Help! I’m Too Tired to Cook

Yesterday I got a letter that took my mind back to the years when our boys were small and I was too busy, too tired and too stressed to cook.

Dear Mary: I know where the money is leaking out of our household: Fast food. We are expecting our fourth child and I am so bushed at the end of the day, we get take-out 2-3 times a week. What can I do? It gets to be dinnertime and out comes the phone book. It’s all I can do to just get through the day. Carly


Dear Carly: The last thing you need is for someone to tell you to get a grip and plan ahead. So I won’t. Instead I’m going to tell you what worked for me when I was in somewhat your situation (two boys only 17 months apart) and a few things I’ve learned since.

Five-menu rotation. Come up with five simple menus you know your family will eat, one for each night of the week. These don’t have to be gourmet or anything fancy at all. Example: Monday: Spaghetti, salad and bread. Tuesday: Meatloaf, baked potatoes, green beans and so on. Ask your husband to handle one weekend dinner and give it a name like Daddy’s Delicious Dinner or let the kids give it a title. That leaves one Family Fun Night or some other reason to order in pizza. Post your weekly menu on the refrigerator. Now everyone knows what to expect, including you. This will simplify your grocery shopping, too. As the children get older and you get more courageous you can expand your repertoire, but for now stick to the five-menu rotation.

It’s Best Not to Mess with the IRS

Today I thought I’d reach into my bulging mailbag to respond to a few of your questions. I love to get mail from you, my lovely readers. Even though I cannot personally respond to every message, I read them all. Keep them coming.

Dear Mary: For the first time in my life, rather than getting a tax refund, I owe the IRS. I’m talking about a lot of money, too.

Should I use my savings to pay my taxes, or is there a way to make payments that will not be overly taxing? I’ve been planning to use that money to pay off my high-interest credit cards. Phyllis


Dear Phyllis: While the IRS purports to set up payment plans in certain situations, I would not advise that you go that way if there is any way you can avoid it. The interest rates are high, and in my opinion, not reliable.

I’ve seen numerous cases where a payment plan was set up and going along fine when out of the blue, the IRS slaps a lien on the taxpayer without rhyme, reason or explanation. You can have a plan all worked out, and BAM! without notice they can just change it. I’ve concluded that the last person on earth you want to owe money to is Uncle Sam.

My advice is that your taxes should take top priority. If you believe you are in a position to handle monthly payments to the IRS, great. Begin making those payments to yourself instead to restore your savings account once you have paid your debt to the IRS. Once you have your savings built up, then you need to aggressively attack that killer credit-card debt.

Dear Mary: How can I get the hard water marks off my glass shower doors? I’ve tried vinegar and that helped some, but the marks remain. Thanks! Julie

Dear Julie: There’s a slight chance the glass has become permanently “etched” over time by minerals in the water, but I’d give it one last try using the mother of all hard water mark removers: oven cleaner. I’m not kidding. I’d go with something like Easy-Off Professional Fume Free because you don’t want to introduce fumes into an open area of your home if you can help it. Be sure to put on rubber gloves and then apply with a sponge. Leave it overnight and rinse in the morning. Expect magic! That’s how well oven cleaner works on shower doors.

A Look Behind No-Interest! No-Payments! Come-Ons

Have you ever wondered how retailers can possibly afford to offer the no-interest, no-payments and no-downpayment kind of deals you see advertised? That was the subject of a letter I received recently.

Dear Mary: There are several appliance, electronic and furniture stores in our area that run television commercials offering no money down, no payments and no interest until 2016. It sounds like I can just walk in and take what I want and not pay for a year! How do these companies really make money? Kate


Dear Kate: First, these offers are on approved credit and come with a lot of other fine print. It takes pristine credit to qualify for those attractive terms. One retailer told me only about 25 percent of the people who apply for the amazing offers that get people through the door, can actually qualify. The other 75 percent are offered some other deal with horrible terms, which they usually accept because by the time it gets to filling out the paperwork, they’re so emotionally involved and have their hearts set on that “free” big screen TV, they’re anxious to sign anything.

How to Knock Out Serious Mold and Mildew Problems

Dear Mary: Here’s the short version of a long story: Due to an undetected slowly leaking pipe in our home, the basement got very wet over a period of time. The leak has now been fixed and the basement has mostly dried out. But I’m detecting mold and mildew. The smell is awful.


We called the pros to get a price on treating this smelly situation. They are estimating between $1,800 and $2,000 to kill the mold and mildew. Do you think we could do this ourselves for less using the product you recommend for smelly situations? Thanks, Hank

Dear Hank: Before I answer your question, I want to make sure that all of my readers know that mold is a serious situation, and can have adverse health ramifications for humans and animals alike. Mold is not something you want to live with.

Now to your question: Yes, I believe you can do this yourself.

Most people—myself included, until I did more research—assume that household bleach will kill mold completely. We assume that because it bleaches the dark color. Not so.

Even freshly manufactured household bleach is unable to kill mold. Bleach that sits around store shelves or in your home continually gets weaker over time. Even the manufacturers’ usage directions do not recommend using it to kill mold. If you want effective mold kill, I absolutely recommend that you use Nok-Out (use code DPL for 10% off any order). And not to get too technical, Nok-Out is guaranteed to maintain its efficacy within a two year shelf life, when used according to the manufacturer’s directions. It is effective against mold spores because it structurally disassembles the cell so that it cannot revive to re-infest. Nok-Out does indeed kill spores. 

Refinancing Credit-Card Debt Can Get Tricky

Dear Mary: What do you think about the idea of refinancing my credit-card debt with a loan from one of the peer-to-peer lenders out there? It seems like a good idea to me, but I don’t know that much about it. I’d really like to know what you think of this. Thanks. Tom


Dear Tom: First, I want to make sure you are talking about P2P (peer-to-peer) loans, NOT payday loans (they have NOTHING in common other than both start with the letter P). I am a huge fan of the idea you mention using a P2P loan (NOT payday), but with a few very strong cautions!

Basically, P2P lending offers a fixed-rate, simple interest, fully-amortized unsecured loan with which a person can, as you state, refinance their credit-card debt by taking the proceeds and paying off those accounts.

The interesting thing is that P2P loans offer rates that are often much lower than the variable rates on most credit cards, but only to folks with good credit, verifiable income and reasonable debt-to-income ratios who can qualify. So far, so good!

But it can get tricky. In fact, without knowing what you’re doing it would be like walking though a minefield blindfolded. There are lots of ways you could blow yourself up. For example, let’s say you get a P2P loan, but then don’t handle those paid-off accounts well. You could end up with double the trouble if you run your credit-card accounts back up—because you have the P2P loan as well. That’s only one of the things that could go wrong.

I suggest you not even think about tip-toeing into the world of peer-to-peer borrowing until you get some help.

Help! My Fine Linens Have Rust Stains

Dear Mary: Please advise how to remove rust spots from white cutwork linen pieces. I have no idea where these came from but would love to remove them. Thanks. Frieda H., California


Dear Frieda: Provided these are washable, soak the spot with lemon juice then work table salt into the spot. Set it out in the sun for a few hours. Brush the salt away. If any stain remains, repeat. Once the stain is gone, launder as usual.

Dear Mary: I can’t keep lettuce in my refrigerator for more than two days without it turning rusty. I’ve tried everything, Tupperware containers, washing and putting paper towels in bag with it, not washing until using. Even though the date on the package is good for at least 5 days after opening I end up throwing it away before that time. Am I the only one who has this problem? Pat

Dear Pat:  “Rust” on lettuce leaves is harmless. It develops from the natural breakdown process in the cells once it is harvested and isn’t rust at all, as we think of it. This rust-color indicates old lettuce. If this is happening on dated package greens, return it to the store for a refund. When selecting head lettuce, look at the “stem” area where the head was cut from the stalk. If it is bright white, you know it’s very fresh. If it is rust color, it’s getting quite old. Select the head that’s closest to white for your freshest choice.

For the Love of Coffee

I used to get so much mail, it would arrive in long plastic trays. Some days I’d get more than 10 trays, each one holding hundreds of individual pieces of mail.

U.S. Postal Service Proposes Cutting 120,000 Jobs

Twenty years later, that kind of mail has dwindled to only a few pieces each day, but don’t assume that means my mail has slowed. It has changed from physical letters to email. You should see my inbox!

I can’t say that I miss all the trays, the trips back and forth to the post office and all of that paper. I still get just enough of your lovely handwritten letters each week, which I enjoy so much—letters like this one that just showed up on my desk:

Dear Mary: My homemade vanilla gifts for Christmas 2015 are all ready to go—they just need precious time to steep and age. Thank you for the recipe, instructions and links to the bottles and beans. Feels so good to be done this far in advance. Now I have another situation. Today our coffee maker went to the land of dead coffee makers, which means we’re in the market for a new one. What do you recommend? Carolyn

photo credit: lotzman

photo credit: lotzman

Car Mats, Wastebaskets, Baseball Caps: Yes … Gold-Trimmed Glassware: No!

Dear Mary: Twenty years ago I was lucky enough to receive a five-piece, service for 12, Spode Christmas Tree China (green band) from my mother. Since then I have filled out the set with many accessory pieces. When washing the china in the dishwasher I have been very careful to use the gentle/china cycle and cool dry. There has been no fading of the green band around the plates, cups, bake ware, etc., but the gold band around some of the glasses I bought only six years ago has washed away.  A friend said it wasn’t the cycle, but I needed to use a gentle dishwasher soap. However, no one knew or could agree on what was a gentle detergent. I’m hoping you can give me some help. Thank you. Susan.


Dear Susan: First, let me say that I am so jealous. That is an amazing set—a wonderful treasure. The problem for any china, glassware or crystal that has gold, silver or platinum trim is the hot water. It will actually flake that fine metal trim away. And once it is gone, there’s nothing you can do to bring it back. That’s why I want to strongly suggest that from now on you hand wash these beautiful items  in mild soap and warm water. And I’m not alone in this. Spode recommends that any of its ware (china, imperialware, vitreous) not marked as dishwasher safe, be hand washed only. It’s an investment of your time that will come back to bless you with many years of enjoyment.

Dear Mary: I enjoy your daily emails a lot. Can you let me know what bedroom humidifier you recommend? Thank you. Maria