Friday, September 19, 2014

The Accidental Do It Yourselfer

As I sit down to write today, there is a large bowl of concord grapes sitting on my kitchen table.  Tomorrow, those grapes will be turned into either grape syrup or grape juice, depending on mood or energy.  I realize that this is typical of most of my "do it myself" adventures. They come together because of with serendipity, accidental experimentation, immediate need or for other reasons. 

My retirement lifestyle includes a fair amount of  "DIY" or "from scratch" activities.  Most of these DIY projects are done because of a desire to spend less money and have a high quality result.  I also do it myself because I want to be creative or I want an immediate result without shopping or leaving the house.  I put candy in canning jars, tied ribbons and placed whatever colored candles I had in the jars. I had instant centerpieces for my fall dinner group that were also cheaper than almost anything I could buy. Most of the time,  my DIY projects are both creative and save me money.

I can do it myself in retirement because I have time, time that was not available while working or with kids at home.  At the same time, I other things I might be rather doing in retirement.  With some exceptions, I don't want my DIY to keep me from my nature walk, knitting or book groups, lunch with friends, or classes.  I still want the financial and creative results, so I allow my DIY to affect life in a "casual" or "accidental way".

spiced whole crabapples

Take the crab apples that are forming on my trees in the front and back yard for example.  I rarely "can" in the sense of "putting up for the winter".  I'm unlikely for the most part to go out and get a bushel of apples and make sauce or can them.  On the other hand, by gathering a large bowl of so of apples from low hanging tree branches, I'm likely to make crab apple pie filling or spiced whole crab apples for gifts, as well as using apples on pork or in apple sauce. The concord grapes rescued are probably not enough for jelly even if I was in the mood.  They will become either the juice mentioned above, or pancake syrup.  Recently I found a delicious recipe for a slow cooker tomato meat sauce.  All I did was throw things from the pantry and freezer into the cooker. At the end of the day we ate, and then froze the rest in serving containers. So while I would not necessarily make sauce from scratch on a regular basis, this casual method gave me spaghetti sauce, filling for lasagna and more-at a cheaper price than generic canned sauce.

A while back I was looking for some flavored butter for meats and such that went beyond the traditional "garlic butter". I was looking for a simple herb blend that I might put on steaks or grilled meats for Sunday dinner.  My perusals took me to this website, where I found not just herb butter ideas, but a whole variety of compound butters. For starters I plan to make three or four of the herb butter recipe, putting one in the fridge and the other three in the freezer to put away for Christmas gifts (and link to in my book about making your own Christmas gifts). By doing this once every week or so with the other recipes, I end up with easy gifts for gourmet family members (and it goes without saying that the butter is bought on sale B1G1 sale and that I'll only make the cognac or cointreau recipes if I know I'll drink or have use for the rest of the bottle)

While the above examples are about food, the same attitude drives most of my make it yourself ideas. If there is a fourth driving factor in making it myself (above money, creativity and high quality) it is that much of what is available in the stores are blah, or low quality, items that fall apart easily.  Recently I've decided to go with cloth napkins and use paper only for the gackiest of messes (if that is even a word).  Since I was out and about, I did check the store bought options-and came home to see what I could do. I ended up making two sets of eight napkins in less than two hours-one to use now and one in Christmas fabrics to use or give on the holidays.  I had fabric on hand, but had I purchased this fabric at three dollars a yard I would have made twelve reversible napkins for six dollars.

  I'll insert here that to be both creative and save money by doing it yourself, you do need to have certain items on hand, depending on your interests and skills.  I don't advise anyone to hoard, as such.  But I regularly buy jars with lids and pretty bottles at thrift stores to use for spur of the moment gifting and have a cache of small wicker baskets.  I regularly use those fifty percent off Joann coupons on things like pretty pieces of paper and ribbon, and I have good tools. I save items that can be reused, such as fabrics, ribbons, paper scraps, wood scraps and other things.  As does my son the woodworker, who always has some extra wood lying around as well as other materials.  In my kitchen I have backups of flour, sugar and the like, so if I am in the mood to make cookies, I can make more than just for tonight, and freeze the rest. You get my drift. Oh, and when I save things, almost always unless items are specifically for one holiday, they are stored by color.  Red can be for Valentines, Christmas or the 4th of July, depending on how it is used.

Obviously, there are labor intensive do it yourself tasks that I do.  Painting my walls or a piece of furniture  takes a full day, as did cleaning out this old fireplace in order to make it a plant stand and then a fire pit. On the other hand, the wood for the fireplace was cut while hauling away the tree branch that fell last spring, an accidental situation if there ever was one.  I'll assign two or three full days to the Christmas baking that will yield me cash as well as gift baskets galore. Fall cleaning requires cleaning the gutters of leaves and the front door of dog nose smears.

For the most part though I prefer to do my do it myself tasks in a casual manner, in free time here and there, when the mood strikes or when I can duplicate or double a current project or recipe.  I've also been known to keep the most boring tasks (cutting coupons or hemming napkins) for when I am watching The Blacklist or in my intensive Tuesday night class (more about that later).

I know that many people prefer to be more structured and schedule these kinds of things. A putterer at heart, I am also of the casual housework persuasion rather than having a two hour cleaning session-things get done as needed or as they fit into everything else.  It's what works for me, in my lifestyle.

And now, as I prepare to go to my very intense volunteer gig (feeding homeless women), I'm also making my homemade dog food for the week. A purely health endeavor as even good canned dog food tends to be dirt cheap.

And so it goes.


  1. this was a great post, I enjoyed it, and agree
    it adds a great deal to the quality of your life!

  2. Well, for DIY you need the time, the patience, the tools, as you say, but you also need some talent -- something you are blessed with that not all of us ( i. e. me) have.

  3. Isn't there a saying - necessity is the mother of invention? Having grown up in rural Alberta where preserving what we picked or grew was a necessity, I often say we were the original organic farmers. If we didn't grow it, pick it or kill it, we didn't eat. Now it's more of a hobby than a necessity. The quality can't be beaten. And there's something very satisfying about preserving and crafting what we put our hands to.

  4. Tom I think many people really DIY, they just have different skills than I. I for example, never, ever garden, not even herbs

  5. What lovely gift ideas! I think handmade gifts are the most meaningful. The napkins are so cute--did you line them in red fabric or is that some type of edging? Gotta tell you, when I go to craft fairs/fall festivals in my area, those canned crabapples go for $8-12 per jar!! Good for you!


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