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Ask Me Anything: Scratched Dinnerware, Cosigning Parents, Silent Stylist, Mortgage Write-Off, Yum Rum Cake, and More

Once again, it’s mail day when I reach into my virtual mailbag and pull out a few questions. While there are always more than I could possibly answer in one sitting, I try to select the questions that I believe will be general of interest to a large number of readers.

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!

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1. Gray “scratches” on fine dinnerware

2. Help, we co-signed student loans!

3. Spreadable butter disaster?

4. Spouse demands the purse strings

5. What if we lose our mortgage-interest write-off?

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. 

Two 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.

If you have particularly challenging marks and “scratches,” this article will be encouraging with some great suggestions for difficult situations

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. You might take solace in knowing that you are not alone. Much of the $1.75 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 yours or the death of the student for whom you cosigned, your total disability, or the school closed before the student could complete a degree will make this go away. More on that here.

Not even filing for bankruptcy will relieve you of these debts. And even worse, once you reach full retirement age, student loans can’t stop you from getting Medicare but defaulting on federal student debt can lead to your Social Security retirement and disability benefits being garnished.

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 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 to give you a complete 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: My husband and I have been debating this and we’d love your input. We are paying on a 15-year fixed rate loan against our home. This will allow us to be mortgage-free a few years before we retire.

We keep hearing that it’s a good idea to pay ahead on the mortgage if the other coffers (retirement, emergency savings, etc.) are taken care of. We like this approach but, are concerned about the lack of tax write-off.

We are maxing out pretax dollar contributions and still owe taxes at the end of the year. If we lose the interest write-off for the house that will add to our grumbling that happens around tax time.

Any thoughts on this? I trust your newsletters to give good advice and suggestions. Thank you for all of the hard work you do it is very much appreciated. Thank you. Claudia, Oregon

Well yes, I do have a few thoughts, and thanks for the trust you have in me! There are plenty of reputable financial professionals who would take issue with me in this matter of paying off a home mortgage. In fact, some would even advise people who own their homes outright to take out a new mortgage in order to have deductible interest to “write-off” on their federal tax returns.

I’m going to go out on a limb here to suggest that anyone who keeps paying on a mortgage for the sole purpose of having mortgage interest as a write-off doesn’t understand what they’re saying or advising.

Let’s say you and your husband make all 12 of your required monthly mortgage payments in 2022. Further, let’s say that $2,000 of that total amount you will have paid was interest, which is “deductible.” That means you can deduct that amount from your AGI (adjusted gross income).

Further, let’s say you are in the 25% federal tax bracket. This means that by deducting $2,000 from your AGI, your taxes owing are reduced by $500 ($2,000 x .25 = $500). That means you paid $2,000 in interest to get back $500. But you still had to fork out $1,500 of interest on your mortgage. Who in their right mind would choose to have a mortgage just to get that kind of deal?

In the absence of some kind of estate planning, which you did not mention, it makes absolutely no sense to carry a mortgage for the sole purpose of having a tax write-off. My advice is to pay it off as quickly as you can—not only for financial reasons but for peace of mind. Debt-free is the way to be!

The whole mortgage deductibility feature granted to us by the IRS is like a consolation prize for those for whom a mortgage is the only way they will ever be able to fully own a house. They still have to pay the interest, but getting to deduct a small portion of it from the taxes they owe eases the pain of having to pay interest in the first place.

Does it make sense to you to choose to pay $2,000 to get back $500? If it does, I’ll make you a better deal than that. Send me $2,000 every year at tax time. I promise to send back not $500, but $1,000! Guaranteed. I’ll be watching my mail.


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 holidays, birthdays and other celebratory entertaining.

A close up of a plate of food and a cup of coffee, with Bundt cake
Print Recipe Pin Recipe
4.50 from 4 votes

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.
Prep Time35 minutes
Cook Time1 hour
Resting time at room temperature8 hours
Total Time9 hours 35 minutes
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Caribbean, Italian
Servings: 16
Calories: 418kcal


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 medium 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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8 replies
  1. Jane says:

    5 stars
    I’m not trying to make excuses for the husband, as he may very well be controlling, but it’s still important to check every item on credit card bills to be sure no one else is using your account.

  2. mosquito control says:

    Fill containers with an inch of water, place around the perimeter of you property. Mosquitos will breed, but it takes ten days for larva to hatch, so empty the containers every week. In time there will be no more eggs, larva, hatching and no mosquitos. Caution about large five gallon buckets and small children who could tip over into the buckets and drown.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Not sure where you empty these larvae-infested buckets of water, but not sure that is really solving the problem.

  3. Victoria L. Hall says:

    Clicked on the stoneware cleaner and found, which I already knew, it is not available. I even called Pfaltzgraff and they had no suggestions. So tired of my dishes looking horrible. Check your sources, Mary. This cleaner hasn’t been around for quite some time. So disappointed. Long time devotee! Even when you sent your newsletter through the mail

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Things change by the moment these days. I suggest you use Barkeepers Friend. Cheaper, available and offers great results.

  4. Suzanne says:

    4 stars
    There’s a reason why the wife with the controlling husband should be very concerned. I’ve seen this many times and there’s seldom a good reason for it. He could simply be controlling, in which case she needs to stop this in its tracks by refusing to be treated like a child. This is a just no situation. But she should also insist on knowing why the husband is doing this. Have they suffered a financial setback she’s been unaware of? Are there honestly areas of overspending that could be addressed which would be reasonable to reduce or eliminate? Or is he spending money without her knowledge or consent and is now trying to compensate by limiting her reasonable spending? And those are the just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve seen cases where one spouse is addicted and is terrified of running out of money for their “fix” so they complain when money is spent on other things, even necessities. And there have been cases where one spouse is hoarding money in a secret account in preparation for leaving the marriage. But no matter what’s going on with that couple, the wife needs to be proactive and resolve it now. If she doesn’t things will only get worse.

  5. AL girl says:

    4 stars
    Re the couple who doesn’t agree on spending. Good advice, as a start. But if he won’t agree, seems that this goes far beyond a financial problem. It is about controlling behavior on the part of the husband. I would suggest that they need couple’s counseling immediately. And if he won’t agree, Doreen should RUN, not walk, to counseling for herself. My daughter had a similar problem in her marriage, which, sadly, led to divorce.

    With respect to paying a mortgage early, great advice. I’d like to add a couple of things. Every time one of us got a raise, we’d put it towards the principal. (You’ve made the point before, Mary, to be SURE extra payments go to the principal only.) We paid down mortgages early on both of our previous homes, saving thousands in interest. It allowed us at retirement to purchase our present more modest home in cash. What a relief to be mortgage-free!


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