Did you ever learn the song that starts, "Here comes Suzy Snowflake"? Our family was asked to come up with a musical number for a party... and that's what we chose.  And my girls got some great dress-up skirts out of it.  (I told them they're early Christmas presents... and now that we've performed, the skirts get wrapped and put under the tree.)
On the Youtube video below, she shows you a quick way to cut strips of netting: roll the tulle without creating wrinkles; cut the roll into 3” strips.  She used 4 colors, 1 yd each, for a 2-4-year-old’s skirt.  For that shorter skirt, she cuts each strip in half.  She says it takes about 45 minutes to make one; we spent about an hour apiece but that was with my 11-year-old doing most of the tying.
I  used her method but made longer skirts- the biggest of the two was 27" long, the small one was 24" long. So I made the strips 54" long for the first, 48" long for the second. When I got to the fabric store, I found that the more delicate-looking Illusion netting, 108" wide! so I could get twice as many strips per yard- was on sale for $1/yd, so I got that instead of the coarser netting.  I used almost 5 yard for the bigger skirt and about 4 1/2 yards for the smaller one. For the larger snowflake overlay skirt (18" long), I bought turquoise sparkle tulle, folded it in sixths cut a circle with a 22" radius (needed 1 ¼ yds); cut out a circle for the center, and cut it like a very simple snowflake.  The smaller overlay (14" long) only required 1 yard.    By the way, there's a great website that allows you to create snowflakes online and see what they'll look like before having to cut any actual paper.

The snowflake crowns were cut from the bottom of a plastic gallon-sized milk jug, then my girls colored the snowflakes blue.  See the slideshow for photos of that.
 
 
There's nothing that stimulates creativity like boredom does.
My 15-year-old was bored yesterday and came up with this idea:

Draw on wood using the power of the sun.

Normally I'm not a fan of solar power:  a couple years ago, a solar panel manufacturing company was considering building in my city.   Our city council starting reading the research and crunching numbers, and eventually declined the move.  Why?  The council members discovered that when you add up everything it really takes to build and run a solar plant, it takes MORE energy to produce each panel that it will generate in its lifetime.  

Anyway, back to this solar-powered art:

A magnifying glass, when held close to something with bright sunlight behind it, creates a concentrated beam of light, as most any inherently pyromaniac 12-year-old boy might tell you.  

So he used that as his woodburning technique, holding the magnifying glass steady in one spot until a little wisp of smoke appeared, then moving it over a fraction of an inch.  (See the light beam below?)  He freehand drew it as he went, though you could sketch in pencil first (which is erasable!) and then burn over those lines.

Note: there are some safety considerations here, obviously.  One of them is keeping an eye on your child if they try this.  And I recommend doing this in a nice green grassy area that is not prone to catching fire.  Another is protecting yourself from the sun.  He wore a jacket with a hood, since he sat with his back to the sun for about 2 hours to make this.  Too bad he didn't think to put on pants instead of shorts.

Voila!  Wood burning with no specialty tools necessary except a cheap dollar-store plastic magnifying glass!

 
 
My 12-year-old science nut convinced me to buy a red cabbage-  why?   

While walking through the produce section together, I had told him that the vegetable could be used to make a pH indicator.  He was excited.   You can see how to do this in the one-minute video, below.
Meanwhile, you don't need the whole head of cabbage for such a project, so it got chopped up into a creamy, flavorful, no-mayonnaise coleslaw.  The recipe is below this cabbage video. 
Isn't that simple?  If you don't have a coffee filter, any other absorbent paper will work, including (white) construction paper or paper towels.  My favorite is the construction paper.  You can read more about why this works here

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Coleslaw with Bacon and Buttermilk (or Kefir) Dressing
adapted from America's Test Kitchen

If you are going to eat this coleslaw RIGHT AWAY, you can skip the salting step, which keeps the cabbage from releasing water and diluting the dressing as it sits.  However, if you’re not a fan of raw onion, cook it along with the bacon; salting the onion also mellows it.

½ medium head of red or green cabbage, shredded
1 large carrot or apple, grated
½ medium onion, sliced thin
Salt
6 slices bacon, chopped, cooked and drained
½ c. buttermilk or kefir
2 Tbsp. oil (I used coconut oil)
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
½ Tbsp. caraway seeds
¼ tsp. mustard (dry or prepared)
2 tsp. sugar or honey
Black pepper to taste

Combine the cabbage, carrot/apple, and onion in a colander; sprinkle with 1 tsp. salt. Let stand over a bowl until the veggies wilt, 1-4 hours.  Rinse, drain, and pat dry.  Add in the bacon (and onion if you cooked them together.)  Stir together the buttermilk/kefir, oil, vinegar, caraway, mustard, and sugar.  Pour over the salad, and toss to coat.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

 
 
Have you seen pallets lying around your town?  Have you wondered what to do with them?  This video has rapid-fire ideas; some I've seen, most I hadn't! 

Since it's so fast, though, my personal suggestion is to watch it straight through, then watch it again with your cursor on the 'pause' button.

(If you like the tune, it's "Popcorn" by Gershon Kingsley;  my  favorite version is  with the Swedish Chef from The Muppets.  But I digress...)
 
 
Since I live in the area where tomorrow's eclipse is visible (see shadowandsubstance.com for a map) , I looked at the local planetarium's website to see what they recommended doing.  I remember, way back in Elementary school, making a box with a hole in one end to watch the eclipse.  It worked pretty well. 

The website I visited has instructions on making one of these 'pinhole projectors'... read all the way through the comments to find a helpful tip on sizing the hole.  Also in the comments was a simpler method- to use a pair of binoculars backwards... 

Here are the instructions.

"Hold a pair of binoculars with the big end pointed toward the Sun. You only need one barrel of the binocs for this, you can leave the lens cover on the other unused barrel.
The binocular will then project an image of the Sun out of the eyepiece. Tape a piece of white copy paper onto a large piece of cardboard and use it as a projection surface for the image coming out the back of the binocular. Experiment with distance from the eyepiece to hold the paper. A foot or two distance between the binoc eyepiece and the projection surface seems to work best for me. Experiment for yourself.
You’ll see what I mean when you try it."
-from http://clarkplanetarium.org/how-to-make-a-pinhole-projector/

BTW, you do NOT want to look at an eclipse without a special viewing device.  Sunglasses don't count, either.  You can severely damage your retinas.   A funny video that shows what can happen is Brian Regan's "Big Family Stuff", the sun part starts at about 2:58.
 
 
Or, how to make storage space out of 'no space'.
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A while back, I was looking through dehydrate2store.com and ran across this video on building a shelf for your dried food.  It got me thinking about my utility room: a narrow room, no space to set a shelf, but with unfinished walls, with studs exposed.  That could be turned into in-wall shelving.  So I sorted through my pile of wood, pulled out the electric saw, and learned how to use a nail gun.  (It’s loud, but quite fun; an amazingly fast tool.) Of course, you don’t need power tools; use whatever you have available.   Just cut boards slightly narrower than the width between studs.  Don't assume the studs are the same width apart the whole way down; most of mine weren't.  Where you can, nail through the stud into the board.  Where you can't do that, nail at an angle through the bottom of the shelf, so that it goes into the stud.  Put shelves far enough apart that whatever you want to store will fit, plus an extra inch or two to allow you to tip out the jar, can, or bottle. To keep things on the shelf, I ran nylon rope across the fronts of the jars.  It's anchored on both sides by looping it around nails sticking out of the studs.

If you want to build these someplace out in the open, you can use dowels instead of rope- drill holes through the sides of the studs for them to run through.  Or tack across some thin finish molding.  The whole thing will also look much nicer with some molding put on like a picture frame around the entire shelf.



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This was a dividing wall, so there was sheetrock on the back of it.  I got some washable wallpaper for cheap at Big Lots (love the clearance there!), and covered the sheetrock with it before putting in the shelves.  I figured that it would (1)lighten up the area (2)protect and strengthen the wall behind, and (3) make cleaning it a whole lot easier, should something ever spill. 

I also hung a thermometer with a humidity sensor; to see what kind of storage conditions the room really provided. 

So, out of six feet of otherwise useless space, I can now store several dozen jars or cans. 


 
 
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Simple, quick, and a nice size to use almost anywhere.

An old gardening neighbor, years ago, told me, "Make sure you have a place to sit on every side of your house, to enjoy your yard and nature."  This is a cheap and quick way to help with that.

Last week there was a baby shower at my house.  In addition to my kitchen-table chairs, I have about four folding chairs, which clearly wasn't going to cut it for the 43 who were invited.  What to do? 
About a week before the party, I happened to be flipping through the January/February 2011 issue of Fine Gardening magazine. (Reviews here, cheapest here.)
The magazine had instructions and photos for a “one hour bench”.  It looked very simple, and I have a big pile of old boards sitting around, so I decided to build three.  We didn't have exactly the right size boards, but made do.  For instance, the top is supposed to be made of two 2x8's.  I had 2x4's and 2x10's, so I used one of each.  It was time my 13-y-o learned how to build something.  He pulled out the table saw, then measured and cut with me.  (In hindsight, a chopsaw or circular saw would have been simpler.) I put the first one together while he watched, then he built the other two.  Afterwards, he and a younger son painted on some stain/sealer.  The only thing I had to buy for the project was the screws.  Very nice.

So does the bench really only take one hour?  Well, that depends. The magazine gave a list of what wood you needed, cut to which lengths.  If you went to Lowe’s, and had them cut it for you (which they will), and your wood was already cut, then YES, even a newbie could have this together in under an hour.  You might even get the stain on in that time.


 
So how did having the benches work out?  Well, they look great, are sturdy, and have been sat on a couple  times, by my kids.  The weather didn’t allow for us to be outside last-minute.  I borrowed chairs from a neighbor to use indoors.  Oh well. 

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Upside-down, so you can see how it's assembled.  The 2x2's are the white boards here, sitting flush inside against the legs.  Use two screws to connect the 2x2's to the legs.  Then use four screws to go through the bottom of the 2x2's into the seat boards. 
This way, you have no screws showing on top. 
The 1x6's are connected to the bench by screwing them to the sides of the legs, 2 screws each side of a leg.  This makes a huge difference in the stability of the bench.

For a similar bench, see here or here.  If this isn't what you want, try 'the mega-guide to free garden bench plans'.  Some of the links don't work anymore, but it still has a lot to offer.

Materials list:

1x6 boards, 2 each 4 feet long, ends cut at 45 degrees, for the side reinforcement

2x12’s, 2 each 16 inches long, for the legs

2x2’s, 2 each 11 ¼ inches long, for inside reinforcement

2x8’s, 2 each 4 feet long, for the seat

12  2 1/2 –inch galvanized decking screws, to go in the 2x2's

8    1 ¾ -inch galvanized decking screws, to go in the 1x6's

Stain or sealer, if you want.

 
 
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I found this method of securing jars, by accident, just trying to maximize my shelf space.  The metal shelves we bought have a wide lip, which normally means there is a 2" space between the top of your food and the bottom of the shelf up.  It turns out that the lip can be used to keep jars on the shelf. 

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I have to tip the jar to get it in, and then it stays put!  About 3/4" of the top of the jar is hidden- and trapped- by the upper lip of the shelf.

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Another option is to run rope or thick string in front of the jars. Usually I just wrap the rope around the endposts of the shelf to secure each one, but do whatever works.  

Another thing to consider is keeping your shelves from tipping over.  You can buy an L-shaped metal bracket at Home Depot or Lowe's for a couple dollars, use a couple screws to secure one side of the L to the top of your shelf, the other side to the wall.  MAKE SURE IT'S SCREWED INTO A STUD! This works well for bookshelves, too, which is a good thing for people like me whose children often climb when I'm not looking.... 

This week's information is on earthquake preparedness. Have you read up on the local earthquake hazards?  I read a rather lengthy report on hazards in Utah, and just laughed at the section on earthquakes-  pretty much any scenario that might happen somewhere in the world, can happen here on the Wasatch fault.  Some of these things sounded wild- like the whole valley floor tipping and allowing Utah Lake to fill up most of the Salt Lake Valley, or liquefaction of soils (basically, the ground turns to quicksand during shaking, and tall buildings fall over on their sides).  There are 2 main types of "events", as they're called, and we're due for both of them.  For instance, one type (non-surface-faulting, if you want the name) happens every 300-400 years, and it's been 350 years since the last one.  If the LDS Church decided it was important enough to spend the money to retrofit the Tabernacle, and to build the Conference Center to far exceed earthquake building standards, don't you think it's worth doing the simple things at home you can?

Most injuries are from things falling, not from building collapse.  Plus, I don't know about you, but I'd sure hate to lose a summer's worth of canning because they rattled off their shelves.  Or to have my storage area full of broken glass, nevermind the food that had been in them.  There are some very simple, cheap things you can do to secure your food storage.  I don't know how they'd do in the worst-case-scenario earthquake, but it'd be better than nothing.  The pictures above show a couple options. 

The State of Utah recently published a booklet about planning for earthquakes, "Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country".  It's full of good info. Pages 22-23 have more information about keeping your belongings from crashing all over during an earthquake. Here's the link:

http://ussc.utah.gov/publications/roots_earthquake_low.pdf     

 
And for those of you in my neighborhood who ever wondered if there was anything good about our dirt here, there is a silver lining to all that nasty rock in our yards- our soil here in Glenmoor (South Jordan), combined with the location, has the lowest chance of turning to quicksand (liquefaction).   We're also as far from a faultline as you can be in this valley.  (Which really isn't saying much, but every little bit helps!)

 
P.S.   Do you know what our schools' emergency plans are?  Where and when do you get your children if they're at school?    I called our elementary and  middle schools to find out, and the short answer is- stay home until THEY (the schools) contact YOU.  They'll go in lockdown if they need to, or stay outside in good weather, or in case of bad weather or a severely damaged school, the Glenmoor church building is the fallback for Welby; the Dunsinane building and/or Walmart (really!) is the one for Elk Ridge.  When things are safe, they'll allow the students to call home, or you'll get a message via the radio, TV, Internet, etc.

 
Now for the recipe....

Quick Soft Breadsticks

Ready in 20-30 min. Yield: 12 breadsticks

1 1/4 cups flour (measure this one by scooping, NOT by spooning it into the cup)
2 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup milk
3 Tbsp. butter melted
2 tsp. sesame seeds

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Gradually add milk and stir to form a soft dough. Turn onto a floured surface; knead gently 3-4 times. Roll in a rectangle, 10"x5" and 1/2" thick. Cut into 12 breadsticks. (A pizza cutter works best for this.) Place butter in a 9x13 pan. Place breadsticks in butter and turn to coat. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake at 450 14-18 minutes or til golden. Serve warm.    We double this for my family, and bake on a 12x18" cookie sheet.

This dough is very soft. If it's too sticky for you, use lots of flour on the counter when rolling, and be sure to cut with a pizza cutter!