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The 2014 Farmers Almanac
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10 Clever Ways To Reuse Plastic Shopping Bags

10 Clever Ways To Reuse Plastic Shopping Bags

Each year, Americans use 100 billion plastic shopping bags. Sometimes it seems like there are at least that many bags taking up space in a closet or kitchen cabinet. If you have a mountain of plastic bags and you’re looking for practical ways to recycle them, here are 10 ways you can use them to make life easier, save money, and cut down on waste.

1. Keep Birds Out of the Garden
If wild birds are eating fruits and vegetables before you can harvest them, use shopping bags to scare them away. Cut the bags into long strips and tie the strips to plants or stakes. You can also run string between stakes so that you can tie strips along the string. As the plastic flutters in the breeze, it will startle the birds out of your garden. (Be sure to tie them on really well so they don’t fly away.)

2. Fill Plant Pots
If you’re a container gardener, then you know that potting soil gets expensive – especially if you’re filling large containers. Cut costs by filling the bottoms of deep pots with crumpled up shopping bags. Just make sure to place a few small stones around drainage areas so that the plastic doesn’t clog the holes.

3. Clean Knees
Are you tired of muddy, grass-stained jeans? When you’re gardening, tie shopping bags around your knees, and you’ll never have to worry about grass stains or ground-in dirt again.

4. Pack It Up!
If you’ve divided the plants in your garden, but you’re out of giveaway pots, use plastic bags instead. Bags work almost as well as pots for keeping roots moist until your friends have time to plant their new starts.

5. Who Needs Peanuts?
If you need to ship a package, don’t bother buying packing peanuts or bubble wrap. Fill the box with bags to cushion the item you’re sending.

6. Help Shoes and Handbags Keep Their Shape
If you want your shoes, boots and handbags to stay in shape, but you’re out of tissue paper or other fillers, use shopping bags instead. As a bonus, in humid climates, they won’t absorb ambient moisture, which reduces the chances of mold and mildew growth!

7. Keep Your Clothes Dust Free
We all have a few outfits in our closets that are reserved for special occasions. Garment bags will keep them clean, but they’re costly and bulky. Save both money and space by using the larger shopping bags as a garment bag to protect suits, jackets and big items. Simply cut a small hole in the bottom of the bag and slip it over the clothes hanger to keep your favorite outfits clean. Small plastic bags work well for blouses and children’s clothes.

8. Clean Ceiling Fans
Have you ever cleaned a ceiling fan, only to have the dust and dirt rain down on your floors and furnishings? Slip a plastic bag over the blades of the fan as you clean to catch the mess.

9. Use them for Painting Projects
Whether you’re painting your living room, the garage or anywhere else, plastic bags are an invaluable tool:

  • Put them under paint cans to catch drips and spills.
  • Double-bag your roller pan. Instead of washing it out, you can peel the plastic bags away from the pan and throw them away.
  • If you need to take a break, tightly wrap your brushes and rollers in two or three plastic bags so that they don’t dry out.

When you’re done painting, you can also use plastic to keep your paint fresh. Place a bag over the top of the paint can before replacing the lid. This will create a tighter seal, and it will keep dried paint from falling into the can the next time you open it.

10. Cheap Insulation
If you need to seal gaps around vent pipes, ducts, plumbing or any other fixture that runs through a wall, use bags to fill the void inside the wall. After that, seal the gap from both sides with spray foam or caulk. The sealant will stick to both the bags and the pipe, ensuring that you have a tight, long-lasting seal. They also work to fill the gaps from your window air conditioning unit.

Do you have clever ways that you reuse plastic shopping bags? Share your ideas with us in the comments below!

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Ollas: Clay Pots For Easy Garden Irrigation And Water Conservation

Ollas: Clay Pots For Easy Garden Irrigation And Water Conservation

On June 4th, Gaylord Anton Nelson, founder of Earth Day, the Appalachian Trail, the Outdoor Recreation Acquisition Program, plus the author of several pieces of environmental legislation, would have been 99 years old. Nelson’s contributions to helping save our Earth are unsurpassed.

Nelson is honored for his personal vision. He said, “Suddenly, the idea occurred to me — why not organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment? At a conference in Seattle in September 1969, I announced that in the spring of 1970 there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment and invited everyone to participate. The wire services carried the story from coast to coast. The response was electric.” No instant messaging, no email blast, yet the response was electric. That’s how important it was back in 1969, as it is today.

We all have a moral obligation, one person at a time, to do what we can to make a difference in our environment. No contribution is too small. No act of generosity to the Earth goes unnoticed, including taking steps to conserve one of Earth’s most precious gifts — water.

The most common ways to conserve water are to repair dripping faucets, brush your teeth without the water running, fix hose connections, reuse water, etc. But let’s look at a way to conserve water in your garden — clay pot irrigation, an ancient practice which is hailed as “the most efficient irrigation system known to man,” according to Geoff Lawton, head of the The Permaculture Research Institute.

Clay pot irrigation can be traced back thousands of years, to several countries, but China has a written history of using clay pots — also called ollas — in their gardens. The concept is ridiculously simple: bury an unglazed olla in the ground, neck deep, put water in it, and put plants around it. What is referred to as soil moisture tension will occur. As the soil outside the olla dries out, water from inside the olla is pulled through the porous wall to replenish the dry soil. Your plants are watered automatically using only the water they need. If it rains, and the soil has enough moisture, no more water will be pulled through the walls. This supply-and-demand system saves up to 70% in water use in gardens, raised beds, and containers. Because of the design of the olla, there is no water runoff and no measurable evaporation (be sure to cover over the top of the olla with a rock, plate or get an olla with a lid).

Because soil moisture tension creates an environment where roots get slow, even watering around the clock, the root base grows larger, producing a healthier plant.

Ollas come in a variety of sizes. The larger the olla, the less often you have to fill it up, and the larger the circle of water around the olla. For example, a 2 gallon olla will water a 3-foot diameter circle for 3 to 5 days. That works well with a 4 x 4 garden or raised bed. Smaller ollas will water less, but may be better suited for tight spots and average sized containers.

To meet another environmental mark, ollas are organic, being made from clay. They leave no plastic residue in the earth for the next generation to worry about. Even if forgotten and left in the ground for years (which we know is possible from archeological digs), ollas are great neighbors to the environment and earthworms alike.

An olla is a gift to the earth, that keeps on giving. How? Consider that ollas are off the grid, so the only energy used is you, pulling the hose to the olla, and what little is needed to get the water from its source. However, if you use rain barrels, we can narrow the energy use down to just you, putting the hose in the neck of the olla!

Ollas have great attributes, but in my humble opinion, the best is where they are used, and my favorite is teaching gardens. It’s one thing to personally learn about water conservation, which naturally leads to growing healthy food. It’s another to actually teach it. So to all those volunteer gardeners out there who think up ideas, frame up gardens, and rev up our children in schools and community gardens, thank you. The ripple effect you have on our youth will shape their health, which in turn will shape the health of our Earth. I call that ultimate recycling. What a wonderful gift to give on Earth Day, our Day, or any day!

sent in by customer

Ron Finley's teaching day in Los Angeles

2-in-a-4x8-garden

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Lincoln Lore

Lincoln Lore

On April 15, 1865, (150 years ago), one of our most revered presidents, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. With an estimated 15,000 books written about Lincoln, much is known about his life, but here are 12 interesting and maybe not-so-well-known facts about our 16th president.

  1. Lincoln read the Farmers’ Almanac and used it in a murder trial in 1858. With his trusty Farmers’ Almanac in hand, Lincoln proved that on the night of the murder, the moon was low in the sky, contradicting the chief witness who said he saw the murder committed at night by the light of the moon. Case closed.
  2. Lincoln’s 11-year-old son, Willie, died in February of 1862. The Lincolns were so pleased with the embalming results by Dr Charles Brown that they had their son exhumed twice so they could review his remains again.
  3. The first woman executed by the U.S. government was Mary Surratt who was involved in the Lincoln assassination.
  4. In the presidential election of 1860, Lincoln came in a distant last place in his home state of Kentucky with less than 1% of the vote. In his wife’s home county where her large and influential family lived, he only received 5 votes.
  5. The first person killed in the Civil War was Col. Elmer Ellsworth, who was a law student in Lincoln’s Springfield, Illinois, office.
  6. Lincoln was a pet lover and especially fond of his cat “Tabby.” He fed his cat at the White House table with a gold fork. When Mrs. Lincoln objected, Lincoln said “If it was good enough for Buchanan (his predecessor), it is good enough for Tabby.”
  7. On October 3rd of 1863, Lincoln established the third Thursday of November to be a national holiday to celebrate Thanksgiving.
  8. Lincoln read the Bible daily and referred to it liberally in many speeches, but he never joined any organized church.
  9. Abraham Lincoln (no middle name) was named after his paternal grandfather who was killed in 1786, near what is now Louisville, Kentucky.
  10. Lincoln was the first president to have his image on a U.S. coin, the 1909 penny, which commemorated his 100th birthday. The penny was redesigned on his 150th and 200th birthday.
  11. Lincoln’s coffin has been opened five different times, first in December of 1865, and last in September of 1901. Witnesses in 1901 said his remains were well preserved.
  12. The greatest speaker of the day, Edward Everett was the featured speaker at the dedication of the Gettysburg Battlefield ceremony. He delivered a two-hour speech with 13,607 words. Lincoln was invited to attend the ceremony at the last minute and was asked to make “a few appropriate remarks.”  His two-minute, less-than-300-word speech, The Gettysburg Address, is one of the greatest American speeches of all time.

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Memorable Animals of TV, Books, and Film

Memorable Animals of TV, Books, and Film

On television and in film, animals make us laugh, teach us about love and loyalty. Here’s a list of some famous furry friends you may recognize:

Benji – starred in a series of films from 1974 to 2004 where his role was to help people who found themselves in challenging situations. The first Benji was played by a shelter dog named Higgins.

Cheetah – a chimpanzee in the Tarzan movies of the 1930s and ‘40s and constant companion of “Boy” – reportedly died at age 80 on December 24, 2011, of kidney failure at a Florida animal sanctuary.

Flipper – played by seven dolphins on the eponymous TV show from 1964 to 1967, Bebe – the last of the seven – died at age 40.

Garfield – snarky, unmotivated, lasagna- and coffee-loving cat of comic book and cartoon fame.

GEICO® Gecko – created by the Martin Agency, the first ad featuring the reptilian character appeared during a 1999 Screen Actors Guild strike that prohibited the use of live actors. The original Gecko was voiced by actor Kelsey Grammer.

Jumbo – The original Jumbo was a thirteen foot, six-ton African elephant born in 1861. Jumbo’s name came from “Jumbe” – Swahili for chief. Traveling from the French Sudan to the Jardin des Plantes zoo in Paris, in 1865 he was moved again to the London Zoo. As he was likely suffering the way many wild animals do in captivity and consequently becoming difficult to control, he was later sold to P.T. Barnum for $10,000. In a nationwide uproar, Queen Victoria actually allegedly received more than 100,000 letters pleading for her intervention in the matter. Nevertheless he was reportedly more content with Barnum’s circus. Jumbo died of injuries as the result of a train crash three years later.

Keiko – a male orca captured as a two-year-old near Iceland who starred in the 1993 film “Free Willy.” Spending many of his early years in captivity in a substandard Mexico amusement park where he became dangerously underweight and suffered from debilitating skin lesions (indicative of poor health), a foundation led by Warner Brothers and an anonymous donor, later identified as Craig McCaw, began with $4 million to relocate him. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) soon came on board. He was eventually moved to a rehabilitation facility in Oregon and later released back into his own Icelandic waters with a tracking device. He died on December 12, 2003.

Lassie – rough collie protagonist of a short story and later a novel, “Lassie Come Home,” by author Eric Knight. Star of six films from 1943 through 1951, the first canine TV star was played by a male dog named Pal. The series ran from 1954-73. Lassie appeared on radio, in comic books, children’s novels, animated series and more.

Mickey Mouse; Minnie Mouse; Pluto – fabled Disney characters and stars of film, books, and theme parks.

Mr. Ed – talking horse who starred in the 1961-66 TV series.

Nipper – the RCA Victor Dog who famously posed in front of a gramophone listening to his master’s voice.

Rin-Tin-Tin – the original Rin Tin Tin was rescued from a World War I battlefield by American soldier Lee Duncan. Nicknamed “Rinty,” the German Shepard later starred in silent films. The “Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin” ran on TV from 1954-59.

Silver – white stallion belonging to the Lone Ranger in the TV series, which ran from 1949-57. The Lone Ranger (and Silver) also appeared on radio and in a film serial.

Smokey Bear – sometimes erroneously called Smokey, the Bear, and created for a 1944 advertising campaign encouraging people to be vigilant about preventing forest fires.

Snoopy – created by renowned Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, Snoopy was conceived as Charlie Brown’s dog, but eventually became a compelling character on his own. The first drawings of Snoopy were based on one of Schulz’s childhood dogs.toto2

Toto – initially appeared in the first edition of Wizard of Oz in 1900. Toto’s next incarnation was in Frank Baum’s Oz series of children’s books, and perhaps most notably in the 1939 movie starring Judy Garland.

Are there any others you remember? Share them with us in the comments below!

This is an excerpt of the article, Remember Any Of These Famed Furry Friends, which appears on pp. 152-157  in the 2015 edition of the Farmers’ Almanac.

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What The Heck Is An Empanada?

What The Heck Is An Empanada?

April 8th is National Empananda Day. But what exactly are empanadas?

Empanadas are a Spanish or Latin-American pastry turnover filled with savory ingredients that are either baked or fried.

From the Spanish verb empanar, which means to coat or wrap in bread, the empanada is said to originate from Spain, although many countries claim empanadas as their own, including Mexico, Argentina, Portugal, the Caribbean, and the Philipipines. Because of this, you’ll no doubt stumble across empanadas with endless combinations of fillings and flavors. In fact, the Indian samosa gets its inspiration from the empanada.

Empanadas are usually shaped in half-moons and range in size from pop-em-in-your-mouth, to calzone size. They’re so popular that they’re popping up on food trucks, corner markets and everywhere else you can get food to go! Or try making your own!

The recipe below uses the baking method. The list of filling ingredients is extensive, but they’re easy to make. For the sake of ease, this recipe uses pre-frozen “disk” dough, which you can find in most supermarkets.  The uncooked empanadas can be frozen for up to three months, individually wrapped in plastic and placed in re-sealable plastic bags. There’s no need to thaw before baking, they can go right from the freezer to the oven.

Traditional Beef Empanadas

The filling:

1 lbs ground beef, pork or chicken
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 small green pepper, chopped
1 small red pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
1 package frozen empanada dough disks (yellow or white), such as Goya, found in the freezer section of your grocery store, thawed.
Egg wash for the top

Directions:

Prepare the filling: In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the ground beef, garlic powder and sea salt, and cook until beef is completely done. Drain, remove from pan, and set aside.

In the same pan, heat the other tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add tomato paste, vinegar, cumin, chili powder, oregano, seasoned salt, minced garlic, bell peppers and onion. Cook until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Add the beef and combine, heating thoroughly, then the cilantro. The mixture should be moist.

To fill the empanadas: On a lightly floured work surface, using a rolling pin, roll out discs, stretching them about a half inch larger. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of meat mixture into the middle of the dough, fold in half to form a half moon; moisten edges with water and pinch to seal closed or seal with fork tines. Bush with egg wash. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes. Serve with your choice of dipping sauce or salsa. Makes 10 empanadas.

Dessert Empanadas 

(Allow a day for the dough to chill in the refrigerator)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup fruit preserves (jam)
1/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

DAY BEFORE: Cream butter and cream cheese together until smoothly blended. Beat in the flour. Shape the dough into a smooth ball, wrap in foil or cling wrap, and refrigerate overnight or up to 7 days.

When ready to bake: Remove dough from refrigerator 30 minutes before you are ready to use it. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the chilled dough thin. Cut with 3 or 4 inch round cookie cutter. Place small spoonful of jam in center of each round, moisten edges with water.  Fold round over and press edges together to make a half-moon. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet 15 to 20 minutes. Immediately roll in sugar mixed with cinnamon (traditional) OR in confectioners’ sugar if preferred. Serve warm.

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10 Popular Snack Foods Of Japan

10 Popular Snack Foods Of Japan

Have you ever wondered what treats people around the world enjoy? When the urge strikes, Americans will snack on anything from Doritos to granola bars. In Japan, however, the snack food scene is quite different. Here are 10 of Japan’s favorite treats!

1. Dried Crabs
Kanikko – or dried crabs – are the Japanese equivalent of peanuts. At first glance, they look like crab-shaped pretzels or crackers, but kanikko is made from real crustaceans, and they’re meant to be enjoyed with an ice-cold beer. These bite-sized crabs are sweet, salty and incredibly crunchy.

2. Squid and Octopus Jerky
The Japanese eat dried squid and octopus like we eat beef jerky. That is, as a chewy, salty snack that goes great with a frosty beer. In Japan, you can find this jerky as shreds, rings or just the tentacle potions, which are reported to be the chewiest of all.

3. Grasshoppers
If octopus jerky and dried crabs aren’t quite weird enough for you, you can always snack on inago. Inago are small grasshoppers that live in rice paddies. The Japanese either deep fry them or cook them in a sweet sauce, and they can be eaten as a snack, or served as a condiment over rice.

4. Kit Kat Bars
The Kit Kat Bar is one of the best-selling treats in the United States, and it is by far the most popular candy bar in Japan. In fact, the Japanese love it so much that they have created more than 200 different flavors. Some of the flavors – like strawberry and cinnamon cookie – sound delicious. However, flavors like baked potato, soy sauce and wasabi make you think that perhaps Japan has taken its Kit Kat craze just a little too far.

5. Jam-Filled Cookies
What’s odd about jam-filled cookies, you ask? The jam used to fill monaka cookies isn’t the fruit flavored stuff that we enjoy, but a type of bean paste instead. Made with anko beans, the filling is sweet and the cookies themselves are light and crispy. This is such an incredibly popular treat that Japanese cities often have several specialty shops devoted to creating gourmet monaka.

6. Shrimp Curls
Although they look similar to cheese curls, Kappa Ebisen tastes nothing like cheese. Instead, these snacks are shrimp flavored, and they’re so beloved that a Japanese burger franchise called Lotteria has created their very own Kappa Ebisen burger. This sandwich features a shrimp patty that is batter-dipped in crushed Kappa Ebisen crisps. If you’d like to experience a similar snack, the closest American equivalent is Shrimp Flavored Chips, which you can find in the Asian section of most grocery stores.

7. Seaweed Puffs
This is another Japanese version of the cheese curl, except these small corn puffs are flavored with nori seaweed. They go by the name Kyabetsu Taro. The name is almost as odd as the snack itself – “kyabetsu” means cabbage, which is not an ingredient, and “Taro” is a common first name among Japanese men.

8. Hot Potato Rings
Bokun Habanero is a popular brand of ring-shaped potato chips, and they’re famous as Japan’s spiciest snack food. The name, which translates to “Tyrant Habanero,” also happens to be the name of the brand’s mascot, a devilish red chili pepper who grins up at you from the front of every package.

9. Mountain Dew Flavored Cheetos
Who wants to eat Cheetos and drink soda when you can just eat soda-flavored Cheetos? Perhaps that was the logic when Frito-Lay Japan developed Mountain Dew Cheetos. This isn’t actually the first time Japan has mixed soda flavors with snack foods, either. In 2013, Frito-Lay Japan also produced Pepsi Cheetos.

10. Cucumber Cola
If the Japanese can make their Cheetos taste like soda, then why not make soda that tastes like vegetables? Pepsi’s Japanese division wanted to create a refreshing summertime beverage, which is why they finally settled on the crisp flavor of cucumbers. Pepsi Ice Cucumber was available in Japan for a limited time, and during its brief run, it was actually quite popular.

Have you ever tried a snack food popular in another country? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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Brain Teasers and Riddles!

Brain Teasers and Riddles!

Just because April Fools’ Day is over, it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy more fun and games!  Answers appear on the next page:

1.  Name That Song
The clever neighbor needed some extra cash, so he tells his friend: “I know almost every song that has ever been written.”  The friend laughs at this, but the neighbor says, “I am willing to bet you $50 that I can sing a song that you have heard of with the lady’s name of your choice in it.”

“Deal,” says the neighbor, adding, “How about my mother’s name, Felicity Jane Ashley?” And so he sang the song and earned $50.

What song did he sing?

2.  Ahoy Matey!
Why did the pirates go to the Caribbean?

3. What Is It?
What can you catch but not throw back?

4. Ships
What happened to the red ship and the blue ship that collided?

5. Name That Flower
What kind of flower is on your face?

6. US or Canada?
Why can’t a man living in the USA be buried in Canada?

7. What Comes Next?
What comes next in this series? A, B, C, D, E
Hint: It’s not F.

8. What Does This Represent?
COF  FEE

9. What do these words have in common?
Banana
Uneven
Dresser
Grammar
Potato

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Farmers’ Almanac Forced To Reveal Weather Forecaster’s True Identity

Who is Caleb Weatherbee?

For almost 200 years, the Farmers’ Almanac and its editors have guarded both its amazingly accurate weather predicting formula and its weather prognosticator, citing many security issues as well as brand secret challenges.

Yet after this year’s “spot-on” winter weather forecast, many of the Almanac readers are demanding to finally know who the real person behind the cloud, so to speak, really is, to give credit where credit is due.

Caleb Weatherbee uses the Almanac’s highly-guarded mathematical and astronomical formula to make his weather predictions. Readers of the Farmers’ Almanac estimate that these predictions come true about 85% of the time. (Even higher this past winter and the winter before.)

While a level of anonymity has been sought for Weatherbee and the Farmers’ Almanac’s formula, many believe that the time has come for the Almanac to come clean and reveal the true identity of the weather whiz behind Caleb Weatherbee, so he can finally publicly be recognized for his outstanding forecasts.

Continue reading on next page.

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Make Your Own June Bug Ice Cream

Make Your Own June Bug Ice Cream

Nothing says summer quite like the buzz of June bugs on a warm night. Put these critters to use in this easy-to-make dessert that uses your blender!

If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1910, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.