Messy Marriage

Posted on July 31, 2012. Filed under: Couples, Family, Home, Parenting, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Dear Lora,

My son has been married to a sweet gal for 7 years, although she’s nice, her mother is a different story.  Within a year of the wedding, her mom moved in.  A couple of years later, the mother-in-law took custody of one of her other grand-kids, that little girl currently lives with them as well (her parents are nowhere to be found).  They have two kids of their own and now, reluctantly, he has also taken on parenting the niece.  He doesn’t feel he ever has alone time with his children and feels obligated to include the niece.  I need to point out my son is the only one working in the house and they are financially strapped.  His wife says she can’t find a job, although she is a credentialed nurses assistant.  The mother-in-law has a bad back, but is not on disability, so I wonder about that.  I told him to kick the mom out, but that would mean the girl would have to go too.   I hate to see him struggle, what should I do?

Mom in the middle

Dear Middle Mom,

Good gravy Miss Mavey, there sure plenty of lumps in this batch!  The good news, with a little whisking, I think we can get this smoothed out.

I totally get that this situation seems incredibly overwhelming — for those in it, it must feel like there’s no way out.  Luckily, I’m sitting some distance away on another pew, which gives me the chance to see this a little differently.

I hate to sound like a preacher, but I’m a firm believer in that old saying “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle”.  (For those out there who aren’t big fans of God, you can insert “universe”.)

With that said, your son is going to have to man on up!  Especially since this is a girl we’re talking about.  Girls need father figures, whether it’s their own biological one or otherwise.

Remember:  just because some dude showed up and donated a few of his genes at the right time of one month, doesn’t always guarantee he will show up with his big boy jeans on and do the right thing for the rest of that child’s life.

It’s been proven, girls with positive male figures have a greater chance of doing better in life.  They have more self-worth, score higher in certain school subjects, are most likely to excel at a sport, and list goes on.  If that doesn’t get his attention, then mention what can happen without one: teenage pregnancy, ending up in an abusive relationship, even becoming a stripper.  Not that stripping is illegal or anything, but you know what I’m saying.   I have yet to meet anyone who would proudly announce their daughter works at Cheetah’s!  Or niece for that matter!

It’s simple — it’s NOT that little girls fault, but it could be your sons, if he doesn’t handle this properly.  Right or wrong, he’s been placed in her life as much as she’s been placed in his.  Honestly, it sounds like she’s got an angel looking out for her, without your son and daughter-in-law, she could end up in a foster home, if anything were ever happened to grandma.

As for his much-needed one on one time with his own children, he needs to plan dates.  Mark off time on the calendar to spend with each separately – that could be going to the park or just getting ice cream.  It doesn’t have to be an entire day and doesn’t need to cost anything.  Side note to all of us: you can’t put a price on time well spent.  However, there’s a catch — he must also makes dates with the niece.  Whether he likes it or not, his kids are watching and taking it all in…he’s not only showing the niece she’s important, but also showing his kids what a real man is.  A real man steps up and takes responsibility.

For example, my dad died when I was in the 6th grade.  Although my mom, Norma Jean, never remarried, I was blessed with a fantastic brother-in-law who always made sure he was around when it was time to learn how to drive, who made sure I still went snow skiing, taught me how to check the air in my tires, etc., you get my point.  Although I have 2 brothers, it was my sister’s husband who stepped up to the plate.  Now, I’ll be honest, I didn’t realize what he was doing at the time, but looking back, it’s super clear.  He never announced his actions, never said “since your dad can’t be around”, he just did them, those little things that a dad would have done, had he been there.  An important point to your son, I remember all of those nice things.

On to the mother-in-law.  I hear your frustration, but I’m not sure the best answer is to kick the mother-in-law out and it certainly isn’t what the niece needs.  He’s going have to sit his wife and her mother down with all the bills and explain he needs some financial help.   Basically, one of them needs to get a job.  It doesn’t matter which one, it just needs to happen to keep the family afloat.  This is pretty darn simple: you can’t keep rowing down the river with 6 people and only 1 oar.  Bottom line – one gets a job, the other can stay home and take care of the kids.  OR, they could both get part time jobs and split the child rearing, either way, he needs a life-preserver and fast!  If some of the financial burden is lifted off  your son, I think it will offer much smoother sailing.

I commend your son for taking on of this extended family.  Despite what we envision for our children, today, families take on many different forms.  There’s no set of rules as to what a home needs to look like.  It’s what ever you make it.  I truly believe if more families watched out for each other, our country wouldn’t be running the huge moral deficit it is right now.

Take pride in the way you raised your son, he’s clearly been putting up with more than most husbands would be willing to.  I really believe there is a special place in heaven for him, at the least there will be special place in his niece’s heart if he handles this opportunity correctly.

Ps.  While I am skeptical of most government handouts, I believe there are those who truly need financial help, and it sounds like this little girl does.  I am not well versed on this subject, but I think it’s worth a call to the local Social Security office.  Since neither the girl’s father nor mother are able to contribute, there may be some assistant available to her.

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Daily Dose Of Love

Posted on January 30, 2012. Filed under: Couples, Family, Home, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Dear Lora,

What are some fun, easy things my husband and I can do for each other to keep that romance alive when we don’t have time on some days to spend time together?  And how do we carve out time for each other while juggling 2 toddlers?

Romantically Challenged

Dear No-mance,

Don’t we all remember the dating days, also know as the days of wine and roses?  Awww, yes, those were fun times!  My husband, Scooter, and I refer to those as the P.R. (public relation) days – when I’d take time to put lipstick on and he’d wear his fancy Cole Haan loafers instead of flip-flops on date night.  Now he’s lucky if I have chap-stick on and I, if  Scoot wears what he considers to be his “good” thong sandals on Saturday night.

Anyone who’s ever been in a relationship has been there.  The crazy part, most of us can’t even tell you when the PR phase ends, it just melts away like a cube of ice on a hot summer sidewalk.  Then one day, we realize we’ve taken the term “slip into something more comfortable” a little too literally and have traded the red lacy thing for a blue fleece hoodie.

While there is a lot of comfort found in this phase, reflected both in your relationship and wardrobe, it’s important to make sure that you two are still connecting, even if it is in sweats.

Although it’s often said variety is the spice of life, I think a guaranteed date night with your spouse might be the ingredient you need for a spicy marriage.  I know it’s not very exciting to schedule romance, but when you have kids (of any age) at home, it’s a necessity.

For example, Tuesday night, after the kids are in bed, make a pact to power off your iPhone, Kindle and computer and have time together, without outside “noise”, as I call it.  In our house, that means popping open a bottle of wine, cuddling up on the couch and watching a TiVo’d episode of Mike & Molly.  For the record, it’s amazing how great anything on TV can be when you get to watch it without one kid doing a cart-wheel in front of the coffee-table, while another uses the fireplace poker as golf club.

It’s far from sexy, but I’ll tell you, it’s those moments Scooter says he misses most when he’s on the road.  It’s not necessarily the “bown chicka bown bown” moments, but rather the everyday things he misses.

Just for one night, don’t worry about the dishes or opening the mail, trust me, they’ll both be there in the morning.  Focus on just “being” with your better half.  No matter what you’re doing, you’re connecting and sharing a moment.  I often think there is too much pressure to do something “fabulous”, especially when you’re juggling all that you are – husband, kids and work.  I happened to think it’s pretty fabulous just to do nothing sometimes, as long as you’re together.

Raising 3 kids and a dog doesn’t leave a lot of time for Harlequin Romance novel moments.  I think as women we worry about recreating those nearly impossible fantasies — keep in mind, men don’t read those books!  They read Sports Illustrated and Newsweek…at last check, Fabio hasn’t graced the cover of either.

It goes without saying that if time, money and schedules weren’t an issue, you’d be getting dolled up and going to candlelight dinners a couple of times a week, but the reality is, that only happens when you’re a contestant on a reality show.  In my opinion, that’s why 99 percent of those relationships don’t last.  Real life isn’t filled with private jets and pomegranate martini’s, it’s about microwave popcorn and a bottle of Merlot from Trader Joe’s.

As for the electronic devices I just requested you unplug, use those to stay connected when you’re not together.  Put those high-tech puppies to use and start rekindling some old puppy love.  Text each other during the day, send a little email or call just to say a quick “hi”, no heavy conversation, just a little “hey, hope you’re having a great day”.  I love it when Scoot sends me an email that says “just thinking about you”.  It’s simple, takes only a second, and definitely makes me smile.  When he travels for work, I sometimes put a post-it in his Dopp kit that says “miss you already”.   Both things are free and easy to do.

Then there are the daily tasks you can take turn into sweet nothings.  For example, Scooter usually sets up the coffeemaker before we got to bed, so the coffee is ready when we get up.  Once in a while I surprise him and have it ready to go before he can get to it.  It’s surprising how cool he thinks that is.  And when he removes all the decorative pillows from the bed (including my side) at night, I dig it!

Turn the little things into surprise moments when you can and you’ll start connecting on a lot of levels.  Scooter and I are FAR  from perfect when it comes to this stuff…reading the above, you’d think we have it all figured out!  Trust me, we don’t, the important part is that we keep trying.

Cheesy?  A little, but I love cheese and don’t trust anyone who doesn’t!



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Hungry Husband Help

Posted on January 23, 2012. Filed under: Couples, Family, Home, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Dear Lora,

I am a terrible cook and a busy working mom.  Every night I limp by in the kitchen serving my family tragic meals of chicken fingers or mac and cheese.  My husband grimaces when he sees the meal and constantly rides me about becoming a better cook.  That would be great it I had the time and energy, to take on one more thing, but I don’t.  Help!

Hectic & Hungry

Dear H & H,

I’ll bet you squirm every time you hear the old “The way to a man’s heart is through is stomach”, don’t you?  The pressure that one line has put on all of us is huge.  Although that can be countered with “Diamonds are a girls best friend”, the reality is, men expect us to cook everyday, while we never expect diamonds, right?

Case in point: my husband, Scooter, expects me to cook every night of the week, except 2 – Friday, when he plays hockey and isn’t home for dinner and Saturday, which is date night, where I’m allowed to super size my #4 meal.  Romantic, I know.  Honestly, I’m happy eating anywhere someone else is doing the dishes, or wiping done the trays, as the case may be.

The other 5 nights of the week, I have to come up with the menu, of course no one in my family ever offers up any suggestions, but are all quick to complain the minute the food hits the table.  Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

No matter whom you’re married to, I’ve come to believe our husbands expect us to do it all – cook, cleaning, caretaker and co-bread winner.  The reality is, it’s just not possible!

I don’t care who you are, or how well you think you’re doing it, if your plate is that full, something needs salt.  Unless, of course, you don’t sleep, but then you’d be a vampire and we all know, thanks to those Twilight movies, even they have to hunt in the middle of the night for food – yuck!

Bottom line:  It’s impossible to be Martha Stewart, that’s why there’s only one.  Who else could plant her own peas, paint the pantry and plan a 5-course meal all in one day?  The reality is, she has an entire team of creative folks helping her keep up the façade.  And, here are a couple of key ingredients to her recipe for doing it all:  1.) She doesn’t have a husband or 2.) Small kids at home!  Unfortunately, the picture of perfection she’s created has caused quite a conundrum for the rest of us common chicks.

So how do you let him know it’s nearly impossible to be Rachel Ray (who, by the way doesn’t have children) every night after work?  Before you hit your boiling point, I suggest cooking up a plan.

I’m going to guess your husband isn’t a culinary wizard in the kitchen either, so I recommend choosing one night a week, where you, your hubby and possibly kids, all learn to cook together.  It could end up being a fun family night and helpful for all of you.  Thursday would be good, as most men are starting to mentally settle down work-wise around Thursday night – don’t select Monday, as that would likely be a recipe for disaster!

Despite my aforementioned comments, I suggest picking up a book like “Martha Stewart’s Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook” – yes, Martha Stewart!  It’s a highly rated beginner cookbook, which she probably didn’t write by herself anyway.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Before you suggest this appetizing adventure, I’d figure out a way to approach it in guy terms, try using the word “team”, instead of you and I, tell him you have whipped up a tasty “game plan”.  Let him know you’re willing to learn how to cook, but would really love it if it was something you could whip up together.

I would also suggest making the night before a take-out night, where you pick up dinner, instead of trying to cook.  Nothing fancy, maybe just pizza and salad.  Next thing you know, 2 of your 5 weeknights are covered, leaving only 3 that you need to stress about.  Hey, it’s a start.

If it sounds boring to do the same thing every Wednesday or Thursday, keep this is mind, schedules create sanity.  Especially in men and children, when they know what to expect, things just run smoother.  Although men would like us to believe they like to be surprised – they’re probably taking about being surprised in another room in the house, not the kitchen.

Once the mystery is taken out of cooking, it’s actually a lot of fun, especially if you have a small army of elves who can clean up after you; in our house they’re called the kids!

And there are other benefits to cooking up a storm — in my kitchen I use it as an indirect line of communication, sometimes even warming one of Scoot’s cold fronts.

For example, if I make fish, Scoot assumes I’m upset with him, and candidly, sometimes I am.  He can’t stand fish or mushrooms, so if either show up in a dish, he knows he’s in the doghouse.  On the other side of the menu, if I make something he loves, like chicken and dumplings, he assumes I’ve used the credit card a bit too much and am looking for leniency.   Both have a surprising success rate.

And here’s the good news, you don’t have to learn how to cook like Julia Child to make a big impression.  In fact, sometimes, it’s the presentation that makes the meal.  Here’s what I’ve learned from my mom Norma Jean, put away the paper plates for a week and use real dishes.  N.J. has always said anything you’ve spent time cooking deserves a real plate.

Stick a tablecloth (one you can toss in the washer) on the table and light a couple of candles.  It’s amazing how much better food tastes when you light a 10 cent votive!

To help you start your culinary crusade, I’ve included a super simple recipe my whole family loves.  This spaghetti tastes exactly like the one made from scratch N.J. has made my entire life.  Since I don’t have time to let sauce cook all day I’ve created my version – enjoy!

Dear Lora’s Super Simple Spaghetti

1 lb. of ground turkey or beef

2 Jars of your favorite pasta sauce (I use Paul Newman’s Sockarooni)

2 T. of sugar

¼ C. of whipped cream cheese

1 whole bay leaf

1 box of your favorite pasta, cooked according to the directions on the box (I use whole grain thin spaghetti)

Parmesan cheese for serving

In a large pot, brown meat and drain.  Return to heat and add sauce, sugar, cream cheese and bay leaf.  Stir until well blended and the cream cheese has melted.  Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until ready to eat.  Remove bay leaf, pour over pasta and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

Serve with a salad and garlic bread.

If you’re trying to avoid carbs, microwave a spaghetti squash, use a fork to remove the strands and substitute for pasta.

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Tricky Foreign Affairs

Posted on November 28, 2011. Filed under: Couples, Family, Home, Parenting, Relationships |

Dear Lora,

I’ve got a great career along with a husband and a soon to be kindergartener.  I’ve been offered a career opportunity that would make me stand out in my field and double my income, however, my husband doesn’t want me to take the offer.  I would need to temporarily move to Tokyo for 9 months starting the beginning of next year.  I will have the option to come back to Miami when the 9 months is up.  My husband doesn’t want to go.   He says he could not take a leave and would have to resign instead, his family is here, and our son would be pulled out of school just a few months after starting.  My career is very important to me.  I’m already making more them him and when my bigger paycheck comes in, he can be the stay at home dad.  How can I get him to even consider the idea?

Bringing home the bacon

Dear Bacon,

Wow, this is just like that Enjoli perfume commercial from the 70’s – “I can bring home the bacon (da-dah-da) fry it up in the pan…”

First of all, congratulations on your super exciting offer, doesn’t if feel good to be wanted, appreciated and rewarded?  Lord knows, there are few places any of us can get that type of feeling.  It sure doesn’t happen after we do the dishes, fight with the kids to brush their teeth or wash our husband’s hockey stinky hockey gear, right?

Now, back to the big negative in all this excitement – your seemingly support-less spouse.

Let’s start with why he doesn’t want to quit his job and doesn’t want to move, it’s very simple – for the most part, people don’t like change.  Taking it a step further, men seem to like it far less than women.  You don’t have to look any further than their hair, most men have the same haircut they did in their senior pictures.  If they don’t, it’s likely because they’re now folically challenged and can’t recreate the look they sported when they won the state football championship.  They also don’t like changing their style of jeans, boxers or toothpaste.  So getting a man to move to another town is a real trick, especially if it isn’t for his job.

The interesting part in this equation is that you earn more money then he does and you’re now in a spot to earn even more.  I can tell you, without question, that my husband, Scooter, would move anywhere in the world if I was the breadwinner in the relationship.  Dare I say he’d even help pack!

Unfortunately, your mate seems to be doing a different kind of math, which is making for a very challenging problem.

Here are some things I’d circle back on:

1.) Does he know for sure he’d have to resign?  In these economic times, there are companies who would be thrilled to give unpaid leave.  I would encourage him to meet with his Human Resources department and see if he can get a list of the company’s position on this issue.  That’s something he can do without showing his cards and risking retaliation.

2.) It would be fantastic if you could live close to either of your extended families, but the reality is, over 75% of everyone I know has had to move at least once to make a living.  Unless your husband’s family wants to start paying your bills as well, I say go where you have the best chance to support your kid, put money away for retirement and your son’s college.  Heck, Scooter and I live in a city that isn’t our first choice because of his job.  Families have to make this decision all the time.

I’m perplexed as to why he’s playing that card anyway.  You, your husband and child are a family, that’s what you both most consider first, what’s best for your family.  If you have the luxury of considering extended family after that, then consider yourself lucky.

And 3.)  Kids are resilient, especially at your son’s age.  This could be a great learning and bonding experience for all of you.  Another plus, as a kindergartener, he could even pickup a second language fairly easy.  That way, when he hits middle school he can scream “leave me alone” in more than one language and you can honestly say that you didn’t understand him!

I think it sounds like a neat adventure.  The key to this offer is that you said you can always come back if it doesn’t work out.  We’re only talking 9 months – unlike having a baby, you can actually unwind this outcome.

As long as you are together as a family unit, that’s all that matters.  It’s not like you’re moving your son during his senior year of high school and forcing him to miss prom.

I think I’d skip suggesting to your spouse that he could then be a stay at home dad.  Whether they admit it or not, most guys are as excited about that idea as they are hitting the mall Saturday morning.  Instead, let him know this could be a chance for him to pursue a career he’s always wanted.  It could free him up to take a chance on creating his own business, being his own boss and not being beholden to a job where he has to ask for a leave.

I’m not saying that’s an easy sell, because it’s not.  It’s probably going to be harder than finding the matching lids to your kids sippy cups.  But starting with a different approach will definitely help.

You didn’t mention this, but I wonder how much it bothers your husband that you bring home more dinero, soon to be yen.  No matter what you call money, the idea is completely foreign to most men, forget that your offer is in Tokyo, it could be in Toledo and he’d likely be having the same reaction.  Your challenge is to get him to see you, him and your son as a “team” — that this opportunity is something to do together, rather than something that will make you more successful than he is.  Remember, his ego is a stake here as well.

Men are funny creatures, although they’re usually not very complex, they are experts at sending mixed messages.  For example, when my oldest daughter was 4 months old, my ex-husband demanded I go get a job, which I immediately did.  Here’s the kicker: he didn’t like it when my “job” started turning into a real career.  It became pretty clear, pretty fast that he wasn’t interested in my success.  I was completely confused…was I supposed to get a job that I hated and was awful at?

Pouring salt on the now open and bleeding wound, I was told by his accountant that I needed to watch what I made, so I didn’t mess up his tax bracket!  I changed his tax bracket all right — to single!

Turns out, this was a man who wouldn’t have moved next door, even if the house was free, let alone to another city for me.  I truly hope that’s NOT your husband.  If it is, you will have to make a tough decision either way.

For me it was simple decision, because our marriage was down right awful.  Truth be told, it was easier to go to work than it was to stay home and deal with him.  There was no “us”, or “our family”, so that made my choice easier.  He wanted someone to completely form to his life, his wishes and integrate into his family.  Toss in a couple of eggs and some flour and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

I hope that your spouse is more interested in creating something with you and your son as the focus, whether that’s staying where you are, or moving to a new city.

Final thought: If this was a career opportunity for your husband, I’ll bet there would be little to discuss, in fact, chances are, you would have already downloaded an app on how to learn Japanese in 30 days!

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To Clean Or Not To Clean?

Posted on June 19, 2011. Filed under: Family, Home, Parenting |

Dear Lora,

Does having a housekeeper help teach kids to clean or does it teach them to be lazy when someone else cleans up after them?  Is it a better lesson to let them clean up after themselves? 

Confused Cleaner

Dear Confused Cleaner,

The timing of your question couldn’t be better.  Last month I had the great pleasure of helping my daughter move out of her college dorm for the summer.  On day two of packing and schlepping, I finally made my way to the top shelf where her TV perched for 10 long months.  As I picked it up, I noticed it started snowing a blizzard of gray powder!  Once the dust settled, literally, I found myself with two options: I could either write my initials in thick dirty fuzz or grab a towel and wipe it down.  My first instinct was to clean it, then I thought to myself, “wait, I wasn’t the one who went an entire school year without a can of furniture polish!”  Lord knows if they can afford those fancy coffee drinks on campus, they can afford a can of cleaner.

Being a neat freak, I was mortified that I had raised a daughter who either didn’t notice the build up, or worse, didn’t care.  Before she came back from yet another run of boxes to the rental car, I realized this wasn’t her fault, it was mine.

As a working mother, I’ve found hiring a housekeeper is one of the best ways to keep my sanity.  Honestly, it’s cheaper than therapy.  As I’ve recently learned, at the end of the day, that’s exactly what it’s for, for me, not my kids.

Unfortunately, the epiphany came too late for my oldest daughter, who’s actually very tidy, but as I discovered, she’s just not a “cleaner”, that’s because I never taught her how to clean.  Needless to say, I’m not making that mistake with my other two kids.  I can’t guarantee that they’ll have less of a dust storm in their dorm room after their freshman year,  however, I promise they’ll know how to scrub and be equipped with the tools to do it.

As a child, I too had a cleaning lady, her name was Mrs. Thigpen, I’m not making that up, in fact, I thought it was funny her name rhymed with pig-pen.  There was nothing pig or pen about her, she was a first class cleaner who arrived every Tuesday.  Each week she’d make the house shine and put everything in it’s place…except my clothes.  I would find them on the bed, waiting for me to finish putting them away.  Now, granted that wasn’t a big deal, but rather a clever little nudge in the “take care of your own stuff” direction.  As I grew older, Mrs. Thigpen, or anyone other than me rarely touched my room, it had become my responsibility and I had to clean it.  I’m guessing that wasn’t an accident, but rather a very stealth move by my mom.  A woman who was smart enough to know the difference between paying for her sanity, and paying the price for a pampered kid.

This summer, Betsy, my oldest, will not only be working part time and taking Spanish to get her language credit out of the way, she will also be studying something just as foreign at home — housekeeping 101.

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Countertop Crisis

Posted on May 27, 2011. Filed under: Home |

Dear Lora,

Over the winter my husband decided he was going to get some hard water stains out of my guest bathroom’s black countertop.  Without getting my permission first, he used some harsh cleaner that bleached out the color.  I have tried many different polishes to restore it, even using W-D40 several times too.  Nothing has worked.  While he temporarily removed the hard water stains, I feel he permanently ruined my counter top.  Is there anything else I can try?  It’s so embarrassing every time I have guests over!  Please advise!

Spotty Relationship

Dear Spotty Relationship,

There is good news and bad news for this situation.  Let’s start with the bad, if your natural stone has been bleached, you’ll need to contact a professional to correct the spots.  Now, the good news, you actually have a husband who is willing to try and clean something!  If you don’t have the money to get the spots fixed right now, I’d make good fun of this situation when your friends come over, they will get a kick out of the story.   They may be a bit jealous as well, as it’s not everyday that a husband attempts to clean any part of a bathroom.  Most importantly, don’t give your husband too much grief, or he may never help clean again.

In the meantime, here are some ways for your husband to remove those water stains when they happen (and they most certainly will), next time:

Natural Stone – try using stone soap, which can be found at your local hardware store.

Laminate surfaces – use a mild cleaner with a gentle scrubbing agent, like baking soda.  Make sure you rinse with water and wipe the surface dry.

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