How to Make Recycled Gift Boxes

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With the holiday season coming up, gift giving is on my mind.   But in addition to the gifts, do you give the wrapping a second thought?  What if you are trying to be green?  What if you have limited funds?  Well, there is something you can do.  You can make your own recycled gift boxes.

card and materials to create a box

card and materials to create a box

Now what I have in mind are smaller gift boxes.  Think gift cards, jewelry, a few pieces of candy, or maybe a sweet handkerchief.  If you want a recycled option for wrapping a chainsaw… well… that is another post.

I use something that I have on hand or more specifically, save just for this time of year.  Holiday cards from the previous season can be turned into gift boxes.  For the most appealing packaging, select a card with a pretty design or graphic near the center of the card.

Using a ruler mark the dimensions of the completed box size which includes the amount folded over to create the sides of the box.  For instance, if the card you select is 6″ x 4″, you can mark (on the under side of the card) what you want the size to be… perhaps 5″ x 3″ or perhaps 4″ x 4″.  Now measure from those points inward (towards the center of the card) a uniform measurement such as 1/4″, 1/2″, etc.  This amount will be the height of the sides of the box.  In other words, the depth of the box.  Be sure that all sides are uniform otherwise the box will be lopsided.

cut from edge to fold line to create a flap

cut from edge to fold line to create a flap

Now using a sharp pair of scissors, cut along the outer measurement.  Next fold along marks you made for the depth of the box.  (Fold inwards towards the center of the card).  At each corner, use scissors to cut from the edge of the card up to a fold line (this should look like a small flap).  You will have four cuts that will now allow you to fold, creating corners.  Either tape or glue the flap to secure each corner.

flap folded and taped to create corner

flap folded and taped to create corner

Congratulations!  You have just created the top of the box.

finished top of box

finished top of box

Use the remaining large portion of the card to create the bottom of the box. Repeat the previous steps, but decrease the measurements by 1/8″. Example: 4 7/8″ x 3 7/8″.  Remember, you want the top of the box to fit over the bottom of the box.

This project is a fun way to create custom boxes for small items, and it doesn’t cost you a dime.  You can recycle cards from previous years and turn them into pretty gift boxes that don’t require wrapping paper.  (And if the boxes are created from fairly substantial paper, you can reuse them year after year).

assortment of recycled gift boxes

assortment of recycled gift boxes

So sit down with and get ready to make this family friendly project.  Involve your kids by having them select their favorite cards.  They can help measure and mark the dimensions.

With the holidays around the corner, you have plenty of time to create your own custom gift boxes.  Have fun!

10 Life Lessons I Learned from my Chickens

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As someone who grew up with chickens (my parents raised them for both meat and eggs), chicken chores fell on my shoulders.  Sure, while my friends were watching TV or riding their bikes, I was cleaning out nest boxes, gathering eggs, and carrying buckets of feed to refill the feeders.  After a hiatus of not having chickens while in college or even when I was working at my first job after college, I was ready to have a flock.

urban flock enjoying the run

urban flock enjoying the run

Even though there is work involved, I still love hens.  They provide fresh eggs, entertain me with their antics, and they help control the insect population in the backyard.  By looking at them as individuals from one season to the next,  I truly saw how they lived their lives.  And you know what?  A lot of what I learned can be applied to my daily living.

10 Things I have Learned from my Flock

  1. Get out and enjoy the outdoors on nice days.  Snow, cold, and rain may limit outdoor adventures.
  2. Eat your vegetables when they are in season.  Nothing tastes better than when they are at the peak of ripeness (or when you snitch them out of the garden when you think no one is looking).
  3. Don’t be afraid to wander away from the flock.  (You just may find the biggest grubs by yourself).
  4. Even if you can’t fly, don’t be afraid to stretch your wings. You just may get off the ground after all.
  5. Hold your ground.  Stake your claim in your favorite nest box and don’t leave until your ready regardless of how many others try to force you out.

    hen staking her claim at her favorite nest box

    hen staking her claim at her favorite nest box

  6. Listen to the squawk of others.  There really may be a hawk flying overhead.
  7. Share your spa time with others.  A good dust bath is really more fun with the rest of the flock.
  8. Let folks know when you are happy and content.  It’s okay to trill out loud.
  9. You don’t have to have a large McMansion to be happy.  Your small, urban     coop is adorable, comfortable, and it is a wonderful home.
  10. Be proud of your achievements.  Go ahead and sing that egg song nice and loud!
egg-in-nest-box-cr

egg-in-nest-box-cr

So with this list in hand, life is quite enjoyable for both my flock as well as myself.  So go ahead and watch your hens.  Little life lessons exist in unexpected places.  And your teacher doesn’t necessarily have to have to be human.  What do you think you can learn from your flock?

Beyond Castile: A Soothing Soap

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As a soap maker, I regularly create bar soap.  In the basement I have a collection of oils, butters, containers, and tools for making soap.  But lately, I have been in a rut and found myself making batch after batch of castile soap.  Now there is nothing wrong with castile soap (in fact, I am quite fond of it), but as someone who likes to create… it was time to break out of the rut and reach for other oils.

newly poured soap in wood mold

newly poured soap in wood mold

In order to create a new recipe, I used the lye soap calculator on Bramble Berry’s website.  The calculator takes out the guess-work and it makes it easy to create different size batches and to scale a recipe to meet your needs.  To create a recipe, enter the type of soap, solid or liquid; the unit of measure, ounces or grams; and the weight of each oil you will use.   Once you are satisfied with the proportions, click on the calculate button for the recipe.  The recipe will also calculate the amount of lye to be used.

Urban Overalls Soothing Soap

  • 5.5 oz castor oil
  • 14.5 oz cocoa butter
  • 39 oz coconut oil
  • 28 oz olive oil
  • 11.25 oz palm oil
  • 13.5 oz shea butter
  • 17.2 oz lye
  • 36.9 oz water

NOTE: use a digital scale for accurate weight measurements rather than using measuring cups.  Also, when adding lye to water, use safety equipment: eye protection and gloves.

In a well ventilated area (such as outdoors or under a vented range hood), pour water into a large container (I use a plastic bowl).   Next, slowly add the lye to the water, stirring constantly.  Do not lean directly over the container as the lye/water mixture will release fumes for approximately 30 seconds.  Stir until the lye is completely dissolved.  The lye will react with the water and the mixture will become hot.  Handle the container carefully.

As the lye/water mixture cools, you can now move onto the oils.  Melt the solid oils in a large container.  You can either use the microwave or the stovetop.  Remove from heat and add remaining oils and stir to combine.  Examples of soap ingredients that need to be melted include: cocoa butter, coconut oil, and shea butter.

melting cocoa butter

melting cocoa butter

Measure the temperature of oils as well as the lye/water mixture.  The goal is for both mixtures to be in the 100 – 110 degree range.  If the lye mixture is still quite warm, you can place the container in a sink of ice water.

Once both mixtures are in the same temperature range, it is now time to combine them.   Slowly pour the lye mixture into the oil mixture while stirring.  (Use tools and containers that are designated just for soap making.  Now is not the time to use your brand new bread bowl.  Instead, consider buying items from thrift stores for soap making.)

weighing shea butter

weighing shea butter

The goal now is to stir the mixture until trace is reached.  This is the magical moment when the mixture begins to take on a consistency of thin pudding.  To speed up this process, I reach for a stick blender (again… this one is used just for soap making).  With a stick blender, this soap reached trace in less than five minutes.

With a mold at the ready (wood lined with plastic wrap or a silicon container work well), pour the soap in.  Once all of the soap is in the mold, place a cover over the top.  Do not let the top sag and make contact with the soap surface.  A large plastic lid or a thin piece of wood that is larger than the mold works well.  Cover the container with an old blanket or place in an insulated container.  This action will help the soap reach the gel stage.

Check on the soap after a day.  It should feel firm.  If not, allow to set for another day (or two) before cutting into bars.  Soft soap is difficult to cut cleanly.  Once the soap is cut, lay out on a rack or mesh tray and allow to cure for four to six weeks before using.

Homemade soap is wonderful.  Get out of your rut and make something new.  Perhaps this will be your new soothing bar?