Frugal Times :: Negotiating lower Medical Bills

 

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Image from deathtostockphotos

 

 

He who will not economize will have to agonize -- Confucius

Today, I spent an entire morning and part of my afternoon on the phone for nearly 5 hours trying to get the answer to a few simple questions. 

  1.  What is the price of an echocardiogram? 
  2. Where is the cheapest place in the city to have one done?

You would think I was asking for the moon. Two years ago, I had a stroke, heart attack and then cancer.  The trifecta of super scary, but not nearly as scary as my medical bills. When you are in crisis and in an ambulance, you don't really have time to negotiate which hospital you are taken.  I've learned  few things along the way that I wish to share with you as I believe there should be more cost transparency in healthcare.  This is the only industry in which you don't know what you will owe until possibly months later, once the bill has been processed and submitted to your insurance and then finally sent to you, which can literally be months.  You think you are doing just fine financially and then BOOM!  You are hit with a $14,000 bill.  Well, as I already have a mountain of medical debt and have tried to negotiate a longer payment plan to no avail, I am highly reluctant to add more debt to the pile.  So, that's the first thing, you can try to negotiate a payment plan. Most hospitals are okay with this as long as it doesn't exceed 3 years.  Well I was pushing for 6, oh well.  And if you have an HSA, you could also ask for a discount for paying in cash.  Usually they will knock 25% off of the bill which is a substantial savings if you can swing it. Well I can't, so I was stuck.  I have been collecting articles on frugality from various bloggers and posting them on my Pinterest page.  Check it out, there is a ton of wisdom and resources on offer for free!  We all like that word FREE!

So how did I sort of get around the system?  First I called my insurance company to find out if they had a preferred place for me to get the echocardiogram done.  They didn't.  Took me 2 hours to find that out.  But I also learned where I could get my prescriptions for the negotiated rate.  I had quite and eyeopener yesterday when I went to my regular pharmacy to pick up my life needed prescriptions and was given a bill for $150 rather than my usual $24. GASP!  I asked the pharmacist if I could get a weeks worth of the most expensive medicine rather than a month's worth, so I had time to call my insurance company and find out what was up.  Not a problem.  Thank you Schnucks!  I much appreciate it. So anyway, I bought what I could for $50 and found out I could get the usual $24 charge if I moved my prescriptions over to Walgreens. They said they sent a letter. Uh, huh, yeah sure you did..... Anyway, this brings me back to another tip.  Never get upset, never yell, the operators will just tune you out.  When they tell you their name, address them directly by name, "So hi Sharon, I am Lindsay. I hope you can help me today."  The common curtesy goes a loooong  way in getting the help you need.  It sounds so obvious, but these folks get yelled at all day, so when someone is nice, they are willing to go the distance to provide superior customer service.  So once I learned that they didn't have a preferred place for imaging which, I have to say I thought was a bit weird with all the independent imaging centers popping up around the country.  The same is true for basic lab work. NEVER EVER get lab word done at your doctor's office.  It will cost you a fortune!  I once had lab work done at my doctors office and was charged $2500!  The same lab work cost me $250 at a preferred lab. That is a HUGE cost difference.  Yes,  it is a bit inconvenient as you have to do a little bit of prethinking like contacting your doctor in advance to have the lab work requirements sent to you or faxed to the lab office.  But the savings is worth it!

Anyway, back to my echocardiogram story. I called my doctors office and asked how much it would cost.  I was shunted all over the office, don't give up, no one really seems to know and then they will get into their stories that blame everyone from the insurance companies to the President.  Give them a second and then redirect them back to the question at hand, with a "Well if you don't know, who in the office may?"  Today I spoke with Doris.  She was lovely. I told her my financial story to get her to understand that I really do need this information and am not just wasting her time.  So she looked it up and gave me two prices.  She then gave me the insurance code and transferred me to the hospital's pricing office.  Yes, most hospitals have them. You can call with the code for the procedure and then give them your insurance info and they will give you a good ballpark of what to expect.  Well, here is where it got interesting.  I told my fugal poor me story to Dawn in pricing  and she then told me which hospital within the hospital's network had the best price. By booking the procedure at this other hospital which is affiliated to where I normally go and trust, I am literally saving myself several thousand dollars.  All because of real estate.  I don't get it but there you go.

So, take the time to shop around. Don't see the time on the phone as a waste.  It isn't .  As an artist and teacher I have a set hourly rate and my savings far surpassed my hourly rate. And one last thing, if you are taken to a hospital where your insurance isn't accepted, I have since learned to ask for a patient advocate or patient navigator to figure out which hospital does and then to transfer you once you are stabilized.  It will again save you thousands to be back in your insurance  network though  the private ambulance will cost you, but not more than your savings.

 

 


The Heart Truth: Wear RED!

Red pink

February is without a doubt one of my favorite months. It is the shortest of the winter months which is a big deal to a gal who craves spring and summer.  But most of all February reminds us to tell those we love that we do love them and even to go and give them a smooch.  Pink and red are two of my favorite color schemes.  Throw in a bit of lace and swoon!

Spring is around the corner and the tulips will soon be in bloom, quickly followed by peonies and roses.  Who doesn't love a pink flamingo?  The real bird and not the plastic lawn ornaments.  They are such elegant creatures.  I like my chocolate with a dash of red chili pepper and eat an apple a day to keep the doctor away.  Speaking of doctors.  February is also Heart Disease Awareness month.  As you may have read on this blog.  I had a stroke and a heart attack in 2014.  I've always exercised and ate an organic vegetarian diet for 20 years.  I was just the lucky gal to hit the genetic jackpot.  And so begins my personal campaign to stop heart disease in its tracks.  Did you know more woman will die in the United States of heart disease than all the cancers combined?!  Wear your pink, butthrow on a red sweater with it.  And heart disease is the number one killer world wide, according to the World Health Organization, 17.3 million people died from heart disease in 2015.  So I will be your Aunt Nag, just cause I love you, if you have't had a health check up in the past year, go schedule one.  Try to stop smoking.  Reduce your salt intake.  Learn to read the labels.  And get out their to take a walk, not only for fitness sake, but to allow for a little creative thinking time.  My favorite places to walk in St. Louis are Forest Park and the River Walk downtown by the Mississippi River.  Check out Meetups, there is often a walking group that meets to walk and explore neighborhoods.  For more great tips on healthy heart living, checkout the American Heart Association's website.  Making lifestyle changes can be vey daunting, so start small.  Get a check up for a baseline.  You will find if you start to reduce your salt intake, your tastebuds will change and not want salt.  Even a dash of salt will be noticeable.  And February 4th is Wear RED Day.  So get out your best red clothing and wear it with pride!

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Image from Wikipedia.com

 


Valentine's Day Welcome Wreath

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A smile is the universal welcome. -- Max Eastman

 

 The history of the wreath dates back to Ancient Greco-Roman times the first being worn as a crown.  They were worn to represent rank, status and achievements. While these original wreaths were made of ribbon or fine metals, bay laurel branches were later fashioned into the shape of a circle.  Laurel was associated with the Greek God Apollo and became symbolic of victory and therefore the winning athletes in the original Olympic Games wore laurel wreaths.

The common shape of a wreath is the circle.  The circle is a symbol for life and eternity and within the Christian faith it represents God.  Evergreen branches, symbolic of life, were fashioned into wreaths to mark the coming of Christmas.

Today, wreaths while they still have symbolic meaning such as those made of evergreens for Christmas, the welcome wreath on the front door may be made of any materials you happen to have on hand.

This Rag wreath draws upon the earliest history of the wreath as a crown made of ribbon.  You may upcycle old bed sheets or use up scraps of fabric from other craft projects.  The color may reflect the season, such as pink for Valentine’s Day or Easter, Red, White and Blue for the 4th of July, the possibilities are limited only by the number of holidays you celebrate.

Things You will need:

2-yards of 40-inch width fabric

12-inch Box Wire Wreath Frame  

18-inches of half-inch wide ribbon

Rotary Cutter

Self-healing Cutting mat

Metal or plastic ruler

Scissors 

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Cut all the fabric into 1 by 5 inch strips. This is quickly done with a rotary cutter, though you may also just use scissors. Starting from the inner ring and working your way out, tie the fabric strips onto the ring using a half-knot, continue until the  frame is completely covered.Tie the ribbon onto the ring to act as a hanger.Hang the wreath from a hook on your front  door.

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 Starting from the inner ring and working your way out, tie the fabric strips onto the ring using a half-knot, continue until the  frame is completely covered.Tie the ribbon onto the ring to act as a hanger.Hang the wreath from a hook on your front  door.


Free Pattern :: DIY Dog Toy

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I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love.

For me they are the role model for being alive. --- Gilda Radner

Toony loves to play.  When we first adopted her from the Humane Society, she was nervous and chewed threw all our other dogs toys in quick order until she got to what we call the mop which is essentially just a rope with knots on either end.

 

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As I had some leftover shirt materials from making the t-shirt yarn rag rug, I thought I'd make a few dog toys, based on the rope model. So i took the top bits and cut off the arms.

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I then cut off the neckline.  

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I took one piece of the fabric and cut three parallel lines in it, stopping my cuts one inch from the edge.

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I then proceeded to braid the strips together.  

 

Images

(Image from Wikipedia.com)

Once finished braiding.  I created large overhand knots at each end, to keep it from unravelling.

Once finished,Toony seemed to know it was for her and couldn't wait to play fetch with it.  

Fore more DIY upcycle projects take a look at these great projects from Cotopaxi -   View this photo

 

 


free pattern :: Crocheted T-shirt Yarn Rag Rug

©2016-Lindsay-Obermeyer-tshirt-yarn-rag-rug-Josie

My little dog — a heartbeat at my feet. ~Edith Wharton

I love my dogs.  They protect me, watch over me, and provide endless amount of joy and amusement.  Their favorite perch in the house is in the bench window seat of my studio on the second floor of our house.  They love to watch all the action on the street, barking their warning of approaching dogs and humans.  The bench seat was getting a bit torn up by their claws, so I need to add some protection and with my ever growing stash of t shirts, I decided to upcycle them into t-shirt yarn that I could crochet into a rag rag.  I wanted the rug to be substantial, machine washable and yet a  soft spot for my dogs to hang out.  As you can see above, Josie loves her new spot.  Miss Toony was jealous and decided to move in on Josie's territory.  Missing from the pic was their ensuing dog spat of snarling and snapping at each other.  Josie wanted the rug to herself.  

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Want to make one for your dogs?  This is what you will need to make a rug 14" x 36".  

6 adult t-shirts
6 balls of worsted cotton (I used a variegated Sugar and Cream.)
Scissors
Ruler
Tapestry needle
H crochet hook

First you need to cut your t-shirts into yarn. Save all the extra bits for a dog toy following in my next blog post.

Here is a great video on how to make the yarn from Upcycled Stuff.

 

Now to get started, you chain the width you want the project to be.  So I initially chained 14 inches.

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Insert your hook into the second stitch from the hook and work a single crochet while wrapping the yarn up an around the t-shirt yarn.

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Proceed in this fashion single crocheting along the length of chains while wrapping around the t-shirt yarn as you go.

 

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When you come to the end.  Work the last stitch and then crochet a single crochet around the t-shirt yarn, not working a chain.  This is your turning stitch and replaces the usual Chain 1 to turn in single crochet when crocheting in rows.

 

 

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You will bend the t-shirt yarn as you turn to work your way across the row. Insert your hook into the last stitch of teh first row to begin.

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Work your way along single crocheting as you go, pulling and catching the t-shirt yarn as you go. If you run out of T-shirt yarn, add more by simply overlapping the ends and working right over both.  

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That all there is to it.  Work until you get to the desired length of your project.  To finish off, crochet one row without the t-shirt yarn to give it a nice finished edge.  Sew in all ends.  Trim off all dangling t-shirt yarn.  I know there are projects out there to crochet with the actual t-shirt yarn, but I found this process was easier on my arthritic hands and I like the extra dash of color from the cotton yarn.  Think of how cute this would be in a little girls bedroom?!   Or as a rug in the bathroom. If you are a marathon runner and have collected t-shirts from your runs, this is a fun way to repurpose them.  I do advise that you use a non-slip mat underneath it to keep it in place or if for a bench seat.  I staple gunned mine into place, so my dogs wouldn't constantly knock it off the bench when jumping up.

I've been working with the young company Cotopaxi on developing this blog post.  Their mission is sustainability and the repurposing of materials into great outdoor gear and hiking backpacks  They are a public benefit corporation based in Delaware, which means part of their corporate mission is not only sustainability but poverty alleviation.   I love it when companies take on positive change in the world as their mission!!  They've offered additional projects  for you to make by upcycling your clothes into new projects, take a look - View this photo!  And they are offering 15% off to anyone reading this blog post- the code word at check out is STICKERME.
  


Free Patterns :: New Projects Using Smoothfoam for Valentine's Day

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Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love. ~Albert Einstein

I love Valentine's Day.  It is my favorite holiday.  What's not to love about pink, red, lace, chocolate and smooches???
Here are a small selection of fun Valentine Crafts from the design team for Smoothfoam.  

1.    Valentine's Day plaque by Beth Watson.

2.   Hugs and Kisses Tabletop Decoration by Michelle Frae Cummings.

3.   Carved Sweetheart Valentine by Carmen Flores Tanis

4.   Stenciled Heart with Crackle Past by Lisa Fulmer.

5.   Conversation Heart Statement by Jennifer Priest.

6.  Love Blooms by Kristi Parker Van Doren.

7. Silk Rose Topiary Ball by Angela Holt.

 

And then one I created which is a paperweight, tabletop decoration:

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Free Pattern :: Rainbow Children's Hat / Beanie

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When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky. ~Buddha

 

I love rainbows.  Aren't our children the treasure at the end of the rainbow?  I love to knit with highly saturated colors and what better way to do that then to knit a  youngster a rainbow hat to keep them warm on winter days.  The hat is sized at 18" circumference to fit a 7-8 year old. Children at this age frequently draw rainbows in art class, so give them one to wear.

 

You will need:

1 skein each of Red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple acrylic yarn ( I use Lion Brand's Vanna Choice)
16" #8 circular needle
#8 double point needles
scissors
Tapestry needle
ruler / tape measure
Stitch Marker

Gauge: 16 stitches x 22 rows = 4" (10 cm) on size 9 (5 mm) needles 

Stitches: garter in the round - Knit a round, purl a round, and repeat.

 Stockinette in the round - Knit every round

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Let's Knit:

Cast on 72 stitches with red. Add stitch marker, join round. Work in garter for the next inch.

HINT: Always leave a 4" tail when switching colors to make it easy to sew in the tail.

Finish round and join Orange.  Work in stockinette for an inch.

Finish round and join Yellow.  Work in stockinette for an inch.

Finish round and join Green.  Work in stockinette for an inch.

Finish round and join blue: Work in stockinette for a half inch  Place a stitch marker every 9th stitch for a total of 9 sections. Begin decreasing.  K2tog before every stitch marker.  After one round of decreasing, Knit the next round and then work another round of decreases.  Continue until you have an inch of blue knit.

Switch to Purple.continue working a decrease round and then a knit round until 40 stitches remain an switch to double point needles., then knit 2 rounds between every decrease round until only 8 stitches remain.  Decrease until 6 stitches remain and work an i-cord for the remaining 5-6 inches.

Finish:

 Cut a 6 inch tail and thread a tapestry needle.  Run the needle though all six stitches and cinch tightly. Work the tail back through the cord and then Knot the cord.  

Sew in all tails. I tend to work my through the the back of the stitches to actually lock in the tail:

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Free Pattern :: Zippy Knitting Loom Infinity Scarf

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Knitting not only relaxes me, it also bring a feeling of being at home. -- Magdalena Neuner

I have been knitting for 33 years now, once worked for a yarn company,  owned a yarn shop, so I am a bit jaded when it comes to new knitting products, but I tell you I bought myself a zippy loom and have fallen in love with it.  It's a sturdy plastic loom with 4 pegs, but you can buy more to make a longer board or to create a frame with it, so you may easily knit extra bulky hats and afghans.  

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In the time it took me to watch one episode of Perry Mason (1 hour), I had knit a  scarf that was 130" x 4".  I cast off and stitched the ends together so it made an infinity scarf, which as you can see is really quite flashy fab.  Perfect to wear over a t-shirt with a jean jacket for date night.  

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The key to this scarf is drape.  You want to work with bulky yarns that are lightweight such as a traditional "eye-lash " yarn carried with an acrylic. Bulky wools wools won't have the same drape.

You will need:

1 ball (135 yd) of Lion Brand Jiffy

2 balls (57yd) of Lion Brand Fun Fur

1 Knitting Board zippy Loom

Tape Measure

Scissors

tapestry needle

The directions for casting on, knitting and casting off are included n the kit and are exactly what I did.  They are straight forward and simple.  To see how to videos  and to find other cute quick patterns for the zippy loom.

If your children have learned to finger knit, then move them forward with knitting using the zippy loom.  Be warned, you will go through quite a bit of yarn, so ask friends  if they have nay left over bits in their stash that you may use.  Get several boards and make afghans to donate to your local hospital or senior center.  These warm gifts if knit in acrylic, for ease of washing, will be an appreciated gift.


Free Pattern :: Beginner Level Crochet Baby Hat for Little Hats, Big Hearts

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Our hearts are lamps for ever burning... -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I designed this hat in honor of the American Hearts Association's "Little Hats, Big Hearts" campaign to bring national attention to Congenital Heart Defects.  Make one for a loved little one, make one to give.  These are simple and quick to make.  A fun Sunday afternoon project.  This is sized for a 16" diameter hat, 16-12 months old.

To get started you will need

2 skeins of Lion Brand Vanna's Choice acrylic yarn, 1 each of  Red and White.
Size G crochet hook
Ruler or tape measure
locking stitch marker
Scissors
Tapestry Needle

Guage: 4 sts and 2.5 rows to the inch.

Stitches you will need to know: Double-crochet, single crochet, slip stitch

Let's crochet!

Start with a magic circle.  But rather than use single crochet stitches. Chain 2 and Double crochet 12 sititches into the circle.  Once finished, tighten the circle.  This closes it firmly at the top.  

Round 1: Add a stitch marker, Ch2,1 dc in the same place,  2Dc into each stitch. Slip stitch the last stitch to the fi=the top of the chain-2 for a total count of 24.  Move stitch marker to beginning of next round.

Round 2: Ch2,  *2 double crochet in next stitch, 1 double crochet in next stitch.* Repeat from *to* , slip stitch last stitch to top of chain-2 for a total of 36 stitches.  Move stitch marker to beginning of next round

Round 3: Ch2, Chain 2, 1 double crochet in the same place, 2 double crochet in each of the next 2 stitches, slip stitch last stitch to top of chain 2 for a total count of 48 stitches.  Move stitch marker to beginning of next round.

Round 4: Ch2, Chain 2, 1 double crochet in the same space, 3 double crochet in each of the next 3 stitches, slip stitch last stitch to top of chain 2 for a total count of 60 stitches.  The circle should be 5" in diameter.

Ch2, 1 dc into into the same space. 1dc into each stitch fro the entire round, end with a a slip stitch into the top of the Cha2.  Repeat this round until the hat measure 7- 8 inches. At the 6th inch, switch to white and work for 1 inch in white to add a bold horizontal stripe.  

Scallop Edge:  *Skip 1st, 1sc in next st, skip next st, 5 DC in next st.*  Repeat from * to .* End wth a slip stitch to the the first single crochet.

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Heart Embellishment: Use white to match white stripe.

Chain 4. Work 3 tr (triple crochet) into first ch(center), 3 dc into the same space (center)., ch 1, 1 tr into center, ch 1, 3 dc into center, 3 tr into center. Ch 3, sl st into center and fasten off. Use tails to sew heart to the hat.  

Sew in all tails.


Frugal, lean times - medical debt

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We can tell our values by looking at our checkbook stubs. ~Gloria Steinem


2014 was not my year.  I had a stroke, heart attack, cancer and needed an emergency blood transfusion.  I racked up a ton of medical debt despite having health insurance.   I can't change the situation, I can just learn to live with it.  I received some financial aid from the Hospital, but not nearly enough. My initial reaction to the debt was to get back to work full time as soon as I could.  I think that  is a normal reaction for most folks when faced with large medical debt.  I was back working 40 hours a week between two part time jobs, but soon enough I realized that my body wasn't ready.  I still needed naps throughout the day.  I had to take my health seriously,  which meant having the flexibility to take naps when needed and to go to the gym on a regular basis.  What 2014 taught me was that my life is short and good health is not to be taken for granted, you must work to maintain it. First I left one job, but then realized in December that I needed to leave my second job.  At first I though of myself as unemployed, but that is the wrong attitutde.  I am a freelance designer, full-time blogger, content marketer, teacher and artist. I am actually now busier than ever, but have the flexibility I need.  I know this would make many people freak with anxiety, but I am having a good time.  I know I could sell my car and wipe out much of my debt, but honestly, I really like my car and don't want to sell it.  I'd rather do what I am doing and live as frugally as possible off of my savings while I build up my business.

Despite my mountain of debt, I have other financial goals, like taking a  vacation. I haven't had a vacation in 3 years, so I figure I am due to have one.  That means saving what bits at the end of the day, week and month that I can.  In comes the Piggy Bank or Coin Box! I was at a vintage antiques store, and saw many cute ones, but then figured, you are on a frugal budget girl, do you want that vacation?!  If so, then make your own piggy bank!  So like any self respecting crafter, I took stock of my craft supplies and then looked on Pinterest for inspiration.  Here are a few of the pins I found.    I really loved the Perler bead coin box.  It is so customizable, so yesterday I set out to make myself one.  I had a small stash of red, white and grey perler beads.  Perfect for a Valentine themed box!  Okay, cool.  Well, uh, I will admit that this is a rather time consuming and slightly fussy project.  I thought I could bang it out in a few hours.  But it actually took me the better part of an afternoon.

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Parts of it snapped together perfectly while other bits are still slightly wobbly.  I like my crafts to be perfect!  So I fiddled and faded with it until I got it to click together. Still not totally satisfied.  But I posted my charts further below and go to the Pinterest file to find the original pattern, as it has clear directions on how to create the dovetail joints.


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©2015-Lindsay-Obermeyer-Perler-bead  Perler bead01

Frugal living simply means living fully on less.  Less money, less stuff.  To me it means fun challenge and less stuff to dust and care for.  I will be bringing you more frugal living blog posts throughout the year with an emphasis on knitting, stitching and upcycle / recycle crafts.  

PS:  use your craft store coupons to get the best deals on perler beads or look for them the next time you are at Ikea.  They sell them for less in large bottles over in the kids section.