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This Halloween Go Cheap

I have no one to blame but myself that our boys grew up favoring Halloween over all other holidays—with the possible exception of Christmas.

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From the time they could walk, I poured my heart and soul into making sure they had the best costumes. One year we had Popeyes-a-Pair (two tiny boys dressed identically as the Sailor Man). Over the years we did the traditional magician, ninja, hobo and gangster and of course an entire array of super heroes.

The boys are both adults now and while I assumed this costume thing would have wound down by now, not that long ago I found myself creating Luigi of Mario Brothers fame and he looked fantastic, let me tell you.

Just this week, I was reminded how far we’ve come in this costume thing and I don’t mean that in a good way, necessarily. I’m talking about at least $200 to become Kylo Ren and not any old Kylo Ren but Authentic Kylo Ren. I understand from a friend whose husband is contemplating this seriously, that might be a low estimate by the time you figure authentic hooded cape, authentic robe, authentic belt and gloves, authentic voice-changing mask, authentic electronic lightsaber and boots. And don’t forget everything must be authentic. When I heard about this I had only one thing to say. Ack! Even that got stuck in my throat. 

Should You Re-Sell or Donate Your Used Stuff?

A very strange phenomenon exists in the average American household wherein no longer needed clothes, shoes, boots, coats, pants, shirts, toys, games, seasonal decor, sports equipment, electronics, appliances, computers, kitchen utensils, dishes and other useful items seem to reproduce in the dark of night filling cupboards, closets, attics and basements to the brim and beyond.

I call it Stuffitis—a condition for which there is an easy, and surprisingly profitable, treatment. Should your home have contracted this maladythere are two effective ways to treat it: a) Sell the stuff or b) Donate the stuff.

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SELL THE STUFF. There are several ways to do this, none of which guarantee success. I hosted my final Garage Sale several years ago, to great disappointment. Having carefully cleaned, priced and displayed every item of which there were many—and being met with way too many offers of, “Would you take five bucks for everything?” at the end of a very long, hot and disappointing day—we hauled all that was left to a donation bin, which was most of it.

But don’t let my experiences dissuade you should you elect to re-sell your stuff. Depending on what your stuff is, you may find success with CraigsList, eBay or local buy and sell groups. 

Back-to-School Brings Out the Shopping Lists and the Fundraisers, Too

Have I been sleeping in a cave for a 100 years? Sure feels like it.

I just read that as a nation, we will spend (brace)  $78.5 billion getting our kids outfitted to go back to school. And by outfitted I mean with all the “proper” electronic gear, shoes with all the bells and whistles (I would like a pair of those sneakers with little wheels embedded in the soles), backpacks, and of course the ever popular school supplies.

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Yikes! That’s a whole lotta’ money.

Granted, I don’t have school aged children any more, but come on! The average elementary schooler’s must-haves this year total $649; for middle school students, it’s $941; and for high school kids, $1,402 each, according to the ninth annual Backpack Index Survey from Huntington Bank in Columbus, Ohio.

Look, I’m open to being convinced that I’m wrong, but is this anywhere close to reasonable? Perhaps if you feel you must purchase an entire school year’s worth of pencils, pens, crayons, paper, notebooks, binders, calculators, printer cartridges; shoes, sneakers, jeans, slacks, sweaters, blouses, shirts, socks and undies. But I would find that to be a little ridiculous in that kids do grow, styles do change and, quite frankly, who wants to do all that laundry?

How to Remove Moss, Mold, Mildew from Outdoor Surfaces—Even Big White Marble Domes

Something weird is going on in Washington D.C. and I’m not talking politics. It’s the big, white, marble dome on the Jefferson Memorial. The caretakers of that beautiful structure are flummoxed by what to do about the grungy, gooey mold-like gunk that has begun collecting on the dome, turning it from white to a dingy, dirty mess!

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So far, experts have managed to give the yuck a name—biofilm—and determined that it’s a combo of algae, bacteria and fungi.

Here’s the problem: How to treat this icky stuff without damaging the soft marble of the Jefferson Memorial so that it remains safe for the environment and visitors alike.

When I read about this situation, of course I knew what to do. Of course! But I won’t be calling anytime soon to share my directive, which would include a helicopter with a huge sprayer and a thousand gallons of one of the most amazing products I’ve come across in a very long time. However, I am excited to share that with Ruby, who wrote:

For the Love of a Good Iron

While it’s true that life is uncertain, there’s at least one thing of which I am very sure: I will never be held hostage for refusing to iron.

Unlike Mrs. Tyrrell whose son Robert held her at gunpoint for six hours because she refused to iron his clothes, I love to iron. I’m not saying that I would be that thrilled to do it for a 29-year old son who refused to leave home, but I would do it.

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I know that my love for ironing is a little odd. It’s just that I find the process to be soul soothing. It gives me instant gratification. I love the sound of a good surge of steam over an ample ironing board that is positioned in good, natural light. More than that, l love ironing for the fact that it helped me get out of debt. I’m not kidding.

Years ago when I came to terms with the fact that I have a serious shopping problem, I sat down one day to analyze it. I figured out that I just love the emotional sensation of buying stuff. And being able to get the feeling even though I didn’t have any money (buying stuff on credit made me feel like I had money) was a kind of emotional high that defied description. I loved the feeling and I wanted to repeat it as often as possible.

I’m no therapist, but I figured that if I could find something less damaging that would produce a feeling at least equal to my shopping rush—and was easily accessible on a moment’s notice—maybe I could use it to modify my behavior.  I knew in a heartbeat what that activity would be. Ironing.

Giving myself permission to iron whenever I got a sudden urge to respond to an infomercial or head for the mall (this was somewhat prior to the advent of online shopping) was like giving a kid the key to a candy store. And you wonder why I didn’t tell a soul about this for so many years? Because I feared they would think I’m nuts the way you’re thinking right now.

My secret plan worked. And better than I could have ever imagined. I didn’t realize how quickly my urge to spend would vanish once I could successfully distract myself.

Over the years my ironing has taken on a more serious tone. I have possibly the world’s finest home ironing system for which I make no apologies. It was pricey, granted. But compared to multiple sessions with a therapist, untold thousands in credit-card debt or the heartbreak of divorce, my venerable and rather noisy IronMaven has turned out to be quite a  bargain.

The fringe benefits are myriad. I have all but eliminated dry cleaning bills from my life. I realized that I can hand wash just about anything that would normally be dry cleaned. What I was paying for in the past was the professional press. I can do that myself now and I get to enjoy doing it, too. My husband’s clothes, even his jeans, are always freshly ironed. Guests in my home sleep on fine, ironed linens.

There are some who might believe I’ve just traded one obsession for another. Could be. But I’m happy with the results.

And I never fear being held hostage for lack of a good iron.

(While my old IronMaven is no longer available, in a recent column I responded to a reader asking for the best inexpensive steam iron out there. I responded with three options—best inexpensive, best of the best and best steam station in “Three Best Steam Irons,” together with my brief reviews and best prices.)

For Every Problem, WD-40

It’s not new. The blue and yellow can is about as familiar as anything I remember from my childhood. Banished to a shelf in the garage, I assumed WD-40® was for cars. Boy, was I wrong! WD-40 is amazing. And cheap. A 12-oz. is about  five bucks purchased online or at Home Depot and discount stores like Walmart and Target.

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Here’s the WD-40 rule: Use it, then remove it. Always. WD-40 must be wiped off, washed out and or rinsed away, as appropriate. Some say that a buildup of WD-40 can cause its own sticky mess over time.

WD-40 is a petroleum-based product (so is Vaseline). While the aerosol propellant is flammable, the product itself is, according to the manufacturer, harmless to humans. WD-40 gets things unstuck and a lot more. I know. I go through this stuff like it’s water.

If it’s melted …

Have you ever opened the dryer to find a red crayon has ruined the entire load? The folks at Crayola offer this remedy for fresh heat-set crayon stains.

1. Place the stained surface down on a pad of paper towels.
2. Spray with WD-40, let stand a few minutes, turn fabric over and spray the other side.
3. Apply liquid dishwashing detergent and work into the stained area, replacing toweling as it absorbs the stain.
4. Wash in hot water with laundry detergent and Clorox 2 or Biz for about 12 minutes (use “Heavy Soiled” setting if there is no minute timer on your machine) and rinse in warm water.
5. Be sure to clean the drum of your dryer to remove any remaining wax residue. Spray a soft cloth with WD-40, and wipe the drum well. Run a load of dry rags through a full dry cycle.

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.

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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

Three Best Steam Irons

I just asked Siri*, “How do most people relax?” She rattled off a list of activities including, “nosh on chocolate,” “rub your feet over a golf ball,” “count backward,” “meditate” and “drip cold water on your wrists.”

Siri completely missed my favorite way to relax. I iron (not to be confused with “I pump iron,” which I do not). No really. There’s something soothing and instantly gratifying about a good iron with a heft of heat and steam gliding back and forth over wrinkled fabric.

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That’s why I was excited to get this message from Martha, “I find myself in need of a new iron. I’ve perused the Internet trying to find the best steam iron for the best price and all I got was terribly confused! Any suggestions?”