Saturday, December 12, 2009

DIY Christmas Gift Idea: Community Center Art Classes!

For the past 6 weeks, thanks to the suggestion of my husband, I've been really enjoying some pottery classes that I've been taking at my local city's art center. Below is a collage of some of the pieces I've been able to bring home so far...there are still a few left to fire before they are all done!

In addition to creating items to use around my own home, I purposely made some flower pots that I am planning to fill with a little herb or cactus to give as Christmas gifts. My class was on the pottery wheel, however, you can hand make so many things out of clay, including ornaments.

While I know this is probably too late for this holiday season, I wanted to post this as a great way to be green, make your own one-of-a-kind gifts, and support your local community! Check out your own local community center or community college and see if they offer art or craft classes, as many do. It's a really fun way to get out of the house (SO precious to a work-from-home mom!), learn something new, and create original gifts and decor for your own home.

Why not even start now for next year? It would make a great New Year's resolution!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Get $ to recycle your old, dead Christmas lights!

What do you do with your box of old Christmas lights that don't work? If you're not up for hours of checking each bulb to find the dud, there are several options out there for you! Why not start replacing them with LED strings? With 20x the lifespan and 90% less electricity required to light them, (not to mention they're much brighter!) they'll not only save you money in replacement costs and electrical bills, but you can now get money towards new lights as well...

THIS WEEKEND ONLY, Home Depot is offering $3 toward a new set of LED lights for every set of old lights you bring in as a part of their Eco Options Holiday Light Exchange Program. You still have today to bring them in, so now's the time to make the switch to LED while also saving some money AND properly recycling your old lights!

If you live in the Twin Cities area, the Recycling Association of Minnesota is offering a great program for recycling old Christmas lights. They will even come to you and pick up your lights for free!

Also in the Twin Cities, you can trade them in for $5 toward a $20 purchase by bringing them into Snyder's, and use it to get some LED's there or do a little Christmas shopping!

You can also bring them to the WCCO plaza at the Holidazzle parade to get the same deal.

Randy's Sanitation is also allowing you to place them in your regular curbside recycling bin.

Check out the web in your own area and you may find some of your own local deals...feel free to post any others here as comments for fellow readers! Happy halls-decking!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What to do with old, plastic CD ROM cases?

Hey everyone! I'll be the first to admit that my blog has been LAME-O lately. My slightly less lame-o excuses: we had a lovely little H1N1 scare last month in our house (all quarantined, including a toddler and pregnant woman...yay!), and then I ended up having to get into the new routine that comes along with gestational diabetes this month. But, things are medically calming back down and I'm finally catching up with all of you wonderful people who have emailed me comments and requests and waited so patiently!!

I got an email from "Beth" back in the end of October, asking for ideas on what to do to recycle old CD ROM cases. I've wondered about them myself, and thought it would be a fun thing to blog about. Here are a few ideas I've found while doing a little web surfing...

If you'd like to get crafty...

Craft Chi has a great idea and tutorial to turn them into pencil/pen holders:

Instructables has a tutorial to make a really cool wall mural:

Thread Banger has a fun way to turn a case into a desktop calendar:

For a great project your kids can do, check out Fave Craft's tutorial on making picture frames:

Or the Elk Grove Public Library's cool 3D photo cube ideas (you'll have to scroll down a ways to see them when you click the link.

Got a card collector in your family? They make cool little frames for displaying your cards:

Feeling more ambitious? If you've been following my blog you've no doubt seen many-a-lampshade possibilities, but how about this awesome chandelier made out of CD cases from Keetsa:

If you aren't up for doing a project yourself...

1) Put them up for free on Craigslist or Freecycle, as you may have someone in your area who has some kind of art/craft project in mind for them already!

2) Visit Earth 911, where you can look up a recycling center in your area that will take them. (Remember you can't just toss them into your regular recycling like you do with plastic bottles, etc!)

I'm sure I am just scratching the surface on ideas here, so if you have any others, feel free to share your own!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween Everyone! In case you didn't know, Inhabitat is having a Green Halloween costume contest...check it out here...there's only one day left to enter! You can even get some inspiration to make your own green costumes by checking out their gallery of last year's winners, here!

Also, remember to save your carved pumpkins after the trick-or-treaters have gone...they make great pie, bread, and snacks! Check out my tutorial on getting the most out of your pumpkins, posted last year!

Have a safe, happy, and green Halloween! :-)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Craighton Berman's Coil Lamp

Check out this cool Coil Lamp designed by Craighton Berman of Chicago.

By winding a 100' extension cable around a carefully designed, laser-cut plexiglass structure, Berman manages to turn an object that typically lives in a snarled heap in the garage into an accessory worthy of display space inside the home.

This object of desire is available for purchase already hand assembled on Berman's website, or for half the price, you can purchase a kit and do-it-yourself (cable not included...recycle your own!).

Monday, September 28, 2009


has been around for a little while, but I've just recently (finally) joined the group so I thought I'd post about it!

Freecycle is made up of 6,540,000 members (4,808 groups) around the world. As their website states, "It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer (them's good people)." Basically it's a place where people who are looking for stuff and people who are giving away stuff can connect, and everything must be offered up for free.

Membership is also free. To sign up, find your community by entering it into the search box on the site or browse through the groups. I'm not sure if each group operates differently, but the Minneapolis group that I'm a part of is run via Yahoo groups. You have to offer up some items before you're allowed to start asking for specific items, and the first couple items you list need to be approved by the administrator. But, I just posted a ceiling fan that we're giving away from our recent remodel and am in the process of giving it away!

At first it was a bit overwhelming as my email box got instantly flooded with offers from the group. However, once I was able to go into the settings and sign up for the "daily digest" instead of getting every offer individually, that helped a lot. I now get a couple emails a day with a big list of 25 of the latest messages so I'm not swimming in emails.

If you have some "stuff" you are looking to give away or are looking to help recycle by re-using other people's stuff, it's worth checking out!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Junk Mail Gems Mentioned in Women's Focus Magazine!

September has been a big month for press coverage for Junk Mail Gems! Junk Mail Gems has just been mentioned in another great magazine called Women's Focus, in a wonderful article by freelance writer Bonnie D. Tharp:

You can check out the article along with others on my press page, or, you can read the article online via the Women's Focus page, here!

Thanks so much for the nice article, Bonnie!!

TWO New Products at Junk Mail Gems!

Those of you who subscribe to our e-newsletter (now over 575!) already have heard about the latest products now available at Junk Mail Gems: Paperweights and badge lanyards! This is a direct result of YOUR participation in our contest this summer, providing me your feedback on your favorites of my selection of new product ideas!

Paperweights ($23.00) are made from recycled junk mail! Each paperwight showcases a colorful page from a piece of recycled junk mail underneath a crystal clear glass dome. They measure 3.5" in diameter by about 2" tall and weigh over a pound. The base is covered with a black felt pad. I am trying out something new with the get to choose the exact design that you purchase! I will be doing my best to keep the page updated as paperweights sell out and new ones are added. Prefer the element of surprise? Simply select "surprise me" from the drop-down menu when you add it to your shopping cart!

With 30 1" beads made from recycled junk mail ($30.00), this new colorful badge lanyard is sure to be a conversation starter at work! It's strong, swiveling, metal clip can hold your ID, name tag, badge, etc.

Thanks again to those of you who helped me choose which new products to make available this fall!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

JunK Mail Gems Featured in Womeninc Magazine

I was pretty excited to find some copies of the latest Womeninc magazine in my mailbox today, with a several page article featuring Junk Mail Gems! Check out the story on my press page, where you can download a pdf. Many thanks to Myrna CG Mibus, the talented freelance writer who wrote the article, and photographer Jessica Sauck for the many great photos used! It was very cool to see my magnets covering the entire table of contents page too! :-)

Womeninc is published in Fairmont, MN and has a circulation of 15,000 copies monthly. It is subscriber based and people can subscribe online at or

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Virtual Open House: Junk Mail Gems' New Studio!

After a lot of cleaning, re-organizing, carrying, and Ikea furniture building, Junk Mail Gems has now completely moved into the new studio space! (formerly known as our master bedroom!) Here I am (above) with my preggo belly at my desk. This 130 square foot space is used for 3 different businesses, but for this blog I will focus on how I stayed within a limited budget and did a lot of re-using and recycling to create a functional space.

(If you are interested in more about how I juggle 3 businesses and watch a toddler all day, check out my GF Design blog post on how I have been able to tailor this space to fit both my work and motherhood!)

Here's the view as you enter:

While always keeping the "green factor" and limited budget in mind, I had a couple of other main goals in re-designing my new space:
1) Functionality of the space as it pertains to the type of design work that I do, and
2) Child safety. (see my GF Design blog for more on how I did this!)

As far as functionality goes for my work, things are laid out wonderfully now. I have a space for my computer work (below, right half) which includes everything I need within arm's reach for doing my design work, as well as website maintenance and order fulfillment for Paintertainment and Junk Mail Gems.

I then have an area for non-computer work (ie. creating Junk Mail Gems products!) on the left side of the room where my drawing board sits. Both work areas are by windows which provide great natural light and cut down on electricity usage. I use compact fluorescent bulbs in my desk lamps, which take a bit longer to reach full brightness but otherwise work great.

I purchased an Ikea Expedit bookcase for my main storage area with attached desk. I did a lot of searching on Craigslist to find a used one over many months, but in the end had to buy a new one...

You can see some of my little storage jars that I've blogged about in the past up on top.

These Lekman boxes work great to store my stash of bottle caps, corks, and security envelopes.

You've seen me post about using soup cans in a previous post...they work great for pens and pencils, and even look cool! The spider plants were maybe $1 at a garage sale, and the cactus $0.99 in Ikea's as-is section:

These spring clips can also double as handy photo or note holders:

Got this nice drawer unit at a garage sale for $5. It's on wheels which makes it easy for me to move around, which means I can turn the drawers the other way to keep little fingers out when I'm not accessing it.

I saw this idea in a Parent magazine...using a spice rack to store small craft items. I got this one at a garage sale last week for $2. I spray painted the jar lids silver and the rack white, and it works great for my loose beads and other small items!

Another great used find was this Sapien bookshelf that I got at a thrift store for $9.99. They run in the hundreds new!

Here is a view of the back of my desk and the wall on the other side:

The zig-zag bookshelf also came from Ikea, as did the wall shelf that I installed lower down, just above all my drawer units, which really increasing my working surface area as sortof an extension of my desk. I think it also helped unify my row of drawers underneath and maximize space.

The lamp on the far right of the shelf looks like a giant push pin in a block of cork...$4 at a thrift store. The fun part is pushing the pin into the cork to turn it on and off! Both white boards came from thrift stores for about $2 each, including some magnets. Side by side they make a great wall for me to write and hang notes, within arm's reach of my computer desk. Soup cans with magnets glued to them stick nicely to the white boards as white board marker holders. I also glue magnets to my eraser to keep it always within reach.

Why bother with the expense and mess of hanging wallpaper when you can just paint? Stripes are something that anybody can do regardless of artistic talent. I painted one wall with stripes to match the rug that lies in the entrance of the space. What I do is take a string with a piece of tape on the top and a washer tied to the bottom, then tape it up by the ceiling where I want the side of a stripe to go. The string, combined with gravity and the weight of the washer gives me an instant vertical line to guide me as I tape off each stripe and paint.

It was a challenge to make my new studio look cohesive with so many mismatched pieces that I've collected over the years at garage sales and thrift stores. But, together with a few new furniture items I think it looks much better than it was! (wish I had a before shot!) The old furniture that I was using that no longer fit my work patterns have been sold on CraigsList, and passed on to be recycled by someone else!

So, there is a little peek into the place where Junk Mail Gems happens! It's no fancy corporate suite with a view, but it fits my lifestyle and work style and enables me to cram 3 businesses into one room with great productivity! Got any green office organization tips of your own? Please do share! :-)

Friday, August 21, 2009

DIY Recycled Bottle into Outdoor Oil Lamp

Greetings Junk Mail Gems fans! Wow, it's been forever since I've last posted! I've been really busy these past two weeks. Last week was my annual "busiest week of the year" as I was tending to my Paintertainment business, face painting at a local county fair. This week was spent trying to catch up on my mountains of backed up freelance design work and Junk Mail Gems wholesale orders. In the midst of this chaos, I've moved into my new office and have been getting things in order. (photos to come in a later post!) Needless to say, I've been "burning the midnight oil" for the last two weeks! And speaking of burning oil... (how do you like that transition?!)

...I want to thank my super awesome brother Ben for finding this cool idea and passing it on to me. Erik Anderson takes you step by step through his tutorial (with fantastic photos) to create this unique oil lamp using an old bottle. Such a cool idea! Summer may be winding down, but it's not too late to light up a torch in your backyard and have a party, so check it out!

As I get more caught up on my orders and projects and get my new office together enough for some nice photos, I'll be posting pics of the new digs and sharing some more fun DIY recycled office organization ideas! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Creating Art with Trash and Shadows

An old high schoolmate of mine just posted this on facebook and I just had to share. Being an artist as well as a designer and creator of Junk Mail Gems, I especially love to see ways that people turn trash into art. This is a particularly unique method that I have not seen before...using light against carefully crafted piles of trash that cast intricate, recognizable shadows on the wall. This work is done by Tim Noble and Sue Webster...fantastic stuff!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Make Your Own Nursing Cover & Baby Bunny Blankies

Babies, babies, everywhere! I currently have 5 friends (2 of them family members) expecting babies, and probably 4 or 5 who just had babies. On top of that, I myself am expecting my 2nd baby this winter. So, as you can imagine, I have kept pretty busy lately making baby gifts for everyone. I thought I'd share a couple ideas for those of you interested in making your own baby gifts for yourself or to give at showers!

I never really did get very good at using a blanket to cover up while nursing and don't think I ever even had the need to nurse in public with my first baby. But, with a toddler who is dying to get out of the house daily, I figured I will need a better solution for baby #2. I found some very cool nursing covers online, for around $35-$40 plus shipping. I knew they would be simple to make and did not want to pay so much, so I went online and found a great free pattern for making your own nursing cover by pinkatilly.

I thought it was so great that I made several of them in one afternoon so I can give them as gifts. I found some really cool, modern designed fabrics that worked great (you only need 1 yard), and can hardly wait to give mine a try! The only thing I'd change in the pattern from pinkatilly is in step 6, where she asks you to use pliers to open up the D-rings. I found them to be very difficult to bend open, and much easier to just thread the strap through them in step 3 before sewing the strap in half. Other than that, it is a really fantastic tutorial with great instructions, and I got a beautiful, custom cover for less than $8! To make your hand made gift even more green, check out some fabrics at your local thrift store. Usually they'll have a raw fabric section, but if not, don't forget about other fabric items you can reclaim like curtains, tablecloths, and sheets. You can also try modifying an apron into a nursing cover by cutting off the waist straps and shortening the length.

If you like to crochet like I do, this next one is a great baby gift idea. For the price of two small skeins of yarn, you can make these cute little bunny blankies or "lovies." The pattern is available for free on Lion Brand Yarn's website. Here is a photo of three that I have made in blue, white and pink. The pattern calls for using two strands together, so I like to mix white and a color. Again, don't rule out recycling some unused yarn, whether it be from a previous project or from a thrift store! You can even get creative and make stripes if you run out of a color!

I have made one of these in anywhere from 2 nights to a week of evenings while sitting on the couch watching tv. They are quick, fun, and make a great personal gift! I am planning to try making some of my own variations, such as a dog instead of a bunny.

I have a few more crochet ideas of my own that I am hoping to create very soon, and hopefully make patterns availble on my new original crochet pattern site. I'll be sure to post about it when I do so stay tuned!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Keeping your Sanity During Overseas Travel with a Toddler!

A while back I wrote about our trip to Arizona...our first flight with our toddler. I shared some travel tips and gear on that post, and promised to write another one about our trip overseas. I know that some of you fellow traveling mommies have been waiting for this one, so here it finally is! This post is about our 10 day trip to Paris (2 of those days taking a train to and from London) with our then 15 month old.

Upon arriving in Paris and entering a room of easily over 1,000 people waiting in line to get through customs, we were blown away by the utter silence. One peep from a toddler would turn thousands of heads! It didn't take long before an airport official noticed us with our stroller, and escorted us past the thousands of people in line, up to another counter, and we were through in seconds! We were guessing they are either an extremely family-friendly airport, or just wanted to maintain the precious silence in the room. Either way, we didn't complain!

In total we brought 3 large checked bags with wheels, and three carry-on's, for our 10 day trip. The carry-on's were backpacks, leaving one of us to pull two of the checked bags, and the other to push the stroller and pull the third checked bag. While we could have purchased some upon our arrival, I packed disposable diapers (we usually use cloth), thinking we'd use the empty space at the end of our trip for souvenirs anyway.

Now let's talk baby travel gear, as it's something I researched extensively before our trip in my attempt to prepare for everything.

I didn't want to trust that I'd get a completely safe and clean rental crib at the hotel, so I purchased Phil & Ted's Travel Cot. It is super light weight and packs down pretty darn small, especially compared to the bulky (yet quicker to assemble) pack-n-play. You can see in this photo below that the crib fit INSIDE one of our suitcases. It's the long, black zipper bag shown in the back side of the suitcase here with the red label on it:

It worked great. We could un-zip the side of it and turn it into a "fort" during the day, and then close it up as a crib at night. Below is a photo of it set up in our living room. Both the top and side can zip open. There's another tip...if you get a new travel crib, practice setting it up at home first! The last thing you want to do upon your arrival with a jetlagged toddler is fumble through instructions.

It's a bit more work to assemble than the traditional pack-n-play's, but I found it was well worth a little extra effort to have our own crib without adding another loose checked item. After hearing about a friend's trip to Paris with a toddler and how their crib reservation got "lost," we were glad we brought our own!

The Car Seat - Stroller Combo
I talked about the Sit-n-stroll in my previous travel post from our trip to Arizona. So, I will try not to be too repetitive. The sit-n-stroll I gave rave reviews in my previous Arizona trip post, and I still highly recommend it for within-the-USA travel. However, I no longer adore it quite as much after this trip. On this trip it did not fit down the aisle on any of the planes, so my hubby just had to lift it over the seats. Not that big of a deal, but not quite as wonderful as our last trip when we wheeled our baby boy right to his seat.

Also, they tell you that you must be gentle with the wheels, and go backwards over every curb. In the US where the sidewalks are smooth and the ADA ramps provide a smooth glide for a stroller, this stroller does just fine. But on our first day in London, my husband hit a curb and a wheel snapped right off. We'll just say we spent one of our two days in London trying to find a cheap umbrella stroller, which we discovered didn't really we spent about $80 bucks on a new one. This turned us into feeling-quite-smart-with-our-fancy-carseat-slash-stroller parents into those parents who are lugging around a car seat and a stroller through the airport. (and in this case, train station and metro and taxi...) So, unless you are 100% committed to treating this stroller/carseat combo as gently as you treat your precious cargo itself, I would not recommend it on the cobblestone streets of Paris or London. I really wish it had held up, because until it broke, it was incredibly nice to have! I also bought it on ebay, saving me about $60 over a store, but since it was not from an authorized reseller, I basically have no warranty. So, if you do buy one, it's worth paying full price to have the company back it up if it breaks!

I think for our next trip I may invest in the Go Go Kidz Travel Mate. It attaches wheels to your car seat so you can wheel it through the airport. Doesn't really function as a stroller once you're there, but if you have to bring a car seat anyway, might as well put it on wheels!

Baby Slings & Wraps
When we toured the catacombs down underneath Paris, we had to carry the stroller and other "stuff." So, I used a Hot Sling to carry our little Sammy (below, right), while my husband carried our bag, high chair, and stroller (below, left). Sure, it doesn't make for the most ideal touring experience, but it worked for us and we got to see something really amazing!

We found there were several places we couldn't use the stroller, which made us happy we were now using a fold-able umbrella stroller anyway. We had to fold it and bring it up with us when visiting the top of the Eiffel Tower as well. In this event I used a Moby style wrap that I made myself. It worked okay, but it would have been a whole lot easier to get the thing on right if we were not standing in gale force winds at the time. (Same thing happened in Arizona. I think my wrap attracted wind.) Here we are all cozy at the top:

We encountered the same thing at the London Eye, where we had to fold up the stroller and carry it on the ride. Otherwise, there were a few places where we could park it in a "corral."

Travel High Chair
I talked about the high chair we got in my last baby-travel post, and I still think it was the best travel purchase I made. Not only for our trips, but because I have used it a ton just here at home. In all my online research, not once did I find a photo of the thing folded up, which baffled me. I mean, the whole idea is to sell the portability!! So, I took some myself here to show you...

The center photo is a canvas pouch that I made with a velcro flap and shoulder strap to carry it in. I don't know why it doesn't come with one, but it was easy enough to make my own. That kept the whole thing very compact and easy to sling over our shoulder or the stroller handlebars. I still take this thing just about everywhere we go at home. It is so small and light, it's just easier to get this thing out than to lug one of those big, wood, sticky, gooey high chairs across the restaurant. It doesn't work on every table though.

Another thing I wanted to be prepared for was for Sammy to be able to eat off of a clean surface anywhere and everywhere. You can spend about $20 on a silicone mat that has cartoons on it and is made for kids, or you can haul around those disposable ones which are wasteful and not very good for the environment. I brought along a silicone baking mat that I purchased at Target for $9.99 to double as a place mat and a plate when needed while out and about. I got this brilliant idea from another Mom that I know, and it worked great. You can run it under a faucet or wipe it off to clean it, and set it on virtually any surface to eat off of. We used it everywhere, until we stupidly let it go out with one of our room service tables, and then we missed it greatly. Here we are using it at an outdoor cafe across the street from Notre Dame, along with the high chair:

This was one of my favorite little mini "moments" of toddler travel zen on the trip, when everything was going great and we were basking in the glory of our success in traveling with a toddler and all the gear working perfectly...

The Sit-n-stroll is parked with our high chair bag perfectly hanging on the handlebar, the high chair is working wonderfully on the table to secure our little guy, and his silicone mat is providing the perfect eating surface for his delicious croque monsieur as Mommy and Daddy enjoy some fresh crepes! Boy, were we feeling smart!

The key to getting through the flight is entertainment when it comes to kids. Luckily my little boy is very content to sit in his car seat while traveling, so we were not out running around very much. I packed two little zipper pouches of small for the trip out and one for the trip home. The flight that was overnight had some fun light-up toys for the dark. I collected little toys in the months leading up to our trip and my little guy never saw them until we were on the plane. You will need many distractions, so the smaller they are the more toys you can bring! The best entertainment that worked for us, as I mentioned in my Arizona trip post, was my iPod, loaded with home movies. He just loves watching himself on screen! Check out the Arizona trip post link to see some of the other toys I brought.

Great Books for Getting Around the Area and Language
There are a few books that were really useful on our trip. I'll post links to the Paris/London books, however you can find similar books by the same publisher for other countries as well.

The "Top 10" books by DK are fantastic. They are small enough to take with you, and outline the top museums, top art pieces to see in each museum, top parks, fun places for kids, etc. It's full of color photos and maps to show where everything is, and even has a small pull-out map that you can take out and view separately.

If you plan to do any dining out, which is a must wherever you go, get a menu reader to help you decipher the menu. I found this one to be great...small, compact, and full of great tips and restaurant reviews.

While I did purchase one of those thick little French-English dictionaries, I did not want to carry it around beyond the hotel. I found this little phrase book to be much more useful and compact. Sections are color-coded by situation (eating out, stores, travel, etc), and there is a small dictionary in the back as well.

It helped that I had taken some French in high school, but I also was able to brush up my French skills through some great free podcasts. I also purchased some French music to get my brain used to the sound of it. You can also check out some nice language resources from your local library.

These were the three books I always kept in my backpack. I also purchased a large, laminated map. But, nothing screams "clueless tourist" like a gigantic map. We used it more in the hotel to figure out where we were going the next day. The little pocket map that came with the "top 10" book worked great (as did the printed maps inside the covers), and they also had metro maps included. But, we also got a nice little "pop-out map" at Barnes & Noble, which elminated the hassle of map folding.

I probably would have packed less diapers, as I brought more than I needed. I also would have packed less clothing overall. There were several outfits I never wore as we didn't dine out anywhere fancy. I also brought along a travel laundry kit, enabling me to wash up some sox and undies in the sink one night:

This way we only needed to pack half the sox/undies needed. In retrospect I could have done this with a few onesies and packed much less baby clothes, and less bibs.

Eating Out
Unfortunately I can't tell you much about fine dining in Paris after our trip. We tried eating inside a couple of little restaurants/cafes, but we pretty much stuck to eating in our hotel room or grabbing bites to eat on the street most of the time. Again, the French people are very quiet everywhere compared to Americans, which I have to say is not a bad thing. But, we hardly saw any kids around, ever, unless we were at a playground. We just never saw a single kid in any restaurant we went by or ate at. So, as you can imagine, it was just not worth the stress to us to try to translate a menu in a silent restaurant with a hungry toddler. We normally take our little guy out to eat all the time, and he is very used to it and very good. However, add on our stress with every noise he'd make, and I think he could tell this was not fun!

We did get to eat plenty of good food though. Room service was a great luxury a couple of times, as was the hotel restaurant which was more kid friendly for a more substantial dinner. We also had a couple nice lunches at the huge department stores in Paris, which had entire levels (and restaurants) dedicated to kids, as well as in the parks and at a little cafe at the top of the Montparnasse tower. At the end of the day my husband often would take us back to the hotel to unwind while he'd go out on the street and come back with some delicious take-out surprise. We had some amazing meals, just not in the restaurant. I know this may be the worst thing some people can imagine, flying all the way to Paris and not dining out. But, it worked fine for us, and we found keeping everyone happy and relaxed made the whole trip much more fun and enjoyable. We figure maybe we'll go back some day to see Paris at night (AFTER bedtime!) and do some fine dining when the kids grow up!

The Unexpected Expenses
We certainly didn't expect to spend $80 on an umbrella stroller that was nearly identical to our $20 stroller at home. Nor did we expect to pay nearly $90 for a fancy, European designed humidifier that we could only use for one week in a hotel room with a European plug. (After just finishing a rough case of croup and double ear infections right before our trip, we thought it was better to nip an oncoming cough in the bud, rather than pay for a night in the French ER!) We would much rather have spent that money on souvenirs, but you can't plan for everything! So, plan for the unexpected by setting aside some extra cash!

General International/European Travel Stuff
If you've traveled internationally already, this is old news. But, I thought I'd throw 'em in for any other new travelers.
1) Register your trip with the government for free here.
2) Make sure you all have passports well in advance, including your kid's (no brainer).
3) Make or buy a little photo ID for your child with a current photo, your names, child's name, hotel name and number, and weight (converted to kg) and height (converted to cm).
4) Write down some common baby-related phrases in the local language on a little cheat sheet. (such as, "where can I change the baby, do you have milk, high chair please," etc..)
5) Pack a roll of masking tape. It works universally across all types of outlets to cover them up and keep little fingers out.

General Tips to Keep Your Sanity:
My #1 piece of advice is to travel with an open mind, a flexible schedule, and a good attitude! These three things will get you through just about anything. Oh, that, and cash. (see "the unexpected expenses" above!)

Also, no matter how much you love your family togetherness, everyone needs a little time alone, which is hard to come by when you're all crammed into one room. Since the wi-fi was only free in our hotel lobby, we took turns going downstairs each night to catch up on emails and blog photos home to our family and friends while we waited for our little guy to fall asleep. It was a nice break at the end of the day, even if it was only a half hour or so! Whether you run down to the hotel bar or just shut the bathroom door and take a bubble bath, be sure to give yourself a little "you" time! After all, this is supposed to be a vacation! :-)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Recycled Playground Equipment

Maybe I've spent too much time at the playgrounds this summer with my little boy, but I just had to share this cool chair that I just came across, made out of a recycled playground slide!

Friday, July 3, 2009

And the winner is...

The Prize Winner:
Woohooo!! Congratulations, Sharyn, you have won the free magnet give-a-way! Your profile is not public, so if you could please contact me via my website, and give me your shipping address (and preference for catalog magnets or security envelope magnets), I will send you your winnings!

Huge thank you to everyone who participated in our first ever Junk Mail Gems give-a-way! I really enjoyed all of your comments.

The Results of the Vote:
After tallying the votes, it looks like the badge holder comes out on top, being in 19 people's top 3, and #1 favorite for 11 voters! The paper weight came in a close second, being among 18 people's top three, and voted #1 favorite for 9 voters!

Thanks again for all of your feedback and votes...the paperweight and the badge holder will be my next new products, available soon this summer! As for the other new product ideas, I will continue to work on these and get them out there on my site down the road as well. Stay tuned...I'll be sure to blog about them when I have them available for purchase.

Have a wonderful 4th of July everyone!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Contest: WIN FREE Junk Mail Gems Magnets!

As promised, I am going to give you all a sneak peek at some of the many new products that I have in the works that I hope to soon add to my current recycled junk mail product line. But, what is even more exciting, is that YOU have a chance of winning a set of 10 colorful catalog magnets, OR a set of 10 security envelope magnets; your choice! I have 7 new product prototypes below (and probably 10 more in my head!), and need some help deciding which to start offering on my site first!

The Rules:
Here's how you can enter in two easy steps....

1) Help me decide which products to make available on my site first by leaving a comment on this post with your top 3 favorites in order of their favorite-ness! (#1 being most favorite, #2 being second favorite, etc)

2) Post a link to this contest on your own blog. If you do not have a blog, share it with your friends via email, Facebook, or wherever!

The winner will be chosen at random and announced on Friday, July 3rd.

So, here is your sneak peek and the new product prototypes that you have to choose from to tell me your favorites!

The Prototypes:

1) Pencil Cup
This pencil cup is made entirely out of recycled junk mail catalog pages. The base is a sturdy piece of coiled paper and the sides have almost a leather like feel.

2) Coil Earrings

Created in reaction to some of my customers' requests at this year's Craftstravaganza, these coiled junk mail earrings are a perfect complement to my junk mail pendants and pins! They are coated in a high-gloss, clear resin.

3) Badge Holder
This stylin' badge holder is made out of the colorful recycled catalog beads that I also sell as necklaces, earrings, and separately as loose beads. But, now you can use them to display your badge at work in style!

4) Coil Bowl
This bowl is made entirely out of coiled junk mail, and covered in a clear, glossy finish. Certain to make a great conversation piece! Since these take a long time to make, they would likely be offered either as made-to-order, or I would display the current stock of actual bowls up for sale on my site.

5) Collage Bowl
This bowl has an underlying structure made of plaster, and is then covered with a collage of colorful junk mail catalog pages, and sealed with a clear, glossy finish.

6) Paper Weight
This awesome paper weight showcases a colorful catalog page behind a heavy crystal dome, magnifying the design while holding down your papers in style! The bottom is covered with a black velour pad. I would likely be displaying actual paperweights in stock on the site, so that you can snatch up the specific, one-of-a-kind pattern you like!

7) Keychain
These keychains are made with the same technique as my junk mail pendants and the coil earrings above, with a disc of coiled junk mail protected with a coating of high gloss, clear resin.

As you can see, I have my hands and head full of new ideas...please help me out and tell me what your favorites are! I'd love to know why as well, so feel free to elaborate! Thank you!! :-)
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What's going on in the world of Junk Mail Gems, along with other cool, hand-made "green" products, DIY projects, and more!