carton contest

Does your child’s school need a little incentive to grow—or launch—their gardening curriculum?

Photo by Walton LaVonda, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, via Wikimedia Commons

If so, here’s a great way to get started: The Carton 2 Garden Contest, sponsored by Evergreen Packaging and Kids Gardening.


“Show us your students’ creativity by re-purposing milk and juice cartons from your school cafeteria to either build or enhance your school garden. Educators can engage students in a hands-on experience, creating teachable moments on environmental stewardship, sustainability, and living healthy,” explains the Carton 2 Garden website. “The best use of cartons in your school garden gives your school the chance to win a prize valued up to $2,500 for building or enhancing its garden.”

Photo by Michael Quinn, Grand Canyon National Park, via Wikimedia Commons


The Carton 2 Garden Contest is open to any public, private, or charter K-12 school in the United States. Entries must be submitted by April 22, 2015, so you’ll need to start gathering cartons in a jiffy.

Twenty schools with the most unique carton creations will be announced on May 22, 2015, to win award packages. Sixteen winners in eight different regions will receive award packages, each valued at over $1,000, and four national winners will be selected to receive award packages, each valued up to $2,500 to start or help sustain a school garden.

Each school’s entry must use at least 100 cartons, which will be judged according to their quality, sustainability, and creativity. Here’s a little video to kindle inspiration.

And here are links to help turn your inspiration into action:

  • Request an entry kit HERE.
  • Click HERE to read our Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Read the official Contest Rules HERE.
  • Find classroom activities to complement your project HERE.
  • Get inspiration from past winners HERE.

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Just nosing around the Internet

While you may not turn into Pinocchio every time you tell a lie, savvy sleuths may be able to tell you’re not being honest by merely observing your nose.


The real Geppetto, photo by Leandro Neumann Ciuffo via Wikimedia Commons

Body-language experts say that when you tell a lie, chemicals are released in your body that cause the tissues inside your nose to both warm up and swell. This phenomenon is aptly called “The Pinocchio Effect.” While the swelling is usually too small to notice visibly, it can result in itchiness that leads to touching or even scratching the nose.

“A good liar will have you thinking that maybe the dog did eat the homework.” – Anonymous

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stir up a Singer

Look what we found on Facebook! Jubly-Umph posted this photo of an amazing Singer sewing machine … cake.

photo from Jubly-Umph

Looks like even the notions are edible. Now that’s one way to stitch your cares away! Continue reading

Shadows on Glass

Imagine going to an antique store and purchasing a box of old photographs, then spending the next 50 years trying to figure out who the photographer and the people depicted in the photographs were.

Douglas Keister, photographer and author of 42 critically acclaimed books, did just that. I first met Doug when I asked to use a couple of his photos in my third book, MaryJane’s Outpost. Doug had just published one of my favorite books about travel trailers, Teardrops and Tiny Trailers, with Gibbs Smith (also my publisher for Glamping with MaryJane and Milk Cow Kitchen).

In 1965, Doug was a junior in high school in Lincoln, Nebraska, and already a budding photographer. He acquired a stack of 280 black and white 5×7 glass negatives from a friend who had run an ad looking for area antiques. Doug proceeded to set up a makeshift darkroom in his parents’ basement to develop and print the negatives. He discovered an important part of history when he saw that most of the photographs were portraits of African Americans in the early part of the 20th century.

“Five decades of research finally revealed that the photographs were taken by an African American photographer a century ago in Lincoln, Nebraska. The variety of images reveals a vibrant community and, more importantly, an ennobled and hopeful African American population,” says Doug. The importance of these images has been recognized by the Smithsonian Institution’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture, which now has 60 prints from the negatives in its permanent collection.

Doug has made a 25-minute video, Shadows on Glass, about his discoveries that shows many of the photographs, fills in the blanks about their origins, and paints a fascinating picture of the lives of the African American community in Lincoln 100 years ago.

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a fine exception

If you have a name like mine that ends in “s,” you’ve probably wondered, worried, and even belabored about making it possessive …

Is it Ms. Butters’s farm?

or Ms. Butters’ Farmgirl Sisterhood? (Shameless plug.)

And if you’ve looked for advice, you’ve probably found conflicting information, leaving you baffled, bewildered, and mystified.

When I have a question about grammar or punctuation, I often look in my handy go-to guide, Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. This lighthearted look at the English language, by Patricia T. O’Conner, contains sections like “Pearls Before Swine: Blunders with Numbers,” and “The Living Dead: Let Bygone Rules Be Gone.” But when I thumb to “Yours Truly: The Possessives and the Possessed,” I see that Patricia says, “If the word is singular, always add ‘s, regardless of its ending.” Example: “The dress’s skirt, which resembled a tutu from one of Degas’s paintings, was ruined.”

But I find that advice confusing. If we sound out that example sentence, we say “the dress-es skirt,” but we don’t say “Degas-es paintings.” Right? Well, actually, in French, the ending “s” in “Degas” is silent, so that might not be a good example. (And it’s interesting that both of Patricia’s other name examples are foreign names with the dreaded silent “s” ending (Camus’s, Jacques’s), so I’m still confused.) But substitute my name, “Butters-es cows,” for example, and you’ll see what I mean.

I’m not a fan. Of the rule, not the cow. I love my cows!


So, delving a little further, I go to my publishers’ bible, The Chicago Manual of Style, which says, “Possessives, The General Rule: The possessive of most singular nouns is formed by adding an apostrophe and an s, and the possessive of plural nouns, by adding an apostrophe only.” It goes on to say, “Proper nouns: The general rule covers most proper nouns, including names ending in s, x, or z, in both their singular and plural forms …”

Have I lost you yet? No? Well, carry on …

So, I interpret that to say, again, “Butters-es cows.”

Still don’t like it.

But the beauty of the Chicago Manual is that it has lots of exceptions and options. Reading a little further, I see a section called “Exceptions to the General Rule and Some Options,” which includes this advice: “When the singular form of a noun ending in “s” looks like a plural and the plural form is the same as the singular, the possessive of both is formed by the addition of an apostrophe only (politics’ true meaning).”

Aha! This is looking more like Ms. Butters’ cows!

A few paragraphs down, I find the mother lode, a little entry the Chicago Manual calls “an alternative practice.” It suggests: “Those uncomfortable with the rules, exceptions, and options outlined above may prefer the system, formerly more common, of simply omitting the possessive ‘s’ on all words ending in ‘s’—hence, ‘Dylan Thomas’ poetry,’ ‘Maria Callas’ singing,’ and ‘that business’ main concern.”

Eureka! I’ve been reassured. It’s Ms. Butters’ cows, not Ms. Butters-es cows. I’m sticking with how it sounds. And I’m following the rules. At least the rules for “those uncomfortable with the rules.”

Like the Dalai Lama says, “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”

Amen. Continue reading

Talk about junk!

If you’re a Raising Jane regular, you’ll remember that my magazine designer, Carol, has a new hobby: junk sculptures. Carol’s creations are little, anywhere from an inch to a foot high, keeping them small enough to glue together. But look what she discovered while trolling for inspiration on Pinterest.



According to, this baby is five times the size of a real elephant, weighs about 45 tons, and carries about 50 passengers at a time. It was created for “Machines of the Isle of Nantes,” a street performance festival in Nantes, France, from mostly recycled materials, and is fully articulated, moving with the help of 22 people who man hydraulics inside the statue. “The Great Elephant,” as he is called, can even trumpet like a real elephant, flap his ears, and spray water from his trunk. Watch him in motion:

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Humans of New York

Be it destiny or serendipity or simple coincidence, wonderful things can happen when strangers collide.

Are you familiar with Brandon Stanton, a photographer who walks the streets of New York with his camera in hand, asking complete strangers if he can take their pictures? Stanton posts the photos on his blog, Humans of New York, often with an accompanying story or quote from his subjects. He began what he refers to as his “photo census” back in 2010 as a way to capture and chronicle the neighborhoods of the city through the faces of the people who live there.


Along Brandon’s journey, he met Vidal Chastanet, an eighth-grade student at Mott Bridges Middle School in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville, whose image and accompanying story recently went viral on Stanton’s blog. The day they met, Brandon asked Vidal to share a story of a person who had influenced his life. He chose the principal of his middle school, Ms. Lopez, because of the great lengths she goes to ensure each child knows how much they matter.


Although Stanton usually tries to avoid becoming involved in the lives of his subjects, the response to the blog post was so great, he felt compelled to meet Ms. Lopez. And it just so happens that when he met her, Ms. Lopez was in the middle of a fundraising effort to send her sixth grade students to a summer program at Harvard. Because Brownsville has the highest crime rate in the city, and because the limited horizons of disadvantaged youth are always on her mind, Ms. Lopez chose Harvard to show her students (she refers to them as scholars) what it feels like to stand on the campus of one of the world’s greatest schools and know that they belong there. Brandon was so inspired by Ms. Lopez and her passionate ideas that he personally joined in the effort and launched a fundraiser on Indiegogo.

What transpired next is beyond inspiring!! People started sending in little bits of money. Lots of people. $1 million dollars was raised in five days, ensuring that for the next 25 years, Ms. Lopez’ sixth grade scholars will travel to Harvard.

All because two strangers happened to strike up a conversation on the street. Continue reading

Moo News

It’s no secret that here at the farm, cows are our favorite critters. And I think it’s a no-brainer to those of us who have spent time with our bovine friends that cows regularly talk to each other. With worldwide cattle populations at around 1.3 billion, these ordinary “conversations” are beginning to get noticed, and this has compelled researchers to take a good look at what it means when cows moo.


According to the Huffington Post, Scientists at Queen Mary University in London, England, have been listening to the dialogue between cows and their calves. Teams spent 10 months recording call sounds from two herds of free-range cattle and then another few months analyzing them. The results of the study, recently published in The Journal of Applied Animal Behavior Science, showed that cows give two types of contact calls to their calves. The first is a quiet, low-frequency call when a calf is safely nearby, whereas the second is a louder, high-frequency call, mostly indicating stress that the calf is too far away. And the recordings have proven that cattle calls between a mother and her offspring are individualized … that is, each cow and calf have characteristic, exclusive calls.

And despite rumors I’ve heard to the contrary, it appears that cows in different parts of the world do not, in fact, moo with a different accent, although what an absolutely lovely thought! Continue reading

Thank you, Blossom

Did you know that a milkmaid, a cow, and an observant doctor are to thank for the eradication of smallpox from the developed world?

In 1796, English physician and scientist Edward Jenner developed our first modern-day vaccine after treating a milkmaid for blisters on her hands. The blisters were from a mild disease called cowpox, which was often transmitted from cows to milkmaids. During treatment, Jenner noticed that milkmaids who recovered from cowpox never contracted smallpox, the most virulent and deadly disease of the time, killing 400,000 people a year in Europe alone during the 1700s and an estimated 300–500 million people worldwide during the 20th century (smallpox was only declared eradicated in 1979).

From that astute observation, Jenner went on to develop the world’s first vaccine, and his discovery is said to have saved more lives than the work of any other person in history.


The milkmaid had contracted cowpox from a cow named Blossom, and Jenner used fluids from that cow’s blisters to develop his vaccine. Blossom’s hide now hangs in a place of honor at St George’s medical school library in Tooting, England. Continue reading

Tu Tulip Vases

Who doesn’t love a tulip in bloom this time of year? And a pink one at that?!


Right by the front door at my local Walgreens, I spied these pink beauties in the beginning stages of their spring sprout, so I brought two of them home for $7.99 each. All you do to continue forcing their bloom is to add a titch of water to the bottom compartment of their oh-so-clever glass vase that has a plastic screen just beneath the bulbs.

The roots seek the water, the tulips start to grow, and then, voilà … tulips! What I like about this idea is the fact that I also purchased a container for forcing blooms again this time next year and five pink tulips bulbs that I’ll plant in my garden (x2). The company that thought up this brilliant idea is Continue reading