Force Winter Twigs For Indoor Spring Color


Yesterday, while the birds were gossiping with spring chatter on one of our first days above 50 degrees in weeks, I noticed some pruned wisteria sticks were still in our perennial garden, left over from when my husband had pruned the flowering wisteria last fall. It’s been an extremely wet winter, and I was surprised to find that the wisteria sticks had buds on them. The moisture of the winter rains sustained the cuttings, so they were still alive!

Inspired by Cathy’s “In a Vase on Monday” series, where she puts whatever might be green, even in the dead of winter, into a vase and writes about it, I looked at those wisteria sticks and thought perhaps I could force them for early blooms. And then this post, at Frogend Dweller’s Blog, rocked my Monday, with the reminder that we can collect many different flowering twigs, place them in a vase filled with water, and watch them open over the course of late winter and early spring. I promptly walked around our property and found that there were plenty of twigs barely hanging onto some of our flowering shrubs and trees, having been blown down by winter winds. I grabbed my sharpest pruning shears and gathered what I could:


The varying colors of the stems are stunning in the mid-winter light. From left to right my budding twig offerings are as follows:


Asian Plum

A Rose of Some Sort (Oh gosh! I just don’t know what kind it is!)


Alder (yes?)

And…um…well….er…I just don’t know what the last one is on the right. Another variety of alder?

Ok, so I don’t know all of my trees and shrubs, but 50% isn’t bad. And then Willa caught wind of the spring fever and wanted to pretend she was one of the sticks, too.


I love how the plum branches have a little moss on them. Did I mention how wet our winters are here?


The twigs were arranged in the nearest watering pot and placed in one of our favorite windows, under the grape pergola with the twists of vine shadows playing with the mid-day light that floods our dining area.


The children and I can’t wait to see what blooms we’ll get from our forced twigs. Be sure to get outside, in the upcoming days, to clip a few flowering twigs of your own to bring some spring leaves and blossoms indoors while you wait out the chills of winter to come.


Special thanks to Frogend Dwellers Blog and Rambling in the Garden for your inspiration. You’ve taken the bite out of winter. I’ve been enjoying your writings immensely.

Oh, and if anyone can help me identify the 3 varietals of twigs I missed, please comment below!

DIY Cat Scratching Post

Give your kitty what she wants and make a real-tree natural cat scratching post! My theory is that your average carpet-remnant cat scratch tree only encourages your furball to scratch up your carpet or upholstery. If you give your cat what she wants, an actual tree branch to sharpen her nails on, she’ll leave your furniture alone. That’s what our cat does…mostly.

A Real Tree Cat Scratch Tree!

So, we went out to our brush pile and found the perfect curving fat tree limb with two Y branches growing from it so our kitty could have a few spots to climb to. I found a piece of particle board to screw the sawed-off limb onto. It was as simple as that. This scratching post has lasted 4 years and our cat still uses it happily.

We often attach bits of string with fun things for our kitty to bat at, to make it a fun playspace for her.

She loves her real tree cat scratch tree.

But here’s the best thing about this cat gym: When we’re done with it, we can break it down and burn it in our fireplace. No issues about waste here.

Do you have a DIY cat scratching post you can share here?

Clothes The Loop With The North Face

I’m excited to make a huge discovery, for those of us who ache when we throw into the landfill big chunks of plastic that could likely be repurposed into something else. The North Face stores will take not only your old clothes, shoes, and outdoor gear like backpacks and tents, but they’ll also take your old ski boots! Please read this article by my husband that tells you all about this great initiative.

By Pete Athans

Living on an island means we don’t have access to a lot of services and conveniences. We like that.

My 7-year-old daughter on a ferry boat ride to our Puget Sound island. Photo © Liesl Clark

A 35-minute ferry ride delivers us into what feels like the bowels of Seattle, ejecting ferry-riders beneath a highway underpass, a continuous stream of cars, buses and trucks humming above. Just around the corner from the hum of the waterfront is one of The North Face’s first stores to open in the U.S.

Delivered by ferry to the Seattle waterfront. Photo © Liesl Clark

I’ve worked for the company for nearly 30 years, and I still love walking into this special Seattle space. Behind the modern store facade, you still have a sense of the original post and beam construction, probably used for shipping or as a warehouse years ago. Today, I’m even more proud to step into the store with my family, carrying our used clothing, textiles, and gear that we aren’t able to sustainably throw away on our small island. In fact, most people have a tough time finding places to discard used clothing and specialized outdoor gear in this country. But every store in the US that The North Face operates now has a “Clothes The Loop” box where you can drop off your used and worn-up clothes, gear, and shoes. You’ll get a discount on your next purchase at The North Face store as a reward for your efforts.

Here’s how you can find a store near you that is participating in this program. Click on their Find A Store link. Then, at the bottom of the map, click on the boxes that say “The North Face Stores” and “The North Face Outlets.” Those are the stores owned and operated by The North Face that have this program.

Denim has value. Don't throw it away! It can be used as insulation. Photo © Liesl Clark

The North Face has initiated this much-needed clothing, gear, and shoe recycling program, they call “Clothes the Loop,” in a partnership with I:CO an international textile and shoe recycler that breaks materials down into 400 categories for carpet padding, stuffing for new toys, and fibers for new clothing. I:CO currently processes about 500 tons of used items every day in 74 countries. They have collection points all over Europe and in the USA.

Drop your old apparel, any brand, into a "Clothes the Loop" bin at The North Face store.

Here’s a list of the kinds of items you can take to your nearest store and put in their box:

Old Clothing


Hiking Boots


Bed Spreads


Table Cloths

Fabric Scraps

Ski Boots



Climbing Harnesses


Stuffed Animals

We’ve taken samplings of just about everything on the list above to their store. It’s reduced our family’s solid waste significantly each year. According to the EPA Office of Solid Waste, Americans throw away more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year, and this figure is rapidly growing. Add your outdoor gear to that figure and surely it’s over 100 pounds. We’re very excited to hear that they’ll take ski boots. Before this, there were no options in the Seattle area and most cities for ski boot recycling.


Our family has a lot of boots, for every kind of snow sport. We’re probably not unlike many families. © Liesl Clark

Before you take your items in to The North Face, if any of them are usable, please try to give them away to someone who might be able to use them, through a project like your local Buy Nothing group. When my family travels to the Himalaya, we always bring a few extra duffels of clothing and shoes. We work with communities in Upper Mustang who are in dire need of good shoes.

Since children grow so fast, it isn’t hard to pass on our own children’s lightly worn fleece, outerwear, hiking boots, hats and gloves to kids in remote mountain communities. It’s the least we can do in a high mountain environment where people only have access to poorly made Chinese apparel.

A child in Samdzong getting medical care from our expedition doctor. Photo © Liesl Clark

My children on their way to Upper Mustang, Nepal. Photo © Liesl Clark

My children on their way to Upper Mustang, Nepal. Photo © Liesl Clark

If we’re more mindful of our textile and outdoor gear waste, we can each make a difference. We know the textile industry adds tremendous environmental stress on our planet, but by giving away our usable our clothing and gear and then recycling what’s un-wearable, we can reduce the demand for virgin materials in new clothing and conserve the energy that goes into making fibers for fabrics.

Recycling your worn out textiles and shoes at The North Face is fun. Photo © Liesl Clark

For us islanders, this new drop box at The North Face will be a welcome destination for fabrics and apparel we’ve been stockpiling in our homes in hopes that a recycler would appear in our midst. Your jeans that have holes in the knees and gloves that are nearly shredded from outdoor use are welcome at the Clothes the Loop bin.

My favorite TNF gloves, now safely in the bin. Photo © Liesl Clark

Hope to see you there, recycling your hole-y socks and dented hats.

IMG_3361 Photo © Liesl Clark

Olive Oil Tin Turned Celery Container

I love olive oil tins. They’re reminiscent of the Old World where reuse of large tins is commonplace. When I think of how I’ve seen olive oil tins reused, I imagine geraniums on a sunny step in colorful olive oil planters in Italy or hammered out oil tins used as roofing or wall siding in Nepal.

2 Lovely Olive Oil Tins, What To Do? Photo © Liesl Clark

I saved a couple of tins this year and other than using them as a flower vase, I couldn’t think if anything special to do with them. And then my son started having a celery craving. I hate storing celery (or anything) in plastic bags in the refrigerator, so we started storing it in large mason jars with a a couple inches of water for the stalks to stay fresh. And then the idea hit me: Turn an olive oil tin into a refrigerator celery container. It holds 2 large celery bunches perfectly!

First Use an Old-Style Can Opener. Photo © Liesl Clark

You’ll need a Swiss Army-style jack knife with a can opener to remove the oil tin lid. And if that doesn’t work, get out the tin snips. Make sure you bend and file down all rough and sharp edges.

Our new celery tin. Photo © Liesl Clark

Be sure to put a few inches of water in your tin to keep the celery crisp and fresh. Then, throw it in the fridge! Our celery lasts weeks in this custom-made tin crisper.

A Tin of Celery Works Beautifully in our Plastic-Free Fridge. Photo © Liesl Clark

Gone are the days of limp celery in the vegetable drawer.

Celery in a Tin in a Plastic-Free Fridge. Photo © Liesl Clark

Yarn Scraps Are For The Birds

Spring is in the air! Save some scraps and bits to offer to your songbirds for spring nest-building. An old suet feeder will do the trick. At this time of year our feathered friends need all the help they can get.

Here are some great items that you can include:

Natural fiber yarn


Horsetail Hair

Shredded Paper





Small Fabric Scraps

Cotton Balls

Cotton Wadding from Aspirin Bottles

Dried Moss


Leaf Stems

Dog Hair

Cat Hair

So, don’t throw your yarn scraps and other bits away. Save them for the birds! In Paonia, Colorado, one spring, my son found the most unique birds nest, made entirely of yarns, hay, polyfibers, human hair, horsetail, and string.

IMG_4213 Photo © Liesl Clark

The 1 Minute Declutter Trick

Happy Playing Kids + Dog = Clutter. Photo © Liesl Clark

Happy Playing Kids + Dog = Clutter. Photo © Liesl Clark

According to The Story of Stuff, we consume twice as many material goods today as we did 50 years ago. An independent study in the UK revealed the average 10 year old owns 238 toys, but only plays with 12. We’re drowning in our stuff.

Is the clutter and chaos in your house getting you down? Have an unexpected visitor arriving in 1-minute? Here’s a quick fix that’ll solve your clutter calamaties:

A box.

Have clutter troubles? Think inside the box. Photo © Liesl Clark

When I’m overwhelmed by accumulated surface clutter atop counters and other furnishings in our house, I find the nearest empty box and quickly fill it with the items covering my table tops and horizontal surfaces. Even the children’s floordrobes get the box treatment. The items in question have been sitting there, I oft realize, because there’s just no obvious place to put them. A box is as likely a place as any.

The clutter box. Photo © Liesl Clark

And where does the box go? In our storage room (husband’s gear room, our workbench, and small storage space for things in transition) for a few weeks to see if anyone missed any of the items in said box. If the items disappear without notice or family grumblings, GIVE THEM AWAY.

Don’t ask yourself whether the items bring you joy.

Think of the joy you felt when they were off your counters, no longer between you and the front door. No, get rid of them quickly, but thoughtfully, without throwing them away. Feel the joy in giving them to another loving person before you change your mind and bring them back into your house to start the colossal closed-loop clutter cycle all over again.

This clutter-free surface is brought to you by "the clutter box." Photo © Liesl Clark

And you can thank me in the comments below.

A Wood-Foraging Workout


© Liesl Clark

It occurred to me, last winter, when high winds blew down so many trees, that I could help clear the trails, rather than just hike them. The added benefit was wood.


Blown-down wood on a Pacific Northwest Trail © Liesl Clark

Rather than carrying a backpack filled with random items to give me added weight for a pre-expedition workout, I realized the resource I could gather on my hikes was right at my feet. My friend, Yangin Sherpa, walks 5 miles a day to collect wood where she lives. Why couldn’t I?


We heat our home with wood and our property provides most of what we need. But I realized that every day, during the storm season, I was picking up and throwing aside big chunks of wood that had come down the day before onto the trails we hike on our hill.


Huge Trees Come Down, Blocking Our Trails, All Winter Long © Liesl Clark

I bring an empty pack after a windstorm and load it with large chunks blocking the trail that I would otherwise throw aside. There’s so much wood out there, areas where blow-downs outnumber the trees standing. I figure a small payment for my clearing of the trails are the few pieces I can gather to add weight to my gait, to give greater resistance to my uphill climb so I can prepare for the high passes and cliffside traverses we do each summer in the Himalaya.


Payment for My Pains © Liesl Clark

I find joy in knowing what it feels like to walk 5 miles for a bundle of wood that will keep my family warm for one more day.


What are your simple pleasures?