Sunday, May 24, 2020

Wood-Burned Popsicle Stick Plant Markers

Our spring is so rainy, and our property so much wants to be a marsh, that the opportunities to actually get out and get seeds into the dirt during that precious getting-seeds-into-the-dirt window are few and far between, and you have to jump on them when they appear.

Like, you're just looking out the window, minding your own business, and you're all, "Oh, sun! Hey, there was some sun yesterday, too, so maybe if I go out in the yard I'll only sink up to my ankles in mud, not my thighs! I should go plant ALL THE THINGS!!!"

That's how, a couple of weekends ago, I ended up in a frenzy of planting all the things (not ALL the things, because we weren't far enough from the last frost to plant the sunflower seeds, but definitely all the OTHER things!), and I discovered that I needed some plant markers, stat!

I don't expect these popsicle stick plant makers to last beyond this season, because popsicle sticks aren't terribly hardy, but they turned out to be exactly what I needed at the moment I was in need:

I'm moving most of my garden plots around AGAIN, so since these popsicle sticks take just a couple of minutes to wood burn, it was easy for me to be all, "Okay... I think I'll try the radishes here this year and then the carrots can go here and, why not, how about I stick another row of radishes behind them," and then pop inside and quickly make the markers and put them in the ground before I forgot which was which and what I put where:

I already have a nice, bark-free stick saved up from a recent hike in our woods to wood burn something a little nicer for the perennials, but honestly, I'll probably just throw those radish and carrot markers in the fire pit when I'm through with them...

... because they clearly can't go back in the same garden plot next year, as Spots would rather sleep in it. Le SIGH!!!

This sage is from a pack of old-ish seeds that I found. I'm SUPER excited that it's growing!

I move this pot of catnip to a new hiding spot every time a cat finds it, because otherwise they'll eat it to the ground and then they won't have anymore catnip!

I'm excited about my little garden this year, because this is probably the first year since I've gardened that I won't be going away at all, and therefore I can dote on it all summer long. No chance of coming home after two weeks to a half-overgrown, half-dead, totally weedy plot that's been invaded by every rabbit within two miles!

I mean, I'd rather have the big trip that I planned with my Girl Scout troop and a ratty garden, but at least I get carrots and radishes and tomatoes and basil along with my miserable frustration and disappointment.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

How to Add a Zippered Top to a Tote Bag

This tutorial was originally posted on Crafting a Green World.

Because you don't want your stuff to fall out!

The zippered top that I'll be showing you how to add to your tote bags uses a detachable zipper, so you can tuck the flaps away whenever you want a completely open-top tote bag. On those adventures when you're worried about spillage, however, or even just during car rides home when a tote bag full of groceries is likely to topple over in the trunk, having a top that you can zip up can make your life that much more care-free and efficient.

You can add a zippered top to any boxy tote bag that you already own. Feeling more ambitious? Make your entire tote bag from scratch, and then add a zippered top! 

Tools and Supplies

To complete this project, you will need:
  • scrap fabric the approximate dimensions of your tote bag bottom. Any non-stretch fabric works for this project.
  • zipper the approximate length of your tote bag bottom. Make sure you choose a detachable zipper--think coat zipper, not a pants zipper.
  • cutting and sewing supplies. A sewing machine with a zipper foot makes the project even quicker and easier, but isn't completely necessary.


1. Use the dimensions of your tote bag bottom as the pattern for the zippered top.

The pattern should be the length of that side seam x the distance between the two side seams. Look how nicely my zipper fits the dimensions--that's a super lucky find from my stash bin. 

2. Use your pattern to cut the top piece, then cut it in half lengthwise.

Notice that I'm not including any seam allowance here; that's because the zipper takes up enough room to cover the seam allowance for this piece.

3. Sew the zipper to the two top pieces

Be very careful to sew right sides together, and to make sure that the two zipper pieces match. You don't want to sew half your zipper on upside-down! I'm always very relieved to practice zipping the top piece up afterwards, so I can make sure I sewed it correctly--phew! 

4. Sew the zippered top pieces to the top of the tote bag.

An easy way to center the pieces on the tote bag is to pin each piece in the middle, then align the pins.

I like to keep the top zippered shut while I pin the pieces to the tote bag--that way, I'm sure that two sides will align correctly. Afterward, however, unzip the pieces to make them easy to sew.

Once the pieces are pinned, sew them to the tote bag.

When you don't need your tote bag zippered closed--if your bag is chock-full of Girl Scout cookies, say--the top pieces easily tuck down inside the bag.

But after a long day toiling in the cookie mines, when you're ready to head home but you don't want all of your cookie treasures to fall out on the journey, just untuck those side panels, zip up your tote bag, and heigh-ho, off you go!

P.S. Curious about even more ways to use up the surplus zippers in your stash bin? Check out these seven awesome zipper projects!

Friday, May 22, 2020

We Made Terrariums... and I LOVE Them!

We didn't exactly make the self-contained ecosystems that was my intended hands-on project for the Principles of Ecology chapter in CK-12 Biology

Honestly, adding any animals into our lives, however tiny and shrimp- or snail-like, is just a recipe for me fretting endlessly about their health, safety, and emotional well-being. The years that the kids had pet fish encompassed some of the most miserable day-to-day experiences of my life. I'm stressed out enough in general, and if Will wants to incubate chickens this summer I'll be stressed out even more, and I just don't have it in me to experiment with the lives of tiny critters in a sealed plant world.

Maybe later this summer we'll collect some jars of pond water and watch them for a few weeks. 

Terrariums are MUCH more my speed, and the kids were super into the idea, as well, so that's what we did!

Happily, we were able to make our terrariums entirely from supplies we already own, although that's mostly because I'm a supplies hoarder. Here's what we used:
  • glass container with a loose-fitting lid. This keeps most of the moisture inside, while still allowing some air flow. We used some old solar-powered lanterns that were on our property, not working, when we moved here... yeah, I've had them kicking around until 2012. And I'm STILL hoarding the flat-backed glass marbles that were inside them!
  • rocks. I need to stop using the rocks that I bought for landscaping for craft projects, instead. Also, I need to buy more rocks for landscaping.
  • activated charcoal. I bought this a few Halloweens ago to make black food. It's just occurred to me that I bet I could dye play dough with it! It's also good for soapmaking and bath bombs.
  • peat moss. I HATE that I bought this once upon a time, because peat is SO unsustainably sourced. I am never, never, never going to buy it again, although I guess that means I'll have to research what to use for terrariums instead!
  • potting soil. This is basic potting soil, with no fertilizers or moisture-retaining polymer beads.
  • plants. Mosses and ferns and other shade-loving woodsy botanicals do great in terrariums like this.
When the kids were so busy with extracurriculars (if we were homeschoolers, why were we never home?!?), we'd probably have split this project up into two or even three days, so it is true, I guess, that one of our pandemic silver linings is that we're lucky enough to all be quarantined together, with time to do big projects all in one day and space on our own property in which to do them.

I'd still rather my kids had their ballet classes and summer camp internships and our big Girl Scout troop trip, though!

We're lucky enough to be together at home, though, and so together we spent one morning making our terrariums!

We put a layer of rocks at the bottom, added two-ish scoops of charcoal to cover, then an inch or so of peat moss, then a couple of inches of potting soil:

And then we went for a hike in our woods:

Can you see the elusive Spots? Torties are pretty well camouflaged in the spring woods!

Among the mayapples and Jack in the Pulpit, we collected little mosses and ferns, trying to include as much of their matrices as we could along with them, and trying for at least a couple of different kinds of plants, in case some didn't take:

Syd found a lovely horn corral fossil that she gave to me for my terrarium, and in our little creek I found a well-worn vintage green glass marble that also went in.

The lids of our old solar lanterns were an ugly chipped black, so I asked the kids if they would like to repaint them:

Indeed, they would!

We've had our terrariums for almost two months now, long enough for the plants to see if they like it and settle in if they do.

Syd says that she forgot she owned her terrarium (sigh), and it definitely needed a few caps of water when I went off to investigate it--

--but look how it's thriving!

Will's plants were so thrilled to be there that we had to remove the lid to give them some more space to blissfully spread out!

Matt's might be the most successful, since it's not clear if he ever even knew that Syd made him this terrarium:

You guys, it's got a wee little MUSHROOM!!!

My terrarium, which I dote on far more than the children dote on theirs, is the least vigorous, but it's happy, as well.

Even if it wasn't part of our biology study, this was the perfect spring project. Now I just have to go put mine on a shelf somewhere where I can forget it for a couple of months, so it can grow as happy as the rest of the family's terrariums!

Saturday, May 16, 2020

How to Make a Corrugated Cardboard Cat Scratcher: Two Tutorials

This post was originally published at Crafting a Green World.

In case you're wondering if your cat would use this corrugated cardboard cat scratcher instead of your chair legs, let me just tell you: our feral little murder-brat, the Marvelous Mr. Jones, LOVES his corrugated cardboard cat scratchers! I mean, he also loves scratching my chair legs still, but to be fair, he IS a feral little murder-brat...

Corrugated cardboard, sliced and stacked edges out, has a texture that cats adore, and they really will use them, play with them, and sharpen their claws on them! These corrugated cardboard cat scratchers also require little to no other supplies to make, and when your cat wears them out, you can pop them right into the recycling bin, so there's no extra burden on the waste stream. Making them is a kid-friendly craft, especially for a group, and it's easy to find an animal shelter or animal rescue to donate them to. 

So gather those Girl Scout cookie cases or Amazon boxes, put a new blade in your x-acto knife, and let's make a couple of cat scratchers!

Tools and Supplies

To make these corrugated cardboard cat scratchers, you will need:

Corrugated Cardboard

Upcycle this cardboard from any source, although shipping boxes are your most likely candidates. It HAS to be corrugated cardboard, though, so don't cut up a bunch of cereal boxes and think that your floof is going to happily scritchy-scratch away on them.

Measuring and Cutting Supplies

For this project, I used a self-healing cutting mat, metal meter stick, and x-acto knife. You could hand-cut these, but you do want the strips to be identical in width.

Glue Or Tape (for the round cat scratcher)

Whether you use hot glue or clear packing tape here is a personal choice. Both can be easily removed from the cardboard before you recycle it.


1. For both cat scratchers, cut the cardboard into 2" strips. This is a great step to do in advance if you're going to be working with kids or a club, as there's little further cutting required and the 2" strips can be used for either cat scratcher.

Round Cat Scratcher

2. Start rolling!

Those outer wraps don't look tight, but that's because it's difficult to maintain the tension while you're adding another strip. After the strip is attached, pull everything tight again before you continue wrapping the cat scratcher.

Choose one long strip, and begin to roll it up as tightly as you can. Roll evenly, so that the roll stays flat.

  3. Add new strips when necessary. When you reach the end of a strip, use hot glue or tape to attach a new strip, then continue rolling.

4. Attach the end piece to the roll. When the round cat scratcher is as wide as you want, use the hot glue or tape to attach the final strip securely to the base. Make this VERY secure, because if it comes loose, then so does the entire cat scratcher!

This is a great cat scratcher to make for a large or very active cat, because you can make it as big as you want. For that same reason, also consider choosing this cat scratcher if you've got a lot of cardboard to use up, as you can use as much of it as you need.

Box Bottom Cat Scratcher

2. Cut the bottom off of a corrugated cardboard box. Make the cuts 2" from the bottom of the box, measured from the inside, so that what you're left with consists of the box's bottom with 2" sides all around.

3. Measure and cut the cardboard strips. Measure the 2" cardboard strips so that they exactly match the inside length of the cardboard box, then cut the strips to size.

4. Fill the box bottom with cardboard strips. Stack the cardboard strips in the box, cut sides up. Continue until you've filled the entire box bottom with these cardboard strips, placed tightly until there's no room for another strip. This particular cat scratcher requires more effort to make than the round version, but I think it has the potential to look a little nicer, if that's important to you.

Because this version, unlike the round cat scratcher, has a bottom piece, you can also mount it to something by screwing the box bottom directly to a surface, then adding the corrugated cardboard strips. Velcro strips would also work well, and would allow you to replace the entire cat scratcher when necessary.

The con to this particular cat scratcher is that you will have some cut ends to toss in the recycling or compost as you trim the corrugated cardboard strips to size. If you're looking for a truly no-waste cat scratcher, then make the round one and glue the strips together.

 If your cat is reluctant, at first, to try out their new cat scratcher, sprinkle a little catnip into the spaces between the cardboard, or hide a small, favorite toy in between the strips for them to find. Some cats also really enjoy lying on this surface, so you might find that you've actually made your cat not a brand-new scratcher, but a brand-new bed!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Junior Ranger Badges Kids Can Earn from Home ONLY during the Pandemic

One of my blog readers sent me on a giant expedition this week!

Earlier this week, a reader left this comment on my post about Junior Ranger badges that can be earned from home (thanks, Unknown!):

I immediately checked up on this, and it's true!!! Yellowstone National Park IS offering its Junior Ranger badge program by mail, only during the pandemic!

And if one national park site is doing this, maybe there are others!

Maybe I have too much time on my hands, or maybe it was simply time that I go through my map and list of Junior Ranger programs and make sure they're all up-to-date, anyway, because I spent practically the entire day yesterday--you know, in between giving Will constructive criticism on her APES and AP Psych FRQs, being the only person in the house to actually sort of clean it, making and mailing a couple of Pumpkin+Bear etsy orders, doing just enough of an online kickboxing workout to convince myself that I'd definitely worked out that day and should absolutely eat an entire sleeve of Thin Mints that evening, and trying to convince Syd that wouldn't it be fun if she for once and for all finished this Silver Award project that she's been working steadily on for over a year--going through every site on my map, adding lots of new Junior Ranger by mail programs to my list (yay!), taking some programs that no longer offer Junior Ranger badges by mail off my list (many national park sites are now moving to a "virtual Junior Ranger" program, for which a kid does some work on their website, self-corrects it, and then prints off an image of the Junior Ranger badge), and at the same time noting the national park sites that don't usually offer Junior Ranger badges by mail, but are now doing so ONLY during the duration of the pandemic.

And here they are!
I am SO excited about these, and Will is, too. We homeschool year-round, but after Will's AP exams are finished and she takes a bit of a break, we'll begin having more fun, project-filled days than we've been able to indulge in for quite a while, with those two big standardized tests looming. I am absolutely thrilled that we can now spend some of these days learning about and doing fun hands-on activities related to these special, limited-time-only Junior Ranger books--what a great way to sneak some engagement, enrichment, and education into what's starting to look like a long, long, long quarantined summer.

P.S. Want to follow along with our projects when we begin our studies for these Junior Ranger books? Keep in touch via my Craft Knife Facebook page!

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Dancing during a Pandemic: Ballet at Home, with 20 Free Online Ballet Class Resources to Make it More Fun

Excuse this blurry, oddly edited photo, but I took it quickly from across the room just to capture a cute moment between Syd and Jones, and only noticed later that it also features Syd just randomly wearing her pointe shoes around the house. You know, as you do...
I know that we are all soldiering on and putting on our brave faces and thanking our lucky stars for every single piece of good fortune that we're fortunate enough to possess during this pandemic, but I just want to tell you that if your kid is legit grieving something from her pre-pandemic life, this is your safe space to complain about it right here.

Because we can all put on our brave faces and soldier through our own shit, but when your kid is suffering and you can't fix it, that is a hard load to bear, and it legitimately sucks. Fortunate as we are in all the ways that we are, watching your kid have to miss their favorite people and favorite activities out in the big, wide world is hard, and if you want to gripe about it, you can go ahead and gripe about it right here to me, because I'm hating it, too.

I'll even go first: I HATE how much Syd is missing ballet. She misses her friends, she misses her teachers, she misses the companionship of other dancers, she misses rehearsing for and performing in the spring recital (what a blow that cancellation was!), she misses the in-person instruction, she misses pointe class... essentially, she's grieving for every aspect of her favorite thing in life.

Online classes and dancing at home are poor substitutes.

And yet that's where we are, and that's what we've got, so that's what she's doing. 

Thankfully, we already had a DIY ballet barre set up at home. I think most of the kids at Syd's level in her classes who didn't already have one by the time the pandemic started do have one by now, because although something like a counter top or the back of a chair works if you're relatively stationery, it doesn't help much for moves that require you to travel--and you do a lot of that in pointe class!

If you want a non-DIY portable ballet barre, I know several kids who have this one and they all seem to like it:

Or, if you've got a space to wall-mount a ballet barre, I also know people who like this one:

We've also got large wall mirrors set up in Syd's ballet area, but interestingly, she often prefers to practice and take class away from the mirror, all the way on the opposite side of the room:

If you don't completely ignore all that dust and hair on my floor I'll be sad at you. Roomba is currently on hiatus waiting for a new battery, and from what I can tell I'm the only other individual in the entire house who knows how to vacuum and mop. 
I had assumed that the mirror would be crucial for evaluating one's position or technique or whatever, but I've actually been hearing that other kids in Syd's class are responding well to dancing without the wall of mirrors in their ballet studio. Such an unexpected takeaway, right?

So all those photos above were taken with Syd dancing on our bare laminate floor, which is pretty horrible even when it's not covered in dust and hair... not that I'd actually know for sure what the floor is like when it's not covered in dust and hair, but I've got a good imagination.

HOWEVER, it was even while I was taking those photos that I realized that if Syd really was going to be having to take pointe classes from home, and do all her practicing and dancing on pointe here, too, she could not continue to do it on this floor. It's slippery, and she looked unsteady.

I took her into my bedroom to see if dancing en pointe on the carpet would be any better, and she nearly rolled an ankle after about five seconds.

So then I bought this:

It's this exact piece of marley floor, and it's perfect for Syd and for our space. Even on sale for 40% off when I bought it (yay!), it was still quite spendy, but I've been told that we should be getting a partial refund for Syd's also quite spendy ballet tuition, and even if we weren't, the kid has to be able to continue her pointe training and she clearly cannot do so if she's in danger of hurting herself.

When the floor isn't in use, Syd rolls it up and stores it beneath the mirror. I SUPER want to buy her this storage bag, because somehow this marley floor manages to pick up and show off all the dust and fuzz and cat hair and dog hair and human hair even better than the laminate floor shining in the sunset does, but that's definitely not in the budget until that theoretical partial tuition refund is in my bank account.

So here is how Syd takes ballet class now:

Actually, I guess Syd CAN see herself in the mirror when she dances. Maybe across the room from it is better than being a nose-length away!
She doesn't love it--honestly, she HATES it--but she has discovered that with the right instructor, she does find it useful. There are times when it really, really sucks, though, and I hate seeing Syd's disappointment and frustration when, say, she can't hear the instructor's music, or maybe the music is way too loud but the instructor's voice is super quiet so she can't turn the volume down, or that one time when we couldn't get the audio to work at all and she had to do a whole class without being able to hear a thing--for some reason we have a LOT of audio problems over here!

I also really feel for the dance teachers who have had to learn what might be an entirely new technology to them, and a new method of instruction, and figure out their own music, and find a way to give good feedback to a bunch of students using different equipment on different floors with varying qualities of webcams.

Like, dancers are ALREADY well-versed in grit and perseverance. They really don't need this whole series of challenges just to teach them life lessons!

One good thing, I guess, about the quarantines across the country is that many ballet companies and institutions are generously providing free online classes and other enrichment. It's sometimes hard to figure out the level for these, or they're most often at a beginner's level or for young children, but it can be fun to try something new, and some of the classes on offer are very unusual!

These change all the time, but here are some current favorites:

  1. Ballerinas by Night has free YouTube ballet classes, exercises, and tips. 
  2. Ballet 24 has mostly YouTube workouts for dancers, but also stretches and some classes.
  3. The Ballet Coach has YouTube classes for all levels from "little kids" to "grandma and grandpas," including some at the intermediate/advanced level. 
  4. Berkeley Ballet Theater hosts several pay-what-you-can ballet classes through Facebook every week, and these are especially great because some of them are intermediate/advanced level.
  5. Canada's National Ballet School has online ballet classes through intermediate level.
  6. Charlotte Ballet is holding weekly classes on African dance and jazz!
  7. Charm City Ballet has a live weekly barre class that's also available for viewing afterwards.
  8. Cincinnati Ballet has a whole series of conditioning classes on Facebook Live, or you can dance along to their livestreamed company classes on YouTube
  9. Cleveland Inner City Ballet has a free children's classes every week on Facebook Live. 
  10. The Dutch National Ballet has several online classes on YouTube. Most are barre, but there are some on other topics. 
  11. English National Ballet at Home classes on YouTube definitely aren't for beginners!
  12. Front Range Classical Ballet Academy has Facebook videos for intermediate/advanced classes and conditioning.
  13. Huntsville Ballet has tap, modern, and hip hop classes free on YouTube!
  14. Kathryn Morgan has tons of classes and tutorials on YouTube, including pointe classes from beginner through advanced!
  15. Lazy Dancer Tips has full ballet classes, but also strength training and workouts.
  16. The New San Jose Ballet offers pay-what-you-can ballet classes through YouTube. There are all levels, including an adult ballet bootcamp that I might secretly try.
  17. New York City Ballet has basic-level ballet classes for adults that don't feel basic because they're engaged with a theme--this week's is going to sneak some modern in via a Balanchine ballet!--and classes for young children.
  18. Pro Ballet is in Russian on YouTube, so you sort of have to look at the thumbnail to see what the class is, but once it starts you can easily follow along.
  19. The Rockettes teach a new segment of one of their routines on Instagram every week, but you can still see them after if you don't catch them live. I'm fascinated that they do most of this in heels! 
  20. Sarah Arnold has YouTube videos with mostly warm-ups and exercises for improving specific skills, like turnout. 
All those classes are enough to keep any dancer engaged and in condition, if you remember that they don't provide any instructor feedback and so aren't a real substitute for a live class.

I particularly hate that this pandemic happened so early in Syd's pointe training, when she really needs the hands-on instruction and feedback to help her develop good habits and a good form, but honestly, there's no great time in a dancer's training... or in anyone else's, either... for a pandemic to suddenly quarantine everyone away from their peers and teachers. We're just... soldiering on, game faces in place, trying not to focus on how much it all sucks.

If you've got a dancer who's training at home, too, tell me YOUR favorite tips and tricks and equipment. Maybe there's something new that I haven't thought to throw my money at yet!

P.S. Want to know what else we're doing during quarantine, like the science experiments and the art activities and the weird craft projects and the random Jane Austen tea parties? Check out my Craft Knife Facebook page!