DIY Suet

I love making things from what I already have in my house, without buying anything new, things that are secondary uses for what might eventually become waste. When we fry up some bacon, there’s always some leftover grease. What do we do with that bacon fat? We turn it into suet for our wild birds.

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Our bacon comes from grass-fed natural sources with no added sugars or chemicals. It’s about as healthy as bacon can get. So, I’m happy to share the grease with our little feathered friends who in winter do need an added boost of calories.

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First, save the plastic holder for bird suet that commercial suets come in. If you don’t have any, ask in your local Buy Nothing group for the square plastic packaging for suet. This way, you’ll be able to use that plastic container as your future mold to fit into the suet feeder.

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Here’s our recipe:

  1. Fill 3/4 of a plastic suet mold with any kind of bird seed.sizzling bacon
  2. Collect the melted liquid fat from your bacon grease. You can keep it in a jar until you have about 2 cups of it, and melt it. Or, simply pour the not-too-hot grease into your plastic suet mold with seeds in it. Fill the suet mold with your grease. IMG_2777
  3. Place the plastic suet mold filled with seeds and bacon grease in the freezer. IMG_2787
  4. When the suet is completely frozen, take it out of the suet mold and place it in your suet feeder. Done!Suet 1

We sometimes add peanut butter, old flour, nuts, berries, anything that birds would like. Chicadee suet 1

Your little tweeties will love their suet and you won’t have to buy any more plastic-packaged suet again!

Willa and bird feeders

 

Easy Scrappy Vegetable Broth

Our kitchen compost container is full most days because we eat a lot of vegetables. Even though we give carrots, lettuce, broccoli etc. to our guinea pig, and many other kitchen scraps to our hens, I’m still amazed at how many veggie and fruit scraps still go into the compost pile. But then a discussion in our BuyNothing7 group (a group that challenges people to buy nothing for 7 days, or longer) got me thinking: Before I send my most scrappy vegetables to the compost pile, I should turn them into veggie broth.

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I’m not talking about your big chunks of carrot (that go to the guinea pig) or whole cloves of garlic (which we use up ourselves.) I’m referring to the paper skin on the garlic (which has many uses), the ends of the carrots, the skins off my onions (which also have many uses) and the leaves and bitter hearts of my celery. Throw those scrappiest of scraps into a pot of boiling water, with a bay leaf, your favorite herbs, and a pinch of salt, let it simmer for an hour and you’ve rendered yourself some yummy broth to use as a base for a soup, in chili, or in any recipe that calls for broth.

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Then, you can take your over-cooked vegetables, once you’ve filtered out the broth, and send those to the compost. Scrappy veggie broth in zero waste style!

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DIY Wool Dryer Balls Reduce Dryer Time

The title of this blog post were the words I used for a Google search yesterday, as a question, and the answer from over 10 bloggers was resoundingly “yes.”

I had to find this out for myself.

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So, I went to my yarn basket and found a few balls of 100% wool yarn that we hadn’t used for years and wound a few contrasting colors of yarn around them. If you’re not sure if your yarn is wool or acrylic, check out this article that’ll help you determine what’s what.

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I also took some old knitting projects the kids had done (half-finished scarves and finger knitting garlands), balled them up, wound more wool yarn around them to make them into tennis ball and soft ball size.

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I then grabbed a few oddball socks out of my single socks box (yes, we have hundreds) and placed one wool ball inside one sock and tied off the end.

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I did this for each of the balls, until I had 6 balls-in-socks, ready for the washing machine.

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I put the cycle on high and threw in a few towels and T-shirts. I did the cycle twice, just to be sure that the wool balls were felting up. The wet wash then went into the dryer for a high heat cycle.

The outer tied-off socks were easy to untie and I rescued the now-felted-wool balls from their sock prisons. Each one felted up pretty nicely!

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Experts at this have suggested putting a few drops of your favorite essential oil on the wool balls about every 4th load you dry, so I found some rosemary (so my son won’t feel that he smells too flowery and to also keep buggies off of us (they don’t like rosemary.))

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Now, the true test was upon me: If I ran a load of laundry with wet towels through the dryer, would 6 wool dryer balls reduce the dry time? The answer is resoundingly yes. Typically, we have to run our towels through our high heat normal dryer cycle twice. This time, with 6 dryer balls, I only had to run them once! So, that’s a win. I figure this will save our family on dryer time (i.e lower our electricity bill) during the winter months when we can’t put our laundry out to dry in the sun.

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Oh, and the wool dryer balls also are a replacement for fabric softener (we’ve never used it anyway) and dryer sheets (ditto) as they remove static cling, soften your fabrics and add a lovely scent via your essential oil!

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20 DIY Crafts Not Plastic

A Case For Exposing Your Children to Traditional Arts Using Natural Materials. Photo © Liesl Clark

When my children reached elementary school age and we enrolled them in programs that had art classes, we were amazed at how few natural materials were used for art supplies and just how much of it was plastic: glitter glue, colorful plastics for mosaics, acrylic-coated feathers, various items to be “recycled” through art like yogurt cups and plastic straws. The myriad cut-and-paste-style art projects they did were primarily made of art supply store plastics. All too often schools and art classes are cutting corners and can only afford cheaper plastic materials for art supplies.

Hand-crafted tiles or buttons, made by a young Nepali stone-carver. Photo © Liesl Clark

I would’ve preferred sticks, stones, leaves, sea glass, natural feathers and wood over the pre-fabricated plastic materials my son and daughter were exposed to. These plastics were simply mimicking what’s found readily in nature. I also believe the color palette children are exposed to in those early years, through day-glo style plastics, can affect their color choices later in life. Gone might be an appreciation for natural greens, browns, blues and purples found regularly in the environment. We started to opt out of the popular kinder art projects in preference to doing our own art, making an effort to learn from traditional artists who work with stone, wood, glass, wool, and ceramics. These experiences, for our children, were enriching as they learned quickly that they could create things of beauty from resources found in the natural world, as people have done for millennia.

A Young Nepali Artist Carving Prayers Onto a Mani Stone. Photo © Liesl Clark

A coupling of leaves, feathers, and flowers could become a miniature nest or fairy’s bed from a 7-year-old’s imagination.

A Fairy Bed, Made From Leaves, a Pod, Feathers and a Flower. Photo © Liesl Clark

Or a piece of wood might be whittled into a boat, a stone carved into a work of art. Exposing children to traditional folk art from around the world is a great way to teach them how natural materials that are readily available can be turned into works of beauty.

Azurite Is One of The Pigments Used in Traditional Himalayan Art. Photo © Liesl Clark

On a recent trip through South Korea while we were in transit, we took part in a program at the airport in Seoul that teaches traditional art forms. Every time we pass through this airport our children learn a new form of art made from a surprising material. They’ve worked with rice paper to make stone carving prints onto them, they’ve made paper lanterns, they’ve hand painted fans, and they made a tapestry necklace. This time, they learned the Na-Jeon art form, working with mother of pearl-colored shells and shellac from the lac tree.

Learning the Na-Jeon Art Form in Korea. Photo © Liesl Clark

This highly sophisticated ancient Korean craft utilizes iridescent abalone and conch shells in contrast to a lacquered black wood background, creating a sense of balance and harmony in this mariage of opposites.

A Hand Mirror Made in the Korean Na-Jeon Style © Liesl Clark

The children were given hand mirrors to decorate in the Na (which means “pearl”) Jeon (which means “decorate”) style. The focus and concentration the craft required was mesmerizing for us to watch. And the mirrors will be treasured for years to come in our family.

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If you’re looking for some ideas for arts and crafts less plastic, we came up with a list of 20 traditional crafts from natural materials found in and around your home that are easy to try. Copy this list or share the link with your art teacher at school. No need for spending money on cheap plastic art supplies when there are supplies we can contribute from our own homes and backyards: scrap fabric, acorns, sticks, scrap paper, wool sweaters, leaves and sea shells are just a few. Incorporate information about the cultures that started the folk art form you’ll practice so your children appreciate the history behind their craft and how interconnected we all are through our art forms:

1) Doll-Making: Fabric Scrap Dolls have been made for the children of many cultures for centuries.

DIY Tiny Dolls Wear Fabric Scraps in Style

2) Vegetable Stamps: My favorite veggie to use for stamps is okra. But you can also carve stamps from a potato with excellent results. And the celery rose stamp is absolutely beautiful.

3) Fabric Scrap Mosaic: Reusing fabrics is an art unto itself and certainly has been passed down for generations. Try making a pretty mosaic from your leftover scraps.

4) Embroidery: Try your hand at embroidery. You can even embellish a tired old lampshade to create color in a room.

5) Twig Basket: Collect some long green twigs and make a freeform basket out of them.

6) Origami Tea Bag Folding: Learn the traditional art of origami paper folding using the paper the covers tea bags! If families saved up their tea bag covers, a school art program would have plenty of paper to work with and couldn’t complain about budget constraints.

7) Scrap Paper Flowers: Art classes should save all scrap paper to make these beautiful flowers. Or toilet paper rolls are all you need to make these flowers.

 

Toilet Paper Roll Flowers. Photo © Kelly Munson

8) Fallen Leaf Art: There are many beautiful artistic creations you can craft from leaves.

9) Scrap Paper Tree: This pretty craft utilizes tiny pieces of your favorite scrap paper as well as sticks collected from outdoors.

10) Seashell Arts: We’ve made mobiles from sea shells and endless mosaics. These seashell koalas would make any child happy.

11) Tin Topiary: Use pie tins to make these beautiful tin flowers.

12) Knitting: With some saved-up chopsticks, you can teach anyone how to knit.

Knit with Old Chopsticks photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

13) Felting: Learn how to felt your wool sweaters.

14) Rubbings: Make rubbings for things natural or extraordinary.

15) Weaving: DIY weaving is easy and a great craft to do with scrap yarn and fabric strips. You can even make your own loom.

16) Phone Book Paper Painting Meditation: Teach the kids meditation by doing phone book paper art.

17) Sock Crafting: If you’re in need of a stuffed animal, try making one from a sock.

Sock + Rubber Bands + Bits & Bobs = Sock Hippo. Photo © Liesl Clark

18) Hand-Made Valentines: Valentines are an original folk art scrap hack.

Handmade Paper Valentines, An Original Folk Art. Photo © Liesl Clark

19) Stencils: You can make stencils from food boxes and use beets as your ink dye.

20) Driftwood Sculptures: If you collect enough of a variety, driftwood lends itself to creative art from their smooth appealing shapes.

What crafts from materials readily-available can you add? We love to make things from what’s abundant around us!

Easy Wrapping Paper Storage

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We’ve had three rolls of wrapping paper for the past two years since we typically use cloth bags for “wrapping” our gifts. Yet occasionally a wrapped present is shipped out because it’s easy to pack into a box filled with paper-wrapped items. Our three rolls of paper seem to be lasting forever and we’ve found the most simple way of storing them.

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Just cut a toilet paper roll open and place it around your wrapping paper roll. It holds that paper together gently, without the ripping we sometimes get from rubber bands.

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Happy wrapping paper storage for next year!

Buy Nothing Boxing Day

Boxing Day, traditionally, was a thing in Britain’s Victorian era. Boxes were left out in front of churches for people to donate gifts for the poor. It was also the day when servants of the super-wealthy were given a chance to observe Christmas with their families. Hard-working domestic employees were handed boxes of gifts to give to their loved ones. Tradespeople, too, were thanked on Boxing Day with boxes filled with gifts for services well done.

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A true Boxing Day is a day filled with small acts of kindness. 

In essence, Boxing Day historically is a day to commit small acts of kindness. Today, we can continue the tradition in less class-structured ways and offer boxes of gifts to our neighbors by posting them in our Buy Nothing groups.

Over the holidays we often acquire gifts that might not be to our liking. It’s the thought that counts, right? Once you’re over that warm-and-fuzzy feeling of gratitude for your gift, yet realize you just won’t ever wear it, or eat it, or use it in any way, why not simply regift it on Boxing Day?

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Willa loves Boxing Day © Liesl Clark

In a gift economy, we gain increments of social capital by giving and also receiving with grace. So when we have excess to give, especially on Boxing Day, offering it up to our communities in a transparent fashion, where all can see, is a way of raising our worthiness for future gifts. It also raises the overall wealth of the community since one more item will remain within the materials economy of the neighborhood: an item that might be re-gifted later, or might free-up up its owner to spend more money locally. The more we share within our own communities, the greater our communal wealth. So, get out your boxes and share your bounty. Your neighbors will be thankful, and you’ll earn yourself a little hit of dopamine to go with your added giver clout.

 

Create An Inventor’s Kit For Your Curious Child

Our alarm clock went on the fritz. It just didn’t keep good time anymore and when we put new batteries in, the whole thing decided to stop ticking. Rather than throwing the clock out, our 9-year-old took the opportunity to try to fix it. He looked deep inside and saw the inner workings of the mysterious time-keeper, its simple gears and all the parts that added up to the whole: A simple machine. The adventure in taking-it-apart-land proved fruitful and now any broken gadgets in our household are fertile ground for young inventors searching for new parts to connect together, creating new-fangled machines.

Motherboards are a universe of fascinating connections for the curiosity-seeker. Keep your youngsters’ minds exploring, even if it’s inside the things you thought would never tick again.

The secondary benefit is not throwing perfectly reusable items away. Rather than putting it all into the metal recycling bin or e-waste, these items will have a prolonged life. Our children’s relationship with “things” is changing rapidly, as they see how items may have a new use in a different iteration.

The fun part of finding an old case to use for the kit. We cleaned out some boxes in our storage room and found these to create new kits to give to neighbors.

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Spark creativity in the kiddos around you. You’ll be surprised by what they build, and do send us your suggestions for what you’d add to your child’s inventor’s kit!