Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas wrapup - frugal and eco-friendly

My three year old daughter loves to paint.  She brings her paintings home for me and tells me all about them.
You get the picture.  She can draw people and things, but she's still a creative abstract painter.

So what do you do with stacks of these paintings that only a mother could love?

Beautiful and useful

Using kids' artwork as giftwrap solves two problems:
  • How do I wrap my presents?
  • What do I do with stacks of paintings that all look the same to me?
Family and Eco-Friendly

Wrapping gifts in alternatives to giftwrap is not just quirky and frugal, it's important.  It doesn't take much imagination to see the built-in waste of producing, packaging, buying, and disposing of square metres of decorated paper every holiday.  According to Earth911:
As much as half of the 85 million tons of paper products Americans consume every year goes toward packaging, wrapping and decorating goods. Also, wrapping paper and shopping bags alone account for about 4 million tons of trash annually in the U.S.
So does it look cheap and weird?

You decide:

More like unique and colourful!

Don't own any small perpetual artists?

Of course, not everybody will have this alternative.  

If these other wrapping alternatives don't suit, you could offer to babysit for your favourite family for a few hours, buy some old newsprint and paints, and have a giftwrap making (I mean fun painting) session!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Secondhand Smarts - Merry Christmas!

In my last decluttering post, I reported acquiring from as well as donating to my favourite charity shop.

Here, I brag about my savvy purchases.

This pile includes:
  • A brand new Dora Memory Game in original plastic (we have it already; this one goes straight into the present box for some other lucky kid)
  • At least 50 Lego pieces, including three anthropomorphised animal figures
  • 3 gorgeous butterflies
  • A dressup mask (so I can play along with Labyrinth)
  • Masses of sidewalk chalk
  • Mini bubbles
  • Alphabet craft stickers
  • Coloured paper, decorative pencils, coloured pencils, modelling clay and crayons
  • Bratz and My Little Pony activity books (Princess Bratz is leaving the house quickly, one way or another!)
  • 2x goggles and surf socks in my son's size (both on our shopping list)
  • Slinky
  • Magnifying glass
All for $32!  I paid that much, even secondhand on TradeMe, simply for that amount of Lego.

These have been wrapped festively and frugally - stay tuned for family and eco-friendly wrapping help!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Make your own vegan holiday chocolates

choc special red.jpg
Vegan specialty chocolates are expensive!  Making your own chocolates from molds is so easy I'm not sure I should share the secret.  Especially because we're trying to eat less sugar.

In less than 1/2 hour you can have a special yummy handmade vegan
gift for your mother, your child's teacher, or any other loved one.  

Got a whole hour?  You've got an impressively rich dessert treat for a party.  And your children can join in the fun.

You need:

  • Chocolate molds
  • Vegan chocolate
Chocolate molds

A chocolate mold is a tray with the shapes for your chocolate.  Each one will cost you less than a box of chocolates and you can use them to make hundreds and hundreds of chocolates over the years.

You can buy molds at homeware shops.  Novelty flexible ice cube trays can often be used as chocolate molds. (I want the strawberries and the Legos!)

Molds which have simple shapes and small to medium size chocolates are best for beginners.  General purpose shapes are good value for money.

My molds

  • Easter eggs
  • Flowers and leaves
  • Santas, candy canes and snowmen
  • Stars
  • Train set
  • Numbers and animals
So I can handle:

  • Christmas - Santas, candy canes and snowmen/Stars
  • Birthday Boy - Train set/Stars/numbers and animals
  • Birthday Girl - Flowers/Stars/numbers and animals
  • General Gift - Flowers/Stars
  • Easter - Easter eggs/Flowers
choc belgian.jpgVegan chocolate

We have Pams brand vegan chocolate (which contains palm oil).  I recently scored a bargain on vegan Belgian chocolate from our bulk store, and I suspect I'll struggle to go back to Pams!

1.  Melt chocolate

I first melted my chocolate using an everyday bowl, plate to cover, and a few minutes in the microwave.  So easy!   

Recently, I had some failures with this method and the choc ended up dry and crumbly - unknown problem (new chocolate?  new microwave?  old memory?)  It was frustrating and wasteful enough that my husband created a double boiler with a small metal mixing bowl and a small saucepan. choc double-boiler1.jpg

The double boiler method is quick and just about foolproof.  I don't even worry if the water touches the bottom of the bowl - it works anyway.  Make sure water doesn't get into your chocolate as you stir it into smooth perfection.

2.  Spoon into molds

You don't need to be perfect - you will still get nice chocolates even with slightly under or overfull molds.  Nobody has complained yet.

Less is more when you're first learning.  Fill about 2/3 of the mold and gently tap the tray until the chocolate settles into the shape.  Add more slowly as needed. 

If you overfill, don't worry!  A bit of flat edge around the shape is no big deal.  And you can either wipe away spills on the tray or leave them to crack neatly away after the chocolate is cool.

3.  Chill out

choc flowers small.jpg
Make some flat space in your freezer (recommended) or fridge.  This can be on top of other stuff.

Put any unused chocolate back into the double-boiler while you wait.

Chocolates will be ready after about 10 minutes in the freezer.  Look for a smooth surface all the way across - partially chilled chocolate will look different in the middle.

4.  Tap out your treasure choc stars.jpg

On a clean surface (I use a plastic chopping board), turn over the molds and gently tap and wiggle until the chocolates fall out.  (This can be the trickiest part.)  You may want to use a clean paper or cloth towel so the chocolates can't break when they land.

Store immediately in layers separated by paper towels or waxed paper.  Store in a cool place - in this climate and season, the fridge is the best bet.

Then watch everyone try to get on your "nice" list!

choc flowers.jpg 5.  Cleaning up

Warm water is vital for cleaning hardened chocolate from bowls, trays, and utensils.  Don't scrub!  Apply warm water and then wipe away the chocolate like magic. 

  1. If you used a double boiler, you will have some warm water all ready.
  2. If you lick... I mean scrape all the chocolate off your bowls and stuff while it's warm, cleanup is much easier!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Constant decluttering

These left us a month ago.
When I feel like I never want to see X again, I'm going with that feeling! 

OK, I'm not throwing all the toys away just yet, but there are plenty of other candidates.

Remember that things keep coming in, so things must keep going out.

I probably should have let someone else drop off the donations bag.  Continuing the Christmas spirit, I did not leave the charity shop empty handed.
These left today (note this bag is wider than half the sofa!)
Girl clothes on their way to another family

I've continued my paper decluttering successes and reduced some major stacks with a new resolution:  Keep Some.

I have some company stocks and a long-held bank account, both of which have generated many years of statements (back to the 80s!). 

I've been afraid to get rid of anything just in case I get into trouble without the records but also haven't yet decided what I want to do with them.  So the statements pile up.

My triumph

I've kept one statement from every year, plus anything that looks tax related.  So I have records in case someone should demand them, and I also have much much less paper!

Left: gone!  Right: kept


Find 10 things today that you will never use again - bin them or put them in your donations bag.  (Start a donations bag!)