Face Time: Hints from Heloise

During my hourlong call with Ponce Cruse Evans, the columnist and on-air persow from Heloise, I learned a quick way to hard-boil an egg (in the microwave!), how to ward off picnic pests (lavender oil!) and how to remove ink from a T-shirt (rubbing alcohol!). The household heroine — and daughter of the original Heloise — will be at Dulles Expo Center along with other nesting gurus Friday through Sunday at the Home + Remodeling Show (tickets, $10; Homeandremodelingshow.com).

What will you be discussing at the show?
Mainly tips for successful home improvement. My No. 1 rule: Don’t rush into something. My husband, David, built our house and always said, “If it’s not in the building plan, it doesn’t go in the house.”

Do people feel like they already know you when they meet you in person for the first time?
Absolutely. I come into their homes every morning. When David and I got married, I got all these lovely cards, and I still get anniversary cards from the same readers! And when my mother died, I got 4,000 to 5,000 condolence cards.

Your mother was the original Heloise, and you took over the column after she died in 1977. Is it a career you would have chosen for yourself?
I didn’t want to be Heloise. But after working with my mother for three years, I really loved the work. If I wasn’t doing this, I’d probably be teaching math or computer science. I was a double major in business and mathematics and have a teacher’s certificate.

Have you seen a shift in the type of hints you disperse since taking over the column?
Not much. I would say today they are much more electronic, high-tech, computer kinds of questions, but the rest of them are the same — dealing with kids, making life easier. Human nature doesn’t change.

Has a reader ever submitted a hint you were shocked to learn worked?
One lady suggested piercing an egg’s yolk with a toothpick before hard-boiling it in the microwave. We blew up a couple of eggs before  eventually poking it — and it really worked.

How do you choose which hints make the column?
First, we check how long it’s been since we printed something similar. Second, I ask myself if I think the majority of readers will want to read this. And, third, I make sure it’s safe.

What makes you a good fit to play the role of Heloise?
I have an inquisitive mind, and I think I’d rather know a little bit about a lot of things than a lot about one thing. I like being able to say “Here’s what we learned” or “Here’s what I have personally been through.” My hints encourage people to think things through. Be prepared! What you thought would be a one-hour project might end up taking two or three.
Holley Simmons (Express)

Holley Simmons is the dining editor of The Washington Post Express. When she’s not reporting on local restaurants and tastemakers, you can find her sewing a dress from a 1950s pattern or planting a windowsill herb garden. Contact her at holley.simmons@wpost.com.
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