Category Archives: It’s So Easy Being Green

20+ DIY gifts for geeks of all kinds

20+ DIY gifts for geeks of all kinds Joy Makin MamasWe fly our geek flags pretty high around here, so it’s no suprise my kids are leaning firmly toward the geeky side of life. My little guy wants to know if the TARDIS will be there when he goes to the doctor for an appointment. My eldest has caused approving strangers to stop us on the street to ask if he was really singing the theme from Star Wars under his breath. (Yes. What else would it be?)

Once they are done watching the adventures of Luke, Leia, the Doctor, and Amy Pond, they enjoy hours of themed pretend play. Considering the number of times my little guy has pilfered “my” paper TARDIS, and the amount of family fun that paper character dolls have brought us, I have here compiled a list of DIY, no-tech gifts and activities that will delight the geekiest of geeklings.

Whether you want a last minute item to round out a stocking, or something for the quiet bag for a family car trip, one of these is sure to fill the bill. Continue reading 20+ DIY gifts for geeks of all kinds

Debt Free Holiday: Photo Gifts

debt free holiday photo gifts bannerPhoto gifts are the epitome of creative, personalized giving. One of my favorite, budget friendly gift ideas came from my friend, JMM Mary S when I asked for ideas for my mom for Mothers’ Day, several years ago. She suggested I purchase my mother an 8×8 photo scrapbook, and create additional pages in installments. I have given her sets of pages for birthdays, Mothers’ Day, and Christmas ever since. Continue reading Debt Free Holiday: Photo Gifts

Blue Ridge Salvage Toys: Winning Best Post Apocalyptic Toy Selection

Blue Ridge Salvage Toys are full of win, even in a post-technology apocalypse.I frequently joke that I’m either raising my children to travel through time or to survive a post-technology apocalypse, because we pursue skills and amusements that would have been appropriate 200 years ago. Here’s the latest addition to my post-tech aresenal: Blue Ridge Salvage toys.

A family friend gave my littlest this wooden truck as a gift. He threw his very favorite talking toy to the side to get both hands free to play with this truck. (I would like to kill that talking toy with fire, but it makes him happy, so every time I contemplate smuggling it out of the house my resolve fails me.)

I have what you might politely call a “thing” for wooden toys, so I leave no wooden toy untouched when I’m shopping- and that goes double for thrift stores, so we have a fair collection for comparison. I can sort of understand why my little guy is nuts about this thing, because I totally love it. I mean, it would be tough not to love anything that has my little cutie saying “beep! beep!” while he plays and plays and plays with it, but I have some objective reasons for liking it, also. This is a toy that stands out from all the other things I don’t want to kill with fire.  (ha ha.)

For starters, here’s a quote from the tag: “All products are handcrafted in WV from reclaimed and repurposed materials.” Nice! Who wouldn’t love that? Their website informs us that each toy is unique and that no two are precisely the same.

The truck is solidly crafted. All the wheels spin freely, and none of the pieces have the tell-tale wobble that says I’ll be needing the wood glue soon. Some wooden “toys” seem to be made for looks, but this one was obviously intended to be played with- and I can assure you it will be.

Finally, it’s just danged attractive. The natural beauty of the wood shines through (no paint to get chipped! Yes!) and you can see the beautiful grains in the different blocks. It feels good in your hand and you keep wanting to pick it up. But you don’t get to keep it, because as soon as you do, a little voice says, “Want my truck? Pleeeeeease?”

Check out or find them on twitter. They had nothing to do with my decision to write this post- I just think you deserve to know about any toy that’s likely to survive the end of the world as we know it. Have fun!

Debt Free Holiday: Busy Play ideas to make

busyplaypinThere is nothing better than busy, creative, open ended play for child development or just for plain old happiness. The good news is, there are tons and tons of options for open ended toys. But… Have you looked at the prices on creative toys lately? For instance, wooden railroad engines based on certain popular shows could run you as much as $20, before you even buy any track or bridges or buildings or anything else fun. (And because they are “COLLECTIBLE,” used ones are as much or more than retail!) And Legos, that holy grail of building toys, are apparently crafted from the most expensive plastic on Earth, in addition to also being “collectible.”

If you’ve already spent your gift budget on one of these coveted toys, you may find yourself looking at an empty stocking and wishing you could fill it with something equally creative and fun, but on a much much MUCH smaller budget. Good news! You can, and it won’t even break your back. (And if you are lucky enough that your kid is not yet aware of these high ticket items, then save your $$$ and give them these instead!)

  • Build a cardboard play kitchen like this one from 42 roads. Improvise, or order plans from her Etsy shop. When they have outgrown/destroyed it, you can recycle it! (My father built me a wooden one when I was little. While most of the wooden playthings we had are still around, the word is that years of hard play completely totalled that wooden play kitchen. The plastic one I got my boys at the thrift store doesn’t hold a candle to it. I still remember every detail. It was a gift for my fourth birthday.) This would go perfectly with the felt cookie play set we featured in our DIY Felt Board post! Or you could pair it with these felt salad and pizza play sets from Munchkin and Bean.
  • You can make some modular fabric roads from scraps. Adapt Lil Mop Top’s idea using fleece, felt, or whatever you have on hand. It just needs scissors, a little craft paint, and some creativity. Make a drawstring bag to keep them in and add a couple of cars, and you’ve got a very clever take-along toy that is just perfect for busy toddlers at demanding holiday activities.
  • A Super Hero Fort Kit from Meg + Andy would be perfect for active imaginations and can easily be created using second hand or freecycled items. Who WOULDN’T love to receive a super hero fort of their very own?
  • Use up scrap fabrics to create a take along doll house, garage, or barn using this tutorial from a UK Lass in the US. A quick change in color or detail will make this little take-along building just right for any interest. Fill it with peg people or matchbox cars or toy animals. Scale it to size with the modular fabric roads you’ve also made and you can put them inside to create a complete play kit with endless play possibilities.
  • Got older kids who are more of a “board game” type age? Woman’s Day offers you this travel checkers game to sew. You could make this even simpler by using craft paint (Or applique- just use pinking shears to cut the contrast squares out, use a little fusible web to put them in place, and sew a straight stitch grid to make the bond more durable.) to create the checkerboard instead of quilting it. You could also vary this by leaving one side open, instead of binding all four sides, and adding velcro and a carrying handle to the open end so the board doubles as a carrying bag for the checkers. Not into checkers? Add a couple of dice and adapt the idea to Parcheesi.
  • If you’re digging the cardboard play set idea, you can also create a post office play set like the one we did here. No messy paint was involved… just a printed logo and a roll of blue painter’s tape. You could create a free printable letter from Santa as your little letter carrier’s first piece of mail!

I can’t wait to break out my sewing machine and my scrap stash and get started on a couple of these! Don’t forget to check out my DIYs board on Pinterest for more fun and budget friendly ideas!

Debt Free Holiday: Free Printable Kids Crafts & Gifts

free printable gifts for kids roundup by Joy Makin' Mamas

Free is my favorite price! Some of these are great ideas for pre-celebration family activities, but there are a bunch that will make great stocking stuffers or gifts for kids. Assuming you already maintain a color printer, nothing could be easier than printing off some craft projects and having the little ones help you. A lot of these ideas will make perfect “finishing touches.” I personally am planning some photo gift tags that can be ornaments for next year!

Free Printables that make great gifts or holiday activities for kids:

  • Try these two sided animal frames from Jinxy Kids. They are easy enough for an advanced cutter to do alone, or have your kiddo wield the glue stick to help assemble them. There is nothing specific to any one holiday about them, so you could also add a small magnet on the back for year round enjoyment.
  • Create 3-D paper snowflakes from You don’t need anything but printer paper and scissors plus tape or staples.
  • First Palette offers these printable Christmas Tree ornaments. Have the kids color one side and use the other as a gift tag, and everyone will get an original work of art from your kiddo along with their gift.
  • Print, color, and assemble a penguin from SmartyPants Fun. My little man is in love with “peng-ins” this year so I plan to make him a set. I’m going to use Picasa to re-size them and make two parent penguins and a pair of “brudder” penguins. Big brother can help me make them!
  • Dressy Cats winter holiday sets from Made By Joel come in Christmas and Hanukkah versions and are not only adorable, but ready made for lots of pretend play. (These would make a great stocking stuffer! Print the colored version for littler children or the color-your-own for crafty big kids.)
  • The Elves and the Shoemaker Paper Dolls are another cute imagination printable that are not specific to a particular holiday. These would be cute for a holiday gift or as an alternative elf activity for those who have chosen to opt out of the Elf on the Shelf. (Wouldn’t it be cute to have a new one arrive each night?)
  • Create add-ons for your little one’s wooden railway with these printable villages. For extra durability, mount them on cardboard or laminate them. There are so many wonderful ones, you won’t be able to pick just one!
  • Stuff their stocking with these printable gift coupons. Or make your own “tickets” to area outings, create a printable passport full of fun family activities, or create a “fun jar” with a note saying they’ll be allowed to pull activities out of it at specified intervals. (Saturday mornings, after homework is finished, etc.)
  • How about this printable Fishing Game from Meet the Dubiens? I don’t know why, but it seems almost all kids are fascinated by the idea of fishing. Mine would adore this.
  • Old-school Battleship game printable from Just Something I Made. (All the strategy, none of the plastic pieces in the vacuum cleaner. I LIKE IT.)
  • Print some Vintage Paper Dolls from the Graphics Fairy.

Don’t miss all the other fun things I’ve pinned to my Traditions board on Pinterest! Here’s to a fun (and thrifty) holiday! Follow Meghan Gray’s board DIYs on Pinterest.

Debt Free Holiday: DIY Felt Boards

Make your own felt boardThat’s right, it’s that time of year again, when we are thinking of how to have a lovely, thoughtful holiday without breaking the bank (or the planet!). Every year I look for “green” gift ideas that save cash and reduce, reuse, recycle while still being special and encouraging creativity. (I recently saw Polar Express for the first time, and I LOVE the scene where they explain that Santa is now in the refurbishing business, giving unloved toys new life. I’ve been saying that for years!)

Have you seen those felt boards you can use to tell a story? There are store bought ones with really elaborate, printed pieces you can use, or you can make them yourself for pennies. They are also sometimes called Flannel Boards

  • Try this Felt Cookie play set from Sugar Aunts. I would add a small tray from the thrift store, lined with self adhesive felt for the cookie tray. You could do this up very adorably with a couple small mixing bowls and a little oven mitt.
  • Here is a how-to for a lap-sized story board from Munchkin and Bean. I love how she was able to make a whole set of them! Watch for coupons for the canvases, or re-use some of the ones you find at the thrift store with scary-ugly paintings on them. (I’m sure you’ve seen them.)
  • Would your kid swoon for something that is beyond your art skills, like my little Star Wars fan? No problem, just use stickers.
  • Here are printable felt board templates from DLTK. Their suggestion to glue the paper printouts onto sandpaper is an excellent idea. You could laminate them first or use something like modpodge for extra durability.
  • How about embroidering or painting a simple felt “block” set, like the one in our cover image by Wendi Gratz? You could create any design- architectural, abstract, or household items- and just have fun with it.
  • Here is a Thanksgiving felt board from Where Imagination Grows that you could easily adapt to be about your own family. Make a felt “doll” for each person in your household, etc. How fun!
  • This Mr. Potato Head quiet book from Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows could easily be adapted to a felt board. Perfect for toddlers who are learning their body parts or just for silly play (that doesn’t clatter when you drop it on the floor!)

Are you feeling inspired now? I am! I have a hinged chalk/art board that I got at our most recent swap meet that has hooks so it can hang on the wall, and one side is basically blank. I’m going to cover the “empty” side with felt and fill it with felt pieces for my little man! I’d love to hear your ideas! Put them down there in the comments.