Make Magazine & Instructables projects

My my. Welcome July! I guess we're settling in to the cadence of summer. I work from home on weekdays. I do my Scots Gaelic practice on duolingo. I do exercises from Lynda Barry's book Making Comics. I go running. When I wake up, I write morning pages. I kayak by myself or with various family members, preferably early in the morning.

And I try to help my kids with learning about the world and having new experiences. One way to do this is by MAKING THINGS.

Make Magazine is very useful if you like to make things.

First published in 2005, there are currently 73 issues of Make Magazine. It's full of ideas for things to construct and try. Because the magazine is mostly projects, you can really dip into any issue and find something. Over the years we have accumulated maybe half of the issues.

Here are a few pages, below, that show a typical Make project. It describes step by step how to take an old VCR and hook it up to a food chopper to create a cat feeder.

The project cleverly utilizes the auto-record feature of the VCR to run the apparatus and feed your cat at a pre-set time.

Because of a household interest in Make magazine, we started investigating Maker Faires, which are "festivals of creation, invention, and resourcefulness." There's a giant one annually in the Bay Area, and also one in Tokyo. Lucky for us, we also found the Pioneer Valley Mini Maker Faire that we attended in April 2019. Here's a photo of the inside part of the faire.

Here we saw a vacuum robot that could pick up a ball, turn, and place the ball into a basket. We also saw photos taken from near-space by a young person who had rigged a camera to a weather balloon and sent it high above Massachusetts until it could see out to Cape Cod.

There were also a bunch of booths outside on the lawn, and food trucks, and yet more activities taking place around Smith College campus. One of them was a 3D printing activity in a computer lab. Using a free online app called Tinkercad, which we had to sign up for on the spot, one of our family members created a keychain attachment that can be printed out from the next 3D printer we run across. When we got home that day, he did some more tinkering on Tinkercad, which makes it very easy to create and save all manner of 3D projects.

Enter Instructables, a vibrant online community of makers.

Fast forward to Halloween. A last-minute decision to create a Minecraft costume entirely from cardboard led to a request for me to print out some PDFs from a site called When I went to open the website, I found that I was already able to log in, because our Tinkercad account (through Autodesk) is connected to Instructables. Cool! And the website turns out to have tons of projects that are THINGS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE TO DO now that it's summer. And we have done some of them!

Project 1: Homemade puff pastries involved layering with butter, folding, and lots of refrigeration. They were impressively flaky.

Project 2: Jackie Kennedy's Amazing Waffles involve beating egg whites and separately beating the batter, then combining into an uber-fluffy mixture.

They baked up real nice.

Project 3: The DIY cat tent. Assembled from 2 wire hangers, an old T-shirt, and some cardboard, this hidey-hole is a cat's dream. Sadly, ours has been largely ignored by local felines, perhaps due to a lack of fluffiness within.

Next up: The Chicken Playground looks awesome, but we would need some chickens as well. Probably some more baking will happen though!

Happy June 2020

Well I don't know what happened to the rest of May. The calendar tells me it's June. I hope you are doing OK-ish wherever you are. Things have been a little nuts in the US for, well, since before we were even a country. There's a lot to sort out. I hope that 2020 really is the year we've been waiting for in terms of WATERSHED MOMENTS and POSITIVE CHANGE.

This is the last week of remote school learning for my two children, so I'm going to be stopping the "specials" that I've been doing with them on school-day afternoons (except for Fridays). But here are some highlights of what we've done in the last few weeks.

Money Matters

You hear people say "They never teach you anything useful when you're young. Like, they never teach personal finance!" Well I'm not letting this happen to my kids. We had a frank conversation about money as a social and political construct. We discussed saving money, earning money, and borrowing money. We talked about large debts that are kind of OK (like a mortgage) and small debts that are pretty much not OK (like one with a high interest rate). We talked about the idea of interest--how it can work in your favor if it's interest compounding on savings, but work against you if it's accruing on a debt. We checked out our household's monthly mortgage statement and goggled at how much of each monthly payment goes to interest rather than principal.

We also made a list of typical expenses for everyday grownup life, such as electricity, cat food, water/sewer, groceries, housing, phone and cable, car loan, and insurance.

Finally, each child set a goal to earn a certain dollar amount by doing chores and tasks over the summer. I'm planning to make some charts to help us keep track of this over the coming weeks. I hope this was a useful lesson.

Plant identification

For this activity, I offered a financial incentive if the kids could name 50 plants without help. They did it!
  1. White clover
  2. Grass
  3. Plantain
  4. Dandelion
  5. Wood sorrel
  6. Peach tree
  7. Buttercup
  8. Maple tree
  9. Fern
  10. Chive
  11. Thyme
  12. Sage
  13. Basil
  14. Summer Squash
  15. Mint
  16. Lavender
  17. Parsley
  18. Viola/pansies
  19. Iris
  20. Lily
  21. Rose
  22. Lupine
  23. Radish
  24. Kale
  25. Cucumbers
  26. Tomatoes
  27. Barberry
  28. Bloodroot
  29. Wild black raspberry
  30. Rhubarb
  31. Tiger lily
  32. Elderberry
  33. Nettle
  34. Lilies of the valley 
  35. Violet
  36. Honeysuckle
  37. Spruce
  38. Garlic
  39. Nasturtium
  40. Pear tree
  41. Milkweed
  42. Bleeding heart
  43. Oak
  44. Strawberries
  45. Blueberries
  46. Red clover
  47. Peony
  48. Apple tree
  49. Balloon flowers
  50. Succulent
Items 1-39 were in our own yard, then we walked around the block to find 40-50. (I gave credit for plant categories rather than specific names in some cases.)


I had some melt-and-pour soap materials from a past Christmas gift project. We got it out one day and made layered, cucumber-scented soaps using a simple mold that came with the kit. One soap layer was a pale aqua-green, and a greenish-white layer was poured over that.

I was impatient with the second layer so we poured it before the first layer had completely hardened, but I really like the cloudy whorled effect. Others were not as pleased. Here are the unmolded soaps. Unfortunately the cucumber scent seems to attract tiny ants... it is some kind of ant-nip.

Historical Computing

Some say that the pandemic/quarantine period is the time to do things you've been putting off and would never do at any other time. One thing I've been putting off for years is turning on the ancient Macintosh 512K computer that has been stashed in the basement since we moved into this house. The computer was a big part of my teens and early 20s, and I was terrified that it would no longer work, and then I'd be sad at having to say goodbye to it. But it worked!

Some not so good news: It can only read one of the discs that we tried. It wasn't the Flight Simulator, or the Puppy care program, or the Wizardry game to which I have dedicated hours of my life, or the knockoff Tetris, or the discs of saved writing--both mine and my deceased father's. The one disc that worked was MacWrite, which is like an early version of Word, and fairly useless.

Also the disk eject mechanism has failed, so we had to use the paperclip method to manually eject every single disk. However, we now have a new project to put off for a long period of time, which is to watch YouTube videos and figure out how to repair the thing. Maybe I'll finally work up to getting rid of it before that happens.

In other news, I'm happy that it's strawberry season.

In Vermont, COVID-19 cases now total 1,027.

How are you?

Weeks 8-9: Robber Barons & Rhubarb

Hello! How are you doing?

At some point I'm going to stop counting weeks of this pandemic. I will remember that our lockdown started on Friday the 13th of March, and then 2020 unfurled from there.

Things are continuing to open back up in our state of Vermont. As of yesterday there were 933 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our state, which puts us way down at the bottom of the list along with Montana & Wyoming. I don't know if it's possible for this "flattening" trend to continue after things open up more, but I hope so. Our neighboring states of New York and Massachusetts have many many more cases (340,000 and 82,000 respectively), but they also contain the major urban centers of the whole Northeast so I guess they're very different from our backwater area.

The past weeks have been a bit abstract for the "specials" that I'm doing Monday-Thursday with my two children, but here are some highlights.

One day we looked at a book about the history of Brattleboro, Vermont, and found that "Jubilee Jim" Fisk, one of the robber barons of the 19th century, is buried here. Apparently his father, James Fisk, Senior, lived in Brattleboro and built the Revere House hotel downtown (which burned down in 1877). When Jim Jr was murdered by the new lover of his ex-mistress, the body was brought back to Brattleboro. I thought this sentence on the Lost New England site was interesting: "An estimated 5,000 mourners – equivalent to the entire population of the town at the time – were on hand when his funeral train arrived in town at almost midnight, and his body was brought to the Revere House."

Here's where we got really interested--Jim Fisk, Jr's grave is a monument sculpted by none other than Larkin Goldsmith Meade, Brattleboro's famous son (he was actually born across the river in Chesterfield, NH). Larkin Meade created the "snow angel" on New Year's Eve, 1855 (a marble replica can be seen today in our public library). Meade also carved the first statue of Ceres to top the Vermont state house in Montpelier (his pine version disintegrated by 1930; today there is a third version of Ceres in that spot). And GET THIS, he also designed the tomb of Abraham Lincoln.

So obviously Larkin Meade was the perfect choice to memorialize Jim Fisk, Jr. The monument is in the Prospect Hill Cemetery on South Main Street. It is an obelisk surrounded by 4 female figures that represent different aspects of commerce: railroads, steamboats, finance, and the stage. (Fun fact: Fisk co-owned an opera house in Manhattan.)

west side



east side

Cemeteries are a perfect field trip during a pandemic, by the way--social distancing is easy.

On another day we talked about poetry. We discussed simple poetic forms like haiku and limericks. We reviewed six types of poetic "feet" (iamb, trochee, spondee, pyrrhic, dactyl, anapest) and came up with examples of words or phrases for each one.

I read Shakespeare's sonnet #18 (Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day) and we looked at line 9 in particular ("But thy eternal summer shall not fade") as a perfect example of iambic pentameter (10 syllables with stress on every other syllable). If you're not going to click through and read the sonnet, I want to tell you it's where "the darling buds of May" comes from.

We also wrote some of our own poetry, using the theme "summer." Here is a haiku by a participant (with scene drawing from Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets).

turquoise air in earth
lily fern ice breeze melting
summer flowers bloom


For baking day this week we made lattice crust "Be-bop a-re-bop Rhubarb Pie," which is a 3-2-1 Michael Ruhlman recipe. This ratio-driven pie crust (3 parts flour to 2 parts butter to 1 part ice water) makes the flakiest, yummiest pie crust ever. I only ever make it once a year when it's rhubarb season.



After: yummmmmm

I constructed an "ant moat" to protect the pie from the little ants that come to find anything sweet that might be on our countertop. I filled a wide shallow bowl with water, put an inverted ramekin in the middle, and set the foil-covered pie on the ramekin so the pie is sitting above the water and cannot be crawled on. HA.

Nettlekopita: Nettle hand pies

April/May is nettle season. If you're lucky enough to have nettles in your life, here's a delicious way to use them. Cooked nettles are like a hearty spinach (but even richer and tastier, in my opinion), so I like to use them in place of spinach in Greek-inspired hand pies. I call it "Nettle-kopita."


The main ingredient is one pound of fresh stinging nettles (Urtica dioica). I harvested these from my beloved nettle patch. I weighed nettles as I harvested. This is what a pound looks like.

Also at the ready is crumbled feta cheese...

Onion and garlic ready to saute, and two friendly eggs...

And only a portion of the melted butter I will end up using.


1 pound fresh nettles
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs
1 cup crumbled feta
1 stick butter, melted (more if necessary)
1 pound fillo dough (my package had 13 sheets)
1/2 t dill
1/2 t oregano
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper

Preheat oven to 375F.

Steam nettles, then chop.

Once cooked, the nettles have no sting

Ready to chop


Saute onion and garlic in extra-virgin olive oil. Add dill and oregano.

In a large bowl, mix crumbled feta with 2 eggs and pepper. Add chopped nettles and the onion-garlic mixture to the feta mixture. Combine. Divide the filling in half in the bowl (just move it apart), then divide that in half so you have 4 sections of filling in the bowl.

Get your pie-making station-ready, which should include a large quantity of melted butter, a pastry brush, and an oiled sheet pan. The main requirement for pie-making is to brush everything with melted butter so it will be flaky and crispy once baked. Also, follow the fillo dough package's instructions for thawing and for keeping the dough from drying out (I did this by covering it with waxed paper every time I removed a new, paper-thin sheet). For each pie, use 1/3 of one of the 4 sections of filling (goal is 12 pies total).

Build the pies. I used one sheet of fillo per pie, but there are other methods and if you know them, feel free to use them!

For each pie, I brushed half a sheet of dough with butter, folded it over, then brushed the top with butter and turned so it was a horizontal rectangle. Next I added the filling a few inches from the edge, folded in the side and the top and bottom edges, brushed with butter, and rolled/flipped the pie toward the far edge, brushing with butter at each fold.  Place finished pies on a sheet pan as you work. If you run out of butter for brushing, melt some more.

I had an odd number of phyllo sheets, so I made a couple of triangular pies that had extra dough in them. When done, make sure everything is buttered on top.


Bake for 30 minutes until brown. Let cool a bit before eating. Enjoy!


Do you eat nettles? I used to get them at the Brattleboro Farmer's Market (if you go on the right Saturday, once a year) before I started growing my own.

Pandemic Week 7: A Snail's Pace

Does it seem like strange things are happening with time? Work-from-home days seem to stretch into infinity. Fridays are much longer than Tuesdays, and not in a good way. Wednesday and Thursday keep posing as each other. Saturday and Sunday are about 5 minutes long combined. Yet I can't believe it's already May. Is it because my normal cues for the passage of time have been removed? It seems like it's perpetually March, yet somehow almost summer. I am so confused.

Let's capture some action items. Let's align on a clear glide-path. Let's revisit our cadence. Let's do a deep-dive and double-click on that idea and then circle back. Let's reach out and do a gut-check with a temperature-read. Let's get more bandwidth to deliver the ask so we're not out of scope. Let's cover off on that offline. I'll ping you with a heads-up about the inflection point. This is an exciting opportunity to optimize our positioning.

(This #corporatespeak segment brought to you by conference calls at my job and around the nation.)

In non-work life, I picked back up with a daily hour of home-school instruction on topics of my choosing.

On Monday we discussed the etymology of the word "etymology" and that it is not the same as "entomology." Then we chose interesting-looking words from Harry Potter books and researched their word origins, including linguistic roots.

It got cut off in my photo, but I was very interested in the word "shunned" because it was the only one that's not directly a Greek, Latin, French (or German doctor) root. Shunned is from the Old English word "scunian," meaning to avoid out of fear or for self-preservation. (The word is used by Remus Lupin, who as a lycanthrope has been shunned his whole adult life.)

I was also excited about the word "incandescent" (Dolores Umbrage becomes "incandescent with rage"), which when broken down means "to become so heated as to emit white light." It has the same root as the word "candle."  I also learned that Exchequer has the word "Checker" in it on purpose, because in the olden days the royal accountants laid out a green & black checked cloth that helped them track revenue. It was checkered, so the department became the "exchequer." We also noted that the modern word "cheque" is right in the middle, a clue that it's related to money. There is so much packed into our beautiful language!

Tuesday was sunny, so we got out and did some gardening. We measured where our theoretical dwarf peach tree could go, and paced out spots for cucumber, tomatoes, squash, and greens.

Wednesday was also outside. We did some interval training (planks, jumping jacks, squats, crunches, and so forth). Then we played a vigorous game of freeze tag. This is when the person who is "it" tags another player who must freeze in place, but can be unfrozen by the remaining player unless he/she also gets frozen. I learned a new word, which is "puppy-guarding." If you are "it" and you freeze a player, you can't lurk around that player waiting for the other person to come unfreeze them. That is "puppy-guarding" and is not allowed.

Thursday was baking day. It was the least successful one so far. We followed a recipe that called for a box of commercial brownie mix, but the mix was so fudgy that it never set properly. It tastes good though.

In other news, I went to the store this week! I tagged along on one of my spouse's weekly hunting and gathering expeditions. I wore a cloth mask and bought a lot of useless yet satisfying items, like brie, chocolate, and incense cones.

For school, teachers have been sending links to zoo cams. This week my kids watched a tiger snoozing, a burrowing owl brooding, and some penguins getting fed (at the San Diego zoo). They were critical of the giraffe cam, which only showed antelopes.

Penguin feeding time! And an exciting marketing opportunity for Alaska airlines

I'm still learning Gaelic on my phone through duolingo. We are into the underwear portion of the curriculum.

Hello Eilidh! I have underpants on.

Now it's Saturday again and I have a few hours to fit in a whole week's worth of scheming. I wish you luck with whatever it is you're trying to squeeze in or stretch out in these weird times.

Today there are 879 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in my state. The numbers seem to be flattening out, BUT we have also generally not left our homes for 7 weeks. Once things start to open up, will the numbers start to climb again?  I took this screenshot on Thursday, April 30, and I'm not even sure what it means. 

Week 6: Discoveries!

This past weekend it seemed like people were starting to get a little stir crazy and even downright antsy. I went for a run on a sunny day and saw more cars out than usual, and out-of-state plates, and more walkers on the sidewalk than usual. It was weird!

But we're still here, staying at home on Week 6 of the coronavirus pandemic. This is spring vacation week, so there's no remote schooling and I'm not doing any "specials" this week. But there have been some discoveries.

Discovery: Blueberry muffins!


Did you know that blueberry muffins can be made from scratch? You don't have to buy them ready-baked at the store. You don't even need to buy a box of mix and add eggs and oil. In these strange times, I have discovered that you can make blueberry muffins just from ingredients that you might have in your very own kitchen. (I really hadn't imagined it until a family member suggested it might be possible. Mindblowing.)

I used the recipe in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything

We usually have frozen blueberries--they should not be thawed

They look just like blueberry muffins!

There is a smidge of cinnamon in the batter that
makes the muffins quite delightful

Discovery: Walking around the block!


I try to get out of the house at least once a day! The nearby love sheep (formerly lawn sheep) are in the midst of some kind of coronavirus containment process. Seriously, here's a picture.

I don't know

Discovery: I have something on my calendar! 

I signed up for ONE race this year, and I got an email this week that is has not (yet) been cancelled. So I may (or may not) have something to look forward to at the end of May! I had assumed the race would not happen... but if it does take place, I'll go just for fun. If it gets cancelled in the next few weeks, I'm OK with that too.

Discovery: Sock wrestling!

There's nothing better to take your mind off the state of the world and get you right into the present moment. Sock wrestling is a simple yet bracing game where you and an opponent get on hands and knees on the floor, then attempt to remove the other person's socks without having your own removed. Rules: don't touch the head or face. Also, no biting (a new rule that had to be added).

It's recommended to make sure each person's
socks are similarly loose, to be fair

Discovery: Harry Potter movies!


OK I've seen all of these, but not everyone in the family has, so we are re-watching them after finishing Lord of the Rings a few weeks ago. However I really really dislike He Who Shall Not Be Named, so that means I am kind of skipping most of 4, 5, 6, 7a and 7b. But I really liked movies 1, 2 & 3. Also I'm very proud of our kids who insisted on reading the books before seeing the movies. We had to get The Deathly Hallows from eBay to make that happen, but it happened!

We also have the last 2 movies somewhere

There are now 823 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Vermont.

Week 4? I think? Or 5?

photo of healing plant cards: nettle, dandelion, coltsfoot
Healing herbs of spring!

Hi hi! How are you? Someone asked recently if I'd be home when they stopped by, and the answer was YES. Yes, I will be home. I am home. I was home. Still home. Grateful to be home, really.

I hope you are doing OK. Thank you for checking in on my blog from wherever you are (and from whatever year it is--hi!). Here's what we've been up to in our tiny corner of Vermont during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

There was a bit of spring-like weather last weekend so I got out and wrestled with some brambles and an old disused compost pile. It was satisfying.

Then, back to another week of working & schooling from home with my lovely children. We are still setting aside an hour each afternoon (except Fridays) to do a family "special" where I teach something or we do some kind of activity.

On Monday we got physical with a school PE workout followed by a yoga video. This session got an average rating of 3 stars, with one participant liking the workout better while the other preferred the yoga.

On Tuesday I did a session on healing wild plants of spring. We learned about nettle, dandelion, and coltsfoot--their healing properties, how to use them, and their Latin binomials.

Then we went on a "Weed walk" and found 2 of the 3 in our yard. (We'll need to go a bit farther afoot to find coltsfoot.)

Sweet little nettle patch

Perky dandelion

On Wednesday we had a sewing session. Both participants learned how to tie a rolling knot at the end of a needle & thread (something my mother taught me and I kept referring to as "a life skill"). They selected a project to make "Juggling Chooks" (which are small weighted stuffed chickens).

The resulting chooks are pretty cute.

Unfortunately sewing was frustrating for Student A, who gave the class 2 out of 5 stars. Student B loves birds though, so said it was 5/5 stars but one of the stars was specifically because we made a chicken, otherwise it would only be 4.

Thursday is baking day! We made chocolate chip cookies again, this time experimenting with melted butter instead of soft, creamed butter. Results: melted butter makes for a thinner, crunchier cookie. Delicious.

In other news, I've taken up knitting again because I decided I wanted a pair of fingerless gloves to wear while I hunch in the cold corner while WFH (working from home).

I've had this pattern for 20+ years, I just subtracted 6 rows from
each finger to modify the pattern to be "fingerless"

Glove 1 is done!

In the world of screens, I've been watching fashion runway videos on Youtube lately (also lots of HauteLeMode, where Luke Meagher critiques designers & looks in "the most fun, sassy, bitchy, analytical way"--I love him). I also watched The September Issue (which I've seen before), which is free-with-ads on Youtube. This is a documentary about creating the 2007 Biggest Vogue Issue Ever (at the time). Anna Wintour is inscrutable and fascinating, and I love Grace Coddington, the creative director who has buckets of personality.

I am obsessed with this room where
Vogue editors arrange and rearrange miniature spreads
to lay out the issue [this is a crummy photo of ipad screen]

The Christmas cactus is blooming again. It's gorgeous!

Sending some beauty your way today.

There are now 779 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Vermont.