Fun along the way: The Scrap Exchange

I’ve been in Chapel Hill for the past four days for classes at UNC.  I decided while I was there I would make time to have a little fun.  I spent a couple of hours on Monday wandering around the Scrap Exchange in Durham.  I heard about it a while ago from SweetGumHandbags when I purchased one of her adorable bags on Etsy.  She said it was one of her favorite places in the world and I truly believe it.  The place is every crafter’s dream.  Best of all, it’s full of reclaimed materials.  Their mission is “to promote creativity, environmental awareness, and community through reuse.”  How wonderful is that?

As if the entrance wasn’t intriguing enough….

….you come inside to find barrels upon barrels of goodies.  They have a ton of purchase options.  You can buy individually from the barrels or you can purchase the contents by the bag.  The bag cost varies by size, but all of them are remarkably cheap for what you’re getting.  Once I started digging and finding tons of good stuff, I decided the bag route was the way to go.

You name it and they probably have it.  From the mudane to the wild.  I walked around gawking with a silly grin on my face.  As crazy as I looked, they were still kind enough to let me take some pictures.

My favorite (of course) was the fabric scraps.  I picked up I don’t know how many different patterns, colors, and types of fabric.  Not sure what I’m going to do with it all, but as the lady at the register reminded me, that’s the fun part.  🙂

More misc stuff including old dress patterns, vintage magazines, etc:

One side of the store was filled with shelves labeled to describe the wares they contained.  For example, one shelf was labeled “scientific.”

I laughed when I walked up to this sign (click on the pic to see a larger image):

I had so much fun taking in all the items for sale and imaging what I (or more likely others) could do with it all.  I walked away with two bags of fabric scraps to play with as soon as I have time.

Many thanks to SweetGumHandbags for sharing the find.  I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

Adventures in Soaping

So, our first batch of soap turned out quite well.  We used it ourselves first to ensure no major problems, then passed it around to as many people as we could for feedback.  Most of the feedback we received was positive, which was great to hear.

We learned two things from our initial experience:

  1. Use a stick blender.  Stirring by hand is crazy and literally takes hours.
  2. A bad mold = bad soap.

The mold we used was one I bought online and the shape made it challenging to cut.  We tried our best and ended up with awkward bars.  With that in mind, I spent several hours online trying to find the perfect soap molds and ended up frustrated.  So, I decided to try drawing out my own.  Wayne (always the dutiful husband) was kind enough to build them for me.

I’m very happy with the result of the project.  We now have two molds that are (hopefully) sized appropriately to produce 4 – 5 oz bars.  Each has a top that fits tightly to be used in the first 24 hours after pouring, one hinged side to allow for each removal of the soap, and a end piece with dowels to ensure the mold stays together during pouring and initial curing.   If I did my math right (we’ll see!), they should fit 1/2 batch each.

I also drew out a soap cutter that Wayne built so we can produce uniform bars.

I found the dough cutter on amazon cheap and the wood for the project cost us less than $50.  Pretty good considering the molds I did find that I liked were $40-50/each.

The plan is for us to make a full batch this weekend.  Mountain Rose Herbs has become my new favorite site.  I’m sure the Fedex guy thinks I’m nuts.

I’m hoping to do 1/2 batch each of two varieties so that I can start to build some stock.   Wayne and I started taking about where we were possibly going to cure all this soap which prompted me to draw out a plan for a drying rack.  Stay tuned for the result of that project.

And the journey begins…

I’m excited to say that we are now the proud owners of 6+ acres of land.  This is the first big step toward our dream of living a sustainable life.

It’s quite beautiful land although fairly heavily wooded right now.  The land starts where the for sale sign is below…

…and continues to the second for sale sign that you can just barely see in this picture.

The front has a nice cleared portion (at least an acre) that will allow us to start an orchard and a vegetable garden.

There’s even a small creek.

We’re planning to build a straw bale home a bit up the hill past the creek and some of the trees so that we have privacy.  The house will likely be located a bit higher than where Wayne and his mom are standing in this picture.

The very tip top of the property has a flat portion that was set up as the original home site.  It will be my bee yard and Wayne has promised me a honey shed to go with it.

The day we closed Wayne and I took some lawn chairs and had a lovely picnic by the creek.  We then wandered to the top of the property and enjoyed the quiet while discussing our plans.  I imagine we’ll be doing quite a bit of that over the next few years.  I had to go back to work, but Wayne spent the day clearing brush and came home rather content.

It’s such a relief to finally feel like we’re moving forward.  I’ve been downloading every sustainable living/homesteading podcast I can find and I’m listening to them on the way to and from work for inspiration.  There’s so much to think about and so much to plan.

Around the Garden

I wandered around the garden a bit today thinking about what we’ve accomplished so far and what is to come.   It’s exciting to see things starting to bloom and peek through the soil, but a bit overwhelming to think of all the work ahead.  W has a detailed plan for the garden that he created using the software he wrote (, so each bed has a carefully designed plan for the season.

Right now, the garlic is up and the bee hive is buzzing.   You can see my second hive – the bright yellow top bar hive – on the left hand side.  It’s bee-less right now, but is expecting company soon.   The lambs ear appears to be completely unaware of the cold winter we just had and is thriving.

W built a cold frame out of an old door from his parent’s house and its currently full of a lovely peppery lettuce mix that’s ready to be harvested.

Around the yard flowers are coming up as well.  Our hellebores always bloom just before anything else.  I fell in love with them at a garden show a few years ago and returned with quite a few.  We have two colors currently blooming at the front of the house.

Our daylilly bed looks like its going to be spectacular – it’s amazing how quickly they spread.   We started with some plants from a friend who was cleaning out a bed and now they’ve practically taken over a bed here.

Walking around today, I noticed an ivy-like plant (I’m sure its a weed) climbing around the house with cute little purple flowers.

Last but not least, our bee balm is once again spreading like wild fire.  In the middle of this patch is a lovely plant whose name totally escapes me, but it always makes me smile when it first comes up because it appears to startlingly similar to asparagus.

Overall, it’s been a beautiful weekend.  I didn’t spend as much time outside as I wanted to (school work, laundry, and cooking took up a large portion of the weekend), but the time I did spent communing with the plants was wonderfully calming.


As usual we have a ton of things going on.  First, we made an offer on a 6+ acre property in a nearby town and after some negotiations our offer was accepted.  At this point we’re waiting for an appraisal and perk test to ensure it is truly ours.  We are trying to contain our excitement.  This will finally feel like a step in the right direction for us.

We’ve also started many, many seedlings in our garage.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, and lettuce (I’m sure I’m leaving out a few).  Some are going to a friend who is starting a CSA, others are being scattered around our garden and yard.

Next weekend we head to Morganton to pick up my second hive of bees.  I’m excited and a bit scared.  We don’t own an open back truck or car, so we’ll have the bees in the car with us so we have to  make sure they are tightly contained before leaving.  I’ve also never transferred a hive alone and was hoping to someone get them into the top bar hive I purchased over the winter.

Lots of excitement ahead.  🙂