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I heart kraft paper!

Early this year, when writing a post about my small steps toward sustainability, I realized that I was turning into my grandma. Open up my kitchen drawer of  clean, but previously-used Ziploc bags and pieces of aluminum foil around my family and they’ll likely say, “Oh my God, you are just like grandma and Poppy.”

We used to joke about how silly it seemed when they cleaned out a to-go container to save or how weird it was to unwrap a present to find a Cheerios box inside, which was creatively being used to hold some practical gift. And now I follow in their footsteps, only to realize it during random moments of reflection. Yep, I’m their granddaughter for sure.

Yes, I’m discovering that I’m the type of girl that will carefully unwrap a gift so as to reuse the paper again. I’m the type of girl that has an under-the-bed-tote billowing with gently used gift bags, tissue, and paper that are in perfectly good shape to be re-gifted.  I haven’t gone so far as to iron old gift wrap and tissue paper, but I could totally imagine doing something like that now. I can’t remember the last time I actually purchased a gift bag.

This year, I’m going to take it a step further. I’m dolling up my kraft paper packages with holiday stamps and then, what I can salvage, I’ll save to stamp and decorate on the other side for other gift wrap-needed occasions. Kraft paper is sturdy, so I’m likely to have lots for future uses. Whatever gets ripped will get shredded and used later in my worm bin. Like I said before, I’m in the Christmas spirit and this year, I’m putting my own spin on it. I just might also be making myself the crunchy black sheep of the family in the process.

Urban Farmhouse: The dining room

This marks the beginning of a potential new series – a little insight into the making of my little farmhouse in the city, as I like to call it. Virtually, you’ve been in my yard. You’ve been out on the patio and even out to the alley, where the compost is. So it’s high time I invite you inside. And really, it’s not a total digression. I’ve been working on creating some unity between the exterior and the interior of the place where I spend so much time, bringing the outside in. The food may grow outside, but it spends quite a bit of time inside in its transformation from living organism to sustenance. Plus, winter is upon us and my weekly garden musings will be few. And frankly, I need a little fall and winter blog inspiration. So, I hope you’ll allow me this little detour.

First, you should know that no wall in my house has ever been white…until now. The dining room has gone through several transformations over the years, usually reflecting my latest passion or interest. I moved into the house after a blissful trip to Antigua, Guatemala and was on a mission to recreate the colorful hacienda feel I experienced there. I painted a hutch that came with the house and my mom’s old table and chairs blue with calla lilies on them to go with my Latin theme. You know I never do anything half-assed. My passion for Spanish most definitely influenced my decorating style and with the help of my very talented Aunty Becky, who has her own interior design business, I always chose the boldest colors. She loved that.

But as time wore on, I yearned for something a little more organic. An ambience that better matched the lifestyle I was embracing. And since food was at the center of that personal transformation, the kitchen and dining room were the place to start. I chose a mostly white and cream pallet to create a sense of openness.

We put up white beadboard, or wainscoting, around the entire dining room, kitchen, and hallway to make the whole space feel like part of one room. I was lucky to already have beautiful, thick white moulding at the floor. A little bit of my aunt’s art work dons the wall to give the look of exposed bricks.

Ultimately, it would become a neutral background for the red, yellow, and blue accents, namely the colbalt tile that dons every countertop surface in my kitchen. And except for a few choice purchases, such as the polka dot pyrex bowls and my caribbean blue dutch oven, most of the details were already mine – they just got a little face lift. Like the hutch, table, and chairs.

The rug was a new purchase and is one of my favorite parts of the room. I love how it defines the space. It makes the room way cozier too.

The chairs got some new cushions, which I made with mismatched, but coordinating red and yellow print fabrics. I love, love, love the color that brought to the room.

My artsy, interior decorator friend, Hollis, helped me rethink what went on the hutch. She had me pull out all my coolest and most colorful kitchen things and put them on the table. Then she went to town and made my things look cheerful and lovely. It’s amazing what color-coding things can do for a previously cluttered space – gives everything a colorful sense of order.

The bottom part of the hutch holds only glassware, mainly the countless empty mason jars that I accumulate until summer. It should be noted that originally, the hutch doors were solid. I remedied that with a quick trip to Al’s Glass. Changing out the knobs for clear glass ones gave the hutch the shabby chic vibe I was going for.

Some reclaimed fence wood from the ReStore became the wood frames for my artwork.

So there you have it – my dining room from start to finish. It’s amazing what a summer vacation and a little paint can do.

Fabric Veggie Farmers’ Market Tote

My creativity and motivation as an artist ebbs and flows. Sometimes, I get so jazzed about a project, I’ll work on it for hours (we’re talking hours, people, like all day hours). It wakes me up in the early morning, like I can’t wait to get the idea and vision out of my head and made in real life.

Then other times, I can’t be bothered (and naturally, that’s usually when I get a request to make a custom order). It’s inevitable, I guess, especially as I become a more avid gardener. During the spring and summer months, all I want to do is be outside, but during the winter, art projects abound.

This tote bag, well, the first version anyway since this tote was made special for my bff for her birthday, was created during one such winter. During a winter when I was jonesing to grow something, but it was snowing outside. I got out my sewing machine, some scraps of fabric, and appliqued some veggies over the logo on an old tote bag (sorry, Safeway). It’s my farmers’ market bag and I’ve gotten so many compliments on it and requests to make them and sell them. Knowing how I am, you just might see one on my Etsy shop some day, but until then, they’ll just be special gifts and something you can make too!

I suppose I should let you know that some basic sewing skills are required for this project. But as sewing projects go, this one is super simple. You will notice lots of rough edges and areas where I just zigzag stitched with abandon, but I think that adds to the charm of these bags. Also, the goal of this project is to use what you have so dig in your drawers for those fabric scraps and odd pieces and doll up a tote that you already have. This one had stains on it, even after I washed it, but that was nothing a little fabric apple couldn’t cure. So here’s what it takes:

Cut out a piece of fabric to be your pocket/mini-tote bag. I cut mine out approximately the same size as the logo, just a little shorter.



Using super cute contrasting stitching like the red thread I used here, stabilize the pocket so it’s sturdier. I did this by just stitching a piece of thick canvas to the back of the fabric I was using. You could also get fancy and use interfacing too – that’s what it’s for after all!

Add a bit of single fold bias tape (stuff I already had on hand – I know, I had red bias tape!)  to the top of the pocket and add a handle. All of these details serve no purpose other than adding flair! My goal was to make the pocket look like a tote bag.




Place the pocket on the tote bag just to see where it’s going to end up. Make light marks on the tote bag at the edges of the pocket – I put a mark at each top corner and made a line in the middle. You’re going to use these marks as boundry guidelines for sewing on the vegetables. Attaching the pocket will be one of the last things you’ll do.

Now the fun begins – the fabric vegetables! Cut out the fabric into the rough shape of the vegetable you’re trying to mimic. If you have it, save yourself a headache and use some fabric glue to stick the vegetables in place before you sew them.


This is fabric asparagus. In general, I used straight stitching around the edges of the shape and fun zigzag stitching where it needed more texture or just general flair. And yes, I changed the thread several times so that the color of the thread would add to the look of the vegetable. So worth the effort, I think.


Fabric rainbow chard! The most fun of all since I got to use the shiny, colorful ribbon scraps I love. They make the perfect ribs!


Now for some fabric carrots. Yeah, I don’t know how it is that I just happen to have orange fabric in my stash. I’ve gone through a lot of creative phases in my day.


Those carrots need tops! Polka dots anyone? Just go crazy with the zigzag stitching here – just make sure you use fun, green thread!




An apple a day keeps the doctor away…plus, I just really wanted to use some of the cool, red fabric I had and another excuse to use ribbon. Brown ribbon makes the perfect stem!


This little apple covered a little stain. You’d never know it was under there.

Place the mini tote/pocket on top of the logo and just part of the vegetables and sew around all the edges except the top. I used red stitching again and used my original stitching (remember, when I added the canvas?) as a guideline. And there you have it – a reusable tote with a little pizazz and a pocket to stash your personal things. Now you can shop the farmers’ market with style.


My Small Steps Toward Sustainability

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while now and the inspiration has come from many places. I saw the movie, No Impact Man. I read books about sustainable living and articles like this one about families trying to live with less. And then there was this post I found by one of my favorite bloggers, Ashley English, on Design Sponge where she talked about the small measures, also the title of her blog, she takes to live a more sustainable lifestyle. I related to her list and realized that I do much of the same things to conserve and consume less.

I have to be honest though, I haven’t always been like this. The way that I am living my life today is a work in progress that’s been happening over the past few years. It started with food, being more aware of what food I was putting in my body. But turns out, when I started slowing down and paying attention to the food I was eating, I started to pay attention to other choices I was making. I didn’t mean to – it just happened. It was about food to begin with and then it started to be about life.

It was subtle. It happened as I started washing out and reusing Ziploc bags and “disposable” containers. I looked at my dish rack one morning to see a gallon size Ziploc bag, inside out and upside down hanging up to dry, and had a flashback of my childhood. I remember being in my grandparents’ garage and seeing washed Styrofoam take out containers piled on top of their chest freezer, which was always packed to the gills with their garden’s bounty. When they’d try and save something that the rest of the family would have thrown away, we’d say, “You’re going to save that?” Inconspicuously we’d judge and think, what are they going to do with that? They had been through the depression. They looked at their resources a little bit differently then us kids that grew up wanting for not. At the time, I was ignorant and had no idea how wise they were. I would have never guessed that a decade later I’d be doing the same thing.

I’ve realized that just like eating without thinking about what you’re really putting into your body, we sometimes make choices to consume things without really thinking about what we’re doing. Plastic baggies are seen as materials to be used and thrown away, a flexible container that’s really convenient, but that will take thousands of years to decompose.

It didn’t stop with the plastic baggies though. I switched to e-billing. I started attacking the countless pieces of junk mail I received that always just went straight into the recycling bin. I’d call whatever 800 number I could find on the catalog or mailing and ask them to remove me from their mailing list. I waited on hold and got annoyed with automated phone menus, but was smugly satisfied when I started coming home to an empty mail box.

I stopped buying and using paper towels, except to pat down an occasional pan of bacon or to oil my seasoned cast iron pans. Where I absentmindedly used to go through rolls and rolls of paper towels each year, I now go through one. It turns out a package of reusable rags that can be thrown into the washer work like a charm where paper towels used to do the job.

I saved a shampoo, conditioner, lotion, hand soap, and dish soap container and started buying those things in bulk at the  Green Lake PCC, my local food co-op.

I made it my New Year’s resolution to always bring my reusable cup to the coffee shop. If I could remember to use my reusable grocery bags, which I’ve been using religiously, then I could train myself to always bring my cup. And I’m not being facetious when I say “train.” I spent many months driving around with a sticky note on my dashboard that said, “Bring your bags!”

My latest effort has been to rid myself of my sticky note dependence. Sticky notes are handy tools, especially when you’re in the classroom – they mark pages in books, give messages to students, remind me of all the pressing things I need to do! It wasn’t until they started trickling their way into my home that I began to take notice. They’re convenient, for sure, but they’re not as indispensable as I’ve always thought. I started saving receipts  and used the back of those to write my little notes and shopping lists that I sometimes need to jot down. PCC (I swear I don’t work for them) gave me this idea when I noticed that their “green” checkout machines printed receipts using both sides. Unfortunately, not all stores are that savvy, so I decided to put them to use. A little spot in my desk drawer that once held a stack of stickies now holds receipts and scraps of paper that can be put to another use.

I feel hesitant as I write this, worrying that I might come off sounding self-righteous, like I have things all figured out.  I am certainly not perfect though and am not living a completely waste-free lifestyle. But I’m trying. This post is just a reflection of the sustainable lifestyle I’ve created for myself and of the person I’ve become. Life sometimes feels like it’s moving at warped speed, but I’m slowing down, getting creative, and paying attention to the things I’ve consumed out of habit for years.  Everyday I’m more aware of the simple quotidian choices I make and the impact they have on the world and it feels pretty good.

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday on A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa. Happy Earth Day, y’all!