Tag Archives: environment

How to Host a “New-to-You” Gift Swap

Some of you might be saying, “The holidays?  Already?  Isn’t it too early for that?”   I’ll admit that I don’t like hearing Christmas carols in the grocery store in October or walking past rows of Christmas trees before the leaves have even fallen from the trees outside, but if you are thinking about planning holiday events and parties – now is the time to begin.

 And this is one of my favourites. 

 What is a “New-To-You Gift Swap?”

It is similar to the standard office party/large group gift exchange, where everyone brings a gift to the event, and everyone takes a different gift home.  The big difference is that the gift you bring is something you already own. 

What types of items do people bring to a new-to-you exchange?

It could be that beautiful Christmas ornament that you just never put out, or that scarf you were given that you never wear because it doesn’t match your coat, or that game you thought you’d love but your family never plays.  It’s something that you don’t use anymore, but you think someone else might love.  This leads to a whole lot of variety, and a whole lot of fun.  One year one of the party-goers in my group of friends wrapped up a tacky Christmas sweater as her contribution to the exchange.  What a laugh we had when that gift was opened!  It was quickly followed with a photo shoot of the recipient modeling the “beautiful” sweater.  It was such fun that it has become a tradition and there always seems to be a festive sweater hidden in the pile each year (and with the popularity of “ugly sweater” parties, it has actually become a very useful gift!)  J   Of course, if you only want pretty things or useful things at your party, you can just say so in your invite.   

Why bother?  Why not just buy something new?

In my group of friends, the gift exchange started as a way to share the joy of gift giving with each other, without having to add another item to our long “to buy” lists.  For those of us concerned about the environment, it is a way to reuse and recycle and lesson the “consumer” aspect of the holiday season.  But most of all – it’s fun!  The selection of gifts is always varied and it’s exciting to see what items will appear in the gift exchange each year. 

How do you decide who gets what gift?

This is the fun part!  We play a game commonly called a “Yankee Swap” around here.  (I have no idea how it got that name.)  You can find the rules here.  It’s the swapping and exchanging part of this gift-giving game that makes it so enjoyable – and it’s always interesting to see which gifts are the most popular and most often swapped.  There are other ways you could hand out gifts, of course.  But adding a game aspect adds to the excitement. 

What would I write in an invitation?

On top of the usual “what, where, when” here are some things you might include:

You are invited to a “New-to-You Gift Swap” – a gift exchange party without the stress of buying a gift!

As part of this evening of fun and giving, each person will give a gift, and go home with a different gift.  The only rule is – the gift must be something you already own.  Maybe it’s something you have, but never use.  Or something you love, but don’t need anymore. It doesn’t matter what the item is, as long as it is something that can be used by someone else.  The variety of gifts is half the fun!  Don’t forget to wrap it up!

Take it a step further

Are you loving the swap idea?  Here are a few ideas to take it a notch further:

  • Have a tacky swap party.  If laughs are more important than the gift, have everyone search their houses for the tackiest thing they can find and wrap that up!  This might be a great accompaniment to one of those “ugly sweater” parties!
  • With a really close group of friends you could go in the other direction and have everyone bring something they own that they really love.  This is the true spirit of giving, isn’t it?  Giving things that are important to us to those we love!
  • If you really want to make this an earth-friendly party, you could also encourage reusable wrapping for your exchange gifts.

Time to Party!

Does anyone else host these types of parties or plan to hold one this year?  Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!

 I was inspired to write this post after “meeting” Amy from  Joy to the Earth.  Her plan for a more joy-filled, less commercial Christmas really resonated with me.  It reminds me of the story of the Grinch - where Christmas came to Whoville even without the presents, the decorations, the roast beast.  That’s the holiday I am celebrating this year – the one that makes us sing for joy no matter what is lying beneath the tree!  Happy party planning!

Thankful for Beauty

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my Canadian friends and readers!  After a bout of cold weather here (and even a little snow!) we have been blessed with a weekend of summer weather.  I am enjoying the beautiful warm breeze blowing through the window right now and know I will be out in the garden later today, harvesting herbs and cleaning out some spent plants.

On this week-end of thanksgiving, I am so thankful for the beauty that surrounds us.  I am continually awed and inspired by the landscape  here – the rivers, the trees, the hills, the valleys.  How blessed we are to be able to hop into our canoe and enjoy views such as these.

Enjoying it all with the people I love makes it even better. 

What are you thankful for today?

Quick and Easy Fabric Magnets

I like to keep a magnetic pad of paper on the fridge for recording grocery items we need to buy.  This makes it easy to write down what we need, as we run out of it.  Otherwise I am bound to forget on grocery day just what it is we ran out of during the week. 

Unfortunately, I do not have much luck with magnetic pads.  In many cases the magnets stick to the fridge, but the paper doesn’t, pulling right off the magnetic back, so I have a whole collection of pads of paper and their corresponding magnetic backs, but still nothing on my fridge. 

This past year the problem was temporarily solved with a snowman paper pad I was given at Christmas that stuck perfectly.   The only downside to this was that Hubby, who does most of the grocery shopping, did not like walking through the store in mid-summer with a large piece of red-hatted snowman paper.  Unfortunately for him, I wasn’t about to give up a pad that worked so he suffered through (dear man.)

But I used the last snowman today.  :(

I also make more than one list as there are several places that we shop for food so I am constantly adding new pieces of paper to the fridge with the plain black magnets torn from the back of our useless paper pads.  Functional, but not pretty.

Looking at the pile of magnets and un-sticky paper pads this morning gave me an idea.  I set about reusing the magnets to make labelled paper holders for the fridge.  Check it out!

Now I have a list for everything, and no more papers falling off the fridge!

Here’s how I made them.

I began by tearing the cardboard backs from the useless pads of paper off of the magnets.

I then raided the scrap bin for fabric that coordinated with the kitchen.  This would also be a good project for scrapbook paper scraps, but I thought of the fabric first.

I then found some Mod Podge, a foam brush, a piece of fun foam leftover from a school project (although this would also be a good project for reusing cardboard), and a glue gun. 

The foam pieces were cut so they were just a little bigger than the biggest magnet.  Even though the magnets differed in size, I wanted the finished magnets to all be the same. 

I then cut the fabric scraps to be a bit bigger than the foam pieces. 

I used the Mod Podge to glue the fabric to the foam, wrapping it like a present to keep the corners neat. 

I used a glue gun to glue the magnet to the back of the magnet, covering the folded edges of the fabric.  (Handy Hint: make sure you glue the magnet magnetic-side up, instead of upside-down like I did….)

While the magnets were drying, I went down to the computer and printed off the names of the different lists in a pretty font.  If I had return-address sized labels I think they would have fit perfectly, but since I didn’t I used the shipping labels I already had and just cut them apart. 

I then stuck the labels to the front of the magnets and put them on the fridge. An easy way to use what I already had and be a little more organized.

And Hubby will be happy that he doesn’t have to take a snowman to the grocery store anymore!  :)

Pattern Rescue – A great Idea!

When I was doing a Google search for something completely different, I discovered this amazing sewing website (don’t you love it when that happens?)

It’s called Pattern Rescue, and it is a place where they collect, complete, trade, and give away vintage sewing patterns. 

Have a pattern that is missing pieces – they will find the pieces for you.  Have old patterns you don’t want anymore – trade them in for something different.  Inherited a huge stash of patterns you won’t use – donate them and leave a tribute to your loved one.

Check it out!  http://www.patternrescue.com/

Homemade “Green” Cleaning for Earth Day and Every Day!

Happy Earth day!  I have had it in my mind for a while that I would like to do a post on making your own cleaners, and what better day to do it than on a day when we celebrate all the ways we can take better care of our Earth?

Some of the things I love about making my own cleaners is that my house doesn’t smell like chemicals, I don’t have to deal with bottles of stuff with warnings like “use in a well-ventilated area” or “may cause irritation if it comes in contact with skin,”  and they’re cheap and easy to make!   It’s a great way to save money, save the earth, and preserve your health, all at the same time!   What more could you ask from a household cleaner??

There are really only two main ingredients in my cleaning cupboard and they are vinegar and baking soda.  With those two items I can clean almost everything in the house (and I always have the ingredients on hand to create “erupting volcanoes”  a fun science trick that never ceases to please the little ones in my life). 

 Plain vinegar is great for removing water stains from toilets (pour some in and soak overnight) and as a fabric softener in the laundry.  It is also the main ingredient in two of my favourite cleaners.   And don’t forget to save the empty bottles for making your own laundry soap!

Window and Glass Cleaner  Combine 1 part water to 1 part vinegar in a spray bottle.  Spray the surface and wipe with newsprint.  The trick to getting a streak-free shine is to continue to use dry pieces of paper (once the newsprint is saturated it will streak).  I just keep folding the paper over on itself as I go to keep it from getting too wet. 

All-Purpose Cleaner  Combine 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water in a spray bottle.  Add 20 or 30 drops of eucalyptus oil.  You could probably also use tea tree oil.  I use this for general cleaning and disinfecting (counter tops, sink handles, light switches, door handles, toilets, the telephone, etc).  I also use it with my Mr. Clean wet mop – when the cleaner that came with it ran out I just filled the bottle up with this instead and it works great!

Plain baking soda is great for scrubbing and scouring!  I use it to clean sinks, tubs, toilets, the oven top and the fridge (it’s great for getting finger marks off the handles.)  Simply sprinkle on, add a few drops of water, and scrub away with a cleaning cloth.   Use steel wool instead of a cloth and you’ve got a fantastic oven cleaner (without the noxious fumes).

Hubby thought of the idea of putting it in a jar with holes on top.  I used to use the “reach into the bag and pull out a handful” method but this is much neater!

Salt is also a great cleaner and can really shine up a kitchen sink!  I will also sometimes use a half a lemon to freshen things up too!

While we are talking about cleaners I should mention that I do not have paper towels in my house.  (Correction, hubby has some which he hides away somewhere for his use only but I think in the whole 5 years we have been married he has only had to purchase them once or twice).   Growing up with paper towels I didn’t really know what to do without them at first, but now I can’t remember what it is that I used to use them for!   Instead of paper we bought a large pile of dishcloths that are used for cleaning only (they are a completely different kind and colour than the ones we use for dishes) and they are used for all sorts of household messes and tidy-up jobs. 

These are my dusting cloths.  The red pieces on top were cut from an old sweater and I have to say they are the best dust cloths I have ever owned (Swiffer would be jealous).   I’m not sure what the sweater is made of (it’s definitely not wool) but if I ever see another one like it in a thrift store it’s mine!  The cloth underneath is flannel (actually a piece of one of my baby blankets if you can believe it – that cloth is 31 years old and still in use!) which also works well for dusting and cleaning.

I will leave you with this photo which I took for hubby as a joke one day: 

What I wish would happen when I leave the house each day...

If you have any “green” cleaning tips or other recipes for simple homemade cleaners, I’d love to hear them!

Earth Day Books

I am a guest poster on Playing by the Book today as part of their “Fantastic Fiction for Kids” series.   In honour of Earth Day (tomorrow) I share a selection of my favourite environmental education stories.  Check out my post, and then be sure to check out some of Zoe’s other posts for reviews of some great children’s books and  creative and inspiring activities for kids.

Making Laundry Soap & Fabric Softener

I guess with a blog called “Laundry on the Line” it is about time I posted about laundry. 

A few years ago I was taking a First Aid class and over lunch the instructor and I were discussing chemical intolerances.  When I mentioned that I couldn’t stand walking down the detergent/cleaner isle of the grocery store because the smell alone gave me a headache,  she mentioned that she made her own laundry soap.  I had no idea this was even possible!  (So much has changed in a few years, I make all of my own cleaners now.) 

She quickly wrote out the recipe for liquid laundry soap from memory and I have used that same recipe ever since.  There were a few times when I have come across other recipes, some liquid, some dry, and I have tried them out, but this one, for me, has always been the best.

We have really dirty clothes at our house.  Hubby regularly visits old buildings, derelect attics and flooded basements, has been known to tramp through large pipes, gather muck and dirt at construction sites and tramp through muddy forests that will one day be subdivisions.  Our house is a zone for gardening, landscaping and renovation proects. We play hard and sweat a lot.  Despite it all, our clothes come out fresh and clean.  For a fraction of the cost of store-bought detergent.  Without the headache-inducing trip through the overly-perfumed laundry isle at the grocery store.

Convinced?  Want to try it?  Here is how to make your own liquid laundry soap.

Ingredients:  You will need a bar of soap (Sunlight bar soap works really well for this, I have tried some other soaps with poor results, although I would still prefer something less scented), washing soda (not to be confused with baking soda) borax, and water.

 Tools – you need a grater, a large pot, a spoon (I wouldn’t use a wooden spoon for this unless you are going to designate it as a “soap only” spoon) a 2 gallon bucket, a funnel (you can make your own from a pop bottle), and some containers to put the finished soap in (any empty jugs will do – I use two vinegar jugs and a couple of dish detergent bottles).

Step 1 – grate 1/3 of the bar of soap

Step 2  Pour 6 cups of water into large pot on the stove.  Add soap and stir over low heat until the soap has dissolved.

Step 3  Add 1/2 cup of borax and 1/2 cup washing soda.  Stir until thick. Remove from heat.

Step 4  Add 4 cups of hot water to the bucket.  Pour in your soap mixture and stir until combined.

Step 5  Fill bucket with cold water and mix well.  (I have a 3 gallon bucket so I only fill it 2/3 full). 

Set aside for 24 hours.

Step 6  Place a funnel inside your soap container.  I made my funnel by cutting the top off a 2L pop bottle.

Ladle the finished laundry soap into your bottle.  Repeat with more containers until all the soap is stored.

To use, shake the mixture well.  Add 1/2 cup to each load of laundry.

Variations  You can add a few drops of essential oils to your soap.  I don’t do this anymore, but in the past I have added lemon for scent, and tea tree oil or eucalyptus oil for bacteria-killing. 

Fabric Softener

I never saw the need for fabric softener until I started hanging my clothes to dry outside.  I don’t know what causes it, but our clothes would come off the line stiff as a board.  As much as I loved the fresh smell of line-dried clothes, the underwear and pants that would stand up on their own was a little off-putting.  So, off to the internet for research and I discovered an easy, chemical-free, and cheap fabric softener:1/2 cup of vinegar in the rinse cycle did the trick.  A Downey ball I found on eBay makes the job even easier.  No more crunchy clothes.

Anyone else make their own soap or have frugal or chemical-reducing laundry tips?

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Re-usable Grocery Bag Tutorials

When Sew, Mama, Sew! launched their re-useable bag sew-off they included a number of links to tutorials.  When I set out to make mine, I, of course, had to make one of each, even though it would have been so much easier and faster to choose one and put them together in an assembly line (I am trying to learn to accept this “let’s find the hardest way possible and take that route” part of my personality….)

Anyway, I tried all three tutorials with the plan of sticking with the one I liked the best.  Although they were all great, each one had something about it that I wanted to change.  So, in the end, I kind of combined them all together into one hybrid bag that will now be my standard fabric bag pattern.  Here’s the line-up:

Green Bag Lady Bag

This bag was super-quick and super-easy.  There was even a how-to video to watch, although I just used the printable directions.  If you wanted to make a whole bunch of bags in a really short period of time, this would be the one to make.  The only problem with this one for me was that the ends were all left unfinished.  With the non-fraying fabric I chose when making this one, it’s not really an issue.  But if I wanted to make it out of a fabric prone to fraying (like the decorator fabric I used for two of my other bags) I would have had to do something about it.  There are easy ways to fix this, but it would increase the time it would take to make the bag, and it would make it look a lot like:

A Morsbags bag

This bag took a little more time than the Green Bag Lady’s but with a more polished result.  French seams took care of the exposed seam issue and I love the look of all the extra stitching.  My only problem with this bag is that there is no bottom.  The straight sides are perfect for carrying all sorts of things, and I would happily use this bag for everything except for groceries, but I really like the flat bottom for grocery bags.    There is a very quick fix to this problem, but then the bag would be almost exactly like…

Irene’s Classic Tote

This tutorial is very similar to the one above, but with the addition of a pocket on the front (which I left off mine) and the handles are done a little differently.  This was definitely my favourite handle and my favourite way to do the top seams (it’s the same process as the Morsebag but done after sewing the side seams which I think makes it look a lot neater.)    I am really just being picky when I say I have a problem with this bag, but I don’t like the look of the triangle seams on the inside of the bag.  I know, I know, no-one is going to be looking at the bottom of the bag, but I know they are there and for some odd reason it bothers me.

All 3 are great bags, and I could be happy with any of them.  In fact a lot of the bags I use on a daily basis have unfinished seams and triangles on the inside and I never noticed or cared, but for some reason when I am sewing it myself I notice every little detail (see “hardest possible way” comment, above).     But since I am terribly particular (and trying to love myself anyway), this is the “hybrid” bag I came up with.

Start with a square of fabric 18 – 20 inches depending on the size you want your fabric, or the width of the fabric scrap you are trying to use up.

Cut 2.5 inch squares out of the bottom.  (This is from the Green Bag Lady).

Sew French Seams on the sides and bottom.  (From Morsebags and Classic Tote)

Back to the Green Bag Lady.  Squish the bottom seams together and sew first wrong sides together:

Then right sides together:

To make a nice French Seam on the bottom.

Complete the top and handles according to the Classic Tote.

Ta-da!!  From this:

To this:

So now I have 5 bags ready to go, a new go-to tote pattern, and a better understanding of my all-too-picky-and-perfectionistic self!  Not bad for a day’s work! :)   Hey…if you’re out there and still using plastic bags – stop!  Grab some fabric and a sewing machine (or a sewing friend) and whip up a few bags, even a beginner could make these in less than an hour.  Call it a Christmas present for the planet! :)

Christmas re-Gift Exchange

Last night a bunch of friends got together for our annual Christmas gathering.  We get together every year at this time for lots of food, lots of laughter, and a gift exchange…with a twist.  “Yankee Swaps” are really popular around here, and they are a fun way to hold a gift exchange (if you don’t know what a Yankee swap is, check out this e-How post.)  Usually there is a monetary limit set to the gifts, around $20 for most. 

My group, however, does it differently.  Instead of buying a gift, you have to bring something that you already have that you don’t want anymore.   It makes for a wide range of gifts (this year we had a pair of shorts, fake Hallowe’en teeth and a mini green house among the gifts…)  It’s also a great way to have fun and give and receive gifts, without spending any money!  (and good for the environment too!)

Here is my contribution to this year’s swap:

A candle I received as a gift but never used, and one of the scarves I crocheted last winter when I decided to pick up crocheting again, but don’t really need as I already have 6 scarves and most of them are handmade.

What I came home with is this:

If you know what these are, you already understand my excitement on opening up this gift!!  (And even more exciting is the fact I actually got to keep them when I was only the second person to pick a gift!).  If you are not enlightened into the use of these wonderful words – they are fridge words, meant to be placed all over your fridge so you can make poetry like this:

Or, so relatives can leave you messages about their wonderful home provinces, like this:

Or, just for general messages meant to instruct or inspire:

And it makes your fridge look like a poet’s playground.

We also have fridge chess and a magnetic puzzle on our fridge, you really can’t go wrong with fridge fun!

I’m not always that lucky at these exchanges – last year I ended up with Christmas ornaments which I actually gave away before I even left the party!  But hey, if ten ladies can get together with junk from their houses and turn it into an event that is the cause of a tonne of side-splitting laughter, than I would call it a success! 

Hope you are enjoying some pre-holiday fun too!

By the way, what’s on your fridge?

Happy Giveaway Day!

I am so excited about giveaway day!  For those of you visiting for the first time – welcome to my little corner of the world.  One of the things I love about sewing is being able to make old things new again, bringing new life to an item that might otherwise be thrown away.   I had a lot of fun making this bag out of a favourite (but worn out) pair of AE corduroys. 

(Sorry, but the brown boots are not included in the giveaway!)  :)

This is a mini-messenger bag with Velcro closure (cleverly disguised with a vintage button) and a long strap that can be worn over the shoulder or across the chest.   A nice back pocket for a cell-phone, iPod or whatever else you like…

And some nice striped lining inside.

So…how can you win this one-of-a-kind creation?  Simply leave a comment below between now and December 6.  In keeping with the theme of the bag, how about you tell me one of your favourite ways to re-use or recycle OR about that item in your closet that you can’t wear anymore but can’t bear to give away.  The winner will be chosen by a random number generator and announced on December 7th.  Anyone is welcome to participate – this bag is ready for travel!  Good luck!  And don’t forget to check out all the other great giveaways today!

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