Monday, September 28, 2020

We Took Part in a Water Quality Sampling Blitz

 I think you'll agree that someone who has earned a 5 on the AP Environmental Science exam is now qualified to give service in the area of environmental science.

And if that someone can put another lab into their possibly-not-yet-terribly-robust APES lab notebook at the same time, then all the better!

A couple of weeks ago, the Limnology Department at our local university held a water sampling blitz for our local watershed, and Will and I were two of the lucky citizen scientists who took part. Our job was to drive to several GPS coordinates, figure out a way to access the creek at each location, then fill out a Qualitative Habitat Evaluation field sheet, measure the stream's pH and temperature, and collect water samples for more testing back at the base. 

We brought a lot of bug spray, because the streams were all beautiful, but accessing all of them basically required parking at the side of the road, inevitably anxiously near No Trespassing signs and Trump flags, then climbing down a steep ditch through underbrush and copperhead nests, always to end up somewhere quite magical:

Fortunately, I had an adept scientist at hand. While I got to admire the scenery and take photos, she buckled down and did most of the work:

Fortunately, even when we met a stream bank that was too steep even for my mountain goat lab partner, we still had a way to get our samples:

Seriously, how cool is that? It works because water doesn't change temperature very quickly, so the extra time to take a bucket sample doesn't effect the measurement. 

The bad news is that none of the streams performed particularly well on the Qualitative Habitat Evaluation or the pH tests--

--and considering how many cornfields, yards, and cow pastures we saw on the edges of our streams, I'm not feeling optimistic about the results of the nitrogen or fecal coliform tests that we also measured out the water for back at the base.

Nevertheless, many of the streams managed to look happy enough, and it was magical to tromp through somebody's yard, scramble through the underbrush, slide precariously into a ditch, and then suddenly find ourselves somewhere like this:

Just out of view cars were still driving down whatever country road we'd stopped on, cows were still mooing and corn rustling, suspicious people were still peering out their windows and around their giant Trump flags at our parked car, but at the bottom of every ditch it was just us, the birds, the crawdads, and a little piece of natural wonderland trying its best.

It was the best kind of science, and not a bad way for an eleventh-grader to spend a school day, either.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

How to Sew a Fibonacci Quilt

I originally published this tutorial on Crafting a Green World.

Quiltmaking is surprisingly mathematical. If you love to sew quilts, then whether you realize it or not, your geometry and trigonometry skills are probably on point!

Why not celebrate how mathematically beautiful a well-made quilt is by making a quilt out of one of the most beautiful mathematical sequences that we know so far.

Let's sew a Fibonacci quilt!

The Fibonacci sequence, named after the guy who first noticed it, is a series of numbers created by adding up the two previous numbers in the sequence. You're given 0 and 1, so add them together and the next number is also 1. 1 and 1 make 2, but then 2 and 1 make 3. 3 and 2 make 5, 5 and 3 make 8, and you can just keep going, ad infinitum.

To make the Fibonacci squares, use each of the Fibonacci numbers as the length of the sides of a square--leave out 0, because that doesn't make a square, of course. Piece them together in a spiral, much like a log cabin quilt block, and you'll have a Fibonacci rectangle that looks like this:

CC BY-SA 4.0

We're going to go up one more number in the sequence, all the way to 34, because that's the last number in the sequence that you can make from one continual piece of yardage. Here, then, will be the finished measurements of the quilt pieces that you'll need:Now, pretend that each of these squares is the finished measurement of a quilt block--wouldn't that make an absolutely beautiful quilt?

  • 1"
  • 1"
  • 2"
  • 3"
  • 5"
  • 8"
  • 13"
  • 21"
  • 34"

I used a quarter-inch seam allowance on all of the pieces, so add a half-inch to each of these measurements when you cut your quilt pieces.

You will also need the following:

  • one 34"x55" piece of backing fabric. I backed this quilt with nothing but another piece of quilting cotton, and I am in love with how light it is. Not every quilt has to be warm enough for winter--some quilts are destined for summertime naps on the couch!
  • double-fold bias tape. You can make your own double-fold bias tape, but I buy mine from Laceking on Etsy.
  • cutting and sewing supplies.

1. Pre-wash, measure, and cut fabric pieces. Don't forget to add 1/2" seam allowance to each measurement!

2. Piece the quilt. This Fibonacci quilt is easy to piece--just follow the above diagram, adding each piece in numerical order of its measurement. Be very strict about your 1/4" seams, and iron after every seam. I like to use a walking foot when I sew quilts, so if you're struggling to feed your fabric evenly, that might be worth checking out.

3. Put the front of the quilt with the back, wrong sides together. Pin it as much as you can stand to!

4. Sew double-fold bias tape all the way around the quilt. Miter the corners as you go to save time--I really like the first method shown in this video.

When you're finished, you'll have a lovely, light summer quilt that's both aesthetically and mathematically beautiful:

Interested in more cool math activities? Check out my list of even MORE fun Fibonacci sequence stuff!

Now get back to your sewing machine and get going!

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

In Which Bridging Looks Very Different, but is Still the Same at Heart

 Normally, our Girl Scout Bridging ceremony is an excuse for a party! I love it as the one chance a year that we can generally get every Scout in my troop, plus a parent or two for each of them, in the same place at the same time to celebrate. We have a group photo, a potluck meal, and ample time to sit around in lawn chairs and gossip while the kids do their own kid things.

That did not happen this year.

Our traditional Bridging ceremony wouldn't work as-is during a pandemic, and the kids were uncertain what they wanted to do to replace it, so when I suggested that maybe we'd want to tack our Bridging onto a camping trip that we were planning, they agreed.

And that's what we did!

The Girl Scout camp that we went to has a rope bridge, so that's what I sent each of the Bridging kids across. It fit us perfectly, I think:

Overall, five of my Girl Scout troop of 13 Bridged to the next level this year, including both of my own kids. 

Syd, who in her three years as a Cadette earned the Summit Award, sold over 2,600 boxes of Girl Scout cookies, completed her Silver Award TAP, challenged her fear of heights, and volunteered for both the community and the Girl Scout organization, is now a Senior Girl Scout.

Will, who in her two years as a Senior Girl Scout also earned the Summit Award, sold over 2,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies, volunteered far and wide, figured out what she wants to do for her Gold Award, and challenged herself to earn a huge number of badges in a wide variety of fields, is now an Ambassador Girl Scout. The next time she Bridges, it will be to become an adult member.

It's a privilege to watch my own kids grow up in company with the other amazing young women in my troop. It's an honor to be allowed to mentor kids through challenges, and a joy to watch them persevere, succeed, give their time and energy in service to others, work to learn something new, or just be happy together. I'm as excited for our next adventures as any of them ever are, and I'm particularly excited for our most imminent next adventure--we're going to earn the Space Science badges, and as part of that?


Sunday, September 20, 2020

In Which I am So Disorganized that I Surprise Even Myself

 Sooo... you know how for the past six years I've been griping that we must have lost a box or two during the move to our current house, because there's a bunch of random stuff I know I own but can't find?


Bad news: It contains NONE of the things that I'm missing. Not my two Master's diplomas, nor Matt's undergrad diploma. Not my favorite Steven King books from my childhood. Not my Space Camp windbreaker, which I miss so badly that I can't even stand it. 

Instead, this box appears to be a time capsule of the contents of my mending basket in my old house, plus some baby clothes that I'd been saving (which is awesome, because I hadn't even realized I was missing them!), plus some totally random stuff that I bet anything was just thrown in while we were moving.

Want to see what I was in the middle of mending in the summer of 2014?

The snap on Will's shorts:

The drawstring on a dance bag that only needed to hold a pair of soft leather ballet shoes, a wee little leotard and pair of tights, a brush and bobby pins and bun holder, and a snack:

Now that kid has a dance bag the size of a duffel, and it holds street clothes, extra tights and leos, a jazz outfit, flat ballet shoes and pointe shoes, warm-up booties, a couple of dance skirts, tension bands, a brush and fifteen zillion bobby pins and hair bands, headphones, sewing kit, a water bottle...

..and that snack, of course!

Not pictured are two pairs of homemade pants with busted seams, and one of Matt's shirts with a hole under the arm. When I showed Matt the shirt and asked him if he still wanted me to mend the hole six years later, he said naw, and he immediately put the shirt on and wore it for the rest of the day. Nobody cares if you've got a hole in the armpit of your shirt when there's a pandemic!

Here's what I was apparently also in the process of sewing:

Tiny little stretch velvet leggings:

Syd tried them on but couldn't get them over her ballerina calves. I may have to find some more stretch velvet, though, because they're righteous.

Pillowcase dress from a thrifted hand-embroidered pillowcase:

Man, I really missed out with this one, because even though this would still work as a cute top for either kid these days, neither kid will currently be caught dead wearing a pillowcase top sewn from a sweet, hand-embroidered pillowcase, damnit.

Okay, check this out, though, because THIS makes up for a lot:

You guys, that is a $15 iTunes GIFT CARD, AND IT IS STILL GOOD! Christmas came early this year!

I also found a few keepsakes that I'd forgotten I lost. I was stoked to see some photos I'd printed from Will's pirate-themed eighth birthday party; I lost most of my digital photos a few years ago, so photos are especially precious to me now.

On that same note, I found two CF cards from my first digital camera. I don't own anything that even reads CF cards anymore, so I didn't even blink before I bought a USB thingy that reads memory cards.

You guys, THERE MIGHT BE PHOTOS I DON'T HAVE ON THEM! If there are, I will cry.

I don't know if I ever would have remembered on my own that I own this, but I am SO happy to have it:

It's a pillow sham that my Mamma sewed for me to match my navy bedspread. I don't know what I'll do with it, as it's not to my taste now (nor, if we're being honest, was it to my taste then, but I still remember being so pleased that she'd made it for me, nevertheless), and before I spotted it, in the bottom of that box, I'd completely forgotten about it. But it's brought back to me a vivid memory of my childhood bedroom, furnished with a heavy wooden bedroom suite that I'm certain only missed being mid-century modern because of my grandparents' old-fashioned taste. There was thick grey carpet on the floor, an over-the-door rack that held some of my paperbacks, and my very own tiny little TV,  massive boom box, and half-dozen favorite dolls sat on the dresser. I ruined the closet doors by gluing pictures cut out of Time Magazine all over them, god only knows why, and it's a wonder that we didn't get rats because I also liked to keep a stash of candy and Little Debbies hidden in a cubby behind my paperbacks--I never ate any of it, but knowing that it was there gave me a comfy feeling. 

I don't hoard food or paperbacks anymore, but I do still like to glue stuff to walls. I still prefer to fall asleep to the TV or music, I don't care which, I still have a soft spot for old-fashioned wood furniture, the kind that's hopelessly out of style and does not care, and I still think that handmade gifts are the most precious things that one can own.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

How to Make Realistic Felt Leaf Silhouettes

I originally published this tutorial on Crafting a Green World.

If you're in the mood to decorate your home for autumn, there's no better inspiration than the real leaves right outside!

You can bring them inside and they'll last for a while, preserve them and they'll last for longer, or you can use them as templates to make these easy and beautiful felt leaf silhouettes that will last as long as you like.



My kids and I have used both completely fresh leaves and pressed leaves. It's more difficult to trace an accurate outline of a leaf when it's fresh, but it does turn the project into one that can be done in less than an hour, instead of one that requires cooling your heels for a few weeks while your leaves are in the leaf press.

Cardstock, Pencil, Scissors, Chalk.

You could trace your leaf directly onto the felt, but I like to trace my leaf onto card stock, cut it out, and then use that template on the felt. It's an extra step, sure, but it's much easier to make more leaves using a single card stock template than it is a slippery leaf.


You can go two ways with your felt choice, and both are eco-friendly. Wool felt is a natural material, and Eco-fi, the most readily available type of felt found in big-box craft stores, is a recycled material, made from post-consumer plastic bottles. I own and use both types, although I do prefer the weight of my wool felt for this particular project.

Embroidery floss and needle (optional)

Sometimes, I enjoy embroidering the veins on my leaves.


1. Go out and collect some leaves! Although this makes an especially fun autumn project, you'll likely want green leaves still on their trees. Give them a look over to make sure that they're whole, but don't freak out over small irregularities. One of the things that makes this particular leaf project so nice is that since you're copying actual leaves, each leaf will be different. None of that militant uniformity that you get from artificial greenery!

2. Press the leaves, if you're going that route. Even if you don't put them in a leaf press, you might decide, midway through trying to trace your first curvy, fiddly leaf, that you want to press your leaves for just a couple of hours, at least. Leaves are NOT perfectly flat like paper.

3. Trace the leaf onto card stock and cut out. Felt can hold a lot of detail, so really dig in and try to include as many of the interesting edge details that you can. Cut out the cardstock template, and if you're into it, now is a great time to stop, ID your leaf, and write its ID on the card stock. That way you'll know if you're making a felt red maple or silver maple leaf!

4. Trace the card stock leaf onto felt using chalk. I like using chalk because it shows up well on felt, can be brushed off or washed off with a little water, and is generally a LOT easier to find than the water-soluble marking pencil that I own but loathe because chalk works so much better.

5. Cut out the leaf silhouette from felt. You'll want fabric scissors for this, and even tiny thread scissors, if you've got them. The smaller and sharper the scissors, the easier it will be to capture all the details.

You can simply enjoy your felt leaf silhouettes as-is, or fancy them up with embroidery or fabric paint. You can string them into a garland, or tack them together to make a bunting. Add a loop and use them as name tags on gifts or as Christmas tree ornaments.

What will YOU do with your felt leaves?

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Fabric Baskets for the Kitchen Shelves, or, Something New Makes Everything Else Look Old

 You guys, I might have made my kitchen uglier?

You know how sometimes, when you splurge on something shiny and new, it just makes everything around it look like crap? Like you get a new coffee table (forget the fact that we found our current coffee table sitting by the side of the road a decade ago--I am making a POINT!), and suddenly you realize that your couch is crappy. Or a new headboard, and now you can't stand your comforter. 

All I wanted to do was hide the clutter of a zillion small things on each of the shelves of our open kitchen storage--Will's endless tea bags, all of Matt's cocktail-making tchotchkes, my fourteen homemade and mismatched cloth napkins, etc. So I recalled this fabric basket tutorial, gathered up all my random lengths of random interfacing that are messily stored on my messy study shelves (that at least have DOORS to hide them!), found some stash fabric that didn't NOT match, and sewed seven new fabric storage baskets for the kitchen.

And I used up all my interfacing, so yay!

Unlike in the fabric basket tutorial, I did not pin down the top points or cut off the interior folds:

The baskets are 16" squares, with 3.5" corner tucks on all four sides. The ones that I used my stiffest interfacing in fit the shelf depth of 5" perfectly, but the ones without as much structure are a bit saggy--if you make these, use the stiffest interfacing you can sew!

And now all those tiny things are tidily hidden away, so why do I still hate these shelves?

Could it be because Matt has nowhere else to store his cocktail ingredients, so it looks like the kind of bar hidden behind a false wall of shelving in a gas station? 

Could it be because it's obviously a former literal window, turned into a pass-through when the house was expanded in the mid 1980s?

Could it be because the last time it was painted was that one time in the mid 1980s, and ham-handedly, at that?

Could it be the fact that the pass-through gives an AWESOME view of our messy front hallway?

Could it be the clash between the exact same linoleum of my childhood kitchen, that yellowed 1980s white paint, and that also 1980s-era bare wood?

So, there's absolutely no way that I'm going to replace the exact same linoleum that was on trend for my grandparents, nor am I going to make any modifications to make it less window-like, because to be frank, the shady renovations on my super-old little farmhouse are half the fun for me, but I *might* now be up for repainting, and maybe, if I'm feeling extra spicy, I might even wallpaper over that bare wood.

Here are my current wallpaper contenders. I might be really into that pizza slice one, but don't let that throw you--feel free to tell me which ones YOU don't hate, because I can just about guarantee that you have better taste than I do!

Saturday, September 12, 2020

How to Make a Bean Bag Chicken

I originally published this tutorial on Crafting a Green World.

These cute chickens make great little gifts, and since you can sew them up quickly completely from scraps, no two are alike! So search your scrap fabric stash, then sew yourself up an entire flock of lovable, snuggable, and highly-giftable bean bag chickens.


  • Scrap fabric: 2 squares, 4.5"
  • Felt or fleece scraps, red and yellow/orange (you want a fabric that doesn't ravel for this, or you can get creative by upcycling plastic grocery bags or feed sacks)
  • Two matching buttons
  • A small piece of chalk
  • Stuffing or fiberfill
  • Any combination of dry rice/beans/peas/popcorn kernels
  • Cutting and sewing supplies, hand-sewing needle and embroidery floss


1. Cut two squares of fabric to the dimensions 4.5" x 4.5". I always use two identical prints, but you certainly don't have to.

2. Pin on the chicken parts. From the yellow or orange felt, cut a square that's about 1" x 1". Fold it in half diagonally, and pin it about two-thirds of the way up the right side of one fabric square. Notice in the above pic that the diagonal fold is on top and the two edges of the felt triangle are parallel to the sides of the fabric. Pin in place.

From the red felt, cut another square that's also about 1" x 1". Scallop the top to look like the top of a chicken's comb. Pin it with the scallops facing in and the opposite edge aligned with the top of the fabric square, about a fourth of the way from the top right corner.

Also from the red felt, cut a final 1" x 1" square. Fold it in half, and cut out two wattles. Angle these to be parallel to the diagonal fold on your chicken's beak, and pin them just below the beak, facing in.

3. Sew three sides of the beanbag. Put the two fabric squares together, right sides facing, and sew three sides together. You'll start with the top side, beginning with the end furthest away from the chicken's beak. Sew along the top, taking away the pin that holds the comb before you sew over it, then down the front, removing the pins and sewing the chicken's beak and wattle, then sew the bottom. Don't sew that fourth side!

Turn the beanbag right side out and iron flat.

4. Sew on the button eyes. It would be easier to do this step before you sew the three sides of the bean bag together, but I had a lot of trouble getting my eyes to line up nicely when I did that. Instead, I sew them on after the three sides are sewn and all the rest of the chicken features are in place. Feel free to try both ways and choose what works best for you.

To place the eyes, first, play with the placement of one eye until you're satisfied, then mark that spot with chalk. Use a pencil point or your finger to make a bump in the fabric at that spot so that you can feel where to make your mark on the other side of the chicken. Sew on each eye individually using embroidery floss.

Pro tip: Fold the open edge of the bean bag over a couple of times so that you have less fabric to deal with as you're trying to sew the button eyes on inside the bean bag. It gets much easier with practice!

5. Crease the hem. Fold the raw edges of the hem inside about a quarter of an inch, and iron.

6. Stuff the bird. Grab an amount of fiberfill about the size of your fist, and use it to fill the top of the chicken. Fill the bottom with one or two handfuls of dry rice or beans or popcorn kernels. Stuff the fiberfill down as tightly as you can, to make sewing the last side shut easier. It will loft back out over the course of several minutes.

7. Sew the final seam. You're going to sew this last side in an unusual way, so read carefully!

Take the two side seams and fold the opening so that these two side seams touch in the middle:

This is cattywampus to the way that you sew a regular bean bag, so make sure you've got it figured out before you start sewing. You'll know you've got it right when the bean bag looks like a pyramid, not a square. Edge stitch that final seam closed and sit your bean bag chicken down. It will sit on its flat butt, that final seam is its tail, and the top of the pyramid is its adorable chicken face!

8. Tidy up the beak. This is optional, but I find that for nearly every chicken I sew, I want to trim the beak just a bit to make a cuter shape. Usually, I give the bottom a bit of a curve or a slightly different angle so that the shape is more sophisticated and natural-looking than just a triangle with straight sides.

Once you've gotten the hang of these chickens, you'll find that they sew up quite quickly. 

They make great presents, and since you're using a varied combination of fabric scraps and stash buttons, each one has its own unique personality!