Cherry liqueur update

Remember last summer, when the sun was warm and the cherries were abundant?

And I scavenged cherries to make cherry pies and cherry liqueur?

Well, Christmas has come, and the liqueur is ripe … and so is the time for giving.

In all honesty, we cracked open one jar of Cherry Bounce as soon as its ripening time had passed. We enjoyed it — sweet, with all the red color the alcohol robbed from the cherries, and oh-so-alcoholic! (I suppose adding sugar and sugary fruit to hard liquor and allowing it to steep will do that.)

For Christmas, I wanted to give some of the liqueur away. It took me a bit to think of how to package it. Then, on a road trip to Taos in October, Little Cheap and I indulged in some Lipton bottled tea. The bottles were made of glass, and I thought they could be reused. I removed the labels, but the bottles were very plain. Then I remembered a knitted beer bottle cozy I saw years ago in a now-defunct magazine called Budget Living. Could I recreate such a thing? Yes, I could:

I reviewed some online patterns and then invented my own cherry chart — something I’ve never done before. My idea is that the cozy can be used for a coffee cozy (or a beer cozy!) after the liqueur is gone. The sleeve simply slips onto and off of the bottle.

Merry Christmas to all — and be cautious with those drinks, folks — I could feel a slight buzz almost immediately. Or perhaps it was the faint recollection of the bees in the trees …


Making reusable gift bags

I kicked off Christmas Eve day by whipping up some gift bags from the materials I bought at Goodwill last week. In 1 hour and 15 minutes, I made 10 bags — here’s how I did it.

If you don’t have the time or desire to make these before your holiday giving, check out thrift stores and giveaways for *post-holiday* deals on these items, and make some in January. Put them away with your wrapping supplies and be prepared next year.

You will need materials to make into bags (fabric, pillowcases, blankets, pajamas, or whatever you find), thread, matching cloth ribbon (about 1 yard per bag) and a sewing machine, unless you are very industrious. Pillowcase bags could be hand-sewn without too much psychic pain.

First, at the top are a few packages under our tree, made from a pillowcase and a pillow sham I cut in half. And here’s a glimpse of a couple of bags I made from two pillowcases:

I attached the ribbons with a zig-zag stitch on the seam of the pillowcase:

The first 5 bags I made from a pair of flannel holiday pajama pants from Goodwill. They were a size XL with an elastic waist (with little stretch left) and a missing drawstring:

First, I cut the pants. I wanted some smaller, squarish bags, so I cut off each leg and then cut the legs in half. If you wanted longer bags (for wine bottles or a similar shape), you could use the whole leg.

Then, I sewed the bags. I turned each leg section inside out and sewed a hem across the bottom. At the cuffs, I simply sewed across on the outside of the right side.

Next, I cut a length of ribbon about 3 times the width of the bag. (Be sure to cut the ribbon ends at an angle to reduce unraveling.)

The next step, completing the top of the bag, can be completed two ways.

  1. You can just sew a hem and then attach the ribbon to the outside seam, as I did with the pillowcases. To do that, keep the bag wrong side out. Fold the top edge over twice. Then stitch close to the fold farthest from the top edge of the bag (i.e., not right on that edge). Turn right side out and stitch on the ribbon.
  2. Or you can make a channel for a drawstring. Because I felt like flirting with stitchy danger, I inserted the ribbon and sewed the hem (for the drawstring channel) with the ribbon already inside. If you try this, be forewarned that if you catch the ribbon in the needle, you will need to rip out those stitches and-re-sew. Be sure to leave an opening for the ribbon to emerge.

Turn the bag right side out and tie knots in the ends of the ribbons, so the ribbon cannot slide back into the channel.

Voila! One bag completed.

Then I did the same thing on the other parts of the pants.

I didn’t do a drawstring on all of them — on some, I simply stitched ribbon on.

Those bags look like this when they are tied up:

In about 45 minutes, I had finished all the bags, including the top of the pants. For those, I snipped off the area where the leg seams met and stitched across the bottom to make a wide, floppy bag.

Then I did a similar process with a table runner …

… and a double-sided flannel blanket I had found at the thrift store. All told, we have 10 new bags now.

Just in time for me to finish my gift wrapping tonight! Happy holidays, everyone.

Free ways to get in the holiday spirit

Things are very busy around the Cheap house as we get ready for the holidays. But here are a couple of free and eco-friendly ways to help bolster your holiday spirit:

  • is offering a free holiday song download every day through Christmas. I’m late onto this boat … but that’s OK, because the previous downloads are still available here.
  • If you are itching to do something crafty, whip up some origami reindeer. Or save the instructions and cut some squares out of used wrapping paper, envelopes, etc., so that you can turn the rejects into gift cards or ornaments next year, as Green Daily suggests.

I do store holiday “projects” in a box with our Christmas decorations — things like cards with slots for photos, purchased on clearance for 90% off, or glass ornaments for which I intend to someday crochet covers.

Now, I’m off to finish up the week’s work and stitch up some reusable holiday gift bags with materials I picked up at Goodwill last week. What are you up to? Share your ideas here.

IKEA shelves packaged with minimal waste, no word on adhesives

We are sprucing up our living room, and in the process of looking for a good storage solution, saw a little blurb mentioning some IKEA shelves in, of all places, Better Homes & Gardens magazine.

After a bit more research, we decided that even with shipping costs (Colorado’s IKEA store is still on the drawing boards), the shelves were a good value (and a great place to invest the money from a small bonus for Mr. Cheap and the sale of our treadmill). We ordered them and waited.

In a couple of weeks, the shelves arrived at our door. They were delivered by freight truck and moved right into my living room in three large, flat boxes.

Inside, when Mr. Cheap began unpacking them, we were pleasantly amazed at the amount of packing materials involved.

Those materials are:

  • Several long sheets of craft paper – quite rough, obviously recycled (these will turn into holiday wrapping paper  stamped with potato stamps before they are recycled).
  • Three long, slim pieces of styrofoam (about 2″ by 2′) and two square pieces of styrofoam (about 9″ square), both about 1/2″ thick. These will be recycled on a special trip to Eco-Cycle one day; meanwhile, they’ll join the rest of the difficult recyclables in a bag in my closet.
  • One square of cardboard folded into a rectangle — not even sealed with tape, but instead with grooves that fit into slots.
  • One long cardboard box that held the whole shebang.

The shelves themselves are pretty impressive, too. The notes on the item listing mention that the shelves are made of solid wood. The wood is pine (a fast-growing tree), and the composition is narrow strips of pine laminated together.

Lumber made from laminated wood has several benefits:

  • It reduces waste, because the flat portion of each board need only be 2″ wide or so, rather than 10″. This means manufacturers can use younger, faster-growing trees instead of old growth, and can use more of the tree instead of only the best part.
  • The resulting boards are stronger than a single board and less prone to warping from humidity and/or weight stress, especially when the direction of the grain alternates, as it does in the boards pictured above.

This type of wood also can have drawbacks, most seriously the glue used to create it. I tried very hard to get IKEA to explain to me what glue they use to assemble the shelves:

Q. The site said the bookcases are solid pine. I see they are actually laminated boards. This is fine, but we would like to know what adhesive is used to laminate the boards?

A. Here is a material description of the LEKSVIK bookcase.

Solid Pine: Wide, yellow/white graining with reddish heartwood. Pine is a rather soft kind of wood, and furniture may get pressure

Stain: A dye for coloring wood, which lets the grain shine through. Stain contains very carefully pulverized color pigment, but less than in usual paint.

Q. Thank you for your response. However … they are definitely NOT wide boards. They are made of narrow, 2″ boards laminated together into the width of the shelves and sides. This is fine, as it makes the wood stronger and is better for the environment. Our concern is that many laminated boards are constructed using formaldehyde-based resins. I am hoping IKEA would not use these types of resins, but I would like to know what is used to glue the boards together. I will attach a photo to show what I mean, in case there is some question. If I would do better to contact some other address, please let me know where to send my e-mail or call to get a response.

A. Formaldehyde is a gas, which occurs widely in nature.  It is, for example, naturally present is (sic) wood and fruit.  Formaldehyde is added to various products, such as adhesives, paints, varnishes and textiles.  High concentrations of formaldehyde can cause an allergic reaction. We have strict rules concerning formaldehyde, and we do not permit the use of paints and varnishes containing formaldehyde additives. For wooden products, we apply the German E1 standard and have done so for many years now. For textiles, we apply the Finnish regulations.  In both cases, these are currently the strictest within their field worldwide.

Glue is available in a great variety for different purposes.  White Glue (PVAC) is water-soluble and dries to give a colorless join.  It
is often used for furniture and is regarded as one of the most environmentally adapted glues currently available. Carbamide glue is used primarily for bonding veneer to particleboard.  Hot melt glue is used, for example, to fix edging strips to particleboard and to seal packaging.  Hot melt glue contains plastic.

Q. This does not quite answer my question. Please send a telephone number I could use to contact customer care.

A. [No answer.]

If I had to guess, based on the mysterious responses from IKEA, I would guess that the boards are laminated using carbamide resin, which sounds like it is essentially an organic product.

The shelves even come with a little groove cut out of the back to fit over our baseboard moulding, so they can stand flush against the wall. Mr. Cheap had to do a little bit of shimming & wiggling to get them to line up precisely even. But now there they are:

Shelves at left, with dog sleeping sitting up

Shelves at left, with our funny dog sleeping sitting up ... the better to admire them?

Ooh la la! IKEA, IKEA, where have you been all my life?

Last chance to get a hybrid vehicle tax credit

If you are looking to buy a hybrid vehicle, you might have heard about the federal income tax credit for purchasers of those cars and trucks.

The credit, however, begins to phase down and then expire after any given manufacturer has sold 60,000 of its hybrid vehicles.

It also only applies to new, purchased vehicles. If you lease the car, the car dealer/lease company gets the credit.

If a new hybrid purchase is on the horizon, full or partial credits are still available for these 2008 models:
– Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid
– Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid
– Ford Escape Hybrid
– GMC Yukon Hybrid
– Mazda Tribute Hybrid
– Mercury Mariner Hybrid
– Nissan Altima Hybrid
– Saturn Aura Hybrid
– Saturn Vue Green Line

Toyota and Lexus vehicles are out.

If you buy a Honda Civic Hybrid 2008 model before Dec. 31, you can claim a $525 tax credit.

Looking to buy next year’s model? Only the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner will qualify for a tax credit.

Get the complete scoop at the Feds’ site here.

Gift-wrap free holidays

Ground zero for U.S. consumerism (and its corollary, waste) is less than two weeks away — Christmas Day. Unless you’re a super early-bird, odds are good that you’re going to be wrapping up some presents in the next days.

Traditional wrapping paper looks festive under the tree. The problem is, it costs money (even though the paper is pretty, I do cringe at paying for something that will quickly become trash) — and wrapping paper cannot always be recycled, because of the materials of which it is made.

Now is a great time to see if you can wrap up your gifts without any waste. Are you in?

A few weeks ago, Erin of Creation Halt pointed out this official No Gift Wrap Challenge.

Yesterday, I tried to give some new incentives here with posts on super cheap-n-easy gift bags and on taking the plastic out of shipping. (Speaking of the latter, I’ve noticed that several retailers, including, have swapped plain old crumpled brown paper for those inflatable plastic padding, at least for nonbreakable items. Yeehaw!)

How else can you skip the gift wrap? Let us count the ways …

  1. Go elegant, as the challenge page proposes, with fancy Japanese furoshiki wrappings customized for the gift inside.
  2. Re-use gift bags and wrapping paper, or go for my cereal bag trick above.
  3. Visit your local fabric store for plain or fancy fabrics, or holiday prints, that you will be able to re-use again and again. Before you go, check the paper or online for coupons — many stores offer a coupon for 40% or 50% off one item, and one length of fabric usually counts as an item.  For smaller gifts, fold the fabric instead of cutting it to preserve its purpose.
  4. Purchase rolls of fabric ribbons that can be used and re-used.
  5. Knit a mini-stocking to use as a gift card or cash presenter.
  6. Hit the thrift store and think creatively. Use vintage tins to present a CD, a scarf, or jewelry in addition to cookies. Wrap a gift inside an inexpensive sweater the gift-giver can use. Buy a reusable basket and put kitchenware or food gifts inside.
  7. Use kitchen foil and decorate with a bright ribbon.
  8. Collect festive holiday shopping bags from those who use them and cut them into gift wrap or use as a gift bag.
  9. Cut and sew old sheets into gift bags. BlogHer published all the details, plus a great tip to avoid the irritating process of inserting a drawstring: Simply sew ribbons into the seam of the bag, near the top, and wrap the ribbon around. Get a great deal on ribbons with a ribbon grab bag — I found one recently at Hobby Lobby that cost about $2 for 20 two-yard lengths of ribbon.
  10. Scavenge for pieces of butcher paper or craft paper to use — either alone or adorned with drawings, paintings or potato-stamp motifs — as gift wrap.
  11. Use the old classic — newspaper comics.

And if you are still looking for affordable and/or low-waste items to put INSIDE those gift packages, this list will get the mental lightbulb burning — and several of the ideas are doable at the last minute.

Quick tip: Cheapest gift bags ever

The holidays are here, and it is time to wrap those gifts.

So start eating cereal!

And save the empty bags. Wrap your gift in colored tissue paper, insert it in the plastic bag and tie with a bow. You could customize with Sunday funnies, draw on the outside and use any kind of ribbon — maybe a reusable hair band for a child, a headband for an athlete … you get the idea.

Goldfish crackers have a beautiful silver bag (just wash it out and/or wrap up your gift to avoid any leftover grease rubbing off on your present inside).

The possibilities are endless … and oh so frugal.