Perhaps it’s happened to you: A many-candled birthday cake or lovely candle centerpiece go awry, leaving you with a mess of melted candle wax, now hardened and hopelessly stuck to your beautiful wood table.

Can that table be saved?

Young girl blowing out the lit candles on her birthday cake

Coax Candle Wax Off Wood Surface

Dear Mary: I was given a beautiful wood pub table. It has candle wax stuck to it from, I am assuming, someone blowing out candles. How do I fix this without scraping it with a knife? Kathy

Dear Kathy: Soften the dried wax with a hair dryer set to medium heat, pointing the dryer to the wax while keeping it 3 to 4 inches away from the table.

Once softened, blot the wax with a soft, white cloth. Keep working at it by softening then blotting until you have removed all of the wax.

Next, mix 1/2 cup white vinegar with 1 cup of water. Dip the cloth into the vinegar mix and wipe away any wax that may remain.

Last, clean your table with furniture polish to restore the shine. That should do it!

Sanitize Laundry

Dear Mary: Thank you for all you do to help us save time, money and our planet. I have been following your advice for years, and eagerly pass on what I find helpful and the products that have become second nature in our home.

My husband is a plumber, and to say that his work clothes get nasty is an understatement. Recently we bought Lysol Laundry Sanitizer—two large bottles for $16. I make our laundry detergent, add white vinegar to the final rinse, and have two sets of wool dryer balls. Was I already sanitizing his clothes with that vinegar?  Nancy

Dear Nancy: Lysol Laundry Sanitizer has been around for years. If you check the ingredients, you’ll see that it contains mostly water with  small amounts of ethanol and alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chlorides (basically alcohol and “salt”). I’m not saying those two ingredents together don’t kill some bacteria but why pay $8 a bottle to do what you can, and are already, doing yourself?

Detergent and hot water kill most bacteria. Acetic acid (white vinegar from the supermarket is 5% acetic acid) is a great disinfectant. It also acts as a deodorizer and cuts grease.

You can tackle salmonella, E. coli and other “gram-negative” bacteria with vinegar. Gram-negative bacteria can cause pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream, wound or surgical site infections.

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There are two meals I prepare nearly every week—Crispy Skin Chicken Thighs and Honey Garlic Salmon. These are my go-tos because both are quick and easy—and so delicious they never grow old.

Even my grandsons, Sam 3 and Eli 9 agree. You should see them dive into this chicken. They’d eat it every meal if they had their way!

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CRISPY SKIN CHICKEN THIGHS

This recipe is sophisticated enough for company, but perfect for a hectic mid-week dinner, too.  The ingredients are shockingly few. The secret for success and rave reviews from old and young alike is technique. It’s all about the technique! Get this right and you’ll have a new technique to use in other applications.

The secret is cooking chicken thighs skin-side down in a cast-iron skillet (or heavy, non-stick skillet) hot enough and long enough to render out the fat. This makes the skin crispy and, according to Eli and Sam, even better than bacon! I do agree (it’s so good), but what I love even more is that skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs are cheap. I buy them in bulk at Costco, where they are fresh, plump and packaged in groups of 4.

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Many commercial household cleaning products—glass and window cleaner for example—routinely come in a bottle with a handy sprayer. And we love that, as long as it works the way we expect that it should.

First, there’s the problem of a bottle design that makes it impossible to spray out every last bit of product because that tube doesn’t go all the way to the bottom. Or the mother of all frustrations: When the nozzle clogs up or for some other reason the thing just refuses to spray. Grrrrr!

Angry young woman because spray bottle won't spray

There’s no way to fix that bottle design, but with a little diligence you should be able to get the sprayer unclogged and working again for at least as long as it takes to use up the product (hot water, a paper clip to clear the nozzle, taking it all apart).

The sad truth is the nifty sprayer that comes with that window cleaner or all-purpose cleaner is meant to be disposable. It was designed to die about the time you need to buy more cleaner. Think of these sprayers as you do cottage cheese containers and screw-cap soda bottles. They’re considered single-purpose, one-and-done. Know this going in and you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration.

The solution is to stop relying on cheap, disposable sprayers. Understand the difference between disposable and quality spray bottles, then choose to own a few of the latter.

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Mother’s Day 2018 is right around the corner—you have about two weeks to get ready.

If this is catching you by surprise, don’t worry because I, your humble personal shopper, have come up with 24 fabulous gift ideas to help you out—gifts that are as adorable as they are affordable!

Whether your Mom is a gardener, fashionista, home decorator; a foodie in love with her Instant Pot and or a compulsive cleaner who can’t imagine life without a Eufy Stick Vac*, I believe that I’ve come up with great ideas for just about everyone.

 

One: Your coffee-loving mother is going to adore the Thermal Travel Cup, when she realizes it’s her personal pour-over brewing system in a travel mug. This unique cup lets you make, then take hot, fresh coffee wherever you go. Just pop on the stainless steel mesh filter, add ground coffee then pour over hot water to make hand drip coffee directly in the travel cup. Coffee stays hotter longer. About $25.

Two: This Mason Jar Measuring Cups Set is just the cutest set of measuring cups—useful, too! The rustic, antique, farmhouse design stacks the four measuring cups we use most often—1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup and 1/4 cup—to make a great conversation piece. Comes all dressed up in the prettiest robin’s egg blue color, too. About $16.

Three: Every kitchen needs a reliable, food thermometer and Thermopop is the best—America’s Test Kitchen says so. It’s affordable ($29 unless you buy five, then the price is $24 each right now and for a very limited time), comes in your choice of beautiful colors and can be used for any food prep from bread to meat on the grill and candy, too! Mom is sure to find Thermopop to be reliable and longer-lasting than the low-functioning models she keeps buying that simply do not perform well. Reg. $29.

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Money matters can affect every area of life, often stirring up emotions of worry, fear, anger, and resentment. If not dealt with swiftly, those feelings can turn to bitterness, which can eat a person from the inside out.

How to avoid that bitterness thing from taking hold? Talk it out. Ask for help. Get advice from someone you trust.

fright-and-wonder-woman-with-newspaper at home

Dear Mary: I just read that the company that holds my home mortgage is under investigation by the Feds, has a net worth of negative 63 million dollars and is expected to file for bankruptcy. This company holds title to my house. If it goes bankrupt, am I at risk of losing my home, even though I’ve never been late on my payments?

I don’t want to refinance with another company because I am locked in at a great rate for the life of the loan and refinancing would cost a lot of money. Angela

Dear Angela: From what you’ve told me, I don’t think you have a thing to worry about. I do believe you have stated incorrectly that the lender holds title to your home. I am quite certain the title is in your name, with the lender having a lien on the property secured by a note and deed of trust.

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Well, you’ve done it again! You clever readers have come up with another batch of fabulous ways that all of us can save time and money doing stuff like cleaning the annoying, cloudy film from your car’s headlight covers—and lots more. 

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AUTO CLEANER. Use plain old baking soda on a damp rag to remove bugs, tar and anything else from your vehicle. Works great, even on the grill and chrome work. Leaves no residue or odor and won’t harm the paint. I just make a paste with baking soda and water, clean away and just rinse off. Works better than any commercial product I’ve tried. This method even cleans away the cloudy film on headlight covers. Bud

CUSTOM FLOOR MATS. I wanted floor mats for our mini-van so I stopped by our local car dealership. Boy, was I floored (pardon the pun). I checked a discount department store and while their mats were priced more reasonably, they didn’t fit well. I found a perfect solution by buying clear plastic runner material that is available by the yard at the home improvement center. With a utility knife I customized the fit around the seat hardware. This saved a lot of money and works beautifully. Judith

FRIDGE DEODORIZER. Used coffee grinds can eliminate even the worst refrigerator odors. I store kimchee (Korean pickled cabbage with a distinct odor) in my refrigerator regularly and I don’t smell it anymore! Simply take out the used coffee filter with the coffee grinds in it and place it in your refrigerator in an open container. It works better than baking soda or any other commercial remedy. I’ve tried them all. Just replace the coffee grinds when they dry up. Jay Read more

As the story goes, the local inventor invited the town’s pastry makers to observe his latest inventionan automated pastry-making machine. To his dismay, the bakers deemed it unfit because it could not consistently turn out perfect pastries.

Not one to give up easily, the inventor took one of the chefs aside and asked, “What do YOU do when you make a mistake?”

“I cover it with chocolate,” he replied.

cover-cooking-mistakes-with-chocolate

With that, the inventor went back to his workshop, made a few strategic changes to his machine and invited the testers to return. To his joy, the pastry-makers were so impressed each of them commissioned a machine for their bakery. Little did they know he programmed it so that when something went wrong it sent a signal to simply cover it with chocolate.

The moral of our little story: It’s only a cooking mistake if you can’t come up with a clever way to cover the mistake. 

DRIED OUT STUFFING. If your Thanksgiving stuffing turns out dry as dust, don’t toss it out. Drizzle chicken broth over it, cover with foil and allow it to sit for several minutes. It will become soft and moist and no one will be the wiser.

RUNNY MASHED POTATOES. When making homemade mashed potatoes, if you misjudge and add too much liquid you can thicken by adding a small amount of uncooked instant potato flakes. If the mashed potatoes still seem too thin, wait a few minutes before adding more because the thickening occurs upon standing.

SALTY GRAVY. Gravy too salty? Don’t fret! If it’s only a slightly salty problem, add a pinch of brown sugar or 1/3 teaspoon white vinegar to counter the saltiness. For a more serious situation drop a peeled raw potato into the gravy and allow it to sit for a few minutes, stirring gently. The potato will absorb much of the salt leaving the gravy much improved.

SOFT FUDGE. If your homemade fudge refuses to set, put it back in the cooking pan over low heat, stirring constantly. Add just enough of the liquid you used in the recipe to bring it back to a simmer. As long as you can see large bubbles, keep simmering. When the bubbles reduce in size until they are almost nonexistent the fudge will be ready to set.

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Few things in this world are more confusing than credit cards—how they work, what they really cost and how to manage them responsibly. While it’s only my opinion, I think credit-card issuing banks are just fine with that.

But I’m not fine with that and you shouldn’t be either! When it comes to credit cards, ignorance is not bliss.

Woman-with-credit-card-woes.

What’s the solution? Stop being ignorant. Learn all you can. Ask questions in order to grow your financial intelligence. That’s the way to win the credit-card game.

Dear Mary: I am on the fast track to paying off my credit-card debt in full and forever. I’m like a racehorse heading into the final lap. Here’s my question: Does it matter when I make my monthly credit-card payments? Would it make any difference if I paid earlier in the billing cycle rather than just before the due date? Kevin

Dear Kevin: Wow, this is great news and I’m out here cheering you on. The answer to your question is Yes, it does matter. Here’s why:

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