I Wrote A Book

From a young age, I’ve dreamed of writing a book. I think I had a small inkling of what that book would be about, so my internal voice has been slowly writing it since I was about 7. I recall wishing I could start a movement where people didn’t have to spend their hard-earned money on the things they needed to live. I wanted to start an everything store where all things were available for free, like cinnamon bread and my own book that I wrote that might help solve people’s problems with money. It was early idealism during a time when I first came to understand there were “haves” and “have-nots” in the world, painful inequities that touched people deeply. But I never truly believed that one day I’d be given the opportunity to write a book, bound together as an offering of ideas lived, and made final. Now that I have a book coming out in a matter of days, one co-written with by my friend, Rebecca Rockefeller, the launching of it is, admittedly, bittersweet. Somehow, we’ve written a book that’s near-impossible to sell

The Buy Nothing, Get Everything Plan, with its oxymoron of a title, is an intentional book, a challenge to buy less and share the bounty around us, seeking to further spark a movement Rebecca and I started with the Buy Nothing Project network of local gift economies. Over 6,000 of them have sprung up all over the world with nearly 1.5 million participants. We want to show people how our reliance upon buying things can be turned upside-down if we rely more upon our neighbors, our own ingenuity, and the abundance of our own goods and services we can share in our communities instead. There are ways to Buy Nothing while getting just about everything you want and need.

Our book is due out in bookstores on April 14, 2020, and ironically most bookstores are now shuttered due to orders from our governors and the much-needed imperative to stay home due to COVID-19. The in-person book tour we set up with 9 booksellers along the US West Coast including Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego has been cancelled, with the hope that these independent booksellers will host us in the future. Nothing is more important than stopping this virus from spreading further and that means staying at home.

We may call it “social distancing” but what we’re all actually doing is physical distancing while social connecting, weaving our inter-personal connections even tighter, tying people all across the globe together through our simple humanity. By way of virtual creativity, people are now sharing their expertise for free, through videos shared online, via Zoom gatherings, on their Facebook feeds, over YouTube, through emailed newsletters, every way they can. From free therapy sessions, workouts, yoga classes, cooking classes, and how to-fix-it tutorials, we’re creating a worldwide shareocracy that’s non-commercialized and offered freely from the heart. Our book is literally about this, a blueprint for sharing of ourselves in times of peace so we can be prepared for times of chaos.

We had no idea the chaos would come so soon. The more we establish these systems of connection with one another, the more we’re capable of achieving en mass, for the common good, in honor of our community, ourselves, and also the environment. But now it’s imperative we take these steps for our very survival. The less we go to the store, the safer we are. The more we can make-do with what we have at home, the more we can reuse, repair, and repurpose, the less we have to run to the store. Stretching what we already have in our homes to meet our needs is not an act of austerity, it’s one of resilience, and we believe that resilience can be had without suffering.

Much of my blogging here, and the conversations we’ve had in the comments and through email, has inspired this book, coming from a desire to simplify and reuse what we already have in abundance surrounding us, rather than going out and buying new. I do hope, ironically, that you’ll – yes – buy the book and read it – feel free to share it – and participate in our call to action to find daily ways for us each to share more and live generously.

Avocado Pit Turned Fake Egg

It was a dark and stormy winter….and my hens were bored. Here in the Pacific Northwest, our hen yards can get pretty mucky and the chickens tend to turn to deviant eating behaviors, like, well, eating their own eggs. There, I said it. Gross! That’s like….oh, never mind. We can’t allow this to happen, because the purpose of backyard chickens is their yummy eggs, a critical part of our family’s mostly vegetarian diet. (Our hens do produce other products for us, like amazing compost.) But no, we won’t be allowin’ them hens to eat their eggers.

I found a great solution to deter an egg-eater, right in my compost bucket: An avocado pit!

IMG_9813

An avocado pit works beautifully as a dummy egg. © Liesl Clark

For years, I’ve used dummy wooden eggs, plastic easter eggs, egg-shaped stones, golf balls and pingpong balls as dummy eggs, to deter the little peckers (egg-eaters) from pecking apart their eggs. Dummy eggs are just that, fake eggs that chickens think are real (think, bird brain.) They peck ’em and realize they can’t break ’em and therefore we stop the deviant eating  disorder in its tracks. Problem solved.

IMG_8245

One of these things is not like the other. © Liesl Clark

So, don’t go and buy fake eggs. Please. Just use an avocado pit in your nest box. Deploy 5 of them if you’d like, and your egg-eater will get frustrated when the avocado pits won’t crack and produce an egg-licious mess in your laying box.

IMG_6870

© Liesl Clark

Enjoy your guacamole knowing your avocado pits can be put to use!

IMG_9812

New use for an avocado pit. © Liesl Clark

Save Your String

We salvage string. Don’t you? When I see rolls of string sold in the hardware store, I wonder who buys it? String is freely available if you just know where to look for it.

IMG_4364

The feed we buy for our chickens comes in large paper feed bags laced up with string. When we pull the string to open the bags, it comes out freely and we have plenty to last us throughout the year. We roll it onto a small roll of paper and it goes into the string box.

IMG_4357

I found an old wooden box that was covered with Christmas wrapping paper a few years ago. This box has been salvaged for the use of storing our saved string. So, shoelaces are salvaged and washed, bungee cord gets thrown in there, craft string, a few pieces of yarn, homemade “plarn,” cordage, twine, even pieces of candle wicking that hasn’t been put in wax go in there. Whenever something has reached the end of its life and we need to throw it away, any string on it gets salvaged and thrown into the string box.

IMG_4361

String is a staple for my gardening, as I use it to create pea ladders between woven sticks for my growing pea shoots, or to hold the hellebore up when the heavy blossoms weigh down the large plants.

The whole family knows where to go when they need a piece of string or shoe lacing to make a repair and tie together a few things. When my son was 5, he connected his favorite truck to its trailer with string when the hitch broke.

bag-o-string.jpg

String is the stuff of life, affording us everyday repairs to sew-up, tie together, wrap around, hold up, and weave anew.

Save your string, all forms of it. Don’t throw it away. And find a pretty container to hold it, for all to access for the projects that will come.

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.

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!

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.