Place mats are plentiful at thrift stores and garage sales, or you can find them on sale after holidays. If you find the heavier two-layered place mats (typically print on one side and solid colored back), you can rip the seam at one end and stuff each place mat with polyester fiberfill, sew it closed and make quick and easy pillows. The first reader tip shares her second use for a place mat. For more uses, visit

Second use for a place mat:

I use a red place mat as the "naughty spot" for kids' timeouts. It's perfect because I can move it around the house. We've even taken it on vacation with us. -- CeCe, email

Pump dispensers:

I purchased shampoo and conditioner with pump dispenser tops, and I don't know how many times I've refilled them. Just one squirt is all I need, and I never waste any. Haven't bought shampoo for months now, and I'm not running out nearly as fast! -- NicJean, email


I've used Fels-Naptha soap to remove car grease stains from my winter jackets, and boy does it work! A little elbow grease helps. I gave a bar to a friend and her husband used it to get pet accident stains out of their carpets. He was really impressed with the product! -- Mollie, Canada

Homemade, Preservative-Free Parmesan Cheese Crackers
1 stick butter, chilled
2 cups flour
8 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup water
Add-ins as desired

In food processor, cut butter into flour until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add cheese and egg yolk and mix well. Add enough water to the mixture to form a ball. Heat oven to 350 F. Divide dough and roll out as thin as possible on lightly floured surface. Transfer to ungreased baking sheet and prick all over with fork or roller docker. Cut to desired size using pizza cutter. Bake 15-20 minutes or until crisp and just starting to brown. Watch carefully. Cool on wire rack. Eat or freeze immediately.

Coarse salt may be sprinkled on top of crackers and patted lightly so it sticks. A tortilla press may be used to 'roll' these out. Serving size: one-quart freezer bag, plus about a cup.

Add ins: I added dried rosemary and black pepper to my crackers at the start of the mixing process, so the food processor finely chopped up the rosemary, too. You can add whatever you like to these, so use your imagination. Try a pinch of cayenne or a few drops of Tabasco if you like a little heat. Try basil, an Italian seasoning mix or garlic powder. Try tomato sauce instead of the water, along with Italian seasoning. Spaghetti sauce in a cracker! -- S.D., Minnesota

Chalk paint:

If any of you hang around decor blogs and are seeing all the rage about Annie Sloan chalk paint, but don't want to pay $50 a quart, I have been making my own for cheap. Just mix equal amounts of artist gesso with acrylic or flat paint. That's it. I use white gesso mostly, but if you are using dark paint like black, blue, red or purple, you may want to use grey gesso. Also, the 'no-sand' part of chalk paint is true; chalk paint is paint plus calcium carbonate. Gesso is calcium carbonate and adhesive or primer. If you go to Hobby Lobby or Michaels you can get the gesso in many sizes (use your 40-50 percent off coupons!). I've painted a wooden chest in duck egg blue, a six-drawer box and a HUGE dresser in black. After you paint it and distress it, be sure to use the Minwax paste finishing wax. You can get it online or in the paint section at Home Depot. -- C.L., Texas

Bread-tie labels for wires/power strips:

Use a plastic bread-tie or clip to label your power cords. Write on the ties or clips with a fine-tip Sharpie and wrap them around the cords. This is especially handy for power strips! -- Libby, Canada

photo by holsro