Banana Peel Shoe Polish

You heard that right! I used a banana peel to shine my shoes.

IMG_4072

Before

IMG_4091

After

My boots were looking pretty bad, having made a few trips to the hen house surrounded by mud. They’ve also been scraped and battered over the years, and I never seem to have the time to shine ’em up. We don’t have any shoe polish here in the house and I didn’t want to go out and buy some, knowing it’s likely not made with the most environmentally-friendly ingredients. I had also done some research a year or so ago about 20 incredibly versatile things a banana peel can be used for. Shining your shoes with a peel was on the list. I figured it was time to give it a try.

So here’s all you need:

Your scuffed up shoes, made of leather or a facsimile thereof

A Banana Peel

Soft Cloth

IMG_4078

These seriously needed some help.

The Method: Rub the inside of the banana peel all over your shoes. Spread that shiny gook all over and rub some of it in as you swipe peel over leather. Then, grab your soft cloth and buff, just as you would if you were polishing your shoes with that black or brown stuff you see at the airport shoeshine spot. Rub and then buff. Apply a second coat of banana peel goodness and rub and buff again. Do it a third time, and you’re done! They’re not sticky at all. The oil from the inside peel of the banana did its magic and my boots are good to go for a few hundred more miles.

IMG_4081

Maybe not perfect, but so much better! Try it, this banana stuff works.

DIY Taco Seasoning in Bulk

Buying taco seasoning is pricey and when you have the ingredients in your own home, why not just make a batch that’ll last you days. Your own seasoning is also lower in salt content. Here’s our family recipe that we’ve used for the past year, and sometimes the amounts of each ingredient change a little, based on just how much we have in the spice rack. We buy our spices in bulk, too, to save money, have a zero waste kitchen, and so we don’t accumulate a lot of those little plastic bottles.

IMG_3576

Taco Seasoning (makes about 1 2/3 Cups)

  • ½ Cup chili powder (we sometimes use speciality chili powders we find in Mexico. Go with your favorite!)
  • 1/3 Cup cumin
  • 3 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 3 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 Tablespoon coarsely ground pepper
  • 2-3 Tablespoons ground coriander seeds
  • 2 Tablespoons paprika (sometimes we add smoked paprika)
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons salt (feel free to add more if you like your seasoning salty)
  • 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons oregano (we like Mexican oregano)FullSizeRender 83Enjoy!

Paper Bag Cast Iron Skillet Cleaner

We stopped buying paper towels years ago. Never really needed them.

And since we were eating mostly vegetarian meals, we rarely had the dilemma of what to do with a greasy cast iron skillet. Now that we eat bacon occasionally, because we’ve reintroduced a little locally-produced organic meat now and then, we have to contend with the leftover grease. We’ve used a few rags on the grease and just wash the rags, but that isn’t the best use for the rag.

And then, one day a week or so ago, I posted a dozen lunch-bag size bags to give away in my local Buy Nothing group. (I save these little bags whenever they somehow make their way into our house, and the kids use them when they go on school field trips.) A member immediately posted a comment explaining that he uses those thin lunch bags to sop up his bacon grease. It was an “aha” moment for me.

IMG_3974

Here’s what he wrote:

“If you have a new, or not-so-well-seasoned pan, a thicker bag will leave little micro fragments of paper. So generally, the smoother the pan and the finer quality of the bag, the better it works. Newspaper is completely unworkable because it’s such lo’grade.”

I decided to keep the bags, and now I have a small stash of little brown bags I can use to clean out my cast iron skillet when it gets a little too greasy. The thin bag is pretty darn absorbent.

IMG_3984

I throw in a little Celtic sea salt to scrub the bottom of the pan with the crumpled up bag, and the salt acts as a perfect scrubbing agent.

IMG_3986

No need to run soap and water over the well-seasoned skillet. And the pan is ready for its next job.

IMG_4001

The greasy bag goes into our next fire as fire-starter or we just toss it in our compost.

IMG_3996

Save those little bags for jobs like this!

Give Your Used Clothing Directly To Those In Need

 

Separating clothing into equal piles for 17 families. © Liesl Clark

Separating clothing into equal piles for 17 families. © Liesl Clark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giving used clothing away to the poor here in North America is often a strangely disconnected experience. I’ve donated clothes for years to local charities, but it’s always, sadly, an anonymous gift. There’s so much joy in connecting directly with the people who need your clothing! Putting a human face on poverty and need should not be shameful. What’s troubling to me is that most charities in the US act as a buffer between you, your stuff, and the people who could use your stuff. If we could connect with those in need more easily, I believe we’d all give more freely. The more we can put a face on those who are in need, the less taboo the subjects of homelessness and poverty will become. A recent trip to Nepal compounded these revelations for me.

“Divide the clothing into 17 piles.” We had brought 4 duffel bags filled with socks, jackets, pants, hats, all the clothing necessary to keep a family warm. What we didn’t anticipate was that the clothing would have to be divided into 17 equal shares. This village has 17 households. To keep it fair amongst all families in the village, the decision was made that no matter whether a family had children or not, all the clothing would be divided evenly and the families could then trade amongst themselves for clothing based on need.

IMG_0703 © Liesl Clark

We put 17 pairs of pants, shoes, socks, shirts, jackets and hats, even stuffed animals into discreet piles. A lottery was then devised where a name was pulled out of a hat and that family could pick up a pile of clothing. I saw no bartering or trading after each family received its pile, everyone received their share happily and a little shyly.

© Liesl Clark

What amazes me is that the clothing from my family and my daughter’s best friend’s family, plus some shoes from The North Face and socks donated from a shoe store could clothe an entire village, or keep them happy for a few months with some new things to keep family members warm. A few distributed toys, too, brought joy to all ages.

The women of Samdzong enjoying a kaleidoscope. © Liesl Clark

If you have worn clothing, please don’t throw it away. Your clothes could make a mother or child happy, help keep them warm or even provide material for new clothing that they’ll make from your old ones. I’ve seen my old pants cut up and used as patch material for a child’s pants here in Nepal, or a T-shirt worn by a lama as an under-layer of clothing for months.

© Liesl Clark

 

Socks, shoes, shirts, pants: It's all needed in the village of Samdzong. © Liesl Clark

As we walk away from villages here in Nepal, we take what we can from our personal duffel bags and hand them to those who could clearly use a better pair of shoes or a warm jacket. The more contact we have with those who are in need, the more we can help address all of our basic needs and ultimately share resources, re-allocating our excess clothing and food into the hands of the needy — rather than throwing it away.

Even the pencils our children’s school was throwing away made it into the hands of school children today who will use them until the pencils are mere stubs. If this is all that we do: turn people’s thrown away items into gifts for the poor, we will have done a small bit of good for children and families that have so very little here in the high Himalaya.

Are you looking for a way to donate your clothing so you know it gets to those in need? You could give it away in your local Buy Nothing group. Chances are, if you’re observing in your group, when you post your clothes, you’ll find plenty of families that could use a boost of free clothing, rather than having to buy it all new. These are your neighbors and it’s so easy to do person-to-person giving right in your own ‘hood.

 

Use Crayons For Dry Erase Boards

We ran out of dry erase markers and made a discovery. You don’t need to buy more of those plastic markers! Large crayons work just fine on dry erase boards. Simply use a soft cloth to wipe it off, with a little extra elbow grease.

 

Crayon going onto a whiteboard…..And crayon coming off the same whiteboard with an old sock eraser. This really does work, and it does wipe clean! Just sayin’.

How To Reduce And Reuse Chip Bags

Potato chip bags are something we’ve all handled and then thrown into the trash.

If your conscience has you wondering if there are alternatives to sending that bag into the landfill, you’ve come to the right place.

If you simply want to try to reduce your chip bag footprint, just make your own easy microwave chips using Rock Farmer’s simple method. If you want an oil-free recipe with a few more steps, give this one from the Kitchn a try.

Reuse and Repurpose:

1) If you’re not able to resist purchasing snacks in crinkly bags, then use your bags as gift bags! It’s easy to do: Turn your chip bag inside out, wash it with dish soap to get rid of any grease. Dry it out. Then reuse the silvery or white side as a mylar-style gift bag. We do this all the time and reuse them over and over. We just attach some pretty ribbon like these pictured here which we found on the beach (no kidding) hanging beneath a deflated helium balloon all twisted up in seaweed. These ribbons last forever, they’re made of plastic, and look as good as new even after years of floating in the open sea. I’ve picked up so many of them on the beach, I’ve had occasion to give a bag of them away on my local Buy Nothing group, with the caveat that the person agrees to keep the ribbons on indoor gifts and not set them free with a helium balloon. When you’ve seen them wrapped around the necks of baby seals and sea turtles, you can’t help reconsider why we risk sending them into our seas via floating balloons in the first place. But I digress.

2) Make a shoulder bag. Some chip bags have a cool vintage look to them and could make a great shoulder bag.

3) Make a gum wrapper-style chain bracelet. Remember making paper chains from gum-wrappers? If you employ the same method with chip bags and candy wrappers, you can craft some amazing things. First step is making a bracelet.

4) And when you’ve mastered the gum wrapper-style bracelet, you’re ready to move on to the purse.

5) Craftbits has a tutorial for a nice clutch.

6) Make a potato chip bag mini scrap book. At making-mini-scrapbooks.com, you’ll learn how to make your own cool books that would also make excellent gifts for friends.

Mini Potato Chip Bag Scrapbook, Photo © making-mini-scrapbooks.com

7) Instructables has a tutorial for a chip bag wallet.

8) Craft a baby crinkly square to appeal to baby’s need for tactile and aural stimulation. We think a snack bag would make some good crinkly sounds for your little one.

Baby Crinkly Squares Can Be Made With Potato Chip Bags, Photo © Joy’sHope.com

Remember the Sunchip compostable bags and how loud they were (95 db)? Maybe stay away from those. They’ve been discontinued, apparently, but consumers certainly had fun with the deafening chip bags. Even a Facebook group was started, called SORRY, BUT I CAN’T HEAR YOU OVER THIS SUNCHIPS BAG. We were excited to see that compostable snack bags were being tested on the market, yet when we did our own compost test of the Sunchip bags in a commercial composter for a month, the bags, surprisingly, were still intact — no decomposition visible.

9) Make an adorable robot from the silvery side of your bag.

10) Yet another Instructable. This time it’s a pencil case. Who needs Terracycle when you can upcycle your own stuff?

11) Cover over an old bracelet with delightful snack bag colors to make a new one!

12) Make party tassels!

I figure that’s enough to keep you busy with your snack bags, but let’s face it, all of this will end up being tossed in the landfill eventually. Although my kids love to occasionally have a junk food fix of chips, we’re continuing to do our best to stop buying foods that come in unrecyclable bags. Until chips can be sold in something a little more sustainable, we’ll do our best to just say no, or make our own.

How Toxic Is Your Garden Hose?

Think Twice About Your Garden Hoses And How Toxic They Might Be. Photo © Liesl Clark

One of the cheapest, happiest forms of warm weather play for children is a garden hose with a sprinkler hooked up to it. For our children, it means hours of joyous play.

Sprinkler Fun. Photo © Liesl Clark

The challenge for us is the knowledge that most hoses are made of toxic chemicals and hence are full of pthalates and Bisphenol A. Both are known endocrine disruptors and if children drink from a hose their BPA levels will rise significantly.

Be Sure to Play in a BPA-Free Garden Hose Spray. Photo © Liesl Clark

Lead has also been detected in most garden hoses. It’s unknown what the effects are to the soil and plants, but what’s clear is that the next time we buy a hose we should be aware of studies on the chemicals hoses can leach and which hoses are safest. Here’s a 2016 study on the toxicity of hoses done by the Ecology Center.

Photo © Liesl Clark

We do have one PVC-free hose and that’s the one we use for kid water-play. In fact, we use it as often as possible, as we phase out our other old hoses. An irrigation project we’re longing to do is a hose-free drain system from our pond to the vegetable garden so we can skip the hose quotient altogether. No wonder our waters are full of estrogen-mimicking chemicals that are affecting indicator species like fish.

Photo © Liesl Clark

If you’re interested in phasing out your old hoses or reusing one that’s broken, we’ve seen them sliced lengthwise in small sections to be used as blade protectors for hand-saws, or used on the side of a garden shed for wall-art, or woven on an old chair to create some cool outdoor furniture.

But, for the purposes of watering our garden or for kid-play, from now on we’ll be seeking out BPA and lead-free hoses.

8 Plastic Kiddie Pool Reuses

After years of summer aquatic fun in 6 inches of baby pool magic with toddlers, my conscience took over and had issues with the unsustainable reality of the kiddie pool: Most inflatables get holes in them and whether they’re air-filled or hard plastic they’re made of PVC and laden with Bisphenol A, a toxic cocktail for earthlings just starting out on the planet.

We recently found a kiddie pool under our guesthouse deck, left behind by our renter, a mass of vinyl, pine needles, and hidden slugs. We cleaned it up with some high powered squirts from the garden hose and some serious scrubbing. I started inflating the thing by mouth in that way that Moms, Dads, and loved ones dedicated to preserving summer bliss can do, only to find that there was a small leak. Summer bliss had hit a road block.

Repairing inflatables is as simple as fixing a bike tire tube or Thermarest for camping. We got out the tube repair kit and made a quick patch and the inflating resumed. But it got me thinking. How many plastic kiddie pools are thrown out in our community each year? Likely hundreds. All that vinyl, headed to the landfill because someone didn’t have a patch kit or couldn’t deal with the gross slug slime-n-pine grime.

 

When you’re done with your pool, hopefully it’s still in working order for you to pass your pool on to another family that will frolic freely in their BuyNothing-ed frog pool. Or, if you have a hard plastic kid pool, donate it to your nearest animal rescue center for use by aquatic birds, fowl, and domestic animals escaping summer heat.

You might want to hang on to it, however, when you discover some of the upcycle options for that prized pool.

Hard Plastic Kiddie Pools:

1) Turn your pool and a few others into a raised bed garden. Wandering Chopsticks has a simple tutorial for you to follow for adding some green (and veggies) to your backyard.

Wandering Chopsticks’ Kiddie Pool Raised Bed Garden, Photo by Wandering Chopsticks.

2) If you have a party coming up and need to keep a lot of food cold while serving, Thrifty Fun’s wading pool cool food server might be just what you’re looking for.

3-6) Here are 4 more great ways to reuse your hard plastic kiddie pool, presented by Hint Mama. Among them are a ball pit, a beach playpen, and a toy bin.

Inflatable Kiddie Pools:

 

7) Turn your deflated pool into a slippy slide! Just turn it upside down on a little slope and add a trickle of water.

8) Then add a few drops of environmentally-safe liquid soap and watch the fun and bubbles explode!

Our kids are now older and I can proudly say that we never had to take a kiddie pool to the landfill. The reuses were too good and then the pools were passed on to others. Do you have a reuse we haven’t mentioned here?

Plant An Extra Row

Extra Romaine Lettuce is Easy to Grow For the Hungry. Photo © Liesl Clark

“Do You Have Any Leftovers?” was written on the sign next to the man sitting humbly on a street where popular cafes and restaurants have sidewalk seating on a Boulder, Colorado street. We were struck to the core by these words.

He wasn’t asking for money or even for “food.” This street beggar simply wanted what we were going to throw away, reminding passers-by that if they had a few morsels they weren’t going to eat at that streetside cafe, he’d be happy to gulp it down. My son had half a bagel wrapped in a napkin that he was going to eat for lunch. He promptly put it in the man’s hands and they smiled at each other as the man gratefully ate the food.

Potatoes Harvested For the Hungry. Photo © Liesl Clark

This direct experience with someone whom we knew was hungry got us thinking creatively about our food and where we have leftovers that might help others. If you have a garden, you’ve likely experienced the good fortune of excess produce to share with friends and neighbors. Why not share it with neighbors who are in need of food? Plant a row for the hungry, and at harvest time take your produce to your nearest food bank to augment the traditional canned goods people donate. A box full of lettuces, tomatoes, squash, or carrots will bring joy to those who might not have had a fresh locally-grown vegetable for months.

Digging for Treasure. Photo © Liesl Clark

My friend, Rebecca Rockefeller, and I planted a garden together with our children that donated over half the produce to our local food bank, Helpline House. Potato harvest was particularly fun for the kids. It’s like digging for treasure. I always make room for a few extra rows of greens, too, to share on our local Buy Nothing group. Anything we can’t eat is shared with our neighbors. It helps us to meet new people who have moved to the neighborhood.

Children Love Harvesting For Others in Need. Photo © Liesl Clark

The children enjoy bringing the boxes of produce we harvest into our local food bank. Last year we donated 148 lbs of food and hope to double our contribution this year. Of course, potatoes and zucchini do add up! Planting an extra row or 2 has helped us rethink our bounty in general. When we have the time, homemade yogurt is donated, along with extra eggs from the henhouse and a loaf of fresh-baked bread shouldn’t be too hard to contribute once a month or so. We’re shifting our food-production model to include more hungry bodies. And we’ll think of the man on the Boulder sidewalk happy to eat our half-eaten bagel because he simply was that hungry. Imagine if we could’ve given him a handfull of fresh strawberries, apples, and carrots picked minutes before.

These Greens From My Garden Went to Helpline House. Photo © Liesl Clark

If you can’t plant a row for the hungry, you can find edible bounty around you to donate. We’re looking forward to doing some foraging for our less fortunate neighbors for watercress and blackberries when the season is right. There’s plenty out there, so why not take a little time out of your day to provide for a few more mouths than your own? It brings joy and a feeling of connection to those around us through the food we grow and harvest with our own hands.

Nasturtiums and Peas. Photo © Liesl Clark

DIY Scrap Wood Chickubator

By Pete Athans

Chickubator? That’s my name for a wooden box used to house baby chicks until they’re ready to hang with the big girls in the coop.

Little Peeper in the Chickubator. Photo © Liesl Clark

Day-old chicks arrive weekly at our local feed store come early spring and every other year our children get to pick out 6 new chicks to add to our flock.

4 Little People Holding 4 Chicks On the Way Back Home. Photo © Liesl Clark

It’s a special time for them, fluff balls peeping in their hands and laps as they all bounce in the backseat of our truck on the way home.

IMG_3507 Photo © Liesl Clark

Some people put the chicks in their bathtub — no water included of course — but the thought of 6 chicks in the tub for a couple of months and the cleanup required might deter our kids from taking baths in the future.

The Chickubator. It needs a new floor. Photo © Liesl Clark

Enter the chickubator. I’ve constructed a simple 3 ft. X 4 ft. wooden box from our old decking material that’s lasted 6 years so far. I don’t have the photos to give you a full tutorial, but here’s the basic sketch: Build the walls and end pieces first, or use scrap plywood. My side walls are 4′ X 3′ and end pieces are 3′ X 3′.

Then, use 1″ X 2″ strips, the same height as your chickubator walls, as your corners to add stability and a nailing surface.  Using 2 1/2″ wood screws on the corners and screw your walls and end pieces together.

After 6 years, our chickubator was ready for a new floor.

IMG_3466 Photo © Liesl Clark

I got out some scrap 1″ X 4″ cedar planks and cut them to size.

IMG_3468 Photo © Liesl Clark

You can see, above, that I reinforced the end wall with a 1″ X 4″ due to Northwest rains and subsequent rot. We store our chickubator under our deck during the chick-raising off-season. This isn’t fine home-building, folks.

IMG_3470 Photo © Liesl Clark

Screw the floor pieces to the bottom walls.

IMG_3552 Photo © Liesl Clark

The box is set up in our laundry room atop 1″ X 1″ wood strips atop a tarp to protect our cedar plank floor.

IMG_3519 Photo © Liesl Clark

Throw some shredded paper in there and you’ve got a chick home. A red heat lamp keeps them warm and apparently deters the chicks from pecking at each other. Be sure to put chicken wire over the top of your chickubator. The little peepers will start to fly in a matter of days and could get out. Or, Willa the cat could get in. I built a frame that goes around the top of the box and stapled scrap chicken wire to it. It’s easy for the kids to take on and off.

IMG_3568 Photo © Liesl Clark

Nothing cuter than baby chicks — except maybe a puppy doting over his brood.

IMG_3538 Photo © Liesl Clark