In our family we give extra points for Good Use of Existing Materials. Mostly this means stuffl like utilizing a paper towel when the coffee filters run out, or opening a wine bottle with a screw and a hammer when you can’t find the corkscrew;


pajama bottoms that double as capris, an old sweater sleeve that makes a good winter hat;certainly duct tape and bungie cords put to inventive use qualify.

I appreciate make-do ingenuity in the outer world, too: a handyman’s trailer fasioned from the detached back of a truck,


a log-house style tower built of bananas for display at the cash register at Starbuck’s.


In November our family lost our beloved Aunt Norma. She was a model of economy and ingenuity. Consider her reuse of milk cartons, for instance. Like many, she used empty milk cartons as containers to freeze soup. But she also cut them lengthwise into longboats to hold chicken breasts as they defrosted. She’d line these up on the floor in the front of the refrigerator to take advantage of the warm fan there to hurry the defrosting process. On her kitchen counter, flattened milk cartons found new life as cutting boards. In her storeroom, she organized stuff into more empty milk cartons. To celebrate the Fourth of July, we staged a Milk Carton Regatta, motored and non-motored classes, racing across her swimming pool. No milk carton went to waste at Aunt Norma’s.


As a writer, I value Good Use of Existing Material in my own work and others’, too. It provides the authentic stuff – like Aunt Norma herself – that is given to you to shape with zest and ingenuity. There is an economy that applies, as in a reduction of balsamic vinegar, where the flavors are reduced to their delicious essence. You get down to the metaphors, details and even the words that carry the most story; the material and language that take the story deeper.

~ By Laura Kvasnosky




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  1. Laura Kvasnosky

    julie — it looks like you posted it — can we add a by line under the title?

  2. Julie Larios

    The post above was written by Laura Kvasnosky who is traveling in Hawaii with family. It was posted via Julie Larios, who is stuck in Seattle. Hopefully, our Solvers-of-All-Problems, Coe Booth and Uma Krishnaswami, will figure out how to add Laura’s name in there for the “posted by…” feature. Meanwhile, if you’re reading and adding comments, address them to Laura!

  3. Julie Larios

    I can't find the EDIT function for something already posted, Laura. Have you ever had to edit in Posterous after the fact?  Unitl I get it explained to me, Coe or Uma will have to work on it. I've sent them a HELP! message. Julie

  4. Laura Kvasnosky

    julie it is okay w me to just go w your comment. i dont want you to spend any more time on it. thanks again lSent from my iPhone

  5. Kathi Appelt

    I’m not sure which I enjoy more, the post or the comments!

    Laura, I also have an Aunt Norma. We affectionately call her Aunt Tootsie. She’s beloved in our family, so I know you miss yours. My grandmother was the milk carton re-user in our family. She used them for all sorts of things, and she also cut them into odd shapes. Who knew that this was a trait that transcended families? Or maybe . . . just maybe . . . you and I are more closely related than anybody might have guessed. Wonderful post. Thank you!

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