Sushi Cam

Here’s a fun video I discovered a couple of months ago. I’m not sure why I didn’t share it before. At a sushi bar in Japan, the dishes are served on a conveyer belt. Patrons take the food they want as it comes to them. Here, a young woman has placed her digital video camera on the conveyer to let it make its 7-1/2 minute trip through the restaurant. The result is strangely mesmerizing:

As I say, I watched this a few months ago, but dismissed it as a novelty. But I’ve thought about the video many times since. I love the way it captures so many small moments.

It’s enthralling.

In Dreams

Because I have sleep apnea and spend my nights strapped to a C-PAP machine, I don’t dream very often. If I remember to take my melatonin before bed, I’ll sometimes have dreams, but mostly my nights are a blank slate. (I’m sure I’m actually dreaming, of course, but I just don’t remember the dreams upon waking.) A couple of weeks ago, though, I had a fine pair of dreams. Very vivid.

Dream #1

Kris and I were joining Chris and Jolie to see a movie in northwest Portland. For some reason, we were meeting them at the Mini dealership in southwest Portland. When we met, there was an hour before the movie began, so I suggested we walk over to the theater. We did. As we were leaving the dealership, we passed through a coffeeshop attached to it (which doesn’t exist in reality), and I accidentally knocked a newspaper from some lady’s hands. Chris caught it as it fell, and I was all apologetic.

The four of us walked to the (imaginary) theater in northwest Portland, but we were way early (which wouldn’t be true in real life — the walk would have been just the right amount of time). Fortunately, the theater was attached to a large used bookstore (not Powell’s). Also fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), the bookstore contained a huge stash of comics-as-books that I’ve been hunting for. And for cover price (instead of marked up at collectors prices). I was ecstatic, and set aside a stack of them to purchase.

Then I saw that my brother Jeff was there. He and I began to talk. Jolie came to tell me that it was time for the movie to start, so I went to find my stack of books, but they were gone! I was frantic! I didn’t want to let these bargains slip away. I couldn’t find them anywhere. I looked under a bed (why was there a bed in the middle of a bookstore?) but they weren’t there. (There were, however, other comics-as-books that I wanted, so I grabbed them.) Ultimately, I had to leave without my books, and I was very sad. I did not enjoy the movie.

Dream #2

The four of us are coming out of a building (the theater in dream #1?) and we see a puzzling sight. We’re in southeast Portland now, over by Woodstock and 39th. All of the buildings are shifted off their foundations. In fact, most of them are collapsed and demolished. “Was there an earthquake?” we keep asking the people, but they’re wandering around in a daze and not answering us.

Chris and Jolie go their own way while Kris and I ride the bus (?!?!?) home, looking at the devastation as we ride. “I wonder if our house has collapsed,” I say, but we decide that it probably hasn’t because the foundation is embedded deep in the earth (not true). When we get home, the house is fine, but all of the houses around it have collapsed.

Remnants of Things Past

I did a little time traveling yesterday, and I didn’t like it.

“I’m going to clean the workshop,” I announced at breakfast. “I know I should write or mow the lawn, but I’m going to clean the workshop.”

“Sounds good,” Kris said. She rarely argues when I have an urge to do some cleaning.

A glimpse at the past
My WorkshopWhen we first looked at this property five years ago, I was drawn to the outbuildings. I have fond memories of the outbuildings on my grandparents’ land, so I was excited that our new house would have a detached garage, two sheds, and a workshop.

For the first couple of years, I actually used the workshop for its intended purpose. It was the place I practiced my (very limited) handyman skills. I also used it to build computers for family and friends. In time, however, the building fell into disuse; it gradually turned to storage.

I gave a tour of our home to a visitor last month. When I showed the workshop, I was dismayed. I hadn’t really looked at it in months — or years. But when I saw it through the eyes of a stranger, it was clear that it had become a dumping ground for my cast-off Stuff.

The past recaptured
I’ve written before about my battle with Stuff. In many ways, I’ve made great progress. I’m less acquisitive than I used to be, and I’ve sold most of the things that have value. But I still possess a great mass of Stuff.

As I began my cleaning project yesterday, the workshop was packed with:

  • Old computer parts (Apple II, Macintosh SE, etc.)
  • Vinyl record albums from my youth
  • Compact discs
  •  
  • Darkroom equipment
  • Old books and comics
  • Stacks and stacks of magazines
  • Boxes and bags filled with miscellaneous junk
  • Packaging materials from three years of purchases

Looking at this collection of Stuff — none of which I need or use anymore — I was overwhelmed. I felt sick. Did I really purchase all of this Stuff? Why? As I worked, I tried to answer that question.

Whenever I picked something up, I tried to remember how much I had paid for it and what had led me to buy it:

This voice recorder cost $59. I thought it would keep me from forgetting things, but I never remembered to use it. Not once. These photography books cost $20 each. I thought they’d help me make better photos, but I’m not sure I read any of them at all. I bought this old Apple II for $125 off of eBay because I wanted to play the games I remember from fifth and sixth grade. I used it for a couple of hours.

I took a trip through my past, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. All around me was evidence of my wasteful ways. For nearly 20 years, I had been in acquisition mode. I accumulated Stuff. My workshop was filled with the last remnants of this life.

One fundamental principle of frugality is to buy only things for which you have a use (even if that use is pleasure). The old J.D. wasn’t good at this. I bought a lot of stuff that I didn’t need — and barely wanted.

Now here I am at 40, and when I look at all of the things I own, I can’t help but wonder what my younger self was thinking. Buying this Stuff seemed like a good idea at one time, I know, but owning these things did not make me happy. It didn’t make me feel free. Quite the opposite, in fact. This Stuff is a burden, a physical and a mental barrier to the things that are actually important to me.

A dream of the future
Kris and I are in the very early stages of planning our vacation for next year, and we’re leaning towards a Rick Steves tour. Steves is a one-bag zealot: Participants are not allowed to bring more than a single carry-on suitcase, whether the tour lasts two days — or twenty.

This might seem limiting to some, but I find the one-bag philosophy liberating. When Kris’ parents took us to London and Dublin in 2007, I took a single carry-on bag. For three weeks, my entire world consisted solely of the possessions I could squeeze into this suitcase. It was awesome. I felt unburdened. When we returned from that trip, the one-bag experience prompted me to undergo a short phase during which I purged Stuff around the house — but I never finished the job.

As I continue to develop my personal and financial goals for the future, I want to focus less on Stuff. I’ve learned to guard against the invasion of Stuff, but I want to take it a step further. I want to eliminate more of the Stuff I already own. To that end, I’ve developed some personal guidelines to help me approach the task:

    • Don’t overthink it. With so much Stuff to get rid of, it’s easy to make the project even better than it has to be. I’m tempted to draw up plans on paper or to simply re-arrange the Stuff into new piles. The key is to dispense with all this folderol and just get started.

 

    • Focus on one item at a time. If I look at the entire project at once, I’m overwhelmed. How on earth will I ever clean the workshop? How will I ever find a place for all this Stuff? Instead, I concentrate on one thing at a time. Where does this photo enlarger go? And what about my old Tintin books? I break the project into smaller steps.

 

    • Don’t get depressed. When I think about the time and money that this Stuff represents, I sometimes let it get me down. It seems like such a waste. But the past is the past, and I cannot change what I’ve done. All I can do is try to make smart choices going forward, to guard against the invasion of Stuff, and to get rid of the clutter that’s already in my life.

 

    • Do some good with the Stuff you have. If I’m going to get rid of things, I might as well make the most of them. Sure, much of the Stuff is going to end up in the trash, but can some of the items be donated to a local thrift store? A school? In my case, I have darkroom equipment that somebody on Craigslist or Freecycle may want. My nephew would probably love the two boxes of model railroad parts I’ve acquired.

 

    • Purge ruthlessly. When I sort through this Stuff, I have to turn off the emotional side of my brain. This can be difficult, but it’s necessary. Do I really need my high school newspapers? All of my old role-playing games? My boxes of common football cards? What about my cassette tapes from high school and college? The financial records for buying our first house in 1993? Everything has some sort of meaning; if I keep it all, I’m going to be buried in clutter.

 

  • Remember how this feels. Though I’m doing much better at avoiding Stuff, I still have my weaknesses. I still bring home too many books. I’m still drawn to “free” stuff by the side of the road. Next week, I plan to attend an enormous neighborhood garage sale, and if I’m not careful, I could come home with even more Stuff. When I’m tempted in the future, I need to remind myself of what it feels like to dig through this crap.

I almost think that this project should make me feel happy and triumphant, not sad and mopey. Look how far I’ve come! Look at the smart choices I’m now able to make! And think of how much less cluttered my life will be once I purge all of this stuff!

I don’t feel triumphant yet, but maybe I’ll get there. For now, I’m hoping that my own experience can serve as an object lesson to others who might be acquisition mode. Buying Stuff (and getting Stuff for free) can seem like fun. It can seem like “winning”. It’s not. Don’t buy things for which you have no use; the value is in the using, not the having.

Neighborhood Watch

There’s a little white house that lives up the street. It’s a small house on a small lot, but otherwise I think it’s kind of cute. I’m not sure that anyone lives there right now — the yard certainly isn’t maintained.

For the past couple of weeks, there’s been a manual reel mower sitting in the front yard. It was sitting upright, as if somebody had stopped in mid-mow, but eventually it fell to the ground. The grass has been growing up around it: the hunter has become the hunted!

Yesterday, however, I noticed that the mower had been moved. It was ditched at the top of the hill in somebody else’s yard. Someone — probably a kid — had wheeled it a few hundred feet and then discarded it. “I ought to put it back where it belongs,” I thought. But I didn’t do it.

That’s okay, though. This afternoon as I was walking home, I noticed that the mower had been returned to the exact position from which it had been taken. That, my friends, is neighborliness!

Lonesome Mower

Turning garage sale junk into eBay gold

On Saturday night, I attended a party with some of my former high-school classmates. Many of the other guests were artists. I don’t know many artists, so it was fascinating to listen to their stories, especially about the economics of selling art during a recession. I learned a lot.

Later in the evening, I spent some time chatting with my friend Jonathan. He asked me about the blog. “What are you going to write about tomorrow?” he said.

“Well, I’d like to write about earning extra money,” I said. “That’s the topic for the podcast I’m doing Monday afternoon, and I think it would be fun to also post an article related to the subject. I’ve been picking the brains of these artists, hoping to find a story, but I haven’t found one yet.”

“I’ve got one,” Jonathan said. “Let me tell you how my mother earns extra money.”

Garage Sale Gold

“My mother makes money on eBay,” Jonathan said. “She likes to travel, but it’s not something she could normally afford to do. So, she’s found a way to generate extra cash that she saves just so she can off to Europe — to France or to Italy. Wherever she wants to go.”

“How does she do it?” I asked.

“She shops at garage sales,” Jonathan said. “She goes with my aunt. They each have certain things they know a lot about, and so they go from garage sale to garage sale, searching for hidden treasures. They buy them, take them home, and auction them on eBay. It’s simple, but it works.

“Here’s an example,” he said. “Recently, my mom bought a monkey perfume bottle for ten bucks. She sold it on eBay for $150.”

“A monkey perfume bottle?” I asked, completely baffled. Jonathan laughed.

“Yeah,” he said. “I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. That’s the thing. People don’t know what they have, so if you’re educated about what certain things go for, you can get some great deals. Sometimes you have to play dumb, you know. If you find a great value, you don’t want to appear over-eager.”

“That reminds me of something that happened a few years ago,” I said. “A friend called to tell me about a nearby garage sale. This guy had a couple of boxes of comic books. Usually garage sale comic books are junk, but this guy had a bunch of great stuff from the late 1960s. He wanted $5 a piece for them, which was more than fair. I thought about making an offer of $100 or $200 for the entire lot. I was going to lie to him and say they were for my non-existent kid. I wanted to play dumb. But I didn’t have the guts. I left without buying anything. I should have at least made an offer. There were a couple of thousand dollars worth of comics there!”

“That happens all of the time,” Jonathan said. “My aunt once found a nice set of luggage marked at $100. She knew it was worth more, but she couldn’t bring herself to buy it. Her son told her to do it, but she didn’t. Later she saw the same set on eBay. One of her competitors had bought it. It sold for two grand!”

Competitive Business

“Your mother and your aunt have competitors?” I asked.

“Sure,” said Jonathan. “A lot of people do this. There’s a group of them that go around from sale to sale. You get so you see the same people. Some of them are competitors. Other people have specialized niches. They know one thing really well, and they hunt at garage sales until they find it.”

“Interesting,” I said. “I remember once we were having a garage sale. I came home from work, and Kris pointed out a guy rummaging through my compact discs. I had hundreds of CDs for sale. Kris told me he’d been at it for about an hour. Eventually, he came up and tried to talk me down on prices, but I wouldn’t do it. I was shocked at the CDs he’d selected. It wasn’t the common stuff. He somehow knew every single hard-to-find or expensive disc that I’d accumulated over the past decade. Even the classical music. It hurt to sell that stuff.”

“Yeah,” Jonathan said. “There are a lot of people like that. Some are just collectors, but others are like my mom, who will just turn around and sell the stuff for a profit on eBay.”

He paused for a moment and then added, “My mom has no shame. She’s one of those who’s knocking on doors at 7am. She’ll read about a sale in the paper, and she’ll be there early, trying to get the best deals.”

“Don’t people get mad?” I asked. “When Kris and I hold sales, it drives us crazy when people show up early.”

“Sure, they get mad, but she doesn’t care. A lot of people turn her away, but many don’t. They may be mad, but they’re happy to take her money.”

Love It or Leave It

“The thing is, my mom loves this,” Jonathan said. “She’d do the garage sales even if it wasn’t a way to earn extra money. There’s a lot of time my mom buys stuff and gets nothing. But she doesn’t care because she had a blast garage-saling for three days.

“A friend of mine is always trying to convince others to start side businesses. He says that you can’t do it for the money, though. You have to do something you enjoy. You have to take other stuff into consideration. If you do it just for the money, there’s a good chance you won’t stick with it because you’ll discover you don’t like it.”

I thought of a conversation I’d had earlier in the evening with one of the artists. He makes interesting clocks. He doesn’t actually make the mechanisms, but he creates artistic clockfaces. We talked about the economy, and he told me business has been rough lately. He doesn’t sell a lot even during the best of times, but the last few months have been even harder. But he keeps doing it because he loves it.

In the end, Jonathan summarized his mother’s strategy: “My mom doesn’t make a lot of money, but she has fun. And she’s able to earn enough to travel. She’s traveled to Turkey and Costa Rica and Switzerland.”

“And this is just off of garage sales?” I asked.

“Yup,” said Jonathan. “It’s garage-sale money.”

Photo credits: Garage sale by M. Gifford, Matchbox cars by Daniel Spils, Switzerland by MK Media Productions.

Bad Haircut

Out of sheer laziness, I’ve begun to get my hair cut at Great Clips. It’s right next to Safeway, so it’s easy to go there when I’m picking up groceries. I don’t particularly care for their cuts, but Kris likes them. They generally give me the same cut every time, too, which is nice, because they’ve put my preferences into their computer.

Today, however, I got something…a little different.

When I walked in, I was pleased to discover there was no wait. Alexis was able to cut my hair right away. “How would you like your hair cut?” she asked, which I thought was odd, since the info is right there in the computer.

“Well, I usually get it clipper-cut on the side with a Four, and then I like it longer on top. Basically, I need a standard businessman’s haircut.”

“So you want about half an inch off the top?” asked Alexis, holding up my hair to illustrate. It was about two inches long.

“Sure,” I said. “That sounds about right.”

Alexis began to fuss with her implements. “I hate this chair,” she told me. “It’s too far away from my stuff. My cord won’t reach.” To make things work, she had to spin me around so I was facing the back of the shop. We chatted briefly, but not much — just the way I like it.

“Do you use product?” Alexis asked a few minutes later.

“Not much,” I said. “I have some at home, but I don’t use it often.”

“Would you like me to put some in your hair today?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said.

“And do you part your hair?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said. “To the left.”

“There you go,” she said. “I think we’re finished.”

When she spun me around to look in the mirror, I just about died. My haircut was not at all like we’d talked about. Alexis didn’t take half an inch off the top; she left half an inch. She didn’t give me a standard businessman’s haircut. She gave me some hipster doofus cut. I looked like…like…well, like this:

O, my fragile heart. What could I do, though? I tried not to look shocked, thanked her, and left a two-dollar tip. I walked over to Safeway to do my shopping, but the whole time I felt mortified, as if everyone were snickering at my new hair.

“It’s not so bad,” Kris said when I got home. How could she say that? For years, she’s been refusing to let me get a short haircut. And now I have one by accident and she likes it? It makes my head look like an enormous melon!

“It’s really not so bad,” Kris said again.

“I almost don’t want to go to the party tonight,” I said.

“Don’t be silly,” she said. “Go to the party. In fact, I’ll make a bet with you. I bet nobody says a thing about your hair.”

I went, and Kris was right. (Kris Gates is always right, isn’t she?) Nobody said a thing about my hair. But I know that they were snickering on the inside!

How Not to Blog: Self-Defeating Behavior

I like to write. I enjoy keeping my web sites, and Get Rich Slowly is foremost among these. To maintain so many sites requires a certain level of discipline. Over the past few months I’ve observed a set of behaviors — in myself and in others — behaviors that are counterproductive to blogging. These include:

  • Checking stats compulsively. Is it really important to know how many people have come to your site in the fifteen minutes since you last checked? Yes, you’ve made $5 via Adsense today. So what? The most important thing you can do is to stop obsessing over site statistics and start creating content.
  • Checking others’ stats compulsively. Worse than checking your own stats is checking your competition’s stats. Yes, The Mega Money Blog has more hits than you today. Yes, the Kingdom of Personal Finance got linked from Time Magazine. So what? If you spent more time writing and less time fretting, you’d have your day in the sun, too.
  • Posting for the sake of posting. Don’t have anything to say? Then don’t say anything.
  • Wandering off-topic. If you run a personal blog, then anything goes. But if your topic is subject-specific, you run into danger when you wander off-topic. Your readers come for information about a very specific subject, and unless you’re a terrificly witty writer, they’re not interested in your thoughts on sports, politics, or modern dance. Stay focused.
  • Over-monetizing. I recently met with a man who runs a huge internet site, an internet site with which you are probably familiar. He makes a lot of money from the web. He gave me some advice on site design. “One thing I like about your site already,” he told me, “is that it doesn’t seem desperate.” He explained that many sites, especially personal finance sites, are so heavily and obviously monetized that it’s a turn-off, both for himself and for others. “I don’t mind if you try to make a buck,” he said, “but don’t beat me over the head with it.” His site that’s generating so much money for him? The ads are minimal. And there’s even an easy way to view the site ad-free. Ramit Sethi has the most successful personal finance blog by nearly every measure. It has no ads. Zero. Nada. Zilch. And yet he’s able to make money off it anyhow. For Ramit the blog is the ad, and he’s the product.
  • Layout that sucks. To some extent, you’re bound by the limits of your blogging software and by your design skill. Even so, there’s a lot of room to tinker. While you develop your design, think like a reader. What’s most important to the average person visiting your site? If you’ve made it difficult to find your search box, your archives, or your subscription information, then you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Just last night I visited five sites looking for info on a book I was reviewing. The search box for each site was buried so that I had to hunt for it. This is dumb. I know you want revenue, but you’re going to get more revenue by having more readers, and you’re going to get more readers if you make the ads subservient to the stuff the readers want. Your site should be easy-to-read and easy-to-use. (And it should look good on all platforms. Whether you like Macs or not, many influential internet folks use them, and if your site looks like crap in Safari, you’re alienating important people.)
  • Fussing with search-engine optimization. Do you know the best way to get search engine traffic? Get linked from other sites. Do you know the best way to get linked from other sites? Write content that people want to share with others, content that makes people go, “Wow. I’m glad I found that.” That’s only SEO trick you need to know.
  • Forgetting to sharpen the saw. Take a break. You can’t do this 24/7/365. Your readers have lives. So do you. Take time off to spend with your family and friends, to read books, to see movies, to walk through your neighborhood. Developing a successful site is a long-term project. It’s not going to happen overnight. Remember to seek renewal away from the computer.
  • Losing your voice. I believe one of the things that helped me become successful with Get Rich Slowly is that I was completely unaware that there was a personal finance blogging community at the start. I hadn’t yet discovered the echo chamber. Sure there are things that will get passed around any blogging community — they’re just too good to pass up. But it’s a bad sign when everything you post is a reaction to something somebody else has written. Be yourself. Write with your own voice.
  • Writing too much. There’s only so much information a reader can digest. If you post too often, you risk losing readers rather than gaining them. How much is too much? It’s tough to say. It depends on the site and the types of articles. Lifehacker and Boing Boing can post 25 items a day because most of the content is summary in nature. They’re mostly aggregation sites. Users can choose to follow the bits that look interesting. Steve Pavlina only posts a few times a week. His articles are much longer than those at most blogs, and to post more often would overwhelm his readers. I think that Darren Rowse at Problogger has a good balance. He posts two or three articles of moderate length each day. If you’re posting five or six long items each day, you’re posting too much.

I don’t want to make it sound like I’m perfect and that I have all of these problems licked. I don’t. In fact, each of item is on the list because I’ve struggled with it in the past. The top three are perpetual thorns in my side. They keep me from getting things done.

In short, the best way to build a successful blog is to actually write. Everything else is secondary.

3 Easy and Delicious Ways to Preserve Your Berry Harvest

Berry season is beginning in Oregon. Strawberries ripen first, and they’re followed quickly by raspberries, blueberries, currants, and blackberries! While these berries are ripe in your area, prices can be so low (especially if you pick them yourself) that you’ll want to stock up.

But what should you do with all of that fresh fruit? Here are three techniques to make those berries do double duty (now and later). These methods are so easy that it’s just silly not to use them.

Freeze the berries whole
The secret to freezing berries whole is to freeze them first and then pack them. Find a cookie sheet that will fit in your freezer. Line it with waxed paper, and load it with clean, de-stemmed berries in a single layer, spacing them so they’re not touching. Freeze until solid (an hour or two), and then pack into freezer container or Ziploc bags.

Doing this will prevent the berries from clumping together and forming a solid mass, which will allow you to use just the amount you want without thawing them all. You can usually get away with skipping this step with blueberries; they have a natural waxy layer than helps keep them separate.

Whole berries from the freezer are perfect for making smoothies. Don’t thaw them — they’ll function sort of like berry-ice cubes to chill the smoothies as they flavor them. I like to combine lowfat vanilla yogurt, over-ripe bananas, frozen berries, and a bit of fresh-squeezed orange juice.

Thawed, whole berries make wonderful cobblers and crisps. I freeze some bags intended for “mixed berry cobbler”. As different berries ripen over the season, I freeze them and add a bit of each kind to the bag, creating a mixture of berries that is ready to thaw and bake. I generally don’t sweeten mine as I freeze them, but if you know you’ll be adding sugar for a particular recipe later on, you can add it now. The sugar helps the berries survive the cold storage.

Purée and freeze
Berry purée is wonderful drizzled over vanilla ice cream or other desserts such as cheesecake, poundcake, or angel food cake. But my favorite use for purée is to make thirst-quenching berry lemonade. I prefer not to mix berries for this, as I like the unique flavor of each. For each 12 ounces of frozen lemonade concentrate, you’ll need about 2 cups of berry purée — plus sweetener and/or lemon juice to suit your taste.

With your blender, simply purée the berries (use strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries), pour into a Tupperware (or reuse large yogurt containers), and freeze. With strawberries, I like to leave it a bit chunky. With seedy berries like raspberries or blackberries, I purée it and pass it through a sieve to remove the seeds before freezing.

When you’re ready to make the berry lemonade, simply mix the lemonade concentrate, the amount of water called for in the package directions, and two cups of berry purée (completely thawed, or partially thawed to a slush). Stir and taste. You may want to add a bit more sweetener (or fresh lemon juice if you like things really tart). Serves about 6. This mixture also makes great popsicles! You can also freeze the berry purée in ice cube trays and just add a bit at a time to drinks over the summer.

Strawberry Bowl
Our strawberry plants started producing early this year!

 

Make freezer jam
Some people (like J.D.) prefer freezer jam to cooked jam. It often has a softer texture, brighter color and fresher taste. And because it’s frozen, there are never any worries about whether it’s been safely canned.

In addition, you can make freezer jam with little investment in equipment. If you have the freezer space, it’s well-worth making the small effort it requires to whip up a batch. I try to make enough to last us ’till the next year’s berry crop.

Simply follow the directions on a package of pectin, or do a Google search for “berry freezer jam recipe“. Making freezer jam is extremely simple, and can take less than half an hour! Just be sure to stir your jam until the sugar is fully dissolved, or the crystals will give it a grainy texture.

On a nippy winter morning, toast and homemade jam are a treat! Because of its soft consistency, you can also try zapping the thawed jam in the microwave for a bit and then pour it over pancakes, waffles, or thick French toast. Yum! You might even get hooked on freezer jam and decide to delve into other fruits later in the season. Stone fruits such as apricots, peaches, and nectarines lend themselves well to this technique.

No matter what’s ripening in your neck of the woods, try to preserve some food while prices are low. Buying fruits and vegetables that are in season is like finding a sale on produce. And purchasing locally-grown foods when you can helps nearby farmers, too. But the best reason is the taste: food allowed to ripen fully before it is picked just tastes better, so get out there and pick some today — then load your freezer with summer’s bounty.

Smoothie photo by Dannynic. Berry photo by J.D.