Thursday, December 29, 2011

Consider your power company your friend - Duke Energy package to save energy

Yesterday I received a package from Duke Energy with lots of useful things to improve the energy efficiency of my house. I had received a similar package several years ago, but the contents of the new energy efficiency package differ a little bit. I have a picture of the opened package below, but want to list the content here:
  • energy efficient showerhead - these a great and the box contains step-by-step installation instructions. This is an easy way to save money and do something good for the environment
  • kitchen faucet aerator - this is new to me. The revised aerator will save energy and water, again stepwise instructions on how to install it are included. 
  • two compact fluorescent light bulbs - I have these all over my house already and have noticed that they last much longer and my electric bill actually dropped when I switched over to these bulbs. They are a really good investment and Duke Energy actually has a program that gives you a coupon for several free packages of these energy-efficient light bulbs. I used the program to pretty exchange all ligh bulbs in my house and put in energy efficient CFL bulbs. 
  • energy-efficient night light - this is also new. The night light turns off during daylight and turns on automatically at night. It simply plugs into an outlet.
  • two switch and outlet energy seals - this are useful on switches and outlets to outside walls. In my old house, the insulation was worn and barely working, actually leading to droughts in the house. I put these on the outlets and switches on the wall towards the shady side to help with insulating the room. 
  • needle spray bathroom faucet aerator - same as the kitchen faucet aerator, it will help with saving money by reducing energy and water consumption. This is also a new additional to the Duke Energy package. 
  • hot water temperature gauge - this nifty little tool will help you to determine whether your water temperature is too hot. For most uses you only need a water temperature up to 130oF, if the gauge indicates a higher temperature you can adjust the thermostat on your water heater and save some money!
  • shower flow meter bag - this is the last item in the box. It can be used to determine how many gallons of water come out per minute when the shower is turned to full flow. You can use this measure to adjust the water flow in your shower or simply take shorter showers. Sometimes it is amazing to realize how much difference in water consumption 5 minutes in the daily shower can make!
Copyright Durhamonthecheap - content of energy efficiency package from Duke Energy

Circulon cookware - nonstick and durable

I got my first Circulon cookware through a campaign at and so far the cookware seems to be good quality. I needed to get rid of a couple of smaller skillets in my house. I had picked up my initial cookware at Goodwill years ago and definitely have gotten my money's worth out of them. I had back then selected what looked liked almost new pans that ended up a Goodwill because the material was dented or because the store was changing its inventory. I learned over the years that the initial nonstick offerings were definitely picky when it came to utensils used to flip burgers or make stir fry. One my skillets was badly scratched and the other one had, despite only using plastic utensils, a big spot devoid of nonstick coating.

More recently, I have only used my Pyrex Corning Visions Cookware Amber 7" Skillet since I hated to use nonstick cookware. It worked great, was pretty much nonstick and I did not have to worry about the surface peeling off. After my experiences with the original nonstick coating, I was also reluctant to purchase new skillets that were advertised as nonstick. 

So yesterday came the new generation of nonstick by Circulon. They offer a variety of cookware, skillets, pans, and pots. All are nonstick and Circulon also offers some utensils for nonstick cookware. I have received the Circulon Contempo 8inch french skillet. has a good selection of Circulon cookware here. I have an image of the skillet as well as a spatula by Circulon below. I was impressed with the nonstick feature because right away you can tell the difference to the old coating that could not take any metal utensils. This coating looks much more sturdy and the skillet actually has a sticker indicating that it is okay to use metal utensils. That sounds good, but I got somewhat worried when I saw that the spatula had nylon coating and was made by Circulon. Maybe the promise of metal utensils was good for temporary use only with the nonstick coating of the skillet?

This morning I decided to give it a try. I made some scrambled eggs in the skillet and used my regular metal spatula to scramble them in the skillet. I did not use extra force or went wild trying to scramble the eggs, but I certainly touched the nonstick coating plenty of times with the metal spatula. Afterwards, I wiped the skillet clean and was pleasantly surprised to not see a single scratch on the surface. This is certainly not meant to be a durability test, but after one use, I can state that the Circulon nonstick coating is a vast improvement over my old pans. One of them got disposed off right away. The larger skillet (made by "Goodwill") I still have to keep around since my new skillet is only 8'', but I may have to cave in and spend money to get a larger skillet by Circulon for those frittatas that I love to make. 

copyright Durhamonthecheap - Circulon cookware and cooking utensil

Mc Rib - okay so I finally caved in and tried it

After all the ads about the time-limited re-release of McRib, I decided to give it a try. The price is reasonable for a full meal if you buy the combo. I hate to quote a price since I am not certain that McD's charges the same price throughout the US. Here in Durham, the combo meal is roughly equivalent to their BigMac meal.

The website for McD's with an image of the McRib is here. I was somewhat hesitant initially about trying it since I had heard that the meat is pork and I was worried how fatty the meat would be.

The taste is actually similar to real BBQ, but I am far from an avid McRib fan after my first try. Several points left me disappointed.

  • The bun is too soft and while not turning into a soggy mess, I would definitely prefer a more crusty version of a bun to make the sandwich more chewy. As it is, the current bun pretty much allows you to down a McRib without actually biting or chewing anything. The meat itself is already soft, so definitely a more crusty bun would help.
  • The sandwich itself is fairly bland. I know that this is billed as a meat-lovers sandwich, so the fake ribs are supposed to take center stage. But when I go out and have real BBQ, I always have some fixings with it, not just ribs. McDonalds should at least then seasonally offer a decent BBQ side like coleslaw or hush puppies to go with the McRib. If the sandwich is seasonal, so you can the sides. Having only fries as an alternative does not help me enjoying what is supposed to be a BBQ-style meal.
  • The additional flavors of pickles and onions left me definitely unimpressed. Not sure that I can get used to have BBQ ribs with pickles and raw onions. Again, I understand the sandwich concept and that a fast food place has limited prep time, but McDonalds should spent some time at a real BBQ place and learn that sides for ribs are something else.
What was surprisingly good was the actual sauce. It has a nice tangy flavor to it and almost makes you believe that it is real BBQ. Overall, I would consider this sandwich to be one of McDonalds more mediocre offerings. Their fries still rule, but I can certainly sit out the time in between McRibs and will not rush to another McD's when the McRib rolls into town again.
From the McDonalds website here where it also lists the nutritional info, if you dare!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

from the headlines: Sears to close 100 to 120 Kmart, Sears stores

I just read today that both Kmart and Sears stores will be closed due to disappointing Christmas sales. I normally do not comment on such stories, but shopping at a Walmart on Friday for a cheap fake Christmas tree, I overheard a lady on the phone giving a friend advice on where to go for bargains. While Target and Walmart were options, she made it very clear that the local Kmart on University Dr in Durham was not worthwhile stopping in because the offerings were ridiculous. There were not enough items on sale to bother to even drive there and what was on sale was still too expensive for a postChristmas sale.

That quick summary came to mind when I read the story about the store closings today. I rarely stop by at the Kmart store and may make an annual visit to a Sears store. I go less often to Sears because it takes me longer to get there, but the Kmart is close to my house and I used to shop at Kmart quite a bit when I was living in the Midwest. Back then, Sears and Kmart had decent prices, good products and the stores looked like places that were not a disaster area. Yes,  disaster area is an exaggeration, but the Kmart on University Dr needed a facelift years ago and still has not gotten one. They try to reorganize the shelves and regroup the areas, but like the article states, the stores just need a facelift overall and do not seem inviting.

If a store feels half-empty like the Kmart on University Dr with barely any shoppers inside, at least make the store look inviting so the people inside feel like looking around. Whenever I stop by the store, I grab whatever I need and get out. The place just does not invite you to linger and look around the aisles.

In the article, the retail analyst B. Sozzi sums up the issue nicely regarding the problems for Sears calling a visit to Sears "a depressing shopping experience." Warehouse clubs likes Sam's do not offer a fancy stores with decorations and lounge areas either; similar to Aldi for grocery stores these stores are bare bones. Items are on shelves, minimum staff is around to help you find stuff and the selection is what it is on that day. Aldi does not accept coupons or offer rainchecks - but these stores offer low, low prices and good quality products. The people go there expecting low prices on products and do not go for a retail experience.

Kmart and Sears on the other hand seem like minimalist stores, but the prices are in line with Target and other department stores that offer a much better and inviting retail experience. I also think that for department stores the approach that Aldi and Sam's offer, minimal service etc to keep prices low, may not work that well at the department store level. People go to department stores to buy items like furniture, linens, and cosmetics. While these items may not be luxury items, they are not as essential as groceries. So people do make a choice based on how the store looks. If the store looks drab, do you really feel like buying perfume or some nice new linens for the master bedroom? Selecting something like perfume or cosmetics, you want to take your time, look around and try things out - in other words, you linger at the store and you want the store to look inviting.

While some part of me is said to see that a traditional name like Sears is in trouble, I do believe that the management has made mistakes and lacked a clear line on how to position itself on the spectrum of departments stores that includes the low budget Walmarts and the higher end Targets. I hope that Sears can recover, but I am not quite as optimistic as the Sears management that actually believes that Sears will bounce back and come back stronger. I see a long road of recovery ahead of Sears because too many people over the last few years have stopped shopping there and once gone, it is hard to win these customers back.

Aldi to open in Durham on midJanuary 2012

I used to post the Aldi specials, but have not lately since the store opening for Aldi in Southern Durham has been delayed. Slated to open late 2011, the opening got pushed back and the hoped for Christmas shopping at an Aldi store in Durham never took place much to my dismay. I trekked to the Cary store and loaded up in Gingerbread cookies, chocolates, stollen and other goodies to last me through December.

Based on a recent write up in the Durham Herald Sun, Aldi is now supposed to open near Southpoint Mall on 1/12/12. I certainly hope that there will not be another delay. While we do have a lot of grocery stores in the area, Aldi is unique because they offer pantry items regularly at very low prices. Food Lion, Kroger or Harris Teeter may beat Aldi with their specials, but sometimes you just need to buy a shelf-stable item and cannot wait around for a sale. Aldi is where I buy most of my items to keep my pantry stocked. The products from Aldi are good quality, reasonably prices and you know they have them in stock all the time. Needless to say, I will overcome my disappointment over the delayed opening and start driving to Aldi next year in Durham.

What many people may not realize, Aldi also has great prices on produce. At my last visit in the Cary Aldi, I was able to get a pineapple for less than $2, much lower priced than any other grocery store in the area. They also had tangerines on sale and lots of veggies at good prices. It may not be organic, but the quality is good and the prices can certainly compete with the other stores. I do have to admit that I long for the days when grapefruits were 25 cents at Aldi, but I doubt that these times will return. Once the Aldi in Durham is open, I will stop by on a regular basis and hope for the weekly specials, but also for reasonably priced and fresh produce. 

Until we get a farmers market to southern Durham, we have to settle for grocery store produce and Aldi is one more option. With its low prices, Aldi is a good option especially for people with fixed incomes who cannot afford to buy regularly priced produce at other grocery stores.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Book review: Lonestar Angel by Colleen Coble

"Lonestar Angel" by C. Coble is certainly an unusual book. It is a thrilling, page turning mystery novel that still weaves strong Christian Elements in the storyline without loosing its authenticity.

It tells the story of a couple Eden and Clay that drift apart over the loss of their child. They get a divorce, but then find each other again because Clay believes their daughter may still be alive. While trying to determine whether the little girl at a youth camp is truly their daughter, Eden and Clay are working as counselors for the children and working as individuals to safe their marriage. Danger is threatening their new life, a kidnapper attacks and Clay and Eden must trust each other as partners to prevent harm to the children and themselves.

The story is written with intricate detail, the characters are well developed and the tempo is fast-paced. The book keeps the reader interested throughout the pages and makes it a real page turner. I truly enjoyed my first experience of a Colleen Coble book and it certainly will not be my last book by this author.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed in this blog entry are solely my own and have not been influenced by booksneeze or the author of the book.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Quick and tasty shortcut: HT Italian Style meatballs

Harris Teeter frequently has their Italian Style meatballs on sale; sometimes as a sale price, sometimes as BOGO. I was reluctant at first to buy pre-cooked meatballs, but after I have given them a try a couple of times, I now regularly buy them to keep them in the fridge for emergencies when I need to prepare a quick meal. My favorite way to prepare them is simply adding them with my favorite pasta sauce and some fresh herbs, such as chives, to a crock pot and let them simmer for a couple of hours. I usually add an equal amount of water to thin the sauce and then a lot of veggies, such as peas, but mushrooms work as well. Once thoroughly cooked, I either add them over pasta or simply eat them with biscuits.
The nutritional info on the meatballs is here. They are fairly good size, so three meatballs is plenty and you get a dozen in a package (recently on sale at 12/7/2011, they were around $2.00 for a dozen meatballs).
I found they have just the right amount of spices to taste Italian, but not to overpower the sauce that I am adding or the veggies in the sauce.
Today I found a bag of white mushrooms on sale, I added them to the meatballs and some pasta sauce that was previously on sale and will serve them with some of the Pillsbury biscuits that are on sale this week.
I figure that the whole meal cost less than $8.00 and it will easily feed the three of us with some left over for a workday lunch. And the best part of it, it took me less than 30 minutes prep time - the slow cooker did all the work!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - Turkey Meatballs with mushrooms and tomato sauce

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Red Cross blood donor drives - Donate if you can or volunteer at an event - It is important to help!

Today, UNC Chapel Hill had the winter blood donor drive. I try to volunteer at least once a year and also donate, if possible. It is important to keep in mind that blood donations are always needed and that blood donating is a free way to help out others. While it may be more convenient to just write a check rather than donate blood, in tough economic times there are plenty of opportunities to help others out without spending money and donating blood is one way.

If you are in the Durham / Chapel Hill area, please keep in mind that the UNC blood drive is open to the public for donations. Anyone can stop by and donate blood. They usually have small gifts for each donor and local restaurants provide food for the donors.

Today, the gift was a cute little soup cup with an adorable red spoon and a free recipe by chef Cat Cora. 

copyright Durhamonthecheap - gift for each donor of the Winter UNC Red Cross event

Bananagrams - a new way to play Scrabble - courtesy of

Today I finally received my bzzkit for the Bananagrams campaign. I have attached a couple of pictures below. The whole idea of Bananagrams is a new and quick way to play Scrabble. Rather than spend an hour or most finishing up one game, Bananagrams takes less time and can be played with a varied number of players. The point of Bananagrams is not to add a tile to an existing word on a board or create a new word, but to quickly use up all the tiles. If you run out of words, you can even exchange tiles to see if you get better options. This makes Bananagrams a quick word game that is ideal of lunchbreak brainteasers or whenever you have a few minutes and want to keep the brain active.
I love the cute package that the games comes in, the name Bananagrams is certainly chosen well. The instructions are easy and the games are adjustable to the knowledge of each player. You can, for example, do not have penalties for exchanging tiles if kids are playing or have the player pick up 5 tiles for each tile that he returns if an experienced Scrabble player is participating.
I plan to use the game for lunchbreaks in place of the daily Sudoku to keep my brain active and to make sure I truly take a break from work.
The website for the game is here
The Wikipedia with additional information about who invented the game is here

Copyright Durhamonthecheap - the cute package that the game comes in

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the contents of the game. Tiles are too small for little kids!
Disclaimer: I was offered a free game as part of the word of mouth campaign through The opinion expressed are solely my own and have not been influenced by bzzagent or Bananagrams.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Book review: It Is Dangerous to Be Right When the Government Is Wrong: The Case for Personal Freedom by Andrew P. Napolitano

I got this e-book because I had heard comments about from my co-workers and as a lawyer I am always looking for a novel interpretation of the Constitution. With the Occupy Wall Street movement underway, there is certainly interest in the society right now on the subject of individual rights versus corporations and government.

Let me state right away, I have no specific political opinion about this book or its author. I merely read this book out of intellectual curiosity regarding the constitutional interpretation of rights by the author.

This book is dedicated to Ron Paul, so it does have direct relevance to the ongoing debates among Republicans and I found it interesting that the author, who can be seen frequently on FoxNews, seems to clearly side with one of the potential Republican candidates.

The main subject of the book, as can be guessed from the title, is the growth of government, which may not have been intended by the drafters of the constitution. The author is clearly disturbed by what he perceives as excess government and leaves no doubt that he wants to convince the reader that the current government has grown too much and this is not a good thing. While the constitution is certainly open for discussion and there will be plenty of scholars to point out that the government is not excessively large, the author does make some good and interesting points and includes references to back up his point of view.

The book is split up into 15 chapters, each dealing with a specific issue in which the author believes government is infringing on individual rights. The topics range from the right to bear arms and the right to privacy all the way to the how the constitution may have been circumvented to permit the US to enter war.

Overall, the book makes some interesting points that the reader is free to agree or disagree with. No matter how the reader views the eventual opinion of the author regarding the growth of government, the book certainly gives enough incentives to think about the constitution and what protections it entails for the individual.

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me for free through in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed are solely my own. This review does not constitute an advertisement of Booksneeze or the book itself.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Harris Teeter eVIC specials for the weekend

Offers are valid 11/18/11 - 11/22/11, unless noted below.
Enjoy these Great Savings with your VIC Card
The special offers listed below have been selected specifically for your
VIC household as a valued e-VIC member and are non-transferable.
Saturday Only Special! Deer Park Bottled Water - 24 pk 

eVIC Member Price November 19th ONLY - $2.77 ea - Limit 2
Wisk Laundry Detergent -  50 oz : eVIC Member Price - $4.47 ea - Limit 2
Green Giant Frozen Boxed Vegetables (Excludes Asparagus) -  7-10 oz : eVIC Member Price - $0.77 ea - Limit 2
Harris Teeter Farmers Market Fresh Mangoes -  1 ct : eVIC Member Price - $0.77 ea - Limit 4
Align Digestive Caps -  28 ct : eVIC Member Price - $22.97 ea - Limit 2
Arnold Wide Pan Breads -  24 oz : eVIC Member Price - $2.77 ea - Limit 2
Activia Yogurt - 12 ct : eVIC Member Price - $4.97 ea - Limit 2

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Book review: Sherman - a ruthless victor by A. von Hassell and E. Breslin

Since I am history buff and have read books about the Civil War long before the Ken Burns series came to PBS, I selected this book about Sherman. I should start off with the disclaimer that I approach each book open minded and have enjoyed books about the Civil War that can be construed to favor the North and the South, as long the facts check out and the interpretation of the events and sources can be backed up by facts, I acknowledge that each author approaches the topic of the Civil War with their own bias and that is fine with me. I just hope to learn some new facets about the era and the people in it.
This book by von Hassell and Breslin is not the typical book that I read about the Civil War. Two things set this book apart. It is a relatively short book, only 163 pages. The second fact is that it has more religious statements in it than my usual reading material. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book. It provided some interesting tidbits about the man that Sherman was. There are no references attached to the book, so fact checkers are out of luck and need to look elsewhere for confirmation. But the book overall presents a nice insight into the complex character that Sherman was. The drive to excel, while at the same time harboring deep doubts about his military ability. The difficult upbringing of Sherman the foster child that may in part explain his drive to convince others that he was able to succeed.
The book did present insights into Sherman's character that were unexpected, the differences on religion between him and his wife. The relationship with Grant that was difficult at times and the constant fear of failing or having another nervous breakdowns that could derail his career. Sherman was a complex character and despite the rather brief insight provided in this book, the authors understand well to make the book interesting and provide insights for all readers, no matter what their familiarity with the Civil War may be.
This book is not for people that want an overview of battles and military strategy. Although any book about Sherman will have some insights into his military style. Battles are mentioned, but almost in passing since the authors clearly focus on the personality of Sherman.
Overall, an enjoyable book about one of the major players in the Civil War with some interesting insights into
his person.

I was provided this book through for free in exchange for an honest review of the book. The opinions expressed are solely my own.