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.

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


5-Minute Artisan Bread: The Master Recipe, Tools, Resources

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The year 2007 was a good one for me for lots of reasons. Here’s one: It’s the year I got good at baking homemade bread thanks to a simple discovery that would go on to revolutionize the world of home baking.

Presented in their book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, authors Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. and Zoë Franḉois stated that anyone with an oven, flour, yeast, salt, and water could make authentic, artisan bread in just five minutes a day.


Within hours of getting my hands on that book, I was onboard. My first attempt was ridiculously easy. And so successful I shocked myself and my family! A more delicious loaf of bread I cannot buy anywhere. And why would I, when I could now make it myself for about $.40 a loaf in just five minutes a day?

I must admit that the exact terminology, “five minutes,” might be a stretch, but here’s how that term has come to be: Jeff and Zoë have honed this method to taking about 15 minutes to mix up a big batch of bread dough, which after it its first rise, sits in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

When you’re ready to bake a loaf, it takes all of about five minutes to reach into the container, tear off a pound or so of dough, shape it and get it oven-ready. That’s where the “five minutes a day” comes into play. It’s the amount of daily labor required.

I have used the method, but not baked every single day, since 2007. My husband could only dream of such a thing, that’s how much he loves this rustic, homemade French bread. It reminds us of our trips to Paris and the neighborhood bakeries where Parisiennes stop in every day to pick up fresh bread.


Help! My Apartment Stinks Like a Stale Ashtray

What do vacuum sealers and apartments that smell like a stale ashtray have in common? Absolutely nothing other than these two messages showing up in my mailbox at the same moment—both of them in response to earlier posts.

Dear Mary: I just read your column on simple science that makes Nok-Out work to eliminate really difficult odors. Can you give me some quick advice on how to apply that method to rid my apartment of the smell of smoke? The apartment is new. The problem is that the crew smoked in here during construction. It’s yuk! Thank you, Judy


Dear Judy: You do have a terrible problem, and I’m so sorry about that. My first thought was have you contacted the owner or manager? Assuming you have but that hasn’t worked out very well—and you do not want to move—Nok-Out absolutely can oxidize (neutralize) the odor of tobacco smoke. The challenge is to make sure Nok-Out comes in contact with every square millimeter of a surface that the smoke has penetrated. That’s the challenge!

When treating a large open area where the odor became airborne and most likely is now clinging to every bit of the ceiling, walls, flooring, cracks, and crevices—Nok-Out must do the same in order to reach and then oxidize all of the stink.

To do this, you need a room humidifier or vaporizer that produces cool mist


Using Hydrogen Peroxide to Remove Stains

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Faithful readers will recall a reader tip earlier this week, in which Julie shared her simple homemade carpet shampoo of hydrogen peroxide, hot water and a tiny bit of liquid laundry soap.

That tip set off a semi-avalanche of responses requesting specific details, and many of which cautioned, wisely, that hydrogen peroxide can have a bleaching effect on some types of fabrics and carpets that are not colorfast.


CARPET CLEANER DETAILS: Mix HOT water, and liquid soap, preferably a simple biodegradable soap, such as ERA, Blue Dawn or Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap. Add enough hydrogen peroxide to make the overall solution from about 1/2% to about 2% hydrogen peroxide. Fill carpet cleaner reservoir. (For 1 gallon of water, this would be approximately 1/4 cup to 1 3/4  cups using 35% hydrogen peroxide;  3% hydrogen peroxide, the strength found in drug stores and supermarkets, mixed 50/50 with water results in 1.5% strength.)

In theory, hydrogen peroxide could alter the color in carpet, depending on the kind of dye. However, this is unlikely using 3% peroxide. I have poured 3% hydrogen peroxide directly onto carpet in my home and have not had any problems.


Dumb Things To Do with a Tax Refund

Tax time: That interesting time of year when ordinarily smart people begin to make really dumb financial decisions. Isn’t it amazing to watch what a little extra cash (well for some, maybe a lot of extra cash) lining the pockets can do?

In 2017, the IRS issued over $302 billion in refunds on 2016 tax returns, at an average of $2,782 per tax filer. And 62% of taxpayers expect that this year, they’ll receive some sort of refund on their 2017 returns. While there are many dumb ways to spend it, here are my top five:


The operative word in the term “tax refund” is REFUND! Common synonyms for refund are “repayment,” “reimbursement,” and “return of overpayment.” This means that tax refunds are not free money. The government is not giving you a bonus every year just to thank you for being such a swell person. This is money that you’ve allowed them to borrow from you all year long. And now, unlike most of your friends or family members, they are actually paying you back.

Never mind the fact that you made the loan with NO interest even though you pay them back with interest on your student loans or installment payments. Do you really have enough money to lend some to anyone, let alone the government, under those terms?

Smart Move: If you routinely get a big tax refund, change your withholding (use this calculator to determine the amount you should be having withheld along with instructions on how to change it). Your goal is to neither owe or to be owed at the end of the year. If you can come within $100 of that goal, you’re good.


Burnt Cookie Rescue and More Great Reader Tips

Opening my mail to find a clever tip from one of my loyal readers about how to rescue burnt cookies took me back to my childhood.

My mother used to scrape burned toast with the back of a butter knife until it wasn’t burned anymore! Funny how visuals like that can get tucked away in our memories, isn’t it?

TOOTHPICK HOLDER. I needed something to hold toothpicks, so I cleaned out a short votive candle holder. It is just the right size and looks good, too. Tara

CLIP-ON BOOKMARKS. Metal snap hair clips make great, inexpensive bookmarks. You can snap the point of the clip so it points directly to the place on the page where you stopped reading. The clips hold onto the pages without ripping them. Available at the dollar store. Raquel

BURNT COOKIE RESCUE. Don’t throw away those burnt cookies. Wait a day or two until they set up and are hard and then take them to the cheese grater. Grate off the burnt surface on the fine side of your grater. That thin, burnt, bottom surface is only a fraction of the thickness of the whole cookie. You will be left with a delicious cookie that some people would never know had been burnt. It sure beats whipping up a whole new batch. John

CURLY NOT FRIZZY. I have curly hair. Instead of buying gel for curly hair, I leave use regular conditioner and just leave it in; don’t rinse and just towel dry. I blow dry my hair, scrunching it without a brush. Some frizz may appear again. I simply place small amounts of conditioner in my hand and work it through the frizzy areas. My hair stays soft and not sticky. Marianne

TWO FOR ONE. To achieve two of my New Year’s resolutions— to get more exercise and do more volunteer work—I’ve signed up to walk dogs at my local animal shelter. Dana

FREEZER SAFE. I keep my important papers in a heavy freezer bag, in the deep freeze. I hear that in a fire the inside of the freezer won’t burn. Besides, the bank said there is a waiting list for safe deposit boxes as long as my arm. Jill

ODOR NO MORE. Vanilla is a great scent to mask odors in the fridge. Pour vanilla extract on a cotton ball and place in a small bowl inside the fridge. Caprice

VINYL CLEAN. To clean the vinyl straps on some outdoor furniture, spray on shaving cream. Let it stand for a bit and then wash off. It cleans the mold left on over the winter. My furniture looked like new. Bobbie

POLISH EXTENDER. One way to make those expensive little bottles of nail polish last longer is to store them in the refrigerator between uses. The polish won’t thicken as quickly if it is kept cold while sealed tightly. Patricia

TEAR-FREE HAIRCUTS. Before cutting your child’s (or spouse’s) hair, rub down their neck with cornstarch. This will keep the cut pieces of hair from sticking to their skin and itching. My son used to cry like he was dying whenever I cut his hair. Now haircuts are tear-free. Jan

FLUFFY ICING. When you buy a container of cake frosting, whip it with your mixer for a few minutes. You can double it in size and frost more cakes or cupcakes with the same amount. A nutritional benefit to this is that you’ll also eat less sugar and fewer calories per serving. Sue

NEW HARDWARE. Wish you had the funds to update your kitchen? Instead of installing brand new cabinets, save some money by switching out the hardware: old handles and knobs for brand new ones. They’ll give the room a new look. Robert

CARPET CLEANER. Instead of using expensive solutions for carpet shampoo, use a mixture of peroxide, hot water, and a tiny amount of liquid laundry soap. We used Era, and our carpets are spotless! Plus, the Era made it smell wonderful. Julie

SCUFFY SHOES. Remove scuffs from vinyl shoes by rubbing with a little non-acetone nail polish remover on a cotton ball. Jean

TISSUE HOLDER. The empty container for Altoids mints is the perfect size for storing my tissues in my handbag. Ethel

CAT HAIR MAGNET. The hair from my cats gets all over the furniture. I discovered that by rubbing a dryer sheet over the surface the hair just comes right up. And I can just toss the sheet when I’m done. Lucy


Best Inexpensive™ Microfiber Cloths for Housecleaning, Electronics and Automobiles

There’s nothing like microfiber for cleaning just about any surface in and about the house. If you’ve never used a microfiber cloth, you’re going to be amazed by how fast and efficiently you can clean!

For household dusting, use a microfiber cloth dry as you would a traditional dusting rag. (Notice how it acts like a dust magnet.) But for more general cleaning, you always want microfiber to be damp, even when using to dry a surface.

The first time you use a microfiber cloth, force of habit will have you soaking it with water and adding loads of soap—both of which will reduce the cloth’s effectiveness.

I find the best way to use these cloths is with as little water as possible. You can use microfiber cloths to clean virtually any hard surface. Try them on your bathroom or kitchen surfaces and you’ll be amazed at the results.

If you’re dealing with a fairly dirty situation, use a standard cloth and soapy water to wash all the dirt off first, then rinse. Now polish over with your damp microfiber cloth. Notice the smear-free, sparkling finish. Sorry to sound like a bad TV commercial, but these things are really good! I think you’ll agree once you hear things getting squeaky clean and shiny with so little effort.

Microfiber cloths come in varying sizes and grades to clean every surface imaginable from eyeglasses to countertops, windows, and cars, too.


VibraWipe Microfiber Cleaning Cloths. I’ve tested every imaginable grade and size of microfiber cloth out there. For me, a cloth I use for housecleaning needs to be easy to use and able to stand up to my extreme laundry habits. (Note: Never use any laundry softeners when laundering microfiber.) I don’t want cloths that fray around the edge, give off tons of lint, stain easily or shrink over time. I’m hard on household linens because I demand so much from them. VibraWipes microfiber cloths are fabulous. A pack of 8 cloths has lasted me for years now and I see no signs of them wearing out anytime soon. About $17 for an 8-pack.


Favorite Egg Recipes for Instant Pot

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I’ve been using Instant Pot for a couple of years now. Somedays I wonder how I ever got along without it. It has earned a prominent place on my kitchen counter—a privilege enjoyed by few other items because I prefer for my counters to be clear open spaces.

Photo credit: Pinterest

My Instant Pot is now considered elderly, having been replaced by the newest generation of Instant Pots, DUO Plus 60, 6 Qt 9-in-1 Programmable model (about $130). It’s a honey and I’m battling my feelings of need vs. want.

While my older version replaces seven kitchen appliances, this baby takes that number to nine! Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, Rice Cooker, Yogurt Maker, Egg Cooker, Sauté, Steamer, Warmer, and Sterilizer. Wow!

Recently, I’ve been on an egg kick. Granted making eggs isn’t such a big deal. Fry, scramble, poach, or boil, right? But who knew you could all of those things, but so much more with eggs in a pressure cooker?