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Thrifty Living: How To Make A Terrarium Ornament

30 Jan

As you may remember, some friends and I decided to make this year a Handmade Christmas. What gifts I gave were either thrifted or handmade.  While browsing my local craft store for Halloween decorations in September I found a bin filled with these empty plastic ornaments and immediately I knew I’d be turning them into terrariums come December.

If you’ve never made a terrarium before I have a beginner’s tutorial as well as an assortment of terrarium inspiration and information. Terrarium ornaments are simple to make and it was fun to give my friends the gift of something green and growing during the cold winter months. The medium-sized ornaments were a $1.50 at my local craft store, which meant that even I could afford a bunch to give as presents.

Materials:

  • garden soil, preferably damp, hold the gravel
  • plastic ornaments from a craft store, medium-sized
  • paint brush or chopstick
  • tweezers
  • weeds, moss, or other small plants
  • a funnel (or a piece of paper cut to size and rolled to make a funnel)
  • a small shovel

If making tags like mine you’ll also need:

  • decorative paper
  • glue or rubber cement
  • scissors
  • pencil

Instructions:

1. Take your soil and mix in drops of water (or use a spray bottle) until you have damp–but not soggy–soil.  Soil with good drainage works well, so look for the kind that has bits of Styrofoam mixed in or that is specially made for succulents and cactus. Valley soil is perfect because it’s so sandy, but you probably don’t live near me, so look into your local soil first to see if you can use it straight from the ground like I did.

2. Remove the wire topping of your ornament and fill the it a third of the way full of soil using your trowel and funnel. Make sure any rocks or gravel pieces aren’t going in. While they are useful for drainage they also add weight, which we don’t want.

3. Gently pluck some weeds from the ground (or from the fancy container you purchased your plants in) leaving the roots intact. Gently use your tweezers and the stick end of your paintbrush or chopstick to poke your plant through the hole and arrange so the root side is in the dirt. This is the trickiest part, but also why weeds are a good choice: they are used to growing in challenging circumstances and bouncing back even after they’ve been shoved in a jar.

4. Add a few (very few) more drops of water, replace the top, and there you have it–and awesome handmade terrarium ornament that took you all of fifteen minutes to make.

Let’s say you are giving these as a present and want to make a gift tag like I did. No problem, it’s easy! I used the tags that were already attached to the ornaments because they were simple and sturdy.

1. Leaving the tag on the ornament, trace its shape onto a decorative piece of paper using a very sharp pencil. Include a mark for the center hole.

2. Cut out and use that tracing to make two tags for each ornament you are making.  Cut them out.

3. In each tag, cut a slit and a hole for the plastic ring to go through. This is difficult for me to explain, so if you need a visual, click here.

4. Glue the decorative paper to each side of the tag. I used rubber cement and then set a book on top of each tag to prevent warping.

5. Finally, add the person’s name or a holiday message with a pen. A really good idea would be to include simple care instructions on one side of the tag as terrarium maintenance isn’t exactly a common skill. I did not do this because I only just thought of it, but I wish I would have.

I tried making these with both the larger ornaments and the medium-sized ones and it turns out that the medium-sized ones are far better. I wanted the large ones to work because they could hold more plants and maybe even some plastic toys, but the thin wire ornament tops wouldn’t support all that weight and the whole thing kept falling apart. Not a good sign. The medium size worked perfectly.

You can decorate these with plastic toys as long as they are small, lightweight, and will fit through the opening. You can adjust them with your tweezers and paintbrush once they are in. Ribbon would be a lovely way to accentuate and hang these ornaments, too, if you don’t like the look of the plastic ring or the tag. The fact that these ornaments are so simple is what lends them great potential and versatility.

This project was extra thrifty since I had all the materials on hand except the ornaments. If you try this, please let me know! I’d love to hear how it worked for you.

Scrapbook: Home Harvest

26 Jan

I’m still catching up on photos and posts that should have run much earlier in year. At the time I was recovering from debilitating panic attacks so this post and a few others kind of got pushed aside. But I am really proud of my pumpkins and I want to show them to you! (That last sentence was not a euphemism. I swear.)

Aside from the herb garden, which I didn’t take a lot of photos of, we grew pumpkins, butternut squash, a sunflower, and marigolds. I count marigolds because they are a pest-repellant plant and I was specifically growing them for Day of the Dead decorations. Anthony accidentally cleared them out when he was weeding the garden at the end of the season (oops!) so I didn’t get to use them.

I’m really proud of our pumpkins. We were so infested with aphids that I was really worried we wouldn’t get any fruit but we managed to grow three fat orange globes. You can see the other two, plus a helpful PSA, here. Isobel was especially impressed with our pumpkins.

And the sunflower. Which was pretty magical for both of us. When I was thirteen I grew a patch of Russian Giant sunflowers that were easily 15 feet tall. My mom proudly took a picture of me standing next to them. I’ll have to show you someday. We only grew the one, and about half of the seeds are empty, but it was a really fun experience.

We didn’t even have to go to the pumpkin patch this year!

But of course we did, anyway.

The good thing about marigolds, besides the fact they are so cheerful and lovely, is that their petals each turn into a seed, so that by the time the plant has wilted you have enough seeds for a thousand plants. My friend Jake gave me plenty more seeds for next year.

Growing all of these plants was way easier than I thought it would be. Preparing the soil was most of the work done, and daily watering was a chore I had to do anyway. Plus Isobel loves to go outside. I can’t wait to start another garden this summer, but I’m not sure what we’ll grow.

Last Haul of the Season

24 Jan

Ah, summer. That magical time when I visited the Farmer’s Market each week and planned our meals accordingly. Now that the market has closed and the local fruit stands have boarded up their windows, I have only my memories and occasional trips to the local remate to tide me over. It’s tough to get there with the kid, and cold and muddy, too, and I have a hard time struggling to carry all those purchases the distance I have to walk back to the car. I can’t wait until May.

These photos are from the last market of the season back in October. This trip was extra special because I was able to fit some thrifting in that day, too.

The plates, bowls and hangers are all thrifted. Purchases that day included green beans, pea shoots, pomegranates, raw almonds, peaches, grape tomatoes, hummus, red pepper tapenade, and a butternut squash.

The sunflower seeds pictured here were actually grown in my garden. Earlier in the season Isobel and I checked out a local nursery’s booth at the Farmer’s Market and they had a display with soil, a little peat pot and seeds. We happened to run into my cousin’s family there, so Isobel and her cousin Victoria got to plant their own sunflower seeds. We watered it and placed it above the sink and two days later it sprouted. It was so magical for Isobel and I to watch. We watched it bloom and eventually cut it down. Isobel helped me pluck the seeds from the flower head. It was incredibly easy and required little more than water on my part.

The amber jar and wooden salt and pepper shakers in the background were also purchased secondhand that day, along with the Pyrex, mushroom cruets, and very awesome (but naturally, inaccurate) vintage dinosaur place mat. I picked up the letter sorter for Isobel and milk glass dish below for a song.

I miss you, summer.

Fifty Thrifty Fun Things: Color on the Table

20 Jan

It sounds like a strange thing to say, but one of the best compliments I’ve ever received was from Anthony and it was about the thrifty and creative ways I’ve found to cheaply entertain Isobel. And it’s true: I pride myself on my ability to entertain her for minutes on end (precious, precious minutes!!–that sometimes add up to hours!) so I can do the dishes, drink a cup of coffee, or take a blissful dump in peace.

Many of you reading at home are parents, or perhaps spend some portion of your time with a young child. I’m willing to bet that readers here probably don’t have endless supplies of cash to spend entertaining your little ones, so this year I’m going to share at least 50 simple, accessible, and–most importantly–cheap ways to entertain your kids. Some of these ideas might give you a few blessed hours to yourself, and some of these activities you can revisit over and over again. If you’d like to share your best ideas for thriftily entertaining kids, I’d love to hear them.

50 thrifty idea, number one: cover your table with butcher paper, hand your kid a bucket of crayons and maybe some stickers and let them have at it.

The paper we used is actually packing material that came inside a package my mother ordered at Christmastime. She knows I collect paper like this to use for shipping items from my Etsy shop. That’s why it’s so crinkled. This time I spread  it on the table for Isobel to use instead of adding it to my shipping cupboard. It might end up there eventually, though.

The paper itself is like a very thin paper lunch sack. I like the way crayon and stickers look against the tan brown color. They really pop. I like it better than white paper, but it’d do just as good a job.

This activity bought me an hour. It probably would have given me longer but we had errands to run so I had to stop her.

When it was time to clean up I just rolled the paper up. It still has plenty of life left in it. I can rotate the side if she wants a clean slate to color on, or I can make it new buy letting her put stickers or water colors over the used areas. I just introduced her to the magic of stamps, so I’m sure this will be covered in ink pad markings and fingerprints before too long.

This is also great to save and pull out when she gets into Epic Coloring Mode. She can get so enthusiastic about coloring that she ends up going off the paper with her artistic zeal and then I have to scrub crayon off the table for the fifteenth billion time. She can color on top of this paper and I don’t have to tell her to slow her coloring roll.

Since the paper was repurposed and we already owned the crayons, this activity was free.

My sanity and a happy toddler? Priceless.

Thrifty Living: An Army of Ten Cent Jars

19 Jan

Little Big went quiet yesterday in solidarity of anti-SOPA legislation. I didn’t post any links simply because I ran out of time what with chasing a toddler and spending the majority of my time not chasing her with hacking up and sneezing various colors of fluids. Suffice it to say that this legislation could shut down my little ol’ blog just because I occasionally post something like this or this or even this. And that last one is especially important to me. When I was having my panic attacks it was your comments on this blog that really helped me feel normal. I will never, ever forget that. One comment in particular, from Anne G, has stuck with me and sustained me through some dark moments. It simply stated stated,

“I don’t believe that the person that wrote about Brian McPoopington will not be OK. Your positive energy will prevail.”

The fact that I have the freedom to share Brian McPoopington with you all helped me through a tough time. One of the toughest of my life. SOPA could end all that. Suck it, SOPA. Suck it slooooow.

I love fresh flowers in the home but I usually have to stick with flowers I grew in my yard or various plants Isobel and I find on our nature walks (which essentially boils down to “stroller time through the suburbs.”) I’ve collected a small army of ten cent jars and petite glasses while thrifting in the rare event that I have enough foliage to display.

Last summer my dear friends Jenn and Chris hosted a wedding reception that I was honored to be asked to photograph, and Jenn didn’t let me leave without taking home one of the stunning table bouquets her family put together. (It didn’t hurt that the flowers happened to be in my vintage mason jar.)

I enjoyed the blossoms in the jar as long as I could but once it started looking raggedy I tossed any rotting or dried-out blooms and stuck them in these thrifted jars instead. In true thrifty fashion  I always make my bouquets last as long as possible by whittling down the flowers, displaying on the freshest parts, for as long as possible in my thrifted jars.

They last even longer if your cats don’t chew on them. Not that I would know what that’s like.

Crafty: The Heart-Shaped Box

17 Jan

I am so excited to finally share this project with you. I really didn’t do much in the way of handmade gifts for Isobel this year. Focusing on thrifting, hosting Christmas, and just being with my family took up most of my time so I thought I really wouldn’t bother with handmade gifts for Isobel. She is just swimming in toys and things she carries around to play with that aren’t toys, and I knew she’d be getting piles of stuff for Christmas, so it was easy to justify not making her a bunch of gifts. And I’ve already explained my theory of thrifted gifts and why I’m an asshole anyway. But, when the Pixie and I stopped by the craft store a week before Christmas to pick up supplies for the gift I was making my friends, I couldn’t pass up this sweet little paper heart box for 99 cents.

Using craft paint I already had, I used time when Isobel was with Grandma to paint layer after layer of pink paint on the brown paper surface. I decided to paint the inside of the box red to make it stand out more, which I don’t regret but made the whole thing more complicated because each mistake meant waiting for paint to dry to apply another layer to fix the errant blotches.

The craft store also had these fantastic jewels for three bucks, and I can’t think of a more perfect treasure to fit inside. Isobel adores her heart box, and I’m so glad I took the time to make it. Total cost of the project was less than five bucks. Although I made this as part of Handmade Christmas, wouldn’t this be the perfect Valentine gift, or even project, if your little one was school-aged? It could be filled with chocolate and covered with doilies or modge-podge.

The Thrifted Closet

8 Jan

While working on Life List item #11, I decided I’m going to share some of my thrifty outfits with you. This outfit features three recent thrift store scores: the sweater, the belt, and (my favorite) the skirt. Made any good clothing scores lately?

Don’t Bother to Bring Your Goat to the Antiques Roadshow

5 Jan

Guest Post – DIY Projects for the New Year by Kelly of Let’s Die Friends

3 Jan

Today I’m featuring a guest post from the awesomely talented and completely adorable Kelly of the blog Let’s Die Friends. Twitter pals know her as the fun-loving Mama of a nommable two year old who loves food, thrifting, and good design. I admire her deeply for her silly sense of humor, her wickedly keen taste, and because one time she dress up as a Centaur for Halloween. If she seems familiar it might be because her Etsy shop is one of my favorites. I’m working on special surprise for next week, so today Kelly is filling in and bringing you a round up of thrifty and fun DIY projects to try from around the internet. Take it away, Kelly!

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Thrifty DIY Projects for the New Year

Greetings! I am delighted that Miss Carrie Anne asked me to post on her blog. I love her thrift store scores, DIYs, and overall thriftiness. I put all my fresh herbs in water now thanks to her. True story. So in keeping with her DIY spirit, and since it’s the beginning of a new year, I thought I’d round up some of my favorite projects that I am excited to try this year!

This fringe garland from Sunshine and Carousels  is a great idea if you have a lot of fabric remnants laying around. I can think of a ton of uses for this:

  • Party decorations (stay within the colors of your party)
  • Holiday decorations (Red, white & blue for 4th of July. Hot pink, light pink, and silver for Valentines Day. Not just Christmas!)
  • In place of a headboard on the wall behind your bed
  • Kid’s room
  • You can buy waterproofing spray that turns any fabric into an outdoor fabric and make cute patio garlands. (I think I will do this one!)
  • If the vintage look isn’t your thing, you could use newer fabrics or solid colors.
  • Any place you would put a large framed picture, mirror, or artwork.

Here is a tutorial from Ivey Handcrafted on how to make pom pom flowers. Maybe these will finally be flowers my cat won’t eat and puke up later! But the furry idiot did eat and puke up our fake white Christmas tree, so maybe not. These certainly have that “crafty” look to them, but this project could be as subtle or as crazy as you want. Use all yellow for a “billy button” look. All white or cream would be pretty. Do they make metallic gold yarn? Because hellooo. I plan on filling a vase in my daughter’s play area, so I am going to use every color of yarn I own!

I love this idea from Griottes for a small party! Small. Because you’d need a lot of time to make enough for a large party. Perhaps a dinner party with friends? I don’t know about painting or adding washi tape to the parts that go in peoples’ mouths, though.

Okay, I might not actually try this project, because it would require having a place to put it. But it’s too cute to not share, and maybe you do have a place for it! All you need is a large canvas and some fabric. The way it’s used in this photo, behind the seating area, it’s like pretending you have wallpaper, without the commitment. Brilliant. This would also be a great alternative to fill a large area above a fireplace. If you have a lot of different colors going on in your room and you need a way to bring it all together, find a fabric that has all the colors in it. I suppose it doesn’t even have to be that huge. You could do an 18×24 canvas, or a series of small canvases.

This doily table runner from Ashley Ann looks ridiculously easy. The hardest part would be remembering to look for doilies while you’re out shopping. I like this for any tabletop situation, not just a dining table. You could dye the doilies different colors, or keep them white. It would be neat to make a few of these, and then when Christmas comes back around, hang them vertically for a snowflake decoration.

I suppose it would be very ambitious of me to keep going, since I’m supposed to try all these! This is a good start. Aren’t we lucky to have endless amounts of inspiration via the internet? I hope you enjoyed my list and are inspired to try some of your own creative projects this year! To see what I’m up to, visit my blog Let’s Die Friends or find me on Pinterest.

Best of 2011: Thrifty Living

28 Dec

These are my favorite Thrifty Living posts from 2011