DIY log tote (free!)

Crap.  I didn’t realize I was wearing living room camouflage.  Only in my house could you be invisible when wearing mustard yellow.

Google log totes.  I dare you.  Don’t take a sip of that coffee, though — you might do a spit take.  Expensive, no?

Well, ours wasn’t.  Matt whipped it up a few years ago from a pair of jeans in the rag pile.  He sliced off one half of a leg (the front or back, I forget which) right at the seams (which is why it hasn’t frayed into oblivion) and whacked it off under the pockets.  He detached the waistband and cut it in half legnthwise and attached it to the ends of the leg piece (see below) as handles.  He sewed the snot out of it on my sewing machine, making good use of the reverse button.

What matters is that the table will be clear in time for dinner, right?  Failing that, I say we eat on the couch.

If you don’t have a machine or the inclination to hand sew you could punch a hole in the leg, feed the handle through and knot it.

— Amanda


Mailing my trash to New Jersey

One of the brilliant suggestions in Amy Korst’s Zero-Waste Lifestyle was to make use of TerraCycle.

There are some things that simply can’t be recycled in the usual sense (of being melted down and remade into more of the same), usually because they are made of composite materials, like the plastic and metal laminate that makes up potato chip bags.  But they can be upcycled, which means that instead of heading directly to the landfill they can be made into a new product first.  A lot of the materials that TerraCycle accepts are upcycled: Capri Sun® pouches are sewn together to make reusable lunch bags and backpacks, newspaper is wrapped tightly around graphite to make pencils, and soda can pulltabs are woven into chainmail-style purses.  Some items really do get melted down or ground up before seeing a second life: otherwise non-recyclable plastic bath and beauty product packaging becomes faux-terra cotta pavers, cigarette butts and packaging are made into industrial pallets.

Schools and other organizations, like churches and clubs, can form brigades to collect materials of one particular kind or another (in the same way that we once hoarded cereal box tops and soup can labels for our teachers) to raise money for charity while ensuring that their items bypass the landfill.

If you are like me, a small household incapable of collecting the massive amounts of drink pouches and dairy cartons that are necessary to form a brigade you still help out.  This isn’t made terribly obvious by the website, which is very heavily targeted toward brigades, but I sent some e-mails and got confirmation that, yes, you can collect whatever you’ve got that they accept and box it up in one comingled mess.  When you have filled a shipping box you just print a prepaid shipping label from and away it goes!

There is a large surprising list of items that you can save for TerraCycle. (I mean — cigarette butts!  Was no one else blown away by that?  There’s a useful second life for cigarette butts?  That’s enough to make me question reality.)  Here’s what I’m stashing away*:

  • Athenos packages (with lids)
  • Candy wrappers (even fun size)
  • Cheese packaging (any plastic cheese wrapper or bag — does not need to be washed)
  • Chip and pretzel bags (any size bag from any kind of salty snack)
  • Dairy tubs (with lids and even foil inner seals)
  • Writing instruments (pens, highlighter, mechanical pencils, markers, and lids)
  • Beauty products and packaging such as any personal care or beauty product packaging including, but not limited to, lipstick cases, shampoo bottles, powder cases, etc. Nail polish bottles, hairspray and deodorant cans are NOT acceptable.
  • Oral care packaging such as any brand of toothpaste tubes, toothbrushes, and floss containers.
  • Plastic tape dispensers and plastic tape cores.
  • Plastic cereal bags and plastic cereal bag liners.
Mailing my waste to New Jersey is not my first choice for dealing with trash.  In the grand scheme of things it is inarguably not an A+ choice for sustainability.  However, until I find a way to do without things like feta and pens — or find at-home substitutes — this eases my conscience somewhat.

— Amanda

*Parts of this section have been copied and pasted directly from TerraCycle’s website.

Pantry cosmetics pt 1: the eyes have it

Yes, it’s all crookedy.  I can’t see a damn thing without my glasses so it’ll be a while before I get the hang of this stuff. 

I don’t wear a lot of makeup, but I suspect that if it were ridiculously cheap, didn’t involve solvents for removal, and was made entirely of things I can pronounce, I would wear a heck of a lot more.

My bizarre quest for homemade makeup started because I have a background project going on in which I document everything I put in the garbage can for the month of March.  Given that I am also working on a lengthy clutter purge some weird stuff has been getting onto the garbage list.

In the above picture I am wearing eyeliner made of charcoal (grind fine in a mortar and pestle or use activated charcoal from the pharmacy and dip a dampened eyeliner brush in the dry powder), eye shadow made of cocoa powder (dry brush in dry powder just as you would any loose eye shadow), and eyebrow color also made of cocoa powder (wet brush in dry powder).  I have read that if you would like to make cake eye shadow out of cocoa (or cocoa mixed with arrowroot to lighten or spirulina for a green shade) you can make a paste out of your powder and your choice of vodka or rubbing alcohol, press into tin and let dry.  (Mini Altoid® tins work great if you don’t have an empty eye shadow compact laying around.  I am keeping all of my stuff dry so I have the powders in little .2 oz jars leftover from red pimentos (an essential ingredient in tuna noodle casserole).)

Mascara can also be made out of the charcoal by adding a pinch of charcoal to your favorite oil (coconut, jojoba, vitamin e), but I didn’t have a mascara wand handy this morning so that will have to wait for Part 2: Lipstick!

— Amanda

Rag and bone cotton balls

My new “cotton balls” may be cotton (50%?) but they sure aren’t ball-shaped.

I take perverse delight in not buying things.  Mind you, I love to consume as much as the next person: just watch me go bonkers in the thrift store on books and sweaters.  But there is a strange satisfaction to be had in saying “no” — or, in my case “no thanks, I make my own.”

We now produce our own stock, bacon, veggies (to an extent), ham, eggs, shampoo and conditioner, hair gel, soap, jams and other canned goods, dishwasher detergent, laundry detergent, chicken, pork, pasta, bread, yogurt, sausage, sour cream, vanilla extract, and beer.  (Hot damn, what a list!) But we still buy these things from time to time.  Sometimes I really don’t feel like spending half an hour grating soap into flakes for laundry detergent, or slaving over a stove for a lengthy but indeterminate amount of time to render fat and saponify it.  Sometimes we don’t have any pork on hand to cure into bacon or ham.  Sometimes the chickens are sick or fussy and egg production goes down.  But by and large we make our own.

(Wow, that was a lot of tooting of my own horn.  On to the subject at hand.)

Those little white things are gun cleaning patches commercially made from underwear remnants.  This is what got me thinking.  And thinking is dangerous . . .

Inspired by the growing tower of discarded clothing in the corner of the bedroom, known as the rag pile, and also by the little cotton jersey squares cut from commercial underwear remnants that we use as cleaning patches for our guns I decided to forgo buying any more cotton balls.

When Matt is done with a T-shirt there is no question of taking it to the thrift store.  Because when Matt is done with a T-shirt it is well and truly done.  Swiss cheese.  Holey holey holey.  Positively indecent.  Fit only for rags.  And, apparently, cotton balls.

Wax on.  Wax off.

I am not a big user of cotton balls to begin with.  I have only recently started using nail polish again with anything approaching frequency and I rarely wear makeup (and when I do it doesn’t require cotton balls for either application or removal).  For the purposes of nail polish removal, Goo Gone® application, and cleaning up hair dye drips these little squares of old T-shirt work just fine.

When (if ever) we run out of gun patches I’m sure we’ll use T-shirts for that, too.

— Amanda

Half-baked uses for baking soda

I was more than a little surprised to find, when I searched the archives of the blog this morning, that I hadn’t written about either of my two favorite uses for baking soda.  Better late than never.

1) Shampoo.  I am a “no-poo” convert.  I haven’t used shampoo or conditioner in months.  I get in the shower with two plastic containers: one contains a few tablespoons of baking soda and the other a few tablespoons of cider vinegar.  I wet my hair, add about 1/2  cup of water to the baking soda container, shake, and pour it over my hair.  Massage it in, then rinse it out.  I then add about 1/2 cup of water to the vinegar container and pour it over my hair but I leave it in.  Yes, I smell a little like pickles for a while, but by the time I’m dressed and ready to leave (15-30 mins after toweling off) the smell has evaporated.

It really works — even on really messy, greasy hair.  And it doesn’t seem to affect my color.  (I confess: I have given in to vanity and I dye away the gray.)  If you are going to do this be forewarned that there is a hard first week to get through in which your hair will be suddenly, unreasonably, embarrassingly greasy.  But it does pass and after that your hair will be soft and compliant and shiny.

I follow this up with homemade hair gel.  I blogged about this some time ago but I have since refined (and seriously simplified) the recipe to just 1/2 tsp unflavored gelatin to 1/2 cup of boiling water.

2) Deodorant.  I also haven’t slathered on deodorant in months.  I was even more skeptical about this working than I was about the no-poo method but it works magnificently and without an adjustment period.

I keep 1/4 cup or so of baking soda in a washed-out tin (one of those giant tuna fish cans, truthfully) with an over-sized store-bought facial puff on top (but there are dozens of patterns online for making your own).  When I get out of the shower I pat the puff in the baking soda and then pat it under my arms.  It only takes a pinch.  Done right you can’t see the stuff on your pits and it there shouldn’t be any excess to shed all over your clothes.  But most importantly: absolutely no smell what-so-never.  Diddly.  Even after a backbreaking miserable horrid hard day in the woods with Matt.

— Amanda

Rag and Bone Petticoat

Admittedly, most of you are likely not in a vintage fervor like me and don’t yearn to wear Dior New Look dresses day and night, particularly while mopping and slopping and all those great things that come with homesteading.  (I want to live Jenna‘s life, but I want to do it while looking like Solanah.)  However, homesteaders don’t slop and mop 24/7, we get out sometimes, too, even if it’s just to the feed store.  This project was sort of a gap-filler for me.  It’s froofy enough to make me feel fancy-pantsy, but not so froofy that I will stand out (any more than usual) in line at the supermarket.  Also, it gave a large portion of a worn, holey bedsheet another lease on life — which means it also cost me nada.

The rest of the sheet will meet a more traditional, less glamorous end: being reused to rag curl my hair, strain kitchen  liquids, making muslins of sewing patterns, dusting the living room, etc.  And that’s likely how the petticoat will end up someday, too.  Reuse, reuse, reuse . . . then recycle.

I made this baby by following this tutorial on BurdaStyle.

One of my favorite dresses, sans petticoat.  Damn, that’s a blue picture.

Same dress, with petticoat.  Not a big difference — just a bit of swish.  I hope the petticoat doesn’t always show like that — I had the camera at toddler-eye-level, so hopefully adults can’t see it.  Props to me for finally figuring out the timer function on the camera after four freaking years!

And here’s a peek at the petticoat.  I canted the middle tier 90 degrees so that the stripes would run counter to the top and bottom tiers.  That’s about as complicated as I get with alterations.

I’ll try to cough up something a little less frivolous for my next post — but no promises.

— Amanda

Rag and Bone: Feed and Fertilizer Bags

Back in the day, feed and fertilizer, and any number of other loose household commodities, came in fabric bags. (Before the bags, they came in barrels or loose, dumped in the back of your wagon.) People have been reusing feed and fertilizer sacks since they first hit the scene:

“Plain, coarsely woven cotton muslin bags were first produced in the 1850s, shortly after the invention of the sewing machine, and women naturally adapted them to their traditional sewing habits. Reused sacks were sometimes called ‘chicken linen’ after chicken feed sacks, but they came from products of all kinds. Sugar, salt, animal feed, seed, and fertilizer containers might be turned into all kinds of clothing, as well as into diapers, sanitary napkins, table linens, or towels.” [1]

I have a number of modern “feedsack” towels that I use for specific applications: washing windows, wiping the rims of canning jars, buffing chrome, and drying/storing washed salad greens. Nowadays you have to buy them new, as very few companies still package anything in fabric. (Although I have seen sugar and masa harina in two- to five- pound printed fabric bags in the ethnic aisle at the discount store where I do most of our grocery shopping.)
I buy my loose foodstuffs in bulk these days, and what doesn’t come in bulk usually comes in double-thick paper bags or in zip-top plastic bags. The feed for our chickens, pigs, and the Boll Weevil (she’s a barnless barn cat) comes in 50 pound polywoven bags. These are made of tiny strips of opaque plastic woven together tightly (as for a tarpaulin) and printed. The fancy-schmancy cat and chicken feed bags, since they are marketed to suburbanites and yuppies, are also laminated and shiny. The pig food bags, which are marketed to penny-pinching farmers, are just woven plastic, like an ultra-cheap tarp. We only go through a handful of Boll Weevil and chicken feed bags a year, but last year’s pigs went through 30 bags of feed in their 6 months of eating, and the new ones seem much more ravenous. In some places these bags are accepted by recycling facilities, but not in my area. So what all can I use these things for once their contents have been consumed?
  • Landscaping fabric under rocks or compost.
  • Tea bags for compost tea and what I like to call “poop coffee”.
  • Sand bags.
  • Roofing material for mobile chicken coops and temporary pig housing.
  • Liners for wooden planters.
  • Heavy-duty trash bags when tidying up outdoors (they’re a little more resistant than regular plastic to nails, bits of wire, shards of glass, etc).
  • Wrap/cover frost sensitive plants such as palms.
  • Spontaneous sled for the kids.
  • Storage for finished compost.
  • The man we buy our piglets from uses his as enormous “Topsy-Turvy”-type planters.
  • Stuff with straw or grass clippings and use for bow or rifle practice.
  • Use as a threshing bag for sunflower heads or dried beans. (Once dried, toss them in the bag, tie it shut, and whack it on the pavement. Fun and stress-relieving !)
  • Use them for earthbag construction. Read more about earthbags here.
  • Just about every drafty old barn has feedbags stapled up to stop the wind.
  • Growbags for no-dig potatoes (roll up the sides of the bag as you hill up the potatoes).
  • Last but not least: the now-ubiquitous reusable grocery tote. They’re made out of everything and anything these days, but I did a total forehead-smack when I saw one made out of a Purina Scratch Grains bag on the customer service counter of my feed store the other day.
Give me a few days and I’ll have a tutorial on that last one for you!

– Amanda

[1] Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash by Susan Strasser © 1999 the author. Metropolitan Books (Henry Holt and Company, LLC), New York, NY. (Pages 212-213)