Monday, August 22, 2011

About Sorta Fabulous

Creating a home or garden design can be a daunting task when you have a champagne taste on a beer budget. You can go to your favorite magazine for inspiration, find a look that you love, then notice the prices. Maybe you fall in love with a room, or garden design that would appear ridiculous in your hovel. Just remember that you are looking for inspiration. You don't want to be a copy cat.

Instead of moping, feeling defeated in your thwarted dreams of grandeur, learn to adapt. Living in reduced circumstances can lead to a creative lifestyle, to an adventure in thrift, where your life may seem sorta fabulous. And while the frugal life may lead you into the sustainable practices of reusing, repurposing, and recycling, you may just wind up giving Mother Earth a helping hand. 

When I admired some simple paintings at one of my favorite shops, but complained about the price, the woman beside me, a total stranger, said "why don't you paint one yourself? You can do that." She told me where to find the salvaged door panels ($6.00 a piece) in the basement. After many stabs at painting, I began to develop a bit of a style, not like the pictures that I admired, but my own. If I want a landscape painting, I just make one myself.

Art in a Nursing Home

Recently, I had cause to visit a nursing home. Many times, in fact, as my daughter needed physical therapy in order to recuperate from an injury. Despite the fact that I selected the nursing/rehabilitation facility, I cried as I wrote her name on all her clothing.

But the Good Samaritan Nursing Center's walls are covered with original art created by the patients and residents. The naive, amatuer paintings add a personal touch to the pristine halls. On closer inspection, I noticed that many of the painting were for sale. Several group paintings had been divided into four separate frames for an interesting and colorful display. 

How cool is that? Despite the presence of the sick and wounded, elderly people trying their best to accommodate stroke or deal with amputations, the art lent a note of hope and beauty, elevating the mood of what we often think of as a depressing place.

Some of the paintings were created using a technique that allows nonartists to understand the concept of painting. The art teacher lays a simple outline on the canvas to give the residents a basis on which to build their painting. The results, as you can see, are charming. 

This lovely farm scene shows a nice balance and  strong lines, with an inviting warmth. How many of the elderly in the home have memories of a rural past? This scene feels like home.

The framed painting on the left is not for sale. I love cheerful yellow house, and white houses beyond. Whether the artist chose to depict a suburb or a small town, the Old World feeling seems lush with a backdrop of trees.

The gardener or farmer portrayed in this painting appears quite happy with her work. Perhaps it is her green thumb, her way with the flowers so charmingly depicted on the right. The rustic feel with the sweep of blue mountains in the background is a far cry from predicament that is now the artists lot in life.

"The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven."  - John Milton (Paradise Lost)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Decorative Elements in the Garden

Create an individual style for your garden by adding decorative elements. Introducing an artistic flair to the garden design can be a thrifty, sustainable practice, making your back yard a highly personal space.

Of course, standard statues add a kind of personality to the garden. A Buddha statue creates a feeling of peace and serenity. Saint Francis, the patron saint of the ecology movement and animals connects us with the concept of God in nature. Angels add a spiritual feeling and aim us toward our better selves. You can purchase statues, bird baths, and garden seating at stores or online, but for a unique look, think outside the big box store.

Handcrafted art, found art, and junk can introduce a note of the whimsical or a taste of the unusual. These simple glass flowers can be made with thrift store purchases glued together and mounted on copper piping.

I found a copy of the Savannah Bird Girl (pictured above), a significant figure in one of my favorite novels, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, at a yard sale for $10.00. One of her arms was broken off, but I glued it on with Goop.

Broken containers, pieces of architectural salvage, old farm tools, and junk items add an artistic touch and provide a focal point. An unusual item, tucked behind a tree or shrub can seem mysterious or merely amusing and provide a bit of surprise. 

The doll's head on the right reminds me of a fairy peeking out from the green boughs of a juniper bush. Some visitors find her charming, while others think she's a bit creepy, but she adds an interesting element to our front yard. She cost about 50 cents at a thrift store. 

One of my favorite gardens is bordered by upended glass bottles. In a shady area, the glass reflects light quite prettily. This distinctive style costs nothing, using bottles left over from parties and collected from friends. 

The hunt for unique garden decor can be a lot of fun. Thrift stores, architectural salvage yards, and antique shops are excellent sources of materials for garden art projects. If you feel like getting up early in the morning, you can cruise the better neighborhoods in order to arrive before the garbage truck. You'd be surprised at what some people throw away. Okay, so maybe some pieces are not in pristine condition, but does it actually matter outside? A container with a crack can be used to best effect if you turn the bad section toward a wall. An old chair can hold a pot of flowers, a statue, or a personal art piece. 

Once you open your eyes, and put your creative intuition to work, adding unique decorative elements is a fun and inexpensive project.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Broke a Leg - Decorate the Cast

Breaking your leg is a real drag. There is nothing pretty about it. A broken bone is painful and inconvenient and can be humiliating. Then you get stuck in a cumbersome cast.

When my daughter broke her leg, the doctor applied an attractive cobalt blue cast. And in an attempt to add a bit of fun, I decorated it with a metallic silver pen, then added some fake diamonds for a bit of sparkle. The result is a beautiful cast. It's still a drag, but at least my daughter gets compliments on her cast.

Casts now come in several colors and there are plenty of decorations that you can add to spruce it up. You don't have to be an artist, just have a plan and have fun!

When decorating a cast, keep it simple and keep it cheerful. Do not add a skull and crossbones, flames, or anything that can be construed as negative. Cheer the patient up with joyful images such as:
Polka dots - simple and stylish
Stripes - vertical works well
Paisley - draw some paisley patterns and outline with bumps, fill in with swirls or dots
Flowers - daisies are easy to draw and so happy
Stars - in many sizes, add additional lines radiating out from or from between the points
Green blades of grass growing up from the bottom
Fleur di lis
Musical notes
Balloons - circle with strings, overlap some of the balloons for an authentic look
Hearts - different sizes for variety

Monday, August 1, 2011

Simple Recipe for Homade Soap

Making soap at home can be an inexpensive project using easy to find ingredients and equipment. The recipe presented below is the cheapest soap recipe that I have found, but can be altered with changes made with essential oils, coloring agents, or herbs.

Soap is a combination of fats, water, and lye that undergoes a chemical change called soponificataion. All soap contains lye, sometimes called caustic soda or sodium hydroxide. 

When choosing equipment, use steel, enamel-ware, glass, or Pyrex. Plastic spoons work well for stirring. Never use aluminum. 

Protect your eyes, skin and clothing when making soap. Keep some vinegar on hand in case of spills. Lye can cause a nasty burn.

Equipment  Needed to Make Soap

Large pot - steel or enamel-ware
Large Pyrex container - for lye solution
Electric hand mixer with steel blades
Scale - kitchen scale that weighs in ounces
Plastic containers for measuring fats
Glass candy thermometer
Plastic spoons
Mold - wood or plastic (Tupperware type container works well)
Eye, skin, and clothing protection
Plastic bags (to cover and protect counter)
Cutting board

Frugal Soap Recipe

42 ounces Crisco
17 ounces water
6 1/2 ounces lye
1 Tablespoon sugar (dissolved in water)
5 ounces Canola oil
5 ounces Castor oil
5 ounces Coconut oil
1 1/2 ounces essential oil
Coloring agent
How to Make Soap

1) Prepare work area and equipment. Place plastic on kitchen counter. Have everything you need on hand. Ventilate area when combining water and lye as it creates toxic fumes.

2) Dissolve sugar in small amount of hot water. (This will be part of your water measure)

3) Weigh water. Always remember to weigh the container first and set scale to zero. Pour into large Pyrex container. Add lye to water. (Never the reverse). Mix well.

4) Weigh fats, beginning with Crisco. Make sure to weigh the container first. 

5) Place fats in steel or enamel pot on low heat. Do not add essential oils until later

6) When the temperature of fat mixture and lye solution are both 110 degrees Fahrenheit, slowly add the lye and water solution to the fats. (This can be tricky, you may have to set one or the other into a sink with cold water. The temperature must be equal)

7) Mix together. Pulse with hand mixer. The mixture will thicken into a pudding like consistency called "trace," as pictured on the right. If you drag a spoon through the mixture, it will leave a trail.

8) During the mixing, add colorants, or herbs. 

9) Last, add the essential oils and mix well

10) Pour the soap mixture into a greased mold and cover with plastic wrap

11) Cover with a towel and slowly cool 24 hours to 3 days. 

12) Remove soap from mold onto cutting board. Run a knife around the edges, turn mold upside down and thump on the bottom

13) Cut soap into bars

14) Arrange soap on a slotted rack or basket. Keep a small space between the bars to ensure air circulation. 

15) Cure soap for one month. The longer it sits, the harder and  more long lasting the bars of soap.

Coloring Agents
This recipe creates a bar of white soap. You can add specks of color by mixing in some herbs. Fresh herbs will turn brown but dried herbs may retain color. 

Tumeric - golden yellow to orange yellow
Sage - pale, dull green
Sea kelp granules - pale green with dark flecks
Cocoa - dark brown
Cinnamon - reddish brown
Ground non-toxic crayons
Commercial cosmetic grade coloring agents