Improve Your Life: Join a Group

Every night my friend Mary Ann does the unthinkable. She sets her alarm for 4:30 a.m. because every morning she gets up and walks three miles while the rest of the world sleeps.


photo credit: Nebraska Medicine

How has Mary Ann managed to stick with this early morning fitness routine for so many years years? Simple. She knows that someone is waiting for her. Two people have made a commitment to one another to show up.

The secret of Mary Ann’s success is that she chooses to be accountable, not only to herself but to another person who shares her desire to become physically fit.

And how is this working out? Extremely well, she reports. The faster she and her buddy walk the louder they talk. And laugh. They even argue from time to time. They share their lives and brainstorm their dreams. They get so involved they don’t notice the miles clicking away. The deep friendship that has resulted from this daily event not only makes the task possible, it makes it enjoyable.

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, Calif., says the way to get involved in the behemoth-sized church is to get plugged-in to a small group made up of people whose life situations match their own.

Holiday Head Start

During these lazy days of summer I can imagine that Christmas is the farther thing from your mind! And why not? With thoughts of vacation, finding ways to keep cool and big family get-togethers filling these summer days, the sounds of jingle bells and carolers out in the snow are like ancient history.


I want to break this to you gently, but Christmas decor will be appearing in a store near you in only a matter of weeks—if you haven’t seen hints of that already. Devoting only a few minutes each day to getting started early with your Christmas plans will come back to bless you in money saved. And you’ll have beaten a lot of stress, too, come December.

Here are some quick and easy ways to get started now!

CRASH SAVE. Once each week put $10—or an amount you find appropriate—into an envelope for a service person you will remember with a tip during the holidays. Label and seal. Then make a note in your calendar so you don’t forget where you put it.

GROUP CRAFTING. Spend an evening with three or four friends making holiday decorations. Each brings an idea plus all the materials and supplies. By the end of a very fun evening everyone goes home with three or four new items.

How to Make Ugly Soap Scum, Mildew and Water Marks Disappear Like Magic

When all three messages landed in my inbox on the same day, the problem of soap scum, mildew and hard water buildup grabbed my attention. I’ve been told that if one person actually writes to me with a problem, that represents a thousand with a similar situation. Three in one day tells me this is a common problem.


We recently remodeled our kitchen with stainless appliances. We have treated well water. The very first week we had a large water stain in water dispenser area that I can’t get off. It looks terrible! Is there anyway to remove it? Help! Pat

How do you remove hard water spots from shower doors? Diane

My shower mat has turned almost black. I have tried to clean it, but unsuccessfully. Can you help me? Ronnie

Quite possibly one of the best tips to ever land my mailbox came from a guy who is a professional property manager. He handles rental apartments, and lots of them. As an apartment is vacated, his job is to see that it is thoroughly cleaned and made ready for the next occupants. 

He told me that the biggest challenge is always the bathroom, specifically the tub and shower. He kindly left specific details up to my imagination but let me know that “gross” is not strong enough to describe what he often finds. And that’s when he gave me his super magical potion—the only product he uses to return showers, tubs, tile, enclosures, faucets and doors to their sparkling clean and sanitized condition.

Keep Your Cool in the Heat of Summer

Now that the summer heat is bearing down, millions of window-mounted air conditioners are getting a real workout. And many owners of said units are wondering why their air conditioners aren’t working properly.

In many instances consumers can fix the problem themselves—if they have the right information. If you have a window unit in your home, here’s what you need to know:

photo credit: rusty_clark

photo credit: rusty_clark

More than any other household appliance, window-type air conditioning units are often neglected. This is a pity because they are big energy users. A little maintenance means that homeowners can save money on both utility and repair bills. In fact, with the right information and access to replacement parts, you should be able to fix this appliance yourself, saving the cost of a service call.

All residential window air conditioners have a cooling system consisting of four primary components: a compressor, an evaporator, a temperature sensing device, and a condenser. Air conditioner cooling systems are better understood if you think of them more as a device that removes heat and humidity from the air than a device that cools the air.

These are the essential maintenance steps you should take to keep your window-mounted air conditioning unit operating in tip-top condition while using the least amount of energy:

Money-Savers That Will Pay for Themselves in a Year – Part 1

There’s a big difference between simply buying things and investing in things that will actually pay for themselves—provided that you are diligent in putting them to good use. Once you’ve recouped the purchase price in money saved, these items will continue to save you money—for free!


BAR MOPS.  A bar mop is a white terrycloth squarish-sized towel—the perfect size to dry a dish, wipe down a counter or clean up a spill. A bar mop also makes a great oversized cloth napkin. In my kitchen, bar mops have replaced paper towels, paper napkins and traditional kitchen towels, too.

I have six dozen bar mops and rotate them frequently. Actually, I use them with abandon—in the same way I used to use up paper towels—tossing them into a second handy kitchen trash can that I use as a hamper. When it’s full into the laundry they go.

Bar mops are durable. I’ve had the same collection for many years. I add 1/4 cup of liquid chlorine bleach to the wash cycle and 1/2 cup white vinegar to the final rinse of every load of bar mops. That keeps them sparkling white, stain-free, soft and fluffy.

Cost comparison:

More Ways to Slash Your Food Bill

Could you use an extra $25 or $50 next week? If you get motivated there’s a big chance you can slash your family’s food bill by that much—maybe more—each week, without sacrificing health and nutrition. And that will be tax-free cash you have in your hand, not money that requires more overtime or a garage sale before you can get your hands on it.


There’s not one single way to reduce food costs significantly and consistently. It has to be a combination of strategies: buy right, eat out less and cook at home more.

COUPONS. You know that couponing can be very effective. But you have to do it right, or it will just be a big waste of time and money. Check sites like The Grocery Game (my favorite) and Coupon Mom. The secret is to combine a manufacturer’s coupon with a sale. That requires that you keep your eye on sales and also hold onto coupons, but not so long that they expire.

Do-It-Yourself Pest Control for Home and Garden

Recently, a friend sent me an S.O.S. asking if I knew of any natural way to rid an apartment of fleas—a method that would not be toxic to small children. Treating the pets animals would be the first step, but surprisingly these folks have no animals. The truth is that flea infestations often occur simply because neighborhood cats or dogs like to lounge near their home or they have purchased an infested piece of furniture from a yard sale.


I headed right for my collection of pest control recipes and retrieved the perfect solution for fleas. I thought you might enjoy knowing that one, plus remedies for all kinds of  home and garden pests.

All-Purpose outdoor insect spray. Mix one chopped garlic clove, one chopped small onion and one tablespoon cayenne powder into one quart water. Allow to steep one hour, then add one tablespoon liquid dishwashing soap, like blue Dawn or Ivory liquid. This all-purpose insect spray remains potent for only one week, so use it up.

Ants. Repel an ant invasion by washing counter tops, cabinets and floors with equal parts water and vinegar. 

Feedback on Tuft & Needle: It’s All Good

Dear Mary: You recently had an interesting discussion on mattresses that mentioned the Tuft & Needle mattress. Did you get any further feedback/information on how your readers like the product? Have you gotten one? We are interested in hearing your opinion. Jan


Dear Jan: I have not. To my delight, the king bed and mattress we had already fits well into our new guest room, so that’s a purchase I happily crossed off the list for now. But not for long. I will have no hesitation purchasing a Tuft & Needle mattress for these reasons: They are made completely in the USA. The fibers they use are grown and sustainably harvested in America, and the foams used are 100 percent recyclable. Another huge selling point for this mattress: It is ridiculously affordable.

I’ve heard from dozens of readers who have purchased a Tuft & Needle mattress, and without exception their feedback is gives this mattress very high marks! Here’s just one of many letters:

Dear Mary: I saw Tuft & Needle mattress mentioned in your column by someone asking about them. I purchased one. Great mattress and delivered on time as promised. I am very happy and recommend this product! Sam

Dear Mary: I am teary eyed with relief after reading your recent post Simple Rules to Live By, where revealed that you have directional dyslexia. I suffer from the same thing , however, I did not realize it had a name. Directional confusion is especially a problem. I thought my problem which causes fearfulness when driving in unknown areas was a ridiculous phobia. I have hated myself for it, being embarrassed and trying, usually unsuccessfully, to hide from all but my closest friends. Even getting out of an elevator to return the way I came, I would typically turn the wrong direction. I told my best friend that I felt it had an association with remembering sequences. When I read more about this problem, I saw myself.