Rekindle Your Wild Joy and Deep Belonging to the Earth

student loan saga February 2, 2016

student loan feeling seal


It’s done.

I just lovingly placed every paper related to my student loans in the recycling bin.  They are paid off.

It only took me 14 years. (:-0)   My hair is white, just like the jokes say, but by George, they are paid off. The balance due, once over $45,000 USD, is now zero. I sit in a bit of stunned silence. I now have no debt whatsoever. I am free.

This is a bit of a surprise, I’ll admit. When I graduated, I joked they could sell my body parts when I die of old age to finally pay off my student loans.

Thinking about how many of you folks are in the same boat, I decided to write this. Perhaps you will benefit from hearing some of the small strategies that helped get me here.


My Student Loan Strategies

  •  While still in school, spend time and energy seeking out other sources of money too. My loans, while huge to me, were not as enormous as they might have been because I also went for every fellowship, scholarship, and the like that I could.  The best one was the California Graduate Student Fellowship. When I entered grad school, I took the time to fill out the mountainous forms very carefully. It took days to hunt up all the data they wanted. And then I waited. When the envelope came, I was very excited… until I opened it and found I’d been rejected. This was a major blow. I scraped up my last savings and took my first loan, and attended school anyway, scared of the debt I was accruing. That fear did impact my joy in my studies. The next year, I halfheartedly filled out the form again with mostly repeat data and sent it off. To my surprise, this time I got the fellowship. Thousands of dollars, repeated for four years.

  The message here is: stick with it. Apply more than once. Fellowship boards apparently value tenacity. Repeat applications show that we really want what they are offering. In fact, speaking from hindsight, it seems to me that tenacity is one of the major gifts of attaining a higher degree. A Ph.D. in hand proves that its bearer can finish something, even when the process grows teeth-grittingly frustrating and tedious and all you want is to bail; to go to movies and read bad science-fiction novels and have a life again. You stuck with it. Stick with the application for money process, too. It’s worth it.

Different scholarships and fellowships skew for various criteria. Some are place-based (for, say, residents of a particular US state). Some are diversity-based, with desire to support people of certain demographics such as immigrant ethnicities or a populace that they view as under-represented in higher education. The American Assn of University Women (AAUW) likes to support young women going into STEM fields and older women returning to school after a break for child-rearing or other work. One reason I think the Cal Grad people chose me is that I am the first person in my family to go to college. Be sure to apply for the ones whose criteria relate specifically to you: the odds are better, since the pool of applicants will be smaller.

  • Pay the loan principal off as fast as you can.  I  noticed that when I paid what I thought I could afford from my modest wages, the actual amount of the debt never went down. In fact, it was still going up. How maddening!!  I felt like Sisyphus, doomed to eternally labor for the bank’s benefit, never to gain my own freedom. This wouldn’t do.

  My way out was to ALWAYS pay more on the principal than on the interest. It takes a bit of calculation to figure out the number, but it’s worth the effort. Even $10 per month adds up on your side of the ledger, thereby reducing the interest that accrues – in geometric proportion. When I sold my car in order to take a nomadic job where I wouldn’t need it or have a place to store it, the money went directly to the principal on those loans. Do stuff like that.

Incremental additions directly applied to the principal pay off. I never paid huge amounts each month, never more than I could afford, and yet now the loan is GONE!!!

It’s a good idea to consult with a representative of the loan company to determine how much extra principle to pay each month in order to get that amount down, based on your own means and comfort level. This can be complex to figure out on your own, as their calculations of interest vary from day to day.

  • Keep your honor. I’ve heard some students and grads say that they never intend to pay their student loans off. Bailing on the loan was never an option in my mind. My family is big on honor, and given the vagaries of economic status and other aspects of life, I figure that integrity is all I’ve ultimately got. Really.  I was given the option to accept the loan, which allowed me to gain a wonderful education. Surprisingly, this then led to interesting jobs that I would never have otherwise gotten to do. I owe the money and there was no question that I’d keep paying it back – if only so I could sleep at night. Again, I knew it might take so long that they’d have to take the last bits out of my dead hide, but I was determined to continually do my best to hold to the responsibility I accepted. If you take loans or gifts of any sort, please treat the exchange with honor. 
  • If you have to, take a Forbearance. This allows you time to not pay on that loan for awhile when your financial situation gets rough. In 2009, I not only lost my job, I lost my entire workplace. Three college campuses were brought down in flames by the institution’s disastrous leadership. And that was right when the “Great Recession” hit the USA, so no new jobs were to be had either. It took two years before I found another full-time position that paid enough to not be scrounging for food (see a fun post on that) and running down my savings just to avoid becoming homeless, let alone pay off this loan. The Forbearance allowed me to stay in good graces with the loan company while keeping my money in my pocket. Keeping good status in their eyes is important if you ever want another opportunity to borrow big money, such as buying a home.

 Requesting Forbearance status means you are being brave and upfront about your situation (see “honor” rant above) so the loan company understands what’s going on. It signals to them that you are not just taking advantage of them by casually skipping town; you are a responsible person who still intends to pay eventually, and right now you’re doing the best that you can. While this plan elevates your status in their eyes, this plan is still not ideal, as the interest on your loan continues to accrue. 

  • Work at the same time you’re going to school in order to keep your loan amount down.  It’s good to have some money coming in from other sources.

…But don’t do what I did. At one point, while attending grad school full time, I had six (SIX!!) jobs. They were all part-time, but still. That was too much. My body finally gave out and I got sick. Extremely sick. So sick that I had to drop out of not only school, but work, and life itself for a year and a half. I was literally broken. This is actually why my student loans wound up being so high: because I couldn’t work, I took out even more loans to pay off the high-interest Visa bills I’d run up for my rent, food, and health care costs. Ugh.

Take care of your health and sanity first and foremost. Hold to certain boundaries regarding workload. You’ll need those habits even more if you become a college professor.

  • Some might say that the best strategy is to not take any loans in the first place. If you can pull that off, I agree. It was pounded into my head from a young age to never go into debt: “If you can’t afford it, you don’t need it.” But three big purchases don’t fit within that category, simply due to constraints of time: a house (who has the kind of money to pay full cash upfront?), health concerns (if you wait, there may not be a you left…), and education that you’d like to gain and apply now. These are investments in a stronger, happier future. That said, it’s still good to invest wisely: don’t get in way over your head. Don’t buy a McMansion if you can’t afford the payments and taxes. I took seven years to complete my B.A. degree in order to avoid taking any loans. But I decided it was worth it to take loans on my Ph.D.
  • There are some ways to get forgiveness of part of the loan.  Check out the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. It’s meant to encourage newly minted college grads to take public service jobs like government or nonprofit work, recognizing that tons of loan debt may turn grads off from taking lesser-paying but otherwise satisfying positions in the service industries.

I applied for the smaller but similar California GradAPLE after completion, a program for new grads willing to serve full-time as a college teacher in certain settings for three consecutive years. Applying involved another terrible series of California state forms, with updates for each year. But once attained, it allowed forgiveness of $2000 of that student loan debt skimmed right off the top. So the hourly wage worked out well.


student-loan-ancients toast

Larger Societal Concerns

Now, all of this said, I know well that I’m not yet addressing the larger societal concerns that underlie the existence of these large student loans in the first place.

Contrast my experience with that of my then-sweetie when we were in grad school. He is a Swiss national. Once he passed a battery of tests proving his ability and desire, he received education clear through to the Ph.D. that not only was free, but he was paid a living wage to do it. He did not need to take six menial jobs in order to survive while studying. He could focus on his studies and thereby really get good at his field (which was theoretical astrophysics. As you might imagine, extended time to focus just on that was useful.)

The fact that most American scholars have to take out what amounts to a mortgage on our brains in order to gain higher education, particularly at the B.A. level, is appalling. It’s a national race to the bottom. Given the questionable economy and job market, fewer and fewer people are going to be willing to gain a liberal education under those conditions – and with good reason, given the squirrely economy and questionable job market. That trend is a detriment to us all.

Increasingly, students are being viewed as consumers rather than scholars or learners. The sort of education that is seen of most value focuses on technique: electrical engineering; MBAs. Don’t get me wrong. Technical training is a great thing. But it should not be the only education we value and seek. And tech edu should also have a component that builds human beings’ capacity for a better life, not just a bigger wallet.

Education should not be solely tied to current potential jobs.  We need a populace who is trained to THINK; to question, to seek meaning, not only to be good cogs in an existing economic structure. A liberal education is worth getting. It makes for a happier, fuller, more examined life. It gives you a fuller perspective on whatever is happening around and within you. And it remains yours forever.

The current constant-growth capitalistic structure will dramatically shift within the next thirty years anyway, because it’s not sustainable. Constant growth is the ideology of the cancer cell, not of a thriving living being or system. If American standards of consumption were to be exported everywhere at the current rate (as is increasingly happening), Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute conservatively estimated that it would take at least 1.5 earths to provide the raw environmental resources alone. So the indefinite continuance of “business as usual” is obviously not going to happen.  This means the available jobs will also change. There’s no guarantee that a job you train for today will even exist in ten years. Many of the top-paying jobs today, such as those in the tech industry, didn’t even exist in imagination thirty years ago. That field was pie-in-the-sky nerdville when I was a teen. So choosing a field of education based solely on current perception of its earning power may not ultimately pan out.

The consequences of making higher ed prohibitively expensive is that fewer and fewer American people are getting the kind of liberal education that helps one to make sense of life and to enjoy living it to the fullest.

It also means that fewer will gain the critical thinking skills that allow us to begin to understand whole systems and how to effect some change within them.

I suppose some politicians like this idea of keeping the majority uneducated in how to really think, because it means the people across the country will be more easily malleable and swayed, making their own personal wealth agendas easier to push forward. When reading the news, it’s always worth asking, who stands to gain from this situation? 


Concluding Remarks

Anyway. While we have the situation we have, I applaud those of you who decide to educate yourself despite the hardship. Whether you do it via traditional schooling or by investigating on your own, the time and energy is worth it.

Education is one investment that can never be taken from you by others. 

And I hope that the small strategies I offer here for getting out from under student loan debt help you out as they helped me.


frodo loans over.jpg





Packrattiness January 25, 2011

Filed under: Do-It-Yourself,Spiritual Ecopsychology — BrujaHa @ 8:13 pm
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What is optimal packrattiness?

How much should we keep ‘just in case,’ like farmers and ranchers do, old rolls of barbed wire and bits of cloth and car parts and bread twisty-ties that might indeed come in handy some day? And how much is just junk, unnecessarily sucking up our life-energy with the need to dust and organize and find again in the piles? Then if we can manage to get it out of our immediate space, what to do with it – get rid of it altogether (thus virtually ensuring the need for it the very next day) or store it interminably? I’m haunted by the words of simplification guru Brooks Palmer, who calls storage rentals “clutter alimony.”

Well, I want to report that I feel inordinately pleased with my level of packrattiness this week. And it’s led to a tip that might come in handy for you too.

I’ve been cleaning house. My downfall is books. I took out 10 full boxes from my 470-sq-ft cottage; can you believe it?! I look at the shelves and the weird thing is, they are still full. So where had those 10 boxes full been???

Some things are hard to let go of. For example, the hat that I wore while traveling in Bali and then hand-carried on the planes and buses and shuttles and by foot all the way home. It’s very cool – triangular in shape, cleverly made of several layers of perfectly cut palm thatch, edged with spiral wire, and lavishly painted with Balinese deities.  And I’ve had it for ten years, rarely wearing it because let’s face it, how often does one work in rice paddies in northern California? But it is too beat up to donate, and how can one throw such a thing away?

Well, I was about to. This week.  In fact, I even got it into the outside garbage can.

Then inspiration struck. I hauled it back out again: I knew what to use it for.

My intention was for the hat to protect the birdseed from getting wet and soggy when it rains, as the existing feeder’s roof is woefully inadequate for that task. The Balinese topper also seems to have the nice unintended side effect of preventing easy squirrel access.

It was hard to let the hat go. I found it far more satisfying to find a new use for it, even one that involved taking a knife to it and further, virtually ensures its gradual decay. But that’s better than unceremoniously dumping it into the trash. It seemed insulting to throw it out. Now it will have a noble death in the service of its intended purpose, albeit for birds instead of people. I doubt the fronds will care which species it serves.

So this is my new packrattitude:  either (1) give the stuff you’re not using to someone who will, or (2) keep it till you can think of some weird new use for it, then let it go to that.


DIY Scented Gift Bow made of Repurposed Perfume Ads November 8, 2010

Filed under: Arts,Do-It-Yourself — BrujaHa @ 12:34 am
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For topping off the wrapping of a very special gift, make a one-of-a-kind bow with the added surprise of carrying an exotic designer scent!

Your recipient need never know that this lovely and festive gift bow was made out of junk ads  — unless, of course, you want to gain big repurposing DIY cred by revealing this.

Materials needed:  One fold-out paper perfume sampler advertising insert (the kind you rub on your wrist).

Tools needed:  Scissors and a bit of scotch tape.


Step 1:

Locate smelly perfume inserts in magazines or newspaper ads

The Sunday newspaper, especially around holidays, carries several pounds of glossy advertising inserts. Many of the department store flyers contain inserts for designer perfumes, the sort containing a scent sample you can unfold and rub on your wrist. These scented ads can be found in womens’ fashion magazines as well.



Choose one of these inserts, preferably one with a strong yet pleasant aroma. (Or pick a particularly stinky ad if intended for a disliked co-worker whose name you drew in the office pool.)




Step 2:

Fold and Artfully Shred the Ad

Fold the ad in half lengthwise.




Then take out long scissors. Leaving the perfumed part folded inside on one of the free ends, make thin parallel cuts along the folded side – about 1/4 inch wide at most. Stop about 1/3 inch away from the fold. This will give you one piece of paper with long shredded strips and a margin along the top.




Step 3:

Roll it up and tape it closed

After the length of the ad has been given its cut, take the solid end and begin to roll the strip up. Roll it fairly tightly, allowing the shredded parts to stick out rather like flower petals or fireworks.




After the roll is complete, ensure it will not unroll again by holding it shut with a small piece of scotch tape.



Step 4:

Voila! Affix to a special gift.

Fluff it up a bit on top.

Some of the shorter perfumed bits may emerge from the longer loops; this is okay and even gives it a bit of zing. Arrange these unruly pieces in an artistic fashion.



Flatten the taped bottom, and use that as a base to tape it onto your wrapped gift.




Give to the recipient.

Once they notice the nice aroma, watch them delight in your creativity.

(Or watch them recoil in horror, depending upon recipient and perfume ad of choice.)


This DIY recycled art project is also a featured Instructable.



Art Car September 2, 2010

Filed under: Adventures,Arts,Do-It-Yourself — BrujaHa @ 1:29 am
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The Leafy Wonder! Owned by Tom Devlin. Head Car-tiste: Tina Fields.

How does an art car get born?

Like a lot of interesting things in this world, this one came about through a series of events which culminated in serendipitous beauty, but originated in what could reasonably be seen as small disasters.

Act I

Hanging out playing music in the back garden at a friend’s harvest party, several of us were suddenly disturbed by the sounds of a car screeching and crashing. At first the sentiment of most was that we shouldn’t go out there, since that might seem invasively gawking, even ghoulish. But since I have a bit of emergency medical training, I went out to the street to see if anyone was hurt – and discovered that one of the cars that had been destroyed was mine. An elderly gent had had some sort of stroke and lost control of his car. First he glanced off the side of one parked car on the side of the road, then embedded his Prius into a second car further down. The impact pushed that car (which turned out to be our fiddler’s) forward, where it whacked into a third car – mine. My mind later reveled in the oddness of this: a four-car wreck with only one driver involved. While safely parked in a suburban residential neighborhood, my beloved Jeep Wagoneer got “totalled.”

The word is in quotes because that Jeep was a 1987 model and thus made of steel, so even though the Prius that did the deed crumpled up like an old aluminum can, the only real damage to my Jeep was a tightly fitting front fender with a slight hunchback, a mushed-in back fender, a hatchback that would no longer stay shut, and broken left tail lights.


Jeep, “After” repair. (Note the foreshadowing here.)


However, due to its age and the little detail that it had around 276,000 miles on it, the insurance company reckoned it would cost more than the car is worth to restore it to pristine condition. But it was still in beautiful condition and ran well. So while I agreed that trying to bring back its flawless youth was silly, I still wanted to be able to drive it awhile longer without getting a ticket or asphyxiating.

So I bought my own car back from the offending driver’s insurance company (!) and with the money, purchased the needed replacement parts online from a dedicated Jeep junkyard. All I needed now was skilled mechanical help to put it back together.

Act II

My friend and former colleague Tom offered to do the repair work. Because our place of work had closed down and we were both pretty broke, he generously offered to do this labor for trade.

My trade would be to turn his VW bug into an art car.


Tom Devlin with his bug, before…


This car was one ugly beetle. Its exterior was half a sickly jaundiced yellow with some primer sections and some black spots and some old reddish patches that looked for all the world like old dried blood. And to top all this off, it had a smattering of enormous black rubber spiders glued to its hood. I wish I had a close-up – wait, no I don’t. Major creepy!



I figured I was doing a public service in catalyzing this vehicle’s transformation to beauty.

We talked about a leaf motif.

Tom had the idea of covering it with REAL foliage, like a moveable jungle planter! Imagine driving down the road on your daily commute. Getting hungry while stuck in traffic? Simply pluck a fruit from the vines growing on your fender! Ahh. While amused and somewhat enchanted by this idea, I was thinking that there is no practical way for such a thing to endure the windspeed of car travel.

But it turns out that others have dreamed the same dream.



In the end, however, we decided that painting was the way to go.


We did some research into materials and wound up buying regular semi-gloss outdoor house paints, albeit the most eco-friendly sort we could find. I chose the hues. In preparation, Tom sanded and primed the bug, taped the windows, and gave it a base coat of the light yellow. Meanwhile, I drew leaves in three sizes and shapes, one for each color, then cut out foam stamps of them for folks to easily use.

Then we held an art car painting party.

The invitation to Tom’s friends and family read:

Invitation to Join In on the Creation of an Art Car!!!

Tom Devlin’s Bug will transform into a Leafy Wonder under our hands

Sun Sept 14

11 am – done


All art materials provided.

Beverages & munchies welcome.

Wear paint-friendly clothing.

rsvp/questions beforehand to the head car-tiste Tina Fields, [phone #]

[Directions to site]



We were too busy to take many photos, but here’s one of the car in progress. It was a real community affair. Tom’s mom is stencilling on the hood. I’m placing the flow and hand-painting in leaf edging details on the driver’s side. Several other car-tistes also had a hand in it. When the day’s work was done, we all enjoyed a table laden with celebratory potluck goodies.

Tom later completed the fenders and worked his wizardry on other details as well, including juicing up the interior some.

Act IV

Here’s the final product on the streets!

The Leafy Wonder! Owned by Tom Devlin. Head Car-tiste: Tina Fields.


Tom’s renovated bug received many hearty resurrection welcomes, transformed as it is from the decaying insect underworld into the Leafy Wonder, a lovely Art Car. He gets comments about it everywhere he goes – and now, they’re exclamations of appreciation.  Plus as a bonus, he can always find his vehicle in the parking lot.


* Tom is all fired up about this and now wants to make more of these. If you want to have an Art Car Party too, write me and we’ll set something up!

* Postscripts to Act I:  Aside from a couple of bruises, the elderly gent did not seem hurt by the accident, which had taken place at a very slow speed. We found out his address – just a few doors down – and fetched his wife, who hadn’t known he was out with the car. The ambulance came shortly thereafter. His Prius, which took the blow for him, was *truly* totalled.

* My Jeep wound up lasting one more year, then I traded it off in the Cash for Clunkers program. The gummint gave me $4500 in trade for it. (Woo-hoo!) I was quite sorry to see it go to its death – it still looked beautiful, ran well, and might have still had another year left on its transmission; but then again, it might not. It would have been better, I think, to put those old cars to some limited use, perhaps with a special “clunker” license plate, rather than destroy them. But this Jeep was exactly what the program was intended to bring in. It had been a good car that served my family and others well for 22 years.

RIP, beloved 4-wheel drive and hello, new Honda Fit in the appropriately named hue of ‘Revolution Orange.’ This is my first new car, and also my last. By the time “Acorn Squash” is 22 years old like the Jeep was, I figure we’ll not be using cars any more.

But for the time being, along with walking and biking and train riding, etc., when we use our cars, we may as well enjoy them. It felt great to extend the life of a beloved old car like this VW bug, and through simple and inexpensive artistic means, to help others appreciate it too. It was also great to barter time and skills, thus enhancing both our lives without the need to involve money.

May the Leafy Wonder enjoy many more springs.


Scrounging Free Food April 19, 2010

Money tight right now?  One of my strategies has been to become an opportunivore.

While I can indeed exist on rice and beans, PBJ, and such, I do not really enjoy such meager repetitive fare day after day, being a spoiled-rotten American who loves to eat. Plus I’m a woman of A Certain Age, which means well past the I-can-thrive-on-Top Ramen,-no-problem stage of life.  However, like many of you DIYers, I am resourceful. I can bake my own bread from scratch, make and home-can my own applesauce and cider from nearby Gravenstein apple trees, make yogurt from a little starter bit, cook up some mighty fine roadkill, and brew cordial from stolen pears or green walnuts. At the ground of this success is Coyote, Raccoon and Magpie medicine: walking the path of the Scroungemeister.

Here are some recent gleanings.



It’s Spring in Sonoma County! This means abundant greens for the taking. Here you see salad makings from a few minutes’ picking from my back yard: plantain, young dandelion greens, and (pictured below) my absolute favorite: miner’s lettuce. Sweet crunchy yumminess wildcrafted from a gleefully neglected lawn.



Most folks would call these delicious edibles “weeds.” Ha! Go ahead and think that way. Pay $6 a pound for mixed salad greens that were picked Demeter knows how long ago. All the more free, extremely fresh salad for those in the know, like my neighbor pictured below wearing a sourgrass-eating smile.



Around here, late winter & early spring means rain, and besides mud and flood, rain means mushrooms! Yahoo!

These are Elfin Saddles. They’re so weird looking that even if I get there after lots of other mushroom hunters have plundered the chanterelles and porcini and other charismatic megafungi, I can generally find them.

Pungent Slippery Jacks are the same way: easy to come by because not only are they not the most choice to taste, they’re kind of scary to the eye with their slimy tops and spongy chartreuse underbellies. But both they and Elfin Saddles taste darned good when sauteed up in an omelette with butter and garlic.  (Of course, linoleum would taste good if sauteed up in enough butter and garlic.)


(Disclaimer: Please do not eat wild fungi without knowing exactly who they are! As the old saw goes, “there are old mushroomers and bold mushroomers, but no old, bold mushroomers.”)


Then there are human sources of free chow. We live in an incredibly rich and wasteful country, even now with the empire’s economy tanking. I am amazed at what abundance I can glean from a late-night trip behind a grocery store. Among other delicacies, I’ve found green vegetables like broccoli and lettuce, onions, perfect tomatoes, fancy cheeses, bread, oranges, blackberries, and a few lovely flowers for the table. Once I even found coffee beans.

Pictured here are the results of one brief foray last summer. Most of it is organic. All I had to do was pick off some withered outside leaves, cut off small bruised portions of certain fruits or pick out and toss the few berries that were beginning to mold, then wash everything I wanted to keep. This is not very different from what I do with produce I purchase.

Dumpster diving is an eye-opening urban sport. I find it quite a mixed bag. Some grocery stores guard their garbage like it was diamonds, locking it up behind high fences. Others, like our local Whole Foods, have it out in the open but wrap the 20 or more full cardboard boxes in wide, heavy plastic wrap, making them hard to get into and also adding unnecessarily to the Pacific garbage patch. I feel sort of torn about this: I want to advocate that the company knock it off, but in doing so, I’ll out myself as one of those nocturnal divers who desecrates it! After all, how else would I know about it?

Out of my samplings from our area, I rate Oliver’s Market in Cotati to be the best. At times, I’ve found grocery carts thoughtfully placed outside the back door near their dumpsters, with slightly bruised or close-to-expiration but quite edible food arranged in them for easy and clean picking. They get Indigenize’s Green Scouts award for this out-of-the-norm ecologically sound, rebellious, and kind practice.

If you decide to dumpster dive, please be extremely respectful.

Do not leave a mess. Put anything you don’t want back into the boxes, preferably not placing squished or rotten bits on top of edible food. This makes it easy and pleasant for the next diver. If you empty a box, either take it with you or flatten it and place it with the other cardboard recycling. Pile the boxes back up the way you found them, and close them up again. If you cut into that execrable plastic wrap, put it back over the top of the hole when you’re done so the contents do not fall out, making the garbage people have to clean things up after you.

These small attentions will make it more likely for the store to continue to turn a blind eye to our scrounging – which, after all, contributes to our full, happy bellies and wallets, to a healthier ecosystem with less waste and smaller landfills, and to the businesses’ bottom line as well, as there’s now less trash they have to pay to remove.

My little gleaning pales next to the hauls that David Cohen finds. His “Dumpster Dividends” (see example on right) are Olympian in magnitude. How many people would it take to eat that much? I struggled to give away one boxful of tomatoes.

That’s another good thing about scrounging: even in strained financial times, a big windfall like this can turn you into Ms. or Mr. All-Providing Beneficence. Would you like some fresh organic strawberries? And as we know, a hand that’s open to give is also thereby poised to receive. Good things come when energy in all forms, including food, flows freely.


There’s something very satisfying about finding and making our own foods and medicines for free. Not surprisingly, an increasing number of folks are trying it out. After all, it’s part of our heritage: gatherers, hunters, and fisherfolk have done this for thousands of years! I hope this post has inspired some good scrounging experiences to come into your life. Please share your own stories and tips.

The roadkill recipes will have to wait for another post.


DIY Envelopes from Junk Paper April 2, 2010

Never buy an envelope again!

Wow your friends and bill collectors with mail in these envelopes you’ve made out of repurposed junk paper.  This envelope looks like the sort you’d purchase, with angled bits in the back.

Check it out & try it.  It’s easy to make. You can make someone happy, extend the use of those bodies of trees, & reduce the landfill all in one fell swoop.

Here’s how:



Materials Collection

Sources for free and fabulous “junk” paper are everywhere: junk mail, NYT Magazine, gorgeous catalogs for things you can’t afford, old calendars, discarded books.

Begin collecting as soon as you can because packrat-ism is a positive thing in this case! Whatever you don’t use can come in handy for collages and other projects.

Here you see an excellent source for gathering raw materials.


Last year's calendars: Score!!


For envelopes, you’ll want paper at least 8-1/2 x 11″, and bigger is better. In addition, if you plan to send it through the postal service, the paper should have a heavy thickness to it, enough that it won’t rip or come apart with rough handling.

You will also need scissors and scotch tape.

And in the final step, you will want a Sharpie pen, or white paper to tape onto your envelope, for addressing purposes.


Image Selection & Initial Folds

For the complex envelope, the bigger the paper, the better. Old calendar pages are ideal.  I also like heavy maps and coffee-table book dust jackets.



Begin by folding your chosen image on the diagonal.

The first fold will create the bottom of your envelope’s front.

You’ll want to fold over more than you might think, in order to make the envelope wide enough to hold most paper or cards.


first fold, creating the bottom of the envelope's front

front view of first fold

back view of the first fold

back view of first fold


Fold in the sides

Fold each side angle in to the middle, over the bottom fold you just made.

Details: The edges should overlap. Make sure you have enough paper on each side to cover up the envelope’s future contents. A common mistake is to make one side too short, as the side bits are uneven at this point.

Then, as in origami, unfold it and reverse-fold each of the bottom corners. This makes it look more like an envelope, with the middle fold now on top.


folding in the sides over the bottom fold

Folding in the sides over the bottom fold


After folding, open the sides up and fold them in first with the bottom then folded in after.

This is like a reverse fold in origami.


How the back looks after reverse- folding

How the back looks after reverse- folding


Complete the shape, tape it down, and trim it

Now fold over the point that’s sticking up off the bottom piece. It will look squared-off.

Fold it up and make its top match the side bits in an aesthetically-pleasing way.  You can give it an interesting angle if you like, or if its odd shape happens to fit the way you folded the sides. (That’s not a mistake – it’s artistic license!)



Fold it up and tape the sides down.

Also put tape across the bottom edges for reinforcement.

You want it to be as strong as possible because the post office workers will be so fascinated with your envelope that they’ll handle it a lot.



Cut off any excessively long parts to the top flap.

This will be necessary if the initial paper was rectangular.

But nota bene: The final product need not be perfectly symmetrical. It is, after all, a unique handmade woik o’ aht.



It’s starting to really look like an envelope!



Final steps & Voila!

Fold over the top so the opening is entirely covered.



Here’s what it ends up looking like, front and back.



Congratulations!  You’ve just made an envelope!


Send Your Envelope

To address your envelope, you can do one of the following:

1) Use a Sharpie pen, glitter pen, or the like on a blank portion of your image. (Just be sure to pick something water resistant and extremely visible)

2) Glue or tape on a piece of white paper that’s been cut into an interesting shape to serve as an address label

3) Use one of those sticky tags for same purpose

Add your return address and a stamp.

Tape shut and send.

And await the joyful response from your correspondents who’ve gotten so used to e-mail only that they’ll be wowed by receiving this work of art, uniquely made just for them, in the post.



In case you’re wondering, I’ve sent hundreds of these over the years, some as SASEs to myself, and they’ve always arrived. One postal worker did warn me, though, that mail sent in such envelopes might take a day or two longer to arrive since they get passed around in the PO for everyone to ooh and aah over before sending them on.


And please send me images of envelopes *you* make!


A version of this is a featured Instructable on the wonderful DIY website of the same name.  (Uh-oh, my secret identity, BrujaHa, is now revealed…)