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John Kuczala for USA WEEKEND.


How secure are you? Enough to pull plastic grocery bags over your shoes if you’ve forgotten your boots? Enough not to care what people might think of your fashion statement? Enough to just mush on?

If so, you’re in very good company.

“Well, I’d be lying if I told you I never wrapped my feet in plastic bags during a snowstorm,” says Erin Bried, author of three best sellers — How to Sew a Button, How to Build a Fire, How to Rock Your Baby — that offer simple solutions out of a jam. “But I’ve only done it once, and I considered my total loss of dignity the price I had to pay for being unprepared.”

Bried is a rock star of homespun tips.

But it was Norman Fahl of Franklin, Ind., who sent USA WEEKEND the plastic-grocery-bag-as-boot tip.

“They are great for short trips to the bird feeder,” he says. “Desperate situations call for desperate measures. I get laughed at and ridiculed, but I’m the guy with the dry feet. They’re also good for quick trips to the garden to keep grass clippings off your shoes after the morning dew.”

So there.

Ever use peel-and-stick foot warmers to heat your baby’s bottle? Barbara Gengarelly of Hamden, Conn., heard it from a new dad. “The good old word-of-mouth method can’t be beat,” she says. “It’s tried and true.”

Ever wrapped a big, unwieldy gift in a plastic table cover you bought at a party store for $1? It works, says Margaret Kneer of Nashville. (We confess we can’t quite believe it still doesn’t look like a gift wrapped in a plastic table cloth!)

But before we go on to many more reader tips, Bried has closing advice: “Never feel ashamed of doing the best you can with what you’ve got.”

Indeed. Now, more tips to change your life.


I’ve tried many ways to keep celery fresh, but none work. Recently I wrapped the stalk in paper toweling and then wrapped again in aluminum foil. This is the answer; the celery is crisp and fresh.— Doris L. Palmer, Chesterton, Ind.

I got tired of the ice particles that get on top of ice cream if it sits awhile. So I tried putting plastic wrap over the top and then putting the cover on. The ice cream stays fresh a lot longer and no ice! — Sharon Albin, Post Falls, Idaho

Those waxy envelopes in your cereal box are very useful to reuse by placing between layers of cookies. The wax paper keeps the cookies from sticking to each other and losing their shape. — Anna Reich, Stafford, Va.

I had a big bag of onions I wanted to slice and chop for the freezer. Even though I was using my KitchenAid attachments, my eyes were tearing and burning. Then I realized I had just the right equipment — my swim goggles! As we are regular swimmers at our local YMCA, swim gear is always ‘at the ready.’ So very quickly I was prepared to finish my kitchen work — I could see but my eyes were fully protected. — Millicent Edwards, Kendallville, Ind.

Don't hide the gravy ladle until you need it for gravy, because it is great for removing pan drippings when browning ground beef or other meats. It also is a great tool for spreading sauce on homemade pizza crust. —Yvonne Bichanich Franklin, Wisc.

Avoid lukewarm coffee or cocoa with this smart tip. Fill your mug with hot water or microwave cold water in your mug. Let mug get completely warm then dump out water and promptly fill with desired drink. Your beverage will stay hot much longer. — Nannette Riley, Allen, Texas

My tip is about making deviled eggs for a party: After removing the cooked egg yolks mash with a potato masher rather than a fork (as I had been doing). Proceed as usual for making deviled eggs. —Gail Goddard, New London, N.H.

Leftover scrambled eggs make delicious egg salad — just mash them up, add minced onion and bell pepper, pickle relish and mayonnaise. — Mary Winter, Glendale, Ariz.

No need to deep fry your eggplant or chicken parmesan -- instead, dip chicken and eggplant into low fat milk or egg whites, coat with whole grain breadcrumbs and place on a baking sheet with nonstick baking spray to roast at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. — Amie Valpone, N.Y., N.Y.

Need to get rid of those pesky "fruit flies" in your kitchen? Place a few slices of overripe banana in the bottom of a jar. Cover the top of the jar with plastic wrap. Poke several holes through the plastic wrap with a toothpick. The fruit flies can find their way into the jar, but cannot find their way out. —Beverly Byer, Centennial, Colo.

When placing sharp knives in the vertical slots of a wooden display/storage block, place them with their sharp edges up. That way, when a knife is drawn from the block, the sharp edge is not dulled by sliding against the wood. Similarly, when the slot is horizontal, place the knife so that the sharp edge will not be drawn against the wood when the knife is removed. – Richard Friedman, Indianapolis, Ind.

When you have leftover food, put a shower cap over the food to keep it fresh and ready for the microwave for reheating. Shower caps can be bought at a dollar store in packages of 50 for $1. — Mrs. Eileen Labrys, Delray Beach, Fla.

I use a lot of cinnamon and different spices with different meals daily and I would like to share one thing that I have tried doing. When I unscrew the pourer from the container that the spice comes in, I wipe to clean off the leftovers from the last use. This way, the next time I use the spice it pours so much faster and it easier to measure with my measuring spoons the correct amount needed. — Anna Victoria Reich, Stafford, Va.


Whenever I change the battery on my hearing aid I take the pull tab from the battery and put it on my calendar so I can remember the date I changed it. —Diane Burkholder, Louisville, Ky.

When no more lotion can be squeezed out of a tube, I cut the tube in half about an inch below the top. From the two pieces you now have, you can usually get another five uses of lotion, depending on size of tube. — Rosemary Routman, Duluth, Ga.


When our friend Dan, a new dad to twin girls, is out with no way to warm bottles, he takes peel-and-stick foot warmers and wraps them around the bottles. They warm up easily. — Barbara Gengarelly, Hamden, Conn.


I cook with fresh lemons and like them in my water. I never throw the squeezed lemon away. Instead I rub the pulp on my chrome and stainless steel bathroom and kitchen fixtures for a beautiful shine. Simply rinse with warm water and polish. They are also great for freshening up kitchen garbage disposals. — Kiki Furrow, Woodstock, Ill.

I vacuum up a used dryer sheet before vacuuming the floors. Use a fresh one if you prefer. The warm air from the vacuum and the dryer sheet leaves the rooms smelling fresh. — Bobbi Wilkerson, Joliet, Ill.

My tip was given to me by my sister-in-law: To make used soap-filled steel wool pads last much longer, blot them with a paper towel and place them in a zip-lock bag to keep them fresh. — Dianne Klinger, Eaton Rapids, Mich.

I cut a new sponge in half, put half in the dishwasher and use the other. Each time I run the dishwasher, I switch halves and always have a clean one. — Carrie Larrison, Westfield, Ind.

I never seem to learn; stuff always explodes in my newly cleaned microwave. Take the kitchen sponge, wet thoroughly and microwave it on high for one minute. Carefully remove the HOT sponge and immediately wipe the microwave with paper towels. Marinara, etc., comes off easily after the steam from the sponge and you have sanitized the sponge as well.” – Christie Vollmecke, Maricopa, Ariz.

No need to boil baking soda in water to loosen the crust in the bottom of a pan. Just let the baking soda and water soak overnight in the encrusted pot or pan and the crust will slide off easily next day. — Yamilee Craven , Loudon, N.H.

Dust at the bottom of your cereal box or a jigsaw puzzle box? Put the contents in a colander and gently shake -- solves the problem. — Dana Ellis, Waverly, Ohio

We had the unfortunate luck to have a bottle of liquor break in our suitcase on the way home from vacation. After removing all of the damp clothing and broken glass, I stuffed the suitcase with crumpled newspaper and closed it up. Within a week the smell of the liquor was gone! — Andrea Gardner, Columbus, Ohio

Save some elbow grease. Recently I burned the bottom of a cooking pan until it was black. I remembered that my mother said to empty the pan, let it cool (not to long) add some warm water and cook the water for about ten minutes (don’t let it evaporate). This will remove almost all of the charred food stuck in the bottom of the pan. It works – very, very little scrubbing if any. – Carole Taylor, Shippensburg, Pa.


After struggling with wide packaging tape, I discovered a way to prevent it from sticking to itself on the roll. Just place a toothpick horizontally on the edge of the tape. I leave the pick in place until ready to cut the tape, then transfer it to the unused end (the start of the roll). — Shirley Smith, Goodyear, Ariz.

A wonderful thing to pack around items is pine cones. They’re lightweight and free. If they have sap, you can put them in a baggy or paper towel. They’re slightly crushable and when you’re done with them you can throw them back in the yard. — Debbie Green, Livonia, Mich.


To keep shirts from losing their buttons, brush a drop of clear nail polish on the threads of each button. It will not show and lasts as long as the shirt does. — Frank Warren, La Selva Beach, Calif.


Instead of letting water run down the kitchen drain waiting for it to get hot, I keep a clean gallon milk jug and a funnel under the sink. I use the water I save for my house and deck plants. — Joy Jamrok, Florence, S.C.

When boiling fresh vegetables in a pot of water, after the veggies are done I let the water cool down and pour the water into flower and plant pots to irrigate them and give them the additional nutrients left in the water from the cooked vegetables. Why throw the water out and waste it? I think the plants get additional benefits and I waste less water. – Elliott Magalnick, Denver, Colo.

“Use ice cubes to water plants. It really started as a way to easily water hanging baskets outdoors during the summer months (it eliminates water dripping from the watering can or hose, or the edge of the hanging basket if you should happen to overfill), but I have extended it into the living room as well. It prevents water splashing onto the carpet or hardwood floors. So far the plants haven't had a problem with the temperature of the water produced from the melted cubes. Use common sense to estimate the amount. — Greg Rogers, Union Ky.

I gave my husband a new wallet for the holidays and I kept the old, worn out wallet and thought of a good use for it. It’s a good place to place my tomato seeds, cucumber seeds and all the seeds needed to begin my small garden. This way, my seed packets will be close by and not hard to reach and I won’t forget where I placed them! – Anna Reich, Stafford, Va.


Worried about your purse being taken from your shopping cart when you’re not looking? Use the restraint that holds a child in place to clip around your purse handle and it won’t go anywhere. — Pamela Cappel, Pleasanton, Calif.


At a restaurant, tomato-based chili broth dripped on my white clothing. Rather than trying to remove the spot with soap and water, I took an antibacterial hand wipe from my handbag, dabbed the wipe on the soiled area and, to my amazement, there was no trace of the spot. It dried quickly. — Shirley Long, Centennial, Colo.

When I buy clothing that requires special care, I remove all of their attached tags, punch them with a one-hole punch, hang them over the neck of the hanger and always keep that garment on that hanger for the duration. When it comes time to clean it, all I have to do is refer to the attached tags on the hanger neck. — Darla Bauman, Lynnwood, Wash.


When you have to paint baseboards but a carpet is on the floor, take a rubber dustpan, turn it upside down, put it close to the baseboard and draw it down toward you. The dustpan will hold the carpet while you paint. You can easily hold the dustpan handle in your left hand while you paint with the right. — Maureen Booth, St. George, Utah

My daughter has very long hair that clogs the tub drain. I coil a pipe cleaner around the drain in the tub, circle with an “e” down the middle. Put that above the strainer and put the plunger back through. It collects all the hair, real easy, and you just pick it out. It’s only $2 for 50 of ’em. — Ted Ozark, Gurnee, Ill.

Since it is so hard to read the expiration dates on cans and boxes when they are on your shelves at home, I started putting different colored circles on the cans and boxes when I bring them in the house. I use blue for 2013, yellow for 2014, green for 2015, red for 2016 and there's always white for 2017. On the colored circle, I put the month & year it will expire. Colored dots are so much easier to see than expiration dates. Packages of colored small circles are available at any office supply store. – Barbara Brown, Taylors, S.C.

Instead of throwing out old golf gloves, I give them a second life as work gloves. Because they are thin and flexible, old golf gloves allow greater dexterity than conventional work gloves, allowing the user to pick up small objects. Golf gloves are also semi-waterproof so your hand stays relatively dry. They also stay on your hand better than work gloves since the latter tend to lose their shape and become oversized over time. — Dominick Riolo, New City, N.Y.

When I need to use stain on a ceiling or upper surface, I place a 1/2 piece of a paper towel around the brush and rubber band it on. The towel is folded to about one inch wide. This prevents the stain from running down the brush handle and helps prevent drips. —David Phipps, Coloma, Wisc.

Having just painted the wall around our fireplace, and not being the neatest painter, I thought I'd pass along my hint. Before I begin, I put on body lotion anywhere I may get paint, including my face. Makes getting splatters off much, much easier. —Marielle D. Marne, Phoenix, Ariz.

On medicine bottles, when you have to line up the arrows, I use marker to highlight them, makes it easier to match them up. — Kathy Benson, North Versailles, Pa.

Get a Lazy Susan for the breakfast table to corral the salt and pepper, sugar and creamer and other much used articles. My Lazy Susan has a holder for pencils, pens and scissors and a notepad for the grocery list. Most important is a tall mug that holds knives, forks and spoons for four readily available so table ware does not have to be set out for breakfast or lunch. – Amy Core Zelienople, Pa.

I installed rugs for many years. If you want to save your hallways or stairs, get in the habit of walking up one stair at a time, close to the side of the wall. Know how the pattern of wear is right down the middle, if you get in the habit of walking down the sides, it will extend the wear considerably. — Jim Dowd, Daly City, Calif.


I rinse and save the see-through plastic containers that hold produce from the store. I then put my shoes /sandals/ small purses and other items in them in my closet. I have accomplished at least three goals: eating more greens, recycling and re-using plastic rather than having it go to out landfills and I can see at a moment's notice what it is I'm looking for. I decorate them too with stickers so it's not only practical, it's fun and little ones can learn early the value of organization and recycling. I store anything from arts/crafts supplies to small toys and hair supplies. — Barbara Keaney Westwood, Mass.


When I receive a gift that I positively cannot use and do not want, I put it in the “pass along box” with a little sticky on it to say who gave it to me. If I don’t do that, I find myself wondering later, ‘Now, who gave that to me?’ and I certainly don’t want to send it back to them. I think everyone has one of those boxes or drawers full of things to pass along. —Marciel Darden, Hendersonville, Tenn.

After trying several types of trash holders, those that strap on the back seat and those that hang on a dash knob, I found the most convenient holder. As you empty your facial tissue boxes from your home, place one in the car. When you want to empty it just throw it in the trash can in your garage. By then you will have another one to replace it from your home. In fact, since I have several in the house, I am ready to replace the car trash holder before it is full. —Lenore Erickson, Green Bay, Wisc.

Since the advent of the "No Fluids" rule by the TSA, I have been frustrated by having to buy a bottle of water for the plane flight each and every time I went to the airport and through security. I live in Hawaii and can't go much of anywhere -- not even to another island -- without flying. So I hit on the idea of bringing an empty bottle with me and filling it from the water fountain in the airport. (They all have one.) I use a clear bottle and put it in the tray so that it is visible to the inspectors. So far I have never had a problem with it passing inspection and even if it does get taken the only thing I've lost is an old water bottle.— Pat Ketcham, Pahoa, Hawaii

I have been using worn out knee hi stockings. Take one knee hi, tie both ends together and use as a hair band when applying/removing make-up. When gathering up electrical cords, i.e. hairdryer, use a knee hi like a rubber band. You will find many other uses for this stretchy band. — J Parks, Middletown, Dele.

We don't like standing in lines so we each bring in reading material as we wait. It works almost every time that the customer service lines clear up. An added bonus is that we don't do much impulsive shopping and our minds are being patient as we read. No anger, no frustration and when we say thank you for helping us, the representative says "no problem" as if everything has been a hassle until us. The best advice is "good things come to those who wait.” —Richard Frederick East Lansing, Mich.

To be environment friendly, I am using all the junk mail return envelopes by covering up the logo (if necessary) and reusing the plain side of the paper for kids drawing or for printing. —Morteza Houtan, San Jose, Calif.

Craig Wilson’s column, The Final Word, appears Wednesdays in USA TODAY.

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