Easy DIY Snack Boxes

By Finn Clark

Aunt Kelly's Cool Carton Snack Boxes. Photo © Finn Clark

My Aunt Kelly gave me the idea to make snack box containers because she made us one as a gift for Christmas. Since we get local organic milk delivered in cartons, I started saving some so I could try to make my own, using Kelly’s as a template.

Aunt Kelly's Cool Snack Box, Opened Up. Photo © Finn Clark

Here’s how it’s done:

1) You’ll want your box to be square. Each carton is about 3.5 inches wide. Measure 3.5 inches up from the bottom of each corner and put a dot there with a Sharpie. This will be the point where you will cut down to from the top.

2) Then measure another 3.5 inches above that and put another dot there. This is the high point of your arch.

Drawing the high point of your arch. Photo © Finn Clark

3) We used Kelly’s as a template so just traced the arches, but I’ve given you the measurements above, so you can now draw your arch like we did.

Put a dot 3.5 inches up from the bottom. This is the point where you cut down to from the top. Photo © Finn Clark

4) Now that you have an arch drawn for each side of your carton, start cutting them out with scissors. Be sure to cut on the corners all the way down to your 3.5 inch mark (up from the bottom.)

Cutting down the corners from the top of the carton all the way down to the 3.5 inch mark. Photo © Finn Clark

5) Now cut out your arches.

Cutting the arches. Photo © Finn Clark

6) Fold your sides down at the 3.5 inch marks.

Folding the sides down.

7) Sew on a nice large button. Just sew it on like you would normally sew a button. We chose our favorite side to sew the button onto, centered it, and measured about 1.5 inches down from the top.

Sew on a button. Photo © Finn Clark

8) Wrap a rubber band around the button once tightly and use it to cinch down your little snack box.

The right size rubber band adds the finishing touch. Photo © Finn Clark

You’re done! Enjoy your snack box. I use mine to hold apple slices, or home made crackers, nuts, whatever I can find in our pantry for a school snack. And it’s really easy to wash out!

Me and my DIY snack box.

Oh, and you can save the left-over cut carton and use it as a crown.

50 Things To Never Buy

50 Things You Never Have to Buy

A few months ago, I posted 10 items we no longer buy and have had a resounding response. Well, they were actually 20 items, since the original list of 10 came from Suburban Pioneers. I’ve decided to up the ante and compile a list of 50 items you could cross off your shopping list. I’ll start at 50 and work my way down to the first 10 listed by Suburban Pioneers.

Here goes:

50) Bottled Water: Let’s just not ever buy bottled water unless we absolutely have to. Ok? With a little forethought, there’s no need to buy water packaged in plastic.

Bottled Water for Sale

49) Air:  Who buys air? Apparently the air is so bad in Beijing, the Chinese do.

48) Note paper: Notes can be written down on any scrap paper. We write notes on the backside of letters with only one side printed, that come in the mail: envelopes, anything with room for a few paragraphs, a list, or some doodles.

47) Wrapping Paper: There are so many wonderful alternatives to wrapping paper, including cloth, paper bags, your children’s artwork, and chip bags. We have a stash of reusable cloth bags that I make each year to use as gift bags. We save wrapping paper, too, and reuse it and reuse it and…

46) Fly Paper: We’ve started making our own sweet fly paper and it works most of the time..

Hanging out to dry. Photo © Liesl Clark

45) Pot Scrubbers: Crumpled up aluminum foil works. Really. Don’t laugh. It totally works.

44) Planters: Almost anything can be converted into a planter — you just have to use your imagination. If it can hold anything, it can be a planter. I’ve seen bras and toilets as planters, bike helmets, and baby shoes. Here are 5 planters that I photographed while in Nepal.

43) Trellises: As above, trellises are a garden feature that can include whimsical reuse. Here are 25 beautiful trellises you can make from your trash.

42) Chicken Bedding: We use cut grass, dried leaves, roadside grass and — our favorite — shredded paper.

Shredded Paper Bedding Photo © Liesl Clark

41) Yogurt Maker: Skip the yogurt maker and make your own in glass jars. It’s easy.


Off-The-Grid Yogurt Over The Pilot Light ©Liesl Clark

40) Window Washing Liquid: Vinegar and water works perfectly, along with newspaper instead of microfiber rags or paper towels.

No-Smudge Newspaper Method. Photo © Liesl Clark

39) Laundry Detergent: Try this DIY recipe and save some money.

38) Dish soap: Here’s a DIY Dish Soap recipe that’ll surprise you.

37) Salad Dressings: Remember simple balsamic and olive oil dressings? Just make your own delicious dressings in a jar. They get better with age and will give you no excuse for not eating your greens. Try our favorite recipe and you won’t be disappointed.

Adding Vinegar to Taste is Best. Photo © Liesl Clark

36) Fire Starters: These are so easy to make and they make excellent gifts.

35) Balloons: If you visit Balloons Blow on the Web, you’ll understand why you never want to buy them again. And as an alternative, try a pretty no-sew bunting.

34) Saran Wrap: We never use plastic food wrap any more, now that there’s the ultimate reusable alternative.

33) Gift Tags: We’ve been known, come Christmas, to repurpose last year’s cards as gift tags. You can do the same with all the pretty cards you receive throughout the year — turn them into tags to add to your gifts.

32) Padded Envelopes: We receive so many of these throughout the year, and reuse them of course, that we even give away in our local Buy Nothing group a box or 2 to other local businesses that can reuse them.

Don't Buy New! Reuse Your Padded Envelopes.

31) Christmas Ornaments: Ornaments are one of the sweetest items to make, as they’re treasured year after year. It’s a family tradition.

Click Through For Trash Backwards Trash to Treasure Ornament Roundup in our app!

30) All-Purpose Cleaner: Orange peels and vinegar will style you with an all-purpose cleaner you’ll love.

DIY All-Purpose Household Cleaner

29) Fruit Vinegar: Fruit scrap vinegar is one of the DIY recipes that’s really changed my buying habits. I make a better apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, and blackberry vinegar than I can buy in the store.

Vinegars Photo © Liesl Clark

28) Potatoes, Arugula: If you’re a gardener, you’ll understand this. When you inadvertently leave a potato or two in your garden, you end up with more next year. Same goes for arugula which always goes to seed in our garden. We never have to replant it. So we simply don’t buy it.

27) Garlic Crusher: In a pinch, use a wide knife to whack at your garlic cloves. Or, go caveman-style as I do and find a great stone for crushing.

Garlic Crushing Pestle.jpg Photo © Liesl Clark

26) Furniture/Floor protectors: So many items can be used to protect your floors from the scratching legs of your furniture. Flip flops are one among many.

25) Silica Gel: We get a lot of silica gel through products that are sent to my husband for his work and then give it away. Silica gel has so many uses! If you need it, just ask on your Buy Nothing group and you’ll likely find plenty.

Silica Gel, Photo by Liesl Clark

24) Beach Toys: So many beach toys are washed up on our beaches, obviously left behind by others, I’d love to see people simply stop buying them. There are great alternatives to buying these redundant plastic items.

Metal beach toys from the thrift shop, photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

23) String: We rarely buy string anymore, because we aren’t ashamed to say we salvage it from all sorts of items, like our chicken feed sacks.

22) Doorstops: Get creative with your doorstops and you’ll find joy in refraining to buy one.

Boot Doorstop © Rebecca Rockefeller

21) Easter Egg Dye: We discovered a great reuse for an Easter egg dye that we’ll definitely use again — magic markers! Whether they’re used up or not, soaking them in water for a while doesn’t hurt them one bit.

Use your dried up Non-Toxic Markers for Easter Egg Dye

20) Paper towels: Um, use cloth ones.

A few good rags in a basket = alternative to paper towels. Photo © Liesl Clark

19) Hair ties: Look in every parking lot and on any sidewalk and you’re bound to find a hair tie or 2. I mean it, they’re everywhere. I find them on trails in the woods, too.

Hair Ties and Hair Clips Recovered From the Parking Lots and Sidewalks of the World. Just wash them. Photo © LIesl Clark

18) Pens: As above, look in every parking lot and on the side walks. Pens are everywhere.

Pens Recovered on Puget Sound Beaches

17) Ribbons: Simply look on every shoreline and ribbon can be found there.

Ribbon Found on Our Beaches (including the spool), Photo © Liesl Clark

Ribbon Found on Our Beaches (including the spool), Photo © Liesl Clark

16) Styrofoam Packing Peanuts or bubble wrap:  (Just ask for it on your Buy Nothing group.)

15) Ziploc bags: Wash them.

Gaiam Bag Dryer, Photo © Liesl Clark

Gaiam Bag Dryer, Photo © Liesl Clark

14) Plastic children’s toys: Just ask any parent for them, they’ll gladly give you a box or 3.

13) Books: Of course, I do support buying books from your favorite author, but for many of the books you’ll need throughout the year, use your library!

12) Plastic straws: Plastic straws are a scourge upon the land and water. Use your lips, or find a glass, bamboo, or metal alternative.

plastic straws recovered from Point No Point and Schel-Chelb Estuary, WA, photo by Liesl Clark

11) Cigarette Lighters: Plastic cigarette lighters replace matches way too often. We still collect cool looking matchbooks from bars and restaurants.

Lighters Recovered from Puget Sound Beaches

Lighters Recovered from Puget Sound Beaches

(For these last 10, be sure to visit Suburban Pioneers for their full post)

10) Post-Its

9) Plastic Funnels

8) Microwavable Neck Pillow

7) Pet Fur Remover (Brush or Stone)

6) Travel Toiletry Containers

5) Rubber Bands

4) Reusable Grocery Bags

3) Pet Poo Bags

2) Cleaning Rags

1) Plastic Leftovers Containers

What can you add to our list?  Enjoy your frugal living!

Doll House Haunted House

It was a dark and stormy night…(yes, we get plenty of these in the Pacific Northwest) and a couple of innovative kids created a mini haunted house from items they found in boxes and toy collections. They wanted to create something to play with but also to put on display outside the front door, without purchasing anything new. This haunted doll house is now a treasure, simply because they transformed a few everyday items and found some seasonal ones to add to the ambiance. The key is: Buy nothing and craft a cool Halloween decoration.

Here’s how this easy rainy-day project can quickly come to fruition for you, too:

1) A dollhouse will need to be your centerpiece.

2) Then, a glow-stick-style flashlight that glows a flourescent green will need to be procured from a closet. Or, use a regular flashlight and use some green plastic sheeting as a gel for your light.

3) Tiny plastic bugs must be curated out of your vast collection of creepy crawlies.

4) Next comes a search for white yarn scraps you might have thrown in the waste basket but thought better of. These will serve as cob webbing.

5) And finally, any tiny otherwise useless Halloween bits and bobs you’ve accumulated from previous years will make your mini haunted house’s yard art especially intimidating. If you don’t have anything, just ask for them on your local Buy Nothing group.

6) Put on some scary mood music (Pandora can be great for that), and let the mini doll-style Halloween fun begin.

What no-buy, no-waste Halloween ideas have you crafted up?

Be An Agri-Tourist


Enormous oranges littered the ground beneath the trees of a family-owned Florida citrus grove. The waste-not person in me thought, “They’re not picking them fast enough. What a shame.” But my thoughts were answered by the woman offering a farm tour.


“Here at Dooley Groves, we leave all fallen fruit on the ground. It acts as excellent compost for the trees. Please don’t pick up any fallen fruit.”


This tidbit of information was great to know, and my estimation of the farm promptly grew by several notches. And then I saw the cow barrel. Yes, they save all their citrus waste for the nearby cows who love it.


We were instructed to not pick the green-bottomed fruit on trees as it’s affected by a disease that must be treated by steaming the tree at 125 degrees to kill the bacteria.


A green-diseased orange.

There’s a machine they have at the grove that can steam two trees at a time. All they need is a few seconds of the steam and the bacteria is wiped out. What a huge investment, to fight a disease that has affected every grove in Florida for the past few years.


But the steaming is well worth it, when you see the trees that are at risk, the yield from the grove and the products that come from it. I’m a big fan of citrus and the many wonderful things you can do with citrus peels.


We love picking juicing oranges to use in our hand-lever juicer. This varietal is ripe when the oranges start to turn brown.


But the red grapefruit is spectacular.


I had never been to a citrus grove until we visited one a few years ago with our children. I’m happy to know they have learned much about where their citrus comes from, a valuable lesson in appreciating food, how it’s grown and harvested, and how to support local agriculture wherever they are.


Walking through the rows of laden trees was such a privilege, with orange blossoms overwhelming the senses. Agri-tourism, especially on organic farms, is so important to support and take part in. Many of the groves we’ve visited recently are just barely making ends meet. Seeking them out and paying to pick your own fruit and veggies, is one of the best ways to support our farms.


And the honeybees, of course, will thank you with their honey, later.


What farms have you recently visited and enjoyed?

Find Your Wild Places


Hammock and swamp, left in their natural state in Myakka State Park. Photo © Liesl Clark

There are some places on Earth where it’s hard to know what the original local habitat used to look like, what the land should look like if we weren’t here. With all of our built-up neighborhoods, networks of roads, mini-malls, shopping centers, urban and suburban landscapes, even rural farmland sprawl can hide what the land truly could be if we simply left it alone.


Spanish moss-covered canopy at Myakka State Park. Photo © Liesl Clark

Today, in the United States at least, many of these untouched places are only available in protected places, our national, state, and sometimes local parks, sanctuaries for fauna and flora alike. Whether you’re at home or traveling, I implore you to find your nearest wild places.


Myakka River State Park © Liesl Clark

Seek these unfettered wildernesses out and help steward them by volunteering to keep them in their pristine state, or give money to help keep them wild.


Great Egret on the banks of the Myakka River. Photo © Liesl Clark

We recently visited Myakka River State Park outside of Sarasota, while on a spring break trip to see Grammy. This beautiful park is the largest state park in Florida, and you won’t regret a visit as you’ll see more alligators, up-close-and-wild, here then just about anywhere.



The waterfowl here are stunning:


Heron. Photo © Liesl Clark



You can travel by an air boat tour to view the wildlife, or gently glide through the waters in a canoe or kayak.


Or, rent bikes right there at the park and pedal along the water or oak forests to view the undeveloped wildscape.

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It’s like stepping back in time to a lost world.

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A wooden walkway takes you over the marshland to birdwatch from a pier that provides a vantage onto the open water and grasslands.

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Where grass meets sky. Florida’s original landscape. 

But perhaps most spectacular of all is the canopy walk, a chance to get up high above the trees and view the wilderness from the perspective of an egret, turkey vulture, or crow.


Here, above the treetops, you can see so far you almost see the curvature of the Earth.


Find your wild places. Define them, why they’re important to you. Help protect them. Visit them often and share them with your loved ones. BT0C2453.jpg

Before it’s too late.


In Praise of Simple Machines in the Kitchen

Back to basics with our morning joe. Photo © Liesl Clark

Simple machines in the kitchen and household are one of our secrets to living the pleasures of the simple life, decreasing our dependence upon electricity or fancy gadgets with many parts. The simple machine simply works. They’re the hand tools of old that we fall back on when modern conveniences break down, which they often do. Take the lever, for example. Pull a lever for mechanical advantage and you have the strength of Hercules.

When we arrived at Grammy’s Florida home with a 10-gallon bucket filled to overflowing with valencia oranges we had picked, I looked in her cupboard to find an electric citrus juicer.

Citrus Juicer. The plastic small appliance we can do without. Photo © Liesl Clark

“Great!” I thought, until I plugged the plastic thing in and found it didn’t work. Taking it apart to see if it needed a new fuse, etc. wasn’t something we had time for. So Grammy pulled out another juicer, the hand lever kind you pull down that squishes your halved oranges in seconds, and I knew she had found the better machine.

This beautiful, all stainless, citrus press is a thing of beauty. Photo © Liesl Clark

In minutes, we had lovely glasses of hand-lever-squeezed orange juice, all from the effort of a 10-year-old who wouldn’t relinquish the lever. I’m ready to invest in one now that I’ve discovered the joys of fresh squeezed, self-picked liquid gold. We currently use a ceramic citrus juicer at home which works really well, but the simple machine could cut our hand-rotating out completely, which makes sense for 4 cups of o.j. in the a.m.

Fresh OJ in seconds, and a lesson in simple machines. Photo © Liesl Clark

We’ve been on a mission, lately, to seek out these ingenious machines that provide mechanical advantage, putting force on an object like an orange with little effort. One-by-one, they’re replacing our small appliances.

Take the electric coffee grinder, for example. Nothing wakes up our household more abruptly than the sound of someone whirring coffee beans in an electric grinder. And when the electricity goes out, which it often does in winter on our Northwest island, we can’t have fresh ground coffee. Could we find an adequate coffee grinder that wouldn’t tap resources like electricity or fuel? I searched for months throughout the web and in antique shops for old-fashioned grinders and found some beautiful ones. But none got great reviews that I could trust and most wouldn’t grind the beans to espresso grade. I bought a camp-style one for my husband to take on his mountaineering expeditions. But it wouldn’t grind enough for a house full of groggy adults.

We then purchased a beautiful Persian grinder that also took ages to grind beans. We imagined in the warmth of some semi-arid desert, this grinder would fit nicely on the back of a camel but you’d need an hour or so each morning to get enough ground stuff for a decent cup of joe. It was promptly retired to pepper grinding.

Finally, we found a grinder that was the most simple design (by Stumptown) and can take a mason jar as its reservoir. This simple machine utilizes larger gears than the 2 grinders we had previously bought and it produces a fresh ground coffee perfect for my hubby’s stove-top espresso maker.

The best we could find, a modern version of an antique coffee grinder. Photo © Liesl Clark

Contrary to what Stumptown says on their website, my husband husband claims “it’s effortless” to grind the coffee. No workout, truly. And I can attest to the fact that it’s not too hard to grind your beans and it doesn’t take very long to produce the perfect grind for several cups of coffee and gives us peace-of-mind for power-free days at home. We use hand-grinder daily, in fact, power or no power.

Two minutes of grinding and you've got a fine espresso grind. Photo © Liesl Clark

Our toaster, too, is a simple camp stove version of placing your bread over your burner, because we’re on a mission to reduce our electric appliances so we can sustainably live off the grid. We haven’t owned a toaster for 5 years now and haven’t missed it one bit.

If you want to go caveman-style, you can even forgo your garlic press for a stone. Seriously, for us, the large pestle we brought back from Nepal is the best garlic crusher I’ve ever used.

So try your hand at using simple machines again. You’ll enjoy cutting back on your power dependence and feel like you truly earned that morning fix of java and o.j.

Zero Offset Vacation Days

Zero Offset Your Carbon-Heavy Vacation Travel with Days Spent at Sustainable Organic Farms. Photo © Liesl Clark

Let’s face it: Flying to Florida from Seattle isn’t the most carbon-free activity. But if we want to see Grammy, we have to go to her. She simply doesn’t fly.

Once we arrived in Florida, we dreamed up a few activities to help offset the jet fuel burn our family of 4 incurred. Hitting the beach, only 100 yards away, was easy — just throw a towel around your shoulders. But be sure to bring a bag for collecting plastics.

Plastics Retrieved En Route to the Beach. It's Easy To Do. Photo © Liesl Clark

Before reaching the beach, we filled our bag with lots of straws and straw sleeves found in juice boxes. Interestingly, we didn’t find too many plastics on the beach as I discovered, a day later, that 2 men drive along the beaches in a little golf cart with a trash picker and retrieve all the debris. I wondered why they couldn’t simply walk?

Here's one they missed. Sunglasses part on the beach. Photo © Liesl Clark

Every day, we filled a bag with plastics while walking along the sidewalks or shore. For our children, the incentive was finding something odd and different. A tiny working flashlight in the shape of an alien was the first day’s reward, then a cute plastic fish the next, and all types of plastic beach toys were recovered, too. We needed a shovel and it didn’t take long to find one. No lack of entertainment when you decide to do a bit of daily good and pick up the world’s plastics. And the Earth always gives back to our little scavengers in interesting ways. Plastic “swords” used in tropical drinks to hold fruit together washed ashore daily to the delight of my son, who started collecting them for his Lego characters.

McWashed Ashore. Sliced apples in a bag? Photo © Liesl Clark

The contents of a bag of McDonald’s apple slices found tucked in the dune vegetation became food for eager sea gulls.

Apple snacks. Courtesy of sea-borne McDonald's fare. Photo © Liesl Clark

In between hours of play amidst the waves and digging in the sand with our newly-found beach toys, it didn’t take much effort during our “plastics recovery” walks to fill a bag a day. If we all did this, just bent down and picked up the straws and plastic caps under foot, we’d feel like we did a form of good, helping to extract the plastics from our shorelines before they head back out to sea.

This leaf wasn't plastic, and it's a pleasure to see a stretch of sand that was plastic-free. Photo © Liesl Clark

But the greatest fun we had was visiting a local organic fruit grove. I spent a little time online and discovered a list of pick your own-type farms in our region and many are organic farms. We hopped in the car and drove inland about 16 miles to find an organic orange grove.

Get to know the places you vacation in a little better by picking local organic produce there. Valencia oranges are in season in February in Western Florida. Photo © Liesl Clark

The kids had never picked oranges and this experience is surely one they won’t forget. In the direct sun, the temperatures were in the 90s and we had to watch the ground for fire ants. With some long fruit picker poles in our hands, we ambled several rows of valencia orange trees into the grove and were overwhelmed by the sweet smell of orange blossoms.

Fruit Picking in Manatee County, FL. Photo © Liesl Clark

These fruit-laden trees grew in what loooked like pure sand, but they’re obviously getting the nutrients and water they need because the oranges are delicious and juicy. It took us 15 minutes in the hot sun to fill a 10-gallon bucket. And with the price of $10/bucket we walked away feeling we got the better end of the deal.

Bucket Full of Valencia Oranges. Photo © Liesl Clark

The children needed an ice cream cone to cool off, so we discovered another U-pick organic farm down the road. This one grew hydroponic strawberries — and we picked our fill of delicious sun-sweetened fruit.

Picking Strawberries at O'Brien Family Farm. Photo © Liesl Clark

And the ice cream cones, of course, were the perfect plastic-free end of day snack, a just reward for our zero offset vacation day efforts.

Ice cream cones are the original plastic-free treat. Photo © Liesl Clark