Tea Parties – Not Just for Sarah Palin

When planning an upcoming, intimate, period themed event – say for a bridal shower, birthday party, or just because, consider having your party be a Victorian inspired high tea. Give me a chance to explain, they are fun, especially if you’re a history loving nerd like I am that likes to spend weekends watching dorky BBC documentaries. The history part of it is what makes it fun, it wouldn’t be as exciting to pull out some nice china, brew fancy loose leaf tea and wear a trendy romper or worse yet, leave the china in your grandma’s cabinet and drink tea out of styrofoam or Ikea, no that’s not what I’m talking about. The fun part is dressing the part and putting on the Downton Abby theme song while sipping tea out of antique tea cups.

For the wild and crazy kick off to my bachelorette party, my girlfriend treated me to a high tea at a cafe in a nearby town. The tea came complete with a lace table cloth and heated, raised tea pot with a lit candle underneath to keep it warm. We chose our selection of sandwiches that came out as triangles on tiered serving trays. There were little sweet treats on beautiful china. The other events of my bachelorette party were not nearly as reserved as my Victorian collared shirt of the high tea, but for two whole hours we were as proper as ladies of the house.

Somebody paid attention to my affinity for tea and history and planned a gorgeous tea bridal party. The bridal party was put on by my aunts and sister. The location could not have been more perfect – it was held on the wraparound porch of  my aunt’s fantastically restored Victorian brick house. There were five tables on the porch for guests with each one having  it’s own individual set of vintage china. My aunt had collected them at estate sales and second hand shops and she put them to good use for the tea party. She even IMG_3193made homemade cookies that so precisely resembled a real teabag that I had to double take at the teacups when I first walked on the porch to realized that they were edible. There’s a recipe here for similar cookies.

Tea parties are a nice  changes of pace to parties with alcohol because they’re generally quite and well mannered so conversation can be easily had. They cost less since alcohol doesn’t add to the cost of hosting, but they do require time to plan ahead. Things need to be collected, borrowed, or pulled out of cupboards. Hunting for the bargains and the sets with the most beautiful or unique patters is fun though, so the work ahead of time doesn’t feel like work at all. Our local thrift store often does 50% off of items if they’ve been in the store prior to a specific date, so it wouldn’t be uncommon to walk out of there with a four piece china set for around $5.

Of course the major benefit of using vintage items is that they’re real. No plastic forks, cups, or straws. Less waste and an appreciation for what was once very special items of the home. At my bridal tea party, my aunts took the zero waste even further than the teacups and saucers, they also put vintage table cloths on each table along with linen napkins. Some napkins had vintage lace napkin holders that added to the period theme. Another way to decrease waste would be to use teabags that do not have strings or labels, my favorite brand in the U.S. for that very reason of not messing with strings is Celestial Seasonings. A step beyond would be to get loose leaf tea in bulk in a reusable container brought in from home or even beyond that, to dry your own herbal teas from the garden, mint being my favorite and easiest.

Other ideas for your future tea party are to dress up for the occasion. Theme your tea party as Victorian like mine was or more modern such as the 1950’s. If you have it in the summer have some iced teas as well or instead of hot teas. If hosting a tea party seems like too much work then find a local cafe or bed and breakfast that hosts one. The tea that I went to was in Warren, PA at a cafe called The Arbor Coffee House (reservations are required for high teas in advance.) Make your tea party unique to you, try to create as little waste as possible, and remind yourself that tea parties are for grown ups (and men,) too.

 

DIY – Sustainable – Low-Budget Wedding

There are many reasons to want to have a low-cost and simple wedding, you may be loaded with student debt, don’t see yourself in a princess gown, or like us, need to rush things along for a foreign-fiance visa. If you are a bride or groom looking to save your pennies on your big day, then there are short-cuts that do not take away from the magic of the day. As just stated, my situation was that my foreign-fiance and I needed to tie the not in a three month time frame from his arrival on U.S. soil so that he could fulfill the requirements of his K-1 visa. We knew all of this after months and months of research and luckily neither of us are very fussy or uppity, so a shindig planned in a couple of weeks neither stressed us out or meant that we had to give up big dreams of violin quartets or three tiered cakes. We were however, quite stubborn about our special day being waste-free, ethical, and sustainable – meaning little waste, lots of second hand finds, and DIY.

Here are how we managed to make our Earth Day wedding as down to Earth and friendly to her as possible.

The Dress

18156349_1268217376630846_7658297236323043971_oI am no Bridezilla, but I know how important the dress is and after dress shopping with my mom and twin sister, I know now too just how fun and flattering wedding gowns can be, I cannot however, justify paying hundreds of dollars on a dress to be worn just once, especially not for the garden, civil ceremony that we had. Therefore, while my fiance was across the pond spending his nights researching immigration documents, I was browsing the internet for the perfect civil ceremony dress (don’t worry, I helped with the legal research, too!)

A company had been stuck in my mind since watching the eye-opening documentary, The True Cost, the company is People Tree, which I instantly fell in love with when I watched the film. They are a U.K. based, fair trade, and sustainable company. After browsing their site, I found the dress. A cream dress with a navy, red, and carmel floral print, boat neck, knee-length, vintage-style, organic cotton beauty. I shipped it to my beau, and tried it on for the first time a few months later after he landed here to be with me – and it fit! If you are planning a laid-back wedding or will be married with a civil ceremony, then looking at dress shops instead of bridal shops will save you hundreds of dollars. Thrift stores or a friend’s closet will cut the cost even more. My dress is of a much higher quality than most low-end wedding dresses (which are priced mostly for the “w” word,) because it’s made of a thick, organic cotton with strong stitches at the hem whereas many wedding dresses are of polyester and are likely made in factories in developing nations where the women who sew them together are not paid fair wages.

The Rings

My engagement ring is a family antique from my husband’s side, no blood diamonds for us! I can’t state how much I love the fact that the ring that began our lives together forever comes from his family history and not from a store (which really came from mining, which when you think about, is blowing up a mountainside in order to pry out it’s natural resources.) Not to mention, the idea of needing a diamond engagement ring is a relatively new one, women around the world got by without a shiny rock on their fingers for hundreds of years prior to the late 1940’s, but now it’s the norm – good for De Beers, not always so good for the savings accounts of young couples.

18052204_10100430721757437_563417165_o

My wedding band is likewise not from a big-name jewelers, instead it is from a smaller producer in California that I found on Etsy. My husband’s band is also from Etsy. They don’t match at all, but they are what each of us liked and they did not break the bank. In order to know my ring size for ordering I went to multiple jewelry shops to get sized, playing that I was browsing there, I then ordered from Etsy. The seller was quick to respond to my order and even asked when the date of our wedding was so that he could have it to me in time, which it was, and I only ordered it a few weeks before our Earth Day wedding. My ring came from this seller. Pictured is Freddie, practicing being ring-bearer with the pillow I had stitched him.

The Cake

I made it! Yes, it was slightly stressful to be making homemade frosting to then frost my chocolate, Greek yogurt cake with only two hours before walking down the aisle, but it was better, in my opinion, to make a healthy,  homemade cake than to make one from a box or get it from a shop. I used all natural ingredients and made it to out specific taste – rich chocolate. It must be said that making my cake myself was possible because I only expected a total of six people at my ceremony, that’s including the bride and groom. For a larger shindig it may not be so do-able, but a local bakery would be better than a grocery store if ethics and health is on your mind, however a grocery store cake would do just fine for a large crowd and a small budget.

I also made my cake topper which was Pinterest inspired. I used burlap ribbon, embroidery thread, and paper straws to hold it up. It was made with the same burlap ribbon I used to make my ring bearer’s pillow, so tied it all together, plus the colors matched the print of my dress. By making my cake and having a low key venue of my grandmother’s garden and kitchen, I was also able to ensure that our cake-cutting was absolutely zero-waste – no paper plates or plastic forks. (The cake topper we kept and it is now adorning one of our house plants.)

18110380_1269495429815838_1868303108_o

Flowers

My mom and I researched wedding bouquets at local florists, but in the end I decided to go with a simple bouquet of tulips bought from a local grocery store. I would have liked to have supported a local florist for their skill and work, but it seemed to me that just like wedding dresses, wedding flowers are pricey because they are labeled to be for a wedding. The twelve tulips cost $12, the cheapest bouquet I could find online was around $40, and to make them fit in with our earthy theme I cut the wrapper down and wrapped twine around the stems. By the end of the ceremony they were very droopy, likely because they traveled in the car out of their vase, I suggest keeping your flowers in water as long as you can to avoid this.

The Groom

Rather than go out and buy a new suit or rent a tuxedo, my fiance wore khakis, a navy button up that matched my dress, and dress shoes which were all purchased from second hand stores; costing a total of roughly $10, but to be honest, that’s probably a high estimate. Everything that he wore he had bought prior to our engagement except for the shoes which we lucked upon about two weeks before the wedding. Yes, your wedding ceremony is a special event and a special day, but if you can come to terms with you and your groom wearing items already owned, then you can save yourselves hundreds of dollars.

There are many ways to save money on your wedding, especially if you have a civil ceremony with a low number of guests. Make your special day uniquely you by adding special touches that match you as a couple. Keep your eyes out in the months ahead at thrift stores and estate sales, or your friend’s and family members’ houses for items to borrow and return. May your civil ceremony be as romantic and cheap as mine, the two can definitely go hand in hand.

 

Come On, Get Real – DIY Beauty Products

The beauty industry is ginormous. In the U.S. in 2016 industry sales reached 16.2 billion dollars and globally was 244.8 billion dollars in 2012. We spend a lot of money on products that we powder, smear, rub, and brush on to our faces and bodies every day. We use products literally from head to toe. Men aren’t immune either; in Asia, or at least in Korea, the male beauty industry is one in and of itself, and men worldwide at the very least wash their hands, their hair, and their bodies.

Specific to the U.S., the beauty industry has very little regulation by the government. Manufacturers can put almost whatever they wish into a product to make it shine, lather, or sparkle, and nobody will ask whether the chemicals are safe, chemicals that we apply to our body, on to our skin – our largest living and breathing organ. The skin has pores that absorb what is on and around it, and although only small amounts of product are applied at one time, those applications add up to a large amount, day after day, throughout a lifetime.

20170413_082323.jpg

Many chemicals in beauty products (and in the plastic bottles that they come in) are endocrine disruptors, which means that they disrupt the endocrine system, the system of the body that produces hormones. Overtime, exposure to harmful chemicals can cause fertility problems and cancer. As mentioned previously, there is very little regulation over the American beauty industry. The food and drug industries are highly regulated compared to cosmetics and toiletry items, as found on http://www.fda.gov, “cosmetic products and ingredients do not need FDA premarket approval, with the exception of color additives.” When shopping for beauty products it is fair to say that we all assume that companies and the government have our safety as their number one priority, but that is not the case.  Beauty products are primarily made up of harmful chemicals, often times without clear labeling. Up until 2013, there were two dangerous chemicals in Johnson & Johnson’s “No More Tears” baby shampoo. Read that sentence again, harmful, cancer causing chemicals were in products used for the vulnerable and pure. And that massive change of re-figuring the chemical make up of the shampoo came only after years of hard work by activists, all the while they were manufacturing a formaldehyde free version for their other markets around the world. In fact, other governments have been doing a much better job at protecting their citizens against harmful chemicals than the U.S. does, for example, the EU and Canada have out-rightly banned carcinogenic chemicals from being used in beauty products.

Some chemicals are released by preservatives (as was the case with “No More Tears,” so are not technically added to the product, but do occur. Companies when pushed will often state that it’s ok to have chemicals, such as formaldehyde and the like in products because the level is low enough so as not to be harmful. Sure that might technically be true to be said of the small amount used in one wash, but years and years of use add up.

Chemicals to look out for when making purchases are dyes, “fragrances,” parabens, and triclosan, to name a few. Being aware of just these four chemicals, you’re likely to put back every single bottle and tube that you pick up at your local grocery or box store. I recently went in to a big box store thinking that they are so large that they must carry a shampoo without parabens and made with more natural ingredients, but even with a large aisle-full of products, I could not find a single shampoo that met my requirements. I instead had to go to TJ Maxx where I had had previous luck finding organic shampoos and soaps at discounted prices. I eventually went with a shampoo that was made in the U.S. and lacked a lot of the harmful chemicals that I try to avoid. Yes, I paid more than I would have at the big box 20170413_082220.jpgstore, but not all that much more because I bought a large bottle, so it will last months. When opting to pay more for organic food and products over cheap, chemical-laden foods and products I remind myself that paying more now is a lot cheaper than paying for health care treatment down the road.

Another option is to do some research and DIY your beauty products. This is something that I have had interest in, but never made the time to do. Fortunately for me, I have thoughtful and loving friends. One of my friends organized and prepared natural, organic, DIY face wash and toner for my girlfriends and I to make during my Bachelorette party (we did this activity early in the night before getting too wild, more posts about having a DIY, sustainable, waste-free wedding to follow!)

20170413_080204.jpg

The face was contained just two ingredients in the recipe – coconut oil and raw honey. We added jajoba oil since it was winter and skin is dry at that time of year, but I think that the recipe would be fine without it since the coconut oil acts as a hydration component. For the face wash you simply melt down the coconut oil and honey, if they are solidified, mix and combine the two together, pour into your glass container (do not use plastic!) and let harden again. While the mixture is melted you can add in essential oils of your liking for scent, but this is not necessary.

If you have never used an oil based wash before then it may feel weird to smear oil on your face – but it works! I suggest not wetting your face before applying the wash. Simply get a small portion on your fingers, rub between your hands to warm it back into a melted consistency, and apply to your face. Massage onto your skin for 20-30 seconds then rinse with water. Oil and water don’t mix, so it will feel as if there is still some residue on your skin, but that’s fine, simply dry your face with a towel and you’ll feel fresh as a daisy.

The toner was a mixture of chamomile tea, honey, and apple cider vinegar. You can find the recipe here, which was a little more complicated being as it has three ingredients instead of two, there’s some friendly sarcasm in there – pick up your face wash and try to count the ingredients, far more than two I’d think! The toner has a strong sent of the apple cider vinegar which is very recognizable, we tried to mask it with essential oils, but it still comes through; I’d much rather smell AVC than spray potentially dangerous chemicals onto my face, though.

The next time you find yourself adding beauty products to your grocery list, I hope that you will note to buy organic and natural alternatives to the cheaper, mainstream options. If you have the time and desire, try making your own. It will feel satisfactory to create something for yourself and you’ll save a lot of money overall, plus waste since most products come in plastic containers. On your path to purifying your home and body, starting with what you apply directly to your skin is a good place to begin.

 

 

 

 

DIY Your Halloween Costume

Halloween’s coming up which means that stores are full of racks of cheap, synthetic costumes (possibly to be worn only once and then disposed of the day after the party.) Holidays have become so commercialized, being more about what can be sold than about the holiday itself. Consumerism creates a lot of waste, not only the costumes & decorations themselves but also all of the plastic packaging that they come in. So this year, consider doing a DIY costume: they’re cheaper, more ethical, friendlier to the earth, and are an outlet for creativity.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Halloween and have dressed up every single year. It’s fun to put on a costume and be someone else for a night, but sadly costumes are generally made of petroleum-based fabrics (think nylon, polyester, and acrylic) because they’re cheaper than natural fibers. After the parties they’re typically just tossed out in the trash, making their ways into landfills (being too poorly made to be handed down – simple stitching on those short-lived fabrics means they’re likely to fall apart before making it to a thrift store.)

Here are some tips for making a DIY Halloween costume.

  • Start early, finding the right things will take longer than just popping into a box store and pulling something off of the shelf. If you’re reading this on the day of your party, don’t panic, think outside of the box and you’re sure to pull something together (stuffing socks into black panty hose and pinning to a black skirt with eyeliner whiskers is an instant and easy cat!)
  • Scope your closet. All you need is one item to begin the creative process. Once you have a defining piece, try to match something else you have with it to build upon the look. If you can’t find it in your own closet then look in your friends’ and family members’; for example overalls and your boyfriends flannel morph into a farmer or scarecrow.diyhalloween
  • If all closets leave you empty handed, or you don’t want to risk staining your clothes with fake blood, then head to the thrift store.  Don’t feel stuck with the way the clothes are, cut them up or alter them if you have the skills.
  • When in doubt, Google search! You’ll find loads of images that you can get inspiration from and might even find a blog or Youtube tutorial to follow.
  • Turn your clothes into a costume by adding face paint or accessories.  Again, seek resources online.Screen shot 2015-10-18 at 6.39.43 PM

Here’s a little gallery of previous DIY costumes friends and I have done.

Have fun with Halloween and be safe! What successful DIY costumes have you come up with and how are you decreasing your impact on our Earth this Halloween?

DIY Natural Dying

I learned about using compost to make natural dyes via a podcast that my boyfriend was listening to one night, and it caught my attention. On the podcast, the woman was talking about collecting onion skins from restaurants to turn them into dye and I thought, well we go through a lot of onions, so might as well start collecting. I also asked some girlfriends to save their onion skins for me and had quite a collection. This past weekend I finally put the skins to use and the results were surprisingly nice. They will be sewn into eye pillows and cases.

How To

The Collection: I’m not sure on an amount, but if I had to guess I’d say that I used about 20 onions worth of skins. Initially I froze the skins, but I found that that’s not necessary. The skins keep well at room temperature as long as none of the flesh is on them. It’s winter now, so that might not be the case during the humid summer.

The Process: I followed this blog. Outlined below are the stepsSoaking the skins I took to dye my fabric.

  1. After collecting and storing the skins until I was ready to dye, the first step I took was to soak the onion skins. I covered the skins in water until they were all covered, but of course some were not submerged because they floated to the top. I had read that soaking over night gets the best results, so that’s what I did.
  2. The next day I boiled the skins in the water. They didn’t remain
    boiling for long. After they reached boiling, I lowered the heat to simmer. They simmered for about an hour. When I went to turn off the gas completely, I noticed that a lot of the water had boiled off and the water was colored an orange-brown. I removed the skins as much as I could.
  3. The next step is soaking the fabric in thedye. Using different types of metal creates different colors, so I used two different pots and experimented a bit. One piece of fabric was completely submerged in a cheap camping pot (I’m not sure what type of metal it is, but it’s cheap) while the other fabrics I played around with and explain how below. For the best results the blog said to soak the fabric in thedye while it is heated on the stove for about an hour.
    1. Two fabrics I tie-dyed. The first fabric I planned to use for eye pillows. The second was a shirt that I altered when I first bought my sewing machine (it has very rough hems from learning how to sew!)
    2. The other effect I daydreamed about making was an ombre effect, or fading from dark to light. I theorized that if I strategically hung the fabric above the dye only submerging the end and then lowered more into the dye every hour, then I’d end up with the part that was soaking the longest would be darker in color and that which was soaked for the least amount of time would be lighter in color. The end of the fabric wasn’t submerged at all and stayed the original cream color (minus some staining from the steam of the dye.
  1. After the fabrics were in the heated dye, I turned off the heat and let them cool in as they were. For better results it was recommended to have them sit in the dye overnight which is what I did. The following day (3 days into the process now) I took them out of the dye and rinsed them in cold water until they stopped running.

The results of this process came out great, I thought. I hope to play around with other natural dyes in the future. A student recommended dying with turmeric and fruit skins. Have you had any success with natural dyes?