Dear Readers: Today's Sound Off is about department store staff who ignore the customer:

"Dear Heloise: I recently went shopping at a major department store, and I asked one of the sales staff if she could assist me, and she said, "No," she was busy, and just walked off. I saw a group of three giggling salespeople and asked if they could help me, and one young woman said, "In a minute," turned her back and continued her conversation. I left the store without spending a dime.

"This isn't the first time I've seen salespeople ignore a customer. The majority of salespeople usually are helpful and professional, but it only takes a few bad apples to ruin the reputation of a store. Is it a lack of proper training?" -- Emma Y., Scranton, Pennsylvania

Emma, sorry to hear about this unfortunate incident, but you do have options. You can call the store manager to let him or her know of your experience, or write a letter to the corporate CEO. Training might be the issue, but you always can recommend better training in a phone call or letter. -- Heloise

Fast facts

Dear Readers: If you lose your wallet:

  • Call the police and report that it's lost or stolen -- do this immediately!
  • Get a new driver's license -- this is your most commonly used form of ID.
  • Cancel all credit cards and, if necessary, notify your bank.
  • Notify utilities in case someone tries to open an account.
  • If you kept a spare house key in your wallet, have the locks changed. -- Heloise

Nasty gnats

Dear Heloise: I'm having problems with gnats in my kitchen and bathrooms. I have the house sprayed for bugs, but I still have gnats. Do you have a solution to this problem? -- Bugs in Kitchen, via email

First make certain all indoor plants are not watered for a couple of days; gnats lay their eggs in damp soil. Remove all food or fruit bowls from the counter. Clean all surfaces with an all-purpose cleaner, including the floors and trash baskets. Cover drains with plastic and tape it down. Leave this in place overnight.

Then make a gnat trap:

  • Pour about 1/4 cup of apple-cider vinegar into a jar or plastic container.
  • Take a coffee filter and place over the opening of the apple-cider container. You can use a rubber band to ensure that the coffee filter is held in place and there is a tight seal.
  • Poke three holes in the coffee filter, no bigger than 1/4 inch to 1/3 inch wide.
  • Place in an area where the gnats are, and leave it there for a day or two. -- Heloise 

Wax on, wax off

Dear Heloise: My daughter gave me two beautiful scented candle jars (cinnamon and vanilla). Most of the wick and wax is almost used. The jars are beautiful, and I wish to keep them. How can I safely remove the remaining wax? -- Mom in Florida

What a lovely daughter! And kudos for wanting to repurpose the jars. Tuck the jars in the freezer for about an hour. Carefully place a table knife at the edge of the wax and wiggle it gently. The wax should pop off! -- Heloise

'S' or 'C'

Dear Heloise: I'm sure there are a lot of talented folks who design containers, so it has always amazed me that they fail to recognize that people who wear glasses usually don't wear them in the shower.

Shampoo and conditioner bottles are ordinarily the same size. How about a giant "S" and "C" printed on the bottles? -- Marian L., Omaha, Nebraska

The learned word

Dear Heloise: While my kids (ages 8 and 10) are out of school for the summer, I am having them read for an hour per day. I set a goal for them to find one word they are unfamiliar with. I challenge them to learn the meaning of the word, and then the context the word was used in.

Then the next day, we talk about yesterday's word, and set upon the task of finding a new word to learn!

We are having fun reading, learning and sharing! -- Mary H. in Pittsburgh

Letter of laughter

Dear Heloise: Why is it that in school, teachers tell you, "Keep your eyes on your own paper" and "No talking," and then when you get out in the real world, people tell you, "Network!" "Meet and greet!" and "If you want to be like this person, do what he does!"?

A paradox indeed! -- Glenn C. in New York

Soap story

Dear Heloise: The marketplace seems to be flooded with products labeled "shower gel" and "body wash." Are these actually soap, or is this a clever advertising gimmick? Do you use bar soap with them? How do you choose? -- L.T., Omaha, Nebraska

L.T., great question, and there is a difference! Both shower gel and body wash are liquid soaps, and bar soap is a solid, but all are used to clean your skin.

Women, especially, tend to prefer liquid soap over bar soap, primarily because liquids lather more, there is a wide choice of fragrances available, and liquid body cleansers typically have more moisturizers than bar soap, so they are less drying to the skin.

The liquids also might have a shimmery ingredient added to make your skin "sparkle."

Here are two differences between the liquids: Shower gel typically is thicker in consistency than body wash, and it is more densely fragranced, so the scent of shower gel may last longer on your skin.

Manufacturers of shower gels and body washes recommend using a sponge or lather-builder to maximize suds. Rinse and dry the sponge thoroughly between uses. Have two to rotate.

Bar soap can be a breeding ground for bacteria, although this is not a major concern -- the bacteria washes away when you rinse. Ultimately, the decision is yours -- there are lots of choices out there. -- Heloise

School supply plan

Dear Heloise: I'm helping to buy supplies for my grandchildren for the upcoming school year. Here are some hints I use to stay organized and save money:

  1. Taking inventory of what they already have and can still use was my first step. What can be recycled? What can be repurposed?
  2. Next, establishing a budget is important. Kids like and need boundaries.
  3. The school provides a list of required items. I stick to the list -- nothing fancy.
  4. I buy necessities in bulk (paper, pencils, folders, glue).
  5. Some schools have programs to help disadvantaged kids. We try to help.

These hints have helped us get ready for a successful and productive school year! -- Mary J., Hammond, Indiana

Mary, fabulous! Great way to help your grandkids and others who need a hand. Here's a Heloise hug! -- Heloise

Saving soap

Dear Heloise: When my bars of soap get very thin, I break them up and put them into a pump container and add water. When they dissolve, I have a convenient container of soap. -- A Reader, Waco, Texas

Whether this will work depends on the makeup of the soap. Some will dissolve easier than others. -- Heloise

Space saver

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Dear Heloise: Living alone, I use very few dishes, so I handwash them. My dishwasher wasn't being used, so I turned it into a pantry!

I use the top rack for canned goods, the lower rack for packaged food and dry goods and the silverware rack for large cooking utensils.

The drawer that held the utensils now gives me space to store my spices. I lay the spices in the drawer label side up.

No more standing on a step stool to find what I need in the tall cupboards. This is convenient, and it lessens the chance of falling.

Once a month or so, I remove everything from the racks and run the dishwasher for cleaning. -- Debbie C., Warren, Ohio

Great way to make the most of every inch of space! -- Heloise

Lots of dots

Dear Heloise: My son thought that math was a bore, but he loved competing in everything. I got out the dominoes, and without him even realizing it, I taught him basic math.

We added the spots to determine the value of each. Then we moved to subtracting. Thus a 5/3 domino became an 8 when adding, a 2 when subtracting. Very quickly, he could glance at the domino and know the value.

I selected dominoes that could be divided and taught him division with those.

This made learning fun! -- Texas Dad, via email

Bath mash

Dear Heloise: I love to take a relaxing bath while giving myself a healthy, natural facial. I finely mash an avocado and mix in a few drops of witch hazel.

I swirl it on my face and relax in the bath for 30 minutes, then rinse. My skin feels smooth. -- Janice D. in Ohio

Head to the mall?

Dear Heloise: I'm wondering how your readers feel about shopping malls? When I was a kid, I loved spending time at the mall with my friends; some malls had carousels, ice-skating rinks and movie theaters, and they all had wonderful food courts with delicious choices of eats. But now so many malls are going out of business.

In San Antonio, we still have malls that are doing well, but off-price stores and shopping online are gaining in popularity.

Will your readers always go to the mall? Do you like the energy there? The service? The people? It was convenient to have all the big stores under one roof, and years ago, I used to walk in the mall for exercise. That was fun.

The salespeople in the kiosks outside of the stores can be pretty pushy, but I've learned to just say, "No, thank you."

Is the shopping mall becoming a thing of the past? Hopefully not! -- Jana B., Helotes, Texas

Readers, what do you say about the shopping mall? I've done many book signings in many malls over the years -- a great place to come together! -- Heloise

Send a great hint to: Heloise, P.O. Box 795000, San Antonio TX 78279-5000; fax: 1-210-HELOISE; email: