Why I Never Buy Lip Balm In Plastic Tubes

One of the more common items we find along shorelines, nationwide, are Chapstick tubes. Somehow they either fall out of pockets, cars, trash cans or are inadvertently left behind when we’re on outings so they make their way down to the water and float back in on the high tide. I’ve collected hundreds of these buggers from beaches — enough to turn me off plastic tube lip balm forever.

Reduce & Refuse: We try our best, now, to purchase lip balm in tin or wood containers. Or make it ourselves with our own beeswax. There are many non-plastic options on the market, like Earthwise Medicinals’ Wintermint Lip Balm.

Earthwise Medicinals’ Wintermint Lip Balm comes in cute tin containers, Photo © Earthwise Medicinals

The containers are small, attractive, and 100% recyclable. My children use the little wooden boxes of their favorite lip balm over and over again as specimen containers for archaeology outings. But they’d also make great kindling.

Repurpose and Reuse: So, if you have a Chapstick tube, what to do with it when you’re done with the balm?

1) Salt & Pepper Shaker for camping trips – Pour a little salt and pepper into clean empty tubes and toss in your bag for a little salt and pepper at work or whenever you are on the go eating.

2) Perfume refresher- Don’t have a travel size perfume? Soak a cotton ball in your favorite perfume (or essential oil) and stuff inside an empty lip balm tube. When you need a refresher, just remove the cotton ball and swipe on! Also great for tossing in a drawer for freshness, or even coat pockets when they are stored for the summer.

3) Instructables has a tutorial for making a tiny Chapstick tube LED flashlight.

4) Yours Truly, G recommends simply refiling your tube with homemade lip balm. They make excellent gifts, too.


5) Always wishing you had a spare plastic bag when you go grocery shopping? Make a travel plastic bag holder that attaches to your key ring!

6) A 7-year-old trash hacker designed a travel toothpick holder from a used lip balm tube.

7) Send a secret message to a friend inside your lip balm tube or turn it into a secret waterproof treasure map holder:

8) Store an emergency $100 bill inside your tube and put inside your purse, backpack, briefcase, glove compartment. But don’t forget about it.

Recycle: Most lip balm containers are made of #5 plastic, which is also used for things like yogurt and over-the-counter medicine bottles. Whole Foods, along with Organic Valley and Stonyfield Farm, has a Gimme 5 initiative that accepts #5 plastics in some stores. Check to see if there’s one in your area.

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I know there’s a campaign out there, questioning whether any of us have actually fully used up our chapstick (before the chapstick tube somehow disappears). Well I have! And often. I’m one of those people who’ve used up plenty of ’em because lip balm is critical protection against the elements. High in the mountains in remote parts of the planet, lip balm is tantamount to survival. I’ve even attached lip balm to the outside of my pack or to a gizmo that goes around my neck so it’s always available, a lip balm necklace of sorts. Go to the mountains or desert sans lip balm and you quickly end up with blistery bloody lips that crack and ooze with a simple smile. Gross. And painful. So, use up your lip balm, and better yet, skip the plastic tube and bring it to your favorite places in nice metal or wooden containers.



We’ve fallen in love with a little town in Colorado called Paonia. It’s so small, and not so well known, that the locals keep asking us, “How did you find out about Paonia?” You see, it’s a bit of a secret, this gem of a town, and many here like to keep it that way. Last night, this little oasis with 1500 people had a baroque clarinet and piano concert at The Blue Sage while Miner, an indy folk rock band, played at The Paradise Theater across the street. This ain’t no sleepy little cow town. It boasts about 10 wineries here in the valley, some of the highest fine wine crafted in the U.S., and countless organic farms and ranches with grass-fed livestock.


The view of Mt. Lamborn, sitting outside the yurt along the North Fork of the Gunnison. Photo: Liesl Clark

But this isn’t an article about Paonia. I’m here to gloat about our first experience living in a yurt. On both Air BnB and VRBO, you’ll find a family here has a beautiful getaway property right along the North Fork of the Gunnison. It’s a gorgeous stretch of river right in the heart of farm country, with views of the West Elk mountain range, the Raggeds and Lamborn mountain, which dominates the sky just north of town. George and Devon have two yurts here, and we came to suss out whether one day we might want one on our property.


Yurts were designed and innovated by the people of the high mountain steppes of Central Asia. We don’t know exactly when they first appeared, but archaeology tells us that they were firmly established as homes for nomadic peoples by the 5th century BC. Their circular design mimics symbols of the unity and interconnectedness of all things.

Walk to yurt

One of the yurts here is more rustic than the other, with no electricity or running water, but it’s our favorite because it’s set in an old growth cottonwood forest that feels like a fairy glen one can wander through and marvel at the trees in various states of growth and decay.


Both yurts are 30 feet wide and the one in the cottonwood forest has traditional wooden-strut walls covered in poly fabric, a concrete floor covered with carpets and a wood stove for heat.

sitting in glamping yurt

This “glamping” yurt has the coolest composting toilet, out in a little horse trailer.

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There’s a composting toilet in that little horse trailer.

I kid you not, this outfit is worth seeing.

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The yurt we’re living in is just like any house, with drywall walls and a propane insert fireplace. There’s a full kitchen and bathroom inside, even a piano.

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We’ve felt what it’s like inside on a breezy morning and this baby is tight. The circular design lends itself to withstanding wind, as there are no corners or straight walls for the wind to buffer against.

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As much as we love the inside of these structures, our energies are spent outside, enjoying all the things we can do here.



Evenings have been spent by the fire pit or in the hot tub.



And during daylight hours, the kids have been enjoying the bikes we have rented from The Cirque Cyclery in town, a cool juice bar and cycle shop combo that’s worth visiting, as the old building renovation is worth a look inside.


We’re so impressed with this little town, life in a yurt,  and all the things one can do here.



If you’re interested in experiencing yurtopia, we highly recommend this little spot in Paonia. I’d be happy to get you in touch with George and Devon if you’re looking for a getaway dream vacation here. Just let me know in the comments below.


Chapstick Tube Turned Salt & Pepper Shaker

We went on a backpacking trip last week and decided, at the last moment, to not bring our salt and pepper shakers because of the added weight. Luckily, we didn’t miss them due to the foods we had chosen to bring with us, but for the future I was looking for that perfect DIY salt & pepper container.

The finished Dermatone tube my husband handed to me this a.m. was all I needed to get my DIY juices going to make our own little camping condiment container. The steps, you’ll see, are quite easy:

1) Find yourself a used-up Chapstick tube.

2) Remove the inner plastic cup that holds the lip balm and should be at the top of your tube. Simply turning the tube upside down and banging it on the table should do the trick.

3) Boil the tube and lid in water for 2-3 minutes to sterilize it and get rid of the remaining goop inside.

4) Remove the sticky label if you’d like on the outside of the tube and write with a permanent pen the name of what you’re stashing inside: “Special Herb Blend” or “salt & pepper” for example. We chose to put the salt & pepper together due to weight constraints when we’re in the mountains.

5) Add your condiment of choice inside. I used our favorite Celtic sea salt and freshly ground 3-color pepper.


Here are a few other trash hacks you can do with a chapstick tube:

  1. Use it to hold any pills you might need on a trip.
  2. Make a mini travel sewing kit out of it.
  3. Put some emergency cash inside your tube as a hideaway.
  4. Condom stash?

Vacations And The Allure Of The Simple Life


Vacations are an opportunity to try new places, new lifestyles on for size, to see how they feel.


We like to dream of living our everyday lives in the places we visit, and interestingly most places we spend time in, when vacationing, are deeper into the wilderness.


These trips into the outback bring us closer together as a family.


The children get to try new outdoor sports, like alpine touring on mountaineering skis and equipment, carrying their own backpacks filled with their chosen clothes for a few days.


It teaches them a little about self-reliance and reliance upon us as their teachers.


Our time in the wilderness is special for us, where we face the gambit of all emotions, together, while pushing ourselves to go harder and further than we thought we could.


And we have time for silence together in the depth of the woods.


The children learn how precious our time is spent together, the value of setting goals, simple ones, like getting to where we’re sleeping for the night.


Just when you think that goal is not attainable: 6 and a half hours uphill to 10,450 feet and your own feet ache…


You arrive.


Hot cocoa comes quickly, along with a warm fire where snow is melting for water.


Days are spent telling stories, far from the allure of social media and electronics.


We create a magic together, a joy of simplicity.


And slow way down, just enough to commune with the pinyon jays.


We have family council out in the snow on the snow chairs the children make for us.


The frosty air feels good for the soul.


Thank you, 10th Mountain Division, for sharing the beauty of your mountain huts with us.


We can’t wait to come back again soon.


What simple pleasures do you share together as a family?

Green Guide To Recycling Ski Gear

By Mr. Everest

Ski Equipment Doesn't Have to Go to the Landfill. Photo © Liesl Clark

We’re at the height of the ski season and if you’re like me, this is a great time to start demo-ing new gear. But what to do with the old? Here are a few options I’ve been able to find:

You can always list your gear on Craigslist or take it to Play It Again Sports to find a buyer.

Joining your local Buy Nothing group and giving them away to your neighbors is a great way to keep your ski and snowboard gear out of landfills and still cruising the slopes. Some people are cool with using outdated gear. My wife, for example, skied the slopes for 15 seasons on her old Black Diamond AT gear. And our 12 year old son is going to give them a try on his first hut trip this week.

Donate your gear to a local youth ski program or adaptive ski program. If you check with your ski areas or local ski shops, you’ll most likely find a program that would be happy to use your equipment that’s in good condition and not outdated. Snowpals of Tahoe is just one example.

You could always start your own ski swap, enticing others in your community to bring their gear so families can outfit the kids with neighbor’s hand-me-downs. It’s a great way to keep skiing affordable for us all.

Out With the Old and In With the New. Outfitting Your Family in New Ski Gear Means You Need to Find Green Means to Get Rid of Your Old Gear. Photo © Pete Athans

Yankee Magazine has a great article, with plans, showing you how to make your own ski Adirondack chair. Some people build cool fences with stockpiled skis.


The North Face stores will take all of your ski clothing (hats, gloves, pants, bibs, jackets, socks), ski boots, goggles, and ski helmets. Their Clothes The Loop program sends the gear to a company called I:CO which shreds it into its elements and makes new products with it. My article about this great program goes more into depth about this the Clothes The Loop initiative in all of The North Face stores, and where to find those stores.

Ski poles? They’re mostly made of metal, so taking them to your nearest metal recycling center might be your best bet. Poles haven’t changed much over the years, though, so be sure to try giving them away before you send them to metal recycling.

If you live or ski in Colorado or Utah, a great ski industry recycling service was set up by the Snow Sports Recycling Program, which recycles ski gear collected at participating stores. I can’t find a list of the stores any longer but calling the phone number listed on the page, under “Waste Not” could likely get you the names of stores near you that’ll recycle your old gear. This program turns your gear into chips that will be turned into new goods. They’ll take skis, snowboards, boots, helmets, bindings and poles. These materials create waste streams that are approximately 5% steel, 25 % aluminum, 60% plastic and the balance are wood and fiberglass, all reusable in new applications.

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Ski Poles Are Mostly Made of Metal © Liesl Clark

If you live near Aspen, CO you can contact Reeski to see if they’ll take your skis and boards to turn into cool looking furniture.

There’s no need for our gear to end up in the landfill. If you’re stumped about a particular item and want to find a reduce, reuse, recycle option for it, drop us a line in the comments below and we’ll get on it.

The Adventures of Blue Bear


Photo © Liesl Clark

There once was a time, not too long ago, when our children were very small but what some might call brave. They ventured (as they still do) each year to the other side of the planet, to the Himalayas, and those first years were precious because they didn’t know they were doing something special.


Photo © Liesl Clark

They thought everyone travelled to the base of Mount Everest to live the good life.


Their years spent over the winter months with our Sherpa family, Ang Temba and Yangin, in the village of Khunde at 12,600 feet, are among the happiest months of our lives. We had no distractions, committing our time to the children’s well-being up there, enjoying the simple pleasures of family company and the rhythms of Himalayan winter life. The life lessons the village taught us over the years are the reason why we’ve created this blog.

Finn Yakboy

Photo © Liesl Clark

One of those winters, we met Peter Olander, who volunteered to join us in Phortse, a village just a few hours beyond Khunde, where we established our second Magic Yeti Children’s Library in the Solu-Khumbu district of Nepal. Peter’s patience with the quixotic movements of our children on the trail, sometimes like herding cats, and his selfless dedication to the families of Phortse, humbled us deeply. He came to know how important a little bear named “Blue” was to our children’s movement up the trail. Blue Bear strapped himself in with 3-year-old Finn on every journey, whether it be by horse or the back of his Mom, Dad, or a dzopkyo (a cross between a cow and a yak.)


Photo © Liesl Clark

We later learned of Peter’s talents as an artist and storyteller. Please join us in reading his book about Finn and Blue Bear. This tiny blue denim bear was a little boy’s purpose on the world’s highest mountain trails just a few years ago:

Peter caught the essence of the magic of the Khumbu, the mysticism, and a child’s imagination that can be sparked by books and stories about children like Finn and his intrepid bear. Peter is uploading the story page-by-page (it takes time) to his website, and his paintings are original works of beauty that we cherish deeply. Thank you, Peter, for this gift, and for capturing these moments that transcend time to a place and a people graced by the compassion of mountain deities.

Click this image to get to the story:

(Readers, please check back, on Peter’s website, to follow Blue Bear’s story!)


Photo © Peter Athans

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