Hits and misses of DIY projects, both big and small.

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Adding a bit of greenery to your living space is especially welcoming during the winter months. As the outdoor world is lacking color at this time of year, indoor gardens can bring an element of life and vibrancy to your home. When space is an issue, a mini indoor garden will add just the right amount of verdant ambiance to your space.

There are many creative ways to create mini indoor gardens, but the greatest ones incorporate innovation with the simplicity of plant life. Let’s take a look at 7 examples of indoor gardens and learn how you can make them a part of your own living space.

Lightbulb Planters

With lightbulb planters, you can enjoy the delight of Edison’s creation for longer than the life of the bulb. Repurposed old lightbulbs can find a new use as mini terrariums to create an inexpensive mini garden. Combine a few of these to a window sill or shelf or create a hanging version to accentuate your living space.

Lantern terrariums take up very little space and bring a beautiful element of life to any room. Making them can be as complicated or as simple as you like, but the idea is that the sealed space of a terrarium creates a perfect environment for indoor plants. It’s basically its own recycling facility. Plants breathe in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. Sunlight and carbon dioxide are taken in through photosynthesis and the plants provide food for themselves and water from the condensation from terrarium walls.

Assorted Potted Plants

Anyone can create a lovely mini indoor garden space using pots and plants, and then arrange them in an interesting way. It can be as simple or as bold as you’d like. You can choose a variety of shapes and sizes for the pots, or keep everything uniform. Even the type of plants you choose can be simple or elaborate. The arrangements can also be as effortless as stacked shelves or an intricate as hanging shelves for pots.

A garden of potted plants is especially wonderful if you grow your own plants from seeds. After they sprout and grow a bit, they can find a new home in your garden.

Mason Jar Wall Planters

mason jar plants

Mason jars are one of the most versatile everyday household items, and they make especially nice hanging herb gardens for the kitchen. With a few simple supplies, you can create a mini indoor garden that’s not only easy to create, but also easy to maintain.

Vertical Wall Garden

Vertical wall gardens require a bit of wall space, and they can be as simple or as elaborate as you’d like. The one pictured above can be purchased from Williams-Sonoma, but with a little research and some legwork, you can produce a DIY version for your home.

Mini Hanging String Garden

hanging indoor plants

Add some height and depth to an indoor space with a hanging garden. The beauty and structure of the indoor plants is the focal point of hanging string gardens because the eye is not distracted by pots. Their simple elegance makes them one of the best ways to finish a room’s décor.

Bottle Garden

A bottle garden is a self-watering mini indoor garden. Using any type of bottle, from a pony beer bottle to extra-large wine bottles, you can create a unique conversation piece that doubles as an indoor garden. If you’re busy and don’t want to add more plants to water to your to-do list, consider a low-maintenance bottle garden.

When space is of concern or you’re looking for something small to add the finishing touch to a room, mini indoor gardens might be the answer. They perfectly couple simplicity with innovation, and add the perfect touch of greenery to a living space.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Olivia + Socktopus

I love pampering my three cats with toys and treats. They are my and my husband's "fur babies" and we adore them. Our cats are strictly indoor only, we feel it's better for their health and for the local wildlife population. We also live in an apartment that doesn’t have a backyard.

Another way we keep our cats healthy and happy is by providing them with toys, games and plenty of places to sleep and hide if they need to get away from their sisters. We use some store-bought toys like a laser pointers, a large cat tree and an interactive food dispenser, but many of our cats favorite toys are homemade.

I have made them a cat tent, a cat bed (following directions for The Purr-fect Homemade Cat Bed from Elizabeth Atia in the October/November 2014 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS), catnip stuffed creatures, cardboard tube tunnels, foil balls, fabric pom-poms and cardboard kitty forts. The most popular cat toys have been some of the simplest and easy to make. I'll show you how to make Amelia’s favorite, the socktopus, and tell you where to find Emma and Olivia's favorites out of items you already have at home.


How to Make a Catnip Socktopus

To make your own socktopus cat toy you will need:

• An old sock, (a partnerless one with a hole in the heel, not the toe area, will work perfectly)
• Scrap fabric for eyes or other facial features, optional
• Polyfil stuffing
• Dried catnip
• Scissors
• Needle
• Thread

Gather your materials, lets DIY!

If you want to sew on some fabric eyes or other facial features, do this first. I know our cats probably care very little for how their toys look, as long as they’re fun, but I think having eyes on the socktopus makes them cute. Do not use buttons for eyes as your cat could pull them off the toy and swallow or choke on them. I used brightly colored thread to sew scrap white and black circles on our socktopuses, but you can decorate however you want.

Make the head by filling the toe area of the sock with the dried catnip and polyfil stuffing (I make mine the size of my fist, you could go larger or smaller than that). Finish the head by gathering the sock at the base of the polyfil area and sewing the opening shut. You should have what kind of looks like a balloon with a sock tube on the end. For a no sew version, tie a knot at the base of the polyfil. Cut eight strips for legs from the tube portion of the sock. Viola! Give to your cat to enjoy!

Amela + Socktopus

The socktopus is one of my cats’ favorite toys. This toy is so easy to make I’ve made several as Christmas gifts for my family members’ cats.

A lot of our cats favorite toys are not store-bought or even technically homemade. I'd call them re-purposed. Emma's beloved “red stringy” is a drawstring I pulled from a hoodie. Olivia loves playing kitty “soccer” with a ball made out of aluminum foil. Cardboard tubes from toilet paper rolls and plastic milk bottle caps are fun to bat and roll around. An empty (or just open) cardboard box makes a great napping spot. Take a look around your home before buying expensive toys from the pet store, you may already have something your cats will love!

Emma + Red String

Do you have a toy that your felines adore? I hope your cats enjoy your creations! Let me know if you make any of these cat toys in the comments below.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


I prefer to use the dovetail joint whenever possible on boxes and other projects I make. The joint is attractive and reflects craftsmanship. Even though it appears difficult, after doing it a few times it becomes far easier. I like this joint because it can be accomplished by only using hand tools. The tools in the photo are all the tools needed to make dovetails. A fine tooth trim saw, sharp chisel, mallet and the dovetail marking gauge. The gauge I use to lay out the tails and pins for the joint is made of steel and brass and is adjustable. The most difficult aspect is measuring and laying out the dovetail joint which requires some precision. That is why I choose to use a good adjustable marking gauge to obtain that precision.


A Dovetail Gauge

I purchased the gauge in the photo from a specialty woodworking store and by following the original directions that came with it the gauge has worked extremely well and been consistent. Some old timers make their own layout gauge but I kept losing mine so I purchased this one and have liked it for its precision and utility. It is made in England by Collett Engineering.

Hand-Cut Dovetails vs. Machine-Cut Dovetails:

The dovetail joint is mechanically strong and attractive and represents craftsmanship. There are products made now that can make dovetail joints by machine. Personally I still prefer to make them with hand tools and do not use the machines even though they are very accurate and faster. To my eye the dovetail machines lack that hand made look which I find appealing. When making them with hand tools you can run the risk of making a measuring mistake which means that you will have to cut all the tails and pins off and start over again. The box will be a few inches shorter but that is usually the worst possibility. If one tail or pin is laid out a fraction off it will also affect the remaining tails or pins. The machine dovetail takes much less time to accomplish but the hand made dovetail provides more satisfaction when complete and most woodworkers can tell the difference between the two techniques. There is also less opportunity for making an error when using machine dovetails.

I will not go into the details on how to make dovetails because there are many books and web sites on the step by step process of making the dovetail joint which are readily available. The directions that come with the marking gauge pictured are easy to understand and follow and will get a person started in the right direction. Sawing inside the marked lines and using a mallet and chisel to remove the waste material is all that is needed for a good dovetail joint. The times I have made mistakes was when I didn’t pay close enough attention and made the cut on the line or outside the line instead of on the inside.

Dovetails Make a Strong Joint

The box in the photo was made twenty years ago and has held up extremely well considering the hard use it receives as our firewood box. It stands as a testimony to the strength of the dovetail joint. Approximately seven months out of the year it has firewood loaded into it once or twice a day. The weight of the firewood generates pressure on the dovetail joints but they have remained solid. The box is made out of walnut and maple and it is the dovetail joints that make it so solid and sturdy. It has recently been refinished with an oil and wax finish and I added cut nails mostly for decorative purposes. The cut nails are square and it is best to pre-drill holes so they won’t split the wood when they are hammered into the piece. They do not provide much joint strength but provide an attractive and old fashioned look to the piece.

 firewood box.jpg

Dovetail joints appear hard to make but in truth they are not that difficult to accomplish with a little practice. They are time consuming and all it takes is patience, attention to detail and being precise in laying them out. The finished product shows craftsmanship and a certain degree of professionalism not to mention an attractive and sturdy piece of furniture. The photo of the firewood box clearly shows that dumping firewood into the box has not weakened it nor have any of the joints loosened in the past twenty years. The dovetail joint is a strong durable joint and with the tools pictured it can be accomplished easily. It should be said again that when cutting the tails and pins be sure to cut slightly on the inside of the lines you mark and everything should fit nice and tight. If the joint is too tight it is better to file a little off the tail than have it loose.

Dovetail joints are satisfying to make and provide a strong and attractive addition to a piece of furniture. The firewood box pictured is also used to store our woodstove tools when they are not in use so it serves double duty.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their mountain lifestyle go to their website, McElmurray's Mountain Retreat.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


DIY Holiday Card Holder on Refrigerator

Space is at a premium in our small 800 square foot apartment. With less free wall and counter space than our last apartment, my husband and I have been forced to find creative ways to store mail, grocery lists and other odds and ends. Letters and catalogs left on top of the half-wall in our kitchen will invariably get lost, knocked to the ground by one of our three cats. Even our large bulletin board that holds recipes, coupons and grocery lists is not a great option - one of our enterprising cats has figured out how to pull papers down with her paws and even bites thumbtacks to pull them out and drop them on the floor. In an effort to save our bills, magazines and other paper correspondence, I’ve come up with this DIY holiday card and mail holder for our refrigerator and metal front door.

I made my holiday card and mail holders with cardboard boxes found in my recycling bin, some scrap wrapping paper and fabric, Mod Podge, hot glue and a handful of powerful magnets. Depending on what supplies you already have at home, this project could cost very little. It cost me about $3.50 for six magnets.

To make your own holiday card and mail holder you will need:

• Cardboard box(es) (choose a size or sizes that will work best with the cards or mail you intend to keep in the boxes)
• Paper or fabric (leftover scraps of wrapping paper or remnants of pretty fabric are perfect for this!)
• Mod Podge or watered down Elmer’s Glue (for adhering paper)
• Hot glue sticks and a hot glue gun (for repairing/reinforcing cardboard boxes and adhering fabric)
• Scissors
• Ruler
• Pen or pencil
• Magnets

Gather your materials, lets DIY!

Cardboard Boxes

The first thing you need to do is prepare your boxes. Make sure the cardboard is clean and that there is no food residue on it. Cut away any ragged edges and reinforce loose flaps with hot glue. Depending on the type and shape of your box, you may need to cut and glue to modify the box to suit your needs.

The next part is more fun - decorating your box! Cut your paper or fabric to size and use Mod Podge (or watered down Elmer’s glue, I like the consistency of 2/3 Elmer’s to 1/3 water) or hot glue to adhere to your box. The process should feel similar to wrapping gifts. If you’d like to Mod Podge the outside of your paper, you can. It will give your box a shinier appearance. Allow your creation(s) time to dry before proceeding to the next step.

Before gluing magnets to your box(es), I recommend testing them on your refrigerator. Hold the box up to the fridge and place the magnet(s) on the inside of the box, on the side touching the fridge. If you have enough magnets, the box will stay in place when you let go. You can use hot glue to adhere the magnets to the box, on the inside or outside, depending on your preference. You can purchase powerful magnets at most home improvement or craft stores. This was my first experience with neodymium magnets. They are extremely strong and can break when they slam into each other. I learned this the hard way - but even the broken magnets are still powerful enough to use in this project!

DIY Holiday Card Holder

Use your DIY holiday card and mail holder to display holiday cards, keep your mail organized (each member of the family could have their own box!) or hold small kitchen items like coupons or clips to keep bags of cereal or crackers closed.

With Christmas quickly approaching, this DIY holiday card and mail holder could make the perfect homemade gift for someone special!

Have a healthy and happy holiday!

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Christmas, a joyous season that excites the young and old, is here. The excitement is contagious: drinking cocoa by a warm fire, decorations illuminating the tree, and sharing time with family and friends. It really is the most wonderful time of the year, well, except for the bombardments of advertisements that tell you what your dearest one needs, the expectation of giving, of needing to make a list for others to buy for you, etc., etc. I feel like Charlie Brown this time of the year, cheapened by the dark side of the holiday, the commercialization that steals the joy of Christmas.

As I attempt to live more simply, I find that the modern Christmas norms juxtapose my belief system on gifting. How do you express love without gifts, and how do you lovingly say no to those who lavish with presents? This has been a delicate subject that my husband and I have waded through with our families each year, as we attempt to set out desires for our lifestyle to be de-cluttered by more and more “stuff.” The conversations are not always easy, but they are beneficial as a tool to discuss lasting values and impacts.

What is the hardest part about even breaching this topic? Feeling spoiled with a “first world problem.” In some ways, yes, it seems ungrateful, but when something challenges the values that you seek, take it into careful consideration. When you have people in your life that express their love in gifts, it is hard to ask them to change. Fortunately, our families are patient with us, and over time have listened to our desires. We forgive them when they overdo it (who doesn’t enjoy occasionally being spoiled), and best of all, we have found an avenue to fully express our appreciation for them, homemade gifts.

Canned Gifts for Readymade Meals

My go-to gifts are canned goods that I have made in the summer and fall. Canning takes lots of time and energy, especially if you have planted the seeds in the ground.

It is such a pleasure to watch the transformation from garden to table, and to be able to share that warmth with your loved ones during the coldest time of the year. Now all that needs to be done is to decorate the jars with cute holiday fabric, bows, and ornaments. Voila — instant gift. Gift baskets with a sampling of your canned flavors make quick decadent presents.

cookies in a jar 

If you haven’t been canning this year, don’t despair; you can assemble gifts in a jar, like the Oatmeal M&M Cookie mix here.

How to Make Wooden Ornaments

Another simple project we worked on this year is stamped wooden ornaments. Supplies for this include: thin wood slices (also called tree cookies), stamps, ink, and eyehooks. We made our own tree cookies by cutting a small branch 1/4-inch thick, sanded each piece, then added a layer of clear varnish for the finished look. When dry, they are ready to be stamped. Be careful to let the ink dry before touching, else it will smudge. The last touch is to add the eyehook. Rustic and beautiful, here is another quick and easy homemade present to be proud of.

tree ornament

Be creative. Choose something that’s inspiring for you and meaningful for your loved one.  Take up a new hobby in 2015.  Projects are great ways to force you into learning something new, like this knitted scarf for my niece.

It is far from perfect (that's why you get the distant view), but I know she will cherish the energy that her aunt put into it far more than a toy from the store.

May we enter Christmas with a spirit of gratitude for the special ones in our life, and the upcoming year to choose more wisely and sustainably. Nothing says “I love you” like spending time on someone.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


wooden spoon

If you can make kindling, you can carve a spoon. And mastering spoon carving will not only help you make bowls, ladles, and shovels (and musical instruments -- big ladles covered with skins and strings), it will also develop all the cutting and shaping skills you'll need to make that timber frame you've been dreaming about. And, it's a great joy to take a bit of branch and with little more than a knife, turn it into a beautiful tool to fill your empty belly and please your eyes and hands.

Long before industrial factories started cranking out millions of metal and plastic utensils, spoons were common (and disposable) as seashells on the beach, or chips of wood at the chopping block. Consider that in the Romance languages the word "spoon" comes from a root meaning "shell," while in English it comes from an Indo-European root meaning "chip of wood."

So for all you shell-less dry-landers, almost any fresh bit of branch wood can make you a rough and ready (or polished and elegant) spoon.

First, sharpen your hatchet and knife (good books have been written about sharpening, so I won't go into it here except to say that the sharper your tools, the easier the work and the better the results).

Just about any wood will do. It all depends on what grows in your neighborhood. Alder is common, fine-grained, easy to carve, and holds up well to repeated wetting and drying. Apple is nice, but seems more prone to cracking over the long haul. Softwoods like cedar and fir are carveable, but tend to be stringy and tough to work, unless they have very tight growth rings. The only wood I've ever tried that I absolutely couldn't carve was Asian pear -- I could barely get the knife into it!

Below I'll describe the individual steps, but this is where videos and many photos provide the best tuition. I have an illustrated tutorial on my website, as well as photos and drawings of my absolute all-time favorite spoon, which was, I suspect, carved by a traditional eastern European carver; and searches on Youtube will surely bring up as many more spoon and green-woodworking videos as you have time to watch.

wooden spoons 

Steps to a Spoon

1. Cut a branch about 9 inches long, and as wide as you want the bowl of your spoon (the bark will all come off!).

2. Split the branch in half w/your hatchet. Hold it on your chopping block with one hand. With the hatchet in the other hand, gently place the blade across the very center of the branch; keeping the blade firmly pressed on the wood, and holding the branch in the middle, pick it up about 6 inches and bring it down sharply to drive the hatchet into the wood - not too hard or you'll cut yourself! Just tap tap tap until the blade sticks. Then let go the bottom hand, and finish the split with a single downward blow of the hatchet.

3. If the wood splits evenly, each half branch should make a spoon.

4. The rest of the roughing process is a matter of making a series of cuts which will either be parallel to each other, or at 90 degrees. When you've got the proportions of bowl and handle fixed, then you can start on rounding and shaping.

It doesn't even need much of a hollow to get most foods into your mouth - and if what you're eating won't stay on your spoon, you should probably be drinking it from a cup!

Image caption: Left to right, 1) a spoon I made, probably from big leaf maple; 2) my favorite spoon ever (I traded for it), carved, I suspect, by a traditional eastern European spoon carver, perhaps boxwood?; and 3) a treasured birch spoon, carved by Bill Coperthwaite, who introduced me to the tool that changed my life. (More on that soon!)

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Metal Tray Magnet Board

Easy to make and more decorative than a plain cork board, these metal tray magnet boards are the perfect place to display photos and notes. Button magnets make a cute and thrifty addition to this simple DIY project. I first got the idea for this project when shopping in a “shabby chic” home decor store in Columbus, Ohio. If I remember correctly, the metal tray was $15 to $20 and the decorative button magnets were $5 to $10 for a small bag. I knew I could make this myself for cheaper!

I ended up making two trays and twenty button magnets. I already had one tray in my possession, a Christmas tray with an image from The Saturday Evening Post with Santa Claus on it. My Grandma had given it to me years ago when she was clearing out some of her Christmas decorations. I liked the image of Santa reading children’s letters to him, though I had no idea at the time how I would use this decorative item. The other tray, a rectangular forest green “breakfast-in-bed” style metal tray decorated with fall leaves, was purchased at a local thrift shop for about $3.

The buttons I already had. I’ve collected buttons of all shapes and sizes for years. I cannot resist large or oddly shaped buttons — even if I don’t have a clear project in mind, a cool button always gets added to my stash! The other items I needed for this project were purchased at a craft store, two 10-packs of magnets for $4 and two metal picture hangers for $2.50. Hot glue and my hot glue gun were already on hand from other craft projects.

I estimated that the entire cost of my project, two magnet boards and twenty buttons cost me about $10, about half to a third of what it would have cost in the store.

How to Make a DIY Magnet Board

To make your own metal tray magnet board and button magnets you will need:

• 1 metal tray (if purchasing, make sure to take a small magnet with you to the shop to make sure the tray is magnetic!)
• 1 metal picture hanger
• Buttons (any size)
• Magnets (size should match that of your buttons)
• Hot glue gun
• Hot glue sticks

1. Gather your materials — lets DIY!

2. To make your metal tray into a wall hanging, measure and mark the center of the tray (on the back). This is where you will use hot glue to adhere the metal picture hanger to the back of the tray.

3. Making the button magnets is just as easy. Just use hot glue to glue a magnet to the back of each button. So simple!

Magnet Board with Button Magnets

I display the green tray I bought at the thrift store year-round as is. The red leaves make me think of fall, but the green color prevents it from looking like seasonal fall decor. Plus the photos and postcards I display with the button magnets cover up a lot of the leaves anyway.

The Christmas tray, however, definitely has a seasonal look to it. In order to use the tray year-round, I cover Santa. I cut a circle the same size as the flat portion of the tray out of some lightweight decorative paper (it was actually paper from a shopping bag - another great no-cost craft item!). I use my magnetic buttons to hold the decorative paper in place eleven months of the year. After Thanksgiving I remove the paper and use the tray to display holiday cards.

With Christmas fast approaching, this DIY metal tray magnet board could make the perfect homemade gift for someone special.

Have a healthy and happy holiday!

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

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