The Other Gift-Giving Season

Most of us think of December as the big gift-giving season of the year. But there is another and it is right now. Don’t believe me? Check your mailbox.

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Undoubtedly, you’ll see graduation announcements, invitations to baby showers, bridal showers and loads of wedding invitations, too. Add to that Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Easter and you’ll know why spring has become the other gift-giving season. Ka-ching!

It’s time to get creative. I’ll bet you’re not at all surprised to know that I have a few ideas to get you going.

HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGE GRADS

Laundry kit: a mesh laundry bag, detergent, dryer sheets, lots of quarters and directions on “How to Do Laundry.”

Mug with instant coffee, hot chocolate, tea and cookies.

Paper money. Get creative with the presentation. Google origami money for instructions on how to fold bills into creative shapes.

Container of coins good for laundry, vending machines or coffee.

The Story of Soilove

For years I thought I was the only person who knew about  something called Soilove.

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I first discovered it back in 1982 while searching for a laundry stain product that could beat the outrageously high price of the name brands. They were easy to spot because they were always shelved at eye-level.

When I reached to the top shelf and found a lowly mint-green bottle of an off-brand stain treatment called Soilove (pronounced “soil-love”), I was suspicious that anything so cheap could be any good. Still, I decided to give it a try.

Believe me, I love to find a bargain. But when the bargain brand outperforms its pricey competitors? Well, that really revs my engine.

Soilove is such an amazing product. It removes stains from laundry like you can’t believe. I’ve used Soilove it to get out new stains, old stains, red stains, grass stains, baby stains, food stains, blood stains, makeup stains, pet stains and every other kind of stain imaginable—except for yellow mustard. Not even Soilove can handle a yellow mustard stain.

Back then (we’re talking 33 years, here), I paid $.79 for a 16-oz bottle of Soilove. By some kind of cheapskate miracle, today a 16-oz bottle of Soilove retails for just $.99 provided you know where to look. 

Keep Produce Fresh Weeks Longer

Fews things are as discouraging as opening that refrigerator drawer only to see the produce you just bought (seems like yesterday) has gone bad. Oh, I hate when that happens.

Shouldn’t there be a reasonable way to make fresh greens, vegetables and fruits last at least as long as it takes to reasonably use them up? Apparently there is, and today’s first great reader tip shares the secret!

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PRODUCE LONGEVITY. I wanted to comment on the rusty lettuce. Just in case you weren’t aware of this magic product, called Bluapple. It’s the best thing since lettuce. You place this little device, that looks like a blue apple, into your produce drawer in the refrigerator to absorb ethylene gas—the culprit that causes produce to ripen and get rotten so fast.

I have been using Bluapple in my refrigerator for years now, and have saved so much money. In fact, I went to Europe for 10 days, came back and my lettuce AND spinach were still fresh!  Not kidding. 

 I used to buy the refills in the local market but now get them online at Amazon because the store stopped carrying them. You replace the absorber every 3 months, but it is so worth it. Kathy, Minnesota

LEFTOVERS GOTTA GO. I enjoy your cheapskate information! In our family, we call leftovers “Mustgoes” as in, food that must go. Konnie B., email

From Chuck Roast to “Prime Rib” in Three Hours Flat

Shortly after this column posted on the specific steps to roast a cheap cut of beef so that it turns out like prime rib, I got an email from faithful reader, Mary B. We went back and forth a bit as she prepared this for guests. I thought you would enjoy the feedback.

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But first, here’s a quick refresher on how to do that:

1. Make sure you have a good oven proof meat thermometer and an oven thermometer. Exact temperatures are the secret.

2. Tie the roast with white cotton string so it’s compact and evenly shaped.

3. Place inside a roasting pan, uncovered.

4. Insert meat thermometer into the thickest part of the roast.

5. Preheat oven to exactly 250 F using an oven thermometer, not relying on the one that is built into the oven. This is critical.

6. Leave roast in oven until its internal temperature is exactly 130 F.

7. Remove from oven, wrap it in foil and allow meat to rest for exactly 20 minutes.

Garage-Sale Proof the Gifts You Give

Recently, lots of families in my new neighborhood got together to host a colossal Neighborhood Garage Sale.

I didn’t participate as a seller but did my share of browsing.

photo credit: johnbeagle

photo credit: johnbeagle

Of course I was hoping to come across a couple of Longaberger baskets for a buck. Or a lamp with Tiffany written all over it, but in that secret place only we Antiques Road Show groupies know about.

That didn’t happen.

While I didn’t carry anything back to my house, I did pick up something quite valuable: A healthy dose of reality. Gift reality.

Most of what people were trying to unload that day were not antiques. There were a few pieces of furniture; I didn’t see a single collectible. Table after table, what I saw were gifts. Not new gifts, but discarded gifts. Very recognizable items once displayed on the pages of well-designed catalogs; items that were artfully arranged in department store cases. But they don’t look the same once opened and then left to languish in the hot sun on someone’s driveway.

14 Mother’s Day Gifts to Fit Every Budget

Since Mother’s Day is only a couple of weeks away, and since I’m a mom and many of you are moms, and since just about everyone has a mom or mom figure in their lives—it’s hard not to conclude that Mother’s Day is something worth celebrating.

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Which brings me to Mother’s Day gifts. I know this can be intensely personal and emotion-packed. So let’s do this: If you are just not into Mother’s Day gifting or even celebrating, consider what follows to be “Mary’s Favorite Things.”

Truth be told, I’ve had a lot of fun coming up with this  list of great gifts I’d be thrilled to receive—for Mother’s Day or any other day, for that matter.

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1. Rough Day Wine Glass. This beautifully etched wine glass will bring out the sense of humor in mom. What a cool gift. Make it even more special by pairing it with a bottle of her favorite wine.

2. Coffee Mug with Important Message. She already knows it, but why not remind her every day from here on, what a great thing she did when she had you.

3. Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 Instant Film Camera. Sure, digital phone cameras are hip and cool, but show me a mom who wouldn’t love to snap a picture and  instantly have that photo in her hand—on photo stock paper. Look at this new version of a “Polaroid-like” camera from yesteryear. This little sweet pea will easily fit in her hand, comes in a variety of pastel colors and is just cooler than cool. Don’t forget she’ll need extra film to go with it. Yes, film like from the olden days.

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4. Shark Navigator Pro. I just read some lame rule for Mother’s Day gifting: Never give your Mother a vacuum cleaner for Mother’s Day. What?! How many ways can I disagree wit,h that? I already have a Shark, but I’d die for an even better one like this particular awesome model. And yes for Mother’s Day! I’m pretty sure your mom will agree.

Six Secrets for the Perfect DIY Manicure

I wish I had all of the money I’ve spent over the years on manicures—both professional and do-it-myself. I’d have quite a tidy sum and still be stuck with these horrible nails and even worse cuticles.

Thankfully, after untold trials and errors, I’ve come up with a six part manicure routine that has turned my nail life around—and keeps me out of the pricey nail salon.

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By way of a little history, over the years I’ve done the acrylic thing (don’t even get me started on what years of that did to my natural nails). I’ve endured wraps, gels, hot oil and superglue.

My cuticles have been snipped, nipped, ripped and clipped. I’ve purchased expensive lotions, potions and nail notions but to no avail. Nothing has ever worked long term.

I’d just about given up completely on finding a reasonable and workable solution for my nails when finally, I put together a routine with specific products that has given my nails a brand new life. I’ve been testing this for about six months now and can report without hesitation: This is it—the best do-it-yourself manicure and nail care program for dry, cracked, horrible cuticles and jagged, splitting, peeling nails.

10 Easy Ways to Save Fuel

To save a gallon of gas, you need to cut about 22 miles of driving from your week. Here are 10 easy ways to do that:

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Hop on the bus, Gus. Even if you think this is not an option for you, check out PublicTransportation.org. You may be surprised by all the options that you have never considered. Or carpool. Leaving the car at home and sharing your commute occasionally can help you reach your gallon-goal quickly. Sharing the ride—and expense—with another person regularly can cut your gas costs in half. Check out your carpooling opportunities at eRideShare.com.

Take it easy. The faster you drive, the more gas you use. If your average commute includes 20 miles of highway time and you drive it at 60 mph instead of 70 mph, it will take you only three minutes longer to get there, and you’ll save approximately 1.3 gallons of gas in a five-day work week.

Trip-chain. Need to pick up a prescription, mail a package and go to the bank? Instead of spreading these tasks out over a few trips, chain them together by doing all of them at one time. Park in a central spot and walk from place to place.