Updates on Einstein Coat, Household Inventory and That Urge to Quit

There are some people in my life who accuse me of having a short attention span. They don’t get much of an argument from me. It’s true; I do. That’s why I am grateful that so many of you keep me on track by reminding me to give updates and feedback on things I’ve written about.

Dear Mary: Just wondering how the Einstein Coat is coming. Please update. I bought the book, “The Knit Stitch” by Sally Melville.  The yarn to make it will come to about $60. I’m afraid of failure at such a high cost in both time and money. Jeanne


Dear Jeanne: The lower portion of my coat (that very long piece that creates the entire bottom section of the coat) is nearly done. It’s beautiful but doesn’t look much like a coat yet. The Einstein Coat is rated as a beginner project, so relax! I don’t think you can possibly mess this up. And if you do, just rip it out and start again. I’m so good at ripping out, I can tink (that’s knit spelled backwards) just about as fast as I knit! I think it’s so much fun. Just $60 to make this coat is quite a bargain. I predict you will wear and enjoy your coat for many years! Keep in touch because I’ll want to know about your progress!

Extended Warranties Almost Always a Bad Deal

A couple of weeks ago I took my grandsons to Toys R Us just to look around. This would be an observation outing. And if you believe that, you don’t know me very well. We ended up with some Pokemon cards and a cute little mechanical hamster that fits perfectly in the chubby hand of a 17-month old.

At check out, the clerk dutifully offered an extended warranty on the $8 hamster. You’re laughing. So did I because it is funny. Who would pay $2.50 for an extended warranty on a toy that will get lost in no time and promptly forgotten? Not me, that’s for sure. I couldn’t help but think about the tiny toy hamster when I got the following letter from Lynn:


Dear Mary: My son works for a large home improvement store. He said that because planned obsolescence is even worse than say 20 years ago it is now important to buy the extended warranties on products. I have always disagreed, thinking that they are a rip-off and created to prey on consumers’ fear.

My son purchased two extended warranties within the last five years on two major brand appliances (Whirlpool and Hoover) and he had to use both of them. Do you think he’s right? Knowing this, these days should we reconsider buying extended warranties? Lynn

Dear Lynn: It’s a matter of dollars and sense, no pun intended. I wish you’d given me the figures—the amount he spent for those extended warranties compared to the cost of repairs.

I won’t say that in every situation an extended warranty is a bad deal. But we have to deal with the law of averages. It’s like insurance. You consider your exposure, weigh the odds and react accordingly.

Keep this in mind: Sales commissions on extended warranties are quite handsome. Why do you think that is? It’s because extended warranties are a huge profit maker for retailers. People buy them and never use them. So retailers give sales people a big incentives to sell them because they boost profits. If retailers were losing money on these warranties, do you think they’d keep selling them at the current price? No way. They’d either stop offering them or boost the price. 

Wallpaper Removal—It’s a Messy Job!

A letter in my inbox this week sent me into hyper memory mode. For a few minutes I re-lived that day, back when wallpaper was all the rage; when I decided to paper our dining room in a lovely orange and yellow floral stripe. I know. But it was right in vogue at the time.

Anyway, it took me all of one Saturday to get the job done, but I did it and it looked fantastic. The next morning I rushed in to admire my handiwork only to find every lovely floral square inch of paper on the floor.

I raced to the home improvement store to get the strongest, heavy-dutiest, waterproof, wallpaper paste I could find. This was not going to get the better of me. I was determined to make that paper stick both now and for all eternity. While I had no intention of ever removing it, I do feel bad for the people who bought the place. Orange and yellow floral stripes are not exactly a timeless decorator look.

Dear Mary: Is there any easy and quick way to remove wallpaper and the paste from bathroom walls? Mickey 

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Dear Mickey: The answer to your question depends on how the wallpaper was applied. If it was pre-pasted paper, it should come off quite easily. However, I’m going to guess that since this is a bathroom and a bathroom can get hot and humid, your wallpaper was applied with heavy-duty paste, which could present a big challenge.

Perform a test using a strong solution of white vinegar and water (say, 2 cups of vinegar to a quart of hot water) in a spray bottle. Spray this on a small section of wallpaper and really saturate it well. This will soften most pastes so you can easily scrape the paper and backing from the wall. Work in small areas, removing the paper and paste completely, then moving on to another small area. But again it depends on the type of glue that was used and how old the wallpaper is.

If a strong vinegar solution doesn’t work or you find it just too tedious, a wallpaper steamer like this Wagner 1-Gallon Wallpaper Steamer may do the trick. If this is a one-off kind of job and you don’t see any point in owning a wallpaper steamer, you should be able to rent a steamer from a tool rental company in your area.

If you want to get this job done quickly with minimal mess, I’d spend a few bucks for a product called DIF Wallpaper Stripper by Zinsser. DIF comes as a concentrated liquid, a gel and also a fast-acting spray. You can find DIF at stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s and online.

From Student Debt Repayment to Dried Up Mascara

My cyber mailbag is like the proverbial box of chocolates. I never know what I’m about to get. And I love that. Take today’s offering for example—questions that run the gamut all the way from the dilemma of repaying huge student loans to the heartbreak of dried up mascara.

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Dear Mary: Fifteen years ago my husband finished medical school with $170,000 in school loans. While in forbearance, when we couldn’t afford the payments, it grew to $185,000.

We are back on track now and have paid the debt down to $160,000. That’s progress, but we have so far to go.

We have $90,000 equity in our home. Should we use that to pay down the student debt faster? We have no other debts. Denise

The Five Legal Documents Every Adult Needs

It’s been at least 30 years since my husband and I sat for hours with an attorney who specializes in estate planning. It wasn’t the most pleasant thing I’ve ever done. We were young and the idea of being old and planning for our respective deaths seemed ludicrous. That meeting together with nearly $2,500 made us the proud owners of a Family Trust and Estate Plan, which included the important legal documents that every adult needs.

Recently, a letter from Jenny reminded me that we need to update the documents in our Estate Plan because they may now be out of date. For sure they are “out of state,” due to our relocation to Colorado.

Thankfully, we now have an option to do this ourselves—legally and properly—for a whole lot less than it cost decades ago.

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Dear Mary: I’m 50, married and have two adult children. Our financial life is not complicated. I do not have a will and know that I should. Can I put faith in a simple Will done by one of the large online companies or is it in my family’s best interest that I hire a lawyer? I have read your work for many years and appreciate your advice. Thank you. Jenny

Dear Jenny: Thank you for the trust you put in me, something I value highly. My quick answer is that absolutely you need a Will plus four other documents as well, and I have an online source to recommend to you which will help you do this yourself—a reputable legal help organization you can trust and without reservation.

Will this preclude the need to hire an attorney? It could, but I cannot advise you on that because every situation is different. What I can tell you is that you can do this yourself and be well protected now with all of your information and desires written down in proper legal order—and have that to take to an attorney if or when you find that necessary.

Make It Yourself: Copper Cleaner, Aluminum Cleaner and Dishwasher Detergent, Too

There are so many good reasons to make your own household cleaners. It’s cheaper, healthier and greener, too. The homemade household cleaners I share with you from time to time do not contain chemicals. That means you can always count on them to be non-toxic.


DEAR MARY:  The copper post tops on my deck are becoming tarnished. Do you know of a natural (cheap) way that I can clean them without causing any damage to the copper? I’m enclosing a picture of this problem. Patti

DEAR PATTI: I really like this beautiful treatment on your deck. Thanks for sending the photo (always a good idea, by the way). I do have a solution for you using ordinary items from your pantry. It is cheap to make, easy to use and works great. Best of all it contains no toxic chemicals.

Copper Cleaner

6 tablespoons table salt
6 tablespoons flour
white vinegar

Make a paste of equal parts salt and flour with a few tablespoons of white vinegar. Apply to copper item with a soft cloth and rub gently to remove tarnish. Rinse with water and dry.

DEAR MARY: I have inherited a set of vintage aluminum canisters. Somewhere along the line, this canisters were washed in the dishwasher and came out so discolored they are no longer pretty. I have tried a couple of cleaning methods that did nothing to restore their beauty. Do you have any suggestions? Ina

Credit Cards in the Hands of Financially Immature Students

Our kids are fortunate to be growing up in the most progressive and exciting time in history. Sadly, the very culture that offers them the world is also perpetrating this lie:

You are entitled to have everything you want even if you don’t have the money to pay for it. It’s not a problem. Buy it now and you can pay for it later!


There’s a huge consumer-credit industry out there planning to give your kids their very own credit cards—personal passports into the abyss of consumer debt.  This is not going to require your permission or approval, something that today’s first writer is experiencing first hand.

DEAR MARY: My daughter who is in college got a credit card and now she is in over her head, unable to pay what she owes.

She works part time and makes a very small salary. With the high interest and late fees, the balance is now over $2,500. I will have to step in and handle the account.

How can I negotiate with the credit-card company to settle for less? I don’t know how she got this card on her salary but she kept quiet about not being able to make the payments until we started getting collection calls for her. I appreciate your thoughts and expertise. Millie

Readers in Search of Help with Ants and Sharks

The best part of my job as your humble columnist is the mail I get from my loyal readers. I had to laugh today when the first two letters I pulled from my inbox requested help with ants and … sharks!



Dear Mary: Once again this summer, I am dealing with an invasion of ants in my kitchen. Please advise. Exterminators are terribly expensive. Lola

Dear Lola: You’re not the only one! I’ve been hearing from so many readers who are frantic to know how to get rid of  carpenter ants, sugar ants, fire ants, acrobat ants … big ants, tiny ants and every kind of ant imaginable—even crazy ants!

Fortunately, I have a solution for you that is inexpensive, natural and completely safe to use around  kids and pets—a very effective tactic I wrote about recently, and am happy to repeat.

Food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) will take care of this problem and continue to work as long as it stays dry. It is available in most garden centers and home improvement stores and also online at Amazon. I just checked and you can get Diatomaceous Earth Food Grade 10 Lbs from Amazon with Prime free shipping for about $22.