Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Recycle Your Plastic!

No. Not your credit cards. Although, that has it's merits as well. I'm talking about your plastic pots. Flower pots that is. You know, the ones you get when you come home from Bayer's Nursery or the latest herb sale. You transport your plants into the ground, or a ceramic planter and, if you're like me, the plastic pots get relegated to the garage. Or worse, they languish in a corner of your garden in an unsightly stack.

You have options, of course. You could drop these off at your local recycling center or have them picked up from your recycling service. But from May 1 through October 31, the Missouri Botanical Gardens is collecting these plastic pots. Simply bring your pots to the Monsanto Center parking lot at 4500 Shaw Blvd at Vandeventer and your plastic pot will be recycled to create landscaping plastic timber. Now THAT's cool! Recycled plastic timber is used in many ways, but often it is turned into retaining walls, benches, picnic tables, and playground pieces that may come to a park or recreation area near you soon. You can even purchase some of the recycled timber for your own landscaping uses by contacting Ryan Enterprises.

The program asks that you sort your plastic pots into groups, #2, #5, and #6. What does this mean exactly? Well, plastic pots are created into one of several groups of plastic. Each type has a different chemical structure and breaks down in a different way. Your pot should have a symbol indicating the type of plastic it is, usually on the bottom of the pot. If you're not sure, ask someone at the Monsanto Center. The Plastic Pot Recycling Program asks that you shake loose all soil, metal and remove any debris from your pots to prevent them from interfering with the recycling process.

In the event that the Monsanto Center is too far a journey for you, there are seven "satellite" recycling centers as well. Check out the Missouri Botanical Garden's website for additional details.


Saturday, April 12, 2008


About a month ago, Vanessa, my new roommate, after pressing a pot of coffee asked me what I did with the grounds. A pregnant pause followed accompanied by my blank stare. Gosh, I thought, I've always just pitched my grounds... you mean I had options?

In fact, upon a little research (read: a Google search), it turns out that some resourceful individuals have found a myriad of uses for used coffee grounds. So many that a "top ten" list has made it's way around the world wide web. Now, I'm not one to pass on a tip unless I've tried it myself. So, in the true spirit of resourcefulness... here's the top ten most popular uses along with the low-down on what really works and what is worth passing up.

1. Plants like a cup of joe in the morning too

Well, actually, the grounds at least. Most recommendations advised working them into the soil, but I just placed them directly on the beds. The nitrogen-rich grounds favor plants that like more acidic soils. My Gardenia bush is thriving (OK, it's not dying anyway), even though the grounds-additive has only been a recent addition. I think the addition has fairly immediate benefits... the foliage seems much more lush and a deeper green color. Fertilizer use? Thumbs up!

2. Compost aid

I have not yet started a compost pile. But my neighbor has been composting for some time. So I brought some over and and threw them in his compost pile. Again, the nitrogen-rich grounds help the compost reduce quicker. But we both couldn't tell a difference, perhaps it's too soon to know. Verdict? Jury's out on this one... though I suspect additional time would yield good results.

3. Dye... naturally

Natural dyes fascinate me. Beets, spinach, and... coffee! You can dye clothing, textiles, papers, and... drum roll... Easter Eggs! Well this came just in time for Easter... so I tried a few using the coffee grounds technique. And I must say... although some might prefer an earthy-style looking egg, I do not. I like the bright, pastel-hued eggs of my youth. So I wasn't a big fan of the coffee-dyed egg, though it did provide a novel conversation-starter. And the dye definitely worked. So if you like your Easter Eggs to resemble farm-fresh brownish-grey eggs... you'll love the coffee-dye technique.

4. Bug-Off

Coffee has a strong odor and high acid-content... so it makes an excellent insect repellent, specifically against ants. Make a small trail of grounds outside as a barrier wall (I tried to mimic the cartoons of youth that showed a trail of gunpowder) and sure enough the ants would not cross the line. I was so impressed with the success, I started setting up coffee barriers all over the place, just to amuse myself. My backyard looks a bit strange now... little half-moons of coffee trails... but my yard is a veritable barren-land for ants. Two thumbs up on this one. And perhaps just a fun little thing for your kids to do in the summer months, "hey kids... want to play with some coffee grounds and keep ants away from the doors?".

5. Wake up and smell the coffee

Perhaps I am a victim of marketing, but I always have a box of baking soda in both my refrigerator and freezer to prevent odors. So I was most excited about using the grinds as a natural deodorizer. Moldy, wet coffee grounds aren't really something you want sitting in your fridge, so I dried them out first on a baking sheet by baking them at 300 for about 10 minutes. I placed a 1/4 cup of the dried grounds in a coffee filter and tied it with some twine, threw them in the fridge, and removed my baking soda. But how would I know it worked if I didn't really put it to the test? I had to sacrifice some milk and produce and let them go a bit past their prime to really let the coffee grounds do their thing. And they did. This was by far, my favorite use. It's simple. It's easy. It's effective. It is good.

6. Flea and ticks be damned

A couple of weeks ago, Vanessa flew back to Bellingham, Washington to retrieve her two fat cats, Kramer and Bentley, who had been staying there until she got settled in St. Louis. Bentley is a big fluffy goofball that exudes a sort of clueless charm. Kramer on the other hand is a massive black cat with piercing green eyes that scheme. Immediately I knew Kramer and I had a date with the coffee-grounds flea and tick dip. Supposedly, this is a natural way to rid your precious pets of the little pests. I wasn't looking forward to this task since I knew I would not be endearing myself to Kramer by thrusting him into a vat of day-old smelling coffee. But for the benefit of you, good reader, I felt compelled to try this one.

Kramer stared me down immediately. Before I even attempted to steer him to the bathroom, he had my number. He knew something was up and he wanted no part of it. The low, intense growls Kramer made told me he was not enjoying this bath (or any bath for that matter). Aside from a few scratches on my forearms, and some temporary anxiety on Kramer's part, when all was said and done the flea dip was a success. Kramer didn't have fleas prior to the dip. And he's still flea-free. One can only deduce that a coffee dip maintains a flealess status.

8. And speaking of cats...

What's this? Coffee grounds repel cats from digging in your plants? Oh Kramer. I perhaps should have tried this before dipping you into the same substance that repels you from digging in my Rubber Tree. No wonder you squirmed so fiercely. But yes, sure enough, the placement of dried coffee grounds in my plants pot keep you from peering in with mischievous thoughts of defiling my plant. Yes, indeed. Coffee grounds keep your cats away.

But wait, there's a nasty side-bar to this use. Coffee grounds, while a wonderful repellent of ants, attract roaches. I'll give you a moment to calm yourself. And because of this, I cannot in good faith advocate using grounds in your indoor plant beds and probably not in plant beds right next to the house either. Some folks in Las Vegas with a lot of time on their hands and an active imagination invented the now semi-famous Vegas Roach Trap and found that, coffee grounds do indeed attracted roaches, by the jar full. Guess Kramer will get the best of me on the Rubber Tree after all.

9. Scratch damage control

Sometimes pets think your Queen Anne reproduction chair's legs are their own personal scratching posts. Tsk tsk. And what are you left with? Unsightly scratch marks! What's a resourceful gal to do? Well, if you have used coffee grounds... you can brew up some coffee and use a Q-tip to gently and sparingly dab some on the scratches. It might not be an exact match to the color of the stain, but as long as guests don't break out the magnifying glass, from a distance the coffee solution does a pretty decent job of hiding Kramer's, I mean a pet's, scratch marks. Verdict? Not too shabby!

10. Rub-a-dub dub with coffee scrub

The last and most curious use I found was to use damp coffee grounds a cellulite-reducer. Immediately I was suspicious. This just sounded too good to be true. And if this is truly an effective cellulite-reducer... wouldn't it be a gloriously cellulite-free world? I decided to modify the expectations (after all, no one expects coffee grounds to work a miracle), and decided to test it's effectiveness as an exfoliant instead of an actual cellulite-buster.

But first, I wanted to make sure that coffee grinds down the drain wasn't going to cause a plumbing disaster. So a quick call to the Plumber's and Pipefitter's Local 562 verified what I suspected, coffee grinds are BAD for your pipes. Before lathering up with the coffee scrub, I placed a drain catcher in the tub. Next I mixed the grinds (medium or fine grind work better than coarse grind) with 1/4 cup olive oil. This was especially effective on my elbows and heals and I'm completely sold on this great-smelling AND next-to-free exfoliant.

But what if you don't drink coffee? How can you score some used grinds? Well, both Starbucks and Peet's Coffee have a coffee-grounds initiative. Simply ask an associate for their used grounds and they will give them to you... for FREE. Or ask your local independent coffee shop if they'll do the same for you. Your plants, cats, and elbows will thank you!

Got another great use for grinds? Sound in and share the resourcefulness!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Cork: Not Just a City in Ireland

Saturday March 22 had all the makings of one of those beautiful, relaxing, productive gems-of-a-day. I woke naturally. Not my normal routine of waking from a death-sleep to shrill buzzing and flurried yet efficient chaos. Nope. Naturally. I opened my eyes to birds chirping, albeit perhaps slightly tone-deaf birds, but still. It was pleasant.

I slipped out of bed, enjoyed some pressed coffee, made a stop at the local farmer's market, and discovered a delightful new coffee shop. The day was truly a sunny, crisp reminder that spring is waiting to burst forth... and a good day to start a project. The nostalgia of the morning brings a smile to my face.

It's almost enough to make me forget the pain in my now-gnarled fingertips and aching back.

But what could have happened between such a splendid beginning and such a painful end? Cork happened. It was "glue day" at Casa Clifton. A year and a half of hording corks and time had come to transform them from their careless days of loosely hanging out in display bowls and vases to the almost military-like transition of tightly aligned and streamlined parquet rows of my soon-to-be mammoth corkboard.

You may have seen corkboard projects before, perhaps online or in a magazine. Kits are available for purchase at Target, Amazon.com, or in the ad section of Wine Spectator Magazine. Generally, the kits range from 9 x 11 inches "trivet size" to 22 x 22 inches "magnum size". My frame? 36 x 36 inches.

Now the good news is that I over-guesstimated how many corks my frame would require. It only needs about 850 corks, as opposed to the 1,000 corks I originally guessed. That is good news, because sitting hunched over a chalkboard, hot glue gun in hand, plus 400 corks (that's right - not even half-way there) all add up to a new kind of torture. So at least it's 150 less corks of torture.

Truly, it doesn't seem like rocket science. Fit the corks together, add a few dollops of glue, and secure them to the board. Couldn't be simpler right? Sure. But it's the "matching" the cork sizes that is the challenging and time-consuming step since the goal is a smooth, even and seamless appearance. Apparently, not all corks are created equal.

And let's face it, after 2 hours of constant gluing, you get careless with finger-placement and the expletives start flying fiercely. Eventually, your fingers go numb. This makes for faster work. But then the back pain kicks in, from constant hunching. And suddenly you notice that the corks at the end are much less disciplined than the front-line guys and any responsible drill Sergeant, I mean corkboard enthusiast, wouldn't stand for such sloppiness. So you tear out the bad seeds and start that row over.

But when all is said and half-way done, the sense of satisfaction at seeing my neat little rows of corks as the pattern of the board takes shape is thrilling. My little hatchling corks that I've nurtured over the past year and a half are finding their niche in life. So it turns out that making a corkboard, like child-birth, is one of those events in which the fruits of your labor render the pain of the experience a distant memory. And since I must admit that I have never given birth, apologies to all that might view a comparison of crafting a corkboard to birthing as a stretch. Our own experiences shape our own reality.

How To Make a Corkboard


A frame or, as it might be, a chalkboard
Friends that like to drink wine
Hot glue gun and glue sticks
Patience (both for collecting the corks and gluing the suckers down)


Wash the frame base or chalkboard down so no particulate matter remains and let dry
When the glue gun is heated, apply a few dollops of glue and affix to the board
Allow to cool a few hours before hanging your corkboard

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Springing Forward

I got the idea for this blog from, of all things, wine.

A year and a half ago, after noticing my cork collection had increased, I decided to create a corkboard. What a great way to transform my collection into a functional piece, I thought. Instead of making or purchasing a frame for the project, I picked up an old schoolhouse chalkboard at a yard sale from a woman who had used it to home school her children. The idea of incorporating the chalkboard into the framework of my corkboard seemed charming.


Then it occurred to me that the size of the chalkboard would require approximately 1,000 corks. Put in perspective, 1,000 corks = 1,000 bottles of wine = 750,000 milliliters of vino or about 5,500 glasses of the drink of truth.

Initially, I had this romantic notion of taking a lifetime to acquire the corks so I could look back and fondly recall the experiences that accompanied the wine's consumption. But gradually, the value of proper liver function changed my outlook and I soon enlisted friends and family to begin saving corks. Eventually, I ditched all pretense, and essentially begged restaurant staff for their spent corks. The corkboard? It's still a work in progress.

The corkboard project, however, revived an idea I had been mulling over for some time. The idea that commercial over-consumption is dependent upon, among other things, disposal. We are a throwaway society. Few and fleeting are the traditional repair shops that formerly were frequent and thriving businesses. Vacuum-repair, lamp-rewiring, lawnmower reconditioning have all been replaced by, well... replacements. Now when something breaks, we just purchase a new one and dispose of the old. This hit home recently when my favorite lamp broke. My search for a lamp-repair shop yielded just one result in an entire metropolitan area of over two million people.

Now, I'm just your average American Jane. I value the concept of recycling, of thinking globally and acting locally, of being green... but I'm a little bit lazy when it comes time to act. I only very recently committed to recycling and admittedly, guilt was a driving force. But discovering new and interesting ways to use my existing “stuff” has always been a secret pleasure. I delight in stumbling upon a new use for old curtains or 10 things to do with conditioner other than put it in your hair. I can pour through magazines with a hawk's eye for inspiration and ideas.

This blog will help in keeping me honest with my many good-intentioned projects. Consider it an accountability log. With this in mind, I hope Resourceful Living provides a venue to discover new (and old) ways in which to be resourceful.

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