It’s a Wrap!

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It's a WrapWith the holiday season fast approaching, if you plan to make your gifts now is the time to start. It is also a good time to start thinking about how to package those gifts. Have you thought about handmade wrapping for handmade gifts? Or any gifts, for that matter?

Did you know that Americans throw away 25% more trash during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday period than any other time of year? The extra waste amounts to 25 million tons of garbage, or about 1 million extra tons per week! And it is not just the paper wrapping either. Cards, ribbon, and fancy embellishments all get thrown away.

Why Wrap Gifts?

There is a psychological component to wrapping a gift. The anticipation of unwrapping it, the guessing what is in it, and the visual delight suggesting “something of value within” all build excitement.  They add to the experience of both the giver and the person receiving the gift.

But who has money to throw away these days? You can easily spend over $15 just to present a gift with a card. It can be lifestyle-driven too. If you are in a hurry, you rush into the store to buy the gift bag, a bow or ribbon enhancement, the tissue paper to hide the gift inside, and a nice card. When we are in a hurry we are tempted to trade our money for our time. Unless we plan ahead, this often happens. That is, if we have the money to spend.

Admit It

Sometimes you want the wrapping to convey something about you. To convey that you give lavishly. That you have good taste. All too often society and the media shape our expectations and that leads to habits that become “normal” in our culture. But sometimes “normal” is just not good. Not good for our environment. Not good for our pocketbooks. Not good for our stress levels.

While I love a beautifully wrapped gift, I am trying to discover new ways to present a visual delight when wrapping a gift – ways that don’t include throwing the wrapping away. Here are some ideas that you might want to use this year. These wrapping alternatives can be quite elegant or as plain as can be (think rustic), but they can be reused! And valued! Just use your imagination to make your wrapping uniquely you!

Alternatives to buying and using wrapping paper:

Cloth wrappings

  • Leather or cloth used as furoshiki bag.  Japanese furoshiki is a traditional japanese wrapping cloth, used to wrap everything. Furoshiki can be used for gift wrapping, grocey shopping or even as clothing. Just click here for a delightful visual display, then watch the DIY tutorial video below.

  • Use an infinity scarf or a regular scarf, either as the wrapping or as the “tissue” lining for the present.
  • Make your own food wrap (like they did in pioneer days) using cotton cloth and beeswax, and use these as both a gift and the wrapping for small items, especially kitchen related gifts, or food gifts. Perhaps consider securing them with a food clip. This is an excellent DIY article on making these simple cloths using your oven. Here is another method of making this wrap, using an iron.
  • Use warm woolen socks (perhaps you too have some unmatched socks!) to “wrap” bottles, and secure them with ribbon or twine. Perfect for that holiday hostess gift! Or use a pair as an extra gift when wrapping a wine or oil bottle, as shown in the video below.

Papercraft – make your own reusable boxes to enclose a gift (this is also an excellent project for children.


Use the pattern to cut out your cardstock, then score along the dotted lines. If you don’t have a scoring tool, or if you’re like me and have misplaced yours, you can use a closed ballpoint pen instead. I like score the cardstock on the ironing board. Use tacky glue or double sided tape to secure the main seam. Fold the end pieces in along the score lines, folding the piece with the cutout in first. Embellish as desired. You can tie these with ribbons or string as well.

Plain cardboard box as wrappingSimple-Box – purchase very inexpensively at a craft store. Use twine or string.

  • Give a child a gift in a plain box with supplies to decorate it to make a special box for their treasures. Or let a child decorate one of these boxes to enclose a gift to someone.
  • Use this to wrap an exquisite gift, and let the contrast make a statement.

Practical boxes to wrap a giftPractical boxes to wrap a giftBuy a nice gift box or file box to “wrap” your present. They are relatively inexpensive. Or if you are creative you can make your own by using a plain box you buy at a craft store. Add a meaninful photo to the boxes that feature photos, and then use twine or ribbon to finish it off.

Make or buy drawstring bags to BurlapBagspresent your gifts – ones that can and will be reused. These can be as elegant (silk) or simple and plain (burlap) as you wish. With just rudimentary sewing skills you can sew a rectangle and fold over the edges to create a space for inserting a ribbon or cord for the drawstring.

You can also buy pre-made organza or satin gift bags very inexpensively that look fabulous and are sure to be re-used. Try putting some pot-pouri or fragrance beads in the little organza bags to freshen up drawers. Or give jewelry in a fancy bag like the one shown. You may be able to get these locally, but if not you can order them from Creative Castle at (805) 499-1377 (just ask for Carole) or by emailing (I get no compensation by recommending them, I just want you to be able to find them somewhere if you want them and cannot find them locally.)



Also interesting is a little “purse” that you can use to enclose jewelry or a small gift. These are perfect for little girls. They would make a nice “surprise present” hidden as a Christmas tree ornament. The ones I purchased were $0.99 each. Again, if you can’t find these locally you can contact Creative Castle and they will be happy to ship them to you.



No wrapping – find a Bucketsbucket, basket or clay pot at your craft or 99 cent store to use as the container, and use burlap or other fabric to cushion the gift. Believe me, this type of “wrapping” can be much cheaper than just one fancy gift card. Around the holidays choose a festive Christmas or Hanukkah tea towel to line a basket.

As shown in the photos above, you can buy cotton cloth squares at your local fabric stores for $2.00 or less. You will find these in the quilting section. After ironing and cutting edges with pinking shears, you can create a no-sew liner for a basket you find in the dollar store or craft store. Total cost – $5-7 for a “wrapping’ that can be used over and over! I would rather give an additional gift (the lined basket) than purchase wrapping and a card that will just be thrown away.

Take it a step further and wrap another gift with a contrasting color cloth and insert into the basket. These cotton squares are perfect for making cling wrap that can be used and washed and reused. Just tuck a plastic bag with grated beeswax and directions to make re-usable cling wrap into the basket. Or you might want to line your baskets with cling wrap that you have already made from these fabric squares.

Another idea is to buy or make a gift to wrap a gift – placemats, dishcloths, scarf, length of cloth or soft leather to reuse as furoshiki bag for groceries or for a nice tote/carry-all. Of course if you choose the cloth for furoshiki, type out the directions or include the URL for an online tutorial.

Alternatives to buying fancy ribbon, tissue, and specialty tags:

Use twine, string, paracord, cloth ribbon (especially a beautiful grosgrain ribbon), raffia, a belt, an elastic bracelet, a necklace, hair scrungies. You could even use a narrow scarf to tie up a cloth-wrapped gift, and add a pin to finish it off. Use your imagination.

Use a piece of cloth, a handkerchief, or a scarf as the “liner” in a box instead of tissue to present a nice gift.


Buy “chalkboard” tags, or buy the wooden tags and use chalkboard paint to make your own. Then suggest using these to label the mason jars in the pantry after the present is opened. Include a set of chalks. These would be perfect to give to kids beforehand so they can use these on the gifts they give. These can also be reused as a family tradition each year.

Make your own tags. These will probably get thrown away, but it will save money and they are fun to design. While this is not a reusable suggestion, you can save money by printing out your tags on the back of a 8×11 scrapbook paper of your choice. Cut them out, and you will have a beautiful design of your choosing on one side and a place to write on the other. If you prefer them to be a little stiffer, choose scrapbook cardstock.

Downloads:     Red Tags    Blue Tags

GiftSo here is a recent gift I presented to a friend. It incorporates some of these ideas listed above. She liked the box just as well as the gifts inside. I bought the scarf and the box, and the rest was handmade, including the pin for the scarf. I had fun making the tags and label too. I would have rather used red ribbon or cord, but  raffia is what I had on hand.

Use your imagination – the combinations are infinite! And you can’t loose by giving an extra gift (as the wrapping). See how creative you can get.


If you enjoy these articles and find them helpful, I would appreciate your using the Amazon links on the right to do your Amazon shopping. You cost stays the same, but I get a small commission, and this helps me to fund this blog. Thank you for considering this!


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Cooking During Power Outages

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WonderOvenAs winter approaches, given the forecasts for much of the nation, it may be a good thing to prepare for extended power outages. Because sun ovens may not be an option, you may be forced to cook over an open fire or with a propane stove or charcoal grill. Because there is no way to know how long the outage will last, you will likely be looking for ways to conserve your fuel.

What would you say if you could have a crockpot that uses no electricity? None. Nada. Just heat the food for 5-15 minutes, then finish it off in your non-electric, no fuel required, “slow cooker”. It cooks for hours! Like 12-18 hours if needed! It also preserves frozen or cold items as well. Added benefit – it is portable. Take it to potlucks or on a picnic.

I’m speaking about the Wonder Oven, which is really a set of (bean-bag) pillows. Pioneers used to call it a hay oven. And it is truly amazing. Once you bring food to a boil, you can take it off the heat and it will continue to cook in this “oven” at near boiling temperatures for hours. In fact, forget power outages. This is a good way to save money on electricity and/or natural gas any day of the week.

You can, of course, buy these on Amazon for about $55, but you could also make your own if you have rudimentary sewing skills. The cost? About 3 yards of cotton fabric and some bean-bag fill. Just follow this DIY tutorial. The pattern and instructions are here.

credit: 2leelou
Warning: There is no plan for washing the “oven” if your pot boils over a little while cooking, so to prevent accidents you may want to use a large towel to line the interior before you insert your pot. Or, if your pot doesn’t have a swing handle, set it on the towel first and then wrap the towel up and over, doubling it over the pot handles and use it in place of potholders to set the pot in the oven .

Disclosure: Some of the links on this site may be affiliate links. If you follow an affiliate link to a company or product and then end up buying something, I get a small percentage of the sale for referring you. Your price is unchanged. Thanks for your support of this blog.

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Don’t Get Flued In This Season!

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Time to think about how you plan to stay healthy this fall and winter. Elderberry is a great antiviral, and can be used in so many ways. My previous post on making an elderberry tincture is only one way to get prepared. Drinking elderberry tea is another. If you need to buy your elderberries dried, I recommend Mountain Rose Herbs or the Bulk Herb Store. If you still have time and are so inclined, you can forage for your elderberries. The following article has some great information in it.

EB2Foraging for Elderberries (and ideas for using them) | Learning and Yearning

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Toxic Fragrances?… and a Fantastic Giveaway

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NoFragranceIt never occurred to me that my perfume might bother some people. Or that perfume and cologne often contains various chemicals that many people consider toxic. We don’t think twice about using scented products – room air fresheners, lotions, shampoos, shaving creams, fabric softeners, and more. If they smell good they must be good, right? Wrong.

Fragrances used to be made from natural ingredients, like flowers and herbs.  That began to change in the 70s. Today they are at least 95% synthetic, and use crude oil or turpentine oil as the base. When inhaled or applied to the skin these can be dangerous  to those who are extra sensitive.  Children and pregnant women are especially at risk.

Fragrances (synthetic) are often used to mask the odor of other chemicals in a product. But how do you actually know what is in a product? The answer is often that you don’t, because fragrances can be considered a trade secret. But the list of potential hazards in your product is sobering. These include allergens and sensitizers (damaging to the immune system), phalates (linked to hormone disruption) and neurotoxins.

I could write pages on the research done on this subject, but instead let me refer you to a few places your basic questions can be answered:

Here is a good reference article to check out if you want to see common ingredients and potential resulting problems: Twenty Most Common Chemicals in Thirty-one Fragrance Products [based on a] 1991 EPA Study

And here is a timely article on what has now been termed “Second Hand Fragrance”, and how it can impact your health: Is Your Health Being Destroyed by Other People’s Toxic Fragrances?

So what is one to do? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Read labels carefully. Choose products with no added fragrance. Even products labeled as “fragrance-free” may contain a masking fragrance.
  2. Make your own products. There are tons of DIY articles on the internet with recipes for safe, homemade perfumes, soaps, lotions, cleaning products, and just about anything you want to make. It is not hard to do.
  3. Buy from people who make these items without any synthetic fragrances. You can find them blogging on the internet, or by checking out their Etsy shops, etc.
  4. Request that scented cleaning products not be used in places you patronize, such as hotels, car rental companies, and pet groomers.
  5. Use scents that are naturally derived or 100% essential oils.
  6. Do your research. Take responsibility for your own health, and that of your family.

Now let me tell you about my friend’s fantastic giveaway. Thanks to Karen at Blue Yonder Urban Farms for letting me share this with you.


These products are  made with Organic or unrefined, oils and butters. There are no added scents, only naturally occurring scents such as coconut, shea, and cocoa.These products are free of toxic chemicals, which are frequently found in commercially bought items.

Enter to win

$60 Value all natural spa package!

4 – lbs Sonoma Sea Salt
1 – Sisal Sponge
2 – 8 oz Jars Cocoa Butter
1 – Cocoa Butter Bar w/case
2 – 1 oz Jars Unrefined Shea Butter
3 – 3.5 oz Bars Organic Coconut Oil Soap
*3 Spray Bottles are shown but not included in the giveaway…

Can’t wait? Buy these items now if you would like to! 

Exclusive offer: 20% off  purchase of $20 or more. Just use this code over at Blue Yonder Urban Farms during checkout: JWTN1G

Enter the contest here (scroll to the bottom of the page and use the Rafflecopter). Don’t wait, do it now!

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Splurging on Stevia Extract While Staying on Budget

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SteviaExtractI like to use liquid stevia in my morning smoothies and in my tea and Greek yogurt. I go through it fast. Stevia extract is quite pricey, and paying for those little bottles can cut into my budget.

Once I discovered how easy it was to make extracts, I determined to make my own Stevia extract as economically as I could. Here is what I did:

Stevia requires very little maintenance to grow. While it can be grown in the ground, I like to garden in containers. Planters can be expensive, but a 5-gallon plastic painter’s bucket will run you less than $3. No electric drill for putting drainage holes in the bottom of the bucket? No problem. A scratch awl is a great tool to use, and will cost you very little. Get it at Amazon here for $3.34.

At first I thought I would have to heat the awl in order for it to pierce the bottom of the bucket, but that wasn’t the case. It took a little pressure, but if I can do it, pretty much anyone can. The holes were a little small, so after I made the holes I wanted I simply used a screwdriver I had on hand and made them bigger.

Untitled-1Next, I set up some old bricks in a triangle shape to hold the bucket up off the cement, and filled it with potting soil and a few eggshells for calcium. Just wash off the shells as you use them in the kitchen and store the dry shells until you need them. I “crushed” mine in the blender.

SteviaPlantFinally, I added the 3 stevia plants I bought at the local nursery for $8.00, and right away I have enough to make my first batch of extract.

Things to note about growing stevia –
it likes full sun and well-drained soil. Keep the plant pruned from the top, like you would basil, and use the young leaves for your tea, cooking and extracts. If you want you can let one of the branches go to flower – simply do not prune it – and then save the seeds for growing more plants. Stevia can be harvested all summer, but it is actually sweetest in the fall when the temperatures drop.

Here is breakdown on costs for this project:

  • Bucket:  $2.78
  • Scratch Awl:  About $4.00, unless you already have one. In any case, you will reuse this tool for years.
  • Potting Soil:  About $2.00 for the amount to fill the bucket, but you can use soil from your yard, or plant the stevia in the ground for that matter
  • Bricks: No added cost
  • Eggshells: No added cost
  • 3 Plants: Around $8.00

You will have plenty of stevia leaves to use in your tea, to dry and powder if you wish, and to make your own extract. To powder the dried leaves simply use a coffee grinder or food processor. I have found that a coffee grinder will make the finest powders. Homegrown stevia powder is not as sweet as the storebought version. To cook with it replace 1 cup of sugar with 3-4 teaspoons of your homemade powder.

While homemade powdered stevia will be green instead of white, it will be just as sweet and it will not be processed like the store-bought versions. This means it will not have that bitter after-taste!

Now for the Extract:

Fortunately, Jill Winger over at Prairie Homestead just published an excellent tutorial on making your own homemade stevia extract. I was so pleased to know that you only have to let it set for about 36 hours, not the 6 weeks for other extracts. Simmering it afterwards cooks out the alcohol, so it is safe for children too. And for those of you out there who are gluten free, remember to use Smirnoff vodka for the extract if you are going to use alcohol.

DropperBottleOnce you have made your extract, keep it in a dark, dropper bottle. I like the 4 oz. bottles, which you can get here. Kept in the refrigerator, your extract should last about 3 months.

Vodka is cheap, and now you have a free source of stevia leaves, so it takes very little effort to make a pint or even a quart of stevia extract. Can you imagine how much you would pay for a pint of this at the store? And by making it yourself you will avoid the bitter aftertaste in the bleached store versions! This is the major reason many people avoid stevia!

I’m seeing lots of homemade gifts for my friends in the future. Of course lots for me too. And I won’t feel like I’m overspending on this item ever again. In fact, it feels like I’m getting it practically for free. And I am! I may be living with less these days, but I’m living abundantly with a little effort, a little problem solving, and a lot of joy.

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