Saturday, February 28, 2015

Oh, you know, just making stuff....

It's rare that I am working on just one thing, so I thought I would share two of my latest completed projects.

If you read the first post, you know that I toyed around with a cloche concept but geared it more for grown women with some fun results. From that creative streak came a great custom order. Perhaps the best thing about being able to customize the things I make is creating something for someone with specific needs along with wants. In this case, it was a matter of hat size and coming up with a color combination that would work with three different color options of coats.

I decided to go with a classic navy blue since it's an awesome neutral and then popped some color in with a ruby red edge on a cream center blooming rose. And, since I used up what was left of my pearl accents, I went out and got some new ones. Since I now have a decent stash, I had fun adding in a few more pearl drops to the mossy green leaves.

And the best part? I just heard back from a very satisfied customer! Here I am writing this post and in comes this wonderful message from the woman who placed the order for this hat. 

"Omg!!! Just tried my hat on and LOVE it! Fit is perfect "

Yep, I am totally happy with that, and thrilled that it worked so well for her. Heck, being a person with a larger head, I totally get the whole struggle in finding a hat that actually fits and looks good. Granted, she has the totally opposite issue,  but when you've been there, it makes you happy to be able to help someone out who is there.

Now, onto the next project. It's almost done, the thing is I just am not sure what to turn it into. What first started as a personal challenge for myself, turned into a pretty successful prototype of a large scroll work heart. Again, bopping around Pinterest I found a beautiful and free cross stitch heart pattern. I have been toying with the idea of turning a pattern from cross stitch into a crochet motif but just never really saw one that I liked. Obviously, that changed right quick when I saw the heart design.

The thing with converting over to crochet is that you need to work in a method you see often in Russian crochet patterns. You basically work consistently from right to left and snip off your yarn at the end of each row, casting on for a new one back at the right hand side. Then what I did was keep it to a single crochet stitch to replace the cross stitch and build the cream background. So, yes, you go through more yarn, and have LOTS of ends to weave in, but it ends up being a really cool concept in the long run. I definitely want to try this again, but may try using a much smaller hook and yarn...this beauty is now a good 2ft by 2ft in size....ooops.

As for what is next, I definitely want to experiment some more and get new patterns made up for the shop. Anything goes at this moment!

(Oh yeah, I also have another post in the works about the cake I am making for my son's boy scout pack and their Blue and Gold Banquet, so come back for that one, too :D )

Monday, February 16, 2015

Sweet n' Tangy Cucumber Salad- Gluten and Dairy Free Recipe

Somethings you just miss having when you go through a diet change for life. I was a cheese and dairy lover to the max. So yeah, I do miss that creamy amazing flavor that often comes with those recipes that call for things like sour cream and yogurt, especially tangy Greek yogurt. My husband is such a sport about it, and I will still make some dishes for him so he doesn't go completely with out, but in my quest to try and make a good cabbage and dairy free sauerkraut, I inadvertently came up with a super yummy cucumber salad that I plan on making often for our summer BBQs. 

This awesome recipe is so easy, and really flavorful. I was at first apprehensive about the whole coconut milk aspect, but it brought a great depth to the overall flavor. If anything, I now have a little more confidence with using it for other dressing based recipes.

Without further ya go!

Sweet n' Tangy Cucumber Salad
Dairy and Gluten Free Friendly Recipe

6 small cucumbers or 4 large ones
1 small Vidalia, or sweet onion
1 cup Gold Star coconut milk in a can. You'll want to use the whole fat variety and I prefer Gold Star due to its consistent thick quality regardless of room temp. Do not use liquefied coconut milk or "lite" varieties.
1/8 cup sugar
2tbsp apple cider vinegar, preferably with the mother still in it. 
1 tsp dried dill
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 dashes paprika
1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
white or black pepper to taste. White will blend into the dressing better in terms of color.

1. If you have a mandolin, julienne the cucumbers length wise. Or, if you don't have one, just thinly slice the cucumbers into medallions. For those with a "zoodler" you can also opt to do that just make sure to cut the noodle length as you go. Put into a large bowl as you go

2. Quarter and thinly slice the onion. Add to the cucumbers when done.

3. In a small bowl combine remaining ingredients and whisk together well. Allow the dressing to sit about 2 minutes to allow the sugar to melt into it. Whisk again and then pour over the large bowl of cucumbers and onion.

4. With a spatula gently fold the dressing into the cucumbers and onion until evenly coated. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to marry in flavor for at least two hours before serving. 


Friday, February 13, 2015

Dark Chocolate Bark with Craisins- Made with Coconut Oil!

I love chocolate...and I mean all forms. But, I am extremely addicted  fond of dark chocolate. Sure the health benefits of it certainly don't hurt and the bittersweet kick of flavor will always be one of my top contenders for favorite foods. Now, imagine my thrill when I came across a recipe for dark chocolate that uses coconut oil. I just needed to alter a few things for it to better fit my dietary needs as well as my flavor preferences. Oh, and it's almost Valentine's day, so right there, this needed to happen!

You're first going to want a nice glass 9x13 pan lined with heavy duty non stick foil. Make sure the foil goes up the edges, too. Then you'll need a small pot, rubber spatula, and a whisk in terms of hardware.

Next, have on the ready these ingredients

1 cup coconut oil
2 tbsp honey (local is a major bonus)
2 tbsp maple syrup (real stuff preferred, fake if you must but just be ready for it to be a sweeter chocolate if you don't taste test along the way)
4 tbsp cocoa powder ( I used Hershey's but any good quality kind will do.)
Coarsely ground sea salt about 1/2 tsp
2 1/2 tsps vanilla
1/2 tsp orange extract (Totally optional, but great w the dark chocolate notes. You can also try almond, or rum extracts in its place but start off with 1/4 tsp measurements.)
1 cup craisins or similar dried berries of your choice.

1. Melt coconut oil into the pot on the lowest heat setting until melted. It doesn't need to be boiling, in fact, just melted for best results.
2. Add in the cocoa powder, then the honey and maple syrup and whisk together gently. I suggest doing a taste test for sweetness. I don't need super sweet, but some do prefer it that way. If you need more sweetness, just gradually add in a tbsp of one or the other sweetener to reach your preference. Make sure everything is well mixed together but keep a gentle hand with the stiring.
3. Remove the pot from the heat and add in the salt and vanilla. Stir well with the whisk but do not build up a froth.
4. Spread the dried berries onto the bottom of the foil lined pan and then pour the melted chocolate over it. You will want to spread it around a bit to make sure everything gets coated and then just gently tap the pan on the counter to remove bubbles and even out your chocolate layer.
5. Cover with foil and set in the fridge to get the oil to harden up. (Or if you are in this frigid temp trend, just pop outside for about a half hour, not even kidding.)
6. When hardened, gently lift foil and break the chocolate as you go into bite size pieces.
7. Due to the nature of coconut oil, you are going to want to keep this refrigerated, so make sure to store in a nice airtight container. If you don't the chocolate will melt if your house is warm or if it's in a rather warm zone. There will also be some spots where the oil may separate from the mix. That's ok, and you can just shave it off, or enjoy it as is.

And that is it! This kind of chocolate melts in your mouth, and your hands as well, so savor it but don't handle it for too long either! The bitter kick of the dark chocolate married with the sweetness of the dried berries and touch of citrus is a fantastic combination. Then that finish of sea salt just truly brings it all together. In a word, heavenly ;)

Eye Catching Cloche Hat for Ladies

I have many friends who will tag or share crochet posts onto my FB wall. Needless to say, I'm usually familiar with the posts and have seen them before. I noticed though that there was one particular one that kept getting cycled back to me. It's of adorable little hats for girls in pretty pastel colors and lots of flowery detail. There is no denying that they are gorgeously designed and have amazing stitch work, something I enjoy seeing.

After another round of seeing these hats in a tagged post, someone in the comments mentioned how they wish that women could have hats that were like that concept, but more appropriate for women who don't want to run around looking like they are wearing a child's hat. Now that, caught my attention.

So, I sat down and created a more mature spin on the variety of floral cloches. As pretty as pastels are for little girls, most women tend to want the more classic neutrals with pops of colors. To fulfill that, I went with a beautifully soft  heather gray as the main color and then created a dual tone blooming rose with a soft pink and rich ruby red. Finally, some pearls added into a mossy green collection of leaves and vines finished off the look.
The result ends up being a super feminine, and more comfortably age appropriate cloche for women who want the extra touches without feeling like they took something out of a little girl's closet. I do intend to play around with this more and work with more color combinations. 

And, once I feel more established with the styling of this particular design, I do intend to make sure a pattern follows its new incarnations.

For now, this one may just be adopted by me and I can wander around doing my errands feeling like one of the ladies from Downton Abbey...or something of that effect.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Snow Madness!

We seem to keep getting snow days and delayed openings the past few weeks. The novelty is worn off at this point and I know that I, as well as a few other moms and dads, am scrambling for ideas to keep the kids occupied. Sorry, this post doesn't have any suggestions, but I am sharing a little ditty I came up with using Simon and Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence." Give it a read and have a laugh...and maybe that glass of something once the kiddos are finally asleep ;)

Hello Madness, my old friend.
I've come to rant with you again.
Because the kids are driving me crazy.

Too many snow days making weeks hazy.
And fun ideas are all dried up from my head
Snow day dread.
Oh how I long...for silence.

But the boys they crow and rave
With the LEGO cars they made
Stair steps turned into a dodgy game
One wrong move and I will become lame
At the moment, I am stuck here in a maze
No more games.
Oh how I long...for silence.

The restless nights are getting old. 
One out of bed to watch for snow.
The other one is sneaking out to see
If just by chance I finally fell asleep.
And wake up far too early to the snow day call
I miss the fall...
And the sound of silence.

I know the sun will shine again
And the kids can play with friends.
But for now the cold is making it
Far too easy for them to get sick
And the doctor's calling me by my first name
It's such a shame.
I need some wine and silence.

She's Cute and Fluffy...and Totally Clumsy.

Everything happens for a reason. Although sometimes I question the motive and mentality of others, especially when it comes to abandoned pets, I wouldn't have a sweet fluff ball companion if it hadn't been for some unfortunate circumstances. From what we could figure out, this rusty orange kitty with one heck of a full long coat ended up getting left behind when a family moved out of the neighborhood. We spent a good couple of months putting up posters and spreading the word that we found this great cat, but no response. And after a while, she became ours.

Meet Queenie. I actually first called her Queen Elizabeth since she has that rich red orange coat and a distinct ruff around her neck. Of course, that is a mouthful so I started calling her Queen E, but others heard it as Queenie and there ya go. She's about 10 years old, loves to cuddle, and really doesn't get the whole "graceful" concept of being a cat. I can honestly say, I've never encountered such an awkward creature from the feline society, but this awkwardness is absolutely endearing and is just a part of who she is.

She's a good sized cat with the ability to compact her massive fluff. Like in this picture, she looks so petite and lady like right? Sitting pretty, curiously looking at the camera, and nestled into our bed....well.....
Behold...there is more than meets the eyes with her! And that's just with her exposing her belly. When we pick her up, it looks like we are holding the offspring of Chewbacca! And she is solid. Although not exactly sure of her lineage, we can't help but wonder if there isn't some Norwegian Forest Cat in her bloodlines. Her paws are about twice the size of our domestic short hair male. Yet she has these stubby legs attached to them, certainly part of the reason why she misses out on the graceful aspect. 

She's actually quite a funny creature without even trying. She brings a smile to our faces almost daily, and whether it's because she's done something rather foolish or given her classic glance of utter disapproval, we can't help but laugh.

Take this morning for instance. We purposely keep the upstairs mostly cat free, but every so often I will let her visit while we get ready in the morning. When it was time to come downstairs, I went around looking for her, but just couldn't find her. I heard her bells on her collar, so I started following the sound. That lead me to the master bathroom. Well, I looked but still didn't see her, until I heard a noise in the shower. Yes, she snuck in and purposely tucked herself as far out of the way of the line of sight as possible in hopes of being able to stay up in our room! She even got up on the stool in hopes that it would help hide her better, I suppose. As you can tell, she wasn't too thrilled when I found her. 

Then there was the time we really couldn't find all. I was getting very worried and had that panic setting in as I went from room to room calling her name and shaking her treat bag. She always comes for her treats since we are so stingy about giving her some. When she didn't even make a peep I was convinced that she had gotten outside somehow. That meant I would need to get dressed to go out, so I opened up the closet.........and found this. She decided my husband's hamper made the perfect morning nap spot. Utterly infuriated yet laughing at the same time, I made sure to catch her in the act of her hide and go seek. Notice how she won't even look at me. 

And did I mention she is massive? Who needs a blanket when you have a Queenie. My boys adore covering up and having her cuddle right on top of them. Sometimes they don't even have to get under a blanket to tempt her to come and sit. This is my youngest getting pinned, I mean snuggled. She came over and just stretched out over him. He loved it, and luckily I got a shot of the two of them in this state. 

Actually, this sweet want to cuddle is a wonderful thing. She became a sort of therapy cat for me after I had back surgery. Even though I was laid up in bed, I knew I would have a nice fluffy companion next to me. Or if the nerve pain kept me up at night, I had an automatic girls' night. She literally tripped coming up the stairs the other night because she heard me moving around the house. I couldn't believe the face plant that resulted, but then again, I could because this cat truly can't jump 2 ft sometimes. Poor thing was just so excited to have some girl time. 

And the belly rubs, you can't believe how this cat loves them. I swear there is some dog to her with the way she just flops over to get some lovin. Of course, this flopping over sometimes can result is disastrous complications, like when she goes to roll over on the top of the love seat, and then falls off it completely.  

For all her silly antics, I couldn't imagine not having her as part of our household. The truest rescue of our rescues, she's a great companion and cat. And yeah, the klutz factor just makes her all the more adorable in my book.

The queen will see you now.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Crochet Collarette or Scarflette Neck Warmer with a nod to the Victorian and Steam Punk Look.

I've made a few of these collarettes, as I like to call them, or scarflettes here and there, but it was always freehand and without a pattern, or keeping notes for one. Finally, I decided it was time to write a pattern for one of them since I'm getting more and more requests for patterns to my designs, especially the more unique and hard to find ones like these.

I'm a huge sucker for anything that is lacy and delicate. The Victorian era is always a go to inspiration for many of my designs, so it's not surprising that I went back to the lace detail and feminine touches for this particular design. I'm also one of those creatures who run cold, and while a scarf most certainly will keep me warm, the whole bulky and needing to re-wrap it around my neck gets old. It was because of this that I created something that was visually pleasing, and at the same time, comfortable and functional. 

They are so great for simple V-neck shirts and sweaters, or even scoop and boat neck styles. When I'm out running errands, they certainly get noticed and people will ask me about them.

The first one I ever created was with a great golden mustard color. I really didn't have any set plans for how it should look exactly, and I just played around with the yarn and stitches until I came up with a simple, yet elegant prototype. I also love the color because it now makes a fantastic fall accessory for those days where it's just chilly enough to need something more than long sleeved shirt. 

I like the way the length skims along the shoulders and collar bones so that it really does help keep you a bit warmer, without overwhelming your outfit. Since it was the very first one for me to make, it automatically became "mine!" and, yes, I am using the seagull voice from Finding Nemo for that one. 

Once I had a general idea of what to do with the shape and styling, I made a second one, but with a safe, neutral color of ivory. I figured if I intended to list this item, I would have a better result with colors that work with more than just a few combinations. I used my prototype to guide me for this version and tweak a few things here and there. In the end I was loving the result and was more than happy to get it up on my Etsy shop.

The profile of it alone is was so much fun. It gave anyone who wore it a nice elegant line and also became a fun shown stopper for the craft fairs I did that fall. This particular design did finally sell to someone, who later let it slip that she bought it just so she could try recreate it. Not exactly what you want to hear, because you hope that your items are going to someone to enjoy and put to use. But it did get me thinking that it may not be a bad idea to write a pattern next time I created one. 

So here it is, another winter, and my yellow one is now sitting in my Fall bin because it just feels too bright for this time of year. Instead, I started with an icy blue yarn for the newest design. Again, I just sort of went with the flow of things, but made a point to short hand what I did to be able to create the pattern. When I finished it, I was even more pleased because this particular one had a few more finishing details that made it better than the first couple. I've already been wearing the blue and this pink one will more than likely become my early Spring accessory for those cooler days. 

I also now have a pattern that I can put up on the Etsy shop for others who would like to make one for themselves! It's definitely a design for the more experienced crocheter, though. There are some tricks and turns that would be otherwise difficult for those just learning and still getting comfortable with basic crochet techniques. If you'd like to get your hands on this design, just click here and it will take you to the listing for the pattern. And as for the style of the ivory one, I do plan to go back and get a pattern going for that one as well. 


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Going a Little Mad! Science Experiments and Activities the Whole Family Will Love: Part 4- Kitchen Friendly, Family Fun, Crowd Pleasing Experiments and Activities.

This is the last post for the series, but also the biggest overall. If anything, when trying to find easy and not too complex experiments for kids, you won't be disappointed with the Pinterest and Google searches you'll do. We actually had to pare down what we wanted to do because of all the great activities out there.

If you read the first post from the series, you know that we started out our major activities with the glow in the dark Petri dishes. From there we moved into the next black light friendly experiment, the "Growth Agent Mystery Pills." Sure, sounds super fancy, but it's actually ridiculously easy and the kids loved the surprise that comes from it. 

First of all, I just used a large Fiji bottle for the growth agent...which is actually just warm water. But have fun with it and label the bottle as "Growth Agent" and suddenly it becomes faaaaar more intriguing. Hindsight, I would have liked to have let some tonic water go flat and then warm it up with the regular water just to add to the glow factor in the black light room. You're also going to want to buy those sponge animal pills/bath toys that are sold at Dollar Tree stores or you can find them online. We got ours from Amazon and it's sort of a crap shoot as to which series you'll get, but since we needed more than a dozen we got two packages and both were fun to see develop, regardless if they were farm animals or ocean creatures. Finally, have some extra paper towels and plastic spoons. 
We ended up having the great neon plastic kind of cups to hold the water so there would be something to react to the black light. When it was time to do the experiment, we simply passed out the pills to the kids and had them put the pills in the cups. Then, I went around with the water and added it to the cups for them as spoons were passed out by another parent. Once they had spoon and water, they stirred and dipped, and swirled the pills in the water until the pill casing dissolved and released the sponge animal. Their reactions were great and it was cute hearing them guess what animals were growing in their cups based on what was getting released first from the pills.   

That pretty much brought a close to our black light driven experiments and we then moved the crowd back into our living room to work on the next activity, "Marshmallow Molecules." Try to move the crowd to different spots because it helps you prep the next area. While they created, I had a chance to clean up the dinning room and get their sponge animals wrung out and into goody bags, with the help of another parent. 

This activity had the kiddos building their own molecules using some very basic food products, marshmallows and dry spaghetti. Again, I put the supplies into different shaped containers and then put the periodic table inspired labels, as I explained in the creating the atmosphere post. Wanting to make it a little more interesting, I made a point to get various sized marshmallows in different shapes and colors. Then just get the cheapest package of spaghetti you can find because you won't be reusing it for anything else. We had the kids break into groups of 2-3 and then they worked on creating their molecules. You will want to give them fixed times to get the stuff to build and then have time to actually build them. We went with 2 minutes to collect the supplies and 5 minutes to see what they would create. The outcome was pretty funny since some kids decided to eat their supplies, others went with a more kabob inspired form, and the rest actually did try to make molecule-like shapes. 

Again, we kept the crowd moving, this time into our family room for the great hands on activity. This one was all our own doing and I created the box in question. I'll be giving some step by step basics to create your own. Before I do though, this was a riot and super educational at the same time. Basically, we worked off the whole haunted house activity of feeling mystery items in bowls. To make it more experiment based though, we put these mystery things into cups and then they were hidden away in the "The Tactile Box." We went with 7 different types of foods that you can find in your kitchen and then had two volunteers come up for each food item, feel the item, and then describe it in two words to the rest of the group. We kept a poster up to write down the descriptive words and the rest tried to guess what the volunteers felt. It was so much fun, and the guesses were spot on for some and way off for others. As for what they felt, we went with these items; jello, peeled frozen grapes, frozen banana slices, oatmeal flakes, sugar, Cheerios, and Goldfish.  Really though, you can pick whatever you want, just make sure you have a variety of textures working for you.

How to make your Tactile Box

1. Get a medium size box and you can cover the exterior with some fun wrapping paper or even just a plain black plastic garbage bag. I decided to go with a sign to name the box and used this awesome black bubble wrap we got in a shipment one day. 

2. Using duct tape and cheap plastic cups, tape the number of cups you need to the inside bottom of the box. 

3. Taking the same number of cups to what you have taped into the bottom of your box, cut up a black plastic bag into strips that measure roughly 20" long and about 2" wider than the widest part of your cups.  Take the duct tape and tape the plastic around the cup to create a sleeve. The plastic should overlap at the edges so you don't have to worry about taping it together. These cups will be filled with the food items and will nest in the cups you taped to the box bottom. Just fold the sleeves down until you are ready to put them in to make filling them up easier.

4. For the top of the box you will want to take 3 strips of black plastic garbage bags, or something as nicely opaque, and cut them to work evenly across the length of the box. Make sure to tape the edges firmly at the ends to the edge of the box. Then, cut two strips to fit width wise across the box but make sure there is some space between the strips to create what looks almost like a grid. Tape firmly again, and now you will have the ability to stick your cups in and just have the sleeves sticking out, as shown in the picture above. 
5. Fill up the sleeve cups with your items of choice a little bit before the start of the party. Any cold items can be kept in the fridge in the sleeve cups and then quickly placed where you want them in the box before the activity. Just tuck the sleeve cups into the box cups by working them between the criss-cross of plastic over the top of the box. 
6. Have the kids come up and stick their arms down the sleeves and then try to describe what they are feeling. The slimier and gooey stuff was certainly more entertaining just by nature, but everything got the kids thinking :)

Finally, we worked our way to the kitchen where we already had the "Kitchen Friendly" experiments ready to go. Everything we used were things you would find in the kitchen or bathroom of a regular home. You are going to need to make sure there is a sink nearby since some of these do have spill over qualities and hand washing needs. I also made sure to use a deep plastic tray to help curb in any accidental spills. Here they are in no particular order:

1. The Go To, Baking Soda and Vinegar, but with a Twist. Supplies- 1/4 cup baking soda in a bowl, 1 cup vinegar in a large clear vase or wide mouth bottle, fine craft glitter in a dark color, a funnel. First mix the glitter and baking soda together. Then, place funnel in wide mouth bottle or vase and pour the baking soda mix into the vinegar. Watching the combustive reaction with the glitter helps to show off how everything moves and grows up and out of the container. (I was a bit skeptical about the glitter part, but glad we went with it. It totally increases the wow factor.)

2. Oil and Water Experiment in Two Parts. Supplies- a small empty kids bottle of water filled with cooking oil and a few drops of darker food coloring like red or orange, a regular size bottle of Smart Water filled halfway up with water, 2 Alka Seltzer tabs, a funnel. First, you will need to shake the oil to mix the food coloring into it. This part helps show off the separation a little better than just regular oil and water. Then using the funnel add the oil to the tall Smart Water bottle. Place the cap on the larger bottle and shake the contents together. Show the kids how the water and oil just don't want to mix together no matter how much they are shaken together. Then take it a step further by adding the two tabs of Alka Seltzer to the mix and suddenly it acts like you own lava lamp! 

3. Blow up a Balloon without Helium or Your Lungs. Supplies- small empty kid size water bottle filled with some water on the bottom, 2 tbsps of lemon juice, 2 tbsps of baking soda, a latex balloon stretched out a head of time, funnel. First add the lemon juice to the water using the funnel. Then keeping the funnel on the bottle add in the baking soda, remove the funnel and quickly place the balloon over the mouth of the bottle. You'll see the reaction begin to fill the balloon up. For a large reaction, you can use more lemon juice and baking soda.

4. Newtonian Fluid. Supplies- 1 cup cornstarch, 1 1/2 cups of water with a few drops of food color added to it, pie dish, spatula. Slowly mix the water into the cornstarch in the pie dish. Show the kids how as you add water it changes the structure of the mix. When you reach the point where you press the cornstarch mix and it becomes solid, stop adding in water. Then let the kids touch and feel how it can be like a liquid if slowly handled or become more like a solid when you slap the top or try to poke it quickly.

5. Invisible Ink. Supplies- Plain white paper, cotton swabs, a quarter cup of grape juice, paint brush, and an equal part mix of baking soda and water, hair dryer. Get some volunteers to help out with this ahead of time. Either older siblings, or parents who decided to stay and watch are good assistants to put to use. Have them dip the cotton swabs into the baking soda mix and write a message on the paper without the other people watching. You will want to just put a pen dot on the top of the paper so you know which is the right side. Take the hair dryer and dry the messages so that you cannot see any wet sections on the paper. Then, in front of the group, take the grape juice and with the paint brush, spread it over the right side of the paper. Suddenly, what was invisible becomes completely visible!

Our last activity we just came up with for something different. We did a raffle for the kids. Their tickets were attached to their clip boards and then they just had to put the one side of their tickets in the box when they arrived at party. At the end, after the Sundae Bar, we had the kids sit down and we pulled the winners. We went with some National Geographic books for grand prizes and a couple of cool light up balls as runners up. You can opt to not do this at all, or choose items that you would like to be the prizes.

 And that's it!! If you have any questions or need something clarified, feel free to contact me. We had a blast doing this, and we may even try doing it again for our younger guy when he's a little older.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Going a Little Mad!Science Experiments and Activities the Whole Family Will Love: Part 3- Putting the "Part" into the Party

In part 2 of this series, I shared how I got the house ready. This entry is going to give you some ideas on how to get your guests, and yourself, ready for the party. Sure, you could easily just bypass this particular section, but I found that our guests enjoyed those extra touches we put into our own appearance and wardrobe. Plus, kids look ridiculously cute dressed up as little scientist... I am a bit partial of course.

Before our guests even got here, I made the effort to help them feel the part by doing just a few things...

The first task was to create clip boards. This was a remarkably easy project and the kids had a more "official" scientist look to them when they carried them around.
All that you need for these are some bits of cardboard, binder clamps, and a printout of your experiment plans. I ended up using the flaps of cardboard boxes and then just clipped the lists to those using the binder clips. For the boxes that had printed lettering or flaws, I just pasted some brown construction paper onto them to give them a smoother appearance. These also came in handy as the ticket holders for our raffle prizes. Just make sure to write the name of your guest at the top of the clipboard.

Along with the clipboards, I made up ID tags for each of our guests. The idea is floating all over Pinterest and it wasn't too hard to recreate. These were all made just using Word on my computer, printing them out on heavier card stock, and buying some lanyards off Amazon. I first found a generic bar code symbol online and saved it as a jpg. Then to make the tags, I created a name for our house that has a science-y feel to it, in this case our last name with "Institute of Research" added on to it. That got put on the document first and then I set a border around it. After that, I typed in the name of the child with a letter coordinating last name of a famous scientist, for example, "Dr. Ryan Richter." Then I found a really great atom icon in Clip Art and put that as the emblem of the ID tag. And finally I inserted the picture of the bar code under all of it. You will need to play around with picture sizes to get it to all line up properly. Once you do, get the whole document set as a double column and then you just copy and paste the layout a few times to create your template. If this just went right over your head, contact me and I can always share the save document of my template with you ;) 

Not to be forgotten, I also made up a tag for the parents who decided to stay for the party. It is only fair, after all, that our visitors should have a way to get involved with the fun!

For my own sanity, I organized all of these elements into a box near the front door so that guests could receive their IDs and clipboards as they arrived. And it also made it easy to make sure everyone took of coats and boots as they came into the house. 

There were other fun ways to make the kiddos feel like VIP scientist. Pretty much anything that could get labeled did, and the title of "Dr." got tagged onto all things possible. 

Here are the goody bags all lined up and waiting for the soon to be arriving crew.

Even experiment props were officially labeled.

 And if you notice in the picture below, we made sure to have some mega cool, hipster scientist glasses for our visitors to wear if they wanted. This is also our fun little raffle zone which I'll explain in the next post of activities we did.

Finally, even my husband and I got into character. Here he is in the middle of our kitchen friendly, experiments symposium. I managed to find some glasses for us to wear as well, and he went totally classic with a plain white button down and narrow black tie.
I went with a blend of "Big Bang" beauties with some knee socks ala Amy Farrah Fowler, hipster glasses like Bernadette, and a little sass courtesy of Penny. 

Have fun with this and get into character as much as you can! It does make a difference and it makes it great experience for the kids.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Helping Hands for Valentine's Day: A Fun Valentine for School Celebrations

Just thought I would take a quick break from the Mad Scientist posts to share this cute little Valentine we're doing for both of the boys for their classroom celebrations.

I was inspired to do this sweet hand print Valentine after looking at the looming aisle full of ready to go, but kinda cheaply made, cards and treats. This actually turned out to be a very cost effective, and still cool, way for the kids to give to their friends. I probably spent a total of $15 when you factor in the cost of the pencils, construction paper, and labels. 

First, order the stacking pencils from Amazon. They had a great deal and free shipping for Prime members. They come in a count of 50, so we were set not only for kid #1, but kid#2's class count.

Next, get a piece of scrap cardboard and trace the little Valentine giver's hand. Cut out the hand print and now you have a nice, non-wiggly template to trace out your Valentines.

Get some red construction paper and fold it length wise. You should be able to trace two hand prints per page depending on how old your child is. You want to make sure to line up the pointer and the thumb along the folded edge of the paper.

Cut out your hand prints and you have a nice hand print card. 

Place the pencil in the fold between the pointer and thumb and just stick on a piece of scotch tape to keep them together.

Print out address labels according to instructions and use a phrase of your choice. We went with "I got to hand it to you. You're one cool Valentine." with some heart icons from Clip Art. 

Put the labels on the outside of the card and then your child can sign the interior and write any special message they'd like to include. 

That's it! I slipped them into paper bags in stacks to make it easier to take to school. I know this style pencil is a big hit since it means no need to get up and sharpen your pencil all the time.  

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Going a Little Mad!Science Experiments and Activities the Whole Family Will Love: Part 2- Creating the Atmosphere

The one thing that really made our party a hit was the atmosphere I created for it within our house, and I'm not talking about ozone layers and that type of thing. I will heartily admit, it took a good week and a lot of hard work, but our downstairs went from every day house to a grand laboratory ready for our little scientists.

You are going to want to think way outside the box here when it comes to decorating. Things that are creepy, crawly, and unusual are perfect for props and displays. I'm lucky enough to have some shelves scattered through our house and all I did was come up with fun collections to display on them. If you can, start saving up bottles and jars as you empty them because they are truly some great and cheap ways to make the house look more like a lab.

Case in point, this fun "specimen" display I had by our front door. It really wasn't too hard. All I did was save a couple of jam jars and a pasta sauce jar. Then I made sure to clean them off really well. For the more stubborn labels it was amazing what an overnight soak with cooking oil and a hot soapy bath after could do. Just a few scrubs with a Magic Eraser and off they came! Once cleaned off, I found an old rubber snake and a frog bath toy to put into two of them. Then I added various drops of food coloring and filled them at different levels with water and hello specimen jars! Oh, yeah, and that funky silver thing in the back, yep, a martini shaker. But like I said, think outside the box!

Here is another example of crazy containers and objects from around our house. Once again, I put empty bottles to use and filled them up with food coloring and water. For the ones without lids, I just put some Press 'n Seal on the top and it worked like a charm. Along with the bottles on the mantle is a funky red vase, a hand held sieve, and a huge metal food strainer I use once in a blue moon. I managed to make a fun birthday banner just using Word with a New Rocker font and fun Clip Art icons I found when doing a "science" search. Finally, a strand of Halloween lights worked their magic for some funky visuals. 

And this just happens to be a funky bottle dryer from my husband's beer brewing supplies. Did a great job adding in an odd, yet cool look to the munchies table.

The biggest "wow" room in the house was our dinning room, which I turned into a black light driven experiment room. I knew it would be where we would do the first few experiments and also where the kiddos could chow down on their DIY sundaes toward the end of the party. So it really got the most time and attention in creation mode.

This was step one to getting our dining room black light ready. After reading all those old Victorian Gothic novels and visiting old homes, stained glass windows are practically a must for lighting for any self respecting mad scientist. This was just a matter of using construction paper under the grid divider to our windows. It helps dim the light in the room and create neat spots of color when the sun is shinning through. All I had to do for a better black light room was to tape two thick construction grade garbage bags to the top of the windows. When we were ready to get the room going for the sundae bar, down came the bags, and this beautiful color display was ready and waiting!

Again, I cannot stress how using things around the house really ended up being the best way to go. I made a super banner for over our dinning room entry with the same font as mentioned before. To help keep the majority of sunlight from our living room out of the dinning room, I just took 3 large construction grade garbage bags, slit them up either side, unfolded them, and then with some black duct tape and command hooks, created a blackout screen. It created an air of mystery for when the guests first arrived and it really did help do the trick. I just had to make one more blackout curtain for the smaller door between our kitchen and dinning room and the results are as follows...

Plastic neon items will glow under the power of a black light
Two of our experiments used black light friendly items to make it just that much cooler to do!
This is what our little scientists saw when they first entered the "Laboratory" and you can be sure that "oooohs" and "ahhhs" were a popular response from both kids and parents. 

And make sure to wear some white!

The last big thing to get set up in our house was the sundae bar in the dinning room. It was just a matter of creating another easy banner, stringing up some Halloween lights, and finding some fun containers for the "fixins" we served at the bar. 
As you can see our fixins got a little extra touch of science with some fun periodic table inspired labels. No, they are most certainly not accurate but it was a fun way to make something as simple as M&Ms look pretty darn experimental at the end of the day. It's those little touches that helped carry the mad science feel through the entire party. Even the cupcakes got a fun touch with a great packet I found on Amazon. 

So good luck and have fun with it! If it's crazy or weird, chances are good it will be the perfect fit for the Mad Scientist atmosphere for you party.