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Renee-Lucie BenoitKefir is like buttermilk. That is to say, it tastes like buttermilk. It also has the consistency of buttermilk although the batch I made recently was a little thicker than ordinary cultured buttermilk you find in the grocery store. If you like buttermilk, you will love kefir!

The early beginnings of milk kefir are a bit of a mystery. Most all research points to kefir originating in the Northern area of the Caucasus Mountains, between Russia and Georgia. It was there that a tribe of people first figured out how to use kefir grains to ferment milk in simple leather bags. It's hard to say what these highlanders did with kefir or how they first came by it. Unfortunately, there were no written records, only a story passed down.

We do know that kefir grains were regarded as part of the family's wealth and they were passed on from generation to generation. The kefir was made from cows or goat's milk in sacks made from the hides of animals. Occasionally it was also made in clay pots, wooden buckets, or oak vats. In some areas sheep milk was also used. Usually the kefir sacks were hung out in the sun during the day and brought back into the house at night, where they were hung near the door. Everyone who entered or left the house was expected to prod the sack to mix the contents. As kefir was removed more fresh milk was added, making the fermentation process continuous. For many centuries the people of the northern Caucasus enjoyed this food without sharing it with anyone. Strange tales spread of the unusual beverage which was said to have 'magical' properties. Marco Polo even mentioned kefir in the chronicles of his travels in the East.

However, kefir was forgotten outside the Caucasus for centuries until news spread of its use for the treatment of tuberculosis and intestinal diseases. Russian doctors believed that kefir was beneficial for health and the first scientific studies for kefir were published at the end of the nineteenth century. At that time, kefir was difficult to obtain and commercial production was not possible. Traditional home-style method always produces the best kefir. And luckily for us, kefir grains are not hard to find. I found mine at the Chico California Natural Foods Store. If you look around you will find some, too.


Kefir is really good for you! I started looking into naturally fermented products when I heard that pro-biotic supplements could be contaminated and actually make you sick. And since I am a "natural is best" kind of gal I started the research into alternative sources. It is said that lacto-intolerant people who drink kefir will notice an improvement in their digestion. After a lifetime of taking antibiotics at one time of another I developed an inability to eat certain foods that I used to enjoy immensely. Beans, for example. However, I can now say that I am back to enjoying beans and everyone else is happy as well.

Here's how to make kefir:

No special equipment is needed. All you need is good quality milk and your kefir grains. I used St. Benoit (of course!) whole Jersey cow milk. You can also use 2-percent milk. It can be raw or pasteurized.

Heat 1 quart milk to 180 degrees. I used a candy thermometer on the side of the pan. Take it from the heat once the temperature is reached and set it on the counter to cool. Cool until it reaches room temperature. The ideal temperature is about 75 degrees. Dissolve 5 grams (5 grams of grains to 1 quart milk) of culture in a small amount of the cooled milk in a cup. Pour the mixture back into the quart of milk and put into a clean container.

I just pour the milk back into the glass milk bottle that the milk came in. Why not? It just has to be a clean container. I figured the remaining milk in the jar would mix with the other milk and I was right. Mix well.

Cover the container and let stand at room temperature until curds form. That is about 24 hours. My curd formed at about 20 hours. Then refrigerate about 8 hours to stop the fermentation process. Stir to liquefy and enjoy! After that, store your kefir in the refrigerator. You can add strawberries or blueberries or whatever fruit you like and blend.

Research came from Yemoos Nourishing Cultures.


Renee-Lucie BenoitMy husband is the king of re-use. As a matter of fact, we are kind of amused at all the hoopla surrounding the renew-reuse-recycle movement. Successful ranchers, homesteaders and small farmers have made this a way of life for years if not centuries. Glad the rest of the world is catching up! I have written before about our "junk pile," which is not junk but actually a storage yard for things that can be re-purposed into useful items with a little ingenuity, the right tools and a bit of skill.

One of the most ingenious things my husband has made are our livestock feeders. When I first saw him make one I was a bit non-plussed as to how they would work but now I am a 100-percent convert.


The happy recipient.

Tools needed:

A pick-up truck to transport the tires or a really sturdy car with a big interior or trunk

3 truck tires all the same size (22 to 24 inches is a good size) with an opening that isn't collapsed

A drill that can reach in tight places

A drill bit that can drill rubber and is two sizes larger than your bolts



Nuts, washers, bolts (one feeder requires 6 sets of nuts, washers and bolts)

A piece of OSB board or other lightweight board the size of the circumference of the tire

Here's how you go about doing it:

First you go down to your local ag tire store or any tire store that services trucks. Depending on how many feeders you are going to make ask them for three tires for each tire feeder you plan to make. They will give them to you gladly because they have to pay to have them hauled away. Basically, you are doing them a favor by taking them so they won't charge you for them. If they ask you to pay, I would find another place, but that's just me. If they only want something small then I wouldn't quibble, I guess, but you really should be able to find them for free.

When you get the tires and you're ready to start, assemble them where you intend to use them. Once you've assembled them you won't be able to move the feeder without mechanical assistance or Arnold Schwarzenegger!


My horse JB wants to know what's going on.

If your board is not the right size use a Skilsaw or some other cutting tool to cut your board down to roughly match the circumference of the tire. Drill about 10 holes in it in the middle. This is for drainage. The bottom of the feeder won't be sealed so you'll have some additional drainage there, too.


Cutting the board to size.

Then position your board over the bottom of the tire and drill a hole all the way through the board and the tire. Don't move or jiggle the positioned board at this time. If you bump it you will probably have to re-drill the holes because it will be too hard to line up the holes.


Hardware and a drill for small places.


Drilling the holes.

Put your bolt through the holes. You might have to tap it in. Put in another bolt same as you just did but this time across from the first one. (We have found that the weight of the tire and two bolts is enough to make it sturdy.) Carefully turn over the tire/board assembly and get your washer and nut tightening started on the inside.


Tightening the bolts takes a contortionistic style.

This is why you don't want tires whose openings are collapsed. It's too hard to get into. If you have to, you could use a small jack to hold it open. Best if you just get tires where the opening is wide.

Turn it back over and use a ratchet to finish tightening the bolt/washer/nut.


Finish tightening nice and tight!

Now turn the whole business over so the board is now on the ground in the place where you will be using it and place your second tire on top of the first lining them up.


Place No. 2 tire.


Drill your holes through both tires and place your bolts.

Drill holes inside the tire through both and assemble it the same way as you did before with the bolts, washers and nuts. Once all is tightened, place the last and third tire on top assembling it the same way you assembled the other.


Stack on No. 3.


Drill your holes again and tighten your bolts ....

You're done!

If you're taking photographs, don't forget to give your sweetie a big hug and kiss!

We have tried less than three tires and I suppose, depending on the livestock you have, you could make a feeder with less than three tires. For horses, which is what we have, we have found that three tires works best. They can't pull all the hay out and dump it on the ground.

The beauty of this system is that it's virtually free, the animal can't move it, and the feed stays inside (for the most part) so less hay gets wasted. Also the animal isn't eating off the ground so there's less chance for them to pick up sand or rocks. If you're feeding good quality hay – which you should always do anyway – you won't have a mold problem. But just in case you have a picky eater, check from time to time and clean the feeder out if you're concerned about moldy hay.

We live in rattlesnake country but we have never had a snakes get in the feeders. They are too securely attached together and the snakes find it too hard to get in. Some people might think these feeders aren't attractive but when I think of the expense of store-bought feeders, these feeders start looking real good to me. I must mention they don't have any parts an animal can get injured on, too. Yes, they are very attractive indeed.

Additional note – For people who live in wetter climates: You can consider using some kind of welded wire on the bottom. If you live in a very wet climate I suppose these feeders would be better suited for use inside a roofed structure.

And as a final note here's something fun I noticed as I stood there taking the photos ....


Where's Waldo? First prize goes to the person who can find the Jerusalem cricket.


Renee-Lucie BenoitWe all love a good rummage sale, right? There's nothing like other people's discards to get us excited and chomping at the bit? Remember "open, open, open"? The thrill of finding a treasure at next to nothing, well, there's hardly anything that compares to it. If you're like me, the answer to all these questions is a resounding yes! But is everything we find at a rummage sale worth even the small price ticket? Well, the short answer is "it depends."

I believe you have to go to a rummage sale with an open mind, a lot of discipline and maybe a short list in the back of your mind to help keep that discipline. If you don't engage your discerning eye, you will simply be carting home things for your next rummage sale. And that's no fun, right?

We recently went to the Orland Women's Improvement Club Annual Rummage Sale. It was held at the Glenn County Fairgrounds and had more inventory than most home-based rummage sales. My favorite rummage sale is in Chester, California, that is held in late summer. It's the biggest of all country rummage sales I've ever seen, and they have the best quality used goods I've ever seen. A few years ago I found a full-size handmade pine bed for $90, and a chenille spread to cover it for $5. I passed up a bunch of other really nice stuff because I was on a budget.

Speaking of budget a rummage sale is the best place to go for bargains if you're discerning and knowledgeable. For example it's a great place of tools. Here's the bargain of our day at the Orland sale: two buckets of nails for $10. They were $6 each but we said to the guy we'll give you $10 for both and a bargain was struck. We're set for nails for a long time.


Tools are good but you have to look at the fine print. It's not a bargain if it breaks right away, no matter how much you paid for it. We passed up these tools because they were made somewhere other than reputable suppliers. But if less than top quality tools suit the job you're doing, rummage sales are the best place to get them.


Can you guess what this is? Neither could we, but we think it's a wrench for getting into difficult spaces.


There's always a lot of household goods at rummage sales. If I needed a new set of canisters, I would have snapped these up in a second.


I missed out on this beauty because we got there an hour after the sale opened. I tried it. It wasn't rickety. Some lucky person is all happy today. I would be.


All in all, rummage sales can be really great, just a waste of time and everything in between. You can do what I do. You know what I mean. It's called the "drive-by." This is where you drive by super slow, annoying everyone behind you and scan with your good eyeballs to see if anything leaps out at you from the comfort of the driver's seat. If nothing leaps out you drive on.

Look for annual rummage sales put on by the local improvement clubs or the like. They're always bigger than home sales. Then go with cash in your pocket, the steel of your Gramma Hannah for bargaining, and the discipline of an athlete. You'll do all right.


Renee-Lucie BenoitThose of us who grew up on the Great Plains all have stories of the blizzards we have experienced. Most of us take them for granted because we have been through so many. I've been thinking a lot about this because of the outrageous weather the eastern part of America has been experiencing.

But what was it like in Gramma's day when there were no national televised weather reports or even radio? Even when radios were widespread they still didn't have good weather prediction tools. Just think of how easy it is since the advent of radar then Doppler radar then computers to tell what we might be in for. Imagine how it might be if you really didn't have any idea what the weather might be that day when you woke up. All you could do was look up and smell the air, or look at the clouds, or feel the wind. You might only have an idea what the day might bring but maybe not even that.

I looked around and found that the word "blizzard" actually originated on the Great Plains during the mid–19th century. They think it might have been derived from the German word "blitzartig," which means lightning-like. And for any of you who have experienced how fast a blizzard can come on and how powerful it is you might agree that this is just about right.

I was born in Illinois in 1950 and grew up in Iowa. We had blizzards all the time, but when I was young there were radar predictions and later on Doppler radar that had both been developed out of discoveries made during WWII. My mother and grandmother talked about their experiences when there were no prediction tools.

The people who suffered the most from unexpected weather changes were unprepared hunters, ranchers and thousands of cattle in the open country. But people in town suffered, too. There was a story of a boy who died trying to reach a print shop one block away from his home. Another man froze to death in a light linen overcoat with a flyer in his pocket advertising Kansas as the "Italy of America." A young woman became separated from her family on a half-mile journey and died within an arm's length of the door of her brother's house, her hands tangled in her hair.

Maybe one of the worst blizzards in American history was the Children's Blizzard, so called because of the large number of children that died. A really great book, "The Children's Blizzard" by David Laskin, goes into great detail of this awful event. Here I paraphrase some anecdotes from the book.

snow and a barbed wire fence | 


The blizzard struck on an unusually warm January day in 1888. The children had been sent to school in shirtsleeves. It hit the Plains when schools were letting out, and some teachers, new to the Plains, disregarded stories of how dangerous blizzards could be and let their children walk home. Other teachers released their students early, hoping they would arrive home before it got too bad. Instead, temperatures quickly fell to 40 below zero, and 60-mile-per-hour winds with snow as fine as sifted flour reduced visibility to zero.

A teacher with three students became hopelessly lost walking 200 yards to her boarding place, and they spent the night huddled in a haystack. The children died and the teacher lost both feet to amputation. A teacher and her nine students became separated because of the wind. They all died and were not found until the snow had melted months later. An old-timer of the community said, "Look for circling vultures to locate the bodies."

Another group of schoolchildren and their teacher held hands to travel the 100 yards to a farmhouse. They missed the house by six feet, fell into a small ravine but clambered back out to reach a straw pile, where they all survived the night.

A man survived by keeping his family of eight, one hog, one dog, all his chickens, and four head of cattle in the same room.

house isolated by a blizzard |


My grandmother was always worried about getting lost on the way to and from the barn. She told me a story she heard of a woman who was checking on the family cow 100 yards from the house and became lost. She tied her shawl to the cow and luckily it lead her home. As a precaution when a snowstorm started, Grampa always tied a clothesline from the house to the barn so if the need arose to feel their way then they could, even when they couldn't see where they were going.

I was once driving an old International Harvester truck back to Iowa from California. When I stopped in Laramie, Wyoming, on a very cold winter day I talked with the station attendant. In those days all the attendants pumped your gas, cleaned your windshield and checked your oil. On that day he also dispensed some Wyoming advice. He told me always keep a candle and matches in your glove box. If you get stuck in a snow drift, light your candle and crack your window so the flame doesn't burn up all your oxygen. Then you can wait until help comes. The flame of the candle will keep it just warm enough so you don't freeze. Luckily I have never had to test that advice, but I've always kept a candle and matches in my glove box just the same.

We're all very fortunate to live in a time where the man on the television announces Severe Weather First! every night before the news comes on, and we can go to our computers and see what we might be in for 10 days in advance. A world without weather technology is one thing I'm not sure I would want to go without while living the homemade life. I guess one lesson we can learn that when living the homemade life, with regard to weather, being over prepared is better than being under prepared.

I'd love to hear your personal blizzard stories.


Renee-Lucie BenoitI've been living in California since 1977. All this time I have really enjoyed the cuisine. For example, there's the groundbreaking way of cooking started by Alice Waters that has influenced many people. It's known as "California Cuisine." However, California had its own cuisine long before Alice. This is the cuisine rooted in Spanish traditions.

The Spanish Californios were ranchers and they took good food seriously. When I was learning to make rag rugs from my neighbor Anna she introduced me to poquito beans (also known as pinquito) and Santa Maria-style barbecue. I made them and immediately became addicted. Poquito or pinquito (either way is right) beans are a long-standing tradition on the Central Coast of California. These little (for that's what poquito means: "little") beans have been used in Santa Maria-style barbecue for generations. Anna is from a family that ranched in Santa Barbara county. She should know.

Start with dry beans.

This small, chili-type bean is loaded with California history. They are a cross between a pink bean and a small white bean, and grow well in the fertile soil and mild climate of the Santa Maria Valley, which is the only place where they are grown commercially. Some think the Santa Maria "Pinks" were brought in with the migrant citrus workers in the 1950s (they also introduced us to the tri-tip cut of meat), but now there's some thought that it was a crop during the Californio Mission era. Whatever its origins, it's delicious and meaty and the perfect match for any barbecue, chili or even salad. They hold their shape and don't get mushy.

A typical Santa Maria-style BBQ will include poquito beans, macaroni and cheese, a fresh green salad, toasted sweet french bread, salsa, coffee and a simple desert like fresh strawberries. The meat will be a thick cut of beef seasoned only with salt, pepper and a hint of garlic, cooked over coals made of red oak also known as coast live oak. To be authentic the cut of meat should be 3 inches thick and weigh 3 to 4 pounds, but in modern days a smaller cut, frequently tri-tip, is more popular.

The traditional Santa Maria-style barbecue menu was even copyrighted by the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce in 1978.

The Santa Maria grill is made of iron and usually has a hand crank that lifts or lowers the grill over the coals to the desired distance from the heat. The Santa Maria Valley is often rather windy, so the style of cooking is over hot burning coals as opposed to the cooler radiant heat that covered grills use.

President Ronald Reagan was an avid fan of Santa Maria-style barbecue. Several barbecues were held on the South Lawn of the White House for him.

For authenticity you can order poquitos online.

Santa Maria-Style Barbecue Beans
Yields 10 to 16 servings.

(My recipe follows the recipe that's on the back of the Bonipak poquito beans package.)

2 pounds poquitos beans
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound bacon, diced
1/2 pound ground beef
1 envelope chili mix or 1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 to 4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1  1/2 cups tomato juice or tomato sauce

Cover beans generously with water.

Let the beans soak.

Bring to a boil and add salt and pepper. Turn heat to simmer and cook two hours or until tender.

In a separate pan (cast iron works great!), sauté in this order:

onion and garlic;

Cooking the onions.


Add the bacon to the onions.

then hamburger.

Add hamburger.

Brown both meats. Don't burn the onions and garlic.

Brown the meats and onion.

Drain off as much fat as you can and then add chili mix, pepper, salt, oregano and tomato juice. Cook until thoroughly warmed through.

Add the desired spices.

Add the mixture to beans and simmer 1 hour.

Add the meat mixture to the beans.

These beans are a meal all by themselves. I love them with warm buttered French bread.


Renee-Lucie BenoitI've had just about every kind of cookware imaginable. Why, I even demonstrated Tefal French non-stick cookware in Macy's when I was young. (Teflon! Pure PTFE coating, folks!) My great aunt once gave me a Lifetime brand stainless steel cook pot that I still have. But the piece de resistance of my cookware stash are my old iron pans. I got them when my grandmother passed and I cherish them like they are precious jewels. Not only do they remind me of my grandmother (she received them as a wedding present when she was 19 and had them until her death at 87) but they have been my mainstay through every phase of my life.


My beautiful iron pans

I'm kind of a pioneer-ophile (if there's such a word). I read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books as a child. I also read all of Willa Cather's books when I got older. I see images of a covered wagon rolling across a prairie with the black cast-iron skillet hanging from the wagon’s bow. My dad cooked his Canadian specialty Shanty Beans in a cast-iron dutch oven buried in the earth under hot coals. So you see this sturdy black cookware was a highly prized possession of my ancestors. I'm not the first to have it be left to favorite relatives in wills. I think every self-sufficient home should be cooking with cast iron.

What's so great about cast iron? As you can see it can last a very long time when properly cared for. That makes it an economical choice. If properly seasoned, it's better than any PTFE non-stick Teflon thing. It's better because it will not leach unhealthy chemicals into your system and, in fact, in can add healthy iron to your food especially when you're cooking with acidic foods such as tomatoes. If it's properly seasoned, you don't have to use as much oil to cook with. Food cooks evenly in it because it distributes heat evenly. I don't need to be a scientist to claim this. My experience of 40-plus years of cooking tells me so.

On the "lighter" side, it's heavy so you can use it to build up your muscle strength. If I can lift my pot with one hand I feel a trip to the work-out place is less necessary. I've yet to brain my husband with a pan, but it's there if he needs it. You need to practice with firearms, but if you're hefting an iron pot every day you've got all the practice you need when the time comes. When I watch old movies and the heroine grabs a knife out of the drawer to defend herself, I think now why didn't she grab the pan? If the bad guy has a gun she can use the pan as a shield and then clock him on the head with it.

Back to reality: I've used an iron pan to cook cream cornbread with chilies and cheese in my oven. There's a great Artisan Bread recipe in GRIT Magazine's Guide to Homemade Bread. Guess what? The iron pan is perfect to cook it in when you have a tight fitting lid. I've even used it to cook over an open campfire or on the Weber. The wonderful thing about cast-iron cookware is, the more you use it the better it gets.

I never buy cast-iron pans new. I always look for them at garage sales. This is how I got my pans for camping. I just make sure there aren't any cracks. If you get one from a yard sale, you will most likely need to properly clean it and then re-season it before you use it. And don’t pass up a used piece of cast iron because it’s rusted. If the price is right you can repair it with a little elbow grease.

For general cleaning you will need only a steel pad and warm water. I'm not talking about Brillo. You don't want to use any soap in it. I'm talking about the little pure steel wire-y thingies you find in the cleaning section of the store next to the little copper wire-y thingies.

Once it's clean all you need is a little good quality oil to season it with. I like olive oil. No rancid oil, please. I just put my iron pan on the stove and pour a little olive oil in it and then I wipe most of it away. Then I heat it a little bit over low heat. Don't let it smoke. I've been told that the process opens the pores of the metal and lets the oil soak in but don't quote me on that. Over-heating hurts the pan and you're taking a chance of burning it up. So set the kitchen timer for 5 minutes and keep an eye on it.

Iron pans are the best. What do you use your iron pans for?


Renee-Lucie BenoitI'm going to share with you something other teachers don't share. My first effort. I should say "I meant to do that." But I didn't. It was very good because it taught me a lot. The more you do this the better you get. Just like anything.



Anna and I are having fun.


This is to show you no one is ever good at the beginning. I keep this first rug as a reminder of my humble and humorous beginnings.

Note: Part One neglected to state the recommended size of the crochet hook for this project. It's 10 to 11 mm; metal (aluminum or steel), but if you can't find metal, plastic is OK.

Part Two: Making the Actual Rug

Start to make the first loop by winding the long end of the fabric around your fingers over and under. Pinch the short end of the fabric between your thumb and pointer finger leaving a couple inches dangling.


The strip winds around your fingers.

Then (and this is important) slide your hook underneath the strip of fabric that is between your thumb and forefinger.


Your hook goes underneath the strip – always.

Now pull out a small loop while twisting it at its base. Pinch it between your thumb and forefinger.


Your first loop.

Now you're going to chain stitch. I was so clumsy at first, but now I have the hang of it. And since I am basically all thumbs I know you will, too.


Chaining is a single crochet over and over.


Continue chaining until you have 18 stitches.


The finished 18 chains.

Now you're ready to go around the end with a double crochet loop to start the second row.

Up until now you've been making one loop and pulling your strip through to make a chain. Now you're going to pick up two stitches to give the corner some slack. You have to pick up two stitches at the turns because you need to create slack in the corners. Otherwise the corners will start to "cup" and the rug will not lay flat. If you take a couple stitches and it looks like some cupping is happening, pull out a stitch or two and add some doubles. What I've just described here is all you need to know about stitches for this project. Basically you make single stitches on the straight and double stitches when you round the ends.


Start singing, "She'll be coming around the mountain when she comes!"


Make one double crochet (two loops).


Pick up your next loop from the second side.


Pull your next loop through.


Start single crocheting the second row.


Keep single crocheting until the end of the second row.


You can add a different color by using the hobo knot to attach the ends together.

I have found that the shape of my finished rug is determined to a degree by the shape of my first 3 rows. That's why I have made such a big deal about the first 3 rows. The remainder of the rug is simply repetition of the first 3 rows. If you see an obvious bend or distortion taking shape in the first 3 rows it might be best to start over again.

Remember: Always stick your hook underneath the fabric strip, hook and pull in through the hole.

Warning: Don't make too many double loops on the corners. It is possible to get a wavy result from too many double loops. How many extra loops you make is determined – to a degree – by the thickness of the fabric and how tight the turn is. I have found one double loop (another way of saying double crochet) on every other one is right for my sheet fabric. You might need to add more or less.

How do you know when to start adding a stitch? When the bend in the previous inside row lines up with where you are.


Simply single crochet back towards the way you came on every other hole until it is used up.

Here's something that will make you happy: the process is forgiving. This is a handmade rug. It's not supposed to be flawless. That is part of the charm.

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