Saturday, November 30, 2013

Christmas Traditions: Advent Tree

In our home, we try to bring the meaning of advent into our daily lives.  My favorite tradition is our Advent Tree (aka "Presents for Jesus").  This was inspired by a lenten cross my mother would put up every lent with a bowl of stickers next to it. The idea behind this is that when one of the children does something that is kind for someone else, is helpful, or makes a sacrifice for others - these are the presents that Jesus wants.  So, when they do these things, they get to take a "present" and place it under the "tree" or put an ornament on the tree.  The goal is to have as many presents under the tree and as many ornaments on the tree as possible - inspiring and rewarding selfless acts.

I made the tree out of Kraft Paper.  I just painted it with some leftover paint I had from another project.  This was a fun project for my then 5-yo to help.  I stapled it to our CORK DISPLAY BOARD, but you could just as easily tape one to the wall.

I love that this Advent Tree not only has a significant teaching and religious aspect to it, but it also makes a high impact eco-friendly decoration for the Christmas Season.  Everything can either be recycled or saved for next year's use.

You can make your own Advent Tree.  

How about you?  Do you have any Advent traditions that you love?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Cornucopia Bulletin Board

My husband built me this wonderful bulletin board next to our kitchen table.

It is just some chair rail framed around some cork panels.  We use it to display our children's art work that they bring home from school.

During the holiday seasons, however, we like to dress it up a bit.  So, I got out my trusty roll of kraft paper and some paint.

The boys came up with fruits and vegetables and I free-handed them onto the paper for them to paint.

Sometimes it is hard to get this quality time together.  This time is what I was feeling most thankful for.

Look at all those amazing fruits and vegetables!

Meanwhile,  I painted the cornucopia.

A few snips and staples later we have a bulletin board cornucopia.  We can take it down and reuse for next year, too!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

ReCre8 a Shoe Organizer into Yarn Storage

If you are a knitter or crocheter, you may appreciate this.  I needed some good storage for my yarn in the guest room.  It had to be easy-to-find what I am looking for and aesthetically appealing.  These hanging shoe organizers TOTALLY fit the bill.

Friday, March 25, 2011

ReCre8 Fabric Scraps: Stuffed Turtle

I have one little boy in my life who always has a creative project idea for me.    Some of them are not practical (such as a giant remote control gorilla).  So, when he asks me for a soft stuffed turtle, I can say "yes"!  I loved making this little fabric-scrap turtle for my son.  When you make a one-of-a-kind gift for a child, the payoff makes it totally worth it.

  • A piece of thin cardboard
  • One piece of scrap fabric for the body.
  • One piece of scrap fabric for the shell.
  • One scrap of batting.
  • Thread to match
  • Embroidery thread
  • Stuffing
    1. You start by cutting out templates from a piece of scrap cardboard.  You can just free-hand it or you can use this image as a template.
      Here is what some of the template will look like.

    2. Double your scrap fabric for the turtle body.  Arrange the body template pieces (see picture below). Trace around them with a pencil or pen.  

    3. Double the fabric for the shell. Trace around the shell template.
    4. Trace the shell template onto your piece of batting.
    5. Cut the shell fabric and the body fabric leaving a 1/4" seam allowance.
    6. Cut the shell batting with no seam allowance.
    7. At this point you should have 2 pieces of fabric for body, 2 pieces of fabric for shell, 1 piece of batting for the shell stuffing.
    8. Assemble the Shell
      • Place fabric with right side facing each other.  Using your sewing machine, sew around the shell with a 1/4" seam leaving a 2" opening.Stuff the batting into the shell and then hand-stitch the opening.
      • Stitch the shell in spiral or desired pattern to give it a quilted effect.
      • OPTIONAL: Using a backstitch with embroidery thread, make a design in the
    9. Assemble the body
      • Sew around the body with a 1/4" seam leaving a 1" opening.
      • Stuff the body with stuffing and then hand stitch the opening.
    10. Tack the shell to the body at four or 5 points around the turtle.
    11. OPTIONAL: Embroider on a face or a smile.

    Enjoy your stuffed turtle!!

    Little Boy Clutching Beloved Little Turtle

    Bringing joy to my little boy with a few left over scraps of fabric? That is a finer thing.

    This post is a contribution to Finer Things Friday at Amy's The Finer Things in Life.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    ReCre8 Old T-Shirt Projects: Memory Pillows (Epsiode 1)

    So, this is my "5 minute" attempt at creating a t-shirt pillow.  I had this 12x12 pillow form sitting in the craft closet, so I thought I could throw together a pillow case for my 7-yo with his old T-Ball t-shirt.

    I didn't want to mess with fusing and such, so I dealt with reinforcing the t-shirt material by using squares of an old sheet to sew underneath them.


    • 2 13x13 squares of old sheet or similar cotton fabric
    • 1 t-shirt
    • 1 12x12 pillow form
    • Sheers
    • Sewing Machine
    1. Pin the 13x13 square of fabric to the front of the t-shirt, taking care to place any graphics in an appealing place.
    2. Cut around the 13x13 square.
    3. Repeat for the back of the t-shirt.
    4. Layer your squares with the t-shirts pieces sanwiched inside the cotton fabric.  (the part you want to show should be facing each other in the middle.
    5. Using your machine, sew around the edges leaving a 1/2" seam.  Leave a 5" opening for stuffing the pillow form in.
    6. Turn the pillow form right side out.
    7. Stuff your pillow form into the pillow case.
    8. Hand stitch up the seam.  (Here is where I tried to take a short cut and use the sewing machine.  You can see from the picture that it does not look pretty!  I don't recommend it!)
    9. Ta-Da! now you have a soft comfy pillow.

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    2010 Garden Reflections

    I am just giddy as I start to think about what my 2011 garden will look like! On these cold, winter days I like to sit and fantasize about all those fresh veggies and herbs growing just outside my door. But, as not to repeat gardening sins of the past, I first need to reflect on lessons learned from the 2010 garden.

    Since I was on a blogging break in 2010, I never did share my 2010 garden plan. I was attempting Square Foot Gardening, and I found Microsoft Excel very helpful to plan out how I would plant. I found this to be very useful to manage my time and also this made it very easy to adjust as reality interfered with my original vision. 

    Here is a view of the whole garden.  There are 6 smaller beds (2'x5' and 2'x6').  Then there is a larger berry patch (4'x10') and an additional bed (4'x9').  Each cell in Excel represents 1 4"x4" square in the garden.

    This is the blow-up of what I consider the main garden beds.  This was the original size of the garden.

    Here is the berry patch and the potato trash can.  I had anticipating getting the berry patch all set in 2010, but as it turned out, I didn't get the plants in until the fall.

    Finally, this is the large bed.  In 2011, I use this for squashes and melons.

    So, what did I learn in 2010?  So much!
    1. I need deer protection!  In the smaller garden area we didn't have a problem with deer - I think this might have been because the space was too small to jump into.  In our larger garden area this year, the deer just helped themselves on a daily basis.  They ate squash blossoms, whole tomato plants, lettuce, and parsley.  This year, I need to have a proactive solution for keeping the deer OUT!  Any suggestions?
    2. Aggressive de-bugging works.  I made finding aphids into a game for my boys.  They would come out there with me early in the season to gently look under the leaves playing "who can find the most aphids".  Then I could just smush them before they could do much damage.  This allowed my broccoli to mature beautifully for the first time providing both a spring and fall harvest!
    3. Garlic really needs to be planted in the fall to mature properly in my area.  So, this time, I have already planted tons of garlic.  I really hope it does well.
    4. I need to fungicide the pear tree.  We have a mature pear tree in our back yard.  We have seen some years with nothing and some years with a wonderful harvest.  I have noticed for the past 2 years how the leaves all get black dots underneath them and fall off.  With no more source of fuel, the immature fruits fall off.  After talking to some local farmers, I learned that my problem is fungus.  Apparently it is nearly impossible to grow pears in this humid mid-atlantic climate without using some fungicide.So, now I have to research the most eco-friendly fungicide.
    5. Prepare beds for the winter - it will make the spring much easier!  In 2010, it was a big pain to de-weed my beds in preparation for planting.  This year, I prepared (mostly) in the fall and covered the beds with a bunch of oak leaves.  I hope this will leave me in better shape come March.
    OK, there are a lot more lessons learned, but this post is getting too long.  Dreaming of gardens past in present is definitely a finer thing in life. This post is a contribution to Finer Things Friday at Amy's The Finer Things in Life.

    I would love to hear what you have learned in your 2010 gardening experience... 

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011

    Cre8-ing Electricity: Results from 1.5 years of Solar

    So far, I've shared how we decided to invest in a Photovoltaic Solar System and how the installation went.  Many people ask me how the system is performing and how it affects us on a day-to-day basis.  Let me start with the easy stuff...

    How Does Solar Affect Us on a Day-to-Day Basis?
    Not at all.  In fact, we could just forget about this until our electric bill comes and it is lower than expected (if I didn't obsessively check the performance on a daily basis).  In our installation, the solar panels are only visible from the back yard, so we don't even look a them.  There is no change to the way the electric system works within our house.

    How Did We Prepare (Reducing Electricity Usage)?
    Before we went ahead and invested in this system, we took many steps to reduce the electric usage in our home.  Some of the biggest impact items were: using a programmable thermostat to lower the usage of AC/Heat Pump, add weather stripping, and lower the temperature on our hot water heater.  Some other items are:
    • put vampire energy hogs (such s the cable box) on a timer, 
    • not using dry cycle on dishwasher, 
    • switch to CF/LED lighting
    • and washing clothes in cool water.

    How Much Do We Produce?
    Yeah, this is where I get to show my graph.  I am a geek for Excel!  There is a lot of information in this graph.  The bars represent our total electric usage each month.  The "green" section of the bar shows the amount each month that our solar generates.  The "red" section of the bar shows the amount of electricity that we use from BGE.  The line on the graph shows the percentage of our total usage that comes from solar each month.

    What Affects Production the Most?
    The biggest barrier to production is 2 feet of snow covering the panels!  In fact, the only times we have had zero production is when the panels are covered with snow.  The other factors that affect this are the season (number of hours of daylight), how cloudy the sky is, and the temperature (solar panels are more efficient in cool weather rather than in very hot weather). 
    What Percent of Our Electric Usage Comes From Solar?
    Here's another (far more simplistic) graph.  BGE is our electric company.  We have no gas in our area, so all of our heating and cooking needs are met by electric.  To date, about 46% of our electric usage comes form our solar system.  When we first looked into this, I was very set on having a system that provided 100% of our needs.  After evaluating the investment, it was just not feasible for us.  Also, there was not enough room on our roof to support this.  If you look at the first graph, you can see how this percentage varies over time.  In the spring and early summer, almost all of our energy can be supplied by solar.  In the winter, it is a very small percentage.  This is not just because we generate less electricity in the winter, but because we tend to use the heat in the winter a lot more than we use the AC in the summer.

    What Kinds of Issues Have We Had?
    I hate to say this, because I don't want to jinx it, but we have not had any issues so far.  I am hoping that keeps up because maintenance expenses would really delay our return on investment (ROI) timeline.

    What is the Return on Investment (ROI)?
    Based on the tax incentives we have seen so far and based on what we can expect to save in electiricity costs in the future, our system should pay itself off by 2015.  We should break even within 5.5 years.  After that point, all that annual savings  is just money in our pocket (or in 529 plans as the case may be).  I was willing to pursue this with a 10 year ROI, so I am very pleased that it looks like it will come in under 6 years.

    How Has This Changed Our Electric Usage?
    I was really hoping that once we had the system installed we would continue to cut our electric usage (motivated by the desire to see that meter run backwards).  Unfortunately, this has not been the case.  Our usage has  been creeping upwards.  With only 1.5 years of data to look at, it is hard to say if this is because of the extreme weather we have been having (extremely hot and extremely cold) or just because we have become lethargic about reducing our usage.  Time and data will tell!