Dear Sara:

How do I remove winter salt stains from my boots? -- Kara, New York

Dear Kara:

I brush off my boots to get any loose particles off. Then I mix vinegar with water and apply it to the boots with a cloth to remove any salt stains.

Dear Sara:

I do a lot of package shipping. Do you have any suggestions for finding cheaper packing peanuts? -- Lisa K., Ohio

Dear Lisa:

Whenever I have packaging material, I put it up for grabs on FreeCycle. I'd post that you're looking for some and scan the posts to see if anyone has any. You can check your local recycling centers, too. Try contacting local businesses that receive a lot of shipments. You can reuse sandwich bags by filling them with air to use for shipping. You can also use shredded paper or save gift wrap after holidays.

Dear Sara:

Any ideas for reusing frosting containers? -- Kelly G., New Jersey

Dear Kelly:

They're nice containers because they're stackable. Use them to hold crayons, loose change or pens and pencils. Use them to mix up colored frosting for cookie decorating or dyes for egg dyeing. You can use them as pantry storage containers. They're also nice to use for small toys, such as Lego kits, game cards (Uno, Skip-Bo, etc.) or Barbie accessories. You can label them to keep kits organized. Use some to start seeds, too.

Dear Sara:

This year we scaled back on gift giving, partly because of general philosophy (anti-consumerism), but mostly because my husband is unemployed. We did give gifts to a few people. We just finished up Christmas Day and there were a couple of lopsided exchanges where people got our kids gifts and we didn't get anything for them. Has this happened to you? Did you do or say anything? I will make sure we send thank-you notes, but I'm not sure if there's anything else I should do or say. Perhaps I could include a picture of the kids in the notes as a mini-present? -- Sarah, Massachusetts

Dear Sarah:

I have received gifts from people whom I didn't give gifts to. I immediately have the urge to give something in return, but I've learned to simply say, "thank you for thinking of us." Keep in mind that most people don't give a gift in order to receive. Your idea to send a thank-you card is appropriate. It's much easier when it's gifts for the kids and the gift-giver doesn't have kids. If you feel horribly uncomfortable, you could stock a gift closet throughout the year, so you are prepared for any additional gifts you might need. You can keep some general gifts in your car if you're going to someone else's home, so if you are given any surprise gifts, you can simply run out to your car. Or you could ask them out to lunch after the holidays are over.
I struggle with uneven gift exchanges. I get a bit uncomfortable and slightly annoyed when a gift exchange is agreed to be under a certain dollar amount and then the other person exceeds that amount by a lot. (It's especially perturbing when they set the price cap.) But again, I've learned to deal with it and show genuine surprise coupled with sincere gratitude. I'm not going to start spending more to match what I think they're giving each year; that's just silly. I prefer to be thankful for their gift than to focus on the fact that they spent more. I shouldn't feel guilty for following rules that were preset.


photo by amy gizienski