Vinyl Mug Creations: Tutorial

This year I finally broke down and invested in a Cricut Explore Air 2. My friends had all raved about their own Cricut which had only increased my own want for one of the machines. I happened to be shopping around and saw that Amazon had a huge discount on them right now, and in my favorite color (Persimmon, which looks like a reddish coral color). I just could not resist, especially as a teacher who loves to make vinyl wall clings!


A lot of people worry that these machines are hard to use, but they are very straight forward. Carefully unwrap all pieces, plug in each cord to their proper places (there are only three different cords, two of which fit together to be one power cord), connect to your computer’s USB port, and follow the instructions on the screen! I have dealt with many different pieces of technology in my life and I can honestly say this was the easier machine I’ve ever hooked up and immediately used.

My best suggestion for you is to go through the tutorial on Cricut Design Space after you’ve installed the program on your computer and make the card that they provide for you. It teaches you quite a bit about the basics of the machine and you will feel a lot more comfortable after you’re done. Once you feel like you’re ready to try an actual project, consider making this kick-ass mug for you or someone who fits the bill!

Nerd? I Prefer The Term Intellectual Badass


Required Materials:

  • White Mug (I found mine here)
  • Cricut Explore Air 2
  • Charged Computer
  • Black Vinyl (I found mine here)
  • Transfer Tape (I found mine here)
  • Mat (comes with Cricut machine)
  • Small Pin (I used a push pin)
  • Scissors to cut vinyl


Step One: Make the Design

There is no short cut for this portion of the project, I designed every piece to the above pattern. Use the Cricut library and images you can design to create each piece. Play around with the fonts and get used to them. If you want a different font, find that font online and install it to your computer (as you would if you wanted a new font for Microsoft Word). The font won’t show up in Cricut Design Space if you’re already in the program when you install the font. Just click out of the program (save your project first), then re-open. The font will then be there.

Step Two: Highlight All Words and Images, Then Click “Weld” at the Bottom Right-Hand Corner

If you don’t do this, all the letters will be mixed up when you go to cut the design. Yuck.

Step Three: Click “Make It”

The program allows you to move your design exactly where you want the blade to cut on the mat. Be sure to place your piece exactly where you are going to place your vinyl. Look at the mat on the screen, and then cut a piece of black vinyl that fits the dimensions.

My design was 4 by 3.5 – so I cut my vinyl accordingly.

Step Four: Place the Vinyl on the Correct Part of the Mat

Then smooth it out, getting rid of any bubbles. This will ensure that the machine has a nice cut and doesn’t slide around, potentially ruining your project. Look at the machine setting and make sure the wheel is pointing to “Vinyl”. This will tell the machine how deep to cut.

Step Five: Load the Mat and Click “Continue” in Cricut Design Space 

Open the machine, then place the edge of the mat up against the little wheels in the machine. There is a button for loading the mat, it has arrows pointing up and down. Click that and make sure the wheels bring the mat into the machine (it’s not very far in, just enough to hold it).


Step Six: Click the Middle “Cricut” Button

Then, wait for your design to be cut! This usually only takes a few seconds, to a few minutes, depending on the design.

Step Seven: Unload the Mat, then Pick Out Tiny Pieces with Pin

There will be little pieces in letters like o, a, e, etc that you will need to remove using the small pin (or the actual tool that Cricut sells… I just haven’t purchased one yet!) Carefully remove all those pieces, and throw them away.

Experience Tip: Be careful to not let your sleeve touch the mat too much. It picks up every little piece of lint and loses its stickiness quickly!

Step Eight: Carefully Peel Away the Excess Vinyl

Make sure your design stays attached to the mat. You should only be peeling the black vinyl off from the white underside of the original vinyl piece.

Step Nine:  Cut Out a Piece of Transfer Tape 

For this mug, I cut my transfer tape so that I would be removing one line of vinyl at a time. Mugs are round, so sometimes it can be tricky getting the letters to lay smooth if you try to place the entire design down at once. So, I recommend cutting your transfer tape into three strips: one to lay on top of “Nerd?” and the black glasses, one to lay on top of “I prefer the term & intellectual” and one for “badass”. Doing this led to NO bubbling, and an easy transfer.

Step Ten: Adhere Vinyl to Transfer Tape

Peel the white backing off from the transfer tape of your first strip, and gently place on top of the first section. Using the scraper or just your finger, rub on each letter to get the vinyl to adhere to the transfer tape. You want the transfer tape to adhere JUST enough to pick the vinyl up, but don’t rub down on it so hard that it becomes too stuck to the transfer tape. Slowly pick the transfer tape up, making sure the vinyl is stuck to it. If a piece of vinyl didn’t adhere, just lower the transfer tape back over that letter, rub a little, and keep picking up.

Step Eleven: Transfer the Design to the Mug

Take the transfer tape and place the design near the very top of the mug. You must have enough room for the other two sections to be placed, so judge accordingly. Lay the transfer tape onto the mug, and gently rub the letters onto the mug. Again, not too hard because the vinyl will want to stay adhered to the transfer tape, and then it is NO FUN getting them apart. Then, peel away the transfer tape and make sure the vinyl stays down on the mug. Repeat for all sections.

Expert tip: If the vinyl keeps picking up with the transfer tape, press the meaty part of your finger onto the lip of the vinyl letter, then gently pull the transfer tape. DO NOT USE YOUR FINGERNAIL, it damages the vinyl letter. Slowly but surely, work your finger along the letter as you peel the tape away. It can be painfully slow, but eventually the letter will peel off.

Step Thirteen: Seal with Dishwasher Safe Modge Podge

Using a sponge brush, apply one to two layers of Dishwasher Safe Modge Podge, and let sit for a few hours until dry. If you are giving the mugs away as gifts, use a tag to let them know that the mugs will be ready in 21 days. They can still use them for drinking and can hand-wash them before then!

Happy Crafting!


Three Easy Ways to Make Your Gluten-Free Guests Welcome This Holiday


Guest Writer for The Genius Educator, Colleen Cavagna

Thanksgiving is in just a few days and for people who can’t partake of gluten, this can be a very frustrating holiday when eating at someone else’s home. Imagine having to ask if each dish contains any ingredient that has gluten? Not a lot of fun. If you are hosting a dinner with gluten-intolerant guests, it doesn’t have to be a big deal! Here are some easy changes that will make you the most sensitive host/hostess ever.

1 – Change your gravy from a wheat-based thickener to a starch-based one: think corn or tapioca. At my house, I use plain corn starch or Cornaby’s Thick Gel (gluten free) which is a type of corn starch that thickens quickly and makes a “very” thick sauce.  Now everyone can have gravy on their potatoes and turkey!

2 –Make Your Own Stuffing… yum. If the bread you use is made from wheat (which includes spelt, farro, durum, semolina, bulgar, and kamut), barley, rye or triticale than your gluten free guests will not be able to enjoy this delicious part of the feast. Making your own gluten free bread for the stuffing is a possibility, but if you don’t have all of the gluten free grains and starches, then this could get costly. Instead, go to your local grocery store or bakery and ask for a loaf of gluten free bread. I buy my gluten free bread from Wegman’s in the bakery section. The brand I think makes the absolute most delicious stuffing is La Brea Bakery, Sliced Multi-Grain Artisan Sandwich Bread – Gluten Free. You can use your own recipe and substitute the gluten free bread or if you don’t have your own recipe, try this one.

Recipe for Gluten Free Stuffing:

La Brea Bread – Toasted or allowed to dry out overnight and cubed. (I toast it as I always forget to leave it out the night before).
Dried Spices – sage, thyme, salt, pepper, rosemary, parsley (for small batches add 1 tsp of sage and salt, ½ tsp of thyme, rosemary, and pepper – they are a more potent herb – and 2 tsp of parsley. Larger batches increase amount accordingly.
Chopped Vegetables: onions, celery
Chopped Fruit: apples
Chicken or turkey broth (2 – 2 ½ cups – increase if making large batches)

First chop onions and celery and fry with butter until soft (about 10 minutes). Add onions and celery to bowl of cubed gluten free bread. Add spices and chopped up apple bits – toss until all is coated evenly. Drizzle broth over everything.

At this point you can bake this separately in the oven until it is browned or stuff your turkey with this mixture. No gluten worries.

3 – Desserts – It is always the polite thing to include at least one dessert that is gluten free for your GF guests. Again, this doesn’t have to be a chore at all. Many bakeries have gluten-free pies, cakes, and everything you can make that isn’t gluten free. If you are pressed for time, call around and buy something premade.

If you live more remotely or where there are less GF options, making a pie that is gluten free is as simple as regular pie – just with a few different crust ingredients.

You will need to purchase an all-purpose gluten free flour blend from the store. I make my own, but this means buying multiple grains and starches and this just isn’t economical if you are doing this just for guests and won’t do it again for a while. In that situation, just buy a blended brand from the store. I like Steve’s GF All-Purpose flour.  I must order it online as I can’t find it locally. Use what they have locally 😊

Xanthan gum is included in the recipe, don’t skip this ingredient. It binds the non-gluten grains and starches together (which is what gluten does) and is necessary. You can find this at your local grocery stores – it is usually in the baking section, however, some stores put it in the gluten-free section.

I found this recipe from Nicole on Gluten Free On a Shoestring

 I was ecstatic to find a recipe that tastes as good as the regular pie crusts I was famous for at holiday gatherings!

Important Tips: If you haven’t made a pie crust with sour cream before, it will be much stickier – that is okay.

You MUST, I repeat MUST roll out the dough until it is very thin.  You can’t make this pie crust as thick as a gluten pie crust or you will be disappointed. Make it very thin and you won’t be able to tell the difference.

Pie Crust Recipe from Nicole:


1 1/2 cups (210 g) all purpose gluten free flour
3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your blend already contains it)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (I use sea salt)
6 tablespoons (84 g) unsalted butter, roughly chopped and chilled
1/2 cup (120 g) sour cream (full fat, preferably), chilled
Ice water by the teaspoonful, as necessary


  • Make the pie crust dough. In a large bowl, place the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder and salt, and whisk to combine well. Add the chopped and chilled butter, and toss to coat it in the dry ingredients. Flatten each chunk of butter between your thumb and forefinger. Add the sour cream and mix to moisten the dry ingredients with the sour cream. The dough should be shaggy and somewhat crumbly. Knead the dough together with clean hands until it begins to come together. Add ice water by the teaspoon only if necessary, for the dough to hold together. Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, and press into a disk as you close the plastic wrap around the dough. It will still seem rough. Place the dough in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 375°F. Grease a 9-inch metal pie plate generously and set aside.

  • Smooth out the chilled dough. Once the dough has chilled, turn it out onto a lightly floured piece of unbleached parchment paper. Sprinkle the dough lightly with more flour and roll it out into a rectangle that is about 1 inch thick, moving the dough frequently and sprinkling it lightly with flour if it begins to stick. Fold the dough over on itself like you would a business letter. Sprinkle the dough again lightly with flour and roll out the dough once again into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Twice more, remove the top piece of parchment paper, sprinkle lightly with flour, and fold the dough over on itself like you would a business letter.
  • Shape the dough in the pie plate. Roll out the dough into an approximately 12-inch round, about 3/8-inch thick. Roll the pie crust loosely onto the rolling pin and then unroll it over the prepared pie plate. Trim the roughest edges of the crust with kitchen shears. Lift up the edges of the pie crust gently to create slack in the crust and place the crust into the bottom and up the sides of the pie plate. Tuck the excess pie crust under itself and crimp the edge gently all the way around the crust by pinching the dough at regular intervals with one hand, and creating a crimped impression with the forefinger of the other hand. Cover the pie crust with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to chill until firm, at least 30 minutes (and up to 3 days).
  • Parbake the crust. Remove the pie crust from the refrigerator and unwrap and discard the plastic. Pierce the bottom of the pie crust all over with the tines of a fork. Place a sheet of parchment paper on top of the raw crust and cover the bottom of the crust with pie weights or dried beans. Place in the center of the preheated oven and bake until the crust is lightly golden brown on the edges, about 10 minutes. Remove the pie weights and parchment and allow the crust to cool before proceeding with your recipe.

These three changes to your Thanksgiving Feast will make your gluten-free guests feel welcome and they will appreciate your efforts. You don’t have to tell them the only thing you had to do was change a few ingredients without hardly any extra work for you. Remember, vegetables and fruits are naturally gluten-free and including them is another way to give your GF guests a greater culinary selection. Bon Appetit!


About The Author


Colleen Cavagna is Horticultural Educator from New York State. She was diagnosed with Gluten Sensitivity in the Spring of 2018 and has since been learning how to adapt her own cooking to accommodate her sensitivity. She is a lover of gardening, literature and creativity. Her and her husband own a 200-acre beef cattle farm on which they enjoy raising chickens and their dog, Brutus.

Teacher Gifts They’ll Appreciate This Holiday Season


Teachers are in a profession that requires they wear many hats. It is a profession that can often feel thankless despite the additional unpaid hours they clock each and every week. A small holiday gift may seem trivial, but it can make a teacher’s whole day receiving even the smallest token of gratitude.

When the holidays come around, some parents love to get a special gift to thank their child’s teacher for everything they’ve done to make the school year a success. Yet, many parents don’t really know what teachers WANT. However, if you’d like to get gifts for your child’s teacher that they will appreciate, take a peek at this list (don’t worry, we checked it twice)!

1. Paper Mate Flair Pens

While 100% of educators may not use these, I can assure you that MANY educators LOVE these Paper Mate Flair Pens. We can’t explain it… we just absolutely love writing with them. Blame the easy-glide or the huge selection in colors… these are a winner in most classrooms!

2. Expo Markers

Expo Markers are always an appreciated gift during the holidays. The year is about half over and usually we are trying to get the last dregs out of the marker we started the year with… a fresh pack of Expo Markers can brighten any educator’s day!

3. 365 New Words a Year Page-a-Day Calendar 2019

Now, this is something that the teacher and the students can enjoy together – something fun for everyone to look forward to each new day. Plus, it’s slightly educational so you’ll get double points from the teacher.

4. Scentsy Wax Warmer


Teaching can be a very… odorous… job (especially middle school)! Your child’s teacher can keep a beautiful wax warmer in their classroom to make it feel more like home (and cover up the after-gym smells) or they can light it up at home, relaxing after a long day.

5. Small Succulent Plants

No classroom is complete without some plant life involved. The best plants to buy for a teacher are succulents and small cacti simply because they don’t require a ton of attention and only sporadic watering. These adorable plants would fit on any bookshelf or counter to add color and make the room feel homier.

6. Movie Theater Tickets

Go to your local movie theater and see if they offer pre-tickets for any show. That way you give the teacher their choice of movie and an excuse to sneak out of the house for a night to splurge on some movie theater popcorn and candy!

7.Self-Care Gift Cards

Teachers don’t get very many opportunities to spend chunks of time on themselves. A gift card to a certain spa nearby, a nice restaurant, or a popular retail store ensures that they have a good reason to go and take care of their personal well-being. Rested and relaxed, they will return to the second half of the year energized to continue being the very best teacher for your child.

8. Coffee Mug – with Humor

Teachers get lots of coffee mugs, travel coffee mugs… so if you’re going to go this route, be sure to add some whimsy and humor! Teachers LOVE to laugh, and getting gifts like this donut coffee mug will do just the trick!

9. Classroom Posters

Teachers are constantly changing up their classroom decor, either quarterly or yearly, and they really appreciate receiving gifts of classroom posters that are stylish and well thought out. If you don’t know your child’s teacher well enough, stick to these chalkboard posters that are full of positive inspiration!

10. Gift Certificates!

Find out what interests your child’s teacher may have – then go pick up a gift certificate or two that will enrich their life outside of teaching. Are they crafty? Jo-Anns, Michaels and Hobby Lobby offer some of the best craft supplies. Are they a book nerd? Barnes and Nobles offers a great selection! Are they a sports lover? Dick’s, Nike, Reebok, Adidas and many other similar stores are a sports lover’s dream!

Stress-Free System for Absent Students

Absent students were the bane of my existence as a new teacher. I could not, for the life of me, figure out a system that made anything easier when it came to having work ready for students once they came back to school from being absent. I teach three grade levels (7, 8, & 12) and five different classes a day, so keeping up with absent work was rapidly becoming a nightmare.

A close friend of mine suggested that I just keep a list of kids that are absent on a Post-It, then at the end of each day, I had to remember to gather their materials, and write down instructions for what to do. The problem with this was that it placed all of the responsibility on me. I had to be diligent about keeping track of which students came back to school the next day (or later) and provide them with their work. This was an added chore at the beginning of class when I needed to be settling students down to begin their five-minute Journal Write. I had to find a solution that allowed students to be in control of collecting their work when they were absent.

So, I created Absent Work Bins. Each student would have their own folder in my classroom into which I would place any and all of the work they missed while they were out! On the day of their return, it was their responsibility to come to my class before school started to collect everything from their folder. If they needed to stay after school to make up any lessons, it was stated on their While You Were Out slip. If you don’t want to make one, I provide my own free version of these handouts here.


Because I teach three grade levels, I needed to keep each grouping of folders separate from each other. I purchased these plastic crates for their durability and easiness to wash if any middle school gunk gets inside!

There are other options for keeping hanging file folders organized, but these ones were cute and matched my room decor. I then purchased hanging file folders, one for each of my students. The ones I chose were inexpensive and durable, which is what you’re looking for when creating this system – you want it last for a while.

I chose to also label each folder myself (blame it on my OCD) using adorable tab labels I found in Wal-Mart. I chose a simple, smaller size plastic tab because I have close to one hundred students. You can determine what size tab is appropriate for your classroom! These are the exact tabs I used.

Use a permanent marker to label the tabs for ease of reading, as pen does not work as well as you would hope (clearly, I’m speaking from experience here).

Absent Work Bins

I have two sections of English 7, two sections of English 8, and one section of English 12. Each section was given its own color hanging file folder (English 7, Period 1 folders are all blue. English 7, Period 2 folders are all red, etc) so that students going to find theirs knew right where to look. My senior class was mix-matched in color because I only have one section for English 12. On the wall behind the Absent Work Bins, I cut out the grade level number using fancy scrapbook paper I had in my home. The students were already familiar with this system from my Homework Bins, so I decided to stay consistent!

Homework Bins

After you’ve labeled all of your folders, sectioned them in a way that makes sense for your students, then you must find a great location for them in your classroom. I placed mine on a counter right near the door this year. Students pop in, check their folder, and head back out. You must explicitly teach this system to your students so that they are comfortable with getting into their folder without having to ask for your permission first.

This system relieved an enormous amount of stress off of me. I no longer had to remember who missed class, how many days they were gone, and what assignments I needed to get around for them. Every day after school I check which students were absent, gather their missed work, and fill out a While You Were Out slip. I file the work into the student’s folder and don’t think about it again.

This system will ONLY work if you consistently put their work into their folders on the day they are absent. If you make a habit of forgetting to put the work in the folders, students will start to become confused; they may believe that they didn’t miss anything and not just that their teacher forgot to place the work in their folder!

If you choose to implement this into your classroom routines, please send me pictures of your final set-up! I love to see the finished products!

Tips For Surviving the Holidays (Teacher’s Edition)


The holiday season can be such a wonderful time for educators and students, alike. Everyone is excited about the upcoming festivities, gifts are being exchanged between friends and co-workers, and everyone is full of an abundance of energy as they get into the spirit of the season.

As teachers know, the holiday season can also be challenging and, quite frankly, exhausting! All of that joyous energy can also be hard to channel when students are off-task and buzzing about gifts and current happenings. Some of you may even be marking down the days left until the students are released for the long holiday break!

Instead of feeling overwhelmed and a little bit Grinchy this holiday season, I went to some fellow co-workers of mine and compiled a list of their best tips to get to (and through) the holiday season. Enjoy!

Survival Tip #1: Lighten the Severity of the Topics

Your students are distracted, at best, the last few days before break. Instead of trying to cram in the remaining few standards to meet the “halfway” mark by midyear, reflect on a standard you covered earlier in the year that didn’t take so well with your students. Did they only kind of understand compound sentences? Were the details of dividing fractions a bit muddled for a few kids? I know you don’t want to waste the time by tossing on a movie, so instead of grappling with new content right now, use this time effectively by strengthening a topic they already started to wrap their brains around. Maybe this time around, make it into an engaging game of Around The World, or toss up a Kahoot! to get the kids using some of that excited energy for educational things.

Survival Tip #2: Stay Consistent With Routines

While it may be tempting to toss in the towel and vow to review your classroom rules again after the holidays, don’t let your high expectations slide. You know that students may be a bit more chatty during transition times, yet students will appreciate the consistency in your classroom. Countless times I have had students with anxiety tell me that their other classes are complete madhouses the few days before the holidays – which causes their stress levels to fly through the roof (now they’re REALLY not going to be able to focus). There are so many things that students have to be stressed about when it comes to holiday time – try to take your class off that list of anxiety!

Consistency may also help with keeping behavior issues at a minimum. Students that know how they are expected to act and are aware of procedures are less likely to get squirrelly than if you let them have free rein. In their minds, you’ve let your other expectations go, so they’ve got the green light to push your boundaries a bit more. With the headache of your other responsibilities during this time, this is the absolute last thing you want. Keep everything as consistent as possible, and your students will know what you expect.

Survival Tip #3: Consider Planning In Movement to Your Lessons

Students are going to have extra energy, especially before the long Christmas Break. Everyone is aflutter with holiday cheer, gift-giving, the family is coming into town… a recipe for squirmy students. Think up some ways to incorporate movement into your lesson – even if it’s just to have kids stand up and grab a handout from a certain location! Yes, it will take a few more minutes of class, but after they settle again, you may notice that their attention is refocused on what you are teaching. It’s worth a shot, anyways!

Survival Tip #4: Don’t Collect a Large Project/Essay Right Before Break 

This is a break for you, too! Don’t collect a huge project or an essay before break with the intention of having them all corrected before you return to school. You need time for self-care, mental breaks and just time doing what you love to do. The holidays are for family, friends and finding magic in the season. Don’t ruin your own break by trying to be the superhero teacher. Your students are counting on you to show up after break feeling refreshed and bringing your very best self – which you can’t do if you’ve spent a chunk of your time grading assignments. I know it’s hard… but don’t bring home a huge workload this holiday season. You’ll thank yourself later.

Survival Tip #5: Don’t Assign a Large Project/Essay Due After Break

Just as you want a break from school work and a bit of time to relax, your students do, too! They need this time to destress from the last few weeks so that they can come back to school charged up and ready to go. If at all possible, don’t send your students home with a large project or essay that they have to complete when they return from break. 1) 95% of them are going to procrastinate, then hurriedly finish the project the night before school starts again and 2) You are going to spend part of your break worrying that someone forgot about the project, wondering if you need to send out a reminder, and groaning over the fact that you will have a PILE of grading to do once you return from break. Just. Don’t. Do It.

Survival Tip #6: Do One Thing You REALLY Want To Do

What is one thing that has been tickling the back of your brain for a while now, that you just haven’t set aside the time to do? Have you wanted to throw a holiday party? Plan one! Been thinking about a few old friends? Schedule a meet-up! Wanting to read that book that you keep hearing everyone raving about? Grab a snuggly blanket and get to it! Do this one thing that your soul has been begging for you to do so that at the end of the break, no matter what else happens, you can check off your list and feel an iota of accomplishment.

Survival Tip #7: Take a Mini-Holiday Away From Social Media

Scrolling your Instagram feed may seem like a mindless task, but for some people, it actually causes a building up of tension and anxiety. Seeing the highlight reel of other friends and family doing their holiday things may bring about a feeling of loneliness if you haven’t been involved in as many holiday events as you’d like. Try taking a brain break from your most addictive social media account for a day or two (or the entire break!) and spend the time instead on Survival Tip #6! You will find that your mind will be clearer, your mood will be boosted, your intentions more focused and that you are happier in general. Enjoy the present this holiday season. Social media will always be waiting for you.


What survival tips would YOU add?

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