My grandmother was a very frugal woman who often told me “if you will mind your pennies your dollars will mind themselves.” I hope to share here some of her wisdom and the wisdom of others I have learned over the years

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Over on my “See the USA the Mystery Shopping Way blog I recently posted an article on the importance of communication in doing mystery shops.  At that point I mentioned that good communication is essential in all areas of life.

Today contained a prime example of how simply asking questions, and having good communications skills can help you save a LOT of money. 

Those of you on the Dave Ramsey list already know that we’ve been having a series of highs and lows over the fact that my son just changed to a much higher paying job.

The highs of course are the better pay, better benefits, and in a field he truly loves working in.  The low was his previous employer—who shall remain nameless at this point—cut off his medical insurance the minute he walked out the door.  We are finding this is a VERY common practice.  So common is it I have no doubts that some of you reading this post have found yourself in the exact same situation.

While my son qualifies for COBRA the cost of it is high.  The insurance at the new company will kick in September 1, so he only has 45 days to cover.  Normally he wouldn’t worry about it, but he takes numerous medications daily and had just placed an order for them when the insurance was yanked out from in under him. 

No matter which way we figured it with/without insurance we were looking at close to $1,000 for either COBRA and co-pays for the prescriptions he needed immediately or to simply pay for the prescriptions without insurance.  PANIC!!! 

Normally we would have had that in our emergency fund, but we’ve had several Murphy hits the last few months that had nuked that fund big time. 

So we had to come up with a better game plan, and believe it or not we did—simply by communicating with the powers that be.  No not COBRA or the big chain pharmacy we normally use, but with individuals on the Dave Ramsey list, my son and with our doctor’s office. 

First up we decided to ask the doctor if he had any samples of the medicines that ds could have.  YES!  One for certain, maybe another one too next week.  The one I picked up today is normally $300-$400 each for a one month supply and the doctor gave us TWO of them.  Talk about a huge savings!

The receptionist said anytime you find yourself in a financial bind like this ALWAYS ask if the doctor has any samples of any medicines you take that do not have a generic substitute.

Next we discussed with ds what meds he REALLY needed asap, and what ones wouldn’t run out for a bit, or wouldn’t cause him major withdrawal symptoms if he missed out on them for a FEW (as in less than a week) days.  He broke them down into must have now, would be better off having, and could stretch without them for a SHORT time.

Because we always do generics when possible two of the ones in the last two categories fell into the $4 category at a local pharmacy—that we could handle no problem.

Some one on the Dave Ramsey list suggested checking with our different insurance companies for a discount card—we found both our Farm Bureau and AAA insurances had them and they were good at our pharmacy.  A note here, we could have used only one or the other but not both for the discount.

Remember those samples I picked up today at the doctor’s office?  Well while I was there picking them up I thanked the receptionist profusely for them.  I mean the savings on that one alone was a Godsend beyond belief.  But what she told me then was truly a huge blessing.

It started off with my thanking her and then explaining why we needed the assistance.  She said they heard that story day in and day out because of this economy and then asked me if I had checked the prices on his rx’s with this one certain pharmacy.

She said they were known for lower prices than the big chain place, but a little inconvenient to get to.  Turns out they are actually very close to where ds now works.  She then gave me their phone number and suggested I call them for the remaining rx’s.

I armed myself with a list of ds’ rx’s including the dosage and strengths and then called the number she provided. 

I swear I nearly had to call 911 to revive myself after I got the price differences.  On just the first two rx’s there was over $250 difference in the cost! If we considered all his rx’s the total cost was going to be roughly $200 vs the $1000 we had been previously looking at! All because I decided to talk to the receptionist!

We had that much on our flex pay card that we could use to pay for them. You can bet we were doing the Snoopy Dance at our house tonight.

The pharmacy tech also told me that one of ds’ rx’s was going generic in just two weeks and that if he could get samples from his doctor or stretch his current rx that far (which he can) that the price for it would drop over $150 from their price and even more from the big chain pharmacy’s price.

A third prescription they didn’t carry because it was a mixture of two drugs.  However, she said, if we could get our doctor to write two separate rx’s for the two drugs we could get them both for $20 vs the over $100 ds was currently paying.  The doctor agreed to this immediately.

We discussed all his meds and she responded with helpful suggestions that brought our cost down by 75% over the big chain pharmacy.  She said it was because they based their prices on what the medicines actually cost them rather than the overhead the big chains had (franchise, employees, advertising etc). 

So if you find yourself in a similar circumstance, ask your doctor about help.

Also, as one friend found out, sometimes it pays to simply do comparison shopping for all your medical needs.  She had discovered her small local pharmacy was cheaper than the big name chain quite by accident.
So at this point I suggest if you take monthly prescriptions to do a price comparison with pharmacies once a year or so, just as you do (or should do) with your auto and home insurance.  You might be as amazed as we all were.
Another friend was without insurance and needed a lot of medical tests done, and had no insurance.  He discovered very quickly that most labs have two price brackets.  Those with insurance, and those without.  By making phone calls for specific tests he saved literally thousands of dollars by having his tests done where he chose rather than where some insurance company chose. 
He also spoke frankly with his doctor and asked which tests truly needed to be done and which were just add on's because the insurance companies usually require them before getting a second set of different, and sometimes more expensive, testing done.  Any test you don't truly need is money saved in your pocket.

 I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about asking about pharmacies before.  After all when we are preparing to buy anything I call repair shops to find out what appliance/car/tv what have you they see the most and which one they would recommend for the least amount of repairs.  So why not ask a doctor about pharmacies?  Duh!

This is not the first time I’ve gotten a huge discount simply by asking.  Many years ago—during the gas lines time period.  We were without insurance and one of my children had health issues that needed weekly visits to a doctor.  Only, as we all know, doctors and the prescriptions that go with them are expensive.  The kid really needed the medical care.  So I spoke to the doctor and worked out a bartering system with his office.

They saw both my children and gave us samples for the meds needed in exchange for me making child size hospital gowns because they hated using paper gowns for their patients during exams.  As time went on I did some sewing for a church play they were involved with and personal sewing for the doctor and his wife. It was a winning situation for all involved. My children had excellent medical care and they got quality products from the fabric they provided.

Once at Lowe’s I found some shade cloth I wanted but the price was higher than I wanted to pay, another color of the exact same shade cloth was on a tremendous sale, but not my color.  I approached the store manager and asked for a discount.  At first they were hesitant, then using a ploy I had often done with fabric when I had a sewing business, I told them I’d take the whole bolt, if the price was right and would allow them to simply “count folds” to figure the number of yards/square feet rather than have to roll it all out and measure it.  For those of you who don't know generally on a bolt of fabric you can count the folded edges of the fabric on a bolt and on average 3 folds will equal a yard. They took me up on my offer.  I ended up getting far more shade cloth than I thought I had and at a VERY good price.

When we are doing building projects I ask if they have damaged materials they will sell at a discount.  The odds are 50/50 on this but when they do the stores will often discount the materials for as much as 75%. Often the damage is slight, like a corner broken off a full sheet of sheet rock, or a knot hole on the end of a board, or mis-mixed paint.
Same goes for scratch and dent appliances.  We’ve purchased many a piece of furniture over the years with a scratch, or a broken piece of glass for pennies on the dollar.  A little shoe polish often will cover the scratch and a trip to a glass store will often net a scrap piece of glass for little to no money. 
A safety note here.  NEVER short cut on the quality of glass, especially where furniture is concerned.  While safety glass may cost you a bit more in the beginning if someone puts their hand through it in a fall later you will save yourself a trip to the ER, or possibly the morgue, if you have safety glass. 

Where the coffee table glass was concerned I called the glass store from the furniture store before we purchased it to determine the cost of the replacement glass.  It was too high for my purchase budget, but it gave me a negotiating tool.  Before it was over I got the table at the discount I wanted, AND the store replaced the glass for free—seems they knew their store insurance would cover it all along.
Think about where your new appliance is going to go.  If it has a dent on the side that will be next to a wall, does the dent matter? Not in this house, especially when it can lower the price and NOT affect the warranty.  Out of sight, out of mind.  That scratch on the free standing stove side that is between two cabinet tops is NEVER going to be seen by anyone except me when I'm cleaning behind the stove--and that doesn't happen often.
I’m not above asking grocery stores for discounts for foods that are near date that I will either use immediately or can, dry or freeze immediately.  Most would rather sell it at a discount than throw it out. So if the quality is still good, why not ask for the discount?
When we were Rendezvous Traders we were literally that, traders.  If we found something on someone’s trade blanket we wanted.  We’d ask price and then barter goods from our blanket for theirs—or someone else’s.  Some items might require lining up 3 or 4 trades to get to the item we wanted, but we did it.
We always made certain everyone got a fair price for their goods in the long run and we had a reputation for being very honest in how we represented our trades.
Even today if there is a certain heirloom seed I’m looking for I’ll put out a notice that I am looking for it, then work out a trade (only in the states where the law allows the import of seeds—CA in particular has some VERY strict laws so be sure and check them out if you decide to do this) for those seeds whenever possible.
It all comes down to communication.  You need work done on your car, maybe the mechanic needs a repair done to his home.  You will never know if you don’t communicate.
One couple I know does webpages professionally, they barter that skill for all sorts of repairs.  Another does computer repair, the list is endless.
So the moral to this story is COMMUNICATE, all the other person can say is NO. Asking questions like “Do you barter?”  “Would you be willing to let me (fill in the blank with whatever skill you have--keep it clean folks) to pay for the repair?” can save you a lot of cash.
As they say, there is no such thing as a dumb question.
After all any pennies you don’t spend are pennies earned.
Jan who is happy to know she not only solved her immediate prescription problem, but now will have a new pharmacy at much lower prices in OK

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m a research geek.  I’m far better at researching things than actually following through on them.  Oh I eventually follow through on everything I am truly interested in, it just may take me a while.

Solar cooking is one such thing.  I’ve been “wanting” a solar cooker for as long as I can remember.  I’ve pulled up “make your own “ plans hundreds of times.  I’ve put solar cookers on my I want for (fill in the gift giving time) list and on and on.  But I’ve never followed through on it.
Either the units cost too much, or they got bad “plastic tasting” reviews online, or we simply never got around to gather the materials to build one.  So it has never happened.
That is unless you count the boiling bag meals that we’ve heated up on the dash of the car in the summer while traveling.  But those were pre-cooked at home, then packaged in a boilable cooking bag and merely heated by the sun.
Well I finally did it for real.  The whole event started off rather innocently, in fact quite wonderfully.  My son got a call he’d been waiting on for two years, a potential employer wanted him to come in for the interview, and he got the job.  Wonderful!
But that meant our free satellite tv service from his current employer was no more.  No biggie, other than news I seldom watch it during the day, and as a family we watch it maybe two hours max at night.  So we decided to do without the service for a while.
That meant I found more time to search the web for various projects I have in mind. Like I said I’m a research geek and I truly enjoy doing it.  That too started out very innocently.  I started with ChefTess’ blog over at the Cookin’ Cousins blog,  looking at her meals in a jar. 
If you haven’t visited this blog and are interested in food storage I HIGHLY recommend it.  In fact be prepared to see meals in a jar show up over on Patterson’s Pantry and the recipes on Patterson’s Pantry Recipes—with an official nod to Chef Tess for the recipes.
On her blog, Chef Tess, mentions using a solar oven to prepare several of the meals…Uh oh, there it was the link in the chain of events that finally lead me to experiment officially with solar cooking.
Of course I didn’t have a solar cooker YET!  So off I went to look on utube for videos on fixing meals in a jar AND building a solar cooker.  Only this time it was different.  There on the utube was how to build a $5 solar cooker!
FIVE DOLLARS!!!! My inner tightwad screamed!  $5 I could afford $5, heck I’d save that in just cooking one meal out in the summer heat instead of running the crockpot in the sunroom!  Even more over cooking in the house.  Hey, it averages 106 degrees daily here right now, that’s almost enough heat to cook with without a solar oven!
So I clicked on the link thinking “Yeah, it will probably take skills I don’t have to do it with.  Or materials I can’t get.”
Nope, everything could be purchased at the Dollar store!  Even better I had everything here at the house but the sunshade and I might even have one of those in the camper from where we cleaned out a truck!
So I did more research, of course I did—I’m a geek remember!  The original video  was very clear how to do it with the following materials—all of which can be purchased at the dollar store:
A car sunshade
A cookie cooling rack
Self-adhesive Velcro strips
Browning bags
Oven thermometer
Further videos said skip the Velcro strips and use clothes pins.  And said that you could use plastic bags instead of browning bags if you wanted to.  Wow!  This I could handle.
So I emailed my husband and son and asked them to stop at the local Dollar Tree to get me a sunshade on their way home from work that day.
I then kept an eye on various locations throughout the rest of the day to see where it stayed the sunniest all day.
Then I planned my meal.  I decided to do  Pulled Pork for the next day’s dinner.
The only concern I had was keeping all the critters from having dinner before we did.  After all we do live in the woods and we do have domesticated critters.  If all went well and it started cooking and smelling good well…
But, alas it was not to be that day, or for two days afterwards.  Due to 21 straight days of 100 plus temps here in OK every dollar store we checked was out of the sunshades.  NUTS!
Someone online suggested Wal-Mart or an auto parts store.  So my husband checked Wal-Mart the next day on his way home from work and not only did he find one, but he found a jumbo sized one—which meant I could possibly do larger pans of food using it.   It also cost more than $1, but dh would not tell me how much more because he knew I wanted to do this project for as little money as possible.  He said he had used his blow money to make up the difference.  So it couldn’t have been much.
So on Sunday morning, today, I decided “Today is the day”.   First I had some minor obstacles to over come.  Breakfast for one.  Because I didn’t have the solar oven set up yet I used the regular oven and threw in the Cinnamon Pull-a-Part Rolls to bake while we did morning chores.
Then it was time to set up the solar oven.  The second through twenty obstacles were next in my line of concern.  Those being 17 geese, 2 dogs and all the wild animals of the woods. 
All the videos show setting the solar oven on a bucket or cube of some sort on the ground.  For those of you who don’t raise geese you might not know they are “tasters”.  Meaning they will “taste” everything new in their area to see if it’s good or if they can tear it up. 
Since the sunshade was covered with thin Mylar I didn’t want their serrated bills tearing up the sunshade.  I decided to use one of our numerous spare tables and set the unit up out of bill and dog reach.  The wild animals I’d simply have to hope the other 19 would keep away.
Next was location, location, location.  I finally decided upon the center of our circular drive because it was in full sun most of the day.  It also was a bit of a walk from the kitchen, but hey the exercise is good for me right?
So then we worked on getting the meal going.  Dh said using one of our round glass topped picnic tables would be best because it was wide enough and tall enough the critters wouldn’t be able to reach the food.  What he failed to mention is it is also heavy enough we needed some strong folks to move it from the side deck to the middle of the circle. 
My son was still asleep, so we decided on brain power rather than brawn.  Carefully the two of us slid the heavy piece of smoked glass off the top of the metal table and leaned it against the porch rail.
We then tilted the round table on its side and dh rolled it like a hoop of days of old off the deck, across the yard, across the driveway and into the middle of the circle. 
The glass, unfortunately could not be rolled that way for fear of breaking it.  So we eased it off the porch on to a dolly and dollied it to the table where we slid it back on top.  Hey who needs muscles right?
I placed the black crate we’d planned on using for funnel support in the center of the table then we scooted back into the air conditioning. It was already 95 degrees out.
We only had 2 pieces of the self adhesive Velcro so we worked as a unit, with ds, who had gotten up while we were outside and already had his breakfast,  as camera man lining the pieces up on the edges of the two ends of the sunshade to form a funnel.  We found laying the opened sunshade on the dining room table made this job slightly easier. 
We also found that having both the loop and hook segments of the Velcro attached to each other made the lining up much easier.  We adhered one side to the first edge of the sunshade and then formed our funnel, lined the edges up and then removed the protective backing from the Velcro attached it in just the right spot on the other side.
It quickly became clear to us we’d also need clothes pins to help hold it all together because of the size of the sunshade.
Next I cut two pieces of my large bulk purchased boneless pork loin to fit in the pan I planned on using. 
A note on cookware.  I have both cast iron and black cookware, both have their drawbacks for my usage in the solar cooker.  The black cookware has a shiny silver lid, which would reflect the sun’s rays rather than draw the heat in to cook.  The cast iron, being the older stuff (as in my great grandmother's) is thick and takes longer to heat up.  However, it will hold the heat longer if the clouds or o’dark happen to happen before you empty your cooker.
Also always remember to make certain your pot will fit in the size cooking bag you have.
Today I decided to go with the thinner walled black cookware.  I placed a dark maroon hand towel over the shiny lid.  I also, thankfully remembered to make certain to close the steam vent on the lid. 
All I did for the pulled pork is put a dry rub on all sides of the two pieces of meat then placed them in the bottom of the black pot. This I slid into a turkey sized roasting bag. 
Then it was time for the grand assembly.  The three of us went to the circle.  First trying out the planned on black crate.  It was too big.  The funnel would not form properly.
Next a nearby bird bath, too shallow, it let the funnel open too wide.  So off to find a 5 gallon detergent bucket.  Luckily dh found one quickly.  Once the funnel was properly positioned it the bucket he added the cookie cooling rack I had brought out of the kitchen.  PERFECT fit.
I added the dark towel and oven thermometer (both of which we already owned) to the top of the pot then twisted the cooking bag tightly shut, sealing it with a twist tie.  The bag was then placed on the rack.  A note here, since no food touches the cooking bag it could easily be re-used if you open and close it with a twist tie rather than a zip strip.
The wind, of course, was coming up so a dowel rod was fetched from the garage and clothes pinned across the front to help provide support in the wind. We adjusted the bucket to face directly into the sun and noticed the wind was making the lower front of the funnel flop a bit.
Dh grabbed the black crate and stood it on end to go under the edge of the funnel and it fit perfectly.
We watched in amazement as the thermometer in the roasting bag was already climbing quickly.  It was 11:45 am and already 104 degrees outside.  Fifteen minutes later the temperature in the bag had gone from ambient temperature to  225 F.  By 12:30 pm it was nearly 240 and still climbing.  By jove I think it just might work!
We checked the temperature every hour on the hour after that.  It fluctuated all day between 225 and 250, but never higher.  Part of the problem could have been the wind and occassional bouts of clouds--for this the cast iron would have been better.
According to all the websites I visited as long as it maintained 220 or above we were fine for cooking.  The pan felt very hot to the touch whenever we touched it through the bag. 
We discovered quite by accident that the glass top on the table would spin.  This was VERY handy for adjusting the funnel to follow the sun.  Periodically one of us would go out to make certain the shadow of the cooker was directly behind it.  If it was not we'd rotate it to where it was to help maintain the unltimate heat.
At 4:00 pm we decided to check for doneness.  Meat thermometer in hand we headed out as a group, after all this was exciting.  One look at the meat told us it was definitely not done.  It had definitely been cooking as evidenced by the liquid in the bottom of the pot and the wonderful smell that greeted us when we opened the bag.
So we had to make a decision.  Leave it cooking for 2-4 more hours in the solar oven and have a very late dinner on a work night. OR put it in the oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or so.  This was the choice of the hungry crew.  The meat thermometer only registered at 140 and that was just too low for pork to be considered done. 
So the experiment was some what of a failure, but not a complete one.  We learned a lot.  Dh thinks the cone was too floppy, so he plans on adjusting the dowel rods and the supports for our next experiment.

I think part of the problem was it was two large chunks of boneless meat that had been placed in the pan in a near frozen state.  No ice crystals, but just this side of frozen.  I also think four hours was too short a time frame for such large cust of boneless meat.  We won't give up, I think next I'll use all dried foods and make a soup--Maybe tomorrow in fact.

In the meantime I finished the meal off in the house oven, and it was delicious served with
BBQ Sauce , corn on the cob and two types of French fries (white and sweet potato) for dinner with ice cold glasses of sweet tea.
It was delicious!  We all decided that the solar cooker could be a success we just need to tweak the set-up a bit.   I’ll definitely be using it on many sunny days to come to do a lot of my baking for “free”, experimenting until I get it just right.   I do still want to work more on getting the temperature up a bit.  Maybe using the glass bowl idea one utube video suggested, or a better angle to the funnel?
Jan who was hoping for a perfect success, but instead learned she must start the meal much earlier in the day if she's doing such large cuts of meat in OK

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Most households have one, you know that jar, bank, bottle, vanity tray, dish, whatever that you drop your pocket change in at the end of the day.  For some it is merely the bottom of their purse, their car ash tray, wherever it is, coins get collected.

Some of us, myself being one, will stop and pick up change off the street, be it a penny or a $1 coin (or in of one recent incident a $10 bill), others are the people who would rather not “stoop so low” as to do that. 

Some, like myself, prefer to save the coins until needed, others prefer to spend exact change at every opportunity they come across.  Whichever you are coins are a valuable part of our day to day living. 

We all consider the penny to be the lowest denomination of our cash system here in the US.  But at one time we had a half-cent coin. It was discontinued in 1857.  In recent history there have been two proposed bills to discontinue the penny because it takes two and one half cents to produce one (as of Feb. 2011), but the lowly coin hangs in there. 

In 1982 the copper penny became the zinc and copper penny to help reduce production costs.

Canada’s 2012 budget calls for ceasing production of their penny.  To some this makes tremendous sense.  To others it would mean changing a whole lot in their lives. 

Here in the US it would mean all payments would either have to go either down or up (most likely) by as much as four cents.  And in some budgets that four cents can really hurt.  After all minding your pennies is how you can build your wealth.

Just ask the Massachusetts man who just paid off his house with pennies.  He’d been saving every penny that came into his possession since he purchased his house in 1977.  He recently made his final payment with two 800 pound boxes of pennies.  The count, according to the news story I read, was 62,000 coins.  That’s a whole lot of pocket change. 

Me being the math nerd I am couldn’t help but think, “but if he had put those coins in a savings account every time he got $5-$10 worth he would have garnered a lot of interest over the years and been able to pay it off sooner.”

This brings us back to the subject of this post.  Your coin jar, or whatever you have.  What are your plans for it?  This man had a goal.  I have one too, it is to pay for our celebration trip to Walt Disney World when our debt is paid off.  You already know this if you have read my previous posts.

I’ve already written about how to feed that jar on a regular basis, if you haven’t read about this before you can now at:

There are other ways to also add to your coin jar.  One bank advertises that they will roll up your purchases for you to the next dollar and “save” the difference.  Meaning basically that if an item costs you $1.01 they are going to deduct it from your account as $2 and put the $.99 into a savings account for you. 

I have no idea if they charge for this service or not.  I’ve never employed it. Instead I do it myself.  I never pay with coins, only even dollar bills and all change leftover from those dollar bills goes into the “Tinkerbell Fund”.

The easiest way to do this is to employ what is called “the envelope system”.  Many of you are already familiar with this system.  Basically it is part of a zero based budget in which all your “spending” money goes into designated envelope sand you can only use the money in that exact envelope to pay for the purpose it is labeled for.

A zero based budget simply means that EVERY dollar that comes into your household has a name and that name is what it is to be spent on.  With your budget the difference between income and outgo should be zero.

Before you panic at this thought, your budget includes EVERYTHING, including “blow money.”  It is completely explained, far better than I could do, in Dave Ramsey’s book “The Total Money Makeover”. 

But back to the coin jar and singing its praises.  If handling cash is just not your thing, and you are completely dependent on your debit card you can still have  a “coin jar,” just an electronic one.

Remember that bank with their fancy “we’ll save it for you” account.  You can do the exact same thing.  It just requires a little bookkeeping on your part.  Use your debit card as you normally would, only record the use to the next higher dollar denomination whenever the dollar amounts aren’t even.  Then at the end of the month when you reconcile your statement you take the difference and make it into a savings deposit.  You’ll be amazed how quickly that change adds up.

I know some of you are saying “but isn’t that taking away from your budget?”  Not really, because how many of us truly pay to the exact penny every single time we shop.  No we drop those coins into a jar, or down in our purse and we forget about them until there is a real need for that money.

An example of such a need I saw recently was a college student for toilet paper in pennies one day.  THAT is a true need.

However you decide to save your odd cents, do it.  Set a goal and save for it.  Maybe it is to pay off a big debt, like the man who paid off his house, or to buy that something special, or the trip of a lifetime.  Make every single penny count in your budget.  Save your pennies, and just like the person who is eating an elephant one bite at a time, you will meet your goal a lot faster than you ever dreamed. As Granny always said, “mind your pennies and your dollars will mind themselves.”

Jan who feels her granny was very wise in OK

Saturday, June 30, 2012


I am a big believer in having more than one purpose for any tool in our home.  After all if you can make one tool do two jobs that is one less you tool you need and therefore you save money and storage space. 

I apply this thought to many things in my life as well as tools.  Our dogs are not just wonderful companions that give undivided love to us and we seriously consider part of the family ,they are also hard working animals that alert us when there is an intruder on the property, guard the flock from predators, “find” another family member for us and even “help” with chores. 

The cats are a natural blood pressure lowering agent for us, by helping us focus on the simpler things in life, such as the calming effect of a purr.  They are all excellent mousers, very important in country living, and good at letting us know when something isn’t right in the house.

The birds are pest control, egg production, a country door bell—try making it up our drive without the flock and the dogs letting us know you are here-- comic relief and so much more.  But this article is more about using household items in more than one way.

Let’s start with the muffin tins in the title.  Everyone knows they are great for making muffins and cupcakes in.  After all that is what they were designed for right?  But how about cooking/making other things in them?  Think outside the cake mix box and speed up your cooking in more ways.  After all faster cooking means less heat in your kitchen right?  Less heat, means a lower cooling bill.  Or go a step further and bake in them in your turkey roaster in your summerkitchen.

Simple meals can be created and cooked quickly in a muffin tin.  A few examples are MuffinTin Meatloaves, Muffin Tin Corndogs, Biscuit Tacos, and Pizza Cups.

Make ice cubes of various flavors to float in punches, lemonade pitchers, and other beverages in your muffin tins.  One resourceful lady I know freezes all leftover beverages such as tea, juices, etc.  In her regular ice cube trays and then uses them to cool the next batch of beverages without diluting them.  Once the cubes are frozen she pops them into a freezer container until needed. You can make larger versions of these using your muffin tins.

Freeze leftovers of any sort for a quick freeze job and easy measuring for future recipes.  Again you can use ice cube trays for this too.  It’s really great during the summer growing season to harvest your fresh herbs such as cilantro, and freeze it chopped in normal usage sizes in ice cube trays with a little water.  Then pop into a storage container for a pre-measured usage in recipes that call for fresh herbs in the future.
During a massive holiday baking time, or when having a homemade ice cream sundae party put the toppings in muffin tin cups for easy access while decorating.

Turn your muffin tins upside down and spread tortillas or bread dough of any sort over the bottom of the sprayed pan to create bowls for any numerous types of meals.  Bake in the oven at your normal temperature for the dough you are using.  If you carefully watch them to make sure there is no burning you can do this with rolled cookie dough too for great homemade dessert cups.

Everyone has a junk drawer, come on confess you have at least one (at my house we have one for every room, but that is a story for the Patterson’sPrincess Plan blog. Organize all those small odds and ends in the drawer with muffin tins of various sizes.  They are particularly great for buttons, and mini muffin tins work well for smaller jewelry organization. 

In the crafts room sort beads, findings, and other small items into muffin tins for easy access while working on a project.  When leaving the project you can turn a cookie sheet upside down over the muffin tin as a lid to help keep those oh so helpful cats out of the project.

Little ones finger painting?  Put the different colors in small amounts in the various cups of the muffin tin and let them at it.  They are also great for those artists that want to mix their own colors to use.

Muffin tins can also be used for unique candle holders.  Remember muffin tins come in various sizes and shapes—I have loaf shaped ones that I use for mini fruit bread loaves as well as organizing rectangular shaped items in.

Now that I’ve got you thinking about the possible uses for your muffin tins.  What ideas can you share with me?  I’m always looking for more uses for everything on our homestead in the country.

Moving past the muffin tins another “multi-purpose” tool I am fond of using is my extendable light bulb changer.  You can buy them for under $15 at most home improvement centers.  They are generally bright yellow and come with various attachments, like a suction cup and an expandable basket for changing light bulbs.

As a person who is 5’1” on my tallest of days I am always looking for something to help me “reach” things.  So it was a natural purchase for me when we moved into this house that has 9 foot ceilings in some of the lower level rooms.  It also didn’t take me long to look around for other uses for the poles that will expand out to several feet.

My first non-light bulb use for them was tree fruit picking.  We have several wild plum trees on our property and I found out quickly that by putting the basket attachment on I could safely stand on the ground below the tree and pick plums from the upper branches.  Anything that keeps me off a ladder is a plus in my book.

Over the years we have used the long poles for everything from herding birds to snake removal—the more length the better there as far as I am concerned.  Cat toy retrieval is another big use for them at our house too.

Back to the kitchen for another set of multi-use ideas.  Silicone spatulas not only help you clean out a bowl of cake batter to the last drop, you can use them to stir hot liquids in your saucepans and skillets without scratching the surface, decorate a cake, or empty that science experiment from the refrigerator—cheez, what was that?

In the craft room they become a unique paint brush, a play dough mixer, and a spreader of craft sand.

Canning jars, both old and new become plant starter containers, candle cups, vases, drinking cups, picnic supply holders, silverware holders, and much more.  I have old marbles displayed in an old baled canning jar as part of a decorative touch that contains many old time childhood toys and text books in my home.

Recycle your bottles and other jars for all the above (except maybe the candle cups—you want sturdy heat resistant jars for that job), as well as sorting containers everywhere else in your life. 

I could write for some time about all the things that have dual uses on our place, but now I’ve got your creative juices flowing I’d like to hear about your favorite multi-purpose tool.  Feel free to become a follower and leave a message in the comment section below.

Jan who is rethinking the purposes of most of the items in her home as she works on her Patterson’s Princess Plan in OK

Thursday, June 28, 2012


My grandmother taught me that the best way to make money is to not spend it when you have it. Easier said than done right?  Not really, sometimes it just takes a little thinking it through. With kids out of school for the summer it seems like that task is even harder because the kids are b-o-r-e-d!

Taking them places to “entertain” them can get real expensive real fast, so why not entertain them at home? No don’t park them in front of the X-box and pray the game is age correct for them, really entertain them and get them moving.

 Here are a few ideas for various age groups from the very young to your teens, or even yourself for that matter.  You will find several links in this blog, but I will also suggest searches you can do on the web for your own specific needs as the article goes along.

Help kids with projects on making things they have an interest in.  Here are a few examples we did with our kids when they were young:

Are they fascinated by outer space or space travel?

When our children were young we made replicas of the USS Enterprise from the Star Trek series out of paper plates, free yard sticks, and egg cartons.  These we spray painted silver and then they painted designs on the side.  The pattern came out of an old “Pack O Fun” magazine, which unfortunately I no longer have.  Basically the main section of the Enterprise was two Chinet type plates they stapled together, the elongated body was a piece of a yardstick and you used other cardboard or egg carton pieces to form the rest of the ship.  While I cannot supply the exact pattern the imagination of your children can. Or design any type of space ship they want.

A websearch for such crafts will reap you more than you can imagine.  Also check your local library for copies of the "Pack O Fun" magazine, it a wonderful source of kids crafts.  There are also numerous books at the library on crafts of all sorts, explore and have fun.

Once the spaceships are built they can string them together as a mobile for their room, or fly them until they take their final mission.

Viewing the stars with a whole new understanding.  One young man that spent a lot of time with our family while we were rendezvousing (pre-1840 US  Fur Trade Era Historical Re-enactments) was fascinated by the stars in the night sky as we camped.  We  invested in a star chart, and a copy of “Star Tales” by Gretchen Will Mayo and other Native American myth and lore books then each night before bedtime we would read or tell him a story from the books.  With the help of the star chart we’d locate the constellation in the sky and then discuss the story we had just read.

Another friend with the camp name of Dragonfly, made an entire ceremony out of the story telling.  Each night just at dark he would set out candle lanterns around his camp them beat a drum slowly.  This told all the children of the camp it was story time.  They came bringing their own candle lanterns and rugs to sit on.  He then told them the stories of the sky. 

This is a simple thing you can do at your own home as long as you can get a clear view of the night sky.  Star charts are now free on the web, many of the stories are too.  Or check with your local library for books on the subject, or cruise for used copies there.  I know several of my Native American storybooks we no longer use are listed there under the seller name ladydressmaker.  Other people have copies listed there too.

Not into Native American, how about the Greek and Roman stories about the stars?

Need a daytime activity? How about giant bubble wands?  Who can make the biggest soap bubble? Over the years as ‘voo traders we made hundreds of these simple bubble wands. (photo and possibly a video coming soon) The ones we made for the re-enactments had all metal and wood parts as well as yarn, but you can use plastics from around the house to make yours.

To make these you need a dowel rod, a ring from the base of a cap off of a two liter bottle or milk jug, approximately 3 feet of yarn and a bead that will fit on the end of the dowel rod snuggly and be larger than what the plastic ring can slide over easily—it is there to stop the ring from coming off as well as to hold the yarn in place.  Finally you will need a bucket or dishpan to hold the bubble liquid and Joy dish soap and water to make the liquid with.

The length of the dowel rod can either be the full 3 foot for larger children and adults or a half rod for the younger set.  The length of your yarn needs to be 2-3 times the length of the dowel rod.

Measure down from one end of the yarn to 3 inches shorter than the dowel rod you are using.  Fold the yarn at this point and push the fold through the inside of the plastic ring.  Pull the loose ends of the yarn through the loop and tighten down to where the ring is now secured to the yarn in a half hitch. 

Tie the ends of the yarn together. Make certain to not twist the yarn as you tie it into a loop.  The ring should now be secured to the yarn in an off center manner. 

Slide the ring onto the dowel rod, making sure it can move smoothly up and down the dowel rod. Making certain the shorter side of the yarn is the side touching the dowel rod place the knot from tying the two ends together on the end of the dowel rod and then slide be bead on to secure this knot in place.  You can use non-water soluble glue to secure this even tighter if you want.

When the ring is slid all the way down the “handle” of the bubble wand it should stop about 3 inches from the end of the dowel rod, bringing the yarn slightly taut.  The remaining yarn should hang down in a large loop.  The overall look should be much like a capital D.

For the bubble liquid we used just Joy dish soap and water, no glycerin, no syrup, no other additives, just dish soap and water.  This we placed in a large dishpan in approximately a 10 water to 1 dish soap ratio.  Basically it was mixed to where you can actually feel the dish soap in the water.  Those of you who hand wash dishes the feel you are looking for is when you KNOW you’ve put too much dish soap in.

Mix GENTLY, do not swish, foam is NOT your friend in bubble making.  When the kids are using it discourage them from stirring the water with the bubble wand.

Slide the ring down to the bead and dip the yarn into the water.  Some children find using a bucket easier than a dishpan. Once the yarn is well soaked pull the ring back down the handle slowly (but not too slowly), down the handle as you slowly walk.  A large elongated bubble will form.  To close off the bubble you slowly move the ring back toward the bead. 

You can have competitions on who can make the longest bubble—our record was many feet long.  OR they can walk in a circle and try to close off the bubble in a ring.  It can be done.

For the camera bug in all of you, the very best photos of this activity are on overcast days.  The bubbles refract the light and the rainbow of colors are gorgeous.

Play dough anyone? A simple websearch for homemade playdough will turn up hundreds of recipes for you.  A few drops of food coloring and a little imagination and soon an afternoon is gone.

When I ran my own search one website I came across says it is the number one play dough website.   I cruised the site myself and was very impressed with the different types of recipes they have on it.  everything from glow in the dark play dough to edible play dough.  This is far different than the basic salt and flour dough I use to make my children.

Arts and crafts from materials around the house. My children were very creative, they still are as adults.  Start a box of “craft materials” and turn the kids loose with it.  Add things like boxes from cereals, pasta, crackers, etc. Egg cartons, toilet paper and paper towel tubes, juice can lids, and the washed out juice cans, plastic containers, newspaper, junk mail, magazines, the list is unending.  Add glue, crayons, paints, a stapler and staples, colored pencils, rulers, odds and ends of yarn or string, rubber bands anything you find around the house. 

Once the crafts box is put together then choose a theme.  Something from a favorite book or movie, something they saw that day any type of theme you can think of, or let them take turns choosing a theme.

Now challenge them to make something on that theme out of the materials provided. You just might be amazed!

For the budding artist: Did you know the web is FULL of free coloring pages?  Simply put in a subject and the search term free coloring pages.  An example would be Tinkerbell, free coloring pages.

Learn a craft.  When I was 13 I went to visit an older cousin for a few weeks.  I knew how to crochet, thanks to my aunts and grandmother, and she knew how to knit.  So we traded lessons. 

This is a great activity to get a younger person involved with an older person as a mentor.  Does Grandma quilt?  Would she consider showing one of your children the basics?  No need for special materials, surely you have outgrown clothes, that could be cut up for materials.  Start with a mini quilt.

Does Uncle Joe whittle?  How about woodcarving lessons?

Sister Susie cans---the list is endless and the training would be free.

Take a hike! You don’t even have to drive to the woods or mountains to do so, take a “Penny Hike” right in your own neighborhood.  The concept is simple and can be a lot of fun. 

Leaving your front door or another starting point you flip a coin, heads you go one direction, tails you go the other.  At each next intersection, you repeat the action.  Letting a different person call the toss each time.

This is a great opportunity to have “talks” with your kids as you walk.  The talks can be about what  you see, what is going on in life right now, a recent book read, or movie seen.

Going a ways from home?  Be sure and pack water bottles and a perhaps a snack or simple lunch.
Jan who has many more suggestions, including ideas for the older kids she will post soon in OK