Sunday, November 29, 2009

Christmas Crafting: Candles

For gifts this year I have decided to make homemade candles. I got the idea to use old tea cups from an issue of Martha Stewart. It's actually quite brilliant since tea cups are already meant to have hot liquid in them so they won't crack when you pour the wax in and the handles make it easy to move the candle while it's burning.
For these candles I used lead-free pre-waxed wicks from a craft store but you can use natural cotton wicks too (I didn't because they don't stand up on their own in the cup so it's an extra step to secure them). I got the tea cups at thrift store. The prices ranged from 49 cents to $1.99, so it was a good deal. I bought some natural beeswax from the craft store to use but found that I could melt down the leftovers from some soy-wax candles I got for Christmas last to make new candles. The wax was already pre-dyed and scented (eliminating yet another step). The only other thing I bought for this craft was an old cheap pot from the thrift store to melt the wax in (no matter how hard you try you can never get all the wax out of the pot).
All-in-all this was a really fun craft and really cost-effective. For each candle I believe the cost is between $5-$8 depending on the size, which is great considering some of the beeswax candles in my house now were purchased for $12 or more. I have decided that will definitely be making all my candles from now on. Not only is it fun to make the candle but I must say I really enjoyed hunting for those adorable cups.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Winter Harvest

My first attempt a winter garden has not been going very well. I planted a little late and I got the cold covers on the plants after a frost. It definitely wasn't the best planning. We lost a few things in the frost but I think most might make it. My kale and spinach seem to be growing just fine. However the wet weather I think contributed to the cabbage and beets being demolished by slugs. I have some collard greens that may or may not make it. They were unfortunately caught in the frost. The parsnips and new brussel sprouts will be ok but they will definitely have to over-winter. The garlic appears to be unharmed by the cold weather but then again it is supposed to be over-wintered so I would expect it to be hardy.
The summer garden went so well though that a failing winter garden is really affecting us. Yes, I feel disappointed that some of my garden died and that other plants were eaten by bugs but the fact that it is the end of November hasn't had an impact on our diet. We've been eating a lot of the zucchini and beans we froze this summer and I've started cracking open the cans of fruit I preserved. I love that I put all the effort into it because now we are able to maintain our local, organic and health diet.

Above are some pictures of what we have been able to get from the garden this winter. Some very sweet carrots (not many but some) and some tender organic brussel sprouts. Brussel sprouts take a very long time to grow. They were some of the first things I planted in April and the first harvest was ready the second week of October. I will have to remember to plant early if I want brussel sprouts.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Gift from Hydro

We got a nice surprise in the mail last week. We had applied for the BC Hydro Energy Savings Kit and I had almost forgot it was coming. It's a box of supplies meant to help to minimize your energy consumption and I think it is perfectly timed for the winter. It included 3 CFL lightbulbs, weather stripping, faucet aerators (both kitchen and bathroom), low-flow shower head, foam pipe wrap, an efficient nightlight, foam outlet and lightswitch sealers, outlet covers, fridge and freezer thermometers, a hot water thermometer, window insulator film and more. It comes with 2 types of weather stripping; foam and v-seal. We haven't decided which to use and where.
We had an energy audit last week as well. I'm really happy with our results. We scored at 76, which may not seem that great but in houses of our size and age the best score ever received was 80, so by that standard we are doing really well. The only major thing we have to fix is the seal around our front door needs some weatherstripping (so we got the box just in time).
My favorite item out of this kit has to be the low-flow showerhead. It is really fancy looking and it comes with 3 settings; spray, niagara and massage. Yes, massage! The nightlight is pretty cool. To run the nightlight for one year costs 26 cents, so I placed it in the living room so there is some light when we first come in the door at night. The faucet aerators don't fit our taps which was really disappointing since they are really nice and I'm all for reducing the amount of water we use.
Everything in the kit is really easy to install and you will see a difference on your hydro bill if you install the products provided and follow the energy saving tips that come in the booklet. I think the only tool you need to install anything is a screwdriver. The hardest thing install is probably the window insulator film and that is only because it is challenging to smooth out every wrinkle.
All-in-all I think this a great project by BC Hydro. Everything in the box can be put to good use and it really was great to get some help with energy savings. The box is free to anyone who qualifies. If you would like to learn more about the project, apply for a kit and/or see if you qualify visit

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Green Tips: Giving "Green"

Christmas is coming and already the malls are packed with people trying to get the perfect gift. This season try to lessen the impact on the environment and give some awesome eco-friendly gifts.

1. Make a donation in someones name. They get the tax deduction and somewhere someone else is getting a great gift too. Our favorites are WWF, Oxfam, the TLC, UNHCR, WildArc, and the Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Fund. A lot of these organizations will also offer gifts when you donate that you can wrap up and give to someone along with the donation. It's a feel good gift all around.

2. Give homemade goodies. Every year I give everyone a big box of Christmas cookies, homemade chocolates and some other baked good like scones or brownies. It really is fun to munch away on homemade treats with a cup of tea in front of the Christmas tree. This gift is especially good for people with special dietary needs who can't just go to the bakery and pick out a treat. So try making peanut free, diary free, gluten free or vegan treats for someone who will really appreciate them.

3. Try making homemade bath products. Warning this is really addicting! Last year I made peppermint bath bombs for everyone in my family and oh man were they nice (of course I used the defective ones myself). Bath oils are really nice to make too and homemade beeswax lip balm is surprisingly easy to make. I'll post some instructions for these ideas soon.

4. Homemade drinks. Let's face it, we all do some drinking over the holidays. Try giving flavored vodkas (cranberry vodka is my favorite) or bottle some margarita mix. Another idea is to pick out a nice red wine and give it with some homemade packets of mulling spice. This one is endless!

5. Give a "time" gift. Last year my mom was getting a little run down over the holidays so for her gift I gave her 4-5 days worth of homemade frozen dinners (lasagna, enchiladas, tandorri chicken and tamali pie). I wanted her to be able to come home from work without having to worry about dinner and she could just sit back and relax until dinner was done. Do something similar, give containers of frozen homemade soup or show up one afternoon and offer to put up Christmas lights for someone. I don't think any gift is more appreciated over the holidays than the gift of relaxation.

If you don't have the time to do any of these then please try to purchase gifts that come in minimal packaging and if you can, purchase from a local eco-friendly company. Also, use re-usable gift bags this year instead of gift wrap. Be creative here too. You could hang a necklace or a gift card in the tree on Christmas morning, or use a scarf to wrap another gift. I hope one or more of these ideas has inspired you to do something different this year :)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Christmas Crafting: Cards

'Tis the time of year to start planning for Christmas. Christmas is my favorite time of year and part of that joy is taking the time to make personal, homemade gifts for the people I love. This year I decided to put in the time to make my own Christmas cards. These turned out to be a lot of work. I decided to do them with glitter (because really when else do you get to do glitter art?). But in order to get the wording to look like I did it with a pen, I needed to put on the glue using a toothpick. They took a really long time but I'm almost completely done and I quite like how they look. Now I just hope all the glitter doesn't come off in the mail!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Meal Planning

I've never really been into pre-planning my meals for the week unless I was on some sort of strict new diet. But in an attempt to save more money, I've decided to start planning our meals out for the week. I'm starting with meals that use what I already have and then choosing meals that require minimal shopping. The great thing is that I already have so much that has been canned or frozen from the summer and we have a ton of organic beef from when we got half a cow with my parents.
For this week I'm going to try the following. I may switch the days but I'm hoping to make all the below meals sometime this week. I've list most of the ingredients. If you have them in your home already maybe you might try these meals as well.
Monday: Garlic Prawns and Orzo (frozen wild prawns, garlic, white wine, olive oil, frozen tomatoes, basil, orzo, seasoning*)
Tuesday: Bean and Beef Burritos with Corn (ground beef, onion, seasoning*, chili, kidney or black beans, tortilla wraps, salsa, cheese, frozen or canned corn)
Wednesday: Steaks with Zucchini Dippers (steaks, soy sauce, garlic, chilis, seasoning*, bread crumbs, egg, parmesan cheese, zucchini rounds, dipping sauce of your choice)
Thursday: Beef Stew with Bread (stewing beef, vegetable broth, carrots, potato, pumpkin, onion, garlic, peas, celery, seasoning*, artisan bread)
Friday: Breaded Sole with Edamame (sole, bread crumbs, egg, seasoning*, herbs, lemon juice, ginger, frozen or fresh edamame)
Saturday: Beef and Vegetable Stirfry over Rice (beef, onion, garlic, peas, carrots, celery, water chestnut, soy sauce, brown rice, seasoning*)
Sunday: Vegetable and Barley Casserole (pot barley, chickpeas, carrots, vegetable broth, onion, garlic, squash, celery, seasoning*)
*seasoning is basically any spices or herbs you would like to use in your meals. My common seasoning includes sea salt, dried garlic, chili powder, black pepper, and paprika. But again it varies with the type of meal and who is sharing the meal with me.
Leftovers are typically used for lunches the next day so that is why I haven't planned lunches here. Also breakfast is usually quick in the morning (fruit, oatmeal, toast or cereal) so it doesn't really require planning.
At the end of the week I will take another inventory of what I have left in my pantry and freezer and decide if I can do another week of meals without shopping or not (my guess is that I will be able to).