I think we can all agree that reusing, recycling, and upcycling materials is a good idea.
Imagine...if everyone believed that stuff was worth something (even right before it’s thrown away), we could theoretically live in a world without waste — a world where everything is re-imagined, rather than discarded.
Instead, Canadians and Americans send over 10.5 million tons of clothing (95% of which is still usable) to landfills each year - not to mention the multitude of other reusable items like furniture, housewares, toys and books that are regularly loaded into garbage dumps - without a second thought.
Recycling is in my blood. When I was a toddler, my parents operated a furniture refinishing business, breathing new life into old objects. My mom is a folk artist who uses everything from cutlery and knick knacks, to wire and wooden spools in her works of art, and she and I have salvaged and painted more than our share of tables and chairs.
Our family visits thrift stores regularly for a number of reasons. I have an active 7-year-old daughter (who gets holes in the knees of her pants within seconds of putting them on). My artist husband drips paint and ink on his shirts and pants daily and my mom is always on the lookout for items she can use in her sculptures. Meanwhile, I love scoring great deals on vintage and designer fashions.
I’ve always known Value Village (or as I like to call it: my happy place) to be one of the best places to shop in terms of quality, variety and low prices, but what I didn’t know is that the folks at Value Village are also environmental ninjas whose efforts keep more than 650 million pounds of reusable items out of landfills every year. 650 million pounds!!
And, the stuff they sell helps many organizations like the Canadian Diabetes Association, Easter Seals, and Big Brother and Big Sisters, to name only a few.
Value Village has shelves and racks bursting with high-quality, new-to-you clothing but they also have all the great beginnings for your next creative project. Seriously. This place is a crafter's paradise.
Recently, my mom, daughter, and I headed to our local store to see if we could find some everyday items we could take home and transform into cool crafts and activities, without spending a fortune.
Filling our cart at Value Village was easy, mostly because the store features thousands of high quality pre-loved clothes, housewares, books, toys and jewelry at incredible prices. We grabbed bright patterned shirts, colourful tablecloths, plastic toys, cutlery, doorknobs, a wooden shelf, grab bags stuffed full of yarn, hardware, and wood. The cashier had never seen such a random pile of stuff!
We were on fire.
Over the next few days, we sorted through our acquisitions and - by thinking about how to use everyday items in unusual ways - we came up with several family-friendly arts, crafts and activities perfect for both indoor or outdoor play.
Using four mops and brooms, we created a tent frame over which we draped, buttoned, and pinned (with clothes pins) a variety of shirts, thus creating a cozy reading nook. It is the perfect place for kids to read all of the terrific used books you'll find at Value Village.
We took big, colourful tablecloths and draped them across the branches of our apple tree to create a fun outdoor rainbow. The added bonus here was climbing the tree. If you were so inclined, you could take our project one step further and sew a giant hammock, perfect for lazy summer days.
Everyday objects like toys take on a completely new look when wrapped in aluminum foil. Imagine your child and his friends turning these into a "guess what it is" birthday party game.
Painted wood, a plate rack, solar lights, doorknobs, hinges, a door stopper, screws, and other items found in Value Village grab bags, can be transformed into cool robot creatures with a little imagination and a bit of glue. You’ll never look at spoons the same way again.
When is a wall shelf, not a wall shelf? When it's flipped upside down and painted. Now, it's the perfect place to hold my kiddo's favourite bedtime reads.
You don’t need a loom to weave a placemat. We made this one using a metal ruler and yarn we found in those famous Value Village grab bags. The trick to weaving without a loom is to lay out the yarn, hold it down at one end with a straight edge and pull every other piece back over the ruler. Lay additional strips of yarn crosswise - one at a time - and alternate the lengths back and forth, as seen in the video below. Voila! Fancy dinner time.
If you’ve ever taken your kids through a labyrinth or maze, you’ll know how much fun they can be. You can use tablecloths, shirts, and pants to make a colourful spiral right in your yard.
A shepherd’s hook (normally reserved for hanging flower baskets) wrapped with green, yellow, and red fabric, became a larger-than-life flower when my mom got a hold of it. We even needed to place a nectar feeder nearby, after it began attracting several hummingbirds.
There's no end to what you can create after a trip to Value Village. And at the end of the day, who wouldn't want to shop at a store with no pushy sales staff, zero loud music, and all the supplies you need to help you plan your next birthday party, family picnic or Crafturday afternoon? Not to mention, all the brand-name clothes (that won't shrink as soon as you toss them in the washing machine!)
And then there's the bit about changing the world for the better. So before you head to the craft or dollar store, consider the thrift store alternative and before you throw away still usable items, think about donating them at your local Value Village store or partner organization, because as we all know, it takes a village...
Summertime, and the living is easy. At least, it should be.
But you don’t have to take my word for it because as is customary this time of year, all manner of parents, bloggers, news reporters and child psychologists are chanting the same warm-weather mantra:
Give your kids the gift of an unscheduled summer.
I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid summer holidays involved only a few basic necessities: Flip-flops, Cap’n Crunch cereal, a lake (or plastic backyard pool), and frogs (as in, live amphibians).
During July and August, my friends, cousins and I were free to be kids. Dirty, sweaty kids. There were no science camps, no art programs, no swimming lessons and no expectations. And while we may have been given a few "helpful suggestions" as to how to spend our time, there weren’t any activities designed by experts and we didn’t have any professionals planning our days. We were bored, until we weren’t. It was spectacular and remarkably, we didn’t end up getting messy behind the general store. Pop Rocks, yes. Cocaine, no.
Figuring out what to do - when there was nothing to do - was exhausting. In fact, I’m willing to bet we used more brainpower during our months away from school than we ever did while in the classroom. And that’s precisely the point.
Those who study these things say that unstructured time makes kids smarter. Not to mention happier, and nicer. And when you consider that prison inmates spend more time outside than most young people today, it’s easy to see why shoving your offspring out the door – for at least part of each day – is a good idea.
So this summer, instead of signing your children up everything under the sun, take the road less traveled while resisting the urge to protect them from boredom. Partner up with friends or family members to make arrangements during the workweek and open the door,
nudge push your kids outside and stay strong when they turn to you, begging for the iPad while mouthing the words, “Don't you love me anymore?"
Then, repeat the following:
I will not make my children water pillows out of giant zip bags, nor will I fashion ball games out of tomato cages or construct castles out of pool noodles. Instead, I will give them a balanced breakfast, throw some sunscreen on the patio and turn the porch light on at dusk so they can find their way back inside. And sometimes, I will let them curl up under a blanket and watch cartoons in the living room until their eyes fall out, because I am not a monster.
Full disclosure. I’ve enrolled my 7 year-old daughter in mornings-only drama and dance camps for a few weeks this summer. But, her afternoons will be left wide open for unstructured outdoor exploration. Together, she and I came up with a list of 110 screen-free activities kids can do (in the backyard or the neighbourhood) with siblings, friends, cousins or solo – in case you are in need of a little inspiration.
1) Make mud pies.
2) Build a sand castle.
3) Tie-dye a t-shirt using natural dyes.
4) Paint on the fence with paint - or water.
5) Throw ice cubes on the lawn and run across them in bare feet.
6) Paint with grass or twigs.
7) Make a maze on the lawn with sheets and towels.
8) Have a water fight with spray bottles.
9) Throw rocks in the water.
10) Make inukshuks.
11) Run through a sprinkler or jump in the lake.
12) Water balloons!
13) Put paint in spray bottles and make a mural.
14) Make finger paintings.
15) Make tree texture rubbings with paper and crayons.
16) Do a neighbourhood trash clean-up.
17) Eat popsicles.
18) Dip feet in paint and make a controlled mess on a roll of craft paper.
19) Make prehistoric mud paint.
20) Make a fort by pinning sheets or tablecloths on the clothesline.
21) Blow up a bunch of balloons. Try to keep them in the air.
22) Draw with rocks on other rocks.
23) Have a picnic on the lawn.
24) Paint some shoes.
25) Make handprint placemats.
26) Throw a tea party.
27) Hula hoop!
28) Play leapfrog.
29) Paint each other with washable paint and run through sprinkler to clean off.
30) Go birdwatching.
31) Pick (or just look at) flowers.
32) Look for bird nests.
33) Play at the playground.
34) Tie-dye with markers.
35) Play horseshoes, washers, badminton or any other yard game.
36) Draw or paint what you see.
37) Make a stick sculpture.
38) Fill a hummingbird feeder with homemade nectar (1/4 cup sugar, ¾ cup water).
39) Make a sand mosaic.
40) Ride a bike.
41) Wash the car.
42) Plant some marigolds in the garden.
43) Play tag.
44) Kick a soccer ball.
45) Collect worms.
46) Climb a tree.
47) Skip rope.
48) Play basketball.
49) Make a nature bracelet by attaching leaves and flowers on sticky-side-out duct tape.
50) Collect leaves, twigs, pebbles, flowers and make a nature collage.
51) Paint the patio with water.
52) Make a treasure map and follow the clues.
53) Make nature hats using sticks and leaves.
54) Make pebble pictures.
55) Splatter paint all over an old sheet.
56) Make ice cream in a bag.
57) Fold and fly paper airplanes.
58) Raise tadpoles. Feed them boiled lettuce.
59) Follow a caterpillar.
60) Have a race.
61) Play follow the leader.
62) Decorate rocks with paint, crayons or markers.
63) Look at the clouds. Learn their names - cirrus, cumulus, stratus.
64) Fold origami animals.
65) Read a book under a tree.
66) Make a paper bag kite.
67) Make faces or feet out of rocks.
68) Make paper boats and float them in a kiddie pool or puddle.
69) Find something with the letter A. Then find something with the letter B. And so on...
70) Create capes using pillowcases and become superheros.
71) Play dress up outside.
72) Open a lemonade stand.
73) Chase butterflies.
74) Sidewalk chalk.
75) Play pass the water. (The first person pours water from a cup, over his or her head, into to a cup held by the person behind.)
76) Make fruit and vegetable prints.
77) Collect and make piles of items you find, organized by colour.
78) Make sand art.
79) Build something using a pile of wood, sandpaper and nails.
80) Collect seashells or rocks.
81) Make an obstacle course using rocks, boxes, sticks and shirts.
82) Have a dance party.
83) Pick berries.
84) Play eye spy.
85) Blow bubbles. Make blowers out of pipecleaners or coathangers.
86) Have an art show on the clothesline. Make invitations. Have snacks.
87) Set up a tent and go day camping.
88) Find a frog.
89) Play board games on the lawn.
90) Scoop up some water from a pond or creek and see what’s inside the bucket.
91) Lay a trail of sticks on the ground, leading to a special place or friend.
92) Play in puddles after a rainstorm.
93) Do some outdoor chores.
94) Use water bottles as bowling pins and build a lane with sticks.
95) Make up your own scavenger hunt.
96) Go for a walk.
97) Do science experiments.
98) Search for animal footprints.
99) Make a wall out of boxes and jump over it.
100) Play tic-tac-toe in the sand.
101) Make flowerpot creatures.
102) Weed or water the garden (or the grass, whichever).
103) Play baseball with a stick and a beachball.
104) Start a nature journal.
105) Search for spider webs.
106) Make friends with a grasshopper.
107) Kick a stone down the driveway or sidewalk.
108) Paint fallen branches to create wish sticks.
109) Make a geocache site in your neighbourhood.
110) Have lunch with a chipmunk.
Bonus idea: Do nothing at all!
I always liked my parents.
Although, things did get iffy when I was 13 and both of them went through a non-stop polyester pants wearing phase.
But I liked them before that. And after… you know, once they embraced denim.
When I was in my early 20s, I declared that even if I weren’t related to my mom and dad, I’d still choose to hang out with them. I didn’t find out until years later that this statement made my father so proud, he shared it with nearly everyone he met.
It’s been seven years since he passed away.
Seven years of sliding headfirst into a new normal.
Seven years of getting used to it.
My dad was a tall, handsome, witty and thoughtful man who made an instant impact on everyone he met. He was a teacher – not by trade, but by behavior. He would have been right at home in ancient Greece, wearing robes and flip-flops, engaging in discussions about important things because not only did he look the part of a philosopher, he was a thinker.
And, he did love sandals.
I’m quite convinced my dad knew everything, regardless of the topic. We often referred to him as our walking encyclopedia. He read, all the time, and he sought out every opportunity to learn more because as he often said, “A true sign of intelligence is admitting that you don’t know it all.”
I can’t begin to understand even half of what my father had filed away in his brain. Still, he did manage to impart some lifelong wisdom on me during the 37 years I knew him.
These are the things my father taught me. They are words to live by.
And so, I do.
1) Be patient, with people and things.
2) There is nothing to be gained by yelling at the television.
3) Don’t waste your time trying to expose a fraud, they will eventually do it on their own.
4) You can’t cheat an honest man.
5) Trust your instincts, but only if you are intuitive.
6) If you aren't intuitive, be methodical and take a step-by-step approach to solving problems.
7) Read the instruction manual and TAKE YOUR TIME.
8) Make back-ups of everything you do on the computer.
9) Don’t be rammy and keep the protective coating on all of your electronic equipment.
10) Save the box to everything you own.. Because, you never know...
11) Take your vitamins. For real. Don’t flush them down the toilet.
12) Make plans and follow your dreams.
13) Do what you love and you will love what you do.
14) Don’t ever presume to know it all, because no one ever does.
15) Stand up for yourself.
16) Stand up for others.
17) No one is perfect.
18) DON’T LET THE BASTARDS GET YOU DOWN.
19) Cut yourself some slack.
20) Get over yourself.
21) It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice.
22) There is strength in silence.
23) Never engage in straw man arguments.
24) Be bloody minded when driving stick.
25) Don’t put all your trust in experts.
26) Believe in your own abilities.
27) If you don’t know how to do something, LEARN.
28) Eat yogurt everyday.
29) To hell with what others think of you (if you like polyester pants, wear them).
30) Yes, your nose is big. It's a Mulder nose. Deal with it.
31) Be honest. No. Matter. What.
32) Keep your word.
33) Make notes because the brain gets slippery.
34) Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
35) Never feign affection.
36) You don’t have to tell people you love them for them to know it.
37) Actions speak louder than words.