Why is Christmas for the Kids?
Dec 6
If there is a phrase I really hate, it's this one - Christmas is about the kids.

What the hell? No it's not. It's for everybody. It's for me. I have no kids, and dammit, there's no way I'm going to be left out of the fun. (FYI - present to myself pictured above - industrial auger.)

Christmas is about magic and tackiness and eggnog and poorly decorated cookies. It's about the smell of pine trees. Inside the house! How cool is that? You do not have to be a child to lie in front of the Christmas tree reading 'Twas the Night before Christmas and breathing in the smell of pine. That's good stuff. Homemade hot chocolate - the real deal - with grated chocolate and whole milk and a candy cane stirrer? I'm pretty sure you have to be an adult to realize how awesome that is, particularly with peppermint Schnapps. Playing Christmas carols 'til you lose your mind, and then playing them some more? That's for adults. Knowing that wrapping presents is fun if you mix in good wrapping paper, a pile of ribbon, Nat King Cole's Christmas CD, and the aforementioned hot cocoa / Schnapps combo - that's a grown-up trick if I ever saw one. Meeting your friends for lunch and exchanging presents, cramming in one more dinner / happy hour / afternoon coffee date? All for people old enough to drive, baby.

Believing in Santa might be for kids, but don't you dare let anyone tell you the rest of it doesn't exist. It does, and it's for adults. And it can be magic!
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Salvage / Scrap / Handmade Shopping Update
May 9
Because I have no money, I shop a lot. No buying though! It's masochism, folks, plain and simple! We all need a vice, and masochism works nicely for me. And you benefit as well = bonus!

Here are three new places you really, really need to check out (they're all online, so no need to actually live in gorgeous, wet, muddy PDX):

First is Kiriko Made. A few weeks ago I noticed this article about boro workshops at Portland shop Kiriko:

Meaning rags or scraps, boro is a waste-not-want-not textile tradition dating back to 17th-century Japan, when, for nearly 200 years, all trade was prohibited with foreign nations. As a result, cotton became a currency: coveted, treasured, and passed down through generations. Year after year, mending after mending, generations communicated through prints and patterns, textures, weaves and seasonal dying techniques, leaving their mark in hand-stitching for the next.

Having no talent for sewing whatsoever, Kiriko left my brainspace (there's only so much room in there). Then, while waiting on a friend I passed a shop window displaying a boro jacket. The pull was very strong - and thus Kiriko was discovered. My friend was equally enamored and we probably spent enough to cover their rent for the day. Please visit. There are vintage kimono fabrics, gorgeous boro pillows, scarves and ties, and so much more. (See pics above.)

Let's move on to Sellwood and Tropical Salvage, a shop jammed full of furniture and housewares:

Tropical Salvage uses the marketplace to drive positive change. We make our products from resources that would otherwise be lost, burnt, or left to decay. We do not cut down trees to make our furniture. We salvage wood from rivers, landslides, land conversion projects, plantation cull and volcanic lahars. Using revenues generated by sales of our products, we buy land in Indonesia to reforest it with endemic tree species in an effort to increase biodiversity and carbon storage in Indonesia’s extraordinary tropical ecosystems.

The inventory at Tropical Salvage is wide, from furniture to baskets to wooden spoons (to use up all the wood!). The range of prices is also impressive, making this a place to check out for yourself as well as for gifts. Don't forget: Mother's Day, Father's Day, graduations, and wedding season are upon us (otherwise known as hellish distractions from otherwise lovely spring/summer activities). Shop now, get the gifts bought. At least that part will be done.

Last is FIXT Electric, which is found online. Fixt has the coolest lights I've seen in a while:

FIXT travels all over the world in search of unique Industrial designed light fixtures. We most recently came back from Russia where we salvaged lighting from the depths of the Moscow subway systems to the abandoned Soviet era factories of the DDR (East Germany) and Poland.

It's funny. I used to think finding lighting was the hardest thing in the world. Not any more. There are so many artist-made lights out there that I almost want to start over and re-do all the lighting in my casa. But I won't. No money, remember?
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Donating Unusual Items
Apr 26
A friend wants to shed a lifetime's accumulation of sh** so she can sell her big house and move to a two-bedroom condo on a golf course. No yard. Not much furniture. No need for closets full of paper bags, odd cooking supplies, and late-night impulse purchases from the Home Shopping Network. You know what I'm talking about, right? The sham-wow? Seventy-three sets of sheets for four beds? Your closets probably look the same. (My house does, pictured above. The sham-wow's in a cupboard.)

I recently encountered the joy of cleaning out my parents' homes (sarcasm alert), and one of my subconscious restraints on the project was the desire to use the garbage can as little as possible. I wanted a new home or a legit recycling option for pretty much everything. Sure, that's obsessive - and now I'm here to share my tried and true knowledge with you. Whether you're spring cleaning or just sick of your junk drawer, you can find a non-landfill home for most of your crap.

Articles like this one are a godsend - they get you motivated. They also start you thinking that pretty much everything can be re-used or recycled. Where to start? I'm a big fan of sorting into categories. Pull everything out of a closet and sort the discards by category: books, mags, porn, figurines, whatever. Start with the biggest category of discards in your house, do some research, cart that load away. It feels amazing; and with that load gone, more crap becomes visible. Repeat the process as much as you need to, or as much as you can handle.

Jumping off from the article above, here are a few more tips:

Do you have a drawer of old computer chargers, cords, battery packs, cameras that don't work and SIM cards for god-knows-what? Find a local green electronics recycler and get all that crap out of your house. Take the old TVs and monitors while you're at it. How about an old rack stereo system and boom boxes? Is there a Walkman hiding in a drawer somewhere? They'll take all that.

Magazines may be salable (see the article). Who knew? As a veteran eBayer, let me tell you about other items that sell: old calculators, video games, sports equipment, particularly kids' sports gear, designer jewelry, hard-to-find DVDs, and nylons still in the package. I'm not joking; I've sold all these items on eBay. At this point I check everything for salability before I donate.

Craft supplies - these sell on eBay too, FYI.

Leftover vacuum attachments. I never thought of taking these to appliance repair centers! Would they also take old vacuum cleaners for the parts? It's worth a call to find out. I'm currently calling typewriter repair people to see if they would like a small collection of old electronic versions from the '60s and '70s to sell or use for parts. It's worth a call. Or ten.

Homeless shelters also need towels, blankets, coats, gloves, and sweatshirts. Often they will take partially used shampoos and body washes. Call first to verify. (And, call veteran's and women's shelters first.)

Women's shelters also distribute clothes, toys, and craft supplies to women and children who left home in a hurry. Call your local shelter and see what they need. Also, they usually need old cell phones. Bet you have some in a drawer. (BTW, a good electronics recycler often wipes old cell phones and donates them.)

Many schools keep an inventory of donated (nice) clothes for kids who don't have enough. Call your local elementary or HS and see if they have a collection. If they do, clean your closet and take a load over there.

Want an excuse to make this fun? Here's an easy one: invite your buddies to cocktails or dinner and tell them to bring whatever it is the shelter / school / local charity currently needs. Tell them you'll do the drop-off and bring them back the donation receipts. Trust me, this works. And it gets more people motivated to clean out a closet or two.

Last thing: if you have a donation or recycling tip, please pass it on. I'm always looking for a way to turn a discard into a re-use opportunity. Here's one: this organization takes old mascara wands to clean small animals. I've told my friends to hand theirs over and I'll start a box. Why not?
(1) Comments   | Tags: re: Ducere: Cycle
GD Paper Towels
Apr 22
I'm in a tizzy over here about paper towels. First world problem for sure, but hear me out. It started with this article about ways to cut your budget. Looking at it, my thought was: Screw the budget issue - all these things to scrap for the dollar savings are also crap for the environment. It's a double-whammy! A no-brainer! Who would have a problem ditching (at a minimum) paper towels?

You felt this coming, right? Apparently, lots of people. Upon reading the comments, I learned many people were not impressed with these money-saving ideas. They questioned the savings potential, the enviro protection, all of it. I fixated on this comment in particular:

Now, about the paper towel thing. When switching to cloth, won't you just offset the environmental (and maybe even financial) gains through having to wash those things all the time? If I used cloth rags to clean up the messy stuff I usually use paper towels for, I would be using a lot more hot water to keep them clean. I never understood how that is a better option, but maybe the loss of trees offsets the water and natural gas use? I would like to see an actual study on which is better economically and environmentally.

OK. Can you picture me collapsing in shock while reading this? Yep. Actual collapsing happened. But let's acknowledge this - there are many ways to measure both cost to the individual and environmental cost. From an anecdotal standpoint, I haven't bought paper towels or paper napkins in years. Maybe a decade. And I don't use something special like these Bambooee Towels. Regular, non-sexy, non-disposal dish towels work wonderfully. Some towel types are more absorbent than others; my mom would only use the cheesecloth style towels, for example. I'm a fan of these hand-woven beauties from Beth Poirier. Yes, they're expensive, but they last for at least ten years. (True story, Beth carries around an ancient one from her shows and it still looks amazing.)

Let's look at the enviro cost - the real cost of paper towels. I found this nicely summarized in a post from Ace-Tex (conflict alert: this company manufactures reusable towels, so they have a vested interest in disdaining the disposable):

Some say that washing cloth must be more energy intensive than using paper, but electric dryers are actually twice as energy efficient as the manufacture of paper towels. When you factor in all of the components of making paper towels or napkins (harvesting the material, processing and bleaching it, packaging it, shipping it, stocking it at a supermarket, transporting it to and from the store, and so on) all for a single use, you find that the paper towels and napkins are about twice as energy intensive and create more greenhouse gases overall. A cloth napkin or dishtowel may go through similar processes to get to your kitchen drawer, but it will stay there for many, many years, rather than being sent directly to the landfill.

Hopefully that takes care of the enviro comparison question. On to more issues: Regarding the germaphobes who don't like the idea of dirty towels being washed with their clothes, all I can say is ??? These towels get dirty from stuff in your house, right? Stuff you're already touching and dealing with on a daily basis. Why are the towels getting all the blame? Anyway, wash 'em with your filthy running socks, your husband's work clothes, the blanket the dog sleeps on. A friend washes a separate load of cleaning towels once a week. Figure it out!

As for the cost of buying towels - try making your own from old sheets, linen shirts, fabric scraps, whatever. Buy them used at thrift stores or online. Take some from the drawer of a friend (like me) who has approximately 200.

One last protest I heard was this - where do you put this stack of towels? This perplexes me. You fold them and put them in a drawer. Given that towels are malleable, you can find room for them somewhere. So please. Quit your whining. And quit those GD paper towels.
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Got Old Vinyl?
Apr 12
I have a friend with old records stacked all over her house. Hundreds of them. Probably thousands. She would like to get rid of them, but where to start? Who wants them? The volume of the collection is intimidating - there are enough black, round disks to build a tiny house in her back yard. What do you do with your vinyl treasures? Sell them one by one? Take them someplace and ask for a lump sum? Donate them?

If building a tiny house or a chicken coop out of your records is not the route for you, how about selling them or finding some other artistic use? Apparently much of the action in the old vinyl market these days is online. Craig Moerer, the owner of Records by Mail, happens to be located in PDX. Cool. My friend is now in touch with Mr. Moerer.

That cannot be the only place to go, though. This is the U.S.! The dental care aisle at Walgreens alone is stuff of legend. We like our options. So yes, there are a million ways to sell your records. For example, Everyday Music in Portland also buys all old CDs, as well as every record I've ever taken to the shop. You may only get pennies for some (many?) of them, but whatever: they get taken. A couple years ago I downsized one wheelie suitcase of CDs / records at a time until my house was empty of physical music. My sale proceeds were spent on digital storage for that music, a type of symmetry that I totally appreciate. I've had no regrets about losing those stacks of CDs.

Did you know about Record Store Day? Like newspapers and magazines, records are a dying medium - or so people say. If you disagree, check out your local stores on April 22, 2017. If you type your zip into this site, you can find participating stores near you. Call first if you want to sell! Don't just show up with your CDs and records. Trust me. Bad idea. Always call first.

How about the artistic option? Reach out to your local art school, co-op, or craft guild. Ask if there's any artist locally who works with old vinyl, or if the guild would like the inventory for a future project. And if none of these options work (though they should), don't forget about the free section of Craigslist and Freecycle.org. Sometimes carting the piles away yourself is too much of a project, and you just want someone to come and take them away. That's totally respectable.

As for the pics above, they're more curiosities found while cleaning at my friend's house: Victrola records (going to an artist) and a snack from the 1972 NAACP convention. What do you think that's worth on eBay? Anything?
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Let’s Revisit the Old Encyclopedia Issue
Mar 21
Over the years I've had people ask me how to use / reuse / recycle some items that have really stumped me.

Old trophies? My favorite idea is mounting them on the wall and using them as coat hooks. Painting them cool colors and turning them into art is a close second, though. And some genius turned them into ornaments.

Pics 1 and 2 showcase a really tough problem. This is an old hard plastic slide holder. I've got nothing: the best idea out of my little brain is to make some kind of wreath or candle holder from it. Those aren't even full-blown ideas, are they?

And then there were the questions about encyclopedias. Does anyone want them? Is there anywhere to donate them, or offer them up for re-use? Does any artist use them for...anything? After much research and endless phone calls, the answers were as follows: no, no, and no. If you wander the antique shops in any town you will come across an encyclopedia set, and who knows how many exist in basements and attics the world over. What to do with them? No idea. And then I came across this house, where the owner upholstered the stair risers with old book and encyclopedia spines and rulers. This is genius, IMHO. The original intent was to cover a wall with the books and rulers, but there weren't enough! I love that (my friend Suz put one book on her wall and it's fab - see Pics 3 and 4). Guess what? There are enough encyclopedias out there to cover a stadium. If you like this look, put out a call on Freecycle for sets of Britannica and have at it. And, if you do make this design dream work, please, please send me a pic.
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Recycled Goods
Mar 1
Do you ever just wanna shop? Go to the store, find something cool, pull out the card, and bring it home? Yep. But if you're trying to not create waste, shopping is a no-no.

Unless! Unless you know a world-class justifier like me. If you know a justifier, they'll find you a way to shop. Here it goes.

1. Look around your house and determine what you really need. Or want, because sometimes shopping is the only cure that works. Your need/want doesn't have to be anything sexy; you might need a laundry basket.
2. Make a list of those sexy and non-sexy items.
3. Try to scratch each item off the list only if you find it used, locally made, or created from scrap/trash/salvage.

Need some examples?
Pic 1 is glasses made from recycled records (like on a turntable), plus a necklace made from metal scrap. I hate selfies, FYI.
Pic 2 is a bucket / basket made from old plastic bags; I use it as a laundry basket.
Pic 3 - a sculpture made from trash from the dump.
Pic 4 - a lovely orange and pink rug made from old straws.
Pic 5 - is a vintage sofa recovered with old tents.
Pic 6 is the classic: vintage jewelry.

And here's a couple more places I recently discovered (courtesy of a friend) make their products from recycled fishing nets. Yes, fishing nets: Flor carpet tiles and Bureo Skateboards. Isn't the Flor carpet exciting news? Who thinks of carpet as a good purchase? It matters, because if you need to shop, you need to shop. Sometimes you need to spruce up the damn house. But shop smart. Shop with reduced impact and reduced guilt.
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What Would You Do with Extra Space?
Feb 22
I have a grand piano in my house. It's a small house, and the piano takes up serious space.

I preach that people can lose their formal dining rooms and turn them into craft rooms, dens, hobby spaces, whatever. But I still have this damn piano. Yes, damn piano. Although I took lessons for about a million years as a kid, my skill level is minimal, and just looking at the piano brings up memories of recitals (ick) and hours of practice (so much wasted time!). So why haven't I followed my own advice and ditched the instrument? Guilt. Boring old guilt.

Mom had hosted that piano in her house since I was about 12, and it definitely put a crimp in her décor. Before the ink was dry on my mortgage, the movers were at the door dropping off "my" piano. And it has been really hard for me to move on, to admit that it's a burden. When I mentioned to mom that I was thinking of getting rid of it, she was not happy. Not one bit.

But mom's gone! And since the anger stage of my grief pops up here and there, it's possible that anger could propel the piano elsewhere. And boy, the ideas of what to do with that space (Pic 1) are legion. Many mainly revolve around the notion of couches and daybeds. Oh man! I really wanna buy some furniture. I have a Pinterest board dedicated to ideas for that space. First, a second couch would fit wonderfully in the "piano alcove", and this one is numero uno on my wish list. It makes no sense in my house, but that's never stopped me. But really, wouldn't a day bed be better? Yes! Yes it would!!

So here we go: this classic Mies Van Der Rohe is what I've always lusted after, but there is also this variation. And this one! Of course, this may be the best of all, and the most expensive. Then, of course, another option raised its head and disrupted all my day bed dreams. The other option? A hanging day bed! I saw a hanging table in the Palm Springs art museum (Pics 2 and 3), and it got me thinking. Why not hang a day bed? (Arciform could make it from salvaged wood and metal, natch.) Of course, I have a hanging (regular) bed upstairs, so this might be redundant. Or it could be a theme? Do I even like themes? Crap. What a wonderful dilemma.

So, here's the deal. I need to sell the damn piano. I need to sell a lot more clothes and shoes on eBay. This is a problem worth solving, and I need cash to realize my dreams. (My hanging day bed dreams, apparently.) And I will hopefully solve it with a lovely used item from 1st Dibs, while someone else enjoys my piano. Unless it's solved with a custom hanging piece while someone else enjoys my piano.

What are you holding on to that represents some weird guilt that you could jettison from your life? Do it. Sell it or trade it in for something you want. Life is short. Lose the stuff you don't want, don't use, don't care about. Free it all up in your space and in your psyche!
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V Day Challenges
Feb 9
Have you ever noticed that life is full of dilemmas? Of course, if you're fortunate enough to be in the U.S., chances are your dilemmas are pretty tame. You're not a refugee. You're not displaced.

So what's the big dilemma? Valentine's Day.

I've been listening to a lot of Freakonomics podcasts lately because...economics. I love the stuff, especially when the Freakonomics people make it so damn interesting. And upsetting, as it turns out. The environment is frequently discussed in Freakonomics conversations, and V Day flowers were a recent topic. An expert noted that most flowers we buy for V Day are grown in South America (or somewhere tropical - don't quote me) and flown or driven to the west coast of the U.S., then put on trucks and driven all over the states to become your special sweetheart bouquet. The fuel and hothouse waste is immense, hurting the environment.

This expert suggested buying high-quality plastic flowers instead. Her reasoning was that they were re-usable. I just about fell over. Is that truly better? Factories in China polluting the air and water? Plastic flowers subsequently put on container ships that pollute the oceans? Is that the best we can do?

I don't give crap about V Day, so I might be out of touch here. But what if we just skipped the flowers entirely and started a new tradition? Remember when people started using bird seed at weddings instead of rice? Let's do something similar with the flower issue. Let's give bird seed. Figuratively speaking. Get your honey something he or she can enjoy for a while - like a weekend away, some new and needed car tires or Salt and Straw ice cream. Skip the flowers. They just seem to be a mess, environmentally speaking.

Here's an even wilder idea - you and your valentine could give money to a favorite charity instead of any V Day present. Skip the meal, skip the present, skip the hullabaloo and donate to those damn refugees. They have real problems. Plastic flowers, my a**.
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Gotta Buy Gifts? Really?
Dec 2
Let's recap. The election is over. No matter how you voted, one thing appears certain: the incoming administration is not interested in the environment. AT ALL. To be blunt: this blows. The best way to make big strides in trash reduction, reuse, recycling is to get corporate citizens involved. While there may be little regulatory incentive for that in the future, individuals can still make a difference. So let's get on it. Oregonians are on the forefront of environmental matters; let's NOT ease up the pace. First target: the holidays.

Whether you like it or not, it's that time of year. The time of year that's more of a chore than a gyno exam, more work than spring cleaning, more annoying than in-laws. Along with more (annoying) people around, the expectation for the "perfect holiday", and the push to consume, consume, consume comes a lovely side effect: waste. Container ships from China use gas and pollute our fishes. Wrapping paper, bubble wrap, cardboard. Where do you think it all ends up? Let's not talk about it. Let's do something about it instead.

First things first: If you have gifts to give, start with experiences (experiences over stuff!) then move on to items that are recycled, reused, and local. Concert tix, sporting events, a trip to a knitting convention are all better (and more fun) than something encased in rigid plastic (Hello Costco!) or shipped in from a sweatshop in India. You don't know where to start? Some suggestions: At the recent Vancouver Open Studios Tour I found a couple of artists that might cover a lot of the people on your list.

First is Allotropy Designs. Allotropy uses discarded bottles to make jewelry, lamps, bowls, candles, and plenty more (see Pics 1 through 3). Given the volume and style of earring and necklaces, plus the wine bottle lamps, I'm betting you will find some treasure here for many people on your list. Plus you'd be supporting a local artist and keeping bottles out of the landfill. (Yes, the landfill. If there is no market for recycled glass, those suckers end up in the landfill.) If you avoid wrapping your gifts, or wrap your presents in paper already sitting around the house (see this old post for tips), you can keep the trash creation to a minimum. Try some of those glossy magazines or comics pages you're hoarding in the basement for whimsical wrapping style.

The pottery of Kim Murton offers quirky animals and bizarrely appealing faces (Pic 4). Many are small in size - perfect for giving. Or keeping. She also makes cloth zip bags with skeletons on them. I have a niece that loves the macabre. I bet you have someone in your life that also is tapped into his or her dark side. Buy that kid a locally made skeleton something-or-other. Ms. Murton also uses cats in her designs (Pic 5). There appear to be a lot of cat people out there. Maybe you know one? Purrrrfect. (Couldn't resist. #dorkalert.) I went home with the nailhead person in Pic 6.

Ms Murton's husband, David Mylin, is also an artist, and they both have studios that were open last weekend. David Mylin works in metal. Scrap metal. Hmmmm. I didn't want to leave. He has some life-size statues of men made from scrap metal that were wonderfully random. One was made from an old washing machine. These are, of course, bigger gifts. They're more of a risk. But if you know someone who would like a crazy-cool metal sculpture, consider springing for one of these babies. Or buy one for yourself! You deserve it. Just don't buy the washing-machine man in Pics 7 and 8 (complete with good feet!): he might come home with me.

While it can feel hopeless at times, we all can make a difference every day in our world. Buy local. Buy recycled. Show you care. Wave a loud and proud middle finger to the rest of the world: show them Oregonians are truly and seriously different than the rest of the country. We don't need regulations to make us reduce; we will continue to do it all on our own. And, there are so many great, functional works of art out there to help push style and design forward, too, so why not make the world a prettier place while we're at it?