A New Addition to the Customer Service Hall of Fame

The way a company deals with its customers after the sale is as important as what happens to get that sale in the first place. I am quick to criticize companies who give poor customer service and have done so right here, in the past. And when a company gives excellent customer service, I believe they should get equal billing.

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Last March, I stopped by Babies R Us to purchase a Gift Card for a very special baby shower. Our second grandson would be due in only a few weeks; I was in a frenzy packing and preparing for our big move to Colorado. Our son and daughter-in-law had created a registry at Babies R Us. I knew they would appreciate a gift card to get exactly what they needed, when they needed it and I would appreciate saving a little time by not having to figure out exactly what that might be.

The store manager helped me with this purchase, which I recall specifically in that we had a nice chat about store managing stuff. Drawing from my best advice when purchasing anything that holds a promise (such as a deposit or tickets for something in the future), I paid for the $100 Gift Card with a credit card—on my way to the shower. I quickly signed the card and tucked the cute Baby Boy Gift Card inside.

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Freezing for the Holidays

Take a look at the calendar. Do you see what I see? Very busy days just ahead. There will be shopping and crafting, rehearsals and pageants, parties, wrapping and shipping … need I go on?

I know from experience that you can blow a cannon-size hole in your holiday budget if you rely on take-out and drive-thru to make it through the holiday season. But you can avoid that if you start out with a freezer full of menu items the family can thaw, heat and eat.

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Here are three big batch recipes for our favorite comfort foods to help you get started:

Meatballs
(Yield: 4 dozen meatballs)

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 pound Italian sausage
  • 1 large onion, chopped finely
  • 4 slices day old bread, crumbled
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/8 teaspoon each salt, pepper and garlic powder, or to taste
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Help! My Aluminum Cookware is Pitted and Stained and Other Reader Dilemmas

DEAR MARY: Please tell me why my aluminum pans and cookware have turned dark and become rough to the touch. I believe it may be from the dishwasher. Other than these marks and stains, my 60-year old pans (I got them at my bridal shower!) look the same as new ones I see in the stores today. Only the price has changed. What can I do to restore my pots and pans? Love your column. Etta

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DEAR ETTA: Let’s start with the “pitting”—corrosion that creates tiny holes in the metal. Undoubtedly, this is the result of having put these pans through the dishwasher. Aluminum should never be put into a dishwasher. Most dishwasher detergents are extremely alkaline and readily pit and discolor aluminum. Dishwasher detergents can also create a kind of grey film on the surface of aluminum, which can become difficult if not impossible to scrub off.

I am afraid there may be nothing you can do to remove the pits. However, there is a rather simple way to remove the dark, ugly discoloration that often appears in well-used aluminum cookware.

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Of Green Smoothies and Grateful Readers

Somedays I can’t believe how lucky I am. Not only do I get to communicate with this growing audience of readers, many of you reciprocate with lovely responses. Every single day I open my mailbox and out spill wonderful notes, letters—even an occasional multiple-page tome. Mostly, you send me questions. But now and then it’s just a wonderful thank you note. Always, I’m grateful for your feedback.

DEAR MARY: I am marching in your army of green smoothie breakfasters! Is your recipe for one or two people? (Asked as she obligingly drinks the whole thing, which seems quite adequate!) Christine

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DEAR CHRISTINE: You just made me laugh out loud envisioning you marching in your army uniform, green smoothie in hand. It is a recipe for one single 16-ounce smoothie and yes, it makes for a very adequate, healthy smoothie.

You could easily divide this to make two smaller servings, but I do like your style. I got your message just as the hubs was making his morning smoothie, so I shot a quick pic from our deck, hoping to also capture the beauty of autumn. Happy to have you in the army, by the way.

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DEAR MARY: I just have to say Thank You! I recently purchased the Shark Navigator Life-Away Professional vacuum that you have written about—even though I have a good vacuum and am trying to minimize my possessions. Oh my! I have been vacuuming for a week straight and am still getting dirt out of my family room carpeting. What’s more, it even feels like new carpeting under our feet. Not to mention that this machine is also beautiful—white and silver! This is just indicative of the numerous ways your wisdom and insight has blessed me and my family. Hope I get to see you in person again sometime (I was in the audience when you spoke in Naperville, Ill., several years ago). Nancy

DEAR NANCY: Yours is the ninth message I’ve received just this week from readers who are also ecstatic over their Shark vacuums. I know the feeling. I get it every time I put my Sharky to work. I have moved from being embarrassed by what he gets out of the carpet to feeling kinda’ self-righteous, knowing that finally my carpeting is really clean. Now it’s easy to keep it that way. And I try to stay on top of even the smallest spot so it doesn’t become a stain, using the spot treatment Spot Shot.

It was great to hear from you and to recall that evening in Naperville. When I walked to the podium, I was shocked nearly to tears to see my college music professor, Fr. Wilbur David Ellsworth and his wife Jean, sitting front and center. I had not seen them since graduation day. Knowing that you were there as well makes that memory extra special.

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Pay-As-You-Go is a Great Way to Go

It’s not easy being a consumer these days. In fact, it can be downright confusing because of all the payment choices. First, you have your cash, your checkbook, credit and debit cards. And then you have deferred billing, skip-a-payment, nothing down, no payments and/or zero interest till the next decade. See? Confusion, pure and simple.

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Prehistoric consumers had it easy. Just one choice: chickens. They traded poultry for things they needed. The rules were simple: No fowl? No food, fuel, fun or futons for that matter.

Then along came the invention of currency and that gave consumers a second choice—one that caught on quickly since folding a chicken to fit neatly into ones wallet was rather messy.

A third option was both the day some unknown retailer came up with a payment plan, surely named in memory of the good ol’ chicken days: Layaway. You may be wondering what happened to layaway, anyway!

Not that long ago, every major retail store in the country allowed customers to buy merchandise on layaway. The item was placed in the back room and customers could take all the time they needed to pay it off. Interest free. And when they made the last payment, they took the item home. 

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Getting Debt-Free Plus the Best Machine to Clean Tile Floors

DEAR MARY: After reading your books and columns for several years, I am ecstatic to report that I am almost debt-free; my credit card debt is history! I can’t thank you enough for your encouraging words and sage counsel.

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Now I need to know how to find a low-interest card—preferably a no annual fee type—to use mainly for online purchases, and which will be paid off monthly. I have absolutely no idea how to go about this and would appreciate any information you could provide. Thanks for everything! Sherry

DEAR SHERRY: Congratulations on your amazing progress toward becoming debt-free. I am so very proud of you. This is an almost amazing accomplishment, so keep going and don’t ever give up. You’ll be there soon and what a wonderful debt-free day that will be for you!

As for your question regarding a low-interest card, I would suggest that the interest rate not be your primary consideration. You will never carry a balance on it, so your primary consideration should be that is it has no annual fee. Second, it must have an excellent grace period of at least 21 days. Next it should be either a MasterCard or Visa and last you want to get the lowest interest rate you can.

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Slow Cooker Nailed It!

There’s just something about the bountiful tastes of autumn and slow cookers that go together.

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Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of testing in my kitchen and while some results have been less than palatable (let me make all the mistakes so you won’t have to), other attempts have turned out even better than I could have dreamed. I’m anxious to share these recipes with you and even more anxious to hear how they turn out for you.

One thing is for certain: You can make these meals at home for a fraction of the cost of eating out—and I am confident that your fare will taste better, too.

If you’re keeping track of the cost of meat these day, you’re probably aware that pork remains much cheaper than beef. 

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How to Use Just the Right Amount of Laundry Detergent

Dear Mary: I love all of your washing machine tips, but can you guide us on using the correct amount of detergent? I know you say small amounts, but can one tell by ‘feeling’ the water? I hate to do a load with too little or too much and it feels like a guessing game. I tried googling this, but the info was not helpful. You are such an expert on these things that I thought you might have some additional tips—you can bear the thought of another post about laundry, that is! Hugs to you for such fantastic work. Your Anonymous Fan

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Dear A.F.: Great question. And yes, flattery did get your letter to the top of the pile so good job on that!

Most of us use way too much laundry detergent, which can present all kinds of problems like skin irritation, grayish looking whites and stiff scratchy clothes and linens. Whatever amount of detergent you use, it must be completely rinsed away for the results to be beautifully clean, whiter-than-white, brighter-than-bright colors; soft clothes and linens.

Generally, (and I say that word because there are so many variables which I’ll touch on shortly) if you have soft water use 1 tablespoon (1/16 cup) of HE (high-efficiency) detergent per wash load. If you have hard water use 2 tablespoons (1/8 cup), which begs the question “How do I know if my water is hard or soft?” 

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