Category Archives: Reduce, reuse, recycle

Free to Make : Cardboard Box Cars

While I was working, the boys were left to their own devices. This meant they had a full morning free to do whatever they wanted, provided there was no power tool usage or video game playing. (The “new to us” band saw requires Dad’s supervision, and video games are reserved for the afternoon heat). Thankfully, we had some recent Amazon deliveries. Cardboard boxes! Woo!

a picture of an 8-year-old boy creating a car from a cardboard box.

C, age 8, is hard at work on his cardboard vehicle.

I’d like to tell you they were inspired by this book from the library, Out of the Box: 25 Cardboard Engineering Projects for Makers. But they weren’t. We didn’t even check that book out until AFTER these contraptions were built. Rather, these boys have always been fascinated with boxes. (As in, give that kid a box…instead of the toy). Thankfully, their projects have gotten more sophisticated as they’ve gotten older.

Made by R, age 11.

Cardboard Box Cars

Their favorite things to make are cars. Obviously. If you can’t drive a real one, there’s something satisfying about making your own. I am especially fond of the computerized system in my 11-year-old’s. I think he has too much Tesla on his mind.

a picture of a boy's cardboard car

An all-electric vehicle…complete with its own ipad.

Cardboard, Free Time & The Maker Movement

And in a somewhat coincidental twist, I finished reading Dale Dougherty’s Free to Make as they were working on their creations. Dougherty is the founder of Make Magazine and one of the people behind Maker Faire. I am very drawn to the maker movement, not just for myself and my children, but as an educator.

I was pretty familiar with most of the content, although it was interesting to see a slim chapter on how schools are incorporating “making.” I am looking forward to more educational research on the maker movement. I just wish we could combine “making” with environmentalism. Right now “making in schools” seems to incur a lot of waste.

I think we just need to find a way to recycle tape. For a short time, tape was banned at my house since it’s not recyclable. We still consume it in limited quantities due to the waste factor. Oh, the things my kids could make with more tape (and free time)!

C’s car has a working accelerating pedal. (His words, not mine).

Rent your Legos® with Pley :: A Personal Review

A Pley package arrives at the house.

A Pley package arrives at the house.

In our ongoing attempts at minimalism (and I use that term very loosely), I have been seeking out new types of gifts for our kids. The boys are 6 and 9, and are dedicated Lego® fans. They love building and creating and recreating with these tiny magical plastic blocks. But, they have enough.

Many of our bricks come from numerous birthday and Christmas gifts given to our older child. He has lots of experience building new sets, but his younger brother doesn’t (and I’m not about to go through and “create” a set from the random Lego® pieces). We’ve tried. It takes forever. My time is more valuable than that. Enter Pley.

Pley is a budding company that rents Lego® sets. They are based in California and for a monthly fee, you get complete sets mailed to your home. Put them together, admire them, take them apart and send them back. You are even allowed to miss a few parts on the return trip. They understand that kids lose some Legos®…that’s okay.

Your set comes in a red mesh bag -- supposedly "disinfected" after each use.

Your set comes in a red mesh bag — supposedly “disinfected” after each use.

My sister-in-law took up our call for alternative gifts and gave both boys a 2-month subscription to the service as a Christmas gift. Unfortunately, it seems that this was a pretty popular idea since all of the sets my children “chose” were unavailable. That’s right, out of a list of 25 items that they wanted to build, none of these were available. Since there were two separate accounts, that’s 50 unavailable sets. Many of these were the popular Lego® movie or Minecraft sets…items that we wouldn’t really buy for them anyway. They still received sets to build – mostly from the Lego City collection – and we were lucky that we didn’t have any of the sets we received. If they don’t have it on your list, they’ll send what they have based on the categories you’ve chosen.

Another disappointment was that many of the first sets we received were missing a few critical pieces. Often, this was temporarily replaced by a piece from our set, but this initially caused some frustration with our oldest, rule-abiding child. In the end, we re-framed this “problem” as a way of dealing with adversity and change and he came out all the better for it.  However, as a paying customer, that was a big let down.

The first set we received for my nine-year-old...a miniature Big Ben.

The first set we received for my nine-year-old…a miniature Big Ben.

Another issue that we encountered was the distance from our house to their facility in California. It took weeks for our next Pley set to arrive. We were given a 2-day return postage, but often our account was not credited with a return for another week. Then, it took another week for them to mail out another set. Travel time between California and Florida adds on another number of days. If you allow the kids a few days to build and a few days to admire their creations, this amounts to one set per month.

My recommendation? If you live in California, or nearby, and have plenty of Legos®, but want a few months of new builds, use this service. If you are further away and the time is near a major holiday, invest in a new set and buy some Lego books to further interest in their building. Although my review wasn’t exactly favorable, I do look forward to seeing this company grow in the coming years and hope they will be able to place facilities throughout the U.S. to mitigate some of the above issues.



Earth Day Resolution

Earth Day came…and went. However, I have been thinking about our SECOND annual Earth Day resolution for quite some time. Here's last year's. We've mostly stuck to it, although, someone (cough, Joey, cough) has a bit of a problem with the quality of the recycled toilet paper. This year's discussion went something like this:

Me: "So, it's time for our Earth Day Resolution."
Joey: "Huh?"

Oh, my poor husband. He tries so hard and we work so well together, but we are really both "idea" kind of people and we tend to fall short on the everyday details and following through with projects. (Which is probably why I have lots of fabric and patterns and ten half-finished projects stashed around the house). But, I love this idea – a conscious decision to continue on this environmentally-friendly path…one change at a time. So, I've decided to work on eliminating as much plastic from our food shopping, as possible.

We already bring cloth bags, though we do utilize some of the plastic ones for bathroom garbage (another resolution for another time). I've just ordered some lightweight mesh bags for produce and to choose dry goods from the bins at our local natural food store. Found here on Etsy. I know that I could make these. But, I haven't and it's been a year since I've been thinking about them. (Please see the above note about being short on the follow through…)


Along with making a tangible change, I was also directed to this book by a friend. I'm a few chapters into it and already it is making me think. I love that. Especially, since it's not what I was expecting from the introductory chapters. Another little change, hopefully for the better.

Wrapped up in mama-made love

I greatly admire all of those women (and dads, working moms, etc.) who can juggle the kids, provide home-cooked healthy food, sew most of the family's wardrobe, sustain a wonderful marriage, grow a home business while the kids sleep – and still manage to produce healthy, well-adjusted homeschooled kids. Whew! I'm not there yet, but I'm pretty happy with the stuff I do manage to do well. Which means that every once in a while, my kids get some mama-made goodness. 


Pajama pants. My absolute favorite thing to sew. They sew up fast and make me feel like I can/do provide for my family a la Ma Ingalls. (It's this pattern, found a few years ago). I've used tracing paper and made numerous pants. Thank goodness my oldest son enjoys picking out fabric – bright orange and busy. His favorite.

And, since it's one of the few items that actually gets finished around here…why not wear them as pants? with shoes. outside.


Those are Christmas Eve pajamas – still going. Not too bad for a thrifted flannel sheet. (I made the pants one size bigger and tacked at the bottom…next year they should still be in one piece).

Since there are two boys in the family now, my littlest one has also been included in this new pajama pants tradition. (How I love sewing for two – so much fun)! I traced a pair of his regular pants and this time, remembered to make the waist a bit wider so the elastic could stretch.


A quick side note: how do those mamas of multiples get a picture with both of the kids together? Clean and in the same pair of pants at the same time? I'm perplexed. Formal portraits aside, the pants fit him and I love seeing him wearing them. Oh, yes, pajama pants – they make me feel good.

(Apparently, I neglect sweeping up after breakfast in favor of sewing pajama pants. Sigh.)

Cloth Napkins

In an attempt to reduce our garbage consumption (and to save money), I have been buying fewer paper towels.  We've been using tee towels to dry our hands and to dry the fruits and veggies after washing them. Unfortunately, we're still using paper towels to accompany our meals. And, since my husband works from home, and Ronan and I eat at home for most meals, that means a lot of paper towels.

Many years ago, I had bought some cloth napkins for special occasions. I have two of those left and they are in pretty sorry shape. Still, two is better than none and the brief thought crossed my mind, "I should go buy some more cloth napkins."

I do believe that is the least frugal thought I've had in a while. I have a sewing machine. I have scrap fabric in my stash. Why not do it myself?


These were remarkably easy to make and I didn't even use a pattern or strict measurements (sometimes a complete downfall to the actual completion of one of my projects). I guesstimated on size and cut two and sewed them together (right sides together) as if sewing a pillow. I left a hole to flip out the finished product and made a straight stitch 1/4 of an inch from the edge to give it a finished look.

All of these fabrics are 100% cotton – a leftover skirt fabric and some unused quilt backing. They took hardly anytime at all and have created the base for our ever-expanding cloth napkin collection. Of course, they still only last a day or two, but I am currently in the process of raiding my stash…