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Consumer Tips 2014
 

 
 
 
Here are some handy consumer tips
from SIR Jim Quon
that you might find useful.
Items on this page
cover 2014!
 
 
Tip Posting Date Details
Do you suffer from arthritis of the hand? December, 2014 If so, you may want to try a new ballpoint pen, the Paper Mate InkJoy, available from Office Depot, Staples, Office Max, etc.  Paper Mate developed this new ink system for quick-starting, skip-free, crisp image using a very low viscosity formula.  Writing with this pen requires very low pressure – a benefit to those with arthritis!  It comes in the inexpensive ‘stick pen’ and ‘retractable pen’ styles.  The ‘stick’ style also features a triangular-shaped body for easier grasp, further benefiting arthritis sufferers.
Evaluating Hospice Choices? December, 2014 Hospice Choices: We are now at an age that many of us may have to request Hospice services for our loved ones.  However, not all Hospice organizations are alike!  Please be aware that there are both non-profit and for-profit Hospice organizations.  The cost difference in services provided can be great between various Hospice organizations.  Check out the cost of services before you make the choice for a loved one! 
How to avoid spoilage of lunch meats December, 2014 Do you still buy ‘lunchmeats’ (bologna, sliced ham, pressed ham, salami, etc.) for occasional sandwiches?  Try purchasing the Oscar Meyer brand packaged in the round plastic packs that are sealed with a pressure-sensitive adhesive seal around the top.  The top simply peels off from the round body and can be easily and quickly resealed, forming an airtight seal.  If you use a clean utensil (fork, knife or chopsticks) to remove the slices you need, you will minimize chances for premature spoilage.
Does your OJ taste a bit flat after opening the bottle?   December, 2014 Try aerating it by shaking the container vigorously for about 15 seconds.  This will remix the components (solids and water) and improve the taste of the orange juice.  Make sure there is some airspace in the bottle before shaking.
Electrical Contacts and Fresh Batteries December, 2014 In a previous tip, I noted that battery operated devices, clean, good contacts are absolutely essential.  Two examples were recently brought to me that confirm this axiom for small battery operated devices.  In one, a reader had replaced the small Lithium Button Battery when their digital bathroom scale displayed an error message in the display window instead of the correct weight.  She replaced the battery but the error message remained.  She called me and I suggested first cleaning the new battery and the contacts but the problem remained.  I, then, suggested getting another new battery but from Batteries Plus, Dublin.  That solved her problem!  Why?  The first battery came from CVS and was probably very old inventory.  Batteries Plus has a good turnover of stock so the chances of a fresh battery are much better.  In the second example, another reader’s pedometer displayed a low battery signal.  Again, the replacement of the battery did not cure the problem and replaced the unit with a new one at the cost of $34 (a high tech electronic model, not an inexpensive, mechanical pendulum type).  But, they gave me the ‘defective’ unit to ‘play with.’  I happen to have a fresh Lithium Button cell of the proper size on hand.  Voila!  It worked properly!  Now they have two working pedometers!
Magnetic Golf Club Head Covers December, 2014 Do you wrestle with putting on conventional head covers for your driver and fairway woods?  Magnetic closure head covers make this a much more simple and easy/quick task.  But, normally, these are very expensive – about $25 per head cover.  Run on over to GolfMart, Dublin!  They have them for just a mere $4.99!  These are a ‘no-name’ brand and come in 3 different color combinations.  These are a great buy for the price!  I love ‘em for my driver and #3 Wood.
Avoid Doctor’s Visit Copay December, 2014 Are you a member of Kaiser Permanente or other health plan that features the ability to email your doctor?  You may be able to avoid successive visits to your doctor by emailing updates of your condition and attaching digital photos to illustrate your current condition.  I’ve recently saved $75 (3 copay visits @ $25/each) by sending my Dermatologist photos of my progress with a skin condition instead of going in for an actual examination by the doctor.
Go Pro Camera Uses December, 2014 If you have a late-model Go Pro camera, it will be equipped with Blue Tooth connectivity to your Smartphone.  Here are some things you can do with it – attach it to an extension pole and you can take photos from many various angles beyond your normal reach.  It’s handy for photos of people or things in a crowd by holding the camera the folks in front of you blocking your normal view.  Mounted on this same extension, use your camera as an inspection camera to check gutters without having to climb a ladder, under the car without having to crawl underneath!  In these cases, simply use your Smartphone as the monitor and shutter control for your Go Pro or other camera equipped with Blue Tooth!  These camera extenders are readily available at any camera store and come with a standard, swivel, threaded tripod mount for easy attachment of your camera. 
Reading Text on Your Small Smartphone Screen or Tablet December, 2014 This can be difficult for our aging eyes.  But, this is an easy ‘fix!’  Simply don reading glasses that magnify the image.  An inexpensive, readily available, 3X reading glasses work great!
Automobile Service by Independent Garages December, 2014 I mentioned this as a way to save money on scheduled maintenance and repairs over the higher priced dealer services.  Some have been concerned that this might void their warranty.  Rest assured that your new car warranty is not in jeopardy when using an independent garage as long as their mechanics are professionally qualified/certified.  By Federal Law, the Magnuson Moss Act, 1975, states that it is illegal for a new car dealer to imply that your warranty will be invalidated by the use of a 3rd party service provider.
Annual Meyer Cookware Sale December, 2014 Yes, it’s that time of year, again.  The Annual Meyer Warehouse Sale is now in progress!  It runs from Dec. 4 through Dec. 15.  Many name brands of cookware, cutlery, appliances and kitchen items are sold at very large discounts.  It’s a great place to shop for Christmas gifts.  There are two locations for their warehouse sales – Vallejo and Fairfield.  There are folks that ask me to inform them every year of this event.  
How to handle auto battery corrosion November, 2014 Are seeing the white, chalky crud building up on your car battery terminals, cables and holder bracket?  Take care of this immediately before the acid can cause serious corrosion and loss of contact to/from the battery.  Go to the auto supply store and buy a can of CRC Battery Cleaner With Acid Indicator.  This comes in an easy to use spray can.  Simply spray it liberally on the affected areas and rinse it off with clean water.  A second application may be required.  If serious corrosion has already occurred, replace the metal bracket and cables.  An auto shop can charge $150 for this battery service.  You can do it for under $10!
Using CRC Battery Cleaner With Acid Indicator for smaller jobs November, 2014 Often, small radios, remote speakers, flashlights, portable instruments, etc. that are not often used end up with alkaline and conventional carbon batteries leaking and corroding the contacts  and battery compartments of these small items.  Spray the cleaner on the affected areas and use an old toothbrush to clean the area.  Wipe as dry as possible.  Use compressed air in a can from the office supply or computer store to blow any remaining residue out of the compartment.  Use a small piece of fine sandpaper to clean the contacts before putting in fresh batteries for use.
Prevent Losing Your Cell Phone Contacts November, 2014 If Verizon is your cell phone carrier, use their free Backup Assistant feature to quickly and easily save your contact information in case you lose or destroy your cell phone.  It’s super easy to do it and if you have difficulty, go to your local Verizon Store for help.  I’m guessing that the other carriers have a similar feature.
Do You Brew Flavored Coffee? November, 2014 If you do, you will have to buy and store various different flavored coffees.  To avoid this extra hassle, simply buy flavored syrups to achieve a similar effect.  You can also easily control the amount of the flavoring.  Syrups are available at your local supermarket and come in both sugar and sugar-free varieties.  My favorite is Vanilla Iced Coffee.
Use Independent Auto Shops in Lieu of Dealerships Garages November, 2014 I’ve long advocated the use of good, small independent garages.  They almost always have a higher Customer Satisfaction Rating than O.EM. Dealership garages and they are less expensive.  The trick, of course, is to find a good and honest one!  Try going to:  http://www.cartalk.com/mechanics-files.  Here, you will find listings and ratings of auto shops in any specific area.  This site is associated with the radio talk show, “Car Talk,” and the Valley Times newspaper column, “Click and Clack Talk Cars.
If you are worried about getting a DUI? November, 2014 Costco Buy: The Holiday Season is fast approaching.  A very handy device is a small, portable Alcohol Detector for just $22.99.  It’s easy to use but it is not intended to be a legal reading – just an indicator of how much blood alcohol an individual exhibits at the time of testing.
Need a Super Powerful Flashlight? November, 2014 Costco Buy:  If you are a boater, outdoorsman or own property out in the country and have need for a super-powerful flashlight, check out the Duracell 1000 Lumen High Intensity LED Flashlight!  This is incredibly powerful and can even be used to blind an assailant and the HD aluminum cast housing makes it a good, heavy weapon for defense.  It’s more powerful than the 12 volt searchlights mounted on police vehicles!  You can easily read house numbers in the dark from your car from the street or read non-reflective street signs from a block away!  It has a zoom focus lens to concentrate the beam or zoom out for wider coverage.  It’s powered by 4 “C” cells.  The cost is $19.99 at Costco.  Online prices are twice that, plus shipping! 
Need a AC and DC Chargers? November, 2014  There a lot of AC (home/office) chargers and 12 volt DC chargers for use in your car now available in all kind of stores such as Walmart, CVS and Walgreen’s.  What should you buy?  Look for 2.0+ Amp ratings for tablet and Smartphone devices; 1.0+ Amp for cell phones, small/portable electronics like Blue-tooth speakerphones, speakers, earphones, headsets, etc.  Look for a charger for your car with two USB outputs of 1.0 and 2.0 amp ratings.  Walgreen has them for about $12 and a universal charging cord for mini/micro USB for $8.
Looking for a Healthier Pizza Experience? November, 2014 Think Fresh Pizza Dough:  You can easily make your own pizza at home!  This can be a better and more healthy version of pizza for your family.  Per a recent taste rating, Whole Foods has a fresh pizza dough that was rated #1!  Trader Joe’s was rated #3.  Cost is just $1.39 for a pound.  That’s enough for a large pizza and you can make it as thin/thick as you want and use any ingredients you wish.  You can bake it in your oven or put it directly on your gas grill outside!
Fast Food Trend in Pizza November, 2014 A number of new Artisan pizza shops suddenly appeared in our area.  They feature high-heat, wood-fired ovens that can reach 800° to 900° F temperatures.  This means they can bake your thin crust pizza in less than 3 minutes!  You simply go through a ‘cafeteria-like’ line to select your ingredients as the staff person builds your individual pizza.  You pay for it and they deliver it to you at your table in just a few minutes!  The cost for a 9” to 11” personal pizza is about $8.  Pieology (Concord), Pizza on Fire (San Ramon), Fresh Pixx (Dublin) and Fahrenheit Wood Fired Pizza (Pleasanton) are examples of this emerging style of pizza.  
Want to Chill White Wine Quickly?  November, 2014
Keep frozen grapes in your freezer.  These are great for extended storage and can be eaten while still frozen.  And, they can be used to chill a glass of white wine when needed without diluting your wine!
Courtesy of Sir Ron Maguglio
Need to Hang or Mount Something on Wall or Ceiling?   November, 2014
When mounting things like clocks, thermostats, cameras, surround speakers, etc., place the object or mounting bracket on a photo copier and ‘copy’ it.  This can then be used as a template to drill your mounting holes!
Courtesy of Sir Ron Maguglio
Need to Clean Your Gutters? November, 2014
This can be a high expense service if hired out.  An easy way to clean your own gutters is to use an electric leaf blower.  If your gutters are easy to reach on a single-story house, you can avoid the use of ladders by going to the hardware store and making a long extension to fit your machine with a “J” shaped end to reach the gutter from the ground.  Simply put the “J” into the gutter and walk along the gutter line as the blower directs the air into the gutter to blow leaves and debris clear.  Wear a hat and goggles to avoid the debris falling in your eyes and hair!
Courtesy of Sir Ron Maguglio
Making Notes on Your Cell Phone October, 2014 Per Jerald Cerri, Notes Plus is an Apple iPhone app that is really useful for taking notes anytime you want to record notes for future reference.  He likes it for taking notes during an appointment with a doctor or any other situation that you may want to preserve important information for future reference.  In this same vein, I’m told that Everynote is a good note taking app for Android based phone.
 
Single-serve Coffee Makers October, 2014 Keurig has done a superb job of marketing their “K-Cup” machines and coffee pods.  But, there are other pod-based coffee brewing systems out there that may be less expensive.  I recently saw an ad for the CBTL system in a Fry’s Electronics ad for just $30 (normally $50)!  This stands for “Coffee Bean/Tea Leaf brand that uses a different (smaller) pod/capsule than K-cups.  But, it can make true espresso coffee because of its multi-stage pressure brewing system.  It uses regular pressure to make normal coffee and a higher pressure for brewing espresso.  I found the CBTL makes excellent coffee and espresso.  I think it is as good as the much more expensive Nespresso system.  The capsules are not as readily available as K-cups but they are less expensive ($.69 per capsule) when purchased online from Bed Bath and Beyond.  Shipping is free.  There is a fairly large selection of teas, chai teas, coffees, hot chocolate and flavored coffees available.  And, if anyone is interested, I’ve developed a way to refill the capsules using fresh coffee beans of your choice for even better coffee and lower cost.
Getting Small Pills into the Mouth October, 2014 After posting my previous tip about taking pills without dropping losing them by ‘licking them up’ with the tongue, a friend gave me another tip – for small pills, moisten your finger tip by licking it (after washing your hands) and touching the pill.  It will cling securely to your fingertip!  Simply use this method, one at a time, to get them into your mouth without losing any! 
Passport Expiration Warning October, 2014 When planning travel abroad, be aware that your passport must be valid for a specified period after your planned return date.  When traveling to Asia, your passport must be valid for 6 months beyond your trip end.  European destinations must be valid for just 3 months.  This is to make sure you do not overstay your visit to the foreign destinations.  Your airline will check this before you depart the U.S. and not allow you to board the aircraft if your passport expiration date does not meet the required post visit date.
SIRS #128 SEARCHABLE WEBSITE October, 2014 Did you know that there are lots of nice features on our website?  Dan Poulin has done a superb job of providing us this great tool.  It makes signing up for all the various activities we offer really fast and easy once you register.  The Consumer Tips items are searchable, as are other parts of the website.  Use key words for your search and you will be amazed at how handy this can be.  If you have not used the website, I urge you to register and try it!
USE LIP BALM WITH SPF 20 PROTECTION October, 2014 Folks, I’ve had to learn the hard way - protect your sensitive lips from the harmful rays of the sun!  We all use sunscreen on our exposed skin but some (including me) do nothing to shield the lip tissue from the harmful rays of the sun.  I’ve just been diagnosed with Actinic Cheilitis, a premalignant  condition because it may lead to Squamous Cell Carcinoma. It’s caused by chronic and excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation in sunlight.  The treatment has been most unpleasant.  It involves applying a topical chemo therapy ointment that is both painful and forms lesions in the affected area of the lip.  And the treatment regimen is very long – 6 weeks, minimum with a repeat of the treatment for the same duration several months later (for mop-up).  Avoid this danger.  Use protective lip balm and a very large-brimmed hat!
CANKER or COLD SORES October, 2014 These and other kinds of mouth sores are very painful, especially when brushing your teeth for good oral hygiene.  Most toothpastes intended for adult use have an astringent agent in them that makes open sores sting badly during brushing.  To avoid this added pain, use toothpastes made for kids!  My lips were burning so badly during the treatment for my premalignant condition when using regular toothpaste that my eyes teared up!  I now use Crest Kids Gel Toothpaste!  No more stinging or discomfort!  No more tears!
RENTAL CARS October, 2014 When renting a car, check your rental Agreement, carefully.  Note the “minimum/maximum” rental period/dates.  You will be charge for turning your car in early!  Many folks don’t know this and are surprised when they turn in their car before the date shown on their contract.  In most cases, you must pay for the entire period quoted on the contract regardless of how much earlier that you turn it in.  Don’t get caught!
TUNA FISH ALTERNATIVE October, 2014 A lot of us like Tuna Fish Salad and Sandwiches.  But, per the health warnings for possible mercury contamination, many of us are limiting the amount of tuna fish that we now consume.  As a good substitute for tuna fish, try using chicken.  Canned chicken works extremely well using the exact same recipes you used before for your tuna salad and sandwiches.
ELECTION CONFUSION? October, 2014 Are you confused about all the campaign ads for the various propositions and measures on the November ballot?  One of the best ways to determine the real objective for some of these issues is to see who is paying for the ads – ‘follow the money!’  In California, go the California State Website to determine the funding for each of the items on the ballot.  Go to: http://cal-access.sos.ca.gov  Click on Campaign Finance Activity.  The organizations funding each issue will be displayed for all to see.  This may help you decide which way you wish to vote!
USB CHARGERS October, 2014 USB power is used to recharge cell phones, smartphones, tablets, Bluetooth speakers/headphones and other portable devices.  Each device usually comes with its own AC or automobile charger.  But, why carry several chargers when one will work for almost all of them.  Simply buy a Dual USB Charger.  Look for two different outputs on the charger – 1.0 amp for cell phones, smartphones, mini tablets, smaller rechargeable batteries, Bluetooth devices, and 2.0 amp for larger tablets and large-capacity batteries.  These are available for both AC and DC uses.  Don’t forget to buy a Universal Charging Cord with the USB output plug on one end and both a mini and micro USB at the other end.  Walgreens Drugs has all these items near the checkout stand starting at just $8 for the charging cords and under $20 for the chargers.  They come in various colors for easy identification.  They’re great for travel!
Large Camera September, 2014 Do you use/own a large camera such as a digital SLR or a smaller camera with interchangeable lenses?  Do you have trouble with carrying it in a clumsy protective case of some sort that makes it difficult or impossible to quickly take spur of the moment shots?  Try leaving the case or holster off and use a comfortable but secure strap with multiple ways to carry your larger camera but keep it from swinging around and knocking into things that may damage it.  There are straps that range from $10 to $60!  I found the Pro Master Contour Pro Strap for just $14.95 at Mikes Cameras, Dublin.  It can worn around the neck when frequently used and quickly changed to over-the-neck/under one arm.  In this mode, the camera will lay against the body and does not swing around when you move your body.  It can also be worn ‘over the shoulder.’  The curved strap with neoprene friction material on the underside helps to keep the strap on your shoulder.  The length of the strap is easy to adjust to suit your size and use.  It also has quick-release fittings to allow you to easily and quickly remove the longer strap and converts to a wrist strap.  It’s very versatile and inexpensive.  Since it’s out of the case, it’s ready for almost instant use.
If you have a digital SLR or interchangeable lenses, protect your expensive equipment and put an inexpensive clear or UV-1 (aka Blue Sky) filter on each lens.  It’s also easier to clean this protective filter by removing it than trying to clean the lens, itself. 

 
Your Money September, 2014 Beware of a travel scam going around, currently.  You may receive a call late at night after checking into a hotel/motel stating that it’s the Front Desk and they need your credit/debit card number to verify or fix a problem with your account.  Never give this out over the phone.  If there is a real issue, go down to the Front Desk in person.  Some hotel chains now have signs in the lobby warning of this scam.
And never use a debit card because if your card number is compromised, there is nothing to stop thieves from emptying the account tied to that card!  They will have direct access to your funds!  Using a credit card offers better financial protection.  It provides a barrier (your bank or card issuer) between the crooks and your funds and you have more legal recourses available to you.  If you notify your issuer, in most cases you are limited to just $50 loss in the case of fraud or lost card.  There is no limit for loss on your debit card.
Check your credit card accounts often, especially after frequent use and during travel.  Set your accounts up to be able to access them remotely via Internet.  I had a recent situation at a restaurant that charged my account with two charges totaling over $200 that were in error.  And last year, it was determined that the waiter at another restaurant added $10 to my already generous tip of 20%.  Do this frequently!  You only have 30 days to contest/challenge improper charges on credit cards.  After that, you must go directly to the merchant/service provider to get them to issue you a credit.
And, if you get a phone call from the IRS, hang up.  It’s a scam.  They threaten to arrest you unless you take care of your tax debt by sending them a ‘token/minimum payment.’  The IRS NEVER calls the taxpayer about your tax account.  Notification is always done by U.S. Postal Service Mail!

 
A Little Known VA Benefit September, 2014
If you or someone in your family qualifies for Veterans Benefits, be aware of a benefit “Aid & Attendance and Housebound.”  Here’s what the VA website says about this: “Veterans and survivors who are eligible for a VA pension and require the aid and attendance of another person, or are housebound, may be eligible for additional monetary payment. These benefits are paid in addition to monthly pension, and they are not paid without eligibility to Pension.
Since Aid and Attendance and Housebound allowances increase the pension amount, people who are not eligible for a basic pension due to excessive income may be eligible for pension at these increased rates. A Veteran or surviving spouse may not receive Aid and Attendance benefits and Housebound benefits at the same time.”  Go to the VA website for more information if you or your family may qualify.
Drought Strategies September, 2014
Previously, I had suggested the use of paper plates/bowls/tubs to avoid washing dishes,  recycling ‘gray water’ to water plants, use of commercial car washes, restricting watering of the lawn and limited toilet flushing.  For us, it’s working very well.  Our last water bill was just 41% of the same time last year!  These tactics have not caused us any unusually difficult hardships.  And we even had houseguests with two kids during this last period.  Our water usage could have been even less!
FYI, large paper plates cost about 2¢ each and medium-sized bowls are about half that and small paper tubs (popcorn, chips, condiments, etc.) are about 1/2¢ each.
For men, to make your light-colored casual pants and shorts go longer between washes, the easily and frequently soiled area on the front fly can easily spot cleaned by using a cleaning towelette like Shout.  Or use a wet, clean cloth with just a dab of shampoo or detergent to clean that frontal area.  If you use the Shout packets, don’t discard the towelette after just one use.  Even after it has dried, the light detergent can be reactivated simply by re-wetting the towelette for continued use until it no longer is effective.
Food Savings September, 2014
Old or dry bread and rolls can be refreshed.  Simply sprits the bread with clean tap water and microwave it for just 10 seconds and let sit for 10 minutes on the counter to allow it to cool and firm up.  If you don’t have a spritser/sprayer, dampen a clean, paper towel and put it over the bread before microwaving.  For toast, go straight from the microwave to the toaster!
If you store a half-filled ice cream, sherbet or sorbet tub in the freezer for extended periods of time, the surface of the product may become gummy and/or dried out.  And there may be an excessive buildup of ice crystals atop the product.  Wad up enough plastic wrap to form a sort of a plug on top of the contents to ‘seal’ it off from any air in the container.  This will, effectively, keep the top from drying out or building up ice crystals.
Once the pickles are consumed, save the jar and the liquid.  Cut up most hard vegetables (carrots, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, etc.) into bite-size pieces and submerse in the pickle brine for a minimum of 2 weeks to make your own pickled vegetables.  These are great as snacks, condiments or adding to salads.
Power Conservation On Small Portable Devices September, 2014 Extend the battery life on your cell phone, tablet, Smartphone, notebook, laptop and other portable RF communication devices by turning off the wireless function for the device.  Put it into “Airplane Mode,” especially in remote areas where there is no Wi-Fi or cell service.  When no signal is present, the wireless device will work extra hard to acquire a signal when there is none available at the expense of increased power consumption.  And you may save yourself from expensive Roaming Charges.
Tire Sense September, 2014
As seniors, we tend to drive less than the average population.  That means our vehicles are, often, low mileage.  This means our tires can be in excess of 6 years old.  This may be a risk as tires may look good even with good tread depth remaining.  Rubber deteriorates with age, UV sun exposure, air pollution, high temperatures and other environmental conditions.  This means tires that look good could suffer a blow out at high speed without warning.  Some auto manufactures state in their Owner's Manual to replace the tires after 6 years use regardless of tread depth.  To protect yourself from 'tire rot,' check your tires' ages.  Look for a group of numbers of 4 digits following the "DOT" designation.  For tires produced after 2000, the first 2 digits indicate the week of manufacture and the last two digits indicate the year!  You can do the math to check to see how old your tires really are. 
When buying tires, never let the store sell you Nitrogen-filling service.  Nitrogen gas is denser than many other gases and is claimed to be more resistant to tire pressure loss via migration of the air pressure through the walls of the tire.  However, nitrogen in tires is a waste of money.  Ordinary atmosphere is already 80% nitrogen!  Besides, regularly checking your tires for pressure and road damage/wear is a good habit to get into!
Don’t Throw It Away So Quickly! September, 2014
We have many battery operated devices in our lives (clocks, fans, multi-meters, battery checkers, breathalyzers, calculators, pedometers, flashlights, mini-lights, laser pointers, alarms, etc.).  These often stop working or become intermittent in operation.  Don’t discard it too quickly.  80% - 90% of the time, it is poor battery contacts/connections or weak battery condition that cause the malfunctions.  First, use a reliable Battery Checker to ensure your battery/batteries are in good condition.  Check the batteries for any signs of corrosion or leakage.  Discard the batteries if these are present.  Do not try to clean or rescue any such batteries.
If they are not at full capacity, try changing to new or freshly recharged cells (all electronic devices are very sensitive to voltage variations).  Then, spend a few minutes to clean the battery contacts.  Use a pencil eraser or, even better (if you have one) an old typewriter eraser (it has abrasive bits in the rubber) to clean spring contacts.  Use a clean cloth or the eraser to clean the plus and minus ends/connectors of the individual conventional batteries (AA/AAA/C/D/9-volt).  To clean ‘button’ cells, vigorously rub the top and bottom surfaces on clean, uncoated, cardboard or the back of a business card.  Reinsert the cleaned or new cells back into the device, paying attention to the proper polarity shown on/in the battery compartment.  You may be pleasantly surprised with the device coming back to life!
Water Conservation August, 2014
Previously, I mentioned using plastic stretch wrap as a liner for bowls and plates before placing cold or hot foods into/onto for serving purposes and once you are finished, simply strip the plastic liner off and you still have a clean plate/bowl.  The purpose, of course, is to cut down on washing dinnerware.  We have refined this technique in our house and instead of using regular dinnerware and lining them, we now use paper plates and bowls.  This way, if the liner is pierced or somehow springs a leak and the paper bowl or plate is dirtied, simply discard it (into the yard waste for compostable recycling) and move on!  In this manner, we have not run the dishwasher in over a month and only have to wash silverware.  We do that by hand and it takes very little water by using a small, deep bowl with soapy water and rinse quickly and conservingly the same way.

We also have a bucket in the bathrooms to catch the water that would normally be wasted while waiting for the hot water to reach the faucet.  We use this to water our plants.  And, we flush only when there is solid waste to be disposed of in the toilet.
 
New Dining Options  August, 2014
Breakfast meals are the fastest growing new market segment in the commercial food business.  This is why you will now see fast food chains extend their breakfast menus for service throughout the day.  Jack in the Box already offers their entire menu on a 24-hr. basis.  McDonald’s is testing extending their breakfast menu past 2 PM.  Taco Bell and Subway Sandwiches have jumped into the breakfast melee in a big way.

Locally, you may have noticed Specialty’s Café and Bakery recently opened next to Burger King on Hopyard Rd. at the 580 on-ramp and another location in Stoneridge Mall, both in Pleasanton.  They are similar in format and menu to Panera Bread and Corner Bakery.  They have partnered with Peet’s Coffee so you can have good coffee and espresso based drinks with your meals.  We found the prices to be competitive and the service fast.  However, we did not like their salads.  Their sandwiches, especially the breakfast sandwiches, are pretty good.  Their bakery items are excellent!  Try their Breakfast Bun.  It’s addictive!  For salads, however, both Panera and Corner Bakery (Pleasanton next to Habit Hamburger Grill) are much better.  Avoid the bakery items at Corner Bakery.

There are two new Asian cuisine places that have just recently opened.  Both are located in East Dublin in the Lowe’s center area.  Mayflower is an upscale Dim Sum and Seafood place.  We liked the Dim Sum and it is considerably easier to get a table there than the more established Koi Palace, also in Dublin at the Ulfert Center.  However, avoid the weekends unless you go very early.  Dim Sum is a big Chinese tradition on weekends.  The other new place is a hot pot restaurant, Little Sheep Mongolian Hotpot.  This is where you are served raw ingredients (proteins, starches and vegetables) cut to bite size and the diners immerse them in the hot, steaming broth to cook them before eating and then partaking in the flavored broth from the cooking of all the various ingredients.  It’s a lot of fun and is best done with a group of people.  Beware, however, it can be expensive based on the number of various items you order to go into your soup broth!

Revel Kitchen & Bar, Danville, is now open and features small plates and is open only from 4 PM to 11 PM weekdays and until Midnight on Friday and Saturday.  They have long, communal tables for seating.  The food is excellent!  It should be since it is owned and operated by Esin Restaurant and Bar.  However, it is very expensive!  That doesn’t seem to deter folks as it is always jammed with customers trying to get a table.  The energy within the place is incredible.  Go early at 4PM for the best way to score a table!

And, there is a new, high-end, European Pastries’ Shop, Crème Si Bon, located right next to Cold Stone Creamery in the San Ramon Marketplace Center.  They also offer fresh sandwiches for lunch.

And, lastly, Habit Hamburger Grill has opened two more local locations – San Ramon in the Crow Canyon Commons Center next to Carl Jr.’s and Dublin across the parking lot from Sprouts.  If you like In N Out, you’ll love Habit.  Their burgers are char-broiled.  They are not limited to just hamburgers.  They also offer grilled Tri Tip, Tuna and Chicken sandwiches.  And they have good salads, fries, sweet potato fries, Tempura Green Beans and superb onion rings!

Speaking of restaurants, Imperial Delight, San Ramon Marketplace, has an interesting feature – a 10% rebate coupon good for your next visit within 2 weeks.  These rebates can be accumulated up to the expiration date.  Their food is good, service is excellent and their prices are competitive.  Give them a try!

And, speaking of coupons, try Jersey Mike’s Subs, Pleasanton, near the entrance to the Alameda Fairgrounds.  They specialize in authentic Philadelphia Subs (Hoagies) and Cheesesteaks.  If you like them, register your phone number for their Rewards Program and your email for their Email Club Program.  You’ll get coupons from the email feature and points toward free sandwiches from their Rewards Program!  This is a national chain and Reward points can be earned all over the U.S.!
 
Hot Weather Strategies August, 2014
We’ve had some hot days this year.  We don’t have central A/C.  Our house, however, is very well insulated.  To maintain our comfort, we’ve found that the use of a floor fan pointed up at an angle to the ceiling does an excellent job of circulating the air and creating a little internal breeze that is similar to a ceiling fan.  That’s a big help!  Also, installing thick, thermal drapes on the late afternoon sun side of the house helps to reduce the radiant heat even though we have modern, double-pane, thermo-glass windows.
 
Need help getting that COSTCO purchase home? July, 2014 Generally, when you buy something from Costco, it’s up to you to get it home!  But, what do you do in the case of furniture, appliances or other heavy items?  Well, you can use a delivery service that has been screened by Costco.  Joyce wanted a new, upholstered, motorized, reclining Loveseat from Costco.  The weight shown on the carton was over 200 lbs.  We’re too old to be wrestling that kind of bulk.  However, there was a sign above the furniture items noting that delivery and installation was available by M & J Enterprises.  I called the number listed and got an instant estimate for delivery.  We paid for it Friday evening, watched them ‘stage’ it for pick up the next day.  Saturday, Mario, the owner called me and said it would be about 4 PM.  They arrived 4:15 PM and unloaded it and brought it into the house and moved into the Family Room for us.  The delivery charge was $90, that we paid by check.  We unboxed it and attached the backs and plugged it in and it worked, beautifully.  Joyce is happy and that’s swhat counts!
Hearing Aid Size? July, 2014 Several folks have gone to get hearing aids, recently.  I was happy to be of assistance in getting them to go in.  However, a complaint has surfaced.  Two fellows feel that they have to change their batteries too frequently!  Mine are the “BTE” (behind the ear) type and I change my batteries every 14 days.  These two fellows must change their non-rechargeable batteries every 3 to 4 days, or use the rechargeable batteries (comes with the unit) and charge them every night in the handy charger/dryer.  Why the difference?  Size!  They chose a smaller version of the BTE type and the smaller the unit, the smaller the battery.  It’s just the laws of physics!  They felt that the smaller size would be less noticeable.  But, that’s really a false fear.  95% of people that I meet or deal with, do not realize that I am wearing hearing aids and when I tell them, some look carefully and still can’t see them!  I believe they are less noticeable than the more troublesome “in the ear canal” types.
Taking Pills? July, 2014 At our advanced age, taking lots of pills of all shapes and sizes is an inevitability that comes with aging.  Picking up pills one by one and placing them in the mouth or on the tongue is tedious and we tend to drop them on the floor as we deal with poor finger control of those smooth, slippery, round or oblong pills and capsules.  Placing them in the palm of the hand and trying to put them all into the mouth in one motion is an exercise in futility as we often ‘miss’ the opening of the mouth, again retrieving meds off the floor or counter or table!  Try this, instead – put the meds in your open hand, especially the small ones.  Simply use your tongue to ‘lick them up’ much like you would lick salt or taste other small condiments off your open hand.  The meds will stick to your tongue, allowing you to get them into your mouth without a lot of fuss or bother.  If you have lots of meds, you may have to do I several times.
Flying Overseas? July, 2014 The summary report of the tragic Asiana Airline crash at SFO last year was just announced by the NTSB.  Several years ago, an Air France flight disappeared during a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in 2009.  In both cases, the pilots were either at fault or were part of the problem because they did not perform their main duty – to fly the airplane.  Instead, they relied too heavily on automation and instrumentation to do their job.  A well known Aviation Analyst said on a National TV News show that American pilots are the best in the world.  Why?  Because the U.S. has the largest and most developed General Aviation system in the world.  Most American commercial airline pilots learned to fly in small planes without a lot of avionics onboard.  In essence, they learned their skill by flying ‘by the seat of their pants!’  They did not spend huge amounts of time in a simulator.  They looked out the window of their small planes and developed the ‘feel’ of flying.  American pilots have a much greater depth of flying skill and experience.  Not so for most other commercial pilots throughout the rest of the world. They were either trained by their military air services or by a commercial flying school with much of that time in simulators.  And most foreign cultures do not encourage independent thinking/speaking in the cockpit and, often, bow/defer to seniority of age or rank instead of questioning a possible problem or issue while on the flight deck.  This can and has had tragic and deadly results.  You may want to think about that before choosing the national carrier of a foreign country for your overseas flights.
Good wine doesn't have to cost a lot! July, 2014 I recently attended a cooking class with a small group of people.  Wine was included with the lesson.  We had our choice of a variety of both red and white wines.  We all found one label in particular that was judged by everyone to be “very good to excellent!”  We discovered that it is available for under $4/bottle.  Look for Crane Lake.  I liked the Merlot and Pinot Noir a lot.  Cabernet Sauvignon was another favorite of the others.  Sprouts Farmers Market carries it @ $3.49/bottle.  I think it’s much better than Trader Joe’s “Two Buck Chuck!”
Still don't have a countertop convection toaster oven? July, 2014 These are very handy and nice to have for lots of small baking or reheating jobs.  No worries!  Costco has a larger one for $60.  If you have limited counter space, a smaller, Black & Decker model is available from Big Lots for $50.  While you’re there at Big Lots, check out their single-serve coffee maker for just $12!  No, it doesn’t use K-cups.  You use your own ground coffee.  It’s quick and easy to use and clean!
Ever try to open the doors of your vehicle with the remote but you’re too far for it to work?   July, 2014 Put the remote up against your head and try it again!  It works!  Don’t worry about brain cancer unless you do this a lot!  Putting it against a jug of water or milk will work even better!
Tip for Tennis Players! July, 2014 Do not leave °your tennis racquet in a closed, hot car during hot summer days.  The heat in the vehicle can easily reach 120° F.  At this temperature, it won’t take long for your strings to stretch and lose tension, resulting in poor racquet performance.
 
Should you use a Dealership Service or Independent Garage to maintain your auto? July, 2014 I recently replaced the turn signal switch in my Subaru.  I got a quote from the local Subaru dealer in Livermore.  The part was quoted at $199 and 1.8 hrs. Labor to install it, totaling approximately $445.  I had the work done by Big O, Dublin.  The O.E.M. part was the same cost but instead of the 1.8 hrs. Labor stated by the published repair manual, they billed me for the actual labor of 1.2 hrs.  My bill was just $339, resulting in a $106 savings and still having the same warranty for the work.  And, coincidentally, a recent survey by Consumers Report Magazine, customer satisfaction with service work is considerably higher with Independent Garages, not dealership service.
COSTCO has a deal on Greg Norman Golf shorts June, 2014 Currently, they have Greg Norman Microfiber Golf Shorts for just $16.99!  These are really comfortable and easy-care (never wrinkles).  They’re not just for golfing.  They’re fine for other sport or casual wear.
Reheating foods? June, 2014 Previously, I mentioned that baked and fried foods could be reheated in the microwave oven but because they would lose their crusty or crispy exterior, I suggested putting it in a convection toaster oven.  Well, not everybody has such an appliance.  So, another way to do it is to use a kitchen propane torch – the type used for making the glazed sugar topping on Crème Brulee, if you have one.  A regular propane torch will also work!
Columbia Sportswear Outlet for high-tech performance clothing June, 2014 Columbia Sportswear Outlet, Livermore Outlet Center: This is a good place for sport and casual clothing, especially if you’re looking for high-tech fabrics/performance.  I have two of their “Zero Cold” shirts designed to keep you cool in hot weather using new fabric technology.  It works!  It’s not just hype.  They retail for $90 and I got them for $30, each.  I love them.  They dry in about 3 hrs. when hand washed and hung on a hanger in the bathroom.  Shopping here is a ‘hit/miss’ proposition as their stock is constantly changing.
Save water! June, 2014 Use paper plates and bowls to avoid washing dishes.  Or, cover plates and bowls with stretch-wrap for cool – warm foods as a removable ‘liner.’  Simply strip the plastic wrap off when you’re finished and you will still have a ‘clean’ plate/bowl.
Tips on Knives June, 2014 I recently attended a cooking class with a group of people.  This was a ‘hands on’ class and each person made tapas or a portion of the paella main dish.  The chef instructor furnished all the ingredients and tools.  Most of the people were delighted to be able to try some high quality German knives and were amazed at how much better they behaved in their hands.  This was especially true of some knife forms they were not familiar with – a Cheese Knife, Asian Vegetable Cleaver (for fine slicing) and the Santoku Blade Knife (replaces 7” Chef’s Knife).  The cheese knife is, essentially a blade with a lot of openings so the cheese doesn’t stick to the blade.  The other two are lighter and more nimble in the hands.  If you want to try these different knives, they are available at various places for under $20!  Look for the Emeril or KitchenAid brands at Tuesday Morning, Marshalls, Kohl’s or other discount department stores that carry kitchen items.  They won’t be the same high quality as the fine German and Japanese knives but they will still be good quality steel with good balance. 
Looking for a good Stick Vacuum? June, 2014 Do you have a rechargeable hand-vac like a Black & Decker Dust Buster or the Dirt Devil battery hand-vac?  The problem with these is that they always seem to run out of charge when you need them.  And, the rechargeable batteries need replacing after a while.  But, they are very handy for small jobs.  A good alternative is the Bissel Lightweight Stick Vac 3 in 1.  It’s like a corded hand vac but comes with a detachable handle and a floor attachment to turn it into a super-lightweight (less than 4 lbs.) floor vac.  It works great on hard floor surfaces and will do nicely on carpet but not for deep cleaning on carpeting.  I got one from Walmart for under $20 and I love it.  It beats hauling out the big vacuum cleaner for small jobs.  It has a cord winder for the long power cord that makes it really handy to store and can be put into action very quickly.  It’s easy to empty the dirt cup and clean the filter.  It’s very handy and very inexpensive and works well!
New Dining Options? June, 2014
We’re blessed with quite a few new places to eat for casual or quick, inexpensive meals.  Jersey Mike’s Subs, Pleasanton, near the Alameda Fair Grounds entrance on Bernal is excellent if you have a hankering for genuine East Coast Philly Submarine sandwiches!  Spice Kit (Asian street food) and Noodle Company are newly opened in the Crow Canyon Commons shopping center near the Habit Hamburger Grill and Burger King.  I like the Noodle Company food and format a lot.  It’s got something for everyone, is quick, is good and is inexpensive.  You choose your noodle or pasta and your protein and type of cuisine and they do the rest.  I think their Pad Thai is as good as any local Thai restaurant!  A side of soup or salad is just an additional dollar, each!  Try it, you’ll like it!

And, there is a superb little casual southwestern/Mexican/TexMex café with excellent sit-down service in Livermore, Posada.  It’s been open since January of this year and it is so good that they are usually filled every night.  Reservations are a very good idea.  It’s a husband/wife team.  Blanca manages the dining room and Eduardo is the Chef.  The food is excellent.  So is the service and staff.  We feel like we’re having dinner at a friend’s house!
 
And, there is a new Dim Sum place in East Dublin next to Lowe’s, Mayflower.  The dim sum has been very good and costs a little less than Koi Garden.  We haven’t tried them for dinner, yet, but I can say that their Dim Sum is large in selection and the quality is quite good.
Microsoft Internet Explorer
May,
2014
If you are using Microoft Internet Explorer, you aware Do you suffer from bloody noses when blowing your nose?  This is often caused by having veins very near the surface of the inner nostril.  Try blowing your nose WITHOUT squeezing your nostrils shut.  Instead, try blocking the front of the nostril opening with your finger and handkerchief.  Then, gently wipe away the mucus.  This technique very well for me as I used to have a lot of trouble with bloody noses!  That's now a thing of the past!of Do you suffer from bloody noses when blowing your nose?  This is often caused by having veins very near the surface of the inner nostril.  Try blowing your nose WITHOUT squeezing your nostrils shut.  Instead, try blocking the front of the nostril opening with your finger and handkerchief.  Then, gently wipe away the mucus.  This technique very well for me as I used to have a lot of trouble with bloody noses!  That's now a thing of the past!the the headlines about a serious security flaw in this browser.  The temporary 'work around' this flaw is to go into your IE browser and invoke a command in the drop-down menu that is something like “enhanced security.”  Meanwhile, Microsoft is working on an update that will include XP users!  But this brings up a good point.  To avoid future problems with future security problems with browsers, per Bbill Olmo and Paul Mikolaj, it might be a good idea to download multiple browsers such as Google Chrome and Firefox.  This way, you will have an alternate browser to use if there are problems with your primary browser.
Prepackaged salad May,
2014

 
A good, fresh, satisfying and inexpensive prepackaged salad is available from Costco.  Try their Bistro Southwester Salad!  It comes in a package of 4 separate servings for just $8.99, a mere $2.25 per serving.  It's a complete salad with diced chicken, dressing, crunchies and even a plastic fork!  Each serving is vacuum packed and will keep nicely for over a week in the refrigerator.  They're good, cheap and convenient to have on-hand!
Do you suffer from bloody noses when blowing your nose?
May,
2014
  This is often caused by having veins very near the surface of the inner nostril.  Try blowing your nose WITHOUT squeezing your nostrils shut.  Instead, try blocking the front of the nostril opening with your finger and handkerchief.  Then, gently wipe away the mucus.  This technique very well for me as I used to have a lot of trouble with bloody noses!  That's now a thing of the past!
Think twice before automatically reaching for lip balms May, 2014 If you get a sore spot on your lip, think twice before automatically reaching for lip balms, moisturizers, medicated ointments or other OTC remedies sold for 'cold sores, cracked, dry lips, etc.'  I thought I just had a cracked lip from being dry but it got worse as I tried various balms and ointments.  I finally went to my doctor and was referred to a Dermatologist and was told to avoid all these OTC products and use just petroleum jelly (Vaseline).  It turns out that ingredients in these OTC products are not controlled nor reviewed by the FDA and many of the ingredients can react with your open sore in a negative way, especially if it is due to an allergic reaction.  I'm now on prescription strength Hydrocortisone and Vaseline and it is finally healing, nicely!
You can temporarily suspend your cell phone service?
May,
2014
If you lose your cellphone, you can terminate your service or suspend service, temporarily to avoid misuse and excessive charges to your account.  Or, if you are not going to use your cellphone for a period of time (going overseas or to areas on non-service), again, you can suspend service for up to one month on most plans.  This can save you some money.  Why pay for cellphone service if you know you won't be using it?
Lable your phone!
May,
2014
Use a label to put your HOME phone number on your cellphone AND protective case in case you lose your phone.  This way, who ever finds your phone can call you!  A label with your cellphone will do no good since you can't receive any calls or messages made to your missing cellphone!  Use a Brother, or similar, laelmaker that produces tough, durable, Mylar, attractive labels in small sizes that can be applied using their self-contained pressure-sensitive, self-adhesive system.
Avoid burning your fingers taking hot food out of the microwave!
May,
2014
In an earlier issue of Consumer Tips, I mentioned a commercial product that consists of a ceramic bowl, a plastic holder and a lid for heating foods up in the microwave in an easy, convenient way and the hot food and container can be removed by handling this cool plastic holder with a handle.  This gave me an idea to try something that is 'zero cost!'  Use a double bowl or a double plate to reheat your food items.  The second plate under the hot food plate stays cool and allows you to remove and handle your hot food without oven mitts or pot holders!
Do you have difficulty with getting tough stains out of clothing? 
May,
2014
For hats that develop a 'sweat stain/ring' around the headband and visor, pre-treat the stained area with Oxyclean, Shout or other commercial product and then hand-wash in a sink using a laundry or dish-washing detergent.  You can also use a front-load washing machine in a small load.  These machines are gentle enough that they will not damage your hat.  Pre-treat all oil/grease stains before washing.  In the case of wine or blood, use commercial products like Gonzo or Amodex Stain Removers.
Diet drinks may have a very short shelf life
April,
2014
Aspartame (Equal) is the artificial sweetener used in many soft drinks, teas and other beverages aimed at the diet conscious. However, it has a limited shelf life in liquids.  It begins to lose its sweetness in 3 months and is mostly ineffective after 6 months.  Check the ingredients before you buy and if it contains Aspartame, buy only fresh product and don’t store it too long!
 
An Easy Way to Core an Apple or Pear April,
2014

 
Cutting the core out using a paring knife can be a bit risky.  A safer method is to use a Mellon Baller or Berry Huller to scoop the core and stem out after halving the fruit.
Using stretchwrap materials effectively April,
2014

 
Stretchwraps Do Not Work Well on Plastic or Metal Containers: They depend upon static electricity to ‘stick’ to the ceramic bowls/dishes for an effective seal.  For other materials, use a rubber band to cinch the plastic wrap to the sides of the container.
 
Having trouble finding the right lid for that plastic food container? April,
2014

 
Plastic Food Storage Containers: Gladware and Ziploc make a popular, inexpensive line of ‘disposable’ containers with snap lids.  The trouble is, both have changed their containers so that early version lids will not work with later production units and vice versa.  And, some commercial food products come in similar tubs but they are not compatible with the name brand lines.  The solution is to use a permanent felt tip marker (Sharpie) to mark a code on the tub bottom and the matching lids to avoid having to use trial and error to find the right lid!
Latest Food Trends #1 April,
2014

 
Breakfast foods are the fastest growing segment of the commercial food service industry.  That’s why McDonalds will soon be serving their breakfast menu all day long.  Jack in the Box already does this.  Subway recently launched their breakfast sandwiches and now, Taco Bell has entered the fray with their AM Crunch Wrap (beef or sausage), Waffle Taco and Breakfast Burrito.  Corner Bakery has made a big nation-wide push to enter new markets in a major expansion move.
Latest Food Trends #2 April,
2014

 
The American public is opting for spicier foods.  Popeye Chicken now sells their “Spicy” flavor 2/1 over their “Mild” original flavor.  McDonald’s has added spicy dips for their McNuggets line.  Wendy’s offers spicy versions of their chicken sandwich and salads.  Almost all the burger chains now feature a Jalapeño or Habanero Pepper version on their burger menus.  Pepperjack Cheese sales have increased 7% in the last 2 years.  Jalepeno Poppers are now a common item on appetizer menus across the country.  Tabasco Sauce sales have been increasing every year! 
Some Recent ‘Finds’ or Good Buys at Costco: April,
2014

 
1. Digital food scale, 11 lb capacity @ $9.97, great for diet users
2. 21 gal motion sensor kitchen waste can $49.99
3. Hawaiian Style Chicken in refrigerated case
4. 22" Hybrid Carry On Spinner $99 – better than the famous Travelpro Rollerboard  
Don't throw away that Pickle Juice April,
2014

 
Save Pickle Juice: After finishing a jar of pickles, save the jar and the pickling liquid.  Cut up vegetables (broccoli, carrots, onions, cauliflower, etc.) and place in the jar and let the pickling solution penetrate for a few weeks and you will have excellent pickled vegetables for garnish and salads.
Before you Donate to a Charity April,
2014

 
Check the following websites to see how good/bad a specific charity is at using your donation toward the charitable cause you want to help. 
 
This one identifies the “50 worst charities in the U.S.:”
http://www.tampabay.com/americas-worst-charities/
 
This one allows you to search for a specific charity and it will provide a rating based on several factors.  Click on “details” and it will summarize the rating factors for you.
Protect Medicines and other Perishables while on the road April,
2014

 
On hot, sunny days, your vehicle interior can easily 120° F – 130° F in a short time when parked in the sun.  Use an insulated lunch bag to keep heat sensitive items from getting hot.  These are collapsible, inexpensive and weigh almost nothing.  Keep it in the car to take ice cream home from the store!  Or keep an insulated, foldable cooler in the trunk for this purpose.  We never travel without one!
Credit Card News:  April,
2014

 
Most issuers charge a Foreign Transaction Fee of up to 3% on all foreign currency transactions.  If you travel to foreign destinations frequently, it may pay you to change to a credit card that does not charge this fee.  Go to “cardhub.com” to find such a credit issuer.  Also, ask your bank to issue you a Smart Card with an imbedded chip for use in foreign ATMs, card readers, automated toll gates, ski lifts, vending machines and fuel pumps.  If you already have a Smart Card (should be standard in the U.S. by 2016) protect your card from being read (compromised) by bad people equipped with RF receivers and software.  Use an aluminum wallet or a protective sleeve designed to isolate it from all such receivers.
Re-use that Newspaper Bag: April,
2014

 
That long, skinny plastic bag that protects your home delivered newspaper is perfect for use as a disposable shoe bag!
Alternative to waiting in Cell Phone lot to pick up an arrival April,
2014

 
When waiting to pick someone up from an incoming flight, instead of parking and waiting at the Cell Phone Lot, it’s a lot more comfortable to go to a nearby McDonald’s or Starbucks!  I don’t have a Smart Phone so I go to them and use their free WiFi to check flight arrival using one of the many flight tracking websites now available.  I can relax, read the paper, surf the Web on my WiFi tablet or read my Kindle – all in complete warmth and comfort!
Flying To/From Hawaii? April,
2014

 
We recommend that you try Hawaiian Airline unless you are ‘tied’ to a frequent flyer program of another carrier.  The service is so much better than United, American, Delta, Alaska or other major American carriers.  Their cabin attendants are so much more cheerful and helpful.  And, they still serve a real meal onboard at no charge – and it’s hot and pretty decent food!!!
For Comcast Cable customers March, 2014 Be aware that the programming shown on the HD channels can be different from the standard digital channel in the same time slot.  Always check your Comcast program guide.  This tip is courtesy of Phil and Cam Reed!
Avoid forgetting ingredients when preparing meals March, 2014 To avoid this problem even when doing something as simple as making a sandwich, put all the ingredients out on the counter or work area.
Need to reheat a pastry item? March, 2014 Try slicing into pieces that will fit in your vertical toaster and watch it carefully while toasting.  If you have a toaster oven, there is no need t slice it – just put it on the rack and use the “convection” mode if you have it.
Close-up photography tip March, 2014 When taking a close-up photo of something in dim light, use your telephoto lens function and back away from the subject so the flash does not overexpose the photo.  This works especially well when taking pictures of food.
Can I use E=15 gas? March, 2014 In the Midwest, this grade of blended gas is available at many gas stations.  If you see it, avoid it unless your car/truck is a Flex Fuel vehicle or your Owner’s Manual specifically states that it can be safely used.  This is a 15% Ethanol blended fuel and can be  harmful to engines produced before 2012.
Golfer travel tip March, 2014 Since airlines have been charging for checked luggage, consider renting clubs at your destination city/resort.  Some local golf shops located near popular golf resorts will rent clubs by the day or week for considerably less than the resort golf course will charge.
Golfer shopping tip March, 2014 Golfmart will often match Internet prices of well-known golf vendors if the item is not below their landed cost.  Print out the Internet info and take it to Golfmart and ask them if they will meet the price.  Be sure it is the same, identical model.  I just bought a new Caddy Daddy Travel Bag (hard-sided travel & play out of the same bag).  The tag price was $149.95.  The Internet price at Rock Bottom Golf was $134.95.  Golfmart honored the lower price for me!  BTW, this type of travel bag is really nice for airline travel.  Airlines require that you sign a waiver for damage when using a soft bag cover.  The wheels and setup make it really easy to tow this to/from the airport to your rental car or hotel/resort shuttle.  And there are plenty of external pockets and dividers for your clubs like your regular bag to make it easy to play out of.  And when you get to your hotel/resort, you don’t have to stow the conventional soft cover somewhere.  This was a problem when we were on a golf cruise!
Bacon lovers tip March, 2014 Frying bacon in a fry pan usually results in a lot of grease spatter and makes a mess of the stove top.  To avoid this, put a little tap water into the pan before frying – just a small amount will do it.  The water will boil and help to render the fat out of the bacon and also stop the spattering.  Continue to fry and the water boils off.  Fry until the degree of crispness you desire.  It also makes the pan easier to clean!  Don’t laugh.  It works.
When making dishes requiring thinly pounded meats, fowl or seafood March, 2014 Use a Freezer Grade Ziploc bag and put the food inside.  Do not seal the ‘zipper.’  Now you have a heavy duty piece of plastic for the pounding and the bag contains any spatter or juices that leak out during the pounding.  This is the only material that will stand up to the rigors of pounding something tough like Abalone.
Use plastic stretch wrap as a liner to save on washing dishes February, 2014  Normally, we use plastic containers with snap lids to store leftovers.  Now, I line the container before putting the food items in and fold the top of the wrap over to tuck it in within the container before applying the snap lid.  
Keeping your hands clean while working in the kitchen February, 2014 Use disposable nitrile or latex gloves when working in the kitchen, garage or around the house.  This can save you from washing your hands when done with the chores or tasks.  These gloves are very inexpensive – about $5 for a box of 100 at Costco or Harbor Freight Tools.
Keeping the mess down while chopping, slicing and dicing February, 2014 When cooking dishes that require chopping, slicing or dicing multiple vegetables or other food items, instead of dirtying a dish for each item, use a large piece of plastic stretch wrap or squares of commercial food service paper from a dispenser box (available from Costco or Smart & Final).
Save your used napkins and paper towels February, 2014 Use these to wipe out things instead of using water to rinse them in the sink. This is good for recycling of cans and plastic containers before putting them into the recycle bin.
Using water that normally just goes down the drain February, 2014 Keep a plastic pail in the bathroom to collect water from the shower head before it becomes warm enough to shower under.  Use this like other ‘gray water’ to flush toilets, water plants and other non-consumable uses.
Using less water keeping your car clean February, 2014 Use a ‘California Car Wash /Cleaner/Duster’ to clean your car exterior in lieu of a car wash.  These are available from O’Reilly Auto Parts, Walmart or Amazon for about $15.  They last indefinitely and do work well if used frequently before the car gets really dirty.
low-cost shoe bags for travel February, 2014 Save the plastic bag your home-delivered newspaper comes in on wet days.  These make perfect, disposable shoe bags when traveling!
Do you use your microwave a lot to reheat leftovers?   February, 2014 Look for a Good Cook Micro Bowl at your local supermarket (about $12 at Safeway).  This is a clever kitchen accessory. It consists of a nice, white, medium, ceramic bowl with a red plastic liner and handle to make it easy to remove the hot bowl from the microwave and the liner makes a perfect trivet to avoid heat damage to any delicate surfaces.  It also comes with a plastic lid that snaps onto the bowl for quick, handy refrigerator storage, or when inverted, the lid becomes a vented splatter shield for use while reheating food in the microwave.  It has proven to be so useful that Joyce got a second one for us.  AND, they make a unique small gift for other families.
If you need to stay in touch while traveling and don't want to bring your laptop and don't have a smart phone February, 2014 In previous issues I suggested the use of an inexpensive, small  Droid tablet w/ WiFi to browse the web and check email.  This is especially handy when traveling without the benefit of a Smartphone.  Free WiFi is available at all McDonalds, Starbucks, Corner Bakery and other chain stores as well as at most airports and other public places.  Two people have reported back to me that they love this idea as it has worked well for them, too.  They were able to buy their Droid tablets for about $60 from Fry’s Electronics.
Using voice-to-text on your droid smart phone February, 2014 If you have a Droid phone, tablet or device, try using the voice-to-text app to ‘dictate’ instead of typing of messages and even longer documents like letters, reports, etc.  Parts of this article were done by dictating on my tablet and then copy/paste into Microsoft Word for easy, fast editing and spell-check!  This can be especially useful if you cannot touch-type.
Artificial sweetener shelf-life February, 2014 When buying diet foods or drinks, check the label for the sweetener ingredient.  Beware that Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal) lose their sweet properties within a short time.  So, do not stock up on anything that you will not use within the next 2 to 3 months due to the limited shelf life for taste
Beware - Capitol One! February, 2014 The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports that of all the credit card issuers that it tracks for consumer complaints and issues, Capitol One is the worst of all the U.S. credit cards.
Do you have trouble removing the shell from hard boiled eggs?   February, 2014 First, try this when cooking them – place the eggs in a suitable pan and cover with tap water.  Place on the stove on high heat until the water comes to a rolling boil.  Cover the pan with a lid and turn the heat off.  Let it sit for about 15 minutes to partially cool.  Rinse the eggs in the pan in cold tap water to cool further before storing in the refrigerator.  If the shell does not easily remove, crack the shell all around and put it in the microwave on high for just 15 to 20 seconds to warm the egg to room temperature (not really warm or hot).  The shell should now be easier to remove
Ice cream storage tip February, 2014 If you don’t eat your ice cream fast enough, the top of the ice cream will build an unappetizing, gummy ‘skin’ on top as the moisture evaporates in your frost-free freezer.  To prevent this, wad up a ball of plastic stretch wrap to cover the top of the ice cream.  This will stop the moisture loss and keep your ice cream more fresh.
Is your PC or Windows Laptop running really slow these days?   February, 2014 It may be clogged up with bloatware, duplicate files/programs and unknown items you don’t need nor want.  Try this – download free software, EasyCleaner.  Run it and you may get a noticeable improvement with faster performance and quicker boot-up sequence.  Use the following link: http://download.cnet.com/ToniArts-EasyCleaner/3000-2094_4-10529179.html .  If this works, thank SIR Phil Reed for this tip!
Check your tire pressure!   February, 2014 We’re half way through Winter and your tire pressure may be slightly low due to lower air temperatures and minor loss through the tire walls via osmosis.  Always check them while they are cold before warming from the friction of driving.  Use the recommended tire pressures noted on the door driver’s side door edge.  This is for both safety as well as fuel economy!
Limiting your exposure to credit card fraud February, 2014 Target Stores may just be the tip of the iceberg. Since then, other major retailers/lodging chains have suffered similar intrusions by hackers stealing personal/financial data.  Neiman Marcus, Marriott, Holiday Inn and Sheraton properties have also been hit.  This kind of ‘white collar crime’ is predicted to become more prevalent in the future.  SmartCards (with chips embedded) will help deter this kind of loss by consumers but until they become widely issued, what can you do to limit your exposure?  The experts recommend not using your Debit Card.  Another major task thing to do is to monitor your credit card/s statement/s frequently for unauthorized transactions.  Subscribing to a Credit Monitoring Service is another good preventative measure.  Check your credit score.  By law, this is available to you at no charge on an annual basis.  If you have Credit Monitoring, this is usually included.
How do you find out if you are getting a great deal at Costco February, 2014 Did you know there is actually a "Costco Price Tag Code" that can let you know if you're getting the best deals? A price ending in .99 is much different than one ending in .97 or .49. Check it out ... Price ending in .99 – the product is full price.  Price ending in .97 – a deal decided by the manager.  A price that ends in .97 is what we are looking for. Usually this is a special price you're not going to find again. Once it's gone it's gone. These can be some great deals.  Price ending in .49 or .79 – manufacturer's special.  A price ending in .49 or .79 is a manufacturer's special. This is a product the manufacturer is testing out at Costco, usually at a lower price than Costco would sell the item at. Price ending in .00 — the goods are about to go!  A price ending in .00 is probably the best deal you will find in the store. It means the manager wants the item out. And once it's out, the product is gone for good.  A price tag with an asterisk — it's discounted and done.   Be on the lookout for price tags with an asterisk. This means the product is discontinued. A combination of a .97 and an asterisk means you are getting a last chance good deal.  This price coding is also in use at Target Stores for much of its merchandise4.
Personal Health Tip January, 2014 I was having a lot of leg cramps at night.  My doctor recommended eating more bananas for its potassium.  And, people whose diets are rich in potassium may be less prone to high blood pressure. Besides reducing sodium and taking other heart-healthy steps, eat potassium-packed picks such as bananas, cantaloupe, and oranges
Personal Health Tip January, 2014 For sore muscles and joints, apply a cream or ointment that contains capsaicin, the active ingredient in chile peppers, two or three times a day. The heat from the peppers has been shown to help relieve pain.  These are available OTC at your local supermarket and chain drug store like Walgreen, CVS, etc
Personal Health Tip January, 2014 Winter is upon us.  Get your flu shot to avoid the flu.  Adding raw or lightly cooked garlic and onions to your meals may help keep you healthy this winter. Both foods appear to possess antiviral and antibacterial properties and are believed to boost immunity.  Maybe it will help you avoid a cold or two!
For Golfers! January, 2014 If you are considering the purchase of a golf GPS, take a look at the Golf Buddy Voice unit.  I got one for my wife because she asked for it for Christmas.  I tried it and liked it so much that I got one for myself.  It’s small and can be clipped to clothing on your body.  She has it on her hat.  I clip it to my shirt front.  A simple touch of a button results in a pleasant voice announcing the distance to the middle of the green (front/rear distances require and extra touch).  I can activate it even when wearing two layers of outerwear still in place.  It’s totally automatic.  It finds the course upon switching it on and it announces each hole as you play the course.  The thing is idiot proof!  You won’t slow play down by ‘having to mess with it.’  It is impossible to become confused when using this device.  The rechargeable battery is good for 8 to 9 hours of play and recharges (AC or USB port) in about 2.5 hours.  It was on sale at most places for just $129.
For Golfers! January, 2014 You might want to try a relatively new, soft, golf ball that possesses good qualities for both distance and for spin to ‘hold the greens.’  The Wilson Duo is inexpensive at about $18/doz.  It is under ’50 compression’ for a soft, buttery feel off your driver, woods or irons club face.  The only thing it lacks is the nice, crisp “click” sound when coming off the putter face.
Need to heat up some leftovers? January, 2014 When reheating leftovers in the microwave, place a damp paper towel or paper coffee filter over your leftovers while microwaving.  This will keep the surface of delicate items from drying out and becoming tough.  Or, use a small spray pump filled with clean tap water and sprits the food before reheating.  This works really well with old/dry bread products.
Microwave tip January, 2014 Try using different programs featured on your microwave.  For instance, I found that “2-cups beverage reheat” cycle was perfect for defrosting a half cup of frozen berries for my breakfast cereal.  And by experimentation, I found that a plate of leftovers from the refrigerator warmed quite nicely and evenly when reheating at 30% power for 5 minutes.  The key is to try various combinations of programs and/or manual settings
Use caution when using your debit card January, 2014 You’ve heard me and others say this before – use your Debit Card sparingly and with great caution.  There are no barriers nor safeguards in place between the transaction point and your account.  In the case of Credit Cards, there are fraud monitoring programs in place by your bank that will often detect and stop unauthorized transactions.  This is because you are liable for only the first $50 of fraudulent transactions if you notify the bank of lost/compromised credit cards within 48 hrs.  This means your issuing bank has a vested interest in protecting your credit card account.  And Credit Card transactions can be disputed if you believe it is not legitimate or correct.  No such protection exists for Debit Cards.  The hacking incident into the Target Stores is a good example of what can happen to victims using Debit Cards.
Check credit card receipts for added charges January, 2014 Keep your receipts and check your credit card charges from restaurants.  Servers can and have altered the tip amount to increase the amount you designated.  It’s the same as stealing from you!  Keep your receipt so you can dispute this transaction, first with the restaurant (most legitimate restaurants will refund the discrepancy amount and reprimand or fire the offending employee).  If they are not cooperative, your issuing bank will, hopefully, ‘adjust’ the charge in your favor.
Need to refill your propane tank? January, 2014 Before refilling your propane tanks for your grill, heater or other portable appliance, check the price AND THE MINIMUM PURCHASE.  I recently took my empty 20 Lb. propane cylinder into a filling station for a refill.  To my surprise, there was a $20 minimum.  The price was $3.99/gal.  A near-empty cylinder of that size will only take about 3.5 – 4.0 gallons.  That’s less than the minimum.  So, next time, I will take in two cylinders to get above the minimum.  But, even at $20, it is still better than using the Propane Exchange Program at many supermarkets and other retail places.  Why?  Because those exchange tanks are only ¾ full and still cost about $20!
Finding places to eat while travelling January, 2014 I often get asked how/where I find good restaurants for dining in both local and travel situations.  I use the Internet and look at Yelp.com, Urbanspoon.com, Chowhound.com, Google and a few other food review sites.  The key is to look for ‘3.5 - 4-star’ ratings with at least 150 reviews posted.  With that number of reviews, you know it can’t be the postings of the owner’s friends and relatives padding/skewing the numbers.  Read some of the reviews.  You’ll see that some can be discounted for very silly reasons.  Don’t use just one site.  Compare the different sites and you may pick up a common trend that tends to confirm or validate the total reviews. 
Review your cell phone plan January, 2014 Last month, I recommended that a review of your cable or satellite service could save you money.  A similar review or re-bundling of your cell phone may yield similar savings.  Free analysis of your usage by your carrier is available for matching to their various pricing  plans.  Ask them about new Prepaid Plans.  These tend to be less expensive and are now being offered by the major carriers and not just by the second-tier carriers.
If you like food, travel and fashion/style TV programs, check out the new Esquire Network.  January, 2014  It’s available in both standard and HD programming on Comcast Cable and other systems.  Check out “Knife Fight,” a fun, half-hour cooking competition show featuring real chefs cooking for real people that is not serious (no money prizes) and just a lot of good entertainment.  “The Getaway” is a fun and fast-flowing hour of travel with a big dose of humor.  You’ll see great destinations in a new and different light and off the beaten path.  “On the Table” is my favorite.  The first two episodes featured Anthony Bourdain and Mario Batali.  In just ½ hour segments, you will get a nice peek into the hearts, minds and soul of various famous, contemporary chefs.   In our minds, this channel now replaces the Food Channel as “the place for food/travel/style” shows.  I think the Food Channel has fallen behind and Esquire is the new leader!