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DEAR READERS: Electrical fires can be a big risk this time of year. Outlets can get jammed up and overloaded with holiday lights, TVs, game consoles, overtaxed extension cords, appliances, etc.

The wiring on all of these things can fray, overheat, malfunction and start a fire. The telltale signs of an electrical fire? Buzzing sounds, flickering lights, a burning odor and breakers that trip (turn off) all the time should concern you.

One of the best ways to alert you to electrical fires is a smoke alarm. Where? In every bedroom, outside every sleeping area, and one on every floor of your home.

Replace batteries in the smoke alarms once per year, and replace the actual smoke alarm unit every 10 years. Sensors can wear out.

P.S. A home inspection of your electrical system could be in order. Keep low-use appliances unplugged when you're not using them.

DEAR HELOISE: I have a lot of Christmas cards to send out each year, and instead of licking the flaps on the envelopes, I moisten a cotton swab and use it -- it works great.

-- Tom,

Williamstown, W.V.

DEAR HELOISE: For any businesses and companies that may have excess wooden pallets, these are helpful to the homeless community. As sad as it is, many people do not have a warm, dry place to sleep. The pallets are elevated a bit off the ground, which can provide a measure of comfort.

-- Bill Y. in Florida

DEAR HELOISE: A lot of times, eggs in recipes serve as the moisture and the binding ingredient. I just realized this.

-- Emily R. in Ohio

DEAR READERS: A plastic brick. What is it? Sometimes called an ecobrick, a plastic brick is a clean, dry plastic bottle that is stuffed solidly with clean and dry plastics, compacted with a bamboo or other thin, strong stick.

It's designed to keep plastics sequestered (kept out and away) from landfills, the beach, the oceans, etc., and to keep the plastics from degrading into dangerous toxins or ingested.

Plastic bricks are being used in modular furniture, toys, gardens and mulching plots.

Do some research on ecobricks. They are one step in helping the environment.

DEAR HELOISE: We made this rule in our family as my mother downsized and got older: Any gift must be something you can eat, drink, read or use. No more stuff.

-- Ann B., via email

Send a money- or time-saving hint to Heloise, P.O. Box 795001, San Antonio, Texas 78279-5000; fax to (210) 435-6473; or email


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