Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Student Environmentalist's Man-Bag

To reduce a bit of brain (and house) clutter around here, I'm on a mission to get rid of things I don't need, and finish things I've started. The former is easier said than done, especially for a magpie such as myself, but I am following this 5-day program to get rid of things, and so far so good. As far as finishing things I've started goes, the sewing pile is getting smaller as I either ditch half-finished, badly thought-out projects, or finish the ones I still like the look of. Which brings me to....the Student Environmentalist's Man-Bag.

This was made from a felted jersey plus a few bits and pieces from my sewing box. The jersey belongs to my friend Kelvin. It was handknitted from handspun wool, and was worn until even all the darning couldn't hold it together anymore, so one could say it had had a long and useful life. However, Kelvin does not like to throw things out, and so I offered to see if I could make it go another round as a new item. I felted it the usual way (60 degree cycle in the front-loading washing machine) then cut the usable pieces out to make into the bag. The pieces deemed as unusable have been used to stuff a draught stopper.

Anyway, the Man-Bag has a certain rustic style that I hope he will like. He's not a student anymore, but it looks like the sort of bag a student would carry, and in any case, we were students when we became friends. The Environmentalist part is definitely still true.

On that note, can I show you some photos of some rather beautiful plants from my last tramp into the hills? First, New Zealand eidelweiss, and below, native Clematis in flower. Perty.

Have a lovely Christmas every one!
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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Storage of the fluffy and red variety

Aaaaages ago, maybe a year ago even, I bought a red wool jersey from the junk shop and machine felted it (The 60 degrees Celcius cycle in my front-loading washing machine, in case you're interested in details.) It came out amazingly well, thick and deep red and felty felty felty. It was so thick that I had trouble sewing it, which shelved my immediate plans to make it into Christmas decorations. It went back into the sewing pile so I could have a good long think about what to do with it.
Last night while blog-surfing I found the right project, which conveniently fits a current need in this house for some small storage containers. I made some little boxes, more or less following these directions over at Applehead. I didn't bother making a lining, because the felt is so thick that it easily holds its shape anyway.

The small one is now my lipstick container.

The large one was immediately stolen by Sylvie "It's my little red riding hood basket." Of course it is.
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Sunday, December 13, 2009

The double headed sea monster

I love my children's artwork. I have a box of Stuff-I-Must-Keep-Forever and it's packed to the gunnels with pictures and stories and paintings. Some are just little doodles that took only a few minutes, like this little picture of a double-headed seamonster. I couldn't take my eyes off this one, I just love it.

Imitation being the most sincere form of flattery, I immediately set out to recreate this fantastic drawing as a toy, complete with the frowning faces (no they're not frowning Mum, they're just naughty, but they like being naughty) and the expressive eyes.

Like all copies, mine is not as good as the original, but it is nonetheless taken to bed with Harry at night, to snuggle underneath the covers. You see why it takes me a year to make curtains? Because I have much more important sewing to do.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Deck the halls with crocheted pavlovas

Oh, hi! How are you this fine Saturday? Look what I bought from the Ka Pai Kitsch'n on Nile St, Nelson...

A small and perfect crocheted pavlova, complete with crocheted cream and crocheted strawberries, all ready to hang on my christmas tree. It was difficult to decide because there were also very gorgeous little crocheted christmas puddings and icecreams, too.

Speaking of decorations, I finished my contribution to 20c mixture's christmas ornament swap (Flickr group here). Originally I was going to make one fabric star for each person, but just one looked a little like a lame duck. So I made two for each person, so that each lame duck would have a lame duck friend to hang out with.

I've gotten some pretty sweet christmas decorations from my swapmates, too. I'll have to do another post next week with the full round up. Today's plan, though, is to get ourselves a christmas tree and decorate it to within an inch of its life.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Joy (to the world)

My first ever job was working as a kitchen hand in a Salvation Army Retirement Home. Most of the people who worked there were Salvation Army themselves, so staff morning teas always started with prayers. I'm not a religious person myself, so I usually just drifted off into a dream world while all this was going on. One day, the receptionist was leading the prayer session. I don't remember the exact words, but it was something like "Please God, please, remind us to stop and smell the roses..." The pause lengthened to a point where bowed heads began to look up, and we saw her shoulders shaking with quiet sobs. Someone quickly jumped in to finish off, and she said nothing more. I have often thought of that moment, how we saw a moment in her life that she probably only intended to be a private one.
I thought of that incident this week. It was when I popped over to my neighbour Joy's house to smell her roses. She has really, really beautiful roses. She prunes and fertilizes and sprays and we get to enjoy them. I have time to smell them, every day if I want to. I am a very lucky person.

As well as having fabulous roses, Joy has a great fruit cake recipe. I made one this morning and the house smells so good.

Joy's light fruit cake

3 lb mixed fruit
1 T golden syrup
1 c wine
1/2 lb butter
1 and 1/2 c sugar
6 eggs
3 and 1/2 c high grade flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 mixed spice
1 t rose water essence

Mix the fruit with the syrup and wine, cover, and leave overnight. Cream the butter and the sugar, add eggs one at a time beating after each addition. Add the fruit and the flour and mix. Bake 4 h at 130 degrees C in a 10 inch square tin.

It's the rose water essence I think, that's the secret ingredient. It smells amazing. What's on your Christmas baking list?

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Experiment 4: Electricity for very small folks

As regular readers know, I am doing science tricks with my 4 and 6-year old at the moment. It's really exhilarating when their little faces light up and they say "Woooooow coooooool!". My biggest problem is finding something that has the requisite wow factor for their age group, when most science education resources are aimed at older kids. This week I was convinced that I'd found The GREATEST Science Trick ever. I was ridiculously excited.

One super awesome idea: Check!
One lemon, some copper wire, a copper nail, a zinc-coated nail, a 1.5 V tiny light bulb: Check!
One battery made from a lemon used to power above-mentioned light bulb: Ready for lift-off!

Here's what to do. Insert a zinc nail into the lemon. Insert a copper nail close by, but make sure it doesn't touch the zinc nail. Attach a copper wire to the zinc nail and another copper wire to the copper nail. Now attach the other end of each copper wire to one of the wires of the light bulb. Stand back, and ..... oh dear...
The lemon didn't supply enough voltage to power the light bulb. Hurrumph. What to do, what to do, what to do....
Wire up several lemons in series! I tried 2, then 3, then 4. Oh dear. That didn't work either.
I know, we'll find something that takes less voltage. Ah ha! The pedometer! (Some people use them for counting steps would you believe! Much better for use in science experiments for small folks I reckon).

You see? See the LCD display ALL LIT UP?! See it working?! (Battery placed nearby so you can tell it's not a rigged shot). It really, truly worked. I was beside myself with glee. "Wooooow coooool" I said, congratulating myself heartily.

There was an eerie silence from the children. My point earlier: most science resources are aimed at older kids. My children don't know how a regular battery works let alone one made from a lemon. They see things lit up from batteries all the time and lighting up the pedometer didn't impress them one bit. As well, all the problem-solving was done by me- I wired up the extra lemons, then knew enough to know we'd need something with a lower voltage drain. They had no investment in this experiment at all, and conseqently no interest. Back to the drawing board then.

Something simpler. Something visual. Something that they can do themselves with tools they use all the time: A simple circuit with a battery and a tiny light. The kids connect the wires to the battery all by themselves using cellotape. (Approximate cost: $3.00 for the battery and $0.86 for the little light from Dick Smith Electronics). They soon worked out that both wires must be attached (it must be a complete circuit) and that the wires must be touching the metal itself. That's pretty good problem solving and they did that all by themselves.

And this is the reaction I was looking for:

The light they made all by themselves was carried around all day, taped to a hat to make a head light, pushed into tiny spaces to see what they could see in there, and was frequently connected and disconnected. That's what I call an experimental success.

(P.S. Even though my very little children weren't interested in the lemon battery, it would be great for older kids. I have loads of copper wire, copper nails, and zinc coated nails leftover and I will gift them to NZ readers until I run out. Email me at misssmithathome@gmail.com if you would like me to post some to you, along with the wiring layout for making a lemon battery. NZ readers only, sorry, postage costs get a wee bit prohibitive to anywhere else.)

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

First aid

I've got lots of little half-finished projects lying around at the moment.
Case in point: A small first aid kit that's been waiting for me to sew it up. I made it from a felted woollen jersey that I bought from the Red Cross Shop for $3.00, with some ticking lining. Very appropriate, don't you think? An item from the Red Cross Shop being made into a red first aid kit, with a cross?

(Okay, I'm whispering this to you now. You know the term "phallic symbol"? Photos of little purses like this with the zip undone, well, they make me laugh because they seem to me to be the female equivalent of a "phallic symbol". Stifled giggles~ fnur fnur).

If you don't mind, I'd like to quickly gloat about how neat the zip is. It's become a point of pride because there have been periods of my life in which my zips were not neat at all.

I followed a tutorial for the first wee purse I made like this, and it was a piece of cake. For the life of me I can't remember which tutorial I followed, but it was similar to this one.

After sewing this I realized I should have used a walking foot to stop the seams from flaring- there's quite a bit of stretchiness in felted wool, and it's pretty bulky. As well, I ran a couple of lines of hand stitching around the inner edge to hold the seam flat and stop it getting caught in the zip. The little cross is a piece of felt, handsewn on at the end with a simple edgestitch. Easy.

What dinky little handmade things are you making at the moment?

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Experiment 3. What does science taste like?

Last time the littlies and I did "science tricks" together we noticed the gas (carbon dioxide) given off when you mix an acid (vinegar) and a base (calcium carbonate/sodium bicarbonate). The kids were dead keen to do the baking soda/vinegar trick again. "Sure" I said "But shall we see what this reaction tastes like? We could make bubbles on our tongues!"

"...Okay..." they replied, in timid voices. I trotted off to the cupboard and brought back the ingredients for sherbet.

Mix together: 1/2 t citric acid, 1/4 t baking soda, and 3 t icing sugar. Grind them up in a mortar and pestle if you have one. Make sure they stay nice and dry.

Now put a little in a glass and get a straw. Suck a little up onto your tongue and feel it fizzing as the acid (citric acid) reacts with the base (baking soda). This is the taste of a real-life chemical reaction on your tongue. The acid will taste sour and tangy, and the sugar will be nice and sweet. There's also a rather scintillating cold feeling- that's because this reaction is endothermic (it absorbs heat to break the chemical bonds).

Baking soda, citric acid, icing sugar: A few cents. Sylvie's expression: Priceless.

Harry thought that adding water might make it into a fizzy drink. We tried it out. It fizzed alright, but the bubbles were gone by the time he drank it. (This showed him that the reaction is instantaneous).

Sylvie thought that the flavour could be improved. We talked about other things we could put in to make a different flavour: powdered fruit drink, jelly crystals, different types of sugar. Whatever flavour you choose, it must be dry, because the reaction happens as soon as you add water.

My old life is creeping into my craft blog, and it feels strange. I think I might have to call these posts "science craft" to avoid freaking myself out.
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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Never, never, never

I love pieces of advice that start with "Never". I always have.
When I was a teenager I worked in a retirement home.
A lady there used to say: "Never marry a man you meet in church".
Here's one from my friend Kelvin: "Never refuse a cup of tea".
From our builder: "Never ask a plumber to cut wood".
My Dad used to say: "Never explain, never apologise, and never do anything for anyone". This was rather funny because he frequently explained, apologised when necessary, and constantly did things for everybody.
From Simon: "Never eat something that's larger than your head".
And from Me: "Never miss an opportunity to show off your latest robot".

Have you got any "Never" advice? Please share.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

This is a robot hijack

Sometimes when I'm making a robot a small person appears at my side saying "Can that be my robot Mum? Please? Pretty please with sugar on the top and hundreds and thousands and chocolate chips?". Well I'm a soft touch for any request sprinkled with chocolate chips so I almost always say yes.
The small folks are so hilarious in how they want their special robot decorated. It's always the biggest, craziest buttons from my button box, and they're not especially into dials and screens or other controls. Just big vintage buttons that make rather eccentric control panels and very spooky eyes, once you sew them on.

I'm perfectly happy to sacrifice the odd robot to their quirky requests, especially if it means they write great stories about them at school like this:

A robot and a person falling in love...sigh, what a sweet idea. I can feel a puppet show coming on starring Spooky Robot and Barbie. She's got to be good for something.
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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Experiment 2. An acid plus a base

Science for preschoolers and small children, (cont). Here's an easy one that you can do in 3 min. Baking soda plus vinegar gives loads and loads of fizzy bubbles.

This "science trick" loosely demonstrates that sometimes, mixing two substances together gives a reaction. If you like, you can start off with some other mixtures that don't give a reaction, just to hammer the point.
For example:
If you mix sand and water nothing happens.
If you mix water and sugar the sugar dissolves, but that's all.
If you mix baking soda and vinegar, you get loads of fizzy bubbles, wow!
We played around with this for about 20 minutes, working out how much we baking soda we could put in the glass without the bubbles fizzing over. In the end we came up with 1 t baking soda and 1/4 c white vinegar.
The chemical reaction here, in case you're interested, is that mixing an acid with a base gives a salt plus water. A byproduct of this reaction is the production of carbon dioxide, which is given off by the baking soda as the acids rip off their hydroxyl group. My kids don't care about that part, and it would kill the fun if I started going on about that anyway. This science trick is all about noticing a reaction occurring.
Okay, that was fun. But do you want to see it in slow motion? Lets use vinegar to react with a different base: an egg shell. The egg shell is made of an alkaline calcium compound. If we drop an egg into some vinegar and leave it a while, the vinegar will dissolve that shell clean off, leaving a funny wobbly shell-less egg.
Here goes: Get a load of this! As soon as you cover the egg in vinegar there are zillions of little bubbles forming. That's the carbon dioxide again, being produced as the acid reacts with the base. All those bubbles make the egg float. It's like watching a lava lamp as it bobs to the top of the jar. The shell starts to dissolve off in layers, see?
After a day, we washed off the last bits of the shell under the tap. It was soft and chalky and washed off with no problem at all. We all held the wobbly shell-less egg.
If you think the kids look a little underwhelmed it's because they are. "That's kind of disgusting Mum", said Harry.
Well, yes it is I guess. Perhaps this is also a lesson in how we do not like it when people use chemicals to mess with our food.
Me: "Yes it's funny to see an egg without a shell. But isn't it cool that the vinegar dissolved the shell off?
Harry: "Um...well I just don't know."
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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Experiment 1. Plants having a drink

Harry is now 6 and is busy planning a career. He wants to be a scientist when he grows up. Even though I used to be a scientist, I would like to say straight away that he didn't get this ambition from me. When he told me his plan, my mind started to launch into a diatribe about the pitfalls of being a scientist for a living. My brain was rattling on about how you think you're going to do something useful in the world but in the end you just end up compromising your ethics by working with big business, who don't give a toss about making the world a better place but only care about money. Thankfully my mouth ignored my brain and said "Yes I can see that you love to find out how things work, and that's what scientists do."
Anyway, he has been begging for science "tricks", so I'm aiming to do one a week or so, just for fun. You will all be tortured with the details, nyah ha ha!

Experiment 1. Plants having a drink.
Background: This is more of an observation than an experiment. It shows how plants drink water.
You will need: Some flowers- white flowers are best; Food colouring. We used blue, red, and yellow, and plain water as the 'control'; Some glasses or jars and some water.
1. Pick the flowers and put them in a glass with some water at the bottom. Add some food colouring to the water- I used quite a lot so that you can see the colours clearly in the petals.
2. Check back over the next couple of hours to see the coloured water start to move through the plants. These flowers had colour at the tips of the petals after only 1 hour. The colours deepened and spread over the following day.

We chatted about what we saw happening. Things that the kids noticed were that it was harder to see the yellow (so we talked about contrasting colours), that the colour was first visible at the tips of the petals (so they drink right up to the top Mum!), that the colours are in stripes (the veins are parallel in these flowers). We also noticed that some of the petals were barely coloured at all. Why is that? I'm guessing that these petals will be the first to fall off, and they didn't show the colour because the plant has already started shutting off those veins. I have no idea if I'm right about that or not. When we looked closely we noticed that the middle of the daisy was showing the colour too, right to the tops of the stamens. Rather pretty I thought.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009


Good morning, would you like an anzac biscuit?

I love anzacs. I feel very patriotic when I make them. The story goes that concerned Mums sent their lads tins of these biscuits during the first world war- does anyone know if that's actually true? I want to believe it.
Whatever their history, they are very delicious. I made a double batch yesterday so we could give some to a kind Mum at school who gave us their family's old spiderman dress-ups, and keep some for ourselves. The chocolate icing squiggle on the top of each one is a contemporary development, not part of the original recipe but everything's better with a little choc, don't you think?
I feel a recipe coming on:
ANZAC biscuits- a traditional NZ treat to be enjoyed with a cup of tea
1 C plain flour
1 C dessicated coconut
1 C rolled oats
2/3 C sugar
125 g butter
1/4 c golden syrup
1/2 t baking soda dissolved in 1 T boiling water
Mix together the dry ingredients. Melt the butter and golden syrup together, then add the baking soda dissolved in water. The mixture will fizz up straight away. Add to the dry ingredients and mix well. Place small balls on a baking tray, flatten them a little, then bake for 15 minutes at 180 degrees C until golden brown. Your entire house will have a delicious rolled oaty goldensyrupy hokey pokey biscuity smell, and this means they're ready. Ice when cold with chocolate icing, if that's your thang.
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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Feelin gooooooood

Remember how I started knitting some socks a while back?

They were going to be my quick-knit project, a wee thing to kick off winter and get my knitting fingers nimble and quick again. They were going to be a fun project that got me some super duper practical knitwear for myself. As well, turning the heel was going to be the thing that flexed my knitting muscles and demonstrated some knitting prowess.
Well, they took longer than I thought. And, what's more, it soon became clear that the wool was roguishly knitting itself into a man's sock, not a woman's sock. Hurrumph. The heel turning was very difficult, but I am rather churlishly blaming the crappy instructions (Spotlight, I cuss at your sock-yarn knitting instructions!). I messed up the heel three times on each sock! Three times for goodness sakes!
Anyway, I left them in a heap of 4 needles for a couple of months, and then came back to them in time for Simon's birthday a week or two ago. Don't his feet look handsome?
Wanna see some more? Go on Simon, lift up those jeans a little and show us some leg! I mean some sock.
And now I am among the knitters who have knitted a pair of socks. It feels gooooooooood.
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Thursday, October 8, 2009


A recent score from one of the outbuildings on the farm: This knitted blankie.
It's a little larger than cot size, and is made from a series of knitted strips. There's so many things I love about this blanket; I love the colours in those bright stripes, I love the knitted texture and the handmade quality of it. Most of all, I love the resourcefulness that went into it. I suspect it was knitted from a heap of scraps. Some of those scraps must have been tiny- just look how small some of the stripes are, some of them are not even a row long.
There is a small hole, which I will repair. Through the hole there is a glimpse of an old blanket, to make this blanket warmer and give it some strength. Another thrilling re-use!

And the back of the blanket is this fantastic bark cloth. They just don't make them like this any more.

This blanket really got me thinking. Perhaps the person who made it really needed a blanket. Perhaps they really needed to use up those scraps. Who knows? But they spent hours and hours and hours making something out of things that most people would have sent to landfill. I love that.
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