5 Holiday Dilemmas (and How to Solve Them)

Smart solutions for seasonal mishaps. 

1

There’s Christmas-Tree Sap on My Clothes and Floor!

cat-broken-christmas-ornament
Photo by Constance Bannister Corp/Getty Images

Janis Farrington, via e-mail

The Fix: Rubbing alcohol can remove sap from washable clothing, knit gloves, and rugs, says Nancy Bock, the senior vice president of education for the American Cleaning Institute. "It acts as a solvent," she says. For clothes, even a down coat, saturate the area with alcohol, let sit for a minute, then launder in warm water with regular detergent. Heat sets stains, so be sure all the sap is gone before using the dryer. Repeat the process if any remains. For sap on a wool coat or leather gloves, the dry cleaner is your best bet. For a rug, spot-test first, then apply alcohol with a cloth; blot with clean parts of the cloth until the sap is gone. Murphy Oil Soap ($4, target.com) is effective on wood floors, says Christmas-tree farmer Kathy Kogut, the executive director of the Connecticut Tree Growers Association. As for sticky fingers? Kogut says hand sanitizer works like a charm.

2

How Do I Get Rid of the Smell In My House From Cooking Latkes?

Pam Minkin Fishman, via Facebook

The Fix: Aside from ventilating the kitchen, fry latkes with oil that has a high smoke point (canola oil is one). Splatters contribute to the strong smell, says Sabrina Sexton, a program director at the Institute of Culinary Education, in New York City. Minimize them with a carbon splatter screen (Reo splatter screen, $20, amazon.com) placed over your pan. After cooking, wipe the stove well and simmer a pot of water and lemon peel, which will help stamp out lingering odors.

3

My Child Cries When We Visit Santa.

Charla Mott, via e-mail

The Fix: First (and obviously), remember that you can skip the visit. But you can warm up little kids to Santa and make him more of a familiar face by watching some Christmas movies. "Between ages two and six, children develop stranger anxiety," says Barbara Greenberg, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Weston, Connecticut. Creating a wish list might help, too. That gives kids a reason to talk to the guy in the red suit. When you get to the mall, watch the scene with your child from afar. He’ll see how other kids interact with Santa, and this could increase his comfort level. After a while, ask if he would like to talk to Santa about a certain toy. If he gets nervous or cries once in line or on Santa’s lap, just leave and offer sweet encouragement for another try next year.



4

Any Tips to Keep My Cat From Climbing Up the Christmas Tree? I’m Afraid She’ll Knock It Down.

E. G., via Facebook

The Fix: With its twinkly lights and colorful ornaments, “a Christmas tree is a cat magnet,” says veterinarian Ann Hohenhaus. Make yours less enticing by surrounding the base with (unlit) citrus candles. Cats don’t like the scent, so they’ll avoid it, says Vogelsang. No luck? Consider an automated device that can help you set boundaries: Try the Ssscat Cat Spray Control System ($37, petsafe.net). “It detects motion, so you leave it within three feet of the tree, and when your cat gets near, it gives off a startling, but harmless, blast of air,” says Vogelsang. (Aim the sensor at the tree’s base so it isn’t activated every time you pass by.) Generally, after a few encounters, a cat will steer clear. As a protective measure, skip the fragile ornaments, at least near the bottom of the tree, says Hohenhaus. And avoid using tinsel. “If consumed,” she says, “it can bunch up in the cat’s intestines and make him ill.”

5

I Sent a Gift Card to My Niece, and It Got Lost In the Mail. 

J.L., via e-mail

The Fix: First, find the purchase or activation receipt. It may or may not (depending on the merchant) include a tracking ID or a portion of the card's number. Once you have a record of the transaction, contact the retailer immediately to cancel the lost card and to order a replacement, says Shelley Hunter, a spokesperson for GiftCards.com. "Unfortunately, if you have no record, there's not much customer service can do," she says. Because the numbers imprinted on the front and the back of the actual gift card are the crucial information for recovering funds, in the future, snap a photo of them before sending a gift card.