Community Philosphy Blog and Library

Archive for the ‘DIY’ Category

HOMEGROWN Life: Oh, Baby, Baby! Pregnant Mama Michelle Shares Her Secrets for Buying Secondhand

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-DK-MAGENTALike me, I’m sure lots of HOMEGROWN readers aren’t crazy about being stagnant. For us, this equates to being unproductive. It goes against so many things we believe in! I don’t do well with forced stillness, even the kind brought on by pregnancy. And although I certainly don’t miss the shoveling (I am milking that this year!), I do miss the home projects that usually keep me busy and distracted when there are so many inches of snow on the ground.

That said, all of this sitting has given me the time to plan—as long as I can get my pregnant mind to stay focused for more than seven seconds at a time. The house is currently under construction, as our “extra” bedroom turned out to be not so extra after all. We’re adding an office/rec room, and I’ve been scouting out decor on the cheap.

homegrown-life-buying-secondhand-basement

 

I’ve always told the kids that buying secondhand is the best way to recycle, and I’ve taken that to heart with this pregnancy. Being pregnant has really amped up my desire to keep this world as clean as possible and to keep as many things out of landfills as I personally can! Although recycling cans and plastics in the household is obviously important, it can feel a bit removed from the cause. By buying and sourcing secondhand, my kids are learning that things don’t have to be new to be useful. More importantly, they realize their donated toys end up somewhere else, that there’s a life to these items. They’re not “out of sight, out of mind” quite so easily.

I’m lucky enough to have a Habitat for Humanity ReStore near me, where people and companies donate everything from furniture to construction materials. While I would prefer an eco-friendly variety if I had my druthers, I needed a large amount of paint—on a budget—so buying a leftover five-gallon bucket seemed like a decent second choice. It’s a fraction of the price and still has four gallons left in it. I also purchased several light fixtures, ceiling fans, and furniture for a fraction of their prices new. The ReStore also has tile and caulk—all of the little incidentals that I’d usually be tempted to grab at a hardware store.

homegrown-life-buying-secondhand-restore

 

Besides buying my decor secondhand, this time around I decided to collect almost all of my baby needs secondhand as well. From family and friends alone, I’ve received two hand-me-down cribs, additional furniture for the baby’s room, a safe car seat, a baby bag, and a baby monitor, among other things. I also signed up for all of the local Facebook online yard sale lists (just plug “your town + yard sale” into the search bar), including the free ones, and I check them regularly. I recently got a huge lot of clothes—65 items—for $60, and many things still had the tags on them!

HOMEGROWN-life-buying-secondhand-clothes

 

Some tips for buying secondhand baby items:

It’s all about timing. Be fast! If you see an item online but hesitate to express interest, the good deals will be snatched right out of your hands. Be decisive and be ready to pick up the purchase as soon as possible.

Spring is a great time to ask. It’s likely that your cousin would love to get that crib out of her attic! A lot of people who’ve had babies in recent years hold onto their goods, just in case. Prompt their memory by letting them know you’re happy to take these things off their hands. Just make sure the item in question is still safe and sound before using. For car seats, this includes making sure it has never been in an accident and that it hasn’t expired. If it has expired, Babies-R-Us offers a trade in. Turning in an expired model gets you a discount on a new one. Nice!

Speaking of asking . . . If you’re planning on breastfeeding, remember that many insurance carriers will cover all or a portion of your breast pump. Call and ask before Baby arrives!

Start early and give yourself time to collect. Begin looking for deals as early on in your pregnancy as you’re comfortable. The greater head start you have, the wider the variety of things you can get your hands on. Sometimes it takes a couple of months to find that perfect changing table, but persistence pays off. And even though it’s hard to remember when we’ve got piles of snow outside, yard-sale season will be here soon!

Offer to have it cleaned yourself. Sometimes people resist giving away an item due to the work or expense it would take to clean it. When talking with family or friends, or if you post an “in search of” request on a local site, mention that you’re willing to clean the right items. For something as pricey as a crib, a glider, or even a large lot of clothes in good condition, your effort will be worth it. Plus, your crazy nesting instincts are going to make you re-clean everything anyway!

Pay it forward. If you’re shopping and you see a great deal, pick up an extra and pay it forward to a mom in need. The same goes for keeping your baby items in good condition once you’re done with them. There will always be appreciative like-minded moms or women in dire need of your supplies. If you’re done having kids (like I thought I was!), pass supplies along as soon as your baby outgrows them. That means less clutter for you and more items recycled as quickly as possible.

Don’t forget consignment. Maternity clothes are pricey! Do yourself a favor and look for a local shop that carries maternity resale. You’re only wearing these items for a few months. You don’t have to invest hundreds of dollars in clothes to get you by!

Consider setting up a swap/trade in your area. Are there lots of families near you? There’s a good chance those moms are as hungry as you are for a good deal. Many parents will trade toddler toys for newborn needs or happily swap quickly outgrown “like new” sneakers for a nice set of swaddling blankets. Why not get everyone together and make a party out of it? Bonus: You’ll be building community with like-minded parents! Just make sure everyone marks a value on his or her items ahead of time; you can also bundle smaller items together for greater trade value. Check out HOMEGROWN member Kate’s Hosting a Food Swap 101 and Nat’s Bartering 101 for more ideas.

Got a great source for finding? Share your advice below and spread the secondhand love. Enjoy the hunt!

MORE FROM HOMEGROWN

 

HOMEGROWN-life-michelleMichelle Wire comes from serious pioneer stock: Her great-grandmother literally wrote the book. It’s this legacy, in part, that led Michelle to trade in her high-stress life for a Pennsylvania homestead. Even so, she holds down a full-time gig in between raising kids and chickens.

PHOTOS: MICHELLE WIRE

 

HOMEGROWN Life: Shaking Off a DIY Fail

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENI’m a self-conscious chef. In an effort to minimize disasters, I seek out recipes with clear, step-by-step instructions that leave little room for interpretation. And anytime I try something new in the kitchen, I make sure my roommate is on standby as my frontline taste tester. She’s usually happy to oblige, but every so often, she gets stuck with a burnt or undercooked creation.

This was one of those times.

Over the holidays, with so many other things going on, I thought I’d stick to a baking project I couldn’t mess up. Cupcakes. In a past life (OK, a not-so-distant two summers ago), I worked in a bakery and became something of a cupcake connoisseur. No style, design, or flavor fazed me. If I had a recipe, I could make it happen.

Just to mix things up a little bit, I thought I’d try making my own food coloring. I loved the idea of knowing exactly what I was smearing on my cupcakes—no weird chemicals or fake stuff, just ingredients I had selected myself. As I trolled the Internet for tips, with visions of festive red and green icing dancing in my head, I figured this would be a low-stress challenge.

Before long, I came across a blog detailing the necessary ingredients for mixing both red and green dye, but the lists were long and full of powders I wasn’t sure I could pronounce, much less afford or locate in a store. I sifted through other recipes until I found one that made natural dyes seem even easier than I’d thought: spinach juice for green and pomegranate or beet juice for red. Sounds simple, right?

Pomegranate juice is easy to find fairly cheap. I grabbed a bottle for $1.50—on sale that week, too, so it had to be fate. Spinach juice proved a bit trickier. I saw some online, but the price tag was steep, and I didn’t think waiting a week or so for it to arrive seemed practical.

Without a juicer or any knowledge of juicing, I decided I would try to liquefy spinach. I turned to my little food processor, my trustiest friend in the kitchen, thinking it could get the job done. After repeated dicing, chopping, and grinding, I was left with a murky green liquid that resembled algae or moss—in other words, not something you would willingly eat, let alone consider a treat.

homegrown-life-homemade-food-coloring-spinach

 

Next I tried mixing some of the sludge into my buttercream. The result: soggy white syrup flecked with green chunks. Needless to say, I couldn’t get my roommate to try it.

Zero for one, I held onto the hope that red icing would be easier. Who needs green, after all, when red is the color of Santa hats and candy canes? The pomegranate juice I had was already in liquid form, so turning it into icing should be as easy as stirring.

I added a few drops of juice to my buttercream and starting mixing. Nothing.

After dumping in a whole tablespoon of juice, the icing began to take on the palest pink tinge. My faith renewed, I dumped in another tablespoon of juice.

Hm. Still pink.

HOMEGROWN-life-homemade-food-coloring-icing

 

Yet another tablespoon in, the icing was slightly darker—though not quite red—but also extremely runny. I tried to spread it onto a cupcake, but it was too soupy to apply with a knife. I thought moving the icing to the fridge for a while might thicken up the consistency, but that was a lost cause, as well. The cupcakes looked like they had spent a 90-degree day in the trunk of a car. My roommate took a tentative taste and gave the flavor a thumbs-up, but she advised me not to take the cupcakes out into the world, where they would be subjected to ridicule.

I had to agree.

homegrown-life-homemade-food-coloring-cupcake

 

They say food is all about presentation, and in that respect, these cupcakes definitely failed. They’re the kind of thing I would usually hide in the back of my fridge rather than show off, but here they are now, in all their glory, on the Internet. To me, it’s a reminder that not everything you make will look or taste like the pristine examples you see in glossy magazines or on tastefully photographed blogs.

Sometimes we fail, whether through a flawed recipe or our own lack of skill. And you know what? It doesn’t matter one bit. You tried. You gave a shot. Maybe you made something edible, even if it’s not pretty. Hey, a laugh can be as much of a bonding experience—probably more—as sharing a fussed-over snack with a friend. The point is the experiment itself, in rolling with the punches and trying again.

homegrown-life-homemade-food-coloring-closeup

 

Or not. Red food coloring is one project I’m happy to leave to the pros. Valentine’s is coming up before long, and what says, “I love you,” like homemade pink icing?

amandaNortheastern University student Amanda Hoover spent her fall semester interning for HOMEGROWN and Farm Aid. She is an amazing baker (don’t miss her 101s on homemade Nutella, biscotti, and peanut butter cups), in addition to being an awfully good sport. Thanks for sharing your hits and your misses, Amanda!

ALL PHOTOS: AMANDA HOOVER

 

ICYMI: The Top HOMEGROWN Posts of 2014 (AKA Inspiration for 2015!)

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

 

Don’t worry. We understand if you didn’t spend every waking minute of 2014 hunched over the computer, drumming your fingers and waiting for the next HOMEGROWN 101 to post. You’re busy! You’ve got actual stuff to do, from tending the garden (not to mention the kids, pets, and livestock) to making breakfast to fashioning bird feeders from Mason jars. We get it. Your get-it-doneness is why we love you!

But just in case you were wondering what your fellow DIYers were reading while you were off crafting, baking, and planting, we’ve rounded up the top five HOMEGROWN posts from 2014 in a few different categories—plus some fun stuff to look forward to. Here’s to finding inspiration for a whole new year of doing in 2015!

HOMEGROWNpallethenhouse1011

Top 5 shiny new 101s of 2014:

  1. Sue’s Pallet Wood Chicken Coop 101
  2. Andrea’s Wine Bottle Wind Chimes 101
  3. Joe’s Fermented Chili Paste 101
  4. Cynthia’s Homemade Bone Broth 101
  5. Jessie’s Common Garden Pests 101—and how to fight ‘em!

HOMEGROWNgrowinglettuce101lettuces

Oldies but goodies! Top 5 archived 101s in 2014:

  1. Jennifer’s Drying Chili Peppers 101
  2. Camas’s Buying a Whole Pig 101
  3. Back to basics: Hoop Houses 101
  4. Lauren’s Duck House 101 (Don’t miss her Raising Ducks 101!)
  5. Lucy’s Growing Lettuce 101

ChocolateSwirlSweetPotatoPie2

Top 5 HOMEGROWN blog posts of 2014:

  1. Rachel’s pros and cons of tiny house living
  2. The Skills Tent Schedule at Farm Aid 2014—now with photos!
  3. The United States of Thanksgiving, HOMEGROWN-Style, with apologies to The New York Times
  4. Rachel’s big-batch granola recipe (This woman is a HOMEGROWN machine!)
  5. Dyan’s ode to fall cooking—and eating

Coming up next: a few inspiring—and totally doable—food resolutions for 2015. Stay tuned to HOMEGROWN.org! And happy HOMEGROWN New Year, you guys!