Sunday, November 29, 2009

The holidays

It is difficult to save during the holiday season, but here are a couple of ways that we try to be frugal and green during the winter season.

1. Digital greeting cards. Last year we sent an ecard through Care2. They are free and you can include a link to a family picture album. We did a short slide show and posted it to Picasa. In Picasa desktop you can make collages with your pictures. Care2 has added photo cards, so you can put a family photo or create a custom one. We also discovered Microsoft photo Story. This year we will make a video with captions and music and upload it to You tube with a link. Its a much more personal way to keep in touch and let your friend see what you've been up to. Photo story is free.

2. Save gift bags and boxes. These come in handy during the whole year, since I inevitably do wrapping at the last possible minute. I can grab what I need out of the box in the closet. Don;t forget the holiday left overs....we sock away plastic containers to make sure we can send food home with family. Thinking ahead can help with containers for cookies and gifts (see below). Never doubt the power of baby food containers!

3. Make your own wrapping paper. This is great for kids and you can do it from just about anything. I had a roll of craft paper and asked my daughter to color some pictures on it. This takes a little more time, but some things need wrapping and don't fit in bags. Is your baby trying to "help" with wrapping? How about red and green hand prints on the paper?

4. Gift tags- I cut off the front picture of cards and reuse them as gift tags the next year. Writing in pencil helps too.

5. Spending time with your friends. Instead of going out, I like to invite people over to amek things to give to others, like making cookies. Mostly it is a good chance to spend time together, but it can be dual purpose. Be careful to have a good mix of oven, stove top, and microwave options. Not too many cookies can be done at once in the oven. Also prep space is valuable. Pre-made dough can be helpful.

6. Re-gifting swap. When you invite your friends...have a swap. Maybe you have a tea pot you don't want or other knick is a good chance to swap for those little things. Cleaning out your closets before the holidays is really important especially if you have a small house like I do!

7. Homemade gifts. Cookies aside there are a million things you can make as gifts that show your thoughtfulness. Bath salts, bath fizzies, small ornaments, magnets, origami... the list goes on...think of what you have a lot of and what you are good at. You got recycling? Maybe paper mache or origami or notebooks or.....what about old CD's? How about a miniature wreath......Old Altoids corks... I would love to hear your ideas on this!

What do you do?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Starting a Community Business on the cheap

Starting a community business has been an interesting challange and an eye opening experience. 3-1/2 years ago we took on Brigid's Paradigm and set a goal to build a house in Houston similar to the Commotion homes in Huntsville. We had no money, but we did have support from Brigid's Place, from which the program grew.
The idea of starting a business of this sort could easily be set up for failure by simple things...being too depandant on one person or one computer or cost. When you have a volunteer based orgainzation, duplicity and transparency are keys to success. Burn-out can drive small not-for-profits into the ground. Recurring costs take thier toll when you are not sure what your budget will be (if you have one).
So how do you start a business with low overhead and no recurring fees? It's not too difficult actually. I think it cost us $25 for a domain for 2 years and using many free tools on the internet.
First, we decided to start a newsgroup, so our supporters could follow our progress. We chose Google, simply for the fact that there was less visual clutter, and of course it is free. Facebook, is another great tool that we use. We began to use Picasa as a photo album where people could see example of homes projects that are related to what we trying to do. Setting up a gmail address was also free and keeps responses flexible. Once those were established, we worked on a blog and set that to our url (it's still up today!).
Contacting some local non-profit assistance programs helped us to connect with a volunteer lawyer on documents need to file for a business not for profit corporation in Texas, and then with the IRS (which was a big, long ordeal!).
Recently we have taken to Google documents as a way to stay organized, on task, and reduce confusion that could happen with multiple files ciricling the internet. We also found Google Sites and are working on a web page that will be nicer than the blog.
I'm not a big cheerleader for Google, but we sure do use a lot of thier tools. I can't speak for thier privacy rules, but I do apprecite all the free tools they provide that give us a boost!
Once we recieved our 501c3 we were able to acess other tools, like Vertical Response and Google grants (for ads and no fee donation buttons). With voice we are hoping to get a phone number which we can point to the appropriate person to answer or make sure we are not using too many minutes on our personal cell phones. This will also be a permannet phone number, not dependant on a bill which could easily bust the budget.
Here are the tools that are helping us become successful:

Google Groups
Google Documents
Google sites
Free Conference

For Non-profits:
Vertical response
Event Brite (maybe)

So, go for it! There are many ways to meet your organization's needs in this new technology age!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

20 projects under $20

Here's a challange- 20 home improvement projects under $20. What are your best ideas?!

Project #1 Paper mache wall (link to pictures is new)

My daughter and I started a paper mache wall in our half bathroom with all of her old artwork. It really made her feel special and was a creative way to reuse paper. The project was under $20 (DIY- of course) and did take quite a few hours.

Here's what you need (and a budget) 1 gallon white glue- $10.981" painter's tape- $2.98car wash sponge- $1.48Smoother (optional)- $1.36 Smoother from cut pieces of PVC piping (optional) Smoother from your finger drop cloth 2 buckets Here's how we did it: A- Tape off trim and fixtures and lay a drop cloth down on the floor. B- Mix white glue and water, about 60% glue and 40% water in a bucket. Fill the other bucket with water and put the sponge in it. C-Cut or rip paper into pieces. Consider your design based on the paper you are working with. (The larger the pieces, the faster the project.) D- Put some paper pieces in the bucket for a minute or so; them pull them onto the bucket side so they will drip most of the extra glue off. When putting pieces in, make sure each piece gets coated in glue, they will stick together and stay dry inside. D- Position the paper on the wall and use the smoother or your finger to get all the bubbles out. It is good to have a helper hand you paper strips, but not necessary. E- Wipe up extra drips and glue with the sponge, being careful not to move the paper. REPEAT We learned a lot in the first couple of hours and here are some tips and tricks we learned. 1-marker does not like to get wet--it runs. 2- paper after it dries is somewhat opaque and so if there is old wall paper underneath you can see it. (consider what your papaer as on both sides) 3- you can cover up mistakes with more paper. 4- start high and wipe up drips as you go along. 5- start with a base of plain or simple backgrounds and then layer the more ornate piece on top. 6- drop cloths do not clean up well once the glue has dried, make usre you use an old sheet. 7- Rooms have one floor and 4 walls- consider doing a paper mache floor. 8- Have fun!