The Difference Between a Life of Joy or One of Misery

The longer I live, the more convinced I become that it’s not the amount of money a person has, but what he or she does with it that makes the difference between a life of joy or one of misery.

Years ago, a friend of mine won the New York State Lottery, with guaranteed annual checks of $200,000 for 10 years. Two million dollars seemed too good to be true. Brett was over the moon with joy because he knew his days of financial misery were over. He could pay off all of his debts, and buy the car he needed so badly for his young family and a new home, too. Just like that, he was a millionaire. And, boy, was he happy. He couldn’t write those checks fast enough. He bought a new car the following weekend, and they bought their dream home, as well.

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It’s All About the Sauce

Some of my earliest childhood memories center around Asian food. But not just any Asian food. I’m talking about the food at The Golden Dragon Restaurant in Boise Ida., city of my birth and the home of noodles and spare ribs swimming in the most beautiful and delicious brown sauce.

To my 5-year-old sense of fine cuisine, that dish was to die for. My favorite thing in the whole, wide world!

For me, it was all about the sauce. Brown sauce. Yummy, amazing make-my-mouth-water kind of sauce. I poured it on my noodles; would eat it with a spoon like soup. I can remember exactly what it tasted like, too. It was definitely brown, kinda’ sweet but a little tangy and shiny—not clear like broth but not dense like gravy, either.  And smooth. No chunks or chewy bits. No onions, peppers or pineapple pieces. None of that. Just glorious, shimmery, fabulous Chinese sauce over tiny beef spare ribs and sticky white rice on the side. I would all but lick the plate clean. Wait, maybe I did that.

We moved when I was 10. It never dawned on me that might be the last time in my life I would experience that level of Chinese food. But it was. That is, until just a few months ago when I had a true Eureka! moment. I discovered Nagi, the food blogger at RecipeTinEats.com.

Seriously, for decades I have been on a mission to learn how to prepare really great Asian food—Japanese, Chinese, Thai—all of those cuisines, and sadly without much success. I could never get the sauce right. That’s because I’ve depended on bottled stuff in the Asian aisle of the grocery store. Over and again I would be so disappointed. I wanted to figure out how to make the kind of cuisine I loved as a child, myself—at home. 

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No More Flabby Celery Plus More Great Reader Tips

If you suffer the heartbreak of flabby celery, asparagus, and fresh herbs despite your best efforts to keep them fresh and lovely at least as long as it takes to use them up—one simple change in the way you’re storing them could make all the difference. That and so much more in today’s post, all courtesy of your fellow EC readers!

Photo credit: DomesticSoul.com

FRESHER LONGER. You are right about treating asparagus (celery, fresh herbs) like cut flowers to preserve them, but you left out the step I learned during a brief spell in the floral trade: Trim the bottoms of the stalks first. Even when the bundles have been sitting in water at the grocer’s, they were left dry in transit and will have dried up enough at the cut ends to close off a lot of the capillary passages. Trimming to fresh green lets more water be pulled in to keep the stalks alive. I usually do that as soon as I get them home; this helps to revive any stalks that have gotten a little flabby. Will (The exception to this is green onions, aka scallions, which should be stored in a plastic bag in a refrigerator crisper drawer. -mh)

ROUGH IT UP. Instead of spending time and money to replace and install new automobile wiper blades, renew them: Hols a piece of sandpaper between your thumb and forefinger. Now run the sandpaper along the edge of the rubber blade, first on one side then the other. This will renew the surface so it efficiently wipes the windshield. You can do this two or three times before a wiper blade is completely spent, requiring replacement. Walter

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Ask Me Anything: Rust Stains, Computer Printers, Dark Spot Remover

Got a question? Lots of readers do and chances are pretty good their questions just might be your questions, too. At the very least, you may find these answers to be somewhat educational, if not entertaining!

The rust in our city water leaves an unsightly brown build up in my bathroom sink made of vitreous china. I have tried homemade remedies and store-bought products, nothing has worked in completely ridding the unsightly stains.  Can you recommend something that will help make my sinks look new again? Diane

Bar Keepers Friend, available in the household cleanser aisle of most supermarkets and discount stores, will remove those stains without harming the enamel coating on porcelain, known as vitreous china. The active ingredient in Bar Keepers Friend is oxalic acid, an organic acid that works as a bleach and rust remover. I think you will be amazed by the ability of BKF to remove these stains! As always, it is vitally important that you test any product in an inconspicuous place first to make sure it will not be damaged before proceeding.

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How to Clean a Bathtub Anti-Slip Bottom

If you have a bathtub with a slip-resistant bottom that no matter what you use to clean it, it still looks dingy, grungy and downright grimy, today I have really good news and at least one sure-fire solution that will bring even an older tub bottom back to clean, like new!

Since the Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990, all bathtubs must be manufactured with some type of anti-slip bottom. Kohler porcelain tubs come with its patented Safeguard Slip-Resistant Surface, which has a very distinctive look and seems to be the most prone to this ugly problem.

The problem is not only with Kohler tubs but with any manufacturer who etches the tub’s bottom to provide the non-slip feature. That causes the oil from your feet to start staining the tub’s bottom, then for some it’s like these stains get embedded and locked in forever.

I’ve heard from many readers who have tried everything they can think of to remove these stains, without success. In fact, all of those efforts seem to do just the opposite, eventually making the problem even worse.

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Why 15 Cents Matters

I used to think that small amounts of money didn’t matter. What difference could $5 here or $10 there make when we were more than $100,000 in debt (not counting the house and cars)?

So what if I increased our debt by such a small amount—it wouldn’t really matter because we already owed so much. I used the same argument for not paying anything more than the minimum monthly payments on our credit cards because that too would make no difference.

Boy, did I have a lot to learn. The truth is that we five-and-10-dollared ourselves to death. It was the little things that added up to create a huge monster. Thinking that the little things didn’t matter freed us to think $2, $5 or $20 didn’t matter … then $50 didn’t matter, and on and on it went.

Ironically, it was the little things that turned us around, too. Sending an extra $2, $5 or $20 every month to rapidly repay the debt we were targeting helped us find a way to make the payment $22, then $35 and soon a $100 payment became standard.

I’ve had people look at me like I was a little weird when I suggested they should not use a first-class stamp on a postcard. I mean, does 15 cents really matter? I think it does, not so much for the dime and nickel, but for the attitude. You see, if you casually throw 15 cents away when it comes to a postage stamp, it’s much easier to begin thinking slightly larger sums don’t matter, either. And soon you’ll be on your way to thinking $20 is not a big deal. Then you’ll be headed for trouble.

Yes, my friends, 15 cents does matter. If you understand that, then $1.50 matters and $15 will matter even more, and on and on right up to $15,000.

Some wise person once said, “Watch the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves.” I have proven that to be true and I hope you can, too.

Here are three easy ways to stash cash:

Coins. Don’t spend them. Save them, instead. Every evening, empty your pockets, purse and wallet of all coins. Even if the bill comes to $4.05, hand the clerk a $5 bill and stash the difference. When you accumulate $25 or so, roll, wrap and send them off to your savings account.

Windfalls. No matter how small, make it a habit to bank all coupon savings, rebate checks, refunds and other “found money.”

Save an extra 10 percent. Stash 10 percent of your pocket money, grocery money and any other “walk around” funds you control in your secret savings spot. Chances are you won’t even miss it. But soon you’ll discover that $2 here and $4 there really adds up.

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Great Recipes Know No Season

My mother-in-law, Gwen Hunt, was a very organized woman. She had file folders for everything you can imagine including one containing lists of her most valued possessions along with the name of the person who would fall heir to that item upon her passing.

Among the items I received are two three-ring binders, filled with magnetic scrapbook pages into which she had carefully placed hundreds of handwritten and newspaper-clipped recipes. Next to them are little handwritten notes about the recipes. She includes each recipe’s origin along with other tidbits of information she undoubtedly believed I would want to know, like for example, how many cookies she baked for her parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary celebration on April 27, 1950 (10 dozen each of six different recipes, neatly arranged on facing pages). Many of the recipes are dated 1942 and, she notes, were in her original trousseau collection.

I stuck these binders away in a closet after we settled the estate and sold the house. I guess I just wasn’t ready to admit that her many years of cooking and mothering were over. Until this past week.

Going from one page to the next has been like sitting down with her over tea, once again. Oh, how she loved to recall names, occasions and “lovely times” with her friends and family. Each one of the recipes reminds me so much of her, and in that I’ve found comfort.

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Ask Me Anything: Oven Door, Window Air Conditioners, Hardwood Floor Cleaner

I’ve been accused of thinking I have an answer for everything (you know who you are, my dear husband), and that kinda’ makes me laugh because I have to admit that maybe I do think that. I do love to reach into my inbox to find so many letters from my readers,  many of which do include questions.

Truth be told, when you send questions to which I do not have reliable answers, I set them aside pending further research. They say that “teaching teaches the teacher,” and I couldn’t agree more!

The self-cleaning function on my oven works great for the oven itself, but doesn’t get the glass door clean. I’ve tried to clean, but nothing works to remove the baked-on crud. Do you have a solution? 

While you should never use oven-cleaning products on the self-cleaning oven itself, the best way to clean the glass window is with oven cleaner! I suggest Easy-Off Fume Free Oven Cleaner. Unlike other oven cleaners, this one works on cold surfaces. Spray it on liberally, then leave the door open and allow it to sit for several hours. That should soften everything that has become baked-on, allowing you to wipe all of that away with a scrubbing sponge. I’ve used this product to remove stubborn hard-water marks from shower doors and other glass surfaces. I’m hopeful this will be great solution for your oven door.

Do you have a Best Inexpensive Window Air Conditioner recommendation for us? Please!

Since I don’t know the size of the space you need to cool, here are two options, both of which are great little workhorses: For a small space of up to 150 sq. ft., the Frigidaire 5,000 BTU 115V Window-Mounted Mini-Compact Air Conditioner about $130.

If you need to cool a larger space, up to 350 sq. ft., the Frigidaire 8,000 BTU 115V Window-Mounted Mini-Compact Air Conditioner will be the model you need, about $240.

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