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living eco-friendly on a budget + ​natural parenting + fresh takes on theology

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Snow Day Fun: Mining for Gems

DC Blizzard 2016/Snowzilla actually happened! We got over 24 inches at our house. With the drifting, our cars became mere lumps in the driveway. Dave and V spent hours digging us out (not that a snowplow has come by yet).

Baby T’s first time in the snow was one for the record books in terms of snowfall. It was also memorable for us. T is the smiliest baby I have ever known, and it was a hoot too see him take that personality outside. At first, he just sat with curiosity as brothers dumped snow on him brought him snow, then he started reaching out to touch and taste and the smiles started. After awhile, he tipped  himself over on to his belly and scooted across as much of the sidewalk as he could with glee, just as he does inside the house. 

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As for indoor fun while snowbound, we decided to “mine” for “gems” by Read more…


Upcycling Craft: Wine Cork Boats

Years ago, I had a dream of making one of those cork boards made from wine corks. Since I don’t drink much wine, I asked others to pass on their corks. I’m about 9 years out from that request, and we might have enough wine corks to cover a wall. I went to Pinterest for ideas, and finally got to work. In honor of E’s third birthday, big brother V and I teamed up to make boats for the kids in our family plus the two local cousins. We thought these would be fun for the pool, creek, and bath. I am creative, but not really an artist and definitely not spacial, but these were doable and fun. We had a good time making them together.

Wine Cork Boat


Step 1: Hot glue a bunch of corks together. Lay them out first to make fairly even lines, I liked pairing them up  length-wise with glue and then gluing the “columns” together. Read more…


Give Clothes New Spunk with Layered Patches

I recently read my first-ever copy of Taproot Magazine, Issue 11: Mend, and was charmed by pictures of clothing patches in an article that made such a thing seem attractive and doable through layering fabric. I embraced the moment and grabbed some vintage fabric from my scrap box, thread and needle, and a pair of high-quality hand-me-down jeans that V (age 3.5) had deemed, “not very good, mama” and “only good for paint pants” because of a hole in the knee. In 3o minutes, I cut and hand-sewed two pieces of fabric together to create a whimsical layered patch and then sewed that onto the pants. I used a no-fuss whip stich and didn’t obsess over the details. Patches are about whimsy, right?    Hole and Patch Prep

The second patch took only a few minutes more now that I had my technique down. Best of all, because I didn’t have to mess with the sewing machine, I could take my project from dining room to back porch as the kids played nearby.Patch Pants Complete

The verdict? I think they look great, and V put them on right away and showed off his fancy pants all afternoon. With an adjustable waist and long length in these jeans plus a little brother who loves when big brother has outgrown something and it becomes his, hopefully we’ll still get years to come out of these pants, all because of a few scraps of fabric.

Patch Title


The Amazing, Versatile Canning Jar

As a family who minimizes plastics, glass canning jars come in handy in many ways in our house. They are affordable, versatile, and easily washable. It took us several years to gradually weed out our plastic containers and switch to Pyrex and jars, but now that is the primary way we store food.

I frequently get asked how often we deal with breakage.  I am, by far, our family’s worst culprit of dropping and breaking glass items.  In all honesty, these glass items are so sturdy that a drop doesn’t necessarily mean breakage anyway, especially on a more yielding floor like hardwood. 

As for the kids: yes, we let them use glass.  Usually they choose the stainless steel dishes and cups from the cabinet, but have glass in the mix, too. Both boys’ first drink of water was self-fed from a tiny open glass at 6 months old. Our kids are very careful with breakable items because they’ve seen the mess when accidents happen. (It usually happens when I am pulling something out of the fridge and a jar slips from my hand and lands on the tile kitchen floor. It stinks when something breaks and we have to sweep it up, but it doesn’t happen often.)

Without further ado, check out some of our favorite ways to use canning jars:
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I love getting greeting cards in the mail, but when the holiday has passed I’m so the girl who lets the cards continue to sit on the mantle because I  don’t know what to do with them next. Tossing then in the recycling bin makes my heart bleed green a little bit; I’d like the ink and the card/pulp/tree to have more life than that before going through the energy-intensive recycling process. Plus, nowadays cards come with all sorts of neat little tchotchkes on them: foam pieces, ribbon, tiny plastic shapes, etc. So, I hoard the cards: first on the mantle, then in a pile or drawer, then–when I have a massive stash–I get so irritated that they all just go in the bin anyway.

Greeting Card Collages


But then, something wonderful happened…
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Let’s get this out of the way first: spray paint itself isn’t eco-friendly. You’re left with that pesky steel bottle and it’s rather stinky stuff, too. There, I said it.  Now that we’ve agreed on  that, let’s move on to the idea that spray paint does have green value in that it can impart new life to things that otherwise might just get dumped into a landfill. Here are five ways that we have used spray paint for home improvements:

1. Our old fireplace doors went from smoke-stained and outdated  to simple and lovely.

2. Our retro kitchen cabinet doors had layers of chipping paint and lacquer, loads of decorative trim, and possibly lead paint on them, meaning that sanding was out of the question. Textured spray paint was an easy way give them a new lease on life until we have a more defined plan for the kitchen.




3. When we bought our house, we had to refinish every single thing (as everything was covered in filth and roach droppings). To minimize cost and waste, we decided to wash and spray paint hinges and hardware rather than buying a whole-house’s worth of new ones.

Leftover floral foam works well for holding screws.

4. For the basement remodel, we freshened up old door handles purchased at ReStore so they would match our oil-rubbed bronze vibe. (We would have been wise to add a coat of lacquer.) (Painting helpers: a shipping pallet and the same trusty piece of floral foam, three years later.)

5. Going with flush-mount lights rather than recessed was one way we could save money on the basement remodel. Finding six matching, attractive, amply-bright lights for cheap was tough, though. Enter Craigslist. We found a lot of lights with a nice motif for a mere $35, but they were a terracotta orange-ish. Once again, spray paint came to the rescue.

There you have it: five ideas from our home. But, there are tons of other possibilities. What is something you saved with spray paint?

Greeting Card Mobile

I was inspired to make a greeting card mobile for baby V after seeing one on another blog. Rather than having the cards from my baby shower sit in a drawer gathering dust, or go into the recycle bin never to be seen again, the mobile allows us to appreciate the cards every day.
For my base, I cut off the top from an octagonal box that a flower vase came in. From there, I used copious amount of hot glue to affix the card cutouts to every surface of the box—inside and out.

The mobile is suspended with an arm that came with a commercial mobile that we happened to have one on hand but suspending it from a hook in the ceiling would’ve worked even better than the arm. Long hanging distance is the key to good movement. The sunshine-shaped parts spin well, but the others don’t have long enough strings. The mobile moves gently with drafts from an open window, fan, or vent. Sometimes I “wind it up” by twisting the ribbon that holds it to the arm.

It ended up taking several hours—much longer than I thought—but it turned out wonderfully.

Detail shots:


In honor of my fourth anniversary today, I thought I’d share how I preserved my wedding bouquet.

-Thin rope or pipe cleaner to suspend bouquet
-Deep shadow box (mine is from A. C. Moore)
-Aerosol Hairspray
-Hot glue gun
-Hot glue sticks

What I did:

-The day after the wedding, I hung the flowers upside down in an unused closet using pipe cleaners.

-I left the flowers alone for 2-4 months until thoroughly dried out. Note that tightly closed blooms will take longest to dry. Warning: the flowers smelled awful for quite a while!

-Once dried, I sprayed them with Aquanet hairspray (I read on a website that this helps preserve them).

-I had to split the bouquet in two parts because they wouldn’t all fit in the box without getting squished (this was a little traumatic as some little petals flaked off when I pulled them out of the bouquet).

-I used straight pins and hot-glue to tighten up the ribbon, making sure that the alterations would be hidden when placed in the box.

-Once thinned enough to fit under the glass, I hot-glued the 1/2 bouquet still in the ribbon into the box, concentrating the glue on the stems rather than the blooms.

-From the unused half of the bouquet, I cut the blooms off of stems and hot-glued them into the secured half to really fill out the side the viewer will see. (I was able to fit in every single flower still in good condition!)

Verdict: Some bits of flowers have flaked off and are on the floor of the box, the green leaves and stems browned, the white flowers have yellowed, the ribbon has faded some. But, overall, I would consider this a success!

Bonus Picture… Origami version of my wedding bouquet that hubby made for me on our first anniversary (traditional gift is paper)

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Homemade Compost Bin

In the past, I have kept a simple compost pile on the ground, with good results. When we lived in the condo, I composted on the grounds at work (read about it here and here). Decomposition went very well, but the compost never actually got used. Last spring, my coworker on the buildings team accidentally squished all of the compost back into the forest floor in a mishap with a rented tractor. (I think he was either trying to turn the pile or scoop up the compost to use it.)

When we bought the house, I started a ground pile at home and ditched the work one. That reminds me, that partial second year of compost is still sitting on work grounds and decomposing. I guess I should remind my coworker that it is there since it is time for spring planting to spruce up the grounds. It would be great to see it put to use! Anyway, back to the house pile…being that I started the pile in in December and then we had a snowy winter, the pile didn’t do much.

When we moved into the house, I noticed that the previous owners left an old, beat-up, plastic trashcan with no lid. I started eyeing it as a potential composter. After all, if it could be free—or at least dirt cheap—I’d like to try bin composting. I totally believe in the simplicity and relative cleanliness of a ground pile, but I like experiments, and I like sharing them with you.

It took me some time to figure out exactly what to do with the trash can and to find the time to do it, but I finally did. Here you go…

With a ½ inch boring bit, I drilled holes around the sides and bottom of the trash can. As you may notice, I did not drill holes up to the very top of can. I did this for several reasons: to remind me to not fill it that high for weight reasons (I need to be able to flip it); to remind me to get multiple bins going for use at different times and not obsess over getting this one filled to the brim; and finally, some trashcan composters are used upside down with the top cut off, so instead of flipping it, you just lift it up. I wanted to leave as much structural integrity in that part of the can as possible in case I switch to that method.

Because the trash can did not have a lid, and we were not able to buy just a lid, we needed to make one. We recently got some building supplies from a Freecycler, so hubby cut some of that wood to be the lid. I then drilled holes in the wood to allow rain in. We bought a rubber cord with hooks on the end (from Home Depot) to hold the lid on securely.

I shoveled my ground pile into the composter, and I will turn it with a cultivator/claw. We bought both tools on Craigslist for $10 each.

So far, I’ve noticed that flying bugs like the composter. This was not a problem with the ground pile because no food was ever directly exposed to the air (it gets covered with browns). In the container, food may be pressed against a hole and thus draw attention. So far, that is the only drawback. In terms of adding food, it is much easier because I don’t have to dig it in and then obsessively cover it with browns. So, we’ll see how it goes!

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These gold, brown, and clear baubles came in a flower arrangement that hubby’s office sent us when we got the house. I just loved them and thought that they would go with our retro gold living room decorations, so I set them aside figuring that someday I could put them to good use. Enter this little candle holder that I received as a Christmas gift that I liked, but with just a candle in it seemed kind of plain. After having both things around for months, suddenly inspiration hit. 2 minutes of futzing and voila!

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