Turn any photo frame into a shadow box


Shadow boxes are a great way to add flair to framed pictures and display small objects, but they can be expensive to buy. There’s no need to pay double for a little extra space between the glass and the back of the frame. You can make your own shadow box using some foam board and an inexpensive “deep” frame (having a frame depth of 1 inch or more) using the instructions below. IKEA sells many different sizes of deep frames for under $5. This project is also a way to get old T-shirts out of the back of your closet and into a custom art piece.

Deep Frame Shadow Box

You’ll need:

  • Any size picture frame with 1-inch thick sides
  • Foam board (1/4 or 1/2-inch thick)
  • Razor blade or craft knife
  • Glue gun/glue sticks or super glue
  • Photos, old T-shirts, small items to display
picture frame

This 7 3/4 x 9 1/4 inch frame sells for under $5 at IKEA.

1. Begin by opening up the back of the frame and pressing the tabs that hold the back in place so that they are all vertical. Remove everything except the glass.

2. Using the cardboard mat board as a guide, cut the foam board (any size thickness will work; I used 1/4-inch thick) using a craft knife or razor blade (scissors will crush the foam board).

foam board and frame mat

3. Cut out a total of 4 foam strips matching the inside length of each side of the frame and as deep as the frame when the glass is in place.

4. Carefully glue the foam strips to the inside sides of the frame, making sure to keep the glass in place. Do not glue the foam directly to glass (just the wood or plastic sides) to prevent excess glue from showing.

5. Now the creative part! For the background, stretch an old T-shirt (from a vacation, 5K race, concert, you name it) over a piece of cardboard the same size as the back of the frame. Pin or glue it in place and trim any extra material on the back of the cardboard. If you’re not ready to part with the T-shirt yet, a photocopy of it will also work.

t-shirt over cardboard

6. Attach vacation souvenirs and/or photos directly to the T-shirt or arrange them on the glass. You can use tape to keep ticket stubs and photos in place.

tickets in frame

7. Make sure everything is arranged the way you like and add the T-shirt covered cardboard. Replace the back of the frame and glue or tape it in place. This is fine for a frame that will be hung. If you want to access the frame contents or change the project at a later date, attach small glazier points (available at hardware stores) to keep the frame back in place.

shadow box

This shadow box highlights souvenirs from a trip my sister and I took to Chicago.

Here are some other suggestions for shadow box themes:

  • Concert: Use a concert tee as the background, display your ticket, a guitar pick, and a photo from the show.
  • Baby keepsake: Use an outgrown onesie as the background, and include baby photos, a pacifier, booties, or a footprint.
  • Sporting event: Use a field day T-shirt, 5K race shirt, or old jersey as the background. Include photos of the event, ribbons/medals, and other event memorabilia.

Happy 30th Birthday, CDs!


This week the compact disc–once a technological game-changer, now an oft-ignored digital format–celebrates its 30th anniversary. (You can read more about the history of CDs here). CDs revolutionized the music industry and for over two decades, enjoyed enormous commercial success. Who hasn’t used a CD to back up their computer, store photos, or burn a mix CD? Let’s not forget all those free AOL CDs sent by mail to every U.S. household during the start of the Internet boom.

As technology progresses at ever-increasing speeds, CDs have been replaced by music downloads and streaming and more durable, high-memory capacity USB devices. I believe this change is for the better, but what to do with all those old CDs, jewel cases, and paper CD envelopes? Time for a little reworking!


  • Attach CDs (shiny side facing up) to the front and back (or in the spokes) of your bike for instant reflectors.
  • Create wall art or a dangling light catcher by overlapping CDs of different colors or attaching them with fishing wire to a hanger.
  • Don’t put CDs in a microwave! But do watch this YouTube video of other people doing it.

Jewel Cases:

  • Use to store or sort photos. Each case may only hold a few pictures, but it is a good way to protect photos sent by mail.

CD Envelopes:

  • Tuck a large cookie into a CD envelope with a clear window for a delicious, single-serve treat. This is a great idea for passing out to friends or coworkers at holidays and it is easy to customize the envelope for birthdays or showers, too. Add ribbon, stickers, or print custom labels to seal the envelopes. FYI: I like to include a square of parchment or wax paper under the cookie to keep any grease from seeping into the paper.
  • Origami. The squares are the perfect size for practicing making paper cranes, frogs, and fortune tellers.


What was the first music CD you owned? Share your response in the comments field.

P.S. Mine was Weezer’s “The Blue Album.” It’s a little scratched, but still as good as I remember it.

Welcome Fall!


William Cullen Bryant called autumn ” . . the year’s last, loveliest smile.”  I couldn’t agree more. I adore this time of year, especially here in Pennsylvania and further up the East coast. As someone who anxiously awaits the blissful crunch of crimson leaves, the slight chill in the air, and anything flavored with pumpkin, it’s no surprise I’m ready to rework summer clothes for fall. Sometimes my impatience shows, as evidenced by my insistence to serve hot caramel apple cider to a handful of visiting relatives when it was still 80 degrees outside. But temperatures are dropping, and it’s officially time to transition from T-shirts to more seasonally appropriate attire.

Naturally, I already have a drawer full of thick wool and hand-knitted scarves, but wrapping one of those serious wind-repellers around my neck now is pushing it . . . even for me. September beckons for a lightweight version, and the artsy knit scarf created by Ashley on the uber-cool blog, “Make It Love It,” certainly fit the bill. The project calls for two 80″ pieces of cotton knit, not something I usually have just sitting around. But what I do have is a huge collection of cotton/blend T-shirts, and a few with which I’m willing to part.

Depending on the size of the T-shirt, you may need more than one. Don’t worry about using the same color; it’ll make it even more unique!  The key is to using shirts made from the same material or same combination of materials (e.g., 95% cotton, 5% nylon).

T-Shirt Scarf

You’ll Need:

Solid Color Cotton or Cotton Blend T-Shirt (one size L or XL is plenty big enough, smaller or fitted shirts may require two)

Fabric Scissors

Sewing Machine and Thread

1. Cut the body of the T-shirt horizontally into long pieces, each measuring the width of the shirt by 6 inches. You should have 2-3 large loops of material. Cut the loops in half to create 4-6 rectangular pieces, each 6 inches high by approximately 18 inches wide (the width will depend on the size of the T-shirt).


If you don’t have an old solid color T-shirt handy, try visiting a consignment shop; many of them have sections with free items. T-shirts of every color can also be purchased at craft stores like A.C. Moore for under $3.

             T-shirt cut up

2. Stitch  the pieces together, short end to short end, to form 2 pieces of material, each approximately 72-80 inches long.

3. Out of the remaining material, cut 28 1-inch by 6-inch strips. You can stack the material and cut multiple strips at the same time.

t-shirt and strips

Stitch the rectangular pieces into 2 very long pieces.

4. Arrange 7 strips as shown below on the end of one piece of material and pin into place. The strips will probably start to curl; pin the strips so the curled edges face outward for a more interesting design.

Pinned strips

5. Secure the strips by stitching down the middle of each one. I used contrasting thread for more interest.

sewn strips

6. Repeat this process on the opposite end of the piece, and then again on the other piece of material.

7. Lay the two long pieces of material together, wrong sides (with the strips) facing outward, and stitch around all sides.

8. Trim any uneven edges.

Optional: Add additional strips of fabric, buttons or rosettes made from leftover material to dress up this scarf even more.

You’re now ready to wear a custom-made, lightweight fall fashion accessory!

finished scarf

A Dozen Ways with Stale Bread (part 2)


As last week’s post suggested, here are another half dozen ways to rework the ever-present loaf of day-old bread.

7. German Dumplings
Known in Deutschland as “Semmelknoedel,” this traditional Bavarian dish is similar to Jewish matzo balls and Italian gnocchi except they are made with bread crumbs instead of matzo meal or potato. The dumplings are commonly made using stale rolls, but feel free to experiment with other types of days-old bread. Serve the dumplings in a bowl of hot beef, chicken, or vegetable broth for a comforting semmelknoedelsuppe, or cover with a savory mushroom or tomato-based sauce. Try the simple recipe for semmelknoedel here.

8. Soften Brown Sugar, Marshmallows, or Keep Cookies Fresh
Many Depression-Era grandparents already know this timeless tip for reviving sweet treats or keeping them fresher longer. Add a slice of bread to hardened brown sugar to soften it, or keep a slice in a bag of marshmallows or with homemade cookies to keep them from drying out quickly.

9. Absorb Excess Moisture from Cooked Rice
Cooking rice is an art. I never seem to master the exact water to rice ratio, or sometimes I’m just too impatient to let all the water cook out. If you find yourself with a pot of fully cooked rice and too much moisture, remove the pot from the heat, put a slice of bread on top of the rice, and replace the lid. Wait a few minutes, and the bread will absorb all the extra water, leaving you with perfect rice.

10. Pie
Bread in pie? Why not? Fresh or stale bread crumbs can easily be added to thicken quiches and effortlessly pump up the volume of soufflés. This lemon pie originates from England during the early 19th Century. The bread mostly acts as an inexpensive filler and thickener; as an added bonus, it also keeps the pie crust from becoming soggy. Here’s a simple lemon meringue pie using bread crumbs. http://www.reciperascal.com/lemon-pie-with-bread-crumbs/

11. Odor Eliminator

If a whiff of cut onions, cooking cabbage, or burnt food sends you running for the window, try using a slice of stale bread to absorb the smell. Mold a piece of bread around the handle of knife as you chop onions to absorb the odor that makes your eyes water. When cooking cabbage, Brussels sprouts, other strongly scented foods, or if you just forget about a cooking food until it’s past the point you can honestly call it “Cajun style,” try adding a slice of bread on top of the food. Leave it sit for a food minutes, and your nose will thank you.

12. Bread Soup
Many people dunk bread into their soup—why not just make the bread part of the soup? When cooler weather strikes, warm up with a comforting combination of bread and broth, a popular yet homely specialty in the Mediterranean. Bread soup may have gotten a bad rap in the French/Danish film, Babette’s Feast, but today’s versions are intensely more flavorful and just as easy to make. This Tuscan favorite, called pappa al pomodoro, blends day-old bread with tomatoes, fresh basil, and garlic for a hearty lunch or dinner. Try the New York Time’s recipe for papa al pomodoro here.

A Dozen Ways with Stale Bread (part 1)


Bread may be one of the most humble foods, but it is also a dietary staple around the world. Despite its place as a mainstay food, bread has a short shelf life and becomes stale within a few days to two weeks (depending on preservative content). Which likely means that there is stale bread lingering somewhere in your kitchen on any given day. What to do?

There are the obvious reuses for dry bread, like throwing it into the food processor for quick bread crumbs or seasoning and cubing bread into savory croutons for soups and salads.

Berry Brioche French Toast

Best. Brunch. Ever.

Best. Brunch. Ever.

that a loaf of day- (or two-day) old is more than just feed for fowl (“Feed the birds and what do you get? Fat birds!”  Mary Poppins, anyone?) here are a few more creative takes for using dry bread:

1. French Toast

Yes, you thought of that already, but not like this. Brioche french toast with vanilla bean creme anaglaise, triple berry coulis, and cascading fresh berries. I savored every morsel, well, as much as I possibly could, of this monstrously large and delicious brunch offering at The Bongo Room in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Pure genius. The hardest part is waiting for your bread to go stale to make this!

2. Panzanella

This recipe from Food Network superstar Ina Garden combines the fresh taste of tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers with the great absorption of stale bread.

Prep Time:15 min

Inactive Prep Time:30 min

Cook Time:10 min
12 servings

3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 red onion, cut in 1/2 and thinly sliced
20 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons capers, drained
For the vinaigrette:

1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread and salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed.

For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together.

In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, basil, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Serve, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend.


3. Croque Monsieur

This French bistro mainstay, which literally translates to “crunchy Mister,” is comfort food at its best. Traditionally, a grilled ham and cheese sandwich is dipped into Mornay sauce (bechamel sauce with cheese), covered with tangy Gruyere and/or Parmesan cheese and baked to toasted wonderment. I’m opting to trade the ham for baby portabella mushrooms (just as satisfying!) in this version created by Bon Appetit, but feel free to use both as the recipe suggests. http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/2011/03/mushroom_croque_monsieur

4. Cinnamon Toasts

Think of this transformation of bread as a buttery cinnamon cookie. Recipe from http://orangette.blogspot.com/2010/05/her-recipe-box.html

1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter, cubed
6 slices white sandwich bread, or more as needed
½ cup sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 325°F. If you want, line a baking sheet with parchment or aluminum foil. It makes cleanup easier.

Put the butter into a pie plate or similar baking dish. Slide the dish into the oven, and keep an eye on it. You’re looking for the butter to melt completely.

Stack the slices of bread, and then cut them diagonally into quarters. You should have 24 triangles.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar and cinnamon. Turn the cinnamon sugar out onto a dinner plate, or another pie plate.

When the butter is melted, remove it from the oven, and brush it onto both sides of a triangle of bread. Don’t be shy: apply the butter generously, so no spot is left uncoated. The bread should feel a little heavy in your hand. Dip the bread into the cinnamon sugar, taking care to coat both sides. Lay it on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining pieces of bread.

Bake the toasts for about 25 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer to a rack. The toasts will crisp as they cool. When cooled, store in an airtight container at room temperature.

5. A Sponge!

I’m totally serious! White bread, that’s not too dry and still has some “squish” to it, can be balled up and used to remove pencil marks and fingerprints from walls and other surfaces. It’s not exactly a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, but in a pinch, it’s a super cheap cleaner.

6. Picking up Broken Glass

While we’re on the subject of non-edible bread uses, try this hint when you’re without a broom and dust pan. Gently press a slice or two of bread onto the shards of glass, and carefully place the whole thing in the garbage.



Friends, resourceful ones, and crafters, lend me your eyes! Are you inspired by the DIY movement, but discouraged by the high cost of reworking furniture, clothing, and other items seemingly past their prime? With a bit of ingenuity and a little time, you, too, can join the freecycling revolution without separating yourself from your cash.

This site is a place to share ideas for free or low-cost renovations for items, clothing, and even creative uses for leftovers. Please check back often as I hope to post new ideas each week. And if you have reworked creations that you’d like to share, send me a line and your project may be featured on the site!