Monthly Archives: April 2013

Weekly Upcycling Inspiration: The Tin Can

Welcome to your weekly serving of upcycling inspiration!  Once a week I’m going to feature an item for which I’ll endeavour to list some upcycling ideas.  They might be my own or they might just be little light bulbs of genius that I pinch from someone else.

Craft tool cannister

This week I’m featuring the tin can (also referred to as the steel can or just plain old can or tin).  Steel is 100% recyclable, and although considerably less energy is required to produce steel from recycled cans (75% less than making it from scratch, in fact)  it takes only a little bit of your energy to transform a can into another very useful thing.   (Check out some tips on recycling cans here.)

Pencil holders: cans covered with origami paper

1. Decorate (or not) with pretty or interesting papers (old maps, music sheets, wrapping paper, etc), paint, fabric or old buttons, and use as canisters to house all kinds of items – pencils and pens, paintbrushes, scissors, tape, rulers, knitting needles, crochet hooks.  Take a peek at these clever storage ideas here and here.

2. Turn into pots for plants.  Make drainage holes in the base first, using a drill with a drill bit designed for metal. Decorate or leave plain.  I tend to go for the natural look as the rust that develops adds charm.  Or you might like to leave the label on.  Any steel can is fair game – large or small, round or square.  The small tuna-type cans make cute little pots for succulents, which survive with minimal soil as their roots are so shallow.  Large cans, such as those for olive oil or Milo, make excellent pots for herbs.

Succulent in tuna can (this one was already coloured by the manufacturer)

Scented geranium in old Milo can

3. Use the top rim to make little picture frame magnets.

4. Make percussion instruments for youngsters.  For drums use larger cans with lids (and let your child bang away with whatever is on hand…hopefully something like a wooden spoon or chopstick).  Or cover a lid-less can with a section of old balloon or baking paper and secure with a rubber band.  If filled with dried pulses, rice, bottle caps – those sorts of things that will make noise when tossed inside a steel can – it can double as a shaker.  Go over to Mini Eco for a colourful version using ordinary tin cans.  Or be inspired by this too cool for school drum kit featured on Little Lovely.

5. Create a tin can lantern or try your hand at candle making (preferably using old candle scraps or beeswax) and use the can for a container candle or home-made citronella candle.  When it comes to melting the wax, you can even use a tin can to melt the wax in (as the part of the double boiler) so you don’t ruin a precious bowl.

6. Make a tin can telephone with the kids.

7. Need a height advantage?  Fashion a pair of can stilts.

8. Use as a round cookie cutter by removing the lid and base or make into custom shaped cookie cutters via Mother Earth News.

9. Stock-up the kids’ play kitchen.  Be sure to select cans that have a smooth edge where the lid was removed (or expect your bandaid stash to dwindle).  Wash carefully, leaving labels on.  You might be able to replace the lid (if removed with a can-opener rather than a ring-pull) and secure with glue, for authenticity’s sake (trust me…your child will think you are VERY clever)!

10. Make pigeon holes by glueing several cans together and placing them on their sides.  

What can you do with an old can?

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Making Beauty

Have you ever made your own natural beauty and skin care products? My sister and I discovered this art when we were teenagers. Yoghurt face masks, egg white face masks, oatmeal face masks (we liked face masks), cucumber eye patches, egg yolk hair treatments and lemon juice hair lightener ensued. Mum must have wondered where all the food supplies were going! Or perhaps it was no mystery. I can remember at least one occasion when my mother was startled by the sight of a white-faced (yoghurt) body, with cucumber slices for eyes (under-eye circles), lying prostrate on the floor (relaxation).

Creating home-made skin care treatments is loads of fun – even my one year old son would agree smearing yoghurt all over one’s face is a wonderful pleasure! The best part about handmade natural products, though, is knowing what’s in them…no 3 digit numbers or acronyms here…no palm oil either. Your body, our waterways, and orangutans, can breathe a sigh of relief. The second best part for me is: minimal packaging. The beauty products industry is renowned for excessive packaging and most items come in plastic. Only a few of the ingredients in home-made preparations need come plastic-clad…most can be sought in glass bottles, cardboard boxes, recycled packaging or even nude (straight from the garden or hen-house).

Ingredients (clockwise from top left): beeswax; honey; bicarb soda; macadamia oil

Now that I’m a grown-up I like to dabble in making my own beauty products on a little more refined scale. Though I still do reach for an egg white or yoghurt when I need a face mask (this happens about once a year these days). I tend to make preparations that are slightly more complicated…but still not very tricky. Below are some of my favourites – all fairly quick, easy and inexpensive to produce and don’t require many ingredients that you wouldn’t already have in the cupboard or fridge. They can be made up in batches and stored to use as required.

But first…a note on beeswax

Beeswax is widely available online. Most recipes don’t require very much – a small supply will last quite a long time. Try to find cosmetic grade beeswax from an organic supplier that is as local as possible. Also, most recipes describe melting beeswax in a double boiler as for melting chocolate however, I have found I can melt it very carefully in the microwave in a pyrex jug. As with melting chocolate in the microwave, to avoid burning it, use a medium power and do short bursts of heat at a time (say 1-2 minutes) checking and swishing it around to facilitate melting, as you go.

And…a note on oil

I tend to use macadamia oil when a recipe calls for oil (as with the other plant-based oils you can also rub it onto your skin straight). I started using macadamia oil because I could obtain it from a local, biodynamic producer. Once I’d tried it on my skin, and did some research, I was a convert. It does have quite a strong nutty smell which I find appealling but apparently some people don’t. If you have a local source of another organically produced plant-based oil such as olive (virgin or extra virgin), almond or coconut (virgin) then use those. As explained over here, you might find one of these suits your skin better than the others. And if you have a tree nut allergy, avoid using tree nut oils on your skin!

RECIPES

Lip Balm

90g beeswax (grated)

125mL (1/2 cup) macadamia oil

Melt the beeswax and oil together in a double boiler or in the microwave as described above. Avoid boiling the oil (be sure to check it regularly if using the microwave method). If this occurs, allow the mixture to cool before adding any other ingredients and pouring into containers. Once the beeswax is melted, remove from heat, stir to combine then pour into clean containers (used lip balm containers and small glass jars work well). Allow to rest at room temperature for 48hours before using (to allow proper setting).

Variations: I quite like the plain lip balm, but you could try the following variations, especially if making the lip balm for gifts. (The extra ingredients should be added after allowing the combined macadamia oil and beeswax to cool slightly.)

1 – 2 teaspoons of honey

1/2-1 teaspoon of cocoa powder

6 drops (approx.) peppermint essential oil – this gives your lips a bit of a zing! (Or try another essential oil)

Note that most of the lip balm recipes I’ve found include vitamin E as a preservative. Since macadamia oil has high levels of vitamin E, I don’t bother with this ingredient, however if using another plant oil, such as olive oil, add 500IU (1/2 capsule) vitamin E at the same point as for the other extra ingredients.

Or try one of these lovely recipes by Crunchy Betty.

Hand/body balm with macadamia oil

Hand/Body Balm

1 cup (250mL) macadamia/olive oil

 50g beeswax

Warm the beeswax and oil together gently in the microwave or in a double boiler. Stir to combine and place in clean containers (eg, glass jars). Allow to set at room temperature. To make a slightly more creamy balm, add 1&1/2 tablespoons (30mL) coconut oil and an extra 10g beeswax to the mix. You can also add your favourite essential oil such as lavender, vanilla or rose.

Oatmeal and Bicarb Face Scrub

This works really well and can be used for any skin type but is particularly helpful for problematic skin. Combine two parts fine oatmeal (if too course you might need to whizz it in a spice grinder) with one part bicarbonate of soda. Place in a sealed container. To use, make a paste with water then apply to face. Leave on for one minute, rub gently on skin in circles then rinse with warm water. I tend to use this in the shower as it’s a bit messy! You can use both of these ingredients on their own too, but for best results use them together.

Sugar/Salt Body Scrub

Add 1 cup of oil (macadamia, olive, or almond) with 2 cups of sea salt or certified organic raw sugar and combine. Store in a wide-mouthed container (I use a steel container that previously held body balm).

Bath bombs

Bath Bombs

These are fun and simple to make – a perfect activity to do with kids. They will enjoy using them too. Take a look at this lovely recipe by Idle Wife or use the slightly simplified version below:

1 cup bicarb soda

2/3 cup citric acid (smaller packets available in supermarkets; bulk amounts online or in health food stores)

1 tablespoon macadamia oil (or other plant oil)

6 drops (approx.) essential oil of your choice (I like peppermint or lavender)

food colouring

Combine the dry ingredients, squashing any lumps with the back of a spoon. Add the oils and colour and mix well. When squeezed the mixture should just hold together. If not add a little more oil. Press firmly into lightly oiled moulds (I use a silicone cup-cake tray but disposable plastic muffin containers would work well too). Allow to dry (and harden) for a few hours before removing from tray and storing in a sealed container.

There are countless resources (including online stores) on this topic with thousands more recipes. I’m not going to attempt to make a list of them here. Once you’ve tried a few simple recipes you might get hooked and decide to add some more impressive concoctions to your repertoire. I hope you can see that making natural beauty products at home is not only do-able, it’s actually easy! A whole lot simpler than deciphering the ingredients list on a typical store-bought bottle of face cream. That’s for sure!

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Weekly Upcycling Inspiration: The Bread Clip

Welcome to your weekly serving of upcycling inspiration!  Once a week I’m going to feature an item for which I’ll endeavour to list some upcycling ideas.  They might be my own or they might just be little light bulbs of genius that I pinch from someone else.

This week’s star is the humble bread clip (or bread tag if you’d prefer).  Gosh…to think how many of these the world produces and then waves goodbye to once the little plastic things have performed their intended function!  And they can be quite harmful to animals or children who ingest them.  It makes me shudder…so I won’t think about that.  Instead lets ponder what to do with them after they’ve held our plastic bread bags closed for a little while.  Be sure to store them in a handy jar so you can easily add to the collection or reach for one when you need it.

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 1.  Use to hold short pieces of yarn or string.  You know those pieces I mean…the ones that are too long to discard but too short to be wrapped into a ball.  Keep the yarn/string-wrapped bread tags in a glass jar for easy location of that bit of string or yarn you need.  (I actually came up with this idea a few days ago when I was sorting and tidying my yarn.  I thought I was quite clever and original.  Until I searched Pinterest and discovered someone else had already thought of it. Of course!)

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2.  My husband  suggested this would be a useful way to store short sections of pre-made fishing rigs (eg, with hook, sinker, swivel and leader line) – wrap the leader line around in  a similar way to the yarn above, and secure the hook in the ‘mouth’ of the bread tag.

3. Label electrical cords when you have multiple cords in the one power point or power board.  This is particularly handy for computers and their associated paraphernalia…but I’ve labelled our kettle and toaster cords this way so I don’t get confused.  Also use to hold single thinner cords together when wrapped in a bundle.

4.  This fashion designer made her wedding dress out of 10 000 bread clips.  Very clever.  I’m not suggesting you do this…but these are the possibilities people!!

5.  Store a collection of elastic bands or hair bands.

6.  Make interesting mosaic-style artworks and use for craft – eg, bread clip figures, jewellery, and mobiles.  Here is a sweet bread tag charm necklace for kids to make.  (But please keep bread clips away from little ones who might be inclined to swallow them.)

7.  Mark the end a roll of sticky tape…you know…the end that you can’t locate until you’ve turned the roll full-circle at least three times.

8.  Clip a pair of socks together in the wash…so the sock fairy can’t run off with one.

9.  Fasten opened plastic bags containing food.  Close and label paper gift bags (perhaps after decorating with paint or marker pens).

10. Mark stitches in your knitting or crochet.

11.  Label spare keys.

12.  Fix your thong (if you live outside Australia read: ‘flip flop’!) if its splitting where the strap part comes through the sole.  Simply clip around the base of the strap, on the sole side.

13.  Use as a plectrum.

Going a bit too far with the latter?  OK I’ll stop there…but I’m sure it would work quite well.  And I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s thought of it.

What else can you think of?

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Getting Kids’ Hands Dirty…In the Garden

I’m not sure what incited my passion for gardening.  Perhaps it was the special times spent in my great grandmother’s sprawling garden with its tasty fruit and vegies, and delightful flowers at every turn.   Or the array of potted succulents and flowering perennials at Grandma’s back door that cheerfully greeted me on arrival. Or joining my dad in his vegie plot when I was just a wee one.  Maybe it was the little vegie and flower garden that my first-grade classmates and I created in primary school.   Probably ‘all of the above’ is how I came to be a green thumb.  Growing plants (especially edible ones) has excited me for as long as I can remember and I have many fond memories of being amongst them.

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I totally agree with Australian gardening legend Peter Cundall, that gardening is super beneficial to our health – not only from a physical aspect, but also for the mind.  And there’s the bonus of nourishing your body with a bounty of fresh fruit and vegies from the edible garden.   Whether you’re four-years-old or eighty-four, the merits of gardening hold true.    Encouraging kids when they’re small will help to start them on this wonderful journey.

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Here are some ideas on how to pass on the gardening bug to kids:

– Garden with your kids from their very beginning.  My daughter joined me in the garden as a newborn –  carried in a sling, resting in the pram or on a blanket.

– Provide child-sized tools and gloves.  Miss L has shown a heightened interest in gardening since receiving some lovely gardening tools for Christmas last year!

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– Give your child her own garden area, whether it’s a small pot or an entire raised vegie bed.  Making a sign for this, eg, ‘Sophie’s Patch’ can also be a fun activity to do together.  With some gentle guidance and depending on her age, allow her to choose what is planted and to do the planting herself (again with some help if needed).  Try to avoid the urge to take over.  For younger kids you might let them pick from a selection of seeds that you’ve chosen based on season and ease of growing, show them how to sow the seeds and help them to do it.  Older kids could be given the task of choosing suitable seeds and then planting these themselves.

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– Try to keep gardening sessions short.  Take your child’s cue – if he tells you he’s had enough then it’s time to stop.

– Develop their sense of wonder for the natural world.  Whenever you or your child sees something noteworthy in nature, even if you’re just walking along a suburban footpath, take the time to stop, examine closely and show interest and amazement: ’Wow!  Look at that caterpillar!  I wonder why it’s covered in all those hairs?’…’Can you see that bird over there?  The one with the white cheek and red face.  What other colours can you see on its body?’…’Oh fabulous!  Look at all these worms I’ve uncovered!  They are doing such a wonderful job keeping the soil healthy for our plants to grow!’…’Come and see!  Our beans have sprouted!’   You might feel that you’re sounding a bit like the late Steve Irwin, but your kids will pick up on your enthusiasm.  (I’ve no doubt Steve converted thousands of viewers into serious nature-lovers with his contagious passion)!  This helps kids learn to appreciate and even love, the many critters they might come across whilst gardening, that might otherwise incite fear or disgust and also keeps them interested in the biology of what is happening in the garden.

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– Avoid pressuring your child to garden…if they don’t want to garden at a particular time, that’s fine.  And try not to worry (at least pretend you’re not concerned) when the seeds aren’t in perfect little rows and neatly spaced, or they are planted a little too deep, or your child pulls out a young vegie seedling thinking it’s a weed!

– Do some gardening-based craft.  Decorate old containers (tin cans, canisters, cups) to be used as pots.  Make a scarecrow.  Paint rocks for signs and decoration. Create garden sculptures.

– Read about gardening…together…no matter how young (or old) your kids are.  We especially like The Australian Women’s Weekly Kids in the Garden, by Mary Moody and The Little Gardeners Guide, by Niki Horin.  But even your regular gardening books, magazines and catalogues can capture children’s attention as they are filled with lovely, colourful and often fascinating pictures.

– Harvest and eat your produce together.  Allow kids to help with the preparation, even if it’s just washing the carrots or lettuce.  Little hands are also ideal for fiddly jobs like shelling peas!

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I’m pretty sure my daughter, at four years of age, has caught the gardening craze.  Miss L chose The Little Gardeners Guide for us to read this morning.  On our walk she noted our neighbour’s lawn still hadn’t grown properly over a little defect that they’d filled with soil recently.  When we returned home Miss L insisted she go outside and water the plants, even though the soil was still wet from this morning’s downpour.  Then Miss L asked if she could plant some seeds.  Which she did.  Not before gathering her entire gardening tool collection and donning gardening gloves and hat…and treating the soil to lashings of home-made compost.  I’m pretty stoked that my daughter loves gardening.  But what made me smile tonight was that Miss L not only devoured all of her vegies at dinner, but she also ate the little mound of mint leaves on the side.  And declared them to be ‘delicious’.  I shouldn’t be surprised.  She  grew them herself!

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World Book Day: Books for Kids

April 23rd is marked by UNESCO  as World Book and Copyright Day  (or just World Book Day).  If you live in Australia like me, you might not have heard of it as it falls close to ANZAC Day and isn’t widely recognised here, although this might be changing.   In the United Kingdom and Ireland World Book Day is celebrated in March.

OK.  So that’s one excuse to write a post about books and reading.  Actually, I really wanted to share my recent exciting Vinnies’ find: a forty-year-old (yes, vintage) edition of Fantastic Mr Fox, by Roald Dahl!  I was drawn to it not only by the words ‘Roald’ and ‘Dahl’ but also by the absence of the words ‘Quentin’ and ‘Blake’.  This early edition is adorned with some very quaint, detailed drawings by a fellow named Donald Chaffin, rather than the suitably rough sketches by Quentin Blake that most of us immediately associate with Roald Dahl books.  At only $3, of course I had to buy it!  My kids haven’t met Mr Dahl yet, but Roald is the author who dominates my favourite childhood books list.

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Reading a good book is one of life’s little pleasures…and luxuries (especially as a caretaker of young children)!  How I could return to my childhood in an instant…snuggled under a granny rug by the fire, completely absorbed in the pages in front of me. I think I was born loving books.  I grew up in a world where books were part of daily life.  For a long time my family didn’t have a telly.  We didn’t have computer games. But we were never short on books.

Developing a love of books is a wonderful gift that parents can give to their kids.  Miss L at age four, already lists reading as one of her favourite past-times even though she can’t properly read yet!  Through being read to since she was a newborn, observing Mummy and Daddy being absorbed by print on a page, visiting the local library for story-time and borrowing, noticing that Mummy loves buying books, being read to every night at bed-time and being surrounded by books at home, Miss L is already a passionate book lover.  Master J at one, is following suit.

17th June: Aussie books

The downside of books, from an eco-friendly perspective, is that they’re made of paper.  And paper generally comes from trees.  I’d rather enjoy the old-growth-forest as it is, than on my bookshelf.   So in order to get my book-fix, I try to follow these guidelines:

– Utilise the local library!  You will be amazed what your local library has to offer in the way of books, as well as magazines, and audiovisual material (one of our favourite things to borrow is audiobooks on CD – perfect for car trips).  Many libraries have long borrowing periods, which can usually be extended;

– Buy second-hand books.   Search your local charity stores, garage sales, second-hand book sellers, ebay and other online bookshops.

– Buy new books printed on sustainably sourced paper (via an accredited body such as the Forestry Stewardship Council or Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification – look for a logo FSC, PEFC, etc ).

– If you have a tablet or e-reader, buy e-books (for kids books though, you can’t beat the real thing).  These are incredibly handy as you can carry dozens of books wherever you go.

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There are some excellent sources of information about how to read to kids, how to help kids learn to read and how to develop a love of reading.  I particularly love what Mem Fox has to say here and in her book Reading Magic. Jackie French, another Aussie favourite, provides some very sound advice here.   And in this book which I borrowed from my local library, Jo Jackson King, gives parents excellent expert advice from an occupational therapy point of view (I can highly recommend this as a general book for parents of 0-7-year-olds; it’s not just about reading).

Here are some of our favourite kids’ books:

Longer Stories

– The Magic Faraway Tree series, The Wishing Chair series, Noddy and Toyland – anything by Enid Blyton is a winner in our household…and Mummy and Daddy are entertained by her too!

Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne (we love listening to this brilliant audio version too).

Picture Books

Fox in Socks – Dr Seuss is oh so clever (we love them all)!

Time for Bed, Possum Magic and other Mem Fox books

Mr McGee series, Who Sank the Boat, by Pamela Allen

Miffy books, by Dick Bruna

Spot books, by Eric Hill

When I’m Feeling series, by Trace Moroney

Maisy books, by Lucy Cousins

Dear Zoo, by Rod Campbell

Mr Men and Little Miss books, by Roger Hargreaves

Hairy Maclary books, by Lynley Dodd

Books Printed on Sustainable Paper

Do Dogs Dream?, Geraldine Taylor (a Ladybird  lift-the-flap book printed on 100% recycled paper)

Little Green Books – What Do You See?, My First Garden (printed on 100% recycled paper and with eco themes)

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What are your family’s favourite books?  Who was your favourite author as a child?  Did you like Roald too?

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Good Old Toys

I adore old-fashioned toys. Just like other vintage and antique goodies they have character and charm that is so enticing. And I can’t help but contemplate the children who played with them in another era, before computer games and perhaps television existed. It is this history too, that draws me in. And of course, preloved toys are also green toys, so that’s another reason to smile.

One of the joys of shopping for these oldies is that I’m frequently delighted by my discoveries. I might come across toys I’ve never seen or heard of…or some that I recall from my own childhood or from old family photos. The excitement can’t possibly be matched with a visit to a modern toy super store (unless we’re talking about my daughter; the only time she entered one of these toy shops my husband and I couldn’t extract her without bribery…a tactic I normally avoid).

My son turned one recently so I was given the perfect excuse for some olden-day toy shopping (via my not so olden computer). I bought these sweet wooden vintage table skittles from Little Flea Vintage, one of my favourite etsy stores.  They look gorgeous with their bright colours, sitting up on my son’s chest of drawers. I think so anyway.

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Whether or not Master J agrees I don’t know, but he loves to play with his new…ahem…old toy. Which so far involves banging two skittles together (they double as claves), banging a skittle on another object or banging me with a skittle. But that’s OK.  I suspect these skittles have been subjected to this kind of treatment before.  They are toys that have stood the tests of time and juvenile destruction, so I’m sure they’ll be alright.

Some day soon my son will be lining the said skittles up and knocking them down with the ball (which is too small to safely offer him at present). And if Master J has inherited the ‘lover of old things’ gene, he will treasure this gift for years to come, until passing it on to its next little owner.

P.S. My mum bought Master J the cute crocheted horse by Anne-Claire Petit from a fabulous shop called Vintage Stash.

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