There’s nothing like following a great dinner with cake. It’s an exclamation mark on a meal. I love to bake cakes and today I have three very different recipes to share: one from scratch, one that starts with a cake mix, and the third—it really isn’t cake, but once a year my family pretends it is.

Yummy slice of homemade from-scratch chocolate macaroon bundt cake

Chocolate Macaroon Bundt Cake

You might remember this cake from your childhood. Chocolate Macaroon Bundt Cake used to be available back in the 1970s, as a mix from the folks at Pillsbury. It’s long since been discontinued, but here’s the from-scratch alternative. Read more

From dishwashers to debt, readers of this blog ask great questions. And if statistics can be trusted, we know that for each one who asks there are 999 others who have the same question but just haven’t gotten around to asking, yet!

 

Do you have any suggestions for cleaning the inside of a dishwasher? I have seen packaged cleaners in the supermarket, but are they worth the money? Kelly

Dear Kelly: While I’m a big fan of Glisten Dishwasher Magic Cleaner for that once-a-year major dishwasher cleaning, I do have a super-cheap solution that works really well for routine maintenance.

You’ll need three packets unsweetened lemonade Kool-Aid powder—about $.25 each, available in any supermarket or online by the case of 48.

Divide the contents of three packets between the two detergent cups. Run the dishwasher empty on the hottest, longest cycle. Lemonade Kool-Aid is loaded with citric acid, which will remove rust, hard water build-up and soap scum—leaving the dishwasher sparkling clean. Just know that lemonade is the only Kool-Aid flavor that works for this task.

Read more

Extreme bargain hunters have something in common: timing. They’ve got it down to a science and I’m talking about specific days and even the exact time of day to get great bargains.

These shoppers wait patiently and then swoop down to pick up bargains unknown to the novice shopper. Thankfully, they’re willing to share their secrets.

Best time to buy depicted with clock, second hand sweep and sticky notes

HOTEL

The best time to snag a great deal on a room is at 4 p.m., local time on Sunday, says CBS Travel Editor, Peter Greenberg. This is when you will have the best shot at speaking with an employee whose job depends on keeping rooms filled, who can also negotiate room rates. But this can be tricky, so here are the steps to follow:

Do not call the hotel’s 800 number. That will connect you to a big clearinghouse that books rooms for hundreds of locations. The people who answer those phones do not have the power to give you a better deal, according to Greenberg. Instead, call the specific hotel’s local direct line.

Next, do not ask for the reservations department, which will only get you routed back through to the 800 number clearinghouse you are trying to avoid. Instead, ask to speak manager on duty, who at this time of day on the weekend will probably be a lower level employee whose job it is to keep rooms filled—a person who has the authority to negotiate rates and book rooms. This is better for you than calling during the week when you will be connected to a “revenue manager” who is more interested in keeping the rates high.

Be very courteous. Say that you are shopping for a great room rate during a specific week, followed by, “What can you do for me?” See yourself as a valuable commodity at this moment because you will take an unsold room out of inventory, which represents job security for the person you’re speaking with.

Read more

Buying things when they’re on sale is a great way to avoid overspending. But unless you are diligent to take the difference between the regular price and the sale price and actually deposit that into a savings account, are you really saving money?

Nope. You’re just spending less. And you can “spend less” right through your entire paycheck. 

us currency rolled in jar

While being careful to keep spending under control is admirable, it’s easy to fool yourself into believing that you’re a money-saving genius, when in truth you’re just spending all that you earn, wishing you made enough money to save some of it.

Getting started with actual savings—and by that, I mean money that is put away in a safe place—can be difficult if you have a spending habit, a small budget or some of each. The way to remove the pain is to trick yourself into thinking you’re not really saving that much. Check out these tricks and get started today.

Call it a bill. This may sound silly but just go with me here. Create a new monthly bill that you are obligated to pay and call it “Paying Myself First.” Make it look like an invoice of $5, billed to you. I don’t care how little money you earn or how poor you believe that you are. Anyone who really wants to start saving has $5 they can devote to the effort. Put this tiny bill at the top—ahead of the rent, food or phone bill. Your smallest bill will soon become your favorite. Read more

The year was 1859 and Charles Dickens starts his classic A Tale of Two Cities with,

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair ….

As I read this passage it makes me wonder: Was Dickens referring to life in 1859 or looking into the future to December 2017?

 

With this year’s devastating hurricanes, epic fires, horrific shootings and—just this past week—tragic train wreck so fresh in our memories, many are wondering about Christmas. Where, among all this, is our peace on earth and goodwill toward man? This feels like Dickens’ season of darkness, our winter of despair.

Recently, I heard the story of one of America’s most beloved poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In 1861, his wife Fanny was fatally burned in an accident, but only after Longfellow attempted to save her and was severely burned himself. Too ill from his burns and grief, Henry did not attend her funeral.

The first Christmas after Fanny’s death, Longfellow wrote in his journal, Read more

Even if you still have 5 or 50 teachers, students, neighbors, co-workers, family friends, kids’ friends, classmates, cousins, uncles, aunts, employees or service providers on your gift list—don’t panic! You still have time. And don’t worry: You do not need a lot of money nor must you the gift of craftiness to assemble fabulous gifts in your kitchen. Yes, even at this late date.

You’ll never go wrong giving a gift that is meant to be eaten or used up. That kind of gift does its job to convey your love and best wishes without increasing the recipients’ stuff-factor.

 Photo Credit: TasteofHome.com 

You will need containers for these gifts and the possibilities are endless. My favorite: Clear cellophane bags for 10 to 15 cents each (some are printed with holiday motifs). Find these at craft stores like Michaels, JoAnn’s and Hobby Lobby; at cake and candy supply stores. Think assembly line and you can turn out dozens of gifts in a single day. So gather your supplies, set up your production line and let the fun begin!

Santa Claus Cookies

  • 1 package Nutter Butter (or Vienna Fingers) sandwich cookies
  • 12-oz. white chocolate wafers or chips*
  • Red sprinkles or red-colored sugar
  • 32 vanilla or white chips, not melted
  • 64 mini chocolate baking chips
  • 32 red-hot candies

Melt the white chocolate. Dip one end of each cookie into melted chocolate. Place on wire racks. Quickly sprinkle red sugar on top part of chocolate. Press one vanilla chip off-center on hat for pom-pom; let stand until set.

Dip other end of each cookie into chocolate for beard, leaving center of cookie uncovered. Place on wire racks. With a dab of melted chocolate, attach semisweet chips for eyes and a red-hot for nose in the uncovered area. Place on waxed paper to set. Yield: 32 cookies. Read more

From frozen key locks to hazy headlight covers, today I have a handful of completely unrelated household tips to entertain but also make your life a little easier. Enjoy!

Double-Pic-cleaning-headlights-quck-thaw-lock

Organize household supplies. Use an over-the-door hanging shoe rack with clear vinyl pockets to organize and store cleaning supplies, one item per pocket. This gets them up and out of the reach of children. But even better, now you can actually see what you have.

Open blister packs. Use a manual can opener to open “blister packs” that take the strength of a muscle man to break into. The can opener will make a neat and safe cut to open the package so you can retrieve its contents and not slice your fingers in the process.

Remove headlight haze. Have your car’s headlight covers become hazy? You could spend a lot of money on a commercial product to remove that haze or grab some toothpaste and a soft cloth. Apply the toothpaste and vigorously rub the toothpaste over the entire hazy cover. Wipe off the toothpaste with a clean rag. Look at that! Completely restored to clear and bright. Toothpaste is abrasive. You are essentially sanding away the haziness. If you have a lens protectant, you will be sanding this away as well so you may want to replace it after doing this.

Read more

I wish you could see my email inbox. No, wait. What I really mean is I’m grateful you can’t see it.  It’s in chaos. I get so much mail and while I genuinely appreciate every single message, it’s the sheer volume of mail that has created such a challenge for me.

My goal in 2018 is to get on top of this situation with a killer organizational tool or better yet, perhaps a virtual assistant. Your comments, ideas, and general feedback are like pure gold to me. More than that, communication with my readers charges my batteries. That is something that I need and have come to depend on.

woman-at-desk-buried-in-mail

Today, I reached into the mountain of mail and pulled out a handful of comments to past posts  to share with you.

Comments to How I Spent Forty Bucks to Avoid Surgery

Thank you very much for bringing this simple device, Lo-Bak Trax to my attention. I have been using my Lo-Bak Trax only once a day, before bed, for almost three weeks, but what an improvement! I am walking longer, farther and with almost no pain. I will use it several times a day, as you recommend after the holidays. That is my New Year’s resolution. Living in Italy, I certainly would never have heard of it were it not for your column. Peter

We ordered and received a Lo-Bak Trax. It came with no instructions for its use. Can you help? Betty

Oh, that is terrible! You need instructions, for sure. I suggest you watch THIS VIDEO, which is very instructional and clear in how to use Lo-Bak Trax. And HERE is a link to the printed instruction manual. This is a wonderful device. However, it’s not an overnight fix. Truly you must commit to three weeks straight—at least 21 days in a row—using it 4 to 5 times each day to get started. It is not difficult and it doesn’t hurt. In fact, if feels great, so it’s something I want to do as often as possible. After three weeks you should see a HUGE difference. When I am faithful to do this every day (and for the rest of my life), I am pain-free. Love this thing! –mh

I have followed your hair routine for four months, and I have never had such reliably good hair in my entire life. This has saved me so much time and angst! Thank you so much for sharing this. Kathy in Indiana

Read more