Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How to Make a Portable Picnic Pack for Car or Backpack - Thrifty Thursdays

Sometimes the best time for a picnic is right now! If you're not prepared, valuable picnicking opportunities could be passing you by -- even as we speak!

It makes sense to be prepared for picnics while traveling or even in your own home town, as they provide the opportunity to enjoy memorable meals in extraordinary surroundings. Imagine munching on baguettes and brie while gazing at the Eiffel Tower, or chowing down on fried chicken and ribs while gazing at the vast expanse of the Grand Canyon. The travel picnic possibilities are endless. At home, get out of the office at lunchtime and chow down in a pretty park instead.

Picnics are a great way for budget conscious travelers to stretch their vacation budget, as a few picnic ingredients obtained at the local market will almost always be less expensive than lunch or dinner in a restaurant. With most non-US hotels offering rooms with breakfast, you could eat lunch or dinner picnic style, have one meal per day in a restaurant, and use the extra cash for souvenirs.

Make each member of the family a small picnic traveling pack to tuck into their luggage and you'll be ready whenever the mood or opportunity strikes.

The following are instructions for how I made my Suitcase or Backpack Picnic Kit. I tried to give the traveler a lot of tools and accessories in as small a space as possible. Likewise, the kit in the photo has just the bare minimum. If you have extra space, add some of the options to your pack.

These portable picnic packs make wonderful gifts for the travelers in your life, whether they be backpacking students or middle aged business people, or seniors on a holiday.

What You'll Need for Each Kit

2 Cotton Bandanas -- Bandannas are lightweight, don't take up much space and can serve as place mat and napkin, or if the sun's too hot, a hat or neck band. If you don't like bandannas, use a lightweight kitchen towel instead.

Flexible Plastic Cutting Board
These kitchen gadgets are the greatest! You see them advertised on late night TV or you can pick them up in housewares stores (Trader Joe's usually carries them too). Thin as a sheet of heavy stock paper, you can roll these "cutting boards" for easy storage, and in fact, this is what gives our traveler's Picnic Pack its shape. Travelers can use the flexi-board to cut and prepare picnic food or as a plate for serving and eating.

Cutlery and Tools -- To keep things minimal, I've used a Swiss Army Knife, which includes a sharp knife, can opener and a corkscrew, among other features. If you don't want to use a Swiss Army Knife, make sure you include at minimum, these three essential tools. I've also included a real fork, just because I hate eating with plastic. If you have no such qualms, you could substitute plastic cutlery.

Seasonings, Condiments and Clean-Up -- Take small individual packets of salt, pepper, sugar and condiments (ketchup, mustard, relish, soy sauce, taco sauce, whatever suits your fancy) and place them in a small zipper top plastic bag. Add a few moist towelettes and seal the bag, removing excess air.

Options to add if you have Extra Space
If you have the room you might add paper napkins or paper towels, matches and a candle, a deck of cards, non-perishable food items (crackers, beef jerky, candy, etc.), a small bottle of hot sauce, water purifying tablets, a small trash bag and an electric immersion water heater for heating water in hotel rooms.

To Assemble the Kit
Lay the bandanna flat on a table and place the flexible cutting board in the center. Place remaining kit components together near one side. Fold in the long edges of the bandanna. Tightly roll the entire kit as tightly as possible. Take second bandanna and roll into a rope lengthwise; use to tie rolled picnic kit together, as in photo at the top of this post.

More Helpful Picnic Links

Thrifty Thursdays is a blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday. In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Become an Artist for a Day at Wisconsin's Hands-On Art Studio

FISH CREEK, WISCONSIN, USA – Have you ever dreamed of being an artist? Perhaps welding pieces of metal into a fabulous sculpture, or fusing glass pieces into something amazing, or throwing clay on a pottery wheel and forming it into a ceramic work of art?

But how can an ordinary person, who may have the desire, but not the skills or the necessary (and often expensive) equipment, get the chance to even try these highly specialized artistic endeavors? By visiting the Hands On Art Studio in Door County, Wisconsin.

There are no scheduled classes here. You don’t need a reservation. You can just walk in, pay a low studio fee, find the medium you want to work in and start creating. Don’t have the slightest idea what you’re doing? No problem. Hands On Art studio’s experienced staff are there to guide you.

Guests can choose from a huge variety of art projects including fused glass, metal sculpture, mosaics, and a wide selection of wood, metal and ceramic pieces to paint. All the tools and supplies you’ll need are right there at your fingertips. Should your masterpiece need to be fired in the kiln or grouted, it will be available for pick up the next day.

The brainchild of owner and potter and multimedia artist Cy Turnbladh, the studio is like no place else you’ve ever been. Set on a scenic farm, Hands On encompasses several buildings, including a huge barn turned into art space for making ceramics, painting, mosaics and more, a metal studio, glass studio, and an enormous silo – there’s over 8000 square feet of specialized studio space in all!

The 100 year old silo serves as a canvas for painted elements, metal accents – and the focus – a towering mosaic of the hand painted tiles. Eventually the entire silo will be covered in the colorful hand made tiles - a communal art effort that benefits homeless animals. Guests purchase the tile and use the studio’s supplies to paint and decorate it – the entire $3.00 cost of the purchase price is donated to the Door County Humane Society.

It easy to see that Turnbladh, a regular humane society contributor, is an avid animal lover -- he shares his property with a menagerie of 45 animals that includes cats, dogs, horses, goats, chickens, ducks, alpacas and llamas.

If you visit June through August, the studio runs special art camps for kids, which can give parents time to explore some of Door County’s other attractions (wineries anyone?). Wednesday nights are family nights. Friday nights they’re open for all the studio’s regular attractions, but for grown ups only. You’d be hard pressed to find a more unique date anywhere, and they even offer drinks, snacks and live music June through October and special event evenings in winter.

Otherwise, everyone can visit anytime from 10AM to 6PM, year round, rain or shine. No matter what their ages or interests, everyone in the family can create art, have a great time here, and go home with the ultimate personal vacation souvenirs ever. With so many mediums to choose from – ceramics, wood, glass, metal, and more, you may even become a regular. The studio does receive lots of repeat business, and there’s no greater testimony to the quality of a travel attraction than that.

Click here for our report of more details of fun things to do, see, and eat in Door County, Wisconsin.


The Hands On Art Studio is located 1 3/4 miles from Highway 42 at 3655 Peninsula Players Rd. in Fish Creek, WI 54212. Call 920-868-9311 or click to

For trip planning, contact the Door County Visitor’s Bureau at 1015 Green Bay Rd. Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235 call 800-52-RELAX or 920-743-4456 or click to

(Photos by Jon Jarosh.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Make Your Own Barrel Composter - Thrifty Thursdays

As you probably already know, I also publish While creating and testing the wonderful recipes we have on the site, we accumulate lots of food scraps, just like you probably do at home. So instead of throwing them away, we decided to extend their usefulness and compost them for our garden.

With the price of groceries these days, you're going to want to use every last scrap. In addition to kitchen waste, you'll also want to add raked leaves, mowed grass, and other plant matter to give your compost balance.

You can certainly make compost without this composter, but using it will keep the process (and your yard) neat, and in warm weather, it will churn out a new batch of fresh garden-ready compost about every 2 to 3 weeks! If you were to buy a composter like this it would cost you several hundred dollars. For well under a hundred dollars you can make it yourself.

All you need to get started is a food safe plastic barrel -- like those used for shipping cooking oil to restaurants, some PVC pipe, and a few basic tools. Be sure the barrel you use for this project was used to store food -- you don't want chemicals leaching into your soil via your composter. Check with your favorite restaurants to see if they have any old barrels they want to get rid of. You can also purchase food safe barrels inexpensively on, (where else?)

Supplies Needed to Make a Barrel Composter

30 feet of 1 inch PVC pipe
4 feet of 1.25 inch PVC pipe
12 1-inch PVC Tee fittings
4 1-inch PVC 90 degree elbows
8 1-inch PVC 45 degree elbows
4 feet of 3 inch perforated PVC pipe
2 3-inch PVC end caps
6 square feet nylon screen
1 35-gallon food safe barrel with removable lid

hole cutter
PVC cutter or small saw
PVC cement

2 1/2 inch thread bolts
spray paint for plastic (Krylon makes a good one)
masking tape

Now that you have all the supplies and tools necessary to build this composter, let's move on to part 2 where I'll tell you how to put it all together. Our photo tutorial will take you through the construction process step-by-step and when you're finished, you'll have a brand new barrel composter for your garden. Click here for full free instructions on how to build the barrel composter.

Thrifty Thursdays is a blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday. In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere.