salad base like lettuce instead of an addition. Chop up celery and then add other interesting items you have in the fridge.

For me:

Kalamata olives

Feta cheese

Grape tomatoes

Green onions

Add in a quick and easy white balsamic viniagrette and sprinkled with your choice of herbs. Salt and pepper to taste.

Voile! A nice healthy lunch, more celery to go in me and less to go in the composter.Enjoy!

“Truisms” of Young Adult Healthcare

As I worked with my stepson on obtaining insurance quotes, I thought it would be a bit easier.  As a healthcare professional with many years of experience, I intuitively knew what he needed but I found myself grasping for words and analogies to interpret the concept of “out of pocket”, “co-insurance” and other necessary insurance terms to understand pricing and select the right product. I found all the sites we reviewed for quotes had excellent descriptions but could still be overwhelming without an initial conversation or dare I say, learning session, hopefully with a parent or guardian. I did my best, still stumbled, but we got through it and purchased a good product that met his needs at the time.

The “Truisms” of Young Adult Individual Healthcare Insurance (as of 2012)

Some geographical areas offer short-term medical coverage (less than six months) and ongoing medical coverage (greater than six months.)

Similar to auto insurance, you will pay a monthly premium. The premium amount may be based on your gender, age, height, weight, smoker status and at this point, pre-existing serious conditions.

Healthy, young adults generally pay less than older adults.

Costs may vary based on how much you want to pay out of pocket beyond the monthly premium throughout the year.

Costs may vary based on if you want:

1)      Basic coverage to cover you for inpatient hospitalizations and outpatient surgery in case of a major accident or serious illness

or

2)      Comprehensive coverage to cover you for doctor visits, prescriptions and preventative care.

There are many plans to choose from with variations on coverage, deductibles and out of pocket.

Generally, high deductible plans have lower monthly premiums. You are basically betting you will not need to use the insurance but you have it if you need it.

Low deductible plans have higher monthly premiums because you are basically paying more up front for the coverage. These plans are available if you have a greater need to go to a specialist or frequent a primary care physician, need preventative care, tend to have more frequent prescription needs, etc.

As you work through the plans, you will need to consider how and where you can get the extra money for out of pocket and deductibles should you become ill and use the insurance.

As a young adult working through this process, think about your medical history:

  • Over the last year, do you feel you have been relatively healthy as compared to your peers?
  • How frequently have you gone to the doctor in the past two years?
  • Have you parted with your tonsils and appendix?
  • Do you stay current with annual immunizations through other resources such as pharmacies and convenient care clinics?
  • Do you have frequent upper respiratory or stomach infections or skin conditions requiring treatment?
  • Do you participate in higher-risk recreational activities such as skiing?
  • Do you plan to travel outside the country?
  • Are you frequently around people who may be sick or are contagious with illnesses that generally need formal medical treatment?

Next! Medical Insurance Dictionary

Medical Insurance 101: As a young adult – is it necessary?

The P-YA Conversation  

We are almost empty-nesters. Almost. The youngest has moved to the West Coast and the second may well be moving to the Upper Midwest or North West soon. Not to promote any political persuasion, but it has been nice keeping both boys on our insurance until the age of 26.

But, at some point, the birds leave the nest and they need to be prepared for the world. In prepping for the world, I have asked each of them about what they plan to do when they are sick in their respective new areas. I received the following reply, “I guess I will go to the ER.”

I try not to gasp and roll the eyes. Deep breath. Think fast. Respond slowly.

As a healthcare professional and a proponent of consumer accountability and cost containment, I was shocked at the response. We had not done our job of educating the kids on the health system – except to ask the question to get an idea of what they do know. Hmm. Not much knowledge. Much to do.

How does a parent translate the complexity of the healthcare system to a young adult who has never had to deal with health benefits? Always had mom and dad help with appointments, pay for co-pays, manage the deductibles and out of pockets, and of course, premiums? Have we been hover-parents and didn’t know it?

I honestly don’t remember my parents talking to me about medical insurance. My first job provided healthcare benefits back in the days before PPOs, EPOs, HMOs, HSAs and goodness, what other acronym can we create to make the learning more difficult but perhaps the care more affordable??

So here’s how the Parent – Young Adult conversation can go:

YA: I never get sick.

P: Yes, you are right. Young adults are relatively healthy. Your greatest risk is an accident.

YA: I drive safely.

P: You are involved with other activities that could involve accidents. Example: bicycle riding or hunting. It may not your fault. It could be the person you are with.

YA: I am careful. My friends are careful. It won’t happen to me.

P: I feel comfortable that you are as careful as you can be. But things happen. If you fall off your bike and injure your leg, just an ER visit to x-ray your leg, have a doctor evaluate you, give you some antibiotics and painkillers could be as high as $5000. Do you have $5000 in your bank account?

YA: No.

P: How would you pay for the bill?

YA: I can’t right now. I guess I could ask you for help.

(Try not to gasp and roll the eyes. Deep breath. Think fast. Respond slowly.)

P: What do you think will happen between you and the ER facility?

YA: I guess I will receive a bill.

P: Yes, and more than likely for the total amount. How will you pay the bill?

YA: I’ll try to pay it. Is it like a credit card?

P: Sort of. But it will take a long time to pay off $5000 on your salary.

YA: I guess I have never thought about.

P: Well, we really haven’t had a need to talk about it but I guess we do now. Insurance is created to provide some protection against the risk of an accident or illness that could financially deplete you. With insurance, although you pay monthly premiums, in most cases you won’t receive a bill for the total. It depends on what product you purchase. Given that with your first job you are making around $25K and it does not offer you healthcare insurance, basic healthcare insurance is an investment in your financial and health future.  We can look at your budget, look at the different insurance options, and choose one that is good fit for your needs and budget. Healthcare insurance should be a line item just like your cell phone bill and groceries. The good news is you are young and healthy and the premiums can be affordable. First, let’s look at some basic insurance language that will help better understand the products.  

Coming Next:

Truisms of Young Adult Healthcare Insurance

Medical insurance dictionary

What medical insurance options are available for young adults?

Woohoo! I have my first job with benefits. What does that mean and now what to I do?

Found Money

I love to find “money drops”  in our household processes.  “Money drops” are those processes that, if not reviewed at least annually, results in you insidiously dropping money throughout the year that could add up to hundreds of dollars that you can invest or use for other purchases. I earned $70 in Found Money last week. Here’s how:

“Money Drops”

Something jarred our brains to evaluate the homeowner’s insurance to verify if we receive a discount for the security alarm system. Sure enough, our homeowner’s insurance does have a 5% discount for a security alarm system. One may self-talk “5% is not worth the trouble to submit a certificate.” I guess it depends on what 5% is of what total amount. 5% of our homeowner’s insurance was $70. They sent us a check. I liked that. $70 pays for 1.25 months of the monthly alarm system fee. That’s OK. Moving forward, we will save money on the premium.

Here’s my thinking and probably many others out there. 5% on a restaurant bill doesn’t even take care of tax. But 5% of total purchases throughout the year could be hundreds of dollars if not more. We wouldn’t just drop $500 in a barrel and burn it.

Let’s say you have a household income of $40k. You have $30k in purchases/expenses capability. If you save 5% on everything for a year that is $1500/year. Now, in reality, that is not feasible because your mortgage or rent may be 50% of your buying power. But, if you strive to save 5% on half of those purchases, that is $750. Hmmm, that’s 75 bottles of wine… ok, let’s not be wine hoarders.

What would you do with $750? Invest? Go on vaca? Add to your kid’s college fund?

Have fun with your 5% action plan!

Next post: Money Opportunities

Breaking the JIC

As I was sweeping and mopping the kitchen floor early this morning, I realized as hard as my husband and I try, we still collect things – more importantly multiples of things. Things purchased because it was a BOGO offer so we have two bottles of Club Soda and two bottles of Tonic water lined up against the floor of the refrigerator. (they really do need to be moved to the garage for storage but that’s for another sharing…) Things we have collected or outgrown like the 2.5 sets of 5# weights. Yes, I am up to 8 lb weights and hopefully will be graduating to 10 lbs soon, but keeping the 5s, just in case….. Six individual casseroles for those six individual crepe servings I will probably never make for a dinner party but, just in case….

I only have two arms…what’s up with this?

My husband and I chose to stay in our 1465 square foot, 1952 year model house (it’s 70 years old!) rather than move into a larger house. Over the last five years we have done some minor upgrades to the windows, kitchen and landscaping but no additional square footage. We are empty nesters and thought a lot about whether to graduate to a different house, maybe one with a third bedroom but the reality is, when we have company, we use just the one extra bedroom. We have our long-term retirement goals which do include a slightly larger house but at this point, we are committed to making a house that is 70% the size of the average single family home in 2009 work for us. So we have to manage “collections” and stuff. And we have to develop good decision making skills on the “just in case” (JIC) collections.

What helps me break through the JIC is to ask myself the following steps and process questions:

1) Have you used these items in the last two years? If not, list all the reasons why you have not used the item.

2) How many opportunities have you had in the last two years to use these items and forgot to use or chose not to use?

3) What is the probability to use these items in the next year (smaller time frame)?

4) Is the probability an pre-contemplated active choice  or an opportunity by chance or luck? (Probability may vary. For the weights, because we are getting a little older, there may be a probability we get sick and have to rebuild upper body strength so it may be good idea to keep one set. For the the casseroles though, lower probability unless I make an active choice to use.)

5) Is the space allocated for the item adequate?

6) If you give away or donate, is it cost-prohibitive to replace?

7) If you give away or donate, can you improvise with another item?

8) If you give away or donate, will you REALLY be negatively harmed in some manner (emotionally, spiritually, physically, etc.)?

9) How much pleasure would you feel if someone else got use out of the item?

10) What is the final space value and probability to keep?

Low -1 Medium -2 High – 3 Very High -4 Total Value Scores Highest Possible Score Probability of Keeping
Probability of Use 2 2.00
Level of Importance to your lifestyle 2 2.00
Final Score 4.00 8 50%

Start small. Focus on the items scoring 50% or less. As you build courage and resilience, and yes, it does take courage and resilience, move to 75%.

Au Revoir, Good bye and Auf Wiedersehen weights and casseroles!