When the National Society of Newspaper Columnists gathers for its four-day annual conference at the Hartford Hilton beginning Thursday, June 27, there will be a special treat. The Friends of The Mark Twain House & Museum will welcome the high priestess of household hints, nationally syndicated columnist Heloise of “Hints from Heloise” for a program at 7 p.m. The original doyenne of helpful hints for harried housewives, Heloise has dished out sage-like advice on how to remove stains all the way up to how to jump out of planes. The queen of clean lives in San Antonio with her husband David and both are hot-air balloonists who own Heloise Hot Air Balloon. But it was all about the subject of “clean” when she shared her secrets by Spilling the Beans with Java.
Q: How did you become a “clean” expert?
A: My mother. She was original Heloise so I grew up in a Heloise household. It is really important for people to understand that she was a pioneer. She had an office at home in 1959 and we lived in Hawaii. We were a military family and I don’t recall any of my friends’ mothers working. But God bless the military. As a military wife you move around a lot and you have to learn to do with what you have. As God as my witness every military wife will tell you don’t take the drapes with you each time you move, you learn to make new ones.
Q: What is your best trick as queen of household “how to?”
A: When I was young I learned how to sew and my staff laughs at me still because I will pull out a machine and get on a tear and sew for five or six days and then I am done. With some material, a staple gun, some push pins, a sewing needle and can of spray paint and I can decorate a one room apartment for less than $100
Q: So I am feeling insecure right now talking to someone who knows how to do it all and keep it all clean at the same time. How do I master it all?
A: My mother did not keep a fastidious house and neither do I. That was her point and mine. Look at our books. It is wisdom from 50 years ago. You can’t have it all at the same time. You cannot be the perfect housekeeper, the best mom, the prefect wife and gardener and hostess and be healthy. Pick your priorities!!! And do the best you can at housekeeping with the time you have.
Q: What was your house like when you were growing up?
A: My mother was the first one to admit that when she got married she didn’t know how to keep house because her mother didn’t teach her. The beds were made every day and it was a clean house but no antiseptic clean. Things were neat and tidy but there was maybe a little dust on the end tables. The kitchen was clean and the counter cleaned off. It would look nice to you. But she was the one who taught me, company is not going to look in your oven or under your bed. They are going to walk through the door and go to the living room or kitchen. Focus on those areas.
Q: What would you advice be to parents today about teaching their children when it comes to keeping house?
A: We were raised to be independent. My mother taught me and my brother how to do our laundry and to cook. We took our dirty laundry to school to be washed. If we threw stuff on the floor at home she would not pick it up. It was our job. It was Lifeskills 101 for college for us and every parent should teach their children those basic skills. Learn how to load and unload the dishwasher, make a bed, make a pot of chili and be able to do the basics of laundry. I am not sure what parents are doing these days. I don’t know if it’s that they don’t have time or can’t be bothered. But I hear from college kids a lot with questions on how to do simple tasks. They want to learn.
Q: Have the questions you answer in your syndicated column changed much over the years?
A: Yes and no, mostly because of the technology now. Now there are new materials being used in homes, new cleaning agents, front loading washing machines and computer screens and keyboards. It’s very important to read directions
Q: What questions are tried-and-true?
A: Getting stains out of clothes, carpeting, countertops depending on the materials. There are still the questions about how to get body oil stains out of leather chairs, that’s a popular one.
Q: How do you get the stains out of a leather chair?
A: Use cornstarch or flour or baby powder and press it into the stain for a couple of hours, kind of like a poultice. And remember, in Victorian times they used to put a piece of lace or cloth on the arms and on the back of the chair where someone’s head would touch. There was a reason, body oil.
Q: Another popular question?
A: How to clear cloudy glasses. Glasses washed in a dishwasher get cloudy for two reasons, they are not getting cleaned properly or they are getting etched. It could be because of very hard water or the detergent is not getting rinsed off or just time which etches them and they look cloudy. If it is a matter of hard water or not being cleaned properly, used warm vinegar on them and they will clear.
Q: If I visit your house, where shouldn’t I look?
A: Our master bedroom is private. And the junk drawer is a mess but it is a junk drawer, after all. But a hint here, I put an extra-long cord on my phone so when I am doing interviews I can clean out a drawer or a shelf of the refrigerator while I am talking.
Q: What are some things everyone should have in their cupboard when it comes to cleaning?
A: Vinegar (the cheapest brand,) baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol and microfiber clothes.
Q: What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
A: I had no intention of taking over my mother’s column; I saw the stress and said ‘I don’t want to do that.’ I have degrees in business and mathematics and had applied to teach in San Antonio. The rest is history.
Tickets for the program are $40 per person and $35 per person for MTH&M members. The event will be followed by a book signing and dessert reception. Call 860-280-3130 for ticket information.