Helpful Hints

DEAR HELOISE: One way to protect yourself and your family from scammers online or on the phone is to come up with a random "safe word." We set this up when our kids were young to ensure that anytime the kids were picked up by someone not in the family, that person had to know the safe word, or else they were not able to go with them. That same advice would come in handy today if you got a call from a scammer claiming to be a family member and asking for money.

All you have to do is ask them what the "safe word" is to find out if they really are your family member. This word could also be used by the family member to verify their identity -- in case they really were in trouble. Thanks for all your helpful hints!

-- L.M.,

via email

DEAR HELOISE: In a recent column, you mentioned a reader whose parakeet had escaped outside. She shook his bell, and he came to her. Years ago, when we were living in a small town in northern Louisiana, our parakeet also escaped. A woman we knew who lived about five miles out called my mom and said, "Aren't you missing your parakeet? There's one feeding with my chickens." Mom asked her to stand at the screen door, whistle, call "George" or "Pretty Boy," and he would probably fly inside. It worked, and we got him back.

-- Richard Greer,

via email

DEAR HELOISE: Hard water deposits regularly accumulate in our showerhead. Attaching a zip-close bag filled with white vinegar overnight dissolved the deposits until the next time it needed to be done, which seemed often. After years of using the zip-close bag approach, we now keep a spray bottle filled with white vinegar in the shower to spray directly on the showerhead after showering.

It has been months now since using vinegar in the spray bottle, and our showerhead's water has flowed freely. A few pumps will do it. The amount in the spray bottle is about the same amount that would have been used in the zip-close bag. However, the vinegar in the spray bottle lasts for months compared to the overnight bag approach. And it's easy.

-- N.D.,

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