Make a $40 wreath for $5.00

I have lamented the high price of fake flower wreaths in a previous post.  I like having a seasonal accent on the front of the house, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay as much for it as I would for a date night dinner at the local Greek-Italian pasta house.  If have fifty bucks to spare you can bet I’m opting for dim lighting, all-you-can-eat garlic bread, and a trough of Alfredo over a sprig of plastic cheer.

But today was my lucky day.  I was in the neighborhood so I dropped in at Jo-Ann to see if they had anything that wasn’t laughable in the clearance bin.  Fall stuff is moving in (and at Jo-Ann fall means Halloween, which takes over half the store) so spring and summer stuff is getting shunted off to the land of cut-throat price reduction.  In and amongst the fluorescent peonies, washed-out miniature daffodils, and psychedelic gerbera daisies I chanced upon thee bunches of really good looking red geraniums.  Score!  I have a big basket of real red geraniums hanging from the eave, so this was fitting.  Also, they were marked down from $5.99 a bunch to $1.49 a bunch.  Even better.

To make the bunches into a wreath my first move was to cut them apart into their various parts.  I snipped the bunches just above the point at which all the stems were fused into one ugly plastic knob.

Here’s all bits that went into one bunch. These were nice, full, bushy bunches, which made them ideal for my project.

After they were all taken apart I wired the bits back together like a garland by wrapping around the stems with fine gauge wire.

And then joined the ends of the garland by overlapping them and wrapping a whole lot more.  Since all my stems were also wired I didn’t need any additional reinforcement (like a grapevine wreath or a circle of thicker gauge wire).

Ta da!  (Or should I say DING!  I now have four wreaths, one for each season, which by my own twisted logic makes me an adult.)

As always, please ignore the bird poop.  I just washed it off over the weekend and couldn’t be bothered to do it again for the photo.
The end result is virtually indistinguishable from the geranium wreath Jo-Ann was selling in April for $39.99.  Except that mine actually has more flowers.  (Neener neener ha ha.)
— Amanda


Hold it

I have failed Selfie 101.  For starters, I should have taken a picture yesterday when I was all fluffy and voluminous.  But I think you can almost make out (through the blurriness) how shiny and almost-curly my hair is.  This is dry, crunchy hair, before finger-combing through the initial gel stiffness.
What appears to be a rogue curl sticking out of my temple is in fact the camera strap dangling down from my raised arm.  For those of you who are wondering: yes, I dye my hair.  Religiously.  I’m going gray at warp factor ten.  The crew have abandoned the ship and the disembodied voice of Majel Barrett-Roddenberry is calmly counting down the self destruct sequence.

I have changed my hair gel!  This is big news because I make my own.  For the last three years or so I have used plain, unflavored gelatine as my “sculpting product” but I have recently made the switch to flax seed gel. It needs to be kept in the fridge between uses (truthfully, I should have kept my gelatine gel in there, too, but I didn’t).  It’s not any more time-consuming or expensive to make the flax seed gel and it, like the gelatine, does not have any noticeable smell on its own.  But best of all is that when I really gob it on it works just like the storebought stuff in the plastic tube, but without flaking.  Plus, the omega-3 fatty acids in flax seeds really and truly is good for your hair and skin, whereas the long-held idea that gelatine is good for hair and nails turns out to have been a marketing ploy that dates back to the era before enforceable truth in advertising laws.

Here’s how I made a week’s worth of flax seed gel:

Combine 1 tablespoon whole flax seeds and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat.  stir constantly (to keep the seeds from permanently adhering themselves to your pan) for about five minutes or until the water begins to thicken and the spoon leaves a “comet trail” of froth (like the stuff that forms on top of your fruit when you make jam or jelly).  Promptly pour the stuff through cheesecloth and squeeze to extract all the gel.  Don’t wait too long or the stuff turns into Flubber and you can’t sieve the seeds out.  Store in the fridge between applications.

Here’s the warning: the texture of the finished product is pretty gross.  Very mucous-y.  Exceptionally snot-like.  It doesn’t bother me, but if, like someone with whom I cohabitate, you are very sensitive to heinous textures, you might not want to attempt this.

— Amanda

Growing celery from . . . celery

We use a lot of celery.  I use the leafy bits in stock and the stems in a fine dice in some of my favorite dishes, like Coq à la Bière and osso buco.  We also like in on our salads.  But we don’t often need large pieces, which makes this method of growing “free” celery in the kitchen window great for us, because it apparently doesn’t yield the thick, robust stems outdoor celery does — the kind that lend themselves to slathering in peanut butter.  I think, though, that this plant will eventually put out growth that we could harvest for crudités.

I got this idea from Pinterest.  Specifically, from this post on 17 Apart.

Here’s my celery “butt” after a week or two in plain water in the kitchen window:

And here it is planted in compost in a “new” pot from the thrift store:

Come summer I might move it outside.

— Amanda

Restyle: relining a coat

This is among the best of all my thrift store scores.  I took this awful beast:

Oh my gawd!

And transformed it into this sweet thing:

Outside . . .
. . . inside!

I followed the wonderfully simple instructions on CraftStylish, which I found on Pinterest.

Problem numero uno wasn’t even the shredded, tissue paper-like lining.  It was the smell.  Most items that come from the thrift store smell like Gain laundry detergent, and continue to do so for a wash or two.  No biggie since the smell is not offensive and I am not allergic to artificial fragrances.  This thing, though — P.U.!  From a distance it wasn’t bad at all.  It smelled like perfume, but it smelled like a nice perfume.  Something my aunt Toni used to wear, in fact.  But when I got it into an enclosed space (my car) I realized just how strong the smell was.  It wasn’t like someone had a heavy hand with the atomizer.  It was like someone had emptied an entire bottle of perfume into the bathtub and then rolled in it like a dog.

I tried everything.  I started small: I washed it normally and hung it to dry.  No change.  I washed it with heavy duty scented detergent.  No change.  I doused it with a vodka and water mixture recommended by theater actors.  No change.  I soaked it in, and then washed it in, baking soda and water and rinsed with vinegar and water.  No change.  I hung it outside for a week.  No change.  After three more soak-and-washes with regular detergent and another time-out on the laundry line it was down to a manageable level.

But now I had made it pill like a poodle.

My sweater shaver, one of those cheap models from the fabric store gave up after about half a sleeve.  I threw it out and ordered a Sweater Stone.  Let me say this about the vaunted Sweater Stone: 1) It works. It works well. 2) It smells like sulfur.  3) It makes an incredible mess.

Before Sweater Stone.
After Sweater Stone.
The Sweater Stone and the mess it creates.  (This after just a few strokes.) Also shown is one of my favorite clothing care tools: a rubber lint brush that removes any loose stuff, like shaved pills or sawdust or pet hair, and rinses clean.

At that point I could finally start the lining replacement procedure.  I removed the existing lining, ironed it flat, and taped up the zillions of tears.  Someone had already replaced the sleeves with some sturdy brown ripstop nylon so I left those alone and just whipstitched them to the new body lining.  I used the old lining as a pattern for the new lining, which I cut out of metallic gold synthetic brocade.  Installing the lining was much easier than I anticipated.  Even getting all that wool and slippery brocade through the sewing machine wasn’t too hard.  Hemming the lining was a bitch for some reason, but I got it to work well enough in the end and I even learned how to do French tacks.

Now I just need to replace the buttons.  (It’s missing one and they’re kind of ugly and dated.  Also, I just like replacing buttons.)

This project was a definite success: my five dollar thrift store score now looks like a several hundred dollar off-the-rack coat and I gained some serious sewing confidence.  I look forward to repeating this experiment with other coats and jackets — maybe even some of the unlined ones in my existing wardrobe!

Another great tutorial on lining coats, this one bag-style, can be found on Grainline Studio.

— Amanda

Ugly veggies make beautiful stock

On the stove as I type: former-rotisserie chicken stock with veggie trimmings as mirepoix.

I have waxed poetic about homemade chicken stock on this blog before, but I’ll do it again.  Homemade stock, whether meaty or not, is one of the pinnacles of frugal cooking.  It’s one of the instances where you can truly say that the homemade version is superior to the storebought stuff — and cheaper, too.  Extra bonus: makes your house smell divine.

When I started making chicken stock I used a picked-over rotisserie chicken carcass.  Then I progressed to freezing these carcasses (since I haven’t always got a need for a whole chicken).  Same goes for when I was raising my own backyard broiler/fryers.  When pigs came onto the scene I started squirreling away those bones, too.  (Wow, that would be one freaky squirrel . . .)  Pork stock is fantastic in minestrone.  My favorite is Jamie Oliver’s early autumn minestrone.

And then it finally dawned on me: if my bones and meat need not be daisy-fresh and purchased strictly for this purpose then why was I sacrificing pristine garden veggies (and, in the case of celery, store-bought) for stock?


Tomato trimmings in my freezer.

So now I keep a few resealable baggies in the freezer for onion tops, wilted celery, carrot ends, and the like.  When it’s time to make stock they go in the pot with the carcass — no trimming required.  Don’t kid yourself, these are ugly veggies: they were limp when they went in the freezer and totally boneless when they came out.  They’re discolored by being frozen without being blanched first.  But, as long as they were actually edible (not in any way rotten) when they went into the freezer then they are perfectly suited to flavoring your stock.  They should smell tasty.  They should still offer resistance when you cut them.  (Thawed, that is.  Anything will offer resistance if you cut it when its frozen.)

Further down this road are other, less common stocks and soups.  Two soups I haven’t yet made myself but am stocking up for (hah!) are mushroom and tomato.  I have a gallon bag of tomato ends that is beginning to bulge.  Soon I will thaw it, dump it in a crock pot, simmer forever and a day, add cream and seasonings, and voila: the perfect autumn accompaniment to a grilled cheese sandwich.  Ditto for mushrooms: rather than cutting off the ends when I make our daily dinner salads I pull the whole stem out.  I’m going to start a baggie in the freezer for them, too.  I can’t wait to start the great hunt for recipes to use mushroom stock in.  (I plan to use this recipe for the stock, BTW.)  Pho comes to mind.  Gravy.  Risotto.  I’ve heard you can use stock in making biscuits, too.  Ooh — mushroom stock biscuits on top of a pot pie with homemade chicken stock in it . . .

Excuse me, I have to get a napkin for all this drool.

— Amanda

Homemade glass cleaner

Yesterday I tried Crunchy Betty’s “Alvin Corn” glass cleaner (ALcohol+VINegar+CORNstarch).  I used vodka in place of the rubbing alcohol because, strangely, I have vodka, poitín, Everclear, and moonshine on hand, but not Isopropyl alcohol. I’m pretty sure our little-used liquor cabinet violates some sort of hazardous materials storage guideline.

Ramblings aside, I highly recommend the glass cleaner.  Works like a charm, doesn’t stink like the blue stuff, costs pennies, and you can put it in a sprayer you already have instead of buying another one.

— Amanda

Rag and bone mini notebooks

I folded over a page so that you can see the used backside of my paper.  That was really Wednesday’s to do list.

I cannot be without a scrap of paper and a writing instrument.  In my brain, ideas have a super-short lifespan. Also, every one of them seems irrefutably brilliant at the moment that they occur to me.  If I don’t write it down it will be lost forever (or until my next shower, when I’m truly unable to write) and until I see what I’ve written I don’t know whether it’s the seed of the next great American novel or my ninth self-reminder of the day to update my reading list on Tumblr.

At the thrift store and the bargain grocery store, mini notebooks (the 3″ x 5″ spiral bound kind) are usually $0.50 to $1.00.  This was perfectly OK by me.  But then I ran across this spiffy idea on a blog called The Creative Place (by way of an equally cute and clever tumblog called Scissors and Thread).  Wait, so, using stuff I have laying around the house I can make cute mini notebooks?  For free?  Ow, ow, my arm!  Quit twisting my arm!

Admittedly this may not be a rag and bone* project for everyone.  Perhaps just me.  I have a half case of used paper that I’ve been toting around since . . . oh, 2000?  Every useless fax confirmation sheet and accidental print and copy I found at the office — so long as it didn’t have someone’s personal information on it — went into this box.  For over a decade I have been sketching on this stuff, drawing maps on it, sketching out mad ideas and project plans, and cutting it down to fit in my grocery store list pad on the fridge.  It’s still 2/3 full.  (A half case, for those of you who aren’t fluent in Office Supply-eese, is 2,500 sheets.)

The directions from The Creative Place call for the pads to be 3″ x 4.25″ inches.  I’m not sure why.  Standard pads are 3″ x 5″.  The size made was 2.75″ x 4.25″ because if you cut one letter size (8.5″ x 11″) sheet of paper into 8 pieces.  For the pretty spine paper you could use wrapping paper, plain kraft paper (or grocery or lunch sacks), magazine cutouts, or scrapbooking paper.  I used old wallpaper because I have two rolls of the stuff languishing in the back room.  I wouldn’t hang wallpaper again except as retribution against mine enemies and the stuff is neither recyclable nor compostable** so I use it up in craft projects (and as drawer liners).

My sewing machine needed a little help to get through fifteen sheets of #20 paper, plus a scrap of tagboard (cut from a cereal box) and the wallpaper, but it managed well enough.  I don’t know how the original poster magically kept her thread from unraveling but I backed over mine a few times just like I was sewing fabric.

And there we have it: one more item I don’t have to buy.

— Amanda

*Made out of leftovers or waste.

** I only checked one source, but here it is.