Harvest Time … and what to do with it all!

and now. There’s been a little growing going on!

Honestly, I didn’t mean to go this long without posting about what’s growing in the garden, but here we are, well into September. It’s that exciting time in the growing season when a trip to the garden surely means we’ll be returning with armloads of produce—sometimes so much so that I may drive the half mile there instead of walk. I’m just relieved the heat and drought finally gave way to cooler temps and a little bit of rain here and there. Let’s just say there was A LOT of watering early on!

Here’s what’s growing…

We’ve been enjoying lots of delicious tomatoes—cherry, Amish paste, and Green Zebra. I’ve been trying to avoid making too many BLTs, but I love them and the Green Zebras (which, by the way, aren’t green—am I doing it wrong? 🙂 have been so perfect for them. I’ve also been roasting the cherry tomatoes with a little olive oil, garlic, and balsamic then mixing them with pasta, fresh basil, Kalamata olives, and feta. Delicious. The garlic and basil are also from our garden.

I pack those tomatoes I can’t get to fast enough into ziplock bags and stash them in the freezer for a later time. They’re great for winter chili or pasta sauce, but I’ve also found that they work really well in a batch of gazpacho to beat the heat of the summer. I let them thaw a little in the refrigerator and then peel off the skins and toss them in a blender with olive oil, red wine vinegar, cubed french bread, basil, green onion, red bell pepper, paprika, salt, and pepper. The best part of using slightly thawed frozen tomatoes for gazpacho? The mix is already quite chilled from the start, so there’s no need to wait hours to enjoy this cool, tasty treat. And if you have any watermelon, throw that into the blender as well! It adds a slight sweetness for a super refreshing soup. I liked this recipe from Love and Lemons.

Another favorite recipe for fresh tomatoes: Line the bottom of a deep skillet with dry spaghetti. Pile on fresh tomatoes, sliced garlic, onions, fresh basil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, a drizzle of olive oil, and a half-cup or so of water. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. So good!

I’ve been throwing broccoli into stir fries, roasting it with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and simply steaming it. The Swiss chard has been growing like crazy, so I’ve been adding it to quiche, using it instead of spinach in spanikopita (yum!), and sauteing it with a little olive oil, garlic, red onion, and balsamic.

There are no pictures of the green beans, because quite frankly, I’ve started to dread the sight of them. They’ve been quite prolific! I pickled a few batches of dilly beans, roasted them, blanched them and tossed the beans into salads, and stir fried them. I’ve also given many away to the local food shelf and to friends. Thinking I’ll just plant one row next year instead of two.

The butternut squash is a bit smaller than years past, but I’m chalking that up to the drought. I’ve also spotted some squash bugs around, which I’m sure are affecting things. We’ve still got quite a few and my favorite dish to make is this squash and mushroom curry recipe I found in the NY Times. It’s soooo good! I’ll start making soups with the squash too, now that we’re entering soup season.

You might remember from an earlier post that we harvested a dozen BIG Howden pumpkins last year. I did save some seeds to plant in the garden this year, but I’m sad to report that this little guy is the only descendant of those giant jack-o-lanterns from last fall. I guess you win some and you lose some, right? I did plant the seeds in a big aluminum washtub, which may have been part of the problem. Last year I planted seedlings directly into the ground.

We had a few wins in our garden at home. Our Honeycrisp apples have had rust colored spots inside over the past couple of years, but the fruit from this harvest is crisp, juicy, and sweet. My husband watered the tree quite a bit during the dry summer, which must have done the trick!

My other gardening score on the home front is the little patch of dahlias and zinnias I planted earlier this summer. I’ll definitely be adding more of both next year, in areas around the yard that could use a little spark. The dahlias remind me of fireworks and they bloom for weeks. The only catch, of course, is that the tuberous roots won’t survive our northern winter, so I’ll need to dig them up and store them in vermiculite if I want to keep these flowers to plant next year. The zinnias are a no brainer—I just toss seeds over the garden, rake them in slightly, and add water.

I’m cheating a bit by adding this photo, as the sunflowers aren’t ours, but we do pass them each time we walk to and from our garden plot, so they are part of our community garden experience. There have been years when I’ve not wanted to renew our lease on our community plot. As you gardeners know, it’s a lot of work. On the days when I think I’m too tired to walk down to the garden, I go anyway and I’m always glad I did. From this vast, open space with views uninterrupted by trees or houses, I can always see the sunset, watch the clouds race across the sky, or catch a glimpse of the rising moon. I often run into other gardeners or neighbors and stop to chat a bit. In these strange times, making this sort of connection to others on a very local level is what sustains me. So next year, no doubt I’ll be back.

A couple of fun gardening books for kids by yours truly. Check out Dig In and The Nitty Gritty Gardening Book.

Planting Seeds

Yawn. Stretch. Throw back the covers and stumble out of bed. Dare I say spring is here? (First, I knock on wood, because it’s probably too early to expect that we really won’t have any more snow). But I’m hopeful. Over the past few weeks here in the north, it’s very much like the earth is just waking up from a long winter’s nap. The last of the snow disappeared within days of a March 1st snowstorm, the winds blew, and now I’ve spotted the beginnings of tulip, daffodil, and crocus leaves bursting through the soil around my yard. Cue hours of drizzle, steady enough to tap tap tap on the windows at times, and that’s just the seasonal nudge I needed to put me in the mood to plant some seeds.

Luckily, we had a bumper crop of Howden pumpkins last fall, so I saved some seeds. After carving pumpkins last October, we roasted some of the seeds and spread others out to dry, placing them in an envelope and then storing it in a cool, dry place over the winter.

I made my own newspaper seed pots and added soil. These pots are great because they are easy to make, and, once the seedlings are big enough and the outside soil is warm enough, they can be planted right in the ground, where the paper will decompose. Detailed instructions for how to make these clever pots can be found in The Nitty Gritty Gardening Book, but here’s how in a quick and dirty photo essay of sorts:

Set the pots in a tray or bowl and then fill each to within a couple of inches of the top with potting soil. Use your finger to “drill” three holes as deep as your first knuckle, evenly spaced in each newspaper pot. Drop a seed in each hole, cover them up, tamp down the surface of the soil and spritz until evenly moist with water from a spray bottle or plant mister. Place in a sunny windowsill and check your seedlings each day. Keep soil evenly moist by spritzing with water daily. Seeds should sprout in a little over a week!

While you’re waiting for your seeds to sprout, I’ll be crossing my fingers that my pumpkin seeds will take, and we’ll have a plot full of big pumpkins again this year. After we gave several pumpkins to friends for carving and carved our own, we still had three pumpkins left. I was hesitant to eat them, as I thought they’d be tough and tasteless, but I cut them up, roasted the pieces, and stored them in ziplock closure freezer bags. I just finished the last of the pumpkin a week ago! Over the long winter I made several batches of pumpkin muffins, curried pumpkin soup, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin waffles, pumpkin pie, and these really yummy pumpkin scones. Nothing like making the harvest last!

For more fun gardening projects and recipes, check out my two gardening books, The Nitty Gritty Gardening Book and Dig In! 12 Easy Gardening Projects Using Kitchen Scraps. Happy Spring!

Share a Little Love

Happy Valentine’s Day, all! I hope you are staying warm and spending time with loved ones on this cold February day.

A few weeks ago, I posted the picture above with the following words on Instagram:

I find that I’ve been embracing all holidays over the past year, even those Hallmark holidays I’ve resisted in the past (I’m looking at you, Valentine’s Day). After all, don’t we all need a good excuse to add a little more love and kindness to the world these days? So I’ve started making conversation hearts in anticipation of Valentines Day. These are a work in progress…turns out writing with a needle and thread is harder than I thought…but I’m looking for some clever pandemic-related sweet nothings for the next batch. Reply with any ideas you might have!

I meant to build a blog post on this, but I kept dragging my feet. I’m not crazy about how some of the embroidery on the early attempts turned out, so I was reluctant to post. But then a friend messaged me and asked if I’d be willing to sell the XOXO heart. She told me she loved the handmade, not-quite-perfect nature of the hearts and wanted to share them with a friend who loves Valentine’s Day.

Needless to say, I was touched. I made a couple more of the XOXO version and packaged them in a pink gift bag. But this is what stuck with me: I was kind of waiting until I had time to make hearts with more perfect lettering before posting, but this isn’t real life. In reality, my hearts are not perfect. And they shouldn’t have to be. I realized I had to give myself a little grace, just as I’ve been trying to do with others during this pandemic craziness.

So, I’m throwing this idea out there. I’m giving myself a little space, including the permission to create without being perfect. I’m also challenging myself to pass it on, to share a little kindness and compassion with others today and on each day going forward. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, by any means. On these bitterly cold days, I’ve been keeping packets of hand warmers in the car. Sometimes I see homeless people holding signs requesting money at major intersections, but I rarely have cash on me. The handwarmers are a way to share a little warmth and compassion for a fellow human out in the cold. It’s not all that much, but it’s something, and it eases my heart a bit.

In the meantime, here are a couple of ways to show your sweetheart or loved ones you care today. Spread the love!

Conversation Hearts

If you’ve not yet made a Valentine, here’s a cute little project to warm the heart of someone special. If you sew, these hearts are super easy to make. If you don’t sew, see the instructions for making a paper heart garland below.

You will need: 3-inch heart cookie cutter, sharpie, sweater scraps or festive cotton fabric, needle & wool embroidery thread, embroidery hoop, scissors, pins, sewing machine, thread to match color of sweater or fabric, poly fil

  1. Using the heart and sharpie, trace two hearts on the fabric and sweater.
  2. If you wish to embroider the heart, center one of the traced hearts within an embroidery hoop. Use needle and wool embroidery thread to stitch your favorite valentine sentiment.
  3. Remove embroidery hoop and cut out hearts.
  4. Stack embroidered heart on top of the plain heart and use pins secure them together.
  5. With a sewing machine (can also be hand stitched, if you prefer), stitch a 1/4 inch seam along the very edge of the heart, leaving and 1 1/2 inch unsewn.
  6. Stuff polyfil into the unsewn area until the heart is full and well-shaped.
  7. Sew hole closed.
  8. String several embroidered or plain hearts together to make a garland, or hide hearts around the house to surprise your sweetie. Up for a more elaborate heart? Check out these.

Paper Heart Garland

This is a sweet way to give a valentine and add a festive touch to your home. I’m planning to make one someday using the leftover paper we made for our wedding invitations. Yes, someday 😉

  1. Cut hearts out of red paper or leftover wrapping paper. I use a 3- inch heart cookie cutter to trace consistent heart shapes.
  2. Apply a small amount of glue (white or stick) to the back sides of two hearts.
  3. Then simply sandwich two hearts, wrong sides together, over a string (make this string as long as you like) to create a garland.

Until next time, stay warm!

For more fun and easy craft projects to make with paper or cast off sweaters, see my Craft a Day Book!

A Year to Remember

Well, it’s been a long time. Too long. Going into last spring, I had plans to stay in touch every few weeks throughout the pandemic. In fact in mid May I was conjuring up a post about my adventures with sourdough. But then George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers at a convenience store two miles from my house. Needless to say, his tragic death and the crazy events that followed in my neighborhood made it seem pretty ridiculous to be posting about sourdough. So my 16-year-old and I headed down to Lake Street with heavy duty garbage bags and shovels to help with clean up. My husband and I attended neighborhood meetings, helped with a food drive at the local middle school, and tried to learn about other things we could do to help. We support locally owned businesses in the neighborhood whenever we can. There’s so much more we could do, I’m sure.

I’m starting small. Kind gestures toward neighbors, friends, family, and those I see while out walking in the neighborhood. Giving others space, a little bit of grace, and the benefit of doubt. This year’s resolution is to go into each day with a kind and generous heart.

Navigating this shift in mindset from negative to positive isn’t easy…in fact, I think I’ve posted about this very thing before. I’ve always been a glass-half-empty kind of gal. And I definitely have a long way to go. But I’ve been trying to make choices that lead to a happier disposition. Less Facebook, more Instagram, for example. Getting out for a walk or run most every day. And keeping some form of creative spark in my daily routine. This act of making can be anything, but over the past year it’s leaned heavily toward pottery.

For my 50th birthday in April, my husband tracked down a pottery wheel for me. With studios closed all over town, I had been missing working with clay. So I did the research on setting up a bare-bones studio at home, including finding a local place where I could fire my work and figuring out the clay and underglazes that would make the most sense with limited access to studios. I ordered supplies locally through Continental Clay and discovered that I could fire my work and use the glazes at The Workshop Mpls, a sweet studio less than 10 minutes from my house. And, I decided to try sgraffito, a pottery decorating technique that involves carving a design into a brushed on underglaze or slip (colored, liquid clay). With sgraffito, I could apply the underglaze and carve designs at home, have them bisque fired at the Workshop, and then use their glaze bay to apply a clear glaze on site. Here are a few of my first sgraffito projects.

In the meantime, a friend convinced me to sign up for a virtual handbuilding class through Northern Clay Center. This was pretty eye opening. The pieces I made were kind of clunky, and too thick, but I really liked our instructor, Marion Angelica, who’s all about adding texture to handbuilt pieces. And the designs she shared with us for the class were fun, useful pieces with graceful design elements. I was kind of hooked on the instant gratification of rolling out a slab of clay, cutting out a pattern, and folding or piecing it together.

Lanterns from virtual handbuilding glass (and a cute little cup I made).

In September I was able to sign up for a handbuilding open studio in-person class at Northern Clay Center (masks on, of course). The class was totally self-directed, which I loved. For months I had been filling my Instagram feed with the posts of potters who’s work I admired (Hat tip to MODHome Ceramics, Melissa Weiss, and many others for inspiration!), patterns for folded handbuilt containers, and projects using slump molds and other forms, so I was full of ideas. I’d also been wanting to try decorating my pieces with ceramic transfers, so I stocked up on a few floral patterns to try in class. I had so much fun, and left class with a few platters and bowls that I’m pretty happy with. I made a couple of berry bowls, using the cardboard berry boxes from farmers’ markets as a template.

Then I found a couple of patterns for folded bowls and lidded containers that were really fun to make.

And I used some of the molds available in the studio to make a couple of sgraffito platters, one rectangular, and one oblong.

Sgraffito using white slip on stoneware.
Sgraffito using black slip on stoneware.

I’m having so much fun exploring handbuilding that I signed up for another class that starts this month. In between classes, I’ve been making bowls and mugs on my wheel at home. As you can imagine, the bowls, mugs, containers, and platters are starting to pile up around here. In November I finally got around to opening up my Etsy shop, Fickle Heart Goods, where I’m selling my origami bags, hand embroidered felted hearts, and my books. Eventually, I plan to add pottery to my shop. But right now I’m just enjoying the process of trying different techniques, some with success, and some not. But these little goals make me happy, putting me in a better mindset when I do venture out in the world.

Here’s hoping 2021 gives us all more reasons to be happy. Be kind to each other!

Check out my Etsy shop: FickleHeartGoods

Follow me on Instagram: kari.a.cornel1

Stay-at-Home 2020, Week 2


My neighbor down the block decorated the sidewalk with encouraging messages. Love it!

Well, needless to say it’s been an interesting couple of weeks. I’ve been holed up at home with my husband, two boys (ages 15 and 13) and our dog, EmmyLou. For the most part, we’ve begun to adjust to this odd new normal. Sure, we still sleep in a bit and sometimes eat dinner later than usual, but we are settling in somewhat to routines, finding time to work, get outside, and hang out together as a family.

Believe it or not, I still haven’t managed to dig into that things-to-do list from my last post, mainly because I had a new editing project come in that same day. I love it when the universe conspires this way. My having work with the promise of more to come is a always a good thing, but especially now. Just last Friday, my husband learned that all work with his main client—the work that essentially floats our boat each month—will be suspended from the end of April through ??. It may be for a few months, but it could be longer. Really, who can say at times like these?

So as we wrap our minds around what that means for our sweet family of four plus pup, we’ve been working on taking things day by day and practicing gratitude. These are a few of the experiences we’ve had over the past two weeks that wouldn’t have been possible in our hectic, pre-corona virus affected lives. I’m grateful for each and every one of them.

  1. Going for a run around Lake Nokomis with my 15-year-old and our pup at 10 am on a Wednesday morning.
  2. Family walks along the lovely West River Parkway. (With all family members present!) Feeling so thankful to live in Minneapolis, with miles and miles of biking and walking paths, and the fantastic park system.
  3. Learning to play Catan with Will, Theo, and Brian on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
  4. Cooking with my boys.
  5. Lots and lots of family movie time.
  6. Appreciating the little things…like chats over the fence with great neighbors and seeing friends while out on a run or walk.
  7. Time. I can’t really remember when I’ve had the luxury of this much time. Honestly, I think February may have been the busiest month I’ve ever had, and to go from that frenetic pace to almost a complete stop was a bit jarring at first, but now it’s rejuvenating. I’m trying to be thoughtful about how I spend this time.
  8. Instagram. (I know. Funny that I list this one right after what I just said above, right?) More specifically: pottery videos on instagram. I was deep into a pottery phase when the world came to a screeching halt. Now, with no access to a studio, I’m so appreciating the how-to videos potters have been posting on instagram. I’m looking forward to doing the Kurinuki lidded jar demo project from

    with my family.

  9. Messages and thoughtful gestures from friends and neighbors. Last week I opened the front door to head out for a run and discovered a bag of chocolate-dipped biscotti and a sweet note from my friend, Renata. So kind! And the sidewalk notes from neighbors have warmed my heart. I’m also appreciating seeing posts about the ways people are helping others. From making masks, to dropping off flowers or much-needed groceries, to simply checking in on one another. These actions give me hope.
  10. Spring. Can you feel it? Okay, spring would have happened in spite of this outbreak, but now we have the time to actually enjoy it. On Friday I was thrilled to get an email from Mother Earth Gardens, our local garden store, offering a chance to order pansies, seeds, and other seasonal garden items online for curbside pick up. This lifted my spirits immediately. I predict this will be a banner year in the garden! In fact, it’s a great time to start seeds. (For plenty of fun gardening projects to fill your days, check out The Nitty Gritty Gardening Book and Dig In!)

What are you doing to appreciate the extra time you have these days? I’d love to hear from you! Be well!



My dog EmmyLou has this relaxing thing down…until I start snapping pictures.

A little more than two weeks ago I was talking with a friend at an annual gathering for my son’s school at a local roller rink. We talked about music and local venues and how much you’d pay to see your favorite band. We talked about the various activities our kids were involved in and how their schedule had become ours. Eventually the conversation shifted to current events, and the dreaded Coronavirus. He told me that he was almost 100 percent certain that our public schools would close due to the Coronavirus before the end of the school year. At the time I thought he couldn’t possibly be right. His prediction seemed so preposterous and over the top. There was simply no way that could happen.

Fast forward by what seems like a blink of an eye and now here I am, sequestered with my husband, two sons, and our dog in our home, which is more stocked with food and provisions than it’s ever been. Today is the first day of the mandatory school shutdown to “flatten the curve” of the rapidly spreading virus. Yesterday the very thought of every business closing and having nowhere to go flooded me with a sense of despair.  But today I’m focusing on shifting my thoughts of what to do with this sequestered time in a more positive direction.

Last weekend (was that really only two days ago??) I felt little pangs of relief as the six activities we had scheduled were canceled, one by one. Would we possibly have a quiet weekend at home with nothing to do? My introverted, homebody self did a little dance (That little dance was inside my head, of course). Perhaps cutting outside activities and powering down could be a good thing?

I stocked up on food, getting only what we would need for the next couple of weeks. The thought of hoarding seems crazy to me, but I found myself doing an inventory of the number of toilet paper rolls in the house (17 jumbo-size rolls) and swinging by the home paper goods section at Target just to see if all the hype was true (it was).


No toilet paper at Target and no chicken at Aldi on Saturday.

I’m just finishing up a couple of pottery classes so I stopped at both studios to pick up finished pieces and see if I could glaze those items that had been bisque fired. At this point, news of businesses closing had been cluttering up my inbox every hour or so, and the writing was on the wall…these studios would close soon, too. I did what I could and then left the five bowls and one vase on the shelf waiting to be bisque fired. Who knows when I’d be back to glaze them…or if they would still be there?


These will remain “greenware” for the next few weeks at least 😦

Yesterday we made the final, final decision to postpone our upcoming trip to Costa Rica with friends until next year. What seemed perfectly do-able just last Monday was obviously the wrong thing to pursue less than a week later. It amazes me how quickly this whole pandemic has unfolded and filtered into all parts of life. And I realize this is just the beginning. I’m trying not to dwell too much on how it will affect my freelance business or the work of those around me. Like I said, I’m trying to shift into a more positive mindset.

In the meantime, I have an editing project that is at a standstill as I wait for the author to revise a chapter. Many of my usual downtime filling activities—going to the pottery studio, going to the Y—are no longer options. I’ll be honest: I’m already going a little stir crazy. I’m one of those people who can’t really sit still. Ever. The only time I’m not in constant motion is when I’m asleep.

So my plan is to make a list. There are limitless projects I’ve been wanting to do around the house that I just haven’t had the time or energy to tackle: Decoupaging and painting an old end table, sewing a scarf out of upcycled t-shirts, making a few more embroidered hearts, sewing another origami bag or two, starting a practice of drawing something every day, playing the ukulele…the list goes on. Maybe I’ll even revisit one of the windowsill gardening ideas from Dig In!


I made this cherry moon pie for Pie Day on Saturday…more baking to come!

I’m also thinking about what I can do to safely help others in my neighborhood. Runs to the grocery store? Still exploring options. What I definitely don’t want to do is fritter away my time scrolling through Instagram or Facebook or checking the latest news. I’m taking this whole pandemic-induced shutdown as a sign that I need to untangle a bit from my constant need to check the latest anything on an electronic device. Instead, I’m going to go for a run or walk along the river, dig into one of the many books stacked on my bedside table, start one of the projects I mentioned above, or bake something with my boys. Better yet, I’m going to make a point to just sit every once in a while. I’m challenging myself to make more downtime a part of my day.


What are your plans? Any books you recommend that I add to the list? Have you found any ways to help others in your community during this crazy time? Please share!

And if you’re looking for ways to keep kiddos busy during the long days at home, check out one of my gardening or craft books: The Craft-a-Day Book, Dig In, or The Nitty Gritty Gardening Book! Most of all, be well.

Making Soap


I’ve been wanting to learn how to make soap for what seems like forever. So when I was given the option at YMCA Camp Du Nord this summer, I signed up right away with a few friends. I was also happy that my twelve-year-old was into the idea too—that meant two batches of soap for us to enjoy for the next year!

The process was fun, and pretty fascinating really. Soap is actually a salt formed as a result of saponification. What’s saponification? It’s a chemical reaction between lye (sodium hydroxide), which is an acid, and oil (in this case, olive oil, coconut oil, and vegetable shortening), which is a base. Lye is nothing to mess around with, so take precautions when working with it. Be sure to wear rubber gloves and safety goggles and work in a well-ventilated place.

Making soap turns out to be quite easy, too, especially with a group of friends to share the work of stirring the batch. Here’s how it’s done. 


Measure out ingredients using a digital kitchen scale. If you have a few friends to help, divide and conquer: First, have someone put on gloves and goggles to measure the lye (sodium hydroxide) and the water. Pour the water into a plastic or glass jar that holds 2 or more quarts and set it on a heat-resistant surface. Then add the lye crystals to the water and stir with a plastic spoon. Use caution here! Adding lye to water creates an exothermic reaction that spikes the temperature of the mixture to as hot as 200 degrees F. Using hot pads, transfer the jar to a cool water bath to bring down the temperature to 80-100 degrees F.


While waiting for the lye to cool, prep soap molds and choose fragrances and botanicals if desired. Half-gallon plastic milk jugs with the tops cut off make great molds, but you can also line a shoe box with freezer paper, placing the shiny side face up. If you are using milk jugs, slather the inside with a layer of vegetable shortening to prevent sticking.

Essential oils can be added to give the soap a fragrance. Lavender, sweet orange, and peppermint, sweet almond, and rosemary are great options. A little goes a long way! A couple of drops (about an ounce per mold) is all that is needed to give your soap a pleasant scent. Botanicals like lavender buds, calendula petals, parsley, or oatmeal can be added to the soap to give it texture. Know that most botanicals will turn brown in the soap. Calendula does keep its yellow color, however.

Now begin to measure out the other ingredients.

Place the vegetable shortening in a 1 gallon stainless steel kettle and place over a stove burner to melt. When completely melted, stir in olive oil and coconut oil. Let cool a bit and then place in a cool water bath to cool to 80-100 degrees F.

When both mixtures are cool, remove the oil mixture from the cool water bath and set on a sturdy work surface. Slowly and steadily add the lye mixture to the oil mixture. Use a whisk to stir the mixture continuously until it thickens. This is where many hands make light the work! Take turns stirring briskly, handing off the whisk to a friend when you can no longer stir.

After about 30 minutes, the mixture will reach the “trace” stage, meaning you can see the trail left by the whisk as you pull it through the soap mix.

Pour soap mixture into prepared molds. One batch should fill about four half-gallon milk jugs. Add essential oils and botanicals and stir well. Place the molds in a big box and cover with two blankets to insulate the soap. Leave the molds set for 18-24 hours to saponify.

Uncover and let sit for another day. Then remove the soap from the molds and cut into bars. Feel free to use cookie cutters to make interesting shapes. Wrap bars individually in parchment paper, set aside, and let dry for two to six weeks. The more time you allow the soap to dry, the longer it will last once you start using it.

Simple Soap Recipe

12 ounces sodium hydroxide (Lye)

32 ounces water

24 ounces olive oil

24 ounces coconut oil

38 ounces vegetable shortening

essential oils (3-4 ounces for an entire batch; 1 ounce for each mold)

botanicals (optional)

Other tools you’ll need

digital scale

2 quart plastic or glass jar

stainless steel whisk

1 gallon stainless steel kettle

2-cup plastic or glass measuring cup

digital thermometer

rubber scrapper

2 blankets

4 1/2 gallon milk jugs or shoe boxes (lined with freezer paper)

vinegar to neutralize lye if it gets on skin

safety glasses

rubber gloves

long-handled plastic kitchen spoon

And that’s all there is to it! I’m already looking forward to making another batch. The sweet orange-mint soap I made and the sweet almond soap my twelve-year-old made are both heavenly.





What’s growing

Gardening never ceases to amaze me. I’d almost write the whole process off as a miracle, but then I’d be forgetting about the hours I spent hunched over a spade or hoe turning the soil, pulling countless weeds (thousands? millions??), swatting bugs (again, thousands? millions?), and wiping the sweat from my brow, just to prepare the garden for planting.

I guess the miraculous part comes when I’m too busy to even venture into the garden. Let’s say I head off across the country to see family and while I’m gone, it rains. It rains a lot. And by the time I return home two weeks later, there are 6 inches in the rain gauge. All the plants seem to have grown by at least 6 inches as well.  I come home to a yard that’s blooming like it’s never bloomed before.


The best part is that these blooms are buzzing with bees and a flutter with hummingbirds and monarch butterflies. I’ve been taking a moment here and there to stop and watch the bees and butterflies as they go from flower to flower. I highly recommend this sort of meditation, by the way.

At our community garden plot, things are flourishing as well. My sweet husband tended it while I was galavanting across the country—he harvested cucumbers, raspberries, and steered the squash vines away from the neighbor’s plot.  A few days ago, my 15-year-old harvested beets, the garlic crop*, more rhubarb, broccoli, and Swiss chard. So great to have him go to the garden while I got a little editing done. Ah, the teenage years! (I’m crossing my fingers he doesn’t wake up tomorrow and realize he should be rebelling…)


Meanwhile, I’ve been pulling all those weeds that also thrive on 6 inches of rain. And coming up with ways to use the veggies and fruits from the garden. I won’t ramble on again about raspberry jam, but I will urge you to try a raw beet grated over your next salad. Especially if you make it a spinach salad and you add 1/2 cubed avocado**, 1/2 cup dried cranberries, candied walnuts, and a splash of a sweet, spicy balsamic vinaigrette. Yum!

So that’s how the gardening is growing. I’m guessing I have an abundance of beets in my future, so if you happen have any great beet recipes, send them my way! I’ll enter your name in a drawing to win a free copy of Dig In! or The Nitty Gritty Gardening Book (your choice). Until next time, happy gardening!

* Like Garlic? Learn how to grow your own bulb from a single clove on page 34 of my book, Dig In! 12 Easy Gardening Projects Using Kitchen Scraps.

**Crazy about Avocados? Start your own avocado plant from an avocado pit! Learn how on page 42 in The Nitty Gritty Gardening Book: Gardening Projects for All Seasons, also by yours truly.

I Heart Cinco de Mayo


First heart I made!

Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone! I’ve had this project in my back pocket for months, but I decided to wait until today before sharing it, because, you know, it’s Cinco de Mayo.

Way back in mid February, we took a trip to Tulum, Mexico with friends. We had an amazing time. We relaxed on the beach, snorkeled in beautiful cenotes (freshwater limestone pools and caves), visited Maya ruins at Chichen Itza, and ate lots of good food. We spent a couple of evenings in the town of Tulum, where I couldn’t resist doing a little shopping in the market stalls. Not only were there pom pom garlands in all sorts of fun colors (and I’m a sucker for pom poms), there were these adorable hearts, made of felt and hand embroidered. Needless to say I became a little obsessed with them. I ended up buying two hearts and a pom pom garland the night before we flew home to stuff in my suitcase as keepsakes. I love ’em!

A pom pom cart in Tulum, Mexico.

Well, those hearts soon became the inspiration for this cute project. I love making these hearts for so many reasons. One, they allow me to use up some of the scraps from thrift store sweaters I bought a few years ago and felted for various projects. Two, embroidery is so easy to pick up and tinker away at whenever you have a spare moment. Three, this project is also small, so it’s perfect for stuffing in a tote or purse and taking along to soccer games or public transit commutes. And four (this is my favorite reason), they provide the perfect use for all that polyfil my dog pulls out of her chew toys…reusing and recycling at its best!

Heart Instructions

To make your own hearts, you’ll need the following.

  • Wool sweaters or felt, in any color
  • Large heart cookie cutter (the one I use measures 5 inches across)
  • permanent marker
  • small embroidery hoop
  • crewel embroidery yarn in a variety of bright colors
  • embroidery needle
  • scissors
  • polyfil stuffing
  • pom pom
  • tassel


Using the cookie cutter and permanent marker, trace two heart shapes on the wool or felt.


Center one of the hearts in the embroidery hoop, pulling it as taut as possible.

Use different colors of crewel embroidery yarn to embroider a design of your choosing. (Before you begin stitching, practice drawing possible designs on paper if that helps you solidify a design.)

As you stitch, try not to get too hung up on your embroidery skills or worry about how your design is coming along; Keep adding to it until you like what you see. (Need to brush up on embroidery stitches? Check out this site. )

Once you’re happy with your design, remove the embroidery hoop and cut out the two hearts (the one you embroidered and the one you did not).


Stack the embroidered heart on top of the unstitched heart. Sew a quarter inch seam along outside edge of the hearts, but leave a 2 inch section along one of the sides unsewn. This is where you’ll add the stuffing.


Push the polyfil stuffing through the hole. Use enough to give a puffy dimension to the entire heart.


Stitch the opening closed.

Chose a complementary color of yarn to create a blanket stitch all the way around the outside edge of the heart. Here’s a quick how-to.


Use yarn to sew a pom pom and tassel to the bottom of the heart. Here are instructions for making a tassel


Sew a loop to the top of your heart for hanging.


Last but not least, find the perfect place to hang your heart. I love how they look on door nobs, window closures, or as Christmas ornaments. Or better yet, give them to a friend!

Happy heart making! If you like this project, then definitely check out the other cool crafts made from recycled sweaters in the Craft-A-Day Book!

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