Readers' Tips

Holiday Table Decor

An inexpensive, yet festive centerpiece for a holiday table could be as simple as a tumble of fresh fruits (apples, oranges, grapes, cranberries) mixed with fresh nuts in the shell all spilled across the (paper or cloth) tablecloth. Add some extra sparkle by using food safe gold or silver spray that is available at major craft stores or online. Just spray some of the nuts or spray over the fruit.

editor's note: Visit here for more on holiday table decor.

Out of Town Flowers

I am a florist. There are literally dozens of places online that look like a flower shop, but are nothing more than an order gathering business. Some of them are not even located in the US. They will tack on $12 to $15 to every order and call it a delivery or service fee. It should be called what it is "The amount we charge you suckers just for taking your order."

They will then send this order on to a real florist, who must take their own delivery fee from the amount they got from the order gatherer. We regularly get orders from these crooks that leave us just a few dollars for an arrangement.

What's the best way to get your money's worth? Do a search for a florist in the town where you want the flowers delivered.

Homemade Wrinkle Releaser

I use hair conditioner to make my own wrinkle releaser. I mix 1/2 cup to a quart of water. Then I place a white wash rag in my mixture, take out the rag, and squeeze it, leaving the rag wet but not dripping. I then put the rag in the dryer with the clothes and dry as usual. When done, I take the clothes out and immediately hang them. This works great and saves a lot of money. I keep my mixture and the rag in the laundry room, and I just wet the rag before I place it in dryer.

Additional TDS Resource: More suggestions on homemade wrinkle releasers

Winter Birds

I love to feed and watch the birds in the winter. If you have a suet bird feeder, here's an inexpensive way to fill it. Take two slices of bread (I buy mine from the day-old bread store) and spread on peanut butter. Put the two pieces of bread together and place in the feeder. The peanut butter provides protein for the feathered friends.

Just Enough

Don't let milk or buttermilk go bad. If you keep it for cooking, freeze measured recipe amounts in yogurt tubs. Then pop the frozen chunks into a resealable plastic bag. Remove a chunk to thaw as you plan your cooking. If you freeze both kinds of milk, keep in separately labeled bags.

Try the same thing with fruits and vegetables purchased in economy-sized cans. Freeze 1/2 cup of crushed pineapple for quick-set gelatin salads. Freeze peas, corn, beans, etc. in serving-size blocks and combine a variety for soups and casseroles. It's an easy and economical way for singles or small families to enjoy variety and economy at the same time.

It's Santa

Several years ago, after our three kids were in bed, we made Santa's footprints. We cut two boot shapes out of lightweight cardboard and sprinkled baking soda around them. The footprints led to the Christmas tree. The kids were thrilled to find Santa's prints on Christmas morning!

Lower Electric Bills

I have lowered the cost of operating my refrigerator by almost $20 a month by doing one simple thing, and that's keeping it completely filled. Wherever there is an empty space, I fill it with a jug or mason jar of water. Water holds temperatures much better than many other things, and by keeping the refrigerator and freezer filled in this way, it takes much less work for the refrigerator to stay cold. If you're going to put mason jars in the freezer, remember to fill them only 80% full and don't tighten the lid until the water has completed frozen.

Leftover Noodles?

Here is a great way to use up leftover noodles whether they are lasagna, macaroni, or any other kind. Fry some onion in a pan with butter. Add all the leftover noodles and fry slightly. If they are lasagna noodles, cut them into smaller pieces. Add a can of mushrooms with its water, a can of mushroom soup, and a bit of water. Simmer together until smooth and mixed. Leftover vegetables and meat may also be added. Top with grated parmesan and cheddar cheese and broil until golden. This is a delicious, creamy dish.

Smokey Odor Removal

To absorb stale, smoky odors, place a bowl of apple cider vinegar in an out of the way place. To add a fragrance to the room and remove odors, put 1/2 cup of vinegar, two cloves, and one teaspoon of cinnamon into a small glass jar. Place it in the microwave for one minute and then place in the room. It will absorb odors instead of covering up the smell like commercial air fresheners do.

Additional TDS Resource: More on removing odors

Cheaper Kitty Litter

Ground corn works beautifully as kitty litter. It clumps well, has a soft texture, and is non-toxic. Adding a shake of baking soda after filling the litter pan increases odor absorption. After scooping out the waste, the remaining corn litter may be put into the compost or tossed around the yard for fertilization. Ground corn makes an excellent fertilizer with anti-fungal properties. It can also be mixed with water to make a soothing dip for pets with flea or skin allergies. Ground corn may be purchased at feed stores, farm and ranch supply stores, and many nurseries. Be sure to ask for ground corn, not corn meal.
Kristie in Boerne, Texas

Additional TDS Resource: More suggestions for cheaper kitty litter

Dog Repellent

I have a large dog and live in an area where there are frequently dogs on the loose. He's been attacked twice and will not back down from a fight. After using up three cans of pepper spray, I decided I had to find something less expensive than the $20 cans of pepper spray. I found a small spray bottle and filled it with vinegar. It works great. I don't spray it on the dog's face. I just spray it near his face, and the smell usually makes the dog back away. I'm amazed that this works so well. I've used it a number of times, and it has never failed to repel a dog.

Shipping Christmas Presents?

Here's a tip for sending packages by mail without ending up with crushed bows. I wrap my packages as usual, including the bow. I save round boxes like the ones that oatmeal and cornmeal come in and use a knife to slice the necessary depth off to protect the bow. Then I use crumpled paper around the outside of the cylinder to hold it in place.

Scrambled Eggs without Milk

I don't keep a lot of milk on hand, and my family likes scrambled eggs. I've found that dry milk works really well for this, because it doesn't separate during the cooking process and leave excess water in the pan!

Countertop Remodeling: Sponge Painted Finish

We changed our kitchen laminate countertop by priming with a special primer for Formica and laminates. Then, I sponge painted the new finish onto the old countertop. I went through all the samples at the home improvement store until I found one I wanted to try. I took the sample to Diamond Vogel, a Midwest paint store chain, and they helped me match the colors I needed to get the same effect. It has been almost two years now, and it has held up very well. It has two coats of polyurethane over the paint, and we haven't babied it in any way. It gets hard use and really has stood up well. To get the effect I wanted, I took a 12x12 ceiling tile and practiced on it until I got the desired look.

Additional TDS Resource: More on changing your countertop color

Homemade Dog Food

I make dog food patties to add to the dry food. I use canned salmon or cooked chicken, a dozen eggs, brown rice, veggies, and pumpkin or pineapple and mix together with some oatmeal. Then I scoop out into 1/4 cup patties and bake. My dogs won't eat their food unless they have this added. I also no longer buy the treats but make dog biscuits as well. My dogs seem to be healthier because of it.
Melissa (via Facebook)

Sweetening with Sorghum

I came across an article on TDS about sweetening with sorghum. I wanted to clarify a few things. I wasn't clear from the article if you differentiated between grain sorghum and sweet sorghum. These are two different types of cane. The best quality of sorghum syrup comes from sweet sorghum cane. Grain sorghum grows five feet tall and sweet sorghum grows 12 to 15 feet tall.

Later on in the piece the piece you wrote, "Less sweet tasting than molasses..." Actually pure sorghum is sweeter than molasses because no raw sugar has been removed. In the process of making molasses, it is boiled and the raw sugar is removed and what is left is molasses. With sorghum syrup, the juice is boiled to a syrup and no raw sugar is removed.

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