Thursday, March 29, 2012

Upcycling and Repurposing: It's a Sign of the Times

Just a little while ago I heard the unmistakable whine and squeal of Larry's Skil saw.    He just returned from a shopping trip to Lowe's for supplies he needs to make some planting boxes.   He has some pallets but needed more wood and additional items to turn that pile of stuff into useful boxes for growing flowers and veggies.   He is in design mode right now and promised I could take pictures after he has made one or two and worked out any design issues.   If they get to that stage, I'll post instructions and pictures of his project in a few days.  

Recently while meandering around on Pinterest, I came across multiple references to things you can make from pallets.    I wrote about that a few days ago when I described Larry's use of the pallets to make cheap shelving for his small outdoor shed.     Pallets can be made into so many things that it's hard to keep up these days with all the projects and ideas being posted on Pinterest and more than a few blogs.   In other words, if you haven't made something from pallets, you are definitely not with it.   You're falling behind the times.   

So that made me start thinking about a lot of terms we are hearing now and quite frankly, I find it a little confusing since so many of them mean almost the same thing.    The operative word here is "almost".    I would be willing to bet that someone out there can explain the difference between these terms but I am going to attempt to give a snapshot definition and please don't flame me if I mess this up. 

Upcycle:    This is one of the new hot-shot words.   Well, not exactly new, but gaining popularity.   Upcycling is akin to recycling, like many of the terms, but it implies taking something old and making it into something even better or more useful.    If you take  used pallets and make them into furniture, that would be an upcycled project.    The internet is full of people who upcycle their entire house, yard and garden and are more than happy to tell you how they did it. 

Repurpose:    Well, that one is not a mystery to me.   If you take your entertainment center and gut it, put in shelves and make it into a craft container, you've repurposed it.    If you take an old door, put on chains and toss on some pillows and a quilt, you have repurposed the door to become an outdoor swing/bed.    I have seen pictures of these, by the way, and am now in the process of convincing Larry we NEED one of these.    I would be willing to sacrifice a closet door for this.  

So all this talk about upcycling and repurposing made me start thinking that a lot of this is nothing new.    At least the concepts are not that new.    I can recall in my lifetime, I think it was in the 1970s, that crafting was really coming into its own.    My sister, Ginny, and I made stuff and even sold it at flea markets.  I think I saw one idea in Woman's Day magazine or Family Circle for reusing your old spice tins to hold dried flower arrangements.     I went through my cabinets and found boxes of black pepper from A & P,  tin boxes for all manner of unused or outdated cinnamon, turmeric, sage, dried mustard and other spices I never used, but thought I had to have in my kitchen.   

Ginny and I drove down to the local T,G & Y and bought our supplies.     Some of you have been around long enough to know about TG & Y and probably even shopped there, too.   They were the "Wal-Mart" of their time and carried a little bit of everything from toiletries to household goods.  [Around 1962 I bought my first tube of lipstick at TG & Y and recall that it was a mysterious product that when you applied it, it looked kind of pinkish at first but magically reacted to your body chemistry to become your ideal color whether that was pink, red or orange. Or so they said.]   My older sister, Charlotte, and I started calling T,G & Y "Tiggy" (rhymes with piggy) and the name stuck.   Years later a co-worker and I were talking about T,G & Y and she said her family called it Toys, Guns and YoYos, which, come to think of it, was a pretty good name, too.   

So back to my story---Ginny and I made our Tiggy run and came back with ribbon, dried flowers, including  baby's breath, corn flowers and of course, you couldn't make ANY flower arrangement back in those days without eucalyptus.     We washed the spice tins and spent a happy afternoon crafting small flower arrangements in the tins.  As was our habit, there was a lot of laughter and fantasizing how we were going to spend all the money we were bound to make selling our lovely creations.    One thing you could always count on if you did anything with my younger sister, it was plenty of laughter.   No, we didn't make a fortune selling our creations, only a few dollars.   The value of the memories I have from spending those afternoons with my sister, however, is priceless.   

Since then there have been many other crafting projects made from new and upcycled materials.    Not too long ago I made several purses out of old blue jeans.    In fact, I am willing to bet that in at least one bin in our garage you'll find a dozen pair of blue jeans (purchased for $1.00 each at Goodwill) that were made into and still could be made into some cute purses or tote bags.   Crafting is one of those things that gets into your blood and you just can't stop yourself from seeing things through those crafting eyes.    I suppose that is one reason why upcycling and repurposing are a crafter's dream.     

If you are seeing the utility in crafting, upcycling or repurposing, you should get to know some of your local thrift stores.    They are a veritable fantasy-land for those who long to make stuff out of other stuff and not break the bank in the process.     Every town has its thrift stores usually associated with a mission or church related project.    We have Waterfront Mission Thrift stores here, Loaves and Fishes and New Beginnings.    If you think of thrift stores being like chain stores (Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Sears) then you know about Goodwill and Salvation Army.   You can find furniture, household goods, clothing and some even have cars, boats and RVs.   

If you're looking to repurpose, then a good place to look is your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore which specializes in selling furniture, shelving, cabinets and hardware.    I've seen paint, lighting fixtures, nails and all kinds of cabinets carefully removed so that they ended up at the Restore place full intact and ready to be used by you for your special project.   

And finally, we must not forget this time honored method of finding things:  roadside shopping.    I have a friend who lives in North Carolina and she has recounted a few projects she and her daughter have worked on to repurpose or salvage a perfectly good (but no longer wanted) piece of furniture found on the street.    You almost certainly have to rescue these items before they get wet from rain and you need to keep a sharp eye for these treasures since they go fast.     She told me not too long ago about an entertainment center they found that mainly needed some new doors and perhaps some scratch remover applied.    That was about it.     Not only did it solve a need for them but I think it is a source of pride for her to report her resourcefulness and I have to agree!    We're pretty inclined to wastefulness in our society so why shouldn't she benefit from what someone else no longer wants or needs and save another item from the landfill at the same time!

When you get an itch to do some crafting or you need something for your home or garden, think about upcycling and repurposing.     You will give your brain cells a workout as you figure out what you want to do, where to get your raw materials and finally, to work out the bugs in the project.    That's where Larry is now---working out the bugs.    When he gets those planter boxes finished, I'll tell you how he did it and show you how they turned out.  

In the meantime, do you upcycle or repurpose?    If so, why not share your secrets of what you did and what places you "shop" to get the supplies you need.  Any former T,G & Y shoppers out there?? 

Happy Trails (and crafting, upcycling and repurposing),

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Saving Parsley From the Compost Bin!

I like using fresh parsley when I cook.   It is so bright and colorful and much prettier and more flavorful than using the dried kind.    I will use dried parsley and often have some in my pantry but I much prefer using fresh.   What I don't like is what happens to parsley when you buy it in a bundle, put it in the fridge and before you know it, you have a yucky, greenish pile of something more akin to pond scum than a useful herb for your spaghetti.    It just isn't pretty if you forget about it and it starts to decompose and it wastes money, which these days is a big NO NO!

Now none of us intends to forget the parsley or anything else we buy at the grocery store.   But let's face it--- parsley can get buried in a vegetable crisper or stuffed into the back of the box even if you clearly label it and put in a fresh keeper bag and all those tricks to keep it alive until you use it up.   So one day when I brought the fresh bundle of parsley into the house straight from the grocery store, it occurred to me that I might be able to keep it easy to use, "fresh" and ready whenever I needed to add some color and flavor to my soup or meatloaf.   

I have done this two ways:  prep the parsley and put it in a freezer safe Rubbermaid container or prep it and put it into a freezer Ziploc bag.  I think I like using the bags the best because they can be pressed flat and don't take up much space in the freezer. But you can do whichever method works best for you and your kitchen!  Let me put in a small plug here for using the brand name of those handy plastic bags.    I have used other brands and generic bags and have found after trial and error, the genuine S.C. Johnson brand of Ziploc bags just work better and don't let me down with zips that fail to lock.   By using the freezer type bags, they are heavy enough not to rip and tear.    And if you really hate using new bags each time, you can rinse them out and dry them and they are good to go for many more times.  

So first I get out my materials:   Gallon or quart size Ziploc bags, scissors I keep in the kitchen for chores like this, paper towels or clean dish towel and a Sharpie marker.    I take the whole bunch of parsley and rinse it under cold water and then shake it lightly to get off excess water and put it on a paper towel or two.    I take off the tie wrap the store has on it to hold the bundle together.    Then I use the scissors to snip just the top part of the parsley to separate it from the stem.     Most of us won't use the stems anyhow, so they can be tossed or put in the compost bin. (If you are a juicer, you can put the stems in your morning smoothie.)   Soon I have a nice pile of mostly parsley leaves.   I feel through the pile and search for any stems that are still sticking out.   I use the scissors to snip them off and I don't obsess over this part.   I just try to make sure it's mostly leaves and not stems.    It is not the world's biggest tragedy if you end up with a stem or two.  You can snip those off later when you use the parsley. 

A freshly prepped pile of parsley--stems cut off.

Then I roll up the parsley pile in the paper towel or dish towel, squeezing out the water that remains.   I use the Sharpie to label the bag with what's in it and the date.    I find that a Sharpie works best on the bag and doesn't smear or come off.    A fine tip one makes it easier to write in a way that is legible later on!  I start putting the parsley into the bag a little at a time until all of the parsley is neatly tucked inside the bag.    I partially close the bag and mash the bag on the counter top to remove air.    I close the bag a little more and press again to remove more air.   Then I close the bag and I push it one more time to see if it's puffy anywhere, indicating it still has some air in it.    If I find air, I slightly open the bag and squeeze it one more time and then close up the bag.    It should be nearly flat and is ready to put in your freezer.  This is not rocket science so if a little air remains, you can relax---it's probably OK and won't make a big difference in the long run!
One gallon size Ziploc bag of parsley ready to freeze.
When you're ready to add parsley take the bag out of the freezer, open and break off a hunk of the parsley.   How much you break off depends on how much you intend to use.  Then I take a pair of kitchen scissors and snip up the frozen parsley directly into the pot or bowl. Reseal the bag and put back in your freezer until you need it again! The color is still bright green, flavor is fine and best of all I have not allowed a perfectly nice bunch of parsley go belly up and wasted because I forgot about it!    

This is a quick and easy thing to do.   It only takes a few minutes to get parsley prepped and into the bag.   You could even do this if you grow your own parsley (like I will have growing in my backyard this summer).  Then in the winter, you will have your parsley frozen and ready to use just as nice as it was in July.    

Do you have little tricks that you do in your kitchen to save time or make your purchases last longer?    Share on the comments because we're all in this search for the good life together.   Let's help our fellow travelers out along the way.   :))

Happy Trails,


Saturday, March 24, 2012

George Carlin Was Right About.....Our "Stuff"

A long time ago the late comedian/satirist/truth-teller, George Carlin, had a very funny routine he did on our insatiable need for "stuff'.   Well, truthfully, I am pretty sure he used another ---shall we say---more colorful word for it.    The gist of the whole routine (which nearly everyone in modern society can relate to) is that we ALL have stuff and that can lead to all kinds of problems.    Like where to put our stuff.  Or storing stuff.   Or hiding stuff (valuables).    Oh, and one other thing is that it leads to containers for our stuff.    You know what I'm talking about, I am sure.  

If there is one thing we have plenty of in this country (USA), it's an abundance of containers for our stuff.   Big ones, tiny ones, rented spaces, crammed places and whole stores that cater to one audience: People in search of the perfect thing to contain their stuff.   

So it should come as no surprise that one day while browsing on Craig's List, Larry came across an irresistible listing.    It was a used (but still perfectly functional) Rubbermaid storage building.  They sell them at Lowe's, Home Depot and Wal-Mart to name only a few of the places that carry these storage buildings.    He had looked at them numerous times at Sam's Club where they had the MOTHER of all snap-together, molded plastic storage buildings that was big enough to live in if you had the good sense to get rid of some of your stuff.    It actually had windows, a sky light, places to put shelves, faux flower boxes on the outside and a rather realistic looking "barn door".    I wouldn't have been surprised to find out that it had instructions for installing electricity, running water, a toilet, draft beer on tap, and a satellite dish.   I guess if they had marketed that thing as the ultimate "man cave", they would have sold out the first day they had them.   

Needless to say, he was not charmed by the rather large price tag that went along with that building so he sighed heavily and continued his search.    He needed a small outside shed because most of his yard tools were in the garage or leaned rakishly against the end of the house, where they were exposed to sunlight, rain, hail or to tempt the passing would-be thief.    (Yea, like someone is going to steal your rusted, bent up rake!  But I digress......)  

So when he came across the one for sale on Craig's List, his eyes lit up.    The price was right, it snaps apart so bringing it home would not be a huge issue and the pile in the garage and end of the house had grown intolerable.   He called the guy selling it and before you know it, he had it home and re-snapped back into a functional storage shed.    Problem solved----sort of.  


Those of you who have sheds know what I am going to say next.    A short time after he got the shed we had one of our famous hurricane warning things that we get usually once or twice a summer.   Sometimes they materialize into the real deal (Ivan, 2004).   Sometimes we just get a lot of rain and not much else.  No matter which kind it turns out to be, we still have to go through the drill of putting all the yard art, lawn chairs, loose anything into a suitable place until things literally blow over.    So he ran around like all the rest of the people in town, throwing things at the Rubbermaid bin willy, nilly and trying to strip our yard of anything that can be turned into a projectile in a 100+ mph wind.    We've seen what perfectly innocent things can do when they go flying about the yard and cartwheeling within inches of our bay window.     You do not need to tell us twice that loose things must be tied down or put in a closed container when a storm approaches.   

Well, that was several years ago and while the storm we were preparing for never materialized, we somehow forgot about all that stuff in the Rubbermaid building.    I think he might have retrieved one or two flower pots but the vast majority of the things in it basically served as a home for the tiny tree frogs that came to inhabit and LOVE the little storage shed.   

Now that we've retired from our "day jobs", Larry has a lot more time to ponder things that he can do to improve the old homestead.     And so it was that he happened to go by the shed the other day and he casually opened the doors and took a peek inside.    It was pretty much crammed to it's green, plastic fake rafters with all that stuff he put in there a while back.   Neither of us could remember when it was so suffice it to say, it was several summers ago.    And it hit him that the stuff he had squeezed into the back of the shed was impossibly trapped behind bags of potting soil, mystery boxes, lumber, rakes, flower pots of all kind, yard art and a rather large family of tree frogs, staring at him with bulging eyes wondering what he intended to do next.  

He had only one choice----well, maybe two choices.    He could-----gasp----get rid of all that stuff!   Or he could organize it a tiny bit better!    And that is the choice he decided to make.    Among the piles of stuff he had in the garage was a haphazard stack of pallets---The kind that many stores use to hold their merchandise in a warehouse.   When deliveries are made, often a forklift will pick up the whole pallet and move the entire thing to the warehouse.  They are made of cheap wood and nailed or stapled together quickly and without a lot of thought to design, other than functionality.    He had asked a friend to save some for him since his friend happens to work in a place that gets these pallets so much that they have to dispose of them.    A fresh supply arrives almost daily.   

Now it so happens that using pallets for "re-purposing" is all the rage.    You can look on Pinterest, do a search for "pallet furniture" and you'll find that there are a lot of creative souls out there who have found new and interesting ways to use these pallets to make coffee tables, wall art, shelving and almost anything you can think of that involves wood and nails or screws.    They take the pallets apart, cut them up into useful boards and without too much expense have some pretty cute and almost indestructible furniture.   

Larry had been collecting the pallets for some time as a free source of wood for just such a project as improving his little shed.    And after I sent him several links to projects made using pallets as the raw materials, he got inspired to make some shelves for his shed. 

First, he had to cut the wood down into some usable sizes.    He set up a cutting area outside of the garage and got out his Skil Saw.     He also kept a crowbar handy since the nail -brad thingies they use and the methods they employ to put those pallets together make them really sturdy.   

Keep a crowbar handy for prying
A Skil Saw will save time and work
After he got the pallet torn apart into usable parts, he used wood screws and some carpenter's glue and some other odd pieces of wood that were taking up space in the garage and fashionedthem into a serviceable set of shelves.    The estimated investment for the entire project was $5.00 and his time.  

No, they aren't for House & Garden but they work just fine!
Then he reloaded the shed with all the stuff that had come out of it.   Before the shelves were added, in order to get to things in the back, he had to practically unload the entire shed.   Now, with shelving at the back and a few thing neatly piled up toward the front, he can actually step inside, greet the frogs and get to anything on the back shelves.     He might have to move an item or two, but the things stored there are much more accessible and less frustrating to pull out.   

Potting Soil, Coolers, Screen House and assorted stuff
Flower Pots and yard art
Rubbermaid Storage Bin reloaded. (The tree frogs are in hiding!)
So yes, what George Carlin said is definitely true about humans and their stuff.    From what I have seen with my grandchildren, we start at an early age acquiring stuff and the quest apparently continues until we finally get enough of it and start downsizing.    We have not quite reached that stage in our lives, although we have given away, donated or tossed a large amount of things from our house since retirement last year.    Until we arrive at that time in our lives when we start divesting ourselves of stuff instead of investing in it, we need to figure out smarter, more efficient ways to store all of our good stuff.   

I'll bet you have some things that could be stored better, too.     We all do, or so it seems.    If you have a brilliant, cheap or innovative idea about how to store stuff, please share on the comment section.     I am sure George would approve from wherever he is now.     ;)
Happy Trails,