The Best Inexpensive Double Stroller

There are few joys in life that rival the joy that children bring. But nothing has surprised me more than how that joy is multiplied when we get to add the word “grand” to the children in our lives. Double joy!

30779464 - woman with a double stroller

Dear Mary: Thank you for your column, I really enjoy it! Based on your recommendation, we purchased your “Best Inexpensive Stroller” hoping it would stand up against the cobblestones of Rome, Italy.

Well, after three months of living in Rome with our two-year-old little girl, I can tell you the stroller did fantastically! It held up great over miles and miles of walking, cobblestones, was simple for travel within airports, and perfect for tight squeezes onto buses, trams, and trains! It was an ideal investment, so thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom. You truly bless the lives of those you reach. With gratitude, Barbara.

Dear Barbara: I’m both excited and jealous: Excited that you love that stroller as much as I do and jealous because I would love to spend three months in Rome with my grandsons, over miles and miles of cobblestones.

Did you notice? I said grandsons! Eli age 7 is now big brother to Sam, age 1. The fun in my Fridays has doubled now that Sam is old enough to join us. Catch up for recent readers: Since Eli was six-weeks old, I’ve cared for him on Fridays. My original intent was to gift my Fridays to my kids to give them a day to breathe. But as it turns out, this has become the greatest gift they could have ever given me.


The Crockpot Casserole Slow Cooker: A Review

A few weeks ago I told you that I would be testing and then reviewing the 3.5-Quart Crockpot Casserole Slow Cooker. What’s different about this slow cooker from the typical slow cooker is its shape. The stoneware insert is a 9” x 13” rectangular baking dish that is the perfect size and shape to cook and serve casseroles, lasagnas and other great dishes.


Crockpot Casserole Slow Cooker

The casserole Crockpot is available in several colors as well as two models: Manual with settings of Low, High and Keep Warm (about $40) and a Programmable version with digital controls that offer cook temps of Low, High and Keep Warm and times ranging from 30 minutes to 20 hours. (About $60). I have the manual version. For my needs and lifestyle it’s perfect. If necessary I can plug it into an ordinary appliance timer to set the end time.

The Crockpot Casserole Slow Cooker has an awesome feature in its secure-fit locking lid. For me, this makes it portable. And serving straight from this slow cooker is more than ideal. It’s charming because the 9” x 13” dish is white and very attractive. I can place the entire appliance on the mea table to keep its contents warm, or simply lift the pan from the slow cooker and place it on the table.

I’ve made dessert, several casseroles and lasagna so far and I could not be happier. While this won’t replace my traditional 7-quart slow cooker, it is going to be a well-used option for recipes that are more casserole-like. 


Survival Debt

For years I’ve been telling my readers there are two kinds of debt: safe debt and toxic debt.

46988030 - young couple worried need help in stress at home couch accounting debt bills bank papers expenses and payments feeling desperate in bad financial situation

Safe debt is secured debt―it has collateral connected to it. Your home mortgage is a safe debt. You had to qualify for it, so at least one person somewhere looked at your financial situation determined that you can afford it.

If things change and you can’t or you change your mind and want out of the debt, there’s a way out. You can sell the collateral or just hand it over to the lender and call it even. Safe debt gives you a way out. You have the equivalent of a safety net so you don’t ruin your life.

Toxic debt, on the other hand, is stupid debt you get on your signature alone without qualifying, without anyone caring about whether or not you can afford it.

Toxic, poisonous debt comes from allowing credit purchases to revolve on a credit-card account, opting to pay only the minimum monthly payment. It’s the terrible reality of spending sprees and frivolous decisions.


With Apologies to Pawn Shops Everywhere

In the wake of America’s big economic wake-up call back in 2008, dollar stores and thrift stores have seen a big resurgence. And now another kind of retail quasi-lender is commanding all kinds of attention from sellers and buyers, too: pawn shops.

6614015 - great white shark

I admit to having grown up with a weird bias against pawn shops. To me pawn shops were just one level above Vinny the Loan Shark operating illegally in some dark alley in the bad part of town just waiting to break some knees. Where did that come from? I have no idea really, but let me quickly follow by saying it is a most faulty stereotype. Pawn shops are respectable businesses that offer a viable service in many communities. And these days business is booming.

A pawn shop, owned and operated by a pawn broker, makes secured loans on personal property left as collateral. The property can be redeemed by the customer when the loan plus interest is repaid. Think: secured loans.


No More Sleeping Through the Alarm and Other Favorite Tips

Surprise! Today, instead of sharing tips you’ve sent to me, I’ve decided to hog the entire column to share some of my own. Several of these are oldies but goodies, while some I have discovered recently. I do love great tips.


CELLPHONE ALARM VOLUME BOOSTER. If you’re a heavy sleeper and have trouble hearing your mobile phone’s alarm, you can boost the volume by setting it in a glass drinking glass. This works because the sound reverberates and intensifies inside the glass. It may not be the world’s most pleasant amplification technique, but it works great for an alarm. As an added benefit, to turn the alarm off you have to actually pull the phone out of the glass. This makes it a bit more likely that you’ll actually get up and not roll over to fall back asleep.

NEVER LOSE THE REMOTE AGAIN. The reason most of us misplace the remote controls to our TVs and other electronic devices is they don’t have a specific place to go. They might end up on a coffee table, an end table, slide behind the couch or, as I have experienced, right into a trash can to never be seen again. One person whose handiwork I find to be so clever, stuck his remote controls to a coffee table with hook and loop fasteners. Any fabric or craft store sells this stuff by the inch or in packages with the hook and loop fasteners outfitted with self-stick tape. His choice is black sticky-back VELCRO® Brand. He cuts off the amount of product he needs for the task at hand, removes the protective paper covering the sticky sides and affixes one side to the remote and the other to the table. It’s true: When a remote control device has a home, it’s more likely to go there regularly.


How to Clean Painted Wood Floors

A message in my inbox this week came from Joan who asked, “What is the best way to clean a very grimy painted wood floor?”


Before I get to an answer for Joan, let’s talk generally about wood floors and the difference between a painted wood floor and a finished wood floor. I would never suggest that anyone treat them as equals when it comes to cleaning. Please, make sure you never use a painted floor cleaning formula on your finished hardwood floor because it will be too harsh and could cause damage.

Paint by definition is different than say a polyurethane finish, typically used on hardwood floors. Paint is tougher, especially latex enamel that has been formulated for wood floors. Although water isn’t recommended for cleaning finished wood floors because it raises the grain, it’s safer for painted floors because the paint prevents the moisture from soaking into the wood. Even so, Joan will want to dry her painted wood floor promptly to prevent the wood from absorbing moisture.

Because Joan used the word “grimy” to describe this painted floor, I’m going to assume this painted floor that has dried on spills and dirt that’s been ground in over a period of time—a worst case scenario.


Make Your Own Mixes to Save Time and Money

I suppose that for many readers, the idea of making your own mixes and pantry items from scratch might seem a bit archaic. Why not just buy salad dressings, taco seasonings, baking mixes and little boxes of pudding mix that are available just about anywhere and so convenient? Three reasons: Health, time and money.


HEALTH: Reading the list of ingredients on the typical convenience packet of seasoning mix or other prepared food product can be confusing if not shocking. Many of these convenience products contain MSG, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, dioxides and any number of un-pronounceable items. When you make it yourself, you know what’s in it.

TIME: Having mixes already made and ready to go, could mean the difference between having time to get dinner on the table or hitting the pricey Drive Thru one more time this week. And you’ll cut out last minute trips to the store because you will have what you need.


Ways to Use a FoodSaver That Have Nothing to do with Food

My vacuum-sealer is one of my favorite kitchen appliances. I vacuum seal fresh fruit to extend the useful by at least two weeks, often much longer. I vacuum seal meat before I freeze it to stave off freezer burn, which keeps it perfect for six months to a year. I could go on and on about my FoodSaver saves our food bill, but today I want to tell you all the ways I use the thing that have nothing to do with food!


But first, two general vacuum-sealing tips:

CONVENIENCE. I’ve learned through trial and error that for my FoodSaver to work at maximum efficiency it has to be handy. It cannot be stuck in a cupboard or on a pantry shelf. If I have to make the smallest effort to get it out and plug it in, I stop using it because I forget, or it’s such a hassle I decided to skip using it “just this one time.” My FoodSaver has to sit on the counter with nothing obstructing it—always plugged in and ready to go. And the bags have to be equally handy. I keep them in the drawer immediately below the counter where FoodSaver resides.