I’d had the same oven thermometer for at least a hundred years. The thing had been splattered on and dropped more times than I could count. If that wasn’t bad enough, the splatters had become hopelessly baked on, making the thing nearly impossible to read. When I got a message from Naomi about her oven thermometer, I knew exactly what she was talking about—and the upgrade she should make to fix the problem.

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Dear Mary: Every oven thermometer I have ever had was difficult to use. The base was always too small, and they tipped over. It was difficult to set it upright when it was hot, and using hot pads or tongs or whatever was mega-frustrating. In the past, you have recommended a model that has a hook at the top but then that would mean the rack is above it thus making the thermometer difficult to see. Can you recommend a decent oven thermometer that has big numbers and won’t tip over? Naomi

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If the idea of gift baskets for the cooks on your Christmas list piques your interest, you’re going to love this gift-guide, which continues to be very popular having posted last year to rave reviews and many notes of praise.

It is the late humorist and master of salesmanship, Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, who said one of my favorite quotes of all time: “You are the same today that you are going to be in five years from now except for two things: the people with whom you associate and the books you read.” 

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While he didn’t specify, I’m nearly certain Mr. Jones was talking about cookbooks. Reading cookbooks has changed me. Not only have they made me a better cook, learning how to do it and falling in love with the activity has impacted our household finances, tremendously.

Little by little, as I have become a better cook, we naturally eat at home more. The more I read, the more I cook; the more I cook the better cook I become and the more often we eat at home. It’s a beautiful thing!

The hubs and I have reached the point that eating out has become more of a “Do we have to?!” than a “We get to.” We eat at home, gladly, at least 99 percent of the time.

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I grew up being fearful of the oddest things. I wasn’t bold enough to question why, so I just did as I was told. Here’s one: Never, ever put good dishes or silver flatware in the dishwasher. Ever! I didn’t know what would happen if I did, but you can be sure that my fear of the unknown made certain I didn’t come close to finding out. Until my rebellious years.

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Once I had my own china and my own silver, I was reckless enough to believe I wouldn’t go to jail if I violated this particular “Thou shalt not!” I was reminded of what I’ve learned about putting silver in the dishwasher when the following question showed up in my inbox:

Dear Mary: I have a set of silver flatware that I use daily. I notice that after a few times through a normal cycle, the pieces become very tarnished. It is not a particularly good set, just a nice set of flatware for daily use. Do you think that the dishwashing detergent is tarnishing the silver? Anne

Dear Anne: Your silver plate or sterling silver pieces can go in the dishwasher and come out beautiful as long as you follow a few specific guidelines. Case in point: The small pie server in the photo above is one of my favorite things. I love it for its size and just the way it feels in my hand. I use it daily and it goes in the dishwasher every evening—by itself in its own little compartment so that it is not touching any other type of metal. Since I inherited it many years ago I have done nothing to it but use it, clean it and enjoy it. Read more

Congratulations to Tom P. and Barbara B. for winning copies of Debt-Proof Your Christmas from our recent giveaway!

There are two main types of illness: acute and chronic. An acute illness doesn’t last very long. It goes away either on its own or in response to treatment, such as taking medicine or having surgery. A chronic illness or condition is ongoing. It affects your health over a long period of time—possibly your entire life. That’s the kind of situation EC Reader Gina’s family was dealing with. Then lo and behold ….

Dear Mary: My husband and both of my children have chronic skin problems. One doctor diagnosed them with eczema, but curiously nothing, including prescription medications, have brought lasting relief. We have spent a small fortune going from one dermatologist to another not to mention all of lotions, potions and other medications prescribed. Not once did any of these professionals suggest they might be allergic to laundry softeners. When I read  “Fabric Softeners are the Problem, Not the Solution,” a lightbulb went on.

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I’m a serial softener user. For years, I’ve used liquid softener and dryer sheets just to make sure. How could I have not thought about this? It made a lot of sense that they could be allergic to this stuff. I wasted no time getting the wool dryer balls you recommend. I gave up softener products cold turkey and began using the dryer balls instead. I was like a crazy woman washing and re-washing clothes and bedding. I got three gallons of white vinegar to make sure I had enough to add to every rinse cycle.  Read more

The last time I wrote about how I book cheap travel, the response was huge! And some of those messages were from skeptical readers who were pretty sure I couldn’t do that on a regular basis. I’m excited to let you know I just did … again!

I’m on my way out the door, this time headed for California. What could have been a very expensive trip is going to be so cheap, even I am amazed.

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This is a last minute trip so I have not had the benefit of being able to book well in advance. In fact, I’ve had only five days advance notice of this trip.

FLIGHT: My first choice in air travel is now Southwest (SWA). I try to keep all of my flights with the same airline to build up my frequent flier miles. Usually that works pretty well. I’ve found that in most cases, SWA is very competitive. The cheapest roundtrip fare for flights that fit my schedule for this trip—a whopping $742. Gulp!  Granted I don’t have the luxury of booking 21 days in advance, but still that number made me wonder if I’d made a mistake. But no, that really is SWA’s best price. I put the reservation on “hold” to give myself time to shop around. Most airlines will do this for 24 hours.

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