The $1.25 Quilt Top

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Yes, a $1.25!

I happen to work across the street from a very good thrift store.  Since I am a local government employee on a fixed income, and one who is also granted two 15-minute breaks a day, I  visit this thrift store often.  Although it can be very tempting to escape with deals every day, I do try to keep my purchasing to a minimum.  However, there are some deals that are just too priceless to ignore.

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25 squares for 25 cents

Since I frequent this store so often, I have found that I often peruse it in a certain order.  One of my first stops is always the craft/fabric section.  There is always fabric and some remnant yarn.  One (very!) lucky day I found a plastic baggy for 25 cents that contained 25 nine patch quilt blocks.  Since 25 cents gets one next to nothing these days, let alone 25 perfect quilt blocks, I could not believe my luck.  I purchased my score and stashed it for some future undetermined project; I simply could not pass up the opportunity to have 25 perfect nine patches for the cost of less than an apple.  Some time later I was again wiling away my government granted break in the fabric section and I came across a yard of fabric printed with old fashioned postage/passport stamps in French.  I knew this would be perfect for my Francophile sister whom desperately deserved a homemade quilt.  Once home in my quilt room, I pulled out the 25 pack and wondered, would it be possible to make a usable quilt top for $1.25?  The answer to this question became my new mission.

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Add another $1

I searched through some of my quilting books for a pattern but after finding nothing exciting, I decided to create something of my own.  I wanted to make a one-of-a-kind scrappy quilt using only what I had available in my stash.  I started the blocks by bulking up the size of the nine patches adding on strips to all four sides.  These strips were all free to me as I am a former member of a strip club, and as a new member I received delinquent members monthly allotments.  After my first meeting, I walked out of the shop with 3 grocery bags full of quilt strips that all these years later I am still whittling away.  Once I bulked up the blocks with a completely random selection of strips, I then made use of the vintage stamp fabric to make up the rest of the quilt.  Good job, me!  I made a quilt top for a $1.25 and it turned out pretty cute.

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Add another $2

In keeping with the frugal quilt challenge, I was able to get a couple of yards of fabric for $2 to complete the backing.  The most expensive part of the quilt was the batting which I paid full price for at my local quilt shop. (I love this shop so I have no qualms about making full priced purchases here.)  I did all of the quilting myself on the mighty Bernina.  I quilted a sort of hourglass shape over all of the nine patches and then followed it up with a lot of free form swirls around the remainder of the quilt.  I loved the challenges of this project:  creating a pattern, using what was available and quilting it by myself.  It was a big surprise for my sister on her birthday and I know that it will get a lot of love and use.

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Now that it is definitively fall here in Colorado (we had snow last night at our house), this blanket is in a good home.  Right at this moment, I imagine it is being draped over resting legs, with my dog nephew lounging nearby and a movie on the TV.  All I ever want for my gifts is for them to get good use and make another being warm and cozy.  And the person who originally made all of those perfect nine patches wanted the same; I happened to be the person to put their work to a good use.  So thank you random thrift shop donor for the perfect blocks that will now keep another Colorado being warm and cozy.

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Staying warm yurt style

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The yurt in warmer times

Aw, the picture above reminds that there will again be a time when the yurt bubble is open and there is not a 2 foot field of condensed snow surrounding our home.  In the meantime, we are dealing with an El Nino winter to topple records with a couple of months left to go.  How are we staying warm without all of the trappings of modern homes?  Through the very simple tricks listed below.

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The Yurtain – a yurt curtain

Back in the fall when the warnings of the severity of our winter seemed far off, I decided to make us curtains for the yurt.   The huge advantage of our home is that we have a ton of light and, due to our spectacular natural surroundings, also have gorgeous views.  But our windows are plastic so I knew that we would have to do some covering up for the winter.  So I invented (or think I did . . .) the yurtain, a perfect curtain for the yurt.  It is a very simple utilitarian design.  I bought fabric that was already quilted, fancied up the edges with some binding and then added the ties at the top.  Voila, the yurtain.  The ties are important because we don’t have the ability to hang a traditional curtain rod.  These stretch to cover up our windows pretty well.  In the mornings when we leave for work, we simply remove one tie to let the sun in for solar heat gain.  When we get home, we tie the curtains back up for warmth.  Although only a half inch thick, there is a definite difference when the curtains are up.

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Weatherizing the door

Like all homes, we lose a lot of heat through our front door.  To combat some of this loss, we installed weatherstripping around the perimeter.  Next, I made a curtain out of scraps with batting in between to stop the leakage from the glass window.  This curtain, like the others, has ties so that we can take it down to allow light in.  Last, I made a simple door snake.  In the weatherization workshops, we always taught people that stopping the small leaks all around the house has a large cumulative effect.  This is the same principle applied here.  I fashioned a quick door snake for the bottom out of leftover scrap fabric and stuffed with all of the small pieces of quilting batting I had lying around that were not good for anything else.  I knew there would be an occasion for all of these stashed scraps!

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Warming up the bed

Lastly, we decided to enhance the space by our bed since that is where we spend a lot of our home time.  As our walls are rounded, a headboard does not work.  This allowed us to get a little creative.  First I stuffed foam from our furniture projects between the crossbars of our wall creating a padding and barrier.  Second, I hung up the pea quilt to cover up the foam and create another layer.  (Right now I’m not worried about the quilt getting bleached because the sun is too low in the sky.)  Then we added a second set of pillows behind our pillows for yet another layer of protection.  With this set up, we have no draft in our bed.  We use flannel sheets, a down comforter and a wool blanket to stay toasty inside.  If it’s especially cold, we can always wear a hat to bed and add another quilt on top.

Our home is heated by a wood stove that is brand new and fairly efficient considering that a lot of the heat is lost to our high ceilings.  We stumble over in the middle of the night to add a couple of logs until we wake up.  Not once has the stove been so cold as to not keep coals when we are tending the fire.  We start the fire immediately when we get home and wait only a little while for the place to heat up.  During this time we are also busy moving and getting dinner ready that the cold is hardly noticeable.  It is really a pretty simple set up and works well for our home.

When we are home in the winter, we are not sitting around in T-shirts and burning logs with abandon.  We wear sweaters and slippers and we use the plethora of blankets we have around.  This is how we all used to live in the not so distant past.  What we are doing is what has always been done.  We are conscientious of little steps that we can take that have big impacts.  Collectively, if everyone turned down their thermostats even a few degrees and donned a sweater, plus plugged up the smaller leaks around the home, it could make a huge impact on our wallets and our planet.  We all can keep ourselves comfortable in the deepest darkest of winters with simple solutions.

When Life Gives You a Bag of Limes

Ready for action!

Ready for action!

In our household, we are constantly trying to mitigate waste; waste not, want not could be our household mantra.  We do our best not to waste resources, food, time, energy and money.  Therefore in my continual quest to eat well on a limited budget, I am a huge proponent of the sale produce bins.  I am not afraid of a few bruises or misshapen pieces — I know what to do with the produce others do not want.  My favorite thing these days is the $2 bags of produce at the natural grocery chain.  These bags are gems full of produce that within a few days will be delegated to the compost bin.  I am a rescuer of these fruits and veggies, a produce rescue missionary.

I cherish the days when I can score one of these bags because whatever is inside dictates the menu for the next couple of days.  Soon, I will write an entire blog homage to the wonder that is the $2 (did I mention 100% Organic?) produce bag.  Today, my message is all about the limes.

My latest $2 score included approximately 3 pounds of limes and 2 bunches of fresh spinach.  The spinach was quickly turned into pesto and wilted further into a breakfast egg scramble.  The limes presented a tempting challenge; what could I do with this many limes?  An impromptu margarita cocktail party was my initial thought but that seemed like a bad idea on a work night.  I decided that what I could not use immediately, (i.e. margaritas or mojitos) could easily be saved for later occasions.

Holy pile of lime zest!

Holy pile of lime zest!

As a southwestern Colorado mountain dweller, I am appreciative of every lemon, lime, orange, avocado and banana I am able to get because none of these are grown within my time zone.  Often we only use the inside of the citrus fruit and forget about the incredible aromatics of the peel.  In our kitchen, I always save the zest for another recipe; a pinch of citrus zest can be an incredible addition to many dishes.  With the use of a zester or the finest setting on your cheese grater (careful to not scrape your knuckles!), you can extract the peel from the fruit.  You only want the outside of the peel and not the bitter pith which is the white coating protecting the interior.  I zested all of the lime peels to freeze for another time.  This zest will be great in Pad Thai or a stir-fry or in muffins when I need something to brighten up the flavor.  There is a good reason why the peel is called zest, it will add pep to any dish you choose.

Straight up lime juice.

Straight up lime juice.

After I zested, I juiced the remaining limes with a hand-held juicer.  A helpful tip here: it is probably a good idea to wear gloves if you have a lot of minor scrapes, cuts and overall dry hands.  What you extract is pure lime juice without any weird added coloring or sugar.  I chose to juice the limes into a Pyrex measuring cup because the next step in my lime preservation is lime juice ice cubes.  The rational being that because lime is such a strong flavor, the ice cube size is a perfect proportion for future margaritas, I mean recipes.

Voila! Lime cubes.

Voila! Lime cubes.

After all of this prep work, our house smelled enticingly of limes. Naturally I needed to see if my preservation plan worked.  I took the smallest lime cube and plopped it into a cocktail glass with tequila.  Blimey my drink is limey!  The lime cubes are quite intense, but on the positive side, in just a few sips I have prevented scurvy.

Vitamin C cocktail

Vitamin C cocktail

Don’t overlook the bins of bruised veggies and fruits. There are so, so many way to preserve produce.  If you are going to cook within a few days, save yourself a few dollars and save the produce from the slow decomposition back into soil.  Really ripe produce forces you to be creative in the kitchen and make the best with what you’ve got when you’ve got it.

Homemade All Natural Laundry Soap

Super easy and non-toxic

Super easy and non-toxic

Making laundry soap isn’t the most exciting thing to do on a Saturday morning, but in the pantheon of household chores, this ranks in the “very tolerable” category in both time and money.  I started to make my own soap out of necessity as our former residence had the hardest water ever which, after washing, left a crummy residue on our clothes when the soaps did not dissolve.  I started to do research about natural solutions to this conundrum and discovered that both borax and washing soda work well in hard water.  I then found many recipes for homemade laundry soaps using both ingredients and, after some test runs, have settled on the following.  This formula is an extremely affordable way to use natural laundry detergent without the steep price of manufactured natural soaps — at pennies a load.  Nothing costs a penny anymore, except this!

Grating the soap bar.

Grating the soap bar.

All you need is washing soda, borax, baking soda and a bar of natural soap (I use Dr. Bronner’s because I like to have a little bit of fragrance in the soap), and a bucket.  The first step is grating the bar of soap; I use a cheese grater.  Once grated, I grind the soap in an old food processor (it’s missing half a blade so I kept it for this purpose but you can use your regular appliance and wash it post soap-making) with a cup of one of the powdered ingredients until the soap is about the same consistency as typical laundry soap.  Place all of the ingredients in a bucket and mix, shaking until everything is incorporated.  The process from start to finish takes all of 10 minutes which is about the same amount of time it takes to walk down a couple of aisles in the grocery store.  Yep, this recipe is easy peasy lemon squeezy, as my former kindergartner students used to say.  The best part is that you only use a tablespoon to do a load of laundry, so your batch will last you at least a couple of few months.

Homemade laundry soap — adapted from many online recipes and tested by our household

  • 3 cups of borax
  • 3 cups of washing soda
  • 1 cup of baking soda
  • 1 bar of natural soap (i.e. Dr. Bronner’s), grated

That is really it!  All of these ingredients can be easily procured at your local store.  As a bonus, this recipe also works well for people with sensitive skin as there are no harsh ingredients.  Give it a spin and you will see that making your own laundry soap is loads better than what you can buy.

Handmade Sushi — Just Roll With It

Sushi at Home!

Sushi at Home!

When you make a lot of stuff from scratch, you always accept that what is handmade is not going to look exactly like that which is mass produced.  There are lumps and bumps and, very often, some cursing involved in trying to learn a new skill.  But for those of us who love to make, you always have to challenge yourself to new levels of craft.

Recently I made sushi all by myself from scratch.  The inspiration came while high-altitude lake kayaking, as I suddenly had a hankering for both sushi and baklava.  Sushi is a much more achievable a task than dozens of layers of phyllo dough, so I decided to strive for that craving.  Sushi has an aura of complexity, yet it is a very simple food that requires simple techniques and good ingredients.  As a devoted non-perfectionist, I wasn’t very intimidated for I knew that even if my rolls looked a little askew, they would at least taste good.  Or, I could just pretend that I was going for a whole deconstructed roll sort of aesthetic when they fell apart.  I started with cooking the sushi rice (adding a tablespoon of rice wine vinegar to the cooking liquid to make it sticky).  The center of my rolls was a super combination of smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber and avocado.  Once the rice cooled, it was spread one grain thick onto the nori, topped with a thin smear of cream cheese, slices of smoked salmon, and thin pieces of cucumber and avocado.   I think the toughest part of all the construction was the meticulous little slices of fillings.  I rolled without a bamboo mat and cut the rolls with a simple chef’s knife.  (Important note:  when cutting rolls, clean the knife with a wet rag after each slice.)   While slicing the rolls, my end pieces were not awesome, yet they offered up tasty samples for the sushi chef and her sweetheart.  The taste was quite splendid: the combination of the smoked salmon and cream cheese very New York,  the cucumber and avocado very simple and fresh.  In my humble opinion, pretty darn good taste for a non-traditionalist like myself.

As always, my rendition of the real thing came out costing a lot less than even the packaged sushi at our grocery and included leftover ingredients for future meals — smoked salmon, cream cheese and caper sandwiches on homemade bread for dinner, perhaps.  My rolls were far from perfect and, during the creation of said rolls, I wasn’t quite as zen as your (obviously stereotypical) image of a sushi chef.    All told, it was a fun dinner and not too much work.  Paired with a mug of miso soup, our house was transformed into a more cozy sushi bar for an evening.