Having Fun Preserving The Past

City Museum exterior St Louis, Missouri

City Museum exterior
St Louis, Missouri

It had been a very long time, probably more than a decade, since I had last visited the City Museum in St Louis MO. My husband and boys went there frequently while I did the grocery shopping at Whole Foods Market and Dierberg’s. For my youngest son’s 11th birthday recently, I chose not to do any shopping and just have a family day. The first place we went on a very hot mid-90 degree F day was The City Museum. I have always appreciated what they do there. Not only are they preserving some very special and interesting bits and pieces of the city’s history (“a museum”) but they let visitors physically interact with much of it. The City Museum is a highly physical experience. It used to scare the heck out of me – that is some of the crawling structures on the outside of the building – but I’ve not heard of any serious mishaps due to poor construction. It is a challenging place and so one must be responsible for their own safety and what they do while there.

The City Museum bills itself as an “eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel.” It has also been described as “a wild, singular vision of an oddball artistic mind”. Visitors are encouraged to touch, climb on, and play in the various exhibits. It consists largely of re-purposed architectural and industrial objects which are housed in the former International Shoe building in the Washington Avenue Loft District in St Louis.

Ticket Counter St Louis City Museum

Ticket Counter
St Louis City Museum

My family made the trek up 10 stories of stairwells to have the opportunity of coming down the 10-Story Slide. I regret that the experience was not that awe-inspiring but we got some seriously sweaty exercise going for it. My youngest son spent a lot of time running up and down the Skate Park, which is a collection of skateboard ramps without the skateboards along with rope swings tied in front of some ramps. He enjoyed challenging himself by running up a ramp and trying to pull himself over the 12 ft tall wall. At one point we followed him into the dark hole of a maze and eventually I found myself slithering on my belly pushing my purse along and by the sound of it clearly under the bleachers of a circus ring (on the third floor) during one of their daily live acts. On that same floor is the Art City where guests can try their hand at a number of different art techniques. The City Museum also houses The Shoelace Factory, whose antique braiding machines makes colorful shoelaces for sale.

The roof has a small old-fashioned Ferris wheel. It also has a slide that goes under a small pond. The pond has stepping stones that go from one side to the other. The roof also has a school bus that had actually worked once, extending past the edge of the building. Visitors can walk in the school bus and open the door from the driver’s seat. Also found on the roof are a giant rope swing contained in a free-standing aluminum dome underneath the roof’s centerpiece; a giant metal praying mantis. It is possible to climb a series of enclosed metal ladders inside the dome to an exit at the top. Located in front of the building is the area dubbed “MonstroCity” which features two Sabreliner 40 aircraft fuselages suspended high in the air, a fire engine, a castle turret, a 25-foot cupola and four-foot-wide Slinkies that can be crawled through, one very high that leads to a slide, and two ball pits (which both my 14 yr old and 11 yr spent some time in while we sat nearby in the shade with cool drinks).

“Got Byproducts ?” I was inspired to write this week’s blog by an email dated July 21, 2015 from repurposedMaterials on the subject of “Theme Park” which mentioned the City Museum in St Louis. According to the company – re•pur•posed•MA•TE•RI•ALS (noun) are byproducts and waste that have value “as is” to a second, unrelated industry. repurposedMATERIALS was started with the hypothesis… “There are enough byproducts and waste that can get a very different second life, or a “repurpose”, that you could make business out of the concept.” They note that almost five years later, they have proven their hypothesis to be true.


In that same email, they introduced chemicalRepurposing – yikes !! Given my generally cautious perspective towards chemicals I am a bit anxious. In looking at that, they say that they “ended up with six fluid, mineral, chemical waste streams looking for a home”. Their list of chemicals includes carbon black powder, calcium carbonate, perlite, isopropyl alcohol, alumina, stoddard solvent, glass sludge and magnesium oxide.

Regarding our own business, I was interested in noting that they offer Bulk Bags. We use these for moving the wine cork stoppers that cycle through our own business. One contractor noted that “We use your bulk bags to fill with construction debris on the upper stories of our apartment complexes. We then crane the sacks full of rubbish right into the dumpster. Works great!” The list of the “byproducts” they offer is long and varied but here’s a sampling – narrow width belting, gym floor wood, old rails from railroad tracks, billboard vinyls and surplus paint. They even offer a 185′ pedestrian bridge.

I’m impressed that repurposedMaterials seems to invite a lot of participation in the form of suggestions for repurposing all kinds of products from their network of interested persons. They are located in Henderson CO near Denver. The company defines themselves as “industrial matchmakers” with examples like an Ohio River tug boat operator, a turkey farmer in Arkansas, a water well driller in Montana, or a thoroughbred horse stable in Kentucky. They claim to be responsible for diverting hundreds of thousands of pounds of “waste” that would otherwise be headed to the landfill by locating the industries that can give these materials a second life.

In the larger scheme of things, there is very little that you can’t repurpose, recycle or add to your compost pile but while I’m touching briefly upon the concept of repurposing, a cautionary note might be appropriate. Here are “12 Items You Should Never Repurpose Or Compost”.

[1] Motor Oil – recycle your oil properly in approved containers. There are specialized business that handle this waste product ethically and many auto parts stores and some garages will offer this service to you free of charge.

Coffee Mugs

[2] PVC, Polystyrene or Polycarbonate – never reuse (or even use once if you can avoid it) – #3 plastic (PVC), #6 plastic (polystyrene) and many #7 plastics (polycarbonate). They can leach toxins such s phthalates, dioxins and bishphenol-A into your food.

[3] Aluminum Containers unless coated internally with an enamel coating, don’t re-use aluminum dishes because the aluminum will leach into your foods. I know my hands turn black when using an aluminum canoe paddle or handling aluminum tent poles. Aluminum has been linked to several different health conditions including Alzheimer’s disease.

[4] Sawdust – don’t toss it on your compost pile, use it to line your chicken cages or livestock stalls unless you know exactly where it came from because it often contains chemicals that were used to treat the wood. Black walnut shavings are toxic to horses – causing skin irritation, fever, hair loss and even founder. Black cherry shouldn’t be used in stalls either. However, if you know exactly where the sawdust came from and the source was non-toxic, it’s fine to use in your compost pile or in your flower beds.

[5] Meat and milk – shouldn’t be added to a compost pile unless you don’t mind attracting all sorts of critters to it. It generates very little heat while it decomposes and so it is not a vital component in a healthy pile.

[6] Walnuts and Walnut Shells – will release the chemical juglone which is toxic to some plants and vegetables including tomatoes.

[7] Used Kitty Litter – we actually put ours into the landfill trash when we still had an indoor cat. If you’ve ever dealt with used kitty litter – enough said !!

[8] Diseased Plants and Moldy Soil – may add fungi and bacteria to your compost pile that is undesirable.

Paper repurposed as Gift Wrap

Paper repurposed as Gift Wrap

[9] Heavily Coated or Colored Paper – While it’s fine to repurpose magazines, colored paper or wrapping paper, these should never go in your compost pile because the chemicals used to add the color and the gloss can be toxic. The ink doesn’t break down properly so these items should be tossed into your recycling bin or repurposed as note paper, collages or could be used as gift wrapping paper.

[10] Used Cooking Oil – The only sane way to repurpose used cooking oil is in making biofuel. Don’t add it to your compost pile because it can disrupt the moisture level in your pile or attract unwanted pests.

[11] Personal Hygiene Items – though this may seem like common sense, single-use personal hygiene items such as tampons, pads, tissues and disposable diapers should never be washed and reused, nor should they go on the compost pile. They have been contaminated with bodily fluids and are not suitable for recycling, reusing, repurposing or composting.

[12] Old Household Wood – If you live in a house that was built prior to 1978, most of the original paint likely contains lead. Don’t reuse old window sills, banister railings or anything painted when the house was built in any of your repurposing projects. Don’t burn them, either. Just send them to the dump.

I admit I am “liberal” about putting “organics” into our “waste pile” but then it is NOT your conventional compost pile. We are not very good at vegetable gardening, though we try to grow a few cherry tomatoes each year and sometimes get more ambitious. Even though I don’t make a good example of being able to say I adhere to all of the suggestions above, I still think they are good ones !!

Reuse Reduce Recycle finger grass

~ Information Resources

City Museum, St Louis MO – http://www.citymuseum.org/

City Museum – Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_Museum

repurposedMaterials – it’s all about creative Re-Use – http://www.repurposedmaterialsinc.com/

“12 Items You Should Never Repurpose Or Compost” by Theresa Crouse posted June 30, 2015 at Survivopedia.com – http://www.survivopedia.com/never-repurpose-or-compost/#


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer



Environmentally Healthy Resolutions

Dedicated New Year
Whether you believe climate change is caused by human beings or that it is the natural state of the planet to always be changing, realizing that this planet is what sustains our very lives, it makes good sense to care about how we each impact our collective home.

Some resolutions –

[1] Discernment. It is easy to make a feel good, sound good claims but the reality may be quite different. That is one of the reasons for this blog. You won’t find me pleading with you to save our planet. The planet is just fine, always has been and will be unless and until it explodes or breaks apart. So “saving the planet” is never the issue. It is the sustainability of the human species that is at issue. So, it is good to consider one’s impact upon the local environment.

Alternative energy
[2] Support Energy Alternatives. They may not be the best choice in all cases but this is one place where each and every individual can have an impact. Solar and Wind energy are worthwhile contributors to the power grid in that they contribute little to pollution and are not depletable.

It is bitterly cold or soon to be here in Missouri where I am writing this. This is what we term a “hard” winter. How we heat makes a difference and the choices are not easy. We have been looking at ground-source heat pumps and although most that have these seem satisfied with them, the decision is not a simple one, including the initial cost; but if you are faced with replacing a system and have the space on your property to support it, it is worth looking into.

Many people burn wood here. One can smell the smoke on cold days. Since one can smell it, it would seem to be a source of pollution. However, it is a renewable fuel source (especially if one has plenty of downed timber to get firewood from, as we do). Our constant heat source is electric. We once had natural gas but it causes concerns about interior air quality impacts sufficient to possibly harm human health. Our electricity comes from coal-fired plants and they resist mightily the government’s push for adequate equipment to make cleaner electricity. So, if burning some wood, decreases our dependence on coal-generated electricity, that would seem to be a good thing.

And alternative energy can be applied in some places by some people to their choice for transportation – whether adding an alternative fuel to their personal automobile, using mass transit or riding a bike or even walking, when possible. In our case, we meet some of our own personal obligation by working from home and reducing our need to commute.

2014 Green Resolutions
[3] Buying Local. This reduces the carbon footprint. It also supports local availability, including of food sources. It helps to support local employment.

[4] Reduce consumption. Eat as much of the food you buy as possible, reducing waste, and compost what inevitably is not safe to eat. Consider charities before throwing away useable items – thrift shops, domestic abuse shelters, Goodwill. We even often find local acquaintances able to use some of the things that we can no longer justify taking up space in our own environment.

[5] Buy recycled. Buy recycled content paper towels, toilet paper and if you have a printer or copier, buy recycled paper for that as well. Buy the highest post-consumer content that you can find. Consider recycled for other purchases as well. In a commercial environment support the use of recycled content in countertops, restroom partitions and flooring and back to # 1 – discernment – check out claims for validity and look for techniques meant to distract you or satisfy a minimal inquiry.
Recycled Paper

[6] Recycle EVERYTHING you can. We have containers for plastics, paper, glass, metal, chipboard and cardboard. We have only one “landfill” trash container. Everything organic that will break down goes into the compost pile.

[7] Grow some of the food that you eat. It’s good practice and yields high satisfaction. You can grow something, even in a balcony container. Yes, some plants will fail. It is a learning experience but always a good survival hedge to learn how. We grow mostly cherry tomatoes but had some success with bell pepper, cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, watermelon. Warning – the last three really do need a lot of space !!!

[8] Take your own reusable bags to the grocery store. This is really very easy to do, once you get in the habit of it. If you get plastic bags, save them up and find a place where you can recycle them. WalMart and upscale grocers often have collection points.

The main thing to resolve, if you want to live an environmentally healthier lifestyle is to begin to educate yourself about alternatives. You can work with your own personality, preferences and situation but everyone can find at least one thing that they can change about how they habitually do things that will actually make an impact.

Think Green New Year Hat
It has been theorized that “a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in another location. Note that the butterfly does not power or directly create the tornado. The flap of the wings is a part of the initial conditions; one set of conditions leads to a tornado while the other set of conditions doesn’t.” Whatever you choose to do has an effect. Chose as wisely as you know how and learn to make even better choices. It is a lifelong pursuit.

Happy New Year !! Let’s make it a good one.


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer