Tag Archives: How To

Thrifty Living: How To Make A Terrarium Ornament

30 Jan

As you may remember, some friends and I decided to make this year a Handmade Christmas. What gifts I gave were either thrifted or handmade.  While browsing my local craft store for Halloween decorations in September I found a bin filled with these empty plastic ornaments and immediately I knew I’d be turning them into terrariums come December.

If you’ve never made a terrarium before I have a beginner’s tutorial as well as an assortment of terrarium inspiration and information. Terrarium ornaments are simple to make and it was fun to give my friends the gift of something green and growing during the cold winter months. The medium-sized ornaments were a $1.50 at my local craft store, which meant that even I could afford a bunch to give as presents.

Materials:

  • garden soil, preferably damp, hold the gravel
  • plastic ornaments from a craft store, medium-sized
  • paint brush or chopstick
  • tweezers
  • weeds, moss, or other small plants
  • a funnel (or a piece of paper cut to size and rolled to make a funnel)
  • a small shovel

If making tags like mine you’ll also need:

  • decorative paper
  • glue or rubber cement
  • scissors
  • pencil

Instructions:

1. Take your soil and mix in drops of water (or use a spray bottle) until you have damp–but not soggy–soil.  Soil with good drainage works well, so look for the kind that has bits of Styrofoam mixed in or that is specially made for succulents and cactus. Valley soil is perfect because it’s so sandy, but you probably don’t live near me, so look into your local soil first to see if you can use it straight from the ground like I did.

2. Remove the wire topping of your ornament and fill the it a third of the way full of soil using your trowel and funnel. Make sure any rocks or gravel pieces aren’t going in. While they are useful for drainage they also add weight, which we don’t want.

3. Gently pluck some weeds from the ground (or from the fancy container you purchased your plants in) leaving the roots intact. Gently use your tweezers and the stick end of your paintbrush or chopstick to poke your plant through the hole and arrange so the root side is in the dirt. This is the trickiest part, but also why weeds are a good choice: they are used to growing in challenging circumstances and bouncing back even after they’ve been shoved in a jar.

4. Add a few (very few) more drops of water, replace the top, and there you have it–and awesome handmade terrarium ornament that took you all of fifteen minutes to make.

Let’s say you are giving these as a present and want to make a gift tag like I did. No problem, it’s easy! I used the tags that were already attached to the ornaments because they were simple and sturdy.

1. Leaving the tag on the ornament, trace its shape onto a decorative piece of paper using a very sharp pencil. Include a mark for the center hole.

2. Cut out and use that tracing to make two tags for each ornament you are making.  Cut them out.

3. In each tag, cut a slit and a hole for the plastic ring to go through. This is difficult for me to explain, so if you need a visual, click here.

4. Glue the decorative paper to each side of the tag. I used rubber cement and then set a book on top of each tag to prevent warping.

5. Finally, add the person’s name or a holiday message with a pen. A really good idea would be to include simple care instructions on one side of the tag as terrarium maintenance isn’t exactly a common skill. I did not do this because I only just thought of it, but I wish I would have.

I tried making these with both the larger ornaments and the medium-sized ones and it turns out that the medium-sized ones are far better. I wanted the large ones to work because they could hold more plants and maybe even some plastic toys, but the thin wire ornament tops wouldn’t support all that weight and the whole thing kept falling apart. Not a good sign. The medium size worked perfectly.

You can decorate these with plastic toys as long as they are small, lightweight, and will fit through the opening. You can adjust them with your tweezers and paintbrush once they are in. Ribbon would be a lovely way to accentuate and hang these ornaments, too, if you don’t like the look of the plastic ring or the tag. The fact that these ornaments are so simple is what lends them great potential and versatility.

This project was extra thrifty since I had all the materials on hand except the ornaments. If you try this, please let me know! I’d love to hear how it worked for you.

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Featured On: Make And Takes! Children’s Terrarium Tutorial

23 Aug

I am so excited today I an hardly stand it: today I am a guest poster for Make and Takes Summer Camp series! I have been avidly reading and voraciously bookmarking Make and Takes for over a year, so imagine my excitement when I found out I could create a children’s terrarium tutorial as a guest poster.

Check out the post here.

I have loved this blog even before I had Isobel. Though a large part of the site is geared for or with children, you don’t have to be a parent to find inspiration and wonderful ideas there. Craft ideas, inspiration, and food–I’ve pinned the hell out of that website on Pinterest and saved hundreds of bookmarks and now I hope someone will take inspiration from my post.

Head on over to read my Children’s Terrarium Tutorial. And give me a high-five while you’re at it.

Derp

3 Feb

A while ago we were driving around, and Anthony asked me to explain what “herp derp” meant. He also asked me where it came from. I told him that I’m pretty sure it sprang up organically from the internet. The idea sprung to life whole, like Athena from Zeus’s head.

So it came from 4chan, he said.

But I really don’t know where it came from, I told him, but it’s one of those memes that makes perfect sense. I didn’t need anyone to explain to me what herp derp meant. The first time I heard it I understood.

I have no idea what it means, he said.

I tried to explain. I said something like when someone’s dumb they’re all HERP DERP HERP DERP! I flailed my arms about in an instructive manner. I herped. I derped.

Stop, stop, stop, he said.

My explanation only made him more confused as to its meaning. And I may have been forbidden from ever trying to explain it again. Herp derp, I thought

About a week later we drove off to have a romantic lunch date, just the two of us. When our food arrived, we immediately stopped talking. That’s when I noticed the table of agribusiness types next to us. They were complaining, in their typical way, about taxes, brown people, and the decline of Real America. Something like that. Anyway, they were dumb.

It really made me want to turn to Anthony and say, with my Outside Voice, “Gee, honey, aren’t you glad we have taxes and Obama and Health Care Reform?” To which he would have answered, “¡Si!”

Later in the car, although I had been forbidden, I decided to risk it.

Anthony, I said, those businessmen, at the restaurant, they were TOTALLY herp derping all through lunch.

That time he got it.

How to Create a Terrarium

3 Nov

Creating a terrarium is incredibly easy.  If you’ve wanted to make one but have been too nervous to get started, I hope that by the end of  this post you are going to wonder what all the fuss was about. Anyone can make one, and this is the perfect activity to do with school-aged children—it’d start some neat conversations about biospheres and the processes of life.

First thing to note is that I am calling all of these creations “terrariums” even though in the strict sense of the word they are not: most of mine are uncovered environments, meaning they don’t develop their own little enclosed ecosystem. I call them terrariums to convey the sense that they are contained within glass. Enclosed terrariums are a lot trickier to establish than open ones but are still simple to put together.

Along with terrariums you may have also heard of vivariums. They are terrariums that function as a living environment for captive insects, reptiles, or amphibians. You have the challenge of creating an ecosystem not just for the plants involved but also for other creatures. Those are much more complicated and time consuming. For now, let’s just stick with plants, shall we?

Choose Your Container

The kind of terrarium you create will depend on the type of container you have on hand and the type of plants you are going to use. You’re going to want to match the plant to the container, or vice versa.

STEP 1: Choose a glass or clear plastic container. Either wipe out the inside with a rag or swish some water around in it if it’s used.

Pick Your Plants

My favorite type of plant is the succulent, but you absolutely don’t want a humid, enclosed terrarium for them. They like dry conditions and well-drained soil or else they rot. If you have your heart set on an enclosed terrarium, use moss, ferns, or my favorite, spider plants. Spider plants are always having little spider plant babies and in my experience aren’t deterred by an enclosed terrarium. Moss and ferns love a humid environment. I’ve never grown moss (it’s not wet enough around here to occur naturally) but I’ve had no trouble establishing ferns in enclosed terrariums.

STEP 2: Have your plant ready. Choose one that’s on the small side.

Lay The Foundation

Terrariums need some sort of rocky base for the excess water to drain into. Horticultural charcoal is really nice if you have it. It helps absorb excess moisture that could lead to fungus growth and rot. I’ve used it with good results, but then I ran out and just proceeded on with rocks and soil and it turned out fine. I’ve used decorative gravel from a big box craft store, treated aquarium gravel from the pet store, and actual gravel we just happened to have in the backyard. At first I was a little worried that the treated gravel would have wacky, unintended results in my terrariums, but I haven’t noticed anything strange because of it. The gravel from my yard worked just as well as the gravel from the craft store, but it wasn’t as good-looking, to be honest.

STEP 3: Fill your empty container with about an inch or so of pebbles. This depends on the size of your container, but an inch or two should be fine. If you are using horticultural charcoal, add it in a thin layer on top of the pebbles.

Add Your Soil

I usually use a sterile potting mix. If you get peat or some perlite mixed in that can help with drainage. I’ve also added in soil from my backyard, too when I was running low on potting mix. One time I created an enclosed terrarium but did not use sterile potting mix. A gnat of some sort laid eggs in the soil and within two days my lovely enclosed terrarium was swarming with tiny flies. It was nauseating.

STEP 4: Add your soil. Make sure it is very moist. It shouldn’t be dripping, soggy-wet, but it should be moist. I like to add about two or three times as much soil as pebbles, but this depends on your container. How much soil you need depends on the plants you choose and how deep their root systems go. Three or four inches of soil, or even more, has worked for me.

Add Your Plants

Moisten the soil and add your plants. The trick is to add very small plants. You don’t want to add a plant that looks like it would fit—you want to go much smaller. If you add a plant that fills out the terrarium already you are going to have to repot the sucker immediately or it will outgrow your container. Start with miniature-sized versions and expect them to grow.

STEP 5: Transfer your plants like you normally would when repotting. Gently pull it out of the pot, loosen the root ball, and set it in a hole you dug inside the terrarium. Cover gently with soil.

Add Aesthetic Touches

It’s traditional to add a little figure or statue to your terrarium. It’s definitely not necessary and I don’t always add them, but small toys can be an extra fun step in creating terrariums. When I bought my egg-shaped terrarium it came with two vintage, hand-painted figures: one a tiny mushroom and the other a miniature swan. Personally I like to add toys to the mix: a dinosaur, or a gnome, or tiny plastic ninja. It’s fun and cute but certainly not necessary nor needed.

Some people get very creative with their terrariums and they landscape the soil as they put it down to give their terrariums hills and valleys. Or they sprinkle the surface of the soil with gravel or sphagnum moss. Terrariums look lovely on their own but think of it as gilding the lily.

STEP 6: Add gravel, rocks, figures, or other decorative touches. Completely optional.

Growing Tips

The frequency and amount of water will very per plant and container. If the terrarium is enclosed and the soil is moist enough, you won’t need to do more than an infrequent misting with a spray bottle. Sometimes a trickle of water from the watering can once a week is all that’s needed. Succulents like their roots to dry out in between watering but ferns like to stay moist. If you can get a good condensation going on the glass of your enclosed terrarium, then you needn’t interfere.

Terrariums do best in indirect sunlight. Never place them in direct sunlight because the temperature inside will rise and kill your plants. Too little water is better than too much water. Overwatering promotes the growth of bacteria and fungus.

Repotting

Reassure yourself with the knowledge that some terrariums are not going to last forever. Sure, there’s the trial and error of establishing a plant, but even when things go well your terrarium might only last a season. Some plants do so well in terrariums I’ve had to repot them after a few months because they’ve outgrown their container. Some plants I’ve been able to keep going for six months to a year before they ran out of space, but some plants more and some plants less. This isn’t a failure—it’s a success.

External Links

My awesome friend Kate (whose home is so gorgeous her kitchen was featured in Better Homes and Garden) started this terrarium group on flickr. It is by far the coolest group and has tons of amazing terrariums for inspiration. Kate made me a moderator of the group and I invite people to participate whenever I can. If you create a terrarium please add it to the group! We’d love to have you.

I am not an expert on terrariums. I’m just someone who loves them and who has made a few and wanted to share what works for me. You can find more information about terrariums here:

Here’s a teaching activity about creating an environment in a soda bottle.

This guy’s all about terrariums.

I really like this site.

If you use this tutorial to create a terrarium, please share it! If you post yours on flickr please add it to the terrarium group and add a link in the comments here so we can see your work. If you have any questions let me know and I’ll answer them as best I can.

Shake Your Cloth Diaper Booty V: FAQ & Resources

16 May

And now, a handy guide to Frequently Asked Questions in Cloth Diapering.

How many cloth diapers do you need?

This is a tough question for me because we really do not have enough. I think we started with 17 but now have 15 because we’ve had two get messed up in the washing machine and the elastic came out. Now that I’m typing this I realize we really should have sent those back to the manufacturer as they were under warranty. Damn.

My cousin suggests having at least twenty. She does diaper laundry every other day or every third day, so she probably has more than that.

Although we’re just getting by on diapers, we actually received an extra stack of hemp liners, and if you can afford it, I recommend you go for it. You’ll need extra liners incase you lose one or need to line the diaper for diaper rash cream.

What the heck am I supposed to do if my baby gets diaper rash?

Technically, you cannot use any butt creams or ointments with your cloth diapers as residue buildup will interfere with your diaper’s absorption abilities. If you do use an ointment it would be in violation of your diaper’s warranty, so use it at your own risk.

We did read about a technique, however, wherein you can use diaper cream if you put an extra diaper liner between your baby’s butt and the diaper. When you change the baby’s diaper you’ll need to set that liner aside and wash it separately from your regular diaper load because of – you guessed it – residue. This apparently does not void the warranty, but you should check your manufacturer’s instructions to be sure.

Some babies tend to get diaper rash and some babies don’t. Isobel was not a very rash-y baby but one thing that did tend to make her break out was intense heat. Soaring temperatures in late July and August meant a sweatier baby which naturally leads to rash. Keeping your baby as dry as possible down below is best, and my pediatrician even recommended giving Isobel diaper-free time in the heat of summer.

Some argue cloth diapers decrease the instance of diaper rash because they aren’t made of unbreathable plastic and chemicals, but some argue the instance is the same because cloth diapers are warmer in summer. Diaper rash is not the end of the world, it’s treatable, and happens to every baby. I don’t think one diaper or the other is to blame.

What do I do with poop?

When your baby is a newborn, the volume of their poop is so small that most of it will be taken care of by wiping your baby’s bum. As your baby gets older, what you will need to do is collect the solids with toilet paper and flush them down the toilet. If your baby has diarrhea this will be less pleasant than if your baby conveniently formed his or her poop into little balls for you. Ether way, collect the solids with toilet paper and flush them. Then take out the liners and dump the diaper and liners into the hamper. There’s nothing to wipe off with urine, just take the diaper apart and toss in the hamper.

Some places off a poop rinse gadget (don’t you dare google that, just click here) for rinsing the poop from the diaper. I assure you I have never needed that. Even Isobel’s blowouts have been easily handled by wiping off the excess with toilet paper and flushing it away. I know some people really like their poop rinse gadget, but perhaps they also like paying $45 bucks for a toilet attachment. I don’t and I’m saying that in my opinion, it’s not necessary. Your mileage may vary.

We do have a technique for diaper doodie duty now that she’s mobile. When she was a newborn it was easy to just leave her on the changing table while we took care of the mess. Now, however, that would be dangerous, so we set the dirty diaper on top of the closed hamper and finish changing her. When that’s done, we put her in her crib so she’s safe while we tend to the cleaning of poop and the washing of hands.

We’re fortunate that our nursery is very close to our bathroom. If you own a large mansion and your nursery is on a different floor from the nearest bathroom, make the maid do it.

Isn’t washing cloth diapers in the washing machine gross?

You’re gross.

Can I use cloth diapers as soon as my baby’s born?

They do make cloth diapers with a little cut out in the front especially for newborns. The important thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want anything rubbing or chafing your baby on his/her tender umbilical cord area. Not only is it an unpleasant feeling, it could cause infection. You want to leave that whole area alone. Plus, newborns need their diapers changed about fifteen times a day, so you’d need I don’t know, millions of those little diapers for a two week period.

Basically, you can use cloth diapers from the get-go if you buy the special newborn version with the cutouts for the cords and if you want to launder a ton of diapers after pushing a buckethead of a baby out of your vajayjay, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Buy the disposable diapers for two week and forgive yourself because chances are you’ve done worse things in life.

Where do I buy all this crap?

Crap comes FREE with the purchase of every baby! Cloth diapers and supplies will run you a little more.

DIAPERS

Doing a cloth diaper search in google shopping will give you a ton of results. I got all mine through Amazon, however because it was easy enough for me to register there.

I personally use BumGenius 3.0 and I go into detail about the pros and cons here. A little hint: if you are having a girl and anticipate having more children, don’t register for 15 million pink diapers like I did. This will prove expensive if my next child is a boy.

We registered for a bunch of extra hemp liners to have on hand, such as these.

DIAPER PAIL LINER

Searching diaper pail liner will also give you a slew of results, however the one I use and love can be found here. Remember to get more than one or you’ll kick yourself later.

HAMPER

I had a very hard time finding a hamper to work as a diaper pail. All the ones I’ve found online have been rather pricey considering they were plastic baskets, and since they are large, shipping was more than I wanted to pay, too. I had several unsuccessful runs at Target before finding a trash can that was about $7.00 and fit my needs perfectly. Moral of the story: you’ll have better luck finding something cheap if you look in the wastebasket section. Sticking the word ‘baby’ on an item and stores feel justified in charging $20 more than they would otherwise.

WET BAGS

I got all my wet bags on etsy. I particularly recommend  monkey foot wet bags—secure and adorable!—but searching etsy for ‘wet bag’ or ‘cloth diapers’ should yield more results than you ever thought possible.

LAUNDRY DETERGENT

Remember, check with your manufacturer for the best soap for your diapers. Double-check, so as to not void the warranty. I use Charlie Soap which you can buy online. I think I heard it’s available at some natural foods stores or Trader Joe’s, if you happen to live near one. I don’t.

POO SPRAYER

Do you have $45 bucks you don’t need? You can buy a Poo Sprayer! Just click here)

PRODUCT REVIEWS AND FORUMS

Product reviews, diaper tips and a forum can be found at The Diaper Pin.

This site has reviews and giveaways but you have to register.

Tons of cloth diaper info can be found at All About Cloth Diapers.

If there are any other questions relating to cloth diapers or something you’d like me to go over again, don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments. My cousin Liz really helped me get started in this and I would love to return the favor for someone else.

Happy pooping!

Shake Your Cloth Daiper Booty III: Washing Instructions

14 May

Where the magic happens

Where the magic happens

LAUNDRY & SOAP

The chore of laundering cloth diapers is the trade off for all the money you save from buying case after case of disposable diapers. Cloth diapers are kinder on the environment, too, but the fact that they are laundered and therefore use more water is something I worry about in our drought-plagued Valley. You do the best you can.

Cloth diapers have to be washed in a very specific kind of laundry soap that won’t leave a residue and therefore interfere with the absorbent properties of the diaper. The good news is that using ‘special soap’ doesn’t have to be more expensive. It certainly can be, and each diaper manufacturer either sells laundry detergent or has their recommendations.

I use Charlie Soap, which is effective and affordable. The drawback is it’s unavailable at the big box store and must be ordered online (although I have heard some specialty stores sell it). You pretty much can’t switch back to regular detergent while using your diapers because of the residue problem, so find a detergent you can commit to. I always wash my diapers with hot water.

WEAR, SMELLS & STAINS

Isobel is about as poopy as your average kid and we haven’t had any problems with smell. It all comes out in the wash, as they say. I’ve rarely had an issue with stains and the times I have they’ve bleached out after a couple of hours of sitting in the sun. After a year the fabric on the diaper tends to pill, but that problem is simply cosmetic. The only wear that’s an issue is with the Velcro itself. This is what the diapers look like after one year of heavy use:

I really don’t have enough cloth diapers so I do a load everyday. I did daily laundry pre-baby as well, although that probably wasn’t the best environmental practice. The loads I do these days are much fuller with the addition of diapers. I have no qualms with dumping the whole diaper pail liner full of soiled diapers into the wash with my clothes. I just don’t. I wash them in hot water with soap and have never had a problem. Urine washes right out and solid poop is flushed down the toilet. I know some people have issues with soiled diapers in the wash, but every thing comes out clean, and frankly, I think that’s a little silly.

I personally think Diaper Genies are gross, and had I not already been poised to use cloth diapers, one look at the Diaper Genie and I would have run to the internet for cloth diaper resources. Storing weeks of soiled diapers in a compressed pellet in your baby’s nursery, with its foul chemical ‘air freshener’ smell, is a far more offensive thought to me than washing diapers in a washing machine.

But to each their own. I can’t fault anyone who doesn’t have the resources to afford the initial investment of cloth, or the parents who can’t handle the extra laundry, or even the parent that does not mind the Diaper Genie. That is their choice, and I salute them. I can’t help but roll my eyes and sigh, however, when a parent tells me that washing my cloth diapers with my clothes is gross.

Regardless of whether you chose cloth or disposable you will have to deal with the smell of poop eventually. We do have a garbage can in the nursery, of course, because Mama Juani, who cares for Isobel once a week, prefers disposable and we use disposable diaper wipes. (Isobel also wears disposable diapers when she stays the night at Grandma Livia’s house. My MIL actually wholeheartedly supports our using cloth diapers, but we simply don’t have enough diapers to send away with her for the weekends.)

I take out the nursery trash once a week unless there’s a diaper in there or some major stinky poop happened. Since I do the laundry once a day (or thereabouts) the laundry itself does not make the room stink (again, unless there’s been some thunder down under, and then I am sure to wash a load soon).

Next post: The Necessary Accessories