Category Archives: DIY

Re-Thinking Gifting: Save Money & The Planet Holiday Edition

Our family resolution for 2017 is to spend less money on things, and to start to reduce the amount of stuff in our home (in other words – make a more pronounced shift towards minimalism). Between that and our desires to reduce waste and leave a small environmental footprint, we have been brainstorming some less than ordinary gifting strategies this year.

Experiences

  • Instead of a physical gift, wrap up tickets to a theme park or activity (great for kids)
  • Make plans with another family to not exchange gifts, but instead go on a special weekend trip together (works well for other families with similar age kids)
  • Say that a financial contribution towards a vacation is your holiday gift. Simon & I agreed happily that our only gift to each other is our diving trip next year.
  • Take a person or couple out for a day – to a show, for a pedicure, hiking, for dinner. For most busy grown-ups, having an all-expenses-paid fun afternoon with no planning is nearly as good as a stay in a fancy resort.

Handmade Gifts

  • Kids’ arts & crafts are a time-honored tradition, and the options are endless (check out google image search or pinterest). These are wonderful for caregivers & relatives. When I know we are making a gift I use higher end materials so the finished product will look better and last longer. Creating wall art on a canvas or putting it in a frame are great touches.

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    If you have the skill to crochet this R2D2 hat, by all means please do. Pattern here.
  • Edible gifts are another time-honored tradition where you really can’t go wrong. We’ve gifted cookies, wine & hot cocoa jars, but again the possibilities are endless here.
  • The world of DIY seems to get bigger every day. We have received many adult-handmade gifts that we love including blankets and wall art.
  • If you aren’t crafty, check out Etsy to support local small businesses & find exactly what you want – i.e. Blake’s Halloween shirt from Simply Cloth Boutique.

Donations

  • For Blake’s upcoming first birthday (where did that year go??) we requested donations to the American Civil Liberties Union in his name in lieu of gifts.
  • For an older child, it can be a great experience to walk the donation over them self (i.e. to the animal shelter). Let friends & relatives know if
    you are requesting money or specific items, and have your child(ren) help package everything up & bring it to their charity of choice.

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  • Another favorite for both of our kids and give to others are books. New, used, hand-me-down, and maybe signed, these don’t take up too much space are timeless. True to our science-family style, we love a house full of books!

Second-Hand, Thrift Store, & Hand-Me-Downs

  • Buying second-hand is an easy way to save money & have a positive environmental impact. Check out Goodwill, Salvation Army, & thrift stores for just about everything under the sun. If you’re crafty, you can re-finish or paint wood pieces to then use as extra special gifts (not that I have time for that… I’ve been watching too much Fixer Upper!)
  • Hand-me-downs are another wonderful gift, in particular to a child younger than yours. Most kids clothes will easily last through several children since they outgrow them quickly, and parents are grateful to reduce their costs. Swimsuits, sun hats, flip flops, snow boots, coats, and other seasonal items are particularly good hand-me-downs because they are pricier and generally not heavily used any one child.

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    A neighbor kindly shares the monthly onesies with Blake, which is perfect as each kid only wears them once!
  • Cycling toys between families is a great way to keep your playroom interesting without letting it get too cluttered. If you are buying & selling used, there is a far lower monetary cost too.

Recycle & Re-Use

  • Recycle gift wrap, bags, tissue paper, & ribbons
  • Paint newspaper or brown packaging paper (handprints or finger painting are especially fun) to use as gift wrap.
  • Use cardboard as party decor – paint signs or banners or make a big card for guests to sign. Love this idea from Meredith Tested!
  • When it can’t be re-used anymore, recycle wrapping & tissue paper

 

Everyone loves giving & receiving presents, our family included! We are grateful for all manner of gifts that come through our door. This list is simply a collection of some different ideas we have tried to cut costs, be kind to the Earth, and maintain a festive & happy holiday with our friends and family.

Save Money & The Planet: How To Make Old Furniture Look Nice

Paint it!

You may have guessed from our earlier announcement that we’ve been quite busy with DIY home projects recently. We are also big fans of second-hand furniture. For our new home, we decided to only buy high quality items (no more particle board!) I discovered just how easy it is to improve old wooden furniture by painting it.

This plan relies on starting with high quality, sturdy furniture. The color, finish, scratches, etc don’t matter. The structural integrity does. 


 Method 1: Regular Paint

I started with two sturdy wooden dressers that were woefully scratched and dinged.

  1. Quick sand to remove any loose splinters and clean.
  2. Use wood fill to repair the worst of the chips and dings. Let dry.
  3. Sand and clean again.
  4. Paint! I used Behr Ultra Premium Plus, which is a paint and primer in one. I applied a total of four coats, each of which has to dry for 24 hours. The first two coats were very then primer coats, focusing on knots in the wood and areas with the wood fill product. The second two coats were much heavier, applied with a roller.
  5. Finally, I added two coats of polyacrylic to the top for protection, since these will be our bedside tables.
  6. Finishing touches – I replaced the chipped wooden knobs with white laquer knobs, and lined the drawers with yellow & white paper to make them more cheerful.
  7. Done!

Total Time: 5 hours over ~7 days

Total Cost: $140

Pro Tips: Make sure to let each coat of paint dry fully before re-coating and applying polyacrylic. Shelf paper liners & new knobs were inexpensive but really nice touches.

Items Needed: 1 quart of Behr Ultra Premium Plus Semi-Gloss in Tropical Seas. Elmer’s color-change wood fill. Painter’s multi-tool. 1 small can Minwax polyacrylic protective coat. 2 rolls of shelf paper. 18 white knobs with screws. Foam or detail brush. Roller, handle, and paint tray. Sanding block.


Method 2: Spray Paint

I started with six dining chairs that Simon had reinforced and two red kid’s chairs, all from craigslist.

  1. Quick sand to remove any loose splinters, then clean.
  2. Set everything up outside on tarp/cardboard.
  3. Prime. I used 4 cans and applied many light coats of primer.
  4. Paint! I used 12 cans for everything. Again, lots of light coats 10-15 minutes apart.
  5. Clear coat – optional. I sprayed on gloss finish after the paint for durability.
  6. After everything had dried thoroughly, I added on little feet (glides) that nail in to the chair legs to prevent scratching.
  7. Done!

Total Time: 4 hours in 1 day

Total Cost: $80

Pro Tips: Spray paint works best when applied in a slow, sweeping motion as many very light coats. All of my items looked patchy until about the fourth coat, and I was still picking up detail spots 10 coats in. Choose an appropriate weather day to spray outside (50 – 90 F, low humidity) and wear protective goggles and face mask. Take the time to set everything up away from anything you don’t want sprayed, and use lots of tarps and cardboard to position items. If you do get paint on your skin, acetone (nail polish remover) will get it off.

Items Needed: 12 cans Rustoleum 2x Painter’s Touch Ultra Cover Gloss Seaside. 4 cans Rustoleum Flat White Primer. 3 cans Rustoleum clear coat gloss. No-scratch feet for chairs. Sanding block.

How to Take Your Child’s Passport Photo

Remember how I told you it is almost always better to take your own passport photos and bring them with you when submitting the application? Here’s how.

For our countries of interest (New Zealand & the USA), the requirements are the same, but you should always double-check before finalizing your photo. Child positioned against an untextured white or off-white background, two eyes open, looking at camera, nothing in front of face, no hands visible, no expressions, mouth closed.

For an infant, it is easiest to lay a plain white blanket or sheet over a carseat or bouncer chair, set the child in the seat, then wave a toy around near the camera to try to get them to look at it when you take the photo.

For a toddler that can stand but can’t stand still, our strategy was to sit on the floor against a plain colored door and hold Joey above one of our heads (remember we can’t be visible in the photo and he has to have a white background behind him) while the other of us waved toys about and took photos. Here’s what happened:

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Set child on head. Oh look, a doorknob! Clearly, neither of these photos will do.

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Yes! He finally has learned to smile for the camera! What a perfect photo! Except we then re-read the requirements, which mention that the child must not smile or have any expression on their face. Keep trying.

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Not looking at camera – no dice. Great mug shot, but this one won’t fly either because Joey’s mouth is open and it must be closed. Have you ever tried to explain to a happy, energetic, talkative, 14-month old to keep their mouth closed for a photo? I resorted to trying to startle him by hiding and popping out while Simon held him. There was a brief moment of shock before he giggled during which I had 0.2 seconds to take an effective photo. After many tries…

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Success.

Once you have the digital photo, crop to the correct size (2″ x 2″ with the head 1″ to 1 3/8″ high for the USA). For ease of printing, I put several copies of the cropped photo into a Microsoft powerpoint slide, formatted to be 4″ x 6″ (standard photo size). It also works to crop in powerpoint. I double check the size and line them up. You can fit 6 on a slide. I usually leave extra space around each and do 3-4 per slide. Then save as a photo and print at your neighborhood one hour vendor.

Not the easiest task ever, but a lot better than showing up for your passport application with an uncooperative kid or sleeping infant. Good luck!

How To Make Your Own Baby Wipes

This is such a fun, easy project that takes advantage of materials you already have lying around the house!

WHY CLOTH WIPES?

Handmade cloth wipes from super-soft old t-shirts & sheets, plus some fun flannel from the fabric store.
Handmade cloth wipes from super-soft old t-shirts & sheets, plus some fun flannel from the fabric store.

Baby wipes cost families $50-75/year. Making your own costs $0-40, depending on how ambitious you are with fabric purchases and vessels for your cloth wipes. They take up very little space in a washer and dryer, so don’t actually increase the amount of laundry that you do. So you’re basically saving the cost of a nice new car seat or stroller for your kiddo.

We’ve discovered another huge bonus, which is that cotton wipes are gentler on baby’s skin than chemical wipes. We use them with tap water and have never had any issues – nor have we had much experience with diaper rash!

Another small perk – this is a great way to upcycle previously loved t-shirts from sports teams, bands, clubs, etc. It always makes me grin to see which logos come up when I change Joey.

So, now that I’ve talked you into it, here’s what to do.

Gather cotton fabric to be made into wipes. We used old t-shirts and flannel sheets, and I bought a yard of flannel fabric off the sale rack as well.

EASIEST METHOD –

cut single layers of fabric into wipes using pinking shears (the zig-zag edge scissors). This will prevent fraying. Everyone has an opinion on the best size – we prefer a finished size of about 8″ x  8″. I wouldn’t go smaller than 8″ x  6″ or bigger than 10″ x 10″. Once you’ve cut these to your preferred size, you are done!

MORE WORK – DOUBLE LAYER WIPES –

This is what I did. For this situation, cut fabric into slightly larger squares (8.5″ x 8.5″). Piece two squares, right sides facing each other. Sew around the edges on a sewing machine with a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Leave a 2″ gap on one side. Turn the wipe inside out and sew across the gap. Magic! This method results in a smooth edge and a slightly sturdier wipe. To be honest, I prefer the thinner versions of these – two pieces of t-shirt or more worn flannel. We had thicker wipes that had used a sweatshirt and I never use them if I can help it.

BONUS! BURP CLOTHS!

T-shirts transformed into handmade burp cloths - same method as the wipes, bigger pieces of fabric!
T-shirts transformed into handmade burp cloths – same method as the wipes, bigger pieces of fabric!

If you are feeling super inspired (as pregnant Lauren was, over a year ago now!) You can use the same double-layer method to produce your own burp cloths. These are just a bigger version of the same thing. We found the best size to be about 10″ x 18″

 

HOW TO STORE & DISPENSE CLOTH WIPES:

I prefer to pre-moisten wipes by running a handful of them under the tap so they are ready to go each diaper change. Here’s how we keep them wet:

Oxo Tot Wipes Dispenser- awesome find for our reusable baby wipes!
Oxo Tot Wipes Dispenser- awesome find for our reusable baby wipes!

At home, we use The Oxo Tot Wipes Dispenser. This is a hard plastic version of a classic disposable wipes case, intended for disposable wipes. However, the way the inside is designed (a heavy plate with a hole in the center to pull wipes through) means that it works perfectly for cloth wipes! We have this in Joey’s room now. I have never seen another dispenser that works for cloth wipes, but would love to hear about it if you have other ideas!

On the go, we use a small wet bag. This is a little trickier because it must be unzipped to access the wipes, but certainly does the job. Oxo also makes an on-the-go pouch that looks like it would work for cloth wipes, although I haven’t tried it myself.

There you go! As easy as cutting up a few old t-shirts and you can have your very own stash of cloth baby wipes today 🙂 These are a fun baby shower gift as well – make a matching set of burp cloths and wipes with cute flannel from the fabric store!

Save Money & The Planet! RE-USE IT

Easy Reusable Everyday Items

There have been many times when people commend us on our environmental ethic. I am proud to say that some things Simon & I do are intentionally to try to help the environment- reusable shopping bags, walk/bike instead of drive, buying local foods, etc. However, there are many, many more things that we actually did to save money, and later realized that they had a big side benefit of helping the Earth too. Here are some examples – you might find a helpful hint for your own life in here!

This is a general post that leads to many others – reusing things instead of throwing them away. Do you have other ideas of

Are you sensing a theme here? The original three R’s of being eco-friendly from my childhood were reduce, recycle, and reuse.

Reusing things is one of the very best ways to save money, and it has a nice positive environmental impact as well. The principle is very simple – instead of buying a disposable object (i.e. paper napkin), using it once, and throwing it away, you have a slightly sturdier version (i.e. cloth napkin) that you use over and over, washing between uses.

This almost always results in financial gains long-term. The initial investment is often (not always) higher for a reusable item than its disposable counterpart, but it only takes a month or two to break even and start saving money. To really do things on the cheap, many of these items can be crafted from other things that you already have around the house, saving you even more cash. Another perk is that the reusable versions of products are almost always more aesthetically appealing, and will hold up better to the kind of abuse we put our things through. Each individual thing may only save you a few dollars a week, but bundle a few of them together for a couple of months and it really adds up! Here’s a list of items that we reuse with a few pro tips for each.

Water Bottles:

our stash of reusable coffee cups and water bottles.
our stash of reusable coffee cups and water bottles.

I bought a bottle of water in a gas station the other day for $2.50. You’ve got to be kidding me! You can get a wide range of reusable water bottles (or make your own from a previous water, soda, or juice bottle) that can be refilled for free to a few cents in virtually any restaurant, service station, or home in the western world. If you have concerns about BPA and other plasticizers, stainless steel or aluminum bottles are easy to come by for as little as $4.99 in general stores.

Coffee Cups:

I know, I just told you to make your own coffee at home, so you aren’t getting all of those paper and plastic Starbucks cups anyway, right? It never hurt anyone to have a to-go style coffee mug ready for that homemade coffee or the off-chance that you need a second caffeinated beverage from your neighborhood café around lunchtime. Most places (including sbux) give you a discount for bringing your own cup, and the insulated versions keep your drink warm or cold much longer! These are also easy to find in stainless steel for under $10 (although not at sbux 🙂 ).

Napkins:

Our stash of fabric (reusable) linens for the kitchen- from the bottom up are dish towels, napkins, dish cloths, baby wash cloths, and snack bags.
Our stash of fabric (reusable) linens for the kitchen- from the bottom up are dish towels, napkins, dish cloths, baby wash cloths, and snack bags.

Cloth napkins range in price but can be found for less than a dollar per napkin. We have a set of 12 that I bought for $5.99 on sale six years ago that are still going strong. They are softer and more absorbent than paper napkins (an important feature with our little mess-maker), and take up very little space in the laundry so really do not affect our energy and water budget for washing! This was also one of the great Tim Ray’s top ten environmental tips.

Dish Towels:

Use these for drying dishes, covering baked goods before serving, drying hands, and wiping down the kitchen table. This again minimizes your need for paper towels. Dish towels and napkins have a huge price range, but simple cotton sets can be found at target or dollar general for a few dollars.

Food Storage:

an assortment of washable food storage containers
an assortment of washable food storage containers

We use a wide range of glass containers with lids for leftovers and airtight jars for dry goods in our pantry. Ikea sells the storage jars for a great price, and almost any grocery store or target sells the pyrex and Tupperware storage containers. There are also a plethora of cute snack bags, sandwich wraps, and specialty reusable lunchtime paraphernalia available on the internet. It takes a little longer to realize savings here, but over time all of the zip-loc bags, plastic wrap, and aluminum foil add up. The environmental impact is big – far fewer one-time wrappers being manufactured and going to landfills. For more cost-savings, save jars from pasta sauce, salsa, yogurt, etc to use for your leftovers or packed lunch.

Cleaning Towels/Rags:

Once towels get old and torn, they move to our cleaning bin. We use them to mop stains off the floor, clean windows, and clean off surfaces in the kitchen. All jobs that were once held by paper towels (which we do have but almost never use now!) It is possible to buy this new, but we’ve never had a shortage just by using old towels, sweatshirts, etc so this item is virtually free and starts saving your change from paper towels immediately.

Grocery Bags:

We have an extensive collection of reusable grocery bags by now, collected from various events along the way. I have a fleet of heavy-duty totes (mainly these from LL Bean), which are awesome for shopping (as well as travel!), especially since Joey and I walk to the stores most of the time. I know you’ve heard of this before and you know it is eco-friendly, but how on earth does it save you money if you go out and buy new bags when the store gives them to you for free? Well, most stores give a per bag discount (usually 5-10 cents per bag) if you bring your own. They will honor this even if you save and bring back the plastic bags from your previous visit. However, plastic bags have been outlawed in Hawaii (all of Maui and Kauai), San Francisco, and Portland completely, and many stores and states are implementing policies where customers are charged per bag for plastic or paper bags. So again, not a huge savings but it adds up over time. The reusable bags are far sturdier and have never failed on me, while I’ve had at least four memorable events where a grocery bag has catastrophically ruptured and spilled/smashed food at an inopportune place. If you do get paper or plastic grocery bags, hang on to them to bag your recycling, use as trash bags, carry wet clothes home from the beach, and more.

Baby Wipes:

Handmade cloth wipes from super-soft old t-shirts & sheets, plus some fun flannel from the fabric store.
Handmade cloth wipes from super-soft old t-shirts & sheets, plus some fun flannel from the fabric store.

Flannel and cotton baby wipes are available to purchase online, or you can make your own from old flannel sheets and t-shirts. (We also made burp clothes! I used a mix of upcycled t-shirts, an old sheet, and some new flannel from the fabric store.) Like cloth napkins, these take up very little room in the wash and don’t affect your water or energy budget. Many moms make their own wipes solution with various soaps and oils, but we just use plain water and it has always worked well for us. Keep wet wipes on hand with a dispenser like this at home, or in a wet bag at home and on the go. This saves $100-$400 a year depending on the type of baby wipes you would typically buy.

Baby Diapers:

I would rather wear this - only super-soft fleece against baby's skin.
I would rather wear this – only super-soft fleece against baby’s skin.

I had to make this in to a whole separate post because I’ve gotten so many questions about it that I wanted to answer. At the end of the day, cloth diapers have an initial cost of $200-600 depending on the type, brand, and quantity. They can be re-used for subsequent children (although you may need more for twins or multiple babes in diapers). Washing costs (if you have your own machine) are about $30-50 a year. Paper diapers cost $800-$1200 per year depending on the brand, so you save about $550 in the first year and $1000 each subsequent year your baby is in diapers. The environmental impacts of this one are huge – tons of material not going into landfills and heavy manufacturing burdens and greenhouse gas emissions that you aren’t supporting.

Upcycle Your Old Things!

We have developed a knack for assessing an object for its potential usefulness before it is sent to the rubbish bin. Old t-shirts, sheets, and towels can be transformed into baby wipes, cleaning cloths, and more. Pasta sauce jars can be washed and used for food storage. Cardboard boxes become forts for Joey. The little bottles of shampoo from hotels can be saved for guests, and re-filled from your big shampoo container for future travels. That tent that isn’t really waterproof anymore still makes a great sun shelter in the yard for kiddos. Anytime you can come up with a new use for something, with or without modification, you are minimizing the demand for newly manufactured items and the load sent to landfills. Get creative – and please share your favorites! I’m always looking for new ideas for our family and home.

How Does This Help The Planet?

Nearly everything you buy in a store has to be manufactured in a factory, shipped to a distribution center, then shipped to that specific store. The carbon emissions and pollution add up quickly, especially since so many things are manufactured overseas. The less you buy, the less demand you are giving the manufacturing machine, so it will eventually respond by reducing the supply that it produces.
When we throw things away they don’t just disappear- they are sent to landfills (again, carbon emissions and pollution), which we are rapidly running out of space for. (Think Wall-E)

Save Money & the Planet! Make Your Own Starbucks

There have been many times when people commend us on our environmental ethic. I am proud to say that some things Simon & I do are intentionally to try to help the environment- reusable shopping bags, walk/bike instead of drive, buying local foods, etc. However, there are many, many more things that we actually did to save money, and later realized that they had a big side benefit of helping the Earth too. Here are some examples – you might find a helpful hint for your own life in here!

First in the series – beating the caffeinated green giant.

Coffee

Better than Sbux Iced Coffee. Bonus- served in a chilled beer mug
Better than Sbux Iced Coffee. Bonus- served in a chilled beer mug
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Homemade vanilla simple syrup lasts for weeks at room temperature (not like we let it go that long!)

Oh how we love the ‘green sign of joy’ and their $5-6 beverages. However, we have gradually shifted to making all of our favorite coffee drinks at home upon looking at a credit card statement or two and gawking at the numbers going to starbucks. There are several helpful tutorials on the web for the more elaborate drinks, but the basics are the same for all of them. Here you go!

  • We use a french press ($20 at Target) – no filters to buy or plastic parts. Any coffee maker will do, however!
  • We get coffee at Safeway, and use the in-store grinder for a fresh taste and to get the ‘coarse’ grounds you need for plunger coffee, which ranges from $5-$9 a pound depending on sales. Safeway has been selling its coffee for $4.99 a pound for the whole month of June, and I admit to stocking up and freezing some!
  • I make a variety of simple syrups. As the name implies, these are very simple! Combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a saucepan and boil until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool to room temperature. Optional – add a teaspoon of your favorite extract (for us this is usually vanilla, but we do some fun drinks with peppermint extract and hershey’s syrup around christmas). These can be stored in any sealed container at room temperature or in the fridge.
  • For standard coffee, we use 4 TBSP grounds for our 8 cup press and brew for 2-3 minutes. Add milk and syrup of your choice.
  • For iced coffee, use 6 TBSP grounds for 2-3 minutes and let it cool right down in the fridge. I keep a pitcher of this in addition to iced tea ready to go in the summer! Add milk and syrup of your choice when you are ready to drink.
  • For mocha, frappucino, and other fancy delights, use 6-8 TBSP grounds and brew a bit longer – 3-4 minutes. This makes super-strong plunger coffee that can sort of pass for espresso.
  • Chill your faux-spresso for frappucino. Blend about 3/4 cup strong coffee with 1 cup milk (mix in some half-and-half for a creamier flavor), 2 cups ice, and 2-3 TBSP syrup. Mix in hershey’s chocolate syrup for mocha. If you’re feeling decadent, you can top with whipped cream from a can. Some folks on the internet add xanthum gum to stabilize the blend. We’ve never felt a need to do this, but ours do separate after 10-15 minutes.
  • For a latte or mocha, keep the faux-spresso hot and steam milk in a pot on the stove. A quick beat with a whisk or a dedicated frother will produce the latte-like consistency that we love. I mix the syrup into the hot coffee first, then pour the frothed milk on top.

Magic! We now prefer our home coffee drinks to those from starbucks and most other chains. You can customize your milk and sweetener to your tastes and wind up with the perfect drink for you. You can also make stronger or weaker coffee to meet your needs. When I was pregnant and minimizing my caffeine, I made super-WEAK coffee for homemade frappucinos (2 TBSP grounds for 1-2 minutes). Depending on how fancy, we estimate that an iced coffee costs us about $0.65 and a frappe with whipped cream about $0.85 (we use organic milk and raw sugar). Even if you add in hershey’s syrup or a frothing stick and buy your coffee maker, you beat starbucks within 4-5 drinks.

How making your own coffee helps the planet:

  • No single-use cups, lids, straws, or cup sleeves going into the trash (and you’re reducing demand for them to be produced in the future!)
  • You didn’t drive somewhere to get this.
  •  Starbucks and other multi-national chains have an impressive carbon footprint that you are supporting less.
  • Depending on your options, ingredients can be sourced locally.

 

Our Own Oyster Reef

The Eastern Oyster in a Chesapeake Bay Salt Marsh
The Eastern Oyster in a Chesapeake Bay Salt Marsh
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After all that hard work, we got to play trucks on the beach
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Our PVC ‘staples’ we used to stabilize the reef
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Simon dismantling the old oyster floats to be up-cycled to the new oyster reef
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Working together to build an oyster reef. The bags of oysters are very heavy- at least 50 lbs each! So we floated them out on a windsurfing board.
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Simon clips open the top of an oyster bag for Lauren to install on the new PVC frame

Eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) are remarkably fabulous creatures. They start out life smaller than the head of a pin, drift through the open seas until they find just the right spot, the attach themselves onto other oysters and grow. They don’t hunt or even gather food – they simply filter the water that they live in, pulling out microscopic plants and animals to eat. This act of filter-feeding cleans the water around them. A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water in a day.

Oysters are also delicious. So delicious to humans that the current oyster population of the Chesapeake Bay is less than 1% of its original levels. Dredging for oysters (essentially using enormous tongs to yank up chunks of oyster reef) destroyed most of their reef habitat over the last century and a half. Recently individual and commercial oyster farms have been taking hold – buy bags of baby oysters (called spat, smaller than a dime), and grow them off your own pier in floats. In a year or so, they are ready to be eaten. In the meantime, they clean the water! Commercial operations use in-water cages to protect oysters from predators. As a diligent young conservationist, Lauren first started farming oysters in Mathews at age 8.

Recently, we decided to take the oyster farm to the next level. This was in large part a response to the fact that our oysters kept growing (some of them are over 10 inches long!) and we didn’t really want to eat many of them, because we were more interested in having them clean the water and provide habitat for new baby oysters.

So, instead of a mass harvest or simply dumping all of the oysters out of their floats in a hopeful location, we combined our skills from science fieldwork in Hawaii, years of oyster farming, and general home engineering to produce our very own artificial oyster reef. We dismantled the previous floats into big PVC staple shapes that we filled with quick-set concrete and wiggled into the mud to provide a base. The bags were left with oysters in them, but we cut holes in the top. These were cable-tied onto the staple base.

One month later, everything is still exactly where we left it! Everytime we cruise past on a paddleboard or kayak we notice school minnows, and often a little blue crab or two. We are excited to see what happens with this new home project 🙂