Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Slow Start to Yard Sale Season

Today was the day I've been eagerly awaiting for months...the official start of yard sale season in my neck of the woods. It was a beautiful morning (that in itself was quite exciting after the weeks of cold, rainy weather we've had!) and I had two church rummage sales plus a couple of yard sales on my list to check out.

While of course I had fun exploring the sales, there was not a lot of exciting merchandise to be had. I purchased a couple of items at the first sale on my route, and that was it for the morning!

Here's what I came home with:

 Four glass bowls and a wooden tray; I paid $1.00 for the lot. 

I use these small glass bowls constantly in my kitchen and never seem to have enough of them (plus the occasional one gets broken, so I'm always keeping an eye out for replacements).  I'm not sure exactly what I'm going to do with the wooden tray yet; it may well be used to assemble a gift basket in the future.

That's it for this week! Have you found any great yard sale bargains yet this season?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Six Natural & Cheap Ways to Freshen Up Your Home

Since it's officially "spring cleaning season", my local store flyers have been filled with ads for all manner of home freshening products for the last several weeks. Not only are these products expensive, they're filled with some pretty nasty chemicals that I have no interest in bringing into my home. Plus, I'm really sensitive to artificial scents - even some "green" cleaning products have given me severe headaches! So, I much prefer homemade, inexpensive and natural options when it comes to keeping my home smelling fresh. Here are my favourites:

1. Break out the baking soda: What would I do without baking soda? I use it nearly every day for some household application or another. Obviously, it's great for reducing odors in the fridge, but you can use it in other areas of your home, too. Sprinkle a bit in the bottom of garbage cans to keep them from getting stinky. To freshen up carpets, sprinkle them with baking soda mixed with a few drops of essential oil (lemon is particularly nice for a fresh scent, lavender is soothing in bedrooms). Leave on for 10-15 minutes, then vacuum it up.

2. Make an essential oil spray: Mix water in a spray bottle with 20-30 drops of essential oil and lightly mist the area that needs freshening (don't go so heavy that you're starting to soak curtains, bedding, etc!)

3. Create a concentrated deodorizer by putting several drops of essential oil on a cotton swab. Place this in a musty smelling closet or cupboard, and it will work wonders at freshening it up.

4. Simmer citrus peels on your stove: Cut up lemon, orange or lime peels and simmer then gently on the stove (make sure not to let it boil dry!)

5. Make lemon & rock salt deodorizers: I learned this trick from Crunchy Betty. Cut a lemon in half, then scoop out the flesh (I usually wait til I'm going to juice one anyway, so I don't waste the flesh). Fill the empty lemon "shell" with rock salt, and place in an area that needs freshening (behind the toilet or beside the cat's litter box, for example). These deodorizers will remain effective for about two months or so before you need to make new ones.

6.. Bring in the mint: As I mentioned last summer in my post about the many uses for fresh mint, it makes a wonderful air freshener! Fill mason jars or vases with a bunch of mint sprigs, add a bit of water in the bottom, and place in strategic areas around your home. I have one on the back of my toilet tank, and it does a great job of keeping my bathroom smelling fresh (I need to replace the mint about once a week or so).

What about you? Do you have any tried-and-true natural ways of keeping your home smelling fresh that I haven't mentioned? If so, I'd love for you to leave a comment and share them with us!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

RECIPE: Layered Salad

If you're looking for a simple-to-prepare yet elegant side dish to tote along to an Easter gathering this weekend, I highly recommend this layered salad. Everyone always "oohs" and "aahs" over it whenever I take it anywhere, and once they dig in, there's usually not much left over. Use the fanciest glass bowl you've got to assemble this, and you'll be assured "showstopper" status :) If you don't have any fresh herbs on hand, they can be omitted, but they definitely add that little something special to this salad.

1 head leaf lettuce, shredded
1 cup shredded carrots
1 medium red pepper, chopped
2 cups frozen peas
6 green onions, sliced
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 cup fresh chopped herbs (parsley, basil, oregano, chives)
6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

In a large glass serving bowl, layer the lettuce, carrots, red pepper, peas and green onion (in that order). Combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, white wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and herbs (if using). Spread evenly over top of salad. Cover and chill overnight. Sprinkle with bacon just before serving.

Serves 8.

I shared this recipe at Recipe Swap Thursday and Full Plate Thursday.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Weekly Menu Retrospective #34

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the past week's eats. I prefer to report what we ate in the last week, rather than what we're planning to eat in the coming week. Why? The reason is pretty simple: although I usually have a general idea of what we're going to eat in the next week or so, life often unfolds a little differently than planned, and I adjust my menu plan on a near-daily basis to accommodate leftovers and other not-possible-to-plan-ahead circumstances. I find this is the easiest way to ensure that I minimize our family's food waste. I'm also willing to admit that I'm a rather spontaneous cook, given to preparing foods that strike me as the most appealing thing to eat right here and now!

Breakfasts: rhubarb streusel muffins, bagels, homemade granola, apple pancakes

Lunches: sandwiches (peanut butter, grilled cheese), pizza, Toad-in-the-Hole


Monday: Pasta e Fagioli

Tuesday: Chicken & Salsa Casserole

Wednesday: Leftover Buffet

Thursday: Italian Meatball Subs, creamy cucumber salad

Friday: Sausage & Potato Hash

Saturday: Apple & Bacon Baked Beans

Sunday: Sausage, Onion, & Peppers with Red Sauce and Creamy Polenta, green beans, Blueberry Clafouti

For more great meal ideas, head over to Menu Plan Monday at

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Homemade Easter

After weeks of feeling like it would never arrive, Easter is just a little over a week away - meaning it's time I finalized my game plan for this year's festivities.

Here's a rundown of what I'll be making to celebrate this year:

Easter treats:

I made these last year, and they were a HUGE hit with everyone. I don't imagine there will be an Easter anytime soon where I won't be making these! These eggs will form the centrepiece for our Easter goody baskets, and I'll fill in around the edges with a couple of store bought treats. Even though my boys are 11 and 13, they still love a good Easter egg hunt, so I'll need to pick up some of the small foil eggs for hiding.

Easter breakfast:

Homemade hot cross buns are an absolute requirement at my house. I've been making this recipe for years and it wouldn't be Easter without them. Orange juice, coffee and fruit round out the meal (with lots of chocolate on the side, of course!)

I always keep my lunches light on holidays so we have plenty of room for the big meal later on. Sandwiches, fruit and sliced veggies are our usual fare. I'm going to make a big pitcher of Sweet Tea, some of which we may have with lunch, but I'll save the majority for when the dinner guests (my dad, his partner, and my Nan) arrive later in the afternoon.

Roast turkey with stuffing
Turkey gravy
Baked ham
Mashed potatoes
Roasted asparagus (if I can find some that's grown in North America!), otherwise I'll do green beans instead
Carrots in honey butter
Whole wheat rolls (made from Whole Wheat Refrigerator Dough)

If I don't feel too frazzled by all the food prep, I may have a go at folding these Easter bunny napkins to grace our dinner table.


Pavlova has become our traditional Easter dessert and in my opinion it's the perfect taste-of-spring finish for the big holiday meal! Of course, I always like to have a little chocolate something-or-other as another option. This year I'm going to give these Coconut-Fudge Bars a try.

What special treats are you making for Easter? Please share your recipes and links!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

RECIPE: Impress-the-Guests Pavlova

If you're looking for a showstopping dessert that is both easy and inexpensive to prepare, look no further! Pavlova has become our traditional Easter dessert, and for good reason. The different components can be prepared a day or two in advance, with the final assembly taking just a couple of minutes. I haven't yet served it to anyone who hasn't loved it, and it's a light and refreshing dessert after a heavy meal like Easter dinner.

The recipe can look a bit intimidating as there are several different layers, but each step is quite easy, so don't let that scare you off. You can easily make the meringue shell one day and the pudding the next, and whip the cream and slice the fruit the day of the meal.


Meringue shell:
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
3 egg whites at room temperature (save yolks for the pudding)
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vinegar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Lemon Pudding:
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
2 cups milk
½ cup light cream
3 egg yolks (reserved from making the meringue)
juice and finely grated zest of 2 lemons
2 tbsp butter

3-4 cups sliced berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or a combination)

1 cup whipping cream, whipped

Make the meringue shell:  
·      Trace an 8” circle onto parchment paper (use an 8” round cake pan as a guide). Flip the paper over (so trace marks are on underside) and place on a baking sheet.
·      In a small bowl, combine sugar and cornstarch.

·      In a large bowl, combine egg whites and salt. Beat with electric mixer until they hold soft peaks. Beat in sugar mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time.

·      Add vinegar and vanilla and beat until meringue is glossy and holds stiff peaks, about 5 minutes.

·      Spread meringue in a circle on the parchment, using tracing as a guide. Mound the edges to make them higher, making the meringue “nest” like (the indentation in the middle will hold the filling)..

·      Bake meringue at 300°F for about 45 minutes or until slightly golden with a firm crust on the outside (the inside will still be softer and marshmallow-like).

·      Turn off oven and leave meringue in oven one hour longer to cool. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. (The meringue shell can be made 2-3 days in advance; store in a cool, dry place in an airtight container until ready to serve).

Make the pudding:
·      In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and cornstarch. Whisk in the milk and cream.

·      Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until mixture begins to thicken.

·      In a small bowl, beat egg yolks. Add about ½ cup of hot milk mixture to egg yolks and stir until combined.

·      Add egg mixture to saucepan and continue to whisk until mixture thickens completely.

·      Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice, zest and butter. Pour into a medium bowl and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (at least 2 hours or up to 2 days in advance of serving). 

Assemble the Pavlova:
Place meringue on serving dish. Spoon pudding into centre of meringue, then top with berries. Spoon cream over top.

Serves 6-8.

I shared this recipe at Tasty Tuesday, What's On the Menu Wednesday, Frugal Food Thursday, Full Plate Thursday, the GCC Recipe Swap, Fat Camp Friday, Friday Favorites and Sweets for a Saturday.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Weekly Menu Retrospective #33

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the past week's eats. I prefer to report what we ate in the last week, rather than what we're planning to eat in the coming week. Why? The reason is pretty simple: although I usually have a general idea of what we're going to eat in the next week or so, life often unfolds a little differently than planned, and I adjust my menu plan on a near-daily basis to accommodate leftovers and other not-possible-to-plan-ahead circumstances. I find this is the easiest way to ensure that I minimize our family's food waste. I'm also willing to admit that I'm a rather spontaneous cook, given to preparing foods that strike me as the most appealing thing to eat right here and now!
Breakfasts: Morning Glory Muffins, Rhubarb Muffins

Lunches: leftovers, pizza


Monday: Pork and Apple Stew

Tuesday: Spicy Peanut & Tomato Soup

Wednesday: Smothered Meatballs, mashed potatoes, peas & carrots

Thursday: Lemony Chicken and Spinach Pasta, Lemon Pudding Cake (this was a bit more souffle-like than I was hoping, I'm on the hunt for one that is cakier, if you have a good recipe, please share!)

Friday: Bacon & Cheese Egg Puff

Saturday: Leftover Buffet

Sunday: Roast Chicken, mashed potatoes, carrots, gravy, Mud Hens (from Southern Plate)

For more great meal ideas, check out Menu Plan Monday at

Friday, April 8, 2011

5 Ways to Save Money on Fruits & Vegetables

For most families, produce is a significant portion of their food bill (in our household, it's about a third of our total monthly food expenses). I know there are some families on tight food budgets who feel that their only option is to eat less fruits and vegetables. Fortunately, that doesn't have to be the case if you employ some of the following strategies:

1. Buy local, seasonal produce (and save some for later): In-season produce is not only fresher, it's usually much less expensive than it would be at other times of the year. While most grocery stores will have great sales on seasonal fruits and vegetables, it's likely you'll save even more by visiting a pick-your-own farm (and this is a great family outing if you've got kids!). You can search for local pick-your-own-farms in North America (plus a few other countries) at This site is also a good resource for information on freezing and canning; if you want even more I recommend the Bernardin Complete Book of Home Preserving (also published as the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving). By buying in-season produce in bulk, you can have enough to eat now plus save some for later by freezing or canning it for use during the rest of the year. Fresh berries, for example, are very easy to freeze and are great for using in smoothies and desserts during the off-season. Some produce will keep just fine on its own for several months if stored properly - we buy several 10 lb bags of onions in the fall and they last most of the winter stored in our basement.

2. Grow your own: This is hardly a new money-saving idea, but that doesn't mean it's not a good one! Growing some of your own food will save money and provide you with the freshest possible food you can get. There is something incredibly satisfying about rummaging around in your own garden and coming up with the ingredients that will make the basis of your dinner. If you don't have your own space, consider joining a community garden; there are more community gardens being started every year, so it's likely there's one near you. New to vegetable gardening? I recommend Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew and Incredible Edibles: 43 Fun Things to Grow in the City by Sonia Day, especially if you're going to be growing in small spaces.

3. Consider a food swap: Once you decide to take the plunge and grow some of your own veggies, you might want to consider starting a neighbourhood produce swap where members share their surplus garden goodies with each other. This idea has been used very successfully in the Southern U.S.; you can read about the Hillside Produce Cooperative here. Hynden Walch, the founder of the Hillside Produce Cooperative, wrote an article about how to start your own local group, which you can find here. I think this is such a fantastic idea that I'm in the process of getting a group started in my neighbourhood! Hynden had this to say about her experience: "It's astonishing just how much food we see in our bags each month, not to mention the variety. The contents of our bags looks like we just dropped about $65 at a really great farmers' market. But instead all the food is FREE."

4. Do a workshare for your local CSA: If growing your own doesn't seem like a feasible option (or if you need to supplement your homegrown goodies with extra produce), Community Shared Agriculture (or Community Supported Agriculture, as it's called in the U.S.) might be another option worth exploring. Although the cost of a CSA membership is usually a bit on the steep side for those on tight food budgets, there are a couple of ways you might be able to reduce (or altogether eliminate) the expense. Some farms offer a small number of work shares to their membership; usually the setup is that you do a designated number of hours of work on the farm in exchange for a free (or greatly reduced) membership. My husband and I did this one year and it was interesting to participate in the workings of the farm. You should be prepared to do some hard physical work, though! I've also known people who did some of the administrative work for their CSA (such as writing the farm newsletter) in exchange for a lowered membership fee. Finally, I know at least one local CSA that offers subsidized (reduced-cost) shares for low income families, so if you're in this position, it might be worth inquiring about - it never hurts to ask!  If you do sign on with a CSA, you might want to check out my 7 Tips for New CSA Shareholders to help make the process as smooth as possible.

5. Forage/Glean: There is an awful lot of perfectly good food going to waste in farmer's fields, wild spaces, and your neighbour's back yard. If you learn to keep an eye out for it, you might be surprised at what you find. In my city, there is a wonderful program called the Fruit Tree Project, which uses a team of volunteers to pick backyard fruit trees. The harvest is split between the tree owners, volunteers, and local food banks/shelters. In 2010, they harvested 13, 300 lbs!! If you happen to spot a fruit tree that's clearly not being harvested, there's no harm in asking the owner if you can pick it for them in exchange for some of the bounty! Some farmers will open their fields to the public after harvest to allow people to glean the remaining food - the one drawback being that if these events are well publicized, they can draw large crowds in the thousands. If you're the quiet type, foraging may be a better option for you. There is an abundance of food growing in wild areas that is seldom harvested, except by other intrepid foragers. If you're lucky, you may find wild blackberry or raspberry bushes, but there is much more food growing out there in the wild! I found a trip through Samuel Thayer's The Forager's Harvest incredibly informative and entertaining; I was reading it in mid-winter otherwise I would have immediately started wandering the neighbourhood hunting for edible plants! Of course, if you're going to start foraging you should always be mindful of where you're doing it and stay away from protected wilderness areas and private property (unless you've gotten permission from the owner).

Books mentioned in this post:

All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space! Incredible Edibles: 43 Fun Things to Grow in the City The Forager's Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants Bernardin Complete Book of Home Preserving: 400 Delicious and Creative Recipes for Today
(Disclaimer: the links to books are affiliate links to; if you purchase anything after clicking through I will receive a small commission from your purchase. As usual, I recommend checking out your local library for these resources first!)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

RECIPE: Roasted Chickpeas

You know how you have a recipe you've been meaning to try out for years, and somehow never quite manage it? The one that falls out of your recipe file every time you're rummaging around in there, and you glance at it *again* and think "Oh, yeah, I've really got to try that!" and then stick it back in there and forget about it *again* for the millionth time. This is one of those recipes. And I am SO glad I finally did try it, because it's become one of our favourite snacks around here. In fact, I have to restrain myself from nibbling away most of the batch while I'm waiting for them to cool down enough to put in a storage container afterward.

If you like chickpeas at all, you will LOVE these! And even if chickpeas aren't on your top ten favourite foods list, I think you'll be surprised by how much you might like them (my older son, who doesn't normally care for chickpeas, will happily munch away on these crunchy little morsels). They are super easy to make, and are a great protein-rich snack. While they are addictive to eat on their own, they also make a great salad topper. And (the icing on the cake) you can whip up a batch of these for less than 50 cents if you use cooked-from-dried beans.

3 cups cooked chickpeas
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
other seasonings as desired (cumin, chili powder, curry, Italian seasoning), optional

In a medium bowl, combine the chickpeas, olive oil, salt, pepper, and other seasonings (if using). Spread in a single layer on a parchment-paper lined cookie sheet. Bake at 375F for 30-45 minutes, until chickpeas are crunchy. Cool and store in an airtight container.

I shared this recipe at Recipe Swap ThursdayFrugal Food Thursday, Full Plate Thursday, the GCC Recipe Swap, Fat Camp Friday and Friday Favorites.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Weekly Menu Retrospective #32

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the past week's eats. I prefer to report what we ate in the last week, rather than what we're planning to eat in the coming week. Why? The reason is pretty simple: although I usually have a general idea of what we're going to eat in the next week or so, life often unfolds a little differently than planned, and I adjust my menu plan on a near-daily basis to accommodate leftovers and other not-possible-to-plan-ahead circumstances. I find this is the easiest way to ensure that I minimize our family's food waste. I'm also willing to admit that I'm a rather spontaneous cook, given to preparing foods that strike me as the most appealing thing to eat right here and now!

I'm afraid this is another week of not-so-inspired menus; I'm still recovering from oral surgery so soft and liquidy foods made up the bulk of the meals around here. Hopefully this phase won't last too much longer and I'll soon be back to a much more varied menu!

Breakfasts: leftover Upside-Down Apple Pancake, rhubarb muffins, baked oatmeal, cheese omelettes

Lunches: pizza, Toad-in-the-Hole, sandwiches, leftover soup


Monday: Leftover Buffet

Tuesday: Potato & Cheddar Soup, cornbread

Wednesday: Pasta e Fagioli

Thursday: Macaroni & Cheese with Ham & Peas

Friday: Choice of sandwich or French toast

Saturday: Toad-in-the-Hole

Sunday: Cheesy Mac & Beef Skillet, chocolate pudding cake

For more great meal ideas, check out Menu Plan Monday at

Friday, April 1, 2011

Energy Medicine: Frugal & "Green" Self Health Care

I've been intending to write about this topic for a while as it's one that is near and dear to my heart. I know for some people it will be a little "out there", but that's okay. These are techniques that for me have been life-changing, and I'm so grateful to have found them.

I love energy medicine for a lot of reasons; many of these techniques are quite simple to learn and use, they're non-invasive, gentle and effective, they're non-polluting (you're working directly with your body's own energy systems, there are no external inputs required) and, since all you need to do them is your hands, you have access to them 24-7, no matter what you forgot to pack in your purse!

A few disclaimers before I go on: this is a really huge topic and I'm just scratching the surface in this post. I'm going to recommend some of my favourite resources so you can explore these techniques in much greater depth if you're interested. I'm not a licensed health care professional, just a mom who is passionate about natural healing techniques. Obviously, you need to use common sense with these methods, just as you would with any others - always seek the advice of a qualified health professional when needed.

Now that I've got that out of the way, on to the interesting part...

"Energy medicine" encompasses a variety of techniques that work directly with the body's energy systems, such as meridians and chakras. If you've ever had acupuncture, that's an example of a treatment that is based on working with the meridian system. While acupuncture requires needles, there are many other energy methods that require only the use of your hands working directly on the surface of the body.

1. Acupressure: Michael Reed Gach, the author of Acupressure's Potent Points, describes acupressure as "an ancient healing art that uses the fingers to press key points on the surface of the skin to stimulate the body's natural self-curative abilities". Think acupuncture without the needles. I have used acupressure with great results for a number of different issues. Last summer, my son was having a lot of trouble with swimmer's ear. It started out as a minor aggravation, but got to the point that one afternoon he was nearly in tears about it (and he's a tough kid, so if he's complaining, it's really bothering him). I decided to try the acupressure treatment for earache to see if that would bring him any relief. I was pretty shocked when, about 3/4 of the way through the recommended sequence, he looked at me with a startled expression and told me the pain was completely gone, and that he'd felt a release of the fluid pressure in his ears. I expected we'd have to do this treatment regularly, but in fact he never complained of the problem again for the rest of the summer! That was probably the most dramatic experience I've had with acupressure, but I've had good results using it for nosebleeds, headaches, nausea/motion sickness, heartburn, and pain and swelling from a foot injury. The techniques are very simple, so if you have a kid who is prone to nosebleeds or motion sickness, you can teach them the specific points to use and they can easily do it on their own to help themselves. Gach's book is a fantastic resource (I snagged a copy for under a buck at a church rummage sale!). There is also a lot of information to be found at, and you can sign up for a free monthly newsletter there as well.

2. EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques): Similar to acupressure, EFT works with the body's meridian system (it's sometimes referred to as "meridian tapping"). This simple technique involves tapping on a specific sequence of meridian points on the hands, face and upper body while saying specific phrases related to the issue at hand. It can be used to help with a wide variety of issues, both physical and emotional. Once again, the basic method is easy enough that a child can easily be taught how to use it on their own. If you have a kid who's prone to anxiety or has been through some type of traumatic event, I can't recommend this technique highly enough! (Of course, it's just as effective for adults). You can find a mountain of free information about this method at; go directly here to sign up for their free newsletter and/or download the free manual outlining the basics of this technique. You can also purchase a more detailed EFT Manual by Gary Craig on Amazon, or check out the DVD Try it On Everything, a documentary describing the experiences of several people using this technique to address serious issues like chronic pain and PTSD.

3. Advanced Energy Medicine Techniques: Acupressure and EFT are two wonderful, accessible ways to get started using energy medicine techniques, however, there is much more to energy medicine than just these two methods. If you are interested in exploring this topic in more depth, I would suggest checking out Donna Eden's book, Energy Medicine. It is NOT by any means a light read; this is a book packed full of much detailed information about the body's energy systems and a wide variety of energy medicine techniques. She also has another book specifically on women's health issues, Energy Medicine for Women. My library has both of these books, so you might want to check and see if yours does, too.You can go here to watch Donna demonstrate her Daily 5 Minute Energy Routine, which is a quick daily "tune up" for the body's energy systems.

The books recommended above:
Acupressure's Potent Points: A Guide to Self-Care for Common AilmentsThe EFT Manual (Everyday Eft: Emotional Freedom Techniques)Energy Medicine: Balancing Your Body's Energies for Optimal Health, Joy, and VitalityUpdated and ExpandedEnergy Medicine for Women: Aligning Your Body's Energies to Boost Your Health and Vitality

(Disclaimer: all the links to resources are Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase anything from Amazon after clicking through, I will receive a commission that's a small percentage of your total purchase. As usual, I always recommend you check out the resources at your local library first!)

If you decide to give any of these methods a try, I'd love to hear about your experiences with them.
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