Category Archives: Innovation

Make-It Monday: Grape slicer

Here’s another trick that’s been making the rounds on all the Pinterest-clickbait sites. I hadn’t really had occasion to use it until the other day, when I was making another batch of cranberry sauce, but it works well, with a few caveats.

Cutting through a zillion individual grapes takes FOREVER.
Cutting through a zillion individual grapes takes FOREVER.

I add grapes to my cranberry sauce, because they taste good and give it a more assertive texture. The down side is that they have to be cut in half. Standing around cutting individual grapes in half is a pain, but I remembered a trick I’d seen for slicing cherry tomatoes and decided it probably would work just as well with grapes: Lay a handful of whatever small food you’re slicing on a cutting board, put a plastic lid on top of it, and press down gently while you run a knife just under the lip of the lid to slice through all of the grapes/tomatoes/whatever in one fell swoop.

Hold down the lid to keep the fruit from squirming out from under it while you slice.
Hold down the lid to keep the fruit from squirming out from under it while you slice.

In one of the pictures, you can see the edge of a big bread knife, which I’d thought might work well — most of the clickbait pictures I’d seen showed someone using a serrated blade considerably longer than the width of the lid — but in reality, big knives are unwieldy, and I’m klutzy, so I ended up sawing through the lid and making a mess of the grapes. I swapped the bread knife for a plain old steak knife, which was easier to handle and made a much neater cut without damaging the lid.

If you’re just slicing a handful of tomatoes for a salad, I wouldn’t bother getting out the lid, but if you have a large number of small fruits or vegetables to cut, it’s definitely worth rummaging around in the recycler for a plastic lid to speed up the process.

Emily

Tiny Tuesday: Magnetic knife block

FYI: We made an IKEA run last weekend, so my next three entries are probably going to be extolling the merits of my purchases. As always, I wasn’t paid anything or given any free products to endorse; if something is posted here, it’s because I tried it and liked it and thought somebody else might, too.

I think it might be illegal to pin a picture of a tiny house that does not include the obligatory magnetic knife bar mounted on the wall above the backsplash. They certainly show up regularly. I usually ignore them, because as much as I love saving space, I am completely unwilling to get rid of the freestanding knife block Ron bought me a few years ago:

Ron bought this for me shortly after I was hired as a crime reporter for the paper here. Don't act like you're not jealous.
Ron bought this for me shortly after I was hired as a crime reporter for the paper here. Don’t act like you’re not jealous.

While I was at IKEA in St. Louis last Friday, however, I noticed they’d dropped the price of their magnetic knife bars to $9, and I decided one of them might be perfect for all the awkwardly shaped or oversized kitchen tools I couldn’t quite fit on the back of the cabinet the other day.

It was, indeed, perfect. All of my big spoons are now out where I can reach them easily, and I’ve saved a little space in the cabinet drawers and on the counter.

Very handy, very easy to install, and highly recommended. Mine happens to be an IKEA product, but in looking online, I found everybody from Target to Williams-Sonoma seems to carry them, in prices ranging from $5 all the way up to $50. I can’t imagine there’d be much difference among manufacturers — there are only so many ways you can put magnets in a metal case and hang them on a wall, right? — but it’s probably worth reading reviews before you order, just to be sure.

Emily

Tiny Tuesday: Multitaskers

As we continue working toward our tiny-house dream, I find myself increasingly impatient with single-function products. My current house isn’t tiny, but it’s small, and I don’t like cluttering it up with fiftyleven different bodywashes, shampoos, cleaning solutions, scouring powders, stain lifters and assorted other one-trick-pony products.

Instead, when I go shopping, I look for multitaskers: products and tools I can use for at least two or three different purposes, thus reducing the amount of space I need to store them.

I’ll do a blog on appliances and tools at some point in the not-too-distant future, but in the interest of keeping this blog to a manageable length, today’s focus will be products. Here are five multipurpose products I keep on hand and highly recommend:

Cider vinegar is easily the most versatile product in my pantry.
Cider vinegar is easily the most versatile product in my pantry.

1. Cider vinegar. Without a doubt the most versatile chemical in my house. Cleans; disinfects; degreases; dissolves lime deposits; opens clogged drains; kills fruit flies; neutralizes odors; lifts stains; preserves foods; curdles cheese; leavens cake; dresses salads; preserves pickles; and serves a multitude of other purposes — all for about $3 a gallon. Get a big jug and a spray bottle and keep it handy for basically everything.

Vinegar's chemical opposite -- and its best dirt-fighting partner.
Vinegar’s chemical opposite — and its best dirt-fighting partner.

2. Baking soda. Leavens cookies; helps unclog drains; absorbs odors; smothers grease fires; soothes insect bites and stings; makes a handy scouring powder; and doubles as toothpaste in a pinch. Do NOT use it as carpet deodorizer if you have pets, however, as it can cause upper respiratory problems for them.

A must-have for a beekeeper. Ammonia neutralizes bee venom and reduces recovery time for stings.
A must-have for a beekeeper. Ammonia neutralizes bee venom and reduces recovery time for stings.

3. Ammonia. If you can clean it with ammonia, you can probably clean it with vinegar, but ammonia is a better glass cleaner; neutralizes acid-based odors (vomit, for instance); discourages ant infestations (spray the areas where you see them to neutralize the formic-acid scent trail they’re leaving for the rest of the colony); and perhaps best of all, if you soak a paper towel with ammonia and apply it to your skin immediately after being stung by a bee, it will neutralize the venom and thus reduce the effects of the sting. It’s not as safe as vinegar, however, so be sure to keep it out of reach of pets and children.

Nature's scouring powder.
Nature’s scouring powder.

4. Borax. Whitens clothes; draws stains out of carpets; kills bugs; teams with washing soda and Ivory soap to make laundry detergent; and makes a great scouring powder when baking soda isn’t quite enough.

This stuff is so versatile. Bonus: It smells like strawberries.
This stuff is so versatile. Bonus: It smells like strawberries.

5. All-in-one shampoo and conditioner. About 30 years ago — shortly after the first shampoo/conditioner combos hit the market — I read a magazine article about packing for vacations, and the author recommended traveling with them because they take up less space in a suitcase and stand in for shower gel, shaving cream, and moisturizer in a pinch. I use them all the time — not just during vacation — although I have to supplement with lotion and conditioner during the dry winter months. L’Oreal kids’ shampoo smells nice and fits neatly in my backpack.

What are your favorite multitaskers?

Emily

A nerdtastic proposal

Ron posted something on his blog the other day about a British celebrity couple traveling Route 66 and hoping to avoid the paparazzi. One of them, Catherine Tate, played Donna Noble on Dr. Who.

Given the time-travel quality of the Mother Road, the TARDIS really wouldn’t seem out of place on Route 66 — which brings me to the most nerdtastic idea I’ve ever had: Life-sized replicas of famous sci-fi time machines placed along the Mother Road in strategic locations. They’d need to be positioned very carefully so geeks traveling 66 could use them for clever photo ops, with the time machines in the foreground and various historic landmarks in the background, but far enough from the landmarks themselves to avoid disrupting more historically accurate images.

For example: Why not stick a TARDIS across 66 and just west of Seaba Station so you could photograph it with that awesome old outhouse?

How hilarious would it be to find this in the middle of rural Oklahoma?
restrooms.jpg
Imagine this in the background behind the TARDIS. You know you'd shoot that. Don't even try to tell me you wouldn't.

Or how about parking the Delorean from Back to the Future on that abandoned stretch of I-44 near Newburg, Mo.?

This would be great ...
... in front of John's Modern Cabins.

You’d have to put Bill and Ted’s phone booth out there someplace, of course:

Inconspicuous yet entertaining.
Perhaps Bill and Ted would enjoy stopping for a photo op with the Gemini Giant.

That steampunk-looking time sled from The Time Machine would look spectacular parked at, say, Little Tin Barn:

The only question ...
... is whether anybody would even notice the Time Sled sitting there with all this craziness in the background.

Or how about a Stargate out between Glenrio and San Jon?

How awesome would it be to find this ...
... on this lonely stretch of road?

Of course, the Enterprise has been known to boldly go through time as well as space when the occasion warranted. A life-sized replica would look about right in the Texas Panhandle, which is already sprinkled liberally with roadside oddities, courtesy of Stanley Marsh 3.

To boldly go ...
... to Conway, maybe? Can't be any weirder than the giant cross to the east in Groom or the Cadillac Ranch at the western edge of Amarillo.

Once I got started talking about sci-fi on 66, Ron offered up what might be the simplest and most potentially unnerving of all possible geeky roadside attractions. It’s not a time machine, but how creepy would it be to run across this …

… in the middle of the Mojave Desert?

It would freak me right the hell on out if I saw the sun setting over the monolith as I approached Cadiz Summit.

I could also see the TARDIS or a Stargate showing up along 66 somewhere between Hackberry and Kingman, perhaps in the general vicinity of Giganticus Headicus.

Emily

How cool is this?

Craftster Best of 2010 Winner
I’m a Craftster Best of 2010 Winner!

One of my classroom projects actuallly made Craftster.org’s “Best of 2010” list!

Remember the chalkboard number lines I made out of yardsticks and blackboard paint to help my kids get the hang of graphing inequalities? I posted them — and the little robot chalkboards that went with them — on Craftster, mostly to offer a little inspiration to other teachers who might be lurking around there. I’m not sure how they beat out so many awesome projects in the “Miscellaneous” category, but there they were on the list!

Incidentally, Craftster is a terrific site. The creativity over there makes my occasional outbursts look downright tame by comparison. A few examples from the “best of” list:

Homemade deodorant. Based on the ingredients, this looks as if it would actually work very well.
Video game-themed manicure. I’ve got some fake nails in the bathroom that I’ve been thinking about attacking with paintmarkers. Hmmm….
Crockpot granola. Also known as “what Emily is making for breakfast tomorrow.”
Adorable eyepatches. Mad props to this little girl’s mama for thinking up a cool way to turn something potentially traumatic into something fun: Little kids sometimes freak out over eyepatches, but the other kids all thought this little girl was cool, because her kittycat eyepatch made her look like a kick-ass pirate with excellent fashion sense. Bonus that her cat-with-an-eyepatch design reminds me of the illustration one of my students drew while we were reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” during class one afternoon. ,|..|
Stained-glass window. Dazzling.
I think I just figured out what to do about my ugly-kitchen-light-fixture problem. I just need to round up about two million LED Christmas lights.
How adorable is this?
Love this. I’ve been plotting something similar, in a different color scheme, for my kitchen chairs.
This one is definitely on my to-do list for next weekend.
Love this.
Bumblebee!
Clever Shrinky Dink ring. I think Princess Wiggly and I need to get together soon, because this looks like a perfect project for her.
Craziest spice jars ever. I’m totally stealing this idea.
Coolest purse ever. The Green Woman motif has me contemplating the possibilities of a soft-sculpture sheela for my vaguely-Irish-but-mostly-just-garden-themed kitchen….

There’s plenty more on the list. Go take a look. Just don’t blame me if you end up in the throes of an overwhelming creative outburst by the time you get done looking through all the cool stuff other people thought up.

Emily

Chalking it up

My Algebra I kids are learning to graph inequalities on a number line. To teach them effectively, I needed a tool that would allow them to graph several problems in rapid succession, with answers big enough that I could see them from halfway across the room. After some thought, I came up with a number line written on a yardstick that had been coated on one side with chalkboard paint. I used the inch markings — which were stamped into the wood — as guides to keep the spacing even. They were cheap (less than $30 worth of materials for the whole project) and worked really well.

The picture above shows one of the number lines and another little tool I made for the classroom: I took cardboard cutouts of robots (available from Michael’s for $1.99 a dozen) and sprayed them with the chalkboard paint. The kids will use them to show me their answers to problems they work in class.

Here are some closeups of my handiwork:

I like the robots. They’re kind of like those dry-erase paddles you get at teachers’ stores, except they’re a lot cheaper ($5 for a class set instead of $105) and a lot cuter. I’m hoping they’ll overcome some of the kids’ shyness about sharing answers in class. Calling out an answer is scary, but holding up a cardboard robot with the answer written on it is just funny.

The other cool thing about using homemade items in class is that they make the kids feel loved. My kids always get really excited when they find out I made something for them myself: “You made that? Really? How long did that take? I can’t believe you spent all that time making that just for us!”

Handmade means something to them. My mentor/saboteur at my first teaching job understood that. She had her faults, but her classroom was a very warm, inviting space, with handmade valances at the windows and little craft-show decorations everywhere. It felt more like a friend’s kitchen than a gritty urban classroom, and that really resonated with the kids.

It occurs to me that I have spent 12 years hoarding my bad experiences with this woman and dismissing the good. Until this minute, I don’t think it ever occurred to me to acknowledge what she was doing right or to consider that she might have loved her kids as much as I love mine. There’s another blog entry in that, but I’ll save it for tomorrow, as it’s getting late tonight.

For now, I’ll just bask in the knowledge that I am healing, be it ever so slowly.

Emily

Lovely evening

Today started out rather shakily — I got up much later than I’d planned and had the nagging feeling that I’d just cheated myself out of half my Saturday — but once I got going, I picked up steam.

We went to Sapulpa for lunch at Chinese Family, then went down to the Frame Shoppe to get a gameboard laminated for classroom use. Frank gave me a very generous discount because it was for school (or maybe just because he’s looking out for a fellow roadie).

After we got back, I relaxed for a little while and then got to work on the question cards for the game. I found some inkjet postcard blanks on a shelf in my office and used them to make the cards, which saved me a lot of time. They turned out very well.

I mixed up a bottle of horchata and put it in the fridge to chill while I took Gretchen to the lumberyard to get boards for a collaborative project with another teacher. I came home with 10 boards, which I cut into two-foot lengths. Any Saturday that includes both Gretchen AND power tools is a goid Saturday, as far as I’m concerned.

I’m about to give the bathroom its weekly scrubbing and head into the tub for a soak and a facial, followed by a mug of hot cider, some homemade kettle corn, and a Bogie and Bacall movie.

Hope you’re having a good Saturday, wherever you are….

Emily