Monday, July 30, 2012

Plantable Paper

It is hot in Kansas!  We needed some kid-friendly projects so we made some plantable paper!

Plantable paper is paper that has flower seeds embedded in it.  When you are done with the paper, plant it in a pot or somewhere outside and wait for the flowers to grow!

You need:

Scraps of paper - raid your recycle bin but avoid newspaper.  The print turns everything gray
flower seeds
a blender
some sort of screen
large container that your screen fits into

I didn't have a screen laying around so I had to make one.  I used a piece of scrap screening from when I redid our screen door in the back last spring.  I stapled it to some scrap wood.  It's not pretty but it works.

Fill a container that your screen will fit into with about two inches of water.

My ten year old took the photos for this posting so there are a lot of "extra" pictures (like this one) of things I'm sure you know how to do but he thought would be good for the blog.

Rip up your pieces of paper and put it into your blender.  Fill the blender with water and blend until it's sludgy.  Don't put too much paper in there or it will make paste.  You can always put more paper in if you have too little.

It should be thick and goopy but not pastey.

Stir in a couple tablespoons of your seeds.  We use a wildflower mix.

Dump it into your container of water.

Eeeew!  I know what this looks like. . . .

Get a grip and slide in your screen underneath the goop.  Carefully wiggle it a bit then lift straight out.  Let the water drain.

Put it on a layer of felt.

Cover it with another layer of felt and use a rolling pin to roll it out.  Keep a towel handy because some water will squash out.

Keep on rolling!  (Who says that?!)  When you have all the water squished out, it should look like this.

It will also stick to your screen.

At this point I put the paper face down on a dry layer of felt and rolled the rolling pin over the screen.

That helps "release" the paper from the screen to the felt.

The "prove it" shot my son insisted on taking:

See?  Told you. 

I covered the paper with a layer of felt and rolled over the top of it again, just to make sure all the water was squished out and to toughen it up for our project.

Let it dry and it's ready to use!

Excited to see what they do with it?  Me, too!  They're trying to decide on the "perfect" project for it.  I'm going to say that it will probably include something special mailed to Grammy and maybe, if I'm lucky and there are leftovers, something for me! 

If I do it again:

Not so many seeds!  There are an insane amount of seeds in this piece of paper!

NOTE:  Want colored paper?  Add some tissue paper in the color you want before you blend.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Some Blog Project Updates

There are three projects that I've finished up or improved upon that I thought I'd share.  Click on the heading to see the original posting.


I've made a few batches of this marvelous stuff and have discovered a few things.  First, I replace the baking soda in the original recipe with arrowroot.  It seems to be a bit gentler on my underarms and it works just as well.  You can find arrowroot in your health food store or in the "healthy" section of your grocery store.  It's with the cornstarch.

The other major improvement I made to the deodorant was with the application.  I have a lot of old deodorant bottles laying around so decided to utilize one of them for my recipe.  I took a roll on container and carefully pried out the ball with a flat butter knife (I'm not endorsing this. . . just saying what I did!  If you hurt yourself don't blame me!).  I found that, if I added two tablespoons extra of coconut oil to the recipe, the deodorant turned to liquid very easily.  In the morning, I fill my sink with a few inches of hot water and plop my roll on bottle in there.  I shower and, when I'm out and ready for deodorant, it is melted and rolls on quite easily.  It's easier than scooping it out of a jar, less messy and I don't inadvertently overdo it.  

Laundry Soap

I ADORE this stuff!  It gets everything so much cleaner than Tide ever did for me.  I don't care to have my clothes smelling strongly of laundry soap but I do enjoy a nice, light scent.  The original recipe is almost odorless so I added some Purex Scent Crystals to my soap.  I add about 30 ounces to a batch of laundry soap and my clothes now have a light scent to them.

Stamped Flower Pot

This was a fun little project!  I put a few of my spider babies in the pot and they're doing nicely!  This ended up going to Grammy's house.

That's it for the updates!  I am sure that there will be more "improvements" made to projects in the future and I will be sure to keep you updated!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Let's Make Pickles!

Let's make some refrigerator pickles!

First, my disclaimer:  These are refrigerator pickles.  We are NOT going to "can" these so be aware that these pickles are NOT SHELF STABLE.  They must be stored in the refrigerator.  There is a very good reason for this.  There is not enough acid in this recipe to make canning these pickles safe.  Therefore we put them straight into the refrigerator and let them pickle there, not in the pantry.  What will happen if we put them in a water bath and seal the lids and store them on the shelf?  Probably nothing but I'm not taking that risk.  I only use canning recipes that very precise and very official scientists say have no possible chance of making my family sick.  That's how we roll in my kitchen.

Okay, NOW let's make pickles!

I picked up a nice batch of pickling cucumbers this morning at the Farmer's Market.
These are the small cucumbers that look like they have little black spiney dots on them.  Regular cucumbers don't work as well.  You can usually get these quite inexpensively.  I paid $3 for all.

Start by washing them and trimming off the ends.  I also halve or quarter them, depending on the size.

Why do I trim the ends?  The blossom end of the cucumber can contain some nasty germs that won't wash off very well.  It's a slight risk but, since these will be sitting in a brine for a few weeks before we even begin to taste them, I don't take chances.  I'd rather not contaminate an entire jar just because I was too lazy to trim an end.  I trim the other end because it fits into the jar easier and because I like to eat it.  (I actually eat both sides after I trim it off. . . Yes, I am quite the risk taker but I don't take botulism chances with my family!)

Here's the secret to crispy, crunchy pickles.  Put the cut cucumbers into a bucket of ice water for FOUR HOURS.   You can go longer if you want but it should be at least four hours.

In the meantime, wash some jars and lids.  I put them on the sanitize cycle of my dishwasher just because I'm a little bit of a germ-a-phobe when it comes to my kids' food.  There's enough nasty things already on their food. . . I certainly don't need to inadvertently grow something in a jar for them to eat, too.

For this recipe you can reuse glass jars such as pickle jars, spaghetti sauce jars or other glass containers with a tight fitting lid.  JUST WASH THEM WELL.  I use canning jars just because that's what I have on hand.

When the jars are clean and your four hours are up, start by putting some fresh dill weed, a teaspoon of dill seed and two garlic cloves into a quart jar.  If your jar holds less or more, adjust.  It's not a precise science since we're not sealing the lids and storing them on a shelf so you can adjust for taste.

Pack in your cucumbers.

You need to make the brine.  Mix six cups of water, two cups of white vinegar and 1/3 cup of pickling salt together.  Bring to a boil.  Pour hot brine over the pickles, put on your lids and let cool for about an hour.  Transfer to the refrigerator.

These babies are FABULOUS; these are by far our family's favorite pickle.  Don't forget to take a sharpie and write the date on the lid because you don't want to open them for TWO WEEKS.  It will be a long two weeks with temptation looking at you each time you open the door to the fridge but it will be worth it when you can finally eat one of these crispy, crunchy, pickled perfections. 

We can't wait!

NOTE:  There is table salt.  There's also kosher salt, rock salt, sea salt and bath salt.  Don't use any of those in this recipe.  Use pickling salt.  I'm sure there's a very good reason pickling salt is the right one to use and Google can help you figure that out if you truly care.   I do it because I prefer the taste.  This big box costs $1.50 and has lasted me three summers.

I shared this recipe on my favorite blog. . . Frugal By Choice.  Check out the other great ideas there!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Layered Plants

Yes, I know the title is lame but I couldn't think of anything better.  What would you call these?

Layered plants or not, these were fun to make!  You need a few supplies.  Check around your yard to see if you can find some of it before buying the supplies at the store.

You need:

Potting soil, sand and a few different sizes of rocks/gravel. . .
. . . glass containers. . . .

. . . plant cuttings from existing plants (free) or some rooted plants. . .

. . . and active charcoal.  Active charcoal is a tad expensive and I didn't need a lot so I bought a clearance box of charcoal litter box filters.  Charcoal fish filters would work, too.

This project is so easy!  Start layering your rocks, big ones on the bottom with the smaller gravel on top.  Sprinkle some charcoal on top.  I cut the filters opened and sprinkled one over the top of the rocks.

Add your sand to the top of that and sprinkle on more charcoal.  I used about three tablespoons total - two filters.

Top with potting soil. . .

. . . and plant your clippings or rooted plants.  We trimmed up a philodendron and an umbrella plant and used those clippings.  Soak them for a few days to a few weeks until little roots start to show or plant them right into your soil.  Moisten the potting soil when it dries out.  The charcoal will keep the water fresh so that you don't end up with a moldy mess.

If I do it again:

My daughter and I did these while we were visiting in Idaho and we were supposed to take one home with us!  I forgot!  Next time, one is coming home!!!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Good Grammar is Cool!

Sorry, folks!  This post isn't going to be crafty or creative.  It is, however, going to be fun and exciting because that's what good grammar is!  Good grammar is always fun and exciting!

I'm a grammar nerd.  I am probably one of the few people left under the age of forty (never mind how much under) that can correctly diagram a sentence.  This is all because of a teeny tiny English teacher I had in seventh grade that felt that everyone should be able to diagram any sentence ever written.  Diagram we did.  She was also a Grammar Nazi.

I am not that dedicated but I do get very irritated when I read a "formal" letter and find it full of grammar mistakes.  I cringe when fliers come home in my kids' backpacks and they are riddled with simple punctuation mistakes.  Grammar mistakes in published items such as church bulletins, newspapers and newsletters always make me roll my eyes, especially when the article is written by someone very educated who makes elementary grammar errors.  Proofread, people!
There are always exceptions to the good grammar rule. An informal blog (such as this one), an informal letter (when appropriate - not to your boss!), a chatty email (again, not to your boss), and Facebook posts are exempt from the Good Grammar laws.  Try to get the spelling right, though.

There are probably quite a few of you rolling your eyes at this point thinking: "Geeze.  She can diagram a sentence so she feels like she can tell us how to write properly."  Pretty much.  That, and I used to get paid to proofread.  So there.

This is a blog post, not an English class so I'm going to stick to a few of the mistakes that causes heartfelt groaning and eye rolling on my part when I come across them.

Its or It's:  I know that an apostrophe S sometimes denotes possession (the child's backpack) but in this case it doesn't.  An apostrophe can also be a contraction.  That's what it is in this case.   If you can substitute "it is" when you read your sentence for "it's", then you have done it correctly.  If you can't, use "its". 
The dog wanted water in its bowl.
It's a nice day out!
*** This is also how "your" and "you're" work.

There, Their or They're
"There" denotes a placement.  "We are going there."  "Put the bowl there."
"Their" is possessive.  "They need to put their shoes on."  "The girls need to brush their hair."
"They're" is a contraction.  If you can substitute "they are" for "they're" you are using it correctly.  "They're going to the store."

Here's a fun one:  They're going there to pick up their clothes.

Complete sentences:  Remember the whole "subject/predicate" or subject/verb" lecture you glazed over in high school?  That's what this one is about.  You have to have a subject and a verb in each and every sentence for it to be a sentence.  You can have an implied subject (Go get that! - "you" is implied.  If you can put "you" at the front of the sentence and it makes sense, that's okay) but you can never have an implied verb (unless your name is Jennifer and you grew up in my parents' house.  JENNIFER!! seemed to be an entire sentence in certain situations).  Again, this doesn't apply in informal settings (such as this blog) but please, please try to remember this when you send an email to someone you don't know well or for business purposes.

Apostrophes:  Apostrophes are handy little buggers!  Use them to make a proper contraction (see my comments on they're vs. there) or to show possession (the baby's toy).  DON'T use them to turn the noun plural ("The babies are sleeping." NOT "The baby's are sleeping.").  Make sure to place the apostrophe correctly, especially when you are using it to show possession.  For example, if you are talking about one girl and her hairbrush, it is "the girl's hairbrush".   If you have more girls (sisters, let's say) and they have one brush (or multiple, it doesn't matter) it becomes "the girls' hairbrush or the girls' hairbrushes).  Notice the apostrophe is on the other side of the S.  This shows that you have more than one girl.

Fewer and Less:  If you can count it,  you use "fewer".  If you can't, use "less". 

At this point in my blog post, fewer than ten of you are still reading.
 This posting is less successful than I though it would be.

And, yes, all the "Ten Items or Less" signs at the grocery store are wrong. 

Affect and Effect:  "Affect" is a verb and "Effect" is a noun.  You can affect something to cause an effect. 

Offering a giveaway really caused quite an effect on the business.
Playing the Wii really affects my son's attention span.

There are a few exceptions to this rule but this is a good generalization.

Semicolons and Colons:  Semicolons are one of my favorite punctuation tools.  It is only used in two ways correctly.  First way is to join two complete sentences.  If the sentences can stand alone on each side of the semicolon, you can use it.  Generally, the sentences should be somewhat related to each other.

My daughter slept in this morning; she was up all night at a slumber party.

If you are so inclined, you can throw in a "however" in your sentence with a semicolon.

My daughter slept in this morning; however, she was up all night at a slumber party. 

Make sure the sentences can stand alone without the "however" before using a semicolon and you are probably okay using it!

You can also use a semicolon to separate list items that have punctuation within it. 

My favorite foods include chicken divan, with curry; shrimp salad, with avocados and ranch dressing; and hot lava cake.

On to the colon!  Use it to further explain or introduce a list.

She loves all colors but her favorites are: blue, green, orange and yellow.

She wrinkled her nose in disgust because of the odors coming from the trash: something rotten, something sickly sweet and something bitter.

She yelled up the stairs: "Take out the trash!"

Colons are also used for ratios (3:1), time (12:30) and formal letters (Dear Editor:).

I'm stepping off from my high horse at this point and backing slowly away from the keyboard in hopes to preserve the few blog readers that have made it this far!  Please note that the best way to send something with as few grammar errors as possible is to give it to someone else to proofread!  Having someone else read over your item will help catch any misinterpretations or silly grammar mistakes that we all make.  Also, please remember that other countries have different rules about grammar.  One rule that comes to mind is whether punctuation goes inside quotation marks or outside, even if the punctuation isn't part of the quote.  It depends on where you are.  In England, it goes outside.  In America, inside.  I would say to write grammatically correct per the grammar rules of the country you live in. 

And also remember I didn't have anyone proofread this before posting.

Happy writing!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Chalkboard Flower Pots

I found myself in a situation where I wanted to give two hostess type gifts but I was at a loss of what to give.

I found these:

There are two and they are gorgeous orchids in terra cotta pots.  There is actually a liner inside the terra cotta pot so I assumed  it would be an easy thing to pull out the plant, decorate the pot and slip it back inside.  You know what they say about assuming. . . .

Anyway, it didn't cooperate.  The darn liners were stuck - probably glued in by some guy who didn't realize the creative options he was stifling.  We're adaptable so we adapted.

We decided to turn our terra cotta pot into a chalkboard pot.  This way, we could write our messages of thanks and love on the pot but it wasn't permanent.  If the recipients wanted to wipe it off and write something witty or fun on the pots themselves, they could.

Start by taping off any area you don't want painted.  I thought a two toned pot would be cool so I taped off the rim.

Since my chalkboard paint was a spray paint, I needed to cover the plant.  I took a grocery bag and cut a round hole in it.  I slid the plant into the bag and taped the bag to the blue tape already there.

 It's tied loosely at the top.

Spray paint your pot.  You could do any color.  We decided to go chalkboard.

Let dry and remove your tape and bag.

Write your message with chalk and give as a gift!

If I do it again:

Two coats of spray paint would definitely be better but the kids did these and one time with the spray paint was enough for my nerves.  Next time it will be two coats!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Making Soap with the Kids

This is such a fun craft to do with the kids and the results can even be gift worthy!

We made soap.

This soap smells pretty, exfoliates and is super moisturizing.

You need:

One bar of Ivory Soap
Essential Oils in a nice scent
Olive Oil
Coarse Cookie Decorating Sugar in a pretty color

Also grab a cookie cutter in the shape you want (or a bunch of cookie cutters) and some waxed paper or other paper.  Old newspaper would work great, too.

Put a piece of waxed paper or newspaper inside your microwave on the plate.  Cover most of the inside bottom of your microwave.  Put the bar of Ivory soap in the middle and microwave on high for two minutes.

Wait for it. . . . 

 There it goes!

Pretty cool, huh!?!?  Don't worry, it's hard, not soft like soap bubbles.  And it's soap so, really, how messy is this mess exactly?

Take it out and let it cool.  It takes about twenty minutes.  Put it into a bowl. . .

. . .  and start breaking it up with your hands.  It should be the consistency of powder.  Chunks are okay.  If you come across a piece of the soap that didn't expand and is soft and sticky, re-microwave just that part.  We usually find a soft and sticky middle that we have to put back in for an additional minute.

It should look like this when you break it apart.

Sprinkle in some of your sugar.  I didn't measure but would guess about two tablespoons.
Add your essential oil.  I like Jasmine.  Add to your taste. . . some people like it stronger than others!

Now start adding in olive oil one teaspoon at a time.  Use a fork to mix and keep adding the oil until the soap just BARELY starts to stick together.

This is good!  Pack it into your cookie cutter and gently push the molded soap out.  You want to really pack it in.

Dry overnight at least.  It won't be quite as firm as the Ivory soap bar you originally started with but it will be solid.

Package up pretty and give as a gift or be selfish (like me) and keep them for yourself!

It's a fun craft to do with the kids.  To make it easier and less fancy, you can skip the sugar and use water instead of olive oil.  Other times, I've added some food coloring and water to the soap and let the kids pack some huge cookie cutters with the mix.  Showering is just more fun when they're using something they've made! 

If I do it again:

Normally I do clean up.  I push the excess soap on to the floor and sweep it up (adding water is a bad idea until you get most of it picked up.)  This time I had the kids do clean up.  They tossed the bowls and cookie cutters into the dishwasher without rinsing.  I didn't notice.  I figured this out when I was running the dishwasher and it started spouting foam everywhere.  SO my "if I do it again" will be:  I will make sure the dishes are rinsed BEFORE loading them into the dishwasher.

I shared this project on Frugal By Choice.  Take a peek at her blog. . . it's one of my favorites!