Category: Craft Projects

DIY Card Binder

I hang on to cards. Like as in all of my Birthday, Christmas, Valentine, Easter, Anniversary, and Thank You cards.

DIY Card BinderBut for someone who can’t stand clutter, this is a problem.

So on the regular, I end up having these very serious internal debates over what to do with all my cards:

OCD Ashley: “Ashley, hanging on to stuff that you never even look at because you think it could potentially be valuable one day is symptomatic of A&E level hoarding.”

Hoarder Ashley: “No, no, no. These cards are actually special to me.”

OCD Ashley: “Ashley, that’s what all hoarders say.”

Hoarder Ashley: “*GASP* You’re right. Ok, but I seriously can’t throw them away. I might want to look at them someday and reminisce. If I could just keep them in a little stack there in the corner underneath my bed eventually I’ll do something with them…”

OCD Ashley: *Silence*

Hoarder Ashley: “Never mind. Call A&E.”

The STRUGGLE ya’ll. It’s real.

So I did what any sensible, obsessively-organized person in my situation would do: I got on Pinterest and sought the wisdom of fellow clean-freak, blogging SAHMs and SAHWs. It turns out I wasn’t the only one experiencing this very pathetic real first-world problem and there were others out there, like me, who needed help.

Before doing anything, all of the cards needed to be sorted by occasion. This task filled my organization tank overflowing.

#HousewifeInsights DIY Card Binder

After they were sorted into piles, I centered and hole-punched each card.

#HousewifeInsights DIY Card Binder

I purchased these book rings and this foam board to make the binders. I cut each piece of foam board in half (one for the front cover and one for the back cover).

If you’re of the crafty persuasion, you probably already have a lot of left-over scrapbook paper. These left-over sheets are perfect for covering the foam board so it’s all nice and Martha-Stewarty.

#HousewifeInsights DIY Card Binder

When the glue dried, I measured and punched holes in each foam board cover so they would line up with each stack (book) of cards.

Then I did some doodles accordingly. (Instructions for “fake modern calligraphy” can be found here and here.)

#HousewifeInsights DIY Card Binder#HousewifeInsights DIY Card Binder#HousewifeInsights DIY Card Binder#HousewifeInsights DIY Card Binder

So that’s it. Pretty easy huh?

Doesn’t need to be fancy, it just needs to be functional. I’ll be adding more cards to these binders over the years so it’ll be fun to actually look through them from time to time.

Bonus: I’ll no longer struggle with guilt for “hoarding” my cards in Ziploc bags inside Sterilite tubs under the bed.

#HousewifeInsights DIY Card Binder #HousewifeInsights DIY Card Binder


**Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which is the blogging equivalent of me playing guitar on a busy sidewalk while strangers pass by and throw spare change into my tip jar. If you like what you “hear”, making purchases through the links in this post will support my talents and maybe allow me to buy a sandwich. Not beer or cigarettes. But maybe wine. Actually probably definitely wine.

Creating purpose

Donald Miller recently shared a really good post called “What Are the 3 Things That Create a Meaningful Life?

He starts off with a quote from psychologist Viktor Frankl: “When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.”

Any spouse of a working expatriate knows this is true.

You’ll distract yourself with shopping, eating, or vegging out in front of a TV or computer — all because you’re not only uncomfortable, you feel like you don’t have a purpose anymore.

There was one instance when Michael flew back to the US for a week while I stayed behind in Delhi. Absolute worst week of my life. Without Michael there, the full weight of my lack of purpose in Delhi hit me like a ton of bricks. Who did I get up for every morning? Who did I do dishes for? Who did I wash and iron clothes for? What was I doing in Delhi?

Who needed me in that big, chaotic, foreign city?

I remember when Michael finally got back to the apartment, all I could do was cry. Some of it was because I missed him, but most of it was out of desperate awareness that without Michael, I truly had no reason to be in India. NOT a healthy realization to have.

And it triggered a season of depression and insomnia that I have not experienced before or since.

Obviously I learned A TON from that experience, but the most important lesson was my need to intentionally seek out opportunities to express my talents and skills.

So after we moved back to the States I literally craved creative opportunities. It felt like the artistic part of me had been stifled for a year and a half and I was hungry for new and challenging things to put my hands to.

So I made stuff:

(Glitter Adventure’s Exploding Box Instructions)

And I painted:

20140320-DSC_0011(Crafts by Amanda White Cherry Blossom Tree Painting)

And I built stuff:

(Shanty-2-Chic DIY Wood Storage Crate Instructions)

(The Family Handyman’s Cutting Board Rack)

And I decorated (obviously after painting some more):

And I made wreathes:

Look at my face. Pure ECSTASY.

And I made candles:

And I taught myself how to knit:

(Left: “Rosa” Knit Scarf Pattern by Anne Schulz on Ravelry)
(Right: “Thick Ribbed Hat” Knit Pattern by Brooke Snow on Ravelry)

And I started to finally find creative ways to display and store our keepsakes:

(Left: Ben Franklin Crafts and Frame Shop: “How-to: Photo Transfer to Wood”)
(Right: Kayla Danelle’s blog post: “Keeping Your Cards”)

And I painted some more again:


And I built some more stuff:


And you know what? I felt alive. I felt myself growing. I felt like I mattered. I felt like I had something to offer that was unique and represented a little bit of who I am.

I don’t think it’s just because I’m a “creative” or “artsy” person. I think e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e is born with a need to build, imagine, and create. It’s empowering to be able to make something beautiful or useful.

And it doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, perfection is a really lousy and suffocating goal to force on yourself. (And trust me, I am a type-a, anal retentive perfectionist, so I know what it’s like to make excuses that you’re not good enough to try something new because you’re scared to try and fail.)

Every single project I have completed so far has at least one or two mistakes. Unless it was something I knew would bug the absolute living daylights out of me every time I looked at it, I just moved on. I did not allow myself to equate mistakes with failing.

I want to excel at whatever I try, but sometimes the most excellent goal to have is to simply finish what you started and enjoy the process of learning something new.

I have no idea what our lives will look like once we’re living in Mexico City (which is totally happening and a little scary), but I at least feel better about finding ways to add value during our time there.

I recently joined a knitting group for expat women that meets twice a month in the D.F. area, so I’m excited about that. The verdict is still out on bringing the miter saw, but I do know they have Home Depot in the city. Either way, it sounds like I’ll still be able to find all sorts of creative trouble to get into during round two of living abroad. 🙂

Painting with coffee

Most of you already know how much Michael and I love coffee.

Over the years we’ve owned all sorts of coffee gadgets: single cup brewers, kettles, scales, grinders, tamps, water filtration devices — you name it. We take our coffee very seriously.

Michael even went through a period where he was buying green coffee beans online and roasting them in our apartment. (Which I think our neighbors found highly suspicious at the time since there was smoke billowing out of “that dude’s” apartment upstairs).

(Remember when we roasted our own coffee for Christmas?)

So of course over the years we’ve gotten a lot of coffee-related gifts for one another. You’d think we run out of ideas after a while but there’s always some new coffee gizmo or bean origin to try.

I was looking for more coffee gift ideas when I came across a bunch of these really cool paintings online that actually used coffee as their medium. I found everything from basic self-portraits to complicated Van Gogh reproductions. If you’ve never heard of anyone doing this before, you really should check out a few of them in this article here: 6 Talented Artists Who Paint with Coffee.

I’m no Van Gogh and I have hardly used a brush in my life, but I thought it might be fun to try painting something of my own using coffee.

There are heaps of tutorials on Pinterest and YouTube, but really if you have ever painted with watercolors then you can paint with coffee.

All you need is 140lb cold compressed watercolor paper, cheapie brushes (coffee is really hard on brushes so don’t waste your expensive brushes), towels, jars or a palette for different shades (strengths) of coffee, pencils for sketching, a white eraser and last but not least — some instant coffee!


You want to use instant coffee because it tastes so terrible that it really isn’t good for much else. Also.. it’s instant. When we make coffee around our place, it’s basically like a small chemistry experiment. It takes time and a lot of dancing around back and forth between timers and drawers and thermometers and scales. On a good day, I can make a single cup of coffee in under 10 minutes. So I’m not going to waste all that effort and deliciousness on anything but my ultra-refined tongue palate. (Get it because you know like when you’re painting you use a “palette”? I’m so funny.)

Ok so, I decided I wanted to paint an image of two trees connected at the roots. I just love trees, don’t you? And after all the growing and traveling and just LIFE Michael and I have shared together over the past nine years, I wanted to draw something that showed that. So I found some “inspiration” in a Google image search for “rooted trees” and did a small practice sketch in a notebook.


I got all of my supplies situated in my working area. (And that included an actually decent cup of coffee made from an organic, fair trade rainforest blend. Not the stale-barely-even-counts-as-coffee stuff I used for my painting. *Gag*)


I mixed three small jars of varying strengths/shades of coffee and started brushing on a base shade for the background. To give some texture, I took a clean brush, dipped it in water and flicked it all over the paper. (This is an easier way to create texture than using salt or rubbing alcohol).


After my background was dry I lightly sketched my trees. If you can or prefer to paint freehand you don’t have to do this step, but if you’re like me and need the guidelines then just make sure you have a white eraser if you need to erase a part of your sketch — which you may need to do if your lines are too hard. The pink eraser that comes with regular pencils will smear and leave marks on your work.

After I penciled-in all my lines, I could finally start coloring inside my drawing. MY FAVORITE.


Even Charlotte chipped in and helped!


Since my first layer of coffee was super light, I ended up going back over each twig, branch and leaf several times. A definite labor of love but so worth it!


Last of all, I painted a little border and flecked the edges some more with a clean brush and water to smooth out the hard lines.

(And just in case you’re judging me as a complete bean-fiend for the multiple Starbucks mugs of coffee in my pictures, I actually worked on this painting over the course of several days while Michael was at work because I wanted it to be a surprise. Each morning after he had left I pulled out all of my brushes from my craft box, the painting from under the bed, and the instant coffee hidden in the back of the fridge and set it all out. Then about an hour before he came home, I’d quickly rinse my brushes, stash the painting under the bed and put all my supplies back in my craft box so he wouldn’t notice they had been moved. Most of the time I’m just a two-cups-of-coffee-a-day kinda’ gal!)

We drove to St. Louis that weekend and I had a frame I ordered online shipped there. After we arrived I framed the painting, wrapped it and had ants in my pants waiting for his birthday to get here so he could finally open his gift!


So now we have this awesome little painting representing our marriage and being rooted together as one-flesh and all that other sappy stuff hanging up in our living room.

He writes me poems, I paint him trees, and we both drink coffee. What more could you ask for, huh?

Miter Saw Calls You Maybe

[Mostly] following instructions from Shanty2Chic’s blog and their video with RYOBI, I recently built a shelf with hooks for our entryway.


Even though I LOVED the way this shelf looked, I was intimidated by the project because it required a few miter cuts… which meant I couldn’t just wink and pull the dumb blonde card with the guys at Home Depot because they don’t do angled cuts.

I tried getting away with a little manual hack saw and miter box but eventually I found this Hitachi C10FCE2 10-Inch Compound Miter Saw and ordered it on Amazon.

It was definitely NOT love at first sight when this saw arrived. More like.. “Um, am I seriously going to use this thing?” I felt like I had a loaded gun sitting in my living room and I had no idea how to use it.

So for Valentine’s Day Michael and I bought saw horses at Home Depot and watched power tool safety videos in bed together. I like to think I get my romantic side from my mother. For a wedding anniversary gift one year my stepdad received a meat grinder from her. See, like mother, like daughter.

The weekend after V-Day we set up our working space on our patio outside and got to measuring and cutting. The wall where I intended to hang my shelf was smaller than the wall area shown in Shanty2Chic’s home, so I cut my 2×6 at 38″ and my 2×8 at 32″. The front-facing casing was also cut at 32″ (with adjustments for the 45-degree angles on each side for the corners).

We made quick work of the wood, no fingers were lost in the process, and most importantly I could grunt like Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor as much as I wanted because I was using an actual power tool.

It’s what Michael Scott might call a “Win-Win-Win” situation.

It was such a winning experience, in fact, that I found myself totally caught off guard. Almost like an unexpected romance. Almost like.. Like a song I heard once upon a time long, long ago….

I pinned a wish in the well
It used a saw, I could tell
The blade looked sharp as it fell
Keep those hands far away

I bought the saw for a wish
Cedar and pine for a kiss
Hey, I could miter with this!
Keeping fingers away

Wood clamp was holding
Cut pine
Grain was showing
Face mask
Saw dust blowing
What you think you’re cutting baby?

Hey I just met you
And first comes safety
But here’s my ruler
So measure maybe?
It’s hard to not get splinters baby
But here are some gloves
So wear them maybe?

Hey I just met you
And first comes safety
But here are some glasses
They’ll protect you maybe
And all the other tools
Are not as scary
But if I loose a finger
Super glue it maybe?

Instructions, I followed them all
The blade took no time to fall
Ear plugs did me no good at all
My hands were far away

Forty-Five degrees moves the wheel
Eyeball it and it’s real
I’m surprised at it’s feel
Thank God my hands weren’t in the way…

Hey I just met you
And first comes safety
But here’s my ruler
So measure maybe?
It’s hard to not get splinters baby
But here are some gloves
So wear them maybe?

Hey I just met you
And first comes safety
But here are some glasses
They’ll protect you maybe
And all the other tools
Are not as scary
But if I loose a finger
Super glue it maybe?

See what I’m saying? I wasn’t looking for a miter saw romance. It just happened. And now it’s in my way and I can’t stop thinking about all the Pinteresting we get to share together. Forever.


Right. So, where was I?

Ok, next we screwed the 2×6 into the 2×8 and nailed on the casing. Then I used the claw-end of my hammer I started on distressing the wood.


After taking a really loud and abusive beating, I sanded the shelf and prepared it for staining. In the original instructions they painted their shelf white, but I decided to use Miniwax American Chestnut Polyshade instead.

I left the shelf out to dry with the fan blowing on it all night and part of the next day before adding a second coat of stain. When the second coat was finally dry, I drilled in the hooks I purchased at Hobby Lobby for 50% off.


That night Michael helped me hang the shelf along the wall in our entryway.

Michael being helpful and doing helpy stuff.

So now it’s all decorated and cute and I absolutely love how it turned out!


Miter saw, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

**Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which is the blogging equivalent of me playing guitar on a busy sidewalk while strangers pass by and throw spare change into my tip jar. If you like what you “hear”, making purchases through the links in this post will support my talents and maybe allow me to buy a sandwich. Not beer or cigarettes. But maybe wine. Actually probably definitely wine.

Photo to wood transfer gift

For Christmas and other special occasions I like making creative gifts for Michael. The very first year after I moved to Kansas I ended up making a surprise visit to Houston so we were not going to be together for the holidays.

But before I left, I wrote and illustrated a highly dramatic story about me trying to decide what to get him for a present that year. My plan was to leave the story book for him to open and read on Christmas and then after I was back in town, I would give him his actual gift.

So I won’t give too much away, but basically in the story I’m attacked by Christmas-gift-eating-bugs and needed a little help from Santa gaining the key to Michael’s perfect gift.

It’s a regular page turner. I posted a few pictures of the most riveting plot points below.

But thanks to inspiration from Pinterest and a recent photo session with this lovely Lady, I picked up a new idea to try out for Michael’s Christmas present this year.

I decided to use the image below and transfer it to a wood plaque following the directions from Ben Franklin Crafts and Frame Shop’s blog. This turned out to be a super easy, inexpensive project and I was really happy with the end result.

20131211-1504184_667158886668070_227197455_o On the disc of images Beth provided us from our session there was a black and white copy of the picture above. So using Lightroom, I uploaded the photo and flipped the image horizontally so that it could be printed in reverse.

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 8.25.59 PM

During my trip to Kinkos for the wine candle tags, I also had Beth’s now reversed picture printed on an 11×14″ sheet of paper. Earlier in the week I had already gone to Michael’s to pick up a pine wood plaque, some multi-medium, Mod Podge (I swear I’m always buying bottles of this stuff and I didn’t even end up needing it this time) and a couple of brushes.


I wiped down the wood plaque with a damp cloth before brushing an even and liberal coating of the multi-medium onto the wood. I then applied the image face-down on the wood plaque and smoothed out all the bubbles using one of those little Pampered Chef stone scrapers.

And now comes the exciting part 🙂 After letting the paper dry for 24 hours and do it’s magic I laid down a scrap towel underneath the wood plaque and began lightly rubbing away the paper using a sponge and some water. Bit by bit the image underneath revealed itself.



It took me a good twenty-five to thirty minutes or so to finally remove all the excess paper and there were a few places where I had to use the Pampered Chef scraper again to gently work the paper away.


After that was all done, I removed the towel and cleaned up my work area for the next step. Using a combination of directly applying a Distressed Ink pad (I have an addiction to these) and sponge pouncer, I antiqued the edges of the wood and image. Once the edges were done I dipped my foam brush in a little water, squeeze out the excess water and quickly swiped the image from edge to edge to smooth out any harsh lines and to give the entire plaque an antiqued look.


Finally, I gave the plaque a few minutes to dry before I measured and marked the wood for drilling. Once drilled, I cut off a section of hemp cord, ran it through the holes and tied knots in the front of the plaque for hanging.



And that’s it! Another inexpensive, easy-to-make gift for the holidays. And it’s a great way to display pictures in your home. Not that guys typically care a whole lot about home decor… But Michael made a good show of it anyhow 😉


***(Special thanks to Beth Laird for taking this awesome picture and so many more! If you live in the Kansas City Area and are looking for a graphic designer/photographer, please take a moment to stop by her Facebook page and give her a “like” at Beth Laird Photo & Design!)

Homemade Wine Candles

Be sure to check out Bottle Cutting Inc.’s $5000 Kinkajou Project Giveaway and
search “Project Eight” to see my winning submission using my homemade wine candles!


Christmas is a really special time of year. I love Christmas music and how everything smells like cinnamon or pine. And I know it’s no fun to drive in, but I do love the snow and cold. I look forward to wearing sweaters and scarfs and boots and drinking eggnog like it’s coming out of the faucet.

But I cannot even handle the shopping craze that happens during the holiday season. Just being honest… I think it’s repulsive — especially after seeing first hand the way most people lived in India. We take so much for granted here and waste so much. Everytime a new iPhone comes out, people rush the stores to buy it, even though there’s nothing wrong with their current device. We have so much STUFF that some of us pay month by month for storage units to store what we can’t fit in our house.

I remember watching this documentary called The Queen of Versailles about the Siegel family who was building the most expensive home in the United States. In the beginning Jackie Siegel takes the film crew on a tour through their mansion and complains that they simply just do not have enough room for all of their stuff and they need” a bigger place to accommodate it all. So they begin building the most expensive home in America. Because you know, you actually need to have 10 kitchens and a 20-car garage with even more space for your limousines. (And yes, they were actually doing that.)

In the meantime, they interview the household nanny who states that it is her dream to own her own home one day, but since it wasn’t likely she would ever be able to afford that, she was settling for living in the Siegel’s children’s disused playhouse in the backyard.

I’m not sure that’s what impoverished families outside of the United States have in mind when they talk about living the “American Dream”.

Sometimes I think back to our time in India and remember when our driver told us he couldn’t afford to buy his five year old son a bicycle for his birthday. Or I think of how I would put food in plastic bags before I threw it away because I knew the woman who collected my garbage would go through it to find something to eat. See, morally I kind of have a problem with spending money on things that we don’t NEED when the majority of the world lives in so much want. It’s poor stewardship of our financial blessings — and I say that on a personal level as well as a citizen of one of the most affluent countries in the world.

Several years ago there was a really powerful video released by a ministry called Living Water International. They have started a movement called “Advent Conspiracy” and if you haven’t seen their promo video, you really should take a moment to watch it:

Whether you’re a follower of Christ or not, the message still applies: Consumerism does not equal happiness, it does not equal memories, and it does not equal meaning. It just doesn’t.

The things I remember most about Christmases from my childhood are not the gifts I gave or received, but the laughter with family, the smiles, the games we played, the stories we told, the hugs and the warmth. You can’t get that time back. And when a loved one passes away, you’ll be thankful for the amount of time you spent with them, NOT the amount of money spent on gifts for them.

No matter how much retail America tries to convince you, relationships and memories don’t have price tags and cannot be bought.

So this year, using a few things we had on hand and my skills in graphic design and crafts, I made own our Christmas gifts. Behold the up-cycled wine bottle candle! 🙂


I know these are all the rage right now. If I’ve seen one Pinterest project for wine bottle crafts, I’ve seen a hundred. But I thought these made for good gifts because a) they’re up-cycled from wine bottles we already had on hand; b) they’re a consumable gift, so they can be thrown away or taken to a proper glass recycling facility after they’re used; c) they were relatively inexpensive to make (just needed soy wax, scented oil some tags and twine); and d) I already have a creative/crafty personality so I truly enjoyed spending a few nights a week making these for my family and friends.

I started off scoring all my wine bottles using this neat little gadget called a Kinkajou.


After scoring them, I would run the bottle under hot and cold water, alternating between the two until the glass cracked and I was left with the bottom half of my wine bottle.


After sanding down the edges of the cut glass, I would rinse the bottles out and leave them to dry until the following day. The next morning, I turned on my crockpot to melt the wax flakes and scented oil.


Using a ladle, I filled one bottle at a time with the melted wax. Once poured, I positioned the wood wick in the center of the bottle using a highly sophisticated state-of-the-art reinforcement system: a couple of left over plastic fast food knives.


I let the wax cool and harden over night. Usually the next day there would be one or two “sink holes” where the wax had contracted inwards and so I would have to pour more wax to fill in the holes.

20131214-DSC_0003 Once the wax had hardened again and settled evenly inside the wine bottle, I cut the wicks down and started making one set of tags for the wine bottles and another set for the outside of the gift bags.


I used simple brown cardstock tags for the outside of the gift bags. I stamped and distressed the edges using a plain old ink pad. (The edges haven’t been inked up yet in the photo below 🙂 ) 20131217-DSC_0010

There was a little more involved to make the tags that I attached to the wine candles themselves… Once upon a time I had Photoshop and could do all sorts of magical, graphical things. But then we bought MacBooks and my amazing little Photoshop program was no longer compatible with my operating system. Enter GIMP — an awesome and free photo manipulation program that works on Linux operating systems. So for the past 4 years now, I have “hobbled along” using GIMP and have managed to design some really great logos and websites for friends.

I wanted these tags to resemble vintage apothecary labels with a block-print layout. I downloaded some fonts from and browsed Google Images to give me a few guides/similar designs to follow. I also wanted the labels to have the usual safety instructions you see on the bottoms of candles that you buy at the store, so I found a couple candle-making websites that had standardized text I could use and personalized it for my labels.

Screen Shot 2013-12-14 at 8.17.26 PM

After I designed the labels in GIMP, I went to Michael’s and bought a few standard sheets of 8×11″ card stock from the scrapbook aisle. I took my external hard drive with the label file and the paper to a nearby Kinkos and had 3 sheets of labels printed, 10 labels to a sheet.


I used the paper cutter at Kinkos to cut each label individually and then used my corner rounder to give them a more polished look. I distressed inked the edges again like I did on the other tags and punched holes in the corners to tie them onto the wine candles with hemp cord.





And for the last step I placed the now finished and tagged wine candles in brown paper bags, attached the outside gift tags with picks I bought on clearance for 70% off at Michael’s.


So there you have it! All in all, I had twenty wine candles poured, tagged and bagged to give away. I just couldn’t wait to give these to our friends and family because I was proud of the time and effort I spent on them — NOT the amount of money.

My biggest expense was the Kinkajou, wax, and well… probably all the wine. Been having a lot of “fruit salad” for dinner around here I guess! But almost everything else I either already had on hand or purchased with coupons and on clearance.

Even if you’re not a wine drinker, you can make these candles in pretty much any round glass bottle. (beer bottles, whiskey bottles, mason jars, etc.) And you can always go looking on Craigslist to see if anyone has any empty bottles available. A lot of the time people just want to get rid of their empty glass bottles so you can get a bunch for next to nothing and sometimes even for free.

Bottom line.. the best part about making these was that since we spent more of our TIME rather than MONEY, Michael and I had more freedom to give to causes that have real and lasting impact on people’s lives — not just a momentary gift-fix.

I do have some more idears for using whiskey and beer bottles too, so if anyone has any spare bourbon or beer bottles you’d like to get rid of, email or message me and I might be interested in taking them off your hands!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!

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