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Look What I Got For Christmas!

I love gadgets and apparently I’ve not kept that a secret from my friends and family. I’m still excited about these five new gadgets I got for Christmas—each one amazing and fun to use.

THE KNIT KIT. What a cool little gadget. It contains the nine essential knitting tools every knitter needs to have handy at all times—all of them excellent quality and cleverly tucked into this handy gadget. No more having to dig and search for a stitch counter, tape measure, crochet hook, yarn/thread cutter, stitch markers, point protectors, darning needle, needle gauge and collapsible scissors. All nine essentials are in there and part of The Knit Kit. What a brilliant and clever gadget. I love it so much I just can’t stop knitting. About $30.

Tap Water: Good for Your Health and Your Wealth

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but sometime over the past decade or so, the general population of this country formed a belief that bottled water is better than tap water—safer and healthier, too.

It’s possible that the trend started in 1976 when the chic French sparkling water, Perrier, was introduced to the world. There it was elegantly bottled in its emerald green glass in an era of glitz and excess. Who could resist? What could be more blatant than to package, sell and consume what most of us in the western world consider a basic human right easily supplied through the convenience of a home faucet?

It is pretty ingenious how the bottled water industry has convinced millions of people to pay between 240 and 10,000 times more to purchase water in a bottle than to get it from the supply we’re already paying for that comes out of the taps in our homes!

TAP WATER IS CHEAPER

These days a 16-ounce bottle of “spring” water goes for about a dollar, which works out to about $8.00 a gallon—twice the cost of milk, and about par with bottled soft drinks. Home delivery of water in those great big, heavy bottles is less per gallon but still around $40 a month, according to online averages.

The Clean Hands Effect

Knowing that we’re heading into the cold and flu season, I picked up a recent issue of the University of California Berkeley Wellness Letter to get up to speed on how we can prevent illness in our homes and offices this winter. In that issue a reader asked, “What’s the single most important way to prevent illness?”

The answer: Wash your hands often— before eating; before and after handling food, particularly raw meat or fish;  before putting on contact lenses or treating a wound; after using the toilet; after sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose (particularly when you have a cold); after changing a diaper; after playing with a pet or cleaning a litter box; and after gardening or any other task that leaves the hands grimy.

Germs are everywhere. In fact the Berkeley people refer to them as “resident flora.” And nowhere are harmful germs passed around faster than in a school classroom. I picked that up from Miss Dare, one of my elementary school teachers. Nowadays, I’m sure we’d call her a clean freak, but then we thought of her as a walking bar of Lifebuoy soap. Remember that?

I Just Booked Cheap Travel—Again!

The last time I wrote about how I book cheap travel, the response was huge! And some of those messages were from skeptical readers who were pretty sure I couldn’t do that on a regular basis. I’m excited to let you know I just did … again!

I’m on my way out the door, this time headed for California. What could have been a very expensive trip is going to be so cheap, even I am amazed.

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This is a last minute trip so I have not had the benefit of being able to book well in advance. In fact, I’ve had only five days advance notice of this trip.

FLIGHT: My first choice in air travel is now Southwest (SWA). I try to keep all of my flights with the same airline to build up my frequent flier miles. Usually that works pretty well. I’ve found that in most cases, SWA is very competitive. The cheapest roundtrip fare for flights that fit my schedule for this trip—a whopping $742. Gulp!  Granted I don’t have the luxury of booking 21 days in advance, but still that number made me wonder if I’d made a mistake. But no, that really is SWA’s best price. I put the reservation on “hold” to give myself time to shop around. Most airlines will do this for 24 hours.

Would You Rather … ?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about (what else?) debt. It’s not the most joyous thing to have on one’s mind, but that’s what I do. I eat, think, write, breath and even sleep the subject of debt.

And yes, I have been in horrible, worse that debilitating debt where you feel like your creditor owns your soul and you are locked in the steel trap. I know what it’s like, and by God’s grace I am no longer there.

The best maintenance program for me is right here―in the work that I do (that eating thinking breathing sleeping thing I just mentioned). Maybe it’s like being a Weight Watcher lecturer. The work you do keeps you on track because your mind is always engaged in the subject matter, and you know everyone is watching.

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It’s been a few years since I asked you simply, “If all you had to do to be debt-free was to stay away from your family and friends for one year, would you do it?” It was a simple question, but boy did it bring on some heated responses, especially from our DPL Facebook fans.

How I Curb the Urge to Quit

I wouldn’t tell just anyone what I’m about to tell you—and only because we’re like family. At least several times a week I want to quit. Seriously. The thought crosses my mind, and not when things are going great. It’s when I face a challenge: a tough writing assignment, a book deadline, an early morning interview or snarky message in my inbox.

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The temptation to quit is a recurring theme. And if the voices in my head don’t give me enough trouble, the voices in the culture finish the job. “Quit already! There are so many others with younger, fresher voices better able to reach the younger generation. You deserve a break! Take it easy on yourself, go and enjoy your life.”

This is nothing new. I’ve been dealing with the urge to quit for a long time. I can anticipate its arrival. And because of that, I’ve learned ways to deal with it before it drives me to the brink of resignation.

Mary’s Fun Friday: Pumpkin Spice Lattes and More

I was one of the lucky kids at Lowell Elementary School in Boise, Ida. Not only did my 3rd grade class get the best classroom with big beautiful windows just perfect for daydreaming—we got the new teacher, too.

Miss Jones wasn’t old like all the other teachers. She had shiny blond hair, wore beautiful clothes and makeup. (And, I noticed decades later, bore a striking resemblance to Marilyn Monroe.)

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On the first day of school, Miss Jones let us in on the most wonderful secret that would go on to make it the best year of my life. On Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays we would work very hard on all the things that 3rd graders work on. But on Fridays, things would be different. In Miss Jones’ class every Friday was Fun Friday—no work, all fun.

What a clever teacher. Of course we had school work on Fridays, but she made everything fun. Reading turned into a game. She made arithmetic so much fun! She’d wear cute shoes and play with us at recess on Fun Friday.

Foods in Which We Find Comfort … Ahhhh!

I was shocked out of my mind when I learned the origin of two of my all-time favorite comfort foods—rice pudding and bread pudding. Can you believe it, both were born out of, well—let’s just be straight up about it—poverty.

It was during the Great Depression that clever cooks who preferred to feed their families than let them starve, came up with the idea of making a special treat from the lowliest of ingredients—leftover rice and dry, stale bread. How clever.

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But even more amazing to me, both have become respectable—even gourmet—food items. Take the White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Orange Cognac Sauce at Ruth’s Chris Steak House or Rice Pudding with Caramel Sauce at L’Ami Jean in Paris. Oh my, both are to die for. Certainly not offerings that comes from anything close to poverty but inspiration to make gourmet versions of both—at home!