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Recently I walked into Amy and Justin’s kitchen and my jaw dropped. It was like I’d stumbled into the wrong house. The gorgeous new cabinets and countertops made it look brand new.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when these friends told us they weren’t new cabinets and counters at all. They performed this kitchen makeover themselves—all for less than $400.

DIY-kitchen-makeover

You may think that kitchen projects need to be left to the professionals, which of course is fine provided you’ve got thousands of dollars to work with. But if your budget is slightly under that—and you’re willing to contribute some sweat to the project—new products and methods now available can bring do-it-yourself options to any kitchen makeover.

Cabinets

Our friends refinished their existing cabinets (the doors and face frames) with Rust-Oleum Cabinet Coating Transformations Kit that covers 100 square feet, available online and at home improvement centers like Home Depot.

The thing that gave Amy and Justin the courage and confidence to tackle this project themselves was the Rust-Oleum promise of no stripping, no sanding, no priming, and no special skills required. While their cabinets are made of wood, this product will also transform melamine, metal, and laminate cabinetry.

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The longer I live, the more convinced I am that for every household problem, there are at least two possible ways to deal with it: One that involves calling out the professionals and another do-it-yourself option that’s cheaper, better and maybe even faster!

Crystal vase with fresh violet sweet peas

How to clean fine crystal

Dear Mary: I have a beautiful crystal vase that over the years has acquired a build-up of residue that I cannot remove. Do you have a suggestion on how to remove it? Pat

Dear Pat: That build-up is likely calcium, lime and other minerals from years of standing water. You may need to experiment a bit, but I’m sure you can return that vase to its sparkling beauty without damaging the vase. Here are three simple and completely harmless methods:

Method 1: Fill the vase with your hottest tap water. Pour in a few squirts of liquid automatic dishwashing detergent, or a single pod if that’s what you have, and allow it to sit for a few hours, or overnight. Empty the vase and use a sponge or bottle brush to remove any remaining film. Rinse, dry and look at that sparkle!

Method 2: Fill the vase with water and drop in one or two denture tablets, depending on the vase size. Allow to sit and work overnight. In the morning agitate the container gently to ensure all of the deposits and mineral build-up has come loose. Empty the vase and wash with mild soap and water. Rinse well and dry it completely.

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I love my overflowing inbox filled with questions from my dear readers. What I don’t love is not being able to respond personally to each and every one!

So today, rather than trying to decide which ones to answer, how about I just reach in and let’s see what comes out.

multi-ethinic arms outstretched to ask questions.

Upside Down in a Durango

Dear Mary: I have a Dodge Durango gas guzzler and I owe way too much money on it. If I sell the vehicle outright, I could probably squeak by ending up just $5,000 in the hole. If I trade it in, I would be about $9,000 in the hole.  

I could put the shortfall on a credit card, but I know that is a bad idea for so many reasons. What should I do to pay the difference?

We have an old pick-up truck and an older Subaru that will be okay for now, but how do I get out of the loan and the Durango? And how can I sell it to someone when I don’t have a clear title? Any help will be appreciated. Linda

Dear Linda: There’s no perfect solution here, but here’s a plan that might work: 

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For many, Memorial Day has pretty much morphed from a day of remembrance to a much anticipated three-day weekend with exciting outdoor events that officially welcome the start of summer. But it’s more than that. In fact, it’s not really about a big blowout holiday weekend at all. It’s about remembering our history and those who’ve gone before.

U.S. history was not something stressed or even talked about in my family growing up. I possessed a general timeline of events but that was about it.

All of that changed for me when I married a man for whom our American history is more than a few facts memorized to get past a final exam.

My husband Harold lives and breathes our nation’s history. He planned our honeymoon around visits to Revolutionary War and Civil War battlefields, culminating with an all-day visit to Gettysburg National Military Park.

I was gobsmacked by what I didn’t know. Such an emotionally packed tour I’d never experienced. I learned more that day than I’d learned about our nation’s history in my 16 years of formal education.

That so many gave their lives to preserve this republic filled me with a deep sense of gratitude I’d not known. To be there—to see this battlefield and to visualize what happened was nearly too much to take in.

That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.

– President Abraham Lincoln

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with relaxing with friends and family and celebrating the arrival of summer. But I want to challenge you and your family to find a way today that you can pay homage to those who have given their lives for the sake of our country and our freedoms. I have a few suggestions. Read more

Every year, says the Center for Disease Control, nearly 48 million people become ill from foodborne contamination, including sickness caused by fresh produce. To avoid this, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends washing produce thoroughly with a fruit and vegetable wash to help kill bacteria and ensure produce is safe for consumption.

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Walk into any grocery store these days, and more than likely you’ll find more than few choices of commercial fruit and veggie “washes” displayed between baskets of kumquats and kiwis, all promising to save your family by making produce safe for human consumption.

Stop! Before you spend even a few bucks for a fancy container with glowing promises, consider that you can make your own highly effective fruit and vegetable wash for just pennies.

While buying a commercial product to do this might sound great because it’s convenient, check the ingredients. You’re likely to find an ironically high number of chemicals with a price tag to match.

Mixing up your own fruit and vegetable wash is not only cheap—it’s also ridiculously easy. As a bonus, you’ll always know exactly what’s in it.

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Recently, a friend sent me an S.O.S. asking if I knew of any natural way to rid an apartment of fleas—a method that would not be toxic to small children.

Treating their pets and animals would be the first step, but surprisingly these folks have no animals. The truth is that flea infestations often occur simply because neighborhood cats or dogs like to lounge near their home or they have purchased an infested piece of furniture from a yard sale.

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I headed right for my collection of pest control recipes and retrieved the perfect solution for fleas. I thought you might enjoy knowing that one, plus remedies for all kinds of home and garden pests.

All-Purpose outdoor insect spray. Mix one chopped garlic clove, one chopped small onion, and one tablespoon cayenne powder with one-quart water. Allow to steep one hour, then add one tablespoon liquid dishwashing soap, like blue Dawn or Ivory liquid. This all-purpose insect spray remains potent for only one week, so use it up by spraying the exterior perimeter of the house.

Ants. Repel an ant invasion by washing countertops, cabinets and floors with equal parts water and vinegar.  Read more