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Dear Readers: How can we keep our pets safe around our HOLIDAY DECORATIONS? Here are a few suggestions:

• Live plants such as holly and mistletoe can be ingested and cause stomach upset. Artificial plants are a better bet.

• Don't hang shimmery tinsel. It catches the light, but cats like to catch it, too, and may ingest it, which can cause digestive problems.

• Make sure the Christmas tree is secure and can't be knocked over and fall on your pets.

• Real candles are an accident waiting to happen — look for flameless candles.

• Be vigilant for loose wires and broken glass ornaments.

Holiday fun and safety for your pets can go together! — Heloise

P.S. Fatty, spicy, rich, sugary foods and alcohol are not healthy and should be kept away from pets.

MAN ABOUT THE HOUSE?

Dear Heloise: When my mother was older and living alone, she came up with an excellent security idea. She went to the thrift store and bought a used pair of size 16 or 18 tennis shoes.

She got them a little dirty and left them on the porch outside her door. Anyone seeing them would hesitate before bothering her. — Jim B., Dana Point, Calif.

Brilliant! A Heloise hug is in order! — Heloise

SUPPER SERENADE

Dear Heloise: My wife and I enjoy going out for a date to a classy restaurant. Lately, we have been "serenaded" by the screams of at least one or more small children.

I suggested to the management that when families with children arrive, they should place them in the back area of the restaurant, away from the rest of the diners.

They tell me they can't do that. What can we do? — Robin and Diane M., Riverside, Calif.

Perhaps a call to a district manager could yield some solutions. Readers? — Heloise

GET ALONG SWIMMINGLY

Dear Heloise: I have a surefire way to cut onions without tears: Before you start cutting onions, put on swim goggles. I don't mind looking a bit silly because I don't have any tears! — T.L., Omaha, Neb.

HAIR HELPER

Dear Heloise: I have another use for baking soda. I take aqua yoga classes at the local community center, and I noticed my hair had a buildup. When I went for a haircut, the beautician told me it was chlorine.

She told me to add a bit of baking soda to my shampoo. I did, and no more chlorine buildup. I color my hair, and it didn't affect it. — Maryann G., via email

CARELESS DRIVING

Dear Readers: Today's SOUND OFF is about irresponsible drivers on our roads. — Heloise

"Dear Heloise: We all have turn signals with our cars, so why is it some people don't turn theirs on when they decide to make a turn, or turn it on just as they are about to turn? I realize driving is an "overlearned" experience, but a stop sign means 'stop,' not 'slowly roll past the sign.' Now, with the roads becoming icy in many states, it's more important than ever to drive with care. With the holidays comes drinking, and the police are cracking down on drunken drivers. A DUI can kill your chances of getting a good job or a promotion, and it might land you in jail.

"Please remember: It's not just a vehicle for transportation; it's thousands of pounds of steel and rubber. Drive with caution." — Elizabeth W., Norwood, Ohio

FAST FACTS

Dear Readers: Here are some supermarket hints:

• Make a list of needed items and stick to it.

• Buy often-used items in bulk, if you have the storage.

• Don't shop for grocery items when you're hungry.

• Organize your coupons and keep them in a separate envelope/or compartment in your purse or wallet.

— Heloise

CAST IRON ON A GLASS STOVETOP

Dear Heloise: I have a glass-top stove and have been told NOT to use my cast-iron skillet on it. Nothing tastes the same as when it's cooked in a cast-iron skillet. It was always my go-to kitchen item, so now what should I do? — Betty D., Van Wert, Ohio

Betty, don't throw out your skillet just yet. You can use a cast-iron skillet, but there are certain precautions you need to take. First, the Cookware Manufacturers Association advises that you must understand the characteristics of cooking with cast iron on a glass-top stove. The skillet MUST have a flat bottom. Any burn areas or rough spots must be filed off before using. It's best to place the skillet on the stove before turning on the stove, and use only medium heat. Lift the skillet to move it; NEVER slide it across the glass surface. The skillet must fit the size of the burner. — Heloise

LIMP CURLS

Dear Heloise: My baby-fine hair is always "droopy." I'd use a curling iron, but the volume and curl would just seem to slide out halfway through the morning. Then a hairdresser told me to first bend forward when drying my hair with a hair dryer, and get the roots dry while my hair is dangling toward the floor. Next, I use a very light blast of hair spray where I plan to curl my hair and use the curling iron after the hair spray dries. No more limp hair. — Karen B., Fairmont, W.Va.

TEA PACK

Dear Heloise: When I'm shipping packages, I use tea bags as cushioning material, instead of air pillows or foam. This is an extra treat for the recipient! — Gina A. in New York

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DON'T CHECK THIS

Dear Heloise: Given the cost for checked bags and problems with carry-ons, when my wife flew, we BOXED UP everything she'd need, from clothes to toothbrush, and mailed it about two weeks before she would get there.

She took a handbag that had her driver's license, a credit card, cellphone and some cash. Going through security was easy, and not checking a suitcase made things even easier. When she arrived, she did not have to wait around for her luggage, or worry that it missed the plane.

When it was time to come home, she simply mailed everything back. — Timothy R., Owasso, Okla.

This is great if you are meeting family with gifts to give. Traveling light is a good idea. Who doesn't want to lighten the load? — Heloise

CASH-AND-CARRY GERMS

Dear Heloise: I'm amazed at cashiers and checkers sneezing and coughing into their hands while I'm in the checkout line. Twice in two weeks, I have backed out and moved to another register.

This is something that should be addressed in a store meeting. I see others raising their arms and covering their mouths with their forearms. — Michael V., Cypress, Calif.

THE WIPE STUFF

Dear Heloise: I keep alcohol prep pads on hand for cleaning eyeglasses, phone and computer screens, and remote controls. They are cheap — a box of 100 is only a few dollars.

After buying screen- and lens-cleaner wipes, I found that rubbing alcohol was the main ingredient. I clean my laptop screen and keyboard, phone and remote with one square! I keep a few in my bag. — Allyse T., via email

Readers, check with the manufacturers to be sure this is OK for your items. — Heloise

FREEZE FOR LATER

Dear Heloise: I freeze filtered water in plastic cola bottles. When frozen, I put them in the refrigerator. We drink much more water now, and when I go out for the day, I take a frozen bottle and drink it as it thaws.

For trips, we place some frozen water bottles in a cooler. I take frozen water bottles in an insulated bag to place cold groceries in until I can get home. — T.B.D., Tupelo, Miss.

PRODUCT PACKAGING

Dear Heloise: I have a BIG beef about all the excessive packaging, from a product filling only ⅓ of the package (wastes lots of shelf space) to cardboard or plastic packaging that makes it impossible to remove the product. AARGH!

I never buy a product because I like the packaging. I buy a product because I like the product. Sometimes it takes longer to get the product out of the package than it takes to install what is in it (e.g., new doorknobs and door locks, or batteries). — Bob H., via email

WHAT A CRUMBY IDEA!

Dear Heloise: We save our crumbs from pretzel and potato chip bags, crackers, nonsweet cereal, etc., and mix them in a container.

These make fabulous, tasty coatings for fish and chicken. We never get the same mix twice! — Nancy in The Villages, Fla.

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