Gadgets to Keep You Powered Up

It’s hard to imagine how we’d live our lives without all of the electronic devices we’ve come to depend upon. I’m talking about everything from mobile phones to portable computers, tablets, MP3 players, fitness and GPS trackers; eReaders, too.

It’s not just an adult thing. My young grandsons have their own bevy of electronics that need to be powered including  LeapFrog LeapPad, LeapFrog LeapBand, and Kindle Fire Kids Edition (amazing learning devices, by the way).


The challenge is more than staying powered while on the run. The trick is to keep electronic devices fully charged and ready to go. The more people in the household, the greater the challenge and greater potential for a big fat mess.

The best way to make sure you’re always powered up and ready to go it to make charging convenient. Not necessarily expensive, but well-thought-out.

Today, I thought I’d give you a quick tour of the charging tools I depend on and wouldn’t want to be without.


With ATM Receipts and Legal Guardians, Leave Nothing to Chance

Face it, life is uncertain. We cannot know the future, but that doesn’t mean we should just throw caution to the wind and let come what may. There are some areas of life where we can take steps to reduce certain risks by exercising good common sense.

Dear Mary: This has been bugging me: At my bank’s ATM, there is a big trashcan where everyone throws away their receipt/transaction slips. It seems like a bad idea to toss them away since they show the balance and transaction info. But being cautious means I end up with an overstuffed, cluttered wallet. Do I need to save them, and what’s the best way to get rid of them? Rob


Good Intentions or Intentional Living?

Several years ago, I had the outstanding opportunity to be one of the speakers at the Willow Creek Association Leadership Summit. I wasn’t nervous until I realized I’d be sharing that stage with world-class motivational speakers including Bill Hybels, John Ortberg and John Maxwell.

The entire conference marked a highpoint in my career, but it’s the kindness, authentic appreciation and personal encouragement of John Maxwell that I will never forget.

I left that conference far better than I’d arrived, having been truly motivated and inspired by all of the speakers, but mostly by the simple wisdom of John Maxwell. What an amazing communicator!

You can imagine how happy I was to learn that our book reviewer, Jeff Tompkins, chose John Maxwell’s latest book for this month’s review.


Book Review: Intentional Living by John C. Maxwell

Reviewer: Jeff Tompkins, Jr.

Welcome to 2017 my fellow readers! I hope this finds you having enjoyed your holiday, and ready to tackle a new year. Following my review of Smarter Faster Better last month, which focused on simple ways to up our game in terms of productivity, I found that Intentional Living by John Maxwell provides the perfect complement to helping us start the year off right.

If you haven’t heard of John Maxwell, he is a prolific leadership and management guru (writer and speaker) who started as a pastor and has now written over 50 books on leadership, worked with over 80 nations on leadership skills, and helps Fortune 500 companies with their leadership and management needs (including groups like the NFL, West Point and the CDC).  In 2014, Inc. Magazine named him the number one leadership and management expert. Needless to say, Maxwell knows what he is talking about when he wades into a topic like living intentionally.

Intentional Living focuses on the difference between simply living with good intentions (defined as the desire to do something; wishful thinking, thinking “someday”, living passively or in fantasy) as opposed to intentional living (defined as taking action, living with purpose, thinking “today”, strategizing, and applying discipline to our daily lives). While Duhigg’s book last month gave us the tools to be more productive, in Intentional Living Maxwell gives us more of the how—how do we use those tools intentionally to get the most out of our lives?

In Intentional Living Maxwell tells a good bit of his own story; where he started, how he got to where he is, and the triumphs and pitfalls along the way. This style resonates with me, as I am a big believer in the fact that stories are how we relate to one another. One of the most effective ways in which we learn and remember things.


Good Reasons to Pay Off Your Mortgage

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that the website featured in yesterday’s post,, while a free site that links to a lot of very useful information, is riddled with ads. These ads, which make it appear that you must pay a fee to perform a search, are cleverly embedded into the site so as to make them not appear as ads. Very deceitful. As I used and tested this site, I’ve had my ad-blocker enabled, which means I never saw the ads. They are blocked for me. ADVICE: There is a simple way you can use this site without paying or even giving your email address. Make sure you have installed an ad-blocker before attempting to use Rest assured that the site itself remains very useful and is completely FREE. If you see something else you do not have an active ad-blocker; you’re being manipulated. I use AdBlockPlus, which is free. There are others, so make sure you find one that is compatible with whichever web browser you are using. -mh

Mortgage-burning parties, like the Pony Express and covered wagons, are from a bygone era.

There was a time when mortgage-burning parties were common. It was like putting the cherry on top of the American Dream. And this burning thing was not figurative.

Once that last house payment was made, the mortgage company would send the Mortgage Agreement to the borrower stamped, “Paid in Full.” This would be such a cause for celebration, the new homeowners would invite everyone over to watch them set the document on fire, all the while cheering while it went up in smoke.

Things have changed, especially in recent years as mortgage rates have dropped so low. There are some financial advisors who actually advise their clients to not pay off their mortgages, and invest the money instead to build greater wealth. Of course, this action provides a healthy income for the advisor who collects commissions when a client takes that advice.

You may be tempted to follow that advice, refinancing and stringing out your mortgage for as long as possible—even well into your retirement years—while you try to eke out a higher return on your investments. 


From Credit Counseling to Contaminated Mascara—Readers Want to Know

There are so many things I love about my job, and right at the top is that my readers trust me to help them with everything from figuring out if they could benefit from getting professional help with their debt situation to figuring out when to toss the mascara.

Dear Mary: I am out of money—and I mean not a dime left after I pay bills. I have been considering credit counseling to get some breathing room. My credit is shot and I’m feeling desperate. By enrolling in credit counseling, at least the creditors would get regular payments and checks that don’t bounce. Am I wrong to consider this kind of help? Sandy


Fire Extinguisher Safety Zone, Super Useful Website and Handy Vacuum Tool, Too (with UPDATE!)

What do fire extinguishers, hard-to-find phone numbers and handy dandy cleaning tools have in common? Nothing other than the subject lines of three messages that recently washed up in my email box!

Dear Mary: Your recent column on fire extinguishers and the P.A.S.S. system got me thinking about my home fire extinguisher. Like yours, mine has been there so long it’s blending in with the decor and that prompted my question: Do fire extinguishers expire? How can I know it is still good? When should I replace? Janine

Dear Janine: Fire extinguishers do not have an infinite lifespan. They will expire. The typical portable extinguisher that has not been opened remains in good condition between 5 to 15 years. But you don’t have to guess or wonder if it’s fully charged and ready to go. Look for the pressure gauge on the extinguisher itself. Check to make sure the needle on the gauge is in the green zone. That indicates that it is still good. Once that needle moves into the red zone it should be replaced or recharged. (Small extinguishers for home use are often “single-use” products and cannot be recharged.)


Best Inexpensive Small Kitchen Appliances

Recently, I heard from EC reader Douglas who wrote, Would you please repeat your column that describes the best inexpensive small kitchen appliances? I want to replace my mixer and small food chopper. Thanks. Your column is great. I look forward to it every day.

After a few moments of non-productive searching, my confused self realized that while I’ve included a small kitchen appliance in a “best inexpensive” column from time to time, the column Douglas was looking for didn’t exist. Now it does. Thanks Douglas for that kick I needed and your nice comments, too.

1. FOOD PROCESSOR. The Hamilton Beach 8-Cup Food Processor is simple to use offering 2 speeds, a powerful 450-watt motor and large feed tube. Just the perfect size, too. About $22.

2. HAND MIXER. When selecting an electric mixer, consider carefully your specific need. If you use a mixer only occasionally for small jobs, my pick for best inexpensive is the KitchenAid KHM512ER 5-Speed Ultra Power Hand Mixer. About $38.


Quick and Easy Designer Muffins

Tired of high-fat, high-cost fast-food breakfasts? I’ve got a fantastic solution: Quick and easy designer muffins.

With a little improvising, you can make and serve scrumptious muffins in a variety of flavors to make use of (and use up) ingredients you have on hand. Use this basic muffin recipe to get started then refer to the options that follow.


  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons applesauce
  • 1/2 cup peeled and chopped fresh orange

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Lightly coat a 12-cup muffin tin with non-stick spray or with paper liners. (Look HERE to learn how to make your own Tulip muffin papers from parchment paper.) In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix well.

In a medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, egg, honey, butter and applesauce. Mix well. Stir the wet ingredients into the flour mixture, add the oranges and stir to combine. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Yield: 12 muffins.

Optional Glaze

  • 1 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest, or more to taste
  • 1 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice, or as needed

In a small bowl, whisk sugar with orange zest and orange juice until smooth. Spread on muffins while still warm.