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Reuse Roundup: Isobel’s Fairy House

16 Jan

Isobel’s greatest obsession these days is faeries. It’s sort of my fault. When I was a kid I was obsessed with faeries myself and as soon as she showed even the slightest hint of interest I started sharing all of my Cecily Mary Barker books with her. These books were written in the early 1900s and reflect the fashion of the times. I just love them and through this book Isobel has learned quite a bit about different flowers and plants which never fails to impress garden store workers. After each time reading through Flower Fairies we follow it up with reading Fairy Island, a book by a nature crating artist who created five or so different imagined homes for fairies. Add this to repeated viewings of Miyazaki’s Borrower’s-inspired movie The Secret World of Arrietty, and Isobel wants nothing more than to make faerie houses all day every day.

This one is her current favorite because unlike most of them it is contained in a decorated shoebox that once held running shoes belonging to her father. We painted it together (she instructed me where to paint hearts but the rest is all her), and she’s added crayon, stickers, and other ornamentation herself. Grandma and Grandpa, ever sympathetic to her wishes, bought her the little pink metal bench and white chair at a garden store, and the set of dressers used to a picture frame from their living room collection. The rest of the items have been gathered (borrowed, you know, not stolen) from around the house. The gold ornament hanging from the top of the box is supposed to be the sun and the white moon sticker on the dresser is supposed to appease but sun and moon fairies.

One time Anthony put some of her plastic fairy toys in the fairy house but that mistake was swiftly corrected. This house is for real fairies, Dada. Not toys. Real fairies.

Despite our honest answers to the question she remains convinced fairies are real. They are just very small and very fast and know how to hide from adults. Little girls can see them, however, and she can’t wait until a real fairy decides to take up residence in this fully furnished apartment.

Thrifty Crafting: Dave’s Workshop Easy DIY Flower Press

10 Jun

It started when I met Paul. (This is Paul:)

Paul is a rickety homemade flower press I found while thrifting. We call him Paul because this is what we found when we opened him up.

We assume it’s some sort of flatulent jellyfish.

I thought Paul was pretty neat until I showed him to my friend Dave. Unlike Paul, Dave is a real person. Here he is posing next to a gorilla:

Here he his with a cat on his shoulders:

And here he is being excited about a giant meatball:

That’s just about everything you need to know about Dave in a nutshell, except for the fact that he married my bestie Stefanie and the first time I met him I became extremely jealous of the attention my Mom was giving him (I was three and she was babysitting him). Oh, and another thing about Dave is that he’s incredibly handy and inherited an impressive workshop of tools from his father. He built shields for all his friends for their birthdays and ours is hanging above the computer as I type. When I showed the flower press to Dave he made a noise somewhere between a grunt and a fart and basically said he could make one that was far better.

He invited us to his workshop for a little demonstration. He already had all the materials on hand and he assured me it would be very cheap and easy to make. He said he’d show me how to make it and I could take the photos. This was great news because I can barely assemble furniture from Ikea. But if you are handy (or who knows someone who is) you, too, can have your very own new and improved Paul the flower press for under ten dollars.


  • Wood- Dave used good thick birch plywood leftover from his shield making scraps which he cut to size using a circular saw.
  • Sandpaper- to smooth any rough areas after cutting and drilling.
  • Circular saw- for cutting the wood
  • Power drill with quarter inch drill bits – your bit needs to be larger than your bolts for ease of use.
  • Six bolts with nuts- size noted in photo below
  • Six wing bolts- size noted in photo above
  • Six washers- size noted in photo above
  • Cardboard – about box thickness
  • Box cutter- or other blade to cut cardboard to size
  • Acid-free watercolor paper- blotter paper will work, too
  • A clamp thing

The first thing Dave did was cut the wood to size. We were going for something about 8 inches by 12 inches because blooms are typically longer than they are wide, but the exact measurements were a bit bigger. As long as the pieces are larger than your blotter paper it doesn’t really matter what size you choose. Because we decided to make the press into a rectangle instead of a square Dave added two extra bolts.

Isobel did not enjoy the sound of the saw but came back to the workshop once the saw was put away and a step-stool was added. She was excellent at helping Dave by adding the washers, holding the paper, and stealing bites of his Good ‘n Plenty.

Then he used his powers of math to measure out the positions of the holes for the bolts and marked their location in pencil. He clamped the boards together to make sure the holes would be precisely in line. Then he revealed one of the secrets of his workshop’s success: a 70lb kettle bell makes a great assistant. They can hold just about anything you need in place and don’t have any fingers to loose!

After drilling and sanding the pieces he pushed the bolts through the wood and secured them in place with their nuts. It was hot.

He added the sheets of paper and then got to work slicing up cardboard from an old box of beer. While doing so he turned to me an cocked one eyebrow before saying, “Reduce, reuse, recycle!”

At this point the flower press comes together in layers, like a lasagna. One sheet of cardboard, two sheets of paper (between which will go your plants for a-pressin’), and another of cardboard. You can keep this up as many times as you have pieces of paper and card board because these bolts are quite long.

When your card board-plant-paper layers are complete you’ll add the second piece of wood, the washers and the wingnuts. You’ll want to tighten those babies down so the compression force will press the plants. Dave and Isobel picked some ferns from his front yard to serve as our first specimens.

Oh, I guess there’s another thing you should know about Dave: he’s a freaking fantastic artist. I wanted him to draw on the wood so I could paint it later as a decorative touch, but while we were googling  “funky 1970s mushroom art pictures” for him to draw, Isobel swiped some crayons and decorated it herself. This is a drawing of Dave’s garden.

Dave doesn’t have a garden, but we like it anyway. Thanks again, Dave, for opening up your workshop to Paul, the Castillo fam, and Little Big readers! I’m trying to convince him to sell these babies on Etsy, though I’m paying for this one by taking him out for a beer.

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