man cooking steaks on open grill

All You Need to Know to Fire Up the BBQ to Get Grilling

A couple of weeks ago with all the confidence in the world that winter had passed, I got everything ready for our first outdoor barbecue of the season. The weather was perfect, ditto for the menu.

I pulled the cover off the grill and got a shock—and not of the electrical kind. Actually, I was more embarrassed than anything. The grill was a mess—inside and out. Yuck!

My only explanation is that the cold days of fall prompted me to just throw the cover on while my inner procrastinator assured me that I’d clean it later.

Granted, our new grill is now three years old, but still. A dirty mess? You should have seen me fly into action. I grabbed a spray bottle of homemade degreaser (no time for more heavy-duty options) and went to work. In no time at all, it was clean enough and we were back in business.

Assuming I’m not the only one who fails to do a deep clean on the outdoor grill after every use, today I have lots of really great grilling tips and tricks for cleaning and for great grilling, too.

Let’s hear it for summer—let the grilling begin!

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White lilacs in the foreground with the Rocky Mountains in teh background and beautiful blue sky

How to Get Your Windows Sparkling Clean—Cheaper, Better, Faster!

We moved into our new home in April 2015, just in time to experience our first Rocky Mountain spring. There are no words to describe this adequately, but this picture does a great job.

Beautiful meadow of wildflowers and trees with the Rocky Mountains in background

The thing I noticed the first time I walked into this house—windows. Tons of windows framing our new view and every one of them dirty. It looked to me as if no one had ever washed them.

I did my due diligence in researching local professional window washers. For sure we would have to pay to have them cleaned properly. But it would be one and done. We would keep them clean and that would be an easy task. Of course.

The price was ridiculously high, but the job got done and the windows sparkled. That’s when I set out to discover the best (easiest, fastest, cheapest, sparkly-est) way to keep these windows clean—not only dust-free but also clean.

Surprise. It’s not with Windex, paper towels, newspaper or other methods I may or may not have recommended in the past, which produce a big mess—dripping, soggy, dirty paper towels, and windows with streaks that can be difficult to remove.


MORE: How I Dry Cleaned My Windows


The right tools

I have invested in the right window-washing tools. You need the right tools, too, or you are going to waste a lot of time and money trying to get your windows streak-free and sparkling like diamonds. Look for tools like these at your local big-box store, home improvement center, or online. For your convenience and also so you can see what I’m referring to below, I have provided Amazon links for each of these specific tools. Read more

16 Practical Ways to Stretch Your Food Budget

If soaring food prices are getting you down, help is on the way! Here are some basic saving strategies, practical solutions, and novel ideas to stretch your food budget—and make your life easier.

Granted, one of these strategies on its own is not likely to make a huge difference. But lots of small strategies working together—that’s the way to see huge results.

Grate savings

You pay a lot to have someone else grate your cheese for you—at least twice the price of buying cheese by the block. Currently, at my supermarket, cheese in blocks runs from about $2 to $2.50 a pound for the store brand to about $5.00 a pound and more for name brands. The very same cheeses, pre-grated, run almost exactly double across the board, $4 to $10 a pound. Here’s the tip: Grate it yourself. It will stay fresher and you’ll save money, too.

Pro tip: Commercially grated or shredded cheese comes with an added ingredient like potato starch or modified cornstarch to prevent “caking” or “clumping.” Well, guess what? Those anti-caking ingredients inhibit melting, too. Now you know why pre-grated or shredded cheese doesn’t seem to always melt as readily, often leaving an odd thickened texture.

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Super Summer Slow Cooker Recipes—Dessert, Entrees, Sandwiches, Too!

Slow cookers, what’s not to love? There was a time that I was smugly confident I had a very good handle on the slow cooker appliance—brands, sizes, prices, and the best inexpensive options out there. And now we have another option—a casserole slow cooker.

slow cooker casserole manual appliance

This is genius. The stone insert in this casserole slow cooker is a 9 x 13 stoneware casserole baking dish. It goes from the slow cooker base to the table for serving and it’s oven-safe, too.

And you can leave the insert in the base set on warm to serve on a buffet table. The casserole slow cooker is perfect for making lasagna, breakfast casseroles, desserts, and other casserole-type dishes that work best in that size and shape baking dish.

The Casserole Crock Pot comes in two versions—Manual with Low, High and Warm Settings and a beautiful stainless steel Programmable Digital model. I have the manual version (half the price of the fancy model) and love it.  Read more

young-casual-woman-with paint roller sitting on floor and looking-at-half-yellow-painted-wall

How to Redecorate on a Dime

Changing your environment can greatly improve your outlook. And that doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

The key to great decor isn’t how much money you have to spend. More importantly, it’s about seeing possibilities in what you have already. You’ll be surprised at what you can do yourself for little or no cost.

young-casual-woman-with paint roller sitting on floor and looking-at-half-yellow-painted-wall

Use what you’ve got

I have a friend who calls herself a professional arranger because people hire her to come to their homes and “redecorate” with the things they have. 

She goes through every room, the attic, and basement taking inventory of everything available for her final designs. Then, she completely clears the room and starts from scratch to furnish and decorate with only the things that she found in the home. The results are amazing. 

If that triggered something in you that whispered, “I wish someone would pay me to do that,” check out the International Association of Home Staging Professionals. Or offer to do this for a few friends, take before and after photos, and order business cards. You do not need a license or any particular certification to become a professional arranger.

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3 canning jars with salad ingredients layered inside

Salad in a Jar—Good for Health and Wealth

If you’ve been hanging out with me for any length of time, you know I’m pretty wild about making Gifts in a Jar, now a free downloadable ebook. I’m talking about wide-mouth glass canning jars with screw top lids. Seriously, you can stuff just about anything in one of these amazing containers and come up with a unique, lovely gift. 

Over the years we’ve made Cookies in a Jar, Light in a Jar, Garden in a Jar, even a Journal in a Jar (instructions for all in the ebook). I have no idea why I’ve never embraced what is quite possibly the most practical use of a jar—Salad in a Jar.

salad ingredients layered in glass canning jars

I didn’t think of this, but I’m pretty much in love with the person who did. Simply brilliant and so practical.

Basically, you assemble the ingredients for a fresh, healthy salad by layering them in a specific order in a glass canning jar.

If you do it right, you can make up a bunch of jar salads on Sunday, put them in the refrigerator and have your lunches made up and ready to go for the entire week. Prepared well, a jar salad kept in the refrigerator will be as fresh up to a week later as it was the day you assembled it. And no vacuum-sealing necessary.
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woman with perfect clean face after using body scrub

5 Easy-to-Make Body Scrubs to Keep Your Skin Vibrant and Healthy

Body scrubs are popular because they offer a very effective way to exfoliate your skin. Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of your skin using a chemical, granular substance, or exfoliation tool.

woman with perfect clean face after using body scrub

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, your skin naturally sheds dead skin cells every 30 days or so to make room for new cells. Sometimes, dead cells don’t shed completely, resulting in dry, flaky patches and clogged pores. Exfoliating can help prevent this, keeping your skin looking vibrant and healthy.

While there are plenty of pricey body scrubs to choose from, for just pennies you can make your own equally effective homemade Body Scrubs using ingredients you already have in your pantry.

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vintage-photograhs-letters

How to Organize Old Family Photos Without Losing Your Mind

Let’s see by a show of hands how many have at least one box crammed full of old family photographs out in the garage, up in the attic, or down in the basement. Look at that. Hands going up all over the room.

I’m guessing that anyone over the age of 20 knows what I’m talking about. Old family photos. We sure can’t get rid of them. But we’re not quite sure what to do with them, either. So mostly we do nothing. Maybe it’s time to stop doing nothing.

Family photos of the family tree

Dear Mary:  I have a large trunk full of family photos dating from the early 1900s. How would you organize these? By dates? By persons? I am the only one left who is old enough to remember all of these people, but I think my children and descendants will be interested. It seems quite a task, and I don’t really know how to start. Thanks, Sue

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Kitchen cabinet with marble top and sink

How to Dry Clean Windows—No Water, Bucket, or Squeegee Required

I have this thing for clean windows. I love them, which means I have an opposite and equal dislike for dirty windows. And when I say clean windows, I mean the kind of clean that makes windows sparkle like diamonds in the morning sun.

Beautiful kitchen cabinet with marble top and steel sink

If I could, I’d have a professional window-washing service come to my home every week to clean every single window—inside and out. But I have a two-story house with lots of windows so right there you can understand why I can’t and I don’t.

On a lark and only because I wanted my flower garden to look better through the window in my kitchen, I grabbed this car wash mitt, made of microfiber chenille that I’d purchased some time previously, in an attempt to control all the dust being generated by a home remodeling project going on at the time. (It worked great for that!)

Bright green microfiber car washing mitt

It’s stringy, floppy, and fun to use. It is super soft and feels slightly “prickly.” Used dry, it acts like a giant dust magnet. I was in no mood to start washing windows, so the idea popped into my head to give the windows a quick dusting. I didn’t see how I could make them look any worse.

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chicken breasts on the outdoor grill perfectly cooked and ready to eat

Worst and Best Ways to Grill Chicken

In a previous post, I asked readers to share their worst barbecue and grilling experiences that could have been spared if they’d had a decent instant-read thermometer.

I loved reading your comments, some of which are so funny you had me laughing out loud. But more than that, I learned that most of our grilling disasters involve chicken.

two chicken breasts on the outdoor grill perfectly cooked and ready to eat

Grilled chicken should be delicious, moist, tender, and full of flavor. But all too often it turns out bloody raw in the middle, or bone-dry and tough as shoe leather.

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