November 21, 2014

Holiday Cheer

We're less than a week out from Thanksgiving which means that Christmas is just around the corner. I'll admit, I can be a bit of a Scrooge this time of year. This is due in part to Seasonal Affective Disorder and the view that our society (and families in general) have become very materialistic and have lost sight of the true spirit of the season. It's also an end-of-year stress response and the realization that another year of my life is gone in the blink of an eye. Not to mention, at my age, I'm happy just to eat and spend time with family and have the opportunity to watch It's a Wonderful Life and the Jim Carey version of the Grinch once or twice. 

And to top it off, it's the idea that I don't really need anything else but if you buy something for me I'm going to feel obligated to return the favor.

I'd rather not give gifts and it has only a little to do with being frugal. Christmas shopping is not something I am particularly good at. I can buy myself stuff all day long, but come around to buying other people presents that are useful or creative or effortlessly thoughtful? Well, I'm not particularly gifted. Gifted. 

You see what I did there?

It just isn't my forte. I try to be funny or clever with my gifts but sometimes that backfires. I would much rather get someone something they want or is very useful but it seems like "toys" for kids and adults are all well into the hundreds of dollars each and I just don't have the dough in my pocket for those kinds of expenditures.  So I try to make gifts whenever possible. But sometimes I run out of money anyway. Or creative ideas. Or glitter. All occasions are equally sad.

But this post isn't really about all of that. It's actually because there is an exception to this Bah-Humbug mentality that I have and I thought I would share it with all of you, in case you feel this way too. It is the one holiday tradition that is something my current and previous workplaces have done and it's actually a really great concept that even I can appreciate. Here, it's a charity called Families Helping Families and is part of the Palmetto Project Organization in South Carolina. Our office requests to fulfill Christmas for a family in need and this year we've got a doozy (single mom with six sons. SIX. BOYS. Holy wow!). We break up the family unit by assigning each child to a division and buy gifts based on the list that is provided complete with ages and sizes. Normally the kids will ask for a toy or two, but most of them request new clothes or a coat or sneakers and the fact that they may not otherwise get these items motivates me to haul out the holiday-happy.

This year, I offered to purchase a winter coat for one of the boys and in my searching I found a great deal on Amazon for a Full Zip Fleece Jacket from Columbia Sports. As a previous owner of one of these coats, I highly recommend them. They're great if you need a light jacket, but they are also warm enough that you can wear them out in cooler weather. It doesn't get too cold down here, so this jacket seems ideal and is well within my budget. Honestly considering getting one for myself and the women's version has even more color options. 

I don't know why the guy's head is chopped off. 
That's Amazon's fault.

I think that this program has helped renew my faith in Christmas giving a little bit, so I've been perusing potential (affordable) gifts on Smile.Amazon* and Greater Good. Smile.Amazon has all the regular items you would purchase from Amazon, but a portion of eligible sales go to a charity of your choice. They fund everything from Doctor's Without Boarders to World Wildlife Fund to St. Jude's Research Hospital or you can choose your own. 

The Greater Good site donates to causes like World Hunger, Breast Cancer Research, Animal Shelters, Veterans, Literacy, the Rainforest (and others). You can click along the top of the page to change the cause and shop based on whichever you choose. They also have a function that I try to participate in once a day - pressing on the "CLICK HERE" button across the top of the page. Sponsors for the websites donate to the charities based on the number of clicks the site receives and it doesn't cost the consumer anything. Freefreefree and for something good. Who WOULDN'T choose that?

If you're in the Christmas (or Chanukah or Kwanzaa) spirit and are going to do your shopping online, I highly recommend both of these sites. It won't cost you anything extra (not even time) and it's all for a good cause. Even if your family isn't celebrating with gifts for each other, consider "adopting" a family for the holiday season through an agency in your area. [Make sure you do your research because scams: they are a'plenty. Check with your local United Way or Churches in your area for program recommendations.] 

You could make this the best holiday yet for a family in need - and that is certainly something to be cheerful about.

Happy Holidays Y'all. 


*Smile.Amazon is not an affiliate sponsor of CastleDIY.

November 18, 2014

How to: Preserve Acorns & Pine Cones for Decorating

I've seen a number of projects online that utilize pine cones and acorns for the holidays and there are a couple I'd like to try; things that I am certain will inspire future posts. In addition to this, I'm currently working to acquire some birch branches to use on a few crafty things without purchasing them because, as we've all come to recognize, I am in a word: cheap.

Although to be fair, I don't think not wanting to pay for stuff that can be found in nature should be considered stingy. The thing is, I saw a half stack of maybe six birch logs outside a store the other day and they were selling them for $14. What? They're glorified sticks! No, no I will not be buying those.

Anyway, while I await my birch, I decided to kick off the up-and-coming projects by gathering and drying some items which luckily, I was able to procure from my yard for free. I took a handful of pine cones from under the awful tree that we share with our neighbor and a few cups full of acorns and their caps from under our oak tree, which teeters precariously over our roof and chimney (and will be coming down in the next 6 months to a year). If you can't acquire these items in your own yard, come see me. I've got a whole bunch. And you can have them. FOR FREE. 

Doesn't that statement make you tingle inside?

November 13, 2014

Fall Wreath 2.0

A few weeks ago I posted about the wreath that I made for Halloween. Welp, now that one holiday is over, time to quickly move on to the next.

Tis' the season.

I removed all the items that I had used on my first fall wreath and put them into storage (with the exception of the bow). I recently purchased a handful of plastic shoe boxes from the dollar store that are perfect for that kind of thing.

Also from the dollar store are the flowers I chose to use for my Thanksgiving inspired wreath. I just picked up a few that I thought were pretty and might go well together. So for w whopping $5, I was able to make a "second" wreath, and I'd say it came out pretty darn good. If you're wanting to do something similar to update your own or if you recently acquired a grapevine wreath that you just don't know what to do with, head down to your nearest Dollar Tree. 

November 10, 2014

Ye Ole Renaissance Faire

On Saturday, Matt and I got together with our friends Kayley and David and took an afternoon trip up the Charlotte Renaissance Faire. While I have heard of such festivals, and have had friends that have attended in the past, I personally have never been before. We figured at the very least we'd get a bit of exercise while walking the grounds to help burn off the many variations of faire food that we might enjoy.

After a bit of a late start, we drove the two hours to Charlotte, arriving a little later than anticipated but not without enough time to see most of what the faire had to offer. We parked eight million miles away and walked down Ye Old Walking Path #2. We entered through the main gate, where upon entry my ticket-taker, who had previously been discussing football stats with his neighbor in a very southern accent, stepped back into his Renaissance character long enough to say, "G'day M'lady" and usher me onto the grounds.

If you've never been to a Renaissance Faire before, I highly recommend checking one out. Tons of people are in gaudy, extravagant costumes, and by "people", I mean staff and faire-goers alike. We say fantastic representations of some of our favorite Game of Thrones characters, pirates, fairies, gypsies and a very oddly placed - but not unimpressive - Rufio

This guy wins best costume. His sign says:
 "Yes it is & yes you can". Brilliant.
We looked through costume shops and weapon stores. David stopped to have a go at knife throwing (very poor knife throwing I might add - sorry, Glitterbutt) and a measly 2 oz cup of mead. Matt and I got crepes while Kayley settled with hot chocolate, as the afternoon sun was already disappearing behind the many buildings. We got about.... oh.... 50 feet before we had a go at some real food: Kayley with a bread bowl of soup, Matt with a bread bowl of meatballs and David with a highly sought after turkey leg - which he had literally been talking about since the last fair we went to some four weeks earlier.

After stuffing our faces a little bit more, we sauntered over to the jousting arena, which was pretty crowded. But being the last show of the day, the joust was a "fight to the death", complete with fake blood and real insults, which I'll admit was well worth watching. The fellow behind me shouted "huzzah!" more times than I could count and supplied us with the added bonus of his play by play commentary on the jousting abilities of the actors involved. We also got to watch as a bee tried to flirt with David and his turkey leg, and a secondary bee "attacked" (read: buzzed near) a lady on the shoulders of a man in the back row. (All the following pictures are blurry because I couldn't actually see so I kept holding my camera up in the air in hopes to get a good shot.)

We spent the last 45 minutes or so shooting arrows and investigating the shops. Kayley made away with a pink unicorn shield and David won her favor with a bulls-eye strike and a large feather, which he suspected was probably covered in mites. We stopped by the petting zoo (all sheep and a fluffy cow or two), played with swords, touched the merchandise, marveled at the cost of everything, and left just before it got dark (which was a mistake only because we proceeded to sit in traffic forever).

All in all, a pretty awesome day (albeit chilly) with the added bonus of doing something different than the norm. And we stopped at a Chinese buffet on the way home. Delicious.

A few blogs are in the works about the various projects I've been working on so check back a little later in the week for my Fall Wreath update, just in time for Thanksgiving. 


November 3, 2014

How To: Pour a Concrete Driveway Ramp

Scenario: All of my internet friends and I are playing Never Have I Ever. Members of the blogparty start off.


Never have I ever messed up mashed potatoes. 
*CastleDIY takes a shot*


Never have I ever created a cat-free toilet paper cover. 
*CastleDIY takes a second shot*


Never have I ever poured a concrete driveway ramp. 
*CastleDIY is a light weight and is now the drunkest person at her blogparty*

Two weeks Matt and I finally mustered the courage to play with concrete and it wasn't as bad as we thought! I didn't ever actually think that a concrete ramp was something I could list as a DIY project, but it is and I couldn't be happier with the result. 

Since we first purchased the house, Matt's little baby-sized car has been scraping its bottom across the cement every time he enters or backs out of the driveway. This heinous sound and resulting damage can only be prevented if he turns at an insanely wide and difficult-to-accomplish angle. To remedy this, he started looking for solutions. What he found was one of these. It was everything he wanted with the price tag that he didn't (not to mention - what prevents it from being stolen? Won't you need concrete to secure it anyway?). So instead, we started casually researching how to make a permanent one. 

And it is terrifying! Mostly because it's just that: permanent. And we were slightly concerned about whether or not we get in trouble if we did it. Granted it's our driveway, but it isn't "our" street and technically that's town property. We sort of went into it with an "ask for forgiveness, not permission" mentality. And also used our neighbors as scapegoats because a whole lot of them did the same thing.

The hardest part of the whole project was figuring out how much concrete we would need. The distance across the driveway is about 20 feet. Initially we estimated we'd need about 10 bags of concrete, but compensating for the curve in the curb and the realization that we didn't really need the ramp to be the full length of the driveway, we decided on seven 60 lb bags of concrete. Concrete + water = driveway miracle and it's easier than you might think. Here's what you need:


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