Saturday, March 31, 2012

Letters to My World: Toilets and Toys

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

WotW: Search for Safe Images with Creative Commons

Images are the lifeblood of a blog. Without good pictures, it's difficult to keep readers engaged. But, how do you get good images for all those posts? Most bloggers whip open Google Images, type in a few search terms and save a picture to their blog. But is that image copyrighted? Copyright laws are one of those complex and tricky issues and it's difficult to understand which images are copyrighted and which are not on the Internet. When you find an image, do you have a right to use it? What happens if the owner sees it on your blog and you find yourself with a cease and desist order?

Of course, the chances of that happening are small, but why not stay on the safe side of things? A solution? Creative Commons, an organization committed to helping companies and individuals navigate the complex issues surrounding copyrighted material. Legal jargon aside, for all practical purposes it's a portal to find images that should keep you on the safe side of copyright laws.

To get started with Creative Commons, simply go to: I find myself using this service so much, especially as an educator trying to teach my students good web skills, that I bookmark it in my Symbaloo for regular use.

At first glance, Creative Commons is a stripped down search engine. Let's say you're trying to find a picture of clown fish. Simply type in the term clown fish into the search bar.

Now, you have some options. First, there are two check boxes under the search bar. These are important depending on what you want to do.

  • If you're just looking for an image to put in your blog post and you're not going to do anything to it, don't check anything. 
  • If you plan on changing the image somehow (editing it, adding text, etc), check the modify, adapt or build upon option.
    • Checking this box will limit your search to images that have been clearly designated for that purpose, but it will keep you legit.
  • If you want to use the image on a commercial site (your Etsy site or to promote a product), check this box.
Truthfully, most of the time you won't need to check any of the boxes, but I wanted to throw it out there just in case.

Now comes the tough decision – deciding which service to use to search. Technically, Creative Commons doesn't actually do any searching itself. When you type in a search term, Creative Commons taps into a number of search engines and automatically defines the parameters of your search to find only images that meet the specifications you set.

Which service you use honestly depends on what you're searching for. When it comes to images, the three I've found most useful are Flickr, Wikimedia Commons and Google Images, in that order.

But wait, you might be thinking, I already use Flickr and Google Images. Why add a middle man to the process? Remember, the whole purpose of Creative Commons is to narrow down the search results to only images that are safe to use. Sure, you can tweak the settings in Google Images or Flickr yourself, but it's a whole lot faster with Creative Commons.

For my search on clown fish, I'm going to choose Wikimedia Commons because they tend to have some of the clearest details on the copyright restrictions, or lack thereof, on images. So, I click Wikimedia Commons, type in clown fish and press enter.

I am now taken to the search results from Wikimedia Commons. 

Once I find the image I want, I can click on the link to go the page.  Here, I see an enlarged version of the image, as well as some options on the right. For blog use, the Use this file option is probably the best.

A dialog box will appear with a slew of options. The best one to cover all your bases is the biggest box at the bottom: HTML/BBCode. Simply copy and paste this code into your blog post and the image will appear with all the appropriate attribution. You may need to paste it into the HTML mode, depending on your blogging service. Also notice the pixel width. You can usually select different sizes to meet your needs.

One Other Note. At the bottom of the page, there is more information about the image. It's probably best to look here before grabbing the image because this explains what the image can be used for. This particular clown fish image gives you permission to share the image and modify it as long as you provide attribution to the author (which is found in the HTML code you copied above, and is just a good blogging practice to begin with) and that you allow others to use whatever modifications you make to the image in the same way.

Not all images have the same restrictions. In fact, you'll find many images that have no restrictions at all and you can go crazy.

This tutorial just went over how to use Creative Commons to search through Wikimedia Commons, but searching through Google Images and Flickr are fairly similar.

Also, Creative Commons is not just limited to images. You can also use it to search for information, videos, sound clips, music and other forms of media.

Hopefully you'll find this to be a useful service. Maybe you figure it's just too much work. But I know I always feel better about putting images on my site when I know I'm in the clear to use them. Happy searching!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Baby German Pancakes

With German Pancakes, you typically let the butter melt in the dish before adding the batter, making one large pancake. Did you know you can add the butter to the batter so you can make little baby pancakes?

You will need:
1 cup of milk
6 eggs
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 C. of butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix everything together but the butter. Mix until there are no lumps. With the mixer going, slowly add the melted butter. Grease a muffin tin well and fill each cup about half way full. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Pop out the pancakes and fill with your favorite topping. We loved them filled with this frosting. This recipe makes between 18-24 baby pancakes.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Book Page Easter Eggs

Do you remember these Book Page Pumpkins? I loved them so much I couldn't help but make some that look like Easter eggs. I think book page decorations are some of my favorite. When standing up, they look full and definitely make an impression. When you lay them down you can keep them flat so they store very small. The perfect decoration for someone who lives in a small space.
 To make these eggs, you will need:
A big book. I got mine for 10 cents at the Salvation Army
Hot Glue
Spray Paint
 The first thing you need to do is rip the cover off of the book. For a book lover like me, this is the most painful part, part of me always winces a bit when you dismantle a book for a crafting purpose. On the first page of the book draw half an Easter egg, you can see what my egg looked like in the photo above.

Start the process of cutting the pages down to that shape. I have found the is easiest with just normal scissors. I can cut about twenty pages at a time, so it probably takes me a half hour or so to cut through a book.

When you are done cutting through your book, bend the spine back on itself and decide how full you want your egg. My book was about 500 pages and I decided that was plenty of pages to make two eggs. If you want two eggs, split your book in half at the spine.
Fold the spine back on itself and hot glue it so it stays open as in the photo below. You want the egg to appear full. I found the best way to do this was to glue some of the pages together by where you glue the spine together, it help prevents a large gap there.
Then take them outside and spray paint them in dyed egg colors. I used orange and turquoise to have bright eggs, but you could easily do pastels. Make sure to spray them liberally and don't forget to spray the bottom area of the egg or you will end up with a white strip. When they are dry they are ready to display all sorts of Easter goodness.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

WotW: Digital Sticky Notes

I have a problem. A big problem. I love sticky notes. Always have. I find them extremely useful in scribbling quick notes, posting reminders around the house and for a quick love note. But sticky notes aren't free... until now.

Welcome to LinoIt, an online cork board that allows you to post as many digital sticky notes as you can fit on the board. To get started, sign up for a free account. This site really thrives off a username, so be creative when creating one.

Once you have created an account, you will be brought to your Dashboard. Here, you will see you have two pre-made Canvases (cork boards) – Main and Someday. You can keep these, modify them or delete them. It's all up to you. You can also create your own canvas, but we'll get to that in a minute.

Go ahead and open one of the Canvases. You will notice a sticky pad in the right corner.
There are five different types of notes:

1. Text sticky notes of various colors
You can type any type of note here. Make a to-do item, a note to yourself or the brilliant idea you came up with in the middle of the night. You can change the color beyond the four default colors you see.

2. Photo sticky notes
Add a photo to your canvas, much in the style of Pinterest.

3. Video sticky notes
Add a video to your canvas. You can add videos from a number of popular video websites by simply copying and pasting the URL.

4. File sticky notes
Post a file of any type.

5. Transparent sticky notes
Well, it's just like it sounds.

To add a sticky note to your canvas, simply drag and drop it.
Once the note has been added, it will automatically pop open. In the large box, add your text. You can also add tags, due dates, icons, font size, font color and/or sticky note color. Once everything is just the way you want it, press Post.

Once the note has been posted, you still have a few options. These are found at the bottom of the note. The image above explains the functions. You can also pin a note to the canvas by clicking in the top-center of the note. You can rotate the note by clicking in the top-right corner of the note.

OK, so we get how LinoIt works, but what are its uses?

  • To-do list
  • Wish list
  • Reminders
  • Brainstorming
  • Love notes
  • A fun way to blog
It's the last one I want to talk about. You can embed any canvas into a blog and, depending on the settings, you can allow others to add their sticky notes to your canvas. See the example at the bottom of this post.

To get going, create a new canvas by going to your Dashboard. Click "Create New Canvas" and give it a name. You can add a custom background, but I kind of like the cork board look. You can set the access level to your canvas here. If you want others to be able to post, choose the Everyone may Post Stickies option.

Open your canvas, customize it and find the embed code (it's the the little i-icon in the sticky pad).

Feel free to add a sticky to my LinoIt. You can move around by clicking and dragging the board. Have fun and hope to hear from you soon!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fluffy Pudding Frosting

While looking for a new frosting recipe a few months ago, I came across this one. While slightly more complicated than normal cream cheese frosting, it is creamy and delicious. We found it is actually an amazing German Pancake topping.

1 6 oz box of instant pudding (This determines the flavor of your frosting)
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup milk
8 oz of whipped topping
4 oz cream cheese, softened

Take your cream cheese and mix it until smooth. Set aside. Mix your first three ingredients until smooth. Add cream cheese and then whipped topping, mixing while you go. Set in the fridge over night. Frost right before serving. This frosting doesn't sit out a room temperature very well for any length of time. I found it was best to just frost a few cupcakes that we were going to eat and then put the frosting back in the fridge, covered, until we wanted more cupcakes. This frosting sure didn't last long in our house!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Homeschool Preschool: Volcanoes

One area my husband and I differ in opinion is preschool. I loved preschool when I was little and I had always thought I would send my own kids to preschool. My husband however, thinks that they just don't learn much in preschool, that the classes are overcrowded and they do more crafts than learning. We decided to compromise. I would spend a little bit of money on things I felt like she needed for preschool and then I would do the preschool at home.
Preschooling at home has been fantastic. We have really been able to spend time on subjects that interest both of us and her learning is really taking off. I plan out each lesson to make them short and informative. School is my little girl's favorite part of the day. I get asked about our preschool a lot, so I thought I would start sharing my lessons in hopes they help another mom too.

Lesson Volcano:
One of my favorite lessons so far has been our lesson about volcanoes. For this lesson you will need: baking soda, vinegar, a cup will a smaller opening, tinfoil and access to the Internet. First of all we watched a couple of YouTube videos about volcano eruptions. You can find the two videos we watched and what I liked about each one at the bottom of this post.

For the volcano demonstration you are going to want a cup with a smaller opening. This forces your mini volcano to have a bigger eruption.
 Wrap you cup in tin foil, creating a mini mountain. I do this for two reasons. One we can talk about how some mountains are volcanoes and some are not and two, it is easier to clean up.
 If you are feeling festive, dye your vinegar red. I usually do three tablespoons of baking soda to a couple of tablespoons of dyed red vinegar.
 Smock your child, to prevent stains.
 Then allow your child to create the volcano themselves. This can be messier, but I always feel it is really important for them to get the experience, rather than just watch it.
Then repeat if you want. We made two or three volcanoes in the space of 15 or so minutes. You could do this activity with multiple children and let each child have a turn pouring in the vinegar. When you are done, ball up the vinegar and throw the mess away.
These are the two videos I found most helpful in teaching volcanoes. I love the first video because it is relatively short, only about a minute, and it has no words. Without words, I could talk to her about the volcanoes and the different things that were happening.
The second video is also very good, it does have some talking in it, some of which made my little girl's eyes go wide, but nothing I think that was frightening. If your child is very sensitive you might want to preview the second show first.

Besides the videos, I also found this image helpful in explaining volcanoes. It is not complicated, with only a few labels, but it helps make volcanoes make sense.
This lesson is still a clear favorite in our house. She tells everybody she meets that she knows what a volcano is. Coming up soon: Tornadoes and Counting and Sorting.

Friday, March 16, 2012

St. Patrick's Day Cupcakes

I am not an amazing baker. Don't get me wrong, I love to bake. When it comes to breads, pies and other desserts I am totally there. When it comes to cupcakes, I can make them taste delicious, but I am not great at making them cute. These St. Patrick's Day cupcakes are do easy to make cute that even I can do it.

Make your cupcakes according to package direction and frost with frosting.

Take a package of Air Head Extremes and cut each one it half. Loop them on top of the cupcakes to form little rainbows. Last year I added a Rolo as the the little pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. This year I am doing chocolate coins because my little girl is obsessed with them.

Don't forget to enjoy your cupcakes with Leprechaun Floats and all sorts of other green goodness. Some of my favorite green food to make include, Chicken Pesto, dyed green rolls, green salad, steamed broccoli and Jello jigglers.

What are you making for St. Patrick's Day?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

WotW: Your Bookmarks Wherever You Are

If you're like me, you love working on your own computer and feel rather constrained on any other computer. This is largely due to the fact that we spend so much time customizing our computers to our exact preferences. No preferences are so customized as our Internet bookmarks. Regardless of the browser you use, bookmarks are an integral part of speeding up the web experience.

Today, I want to share an amazing tool that will change the way you use web bookmarks. It's called Symbaloo.

The idea behind Symbaloo is to have an online tile board that has icons representing all your favorite websites. To get to any of these websites, all you have to do is simply click on the desired tile and you're instantly there.

Besides being just another fun bookmarking tool, Symbaloo's real power comes from two areas:
1. Making it your browser's home page.
2. Accessing your bookmarks from any computer.

Symbaloo has been my home page for months now and it makes navigating the Internet a piece of cake. I leave it open in a tab all the time for easy access. I also love it when I am working on a different computer (for example, a public computer) and can still have all my bookmarks readily available.

To get started, sign up for a free Symbaloo account. You will have to verify your e-mail address. Once you have verified, you will be taken to a home screen that is pre-populated with a number of bookmarks. You can keep these, move them around or delete them as desired.

Some of these tiles are direct bookmarks, taking you to the site. Others, like the Weather tile, will open in the large center tile. The behavior of each tile is really up to you.

You'll also notice Symbaloo is kind of a browser within a browser. At the top, there are little folder tabs. Your account comes with four of these tabs, called Webmixes. You can delete these if you don't like them or you can add more. To add a new Webmix, simply click the blue plus-sign and give your Webmix a name.

Your new Webmix is empty. In fact, it doesn't even have a name. Let's change that. Click on the Edit webmix link at the top of the page.

You will then have options to rename the Webmix and change the Wallpaper, which really allows you to make this a comfortable home for all your bookmarks. You'll notice in the image above, I created a Webmix for blogs. Here, I can create tiles for all my commonly read blogs. As a side note, I can also import the RSS feeds from each of the blogs instead of just creating a tile.

Now let's look at how to add a tile. There are two ways to add tiles. The first, and easiest method, is to search for commonly used sites. Most major websites have pre-made tiles. To begin, simply click on any blank tile.

A search bar will appear where you can type the site you desire. In this instance, I'll search for Hulu.

It gave me two results, but the first tile is the one I want. To add it to my page, I just simply click on it and – presto! – it's there. Now if I click on that tile, it will take me to Hulu.

But let's say you search for a tile and you can't find one. No worries, you can still create your own. Again, simply click on any blank tile. When the search bar appears, click the click here to create your own tile link.

You will now be taken to a tile creator. It's fairly self-explanatory. Simply type in the URL of the site you want and it will verify the site for you. You can name the site whatever you want. You can change the background color. You can even add your own custom icon. A great tip for this is to download the buttons from blogs and use those as the tile background.

Here you can see I added a Housewife Eclectic tile to my webmix using the button image. 

Here's an example of what a Symbaloo Webmix might look like after a few tiles have been added.

The possibilities for Symbaloo are endless, but once you get a Symbaloo setup just the way you want, you will find your browsing experience an easier and faster experience.