Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Getting Started with Arduino

After my first attempt, I can say that getting started with Arduino is almost as easy as the directions! I have an Arduino Nano v3.0 with ENC28J60 ethernet shield and HTU21D temperature and humidity sensor module. But for reference, I did need to download drivers at Step 3, just not the FTDI driver mentioned. I needed to install a PL2303 driver. There are many other PL2303 driver choices, too: from Prolific itself, on a plugable list, and from mac-usb-serial.

My first swing at it didn't work (no blinking light, but instead an upload error). That problem turned out to be that I had plugged everything into my oldest (and smallest) breadboard. The blink program successfully uploaded and worked with just Nano, and with Nano+Ethernet, so I only had to remove that breadboard to get it working. The first troubleshooting tip I tried was "Try uploading with nothing connected to the board (apart from the USB cable, of course)." Yay, that was it!

I consider my toes dipped in the water!

Thursday, June 5, 2014


Sunday night, while getting my boys cycled through the bath (one at a time due to Karston's toe surgery; he didn't want to take any chances) and getting all of us ready for Monday and oh-my-goodness-how-did-it-get-this-late, I had the thought, "I don't have time for dinner." Not merely was I thinking I didn't have enough time for a healthy dinner that I prepared, I was thinking I didn't have time for any dinner.

Screeeeech! Stop! Put on the brakes!

I may think some silly things, but I'd like to think that I can notice some of it, and improve.

So I thought about the problem while eating a big green salad (luckily that's my favorite food!) that I threw together quickly. In fact, I made two salads so I could chop up the whole head of lettuce. What I do in the late afternoon is fix dinner for my boys, and then fix dinner for myself. Especially when I'm not sure what I want, that can take some time. So I came up with a new plan: I'll eat leftovers for dinner, and then fix something tasty for the next meal(s). I don't have to rush with that meal preparation because I will have just eaten.

And that's what I did last night. I ate the other salad I made, and then I roasted a pan of vegetables (zucchini, mushrooms, onions, and red and yellow bell peppers with a little olive oil and salt). The only drawback is that I made the kitchen smell so good, I want to stay up and eat! Luckily I was too tired to eat, so I went to bed instead.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Self-Irrigating Planter

This weekend, we made self-irrigating planters from recycled water bottles, and planted marigold seeds that I hope will germinate in time for Teacher Appreciation Week.

The Wisconsin Fast Plants program covers the basics of making this planter from recycled plastic bottles. I incorporated the helpful comments on Seattle Sundries, too. Those directions are really useful.

I started with my drill, and made many small holes on the shoulder of the water bottles. I put one larger hole in the shoulder of the water bottles and in the bottle cap. Next I used my utility knife to separate the top of the bottle from the base. I experimented with where to cut until I found what looked good to me. This completed the "adult only" portion of the craft; happily, they enjoyed watching.

I knotted two sections of cotton twine in the middle, and we poked the knot through the hole in the cap with a toothpick. The outside of the cap had four "legs" while the inside had a knot to keep from pulling through. Then the boys screwed the cap on the top of the bottle. Next we placed the top, cap down, into the bottom of the former water bottle. I handed out narrow strips of aluminum foil for the boys to line the planter. One of the comments was that roots don't like sunlight, so unless the plant is to be transplanted, the roots need to shielded. Aluminum foil was the suggestion I remembered, and, well, it's fun to shape! They put a straw over the foil and through the larger hole in the top, and used cotton twine and a small piece of duct tape to fasten the straw securely to the side. Then I scooped in potting mix. We soaked the potting mix with water, and poured out the excess water from the base. Next I cut sections of duct tape, and the boys wrapped all the way around to tape the tops to the bottoms. They put 4 seeds in each planter. To finish this (later), we will wrap the outside of the planter to minimize algae growth in the water (see last item on Fast Plants page).

I don't know how well it will work, but I added the straw to refill the water in the base so the plants can continue to self-irrigate by wicking up the cotton twine indefinitely.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Spring Cleaning Pollen

I started with the idea to make Washable Swiffer Duster Covers from fleece, but I didn't want to cut all of those layers before sewing.

I started with a quarter yard of fleece, 9 inches by 60 inches. I had already used some in whatever project inspired me to buy it in the first place. I took what was left, and cut it in half long-ways. I looked at the length of the prongs on my Swiffer Duster, and started with accordion folds on the fleece, so 4-1/2-inches wide by back and forth folds. I tweaked it a few times to get the folds to work out (no partial lengths).

Next I realized that my sewing machine was NOT going to sew through all of those layers. In fact, it complained loudly just sewing through two layers of fleece (and this is supposed to be a quilting machine? really?), so I made as few seams as possible. I sewed two channels for the two prongs in the middle fold. Remember that the middle line of stitching doesn't necessarily go all the way to the end; check your duster on your fabric to see where to stitch and where not to stitch. I also put in a few stitches at each fold.

Since my sewing machine wasn't going to add as much to this project as I had planned, I needed another idea. (This is where flannel is better.) I took a detour through nylon snaps (this fleece was too thick for the snap prongs I had), but then I was holding the sharp awl from my snap kit for the next idea! With the awl, I worked a hole through all of the layers of fleece. I threaded some coordinating yarn through a large needle designed for yarn. I tied off the top all together, the bottoms on either side of where the prongs insert, and two holes in the middle to hold the middle layers together.

So finally, on to the last step! I cut half-inch-wide strips along the sides. I asked my boys if they wanted to use their scissors, but they wanted to snuggle and watch instead. Once the duster was done, Cale wanted to put it on, and then started dusting everywhere I pointed him. (Hurrah!) There's a lot of pollen on my brand new duster, but that's OK: it's washable and the pollen isn't covering everything now.

If your duster needs enhancement, a very light mist of mineral oil will probably help.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Homemade Laundry Detergent

I wasn't discouraged by my failures at fabric softener, so I decided to make laundry detergent. After reading several recipes (Wellness Mama, Happy Money Saver, and Nature's Nurture), I decided to use this amalgam.

4 cups hot water
1/2 cup grated soap
1 cup washing soda
3/4 cup borax
1/2 cup oxyclean (powdered sodium percarbonate)
1/4 cup baking soda
1/2 cup scented laundry detergent, or many drops of essential oils

Add hot water and grated soap to a large bowl. Stir until well mixed, heating in the microwave if that helps the soap go into solution. Stir in washing soda and borax. Stir in oxyclean and baking soda. If you want scent, mix in a scented laundry detergent or essential oils. Let cool in the bowl for 24 hours. Stir again, and transfer to a lidded bucket that looks to be about twice as large as needed. Place lid on bucket until you're ready to scoop thick goop into your washing machine!

I usually use the drink mixer attachment on my immersion blender to mix this, but anything from a spoon with plenty of elbow grease to a mixer should work. If it's too thick for your chosen mixing approach, add more water to make it tractable - but then you'll need to add more detergent to your laundry. I use a 2 Tbs scoop for my washer.

I found already-grated soap in the laundry section, so that was easy. For the scented laundry detergent, I used Gain, what my mom always used. My laundry "smells like home" although now full-strength Gain just smells too perfumed to me!

My advice on this recipe is to store it in a bucket about twice as big as you expect to need. After it cools for 24 hours, I would expect changes to be done, but this recipe waits a couple days and then really expands. It also gets very thick (I suppose you could use more water, but then you need an even larger storage vessel), so scooping it out from a bucket on this second batch is so much easier than trying to shake it out of the old laundry detergent bottle on that first batch! I don't recall this much expansion from my initial small trial batch made with essential oils instead of Gain, so that may be the difference. So: use a bucket with room for expansion. I didn't expect that much expansion, nor did I expect it to expand a few days after the 24-hour cooling period, so I did have some pressurized laundry soap shooting around my laundry nook. Luckily that was easy to clean in my case (and much of it was contained in the basin that the bottle was sitting in), but I don't want anyone else making this unaware of the delayed expansion. Yay, bucket!

But: does it work? Unfortunately, I can answer that; luckily, to the positive. One of my children had a sudden onset of digestive upset. We changed his clothes in the bathtub, and I shook what bits I could into the toilet. I was pretty sure his clothes were stained, but after rinsing, I put his clothes in the washer. All I had was my homemade laundry detergent, so it was time for the worst-case test. After washing, and again after drying, I could detect no smell and no sight of what had happened. I was very impressed! His clothes were so nasty going in (and I scrubbed the bathroom after cleaning him up), I had already written them off. And, surprise! All clean!

Homemade Fabric Softener (not!)

My dryer has been imparting a lot of static to my clothes, so I started my laundry make-my-own at static. Fair warning: all attempts so far have been failures.

  1. Commercial dryer sheets are so scented that I sneeze just getting one out! I tried making my own dryer sheets by soaking a piece of fleece in a solution of 1 part fabric softener to 6 parts water, and that worked but the fabric softener is itself commercial (same goes for using hair conditioner instead of fabric softener). This approach is also still scented, so not what I wanted.
  2. I tried using 2 Tbs of white vinegar in my washer's rinse cycle, but my clothes and especially towels smelled too strongly of vinegar for me. Yes, even with essential oils.
  3. Adding more baking soda than usual didn't seem to make a difference to static cling either.
  4. Since vinegar contains acetic acid, and baking soda is mildly alkaline, I don't think a mixture of vinegar and baking soda will be effective for very long after the first mixing. (I didn't try it, though. Sodium acetate might be great, but it might still have the vinegar smell. I didn't want to use more vinegar, and want to re-wash laundry. Again.)
  5. Finally, I tried crumpled aluminum foil in my dryer. It got very smoothly rounded in the dryer, but that's the only change I noticed.

That covers the suggestions at ThiftyFun as well as the extra foil one from lifehacker, but I do have another one to try that I hope will work.

Update: I tried the other idea, epsom salt, but it didn't reduce static for me. Looking at what Wikipedia lists for antistatic agents, I'm not hopeful to reproduce that with home chemistry.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Book Corner Bookmark

I made a book corner bookmark (with those very nice instructions) with my boys this weekend. I like this origami method because it uses a small square, no fancy shapes or templates. The fun part for me was selecting an interesting bit of "paper" - I like how the Hershey's Special Dark cocoa looks as a bookmark. The fun part for them was using a white envelope corner, and coloring it to suit themselves. In fact, coloring was so much fun, we never got around to the monster inspiration!