photo by house of sims

DEAR SARA: My chili is too spicy. Is there anything I can add to take the zing (less like "zing," more like "fire") out of it? I can't imagine young children eating this. Help, please! -- Debbie, Texas

DEAR DEBBIE: Tone it down by adding more of the initial ingredients, such as tomatoes, beans and water. You can also add sugar or serve it with a dollop of sour cream. Adding potatoes to the pan will absorb some of the flavor, too.

DEAR SARA: I'm a volunteer and am assigned pen pals, and I send them several cards/letters/small gifts each week. I'm always looking for small, frugal items to tuck into my cards and letters. Do you have any suggestions? -- Amy, Ohio

DEAR AMY: You can send bookmarks, seed packets, individual tea bags or cocoa, stickers, magnets, recipe cards, gift tags, stencils, air fresheners for cars, clipped comics or articles, coupons, gift certificates, phone cards, craft instructions or wax sachet envelopes. I hope that gets you started.

DEAR SARA: How do you display your holiday cards? I've taped mine up for the past couple of years, but I'm bored with that, plus some of them end up falling down. -- Misty, e-mail

DEAR MISTY: I have tried numerous frugal card displays, such as tucking them into an open basket, sitting them on a mantel and clipping to the streamers of a large bow hung on the door. An idea you might find more decorative is to buy a couple of yards of pompom fringe (found at your local craft store) and string it like a clothesline. Then take thinner ribbon about 5/8 inch wide and six inches long and slip a Clipiola (Italian round paper clip) onto it. Tie a loop of the ribbon onto your pompom fringe. The clips will hang on the bottom of your ribbon loop. You now have clips that can hold your holiday cards on a pretty ribbon garland. Decide how many small ribbon loops you make by how many cards you receive. Stagger the length of your loops to accommodate cards that are longer or wider.

If you prefer something more rustic, you can use artificial pine garland instead of the pompom fringe and raffia instead of the ribbon. Use a hole punch to put a hole in your cards and tie the holiday cards onto the raffia.

DEAR SARA: Do you cook your meatballs in the oven or on the stove? -- Julie, e-mail

DEAR JULIE: I bake my meatballs on a baking pan that is greased lightly with olive oil in a 350 F oven for about 20 minutes and then drop them into the sauce. I would offer an exact recipe, but I just combine mine until they form well.
I use the following ingredients.

1 to 1-1/2 pounds ground beef
1 large egg
1/4 cup Parmesan, more or less as needed
1/4 to 1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1/4 cup milk

You can add garlic, onion, salt, pepper and any herbs you like. Combine and form into round balls. Makes roughly 20 meatballs. We use the extras for meatball sandwiches.