Monday, December 8, 2014

A Green Christmas, Part 4: Eco-Friendly Gift Wrap

The amount of trash produced during the holidays really hits home after all the presents have been opened... and opened again out of their manufacturer's packaging. Some of this packaging is unavoidable but the countless black garbage bags of wrapping paper going to curb is a huge waste that can be completely (and easily!) rectified. Almost all of the wrapping paper sold in stores cannot be recycled. The same goes for all the ribbons, bows and name tags that are the precursor of excitement before the actual ripping frenzy begins. Switching to reusable and recyclable wrapping options will do wonders in cutting down your waste output this Christmas. And if you use items that you already have around the house, you can save all the money dumped on holiday-themed wrapping paper and put it towards the gifts instead (or maybe towards a local, pastured ham for the dinner table!).

Gift Tags

Yogi Tea is a national brand that can be found in most grocery stores, as well as lining my pantry shelves as I have been drinking this tea for years. However, it wasn't until I read I'm Dreaming of a Green Christmas, by Anna Getty, that I realised the inside of the boxes have the coolest lotus designs that can be used as name tags. (Yogi Tea has a recipe for everything health-wise but apparently not for observational acuity.) The beautiful design not only adds a unique finishing touch to your wrapped presents but it is also 100% recycable- and that's something we all can observe.


Making your own bows from colorful sales ads is so incredibly simple (and frugal!).

                                          Start by cutting the ad into long strips 1-inch wide.

Lay the strips down like an asterisk on the wrapped present, taping down the center of the strips as you go. Depending on how full you want the bow, add as many or as few strips as you want. Make sure to leave 2 - 3 extra strips to finish the bow at the end of the process.

Taking both ends of the same strip, loop towards the middle and tape down in the center. Continue to do this with all the remaining strips.

Use the extra strips to fill in the middle by making loops and taping down both ends. Now you have a nice big, fun bow that took 3 minutes to make and cost nothing. Oh, it's recycable, too!

Alternative Wrapping Paper

Kraft paper makes excellent recycable wrapping paper for any occasion. Use stamps or markers to make it more festive. I found a box of Christmas stamps on Bookoo for $5 that will be put to good use.

Using old music sheets from the thrift store is a sure way to add some unexpected whimsy under your tree (bonus if you can find holiday music!). The large book of classic music that I found cost ninty-nine cents and will cover its share of gifts. Old encyclopedias also would make a fun wrap. The ribbon is from that big Costco roll mentioned here, and with using just a simple Christmas stamp, this thrift store find can turn into an elegant present without the cost of traditional wrappings.

The comics have long been used for wrapping paper but sometimes you can find colorful, fun articles like in the photo above as well. Know someone who loves cross-word puzzles? Use that section to wrap their gift! I usually get my news online to cut down on paper waste but with this one newspaper I bought, it provided this craft and a treasure trove of wrapping paper and bow options.

Reusable Wrap

Recycling, though much preferable to trash, still has its own environmental impact. That's why it is a good idea to play around with reusable wrapping options, too. Above is a Chicco reusable shopping bag. Use the handles to tie a bow on top and then fold and pin any excess underneath. Not only is this a great way to wrap those awkwardly-shaped presents but hopefully it will inspire the receiver to use less plastic bags on their future shopping trips!

If you are handy with a needle or thread, a quick Google search will yield a ton of fabric gift bags that you can make yourself. If you have been following this blog for any length of time then you know that I most certainly am not handy with anything resembling a needle but this is where supporting small business can really help out. Etsy is a great place to shop for eco-friendly gift wrap. One of my personal Etzy favorites is a shop called Sue Made It that you can check out here. Neither this blog or myself is receiving any monetary benefit from this promotion- I just think this lady is super talented and I love her stuff!

Sue makes all kinds of handmade treasures, and in the case of her bags, from upcycled materials. The bags that she creates are one-of-a-kind finds that are just as much the gift as what they are housing inside.

From Sue Made It: Poinsetta Gift Bag. At $6 this is a very affordable reusable option.

From Sue Made It: Wide bottom bag for the extra-wide gifts.

From Sue Made It: Perfect for all those pre-teens and teens in your life who only want gift cards. (If you have the option of a gift certificate- go with the paper and cut down on the plastic!)

Sue also provides customization services as well. If you have something in mind and don't see it on her site, she is more than happy to work with you. Below is the jewerly that she created for me after I handed her two small pieces of beach glass and asked for earrings.

I adore these earrings not only because they are beautiful but because they are made with mementos from our family vacation this year. So whether it is eco-friendly bags or a custom treasure, you are in goods hands with Sue!

Holidays are about friends, family and good food- and presents, too (I mean, who are we kidding, right!). However, all that joy and warmth doesn't have to be synonymous with trashing our planet.  So when Christmas morning comes around, hopefully you'll have a blue recycle bin by the tree instead of that big black garbage bag... and the peace and good-will of the day can carry over into a brighter and healthy world tomorrow.

This series has been a blast for me as I love learning and doing new things. It has been eight fun and wonderful months since I started this blog and I want to thank everyone who has been on this journey with me. I will be taking the next few weeks off to spend with my family and to refresh and renew for a new year of healthy, safe and budget-friendly posts.

Wishing everyone a safe and very happy holiday season!!

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Green Christmas, Part 3: Nature Finds

A green Christmas wouldn't be complete without some real greens decking your halls, staircase, table or... anywhere really. By using nature to decorate you are actually helping to preserve it- as all living things must die and then decompose (and then could become some pretty fantastic fertilizer). Artificial plants and trees, on the other hand, are meant to last indefinitely- and they do, in the garbage dumps, forever and evah. If you are in the market for a new Christmas tree then the live version is the most eco-friendly choice. Recycling them after the holidays is getting easy, too, as more and more townships are offering curb-side pick-up for recycling into mulch. If your town doesn't offer this service then check here for other recyclable options. If you absolutely can't purchase a live tree then buying a used artificial tree would be the next best choice. It also means that you won't have to worry about the toxic off-gassing that new artificial trees perfume your home with, either.

This little guy is a Norfolk Island Pine sold at Meijer for $6. Keeping with my color scheme, I switched out the red paper that was wrapped around the base with some thrift store sheet music. Right now it is adding a festive touch to my kitchen table but after the holidays it will go up to my bedroom to help purify the air. This is a good thing to remember when shopping for holiday greenery: live plants purify the air and artificials, at least while new, are adding toxins to it. The Norfolk Pine comes from Hawaii so it will always be an indoor plant but depending on where you live and the type of evergreen tree used, your holiday decor can be planted in your yard come spring.

Your yard is a great place for finding nature-made decorations. In the photo above, pomander balls (oranges with cloves stuck in them) are nestled in a bowl of clipped evergreen branches from my front yard. The three rose hips were salvaged from the fall pruning of the backyard rose bushes. Get creative with the pomander balls and try different patterns with the cloves. This has a nice subtle fragrance but the best part of using material from your garden: it's free!

Part of this next project came from my yard as well and was inspired by two different decorating books. In a Southern Living holiday book they had two Manitoba branches threaded through a chandelier that looked similar to the fixture in my dining room. In I'm Dreaming of a Green Christmas, Anna Getty placed large branches in a vase and hung thrift store chandelier crystals off of them. I loved both ideas so much they just had to be combined.

I didn't have any luck finding chandelier crystals but I did come across a bag of the icicles (in the photo above) for $3 at Savers. Since the icicles already came equipped with little metal hooks, hanging them on the branches that were cut from my tree was a cinch.

Adding nature finds to your holiday decorating decor is a wonderful way to pay homage to all this beautiful world has to offer. It is a breath of fresh air for your home and your lungs. It also doesn't get more economical then when it is cut right from your own backyard!

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Green Christmas, Part 2: Repurposed and Thrift Store Finds

My love affair with thrift stores naturally carries over to my green Christmas make-over.  What I wasn't counting on was having just as much fun finding new and creative ways to use items that I already had on hand as well.

The footed candle urn in the photo above is perfect for holding mini ball ornaments. Topped off with a white wooden snowflake it makes the perfect holiday statement piece for my entry table. These were all items that were already around the house. Don't worry about the creativity bug not biting because a great way to get ideas is at your local library. They have a TON of holiday decorating books that will help get your creative juices flowing (and we all drink that juice!).

Dining room table center piece

This big Italian pottery bowl full of shiny silver ornaments is a replica from a photo in a Southern Living holiday book. They had their ornaments nestled on top of aqua tinsel which was adorable but I couldn't find that specific color of tinsel at the thrift shop.  I did find a bag of shiny aqua shred for $2 that, along with the aqua icicles, does the trick quite nicely. The bowl and everything in it is from Savers.  After the holidays, that bowl is going to make a fantastic pasta dish.

This is the first year I actually have a mantle to decorate and I could not wait to deck it out! The only problem being that it is a very clean-lined modern piece of architecture and throwing a whole lot of crap up there would make it look, well, like crap. To counter this I used a lot of clear glass. The glass snow jars were a project from last week that you can check out here.

These three beauties were part of a wedding candy bar. Once they were no longer needed, I swooped in and got them for $20 on Craigslist! It took a little negotiating but because so many apothecary jars were being sold I was able to get a deal. Wedding reception center pieces make fabulous holiday decorations that you can get at a great price. The teal and silver ornaments came from Bookoo, which is a website similar to Craigslist.

This banister garland was repurposed from holly strands that I used to hang on the kitchen windows of my old house. The red berries didn't go with my color scheme so off they went.  In their place, I attached white flower sprigs that I had found at Goodwill for $1. Since the berries and flowers had the same attachment parts, the switch was easy. The aqua flowers and dried fruit are decorations left over from last year that easily tuck into the ribbon. Since I couldn't find used white ribbon, it was necessary to buy one. Costco had a 50 yard roll of wire ribbon for $7. Fifty yards is an insane amount of ribbon, however, these are all of the projects that I was able to use it with:

The upstairs and downstairs banisters with the same repurposed holly from the old house.

                                             The red berry wreath found at Savers for $5.

Trimming the tree. I have never used ribbon as tree garland before and I am in love with it! It makes the tree look so effortlessly elegant. I've dropped $30 on tree garland before that hasn't made the tree look this good and the ribbon garland cost pennies!! Live and learn, I guess. Since there is still more than half the roll of ribbon left it will be put to good use wrapping presents but I am getting a head of myself- that will be for another post.

As long as the ribbon is properly stored (roll up nicely and secure with string) it should last you multiple seasons. Make sure to label the ribbon when it is put away so you know what strand is for the tree and other specific locations.

Remember- library books are a great starting point for new ideas, especially with items that you already have around the house! Thrift stores have a wide array of holiday decorations for unbelievable prices that are not only wonderful for your wallet but for our planet, too.

Wishing everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Green Christmas, Part 1: Family Crafts

**This is going to be a four-part series on creating less waste during the holidays.

According to the the EPA, Americans generate 25% more waste between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That equals about a million extra tons of trash each year. (If there was an emoticon with eyeballs popping out if its head, I'd use it right now.) All that trash is going to be broken down into a toxic sludge that will eventually contaminate our fresh water and air. In addition to the ridiculous amount of trash that is produced, there are also three hundred thousand trees cut down to make the 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S.  For every pound of virgin paper made from tree pulp, another one pound of carbon dioxide is emitted. (E-cards allow you to send a photo and save some trees!)

I'm no Grinch (listening to Christmas music right now, actually, and don't care a fig that it's only November) and I love decorating for the holidays. For my new home, however, I wanted to decorate it being as green as possible. The next month will highlight my green Christmas journey.

Devin and Kaleb busy cutting their pinwheels.

This past weekend we had a family craft night which I hope will become a new tradition. We made three pinwheel wreaths from old moving boxes and the comics, paper snowflakes from old school papers and glass snow jars. The snow jars were made with sugar and thrift store mini Christmas trees that I found at Goodwill for $3. Tack on another $3 for the Sunday newspaper and the night cost a total of $6. Better yet, everything we made can either be reused or recycled after we are through with it.

Pinwheel Comic Wreath

Start by cutting a full comic page in half, like in the photo above.

Fold in half twice, each time cutting along the folded seam. When you are done you should have four separate small squares of comic paper. Repeat with the remaining full comic sheets.

Taking a small square, make a cut at each corner to the middle of the square, being careful not to cut all the way through. Once all four corners have been cut, you should have four triangles still attached in the middle. This is a great job for the kiddos to do.

Using a hot glue-gun on the low-setting, take a corner from each triangle and glue to the center of the square. (I glued while the kids cut.)

Once one pinwheel was assembled I used it to help gauge how many would need to be made all together.

Using large and small mixing bowls for the outlines, Dino traced and cut out the cardboard wreath forms. We needed eleven pinwheels to complete one wreath. Place a dab of hot glue on the back of each pinwheel and press onto the cardboard wreath, continue until no cardboard is showing.

The kids now have a festive and fun wreath to adorn their bedroom doors and its completely recyclable at the end of the season. (Although I'm hoping we can get a couple seasons out of these!)

Paper Snowflakes

This is such an obvious decoration but by using the endless stream of school papers that come home instead of new, you are not wasting virgin paper. I even like the whimsy look of the sentences shining through the snowflakes. Light blue handouts make really neat colored snowflakes, too.

Glass Snow Jars

These glass snow jars were so easy and fun to make. Just grab any empty glass jars with a lid around your house and fill with white sugar. Add little animals, trees, Santas or whatever for your own homemade version of snow globes.

Don't throw out the sugar after the holidays- turn it into a body scrub! Waste not, want not: 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup oil (almond, grape, apricot, etc.), 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ginger and 1 tsp nutmeg. Mix all together and store in an airtight jar. Watch the shower floor after use as it can get slippery!

Eco-friendly holiday decorations can be fun, cute and rather inexpensive. Maybe family craft night can be a tradition in your house this year. Don't forget the popcorn and hot cocoa!

Monday, November 10, 2014

How to Make Homemade Butter

When you are going to indulge in dairy then the pastured variety is the healthiest way to go- although it is by no means the cheapest. Grass-fed animals are more likely to be humanely treated and the nutritional content of their milk products is going to be far superior to what you would get from feedlot cattle. So while you 'pay for what you get,' there is a way to make pastured dairy more affordable: make it yourself!

Start by pouring 2 cups of the heavy cream into the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, mix on high. Wrap an old kitchen towel around the bowl because the cream will splash everywhere otherwise. Once it turns into whip cream, you can take the towel down but it will start splashing again when it starts to separate. Leaving the cream on the counter for 30 minutes beforehand will shorten the time it takes for the butter to separate from the buttermilk. Since I can never seem to remember to do this, it takes about 10 minutes for it to separate.

Once the stiff whip cream starts to turn into butter and buttermilk, switch to the paddle attachment on the mixer. If this is not done the butter will collect inside of the whisk making it difficult to get out. Wrap the towel around the bowl and mix on low speed until the butter and buttermilk have fully separated- about 2 minutes.

It will look like this.

Press all the butter into a patty on the side of the bowl to extract as much of the buttermilk as possible. Pour the buttermilk into a clean Ball jar and place in the fridge for use in baking.

This buttermilk is not the same as what is sold in the stores due to a lack of cultures but it is still incredibly delicious in bake goods. This recipe will yield a little over a cup of buttermilk. Make sure to use within the week.

Any remaining buttermilk in the butter will cause it to go rancid sooner rather than later, especially if you keep it out on the counter (I don't recommend this).  Rinsing the butter a few times will help it keep for longer. Pour cold, filtered water into the mixing bowl with the butter and turn on low speed for 10 seconds. (There are ice cubes in my photo but  I found it made the butter too hard to work with so just stick with the cold water.) Scrape the butter off the paddle attachment and form into another patty- dump the milky-looking rinse water and repeat this process until the water is clear. It took me a total of three times.

Place the butter on a piece of parchment and blot off any remaining water with a clean kitchen rag. Fold the parchment paper in half over the butter and use it to help form a butter log.

Made-with-Love next to a store-bought stick of butter.

Your yummy butter is now ready for consumption! Store in the fridge inside a butter crock or just roll back up in the parchment paper, twisting the ends tightly closed. Enjoy within 2 weeks. (Not a problem in my house!)

Make your holiday cookies extra special (and somewhat healthier) this year with some homemade pastured butter!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Homemade Wax Tarts for Diffusors

It's the holiday preseason and everywhere you turn there will be fragrances, candles and other Christmasy-scented paraphernalia that are lining the store shelves ready to turn your home into an olfactory wonderland. From this past post, you already know the dangers of artificial fragrances, however, you don't have to forgo the best smells of the season. In Christmas' passed, folks used to bring in fresh evergreen boughs and decorate it with dried oranges and cinnamon sticks. And of course, there is all the holiday baking that will be waifing through the air. If you still want something a little extra then give these homemade wax tarts a try.

Wax tarts are great because not only do you get to control what goes in to them but they are also incredibly easy to make and quicker than making candles. I used beeswax but you could also use soy or vegetable wax as well. You can find these waxes online at Mountain Rose Herbs or in local craft stores.

You will need:

  • 1 cup of wax (bee, soy or vegetable)
  • 30 drops sweet orange essential oil
  • 25 drops cinnamon bark essential oil
  • 25 drops juniper essential oil
Supplies :

  • container to melt the wax in (Pyrex glass measuring cup, old/clean tin can or ball jar)
  • pan large enough to hold the wax container
  • silicone baking cup molds

Start by making a water bath: fill the pan with an inch or two of water and place the container with all the wax inside of it. Turn the burner on medium-low heat. Stirring occasionally, heat wax until it is completely melted. Take out of the water bath and let cool for five minutes before adding the essential oils.

Some of the wax may harden after the five minutes- just scrape down the sides and stir until it is reincorporated. If it doesn't remelt then stick the container back into the hot water (leave the burner off) to help things along. Add in all the essential oils and stir. Quickly pour into the silicone molds. Let cool and harden for one hour. This recipe will make 5 to 6 wax tarts.

Mountain Rose Herbs also has beeswax votive candles. Please never leave a burning candle unattended- especially with children and pets.

                                        Place the wax tart in your candle diffuser and enjoy!

Linked with the Simply Natural Saturdays series