Betty, from Springfield, PA, has a challenge. Perhaps you can relate:
I LOVE your website and really admire what the two of you do in making the world a greener place. I am also trying to follow your advice and live a greener life and run a greener household. My problem is this - I refuse to throw out old cotton socks and t-shirts (the ones that are not in good enough shape to be donated/handed down/etc.) but have no idea what to do with them. I have garbage bags filled with them! Are there organizations out there that can use them for rags or something?!?
If you are like Heather, you might make whimsical crafts from them. It is what she gave me for Christmas with this little note attached:
Don't you hate it when you open the pantry and see a mish-mash of canned food labels with garish colors and competing fonts? Aren't you embarrassed to let guests see your Hunt's canned tomato sauce? Here's your solution! Decorative Canned Food Cozies! Featuring our new Cheerful Pom-Pom and Drunken Party Girl designs (pictured)!
I laughed so hard after opening that gift that I nearly wet myself. But that's only two socks. It sounds like Betty has a bigger challenge on her hands.
Recently I bought a gift for someone special. Me. I was having a day of mourning...feeling sorry that soon we would be leaving Portland and our friends and family. I needed something, something to make me feel better. Seldom do I ever turn to shopping therapy for that kind of relief (which is always short-lived) but this time I headed to a little boutique in NW Portland called Oxalis that I'd heard great things about. And it was there that I found this scarf, handmade by a local woman, of pieces of felted cashmere sweaters.
No two scarves were the same since the designer probably had a limited stash of sweaters with which to work. I love this scarf. It's recycled, it's soft and warm, it's pretty and it's so Portland. Perfect for those bitter Ohio winters. I have a stash of moth-eaten wool sweaters that I've been saving to make felted winter hats for everyone in the family, and now I'm inspired to get going on that long-delayed project. We're going to need them!
The EnviroMom buy-nothing-new Halloween costume challenge is pleased to kick off its third year! Your options are many. Swap costumes with friends and neighbors! Create something new-to-you by shopping in your closets or by tapping into your local thrift stores. Talk your younger kid into reusing a costume one of your older kids used several years back. Just don't buy anything new when decking out your kids in their Halloween duds this year. It's easy and fun!
Our family has gotten over the first hurdle in record time, I might add. The kids named their costumes of choice, to which I had no objections, therefore wasted no energy in trying to convince them to be something easier to make. We even got basic ingredients for our costumes at end-of-summer rummage sales to the tune of two dollars. Nicely done! Thankyouverymuch!
Without further ado, I present the artists' costume renderings (and these were drawn by my kids, not me):
Behold the penguin, clutching an egg at its feet. Don't ask me how we're going to manage the egg part. But my 6-year-old has been working on her penguin waddle.
Next, we present the enchantress of Camelot, Morgan le Fay. My 8-year-old is a big fan of the Magic Treehouse book series, where Morgan le Fay plays a recurring role as librarian.
We've had a few recent rainy Sundays that have given me time to start working on the costumes, and oh, they are super fun and looking good. I can't wait to share the finished costumes with you! Are you planning buy-nothing-new Halloween costumes this year? Share your ideas! Send pictures as they come together! Let us help brainstorm your costume challenges.
One of the downsides of buying second hand clothing is that areas of heavy wear, like the knees and seat, go threadbare pretty quickly. Threadbare leads to holes. Holes get little fingers poked in them incessantly until they're better off being cutoffs. Which is all fine and good if it's summer. Or the grunge look of long-underwear under cutoffs comes back. Heather long ago asked about preemptive pants patching. At the time, I didn't have much to say on the subject. Now I'd answer with an emphatic yes! After trying loads of those canvas-y denim colored heavy-duty patches, I'm over them. They're useless. The adhesive doesn't stay stuck! I also tried making a few of my own patches, but didn't find that those really looked as cute as I'd hoped or wore as well as necessary. My new fave in pants patching was discovered patching some high thread-count sheets (that were so soft they became our faves) and then got so frighteningly threadbare that I feared they would not make it through one more round with the washing machine. So I went to a fabric store, bought a yard of some white fusible cotton interfacing, ironed it on the underside, and it totally did the trick! These sheets have held up after many washings. And the corners of this stuff don't peel off like the cheap iron-on denim patches do. The product is Stacy #SF101 Shape-Flex interfacing. I think it comes in black and white (I bought white), and I'm pretty sure I got it at Joann or a big chain fabric store.
So I've now tried it on numerous pairs of jeans, and I have to say, this is it! Preemptive pants patching works. It's much harder to patch once there's already a hole than to do it while it's just getting threadbare. I cut this stuff to fit, iron according to directions on the back side, and it holds up in the wash! It doesn't really show the outline of the patch from the front side, either, probably because it's fairly light-weight. Love this stuff, and it's saved many a pair of pants in our home. And the sheets! It would have killed me to downcycle a queen-size fitted sheet! Now it has a whole lot of use left, thanks to preemptive patching.
Gentlemen, start your engines. Er. I mean. EnviroMoms fire up your sewing machines, glue guns, staple guns, or whatever it takes to put together a Halloween costume.
Last year, I was all amped up about Halloween. I proposed a buy-nothing-new movement for Halloween costumes. Are we EnviroMoms scary activists or what? Pretty soon, I'll be asking you to start a local ELF chapter. Kidding! Really! Just kidding! This year, I'm kind of kicking myself. Like, when am I going to get off my duff and plan a Halloween costume swap? Swaps are pretty easy. Just takes a little coordination. Get a group of moms together. Pull out all your old costumes. Meet up at the gym in your school or a church basement, and swap, right? But frankly, I don't think I'm going to pull it off yet again this year because I've let way too much time go by and my kids have already decided what they want to be. I have one wanna-be Japan girl and one sheep.
As much as I'm trying to keep the costumes simple and low key, I find myself getting sucked in by my latent costume designing creativity and going a little nutty already. I'm pretty sure I'll be able to make it a 'buy-nothing-new' set of costumes again. That part seems to be second nature to me now. We'll be using a real silkish robe for my older daughter's Japan girl costume. The only thing we're going to have to make is an obi/sash, and lo and behold -- can you believe this? I happen to have a really ugly synthetic floral fabric scrap that a neighbor once gave me and I was all: 'Um, thanks, I think!' with a thought bubble that went: 'Holy crap, that's ugly. What in the world would I ever do with that?!" Just goes to show. There's a second life for just about everything.
As for the sheep, I'm thinking a hoody with some felt ears and cotton balls on top. Maybe a ribbon or bell around her baa-ing, bleating sheep neck. How hard can that be? I've got a whole bag of cotton balls left over from when I was supposed to swab my kids umbilical cord stumps with rubbing alcohol! Once again, I knew I was saving that bag of cotton for something!
Do you plan to make reuse a key component in your kids' Halloween costumes this year? Are your creative thinking caps firmly on? Last year you all wowed us with your fantastically creative reused costume creations, and we'd love to see your pix again this year. I'll post pictures of our costumes once they are at the modeling stage (we're still in the visualizing, cutting phase at my house). If you'd like to share your costume ideas, please send EnviroMom a picture and we'll post 'em as Halloween gets nearer.
I am not a dedicated cleaner, so when I do put effort into cleaning, I want to do it well in the hope that I can then walk away and not have to clean again for a good year or so. Rarely works, though. I also feel like I've been brainwashed quite thoroughly by the American consumer mindset to believe that I need tailored products for each specific cleaning job. Something not working? Go and buy a better product! Do you do this too?
Case in point. I was quizzing friends over the summer about what they use to clean wood. I didn't get many answers. So I asked my new BFF Google and got some options. I set my heart on a Mrs. Meyers All Purpose cleaning product for the simple reason that it said it cleans wood and I didn't have any, and I really wanted to buy something from Mrs. Meyers since many people seem to just love her! Then I thought about it a little bit. I realized I had another natural brand of all purpose cleaner already, and I should at least try that first. How different could it be? Truth be told, I wasn't thrilled. I like the stuff well enough for many jobs, but it wasn't cleaning off all the greasy fingerprints my darling children had left on the wood dining room chairs. I'm glad I had resisted the urge to go out and buy something new. Who knows if the Mrs. Meyers brand would have worked any better on wood.
What I did do next is consult the infamous home-keeping diva of America. Yes, Martha. And do you know what she suggested? It's brilliant in its simplicity (and I probably gave it away from my post title): dish soap. I squirted a little dish soap (the kind for hand-washing dishes vs. the automatic dishwasher kind) onto a wet rag. Voila! Greasy paw prints gone! Now I need not fear feeding my kids egg-rolls at the dining room table ever again. There is hope! There is cleanliness! There is justice and goodness in the world! (OK. I'll stop now). And I didn't need to buy anything special or new.
But wait! There's more! (OK, now I sound like an infomercial). Last night my daughter was shaking up the bottle of balsamic vinaigrette and lo and behold, the cap was not all the way snapped down on the cruet. Yes, you guessed it. Salad dressing shower. And wouldn't you know it? She'd just taken a shower, washed her hair and put on clean clothes. Sigh. But here's the great part! Dish soap once again comes to the rescue!! It got all the balsamic vinegar and oil out of her shirt with very little elbow grease on my part! I've even gotten bike chain grease off of clothing with dish soap. This is a miracle cleaner if there ever was one!!
My cleaning work is now finished here. I think I'll take the rest of the year off.
We are in full rummage sale mode. In addition to the great Sunday Parkways bike ride we did, we were mighty busy shopping for reuse bargains. There is nothing I like better than a church or school rummage sale. Huge amount of donations pulled from many families, yielding a wide variety of things to choose from. Supports local non profits and features excellent prices! On a good day, I leave with my reuseable bags full of really good, useful junk! This past weekend, I hit a big church sale in my neighborhood. These folks are pros. They've done this sale for years. It's well organized and they price things right. My best buys this year were the stainless steel thermos for $1, and practically new Columbia Sportwear snow boots in my size for $2. I also snagged my kids two Skipper dolls ($1 each), which they have been pining for since we played with some Barbies at my aunts' last winter. One is really old, and the other is a knock-off, but what the kids don't know won't hurt them.
One thing I've learned is that you cave to fewer impulse buys when the kids are not shopping with you. Kinda like grocery shopping. So for the big church sale Friday, I went alone. Ninety minutes after it opened, I exited with two full bags of really good junk, and only things that were on my rummage sale master shopping list (which I've been adding to all fall/winter). Contrast that with Saturday. The whole family went to a neighborhood sale, that featured over 200 garage sales. We shopped. We strolled our 4-year-old, who makes everyone miserable when she has to walk more than 5-minutes in a row. We dispensed many snacks. We purchased hot dogs and brownies. We didn't break the bank by any means, but we sure did get more than planned in the old VHS video, kid trinket and free box departments. No question, it is much better to rummage without kids.
Sizing clothing and shoes without kids can be a problem, however. I often pick up shoes and think they are adorable, and guess they will fit my kids. When I get them home for the CInderella moment, they end up too small. How do kids' feet grow so fast? This year, I think I figured out a solution to that problem. I traced my kids feet on a sheet of paper, and now shop with that in my back pocket. If the shoe print is bigger than the traced foot, then it's a buy. If too small, throw said shoes back in the pile.
Almost every time we write about clotheslines, someone comments something along the lines of: 'Oh, how wonderful. I used to always dry my clothes on a clothesline. Love that smell! But, now I live in a place where the homeowners association has prohibited the use of clotheslines. Sigh.'
Maybe I'm just a weirdo, but I've always loved the sight of laundry on a line. I remember taking pictures of jeans and shirts flapping in the breeze for a photojournalism class I took a million years ago. I think I even got high marks. It was quite beautiful. Black and white. In the age before digital, alas, so it would be a pain-in-the-bleep to track it down, scan and post it. Sorry. I also become bewitched looking out of windows when I travel abroad (again, a million years ago), at all the cool pulleys and lines and loads of laundry being hung outside these old, old buildings. Perhaps they have the same problems too? Gated communities in the 'burbs where the hanging of laundry is forbidden? I don't know. To me the laundry is just part of the charm in all those lovely foreign cities.
I'm going to stop now before I write an ode to laundry lines. But please, if you feel so inspired, add your poetry to the comments.
If there's one thing this extremely snowy winter here in Portland has taught me, it's that I totally blew it shopping at rummage sales last summer. At the time, I thought I was doing great. We got some screaming deals on sandals and swim suits, flip-flops and beach towels. Where I blew it was in picking up that great Hanna Anderson winter parka for my older daughter, and those snuggly looking LLBean snow pants, then putting them back down and walking away! Because for crying out loud -- it was 90 degrees that day! Near impossible to spend any of our hard-earned dollars on a winter coat in the dog days of summer! Or snow pants! Or snow boots. Or ski mittens.