Tuesday, March 29, 2011

ReUse It - Cardboard Canisters

Another "green" reusing moment here at Renaissance Momma. This time the cardboard canisters that coffee, tea, oatmeal, etc... come in.

Again, you can just throw them in the recycling, but I think there are more interesting ways to use them before they meet their end.

1. Cover in heavy duty wrapping paper and use in place of cookie tins around the holidays. I'm suggesting this now, so you can start a stock pile for Christmas. Biscotti would fit beautifully inside a canister like this. BTW~ A friend promised to teach me how to make biscotti. When I learn, you will, too.

2. Reuse as a canister. I know that sounds obvious, but canisters are much more convenient in your pantry than bags. Just place a nice big label on the front so you don't get confused.

3. Pencil Cup for your desk. With a couple coats of acrylic paint and some stamps, you can create pretty junk holders for your desk.

4. For you nature enthusiasts, I have a slightly more ambitious project... Birdhouses. You will need:
4 empty canisters
water based polyurethane
drill and screws
Liquid Nails (hot glue would work too)
plywood - 2 pieces - 24"x6" and 6" x 10"

Paint the outside of the canisters with polyurethane (you can paint a color first if you want). Allow to dry for 1-2 days.
Short ends together, screw the plywood at right angle so you create and upside down "L". If you want to retain the color, paint with polyurethane. Otherwise, just let it age naturally.
Glue the bottom of the canisters to the long upright piece. When you're finished, four inviting tubes should be facing you.
Hang in a quiet spot in your yard. Make sure it's secured well. I suggest screwing it to a tall fence or the side of a shed. You can encourage nesting by leaving some coconut mat nearby. Come spring, enjoy the chirping of new hatchlings.

5. I would be remiss if I didn't mention G's treasure tin. Gwennan is still running around with her canister of Christmas bows.

Anyone else have suggestions for ReUsing cardboard canisters?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sew Tutorial - Toddler Pants

Looking back through the last few week's worth of posts, I realized I've neglected the crafty side of my blog. Poor A Grey is having some acid reflux problems which are impeding my creative process. But today, I found the pictures for this tutorial, so I thought I'd share.

In preparation for potty training boot camp, I sewed pants for Gwenny out of an abandoned wool shirt of Tim's. If you can find an 100% wool shirt at a thrift store (especially if it's Smartwool), by all means, use that to make wonderful moisture wicking pants that can be used to contain accidents during potty training (retail between $40 and $70). By washing the wool sweater in hot water and machine drying, it will felt - perfect for overnight protection.

If wool shirts are scarce, this also works with jersey/interlock/abandoned t-shirts. I realize that little girl pants only cost about $4 on sale at Target, but they cost about $0.10 to make out of an old t-shirt or $1 out of a cute patterned interlock. Having control over the fit is especially helpful for me as Gwenny has the Ellis "big booty with short legs" build which is only compounded by the cloth diaper.

So, here it goes... Toddler Pants Tutorial

You will need:
1 old wool sweater or 1 t shirt (can get two pairs out of a large) or a 1/3 yard of stretch fabric (jersey, interlock)
18" of 1/4" baby elastic
Coordinating thread
Sewing machine with zig zag stitch

The easiest way to start is to take a pair of pants that already fits and use it to create your pattern. However, you can look at the picture below for the basic shape if you're brave.

Stretchy pants are made out of 4 pieces of fabric: left front, right front (mirror images) and left rear, right rear (mirror images). The only difference between the front and rear pieces is the measurement from the inseam (crotch) to the waist band along the center seam. The rear pieces are taller to accommodate booty and diaper.

Here is the basic shape, shown on top of the pants, so you can see how it lays:

After you have traced the general shape front and back (don't worry about left and right - we'll take care of that in the next step), you will need to add in your seam allowances. On the side- and in-seams, a 1/2" will do (none of these materials fray, so you will not need to use french seams but you could serge). For the cuff, add 1". At the waist, add 1 1/2" to accommodate the elastic band.  Also, if you want to size up, add a 1/2" to all edges per size increase. This is also the time to adjust to your child's build (i.e. I made the center seam in the back a little longer and left the legs a little shorter for G; exact opposite for long and lean Baby A).

Fold the fabric in half (a t-shirt/sweater is already folded). Lay out the pieces as shown. 

You will cut through both layers of fabric, creating 2 sets of mirror images (left and right) for a total of 4 pieces.

Here comes the sewing (about 30 minutes worth):
Pin and sew the front pieces together along the center seam, wrong side (WS) to WS. This will create one piece of fabric for the front of the pants.
Do the same with the rear pieces.
Iron the seams flat.

Pin and sew the two inseams together WS to WS taking care that the center seams of both pieces are lined up.

Pin and sew the outside seams together on both leg pieces. Your pants should be taking shape now.

Hem the legs by rolling the cuffs 1/2" then ironing. Repeat the 1/2" roll. Iron again and sew around the cuff.

For the waist band, roll waist band 1/2". Iron and sew with a zig zag stitch. Fold again 1". Iron and sew  using a zig zag stitch. Leave a 1/2" gap to insert your elastic band.

Insert elastic into waistband (if you've never done this, attach a safety pin at one end of the elastic, push it through the fabric channel and inch it along until you've pushed it all the way through). Adjust the length to cinch the waist slightly (you're just removing any gaps, not holding up the pants). Tack down the elastic with a close zig zag stitch on both ends. Then finish the waist band by sewing the 1/2" opening closed.

Turn right side out and iron. They're ready for a crawl around the nursery floor.

Playing outside in her pink pants

P.S. You can use the same technique to create yoga pants for Mommy too. Check out this tutorial to see how.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

ReUse the Toilet Paper Tube

This spring, I want to focus the blog on sustainability. Few things strengthen creativity like finding a new purpose for an old item, especially one ordinarily thrown away.

Today's item... Toilet Paper Rolls

With Spring comes plans for vegetable gardens. This year, instead of buying a plastic tray to house seeds, try starting them in a toilet paper rolls. Simply cut the rolls in half, making two short cylinders. Place the cylinders upright in a cardboard box or old baking tray and fill with potting soil. Plant the seeds according to directions. When the seedling is ready to transplant to the garden, you can bury it in the toilet paper tube which will compost. Personally, I've been saving rolls for weeks in preparation.

Another, more artistic option comes from Child Made:

This wall art Oak Tree is made from toilet paper tubes and paper bags. It would be a very cute addition to a nursery as a family tree.

Finally, you can always tape two together to make binoculars for little folk :)

Anybody else have some ideas?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Family "Hike"

Gorgeous, gorgeous day! It felt like spring, late spring even. We spent every possible minute outside, even moved the highchairs out for dinner. So nice.

I felt like I missed spring and summer last year. I was sick all spring with 1st trimester nastiness then my thermostat cranked up during the hottest summer of my life (3 weeks at triple digit temps) - awful. I didn't go outside unless I was walking straight into the pool.

This year, I'm making up for it. We're hanging out in our awesome backyard, taking walks, hanging out at the playground, swimming at the beach (eventually). Even the bunny and bird get to kick around outside  for a bit (in their cages, that is).

So to take advantage of the weather, we decided to go on a family hike in North Caroline in a Cyprus Swamp - neat, right? Well, we got distracted and by the time the girls woke up from naps, and we ate and felt like leaving, we didn't have time for NC, so we thought we'd try out one of the many state parks on the Peninsula. Sandy Bottoms Nature Preserve was new to us, so that's where we headed.

Great visitor's center - live reptiles, big fish tank, turtles, clean bathrooms

Cool wildlife rehab center

Nice big pond... with turtles

But the trail. How do I say this? Well, let me just show you.

Here's Tim "hiking"

Here's I-64

I stood in the exact same spot to take these two pictures, merely turned my head 90 degrees. Not exactly a Walt Whitman inspired walk in the woods.

Here's Tim looking rather deflated about the whole highway 10 feet away thing.

I'm not saying I'll never go back. But it's the kind of place I'll take the girls during the week, when I need a convenient walking trail and a little entertainment for them.

In a giant leap for me (not much of a step for mankind), the trail had signs about every 1/4 mile talking about the endangered rattlesnake that lives there. I read the sign calmly and walked along without my toes curled and butt clenched suspect of every rustle. That might sound extreme, but I'm not exaggerating in the least. I have a thing about snakes (that I'm working to get over - not something I want to pass on to the girls).

But the saddest thing we saw - another family out "hiking." I know that should be nice, but it wasn't. Each of them had earbuds listening to individual iPods, parents included. So much for family time. I don't want to step onto this soap box, so I'll just say that's what's wrong with us!!! For so many reasons, that's what's wrong with American families. Please, for the love of your family, leave the iPod in the car during family time. You won't miss it. I promise. Even if the interstate is only 10 feet away...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Stuff I'm excited about...

I'm excited today.

I'm excited about the dessert that's under the broiler right now - pear halves with goat cheese, sprinkled  with butter, cinnamon and sugar. Oh my!

I'm excited about my new glasses. I've never had glasses before so I just experienced the "oh my gosh, I can see" feeling that comes with trying on glasses for the first time. I'm headache free today for the first time in two weeks. Yea for curved glass.

I'm excited about playing at my sister's wedding. While "Clair De Lune" is no joke and I have a lot of practice ahead of me, it makes me happy that Sarah wants to hear it on the big day.

I'm excited after having a productive day. Between potty training and headaches, I forgot how much work I can get done in a day. With spring upon us and the landlords coming for dinner this week, I'm on a cleaning streak. So nice to feel like I'm getting the house under control again.

Most of all (saved the best for last), I'm excited about God. I'm not always most excited about God, unfortunately, but today, I'm really excited. So what has me so excited? God uses really screwed up people to do really awesome kingdom work. Consider the cast of characters:
Moses - murderer and fugitive with a speech impediment who led the Israelites for 40 years
Gideon - the cowardly farmer who took 300 men into battle against 10,000... and won!
David - the baby of the family, the shepherd and artist who became the greatest king Israel ever had
Daniel - the slave boy in a foreign country who became chief advisor to the most powerful man in the world
Paul - He hunted and killed Christians before becoming the greatest Christian missionary of all time
As for the girls,
Esther - also a captive in a strange land who became queen of a huge empire and saved the Jews from extinction by serving three dinners
Elizabeth - the old, barren woman who gave birth to the greatest profit of all time, John the Baptist - who had a beard bigger than DH's, ate bugs, lived in the desert and was called the greatest man in history by Jesus Christ
How can we not love the Bible with characters like this in stories so huge?! How can we not be encouraged by the mighty way God uses not just ordinary but unlikely people to accomplish huge feats?

That's why I'm excited!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pray for Japan

[image source]
I don't usually comment on politics or world events, but this is too big to ignore. Hopefully, you've all heard about the crisis in Japan - the devastating earthquake and tsunami that have killed thousands. My heart breaks for the families who have lost loved ones and even more so for the families waiting for news. My family has experienced that dreadful wait, and it is agonizing.

The pictures and videos coming from the affected areas are overwhelming. I can't help tearing up when I see the families affected. Now that I'm a mom, the heartbreak of losing a child is so real.

Having said that, I take hope in knowing that God works for good what men see as evil. The most horrible thing to happen in human history - the unjust murder of Christ - was simultaneously the most amazing, most life-giving event in all of history. No one standing on that hill watching Him die could have predicted what God's true plan was.

I won't pretend to know what God is doing through this disaster. But I trust indefinitely that God is good and that He is bigger than the largest earthquake or the biggest wall of water.

Please join me in praying for Japan, especially that the Lord would use the devastation to further His kingdom; that this would not be one more seemingly senseless tragedy, but it's real magnitude would be of stunning eternal significance. Through prayer, we can be of service to Japan even as we go about our relatively unaffected lives. And by praying with our children, we teach them to be aware of needs around the world (that might seem premature with my babies, but we're setting a precedent).

One more thing, rescue teams are tragically short on supplies for such widespread disaster. They need water and blankets. While I want to whip up a bunch of blankets and mail them over, that's probably not the most practical course of action. Here are two relief organizations that are already in place to provide care:

Please consider what you can do to help the people of Japan. Thanks!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Meet O'Leary

Last week, I wrote about my not so successful venture shopping for a bird.

This week... success! Meet O'Leary, our parakeet.

I think that's what comes from shopping with Tim. We've always done better as a team, especially when it comes to adding pets to our family. Hence why we got married.

We've debated about buying a bird for months. They're so cheerful and entertaining and able to take care of themselves when you go away for the weekend. Have I mentioned no housebreaking? Yes, a bird is the exact kind of pet we have time for.

So, we welcome O'Leary into the family. Now he can by my muse for crafting bird toys and sewing a cage cover.

Anybody else have a bird or a good bird story?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Leg Warmers and Headband Gift Set

Any time I don't feel well, I end up knitting. It's quiet, and I can work in the near dark. This has been a bad week for headaches therefore a great week for knitting.

Last night, I got the urge to make leg warmers for Gwenny. Did I mention I'm also an emotional knitter, making whatever I "feel" like knitting?  G looks so cute in her skirts and jumpers, but her little legs get really cold. Leg warmers seemed like an obvious solution. I dug through my yarn bin for scraps and whipped up these.

Then... if you make leg warmers for Gwenny, you're going to have to make a headband for Afton. Still recovering from last week's children's book bonanza. After they were finished, I realized that the set made a great last minute baby shower gift/diaper cake topper.

Construction-wise, these are the definition of versatility. Dig through your yarn bin for any leftover yarn in pretty much any color, thickness or material. Just adjust your stitch count to your gauge.
I suggest wool, but acrylic works too. Cotton doesn't have enough stretch for this pattern, but I'll post another soon using cotton.
You can use one color or more. You can make the stripes any thickness you want. I made thick stripes by changing the color every 6 rows, but they would be super cute with thin strips, changing every row or ever other row, or even a pin strip effect, using one color for 4 rows and a coordinating color for 1. Also, a variegated yarn would look great. Go crazy. They're leg warmers. They don't have to make sense.

You will need:
Size 4 for infant or size 7 for toddler dpn
Worsted weight yarn (I used less than 100 yards for the entire set)
Tapestry needle
Tape measure

Gauge: 4 st to an inch, 6 rows to an inch

dpn double pointed needles
k knit
p purl
st stitches
sl slip
ssk slip, slip knit
k2tog knit 2 together
m1 make one
If you're new to increasing/decreasing, read this.

Cast on 24 st using a knitted cast on
Evenly distribute st along 3 dpn for circular knitting (if you've never knitted in the round, watch this video)

Row 1: k2 p2* repeat until end
Row 2-6: repeat row 1

Row 7: if changing colors, do so here k to end of row
Continue stockinette stitch until leg warmer is 6" long (or 1" short of desired length). If changing color for cuff, k one round in new color before beginning ribbing again. Otherwise the color change will look awkward.

Repeat cuff instructions and finish using sewn bind off. Make sure you use this bind off method, otherwise you will create a really cute tourniquet. 


Using worsted yarn and size 7 dpn, cast on 4 (6 for toddler) stitches - using a provisional cast on looks better when you graft the ends together, but it's not necessary.
Row 1: sl first st, k3(5)
Repeat row 1 until headband measures 11" for infant, 16" for toddler
Join ends using kitchener's stitch (instructions for joining garter stitch are at the bottom of the page)

Cast on 5 st to size 7 dpn
row 1-8: sl first st, k4
row 9: k1, ssk, k1, k2tog, k1 (3 st)
row 10-26: sl first st, k2
row 27: k1, m1, k1, m1, k1 (5 st)
row 28-36: sl first st, k 4
Use a regular bind off on row 36.

Tie the bow in a half hitch and sew to headband using leftover yarn and tapestry needle.

These instructions might sound daunting, but I made the whole set in about 3 hours under the influence of migraine meds. You can do it!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

ReStyle It - Children's Table

This week's ReStyle - a tea table for the girls.

We were given a plastic table with two chairs from SIL's now-defunked photography studio. She'd draped the chairs with fabric and used them as props.

I refer to these sets as bachelor smoker's tables. That's where I always see them - a $20 table and chair set on a college student's balcony with an overfull ash tray as decoration. 

While I appreciated that it was free, it wasn't exactly the whimsical fashion statement I was trying to make in the girls' room. So it become the next recipient of my repurposing craze. However, I loved the miniature size - perfect for their room and tea set.

Best part of this table - the top is covered in chalkboard paint. It provides an easily cleaned surface for the girls to practice coloring. When we don't have the chalk out, it's covered with a table cloth suited for tea parties. This table has become one of Gwenny's favorite items in the room.

You will need:
A clean plastic table and chairs (readily available at most garage sales and church rummage sales)
1 can plastic primer (in spray paint aisle)
2 cans spray paint in color of your choosing
Plastic gloves if you don't want to cover your hands in spray paint
Chalkboard paint
Sponge brush
1/2 yard or more of fabric (optional)

Step 1
Baby G playing between coats of paint -
It took a while to finish this project
Spray the entire surface of the table and chairs with plastic primer according to the manufacturer's instructions. Don't skip this step. You'll end up with flaky, peeling chairs - never cute.

Step 2
Spray entire surface of chairs with spray paint until color is even. It will probably take more than one pass to get in all the nooks and crannies.

Step 3
Place table on its top and spray paint everything but the top. With the table on its top, I didn't need to tape off anything and could still use two different paints.

Step 4
After spray paint has dried completely, flip table to upright position and paint the top with chalkboard paint using a sponge brush. Keep a wet rag handy in case of drips. One regret - I bought the paint for this several months ago before I heard of tintable chalkboard paint. Urgh... this would have made the project much prettier. 

Step 5
Soften the look with fabric. I didn't like the contrast of the black chalkboard paint with the avocado green, so I wanted to cover it when we weren't actually drawing on it. A table cloth that matched the curtain was an easy fix. My other thought was to upscale the look with cushions. Either is pretty simple:

Table cloth: Lay fabric centered on table. Determine how much drape you want on all sides, then cut the fabric giving a 1" seam allowance. Fold over 1/2" strip on all four sides and iron; then fold another 1/2" and iron. Use a straight stitch along the fold. Ta da - table cloth.

Cushions: The highly talented women at Sew, Mama Sew have a much better tutorial than I could pull together here. Just adjust the cushion size to fit the chair.

Step 6
Set up a tea party and spend an afternoon playing pretend. I have so much fun watching Gwenny learn to play. She loves to "cook" for me and watch me enjoy what she's prepared. So cute. 

I'm really proud of this project, not because it was any great crafty feat but because my raw materials were so bad to start with. Instead of dumping more plastic in a landfill, a little spray paint went a long way to create a fun piece of furniture the girls can enjoy for many years.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Pretty Bird

Monday afternoon... Afton's asleep; Gwenny is finishing lunch. Time for me to start writing, brainstorming for the week ahead.

Thing is I read recited children's board books to Gwenny for 6 or so hours a day all of last week. I just hope I didn't permanently damage my ability to think of words with more than one syllable.

So, my silly wasted weekend. I meant to clean out and tune up the Brother then sew a cover for it. Inconsiderate of all its hard work, I do not have a cover for my sewing machine. Bad seamstress, bad!

Instead, I let my mind wander at the pet store. Hmm... It might be fun to own a bird. The girls love watching the fish. I bet they would like watching a bird, too. I think I've mentioned before that I have a problem with amassing animals.

Tim gave me the go ahead to look for a bird. So that's just what I did... all day, toting the girls from one pet store to the next, watching finches, budgies, cockatiels and lovebirds. I priced cages, supplies and birds in 6 pet shops. What did I come home with?

A bird feeder

Not really. I came home with nothing. I just filled up the existing bird feeders.

My conclusion - I'd love to have a pair of budgies or lovebirds if someone wants to give us a large, round cage. Otherwise, I'd rather spend that money on rosewood knitting needles and fabric.

How did we even end up at the pet store? That's a fair question. This all started when a friend offered Tim their leopard gecko. Ironically, the gecko died the morning of moving day. So no gecko. However, Tim worked so hard to convince me to own a reptile (I think he was excited about feeding worms to something) that he wanted to replace the gecko we didn't own yet. That's how we went from no new pets Thursday to shopping for a gecko and 2 birds Saturday.

The gecko has yet to be replaced, so no new pets, just thoughts. I'm sure if we end up with something new, I'll post pictures. Good thing no one offered us a chicken. We could have ended up shopping for a farm.

Friday, March 4, 2011

We're washing our hands... for now

7:30 on a Friday night. I'm in my pajamas, eating a thrown together salad, planning a sewing project and blogging. Yikes. I hope no one is reading this. I mean, I know you're all waiting for a potty training update, but I'd prefer if you were on dates, especially you married ladies.

Good news - the diaper rash is history. So is the potty chair.

She was doing well, surprisingly well. I'm talking hours at a time with no accidents, reaching for rewards when she used the potty. She didn't understand the whole concept top to bottom, but she did surprisingly well for 16 months. Still, something was not right. We caved to the "she's just not ready yet" excuse.

I learned a few things this week: 
1) Gwenny needs alone time. Having Mommy and Daddy hovering constantly really started to wear on her. She loves us, just not all the time.

2) Even little kids need to get out of the house. We took her to the pet store to reward her hard work this week. She was ecstatic. I don't think she liked sitting in the bathroom all week any better than I did.

3) It's not worth stressing your children for your schedule. Don't get me wrong, she wasn't curled in the corner eating her hair or anything. She was just stressed, more stressed than a 16 month old needs to be over peeing. I can swallow my pride and admit that I tried too soon.

So we put the diaper back on. I've never been so excited over using a diaper. After 5 days of watching constantly for accidents, I could relax and let the diaper cover do its job. Amazing.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

15 Minute Peanut Butter Cookies

image source
Here it is - a 15-minute cookie recipe, as in 15 minutes from the time you feel the urge for cookies until they're on the oven rack cooling. How? I don't know, but it works. Just what Tim and I needed the other night after a long day.

1 c peanut butter (crunchy is fine, natural is fine)
1 c sugar
1 t vanilla
1 egg

Mix all ingredients together. Bake at 350 for 6-8 minutes. Voila! Instant gratification

Mine came out a little soft. In my exhausted daze, I think I put them in before the oven preheated.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Homemade Cleaner

This is a pretty awesome potty chair.
Ours is just the standard plastic variety.
In honor of Potty Training Tuesday, I thought I'd share my homemade all-purpose cleaner recipe. As you can imagine, we've gone through quite a bit of this stuff so far. I love that it cleans everywhere, especially carpet. That means I only have to chase Gwenny around with one spray bottle instead of one for each surface type she walks over. (Oh yeah, it streaks glass, so I use vinegar on a coffee filter for that). It's especially brilliant at removing coffee stains from our bright white  counter tops (yikes).

Really I love this cleaner because it's effective and safe for the girls. They can lick the still wet floor, and it won't hurt them. In fact, the ingredients won't even hurt them. I came in the laundry room the other day to find G finger painting in the Borax. I wasn't happy about it, but it didn't hurt her either.

2 cups warm water
1 cup white vinegar
2 T Borax (if you don't have any, you can use baking soda. Just add the vinegar slowly to avoid Mount Vesuvius)
1 T Castille's Soap
1/2 t essential oil - use eucalyptus, citrus, tea tree, peppermint or lavender for best antibacterial action (unnecessary if you buy castille's soap with essential oil)
Spray bottle

Dissolve Borax in warm water. Combine all ingredients in spray bottle and shake to mix. Freely spray all over the house and wipe away with rag or paper towel. Then stand back and inhale - no strange cleaning fumes. Ahhhh....


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