Friday, December 27, 2013

Lessons from a First-Time Homeowner

Three days in the new house, and it was leaking like a sieve.

It all started . . . well, I don't even know when it started.  

My husband and I have lived in an apartment for almost seven years, and in that time the apartment has needed copious repairs left unattended by three different management companies.  We've had many a sleepless night because of noisy neighbors who like to exercise at 2 a.m.  We've been unable to enjoy having a yard, a garden, or equity of any sort.  So, about three years ago, we decided it was time to buy a house.  We looked at a lot of bad houses and some good houses, and five we had under contract fell through for one reason or another.  We took several months off from even looking while we dealt with other family matters.

Then we saw this cute little log cabin that was built in 1942.  It was in our price range and looked to be in pretty good shape.  We had the home inspected, and it passed inspection.  We closed, and it's now ours.  Here is what I have learned in the first week.

Lesson One: Home Inspections

Everyone knows you can't skip having a house inspected.  However, not everyone knows about the little clauses.  Have the home inspected when it's raining and go into the attic with the inspector, even if he doesn't seem to like that idea.  Our inspector has a nice little clause in his report that says if it isn't raining on the day of inspection, he can't be held accountable for reporting leaks. He is not responsible even if there are four of them in four different rooms, even if there are obvious signs of rotten wood in the attic, and even if you ask outright.

Furthermore, improperly vented gas water heaters can kill people.  However, there are warning signs, like dizziness, headaches, and vomiting, that all happen before death.  Tell the inspector if you're feeling sick in the house, and then maybe he won't forget to tell you hot water heater is in such bad shape it may kill you.

Lesson Two: Honest and Ethical Sellers

Unless you know the person, do not buy a home from an investor/landlord if at all possible.  They do not care about repairing or maintaining things the right way; you know, little things like carbon monoxide vents and other non-essentials.  Be especially wary if at the closing table the seller refuses (all of a sudden) to pay for the home buyer warranty they agreed to pay for in the contract.  Buying a home from an investor/landlord means re-fixing all of the things he told you were fixed but weren't fixed correctly, so now have to be un-fixed and re-fixed, anyway.  Luckily, although our seller did a lot of damage, the love of the previous owners still shows through in one or two places. 

Lesson Three: Big Repairs and Added Costs

If the Home Depot 30-year transferable warranty on a roof sounds good to you, go with them.  However, try to get the salesman to throw in some tarps.  Otherwise, Home Depot will let rainwater flow into your house for 3 - 7 weeks while they "plan" for your new roof, or you can pay them another $500.00 for some tarps.  Home Depot will also be happy to sell you all of the new drywall, insulation, fixtures, and flooring you'll need to repair the damage caused by continual leaking.  On the plus side, the customer service representative who answers your panicked call will be friendly, unlike the person who answers calls for the county.

UPDATE!  Home Depot will be coming out to tarp the roof free of charge.  I take back my sarcasm.

Lesson Four: Water Water Everywhere

When the county says it takes 1 - 5 days to have the water turned on after submitting an application, plan on it taking another 1 - 5 days for them to actually read the application.  In a pinch, however, the rainwater that's accumulating in the new buckets purchased at Home Depot can be used to force flush the toilets while waiting for water.  Showering is trickier, but again, Home Depot probably has everything you might need to build an outdoor solar shower that filters and heats rainwater. I'm sure Home Depot even has bottled water to sell you with a smile.  On the other hand, the person who answers the phone for the county will not smile.  Not even once.  They just don't care.

Lesson Four and a Half: No Water Anywhere

When the plumbers come to replace the hot water heater that is vented improperly and killing you slowly,  double check the meter box at the street when they leave.  If they leave it open the day before the temperature plummets as they are hightailing it out of your home before you ask them to do something else,  the main line will freeze, leaving you with no water anywhere, again.

Lesson Five: Support from Family and Friends

Speaking of people who care . . .

After you buy your first home, your family and friends will be an invaluable source of comfort, inspiration, and assistance.  We have had to begin an online fundraising campaign to help us pay for a new roof, something we were not expecting to have to do for another three to five years; but, even friends of friends have been offering advice and good vibes.  We've had several friends offer to help us move.  Even the real estate agent stepped up to the plate and took care of the home buyer warranty when the seller refused, and I'll give you her name if you ask for it.  This outpouring of support has been enough to give us the strength to deal with the county, with Home Depot trips, and with the numerous calls from contractors each and every day.

I'm sure when we look back on this in a few years, when everything has been paid for and it's time to start new projects, it won't seem so unrelentingly awful; I won't feel the need to curl up in a ball and cry.  In the meantime,  however, I hope our family and friends know and understand just how much we love them and appreciate them.  They've undone a lot of mental damage done by damaging people.  With that thought, I can unfurl, dry off, and deal with this.

If you would like to purchase a fundraiser CD, crochet hat, afghan, online course, or mug, please see our GoFundMe page.  Even positive comments help more than you can imagine.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

What is Toyification?

Is tilt-shift photography, like this example photo, a form of toyification?
Your World as a Toy
Image by drew_anywhere

The root of "toyification" is "toy," which is most commonly used as a common noun or adjective denoting something one would give to a child. "To toy" is also a verb.

I recently passed by two nurses, both with Ph.D.'s and teaching positions at a local university, looking though a medical supply catalog. I overheard one of the two nurses exclaim with excitement that the reflex hammer she wanted for her nursing lab was the reflex hammer shaped like a giraffe. The other was excited about purchasing cartoon-character adorned scrubs. Neither teaches pediatric nursing courses, so why the excitement? It's part of a societal trend, and it's called "toyification."

The "Toy" in "Toyification"

Although the term "toyification" is not as of now listed in the Oxford American Dictionary, Merriam-Webster's or Random House dictionaries, it is a term that's being used currently by pop culture theorists, anthropologists, and sociologists to refer to what one might expect by taking apart the word, itself. The root is "toy," which is most commonly used as a very common noun or adjective denoting something one would give to a child. However, "to toy" is also a verb meaning "to play" or "act idly."

Toyified Products

Christopher Noxon takes a close look at toyification in his book, Rejuvenile, and in his blog of the same name. "Toyification," he states in a blog post called Fisher Price Fonts, "describes how everyday adult stuff is getting less utilitarian and more toy-like" (2006, para. 1). Examples of "toyified" products include not only giraffe-shaped reflex hammers and cartoon-adorned scrubs, but everyday business and home products like cell phones, kitchen cleaning supplies, and even cars. A businessperson might take a call on a Star Wars R2-D2 Motorola Droid cell phone. A tired homemaker might clean up after dinner using a flower-shaped kitchen brush that sits in a piggy-shaped holder. Retirees might just jump in their lime green VW Beetles with the built-in bud vases to head to their local supermarkets.

Although taking business calls, doing the dishes and grocery shopping are not fun tasks anyone but Mary Poppins might think of as a game, the toyification of the task-related products might make the tasks more palatable. Putting the fun back into the everyday might just be what our at-war and out-of-work society needs.

Consequences and Causes of Toyification

On the other hand, it's unknown whether or not toyification could be considered detrimental to a functioning society. Being a fairly new term and area of theory that crosses many areas of study, the dangers and ramifications are yet to be thoroughly studied.

As a start, the key might be in Noxon's use of the phrase, "less utilitarian." It could imply a less serious use or application of a product meant to be taken seriously: For years, now, children have played with toys modeled after adult commodities, like guns and high-heeled shoes. Perhaps it even implies that the businessperson who uses a toyified cell phone doesn't take serious care when dealing with clients. It might, to some, imply that even an expensive toyified tablet computer can be discarded or replaced like a child's toy. Still yet, toyification implies we may need to reexamine what it means to "act your age," or how we can reverse the spoils of an overstimulated and instantly-gratified up-and-coming work force who may not be able to cope with the previous generation's working world.

There is always a correlation between a society and its products, yet it's unknown at this time whether toyification is a symptom of a less-functioning society, or whether it's part of the cause. Whatever the case, toyification has taken a strong hold in current product development and marketing. Only time will tell whether or not the benefits will outweigh, or outlive, the causes and consequences.


Noxon, C. (2006). Fisher Price Fonts. Rejuvenile Consumer Goods: Blog Archive. Retrieved from

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
Originally published Aug 30, 2011 by Amy Lynn Hess.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Get Rid of Blank Pages in Word Documents

Do you have a blank page or pages in your Word document you just can't seem to delete?  What you may have is a hidden page break.

What is a Page Break?

Click on "Insert" and "Page Break" in the ribbon toolbar.
Insert a page break from the ribbon toolbar.

A page break is a special formatting function embedded into the Microsoft Word ribbon tool bar.  It's a very useful function that a writer can use to ensure parts of a paper begin at the very top of new pages.  For example, a writer should use a page break after a title page, after an abstract page, or before a references page.

How to Add a Page Break in Word

A writer can insert a page break by choosing the "Insert" tab at the top of the ribbon toolbar, and "Page Break" from the pages options.

Sometimes, however, page breaks get misplaced and cause problems within a document, like extra pages where there should not be extra pages.  When that happens a writer will have to remove the page break in order to delete extra pages from between, before, or after sections of text.

How to Delete a Page Break in Word

Click the pilcrow symbol and use the delete or backspace key on the keyboard to delete the page break.
View page breaks by showing hidden formatting.
Remove a page break with backspace or delete.

Show Hidden Formatting 

First, in order to see the page breaks, a writer must enable Word to show hidden formatting marks.  Click the "Home" tab and look at the paragraph options.  Click on the pilcrow symbol, also called a paragraph symbol, in order to toggle the hidden formatting marks between show and hide.  When the pilcrow is highlighted, the writer will be able to see any hidden page breaks or other formatting within the document.

Delete Page Breaks

Next, once the writer can see where extra spaces or breaks are occurring, the extra spaces or breaks can be deleted with backspace or delete, as though the formatting were any other character within the document.

A writer can leave the formatting marks on or off as he or she chooses.  The hidden formatting marks will not print if the writer chooses to print the document.  They are simply there to help the writer format the paper professionally.

Want to read more about using Microsoft Office products?

Design a Room Using Microsoft PowerPoint 2010
How to Set a Hanging Indent for a 6th Edition APA References Page
How to Create an APA Title Page Using Word

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Contact the author for permission to republish.

Lessons from a Five-Time Almost First-Time Homebuyer

Take a Chance!  Buy a House!
Image by Images_of_Money
Buying a home is complicated and scary, and that's just lesson one.

As an English Professor at a metropolitan area university, I am generally used to being the person in the room who has most, if not all, of the answers. Not so with buying my first home, however. In the face of buying my first home I have been a complete and utter mess. I have learned, and I continue to learn on a daily basis, new lessons about this frightening and perplexing undertaking.

If you, too, are searching for a home on a limited budget with little to no experience with what to really expect, my lessons are written here for you.

Lesson One: Buying a Home is Scary and Complicated

All of the other lessons follow from this.

I love looking at houses, and I get very excited when there is a new house on the market in my price range for me to see. Whether or not I like the house (or if it has a secret, plastic-sheet-lined basement only accessible through the two-foot wide stairwell in the guestroom closet), it's fun to look.

However, looking is where the fun part ends and the reality sets in. You have to ask pertinent questions and be realistic about the answers depending on your preferences and budget. For example, if the house is perfect except for the exceptionally high burglary crime rate in the area, you should walk away if there are any gut feelings you have about your safety in the neighborhood. If the house is perfect except it sits at the end of a local airport runway, has no copper left in it, or has had a cigar smoker living in it for the past 50 years, it's really not perfect.  If the house is perfect except for the non-working appliances or a list of required repairs, you have to determine if on top of all of your other costs you can afford new appliances or to complete the repairs. That might require contacting a contractor for an estimate of repairs. If you cannot afford these additional costs or potential costs, you have to be willing to walk away from the house. If the house is perfect for you but costs $15,000 over your budget, you have to walk away from the house. That isn't ever fun.

Lesson Two: Find a Buyer's Agent and a Loan Officer You Can Trust

My agent and my loan officer are saints. I have had five houses under contract and have had to walk away from each one. My agent, however, doesn't pressure me to commit to anything after I make my decision to walk away, and she doesn't keep it to herself when she notices a house probably isn't right for me, and she answers all of my questions quickly and completely. My loan officer quickly creates loan comparison price sheets for me when I am interested in a house, so I can see the final closing and monthly costs before I commit to a contract. He answers all of my questions quickly and thoroughly, and he is always willing to offer options I may not have even known to consider.

Something else I have learned from working with my loan officer is that getting the loan comparison price sheets from him before committing to a contract is better than any free "mortgage calculator" on the Web. Seeing all of the fees, taxes, PMI, closing costs, interest, insurance costs, and monthly payments listed in one place is invaluable when making this huge decision. Knowing how much house you can afford is a question you should contemplate with the help of your loan officer. Then, of course, you have to give that number to your agent and firmly stick to that price.

Lesson Three: Attend the Inspection

Looking at a Fixer-Upper?
Image by Images_of_Money
Attending my inspections has been exceptionally enlightening. I have attended four inspections and three contractor walk-throughs, and I have gotten a great idea, by now, of some things to look for when I am viewing homes. For example, besides the obvious cracks in foundations or fireplaces and daylight or water through the roof, I have learned to look for rubber brackets in the breaker box, how to tell the age of AC compressors and hot water tanks by the serial numbers, how to measure the depth of attic insulation, how to check for damage to the flooring under bad carpet, how to turn the utilities on and off, and how to look for signs of bugs, mold, foundation issues, and bad siding, among other things.

Attending the inspections will allow you to learn about all the little in's and out's of a home and not just about the items listed on the inspection report.

Lesson Four: Walk Away if It's the Responsible Thing to Do

Regardless of whether or not you're worried your agent is going to want to kill you, your mother has already made curtains for the house you told her about, or whether or not everything else about the house is perfect, if it's not going to work out, you have to be honest with yourself and walk away. This is especially heartbreaking when the house is everything you want, but beyond your financial threshold; and that threshold will be different for everyone and might be difficult for others to understand.

You have to decide how much of your income you can dedicate to a home. You have to know how low you're willing to allow your savings to to be. You have to know how much home you can heat, cool, carpet, clean, maintain, or use. If there is any question in your mind about whether or not you can afford a particular home after you consult with your loan officer, contact the utility company for previous year's data or look up county tax information, you have to suck up your pride and walk away.

What I have learned from my agent is that I should make a list of what I cannot live without and what I cannot accept in a home, then stick to my list when I am seeing the home as a potential option. No place for a garage and you're a professional at-home mechanic? No yard and you raise big dogs? No parking and you have three cars in the family? No matter how sparkly the new ceramic kitchen sink, how beautiful the walk-in closets and fireplace, how low the price, or how large the garden tub, the house isn't the right house for you. Walk away.  Walk away.

Walk away.  And with that, I return to the first lesson: Buying a home is not always fun. It's scary, and it's complicated.  There are a lot of decisions to make, and a lot of options to consider.


So, as my husband and I pack up and prepare to close on our new house, wish us luck on this arduous and humbling journey, and we will wish the same to you. It took us three years of searching short sales and foreclosures, five cancelled contracts because of lost titles, stolen pipes, rotted floors, moldy basements, and recalled siding, and it took us looking at many, many, many houses we had to leave, walking away.

Readers, may the sun always shine onto that updated backsplash through your new kitchen's window.

Please read the second part of our story: Lessons from a First-Time Homeowner.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
Originally published May 2, 2012 by Amy Lynn Hess.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Vegetarian Potato Soup

This is a "Yukon rose" potato, pink on the outside, yellow on the inside.

Potato soup is inexpensive and simple to prepare. Image by LizMarie_AK

My family's recipe for vegetarian potato soup requires few ingredients, is easy to prepare, and offers a low cost-per-serving option for large families or groups.

Good for Vegetarian, Vegan, or Meat-Eating Groups

Remember how many balls of allspice you add
because you want to get them all out later. 
Although this soup does require careful watching to be sure the added dairy ingredients do not scorch, and it does require the chef getting his or her hands a little sticky, this soup does not require any special kitchen ware, and it is made using food items normally found in any retail grocery store. It's a hearty soup that will feed any hungry, vegetarian soul. Though an ovo-lacto recipe, it may be adjusted for vegans. And trust me, your meat eating friends will enjoy it, too.  You can even add a bit of roasted chicken if you prefer your soup with meat.

It may take up to 2 hours to prepare this soup the first time you try it. The following list of ingredients will make enough soup to serve four.

Required Cooking Gear

  • A large (8 - 10 quart) lidded pot
  • A medium (5 - 8 quart) kettle
  • A large mixing bowl
  • A large knife
  • A measuring cup
  • A measuring spoon
  • A cutting board
  • A fork
  • A teaspoon or tablespoon

Required Ingredients

  • 10 large Russet or Idaho potatoes, or 6 small red potatoes
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 2 - 3 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 1 can evaporated milk (or soy or almond milk)
  • 1/4 sweet onion
  • 8 - 10 balls of whole allspice
  • 4 large eggs (or egg substitute)
  • 2 cups of flour

Preparing the Stock and Egg Drop Dumplings 

The dough will be very sticky, but very tasty!
There are two separate parts of this recipe that are cooked separately, the potato stock and the dumplings. The most effective use of time is to prepare the stock first, then while the potatoes continue to soften in the hot water, the dumplings can be prepared.

  1. Peel and cube the potatoes into 1/2 inch pieces, and quarter the onion.
  2. Place the potato pieces, quartered sweet onion, whole allspice, butter, and salt in the large pot. Add just enough water to cover the potatoes.
  3. Cover the pot, bring to a boil, then remove from heat.
  4. After the potato stock is removed from the heat, the dumplings can be started.
  5. Add flour to the mixing bowl, then the eggs (vegans use egg substitute), and  whisk the eggs into the flour with a fork.
  6. After whisking with the fork  is no longer effective, knead the dough with your knuckles.
  7. Make a soft, sticky, elastic dough. (These types of dumplings are softer and stickier than rivilchas.)
  8. Bring water to a boil in the medium kettle.
  9. Use a spoon to slice off 1/2  teaspoon-sized bits of dough into the boiling water. If the dough is too sticky to release into the boiling water, dip the end of the spoon into the water between drops.
  10. Boil the dumplings for 15 minutes, then drain.
  11. Add the dumplings, pepper, and evaporated milk to the potato stock.
  12. Very slowly bring the soup back to a low boil, carefully watching and stirring so as not to scorch the evaporated milk, then reduce to a low simmer.
  13. Remove the allspice balls before serving (so no one breaks any teeth).

Don't forget to remove the allspice!
Cost Per Person Estimate

The average prices of items vary by location, season, and economic circumstances. The average cost of the listed items adds up to less than $10.00 or $15.00. The highest cost item is the allspice, which can vary greatly if purchased in bulk or in measured amounts from a farmer's market.

Whether adding side dishes to the meal or not, the cost per person for the soup is quite low. Each person eats for approximately $2.50 - $3.75, which leaves room to spare if wishing to add a salad or fresh bread to the meal.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
Originally published on Jul 29, 2011 by Amy Lynn Hess.

Potato, Sausage, and Kale Soup

Served in a winter white dish, this soup, with hearty chunks of potato, sausage, and kale, will look scrumptious to all of your family and friends.
Sausage, Potato & Kale Soup 
This gluten-free soup is easy to prepare, easy on the pocketbook, and super duper tasty!

I love recipes with easy to find, easy to remember, and easy on the pocketbook ingredients.  I work ten hours a day, and the last thing I want to do when I arrive home is work out a complicated recipe.  I find I am happiest when the recipe is simple, tasty, and leaves me time to relax in the evenings.  This inexpensive and tasty soup does just that.

Ingredients for 10 – 12 Cups of Soup

  • 32 ounces (4 cups) – Low Sodium Chicken Broth
  • 12 ounces (1.5 cups/ 1 package) Ground Italian Sausage
  • 12 ounces (1.5 cups/ 1 can) Evaporated Milk
  • 32 ounces (4 cups / ½ bunch) Chopped Kale
  • 4 Medium Red Potatoes

Required Cooking Skills & Tasks

Kale steams on top of the creamy sausage and potato stock.
Serve at 160 Degrees Fahrenheit
If you’d like your family to help, you can divide the tasks and skills based on the level of difficulty. Otherwise, these are the skills you’ll need in order to prepare this soup.

  • Rinsing & Brushing
  • Stirring
  • Measuring 
  • Taking the Temperature
  • Browning
  • Simmering & Boiling
  • Chopping
  • Slicing

Cooking Instructions

Slice the kale along the spine.
Wash & Chop the Kale
1. Brown the ground sausage in a non-stick pan, and drain it.  There is no need to add butter or oil.
2. Rinse and brush the potatoes, then use a knife, mandoline, or other vegetable slicer to slice them into ¼ inch slices.
3. Add the chicken broth, browned sausage and sliced potatoes to a large kettle, and bring the soup to a boil.
4. Lower the heat to a low simmer and cover.
5. While the soup is simmering and the potatoes are softening, rinse the kale and chop it on a large cutting board.  Be sure to remove the leafy greens from the stalks of the plant before chopping.  Discard the stalks.
6. Once the potatoes are soft and the skins begin to peel, add the evaporated milk.  Stir continuously so the milk does not scorch.
7. Bring the soup back to a low, bubbling simmer, and add the kale.
8. Cook for 5 more minutes, and then let the soup cool to about 160 degrees Fahrenheit before serving.

Nutritional Information

I used the MyFitnessPal recipe calculator to generate the nutritional information for this recipe per serving, divided into six servings.  Although my calculations are listed below, please keep in mind that the brand, type, and measurements of individual ingredients will have an impact on the nutritional information listed here.

This soup has approximately 347 calories per serving.  There are about 30 carbohydrates, of which 5 are sugars.  There are around 17 grams of fat and 19 grams of protein.  With low-sodium chicken broth and organic ground sausage, there are between 900 and 1000 grams of sodium per serving.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Make a Celtic Tatting Shuttle

Want to know how to make a tatting shuttle for Celtic tatting? Read on!  

Are you curious about Celtic tatting?  Do you wonder where to get started?  Start by making your very own Celtic tatting shuttle!

How Is a Celtic Tatting Shuttle Different from Other Shuttles?

An example of Celtic tatting; a tatted earring.
An Example of Celtic Tatting
Celtic tatting requires the lacemaker to weave his or her completed work into a Celtic design.  In order to weave the design through and around itself, the tatting shuttle must be narrow enough to pass through the loops and bridges formed by twisting the work.

When I heard of Celtic tatting, I very much wanted to give it a try, but I just couldn't seem to find Celtic tatting shuttles at any of our local shops, and my shuttles were in no way narrow enough to use for weaving the designs.  After studying the look of some Celtic shuttles I saw in videos, I decided I could make my own, at least to get me started.

Celtic tatting; A Handmade Celtic tatting shuttle
Celtic Tatting Requires a Shuttle with a Narrow Width

Making the Celtic Tatting Shuttle

The base I chose for my shuttle was something I already had on hand; a popsicle stick from a quickly eaten popsicle!

In order to turn the popsicle stick into a Celtic tatting shuttle, I simply had to sand it smoother than smooth, and add some notches to each end to wind my thread.

This Popsicle Stick Was a Little Less Than 4 Inches
I used my rotary tool and cutting wheel to add the notches to the stick, and I used a fine sandpaper to smooth all of my edges.

After brushing all of the dust from the stick, I finished it with two very light coats of tung oil and let it dry.

Using My Newly Made Shuttle

I wound my thread around and around the newly made shuttle, and I was able to complete the earring projects found in Rozella Linden's book, Celtic Tatting Knots and Patterns: 12 Original Designs for Needle or Shuttle Tatters.

Smooth the Grooves and Edges with Fine Sandpaper
All in all, I am very pleased with my results.  I was able not only to satisfy my curiosity about Celtic tatting, but I was also able to design my own shuttles and create a beautiful product.

Want to Read More about Tatting?  

Tatting!  Time to Learn Something New!
A Brief Introduction to Crochet Hooks
Tatting!  Susan Bates Plastic Tatting Shuttle with Removable Bobbin

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Contact the writer for permission to republish text or images.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Crochet Christmas Tree Ornaments

Christmas Card Ornaments with Crochet Edging and a Crochet Apple Ornament for Your Christmas Tree
Handmade Ornaments for Your Family Christmas Tree 

A family's Christmas tree ornament collection can become, over time, an opportunity to tell a family's story. Ornaments and collections can be as varied as the family, itself. Some ornaments might be purchased at special locations, handed down over the years, or hand made by family members every Christmas. My own tree is adorned with many handmade ornaments, my favorites being my crocheted apples and re-purposed Christmas cards.

Overview of These Crocheted Ornaments - Apple

Each crocheted “apple” is made from red and burgundy multicolored chenille yarn. Inside each apple is a Styrofoam ball. The green “leaves” are made with green multicolored yarn.
Each re-purposed Christmas card needs only a hole punch, a pair of scissors, and some festive yarn to create. Use a very lightweight yarn with metallic strands for a twinkling look.

Stitches and Abbreviations
A Crochet Apple Christmas Tree Ornament Made with Chenille Yarn

  • chain (ch)
  • bind off (BO)
  • decrease (dec)
  • increase (inc)
  • single crochet (sc)
  • half double crochet (hdc)
  • double crochet (dc)
  • triple crochet (tr)
  • slip stitch (sl st)
  • reverse (rev)
  • crochet 2 stitches in one chain (2tog)
  • loop (lp)

How to Create Crocheted Apple Ornaments

Use half-double crochet stitches for this ornament with a starting chain of four and a starting row of eight. The pattern here is for a Styrofoam ball that is 2" round. Use a "G" hook for these, or a hook that creates a tight stitch, depending on your yarn.
  1. ch 4 & sl st to begin rows
  2. create a row of 8 hdc
  3. create a row inc to 16 hdc
  4. create a row inc to 32 hdc
  5. tuck in the Styrofoam ball
  6. create a row dec to 16 hdc
  7. create a row dec to 8 hdc
  8. create a row dec to 4 hdc
  9. BO leaving a lp for the ornament hanger or hook

The green leaf is shaped and attached after the completion of the apple.

  1. ch 5 and leave 5 - 7" of yarn
  2. rev & sc
  3. dc2tog
  4. tc2tog
  5. dc2tog
  6. sc
  7. BO and leave 5 - 7" of yarn

Once you tie the apple's leaf to the loop "stem," tuck in the ends and add your hanger or hook. Your apple ornament is complete!

How to Create Re-Purposed Christmas Card Ornaments

Reused Christmas Card Ornaments with Crochet Edging
For this ornament you first need to look through old Christmas cards and cut out the small picturesque images from your favorites. This is the most time-consuming part of the project because re-reading the cards can be a tempting and pleasant distraction.
Once you find the cards you want to use, cut out the pictures and leave a 1/4" edging around the picture. Then, punch holes around the edges of the picture leaving 1/2" - 3/4" between each hole. You will use the holes to crochet the border. This effect is a lot like Victorian icing ornaments without the sticky icing!
Once your holes are punched, you can work these around fairly quickly. The key is to add enough stitches to prevent your card from warping or bending.  You get extra "specialness" if you include some of the sender's personal notes on the reverse side of the image.

  1. beg with a sl st in any punched hole so the yarn doesn't come loose
  2. dc or tc 3 - 4 st(s) in the first hole
  3. depending on the gauge of your yarn, you may ch 1 or 2 st(s) before beginning the following hole
  4. work around the holes, adding 3 - 4 dc or tc in each hole
  5. when you complete all of the holes, you can choose to create a new row or BO

Once the crocheted border is complete, you can either create a loop or simply add a hook or hanger through the border to hand this ornament on the tree.   

Want to learn more about crochet online?

Use this link to sign up for a free Udemy account and take my complete online crochet course for only $10.00!

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Paranormal Reality Television: A Lesson in Critical Thinking

This bit of light seems to be floating in the center of the room.  Is it a ghost?
Ghostly Orb? by spectrefloat
The nature of paranormal research reality television lends itself well to the discussion of critical thinking, and what we should, or should not, believe.

Since the early 2000’s, the number of paranormal reality television shows has skyrocketed. Just to name a few, there’s The Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, Biography’s Celebrity Ghost Stories, SyFy’s Ghost Hunters and Ghost Hunters International, A&E’s Paranormal State, and The Discovery Channel’s Ghost Lab. Many of these shows' teams, however, use pseudo-scientific methods to make conclusions, and the producers sometimes forego logic and reason to make for more exciting episodes. Whether or not we believe in ghosts, we can use these shows to our advantage when teaching students good critical thinking skills.

Ghost Hunting or Paranormal Television Assignment 

The format for all of these shows is generally similar, so showing any one of them can help us meet our learning objectives. A team of investigators attempt to gather scientific evidence that either proves or disproves paranormal occurrences, sometimes equivocating on the term “hauntings.” The teams conduct historical research, record audio, video, electric, electromagnetic, or atmospheric changes at a location, interview witnesses, and at times, rely on information given by mediums or psychics. The investigators, among others, claim there is truth behind every piece of evidence gathered while investigating. However, there are thousands of skeptics who make counter claims, daily, and post debunked pieces of evidence all across the Internet. Some teams are even made up of skeptics, or they do not believe in the methods or evidence of other teams.  Just like with all controversial topics, an overabundance of competing evidence can confuse viewers, who may choose, in the face of such uncertainty, passive acceptance over engaged thinking.

Goal of the Paranormal Television Assignment

The main goal of this assignment is to help students realize the power of persuasive techniques used in reality television, which requires a look at the nature of television in general. Paranormal television episodes work well in this context because they use terms directly related to reason, logic, and argumentation. Some of their evidence is extremely convincing, and some of the team members have years of experience as investigators and critical eyes when it comes to their own data. This assignment asks students to think critically while avoiding both dualistic and relativistic thinking; students should not dismiss evidence based on only faith-based value or reality assumptions. Students must study and evaluate the evidence as it has been presented by the team investigators, then choose and support a position on the issue, “Can I believe the conclusions made by this team of paranormal investigators?”

Sample Learning Objectives

Teachers can use this assignment to meet learning objectives from any level of Bloom's Revised Taxonomy.
  • Students will evaluate the authority and credentials of paranormal investigators.
  • Students will identify errors in inductive and deductive reasoning.
  • Students will summarize the role of television in our construction of positions on issues.


Follow-Up and Assessment

After watching an episode of one of the paranormal reality television shows, students should discuss the answers to the following questions in order to help them take a position on the issue, “Can I believe the conclusions made by this team of paranormal investigators?” Faculty can assess the students, during discussion or with written assignments, based on the following basic questions.
  1. Do these investigators have a profession that warrants the title of “expert” in paranormal research or investigation?
  2. Do these investigators have higher education in science or paranormal investigation?
  3. Do these investigators have adequate experience conducting paranormal investigations?
  4. Do these investigators have a vested interest in the results of their investigations? Do these investigators charge money to prove or disprove paranormal activity?
  5. Based on your previous four answers, do you think these investigators are “experts” in the field of paranormal investigation?
  6. What methodology do these investigators use to collect evidence when conducting a paranormal investigation? Do they use representative sampling, scientific experimentation, observation, research, or a combination of techniques?
  7. How does this team define “good evidence?” Do you agree with their definition of “good evidence?”
  8. Are there any errors in reasoning or logical fallacies demonstrated by the team throughout the course of this investigation?
  9. Do you find that the team’s premises support their conclusions?
  10. Do the researchers present inductive arguments as statements of probability, and do they present valid and sound deductive arguments as statements of certainty?
  11. What evidence or information, if any, would you like to have in order to make a better decision about what to believe and what not to believe?
  12. How does the nature of television affect your decision on which position to take on this issue?

Whether or not students are believers in ghosts, demons, or other paranormal phenomena, they need to think critically about the nature of reality television, the rules of true scientific investigation, and the definition of an “expert” when watching paranormal reality television. Thinking critically about television evidence and the nature of television can help viewers make better decisions when it comes to what to believe and what not to believe - no matter the topic.

Have You Tried This Critical Thinking Assignment?

Are you a teacher who has tried this assignment or a student who's completed this assignment?  I'd really love to know what you think.  Please leave a comment!

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
Originally published Feb 10, 2012 by Amy Lynn Hess.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Teaching Cultural Diversity through Functional Pottery

Green Diamond Butter Dish by bohlsmargaret

The world over, one thing all people all have in common is the use of functional ware for cooking and serving their cultural cuisine.  The creativity and uniqueness found in such pottery is inspiring, and it is a perfect avenue by which to introduce student potters to a variety of cultures. 

By studying and imitating ware designs from around the world, students can get a muddy, hands-on lesson in cultural diversity.

Functional Pottery and Cultural Diversity

The world over, no matter the culture, one thing people all have in common is the use of functional ware for cooking and serving the food produced and available in that part of the world. The types of foods and recipes served dictate the uses and designs of the wares. Additionally, pottery from around the world is created using native clays, glazes, decorations, and techniques; all the more potential variety for students to research, practice, share, and study.

Learning Objectives in Butter Dishes

The study of butter and the butter dish might be a good starting point for students studying cultural diversity through the creation of functional pottery. Students can determine if butter is used in a culture, or why it may or may not be found on many tables. Students can study cultural design patterns and techniques for types of butter dishes, and they can design their own dishes based on whether or not people from the culture use melted butter, soft butter, hard butter, whipped butter, liquid butter, butter substitutes, large lumps of butter, or butter molded into particular shapes. Students can infer knowledge about the culture by studying the forms and functions of its pottery.

By combining cultural research and technique, teachers can meet any number of learning objectives or course goals from all levels of Bloom's Taxonomy.  For example, students can be asked to sequence the steps required to center a lump of clay on the wheel, summarize their current knowledge of butter dishes or particular cultures, safely use a slab roller in the creation of a butter dish, differentiate between types of butter dishes and their uses or places of origin, produce an imitation of a style of butter dish, and evaluate the functionality of their own finished products.

Pedagogical Requirements

In order to meet the stated learning objectives of the class or unit, teachers must determine the skill levels of their classes, the number of times the classes will meet, and any firing or equipment restrictions the students might encounter along the way. Some requirements for the assignment, however, should include research, planning, the creation of prototypes or test tiles for glazes, and the completion of a finished product per type of butter dish and cultures studied. Requirements that tie the project together can include student presentations, research papers, or a school-wide display of the artwork with statements by the students that include the cultural information, sketches of various designs, or any type of specialized display.

Regardless of where students may live, or where they might come from, the study of functional wares from all over the world can benefit their understanding of other cultures. With careful planning, teachers can use the study of functional pottery to meet cultural diversity learning objectives.


The Online Teacher Resource. (n.d.). Blooms Taxonomy Verbs. Retrieved from

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
Originally published September 28, 2011. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My Dahn Yoga Experience

Dahn Yoga was a type of yoga I hadn't ever heard of, so I decided to give it a chance. After my experience, however, I'll never go back.

Chakra Displeasure by Claire L. Evans
There are mixed reviews when it comes to individuals' experiences with Dahn Yoga. Some claim the practice is the best thing to ever happen to them, many scoff at the claim it's even yoga at all, and others liken the program to a dangerous cult. The organization has even been sued for wrongful death and brainwashing by former members and their families (Falkenberg, 2009). However, I didn't read about these things until after my private session. Before attending my first and only class, I looked only at online reviews for the specific center I would be attending. What follows is an account of my personal experience.

Before my Dahn Yoga Appointment

While purchasing some shampoo recently, I noticed the store where I was shopping had flyers posted in the store advertising a free aura reading for later in the week. I hadn't ever had an aura reading before, so I thought it could at least be an interesting lunch-break diversion.

I arrived back to the store at my appointed time and was greeted with a hug by a very friendly Dahn Yoga instructor. He asked a few questions about my health and wellness, and he used a piece of electronic equipment to "read" my aura. When the results came up on his laptop screen, he was very complimentary about the uniqueness of my aura, pointing out that he could help me reach my potential by providing instruction that would "brighten" the areas of my aura that were literally darker in my results. He spoke to a great extent about chakra healing and meditation, both of which I believe can help a person lead a balanced life.

After five minutes or so, he presented the opportunity for me to have a private session at a Dahn Yoga center for the low introductory price of $20.00 (€ 15.0800). I took the opportunity with an open mind. I wanted to form my own opinion of the center and practice, and he seemed like a sincere, friendly person. The problem areas he had identified resonated with me. He told me he would call the day before my session to confirm.

Before the session I read reviews about the particular center I would be attending. Although most of the reviews were glowingly positive, there was one review that warned readers that Dahn Yoga is a cult and a scam. Thus warned, I promised myself I wouldn't sign up for any additional sessions until after I had mulled it over the week following the session.

Not having heard from the practitioner as promised, I did call to confirm my appointment before I left the office and headed to my appointment.

During the Session

I was slightly wary of what was happening throughout the session to the extent that when I looked at myself in the mirrored wall, I realized I was visibly uncomfortable. I was talking a lot, I could not relax, and even though I am normally able to clear my mind while meditating, my body and mind seemed to be on high alert.

I was noticing everything, both positive and negative.  I noticed the music was a bit loud and distracting, and the practitioner fiddled with the laptop that was playing the music a few times during the session.  Although he did ask for permission before touching me, I noticed that when it was time to breathe while he pressed or tapped on my body, I was feeling more ticklish than normal because my body was very tense. This, in turn, made me hold my breath. I noticed he seemed very knowledgeable about chakra healing and meridians.  I noticed that although I was too warm in my sweatshirt, I was not willing to take off my sweatshirt. I continued to think about that distractedly for the entire hour.  I noticed I felt no different when we were finished than when we began.

What I noticed the most, however, was the extremely obvious hard sell that followed the session.

When I explained I did not have a work schedule that would allow me to come during class times, the practitioner "reminded" me that this was a very important journey I was about to undertake and "suggested" $1200.00 worth of private sessions would solve my scheduling difficulties. When I explained my financial situation would not allow for that, he suggested a plan in the $900.00 range. Every time I said "no," he offered a plan $100.00 to $250.00 less than the previous suggestion until we got all the way down to a $93.00 plan with a 3% discount. Knowing I was probably his worst nightmare, I told him I would think about it. He gave me his number and told me to call no later than 9:00 p.m. so that the 3% discount could still be applied.

Following the Sales Pitch

Unlike positive experiences I've had at other yoga or meditation centers, this seemed very phony, from the tacky music to having to call to confirm my appointment when I had been told I would receive a call to the hard sell that followed the session.

As someone who strives to avoid the consumer-mindset in my daily life, I never respond well to a hard sell. The longer I thought about my session and attempted to keep my open mind about it and how it ended, the angrier I got. Just as I had promised myself, I thought about my session and whether or not I would subscribe to a plan. "No way," I thought, and that was before I researched the company and its various legal challenges.

I did not call the practitioner to subscribe to any plan, regardless of the very arbitrary 9:00 p.m. discount expiration. Instead, I realized what I should do more of is take advantage of the wonderful and easy-going yoga center located only a few miles from me where people can drop in for sessions at only $15.00 for an hour - with no sales pitch, only fresh fruit, to follow.


Falkenberg, K. (2009). Dahn yoga: Body, brain and wallet. Forbes Magazine. Retrieved from

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
Original publication May 1, 2012.

Monday, November 4, 2013

How to Make a Clay Whistle: A Beginner's Pottery Project

This is a picture and a drawing of a clay whistle for comparison.
A Clay Whistle Photograph and Design Plan
Walking into a pottery studio as a beginner can be a bit intimidating. There's a lot to learn, from basic handbuilding and throwing techniques to more advanced firing and glazing concepts. However, do not be discouraged!

A clay whistle project can be created in your first few days, even if you're just starting out.

The basic building techniques you should use and understand for this project are wiring off clay, wedging, pinching, paddling, and attaching pieces by scoring and applying slip.  Once you understand these basic techniques, you can master the art of making a working clay whistle!

Understanding How Whistles Make Sound

Before beginning, it's important to understand a few concepts about how whistles work so you can sketch and plan your project.

This whistle will work much like a flute. According to Mark Shepard on An Intro to Flute Acoustics, "Nearly all musical instruments are made up of two basic elements: a generator, which gets the vibration going, and a resonator, which amplifies the vibration and modifies it to create the sound of the instrument" (2001, para. 1).   For this project, the mouthpiece and "wedge" will be the generator, and the hollow form will be the resonator.

This is a diagram of the inside of a clay whistle.
The player will blow air that passes through a canal until it hits a wedge of clay that splits the air, causing the sound. The air will alternate between escaping out of the whistle and being forced into the whistle, which will cause vibrations in the form.

Make a clay whistle

Creating the Resonator of the Whistle; The Hollow Form

The basic idea in making the hollow form is to create enough space for the air to resonate.  The instructions here are for creating one pinch pot and sealing the end, then creating a flat surface for the generator.  Alternately, you can create a second pinch pot of the same size as the first and attach them together to form a hollow sphere.

  1. Wire off 1 - 2 pounds of clay.
  2. Wedge your clay and cut it into 1/2 pound cubes.
  3. Form balls of clay from the cubes.
  4. Wrap all but one of the balls in plastic (to keep them moist), and use the last one to create a pinch pot the size of your hand.
  5. Smooth and pinch the pot until the walls are 1/4 inch thick.
  6. Close your form by applying slip to scored edges. The closed edge is the bottom of the form.
  7. Lightly tap or paddle the top of the form in order to create a flat surface for the whistle's hole.

Creating the Whistle's Mouthpiece

The mouthpiece is the piece of the whistle the player will use for blowing air into the form.  Be sure it is smooth and has a straight slot on one side.  The air passing through to the wedge will need to be "shaped" as a rectangle in order to properly split between the form and the wedge.  It's a strange concept to think of "shaping" air, but by shaping the hole in the mouthpiece, the air can be "shaped."
The mouthpiece of a clay whistle is a cube or cylinder.

1. Use about one cubed inch of clay to create a smooth cube or solid cylinder.
2. Poke a thin, rectangular hole in the mouthpiece, like a shortened slit for a piggybank.
3. Set the mouthpiece aside.

Attaching the Mouthpiece to the Whistle

The mouthpiece must be aligned with the slit created in the hollow form, and it must be carefully attached to the form.  You don't want it to fall off or become out of alignment with the wedge while drying or while in the kiln!

  1. Insert a fettling knife (or popsicle stick) into the hollow form just under the top of the "lid."
  2. The top surface of the knife should touch the bottom surface of the hollow form's "lid."
  3. Remove the knife.
  4. Create a slot at the knife's opening that's the same size as the slot in the mouthpiece.
  5. Insert the knife into the mouthpiece, then into the slot in the hollow form.
  6. Push the knife through both slits so it just touches the lid of the hollow form, as before.
  7. The knife now sits where air will later pass through the whistle.
  8. Slip and score the mouthpiece to attach it.  Use extra coils of clay as needed to make a smooth connection.

Creating the Generator; The Whistle's Hole and Wedge

The hole and wedge are the pieces of the whistle that will allow sound to be generated.  Notice the shape of the hole and wedge in the following figure.

  1. Use a needle tool to cut out a small square of clay where the air hole meets the hollow inside of the form.
  2. Create 90 degree angles straight down into the form. You will be able to see the fettling knife's top surface.
  3. After the square is cleanly cut and you can see the surface of the fettling knife, create a 45 degree "slide" from the back edge of the square hole up towards the back of the hollow form. It's at this point the air will be split to make a sound. Use the top of the knife as a guide.
  4. Be sure to use the needle tool to clean any clay out from below the edge of the wedge that sits below the level of the air canal.
  5. Practice blowing softly into the mouthpiece and adjusting the angles until the wedge and air canal are aligned and the whistle makes the desired sound.
  6. Practice with all of the 1/2 pound balls of clay you've wedged. When the basic forms and whistles are complete and working (and you've cleaned the clay from around your mouth), let the clay become leather hard, then decorate your whistle before bisque firing.
  7. Remember to glaze carefully so as not to plug any of your whistle's holes with glaze.

Even if it's your first day in the pottery studio, once you understand basic handbuilding techniques, you can begin making your first clay whistle.


Shepard, M. (2001). An Intro to Flute Acoustics. Retrieved from

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What's a Thesis?

A thesis starts with an idea, your own idea.
A thesis starts with an idea, the writer's own idea.

Whether a writer is composing a speech or an essay, there is one thing that the writer should not forget to add, and that is the thesis statement.  But, what exactly is a thesis statement?

A thesis statement is a writer's claim or position on the narrowed topic at hand.  

Seems simple enough, right?

Let's break it down.

Who Writes a Thesis Statement?

A thesis statement must stem from the writer of the speech or essay, since a thesis statement is the writer's own claim or position on the narrowed topic at hand.  A paraphrase, summary, or quotation cannot be a thesis statement because none of those things would be the writer's claim or position on a topic.  A fact, statistic, or dictionary definition cannot be a thesis statement because those would not be the writer's own claim or position on the topic.

What Makes a Thesis a Thesis?

According to Osborn, Osborn and Osborn in  Public Speaking: Finding Your Voice, a thesis statement "summarizes in a single sentence the central idea of your speech" (117).  Jean Wyrick, in Steps to Writing Well, states "The thesis statement declares the main point or controlling idea of your entire essay" (pg. 31).   In other words, a thesis statement is the writer's own claim or position on the narrowed topic at hand.

When Does a Writer Compose a Thesis Statement?

A writer should compose a thesis statement after a sufficient amount of prewriting, including any required research.  Prewriting helps a writer narrow a topic to a manageable size: Remember, a thesis statement is a comment on the narrowed topic at hand.  Composing a thesis after a sufficient amount of research helps a writer answer a research question and make an educated claim about a topic or choose a position on a topic before drafting an essay.

A thesis statement should be well-thought out and clearly stated before the writer moves from the prewriting stage of the writing process to the outlining stage of the writing process.  At any time, a thesis can be edited or changed to reflect greater clarity or a change in the writer's position or claim.  However, starting with the clearest idea possible will greatly help the writer maintain unity, coherence, and clarity within the speech or essay.

Where Does a Thesis Go?

A thesis statement generally appears near the beginning of a speech or essay; it introduces the reader or audience to the writer's claim or position on a given topic.

In a basic five-paragraph essay or short speech, the thesis appears at the end of an introduction, following an "attention-getter" or "lead-in."  It may appear, again, in the conclusion.  In a narrative speech or essay, a thesis statement will often appear only in the conclusion, after the story has been told.

Why Do I Have to Have a Thesis?

The thesis statement helps a writer maintain unity in an essay or speech. Any idea that does not support the thesis should not appear in the essay or speech.

Furthermore, the thesis statement also has an effect on the audience.  The writer uses the thesis near the beginning of the speech or essay to offer the reader or listener a glimpse of what the essay or speech is going to prove.  The body of the speech or essay proves the claim or position of the thesis, and the conclusion reiterates the claim or position.   When a writer omits the thesis from the introduction, the audience might be confused about the point of the evidence offered in the body.  A reader or listener might begin to ask, "What's your point?"

How Do I Write a Thesis?

How a thesis statement is worded is very much related to the topic and purpose or the speech or essay.  For example, if the purpose of an essay is to inform, the thesis will indicate a position about the topic that is informative.  For a persuasive or argumentative speech, the thesis will indicate that the writer will be offering evidence in support of a claim.  A narrative thesis is generally a statement that sums up a life lesson or piece of wisdom or insight that was gleaned during the event depicted in the narrative.

 No matter the mode of an essay or speech, however, a writer should never forget the thesis statement, the writer's claim or position on the narrowed topic at hand.

Want to read more about writing essays?  Try
An Overview of the Writing Process
Avoid Unintentional Plagiarism
Myths about Writing Essays
Before Writing Your Blog

Want to learn more about writing essays?  Try my complete online essay writing course on called "Quality Paragraph and Essay Writing."  Use the coupon code link to get 50% off the regular price of the course. Receive a certificate of completion when you've finished!


  • Osborn, M., Osborn, S. & Osborn, R. (2012). Public speaking: Finding your voice (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
  • Wyrick, J. (2011). Steps to writing well (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth.