Tip of the Hat

"Im puttin on my top hat, tyin up my white tie, brushin off my tails!"

I’m a big fan of my Alma mater, Washburn University. But I might be an even bigger fan of Campus Ministry at Washburn (also called Ichtus), where I serve on the advisory board. The students I see there are so inspiring in their creativity, wisdom, and faith, and it is such a pleasure to spend time with them in Bible study, sharing a meal, and just hanging out. This weekend was our annual fundraiser, the Hornet-Ichabod Challenge. Each year, (well, every year since last year) we get together with our Emporia State University counterparts to provide an evening of BBQ, worship, and entertainment to our generous supporters. This year I volunteered to decorate some of the tables, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to fit them into my blog.

Cylindrical containers to make the "stovepipes" for the hats.

Since WU’s mascot is the Ichabod (a very snazzy figure in a top hat, bow tie, and tails), I decided to make top hat centerpieces for all the Washburn tables. Top hats, I realized, would be great centerpieces since they are not too tall to see over, yet whimsical enough to add a bit of fun. This also fit in with the event’s “movie” theme and venue, the beautifully-restored Granada Theater in Emporia, Kansas.

To create bases for the hats, I pulled several items from my recycing bin. For seven top hats I used:

  • two cylindrical oatmeal boxes cut in half (to make two hats per box)
  • two one-gallon vinegar jugs with the tops cut off
  • one 2-liter bottle with top cut off, reinforced with cardboard from a cereal box.

Fabric stretched around the container and glued down. Lumpy, but the embellishments are forgiving.

Other supplies I needed were:

  • a large black poly-satin fabric remnant (about 2 yards)
  • 7 black foam craft sheets
  • tacky craft glue and hot glue
  • ribbons, feathers, and metallic sprigs for a glamorous touch.

First, I made the “stovepipe” of the top hats out of the recycled containers. I cut the fabric to fit each container long enough to go all the way around and overlap just a bit, and wide enough to cover the entire outside and inside of the cylinders. I did not want any oatmeal box or plastic jug showing through, except on the bottoms which would be glued to the brims. (The closed ends on the containers were to be the bottom of the hats so the hats would be open on top.) I spread the craft glue all over the containers, inside and out, and stretched the fabric to cover everything. This was actually the hardest part, since it was difficult to get the fabric to lay smoothly without any bumps or bubbles underneath. I folded the fabric under at the edge to make a smooth seam and glued it down.

Embellishments, for a touch of glamor.

Next came the embellishments. I chose organza ribbon and feathers in a bright blue to honor (yet glam up) the school colors, black ribbon with white stitching (because it kind of looked like movie film, though I doubt anyone noticed), and some silver metallic sprigs to add a little “bling, bling!” I wrapped the sheer organza ribbon around the stovepipes twice to reinforce the color and glued it down with just a couple of hot glue dots. It was important to use the hot glue sparingly, because it shows through the ribbon so much and could also melt the plastic containers. Then I layered the thinner black ribbon on top of the blue ribbon. I hot-glued a few silver strands in a bunch on one side of the hats, fanning them out in a spray. The feathers came next, centered on top of the silver strands. The last embellishments were flat bows made from the blue and black ribbons. I glued the bows on top of the feathers for a finishing touch.

Add the bottom and shape into curved brim.

Finally, I hot-glued the ovals to the bottoms of the decorated stovepipes. Then I gently folded the sides of the ovals (just under the embellishments) to shape them into a curved brim and glued them in place.

Youd never guess this was once just an oatmeal box!

Now all I needed was something to put inside the centerpieces. The campus minister had plenty of promotional items to use as party favors (flash drives, stress balls shaped like brains, and I LOVE WU buttons), so I placed enough for each table in each hat. Then I filled the hats the rest of the way with silver-wrapped candies (peppermint patties and chocolate kisses) for a little sparkle and sweetness.

I was so pleased with how the top hats turned out that I couldn’t wait for the event! They had required a little more work than I thought they would, but the effort was well worth it. I got a lot of positive feedback, and it sounds like the top hats will be used for future events.

But of course, the real stars of the evening were the students. They represented the ministry so well, and one of them wrote a song so witty I almost cried from laughing so hard. Gosh, I just love a good party!

Next week, I’ll write about…hmmm…not sure what to write about. Something about recycling after Easter, maybe? Any ideas?

And just for fun, here’s a link to the title scene from the 1935 movie, Top Hat. Enjoy!

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To market to market to buy a fat…head of lettuce!

My little one at the farmer's market selecting some flowers for our garden.

After months of waiting, it finally came…opening day at the farmer’s market! I couldn’t wait to get up (relatively) early on Saturday morning, grab some small bills, and head downtown to find some homegrown goodness.

There is so much to enjoy about the farmer’s market. Warmth from the early morning sun. Aromas of kettlecorn, baked goods, and some pretty amazing chorizo breakfast burritos. Vibrant colors of vegetables, fruits, jams, and flowers. Creative artistry of weavers, jewelers, and woodworkers. Sounds of guitars, fiddles, and sometimes local bands singing for their supper.  At each booth there is something to taste, touch, see, smell, and even hear, and it is all such a delight for the senses.

Sampling some broccoli at the market. If you taste it, you buy it!

When I first arrive at the market, I take a stroll all around to survey the booths, compare prices, and see what looks good. Then I go back and visit my favorite vendors and the booths with the best deals. At this point, we are too early in the season to enjoy much fresh local produce, but I did find broccoli crowns and romaine lettuce at 3 for $1. My toddler especially approved of the broccoli, the silly girl. I also traded in the mason jar I’d been saving all winter for a discount at my favorite jelly booth, Julie’s Jam of Creek Bottom Produce. (I tell you what, this jam is reason enough to take a trip to the market! Her lavender peach jam is to die for!) Then I stopped at the Busy Bee distribution table to buy some local beeswax so I can make lotion. I found a better deal here than at the healthfood store–$10 for a one-pound block instead of about $1.30 per one-ounce bar. Normally, I would also buy some farm-fresh eggs, flax seed bread from the Cornucopia Bakery, whole wheat pizza crust from Kitchen Angel, and soap from Trovina (formerly Cason Naturals), but I was on a different quest than usual and decided to forgo my normal routine. These vendors have inspired me on my quest for better health and greenness, so I’m sure I will write more about them in the future.

English Thyme from the farmer's market, now in my garden.

What I enjoy the most about the farmer’s market is talking to the vendors. They all take such pride in their crafts and bring the best of their labors to sell. They enjoy the chance to tell you all about their products and answer your questions. This was particularly important to me this weekend, because my husband and I had a big day of gardening and yard work planned, and honestly, we don’t know much about it. My plan was to buy several herbs and flowers to plant in my garden, but I needed help figuring out what to plant and how to take care of it. I bought some packs of pansies to add some color to my flower beds, but I was a little puzzled when it came to the herbs.

Lavender from the market, soaking up some springtime sun.

Luckily, I came across Susan at David’s Herbs. She saw me confusedly sniffing at and examining her plants and offered to help. I must have looked like I needed it! She asked me lots of questions about how I would like to use the herbs and what my planting situation is like, then patiently answered all of my questions. She helped me select English Thyme, Dutch Lavender, chocolate mint, and prostrate rosemary. Basil, she informed me, would flourish in my garden but shouldn’t be planted for a few weeks. (I already have chives, lemon balm, and sage planted in the garden by a previous homeowner.) She also gave me some very helpful tips on how to plant the herbs, care for them, and use them. I can’t wait till my plants are big enough to harvest! I’ll surely have some good “green tips” for you then!

Pansies look extra whimsical in a birdbath.

Then it was off to Home Depot for a few gardening supplies, and home to begin our work. While Justin was hard at work on the lawn, I planted the herbs in my little garden and the pansies in a bird bath. Then I spread some wildflower seeds along the backyard fence, and began the tedious work of weeding the landscaping in the front yard. As it turns out, this can be a big job when you let it go for over a year! In our defense, we were more than a little overwhelmed when we moved into our house. We weren’t just new homeowners–we were new parents with a one-month old, premature baby! Now that we are settled, however, we are resolved to be better homeowners and be diligent in our garden tending.

Next week I will make table decorations out of old containers. But until then, what advice can you give me for tending an herb garden?

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A Gift of Hope

My classic Suubi necklace, doubled for a shorter look.

Mother’s Day is coming up, and I bet you’re thinking about getting your mommy dearest a nice potted plant, maybe a macaroni picture from your kids or another bottle of perfumed lotion. Fine gifts, yes, but maybe this is the year to switch things up a bit. Give her something unique. Beautiful. And yes, earth-friendly.

There are lots of eco-friendly gift ideas out there, but before you buy her an elephant poo picture frame, may I make a suggestion? Give your mother a Suubi beaded necklace. Suubi necklaces are handmade by Ugandan women, who artfully roll strips of recycled paper into colorful beads and string them into long, beautiful strands. They have several styles of necklaces available in different color and fashion themes, but each necklace is as unique as the woman who made it.

I came across the Suubi project a few years ago while I was shopping online for Christmas gifts. Relevant Magazine, my favorite publication, was selling these interesting necklaces in their online store so I thought I’d check them out. I looked into the organization and was impressed with what I found. Suubi (which means “hope”) is part of an organization called Light Gives Heat whose mission is “to empower Africans through economic sustainability. To motivate people in the west to ‘be the change they want to see.'” One of the ways LGH does this is by equipping women in Uganda to use skills they already have to earn a living. Several years ago, the LGH founders were visiting an orphanage in Uganda where they met women who met once a week to make paper bead necklaces. Many of the women were victims of a violent war and came from broken homes. The women sold the necklaces to make ends meet for their families, who depended on them for income. Since LGH was founded, about 100 women and their families have become a part of a community that helps them sell their wares worldwide, provides educational opportunities, and empowers them to lift their families our of poverty. What I like about this organization is that their projects are sustainable. The founders of LGH built on the strengths and spirit the Ugandan women already possessed, instead of imposing their own ideas to “fix” their situation.

Once I learned about LGH, I started buying necklaces for nearly every women I know. Everyone has been delighted with these gifts, because they are so versatile. The recycled paper beads are covered in a shiny, hard coating that gives them the appearance of glass. (If you look closely, you can still see text–a reminder of the paper’s previous life!) Their multi-colored strands match everything in your closet, from dressy to casual, and you can double them up, knot them, or wrap them around your wrist for a different look. You are sure to get compliments when you wear one, and they have proven to be a great conversation starter. Each necklace comes with a card that tells the story of the woman who made it. Every compliment is an opportunity to tell someone a story of hope spread the word about this amazing organization!

If you’re gift-giving on a budget, the price might be the best part. The necklaces cost between $12 and $22. Not a bad price for a truly unique gift that will be worn time and time again. (They have also begun selling bracelets and earrings to match.) And since each necklace is unique, you can buy your mother one every year and know you’re getting something new each time. In fact, I wouldn’t mind having another one in my jewelry box…hint, hint!

If you’d like to learn more about Light Gives Heat and their other projects, check out their website or watch the trailer for their soon-to-be-released documentary “Moving On.”

What are your eco-friendly gift ideas for Mother’s Day, or any other occasion? Tell me all about them in the comments, or send one my way! I do have a birthday coming up…

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A New Life for an Old Book

Framed prints from an old, crumbling book

I just love an old book. The smell of the pages, the crackling of the spine, the sense of history it holds. I think of the possible generations of people who spent many happy hours drinking in the story, of librarians reading the book aloud to children, or of a young woman like me who tossed it into her shoulder bag years ago and read it on a sunny park bench. A favorite event of mine is the $5 bag sale at my public library, where I get to cram as many books as I can into a paper grocery sack to add to my collection at home. I have found some wonderful titles for myself, but many more for my daughter. Some of the books came from the personal collections of children who have now grown up. They often have inscriptions inside the cover, telling stories of Christmas gifts and birthday parties. Other books come from old school libraries and have the school name stamped on the title page and children’s names written on a card inside.

A book sale treasure, "A is for Annabelle"

A particular favorite is a book called “A is for Annabelle: a Doll’s Alphabet.” If you know me even a little, you understand why! It’s a very old printing of the book, which was first published in 1954. The pages are delicate, but they still display the beautiful illustrations of little girls playing with a china doll.

1964 interpretation of Zachaeus, a favorite Bible story

Another fun book is a 1960s version of the story of Zacchaeus from the Bible. It came from a church library and has the date it was donated written in the cover, 1964. You can tell the illustrations were so hip for the time, and the story took some liberties to appeal to the modern churchgoing child. I like to call this the “groovy Jesus” book and read it aloud accordingly.

Groovy Jesus. I couldn't resist!

Jesus in the retro Zacchaeus story

One of my favorite finds, however, has been an illustrated story of Dr. Dolittle from 1967. The story is a bit advanced for my little one, so I thought it would be a good book to hold onto for later. She couldn’t sit still for much of the story, but she loved the brightly colored illustrations of all the funny animals. Alas, the spine peeled off and the pages started to crumble. It was not going to last very long, even on a shelf. So I decided to salvage what I could of the book and recycle the rest. (If you’re wondering, this is my “green” project this week.)

A scene from Dr. Doolittle

Three of the pages in the book were perfectly intact and contained no text, so I carefully removed them and placed them in a folder. I realized the imaginative illustrations would make the perfect, unique wall art for my little girl’s room. I took the folder to a craft store to match them to a frame. Finding frames were difficult, as the pages were not a standard picture size. I showed the pages to my favorite framer at the store, who mentioned he had some scraps of matting that he could cut to fit the pages and help me find a frame. We settled on cheap metallic frames and yellow mats, which he sold to me for around $2 each. Since the book was practically free, my cost per framed picture was about $8.

Do your worn out book a favor-transform the pages into wall art!

I couldn’t be happier with the results! The yellow mats enhanced the whimsical pictures, making the whole ensemble look beautiful on my daughter’s wall. She loves to point to the silly creatures in the pictures, and I’m sure one day she will enjoy making up her own stories about them. This was a great way to recycle, and honor, a wonderful old book.

Whimsical illustrations are enhanced with just the right mat and frame.

I just love finding a new life for old things. What are some of your ideas for repurposing old books, or other time-worn items?

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Wild About Oats

Oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and flax meal are a combination as good for the body as it is for the soul!

Since I began my “go green” project I’ve made some significant improvements in our household. Our home is clean, smells fresh, and is free from airborne toxins (at least the toxins from cleaning products). I’ve learned how to make lotion, and thus have reduced my petroleum consumption. I’ve reduced our household waste by making cloth napkins, and by making homemade toys out of items bound for the garbage. I’m feeling pretty good about what I’ve accomplished so far. But I’m also feeling…hungry!

My favorite meal of the day is breakfast. I just can’t stand to start the day without it. One of my and my daughter’s favorite breakfasts is warm, comforting oatmeal. Mmmmmmm…I’m eating a bowl as I speak, even though it’s supper time! I usually just make myself a bowl of old-fashioned oats in the microwave and flavor it with a little sugar, cinnamon, raisins and milk. Recently, though, I discovered a brand of instant oatmeal that incorporates flax seeds into the mix, uses unique eco-friendlier packaging, and tastes good enough to make your knees go weak. The price is pretty good, too–about $.25 per serving. With both my daughter and I eating this almost every morning, the cost does add up. And even though the packaging does boast less waste than a typical box of instant oatmeal packets, we still throw away two paper packets every day and have to recycle two paperboard boxes each week. I realized this would be a good place to make a change, but I was not thrilled about giving up my favorite breakfast treat.

Homemade instant oatmeal mix in repurposed glass jars

It was time to make my own instant oatmeal. After some experimentation, I came up with a recipe every bit as tasty and healthy as my favorite brand’s. It costs much less and creates much less waste. I thought about keeping it to myself, but it’s just too good not to pass on.

Jayna’s Homemade Instant Oatmeal: Brown Sugar Cinnamon Flavor (12 servings)

  • 4 cups quick-cooking oats
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup flax seed meal
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • Mix all ingredients well and store in airtight container in refrigerator. To make one serving, add 1/3 c. oatmeal mixture to 2/3 c. water in microwavable bowl. Microwave 60-90 seconds. Oatmeal with thicken as it cools. Top with a splash of milk, if desired.
  • IMPORTANT: Store in the refrigerator or freezer. Flax meal is very perishable.
  • Cost per serving is about $.15. (My husband has informed me this will save me about $70 per year. Not too shabby!)

This recipe is working very well for me, but you can customize the mix to suit your taste by adjusting the sweetness, trying different spices, and adding your favorite dried fruit or jam. You know I’ll be trying some new flavors! If I figure out how to recreate peaches and cream oatmeal I will be over the moon.

All of these ingredients are easy to find in your grocery store, including the flax meal. Flax seeds, ground and whole, are found in the natural foods section and/or baking aisle of your grocery store. If you buy them whole, you will have to grind them to reap the amazing health benefits. If you aren’t familiar with flax seed, you should give it a try! Flax seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and lignans (antioxidants). Regular consumption of flax seeds can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, Type II diabetes, bad cholesterol, and cancer, and can improve your digestive health. These tiny yet powerful seeds can actually help block tumor formation and have been proven to reduce the spread of breast cancer after diagnoses. (There is a lot of information on Internet about flax, but a good comprehensive site is www.healthyflax.com.)

My daughter enjoying mommy's oatmeal. She was being so stubborn-this was the best picture I could get!

You can add flax seed meal to nearly anything you bake to add some health benefits and a pleasant, slightly nutty, flavor. My favorite use for flax seed is as an egg substitute. For each egg called for in a recipe, mix one tablespoon of ground flax seeds to three tablespoons of water. Let sit for a couple of minutes and use as you would an egg. You won’t be making any huevos rancheros with flax seeds, but you can make some mean pancakes and chocolate chip cookies with them!

This has been my tastiest experiment so far. I might do a few more food trials in the future…you know…for the environment…What other tasty foods should I learn to make on my own to reduce waste and improve my family’s health?

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Mama’s workshop

My daughter invented her own game with an egg carton and cardboard tubes.

Have you seen how much kids’ toys cost these days? Yikes. As a new mother, I am shocked every time I have the occasion to buy toys for my daughter or one of her friends. It’s not just the price tag that astonishes me; it’s all the bells and whistles, too. I’m hard pressed to find toys that do not require batteries to fuel their blaring noises and blinking lights, or advertise characters for TV shows. I can’t help but feeling like many of these toys don’t require much imagination, or even interaction, from the child.

I want my daughter to have a childhood of wonderment and exploration. I want her playtime to build her ever-developing skills and encourage creative thinking. Of course my little girl gets a kick out of her toys that sing and light up, but she has just as much fun pretending a cardboard tube is a trumpet. There’s no need to spend loads of money on toys when I have everything to make her happy right in my recycling bin.

She's so proud of her creation!

To gather ideas for homemade toys I took a cue from my local Parents as Teachers chapter. I could talk for hours about the merits of Parents as Teachers. This program’s impact on our family and our community is immeasurable. But today I will simply praise their ability to take any every day object and transform it into a fantastic toy. Each month our parent educator brings us a homemade toy to help my child develop a certain skill appropriate to her age. A water bottle becomes a colorful rattle. A parmesan cheese shaker becomes a specialized shape sorter. A coffee can becomes a drum or a push toy. A milk jug becomes a clothespin game. Every toy fills my little girl with delight as she plays with it over and over again until she has mastered it, then invents her own use for the toy. And each toy costs almost nothing, yet keeps another container from sitting in a landfill. (You can learn more about Topeka Parents as Teachers and see some of their toys on their Facebook page.)

For my project this week I referenced an article from Mother Earth News about some favorite Parents as Teachers toys, and poked around the Web for some other ideas. My child is only about 18 months old, so the toys I chose to make are appropriate for very young children, though they do require supervision for safety.

Ocean bottle, ribbon lacing, pull toy, and rattle.

I gathered up some recyclables I’d been saving up in a paper sack for my parent educator and brought them to my “workshop,” the dining room. This was like Christmas for my little one. She squealed with delight at the sight of all the treasures in the bag, examining each container and cardboard tube before whisking them away to play. I had so much fun just watching her create her own games with the objects. She is so little, but she amazes me every day with her clever ideas.

The first toy I made was a lacing activity. I threaded a wide ribbon through a hole in a square piece of cardboard and tied a knot at the end. Then I cut a paper towel tube into rings to slide on and off the ribbon. So simple, but fascinating to a tiny tot!

Next I made a toy my toddler can pull behind her as she wobbles around the house. I poked holes on the bottom and lid of an oatmeal can, put a handful of dry beans and a couple of bells inside for a fun sound, threaded a ribbon through the holes and tied the ends together. Then I secured the lid with glue and electrical tape and decorated the can with colorful paper and stickers. This toy can also be suspended between two chairs to be used as a kicking activity for an infant lying on his/her back.

My third toy was an ocean in a bottle. This is a fun toy for a little one to watch as they, or a grown-up, tilt the bottle from side to side to see the oil swirl around in the water. Actually, my husband seems to enjoy it as much as our little girl does! I cleaned out an empty plastic syrup bottle and removed the labels. (Any plastic bottle with a lid will do; this is what I had on hand.) Then I filled it halfway with water, added a few drops of food coloring, and filled it the rest of the way with vegetable oil. I put a few drops of food coloring in the oil, which resulted in colored “bubbles” that float in the oil, and finished it off with a dash of glitter. Then I hot-glued the lid onto the bottle, making sure it sealed completely, and covered the lid with electrical tape to further resist leaks. A few stickers on the outside added a fun touch.

Finally I made a rattle out of a small spice bottle. I put a jingle bell inside the container, hot-glued it shut, and secured it with electrical tape. A few sticker embellishments and it was done.

Making homemade toys is such a fun way to find new uses for old objects. Once you make a few of these toys, you begin to see so many possibilities in items you used to consider junk. And if you can’t find a new use for that plastic bottle or that cardboard carton you’re about to throw away, I bet your child can! As my child gets older I look forward to having her help me make more of these toys. The egg carton treasure box and cardboard tube binoculars from the Mother Earth News article look especially fun!

For more ideas for making homemade toys out of empty containers, check out this Home Sweet Homebodies post about making musical instruments. My little one and I will be trying these ideas soon!

How do you reuse empty containers and other recyclables? Leave me a comment and let me know. It’s better to reuse objects than to throw them away, or even recycle them, so I’m always looking for new ideas.

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Let’s clear the air…..

Homemade gel air fresheners on my kitchen shelf

I’ve got to get something off my chest. I’m just going to put it out there, take it as you will, you might think it’s weird. But it’s been bothering me too long to keep it inside any longer.

I can’t stand air fresheners.

Scented candles, room sprays, plug-ins…..

I can’t stand any of them.

And when I say I’ve got something to get off my chest, it’s more like I have something to get out of my chest, my lungs, my sinuses, and my entire respiratory tract, actually. I’ve always been averse to air fresheners of all kinds, but I never thought about why. They are everywhere–public buildings, friends’ homes, vehicles. It’s fun to smell like pleasant things in your surroundings, and it certainly makes a good impression on people when your house smells sweet. This is why realtors often tell you to make your house smell like baked goods when you’re trying to sell it, and hotels spray custom scents in their lobbies to create a certain ambiance. For some reason, though, air fresheners have never struck me as sweet. Underneath the fragrance I have always detected an offensive, chemical note.

This was especially a problem when I was pregnant. During my first trimester, my heightened sense of smell sent waves of nausea through my body any time I got a whiff of cooking chicken, wet dog, the meat section at the grocery store, and pretty much anything that had any odor at all. In a desperate attempt to make my home an aromatic haven, I purchased two expensive plug-in air fresheners and installed them in my townhouse. I was careful to choose the “odor neutralizing” kind with a light fragrance that was sure to eliminate any offensive smells. A few hours later, the lemony scent was permeating the house, but it wasn’t creating the aromatic haven I hoped for. In fact, the plug-ins turned out to be the worst offending odor for my gag reflex. I tied them up in a plastic bag and threw them in the outdoor dumpster. For weeks later I could still smell the air freshener in my house, and I gagged every time I walked by the outlets where they had been plugged in. I can’t catch a whiff of air freshener without gagging, just a little, even to this day.

Now I understand why air fresheners cause such a negative reaction to my system. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, most household air fresheners are incredibly toxic. Sprays, plug-ins, and most air fresheners you can buy release harmful chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are known to cause symptoms like, “eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system.” They also contain the same chemicals used in pesticides, like paradichlorobenzene, which are known carcinogens to animals and could also cause cancer in humans. Chemical air fresheners can also combine with gasses from other household chemicals to create formaldehyde and other harmful substances.

If that doesn’t make you want to rip that plug-in air freshener off the wall, I don’t know what will. But what are you to do if you not only want a fresh, clean smelling home, but also a home that smells inviting and sweet?

Cleaning your home with natural cleaners containing baking soda, borax, vodka, and vinegar is a good way to start. These substances kill and/or neutralize odor-causing bacteria, and they don’t release the toxins found in air fresheners and conventional household cleaners. Another way to create a cozy aroma in your home is to make your own air freshener.

I tried two methods for making air fresheners. The first was a recipe from Tip Nut for homemade “smelly jelly.” This was a fun project, because it was so customizable. You can match your smelly jelly to your decor by adding food coloring and imbedded objects, and by pouring it into any water-tight container you like (glass works best.)

The recipe is simple: 2 cups water, 2 tablespoons salt, 4 packets of plain gelatin, 15 drops of your favorite essential oil, and food coloring. Boil one cup of water with the essential oil and a few drops of food coloring. Remove from heat and add the gelatin and salt; stir to dissolve. Add remaining cup of water (cold), pour into container, and let it set. That’s it!

I made one batch of orange jelly and poured it into a clean spaghetti sauce jar. Then I made a batch of lavender jelly and poured it into a couple of tins I bought at a craft store. To speed up the setting process, I put them all in the refrigerator. A few hours later I had homemade gel air fresheners that looked every bit as good as the ones you buy at the store. I put them in different rooms around the house and waited for the pleasant smells to waft through the air.

Twenty-four hours later I was still waiting. As good as these smelly jellies look, they aren’t making very good air fresheners. I can kind of smell the essential oils up close, but the fragrance doesn’t reach very far. Perhaps it takes a while longer for the gelatin to break down and release the aroma, but it’s not looking promising.

My second home air freshener worked much better. It’s a classic method you may have used before. To a small pot of water I added cinnamon sticks, cloves, and orange peels and set it to simmer. As soon as the water began to heat up, the delicious scent of oranges and spices filled the air. This is exactly the result I wanted from an air freshener. No hint of chemicals, but a delightful aroma of my favorite scents to make my home feel warm and inviting.

Orange peels and spices simmer on my stove

This second method is also very customizable. There’s a great article from Associated Content from Yahoo with lots of ideas on how to combine different ingredients your on stove to create scents for any whim or occasion. I plan to try several of them! When you are done simmering your spices, you can strain the leftover water into a spray bottle, add vinegar, and use as a room spray. Keep the cinnamon sticks to use again.

If you have another recipe for natural home air fresheners, or have another natural method for me to try, leave a comment. I’m always looking for new ideas!

Next week I’m recycling empty food containers into homemade toys. How do you reuse bottles, boxes, and other food containers once their contents have run out?

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