Suburban Pioneers

The Adventures and Misadventures of Homesteading in 21st-Century America

Sarah: DIY Faucet Fix…sort of March 2, 2014

Filed under: DIY Projects — suburbanpioneers @ 10:19 pm
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a temporary sink handle using 1/4 inch stainless steel tubing

a temporary sink handle using 1/4 inch stainless steel tubing

This is what happens when you’re too cheap to call a plumber and your partner is an electrical engineer who builds flow systems using stainless steel tubing.  Some might call it a nuisance.  I call it ingenious.

When your two choices are to spend a few hundred dollars to call a plumber about a broken faucet or to wait until it’s not the middle of the work week to fix your sink, I’ll take the second any day.  Besides, this look is a vast improvement over the previous option:

sad, broken sink

sad, broken sink

Cheap is not always better.

Cheap is not always better.



















You might not be shocked to discover that we are in the market for a durable faucet fixture.  We are taking recommendations now.  My next challenge: what to do to reuse a 1/4 inch stainless steel tube when it is no longer needed as a handle?  Also taking recommendations on this.


Lauren: How to Transfer Pictures with Wax Paper October 21, 2013

Filed under: DIY Projects — lkcook20 @ 6:20 pm
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My jewelry was getting out of control. It didn’t help that it was in bowls on my vanity–very reachable by my one year old. I wanted my bling to be easily visible and accessible, so I decided to make a shadow box that I could hang on my wall. Then I jazzed it up by transferring an image onto the middle of the box. It was so easy! Now I’m hunting around my house for other stuff I can transfer images onto. I think it would be funny if my husband came home and there were vintage images all over everything. Lookout, Husband, your Toms are next! Just kidding, he doesn’t have Toms, but if he did, I would totally put something on them.

Sorry this is kind of dark. I took the picture at 5:30 in the morning!

Sorry this is kind of dark. I took the picture at 5:30 in the morning!

I bought a box from a thrift store for $5. I had originally intended it to be something I could put my rain boots in, but it was a little small. It became a jewelry box instead. I already had this cream color at the house. It didn’t make the cut for the dining room, but worked for the box. It took two coats.

Then I rubbed the edges with sandpaper to give it an antique look.

It needed some more pizzazz, which I found at I love this blog! She has so many vintage graphics that she makes available–for free!

I found one I liked that was taken from a child’s schoolbook. 

A lot of the instructions I found online to transfer images called for freezer paper, which I don’t have and truth be told, have never bought in my entire life. I don’t even know what it is exactly. . . But I did have wax paper and it worked!

Supplies needed:

something you want to add an image to

wax paper

computer and printer

credit card or something with a flat edge

Here’s how I did it:

1. I downloaded the graphics fairy image that I liked and saved it onto my computer. I used Google drawing to reverse the image and I’m sure there is a similar function in Word. (Some images don’t need to be reversed if you don’t mind them facing the other direction, like a bicycle, for instance. Words will appear backwards if you don’t print them out in reverse.)

2. Print out the image. I cut wax paper to 8.5 x 11 size and taped it onto a sheet of card stock. I tried running just the wax paper through the printer and it got stuck so I don’t recommend that route. Then my “smart” printer kept detecting a paper jam even after I had pulled the wax paper out. I had to trick it by cancelling the print job! So I suggest taping the wax paper to card stock. Just make sure you have the wax paper facing the right direction so your printer will print on the wax paper and not the other side. For my printer, this meant laying the wax paper face down in the paper tray.

3. Once the image has printed, it will be wet, so try not to touch it or you’ll have black fingers and your kids will think you’ve been finger painting without them. . . Lay the image wet side down on whatever you want the picture or words on. In my case, it was the box. Then rub over the image with a credit card or something with a flat edge. I used a flat spatula, but it got a little dirty, so I’d recommend using something you don’t really care about. The part that has been successfully rubbed will be a slightly different color. Once you have gone over the whole image, peel the wax paper up and voila’, your image has transferred!

jewlerybox2This is the finished product. I’m really happy with how it turned out and now my one year old can’t reach all my jewelry–for now anyway.


Lauren: The Making of a Chicken Coop: A Tour August 6, 2013

Filed under: Chickens,DIY Projects — lkcook20 @ 3:46 pm
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My mom basically called my chicken coop “redneck.” My mother-in-law said, at first glance, she thought it looked kind of rundown. I prefer the term: rustic chic. I’m super proud of it and LOVE that I can say that we didn’t buy ANY wood for this project.

Some guy cut down a tree in his front yard and advertised free logs on craigslist. We jumped on that great deal and crammed them into our Mitsubishi.

Ezra with logs

logs in car

I think he called it fire wood, but we had other plans. . . The other wood came from pallets we salvaged and dragged home in our kids’ wagon. Clearly, we need to buy a truck.


It was like a puzzle.  Each log got notched and cut so they would fit together.

Ever helpful

Ever helpful

We scraped all the bark off and stained the logs. Dave wanted to leave the bark on, but I thought it would be more aesthetically pleasing for the posts to look similar to one another. And, I have this knack for turning small projects into larger, more time-consuming ones–all in the name of beauty! As luck would have it, the wood was infested with bark beetles, which were slowly eating the wood and etching little grooves into it. When I discovered them, I felt very vindicated in my decision and determination to scrape off all the bark and by default, the beetles, too. Now whenever Dave and I disagree about something, I just say, “Remember, remember the tiny bark beetle,” which doesn’t really win me any points, but I feel good saying it.

File:Dendroctonus ponderosae.jpg

A bark beetle: small but destructive.


Here is  one of my favorite parts: the chicken door and ladder. The door slides open if you pull on the rope so you don’t have to enter the run to let the chickens out in the morning.


This is my other favorite part. I saw this door in a neighbor’s backyard. It was there for a while and I kept looking at it, thinking it would make the perfect chicken coop door. So I went over and asked if she had any plans for it. She said she didn’t. Score! Free door!


This is the inside where the ladies will sleep. The roosting bar was another free branch.

I installed the flooring myself. It’s made of peel and stick vinyl. It ended up costing about $1.50 because it was on clearance. By far, the most expensive part of the whole thing was the hardware cloth mesh that encloses the entire run. I guess protection is costly.

wholecoop with text

Here it is in all it’s rustic-chic goodness.


Lauren: Yogurt and Homemade Deodorant May 7, 2013

I feel as if I should confess a couple of my most recent misadventures: yogurt and homemade deodorant. I was really excited about both endeavors, but alas, my enthusiasm wasn’t enough.

Endeavor #1

I bought a half gallon of whole milk and followed all the directions for Crock Pot Yogurt. I was excited to use milk of my choosing, to save money, and to have live active cultures (it’s questionable whether there are any live cultures in store-bought yogurt; by the time they get shipped to the store, end up on the shelf, and then eventually sit in your refrigerator, they most likely aren’t “live” anymore) . I even put my homemade yogurt in the fridge at three in the morning because that was the time it was finished sitting out. It seemed to slosh a little more in the pot that I thought it ought to, but I was also half asleep. But no, it turns out my observations at o’dark thirty are pretty accurate. In the morning, I saw that it resembled milk more than it did yogurt. The flavor was okay; it’s not really a taste problem so much as a consistency problem. All was not lost, though; we’ve been using it as a replacement for milk over our granola cereal.

Endeavor #2

Dave and I both started using the homemade deodorant I made from coconut oil, baking soda, and essential oil. He sweats like a typical guy and I thought that the homemade version might work better for him than the commercial products. He would really slather on the latter in an attempt to help it last all day, but still, his white undershirts would end up not so white. (Side note: What’s the deal with white undershirts? They end up stained in about six months. What a good marketing job Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, and Calvin Klein have done! But the white undershirts and I are done. We have broken up and I will no longer be buying them! If anything, I might start a relationship with dark blue ones or black.) Anyway, we even wore our natural deodorant on a hike in 85 degree weather and it fared okay. But yesterday, when it was 92 degrees, I opened the deodorant bottle and dumped (poured) the entire contents all over myself and my shoe (if my room had been clean, it would not have ended up in my shoe, but it’s enough work to keep the rest of the house looking decent). In high temperatures, coconut oil turns into a liquid, which I knew but didn’t think about as I was opening the deodorant bottle. And now that my clothes and my shoes smell citrusy, I vaguely remember the directions saying something about keeping the homemade deodorant in the fridge. I also have a problem with my brain being selective about what it decides to remember. . . and when.

I am not done yet. I vow to continue my quest for homemade yogurt and deodorant.  (Updates to follow.)



I have successfully made homemade yogurt! I found a slightly more involved recipe that requires taking the yogurt’s temperature every so often. It comes out perfectly. My favorite thing about the yogurt is that my three year old, who was getting a stomach bug every other month, hasn’t been sick since he started eating it! That’s a win. No more holding buckets for me!


Lauren: How to Turn a Stick into a Work of Art February 18, 2013

There’s an empty space on my dining room wall that’s really been bugging me. I had wanted to hang a work of art in that space–a somewhat abstract portrait, possibly done with oils. So far, I haven’t been able to find the picture in my mind’s eye, at least, not one within my budget. After almost five years of an empty space, it was time to execute a backup plan.




Supplies Needed:


Clothespins (amount depends on length of stick)

Wood Finish Stain

Polycrylic Protective Finish


hooks, nails, or fishing line

Step One: Procure a stick. Luckily, our tree in the backyard sheds sticks whenever there’s a thunderstorm. . . and on windy days.

Step Two: Scrape, peel, rip, and/or sand the bark off. My stick had been sitting outside for a while so half of the bark came off very easily. The other half I had to work for.  Have I ever mentioned that our power sander is my favorite tool. of. all. time.


Step Three: Wipe off the dust and dirt with a cloth. In the direction of the grain, apply wood stain with cloth or brush. I bought my stain at a Habitat for Humanity resale shop for $1. I did about three coats. (Follow directions on stain can to see how long to wait between coats). Stain clothespins as well.

You could enlist a helper at this point, but beware that wood stain. . . stains. And that helper might just rub it all over his face.


DSCN1477 DSCN1478


Step Four: Apply the polycrylic (another $1 Habitat purchase) onto stick and clothespins. I did another three coats.

Step Five: Attach clothespins onto stick using superglue with the spacing you desire.

Step Six: Hang onto wall (or get a handy man to do it for you). We hung our stick with white hooks on our crown molding and fishing line and by “we” I mean my husband. Sometimes its very convenient to be married to an eagle scout who remembers how to tie weird knots and stuff.

Clip up pictures, children’s art, or anything else that you want displayed.

And there you have a functional work of art for super cheap!

Total Project Cost:

Stick: Free!

Clothes pins: $1

Wood Stain: $1

Polycrylic: $1

Superglue: $3

Fishing Line: $6

Total: $12


Sarah: 10 Common Products You Never Need to Buy February 4, 2013

reduce-reuse-recycle-4Trying to be eco-friendly? Much has been written in other places about how the recycling process itself has environmental consequences.  So what’s an aspiring environmentalist to do?  First, REDUCE!  Three R’s, remember?  If we just buy less, we’ve gone a long way towards being green.

Second, REUSE (a.k.a. repurpose)!  That might be why we’re thrift store junkies, but you don’t have to go Goodwill hunting to reuse.  Here are some simple things you can NOT buy but instead use common household items in place of.  And, on that note, I would like to dedicate this post to my Grandmother Elliott, who lives on in my memory as the most practical re-user I’ve ever known.  I like to think I’m channeling her thrifty spirit now and again.

10. Post-Its

How many pieces of paper with blank backs do you throw away or recycle each day?  And why buy special, oftentimes fluorescent paper (which can’t be recycled due to the heavy dye) when you can reuse paper with a tiny piece of tape?  I quarter my letter-sized sheets to reuse both at work and at home (I’m also the office fairy who hands out stacks of this paper to my colleagues).  Admittedly, this has caused some marital strife in our house when Keith tried refusing to pack and move to our new house a ten-inch high stack of quartered sheets that had once been drafts of my Master’s thesis. Fortunately, I packed it when his back was turned.   Now when he looks for a piece of paper, I say helpful things like,

“Wow.  It’s a really good  thing we have all this scrap paper handy.  So glad we moved it, huh?”

a funnel of the wide-mouthed variety

a funnel of the wide-mouthed variety

9. Plastic Funnels

How many plastic bottles do you toss every week?  Whether it’s a wide-mouthed juice bottle or a streamlined soda bottle, cutting off the bottom half of your plastic bottle produces a lovely funnel. I’m all about owning a nice metal funnel for canning and hot liquids, but if you’re going to buy a plastic funnel anyway, you might as well use some plastic you already have.

8. Microwavable Neck Pillow

My mother always had what she called the “Lonely Socks Club” sitting on the dryer, a repository for all of those singles to wait…and wait…to find their sole mates again.  But every now and then, it would become apparent that some of those lonely socks would never again be a pair.  If you, too, have a Lonely Socks Club, you have the casing for a microwavable neck pillow:  just add rice and herbs and tie off the sock with a piece of string.  No sewing is necessary, and you can congratulate yourself on having saved $14.99 you might have spent on Amazon.

oh, so many uses for this product

oh, so many uses for this product

7. Pet Fur Remover (brush or stone)

Our sure-fire method for removing cat fur from sofas, blankets, clothing, upholstery, carpet, and pretty much any other cloth surface is the magic of a rubber glove.  No, really.  Those rubber gloves that you have lying around for washing dishes can double as pet-fur removers.  Simply put on the glove and run it over the furry surface.  All the hair will clump together, and you can just pick it up and throw it in the compost–because pet fur is, in fact, compostable, as we have previously discussed (just make sure to get the really basic ones, not the ones with extra-lasting power or what-not…when they add extra plastic and stuff to make the gloves tougher, it decreases the fur-clumping abilities of the glove).

6. Travel Toiletry Containers


Reuse these and avoid buying more plastic!

Because we all need more small plastic containers in our lives…um, not really, no.  If you look around your domicile and in your purse or backpack, you’ll find you already have plenty of travel-sized containers: pill bottles, dental floss containers, hand sanitizer bottles, empty chapstick tubes or tubs, small plastic bottles, to-go dressing containers, empty spice bottles or jars, plastic containers for cake or ice cream sprinkles, plastic Easter eggs (come on, I know you hunted for those when you were a kid), jars of fingernail polish, small plastic containers with candy (M&M’s or Pez to name a few), tubs for face cream or other moisturizers, etc., etc.  When I travel overnight, I put the face wash in one side of an old contact case and the moisturizer in the other.  What’s that you say?  “Sarah, I don’t have any of these types of containers.  I live a plastic-free life!”  “Wow,” I respond, “Kudos for being more awesome than the rest of us.  But I’m pretty sure your neighbors or friends have some small plastic containers you can borrow.”

5. Rubber Bands

Each of these is reused--nothing new here!

Each of these is reused–nothing new here!

If you’ve ever bought produce at the grocery store, you have rubber bands.  They come around the green onions, the celery, the leeks, the asparagus, you know, things that are long and green.  However, if you never buy produce at the grocery store (I applaud your commitment to local produce or I question your healthy eating choices, depending on why you never buy produce), you can reuse those rubber gloves from #7.  When they are worn out from washing dishes or removing pet fur, just make a cut all the way across the wrist of the glove about an inch from the bottom.  Voila! A one-inch, heavy-duty, stylishly yellow rubber band (and you can make more than one rubber band from a pair of gloves…even a small pair yields at least three).  I learned this trick from my aforementioned thrifty Grandmother Elliott.  Thanks, Grandma!

4. Reusable Grocery Bags

Okay, I do buy these every now and then…as a tax on myself when I forget a bag.  In Europe, they charge you 10 pence/cents/pennies/pfenigs/whatever-you-call-it or so each time you have to use a plastic bag instead of bringing your own.  So if I forget mine, I buy a reusable bag because I figure I should have to pay for the resources I use.  BUT there’s no need to buy them on purpose because you don’t have enough.  You can reuse an old t-shirt to make a grocery bag…WITHOUT SEWING it.  There are two different methods, beautifully explained by our awesome friends at Trash Backwards: 1) The Upcycled T-Shirt Bag and 2) The No-Sew Hobo Bag (the English teacher in me loves the rhyming name of the second, but the time-limited crafter in me loves the first one and has made several).

3. Pet Poo Bags

Where all our bags go to die...

Where all our bags go to die…

Seriously, think about how many bags you already throw away or recycle: the bags inside your cereal box, the tortilla bags, the chip bags, the Triscuit or Cheez-It bags, the bread bags, the bag around your newspaper, the plastic packaging around your toilet paper, the bagel bag, the bag of lettuce…I could go on and on, and I haven’t even mentioned the obvious grocery bags or produce bags (because we really try not to ever get those–did you know there are reusable produce bags, too?).  Even if you, as we do, make a lot of your own bread or snacks, you still probably have way more bags than you want to admit.  So DON’T BUY SPECIAL BAGS FOR PET POOP.  Just don’t.  There’s absolutely never a reason to do so.

2. Cleaning Rags

We all like that virtuous feeling of cleaning out the closet and donating old clothes to Goodwill or the Salvation Army: “Ahhh.  My closet is clean, and I’ve helped the needy,” we think (perhaps a tad self-righteously).  However, I have worked in a thrift store before, and I’ve volunteered to sort things for many a donation center.  What I can tell you is that people donate the most awful, disgusting, and unusable garbage you can imagine.  They donate expired food to the Food Bank, sweat-stained clothing to the Goodwill, and broken toys to the Toys for Tots program.  Oh, yes, they do.  And if you think about it, you probably have done one of these things yourself.  My friends, if you are too grossed out to wear it, most other people will be, too.  There are places that you can donate old, stained clothes to farm workers spraying pesticides so that the clothing can be disposed of afterward, but some clothing with holes, you should reuse yourself as cleaning rags.  Really, there’s no need to buy cleaning rags when old t-shirts, boxers, and tank tops can be used to wash cars, clean bathrooms, and scrub floors.

1. Plastic Leftovers Containers

First, I try to be conscious of packaging.  Does the item come in glass, metal, or paperboard instead of plastic?  If so, I buy that.  Think of the few extra cents you might pay as an environmental tax of sorts.  Then reuse those glass containers for storing bulk foods, making yogurt, or holding leftovers (hey, glass is microwavable while plastic isn’t).  But when there is an item that does come in plastic and nothing else, keep the container.  For a kid’s lunchbox, for giving away food to friends and neighbors (I do a lot of this), or for freezing things, you might want plastic instead of your more versatile glass.  So save those cottage cheese, yogurt, and peanut butter containers to reuse!  You don’t have any of these containers?  That’s okay.  Your neighbor’s trash will yield plenty.  Just wait until nighttime to raid their garbage bin, or you might have some explaining to do!

Updated: Feb. 7 at 10:00 a.m.: Want more ideas?  Check out Trash Backwards’ new post: 10 Things You Should Never Have to Buy!  I challenge all of you to make and share your own top 10 lists of things to reduce and reuse.  If we all share our best practices, we can learn from each other!


Lauren: How to Turn a Pillowcase into a Scarf! January 31, 2013

I am often cold in the winter so you’ll rarely find me without a scarf wrapped around my neck to keep me warm. I came across some scarves that I liked at a store (which shall remain nameless), but price tags that I did not: $14.99! I couldn’t part with that much money for a long rectangular piece of fabric. . . especially when I have a sewing machine at home.

So I made my own. I found three pillowcases from a thrift store and paid around $2 each. Two are Egyptian cotton and the other is jersey. All of them are super-soft  which is a requirement of mine for scarves. It only took me about a couple hours to make three.

Step One: Go rummaging through your linen closet or the local thrift store and find some pillowcases (king size is best).


Step Two: Cut it to the size you would like. I cut about an inch and a half off one side. I also snipped off the bottoms of the Egyptian cotton ones (near the open end) because they looked too pillowcase-y.

Step Three: Fold over all the edges and iron. You could either fold over twice and hem or fold once and use an overcasting stitch. I did some of each.

Step Four: Sew around all the sides on the fold. You made a scarf! Add embellishments if you’d like. To the jersey one, I added prints of keys.


Step Five: Waste twenty minutes of your life watching YouTube videos of people tying scarves in all sorts of different ways. (I know I’m not the only one that has done this; there were 300,000 views. . . )




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