Keeping it greener with reusable gift wrap

I love gift wrap. The tradition of wrapping gifts goes back centuries. In the United States, the Hall family of Hallmark fame is credited with first marketing modern gift wrap in 1917.

But there’s a downside. Americans throw away a few million pounds of gift wrap and gift bags every Christmas. Undecorated paper (no glitter or flocking) and of course cardboard boxes are recyclable. And there are more and more recycled paper options available. Nashville Wraps’ Green way products are among my favorites. 

Two strategies we’ve adopted are to reuse paper and find sturdier reusables–like fabric–to wrap gifts. 

1. Reuse single-use wrapping: When I was a kid an artistic relative wrapped and added elaborate embellishments to a cardboard gift box that was too pretty to toss. Our family reused that box until it fell apart. Inspired by that early reusable, we started reusing gift wrappings. Our aforementioned Green way gift wrap purchased several years ago in a jumbo roll seems to hold up the best to reuse. We also reuse tags and we upcycle greeting cards into tags. 

2. Select reusables that will last for years: Organza gift bags also last a long time and come in lots of sizes. This year I tried a few new wraps made with cotton fabric. This first is Furoshiki a Japanese wrapping style that typically uses square-shaped pieces of fabric. (Bandannas are a good option.) This worked especially well for some heavy books that tend to rip wrapping paper and overwhelm paper gift bags. I used a pinking rotary cutter to pink the fabric edges so they didn’t fray. I also made a double-sided wrap.

Reusable fabric drawstring gift bags: These can be purchased on ETSY or DIY’ed if you are handy with a sewing machine and you are willing to put up with some trial and error on the road to your ideal gift bag. With fabric gift bags you can forego tissue and even boxes. We also started reusing all of the nonwoven Amazon gift bags we have received. Several years ago we bought personalized Santa sacks for each other. These beautiful bags hold a lot and negate the need for individual wrapping. 

This is where I admit that my first drawstring bag was a disaster. I used interfacing to give it body (I wanted to use it for a pretty hefty book) and it overwhelmed the ribbon drawstrings making the top too stiff to cinch closed. So I cut off the top and added a new top with plain fabric. That seemed to do the trick.

Then I tried this fat quarter-friendly (IYKYK) pattern by Melissa at Polka Dot Chair: Lined Drawstring Bag Sewing Pattern & Free SVG Files. I purchased her pattern for $4.50 and got a discount code to share. Well worth it! I love this pattern and her method saved my disaster bag. I don’t have a Cricut, but I love her embellishments.

Other patterns to check out: 

Final step: Changing your ways

The final step can be hard because changing our throwaway ways can be hard: reuse everything that you can and ask your family and friends to reuse your fabric bags or return them for a future gift.

A Tip from a Carb Country Regular

Slicing zucchini

The pandemic has limited travel but not our visits to Carb Country. Why do carbs have to be so yummy, satisfying, and comforting? So unfair. 

Well, just like my efforts to drink half caffs by custom mixing my coffee (currently Nevada Black from Blind Dog Coffee in Reno and Lavazza Espresso Decaf, my most reliable dark roast decaf), we tried a similar experiment with lasagna and carbs. We used regular lasagna noodles and Palmini lasagna noodles. Palmini is made from hearts of palm. For the most part, it disappears into lasagna. It’s not that you can’t tell it is hearts of palm; it’s just that it fits right into a veggie lasagna. And it helps lower that net carbs count. We have had similar luck using zucchini and summer squash. 

The recipe below is one of our go-to meal prep dishes. I have finally made the leap to vegan cheese. It’s gotten so much better. We usually use Daiya Mozzarella-Style Shreds for this recipe. This recipe is versatile, and you can easily adjust the ingredients to suit your tastes.

Squash Casserole: A Lasagne Stand-in


  • 2 yellow summer squash sliced
  • 2 zucchini sliced
  • The equivalent of 1 egg (we use Bob’s Red Mill Vegan Egg Replacer)
  • 1/3-1/2 cup mayonnaise (we use Best Foods Vegan Spread)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup chopped onion (any kind, including green onions)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • 2/3 cup shredded cheese 
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter (we use Earth Balance vegan butter)
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs (any kind works – we used gluten-free rice crumbs from Trader Joe’s)
  • Seasoning to taste: We use a combo of Dash, coffee rub, salt, and pepper; herbes de Provence would work well, too
  • Optional add-ins: fire-roasted tomatoes, carrot chips or shreds, shredded kale


  1. Heat oven to 375°. 
  2. In a bowl, mix all ingredients. We sometimes toss the vegetables with a bit of olive oil and the seasonings before mixing in the mayo, cheese, and egg replacer. 
  3. Spoon the mixture into an 8×8 inch glass casserole (or larger if you add extra veggies). Add extra cheese on top if desired.
  4. Toss the bread crumbs with the  2 tablespoons of melted butter; spread over the casserole. 
  5. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until bubbly and lightly browned.

It makes 4-8 servings depending on if it’s a main dish or a side dish –  and how much you like it. 🙂

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

Roasting vegetables for the win

Roasted artichoke hearts on a roasting pan lined with parchment paper

A few months ago, we started doing weekly meal prep. It helped those desperate “what should we eat?” moments on long workdays. As part of our meal prep exploration, we started roasting vegetables. Eggplant, carrots, sweet potatoes, peppers, cabbage, brussels sprouts, celery, squash, tomatoes, green onions. We toss everything in garlic powder, olive oil, Dash, and coffee rub, and roast at 375° for 10-15 minutes. We also discovered mesh roasting baskets like this one for roasting kale to crispy perfection. I like the NordicWare Half Sheet Pan

Photo by Kim Daniels on Unsplash

Bobbin Buster Quilt

Bobbin Buster Quilt #1, a quirky take on the log cabin quilt block design

I have a limited number of bobbins for my sewing machine, so often, when I want to change thread color, there is no empty bobbin in sight. I try to use up the thread on an almost empty bobbin by sewing strips together. This time, I decided to do a small quilt. I love how it turned out, and it did its job. It emptied the bobbin. And I have a new quilt! So much better than unwinding a bobbin and dumping the thread. <3

Mask Chains

Mask up in style with a beaded mask chain.

I made a few mask chains recently. These are basically a 30-inch necklace with a large-ish lobster claw clasp on both ends to attach to your mask’s ear loops. Easy to make and a stylish way to manage your mask.

Mask up in style with a beaded mask chain.

My Electric Slide

My quilted art doesn’t typically lean toward bright colors – until now. It started with a red block that’s an improvisational take on a traditional log cabin quilt design. It’s all red fabrics with a metallic gold center. I thought it was a good idea and planned to make a whole quilt of these blocks. After I finished one, that was a hard “no.” Frankly, I hated it, and it sat around the studio for weeks looking awkward. Then I got the idea to cut it into three pieces and reassemble with red sashing. Yeah. Nothing like some red sashing. And then I thought–how about an electric blue border? Well, that’s where it started getting funky. And cool. And now it’s going to be a set of three quilts. 

Can you feel it? It’s electric. 

Rethinking – and Remaking – Plastic

white and blue plastic bottle on beach shore during daytime

I’ve been trying to reduce plastic packaging in my life. I recycle everything that I can, but plastic is a low-value recyclable, and sadly, a lot of it never gets a chance at a second life; only about 29% of plastic bottles are recycled. People in the future will dig up our landfills and wonder, “What were these people thinking?!”
So I especially love this story about entrepreneur and engineer Nzambi Matee, who is turning plastic bottles into bricks: Kenya’s Nzambi Matee recycles plastic to make bricks stronger than concrete. I am looking forward to the day when recycled plastic is as valuable as finding oil and also when we stop creating stuff that we just throw away.

Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

Adventures in Painting: The Kitchen Cabinet Edition

Bright paint stripes on a white background

We have a kitchenette in one of our bedrooms. It’s small but includes an apartment-sized refrigerator, a microwave, toaster oven, coffee maker, electric teapot, a sink, and a handful of cabinets and drawers. We’ve been slowly remaking it. In addition to the appliances, we added a pullout trash and recycling station to one of the cabinets. We updated the light fixture, faucet, and switch plates. We removed the mismatched and chi-blocking shelving and repaired and reskimmed the drywall. We painted and added a mirror behind the sink. We added a new smaller shelf for coffee cups. We added artwork. We are down to the last couple of to-do’s: painting the cabinets and fixing the grout. 

The cabinets are builder standard oak cabinets from the 80s. We had similar cabinets in a former kitchen that we had professionally painted, and the transformation was incredible. It completely updated the kitchen at a fraction of the price of new cabinets.

Given the much smaller scale of the kitchenette, we decided to DIY it. I found some inspiration from a fellow DIYer and that led me to General Finishes paint. The prep work is significant: clean, sand, clean, sand some more, clean some more, apply sanding sealer. Then paint, let dry, paint a second coat, let dry, top coat, let dry, a second coat, and lots more dry time. 

It’s going well, but it’s a long process. And frankly, I am afraid to be anything but thorough lest we risk having to start all over again. Plus, we discovered that one of the drawers needs repair work and the turnaround rack in the corner cabinet was unbelievably filthy. 

We ordered new hardware and hope that we found an exact match for the hinges, and the new handles are very ooh-la-la. 

Maybe an update and big reveal next month! Stay tuned…

You can’t always get what you want

Smitten written in tiles

There is so much to love about the story behind the meme–and the mittens.

Also, I love everything about this gift made for Bernie from a friend/supporter/constituent. It was made with love and recycled/found materials: recycled sweater, fleece made from recycled bottles, second-hand thread.

I have to say that as much I would like to be as fashionably iconic as Lady Gaga, I am much more like Bernie. I would definitely prioritize being warm over being fashionable. And I admire that Bernie is always exactly who he is. WYSIWYG. And smittens, sewn knit mittens are actually in my wheelhouse, since I am much handier with a sewing machine than I am with knitting needles. And sewing with repurposed materials is good for the planet.

If sewist and creator Jen Ellis made mittens full time, she would probably have enough work to keep her busy until the summer, but mittens are an act of love for her, not a financial transaction. My favorite quote from this interview with CNN: “…sometimes in this world, you just can’t get everything you want.”

But if you try, you can get what you need.

If you need a mitten pattern, check out this one from Fleece Fun: or this tutorial from Instructables:

Cover Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

In the Studio

Drying mat strip quilt - 2020

I’ve finished a few quilts in the past month after taking the machine quilting class I mentioned last month. When I was first learning to quilt, I was influenced by the book by Mary Ellen Hopkins, It’s Okay if You Sit on My Quilt. My main takeaway was that quilts are meant to be used.

I create a lot of quilts that are used for coasters and I added drying mats to my list of practical quilts. Heretofore, we’ve been using microfiber drying mats for dishes. Nothing wrong with those, but I can’t resist infusing a little beauty into everyday things and tasks. Enter the drying mat strip quilt! This quilt was a Christmas gift for my beloved – along with a promise to help clean the kitchen from top to bottom!

I experimented with using blue painter’s tape as a stitching guide (it’s amazing!), and I quilted with some of the variegated thread that I have been saving for a special occasion combining quilt-as-you-go quilting with traditional quilting.