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Dear Readers: Today's SOUND OFF is from a reader who believes we've lost the meaning of the holidays. — Heloise

"Dear Heloise: This is the month of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, three important holidays for most of us. Sadly, we've gotten caught up in the lights, the stores crammed with all sorts of items, the wrapping and the gifts. But the holidays are not about these things. As a nation, we've lost the importance of these holidays and have given way to the commercialization and the ostentation of outdoing neighbors.

"For Christmas this year, my family agreed that we would give no more than two gifts to people. Not necessarily expensive, but something we know the other person will like or need. Instead of buying a bunch of junk, we've made up large Christmas baskets out of laundry baskets for needy families with canned goods, soaps, shampoos, gift certificates and blankets. To us, Christmas is more about giving than receiving." — Claudia L., Perry Hills, Ohio

FAST FACTS

Dear Readers: Here are some other uses for a pizza cutter. You can cut:

• brownies

• waffles or pancakes

• boiled potatoes

• hard-boiled eggs

• sandwiches

— Heloise

BAKING SODA

Dear Heloise: How can I remove stubborn spaghetti sauce stains on my plastic food storage containers? — Faye H., Asheboro, N.C.

Faye, try mixing together equal parts baking soda and chlorine bleach. Put the mixture on the stain and set aside for about 15 to 20 minutes. Wash well and rinse thoroughly. This should do the trick! I have many other stain-removing hints using baking soda in my pamphlet Baking Soda Hints and Recipes. To get a copy, send $5, along with a long, stamped (71 cents), self-addressed envelope, to: Heloise/Baking Soda, P.O. Box 795001, San Antonio, TX 78279-5001. You also can order it online at www.Heloise.com. Keeping your home clean and odor-free using baking soda is as easy as sprinkling some on a damp sponge and using as you would scouring powder. In fact, you may never have to buy scouring powder again. — Heloise

WEDDING DRESS

Dear Heloise: Just a word to the wise: BEFORE you spend a dime on a wedding gown that may be difficult (if not impossible) to clean, read the label carefully. I didn't. I had my gown dry-cleaned and preserved in a special garment bag. When my daughter wanted to see if it fit her for her wedding, I found that the dress had yellowed, the seed pearls were dull and peeling, and the fabric had lost its soft sheen. That was when I read the label, which specifically said that all seed pearls and applique must be removed before dry-cleaning, and to not store in plastic bags. So now, 22 years after my wedding, I have a $7,000 rag that my daughter cannot wear! — Chloe N., Richmond, Va.

Chloe, yes, it's so very important to read dress labels carefully, especially on garments that we'd like to preserve for future generations. — Heloise

PIPES UNDER PRESSURE?

Dear Readers: Temperatures should be chilly over most of the country now. Have you given thought to the PIPES in your home? Water expands in the cold weather — this can put pressure on your pipes.

Which pipes are at risk for freezing? Pipes on exterior walls with little insulation, pipes in unheated areas of your home such as the basement, and outdoor pipes for your pool or sprinkler system. Here are some hints to help keep pipes running and warm:

• Keeping kitchen and bath cabinet doors open can allow warm air to circulate (place chemicals up and away from curious kids and pets).

• When temperatures outside plummet, a dripping faucet can help prevent frozen pipes.

• Going away on vacation? Experts agree: Don't let the temperature in your home drop below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

For more hints on pipes, contact a licensed plumber in your area. — Heloise

CHECK IT OUT!

Dear Heloise: This week, an attempt was made to short-change me on one purchase, and then on another to charge regular price on an item that was on sale.

I think it's simply because I am a senior and look vulnerable. Be alert! — L.B.B. in San Antonio

Always check your receipts to make sure you are charged the correct amount. — Heloise

TIPTOP SERVICE

Hi, Heloise: I saw a recent letter in your column about tipping housekeeping staff. Maids at hotels and motels are among the lowest-paid and hardest-working women in the workforce. Many are single mothers supporting families and barely earning enough to make ends meet.

When checking out, we always leave money on the pillow. — E.S., Redondo Beach, Calif.

Etiquette rules say to tip the housekeepers between $2 and $5 per day, since you may have different housekeepers. Tip daily, and leave the tip in a labeled envelope. — Heloise

CLASS ACT

Dear Heloise: My parents owned a store. They instilled in us the importance of being attentive to the customer. Be kind and gracious.

Four students from the high school senior class (as a class fundraiser) would come work in the store, and a percentage of the profits would go to the class. — Jeannette F., Rochester, N.Y.

P.S. I remember my father teaching one of the boys how to tie his necktie!

Wonderful lessons learned! — Heloise

LABEL LOVER

Dear Heloise: As a former illustrator and greeting card designer, I appreciate the artistic talent and work it takes to create beautiful cards.

Therefore, I recycle the cards by using the illustrated card front cover as a gift label. I cut off the front card cover and write the "To" and "From" on it and attach it to the gift. — A Reader, via email

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TEXT MANAGEMENT

Dear Heloise: I like to hang on to my text messages. They are time- and date- stamped, and I can look back on them to verify many things. — Maria M. in Pennsylvania

IN THE CARDS

Dear Heloise: With all the baking, cooking, shopping and gift-wrapping, I start early, especially with CHRISTMAS CARDS. Mine all go out on Dec. 1. People like to have time to enjoy them and decorate with them. If I get a card a few days before Christmas, it may not get displayed. Not to mention, this is less stress on postal workers handling all these cards! — Early Bird in Pennsylvania

BETTER SWEATER

Dear Heloise: Iowa winters are rough, so I am always reaching for my sweaters. But long sleeves can present a problem when cooking and cleaning in the kitchen, so I cut the elastic tops off my husband's old socks and slip one over the top of each sleeve. No more trying to keep my sleeves pushed up and dry. — A Reader, via email

LETTER OF LAUGHTER

Dear Heloise: We came home to find a little gray cat at our door. I said, "Oh look! We have a new kitty! What are we gonna name him?" My husband said, "We ain't." So we named him "Waint." — Mary Jo H., Bowling Green, Ind.

Mary Jo, your hubby's an ol' softie after all! Email a picture to Heloise@Heloise.com, and we'll name Waint a "Pet of the Week"! — Heloise

PEARL CARE

Dear Heloise: I inherited a set of pearls from my aunt. What's the best way to care for them? — Terry in Gloucester, Mass.

Pearls need special attention. Perfumes, hair spray, makeup, lotions and environmental pollution all can build up on a strand of pearls, which may damage them. So, after each wearing, wipe the strand of pearls with a lint-free cloth. — Heloise

SWAB JOB

Dear Readers: Cotton swabs are multi-useful — make sure you have them on hand for:

• Makeup application: Eye shadow, and cleaning up any bleeding of lipstick.

• Art projects: Perfect for making small dots and detail work on art projects.

• Cleaning: Getting in tiny grooves of the computer keyboard and detailing the car.

• Applying a line of vegetable oil around a nail polish bottle will keep the top unstuck.

— Heloise

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Send a money-saving or timesaving hint to Heloise, P.O. Box 795001, San Antonio, TX 78279-5001, or you can fax it to 1-210-HELOISE or email it to Heloise@Heloise.com. I can't answer your letter personally but will use the best hints received in my column.

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