Love for the Laser Cutter

by Kim J.

A collage of the ornaments and practical items made with the laser cutter, including a Seussical 2022 ornament with the Cat in the Hat's hat, a blue snowflake, a buffalo against a backdrop of trees and mountains, two pumpkin silhouettes that say "thankful" and "grateful," a keychain that says "I luv you Dad," tropical floral earrings, and a cookbook or tablet stand.

I’ve been a crafter all of my life. I make costumes and throw elaborate birthday parties. My first thought when I see something beautiful in a store is usually, “Can I make that?” I love to create handmade gifts, produce decorations for birthdays, and design personal touches for my home. The laser cutter/engraver (Glowforge) at HCLS Glenwood Branch + Makerspace is the latest tool in my crafting repertoire. Among the many things I’ve been able to make are jewelry, decorations, gifts, cake toppers, valentines, teacher appreciation keychains, and an LED light. My favorite things that I’ve made are keepsakes that engrave my son’s drawings and a lighted archway that I made to try and replicate the schwibbogen that are sold in Germany.

A picture of a German Schwibbogen village scene made with the laser cutter. The photograph consists of a village with homes, a church, lampposts, and fir trees, surrounded by an arch that has more cottages and fir trees, against a blue background resembling the sky.

What is a Laser Cutter/Engraver? 

This machine allows you to put a piece of material like leather, wood, or acrylic in the machine and it carves out your product using laser light. Glowforge is the name brand for the Laser Cutter Engraver at HCLS Glenwood Branch + Makerspace

What materials can it cut? 

At HCLS, we only allow Proofgrade materials in the machine – Glowforge sells proofgrade materials, which are certified to be laser safe. These materials also have pre-assigned settings in the machine – telling the laser exactly what power and speed it needs so cuts and engravings produce exactly how they should! Proofgrade materials include hardwood, acrylic, draft board, plywood, veneer, and leather, among others.

A yellow and green laser cutter atom with the words "Happy Birthday" in the center, atop a science-themed birthday cake with Erlenmeyer flasks and icing atoms as decor.

How can I get Proofgrade Materials? 

The Glenwood Branch has a selection of materials to purchase directly from the library, including many colors of acrylic and several finishes for hardwood, plywood, and veneer. Alternately, you can purchase directly from the site,, or from local craft stores that carry Proofgrade materials.

A child's handmade stick-figure drawing of a family with their dog, and the laser cutter's reproduction of it as a wooden ornament, with the year "2022" inscribed at the bottom.

What kinds of things can I make?

The photos in this post are all things that have been made in the Makerspace with the Laser Cutter/Engraver. There is so much room for creativity and customization. Your design can be high-tech – you can create an .svg from scratch with interlocking or overlapping pieces to construct 3D artwork. Your design can also be low-tech – you can convert a line art drawing, photograph, or handwriting sample into a custom-engraved keepsake. You can also browse premade designs in the application and send them with customized engravings, or you can use the application to create a design using graphics, text, and shapes.

Two snowflake earrings made with the laser cutter.

How do I get started?

If you want to see a quick intro video, you can watch on HCLS’s YouTube channel here. You can also register for upcoming make-it and take-it classes at Upcoming Laser Cutting Classes. Someone is always available in the Makerspace to help you get underway. Anyone under 18 who wishes to use the laser cutter must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Kimberly J is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS Glenwood Branch. She enjoys reading, photography, creating, crafting, and baking.

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land

The book cover shows a pair of dirty yellow work gloves, lying one on top of the other.

By Kimberly J.

In this autobiography, journalist Stephanie Land details the hardships and trials she endured during her daughter’s first years. Driven into homelessness due in part to an abusive partner, an abusive father, and an absent mother, Land is truly on her own. Her family and friends have nothing to give, leaving her alone to survive. People from all walks of life will relate to her fighting spirit and resiliency.

This story is so compelling because it is so personal. This eye-opening tale gives us a glimpse into the everyday struggle of one woman fighting for a life for herself and her daughter. Reading from her point of view gave me insight into the scorn and derision felt by the working poor. The tension and anxiety Land experienced were palpable as she struggled to balance 15 types of assistance in order to simply survive.

It is a hard and heavy subject – Land works as a maid cleaning houses in order to make ends meet. The contrast of being surrounded by the trappings of the upper middle class while she is struggling to feed herself is heart-rending. This position of servitude leaves her feeling dehumanized and “othered” more often than not. When she encounters the rare client that treats her like a person, she is hungry for even the smallest acts of compassion – a note, a conversation, a smile.

This book raises important questions – How do we treat people who are performing manual labor? How do people experiencing homelessness and/or poverty fit into our society? What makes a home? How can you keep going even when hope feels impossible?

Maid is a New York Times bestseller and has been converted into a Netflix series. It is available in print, ebook, and eaudiobook from HCLS.

Kimberly J is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS Glenwood Branch. She enjoys reading, photography, creating, crafting, and baking.

All things LEGO!

The photograph depicts a jumbled, colorful pile of Lego blocks and figurines.
Image by Iris Hamelmann from Pixabay.

Did you know that there are more than 100 LEGO pieces per person on the planet? The word Lego comes from an abbreviation of the Danish words leg and godt, which mean play well. Lego was founded in 1932, and since then their “play well” philosophy continues to inspire citizens the world over. This universal building block connects generations and bridges language barriers – anyone can build Lego. Here are just a few resources from HCLS to inspire Lego fans of all ages – whether you’re an AFOL (adult fan of Lego), TFOL (teen fan of Lego), or KFOL (kid fan of Lego), here are some finds to get you in the mood to build!

A Lego Brickumentary is a fun and fact-filled foray into the fandom that is Lego. In a documentary that the whole family can watch together, animated Lego scenes are interspersed with interviews and awe-inspiring Lego builds. It explores the history and evolution of the world’s second biggest toy company and how it has become a catalyst for innovation. I was inspired through the artists, master builders, designers, architects, and therapists that have utilized this simple building brick to transform ideas and imagination into reality. This film runs 1 hour and 35 minutes, is rated G, and is available on DVD from HCLS.

Beautiful Lego is a full color portfolio of Lego artworks from 77 different contributors and a compendium of so many fantastical designs – from minimalism to monsters. This gorgeous book boasts more than 200 pages of inspiration. I loved the incredibly detailed model of an imaginary extraterrestrial city – the same one featured on the cover art. The book features unusual usage of different types of bricks in creating textures, expressions, and models of everyday objects. For fans of art, fans of Lego, and fans of both.

100 Ways to Rebuild the World is a children’s book full of ideas of how to encourage kindness, positivity, community, and responsibility. It features fun bright Lego illustrations and issues challenges to inspire kids to care about themselves, others, and the planet. My favorite challenges were “Start a chain of creativity” and “Step into their shoes.” It is a great resource for parents who are looking for ways to help their children connect with the community and the world around them.

The collage includes the Lego creations participants in the Lego Engineering Challenge class, including elephants, a dump truck, an arrow, windmills, and other vehicles.
A collage of the creative work of participants in the Lego Engineering Challenge class.

Lego Engineering Challenge is a biweekly prerecorded class produced by Ms. Julie. She issues four unique challenges in every class – encouraging children in grades K-8 to use their imagination and problem solving skills to complete fun tasks. After each session, Ms Julie compiles participants’ submissions and shares them to encourage budding engineers and artists. Pictured are just a few submissions from past classes. It is always fun to see so many creative solutions to the same challenge. Find the next class by clicking here, then register to receive a link to the next session.

Brick by Brick: How Lego Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry is an eAudiobook available on Cloud Library. It explores the business management and innovation practices of the Lego Group through anecdotes and case studies. This book was written to be an inspiration for business owners as a model of how innovation practices evolved at the Lego Group, and how the company used their 2003 brush with bankruptcy to realign, reconnect, and reemerge as a leader in the toy industry.

Inspired to create your own Lego masterpieces? Share them with the world through the Lego Ideas website. This is one of the Lego Group’s most successful innovations. A crowd-sourced idea generator, it began in 2008 as Lego Cuusoo (Cuusoo means “imagination” or “wish” in Japanese, and it still available as an archive here). On the Lego Ideas website, you can submit your own proposals for new Lego sets, vote on global submissions, and participate in activities and contests with other Lego lovers.

Kimberly J is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS Elkridge Branch. She enjoys reading, photography, creating, crafting, and baking.

HCLS Pregnancy and Infant Loss Resources

by Kimberly J

Black and white image of a tiny baby foot - which measures only as big as the top joint of a fingertip- is shown surrounded by an adult hand.
Photo by Kimberly J – shared in memory of Todd & George

In 2013, I was pregnant twice. Both of these pregnancies ended in stillbirth. The next few months were a bit of a blur. I felt alone, isolated, shameful, and guilty about my body’s failures. Medical terminology surrounding pregnancy loss did little to dispel these feelings. Words like miscarriage, incompetent cervix, and inhospitable uterus felt like they, too, were laying the blame at the mothers’ feet. One day, a book arrived in the mail from a dear friend which made me feel less alone. I found it helpful to hear others’ stories and experiences that mirrored my own. That book was the catalyst for my grieving process and healing. If you are struggling, I hope that one of these books or DVDs might bring the same sense of catharsis and comfort to you. If someone you know has recently experienced a similar loss, I hope these resources will help you relate to them and know how to help.

Don't Talk About the Baby DVD cover shown. Hand holds a dandelion, which has seeds blowing in the wind. Under are the words "Shatter the Stigma"

Don’t Talk About the Baby is a documentary film presenting first person accounts of infertility, miscarriage, and stillbirth. It addresses the cultural stigma of silence around these losses. The film includes interviews from mothers and fathers from around the US. It seeks to normalize the grieving process – and addresses how this grief is often invisible to outsiders, because to them the baby wasn’t visible. Additional insight is provided by a bereavement doula and other doctors. Content Warnings: Contains photos of deceased children. Couples talk about subsequent pregnancies and live births. Features discussion during a religious/Christian support group. Don’t Talk About the Baby is available on DVD from HCLS.

The Brink of Being: Talking About Miscarriage: Bueno, Julia book cover shown over sunset image in pink, purple, and blue.

The Brink of Being: Talking About Miscarriage was written by a therapist who specializes in working with women who have experienced pregnancy loss and infertility. She also shares her own experiences with miscarrying 22-week twins. This book is laid out in a “chronological” retelling of losses – starting at the first weeks, and progressing throughout the stages at which miscarriage losses can occur. A chapter towards the end also speaks about memorials and remembrances. Stories are told in intimate and graphic detail. This book includes chapters on early, late, and recurrent miscarriage. It also offers insights into the perspectives of partners, fathers, family members, and loved ones. Content Warnings: Stories of subsequent pregnancies and living births are integrated into the narrative. Graphic descriptions, including the at-home birth of a embryonic baby. Definitions are given in terms recognized in the UK – miscarriage there is defined through 24 weeks, while in the US, babies born as soon as 20 weeks are termed stillborn.

About What Was Lost: Jessica Berger Gross, editor. White vase is filled with ivory dandelions.

About What Was Lost is a compilation from 20 different writers who share their own stories of loss. This anthology offers a catharsis with honest (sometimes painful) re-tellings of private grief. Authors share their personal experiences and feelings about abortion, miscarriage, twin loss, and premature infant death. Each story and experience is unique to the author and reflects many perspectives on pregnancy and infant loss. Content Warnings: Subsequent pregnancies and live births are discussed. Abortion loss is covered in multiple accounts.

High Risk: Stories of Pregnancy, Birth, and the Unexpected: Karkowsky MD, medical scrubs and gloves in the background of the text.

High Risk is written by a Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist (MFM) also known as a high-risk OB/GYN. She seeks to fill the void of information about what might happen. Told from a medical point-of-view, this book seeks to answer the call, “I wish someone had told me.” This book concisely details some of the most common diagnoses that bring patients to a MFM. It offers information on the processes, medical terminology, and decision making during pregnancy complications. In the chapter on stillbirth, the most common causes are discussed and dissected. The author also addresses some of the reasons behind the medical avoidance on the subject of stillbirth. This book presents a history of medical knowledge/treatments around pregnancy complications and the current standards (or lack thereof) of care when loss occurs. While it tells stories of real patients, it is from a detached medical perspective.

Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos: Knisley, Lucy, Knisley, Illustrated image of a pregnant mother with baby inside her belly

Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley is a graphic novel available in both paperback and as an ebook via Overdrive. It portrays the author’s struggle with early miscarriage and the depression that followed her losses. These feelings of isolation and sadness are compounded by shame, guilt, and loathing of her own body. She recounts advice that eventually led her to healing… to treat herself with “kid gloves.” Lucy later receives a medical reason for her miscarriages, and goes on to recount her experiences through a pregnancy (with complications) and the eventual birth of a living child. She addreses the history of birthing practices and the notion of “natural” childbirth with humor and accuracy. Content Warnings: more than half of the book recounts the author’s successive pregnancy and battle with pre-eclampsia.

Return to Zero movie cover. Family of 3 is shown next to water, with mother and father looking into distance with a sailboat in the background.

Return to Zero is a fictional film portraying stillbirth loss. It is based on the true story of writer/director/producer Sean Hanish and his wife. This movie shows how stillbirth shatters the lives of a successful and prosperous couple. The shock and disbelief Minnie Driver portrays when confronted with the semantics surrounding her upcoming birth echoed my own experiences with stillbirth. You never think that you’ll be asked about funerals and autopsies on the day you’re going to give birth. The movie goes on to depict the daily struggles of both parents as they navigate holidays, baby showers, and well-meaning outsiders. They are helped through a successive pregnancy by a doctor who has also experienced loss. Reception to the movie has led to the founding of RTZ: Hope which aims to shine a light on pregnancy loss and stillbirth. Content Warnings: Photos of deceased children are shown. Stillbirth labor and delivery are depicted. Subsequent live birth is portrayed. Return to Zero is available from HCLS on DVD.

Three Minus One: Stories of Parents' Love and Loss by Jessica Watson, Sean Hanish, Brooke Warner. Sunset image of a butterfly drawn in the sand with the beach surf at its edges.

Three Minus One is an ebook available on Hoopla from HCLS. Inspired by the Return to Zero film, it is a compilation of over 80 individual essays, poems, and pictures submitted by mothers, fathers, relatives, and friends. Most of these stories focus on stillbirth and infant death, with several perspectives from families whose doctors declared their babies “incompatible with life” before they were born. Other topics include the loss of a toddler, the elective abortion of a Trisomy 21 baby, and miscarriage. This collection is a journey through their grief and pain, but mostly focused on the love these parents have for their children. Many explore what it means to move forward, for this after is nothing like what came before. Content Warnings: Photos of deceased children are shown. Several narratives include subsequent living children.

Three book covers shown: Healing Your Grieving Heart After Miscarriage, Healing Your Grieving Heart After Stillbirth and Healing a Parent's Grieving Heart.

Healing Your Grieving Heart is a series of books available for Howard County Library patrons via Hoopla. They are written by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a grief educator who offers practical ideas and concrete action-oriented tips to aid in the mourning process. Each title in the series addresses the unique concerns for each situation – from confronting what you did or did not see during the miscarriage process to taking & displaying pictures of a stillborn baby. The author offers practical, bullet-pointed ideas on how to practice self compassion while grieving. His tips are based on advice solicited from families who have experienced these losses. I found it helpful in a concrete way, when so much about the grieving process feels murky and disorienting. The author offers 100 ideas in each book. If some don’t feel right to you, his advice is just to skip it and move on. Self care is central to his philosophies, but moving from the emotion of grief to the action of mourning takes work and reflection. There are many titles available, but these three are most relevant to my post today:
Healing Your Grieving Heart After Miscarriage
Healing Your Grieving Heart After Stillbirth
Healing a Parent’s Grieving Heart

The content provided is for informational purposes only; it is not intended to be used instead of professional medical opinion or advice. All information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.

Kimberly J is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS Elkridge Branch. She is the mother to two living sons and two stillborn sons.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month

Upclose photograph of a statue of a grieving woman with her eyes closed, looking downward.
This statue of a grieving mother sits in the Star Garden Cemetery, reserved for babies who died before they had a chance to live.

by Kimberly J

For women who know they’re pregnant, about 15 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage.1 About one pregnancy in 100 after 20 weeks of pregnancy is affected by stillbirth, and each year about 24,000 babies are stillborn in the United States.2 In 2018, the infant mortality rate in the United States was 5.7 deaths per 1,000 live births.3

Loss affects approximately 1 in 4 known pregnancies. Which means if it hasn’t happened to you, it has happened to someone you know. Yet, this subject is often surrounded by silence. That silence is isolating and discouraging. Not knowing what to say or what to do are the most common reactions when someone you know or love is experiencing this kind of loss, but silence is not the answer. Absence of support and acknowledgment can compound the grief and loss felt after such an event.

If you have experienced this type of loss, I am so sorry. After my losses, I started a journal of sorts and labeled it, “Things to Help?” In compiling the resources listed, I kept that thought in mind. Below is a list of materials and resources to hopefully help anyone experiencing such a loss (and those who love them) break the stigma of silence and shame. I hope these resources aid you in processing and working through the grief you may be struggling with. Sometimes, just knowing you are not alone can be of comfort.

“When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them. This month recognizes the loss so many parents experience across the United States and around the world. It is also meant to inform and provide resources for parents who have lost children due to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, stillbirths, birth defects, SIDS, and other causes.


Local Resources – Central Maryland

Rising Hope Perinatal Hospice & Bereavement Program: at Howard County General Hospital – This program is free of charge and offers support during and after pregnancy. They offer emotional and practical support as well as referrals to support groups, therapists, and funeral directors. Contact: Amanda Meneses, 410-884-4709, – View their brochure by clicking HERE

Springboard Community Services: (formerly Family & Children Services of Central Maryland) is a local nonprofit that aims to make mental health services available to all. They provide social services including counseling and group therapy. Their website is

Stillborn and Infant Loss Support (SAILS Maryland): This is a newer group supporting central Maryland families and run by Sadija Smiley, who has experienced loss herself. This group seeks to help those who have experienced a loss feel less alone. On their website,, they have compiled a list of national resources and created a remembrance wall to acknowledge lost babies.

Dear Mama: Hosted by HCLS (Sponsored by Friends and Foundation of Howard County Library System and The Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County. In partnership with Worcester County Library). This is a thematic multimedia exhibit depicting pregnancy and motherhood through the eyes of emerging artists of African descent. The aim is to create for the viewer emotional resonance as well as understanding of the health disparities impacting women of color. Join us for a day of dialogue and healing as we discuss the physical and emotional health of black mothers and mothers to be. This event will take place online on October 24th from 10am – 2pm. Register here.

Statewide and National Resources

MIS (Miscarriage, Infant Death, and Stillbirth) Share: This parent-led support group currently meets virtually to offer information, support, and comfort to parents at any stage of the grieving process. Specialized support groups are available throughout the DMV area. Find a brochure about their services by clicking here. Their website is

Center for Infant & Child Loss: The Center is run by the University of Maryland Department of Pediatrics and is committed to increasing the understanding of sudden infant and child death, risk reduction practices, grief, and compassionate intervention. Contact: 800-808-7437. Their website is

The Compassionate Friends: This is a national group offering peer-led support for bereaved parents, siblings, and grandparents who have experienced the death of a child of any age. Call the national office: 877-969-0010 or visit the website for local chapter information:

Star Legacy Foundation – Maryland Chapter: This group seeks to decrease stillbirth rates through education and fundraising for research. They are also a resource for grieving families, who can call 952-715-7731 (ext. 1) to speak to a grief counselor. In addition, The Star Legacy Foundation coordinates volunteer efforts to make a difference locally with bereavement care packages and training for hospital staff. The Maryland chapter website and contact information can be found here.

MARYLAND CRISIS HOTLINE: 1-800-422-0009: This statewide 24 hour intervention and supportive counseling hotline is for depression, suicide, loneliness, family and relationship problems, shelter needs, violent or threatening domestic situations, chemical dependency issues and others.

Online Resources

  • CDC STILLBIRTH RESOURCES: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has compiled resources for information and scientific articles regarding stillbirth. Also featured on this site are stillbirth stories from volunteer contributors. Visit the website here. Trigger Warning: The “Family Stories” section contains photos of deceased children.
  • Glow in the Woods: This site hosts online forums and archives “for babylost mothers and fathers.” The forums are labeled to help visitors avoid triggers for those that want to share, but are still sensitive to hearing about others who are trying to conceive (TTC) post-loss. The archives are filtered by category, allowing you to find narratives where the experiences/feelings mirror your own. Subjects in the archives range from depression, anger, and guilt to intimacy, memorials, and family. The website is
    • @LoveCommaDad – This account consists of a series of videos from a stillbirth and miscarriage father who shares loss stories and advice from other baby-loss dads in their own words to offer support for one another.
    • @RefugeInGrief – Most posts on this account feature the hastag #perfectlynormal – letting you know that whatever you’re feeling, this reaction is a normal part of the grieving process. This shared grief experience can be helpful, though infant/pregnancy loss is not specifically mentioned. Run by Megan Devine, author of It’s ok that you’re not ok : meeting grief and loss in a culture that doesn’t understand
    • @Miscarriage.Stories – Part of the nonprofit Managing Miscarriage, this account offers a place for sharing miscarriage stories. This account encourages submissions from followers in order to break free from the isolation and silence that usually accompanies miscarriage.
    • Stillbirth Matters! -from the Star Legacy Foundation – there are currently 30 episodes, mainly interviews with medical professionals, fathers, and mothers. The focus is mainly on stillbirth and infant loss stories. However, several episodes speak directly to infertility and pregnancy loss
    • Managing Miscarriage – this community-sourced podcast provides a forum for women to share their stories. It highlights narratives from women who have experienced miscarriage as well as expert perspectives from doctors. There are currently 76 episodes.
    • Sisters in Loss spotlights faith filled black women who share their grief and pregnancy loss stories. According to the NIH, black women are twice as likely to experience late miscarriage and stillbirth than white women. New episodes weekly; episodes include resources and strategies to heal and find a path forward after loss.

The content provided is for informational purposes only; it is not intended to be used instead of professional medical opinion or advice. All information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.

Kimberly J is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS Elkridge Branch. She is the mother to 2 living sons and 2 stillborn sons.

1. “Miscarriage (also called early pregnancy loss) is when a baby dies in the womb (uterus) before 20 weeks of pregnancy. For women who know they’re pregnant, about 10 to 15 in 100 pregnancies (10 to 15 percent) end in miscarriage. Most miscarriages happen in the first trimester before the 12th week of pregnancy. Miscarriage in the second trimester (between 13 and 19 weeks) happens in 1 to 5 in 100 (1 to 5 percent) pregnancies. As many as half of all pregnancies may end in miscarriage. We don’t know the exact number because a miscarriage may happen before a woman knows she’s pregnant. Most women who miscarry go on to have a healthy pregnancy later.” Source: March of Dimes

2. “Stillbirth affects about 1 in 160 births, and each year about 24,000 babies are stillborn in the United States. That is about the same number of babies that die during the first year of life and it is more than 10 times as many deaths as the number that occur from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).” Source: CDC

3. “Infant mortality is the death of an infant before his or her first birthday. In 2018, the infant mortality rate in the United States was 5.7 deaths per 1,000 live births.” Source: CDC

Plastic Bags Upcycling

by Kimberly J.

many plastic bags
“Many Plastic Bags” by Keng Susumpow is licensed with CC BY 2.0.

In the United States alone, it is estimated that 100 billion plastic bags are consumed each year. I’m guessing that we all have a few extra laying around the house, saved up from the last grocery trip, or hiding in a cupboard or box. Why not try upcycling them? Upcycling is the process of turning trash into treasure. These DIY projects and ideas help to reduce waste by reusing items that are destined for the landfill and transforming them into something new, useful, or beautiful. Two instructors from Howard County Library System have filmed classes for ideas on how to upcycle plastic bags into something useful. They are available on HCLS’s YouTube channel, which is full of On-Demand classes.

In the first video, the Central Branch’s Tamarah Nuttle gives a step-by-step tutorial on how to make plarn. Plarn is a heavy duty plastic yarn that can be created with all types of plastic bags. She demonstrates two methods for transforming them using scissors – creating loops and knotting them together, or making a continuous strip with the bag. The plarn can then be knitted or crocheted for endless practical purposes. Some ideas include rolled mats for the homeless or a sit-upon for camping or outdoor activities. If you’ve got experience with knitting or crocheting, you should check out Tamarah’s plarn tutorial here:

Upcycling Plastic Bags – Making Plarn

Not a knitter? No worries! Another video has been produced by Kimberly J, who is an instructor at the Elkridge Branch’s DIY Educational Center. She too has practical tips on how to upcycle plastic bags. Kimberly’s tutorial involves cutting loops and then braiding the plastic strands into a rope. She then uses this rope to make fun coasters using a hot glue gun. Watch her tutorial using simple steps for this crafty upcycle here:

Looking for more ways to reuse plastic bags? Check out the link below for a list of ideas for your household, home improvement, crafts, and more:

Kimberly is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS Elkridge Branch. She enjoys reading, photography, crafting, and baking.

The Night Circus

The Night Circus: Morgenstern, Erin: On a black background, two illustrated steampunk-era silhouettes in gray are depicted on either side of a black and white circus tent with stars dotting the background
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

By Kimberly J

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern’s debut bestselling novel, follows the story of “Le Cirque des Rêves,” a mysterious circus that opens at nightfall and closes at dawn and within its gates anything seems possible. French for “Circus of Dreams” – the circus mixes the dream world with reality as it hosts a unique and potentially deadly magical competition within its black and white striped canvas walls. The magicians challenge each other by making each new tent more fantastical than the last. 

This 19th century historical fantasy is a well-crafted story of rivals with fully developed characters that draw you into a surreal world of vision and artistry. The author employs first person, second person, and third person perspectives while writing, inviting the reader directly into the narrative.  The book is written with lush descriptions that leave you hungry for more…literally and figuratively, as some of the most tantalizing banquets are described in mouth-watering detail.  The smells, sights, tastes, and sounds are lavish beyond imagination.

I experienced this novel via the audiobook, which is read by Jim Dale. His other audiobook credits include J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.  He is a skillful narrator who excels at making distinctive voices for each character.  His portrayal envelops the listener in this circus of dreams. The Night Circus is available in print, audiobook, ebook, or eaudio.  Explore this world of magic, illusion, manipulation, love, and loss by visiting 

“You think, as you walk away from Le Cirque des Rêves and into the creeping dawn, that you felt more awake within the confines of the circus. You are no longer quite certain which side of the fence is the dream.”

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

Kimberly is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS Elkridge Branch.  She enjoys reading, photography, crafting, and baking.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

At the top, it reads "From Taika Waititi director of What We Do in the Shadows." Across an almost clear blue sky is the title "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" flanked by antlers.  Three figures are shown in close up profile - one is an adolescent boy wearing a cheetah print trucker hat, the next is a bearded man wearing a hunting hat, and the last one is a boar that appears to be mid-laugh.  Across the bottom, there are grasslands and forested mountains shrouded in mist.

Review by Kimberly

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an adventure-comedy-drama that follows rebellious twelve-year-old Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and gruff woodsman Hec (Sam Neill) on an unexpected journey through the wild bush of New Zealand. Ricky Baker has been dubbed a “real bad egg” foster kid whose crimes include spitting, throwing rocks, kicking stuff, loitering, and graffiti. This is his last chance to make it work, and he is not happy about it. The character of Ricky Baker personifies the way I remember adolescence feeling – being confident and cocky on the outside, but searching for a place to belong. It is a simple story told well with the gorgeous setting of New Zealand as backdrop. 

Director Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit, Boy, What We Do in the Shadows) has an uncanny ability for storytelling. He strives to change the conversation by addressing the plights of those who have been marginalized and ignored in mainstream movies. He then captures their narrative in a touching, yet playful, way. He doesn’t adhere to standard tropes or stereotypes. Waititi creates a quirky and sympathetic characters that leaves you rooting for the underdog.

I found this coming-of-age tale funny, charming, and intoxicating. It doesn’t shy away from hard topics – delving into themes of foster care, abuse, and grief. However, it never takes itself too seriously: it is rife with banter and one-liners that are perfect fodder for inside jokes – and may even have you adopting some kiwi slang.  This film has the makings of a cult classic. Taking my cue from Ricky Baker, I’ll summarize my review with a haiku:

Its one of a kind

Finds beauty in the heartbreak

Nature meets gangster

If you watch this FILM,
your haiku BELOW.

Find Hunt for the Wilderpeople on Kanopy

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including violent content, and for some language.

Kimberly is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS Elkridge Branch.  She enjoys reading, photography, crafting, and baking.

Just Mercy

Michael B Jordan stands tall in a gray suit and blue shirt and tie, looking off into the distance.  Behind him, in muted yellow are scenes from the movie. Just Mercy is written in white, along with names of actors, Michael B Jordan, Jamie Foxx, and Brie Larson

Let me be clear… Just Mercy is a hard and emotionally draining movie to watch. And it needs to be seen. This film tells the true story of a civil-rights attorney, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B Jordan), who works to defend wrongfully convicted death-row inmate Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx).

In this deeply affecting movie, the repressed and palpable fury that Bryan Stevenson feels sits uneasy with me. Jordan portrays the complexities of emotion in a stirring and emotive way. Stevenson conducts himself professionally at all times, even when the behavior he endures made me want to scream.  My indignation and anger at Stevenson’s mistreatment pales in comparison to the outrage at the injustices that are perpetrated against his clients. This film is honest and frank about sharp truths, and it had an impact on me.

In the United States, we proclaim, “Liberty and justice for all,” but this movie shines light on the harsh reality of systemic injustice. Our system is broken: for every nine people executed by the state since 1973, one person has been exonerated and released. It is an untenable rate of error. I felt uncomfortable after watching this movie and investigating further. However, I think it is important not to shy away from that response.

Sit in that discomfort.

Ask hard questions.

Have the conversations.

Advocate for change.

“Always do the right thing, even when the right thing is the hard thing.”

– Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, is available as an eBook and eAudiobook on CloudLibrary and OverdriveJust Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults) is also available on eAudiobook on Overdrive.

During the month of June, Warner Bros. has made Just Mercy free to watch through a variety of digital movie services in the US, including Amazon Prime Video, Apple TVFandangoNowGoogle PlayMicrosoft, the PlayStation Store, RedboxVudu,  and YouTube.

Just Mercy is rated PG-13 for thematic content including some racial epithets.

Click here to learn more about Bryan Stevenson’s work with the Equal Justice Initiative.

Kimberly is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch.  She enjoys reading, photography, crafting, and baking.