Handmade Life: 52 Weeks of DIY

Over the years I have grown more dissatisfied with the way in which I was raised to live. This is not a dis to my parents and what they did for me: I'm talking about the way everyone in my town was raised. We all work hard to buy a house, go grocery shopping, and buy enough food and toiletries for the week, or for some, the whole month.

Then the holidays come around and we all buy each other a lot of expensive gifts. Someone asks you what you want, and you try to figure out what to tell them. The result is a home full of clutter, and once a year or less we clean out the closets, the junk drawer, and get rid of things we don't want or need anymore.

On top of the excessive amount of "things" we own, there is the money spent. It doesn't feel right to have a grocery bill so high, or to set aside SO much money for birthday and holiday gifts. Everyone wants gift cards these days (I'm guilty! I love Barnes and Noble), but where has the thought behind a given gift gone?

I don't mean that I don't want to spend money on my loved ones, but just that, I felt just as happy when my cousin gave me a tin of homemade cookies as I did when she bought me a pretty shirt for Christmas. My daughter loves the hand-crocheted bunny her aunt gave her more than the plastic toys people gave her as gifts. Aside from electronics, which people (my husband included) will inevitably want, handmade gifts *can* be just as good as store-bought ones. I took the handmade pledge - I've been converted.

I'm looking to put more thought into how I live. I feel I will appreciate the food I eat more if I made it myself, and spend less. I'm looking to save my family money and put it towards more valuable things, like the girls' college savings, our first house, or a family vacation. I'm also looking to rely less on others and learn to provide for my family myself - make some of their clothes, our home decor, fix up our furniture, etc.

So, I'm challenging myself to take on at least one new do-it-yourself activity each week, and I will document and share my experiences here on Indie Pretty Projects. This week, I shared with you my experience with making homemade baby food, and for the next year, I will share new challenges, such as:
  • cheese making
  • making baby clothes
  • making noodles
  • DIY wall art
  • book binding
  • refinishing a table
  • growing herbs and spices
  • shoe making
  • DIY note pad
  • homemade wheat bread
  • soap making
  • guacamole
  • DIY tote bag
  • candle making
  • handmade envelopes
  • + lots of other ideas!
So be on the lookout! I'm looking forward to a more independent and affordable way of living!


image: DIY Mason Jar Lantern Kit from TreasureAgain

Quiz: what's your design personality?

On the Nate Berkus Show, and on his website, Nate had a quiz to help you determine your design personality, which should "help guide you to make better and more affordable design choices for your home."

There are only 5 questions, and five types: vintage, modern, global, American classic, and split personality type. I got "Modern Personality":

You like a clean look, with clean lines, and space to breathe within your home. Every piece you own needs to be special, because you don’t have a lot. Simple, clean lines, special pieces. You save your money and you don’t make impulse purchases. You create a beautiful modern environment.

Go take the quiz, tell me what you got, and tell me if you agree with their diagnosis!

photo courtesy of www.theNateShow.com.

A Handmade Giveaway!

Dear readers,

I feel compelled to tell you that I am participating in a fantastic giveaway, hosted by Alycia over at TheCuriousPug.com.

She obviously put a lot of work into preparing this big giveaway composed of 10 prizes from 10 bloggers who also happen to be crafty ;-) Here is what I am contributing:

Alycia made such great graphics for everyone's prizes. There will be 10 winners, so hurry on over to TheCuriousPug.com to read the rules, see the other prizes, and enter to win! The contest ends on October 8th, and there are lots of ways to gain entries. Good luck :)

DIY Baby Food: How and Why

When I had my first baby in late 2008, I was scarred from making my own baby food as I couldn't get the consistency smooth enough and my poor baby gagged on the lumpy carrot mush. I discovered that my mistake was using the food processor instead of the blender, which for me was able to puree more smoothly.

So, why even bother making your own baby food? I came up with a list of pros and cons.

The Pros

Homemade baby food is cheaper

At my local grocery store, a two-pack of 3.5 oz baby food containers is $1.79 - sometimes it is on sale and coupons aren't hard to find, so on average I can probably buy them for $1.50 for a two-pack, or $0.75 per 3.5 ounces.

A bag of frozen peas at the store weighs 16 ounces and costs $0.99 cents. When pureed with 2 tablespoons of water, 1 bag of frozen peas provides 4.5 servings of 3.5 ounces each, or $0.22 per serving.

You know exactly what you are feeding your infant

Gerber, Beech Nuts, and Earth's Best (the only brands of baby food I have purchased) put all of the ingredients in plain site on the labels. The unseen is, who handled those ingredients? Where were they stored? How clean is the facility? There is comfort in knowing that what your baby is eating was prepared in your own kitchen; however, I have no reason to *not* trust Gerber and feel comfortable buying their baby foods.

It produces less waste

I often feel very wasteful when buying premade baby foods - true, the glass containers can be reused and recycled. Making your own baby food greatly cuts down on waste, and I use the same storage containers over and over.

The Cons

Making baby food can be time consuming

Yes, making baby food takes a lot longer than just buying it at the store. When I do buy store-bought baby food, this is exactly the reason why. For example, to make homemade apple puree, it requires washing the apple, peeling the apple, slicing the apple, heating the apple (optional), and then pureeing the apple. All-in-all, it takes about half an hour to make food for a week or two, which in all actuality, isn't that bad.

It can be difficult to provide a variety

To keep costs low and to be time-efficient when making baby food, it helps to make the food in bulk; however, unless you are making a LOT of different foods in bulk, you may end up with a lot of the same 1 - 3 different fruits and veggies.

It takes up a lot of space

Again, when making baby food in bulk, you need to have a lot of space in your freezer and fridge.

I would love to know if anyone else has any other pro/con ideas!

So, if you've weighed your own pros and cons and want to give making your own baby food a try, I have a tutorial from my own experiences right here:

You will need:
- frozen or fresh fruits and veggies (whole fruits/veggies or 16 oz or greater frozen bags)
- a microwave-safe bowl or medium sauce pan
- a blender (or food processor if your baby is old enough to handle the possibility of a lumpier puree)
- ice cube trays and LARGE freezer bags for freezing
- small, air-tight containers for storing food in the fridge that will be eaten in 1-3 days
- utensils (knives for slicing & chopping; a spatula for scraping the blender)

First, I am going to introduce you to a great resource: www.wholesomebabyfood.com

Second, I will tell you how I made pureed apples and peas.

1. I took the 16 oz bag of frozen peas and popped them in the microwave with 2 tablespoons of water for 3 minutes.

2. I then put the thawed, partially-cooked peas and put them in the blender, pureeing until very smooth.

3. Next, I poured the pureed peas into each of the sections of an ice cube tray. Using a 16 ounce bag of frozen veggies or fruits works out well because an average ice cube tray has 16 one-ounce cube compartments.

4. Once the pea-filled trays are frozen, you may pop the cubes out, and store the cubes in freezer bags.

5. Next, I cut up apple into slices, and peeled the slices.

6. I cut the slices in halves and thirds, and microwaved them in a bowl for a minute, with a tablespoon of water.

7. After the apple pieces have been softened in the microwave, I put them all in the blender until pureed to the consistency of applesauce. This works just fine for my 9 month old, but a 6 month old just getting started with fruits might have issues with this consistency, and may need it even smoother.

8. All of the apple puree was then poured into trays, frozen, and then put into freezer bags.

I take out enough cubes for two days, and put them in small air-tight containers that don't take up too much room in the fridge to thaw. When taken out very early in the morning, they are ready to be eaten by dinner with just a little stirring, or you can take them out of the freezer and into the fridge the night before to have them ready in the morning. Alternatively, you can just take what you need before each meal and thaw in the microwave.

A 6 month old just getting started with fruits and veggies might only eat one thawed cube with their meal; I find that my 9 month old eats 2-3 thawed cubes per meal.

There is a great guide to freezing, storing, and thawing baby food on Wholesome Baby foods. There, I learned that:
  • Baby food can be stored in the freezer for 3 months, maximum
  • Baby food can be stored in the fridge for 48 hours, although some argue that 72 hours is okay
  • Baby food thaws best in the fridge overnight
  • Some baby foods don't freeze as well as others
So, what freezes well, and what doesn't?

It is mainly citrus and coconut that does not freeze well. Berries, peaches, pears, and pumpkin all freeze really well; other fruits such as grapes, apples, bananas, cranberries, kiwis, etc. freeze well, but best in chunks and slices vs. purees.

As far as veggies go, beans, beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash all freeze really well when pureed. Asparagus, broccoli, corn, cauliflower, peas, and peppers thaw well, but may be gritty in texture when thawed, and many of these work best when pureed with other veggies. Cucumbers and spinach were the only veggies that consistently don't freeze well. See all of the results of frozen and thawed fruits and veggies at Wholesome Baby Foods.

Additionally, you can see their great list of baby food recipes right here.

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Fudgy Espresso Brownie Recipe

I couldn't have Coffee Week without sharing a coffee baked goods recipe. This recipe for espresso brownies comes from WholeFoodsMarket.com, and they are some of the fudgiest brownies I've ever made. It is so easy, and you can make these without the espresso and never need to buy brownie mix again. There are a few edits I made to the recipe, which are noted.

Makes 12 espresso brownies


1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate morsels *
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped *
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons instant espresso **
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts (optional)***


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Melt chocolates and butter over a double boiler, stir until smooth and remove from heat. In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and espresso. Set aside. In a mixing bowl, beat sugar, egg and vanilla on medium high until light colored about 2 minutes. Beat in chocolate until well combined. Add flour mixture slowly until well blended. Stir in hazelnuts.

Pour mixture into a 11 x 7-inch non stick baking pan and bake for 35—40 minutes or until toothpick inserted 2 inched from the side comes clean. Cool completely. Cut into 12 rectangles.

* I just used one 16 ounce bag of semi sweet chocolate chips vs two kinds of chocolate
** I used three tables spoons of regular espresso grounds - it gave the brownies a chocolate-covered espresso bean effect
*** I couldn't find hazelnuts so I used chopped almonds - tasted great!

Tutorial: Custom Blogger domains and URL forwarding

I received an email today asking how I have my domains set up to forward to my respective sites. I thought it best to explain it in a tutorial with pictures, and hopefully, others can benefit from it as well.

I'm going to describe two techniques: how to forward your domain to a website; and how to set up Blogger to reflect your custom URL.

Forwarding your domain with namecheap.com

My domains are registered with namecheap.com, and the question also came from someone with a namecheap.com URL, so that is the site this tutorial is based on. Hopefully, this will still be useful to those who registered with other sites.

Why would someone want to just purchase a URL with a website to host that URL on?

Having a website host can be expensive. I may own and host my own site someday, but I don't yet. Until then, I want to make sure that my URL is secure and owned by me. Plus, www.AshleyPahl.com is a lot easier to direct people to than http://AshleyPahl.wordpress.com. I wanted to do away with the wordpress in the address, but that costs more money. The cheaper solution is to just buy www.AshleyPahl.com from namecheap.com, which only cost $9.95 per year. I used to use it to point to my Etsy site, but now I just have it point to my Wordpress landing page.

Additionally, having a blog or website URL that is custom to your specifications, without another website's name in the address, could help develop your branding.

1. After purchasing my domain ( http://AshleyPahl.com ), I clicked on "Your Domains", and then the desired URL.

2. Next, I clicked on "URL forwarding"

3. The screen will look like this (below). In the box next to "www" I entered the destination website that I want my URL to forward to. In this case, it is my wordpress website ( http://ashleypahl.wordpress.com ). In the box next to "@" I typed in my full domain name ( http://www.AshleyPahl.com ). Both of the drop-down boxes under "redirect type" should be placed at "URL redirect".

4. Save changes.

5. You can also set up email forwarding to match your domain name. Click on Email Forwarding Setup.

6. You can select any name you want for your new address. The "@SuchAndSuch" part of the email address will be your registered domain name. In my case, I did "Ashley@AshleyPahl.com" and "info@AshleyPahl.com". At NameCheap, you can have up to 10 forwarded email addresses. In the "forwarded to" boxes, you input the email address you want the emails forwarded to. In my case, it is my gmail account.

Save changes, and that's it!

Part 2: Custom Blogger URL

Have you noticed that my blog is a blogger blog, yet blogger/blogspot appears no where in the title? That's because I have a custom blogger URL. How does this differ from the above tutorial? When a URL is simply forwarded to a website, after the reader arrives at the site, it will show the original URL ( www.AshleyPahl.com > http://AshleyPahl.wordpress.com )

With a custom blogger URL, that old domain never shows, all blog posts will reflect the custom URL, and "blogger" or "blogspot" will be nowhere in the address. The best part is, on blogger, this service is free if you already own a domain.

I operate a blogger blog for a charity, so I will use that blogger website to demonstrate.

1. At NameCheap.com, select your desired URL. ( Your Domains > Click on domain )

2. Again, click on "URL Forwarding"

3. This time, the setup will be different. In the box next to "@", type in your purchased domain name URL, in this case, it is http://www.MrFannyClassic.com. Next to that, in the drop-down box, select "URL direct", and next to that, if it doesn't say "1800", type that in.

4. In the box next to "www", type ghs.google.com, and in the drop-down box next to that, select "CNAME (alias). The box to the right of that should also say "1800". If you don't have the boxes to the far right for the "1800", try saving your info, refreshing the page, and seeing if they appear.

5. The next step is to log in to Blogger.com. On the dashboard under your desired blog, click Settings > Publishing > Custom Domain.

6. Under "Advanced Settings", in the box next to "Your Domain", enter your purchased URL. Make sure to keep the www in the address, and select the box under where you enter the URL, confirming that you want your URL to redirect to the address with the www. Save settings.

7. You can go back into NameCheap.com and repeat step 6 in tutorial #1 to setup email forwarding, if you would like to, but this is optional.

So now, when I go to "www.MrFannyClassic.com", the URL at the top stays that way, and does not forward to http://MrFannyClassic.blogspot.com

It may take a few hours to a few days for your new URL to show up. For a few days, only my old blogger.com URL would work, but eventually my new domain functioned properly. Just be patient, it should work! If you go with tutorial #2 here, all of your old blog post URLs will be forwarded automatically by Blogger to their new blog address. This means that if you left a link to a blog post in a forum, anyone who clicks that link will still reach that same blog post, but under your new domain name.

Have any further tips or questions? Let me know!


Faux Bois: A Linocut / Stamp Carving Craft Tutorial

A couple of weeks ago I was delighted to learn that my favorite item in shop, my faux bois, woodgrain gift tags, had been featured on sfgirlbybay. I consider sfgirlbybay to be one of the most visually stunning blogs out there, full of inspiration. Needless to say, I was pretty excited :)

I have been planning to post a linocut and/or stamp carving tutorial for some time, so this little feature was the push for me to do it. I've been in the process of revamping that particular line of tags, so I am also introducing the new version.

  • > lino cutters and handles
  • > lino block, vinyl or rubber eraser, rubber carving block, or linoleum printing plate
  • > pencil
  • > card stock or paper
  • > block printing ink for linocuts, or stamping ink for erasers or carving blocks
  • > twine, ribbon or string if you wish to make tags
  • > hole punchers or X-acto blades for cutting shapes out of paper or card stock
I first practiced my woodgrain design in an eraser. I like to do faux bois free hand, but for other images, I draw my intended outline in pencil onto the eraser. Some people draw on paper, and then place the drawing onto the eraser/lino, and rub on the back of it to transfer the image.

I carved my image onto both a carving block and a lino block for printing. For the carving block, I applied brown stamp ink by pressing the ink pad onto the block.

Then, I printed my image onto the card stock in a row.

When using linocut blocks, you need to apply block printing ink with a brayer. I use water-based ink so that the linocut can be easily cleaned. If you are going to use linocuts for printing, I suggest leaving the print on your table, face up, and applying paper on top of the inked design, smoothing your fingers or a smooth object over the paper-covered design.

After my ink is dry, I use a tag-shaped punch to get my tags uniformly shaped, and to save time and keep costs a bit lower (than cutting each tag individually with a craft knife).

I use a mini hole punch, since I think smaller holes look neater. Twine is cut to my desired length, and looped through the hole.

For my new line, I changed the shape of the tags to a more modern, simple shape. I currently only have one set left of the shapelier set.

And that's it for linocut/carved stamp tag making! There is a part two coming soon, in which I'll show you how to make a tear-away note pad of your carved designs.

As a Whimseybox Influencer, I may receive compensation when you shop from this supply list. A lot of time and energy goes into these blog posts - thank you in advance for supporting She Makes a Home!
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