Ask Me Anything: Cosigning Parents, Silent Stylist, Rum Cake Recipe, and More

Once again, it’s mailbag day, when I reach in and pull out your questions. While there are always more than I could possibly answer in one sitting, I try to select the ones that will have the greatest interest to most of you, my Dear Readers.

Question and Image

What’s inside? Here are the questions I’m answering from my bulging reader mailbag. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question. Or just scroll through to read all. Enjoy!


1. Gray “scratches” on fine dinnerware

2. Help, we co-signed student loans!

3. Spreadable butter disaster?

4. Spouse demands the purse strings

5. IP Vanilla Extract 

6. The unscrupulous stylist

7. Rum Cake Recipe, Pleeeese!


Q1: Do you have a tip on how to clean gray lines and scratches from my white Pfaltzgraff dishes? Barb

Pfaltzgraff has been making dinnerware for many years and has used earthenware, stoneware, porcelain,  and bone china at some point in its history. Most Pfaltzgraff patterns currently in production are made primarily of stoneware and earthenware, with only a few patterns being offered in ironstone and porcelain. The good news is that all Pfaltzgraff dinnerware is microwave and dishwasher safe.

The appearance of gray lines or “scratches” on Pfaltzgraff dinnerware is not a defect—in fact, it is quite common. These marks appear when metal utensils come in contact with the hard glazes used by the manufacturer. You can remove these marks easily using a variety of cleansers. Pfaltzgraff makes its own Pfaltzgraff Stoneware & Porcelain Cleaner, but it is a little pricey.

Two other products that are safe to use on Pfaltzgraff are Zud and my personal favorite, Bar Keepers Friend. Simply dip a wet cloth into a small amount of Bar Keepers Friend and apply it to the stain or mark. Let it sit for a couple of minutes, then rub gently to remove the mark. Work slowly, and do not use a lot of pressure. Wash the dish in warm water using mild dishwashing soap, and dry with a soft, clean cloth.

Q2: We made a big mistake cosigning for our children’s college funding. Now, years later, we owe so much on their loans. And the worst part—they didn’t even graduate! We are trying to survive on one income. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Anna

I am so sorry that you are facing this horrible financial situation. The sad truth is that you are not alone. Much of the $1.4 trillion in outstanding student debt is being shouldered by parents, and it could be affecting their retirement.

I assume from your message that your children have defaulted on these loans and now the lender is coming after you for payment as you are the cosigner for payment. I hate to sound harsh, and truly wish I had better news, but nothing short of the death of the student for whom you cosigned will make this go away. Not even filing for bankruptcy will relieve you of these debts.

My best advice is that you don’t give yourself the option to live on one income. Whichever of you is not working needs to get a job—any job—and devote that entire paycheck to paying down these loans every until they are paid in full. Putting off payment will do nothing but make matters worse.


Q3: I tried making the spreadable butter. I’m wondering what I did wrong—possibly my choice of oil. What I had on hand was vegetable oil. I beat the butter and slowly added 1/2 cup oil, but stopped adding when the consistency got very soft. Should I have used canola oil? My end product tasted awful of oil. I’m willing to give this another shot if I screwed up by using vegetable oil. Thanks. Pam

Without more information or seeing your results, it’s difficult for me give you a full answer. But I can tell you that the consistency is very “soft” or might even seem to be more liquid than solid, once you have fully combined the butter and oil. This is the reason it should be moved to and then kept refrigerated, where it will firm up considerably, but remain spreadable. I prefer canola oil as it has little, if any taste, unlike vegetable oil which can be quite strong in flavor.

I’ve heard from readers who make their spreadable butter with olive oil and simply rave about it. Of course, there are grades of olive oil too, from very strong to mild. If you are not happy with the vegetable oil taste of your first batch, don’t throw it out! It will be perfect for sauteing and in savory recipes.


Q4: My husband and I don’t see eye-to-eye when it comes to spending. Basically, he feels that I should run every purchase I make by him, no matter how big or small. It’s gotten so bad that he now highlights the “questionable” purchases on our Visa bill and leaves it for me to explain. I really can’t stand being treated like a child. I work hard, and I’m not a spendthrift at all. In fact, my friends marvel at what a great bargain shopper I am! 

I have become resentful of him, and it’s starting to creep into other areas of our marriage. What can I do to get him to see how unreasonable he’s being? Doreen

When one spouse demands to be in charge of the money in a marriage without full agreement of the other, it can quickly lead to the kinds of conflicts you are experiencing. The way to resolve this problem is to find a way to work together as financial partners.

For starters, tell him you’d like to negotiate an allowance system where each of you receives a set amount of money each month that you can do with as you please, no questions asked. This will give both of you the right balance of security and freedom. I’m hopeful that as he warms up to this idea his rules and heavy hand will melt away as “yours” and “mine” turns into “ours.”


Q5: I have just completed my first batch of vanilla extract using my Instant Pot and have poured off the liquid into small bottles. Do I understand correctly that when refilling with vodka for additional batches, there is no need to go back into the Instant Pot? If a second heating is not necessary, is the 7-day/shake/dark storage time for the second batch be the same as the first, before being ready to use? Thanks so much for all you do! And Happy Thanksgiving!

The reason to use your Instant Pot to make homemade vanilla extract is to speed the extracting process from 2 or 3 months to just a week. If you will not be needing your second batch in the foreseeable future, I’d follow the more traditional method by refilling the jar with the beans in it with vodka, giving it a good shake once a week and storing it in a dark cupboard. The Instant Pot method is a great shortcut, but the long, slow method is, in my opinion, preferable if you have the time.


Q6: I’ve been going to the same hair stylist for five years. Usually, a haircut costs me about $45. About two weeks ago, I discovered that she had raised her prices to $60 for a haircut. Unfortunately, I didn’t find this out until after she’d already cut my hair and I was at the front desk with my credit card in hand.

I really feel that I should have been informed of the price change before she started working on my hair, but I feel a little uncomfortable saying something. I’ve become kind of friendly with this woman, and she really is a great stylist. Am I wrong to keep this to myself? Also, I’m just wondering if there are any laws about notifying customers of a price increase. Robin

I doubt that a 30% price hike simply slipped her mind. It was rude of her to put you into such an awkward position. The right thing would have been for her to post a notice of the price increase at least a month in advance. Her actions prove she doesn’t value your friendship or your business, and you have every right to be upset.

Unless you have a written contract with her, however, you have no legal recourse. You do, however, have recourse as a consumer, and that’s to take your business elsewhere. I’m sure you’ll find another hairdresser that you like as well—one that has business ethics, too.


Q7: Could you post the best Rum Cake recipe for the holidays again please? Thanks so much! Michele

Oh, yes! It’s fantastic and just perfect for holiday entertaining.

A close up of a plate of food and a cup of coffee, with Bundt cake

Caribbean Rum Cake

This is a delicious clone of the rum-soaked cake you may have had in the Caribbean Islands, or found in an Italian market during the holidays. It is just fantastic. Please be aware that due to the amount of rum in this recipe, it is definitely not recommended for anyone avoiding alcohol. See Notes for a lite version and one with no-alcohol.
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Caribbean, Italian
Prep Time: 35 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Resting time at room temperature: 8 hours
Total Time: 9 hours 35 minutes
Servings: 16
Calories: 418kcal


  • 10- to 12-cup Bundt pan


For the cake:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • cups white granulated sugar
  • 1 pkg instant vanilla pudding (see NOTE 1)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup milk, at room temperature
  • 4 large eggs
  • ½ cup rum, plain or spiced see NOTE 2
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon butter-rum flavoring see NOTE 3

For the syrup:

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, 1 stick
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup rum, plain or spiced see NOTE 2
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract


  • Preheat oven to 325 F.
  • In a large mixing bowl, place flour, sugar, pudding mix, baking powder, salt, butter, and oil and mix at mediu speed until everything is thoroughly incorporated and the mixture looks like sand.
  • Beat in the milk. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Scrape the bowl thoroughly and beat briefly to incorporate.
  • Stir in the rum, vanilla, and butter-rum flavoring.
  • Prepare Bundt pan with cooking spray. Pour batter into prepared pan and spread it level with a spatula
  • Bake for 50- to 60-minutes. Test for doneness using a skewer, toothpick, or dry piece of ucooked spaghetti. It should come out clean when inserted into the center area of the cake. Do not overbake. Remove cake from the oven. Leave the cake in the pan while you prepare the syrup.
  • In a medium-size saucepan, combine the butter, water, sugar, salt, and rum. Bring to a rapid boil then reduce to a simmer to cook—without stirring—for 5 to 8 minutes, until the syrup thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
  • Using a long skewer or similar, poke holes all over the cake. Pour about 1/4 cup syrup over the cake, while it is still in the Bundt pan. Allow the syrup to soak in, then repeat again and again, until all the syrup has been absorbed. See NOTE 4.
  • Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap, allowing the cake to sit overnight at room temperature to cool completely and for the syrup to soak into all of the cake.
  • When ready to serve, invert the cake over a serving plate. If it won't loosen to fall out of the pan easily, do not force it. Instead, tent the pan with foil, place it in the oven on the bottom rack and turn it on to 350 F. for 10 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven, and now tip it onto the serving plate. Serve and enjoy!
  • If any of this amazing cake remains, put it in a cake saver OR wrap it securely in plastic wrap, storing it at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. You may confidently freeze for longer storage, up to one month.


1. Do not use sugar-free pudding mix. You can use a different flavor pudding mix if you want—banana, caramel, butterscotch, coconut, etc.
2. You can replace 1/4 cup of the rum (or see NOTE 5) with water if you are concerned about the alcohol content of the cake and or the syrup. In this case, increase the amount of butter-rum flavoring to 1/2 teaspoon, in the cake and add 1/4 teaspoon to the syrup, or to taste. I cannot guarantee that the alcohol will "bake out" of the cake. 
3. Butter-rum flavoring is available with the extracts and flavorings in most supermarkets.
4. Using all of the syrup results in a very moist cake. Yummy moist. If you want it less "rummy," use only half of the syrup.
5. Alcohol-free version: Substitute water for all of the rum, increasing the butter-rum flavoring up to to 1 1/2 teaspoons for the cake and 1/2 teaspoon for the syrup, adding it when you add the vanilla. 
6. Source: I found this recipe at King Arthur Flour, a wonderful company in Vermont, which I had the privilege of visiting several years ago and touring the test kitchen and store (oh my!). Love that place and all of the KAF products (including professional strength butter-rum flavoring). The recipe is now written exactly how I do it and I have marginally tweaked the ingredients to what I think is a perfect balance.


Serving: 1slice | Calories: 418kcal | Carbohydrates: 50g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 20g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Cholesterol: 72mg | Sodium: 341mg | Potassium: 92mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 37g | Vitamin A: 426IU | Calcium: 42mg | Iron: 1mg
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9 replies
  1. Karen says:

    I don’t understand the statement of – “nothing short of the death of the student for whom you cosigned will make this go away.” – I would think that if the student died the co-signer would still be responsible for the student debt. How does the student’s death relieve the co-signer?

  2. Judy Morello says:

    My question want to buy a Gufy vac Would you suggest this one or a newer brand ? I love mine I bought from you some time ago. Where can I buy a really good one and for how much $ ?

  3. Katy says:

    To Ann, the owner of the kids who stuck her with their college bills: I assume your children are still alive. Are they employed? Do they live with you? If they’re in your house, you have to insist them become gainfully employed (and there’s zero reason to not to have a job now, since unemployment is so low.) You have to insist they pay board, and you have to make it at least half of their pay since you’re going to be paying their college loans out of their salaries. I believe if they’re behind on their college loan debts, the government can and will put a lien on their salary and take it out from there. Since that apparently hasn’t happened yet, I wonder if these kids have jobs.

    And FWIW, there is one scenario in which you can get college loans forgiven: if you get social security disability and are declared permanently disabled. Your college loan debts can be forgiven. I don’t know how it works with a co-signed loan (if one person is disabled, but the other isn’t.) You might want to look into that.

  4. Judy says:

    I work in retail for $10.50 an hour. I get my hair cut every 6 weeks at a very busy operator owned salon, it costs $20 and usually takes 15 minutes. Why am I obligated to tip??

    • Katy says:

      If someone other than the owner does your hair, yes, you are obligated to tip. You don’t have to tip the owner (but if you’ve done so in the past, she’ll probably resent not getting the tip.)

  5. Don says:

    To the people paying off their kids’ debts — Tell your kids they have to make those loan payments right now. If they can’t or won’t, don’t provide any gifts to them or their kids. I know that’s harsh, but your kids have really done you wrong. Simply wish them happy birthday or Merry Christmas, and then say, “We can’t afford to give you a gift because we’re still making payments on your student loans.” A child has to be pretty despicable to treat a parent this way. Don’t let them get away with it.

    Anytime I loan my kids money, I know that it’s possible they won’t pay it back. If that ever happens, I will simply make sure that their debt will be deducted from their small inheritance. Also, I never loan so much that non-payment will create a financial hardship for me.

  6. Don says:

    To the lady whose husband asks her to explain all her purchases — Don’t do it. Don’t play his game. Tell him you deserve to spend every penny you spend, and you won’t be explaining anything to anyone. And then stop talking. Don’t argue about it. Just don’t participate.

    • Belle Mieloch says:

      My husband was the same way. Very selfish with the money. I demanded an allowance and told him we would discuss large purchases. He used to go over every thing I spent.very hard to deal with. He has changed but it took time. Now I handle all the the bills and we talk about large purchases his or mine. I am a saver and look for bargains he see this now. We were able to buy me a New to us car for me 2 years ago because of my dept proof living style. Do not give up.

  7. peggy says:

    to the woman who was pained about her hairdresser charging 30% more for the haircut. there is an adage “one cannot be taken advantage of, without their permission. your girl should have been taken aside and told how u feel. she works for u, not the other way round. she has no such friendly relationship “feelings” for u as u do for her. get out of her salon, find another.


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