Caught Between Aging Parents and Adult Children

Every day I drive by a beautiful new assisted living complex under construction close to where I live. As beautiful as this place is, it’s become a daily reminder to me for how difficult it can be to talk to aging parents about their health and future needs.

If you’re 40 or older, you’re part of the “Sandwich Generation,” and likely to fall into one of these categories:

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TRADITIONAL SANDWICH. Those being squeezed between the needs of aging parents, relatives or friends while also supporting and meeting the demands of their own children, spouses and careers.

CLUB SANDWICH. Those in their 50s or 60s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren, or those in their 30s and 40s with young children, aging parents and grandparents.

OPEN FACE SANDWICH. Anyone else involved in elder care.

DOUBLE STUFF SANDWICH. Those whose adult, post-college kids return home to live with their parents for lack of unemployment, direction and or money. Also known as the “boomerangs.”

Unclog a Drain Yourself Without Chemicals

A plugged up sink, shower or tub drain sends most people running for either a bottle of caustic drain cleaner, or a plumber’s phone number. But wait. This could well be a job you can do yourself without chemicals or a big bill.

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Assess the situation. Turn on taps to allow water down other drains in the house. If everything else is flowing freely, you can be fairly certain you have a localized clog—and probably near that clogged drain’s opening. If this is involving other drains, you could have a bigger problem that may well require a professional. Assuming it’s only the one drain, let’s move on.

Boiling water. Get a large pot and boil up as much water as it will hold. Now carefully pour boiling water down the drain slowly, in two to three stages so that the hot water can work for a few minutes in between each pour. This is the easiest and quickest way to unclog a drain if it works, which usually it does with a satisfying swoosh.

Reach in. Remove the strainer that is part of the drain plug, then reach into the drain with your fingers (latex gloves would be a good idea here) and pull out any solids. As gross as this might be, it is often all that’s needed to clear a slow-moving or clogged drain.

The Joy of Laundry

Start with one of the principles of living beneath your means: Take care of what you have. Next, add one of the most effective ways to reduce stress: Find an activity that gives you a sense of personal satisfaction. And what do you have? Laundry! No seriously.

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I’m one of those people who loves to do laundry. From the challenge of getting a stain out to the smell of clean when the clothes come out of the washer, to pulling warm sheets and towels from the dryer—all of it appeals to my enjoyment of instant gratification. I love the entire process. Even like the folding part.

Help! I’m Too Tired to Cook

Yesterday I got a letter that took my mind back to the years when our boys were small and I was too busy, too tired and too stressed to cook.

Dear Mary: I know where the money is leaking out of our household: Fast food. We are expecting our fourth child and I am so bushed at the end of the day, we get take-out 2-3 times a week. What can I do? It gets to be dinnertime and out comes the phone book. It’s all I can do to just get through the day. Carly

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Dear Carly: The last thing you need is for someone to tell you to get a grip and plan ahead. So I won’t. Instead I’m going to tell you what worked for me when I was in somewhat your situation (two boys only 17 months apart) and a few things I’ve learned since.

Five-menu rotation. Come up with five simple menus you know your family will eat, one for each night of the week. These don’t have to be gourmet or anything fancy at all. Example: Monday: Spaghetti, salad and bread. Tuesday: Meatloaf, baked potatoes, green beans and so on. Ask your husband to handle one weekend dinner and give it a name like Daddy’s Delicious Dinner or let the kids give it a title. That leaves one Family Fun Night or some other reason to order in pizza. Post your weekly menu on the refrigerator. Now everyone knows what to expect, including you. This will simplify your grocery shopping, too. As the children get older and you get more courageous you can expand your repertoire, but for now stick to the five-menu rotation.

It’s Best Not to Mess with the IRS

Today I thought I’d reach into my bulging mailbag to respond to a few of your questions. I love to get mail from you, my lovely readers. Even though I cannot personally respond to every message, I read them all. Keep them coming.

Dear Mary: For the first time in my life, rather than getting a tax refund, I owe the IRS. I’m talking about a lot of money, too.

Should I use my savings to pay my taxes, or is there a way to make payments that will not be overly taxing? I’ve been planning to use that money to pay off my high-interest credit cards. Phyllis

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Dear Phyllis: While the IRS purports to set up payment plans in certain situations, I would not advise that you go that way if there is any way you can avoid it. The interest rates are high, and in my opinion, not reliable.

I’ve seen numerous cases where a payment plan was set up and going along fine when out of the blue, the IRS slaps a lien on the taxpayer without rhyme, reason or explanation. You can have a plan all worked out, and BAM! without notice they can just change it. I’ve concluded that the last person on earth you want to owe money to is Uncle Sam.

My advice is that your taxes should take top priority. If you believe you are in a position to handle monthly payments to the IRS, great. Begin making those payments to yourself instead to restore your savings account once you have paid your debt to the IRS. Once you have your savings built up, then you need to aggressively attack that killer credit-card debt.

Dear Mary: How can I get the hard water marks off my glass shower doors? I’ve tried vinegar and that helped some, but the marks remain. Thanks! Julie

Dear Julie: There’s a slight chance the glass has become permanently “etched” over time by minerals in the water, but I’d give it one last try using the mother of all hard water mark removers: oven cleaner. I’m not kidding. I’d go with something like Easy-Off Professional Fume Free because you don’t want to introduce fumes into an open area of your home if you can help it. Be sure to put on rubber gloves and then apply with a sponge. Leave it overnight and rinse in the morning. Expect magic! That’s how well oven cleaner works on shower doors.

One Big Handy Coaster

I have a can of lacquer thinner that I keep handy for one purpose: To clean up any kind of paint spills on carpet, tile or clothes*. It works well, but it is a pain, to tell you the truth. And now it dawns on me. Why not do something clever to prevent the spills in the first place? Yeah, I like that a lot better.

PAINT CAN COASTER. When I am doing a painting job, I always glue a paper plate to the bottom of the paint can before I open it. That way I can pick up the can whenever I need to move it and I know that the paper plate will catch all the drips and spills. Sam

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DE-SALT THE SAUCE. If you find that your tomato sauce or soup is too salty, just add a little brown sugar. It will neutralize some of the salty taste. Janet

NO-STICK BEATERS. Before you use your electric mixer, spray the beaters with some non-stick cooking spray. It will keep the batter or frosting from clinging to the beaters and clogging them up. Sarah

FREEZING BREAD. Whenever I freeze bread or bagels, I always add a dry paper towel to the inside of the storage bag before slipping it in a freezer. The paper towel soaks up the extra moisture and the bread stays fresher longer once defrosted. Carolyn

SOFTEN HANDS. Here’s a fast and easy way to soften hands: Squirt 2 tablespoons inexpensive lotion into your hands. Add a generous tablespoon of sugar, and rub the concoction all over your hands. The sugar exfoliates your hands and the lotion softens them. Rinse with warm water, wash the solution off, and apply a fresh coat of lotion. Soft, smooth hands for pennies! Brooke

Think Cost Per Serving, Not Price Per Pound

Pop quiz: Which is the better buy: Pork sirloin roast for $2.89 per pound or boneless pork chops at $3.79 per pound? If you answered the roast, you’re in good company (most of us did), but you are wrong. Price-per-pound can be misleading because all cuts of meat and poultry will not yield the same number of servings per pound.

You can feed twice as many people from boneless pork chops as from pork sirloin roast because the boneless chops have about four servings per pound, compared to two servings per pound for pork sirloin roast. What you pay for the edible portion is the important factor.

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If you want to reduce your food costs and at the same time raise your grocery shopping intelligence, start thinking cost-per-serving rather than price-per-pound.

If you could use some help figuring out how much meat to buy, cost per serving and servings per pound from all types of meat cuts, go to the University of Nebraska’s Cooperative Extension. They’ve done all the math and created simple charts you can print to take with you to the supermarket. For example, a whole chicken yields 2 – 2 1/2 servings per pound, while you can count on 3 1/2 to 4 servings from one pound of boneless chicken breasts.

Reader Jacquelyn L., North Carolina, has taken the price-per serving idea further. “I’ve tried clipping coupons religiously and planning meals, but when time runs short these methods fail me.” She says she needed a new method; something that didn’t require organization skills she doesn’t possess. She now uses the one-dollar-per-person-per-meal method. The goal is to feed her family for under one dollar per person per meal.

Of Meatloaf and “Homade” Chili Sauce

My sweet mother-in-law loved chili sauce. But not any ol’ version. It had to be Homade Chili Sauce,  which for the longest time I thought was her personal spelling of “homemade.”  But she was right. Homade Chili Sauce it is.

She’d put it on almost everything, which surprised me. I’d always thought chili anything meant spicy hot. Her chili sauce was not that way at all. In fact, I’ve come to love it, too. It is slightly sweet, perfectly spiced and yummy delicious.

Photo Credit: Ravenousfig

Photo Credit: Ravenousfig

When Gwen couldn’t bring herself to buy as much Homade Chili Sauce as she wanted (by the case) because it could be pricey if not on sale, she set out to make it herself. After many attempts, she nailed it.

From then on it become properly spelled, “homemade” chili sauce,  and stored in the refrigerator in any size container available—even in a few of those cute chubby jars the real stuff comes in.

My mind flooded with memories of my mother-in-law one day recently when I heard from reader, Janie S., Florida. She was kind enough to send us her family’s favorite meatloaf recipe, which to my amazement lists “Grandma’s chili sauce” in the ingredients, along with a note that “homemade from Ball Blue Book Recipes using garden tomatoes also works.”