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HINTS FROM HELOISE

Garden City Telegram

Dear Readers: February is the month for romance. Look out - here comes Valentine's Day! Know someone who's interested in proposing marriage? Well, they'll need a diamond. Below are some qualities to look for in a diamond, according to the Gemological Institute of America (www.gia.edu).

Color (technically, the lack thereof): A good-quality diamond is celebrated for its lack of color; it should be clear and icy, like fresh water.

Cut: A diamond should be cut so each facet of the stone gives off the best light play. The shape of the stone (round, princess, pear, etc.) is a matter of personal preference, but a well cut diamond will emit fire (all the colors of the rainbow) when it hits light, flashes and sparkles.

Clarity: Clarity simply means the absence of flaws and inclusions. Diamonds are made by Mother Nature, of course, so internal flaws are common, but many are too small to be seen by the naked eye. Graders have a scale; they look at a diamond under 10 times magnification to figure out how clean the stone is.

Carat weight: Carat weight refers to the size of the stone, but not the quality of the stone. Larger stones are more scarce, but a larger stone is not necessarily more valuable.

Do some homework before investing in a diamond, and that lifelong commitment. - Heloise

ORGANIZATION NATION - MIREPOIX

Dear Readers: Now is soup season; the warmth of soup is perfect on a cold winter's day. A great way to begin homemade soup is with mirepoix - a mixture of chopped onion, celery and carrots usually, although other root veggies can go in as well. These veggies are cooked separately at first in butter or oil to develop their flavors.

I've compiled a collection of my favorite soup recipes into a handy pamphlet. Would you like to receive one? It's easy. Visit www.Heloise.com to order, or send a long, stamped (70 cents) self-addressed envelope along with $5 to: Heloise/Soups, P.O. Box 795001, San Antonio, Texas 78279-5001. Make sure to keep these ingredients in your pantry, fresh and ready to go! - Heloise

RACCOON RESCUE

Dear Heloise: I was surprised to see two raccoons in my giant waste container in my apartment complex parking lot. I wanted to help them get out of there, so I put a long board in the container, and they were able to scramble up and out. I was relieved! - Erin R., age 12, in Florida

Erin, little guys are great climbers. I bet even a broom handle would work. Great job, and a Heloise high five! - Heloise

EASY CLEAN

When I do my spring cleaning, I spread paper towels above all my cabinets to keep them from getting dusty and greasy, especially in the kitchen. Next time I go to clean, I take the paper towels off and just wipe off. Then I put new paper towels down. - Mary W., via email

OFFICIAL SWISHER

Dear Heloise: I am the "official" dishwasher in my family. I use liquid dish soap, but there always remains a fair amount of soap stuck to the bottom of the bottle.

I pour hot water in and shake it until the remaining soap has dissolved. I then squirt the soapy water on my sponge. - Brent W. in Bethesda, Md.

Distributed by King Features Syndicate Inc.