Pens Made from Recycled Plastic (B2P product review)

Note to my relatives coming to my house for Christmas: Spoiler alert! Don’t read this until after Christmas!  

I’ve had a pretty hectic December–including a back injury that has made some tasks impossible and forced me to spend more time resting than usual–but my gift shopping has come together pretty well.  Just last night, though, I realized I had forgotten to seek out any stocking stuffers and didn’t have any already on hand.  Luckily, there’s a product I discovered earlier this year that everybody can use, that I can buy at my handy neighborhood 24-hour drugstore!  This is not a paid endorsement; this is a spontaneous, honest review of a product I’ve used myself.

Bottle 2 Pen ballpoint pens are made from recycled plastic beverage bottles.  83% of the plastic used in the pens comes from actual used bottles deposited in recycling bins, and another 3% is recycled from factory scraps.  When these pens run out of ink, they can be refilled with standard Pilot ballpoint refill cartridges, so the pen case is reusable.  However, unlike some refillable pens I’ve had, B2P pens are so affordably priced that I wouldn’t be upset if I lost one.  They come in 5 colors, including purple and green!  They are retractable, so there’s no cap to misplace.

I bought a pack of B2P pens in the early summer and have been using them since then, including a few lengthy writing jobs.  They write very smoothly and are comfortable to hold.  They are at least as good as most ballpoint pens and very superior to the super-cheap non-refillable type.

Even in this electronic era, everybody can use a pen!  Children especially like to have their own pen and are fascinated by the spring-loaded retraction mechanism.  Because B2P pens are designed to be taken apart for refilling, kids can take them apart and put them back together over and over again–great for practicing fine motor skills and learning about how things work.

B2P pens work for me, as stocking stuffers and in life in general!  Visit Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways for other low-cost, Earth-friendly ideas!  Check out my other practical stocking stuffer ideas!

Lots of Science Projects for Kids!

Our son Nicholas is in second grade at a great public school!  Each month, he has to do two science projects at home.  I really like the way these projects are organized, and although each student is given a paper copy to bring home, I think it’s wonderful that the lists of projects are available online so that anyone around the world can be inspired by them!  The online version has links to resources at the Carnegie Library (our public library system here in Pittsburgh) for further study on some of the topics.

The science projects are written in a calendar format, with one project for almost every school day of the month, so a class or a home-schooler could use them for daily inspiration.  The way they’re used at Nicholas’s school is that each student chooses two of the projects from the month’s selections.  He can do the projects any time during the month; they are due on the last school day of the month.  Depending on the type of project, students may get to talk about their work to the whole class or to display their work in the hallway.  Nicholas cuts out the box describing the project from the calendar page and tapes it to his project to avoid any confusion for his teacher about which project he did.

This month, for example, Nicholas chose these two projects: Read more…

How to Salvage Over-baked Brownies

This past Sunday, we brought the food for church coffee hour.  In addition to carrots, spinach dip, hummus, cheese, and crackers, my son wanted to bring brownies.

Things Not To Do When Baking Brownies:

  • Don’t agree to do it in between two hours-long shopping expeditions, on a day when you are still recovering from a back injury–or in any similarly stressful, painful, and/or tired condition.  Choosing to do this is likely to lead you into doing other Things Not To Do because you are not thinking clearly.
  • Don’t top the brownies with pieces of candy (in our case, peppermints and Tootsie Rolls left over from Halloween).  At least, don’t do this if you are making relatively shallow brownies.  Maybe it would work if you added the candy later.  But don’t set it on top of raw batter 3/4″ deep.  The candies will sink to the bottom and melt and stick onto the pan.
  • If you are making Honey Bear Brownies (a recipe which I highly recommend when made as written) and discover that you don’t have enough honey, don’t just substitute sorghum syrup and expect that it will work.
  • If you failed to follow my advice above and you did make brownies with Tootsie Rolls on them, don’t forget about that when you are looking at the brownies to see if they are done yet.  Those puddles of boiling dark-brown liquid are molten Tootsie Rolls, not pockets of brownie batter that’s mysteriously still not solidified.
  • Don’t test brownies for done-ness by poking with a chopstick until it comes out clean, as you would a cake.  Brownies are supposed to be gooey.  The way to tell that they are done is that the edges pull away from the pan a bit.  Don’t put away the cookbook without reading that fact, clearly stated in the recipe which you have made many times.
  • Don’t forget to set the timer.  Even when you have decided to turn off the oven and let the brownies sit in there a moment longer, set a timer.  Otherwise you may realize 15 minutes have gone by and they are now very dry-looking.
  • Don’t leave the suspiciously dry-looking brownies sitting out uncovered for 17 hours.  As soon as they have cooled, put the lid on the pan or cover it with foil.  Better yet, cut the brownies at this point and store them in another container.  That way, if you’ve made brownies you are physically unable to cut, you will find out about it sooner, instead of when you are trying to serve them.

If you have failed to follow all of this good advice–like I did myself–you may find that what you thought was a pan of brownies is actually a 9″x14″ sheet of rock-hard stuff welded to the bottom of the pan.  Read more…

Should I start using Pinterest?

I am seeking the opinions of my readers!  Please comment!

Over the course of this year, I’ve browsed other people’s Pinterest boards a number of times, and I’ve seen a small but increasing amount of visitors to my site coming in through links on Pinterest.  I read more about Pinterest in my college alumni magazine (an alumnus was involved in designing it) and thought it might be something I’d like to use.

After all, I’m constantly collecting links to assorted things that interest me that I want to share with everybody.  I post these links on an old-fashioned links page, where I can write as much text as I like to describe and comment on the things I’m linking to.  It works for me–I look up things there whenever I feel like reading them again–and it gets a few readers every time I update it, but in general I think Web users have moved on to other methods of browsing, and Pinterest seems to be quite popular.

So, one day last month, I devoted a lunch hour to setting up a Pinterest account.

I was instantly annoyed.

As best I could tell, the set-up process requires you to “follow” 5 other boards before you can start your own board–and you must choose those boards from a limited set, grouped into categories that mostly don’t interest me; I couldn’t find any way to search for a particular board or (if I found boards from some other direction, in a separate browser window) enter particular boards to follow.  I couldn’t find anything I actually liked much, so I was forced to follow 5 boards that seemed worth a brief glance, just to get this step over with.  I will now have to un-follow these boards, I assume.  (I hope that’s allowed.  I didn’t look into it yet.)

Then I found that the above step resulted in my homepage–my page, which I thought would be blank until I filled it with stuff I chose to pin–being cluttered with a huge number of mostly uninteresting items.  It felt like I had purchased a new bulletin board and taken it out of the packaging only to find that it was already completely covered with a bunch of junk!  (My perception that this means my brand-new bulletin board is already full of holes is, of course, very old-fashioned and incorrect, but it made me sad nonetheless.)

Next I had to start a new board.  Apparently I’m not allowed to have just “my board” and pin all my stuff on there.  I was required to give it a name.  Okay.  But then I was forced to choose an image for my board from another board, from among images somehow connected to words used in the title of my board.  How does that make any sense???

Finally I got to pin some things.  That part was fun, until my fifth pin wouldn’t stick into the pinboard for some reason.  Maybe my little piece of virtual cork has one of those weird hard bits in it.  Anyway, I was out of lunchtime, so I gave up for that day.

So far, I’ve been unable to convince myself to work on it any more.  Instead I updated my links page with the links I’d been saving for Pinterest.  Meh.

My questions are:

  • Is Pinterest really so cool to use (as a user pinning things on one’s own board) that I should put the time and effort into figuring out how to do it?  If so, what advice do you have for doing this, and/or what resources do you recommend?
  • As an Earthling’s Handbook reader, would you find an Earthling’s Handbook pinboard to be a valuable accessory to the Handbook?
  • Am I totally stupid and clueless, or is it in fact difficult to set up a Pinterest account in a quick and non-ridiculous way?  Do I actually have a completely wrong idea about how one is supposed to use Pinterest?

Fluxx: A Fun Card Game for Everyone!

If you’ve never played Fluxx, this holiday season is the time to start!  It’s now easier to buy and less expensive than ever before.  A new edition of Fluxx has just been released in Target stores, and until December 8, 2012, it is on sale for only $4!  After that, it will be $10, still a bargain price for a great game.

I’ve been a fan of Fluxx since the first edition was released in 1997.  Since then, I have met the inventor and spent many happy hours demonstrating Fluxx and other Looney Labs games at conventions, plus even more happy hours playing various editions of Fluxx with my friends and family.  I am not being compensated in any way for writing this post–I’m just thrilled to share the news!

Any version of Fluxx is easy to learn (and the edition of Fluxx being sold at Target is simpler than most) and fun to play in social situations where conversation or distractions prevent you from really focusing on strategy–because strategizing only goes so far in this game of ever-changing rules.  When it’s your turn, simply draw a card and play a card.  The card you play may change the rules.  Pretty soon, you could be drawing 4 and playing 3 on every turn while trying to get the Cookies and Milk…or the Rocket and Moon….

Fluxx is officially for ages 8 and up because the instructions on the cards are written at about a third-grade reading level.  However, anyone who can read that well can play it, and a child who can’t read the cards can play on a team with an older person.  My son started playing Fluxx when he was 2!  We played at one of my family reunions with people ages 6 to 78, and a good time was had by all.  Older people have very little advantage in this changeable, mostly-luck-based game.

Fluxx holds up well to repeated play, so it’s great for trips when you can fit only one game in your luggage.  Every round is different!  A game might last two minutes or nearly an hour.  It might have several people almost winning and being foiled at the last move, or someone “accidentally” winning because someone else had to play a certain card.

Even now that Looney Labs has hit the big time and gotten one of their products into a major chain store, all editions of Fluxx are printed in the United States to support our economy.

Here’s my review of Pirate Fluxx (and two other Looney Labs games!)

Great Shoes at a Fraction of the Price!

I’ve had some shoe trouble in the past couple of years, since Keen stopped making that style I raved about.  All I want is a pair of black leather shoes that are comfortable for walking, don’t smash my high arches, look good with skirts or jeans, and don’t have Velcro.  (I hate that ripping sound Velcro makes–and on shoes, it always gets full of dust and hair and debris so that it looks awful and may actually stop working.)  I don’t want to pay more than $50 unless the shoes are made with fair labor and/or in an environmentally friendly factory.  Why is this so hard?!  I live in a major city with many shopping options, including a large independent shoe store less than a mile from my home, other shoe stores, major department stores like Macy’s and Kohl’s, and DSW Shoe Warehouse which has an enormous selection and sends me substantial-discount offers several times a year.  It seems that the current trends in shoe styles just aren’t very compatible with my preferences.

Instead of replacing my everyday shoes every year or two, as I’d prefer, in just over 2 years I’ve bought 5 pairs of black leatherish shoes (one pair actually is made of some kind of techno-mesh), and only the third pair was comfortable.  These are some slip-on shoes with a little elasticized criss-cross strap near the toe, Clarks brand, that I got at DSW.  The only problem with them is that the heels wore down rapidly, so after about 6 months they had holes all the way through the heels and I couldn’t walk on wet pavement without getting wet socks.  At that point I began shopping for new shoes but continuing to wear these in dry weather.

I don’t actually like shopping for shoes, so it’s easy to procrastinate–while hurting my feet by wearing bad shoes as I run around doing more interesting things.  When I finally got myself to some shoe stores, I wasn’t finding anything I liked, and both times I grudgingly bought the most-acceptable shoes they had, those shoes turned out to be really uncomfortable after ten minutes of real walking.  A lot of the time I was wearing my plaid canvas sneakers with white rubber toes–which are cute but don’t really look right with business clothes–just so I could walk comfortably.

Then I remembered to actually try the affordable, resource-conserving alternative that is available right in my neighborhood where I walk past it every day!! Read more…