Stocking the Gift Pantry with Uncommon Goods

Recently we were invited by Uncommon Goods to stock our holiday Gift Pantry with three items from their inspiring, eclectic catalog. In the interest of full disclosure, this is my very first sponsored post (although we've been approached numerous times since the 2008 creation of this blog) . Why now?  Why Uncommon Goods? Because as a longtime customer,  I am an admirer-er of the fact that they make it their mission to provide a platform for artists and designers.  It also is impressive to me that most (not all) of their items are made right here in the USA.

 At the core of the company is a great respect for the integrity of the creative individual, this is evident in the uniqueness of their retail offerings!  It's always a delight to browse through their catalogs and I must confess that confining my choices to just three Gift Pantry items proved surprisingly difficult ... the offerings are varied and inspiring! However, after perusing their online catalog for far too long, I finally allowed the three choices to be dictated by my own Christmas gift list and thus have every intention of sharing our Uncommon Goods with family and friends.


First Choice:
The 60 Hour Candle $30
(NOTE: refills are available ... of the coiled candle only... for $18)

This sturdy and unique candle is about the circumference of a salad plate.  It's a generously sized candle with an ingenious design.  It pairs a sturdy copper holder with a 100% beeswax candle coil that's fed in small increments through the candle clip--simply advance more candle as it burns. A three-inch section burns for approximately an hour, while the smart design
ensures a better use of wax than traditional shapes. The copper-finish plate and clip bring a warm touch to your home. Refills are also available for $ you might want to let your gift recipient know these are available!  This charming candle has been sitting on our kitchen island for a week and everyone who comes in comments positively on its unique look! 

It's been very, very, very hard to resist the temptation to light it up!  Luckily for him, but not so much for myself, it's been earmarked as a holiday gift for a family friend.

Here is a picture of what it looked like after we took of it out of the box 
and threaded the candle through the clip-like holder on top.

Here's a closer look at the clip-like holder.


 Second Choice:  DIY Lip Balm Kit  ($40)

 DIY kits can actually be a good, and often economical, way to dabble in a new skill to see if it's something you like before investing a lot of time and money in the necessary supplies.

I realize that, at first glance, DIY kits don't appear to be the most frugal of investments.  Especially to frugalites such as myself.  I've always been the sort of person who says "I can make that...or put that together...myself" and usually I can (and often do)  for less money.   That is ... if I have the time and inclination to gather all the diverse components to complete the kit ... and the packaging as well.  While this philosophy can work in saving a little cash...especially for genres that contain easy to obtain (and reasonably priced when buying in small quantities) such as the  "Office (supply) Kits",  "Cupcake Kits" and "Craft Baskets" the time invested is sometimes extensive.  That being said, I've also wasted money ambitiously buying individual ingredients and packaging materials to create my kit. Truth be told,  they often add up to much more than anticipated.

According to the Uncommon Goods website, Karen Lee and Mary Kearns' DIY kits allow you to become familiar with a new skill while pampering yourself with all-natural emollients...the best part is that supporting this kit  provides valuable job-skills services for women in the Washington DC area. Assembling these lovely kits provides ladies living in transitional housing with the opportunity to build their resumes, develop basic job skills, and participate in a structured social skills program. This is how I like to spend my money. 

Each kit includes everything you'll need to make your very own moisturizing lip balm from Fair Trade cocoa butter and organic spearmint essential oil, for a delectable and refreshing fusion of chocolate and mint. Inside the recycled box, crafters will find a vibrant, soy-ink-dyed recipe card and valuable information about the contents of their lip balm to be, including cocoa butter, sunflower oil, beeswax, and organic essential oils. Every kit makes five tins of mint-cocoa balm, making it an ideal endeavor for a rainy day or a fun task to take on with a group of good friends. Made and assembled by hand in Washington D.C. Each is composed of biodegradable materials and makes five, one ounce tins of lip balm.
Check out the gift lab of the DIY Lip Balm Kit on the Uncommon Goods' blog! 


When we opened it is what we were delighted to find!

As I am not set up for this particular type of kit or craft, 
it would take me quite a bit of time and not a small amount of money 
to source and gather all the materials for a kit like this.
(As well, packaging everything always takes me longer than I anticipated.)
Especially considering they include five types of essential oils to flavor your balm!


Lovely how-to/recipe cards for future use ... printed on heavy card stock and very wipe-able!


Third Choice: Recycle a Bottle Plant Nanny Set: 
$19.95 (for a set of four made from terracotta).
These are NOT just for when you go off on vacation and need someone to water your plants; they're also IDEAL for Forgetful~Frugalite Gardeners like myself with an environmental conscience. 

 The Uncommon Goods catalog tells us that each ceramic stake is specially designed to release just the right amount of water into the soil via recycled wine or plastic bottles, making your gardening endeavors a little bit easier as greener. Create a reservoir with the inverted bottle of your choice, attach it using the drip-free adapter, and the terracotta stakes will quench your plants' thirst on your behalf. As your plants absorb moisture from the soil, the stakes will automatically release water directly into the soil, rather than on the surface, ensuring that root systems receive an adequate drink.

NOTE: Sets sold separately... you will need to order one set of four plastic or one set of four terracotta Plant Nannies... no mixing and matching.

See the Plant Nanny in action by checking out the gift lab video on the Uncommon Goods blog.

Here's what it looks like in a planter.

Okay, I LOVE these.  Last summer I tried to order a plastic version of these self-water-rs from Amazon but they were sold out and I've been unable to find them reasonably priced ever since ... that is until now! 

I can't tell you how excited I was to find them offered at Uncommon Goods in plastic as well as terra cotta!  Obviously, the plastic versions cost a few dollars less than the natural terracotta Plant Nanny but I will eventually get both...the natural (terracotta) will be used for edible plants such as container gardened herbs, fruit trees and the like.  The plastic will, obviously, be used more for the non edible planters such as my favorite ivy, ferns and potted roses.  In the meantime ... I have full intentions of including this set in a small gift basket, along with a freshly potted miniature rosemary tree and a nice bottle of organic Merlot!    
Here's a picture I snapped with the ceramic Plant Nanny next to an average-size wine bottle. 

 The website tells us that a water filled wine bottle will water plant for approximately 7-10 days depending on the plant and environmental conditions.
Typical 12oz plastic bottles, when filled, will water plant for 5-10 days depending on the plant and environmental conditions. Larger plastic soda bottles (2 Liter), when filled, will water plants for between 14-21 days depending on the plant and environmental conditions.

P.S.  If you sign up for their email list they'll send you info on "secret sales"!

BOOKS: "How Frugal is the Chariot that Carries the Human Soul"

"It is an ancient art.  Its practice has been recorded as far back as the time of the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates (about 399 B.C.).  Its nurture or neglect has influenced the rise and fall of nations and civilizations.  Abandoning it has been the ruin of fortunes.  Embracing it amplifies wealth and can dispel the state of poverty."

"What is this mysterious seemingly elusive art of which I speak?  Frugality.  A humble word, it is derived from two ancient Latin words, frugalis and frux, both meaning... "success".
You may also call it by other names such as prudence, spariness and thrift.  
Whatever your choice may be, it always means the unwillingness to squander goods or spend money unnecessarily.  It is the careful use of materials or resources."

"The quality of being frugal is one so powerful as to change lives and affect history.  Each of us possesses the ability to exercise it.  Frugality allows you to govern your destiny and produce in your life a lovely, fertile garden of material and intangible wealth.  Without it, you may be tossed upon the waves of circumstance, at the mercy of your unorganized whims."



A Frugal Reader's Dream Realized!
(An UNsponsored Post.)
My favorite online bookstore is Thrift Books.  If you're not yet familiar, Thrift Books is a used bookstore !  To quote their site...

"Innovation in processing and selling used books has allowed for Thrift Books to provide the internet’s cheapest prices without sacrificing our commitment to providing quality used books. Its entire process of selling used books was developed internally using the latest technology and supply methods.

Thrift Books has been featured in many publications including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Seattle Times, Puget Sound Business Journal and The Software Development Times for their pioneering methods in online used book selling. 

Thrift Books’ commitment to using technology in used book selling is based on the desire to fulfill their motto to customers: Spend Less. Read More. Just seven years after its founding, the dividends are already apparent. Today, you can purchase Charlotte’s Web from Thrift Books for even less than the day we started our company: $3.95 with free shipping anywhere in the USA.

"Thrift Books has emerged from its modest beginnings to become the nation’s largest online seller of used books with a growing international presence. The Thrift Books’ marketplace has grown to include third party vendors such as Green Earth Books, Motor City Books, the Atlanta Book Company, Books Squared, Yankee Clipper Books, Blue Cloud Books, Silver Arch Books and Free State Books. A national presence and anticipated future growth will ensure a continually growing selection of used books and even faster shipping to Thrift Books’ customers."


A garden is a grand teacher.  
It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; 
it teaches industry and thrift; 
above all it teaches entire trust.
~Gertrude Jekyll

Chris associate for the Home Depot writing our guest-post today.  Chris very generously created the planter pictured below.  He wrote this post in response to my interest in learning more about Sub Irrigated Planters a.k.a. SIP's.  Mike and I currently are in the process of building our own raised bed planters...thanks to Chris's influence...and will post photos when they're planted and producing!  Thanks again to Chris and to Home of my favorite places!

Garden Liquidator: Simple Sub-Irrigated Planters
When it comes to gardening, the phrase "less is more" just doesn't apply (unless, of course, you're talking about bad things like weeds, bugs and plant diseases...). For the most part, more is going to be more. After all, who doesn't want more produce, more natural goodness and more days enjoying the fruits (and vegetables!) of your labor?
And the plants agree: they want more water. Fortunately, establishing a sub-irrigated planter (SIP) is a quick and easy way to make the most out of your crop.
By injecting the water under the surface (as opposed to the traditional method of watering above ground), more of it gets directly to the roots and you use much less water than you normally would. Since it is a closed system, there is no runoff and little overflow.
And the best part is that building one isn't as difficult as you might think. All you need are a few supplies, a good pair of gardening gloves, and a couple of hours and you've got an operational, sub-irrigated raised bed garden.

Bed Basics
The key to this super-efficient underground method of gardening is the use of perforated corrugated drain pipes. The little perforated slits that cover the pipes provide the entry and exit points for the water; there is no need for a wicking material because the soil surrounding the pipes serves as the capillary go-between that transmits the water to the roots.
*Tip: While you can also use an inverted nursery flat or a plastic food container with holes (basically anything similar with holes that won't corrode), the larger, rounded shape of the drain pipes fills up the bottom of the planter better and takes up more space in the box, resulting in the ability to use less filler or soil than average.
Plus, the little notches in the corrugated drain pipe provide just the right amount of air/water needed to aerate and properly water the roots.
The other major material component is a fill pipe which, as its name implies, is the means through which you fill the pipes with water. Your fill pipe can be as simple as a plastic water bottle, inverted and with the bottom cut off, inserted directly into a hole you have cut into the top of one of the pipes. You can also use an extra piece of drain pipe in a corner, (as shown), that just extends to the bottom of the planter.
Finally, don't forget about an overflow drain hole - the bed's protection against overwatering - that you can cut directly into the planter.
*Tip: Although you can build your SIP directly into a wooden planter, you will greatly extend the longevity of the lumber by lining the entire inside of the box with plastic before inserting any other materials. This moisture barrier will keep the lumber's porous surface protected and will result in a much more successful, watertight raised bed garden.
And if you do go the lumber planter route, don't forget to cut an overflow drain hole into the lumber. Drill a ½" circular hole into one of the boards the planter 4" up from the bottom and insert a piece of ½" OD round vinyl tubing into it, extending it to the bottom of a pipe to ensure proper drainage. When it's time to water, just keep adding water until a little bit starts to weep out of the overflow. Refill it again the next day and you will be good to go for quite some time.
*Tip: Just remember that if you decide to go the direct-to-lumber planter method, do not use pre-treated lumber as it contains harmful toxins that can kill your plants before they have a chance to grow.

Quick Construction

Step 1: Gather the necessary materials. In this case, an SIP was constructed out of a large pontoon boat before it was placed into a lumber housing unit.

Step 2: Insert the pre-cut lengths of ventilated pipes into the container.
*Tip: When you place your pipes into the planter, be sure to space them apart evenly as these spaces form the soil wicks.

Step 3: Pour soil into the planter and cover the entire lengths of the pipes.

*Tip: When you add the soil mix to the planter, be sure to pack it down into the spaces between the pipes to ensure good capillary wicking action.

4: Insert an upright length of pipe into the planter with one end exposed above the surface to serve as your fill pipeOnce you have completed your planter, you can construct a lumber "housing" unit to dress up your SIP like this one here built out of 2x4 boards stacked in a "Lincoln log" type formation (alternating parallel layers bolted together).

*Tip: Whether you build your SIP for use directly on the ground or raise it off the floor, it is important that the bed of your planter is flat and level. Otherwise, you are going to end up with uneven distribution of water.

Now, simply plant, water and watch as your new nursery blooms before your very eyes!
What are you planning on planting in your new sub-irrigated raised bed gardens?

Chris Long, a long-time store associate at a Home Depot in Illinois, writes on lumber products for the Home Depot website. He also enjoys writing on underground irrigation projects for gardens and lawns.

Photos:  Chris Long


Simple Sowing: Herbs and Greens ~ The Garden in Winter

"A garden is a lovesome thing...
The veriest school of Peace."
--Thomas Edward Brown

I've been busy planning and working on the herb garden this past month... inspired by the image of a simple yet fascinating circular herb garden I saw on Pinterest (above center left...all the other photos are my own).  The viewing thereof prompted cravings for fresh mint and tangy thyme in our daily salads... not to mention that elusive lemon-y/yet not lemon-y flavor of French sorrel in our soups in lieu of spinach.  If the truth be told I began in late December after a visit to the 99-Cent store where I literally stumbled upon a group of lonely looking herbs (bottom right picture in collage) while putting away the basket in front of the store... sage, chives, oregano huddled together on a small rolling cart... all in need of a nourishing, nurturing home and, of course, they were adopted by me (bottom right collage photo).

A few weeks later found me planting more green, herbal goodness that I found for a few dollars each at our local nursery, Brita's Old Town Garden.  Parsley, Purple Kale and Cabbage, along with a lovely Lavender bush found earlier that week at Trader Joe's (top photo of collage) joined the existing baby rosemary bush by the garden gate and the other plants populating our tiny herb garden.  

As gardening was heavily on my mind, I bought an extra Lavender to plant at my Dad's house... it will eventually replace the cherry tomatoes that (while very spindly and sparse) are still producing about half-pint per week (bottom left photo of collage).  


Purple Kale for use in our morning juice (thank you Manuela for the good advice!) as well as use in other recipes such as soups, stews, sautéed dishes and salads. Kale and other lettuces will grow as a perennial in our mild climate if we harvest only the outer leaves and leave the center intact.

Cabbage for juicing, sauté's and the like...
like the Kale I will try to keep this as a perennial by harvesting only the outer leaves.  The herb pot in behind the cabbage was bought for under $4 from Trader Joe's.  

A potted semi~dwarf Kumquat tree we bought last week from Costco of all places for a mere $19.99!

Even our Rose tree was in the mood for spring... communicating this to us by offering its' generous blooms in late January!

Robert Collier tells us to "See things as you would have them be instead of what they are."  I'm finding that garden planning is a perfect exercise for mastering this.  What are you seeing for your garden and world?  
Sending love and good thoughts to always.

Tracey and Family x0x



The Art of Frugality... Recent Practices

"How simple and frugal a thing is happiness."
~Nikos Kazantzakis 

As with most people, the advent of the new year has us combing the budget to patch the leaks... reassessing our spending habits... and battening down our spending in order to accommodate a tighter budget.  Because of this I've been especially inspired by all of the frugal ideas found throughout this wonderland of Bloglandia.  Sending gratitude and thanks to all who so generously share their life~enhancing frugal strategies... you are very appreciated.

Here are a few simple ways we've been practicing the art of frugality in our realm of reality recently.

One of my goals for this year is to do more planting of edibles in our little garden.   I've already planted the herbs I received for Christmas (see picture in previous post... I'll write a longer post on our garden plans soon).  

I finally tried this great idea that's been rolling around Pinterest for awhile:  Instead of throwing out the stub of our organic celery I put it in a bit of water on the window sill and use the leaves in cooking.  If all goes well it will eventually go out into the garden with our herbs, cabbages and kale!  I did a similar strategy using organic Romaine lettuce cores (cut from store bought lettuce) with great results.  They sprouted on the window sill where I harvested a few of them to top Tostadas.  I eventually planted them in the garden but our resident raccoons immediately dug them up and ate them! Perhaps the next batch will be put into pots?

I'm also trying another classic idea to further enhance our tiny edible garden: Organic green onions are stored in a glass of water.  After using the green stems (leaving just enough to reach the top of the glass) I'll allow them to sprout and then plant them in the garden.  I hope the raccoons don't have a taste for onions... but we'll find out!
 Several months ago I bought a huge bag of California garlic from Costco and had several bulbs remaining.  After doing a little research in my gardening books I found that planting garlic with your other herbs and vegetables may deter critters (i.e., raccoons and munching insects) from digging up and/or nibbling on your garden edibles.  With so much garlic not being eaten, I decided to plant several of the cloves.  This is my first time planting garlic bulbs but my research tells me that one little clove produces twenty more...that's a very good return!  And if it keeps guard over the rest of the garden all the better.  Also...if you're wondering why I'm showing the garlic cloves in a jar it's because I soaked them for about an hour in a 20 to 1 solution of water and peroxide.  These were all planted about three weeks ago and they are all sprouting beautifully (photos to come).  I will keep you posted!~~~

Inspired by need, I dug out some of our thrifted vintage silver plated flatware and soaked it in an aluminum foil lined stainless  pot filled with water and sprinkled with baking soda and a bit of salt.  It worked fairly well to take the first few layers of the very dark tarnish from them but elbow grease had to take over from there!  We use these for our everyday flatware and I never tire of the pretty shapes and designs.

Citrus abounds out here in southern California so I am doing my best to preserve the fruits of this winter season via dehydrator (seen above) and by freezing the juice.  Mike bought me a juicer for our anniversary last year (at my request) and we've made a healthy habit of it since.  Fresh oranges, lemons and grapefruits are delicious additions to our morning juices.  They are especially frugal as we get most of our citrus free from my father's trees or for a song from the local farm stand.  I plan on using the frozen lemon/orange/grapefruit juice to add to our juices and smoothies when citrus isn't so abundant and/or well priced.

Thank you again for the abundance of ideas and inspiration everyone puts out here... it is so motivating and nudges me to action!

Sending love and good thoughts to all.
Tracey and Family



Sorting and Appreciating Life's Most Precious Gifts

".... such golden gifts!"

 Ever since the holiday season officially ended a few weeks ago, I've found myself sorting (dare I say wrestling with?) those  tangled threads of earthly phenomenon that were so graciously gifted to me (us) this past season.  Please don't misunderstand. I am a life~long lover and appreciator of receiving gifts.  I am ever so grateful for them in all forms!  In fact, I pondered on this fact the other day as I happily removed the contents of a very raggedy billfold and placed them into a brand new, lovely, Michael Kors wallet (thank you Rosie!); and again, as I prepared a small area of our tiny garden to receive newly acquired additions of herbs (and a tiny Italian Pine tree that promises even more gifts of pine nuts... in approximately fifteen years, give or take).

As I was digging through the soil, I thought of something I'd read long ago: Anything of value multiplies when it's given.  I admit to testing this philosophy over the years and have found it to be surprisingly accurate.  Giving can create much happiness for the giver as well as the receiver.  

Whatever the gift, it is the emotion and thought of the giver that sets its true value.  When thinking back on important gifts I've received in my own life I find them to be too numerous to count.  Yet, there are a few that stand out from the rest.

My first great gift in life came from my mother.  Besides the obvious gift of life, of which she played a key role, my mother bestowed upon me an avid love of learning.  She tutored me in my first struggles with phonics and was a wise, gentle guide who unlocked the door of my young mind and allowed me access to that secret world of reading... and all the joys and benefits that grace those who wander through it.  My favorite books from childhood (many of them classics she once recommended) continue to be my friends and counselors.  I find it ironic that these books have offered me much needed advice during the years after my mother became too ill to guide or counsel me.  This gift continues to increase the quality of my life as well as enrich my soul.  

I suppose it's no surprise then that the second great gift of my life came much later, from my father.  My mother's illness (Multiple Sclerosis) had progressed to the point where she became unable to care for herself in any way.  Her doctors recommended that she be permanently admitted into a convalescent facility.  My father adamantly refused their strong suggestions and he was unwavering in his answer.  "If I were in that wheelchair she would be taking care of me...and doing a better job of it than I am."  He would quietly explain.  That was in 1976.  For thirty years (until October 2006 when she passed away) he cared for her at home and we visited often.  Although she could no longer speak she was vividly aware of our presence.  We know this by the way she greeted us. Her eyes sparkled... her arms feebly reached out to each of us for an embrace as her lips silently mouthed the words "I love you".   My father would look on and then tell us later  how much healthier she seemed when we were there.  Who could ignore the valuable gift found in his example of loyalty, love and unselfishness?

Now that it's a new year, like most of us, I've made a few resolutions.  Among them... at the top of my list... is the decision to make a conscious effort to maintain my focus on the many gifts I've been given... tangible as well as intangible.  No more focusing on what I don't have. Instead, I plan to put the art of appreciation into high gear and look for the good gifts that are present in all things and experiences.    

Wishing you and yours a blessed 2013 brimming with tangible and intangible gifts !

Sending love and good thoughts to all.

Tracey and Family

The original "FRUGAL LUXURIES" ~ Based on the books by Tracey McBride ~ Established 1993

A warm Thank You to all kind souls and kindred spirits who generously take the time to leave a comment...your encouragement, trust and support are deeply appreciated...please know that we read each and every message and will respond as time allows.


Frugal Luxuries
is a registered trademark.


"FRUGAL LUXURIES: Simple Pleasures to Enhance Your Life and Comfort Your Soul" was written by Tracey McBride and published by Bantam Books, NY, in 1997. It was the first of its genre to synergize the elements of simplicity, frugality and gracious living.

After more than a decade, FRUGAL LUXURIES has never been out of print and is now more relevant than ever.

"It's our hope that a new generation, faced with a teetering economy, will also find this information helpful and enlightening."

Sending Good Thought to Our Special Band of Kind and Kindred Souls!

Frugal Luxuries Book I

Frugal Luxuries by the Seasons Book II

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