Make Recycled Gift Tags, How to Use Yarn Bows and More Country Lore

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Toys like these can be found at garage sales and thrift shops and can even be made to look like new at a lowcost price

Bill Ickes extends the life of his sandpaper by gluing inexpensive polyester fabric scraps to the backs of the abrasive sheets before he uses them. The Berlin, Pennsylvania reader says that his fabric-backed sandpaper lasts longer, wears more evenly, and is more flexible when used on small, rounded, or odd-shaped objects.

Cold weather is here, and outdoor enthusiasts would be well advised to remember a trick that’ll insure warmth and safety as folks journey through the wilds this winter. Barry Atkins of Seattle, Washington wrote about his grandfather’s practice of dipping the heads of a dozen matches in melted paraffin wax . . . and then rolling those matches up in a 10″ X 10″ piece of cloth. The resultant “package” was then dipped into the paraffin and allowed to dry. The waxy bundle can be carried in a pack or pocket. The matches will stay dry (through rain, snow, sleet, or worse), and the wax-coated cloth makes a fine fire starter.

“When our son, Joshua, was 18 months old, I would run myself ragged in a usually vain attempt to keep ahead of his curious fingers. Curtains, electrical cords, plants, swinging doors, speaker covers, kitchen cabinets . . . the list of potential trouble spots seemed endless some days!” writes contributor Gloria Robertson of Nixa, Missouri. “I finally hit upon a simple solution to the problem, though. Yarn! I tied colorful pieces of yarn over and through, up and under, around and on top . . . making pretty bows and secure knots to hold those items in the position I wanted. The safety factor (and my peace of mind) far outweighed my fear of raised eyebrows at the unusual decor . . . and when josh outgrew that roaming stage, I simply clipped the yarn bows and stored them away for our next busy one, Sarah!”

Phyllis Wolff of Franklinton, North Carolina recycles the greeting cards she receives at Christmastime by cutting the pictures on the front into gift tags to use the following holiday season. For each one, Phyllis cuts out a particular shape, punches a hole in the top, strings a piece of crochet cotton through, and then stores the labels until mistletoe-and-holly time rolls around again.

Toluca Lake, California resident Ellen Siegler offers fellow MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers these tips on shopping for nearly new toys and games at garage sales and thrift shops.

Although it’s fairly easy to clean up an old dolly’s face and clothing, restoring dull, matted hair can often present a problem. The solution? Ellen recommends shampooing the doll’s locks in liquid fabric softener, rinsing them well, and then brushing them with a small-toothed rubber brush until the hair dries naturally.

If the board games or action toys you locate have missing or broken parts, don’t automatically reject them. Should such a toy still be available at retail outlets, Ellen takes the object home and then composes a friendly letter to the manufacturer of the product . . . giving pertinent information such as the name and serial number. (If you aren’t sure of exactly what’s missing, just list the parts you have.) Ellen says most companies are quite willing to send replacement parts for a nominal fee . . . and some even send the missing pieces at no cost!

“When holiday gift-shopping time rolls around each year, folks are often stumped about what to give Grandma and Grandpa,” writes Rosalind Milliken of Indio, California. “Not only do these matriarchs and patriarchs usually have a lifetime’s accumulation of tools and gadgets, but many times they also have well-stocked freezers. However, we manage to delight our older relatives by sending them packing boxes full of paper goods each year.

We supply them with everything imaginable . . . greeting cards, stationery, paper plates and napkins, gift wrap, waxed paper, toilet tissue, postage stamps, paper towels, and more. They’re as pleased as can be with these gifts, and we’re happy that we’re able to pare down their everyday living expenses for the coming year.”

And here’s a tip concerning those promises we always seem to make to ourselves every January, but have a difficult time keeping. Debbie O’Neal has a system that works well for her. The St. Paul, Minnesota reader learns (or at least tries) one new thing every single month of the year. For example, last year she taught herself candle wicking in January . . . read a book about famous artists in February . . . learned how to cook with herbs in March . . . and so forth. Debbie says that by focusing on one project each month, she helps make every year memorable and worthwhile.

Hanover, Pennsylvania reader Scott Hoffman hauls firewood downstairs the easy way. Scott slides his wood down the steps to his basement furnace, using an aluminum slide from a child’s discarded swing set . . . . Jamie Tackman of Twisp, Washington checks the level of her propane tank by splashing water on the bottle’s side. As the moisture evaporates, she checks for a condensation line, which generally appears at the point where the fuel levels off . . . . If you wear contact lenses, you know the frustration involved in searching for a dropped lens. Well, Holcomb, Illinois reader Walt Busky fords his lost contacts easily by making the “scene of the crime” as dark as possible, and then using the rays of a flashlight to search for the optical aid. The lens should sparkle as it reflects the light . . . . Charles Wilbur of Traverse City, Michigan recycles used hair dryers as “automatic bellows” for his fireplace and wood stove. Charles says the pistol-shaped, hand-held blow dryers are great for coaxing near-dead embers back to life . . . . Key West, Florida reader Gregory Coleman keeps his coffee from “brewing bitter” by crushing eggshells and lining the filters of his coffee maker with them. He says the remaining residue of egg white on the shells removes the bitter taste from even the hardest tap water . . . . A cribbage board is a great help to folks who knit or crochet, according to Blanche Berger of Dryden, Michigan. Blanche uses the board to keep track of rows and stitches by working out a system with the different pegs . . . . Make your own biscuit mix! Dawn Bauer of Kenosha, Wisconsin does so by mixing together 6 cups of flour, 1 tablespoon of baking powder, a dash of salt, and 1 1/2 cups of shortening. She stores the crumbly mixture in plastic bags or containers for future use, when she may add water and an egg . . . . A rusty knife blade can be made as good as new by plunging it through an onion, says Mrs. Gordon Pullman of Jackson, Ohio. She leaves the blade inside the onion for an hour or two, then works it back and forth several times before removing it . . . . When Tina Schriver of Meeker, Colorado bakes bread, she always keeps a plastic bag nearby to stick one hand in when the inevitable ring of the telephone sounds as she’s knead-deep in dough!