Category Archives: Your Creative Health

What do I mean by “Your Creative Health?” It’s that feeling of accomplishment and joy when you make something with your own hands. It’s about understanding how things are made and applying your brand to making them. This section will cover ideas for re-purposed, homemade, and shared projects. Hopefully these projects will allow you to save money, extend your resources, and reduce waste.

Simple Sleeves

Last year I resolved that if I was going to occasionally indulge in a latte or two, I should do a better job about bringing my own cup.  I must have expressed that I was on the look out for a good reusable cup because my husband bought me a fancy stainless steel cup that came with this neat little tea basket for loose leaf tea.  It’s purple and pretty cool.  He did a lot of research and spent a chunk of money.  The mug has this intricate press top button to make it spill proof when the button was pressed down.  I drink a lot of tea, and it was fairly useful.  But… then it became harder and harder to clean. It was tall and skinny and I couldn’t fit my sturdy paw down into it to really scrub the bottom.  Yes, I tried salt and vinegar.  You also could not take apart the top to thoroughly clean out the lid.  I also could not microwave it or put it in the dishwasher.  All these cleaning difficulties made it unpalatable to switch up between coffee and tea, or put anything with milk into it.  So yes, it was pretty.  But with limited function and was very high maintenance.  Kinda the total opposite of me.

Even before I knew that I was searching for an alternative, I walked into Starbucks and saw a stack of cups at the checkout with a little tag that said $1. They are plastic and reusable and I can throw them in the dishwasher and the microwave and they have a nice lid that is a single, easy-to-clean piece.  They were even BPA free! However, this article was not supposed to be about the Starbucks cup, or my mug woes.  It is actually for a craft project that resulted from the purchase of this cup. Because in order to sell these cups for $1 and ship them from China, Starbucks made them with really thin plastic. That means they get HOT when you drink any hot beverage out of them.  They are, in fact, painful to hold.  I resolved to make something I could use at home for protection since I did not have a container of cardboard sleeves at my disposal.  Plus, these reusable sleeves would allow me to avoid paper sleeves at the coffee shop.

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I dare you to screw up this project.  I nailed this on my first try.  Not to brag or anything.  This project was even a bit easier than many of my projects because I actually had a pattern (a paper sleeve from the coffee shop) instead of totally winging it.  Below are the items you will need.

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I actually ended up adding some fusible webbing to stiffen things up because I used some pretty flimsy cotton fabrics.  However, on my next try I would probably use upholstery fabric remnants and then I would not have to use the webbing, I think.

To start this project, I took apart the sleeve and laid it on my fabric.  I then cut two, identical pieces of fabric in a generous rectangle, providing at least an inch on every side of the sleeve.

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Place your fabrics ugly sides together and trace out the sleeve adding about 1/4-1/2 inch around the edges of the sleeve.  I totally eye-balled it and it was fine.

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In an unusual turn of precision for my projects, I then pinned the edges just inside my outlines and trimmed the pieces at the lines I had drawn

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Unfortunately I skipped a photo here.  I ran up to sew the seams and left my phone downstairs.  The photo would have been an unpinned, 3/4 sides sewn version of the sleeve above, still wrong-side out. Remember, you left yourself about 1/4 inch around the edge, so remember not to sew farther in than what you allowed.  Leave one of the short ends unsewn since you are going to flip this inside-out later. After it is sewn, you may trim the piece EXCEPT for the side you did not sew.

At this point, I decided my sleeve was going to be pretty limp on its own and I cut out a piece of two-sided fusible webbing.  This is a Bosal Craf-Tex brand and you iron it down after inserting and it sticks to the fabric. I have gotten a lot of use out of this product, which I originally bought to make coasters last Christmas. The package of placemats I bought made A LOT of coasters and I happened to have a leftover strip. In any case, even it you didn’t decide to add things all willy-nilly mid project, this is when you would measure out the webbing as it has to actually fit inside the sleeve.  Cut out your strip of webbing so that it is just a touch smaller than the seams.  Just a touch– like1/16 of an inch.

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At this point, you can turn your sleeve right-side out and insert the webbing.  It should fit snugly.  I like to leave a bit more fabric on the end I did not sew because it makes it easier to tuck the ends inside without losing too much from the ends.  I folded the ends into the sleeve and then finished sewing the sleeve.  I did not get tricky.  I simply sewed a straight seam on the end.

With the use of the fusible webbing, I had to iron the sleeve before I hand-stitched it.  I started out this project making sure I traced out where the ends of the paper sleeve met, but in the end realized that this is a pretty forgiving pattern–though you can go too small.  I just grabbed my thin, plastic cup and visually observed where I needed to start stitching.  Then I stitched.

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This was a really quick project and it turned out pretty well.  While researching the Starbucks cups and its safety before I admitted to using it, I came across this fun blog called The Greening of Westford. The Blogger here had a similar experience with the volcanic temperature that seeps through the cup.  Her solution was cute, clever and super quick: the top portion of a sock! A great alternative and a great reuse for socks, which I think are often difficult to repurpose.   Sweater sleeves would also do the trick.

Please share your ideas for coffee cozies. I would love to share it.  And do not be shy about sharing this project.

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Book Ends

This is a cool project alert! So clever and creative– not to mention really neat looking. I saw this in the lonby of the Marriott in downtown Milwaukee and was immediately lured to it, practically pushing aside hungover wedding party guests and moms yelling at their kids to get to it. From afar it looks like different sized blocks (which also would have been cool).

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But it’s not. It’s dissected books! And what a great way to make art out of something broken or ruined (because we wouldn’t use nice, new, books, right?!). But think of those books warped by water damage, or whose binds have broken or that are simply falling apart, (please avoid using valuable antique-y books…that would be a shame!) or westerns from the eighties that you have no earthy use for.

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I did not get close enough to see how this was attached but I can just envision that there is a strong circular rod in the middle and all you would have to do is drill a hole in your slice of book and stick it on the ring– so some power tools requires between a power saw and a drill. There may also be some glue involved. I wonder if this will work with a hanger!?

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If anyone out there has tried a similar project, please share! I may give it a go myself. I can imagine this might even be cool with magazine and catalogues. Stay tuned.

Tiny Terrarium

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I cannot claim that this is an original idea. In fact, I saw a post on the hgtv garden blog about this project and just felt inspired. I loved the idea of turning regular old used jars with dumpy lids into very clever terrariums. I immediately had all kinds of ideas about how to adapt the lids to what I had on hand, since i didnt have little animal figurines, but then it occurred to me that I probably had many glass containers with lids from spent candles. Nice lids that I didn’t even have to get out the glue and spray paint for. I just needed some elbow grease to clean the soot and wax from the inside.

I chose this classy little jar with a pretty little lid and cleaned it up.

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Then the terrarium practically made itself. I layered some small-ish pebbles and then a layer of organic garden mix.

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Then I went outside grabbed a couple of moss specimens from my backyard.

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I knew I wanted something else in there and debated digging up a small bulb like a grape hyacinth. But I settled on a couple of sedum tips. I had this nice purple sedum that will bloom with pink flowers–if it ever blooms.

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I used a plastic knife to work the sedum into the soil. And then placed some small quartz pebbles and beach glass that I had picked up on some beach somewhere around he sedum.
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I lightly watered–not even enough water to drain to the bottom–the sedum and moss and placed the lid on tightly. There should be enough moisture in the terrarium to keep the moss moist and sedum is pretty much the hardiest plant on the planet. I found this wonderful resource for moss management and feel confident that the plants I chose will be low care. 20140413-142036.jpg

I adore the way it turned out and it was an easy project that I didn’t have to buy a single thing for. Don’t you just love upcycling items with nature’s help!? I do!

Mini Mouse

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Above is the beady little face only a cat can love–especially when stuffed with catnip! These little guys are a bit labor intensive for the small package, but just wait until your cat goes bonkers over them. You’ll be so proud of yourself.

What you’ll need: fabric, twine or yarn for the tail, stuffing, and catnip. I hand stitched these but there is no reason you can’t use the machine for the first few steps, especially if you plan on making many of them.

This project is perfect for an old t-shirt. If you’ve been into making t-shirt yarn lately and have a bunch of sleeves and chests left over without any idea of what to do with them, here is a great use because these mice use up small snippets of fabric. And the t-shirt is nice because it is stretchy and you can make fat little mice.

Start off by cutting two half circles for the body and two small circles for the ears.
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Place the two pieces together. If your fabric has a good side and a bad side, put both bad sides together. Decide which end will be the “head” and cut a slit until about half way down. I only showed one side in the photo above, but you really should cut them together so they are even.

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I’m sorry, I skipped like three steps in the next photo. It’s just that you get really involved in the “production” of them and forget to take pictures. But the next photo reflects what the mouse looks like after attaching the ears and sewing on the tail.

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I will try and explain as well as possible, though. Take one of your little ears (circle) and roll it like a waffle cone so it’s a little wider on top. Take the rolled ear and stick the end through the slit and fold back the half circle so that you are holding the ear inside the fabric. At this point you should see only a small end of your rolled eat and have a seam to sew up along that slit you previously cut into the half circle. Now you have to do the same thing on the other side so that they mirror each other. When you are done with both ears, you will have two semi-circles again, but this time with ears in the middle-ish. Stick them together so the ears are inside.

Next we attach the tail by having one end of the tail stick out the back end. If there is a good end and a bad end to your tail, have the bad end stick out the back. It will be inside when you flip the mouse inside out.

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It may help to roll up the tail so you can keep it all inside if you have a particularly long tail. Starting with your tail end, start stitching along the outer half circle to close up the two sides. Stop at ears. Then sew along the straight bottom edge to close up the seam.

You are now ready to flip it inside out and should have all of your seams closed up except for “face” area.

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At this point, you have to decide whether you want to put whiskers and eyes on the little mouse. Trust me, the cat will play with it regardless, so you really can skip it… But they are so much cuter with the little details.

Now is the time to add eyes and whiskers if you want them. I used regular thread, but if you have something a little thicker, sewing some eyes on the thing will be sooo much easier. The eyes are self-explanatory. Stitch a circle with the thread.

The whiskers, those required more creativity… And explanation. We are essentially going to make one stitch– on the inside. Thread your string but don’t tie it off. Starting on outside of mouse, you want to pull thread through create a small stitch inside and pull back out. Leave the thread long for the moment. About one half inch from one end, tie a knot (enough to not pull through). Now pull through from other end until the knot stops the thread (yay, one whisker has emerged!). As for the other whisker, you now need to tie a knot on the other side of the stitch to keep whisker from pulling through. See the second photo below to understand how the stitch is on the inside and the first photo to see how the knot on the outside keeps it from pulling through.

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Now all of our hard work is done and we can stuff the little rodents. I used poly-fiber stuffing as well as catnip to make them nice and fat. Just shove it in there.

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When the mouse is as full as you want it, stitch up the face. Just pay attention to where the eyes and whiskers are so they line up.

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Final step: find a cat.

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Sew Cute!

I know… I went with the too oft double entendre use of the word “sew” for this title, but please don’t let that steer you away from this impressive-looking, but really easy project. You see, my quest to make hand-made, but still really cute, personal baby gifts continues! I had some great pieces of ribbon that were too short for wrapping a package, so I thought for sure they destined for flower pins. But then, I saw a really cute baby onesie, and knew I found a new fate for the ribbons. So what else do you need for this super easy project? Just a plain onesie and some thread. I guess you can adorn anything with cute satin ruffles, but there is something about a ruffly baby bottom that is beyond cute!

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It’s pretty self explanatory. You start sewing at one end and then every so often at random intervals, you do a little pleat to create a ruffled effect. I started doing a running stitch and then switched to hemming stitch. I think. Like I have mentioned before, I am not much of a sewer. I am a doer. My goal was to attach those ribbons to that cloth and that is what I did. I’d like to flatter myself that I invented a new stitch, but I didn’t. I just don’t know what it’s called.

Here is another one I did that same night.

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I hand-stitched these. I made both of them in about three hours, and about an hour of that was just figuring things out. I made the second one in half the time of the first. You can probably knock these out in mere minutes on the sewing machine. But, I made mine during an “open craft” night and didn’t think I should bring my sewing machine.

The only tricky thing about these are the edges. Ribbons fray pretty easily. I have two suggestions: First, simply fold over the ribbon before you attach it and sew seam. Or, second, take a lighter to the edge of the ribbon and, very carefully, let the edges just barely melt. Also, of the ribbon has wire, remove it! This is really easy. Just poke it out of one end and pull it through.

There is very little you can make for a baby girl that is not huber adorable, but these are cute– and sew simple! Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Do you have go-to hand made baby gift items? I would love to hear your ideas! And if you try this please send pics.

Like always, feel free to share his post.

Keep Improving

For whatever reason, I not only didn’t make any new year’s resolutions but I purposefully avoided even thinking about them. It seemed that to make resolutions was almost to admit that there was dissatisfaction in my life. I felt like I couldn’t (or shouldn’t) really complain. I had my health, a job I was (still) enjoying, financial security and the promise of true financial independence on the horizon. Heck– as I am sitting here writing this inside my cozy home after a nice meal, with my husband lighting a fire in the fireplace and my fat cat peacefully snoring on the couch, it occurs to me that life is good. Making new year’s resolutions seems almost greedy.

But what hubris! As if resolutions can only be about making more money, buying stuff, or losing weight. And the truth is that I did actually have goals for the year. There are certain ideas percolating in my head that have been recurring themes. It is time to put them all in one place, though, and broadcast. For how else can I judge the level of gain if I never admit to having a goal in the first place. Blogs are, after all, great big accountability machines.

Life Improvement Goals for 2014.

1) I want to learn more about recycling. How it works, where my stuff goes, where my stuff and garbage might be better utilized. A few months back I was agonizing over paper waste. It soon became very obvious, though, that I did not actually have any knowledge of what happened to my paper if I put it in the recycling bin. And it turned out that recycling it may have been the best solution for it. My goals this year are to tour my local recycling facility and really research what can and can’t be recycled. I will also continue to reduce my household’s consumption of things that will be discarded as waste. Plastic is my new nemesis.

2) I will continue to reduce my sugar intake. I’ve done a pretty good job almost completely eliminating refined white sugar–and sweetener. But… This year, I would like to focus on reducing sugar intake in food I buy such as buns, pasta sauce, and yogurt. Did you know that we are only supposed to consume 6 teaspoons of sugar a day, but, on average, we consume around 22 teaspoons? It’s something I’ve known about for some time, but was struck by again after reading this blog article. Unfortunately, in this fat/calorie obsessed food market, it’s sometime difficult to figure out how much sugar is actually in something. The first step of this process is awareness. Only then can I systematically eliminate and reduce.

3) I want to take more advantage of the nature around me. This includes exploring new areas, helping in conservation efforts, taking tours with experienced guides and learning a lot more about plants. I complain a lot about not living in a place with mountains or beaches, but there is plenty of beauty in Midwestern plains, woods, streams and lakes. There are so many conservation areas, parks, trails, etc that I haven’t explored. I have resolved that I am not allowed to complain until I actually experience it. Plus, now that I know you can legally forage in Illinois State Parks, I am keeping my eyes open!

4) I need to do better at work. I don’t mean in my job performance, but in not behaving in the office the same as I behave at home with paper and other waste because it is not convenient or easy. Even if I cannot change the habits of my co-workers, I need to take responsibility for myself.

My list sounds pretty ordinary, but these are truly the ways I would like to improve this year. By writing them down–and now posting them for the world to see–I am making myself accountable. These are no longer secret half-formed intentions that are easily discarded, but solid goals. I hope that by this time next year, or even during the year, I can report true and meaningful improvement. If I am really being honest, this list is more for me than for you. I have been wanting to your my local recycling facility for a long time. Maybe now that I have a goal, I will make the effort to actually set it up!

I would love to hear about your goals for improving yourself, your household, or your environment. More than likely, if you find yourself saying it out loud, you will find that you conscientiously make more of an effort to meet that goal!

Upcycled Sweater Project

Right about now, in the depths of a cold winter, you are probably wishing for something to keep your head and ears warm but that looks stylish and fun. Boy are you lucky you are reading this post because I have an easy project that will meet all these objectives. What you need: the sleeve of a sweater, needle and thread. What you will end up with:20140122-211225.jpg

1) Cut off the sleeve making sure that it will go around your head comfortably. Do not stretch it (much) to fit. When you sew the ends together you will lose some length but you want it to be snug on your head so it stays on. Fold the sleeve into a circle and tuck the cut end into the finished hem end.

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2) Sew it closed.

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3) Now for the flare! The sweater I used was a cashmere that I accidentally shrunk and then decided to heck with it and tries to felt it by boiling and boiling it. It didn’t quite work. But the end product was a material that didn’t fray that much. So I decided to make a large, simple, layered flower to cover the seam. I cut several rounds of sweater and then cut some wavy edges. 20140122-212320.jpg
Then I simply attached the flower to the head band. If my sweater had frayed a lot, I would probably have made a complementing flower out of different materials. Or I would have sewed a long “ribbon” by folding the sweater pieces in half and sewing along one edge to make a large rosette. So many options. So few sweaters that I am willing to chop up.

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Twelve Posts of Christmas–The gift of Experience

Ahhhh. Another gift post. In my defense…it’s kind of an important part of the season.

When it comes to gift giving, my priorites have definitely shifted over the last few years. Even as recently as three or four years ago, all the family members would be pressured to make a list about three to four months before christmas and then we would all race to find things on the list. Of course, the things that went on the list were often thoughlessly placed on there under threat and panic. And the gifts purchased were usually not exactly what someone had in mind. Inevitably, you exchanged the gift for store credit and just bought yourself the shoes or sweater or phone case you really wanted in the first place, but couldn’t buy for yourself because you put it on your list three months before Christmas. I really appreciate the way that my family has changed the gift giving dynamic because it allows us to be more considerate in our gift giving. Instead of rushed emails that are copies and forwarded to everyone, we now have more personal conversations about what we’re involved in, what we would enjoy, where we like to go, what we would like to do. More and more I find myself wanting to give the gift of experiences. Imagine my gratification when I came across this article in MSN Money.

Indeed, the article talks about how in order to “choose such a gift, you need to know the recipient’s taste in music, theater, magazines or museums, ” and that “the right experience gift rates high on the happiness scale.” Getting someone something they will never use it a waste of money, so it really is imporant to really have meaningful conversations with the giftee so that you can both enjoy the experience.

The article gives ten suggestions for experience gifts, and for the most part they are great ideas. I would like to add to that list movie theater passes (I highly recommend the iPic), gift cards to favorite restaurants, tickets to interesting private industry tours (i.e., breweries and distillaries) and specialty store gift cards, including fancy tea and coffee shops. I think that some people think of gift cards or tickets or whatever you want to call these gifts are “cop out” gifts and indicate thoughtlessness. But only thoughtless gifts are thoughtless. For example, a Barnes and Noble gift card for someone that has a Kindle or a Magazine subscription for someone that hates getting mail is not only inconsiderate… it is a waste of your time and energy, even if minimal, and your money! However, a Barnes and Noble gift card to a Nook reader is potentially hours and hours of entertainment. The article mentioned above points out that experience gifts may “put a burden on the recipient, so it’s important to make sure you’ve made a good choice. A spa day may sound like a wonderful gift for a new mother, for example, but it isn’t a great gift if she has to pay for a babysitter or pay for extra services and a tip once she arrives.” The bottom line is that you need to know your recipient and do your research.

These types of gifts are great for those wanting to explore their communities and enjoy new experiences. They are also a great way to allow someone to spoil themselves a little bit by buying something they would normally no indulge in. They often take just as much thought and research as gifts you can wrap in big, pretty boxes.

If you have a great idea for an experience gift, please share. Or, if you’re received an awesome experience gift, or a miserable fail, I’d love to hear about it.

Twelve Posts of Christmas–Ethical Gifting

I was recently listening to WBEZ, Chicago land’s Public Radio and heard someone throwing around the term “ethical gifting.” And it wasn’t in a story about ethical gifting, it was just casual conversation thrown about during an end of year donor drive. The speaker tossed this phrase around as if everyone should know what it was. Sheepishly, I admit it was the first time I had come across it. I thought, however, that I immediately understood the term.

When I went to research the term later, I realized that there really is no cohesive application or understanding of the term. Many seem to apply it to green-giving. Then there are those that apply it to practical or useful gifts, and those that use it for creative gifts, anything bought from small shops, particularly if those shops contain goods made by people in under-developed nations. I also saw it applied to gifting with a charitable aim, which sometimes meant buying something that gives some or all of proceeds to charity and sometimes it just meant giving to charity in someone’s name. However, the other thing that popped up quite frequently was ethical gifting in a business environment. At first, I brushed this off as the wrong kind of ethical gifting, but then I realized that this no-strings-attached type of gift giving corporations advocated should be a part of ethical giving, at least, my ethical giving.

So what is ethical gifting? I have concluded that it is different for everyone and that it essentially giving that reflects your values, which we often forget at this time of year in our panic to just buy things for people.  For me, ethical gifting is giving gifts that are immediately useful with a focus on recycling that will produce little to no waste. Yes, sometimes that means I make things, and sometimes they are actually really nice and sometimes my family is just really nice.  I like to support small shops, too–though that can be in direct conflict with getting the best deal on something.  But that is okay.  It is less important to me to be frugal in gift giving than it is to buy a gift that will be useful–and used.  This is a lot easier to justify when you are not buying a gift for every single relative.

For kids, my husband and I look for gifts that are educational,which to me takes precedent over Eco-friendly–though more and more, the two are compatible.  Still, we try not to add mindlessly with piles of toys pulled off box-store shelves. This is sometimes tricky because you want to buy them the fun, hot toy of the year.  The immediate satisfaction they will experience will probably be much greater than opening something useful and will catapult you to the top of the “best aunt and uncle in the world” list.   But then I remember the ethics of corporate gift giving.  My gifts are not to buy someone’s affections or to influence someone’s actions.  They are given being thoughful of both the gift-giver and gift-receiver.

Twelve Posts of Christmas–A Gift for Mother Earth

Not to repeat myself, but… Well, actually, I am fully intending to repeat myself because this is an important topic. I invite each and every one of you to be creative and to use your imagination to wrap gifts in recycled and reused items. As I just mentioned, I previously posted about this, but this is the time of year when we are particularly abusive and create garbage bag upon garbage bag full of stuff that will end up in the landfill. We can do better. I will admit, though, to having been previously very impressed by various family members’ matching presents wrapped in beautiful, shiny, thick wrapping paper. It looks so nice under the tree and everyone knows exactly who it came from. Very fancy.

However, I think you can make beautiful packages with just a little forethought and imagination–and maybe some planning throughout the year. For example, brown paper bags make excellent wrapping paper and a wonderful earthy background for those saved ribbons, scavenged twigs and berries, and home made gift tags. What other materials can you use for wrapping paper? How about old road maps that you haven’t thrown away yet even though you haven’t used them for more than seven years? Or, saved newspapers, park maps or large foldable brochures from an awesome vacation used it to wrap gifts for the people that went with you on that awesome vacation. And save colorful comics for the kids to wrap gifts. Using cloth and fabric to wrap gifts is a popular alternative, too, kind of hobo-chic. For other ideas, especially for creative decor, see these slides from Martha Stewart. Also, did you know that those poofy Christmas bows only look hard to make? Follow this link for step by step instructions. You will amaze yourself.

Now, if you’ve saved decorative boxes or bags, the work is almost all done for you! During this time of year, offices across the country are flooded with gifts that come in fancy boxes and bags. Lay claim to them, as well as all the ribbons and tins. If you don’t they will probably just end up in the trash–and that is what we are trying to avoid, people. You can also make your own boxes. The internet machine has loads and loads of ideas. You can use card stock, backs of notebook paper, the bottom of fancy paper bags from the mall, etc., as material for the boxes. Check out this link for tons of fabulous ideas using salvaged items to make your own boxes.

Yeah, even recycled wrapping will likely get thrown away, filling garbage bag upon garbage bag. Perhaps, a few suggestions? Save the gift bags and boxes for re-use next year, and fold the tissue paper to save for use throughout the year. Helpful hint: if you choose wrapping materials that can be used at other holidays and occasions, you can maximize their use, i.e., don’t get santa clause tissue paper. As to what you cannot re-use, which hopefully will be a smallish pile. Shred the paper and use as packing material or throw it in the compost pile. From what I learned in research for a previous article on paper re-cycling, wrapping paper can probably go into your local recycling program, though you need to do your research. For example, my county recycling, SWALCO,,will accept wrapping paper, but my local Chicago-area Paper Retriever will not.

I know, I know. My intentions to make every gift exchange I participate in zero-waste are impractical–especially at other people’s houses. I was, in fact, unsuccessful last year in swaying anyone to separate the paper wrapping from the ribbons and bows and plastic in order to recycle the paper and minimize the trash. We had a huge family Christmas and produced a lot of garbage that was frantically shoved in bags to try and keep order. However, on a personal level, I have not bought wrapping materials in more than three years. And I know that further change will not happen overnight. I slowly hope to influence my family members, one by one. Even the family member that proudly buys beautiful wrapping paper every year.

When I actually buy some present and wrap them, I will take photos to show you that presents using salvaged materials can be pretty!

Twelve Posts of Christmas– Sticky Business

I am writing this post with a dream and an idea. Though it can still go horribly wrong. But I was called to sit on jury duty this week, and I have some time to kill because I can’t leave this room–possible for an entire week. So I am drafting this post without actually knowing if this project will work. But it’s so simple it has to work, right? I mean, I only need sticks and hot glue. What can go wrong?

So this is what I am going to try and do today when I get home from jury duty: I am going to make star ornaments out of twigs. I am going to brave the bitter cold and go outside and forage some smallish branches and twigs. I will curse the cold and the fact that I was too lazy to do this in the fall when the damn twigs were not covered in snow and it wasn’t nine degrees outside.

In a feat of self-delusion, I will think that making a star is easy. I mean, I’ve been making them since I was, like, five years old.  I will intend to do many, but will probably cobble together just one, which I will then spray paint gold to hide all the defects.  And add glitter. Lots of glitter. 

How did this turn out?

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Not too bad. If you don’t look at it too closely, that is. Hot glue is kind of blobby. 20131219-212600.jpg

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I was, indeed, annoyed that I waited to do this project when everything was covered with snow.  I though about collecting the twigs many times this fall as we were pruning branches. But I didn’t.  So instead, I rushed outside to the unburned burn pile, snapped some small branches and twigs with the leaves still attached and ran back inside.  My pile was kind of puny.  
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The pile of sticks and leaves eventually became a pile of sticks of varying sizes and lengths. I kept even really short pieces knowing I was going to try and fill in the star. It started out a little uncertainly. I have to admit I really dislike working with hot glue. It’s hard to control, leaves “strings” behind and dries milky.  Getting all 10 joints glued together, without gluing the towel underneath, was challenging.  As I held up the star triumphantly after the last joint, it was really wonky.  The joints were not stable and I  thought I had to scrap the hot glue because it wasn’t working. I went in search of wood glue. Bad idea! Do you understand how long you would have to hold pieces together to get them to stay?  So back to the hot glue.  It’s the only way to do this project in a reasonable time frame.  It just turned out I had to be more patient. 

I think I can get better at this and plan to make more. After I let myself be patient, and actually waited for the glue to dry, I realized that I could use less glue. Because of drying time, though, making one star can still take a while. an assembly line type of system would work, though for making two or three at once.  I thought my mound of sticks would yield more than one star. But adding the “filler” in was a bit addictive so I kept using up my sticks.

In the end, despite my setbacks, I think it turned out nicely and my next one will be even better. I may not even have to paint them gold and cover them with glitter! I haven’t decided yet. They look rather nice in the nude.

Twelve Posts of Christmas–Take a Bough

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Let’s get out into nature and bring in some holiday cheer. With just a bit of effort and ingenuity, you can make a gorgeous evergreen bough for free.

What you will need: one wire hanger, twine or twist ties or thin gauge wire, evergreen snippets. And some ribbon and maybe some ornaments for those finishing touches. 20131214-170855.jpg

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Step 1) take your wire hanger and pull the bottom part straight down from the middle. Straighten the sides so they don’t jut as much. Take your hook and bend down until it forms a loop.

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Step 2) take some glue and wrap thin ribbon or thick twine around the loop. Let dry.
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Step 3) go outside. Find your spruces and your pines and your firs. Even your hollies. Cut some parts about four-five inches long. Careful to take small snips from each plant so you don’t defrock one entirely.

Step 4) starting at the bottom of the metal piece. Begin to layer your evergreen pieces, like shingles. Secure each piece separately before covering it with the next piece. You want the two sides to touch (no gap in the middle) but you can make adjustments as you go. Use your creativity and use your winter berries and twigs and birch bark, etc. Whatever you find in your yard. 20131214-171215.jpg
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Step 5) as you near the top, make sure your last piece is secured a little higher than the hanger end (so that it covers the loop slightly).

Step 6) to finish, tie a large bow or cluster of ornaments at the top.

Step 7) hang from on high and enjoy!

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Twelve Posts of Christmas– Tag, You’re It

Here’s an easy, creative way to make the gifts you give just a little more special–hand made gift tags. I did two styles of gift tag just in case you are not a got-half-way-through-my-wedding-album-and-gave-up-scrapbooking kind of person with lots of overpriced, unused, fancy card stock laying around.

What you will need: card stock* and glitter and glue for style 1 and acrylic paint and brushes for Style 2. You will also need scissors and a hole punch if you have one. I scavenged around my house and came up with some postcards, used note cards, card stock and written-on thank you cards. Here is my pile of random paper.

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I took all that sturdy paper and cut it into squares and rectangles, and ovals**, making sure that if the front had a picture or print on it, the back was plain (i.e. I cut around words and print on the backside). That’s why all of my tags are different sizes.

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Style 1:

This tag style uses the picture or print on your card or postcard and makes it festive. If you can use Christmas cards, your work is probably already done. If not, get out your glue and glitter and get to work.

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These photos don’t quite capture the sparkly wonder that is each gift tag. I couldn’t get the light just right. But, trust me. They are glorious.

Style 2:

Style two lets you create your own design. I stayed true to easy cookie cutter-type shapes so they were easy to make. I laid out a group of tag and got busy.

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I then painted my snowmen and Christmas trees and ornaments, and gingerbread men, and stockings. I just used the acrylic paint I had– which included some odd colors and which disappointingly did not include red. They seem to have worked out despite that. Other than that little commentary, I don’t need to tell you how to paint. You’ve been doing this since grade school.
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After the paint was all dry, I punched some holes in tags to hang from gift bags and to thread with ribbon on packages. I also have this neat sticker making machine that lets me make strips of sticky gift tags. However if you wanted yours to stick, you could use spray adhesive or lightly applied glue. I will go in later and add ” To” and “From” with a fine tip felt or permanent marker to make these tags official.

As always, I encourage you to share these posts and share your ideas or results–especially if you try one of these projects.

* Other ideas for what to use as card stock: the backs or covers of note pads, folders, dried goods card board packaging.

**I actually cut these ovals using a fancy little cutting tool set my friend had. I don’t have one. These were left over from when I did this project a couple of years ago. I probably wouldn’t try and free-hand circles and ovals. That’s okay. The squares and rectangles work just fine.

Update and Brag Session: See some of these tags in action below:

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Twelve Posts of Christmas– Easy Wreaths

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Who doesn’t like free? This easy wreath project is something that you can do in one hour (okay, maybe two hours) from start to finish, and you don’t have to buy anything.*There is no pattern. Just use what you have on-hand, from old t-shirts, to holey socks, to scrap fabric remnants. I chose reds and greens in varying shades because I thought I had enough of them. If you try this project, I would love to see what you come up with. I encourage you not to run out and buy fabric for this, though. Being creative with what you have and making it Christmas-y will be half the fun.

What you need: one wire hanger, and a pile of fabric. Odd and bits are fine. 20131207-133314.jpg
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Your pile of fabric will become strips There is no formula, really. I cut strips about an inch wide and any where from 4-6 inches long. Some of my pieces were a little longer or shorter because that was the fabric I had and I wanted to use it all up. I also learned that the thicker the fabric the thinner the strip. It was no problem. I just ended up cutting some strips in half to make knotting them a little easier. 20131207-141129.jpg

Stretch your hanger until it becomes a circle. It does not need to be perfect, just round. 20131207-134116.jpg

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For this wreath, I left the hook on, however you could snip the two sides beneath the hook and entwine the wire ends together. I left it on to use as its own hanging implement. You’ll see.

And now, take your strips and start tying knots.

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Yes, this step is a bit tedious. The good thing is that you really can’t screw up. I didn’t have enough scraps so I had to go back and cut more, but those were easily blended into the wreath because you can push your knots aside and insert new knots.

When you are done, I think you’ll be impressed with you own project. I embellished with a wire ribbon bow, but if I were a little less lazy, I would have raided my stash of ornaments.

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To hang, simply twist the hook 90 degrees to the back, and you can hang this over the door. If that doesn’t work for you, you can leave the hook as it was and bend it down into a loop. Use your glue of choice to cover the loop with fabric so it doesn’t look so much like a hanger. Now you can hang this from those over the door hooks or from a ribbon. You can also just snip the hook off, just remember where it is because that will be a sharp piece of wire. The fabric should hide the snipped wire. You can hang with a nice piece of ribbon through the wreath.

To see another cute idea using a wire hanger, click on this link.

As always, feel free to share this project. You know, post on Pinterest, Facebook, etc. Just click on links below or copy and paste this page.

*I am assuming you have or can easily acquire a wire hanger.

Twelve Posts of Christmas–Mulling it Over

I am going for it. Twelve posts in December! This will be quite a feat since I have only averaged two posts in the last two months. But I really got caught up in the idea of doing twelve posts, for all the obvious Christmas reasons. This post will be the first of my “Twelve Posts of Christmas” and will focus on alternative uses for mulling spices. And it’s fitting because you may have a lot of this stuff laying around after Thanksgiving…or you may get it in a gift basket before Christmas and not know what do with it.

If you don’t even know what mulling spices are… it’s just a spice combo, usually cinnamon, cloves, all spice and orange peel (see bag in photo below). It is traditionally added to apple cider or red wine and infused over several hours, sometimes with extra sugar and lemons, to bring out all those flavors. But my thought was, “why stop there,” or rather, what do you do with these spices if you never get around to making mulled anything? No matter how often I try to remember to prepare mulled offerings, I rarely use the stuff. I mean, you kinda have to wait for a dinner party to justify mulling a bottle of wine for several hours and I have very few dinner parties. As a consequence of being an infrequent host and previously having tunnel vision for the use of mulling spices, I have had two tins of mulling spices from Williams Sonoma for ages. One tin is completely unopened, which means that it would take me five years to use up if I only used it for mulling cider or wine as I have in the past. It occurred to me that there must be more uses and also more year-round applications for the stuff. So I mulled* it over…

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Chai Spiced Iced tea

If you look at the ingredients to most commerical chai black teas, you will notice they are basically the same ingredients as mulling spices. So, why not steep some of the mulling spices and add to your iced tea? You could simmer (mull) the spices in a couple of cups of water until the volume reduces and you really get the flavor, but I think this is excessive. It will work just as well if you crush the spices and let steep in really hot water. Straing, then add to a jar of cold black tea. Clearly this also works for hot tea.

Chai latte

If you love a nice chai latte, a home-made variety is not beyond your reach. Again, the spices in mulling spices are kinda the same as in a basic chai mix. (Though, you may want to add cardomon and ginger if you have them on hand). What you are trying to create here is a really thick tea, heavy with spices, so that when you add milk, it holds up . For one large serving, I took two bags of plain black tea and let steep in hot water in one cup. I then took my crushed mulling spices and let those steep in another cup.

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You can even be a little crazy and let them steep together. I didn’t do this mostly because I didn’t have a container big enough. I added just a bit of brown sugar for a touch of sweetness (you can also add honey). When the spices were done steeping (and, really, this was just a guessing game, you could leave them in as long as you would like, and probably won’t know if it gets too intense until you realize you forgot about it for a few hours and decided to drink it anyway) I poured the mixture through a strainer to leave behind all the bits and added the really strong black tea and then topped it off with milk.

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Mulled Sangria

This wasn’t even on my radar until Thanksgiving day, and it is the perfect solution to the challenge of what to serve a large group of people if you want something festive and refreshing. Compliments for this go to my sister, who I think came across the recipe somewhere. However, it was really just the idea that we needed as inspiration. We came up with our own recipe–basically the stuff we had on hand: Red wine, a healthy pour of orange-mango juice, whatever fruit we had left after making pies and breakfast and a half cup of mulling spices all mixed up cold and placed in a pitcher. The fruit in our Sangria included apples, cranberries, limes and rasperries. And just before serving, we added some champagne for bubbles. I think we also added some other liquor, but I can’t remember. The point is… start with red wine, add some sweetness, some cut up fruit and mulling spices and you have mulled sangria. The twists you add are all your own! The more sweetness you add, the more the concoction can take some thing a little harder like brandy or triple sec. The mulling spices don’t actually take long to seep into the sangria, but the flavor gets more complex as your libation stew melds throughout the day. Note: it was not so good the next day. I think it was the limes. Others speculated it was the spices. Next year we just have to finish it all on Thanksgiving Day.

Pies and Puddings and Breads, oh my

Lest you think that the only thing you can do with mulling spices are delicious beverages, here is another alternative. Finely grind the mulling spices and use in your pumpkin and apple pie recipes, your rice and bread puddings, and pumpkin, zuchinni, and banana breads. Wherever you can add cinnamon, you can add this spice mix for additional depth. Just make sure you grind the mix to a powder. You don’t need sticks in your desserts.

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Mulling spice ice cream

My Aunt V. wowed us with the simplest of projects this thanksgiving. She made a batch of cinnamon ice scream by combining vanilla ice cream with a hefty dose of cinnamon. This is such an obvious accompaniment to all those holiday pies… but if you want to go one step further, use the finely ground mulling spices for a bit of extra depth.

If you have experimented with mulling spices and have other ideas, please share. And don’t forget that if you want to make your own mulling spices, you likely have a lot of the ingredients on hand and can mix up your own batch. It’s probably all those spices that came with your spice set that you really don’t know what to do with…all spice, cloves and sticks of cinnamon. Add some home made dried orange peel and you have a combo similar to the pricey Williams Sonoma tin above. But don’t stop there, if you love ginger or pepper or chilis, add it!

As always, feel free to share this post. If you let me know you’ve shared it, I will do what I can to return the favor to my fellow bloggers.

*Cheesy pun added for my husband.