North of the Border: Our Mailbag

by Pat Mestern

In the category of "hair today - gone tomorrow". Psst. This is a tip for the ladies. It is a delicate issue guys and I'm only writing about it because quite a few ladies asked about a substitute for harsh hair removal creams. For the answer we have to hark back to the Second World War and the ultimate cheap solution. It involved SANDPAPER. Yep, you read me right, very fine sandpaper - and a lot of gentle "scrubbing" in a circular motion - a half dozen circles one way, a half dozen circles the next. I won't go into detail but if anyone wants more information, e-mail me. I'm not selling anything, just giving the facts - and they are pretty good too.

Tired of buying eyeglass lens cleaner or using the tail of your shirt and really smearing the dirt? Try the following. Use a recyclable spray bottle that holds 1/2 cup liquid. Boil 1/2 cup water and let it sit to cool. Pour into spray bottle. Add 1 teaspoon white vinegar and a wee drop of liquid dish detergent. Shake gently before using. Works like a charm on lenses, computer and television screens, mirrors, picture glass . . .

Cleaning iron cooking utensils. DO NOT THROW old cast iron frying pans and griddles away because they are crusted with grease on their "bottoms." They can easily be cleaned but one has to go camping to execute the plan. Get a wood fire going to generate lots of hot coals. Eat your wienies then put all your old cast iron pans in the middle of the fire and heap the red hot coals around and over them. Enjoy the sunset. Go to bed. In the morning the fire will be out and your cast iron utensils should be as clean as a whip. DO NOT TOUCH THEM. They will be HOT! Do not drag these hot pots out of the fire and cool them with water. Wrong move! Have a swim. Go for a hike. Mid-afternoon you should be able to retrieve your beauties without burning yourself. I have frying pans and a griddle that are more than one hundred years old. They get a "fire bath" every 2-3 years.

Torn window screens? Here is a solution that does not involve replacing the entire screen. Cut a piece of screen larger than the hole. Strip the edges of the patch back until there is approximately one inch of loose wire protruding on all sides. Put the patch over the outside of the hole. Weave the loose wires into the main screen. Viola! If you cannot be bothered weaving the loose wires, just turn a small edge in on every side and sew to the old screen. Sewing is easy with one person on each side of the screen. An added touch? Embroider motifs on these patches before installing them. I have seen some beauties - real artwork. One reads "WELCOME" and is decorated with flowers and butterflies. One woman has made this a home-based business - decorative screen patches.

Gunk in your kitchen and bath drains? Keep them free of grease by mixing a large pitcher of hot salt water and pouring it down the offending drain, followed by several cups of vinegar.

What to do with old blankets that are not good enough for the bed and not bad enough to toss? My neighbour's solution is excellent. Stitch two (or three) worn same-sized blankets together. Make an over-cover of two sheets sown like a pillow case - a la duvet. You want to remove the cover for a quick wash. This solution makes durable, pretty, warm comforters.

Under the category of a sad story and a lesson to be learned. Mid-February our old cat suffered a stroke. As Adumb was nearly twenty years old and had been failing quickly, we anticipated a vet bill and prepared for it. We called clinics within a twelve mile radius and asked - how much for a consultation? How much for "the final needle?" How much to dispose of the remains? A consultation ranged from zero monies spent to $35. Administering "the needle" would cost from $20 to $66. Disposing of the remains ranged from - "we'll freeze him and you can pick him up after spring thaw for burial on the home plot"(this has to be a bizarre Canadianism. I have visions of freezers full of dogs and cats!) to $65 if the clinic disposed of the body. Moral of the story is that pet owners must choose a vet clinic carefully. As a matter of fact, before owning a pet, take into consideration all the expenses one can incur. Adumb was known in our neighbourhood as the $1,300 cat. During his lifetime, that was the money we put out to keep him operational. As a farmer friend said - "My gosh. He is more expensive to fix than a cow."

Don't forget. For a really cheap vacation come to Canada in 1999. The U.S. dollar is worth between $1.45 and $1.54, depending on where your money is exchanged. Canadian destinations worth attention this summer? Visitors will not be disappointed with the Kitchener-Waterloo area of southern Ontario where a high percentage of Mennonite and Amish folk live amidst beautiful landscapes, farm markets, quaints villages and friendly people. Make this area your home base. Niagara Falls is only 1-1/2 hours away and accommodation is half the price of that in the falls area. If visiting Niagara, please ignore the awful tourist traps and enjoy the Falls themselves, the Butterfly conservatory, Niagara Parks and Parkway. Be sure to visit Niagara-On-The-Lake, thirteen miles downriver from the Falls. Although Niagara-On-The-Lake has a reputation for being expensive, it is worth a visit. Want to stay in the Niagara area? St. Catharines (close by Niagara) has more reasonably priced accommodation. Be sure to visit the restored carousel at old Port Dalhousie in St. Catharines.

Collingwood on Georgian Bay is an excellent choice in July for its Elvis Presley Festival and lovely beaches. Goderich on Lake Huron hosts an excellent family oriented Celtic festival in August. Muskoka Resorts are very expensive, but Sudbury is a great destination with reasonably priced accommodation and a marvelous hands-on science and technology museum. Of course, the capital of Canada, OTTAWA is always a good choice with lots to see and do. For information on all these destinations, call #1-800-Ontario or visit We like Cape Breton in Nova Scotia and the Province of Prince Edward Island but these can be crowded in July/August. Better to plan a September vacation to eastern Canada. Newfoundland is great destination and a bargain at any time. It is just an adventure to get there. Until next time ...

Periodically Pat Mestern provides us with frugal living tips from a Canadian perspective. You'll find some of her other musings at

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