Category Archives: Do It Yourself

Creative Thanksgiving Desserts

November 22, 2010

Last year I attempted Thanksgiving Dinner on my own for the first time.  This experience, while a learning one, is one I will not repeat this year. I’ll leave that up to the experts, or at least those not as culinary-ily challenged.  :) Despite my turkey debacle (not all of the innards made it out before the bird went into the oven), thankfully the pumpkin pie did turn out. After subjecting my sweet friends to an interesting array of somewhat recognizable Thanksgiving favorites, at they least had dessert to look forward to. This year, that’s about all that I am going to attempt.  Instead of the traditional pumpkin pie, I thought it might be fun to do something different.

When pumpkin pie just won’t cut it, try something out of the ordinary for Thanksgiving dessert! Here are a few fun and yummy recipes:

Cranberry Velvet Pie

Prep Time: 4 1/2 hours
Cook Time: Ready in 12 hours
Serves: 6-8 (one 9 1/2-inch pie)

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

Prep Time: 15-20 minutes
Cook Time: 25-35 minutes
Serves: 6-8. Yields a 9in. cake.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 15 servings

Pilgrim Pies

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Serves: Yields 10-14 Pilgrim Pies

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 55 minutes
Serves:  12 servings

Pumpkin Crunch Parfait

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: no cooking required
Serves: 6 servings

Thanksgiving Fall Pie

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 45-50 minutes
Serves: 10-12 servings

I hope everyone has a tasty Thanksgiving! Enjoy your time with friends and family…and let me know how your desserts turn out!

DIY Secret Compartment in a Book!

November 8, 2010

Often, I’ll be watching a mystery movie where someone will pull out a seemingly normal book and open it to reveal a secret compartment! And each time I see that I say to myself, “Wow, I gotta get one of those.” But in the spirit of our do-it-yourself category on this here blog, I decided to make my own and chronicle the adventure. So without any idea how to complete my task, I gathered my supplies and began–desperately hoping my ignorance would not be a problem.

I salvaged a book from the trash. It was a history book filled with knowledge that I would soon destroy. And I found a box cutter, my implement of destruction—and creation!

I opened the book to page forty and drew a square. Then I started gutting the book. My box cutter was sharp and cut through the pages easily. I sliced and sliced and sliced! I was a book destroying, secret compartment creating machine!

But then it got harder. Suddenly, I couldn’t cut clean corners anymore. And I didn’t know how to fix it! My ignorance was a problem!! NOOOOO!!!

So I left them. It’s a secret compartment after all; most people aren’t going to look inside it. Unless, of course, someone is curious about American history. Imagine the surprise they’ll have when they open the book looking for knowledge and instead find—

Pastel Sharpies!!!

Remodel for pennies on the dollar? Show me the money!

October 20, 2010

recycle this old barn

You could still get a few good beams out of this old barn for reuse

The old adage “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” aptly describes this growing aspect of the green building movement – recycling building materials.

The concept is simple: recycle parts of old houses and buildings that are reusable.  As with most  forms of recycling, this is a win-win situation for everyone.  These businesses are a cross between a Home Depot and an auto-salvage yard. If you are donating or selling your used building materials you get to recycle them. If you are looking for some, you get the same item at substantial savings.  They are especially great if you are searching for those older styles of fixtures, like a clawfoot bathtub for instance.   Instead of demolishing old structures, they are “deconstructed” – pulled apart piece by reusable piece for reuse.

Reused building materials centers are a boon to the home project do-it-yourself types, as well as construction professionals.  Did your dog chew through your door? Need windows for a diy backyard greenhouse or sauna? Did your teenage driver try to “back up” using first gear and take out the garage door? You will love reclaimed building materials centers.

Are you remodeling or renovating your house?  Besides the community, environmental, and “feel good” benefits of donating your deconstructed home materials; building owners can receive substantial tax write-offs for these donations.  That means your remodeling job could come out costing you a fraction of what it would have if you hadn’t recycled those materials.  Not a deconstruction pro? Don’t know what’s worth trying to get a write-off for or not? There are companies that will do this for you and provide IRS Certified auditors, but you have to do your research.

Here in Portland, OR we have a number of recycled building material centers, here are just a few examples:

Boneyard NW

The Rebuilding Center


These centers describe themselves in a variety of ways so there is no single phrase to use when searching in your local area. Try combining some of these more common words with phrases like “building materials”,  “remodeling”, or “renovation” :  reclaimed, reuse/reused, renew/renewed, recycled,  green, used, salvaged, eco, and sustainable.

With just a quick search I found some online resources to help you learn more and possibly locate a recycled building materials business in your area:


Building Materials Reuse Association

National Association of the Remodeling Industry

ReGreen Residential Remodeling Program

Habitat for Humanity ReStores

DIY – How to Frame Autumn Leaves

October 7, 2010

As summer draws to and end, I always look forward to the fall colors in Portland. Each year, the Columbia River Gorge comes alive with orange, red, and yellow hues. Last fall, while hiking along Eagle Creek, I collected a few of the brightly colored leaves dotting the trail. At the time, I did not know how I would use the foliage. To my surprise, they have come to be some of my family and friends’ most treasured gifts. Preserved and framed, Oregon’s fall oak and maple leaves are a welcomed decoration during dreary winter months.

The process of preserving and framing fall leaves is a very simple one! The first step, collecting your assortment, is undoubtedly the most fun. This requires exploring the great outdoors, or at least your backyard. Once you have acquired enough leaves for your montage, you need to dry and store the leaves in a safe, dark space.

The next steps involve preserving your leaves in order to prepare them for framing. A few products are needed to ensure your leaves keep their vibrant fall colors, and do not disintegrate over time. First, spray each leaf with several layers of a clear UV-resistant acrylic coating (try checking your local craft store for options.) Once both sides of the leaf has been completely covered with UV-protector and have sufficiently dried, it is time to add sheen to your art piece. A gloss acrylic sealer/finisher adds the perfect luster.

Finally, it is time to frame your art. Affordable frames can be obtained from garage sales, local craft shops, or even on craigslist. The key to dressing up your leaf, however, is in the backing. I have found that a neutral backdrop, such as cream, works best against autumn shades. Including the cost of materials, each frame should be no more than $10-15; but, they undoubtedly look pricier than that! Who can put a price on “made with love” anyways?!

How to create a romantic dinner date at home

August 14, 2010

Recently my wife and I celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary. It was my year to plan (she plans the even years, and I plan the odd years).  With three kids, two of which are still in diapers, getting a sitter is both challenging and expensive.  So, this year instead of going out, I decided to try and create a little magic in our living room after the kids went to bed.  Here is a picture I took of our anniversary dinner, right before I escorted her into the room. Think also of some soft piano music playing in the background:

Now I know the ladies are thinking, “this is great and easy to do”.  And, the guys out there are probably thinking, “impossible”. Well, you’re in luck, because I’m going to give you the step by step guide to creating some romantic magic at home (and you don’t even have to tell your significant other that you read how to do this online).  To take it a step further, why not surprise your significant other with this?

Let’s start with your shopping list. Keep in mind that you may already have some of this stuff around the house, or you could borrow from a friend, or you may find most of it at your local thrift store.  I think it is definitely feasible to keep it a cheap date night but at the same time very special and romantic:

  1. A round table with two chairs. Yes, you could do this with a square table, but round is a nicer touch I think.
  2. A round table cloth and some cloth napkins.
  3. Two wine glasses or champagne flutes (the flute style is shown in the photo).
  4. Piano songs (12-15 songs should do). This could be done via an iPod if you have a way to put your iPod on speakers. Or, a portable CD boombox will work just fine. Whichever way you go, make sure to put the music on REPEAT.
  5. If this is for something special, such as an anniversary, be sure to pick up a card and gift while you are out as well. Flowers perhaps too?
  6. Wine or champagne. Recommendation for Oregonians: If you are ever in Seaside, Oregon, pickup a couple bottles of Centive Moscato D’asti from The Wine Haus. It is a really great lightly carbonated sweet white wine.
  7. Corkscrew to open the wine, if you don’t already own one.
  8. Candle holder and candle(s).
  9. Card stock or some other heavy paper.
  10. Optional: special plates and special flatware to make the evening even more special. I went with two dinner plates, plus two smaller salad plates.  Also, matching bowls for dessert can work great too.

Putting it all together:

  • The food–OK, first I’m going to admit that I cheated a bit and ordered the ravioli and bread sticks from Olive Garden. I drove and picked it up a couple hours before our dinner date started. But, the salad and dessert I made myself. Don’t forget about dessert! Anything with chocolate is usually a good choice for dessert.
  • If you purchased flatware, glasses, and/or plates, be sure to wash them. This can be done a day or two ahead of time.
  • Sign the card and wrap the gift (if applicable). Again, do this a few days ahead of time and cross it off your list!
  • Make a menu. Remember that card stock paper from #9 above? Type out the night’s menu (and activities?)  and print it out. Put two copies out on the table.
  • Choose a napkin fold for your cloth napkins and learn how to do it.
  • The finish line: Put out the table cloth, folded napkins, flatware, glasses, and menu. Light the candle(s), pull the cork, fill the glasses, put dinner on the table, and get the music playing softly. Escort him or her into the room for a surprise and a special evening together.

Have other ideas for how to create a romantic dinner date at home? Be sure to leave a comment! Thank you.