Country Lore: Pennies as Washers, Cornmeal Cleaner, a Holiday Memento, and More

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One reader suggests washing wool garments with hair shampoo.

“If you’re as interested in energy conservation as I am,” writes Paul Sheldon of Tampa, Florida, “you’d probably like to know how many hours per day your hot water heater is running. One easy, inexpensive way to monitor an electric heater is with an old wall clock. Cut the plug from the time-teller’s cord and strip back the insulation on both wires. Attach one of these wires to the cold-side terminal of your water heater’s thermostat switch, and ground the other on a cold-water pipe. Then the clock will start running each time your water heater cycles on. By checking the clock’s daily movements, you’ll get an accurate log of your heater’s `juice use’!”

Susan Golombek offers the first of the following nonelectric-lighting tips. The Houston, Texas reader says that a surefire way to keep a stubborn melted candle stub from sticking in the bottom of its holder is to run a little water into the stand before you insert a new candle. Since the liquid will act as a “gasket”, the holder won’t overheat, the wax won’t stick, and the melted stub will be easy to remove …. Bruce Klecka of Burbank, Illinois has found a way to convert his messy, “overflowing” candles into drip-proof light sources: He simply dips each of them into a solution of either salt water or soap suds, then puts the batch of light sticks into the freezer overnight …. And for those who use oil lamps, Penrose, Colorado’s Dennis Mulso has a tip for saving fuel and wicks: “When your lamp oil’s so low and your lamp wick’s so short that the two don’t meet, just pour some water into your lamp. The oil will rise to the top, where it can reach that shrinking wick. When the oil is completely gone, you can just pour off the water. This trick’s saved me many a late-night trip to the store!”

Allyn Moise of Carson City, Nevada has a real penny-pinching suggestion for fabricating your own emergency washers (the nut-and-bolt type, mind you): “Just as I was about to finish up a deck-skirting project not long ago, I ran out of 1/4″ washers. It was too late for me to run to town, so I drilled 1/4″ holes in several pennies. My make-do copper washers worked great and cost me about half of what store-bought steel ones do!”

“If your mail carrier–like ours–throws everything to the back of the box, thus forcing you to get out of your automobile in rain, mud, snow, and cold,” writes Saxonburg, Pennsylvania’s Carol Blank, “do what we did: Build a `mail dump’! Just cut a piece of thin plywood or Masonite to fit inside the bottom of the letter holder, fasten a 2″-high block of wood to the board’s back end, and attach a small piece on the front edge to serve as a handle. Then you can just reach out of your car window, grab the slide-in tray, pull it out . . . and have your mail in your hand!”

Do you still have the Christmas tree around? If so, Pam and Donald Vilas of Silver Spring, Maryland have a holiday tradition they’d like to share with you. Pam writes, “Several years ago, when Don and I were first married, we wanted to find a way to remember each and every Christmas to come. After a while, we decided to let the Christmas tree itself record those annual memories. So each year we cut an inch-thick disk from the bottom of our yule trunk before we put the tree up. After letting the disk dry for a few days, we smooth its flat sides with finegrit sandpaper. Next, we use a blunt lead pencil–ink tends to smear–and write the name of the street where we live, the year, and a special event, like a heavy snowfall or a new baby, that will act as a ‘memory trigger’ in the future . . . right on the round. After brushing the disk with a heavy coat of polyurethane, we attach a small screw-in hook to the top and a matching eye to the bottom to hold next year’s memento. The chain of ‘Christmas trees past’ makes a uniquely personal holiday decoration!”

How about a triad of winter-clothing-care hints? First in line is Alfred Glenn, with a tip on caring for suede. The Boise, Idaho denizen says, “It’s hard to keep those suede shoes, jackets, and coats looking good in winter. A back-to-the-basics method that works well for me involves rubbing cornmeal into soiled spots and then letting the sullied item sit overnight. The next day, shake out the cornmeal and use an emery board to lightly buff the cleaned areas. This inexpensive, easy treatment usually works as well as more costly chemicals and methods.” . . . Jackie Joy Zandrews of Oelwein, Iowa has another old-time method of wintertime cleaning that can be used on those delicate fur garments: “Take them outside on a sunny winter day after a soft snow has fallen the previous night. Rub each fur vigorously in the snow-up and down, side to side, and in circles–and then lay the items out to dry in the sun, furry-side up. When the garments are dry, take them back inside and give them a good–though gentle–brushing. This ‘powder treatment’ works great and costs nothing!” . . . And finally, Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Mary Seramur-Kraiss has some good ideas for wool wearers: “Wool should always be hand-washed, and I’ve found the best detergent for the job to be hair shampoo. Wool is, after all, hair from a sheep, so it responds well to shampoo. What’s more, if your woolen garment has become scratchy or stiff from improper washing, try soaking it in cream rinse! I use about half a cup of rinse per gallon of tepid water. Soak the clothing for two or three hours, periodically working the solution of diluted cream rinse through it. Rinse the item in more tepid water and lay it out flat to dry. ‘Sheep hair’ garments treated with such respect will last a long time!”

Here are two tips from readers offering down-home country lore, Vietnamese style. When she attended an Oriental cooking class taught by a Vietnamese woman, Lynda Mason of Roseburg, Oregon learned a better way to prepare garlic. “It’s much easier–and less frustrating–to bruise the cloves before you peel them. Just lay the garlic on a cutting board and give it a whack or two with the flat side of a wooden mallet or the handle of a large knife. The smashed skin will slip right off. You can then mince the pungent sections or use them as is. This system works on tiny cloves and elephant garlic alike.” . . . And Susan Tran–a Spring Glen, Pennsylvania resident whose husband is Vietnamese–says, “When our chopsticks get old and warped, we recycle them for a variety of uses: to get the air bubbles out of full jars and to push fruit and vegetables into place when canning, to pick out hot coals from the ashes or arrange them to restart the fire, to prop open windows, and to stir paint.”