Tag Archives: upcycle

28 Days Diversion

So, the room is coming around nicely.   I’ve purged a big box and a bag full of recyclables from my space, filled a grocery sack with items to donate to Goodwill, brainstormed some storage ideas with a friend and contemplated several different furniture arrangements. Furniture. It’s just one of those things that you can’t be sure of until you’ve drug all the pieces around and around the room to see how they look. In my head they look one way, but with such a small space, I have to be sure they work before committing to anything.  I’ll have to come back to the furniture.

I’ve also washed and dusted both windows and all the surfaces I’ve uncovered to this point, removed a dead television (that I’m taking to Best Buy to be E-cycled) and vacuumed the exposed carpet.  Despite the progress I’ve made, I still have a long way to go.  The old ‘wooden’ desk has to be removed still and there are many things in and on it that need to find new homes. 

I was feeling pretty good about the room when I got to this point:

Woah!  You can actually see the top of the desk!!

The top of the desk; exposed for the first time in I don't know how long.

The desk was clear and clean.  I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw the top of the desk.  It was inspiring.  Not only because it made me feel like there might actually be hope for the room, but because I suddenly had space to work!  This brings me to the diversion part of the story.  You see, my laptop case  is soo heavy that I can’t stand to carry it around.  Plus, when I bike across town to meetings, I always wish that my laptop was in a backpack.   I’ve been storing fabric swatches for weeks intending to turn them into a backpack for my computer, but haven’t had the space to actually start a project of that size.  Until now.

Here is the finished pack as modelled by my son:

Laptop backpack

My new, custom-made laptop backpack.

I scoured the internet for a pattern, but couldn’t find what I was looking for.  I found laptop sleeve patterns, and laptop envelope patterns, but none of the patterns were for a backpack.   I wish I had a “laptop backpack”  pattern to share with you, but this is more of a protoype.  I had to rework a couple of parts because they didn’t work exactly like I’d planned the first time.  And, I’d put a loop on the back for hanging the pack if I were going to do it again.  Also, I’d figure out a different closure system for the left pocket.  But, the pack does what I need it to do and my son has already put in an order for his pack for camping. 

The pack is quilted and fully lined to protect the computer and to keep it from hurting my back.  The pockets on the back are made from old jeans pant-legs from when Gwen was three or four.  She wore the knees out of the jeans, but the applique was so cute that I couldn’t bear to throw them away.  Sometimes being a packrat pays off.  The water bottle fits snugly in the pocket without any closure, so the right pocket is simply hemmed.  The left pocket is for the computer charger and cords.  I didn’t want them jumping out so I sewed zipper from an old pair of my jeans into the top.  It’s a little awkward, but it works.   The straps came from the same pair of jeans the zipper came out of.  I cut strips out of the length of one of the legs and sewed them onto the pack.  Another of the changes I would make in the future is to sew the straps on before the top flap so that I don’t have to work so hard to hide the raw ends of the straps.  If you look closely at the bottom of the pack, you can see two metal eyelets.  For some reason I thought that would be a good feature.  Keys or something could hang from there.

The side that rests on your back

This is the side of the pack that rests against your back.

For now, the pack will have to do.  Maybe someday, when I have more time, I’ll tear it apart and rework it.  If that happens, I’ll make a pattern and post it for you so that you don’t have to make it up as you go along like I did. 

Homemade Laptop Backpack

My laptop in its new, lightweight, easy-to-carry backpack.


Filed under contest, crafts, green cleaning

How to Make Your Own Soap (Concluded)

This post is the third in a series of posts.  If you haven’t read Meat Day or How to Make Your Own Soap, you may want to go do that now. 🙂

  1. Empty carton upcycled
  2. Upcycle an old soymilk carton into a soap mold for your homemade soap.

Okay, maybe this isn’t the conclusion to my soap story.  However, for now it is.  I cured my bacon grease soap in the upcycled Silk carton soap mold over night just like I was supposed to.  I peeled away the carton and started slicing the soap into bars to find my soap fragile.  Crumbly.  In fact, it looked much like blocks of feta cheese: smooth-ish on the top and crumbly-jagged on the sides where it split when I tried to cut it into bars.

Tea Tree, Lavender Homemade Soap Bars

Crumbly batch of homemade soap.

I should have known to leave well enough alone.  I started troubleshooting soap flaws online.  I found that crumbly soap could be the result of a few things.  One could be too much lye.  Since I don’t have a very good scale, that was a possibility.  Or, crumbly soap could be caused by mixing the ingredients at the wrong temperatures, stirring too much, or not stirring enough.  I wasn’t sure which of these were the culprit, but from my research I determined that I could rebatch or remill my soap.

So, I ground the soap up and threw it back in the pan.  I added a little more oil (olive, ‘cuz that’s what I had) and some hot water and stirred it.  The soap looked like it was coming back together, so I dumped it into a  large, glass loaf pan.  I’d have used a milk carton, but I’d already used the only one I had.  It was at this point I saw my soap separating.  It hardened up fine, but there are holes where the unincorporated oil drained out.  Maybe I didn’t need that olive oil after all, huh?

  1. The bar I didn't remill.
  2. I should have just left the crumbly bars alone; they looked way nicer like this than they did after I remilled them.

So, what have I learned from this experiment?

  1. Don’t bother putting dried lavender blossoms in your soap; the color all cooks out and they just look like brown flecks.
  2. I need a good kitchen scale.  Accuracy is important in soap making.  I might’ve been able to avoid my remilling fiasco if I had measured more accurately the first time.
  3. Remilling is not for me.  The remilled soap is so ugly that I won’t even take a picture (and I’ve posted some ugly pics in the past.)  Once the ugly soap has cured and I’m sure it’s not too alkaline, I plan to grind it up into my laundry soap.  If I get a crumbly batch in the future, I’ll just grind it up from the start instead of wasting six hours trying to remill a lost cause.

This is not the true conclusion of my soap making, because I’ll definitely try again.  Now that I have all the kinks worked out, it should be much easier next time.  I will only use a quart of bacon grease at a time.  “Washing” the bacon fat takes WAY too long if you have to wait for it to cool between heatings.  I’ll probably also use a blend of oils to end up with a soap that is more balanced and better for my skin.

Check back soon.  I bet I’ll have enough fat in a few weeks; my bacon jar already has at least a half a cup of grease in it!

For a more succesful soap experiment, check out How I Made Homemade Soap (and Didn’t Screw it up).


Filed under frugality, green cleaning, green living

How to Make Your Own Soap (Continued)

If you need to clean your bacon fat, check the first post in the Bacon Fat Soap Trilogy.  Once you have clean fat that can actually be used, continue: 

Washed Bacon grease

Bacon grease clean and ready to be saponified.

  1. Bacon Fat Melted

    Clean fat melted and ready to make into soap.

    Weigh and melt the fat.  ( I had about 5.5 lbs of fat when I was done washing it.) 

  2. Do not make soap with young children or pets underfoot; it is not worth the risk of an accident.  However, there is no reason to fear lye as long as you respect it and use safety precautions. Put on your goggles and rubber gloves.  
  3.  Use this lye calculator to figure out how much lye and water you need.  (Based on the quantity and type of fat, I needed 1 quart of water and 12 oz. of lye)
  4. Water and Lye

    Lye and water mixture.

    Sprinkle the lye into the water IN A HEAT-PROOF GLASS CONTAINER and swirl with a silicone or rubber spatula.  (This is an exothermic reaction and gives off A LOT of heat; use caution.) 

  5. Fat with lye and water added

    Soap fat combined with lye-water mixture.

    Wait until the lye and water cool off and pour them slowly and carefully into the fat. 

  6. Soap is almost ready

    The soap is ready when you can see where you were just mixing. This is called "trace".

    Blend with an immersion blender until you can see where you’ve been blending. 

  7. Add fragrance or herbs if you plan to and mix well.  (I used about 30 drops off tea tree oil and 65 drops of lavender plus some lavender blossoms I harvested this summer.)
  8. Empty carton upcycled

    Upcycle an old soymilk carton into a soap mold for your homemade soap.

    Pour into soap mold. 

Check back soon to see how the soap turns out!  This post concludes here.


Filed under frugality, green cleaning

Homemade Fabric Softener

Maybe, like me, you’re trying to green up your home.  Or maybe, also like me, you’re cheap budget-conscious.  Either way, you are going to LOVE this recipe.  Actually, this is more like a non-recipe. 

Vinegar and oil(s)

See, a non-recipe

1.   Get a big jug of white vinegar.
2.   Add some drops of essential oil for fragrance. I used lemongrass, lavender and rosemary so that it would match my Homemade Detergent, but oils are completely optional!
3.   Go do laundry.

That’s it!  See how easy going green can be?  You may be thinking, but won’t my laundry smell like pickles?  No!  That’s the beauty of it.  The vinegar smell dissappears when the vinegar dries.  You don’t actually have to add any fragrance, but it does linger on your clothing slightly, so I do it because I like it.  You don’t have to.  Vinegar helps the detergent rinse complete from your laundry and naturally softens the clothing without the toxic chemicals in traditional fabric softeners.  Plus, it helps clean your washing machine.

But, being green is only one advantage of this softener.  As I mentioned before, this will save you $$! 

Liquid Fabric softener

I just refill this bottle with my vinegar and a few drops of essential oils.

Now, even when I used toxic fabric softener, I used sheets.  But, one summer my sister and her family stayed with us.  She was kind enough to leave behind this bottle of Downy for me.   If you’ll notice, the price tag says, “$6.79”.  That price is from 2003, so it may be more.  I really have no idea.  If you’d like to weigh in on this matter, please feel free to leave a comment.

Anyway, back to the math.  For $6.79, you can soften 52 loads.  That works out to about 13 cents per load. 

I use the lid from this Downy bottle to measure my vinegar, so I use the same number of ounces per load (0.85 oz.) White vinegar comes in 1 gallon jugs.  I pay $1.69 for a gallon of vinegar (128 oz.)  1 gallon of vinegar is just over 150 loads.  That works out to about 1 cent per load.  Even if you add essential oils, it wouldn’t be more than 2 cents per load if you paid a LOT for your oil.  My oils are in the $3 price range so I don’t even figure them into the price because the 20+ drops I put into the Downy bottle barely cost a nickel.

Even if you only wash 1 load of laundry a week, (and who does that??) you would save over six dollars a year.  Not to mention eliminate gallons of toxic chemicals from the water supply and avoid long-term skin contact with these same chemicals.  If you do five loads a week you’ll save over $31 a year.  Imagine what you could save over a lifetime of doing laundry!

If you like green cleaning products, you’ll probably like my Sink Scrub recipe, too.


Filed under frugality, green cleaning, green living

Homemade Laundry Detergent

I’ve been meaning to make my own laundry detergent for quite a while now.  I’m not sure what But the four jugs of “buy 1 get two free” laundry detergent I had kicking around the laundry room kept me from doing it until now.  Now, those yucky grocery store bottles of detergent are all gone so I can make my own.  This is so easy, everyone (including you) should go make some.   I wrote the recipe on the side of my container so that I wouldn’t have the trouble of losing it like I did with my dishwasher detergent.

Angela’s Laundry Magic:

Homemade Laundry Soap Recipe

Now I can never lose the recipe!

Remember how much I LOVE my Kitchenaid mixer? 

Grinding the bars of soap.

Oh, Kitchenaid, how I love thee!

One more reason: It grinds up bars of soap in no time flat. 

Shredded Bars of Soap

Shredded up bars of Kirk's Coco Castille.

I used Kirk’s Coco Castille for this batch because that’s what I bought months ago when I got it into my head that I would start making laundry detergent, but I will NEVER use it again for two reasons.  One, it is expensive; you can use Ivory soap or homemade soap instead.  And, two it has such a strong scent that I can’t stand it. 

Once you have the bars of soap ground up, dump them into whatever container you are going to use to hold your soap.  (Three bars yielded four cups of grated soap.)  Add essential oil for fragrance if you are going to scent your soap (I used a combination of lavender, lemongrass and rosemary.) and shake or stir it before adding two cups each Borax, washing soda and baking soda.  Shake or stir the entire batch until the grated soap is incorporated throughout the powder. 

I put mine into this container I got from a friend that used to hold some kind of protein powder.

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Finished homemade Laundry Magic and Wide-mouthed alternative container.

But, if your husband does laundry (like mine does) and has giant man-hands (like mine does), you may need to find a wide-mouthed container that he can easily reach into so that he isn’t deterred from doing laundry in the future.  I reused this old laundry soap container.  Best of all, it even came with its own scoop.  I use about 1/4 1/8 cup per load, but you may need to adjust the amount you use based on how hard your water is and how dirty your clothes are.

If you like this recipe you might be interested in my homemade Fabric Softener and Sink Scrub recipes


Filed under frugality, green cleaning, green living

101 Things to do With Whey

Okay, so it’s not really 101; it’s nine ten, but some of them are really good.  Let me know if you can think of more. 

  1. Make ricotta cheese.  (I have done this, and it’s quite tasty, but the amount of ricotta you get from the leftover whey is (in my opinion) not worth the time it takes.)  If you really must try making your own ricotta, here you go:
    Bring the whey almost to a boil (200° F).  The ricotta will begin to precipitate out of the whey and form little white particles that float around in your whey.  Line a colander with a cloth napkin and set it over a large bowl or pot to catch they whey.  Hang the ricotta to drain.  After it has drained for a few hours, salt it to taste.  Keeps in the fridge for up to two weeks.
  2. Boil potatoes in it.
  3. Make lemonade. (I haven’t tried this myself yet, but it sounds delicious.)
  4. Use it in place of milk or water in your oatmeal. If you eat oatmeal every morning like I do, you’ll use it up quickly.
  5. Make dog food.
  6. Make dog treats.
  7. Water plants with it.
  8. Bake bread.
  9. Add it to the stock when making homemade soup.
  10. Use it to cook rice, bulghur, barley or other grains.


Filed under food, frugality

No Roosters in the Hen House (I Hope).

I’ve been researching chicks for a while now because I plan to turn my yard into an urban homestead and the City of Traverse City just changed the ordiance banning chickens.  City residents can now keep four hens but no roosters in town.  There are lots of places online that you can find information about urban chickens and a few where you can actually order chicks.  I have been on http://www.mypetchicken.com/ over and over again trying to pick out my chicks and was all set to place my order. They guarantee the sex of their chicks with 90% accuaracy so I was pretty confident and added a Dominique, an Easter Egger, a Golden-Laced Wyandotte and a Buff Orpington to my cart.  All four chicks came to $14.35 which I thought was pretty resonable considering the price included a fifty-cent surchage on each chick to make sure they were girls and the Marek’s vaccine on all four.  I proceeded to checkout.  Imagine my surprise when my fourteen dollar chickens had a $34.95 shipping fee!! 

Adam and I stopped at a farm supply store but they didn’t have any chicks left.  I decided I’d probably end up waiting until spring when the feed stores started getting chicks in again before starting my chicken adventures. 

Until . . . Stephanie E-mailed me and invited me on a road trip to an animal show.

So Dylan and I got up early yesterday morning and rode the two-and-a-half hours out to Whittemore, MI with Stephanie and her kids.  We were expecting a big, indoor farm and garden-type show.  Imagine our surprise when we pulled into what looked like a VFW Hall’s field to find about ten parked cars and trucks with cages lined up in front of them.  The kids jumped out of the car and started running from booth to booth. Right away Dylan gravitated to a vendor with about four cages full of rats.  They were so cute (and cheap) that I almost came home with a baby rat. 

The new pet that almost was.

The new pet that almost was.

It was so small that you can barely see it in Dylan’s hands.  Fortunately he was soon distracted by all the other farmyard fauna. 

There were cages filled with turkeys, guinea fowl, roosters, hens, turkens, a pregnant pot-bellied-pig, bunnies, geese, homing pigeons, quail chicks, chicks and goats.

We wandered back and forth through the booths, talked to the vendors and pet the animals.  I was looking for chicks and I soon found them. 

The family that organized the animal show had the first booth inside the “gate” and they had all kinds of poultry and two even tinier rats than the one Dylan tried to bring home with us.  Sitting on the grass were boxes filled with chicken and quail chicks.  One box had two-week-old Rhode Island Red chicks and two-week-old Bantam chicks in it and another had four-week-old buffs and a four-week-old Rhode Island Red.  I asked the guy if he could sex the chicks for me. 

The chicks packed up for the road.

The chicks packed up for the road.

He explained that it was really hard at this age and he couldn’t make any guarantees but he looked at the chicks side-by side and did his best to help me pick out two Rhode Island Red chicks and two buff chicks that were “probably” pullets.  My cost: ten dollars.  Chase got chicks too.  He picked out two little black bantam chicks and we added them to my box.

We talked to the guy that sold us the chicks for a long time about his homing pigeons because Kylie wanted pigeons. They were really beautiful and were only $20 a pair.  We decided we should check out the other vendors so I carried the chicks around in their box while we looked at the rest of the animals. 

The kids really liked the pregnant pig, but we spent most of the rest of our time at the goat booth.  When I got there, Kylie was bottle feeding an adorable baby pygmy goat.  She passed the bottle to Dylan and he finished feeding the goat.

Everyone wanted a turn.

Everyone wanted a turn.


Dylan finished feeding the bottle to the goat while we talked to the man that owned the goats and his daughter.  She showed us all their other animals and he discussed  his “baby goat formula”.  I asked the man how much the goat was.  When he told us $100, Stephanie said that she wished she had stopped at the bank because she would buy him. 

Bottle feeding the baby goat.

Bottle feeding the baby goat.

 After our other purchases, I had $30 left, Chase had $40 and Steph had $20.  I asked the man if he would take $90 for him.  His daughter ran over and whispered that  he should sell him to us.  So Kylie got a new pygmy goat to show at the fair next year and the Becker-Margerison clan added a fifth goat to their herd.

After the purchase of the goat, there wasn’t enough cash on hand to get the pigeons but I don’t think Kylie was upset since she had the brand-new-baby goat to bring home with her.   

So what do you do with a baby goat when you drive to the animal show in a four-door hybrid car??  Ride home with a goat in your back seat and a box of chickens in your lap. 

Chase and Dylan in the backseat with the baby goat and a chick

Chase and Dylan in the backseat with the baby goat and a chick

The kids didn’t mind the livestock in their laps until the goat decided to do his business all over Kylie’s lap.  Dylan was the only one who got out of the ride unscathed as two different chicks left droppings on Chase.  When we bought the goat, his name was Hotshot, so the kids brainstormed new names on the ride back.  They came up with quite a list but Kylie finally settled on “Mario”.  That way, if she gets another boy she can name it Luigi and if she gets a girl she can call her Peach.  Plus, Stephanie decided that Mario looked a little Italian anyway.

We finally made it home with all the animals and moved the chicks into the yard so they could scratch and got them some water.  I decided a while ago that all my chicks would have food names because eventually they will probably all be dinner.  So. . . (drumroll please) meet the girls. 

Clockwise from the top: Cordon Bleu, Fried Rice, Cacciatore and Parmesan.

Clockwise from the top: Cordon Bleu, Fried Rice, Cacciatore and Parmesan.

The kids don’t like them having food names, but they know that if any of them are roosters we have to get rid of them and that eventually they will stop laying eggs and we will need to replace them.  So, we’re calling them Bleu, Rice, Catchy and Parma.  Still a little food-y, but the kids seem okay with the nicknames.

Now for the closeups.



Parmesan is the more well-groomed of the two buffs.  She’s molted more of her down and looks smoother because she has more of her “big girl”  feathers.  Parmesan doesn’t mind being held.

Bleu didn't want to hold still for her closeup.

Bleu didn't want to hold still for her closeup.






Chicken Cordon Bleu is the bossiest of the four girls.  I think she’s going to wind up on top of the “pecking order”.   Bleu usually ends up with the worms or grubs and tries to take them away if the other girls get there first.

Rice is Gwen's favorite.

Rice is Gwen's favorite.

Chicken Fried Rice doesn’t mind being held either.  She’s the more outgoing of the two Rhode Island Reds.  Reds aren’t as cold hardy as some of the other chicken breeds because they have larger combs that are more susceptible to frostbite so I hope the girls do well through the winter. 


The shy chick.
The shy chick.

Chicken Cacciatore is the most shy.  She’s really pretty though.  You can tell her from Fried Rice because she has a stripe down the top of her head like a mohawk. 

So the girls spend afternoons when we’re around to monitor them in this little run.  It’s actually the top of an old guinea pig cage.  In the evening or if it’s cold out, the girls come inside in their “brooder”  It’s actually the whole guine pig cage with a lamp added in for heat.  I love repurposed stuff.   For now the little brooder cage will work, but the girls will get big fast.  If you’d like to check out the evolution of a chicken from chick to lady, check out: http://3chixaday.blogspot.com/.  It’s a photojournal of three chicks growing into henhood.

The girls in their upcycled guinea pig cage.
The girls in their upcycled guinea pig cage.

The girls love to scratch in the dirt and look for ants and bugs.  They’re really funny to watch when they actually find something.  I think I’m going to really enjoy these chickens. (Especially when they start fixing me breakfast.)

Now we just need to start on a coop.  My wonderful hubby has been mulling over the designs I show him.  Considering his trade, I’m pretty sure the coop will be deluxe.  What I have in mind is something like what you can find here: http://occasionalchicken.blogspot.com/.  I’ll keep you posted (as my schedule allows) with the coop progress. 


Filed under urban chickens