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.

Frozen Summer Treats are Cool

In these sizzling days of summer it’s tempting to load up the freezer with pricey frozen treats. Or to duck into a coffee shop or juice bar to grab one of those decadent blended coffee chillers or a fruit smoothie. But the big price tags can make even the creamiest concoction or slushiest treat hard to swallow.


Giving up favorite cold treats isn’t your only option. Make these yourself and you have great summertime treats at home for just pennies, not dollars.

Banana Berry Freeze

  • 2 cups ice
  • 1 ripe banana, peeled
  • 3/4 cup strawberry daiquiri mix
  • 1/4 cup Pina Colada mix
  • whipped cream

Place all of the ingredients, except the whipped cream, in a blender and process on high speed for 10-15 seconds until smooth. Pour into two wine glasses and garnish with whipped cream. Yield: 2 servings

Clone of Wendy’s Frosty

  • 1 cup milk (low fat okay)
  • 1/2 cup Nestle’s Quik powdered mix
  • 3 cups vanilla ice cream

Allow ice cream to soften in refrigerator for 1 hour. Mix all ingredients in blender. Yield: 4 servings

How to Double the Life of Cut Flowers

Whether the flowers are from your garden, the market or you receive them as a gift, you can persuade cut flowers to remain beautiful for at least a week—maybe two or even longer, if you are careful to follow a few fabulous flower secrets. 

photo credit: calliope

photo credit: calliope

The two enemies of cut flowers are bacteria and drought. Defeat both and your flowers will last and last. You will be amazed! The two enemies of cut flowers are bacteria and drought. 

START WITH A CLEAN VASE. Scrub it with soap and hot water, rinse well and fill with tap water. Next, add 1/4 teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach for each quart of water. This will retard the growth of bacteria and fungus in the water but not harm the flowers.

REMOVE ANY LEAVES BELOW THE WATER LINE.  Submerged leaves will rot and promote bacteria and algae growth in the water.  

CONDITION THE STEMS. Flowers can die of thirst even when standing in water if the stems have not been conditioned to draw that water all the way to the blooms. That’s because when cut, a flower stem quickly seals its “wound.” That can prevent it from drawing water. Just before plunging the stems into the vase of water cut stems at a 45-degree angle to allow for the greatest amount of water to be absorbed.

Of Samples, Spills and Substitutes

Whether it’s making sure a mailing label remains legible all the way to its destination or packing light for vacation, my readers have the best ideas, tips and tricks. Here’s a small sampling from my mail that is sure to both educate and amuse!


photo credit:

JUST LIKE GRILLED. If you want the same taste as grilled corn on the cob but don’t have a grill or the time, place one corn cob (do not shuck prior to cooking) in the microwave on high for exactly 3 minutes. Use a potholder to remove the corn from the microwave and while cutting through the entire cob and shucks at the bottom of the corn. The corn will slip easily right out of the shucks and it will taste just like grilled corn. Hmmm…good! Suzy

WATERPROOF LABEL. When mailing packages, I rub a candle across the mailing label to make it waterproof. There’s nothing worse than a package not arriving because the address label met up with a rainstorm en route. Macy

LOAD UP ON SAMPLES. All through the year I obtain samples from various websites or phone apps like,, and and, then save them for vacation. Taking samples size containers of shampoo and other personal care products reduces the volume of stuff in our suitcases and leaves nothing to haul home. Carla

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:

A Startling Red-Hot Alert Made My Day

Some days I sit down to write this column and the words pour from my mind through my fingers and onto the keyboard. Other times, like right now, all systems go blank—one big expansive, frustrating void.

Just as I was about to run outdoors and bang my head on my new stone wall, I got that little ding letting me know I had mail—this time from Nancy.


Dear Mary: I’m interested in signing up for LifeLock. Do you feel it would be better to take the LifeLock Ultimate Plus (the most expensive) or the LifeLock Advantage plan and why? Thank you for your help. Nancy

That’s when I remembered that I wanted to tell you what happened to me a few days ago. (Oh, this is so good!)

Due to the fact that we have just recently relocated from big city life in Southern California to laid back country life in Northern Colorado (we do have a stone wall), my husband and I needed to open a bank account in our new village (not a city or a town … we live in a village!).

The bank employee handed us a keypad and asked us to input our Social Security numbers into the bank’s system. That’s it. Nothing else. In about two seconds flat, she had on her computer screen all of our personal information including banking history, all previous addresses and phone numbers for the past 40 years. That was a sad confirmation for me that personal privacy has become a thing of the past. To tell you the truth, it was creepy.