Nintendo has declared March 10 Mario Day to celebrate all things Super Mario Bros. This plucky plumber has been around for over 30 years, dashing and jumping his way into our hearts, and he’s not showing any signs of slowing down.
When my daughter O was in preschool, we hosted an annual gingerbread house-making party for friends every December. We experimented with different pre-made kits, but the mini village with pieces that the kids could remix into freestyle builds was always the hands-down favorite. They worked for hours, swapping parts and suggestions. By late afternoon, everyone had created their own candy-plastered, gravity-defying structure cemented into place with royal icing.
As O moved through elementary school, her passion for building grew. Sticks, Lego bricks, wooden blocks, and random recyclables were commandeered for an endless series of fantastical projects. Meanwhile, though, most of her girlfriends discovered other interests. So, we decided to retool our gingerbread gathering and the “community build” was born.
The idea was to convene a small group of construction-minded kids to experiment, exchange ideas, and inspire each other a few times a year. The format was simple: theme, inspiration materials, supplies, and lots of creative freedom.
Our community builds weren’t fancy. They were just a way to support my daughter’s interest and help her connect with other kids. O dreamed up the themes, developed the supply lists, and chose most of the inspiration resources. We reached out to friends who were game and gave it a shot.
Parents were thrilled to have messes made in someone else’s house and the kids had a blast together. O said that sharing ideas with friends who were into building pushed her to think differently and be more creative. And, they laughed at each other’s crazy jokes.
Here are a few of our favorite community builds:
GNOME HOMES (Ages 6-9)
A hike around the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone inspired the theme for O’s 7th birthday party and inaugural community build.
Lessons learned: Yes, it is ridiculous to purchase stones, pine cones, and twigs. (Our supplies came from the floral and woodworking departments at Michael’s.) This is how I rationalized it:
1) Clean, smooth surfaces adhere more easily than gritty, jagged ones, thereby reducing the potential for frustrated freak-outs.
2) Eliminates the need to risk prosecution for illegal removal of natural resources from local parkland.
3) Parents are more likely to allow a clean-looking work product in the house.
MICRO-SCALE (Ages 8-12)
O wanted a Lego open build. I wanted to keep the budget reasonable. So, she proposed that we go micro-scale: “In Lego, there is this idea of ‘micro-building.’ Sometimes, you don’t have enough of the bricks you need to build a full-scale model. But with micro-scale, you can make an entire city with fewer bricks.” Done.
Disposable mini loaf aluminum tins to hold each builder’s supply allotment
One per child: 6×8 plate, White
One per child: 6×8 plate, Dark Green
Twenty-five per child: 1×2 plate, Transparent
Twenty-five per child: 1×1 plate, Transparent
Twenty per child: 1×2 brick, White
Twenty per child: 1×1 tile, White
Twenty per child: 1×2 tile, White
Ten per child: 1x1x2/3 roof tile, White
Twenty-five per child: 1×1 stud, Lime
Lessons Learned: To amass supplies, we hit up the Pick a Brick wall at our local Lego store and ordered the rest online. Once all the bricks had arrived, O and I divvied them up so that each builder would have her own materials to start with and trade.
Buying by the container from the Lego Store Pick A Brick wall is most cost-effective for small pieces: Go there first.
You’re able to fit the most 1×2 bricks in a large container if you stack them (14-16 bricks per stack) and then fill in the empty spaces with loose bricks.
To maximize value and creative flexibility, buy large quantities of just a few brick types and colors.
Plan ahead: Online Pick a Brick orders ship from Denmark and can take up to three weeks for delivery to the US.
VOLTAGE VILLAGE (Ages 9-12)
Once they had a few community builds under their belts, the crew lost their taste for gingerbread. So, we switched to an amped-up holiday activity: circuits!
Inspiration materials: Holiday music, candy canes, and string lights
Lessons Learned: O got a kick out of seeing how the kit had been improved from the original, which we’d purchased a year or two before. Upgrades included perforated forms (no mat knife needed!) and a reconfigured circuit map, making the project easier for kids to tackle on their own.
Based on prior experience, we purchased one kit (two houses) per child in case of faulty components or the need for a do-over, which made for a particularly pricey community build.
Purchasing a pot of conductive paint wasn’t necessary; the kits came with conductive paint pens which contained an ample supply and were easier to use.
Kids used the mini tree holiday ornaments to create a wintry setting for their homes.
A little adult help was needed for wire stripping, but the crew built, “wired,” and decorated one house each in about an hour.
Were all the builds a success? Absolutely not. The 3D LED Christmas Tree stands out as a particularly unfortunate choice. We had one soldering iron to share and there were too many components to be soldered into place to hold the kids’ attention. Instead, they raided the playroom shelves and got to work with littleBits and Snap Circuits. It all worked out.
The best builds were open-ended. However, we did go with a kit for the LED houses because it made sourcing materials easier for a rookie like me. In most cases, adult supervision was minimal. Occasionally, we’d help the youngest kids with the soldering iron or hot glue gun, but the older kids would usually help out instead.
If you’ve got a kid who likes to invent or build cool stuff, consider the community build. If you don’t want to wing it, there are a number of helpful resources online to get you started. Two to check out: Google Maker Camp and the Fundamentals of Tinkering List from the tinkering studioTM Coursera course, “Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructivist Approach to STEM Learning.” Good luck!
You know how I don’t like to spend Saturday? Watching kids play with Lego bricks. Especially if I’m not allowed to play with them myself. So how I found myself driving three sixth grade Montessori boys (one of them my own spawn) and offering to spend the entire day in an auditorium watching nineteen teams of four build Lego robots, then watch them try to push three other Lego robots out of a taped circle again and again, is beyond me.
After water, tea is the most popular drink in the world. Here in America, the number of tea enthusiasts is growing every year. Chances are there is someone on your gift list this holiday season that geeks out about tea. So here are some ideas to make them squeal like a tea kettle in delight.
A Whole Buncha Bags: This is a good one if you are planning on giving out a tea present to several people. Buy lots of different kinds of tea that come individually wrapped. Then give each tea person on your list an assortment. The fun of this present is presentation: inside a pretty teapot, clothes-pinned on a wreath, tucked in a knitted cozy, or nestled in an elegant box. You can expand by including a tea mug, jar of honey, spoon, and a book like the classic: The Book of Tea.
Weekly Tea Gram: Who doesn’t love getting real mail? And so sweet if you have someone who lives far away. Each week, mail this person a different kind of tea. Tea bags are so light and thin, you won’t need more than the normal postage stamp. Make it a seasonal gift lasting three months, buy a 12 pack of pretty greeting cards, and put it on your calendar so you don’t forget to do the mailing!
Personal Tea Blend: For teaists on your list, nothing but loose-leaf will do. Go to your local tea shop, or if you are not lucky enough to have a teashop, buy some online. Your grocery store should have the rest of the recipe items in the spices section. Put some thought into your tea person and what they might like. Put the blend in a Mason jar decorated with ribbon and label with their name as the blend, along with a teaspoon and tea brewing bags. Here are some examples. They make about 20 cups of tea.
Ayla’s Healthy Zen:
1.5 oz green tea
1/4 cup dried berries
.5 oz raspberry leaf
.5 oz nettle
2 oz Rooibos tea
2 teaspoons of vanilla
2 Tablespoons cacao nibs
2 Tablespoons coconut flakes (unsweetened)
After mixing these together, be sure to let it air dry before packaging.
Peter’s Night Cap
2 oz chamomile flowers
2 Tablespoons cinnamon pieces
1 Tablespoon ginger
.5 oz anise hyssop (or dried licorice pieces—not candy)
Tea-infused Salts. These go for about $20/lb in the store, but are really easy and inexpensive to make yourself! The recipe is 1/2 the amount of flavoring to the salt. Again, packaging makes all the difference in a gift. Small glass bottles are the best for this one so you can see the pretty colors. The salts can be used as a finishing touch for soups, stews, grilling, or just some scrambled eggs. Any salt will do, but coarse salt looks nicest. Make all three for a colorful presentation:
Even though paper coffee cup sleeves are biodegradable, they still create unnecessary waste and use needed resources. Most of the time these sleeves end up in the trash instead of recycled. Why use a boring paper sleeve when you can rock a piece of geeky art work instead?
These projects are very quick to finish and require only a small amount of yarn. They make good stocking stuffers or birthday gifts. They are practical, unique, and sure to please. I use mine on both disposable and reusable cups. Here are six free patterns for coffee cozy sleeves you can knit and crochet:
December 18th will be like a national holiday for Star Wars fans. We’ve been waiting years for The Force Awakens to arrive, and it’s hard not to get swept up in all the excitement ahead of its release.
But what about your youngest Star Wars fans, who may be too young to actually see The Force Awakens in theaters? This is so variable from family to family, as you and your kids might feel ready at different ages to head to the theater for this one.
But for those with kids who are sitting it out, how can they participate in all the fun when they can’t see the movie? Here are some ideas to celebrate Star Wars fever with them:
The air cools; fall begins, and out come the sweaters! I love knitting and crocheting, but as a mother of three small children I don’t have the time for large projects like sweaters.
This year I thought I’d spend my autumn months knitting and crocheting some geeky holiday ornaments! Here is a list of both knitted and crocheted ornaments you can make. Keep them for yourself or gift a bit of geek to any nerd on your list! Some of these are actual ornaments and some are amigurumi that you can add a simple yarn loop or a hook to for hanging. Continue reading Geeky Ornaments to Knit and Crochet
It would be wonderful if we could each buy a shiny new car the second the old one started to look shabby. Even if you’re careful, scratches, dents, and general wear and tear can take their toll on your precious. One solution is to take it to a detailer and have them buff and polish until it looks like new, but that can be expensive. I recently discovered how easy it is to bring a car back to life and here’s why you should try this, too.
I write about cars all the time. It’s my day job to know about horsepower and torque and wheelbases and all those numbers the engineers love to quote. I know a lot about cars, but I have never once tried to do any cosmetic work on my car to reduce the effects of age. Awkwardly applied touch-up paint, yes, but buffing and polishing, never.
Recently, I found myself caught up in the tree of life phenomenon. Specifically, I took a real interest in wire-wrapped, handmade tree of life pendants. I had an opportunity to take a three-hour class, held by Wattle Tree Designs, at a local gift shop. Boy, was that a lot of fun! Women, beads, laughter, and the age-old art of passing down a craft from one person to another. I was hooked! Read on for inspiration and instructions on how to make your own tree of life pendants.
Black, white, maroon, gold, brown, and light tan/peach cardstock
Black enamel dot stickers (like these from Doodlebug, found in craft stores with the scrapbooking supplies)
Begin by cutting two black strips the same size, approximately 1.25 inches by 6 inches (or 4 inches for a shorter bookmark). Cut a small oval for Hermione’s face, and a strip smaller than the black strip for her neck and shirt.
Next, cut a small shape for the tie out of the maroon cardstock, and a small strip of gold for the tie’s stripes.
Cut a hair shape out of the light brown cardstock, using the oval as a guide for size. (Remember, this is Hermione, so the poofier the better!)
Now it’s time to start putting it all together!
Glue the oval behind the hair, and then glue the white strip to the bottom of the face.
Then, glue the maroon tie under Hermione’s chin. Cut the gold strip to fit and carefully add two stripes to the tie.
Next, cut a small triangle in the top of one of the black stripes for the front of the robe. Line it up with the tie and glue the robe to the shirt.
Flip the bookmark over, and glue the other black cardstock to the back to finish the robe and give the bookmark a cleaner look.
You can also trace her hair on the brown paper, cut it, and glue to the back of her head to finish the clean look.
You’re almost done! Place two black enamel dots for Hermione’s eyes, and draw a smile beneath.
Finally, to add some texture, use the school glue to draw waves in Hermione’s hair and down the length of the robe to give it some detail.
After the glue on the front dries, flip the bookmark over to add waves to the back of her hair with school glue for the final touch.
Allow the bookmark to dry completely, and Hermione is complete.
When I spotted this ingenious coaster DIY on the Sharpie blog, I just had to make it for myself—with a geeky twist, of course! Sharpies and alcohol turn the ink into a gorgeous, galactic mix. Pick up a few inexpensive tiles from the home improvement store, grab some Sharpies, and you’re ready to get started on your one-of-a-kind Doctor Who tile coaster.
What You Need
Black, blue, and purple Sharpies
White acrylic paint
Clear acrylic paint / varnish
Begin by cutting and sticking the blue painter’s tape to make a TARDIS shape anywhere on the tile.
Next, use the black, blue, and purple Sharpies to draw outer space all over the tile. Be sure to cover the edges of the painter’s tape for a clear TARDIS shape.
Next, use the eye dropper to drip the rubbing alcohol on the Sharpie ink. The ink will run, blend, and form interesting patterns. You can move the tile slightly to help it mix together.
Allow the tile to dry completely.
Next, use the paint brush to splatter stars on the tile. Allow the paint to dry completely. (If there is still wet rubbing alcohol on the tile, it can create a glow effect with the white paint splatter.)
When the ink and paint are completely dry, remove the painter’s tape.
Next, spray the tile with clear acrylic paint or varnish to seal the ink.
Allow the clear acrylic paint to dry completely, and your coaster is complete! Feel free to add a felt backing to protect your coffee table from accidental scratches.
I am sure you have all seen the hashtag #WeWantWidow going around, imploring Marvel to include more of the Black Widow character not only in merchandising, but to the collective Avengers movie universe.
A movement is growing. It was exciting to get the update from our friends at Legion of Leia.com about the Black Widow Flash Mob that took place on June 6. The idea was created by Kristin Rielly, founder and editor of Geek Girl Network. The outcry was sparked by the Avengers: Age of Ultron’s lack of the Black Widow character. The voices included female Disney and Marvel fans from around the country, coming together to take change in their own hands.
My four-year-old’s untimely demand (most of them do come when I am in the shower) seems to be right in step with this social media uprising.
So after my shower, we went searching for Avenger team items. The cute hat above was found at Target and did not include Black Widow. Sadly, it didn’t shock me. I think I had gotten used to the gender inequality when it comes to finding female Marvel, DC, or Star Wars characters in merchandise from local stores. Most of Ella’s geekware items have been purchased in the “boys” section. In all fairness to Target, just this summer there has been a recent influx of superhero clothing, so they seem to be taking steps to offer more for girls and women. One was even found that included Black Widow. It’s a good start.
Choosing to get the hat, I asked Ella why she thought Black Widow was not on it. Her answer was, “She was off saving people and saving Hulk and Captain America.”
We decided to add her to the hat ourselves. We found a picture of Black Widow in Ella’s Captain America: The Winter Solider coloring book. It was chosen because it had her on the cover. Coloring the picture together, I mentioned that sometimes if we want to change things, we need to find solutions and do it ourselves.
Maybe someday Ella will be writing for Marvel or designing clothing. She might be packing up this hat as a sentimental reminder of her youth on her first astronaut mission to Mars. Those DIY, problem-solving skills may just come in handy if her mission team needs something important mended.
Whatever her future, it is my hope as her GeekMom that she remembers that she is the architect of her own life and to put on a towel before jumping out the shower with ideas to change the world.
In her own way, she is joining in by saying #WeWantWidow too.
Last month, our family had a fun time with costume preparations for our Big Hero 6-themed family cosplay for Denver Comic Con. While most of our parts were commercial-off-the-shelf purchases from places like Amazon and our local craft store, some of our items had to be homemade. I used a Pinterest board to collect all of the ideas we found.
For a refresher on the looks we were trying to achieve with our sons, check out our inspiration pictures for Hiro and Fred.
I ended up not starting on the knit cap until mid-week just before the con, and I feverishly finished it about 12 hours before we headed out the door!
Our older son asked about whether we could buy a toy Megabot to carry around the con. He asked this question about two weeks prior to the event, and some basic interneting yielded no such toys. We saw a cute Megabot flash drive, but it ships from China, so there was no way we’d get it in time. We saw numerous ideas for making homemade Megabot props out of paper, styrofoam, or Fimo clay.
My husband pondered quite a bit about how to fit in with our family theme. We started investigating the “evil” Dr. Callaghan with the kabuki mask, but we didn’t give ourselves enough time to make it successful. Instead, he came up with a clever, but subtle, idea.
Feedback from DCC? It was all very subtle… perhaps too subtle. My husband insists that no one noticed he was anything other than a guy attending a con in khakis and a sweater vest. My sons found their doppelgängers and I got some photos of with them.
It is no secret around here that I am a Star Wars fan. All the kids that come to our hackerspace in Oakland know that every year I plan in anticipation for the Star Wars celebration. Over the past few years, we have tried out many ways of making, in the spirit of our favorite films. Here are three of my favorite projects that are affordable, have the ability to hack and/or make personal, and are accessible to different skill levels:
Of course. Easily made, definitely satisfying. Choose a side, a character, or hack your own. An essential project for any Star Wars fan. We have outlined the cheapest way to make a lightsaber here, without sacrificing on aesthetics.
I had this project in my head for a long time, but it finally came together! Cute and furry, Wookiee Cushions can be made with or without a sewing machine. Add a sound chip for real Chewie sounds! Pro-tip for sound: You can record the Wookiee voice of your choice straight from a Chewbacca Soundboard. Unless you are really good at Wookiee, in which case, go for it. One of my mentors took my specs and uploaded the full directions here.
Star Wars Terrariums
I originally found this idea in the awesome book World of Geekcraft. You can also find a full tutorial here. I ended up buying miniature Star Wars characters, like these online, to save money and have enough for the large number of kids we serve. I found the cheapest price on mason jars from here and the wonderful Flower Power Nation provided me with the awesome air plants that look awesomely alien for the Tatooine terrariums, while the moss and ferns for Endor came from a garden nursery.
I’m semi-skilled with a pair of scissors. I mean, I can successfully cut out a pattern from paper or fabric, but it’s probably my least favorite part of any project. It’s always been a necessary part of the process, however, since I had no way to automate the task for larger projects. Until now.
Enter the Cricut Explore. I’d heard of the Cricut brand before, and knew it had something to do with cutting things out of paper. And that there might be cartridges. Or something. I also recall one device for cutting fondant for cakes. I always thought that it wouldn’t be something I would use, because my crafting tends to not include much papercraft. Or cake decorating. Little did I know that the Cricut has come a long way since the original model.
The Cricut Explore and the Cricut Explore Air are the newest in Cricut’s line of devices for cutting things out. The only difference I’ve found between the two models is that the Air has Bluetooth capability built in. You can purchase a Bluetooth dongle for the non-Air model, but it also works just fine with the included USB cable.
Compared with the older Cricut models, the Explore allows you to create in many more ways. It has a very long list of materials that can be cut, including normal paper, cardstock, and vinyl, and also things like tissue paper, vellum, window clings, Washi tape, Duck tape, light chipboard, silk, cotton, burlap, felt, leather, and craft foam. It will still work with the Cricut cartridges, but they are not necessary. You can run the free software from your computer or use the iPad app. You can also upload your own images and fonts for free, so you’re not limited to what’s in their library. This feature alone makes it perfect for our needs. My husband Rory and I are very crafty, and we make bags, pouches, dolls, and many other items. To be able to cut out pattern pieces perfectly each time makes for a better end product. Once your design file is set up, it’s just a matter of pushing a few buttons and you have your cut piece(s).
More than just cutting, the Explore series also allows for specialized markers, which write on your materials. There are a wide variety of colors available, though the machine will only hold one at a time. There is also a scoring tool available for scoring lines for boxes or 3D projects. Additionally, there are cutting mats available in different sizes and levels of stickiness. If you’re a heavy user of your Cricut, you’ll go through mats pretty quickly, so plan accordingly. Each cut puts some markings on the mat, so eventually, mats do need to be replaced.
What was it like to use?
I’d never used anything like a Cricut before. We got everything out of the box and dove in, trying to follow what few instructions there were in the box. They guided us to a help website, which was a little light on the help, but it gave us enough information to make the thing go. The videos and PDF files were sufficient to get started, but it wasn’t intuitive at first.
We don’t yet have our sewing patterns digitized, so I played around with some of the free art available through the Cricut Design Space™ software. (There are plenty of options that cost money—probably everything you can imagine—but the free choices are pretty extensive as well.) The design program itself is pretty capable. You can save projects, have layers, use different colors of paper and markers, etc. Your projects can be as simple or as complex as you like. The fancier the project, the more time the Cricut will save you.
I picked a few patterns that appealed to me, stuck some red cardstock to the mat, and let the machine do its thing. It cut the shapes out beautifully. The only problem came when I un-stuck the paper from the cutting mat. It was a bit like peeling up photos from those old photo albums from the 1970s. It kind of bends and warps your paper. But if you’re careful, and you have smaller sections to peel up, it all comes up pretty well. Cricut also sells a set of tools to help with such things.
The whole process wasn’t intuitive to me, but after I got through it once, it was a snap. Now I find my mind frequently thinking, “Ooo, can I use the Cricut to help me do that?” It’s hard to imagine one machine doing all that the Cricut does, but indeed, it does.
Is a Cricut necessary to your craft hobby or business? Only you can determine that. But it definitely makes intricate projects endlessly simpler and faster. No more need for the German art of scherenschnitte, unless you really love working with scissors.
So how does it all work?
Once you get the software installed and everything plugged in, go through the calibration process to make sure the device is reading the paper properly. Then just create designs, choose your material, put the material on the mat, press the Load/Unload button, and press the Cut button. Then wait. It’s cool to watch as it cuts and draws.
The Cricut Explore also comes with sample materials, allowing you to experiment before investing money in other supplies. It also comes with a handy carrying bag, which keeps the machine clean and makes it easy to carry. The cords fit in the carrying bag, but the cutting mat has to be carried separately. There are also little cubbies to store extra pens, blades, and the Bluetooth adapter inside the Cricut itself.
One thing I did find out the hard way, though, is that since the design software is web-based, if your internet connection goes out, you’re out of luck for a while. You also have to be logged into your Cricut account to actually start a cutting job.
Also, I wish that the Cricut Explore came with an extensive manual. The basics are easy to learn with the online tutorials, but what about deeper questions? What information do you need to properly choose a setting? What is light cardstock versus heavy cardstock? “Fabric” is just one setting, but fabric comes in a variety of thicknesses. Same with vinyl. I’d hate for trial and error to be my teacher. Good thing the internet is filled with help.
The Cricut Explore and Cricut Explore Air are available now, and are perfect for crafty types. This is the kind of tool that can be what you make of it. Your imagination is your only limit. And I know that you’ll find even more uses for it once it’s in your crafty clutches.
Kitchen organization is a work in progress for many of us. It seems that once you get one cabinet organized, another becomes a bottomless pit of forgotten foodstuffs. The worst offender is often the spice cabinet or spice drawer or wherever all the seasonings end up at the end of the day. Instead of digging to find them, organize them—with science!
This periodic table of spices was built by Wayne Hammond who was suffering from an out of control spice drawer. It was hideous.
Hammond came up with a brilliant solution that not only makes use of an otherwise unused space in his kitchen, but adds a wonderful nerdy bit of science to his cooking. He designed a periodic table of spices using botanical taxonomy as his foundation. This yielded a fantastic chart that looks just like the periodic table of elements, but with things like garlic, chives, and parsley.
He constructed the whole thing in a spot housing a doorless kitchen cabinet that measured 11″d x 17″w x 30″h and originally held wine bottles. He removed the wine bottle racks and had metal shelves built to hold his spices. The chart he developed is now on the walls of the cabinet and it’s all highlighted by a spotlight. It’s just that cool.
I’m a real bird-watching fan, and I participate in Project Feederwatch. I’m also an advanced amateur photographer. I love taking pictures of birds at my feeder and in the spring, I’ve been known to spend hours watching and photographing the activity at our Bluebird box. We even put up a new Brown Nuthatch box this past spring. So it came as no surprise to my guy, Don, that I wanted a Barred Owl box. We often hear them at night out in the yard, so I figured we may get lucky and have them nest in a box where we could enjoy watching them come and go. I did some research and found a great site and nest box plan. After spending some time reviewing the project, we purchased the necessary parts (see Parts List below) and got busy.
I’ll overview our project in this article, but you should also refer to the nest box plan, as I don’t want to duplicate all of the original work and instructions here.
We broke the project up into several steps. One the first project day, we cut out the wood. We were using a piece of treated plywood that we already had, and it was a bit wet, so we needed to let it dry out well.
On the second project day, we stained the outside of all of the wood box pieces. Our wood was nice and weathered and easily absorbed the stain. We waited a couple of hours between coats per product instructions and then applied a second coat. Note that we did use a belt sander before staining, to sand just the opening edges and the porch edges.
On the third project day, we assembled the box. We used a large number of good quality 2-inch deck screws. There is no way this box is coming apart!
We held off attaching the porch until the box was in the tree, so that it wouldn’t be in the way. I was super impressed at how the project was coming along so far and so quickly, too. But this was the easy part; we knew the hard part was yet to come! We didn’t weigh the box, but it must have weighed 80 pounds.
We spent a few minutes walking our yard and deciding for sure which tree to mount the box on. Note that the box only needs to be mounted 15 to 20 feet high, but that the tree needs to be substantial enough to hold the weight.
On the fourth project day, it was time to hang the box. We decided to add some shingles since we had some on hand. We drilled the vent holes in the bottom and tree side of the box. We drilled two small holes for the wire rope on the top tree side of the box. We also collected some pine straw from the yard and put it into the bottom of the box.
It was handy that we had a hand truck to move the box to the tree. A wheel barrow, lawn cart, or a couple of guys could have moved it too.
We used a tree pruning pole that extends to 15 feet to lift the rope up over that really high tree branch. We also had to use the pole to pull on the end of the rope to bring it back down. The rope had a clamp on the end of it to give it some weight and to provide a surface big enough to grab onto.
We were going to hoist the box up just by pulling on the rope, but why do that when you have a tractor-mounted winch you can use? Don was able to use a rope to keep the box a few inches away from the tree trunk, as the winch easily pulled the box up the side of the tree.
We used vinyl coated wire, wire clamps, and a lag screw to mount the box to the tree. We had a small branch near the mount spot, but I felt more secure adding the lag screw. This system should still allow the tree to grow without the wire cutting into the tree.
Once the box was secure, we mounted the porch, and I took the final project picture.
A few words on safety. Building the box is one thing, but mounting it is something else. As I said, the box is very heavy. You have to be strong, and you have to climb high on a ladder. Make sure you have the necessary equipment to safely mount the box, or you really should hire someone to do it.
In just under a week, the box went from wish list to installed. I couldn’t be more pleased! Yes I could; when there are owls in the box and I get my first picture. For now, I’ll live on past glory.
• circular saw
• framing square
• tape measure
• stain brush
• belt sander (to smooth the edges of opening and porch)
• rechargeable drill
• caulk gun
• 1/8″ drill bit to make start holes for deck screws
• 1″ drill bit for vent holes
• 1/4″ drill bit for wire rope holes
• ropes, straps, clamps, and pulley for lifting the box
Our out-of-pocket project cost was about $45, but that’s because we already had the plywood and vinyl coated wire. I estimate $90, if you have to buy all of the parts.
Barred Owls live year-round in the eastern half of the United States. Learn what owls are in your area, and seek out nest box plans and mounting instructions for them. For example, Screech Owls have a similar range, but require a much smaller and lighter box. Barn Owls live in most of the continental United States and require a box similar to the Barred Owl box.
There’s a sentence every creative person hears eventually (or frequently) that’s a slap in the face every time:
“You have too much time on your hands.”
It’s in Urban Dictionary. There are snarky (and occasionally inspirational) Pinterest boards with “too much time on your hands” titles. Even Engadget, a site that arguably is for people with “too much time” to play with gadgets, is guilty of using it as a post title. (And it’s a Styx song, but that’s different.)
You may not think you’re being rude when you say this, but that’s because you’re not. You’re being incredibly, rudely, offensively mean. But you’re also revealing a lot.
When you say this phrase, what the creator hears is, “Wow, that was a really pointless thing you did.” And let’s be honest: That is exactly what you just said; it’s just not quite what you meant. What you were really saying was more like, “Wow, you spent a lot of time doing something you really enjoyed and created something you felt was worth sharing with me. I spent the same amount of time re-watching all of Dawson’s Creek on Netflix, pinning recipes I’ll never actually make, and playing through to level eleventy billion of Candy Crush. Now I would like to avoid reflecting too long on any of this.”
Let’s look at that. Especially this part: You spent a lot of time doing something you really enjoyed and created something you felt was worth sharing with me. It can take a lot for a creative person to share what they’ve made. It’s an act of trust. Creativity often comes with a pretty large ladle of self-doubt. And instead of supporting, encouraging, or even so much as politely smiling and nodding, you’ve declared the creation a waste.
If you’re a creative person yourself, let me offer some advice. The appropriate reply to the offender is, “No, actually I have the exact same 24 hours in a day that you do. I just choose to use them differently.” My experience is that this usually results in gobsmacked silence, which is exactly what should happen.
You can reserve the bonus snark for people who use the even more offensive version, “You should get a hobby.” (Wait, what? I just showed you the result of hours of learning a craft, but I don’t have a… I’m sorry, what?) To these people, you actually ask how they’ve been using their time. Rarely do they have a real answer. When they do have hobbies of their own, all you’re left with is the knowledge that this person, whether it was an anonymous commenter on a blog or your favorite aunt, is a little bit of a jerk. Then you have to choose whether it’s worth the time and/or potential loss of relationship to point out that you do have a hobby, and this is it, and that it’s incredibly rude to call someone’s hobby less valuable than your own.
And if you do? Worst case, you’re labeled “the weirdo,” but I gotta tell you—there are more of us. And we’re way more fun. Alas, what we don’t have is much time on our hands. We’ve got too many awesome projects.
To that, in closing, I offer you five fantastic things I found online with the phrase, “too much time on their hands”:
Did you have an assignment notebook when you were younger? I loved mine. It was a beautiful example of collage and an altered book before I even knew what that was. I would doll up my August-to-August Chandler’s Assignment Notebook (Chicago-based company in the 1940s and closed in 1995) with stickers, drawings, and cut-outs from magazines stating my teenage pride and angst. Clear packing tape was my adhesive of choice. I color coded everything with my Stabilo Boss highlighters. Of all the journals I ever owned, I wish I kept those.
I gave up the Chandler’s Notebook, and graduated to a university-sanctioned notebook (AKA free). Then Day Timers and Franklin Planners came along in the workplace. I was a young professional and I didn’t think to accessorize my planner, to make it fun and colorful, except for the occasional highlighter and red pen for deadlines.
Fast forward to today. We’re all familiar with using regular calendars to plot our busy days as parents, and I’m not knocking online or electronic calendars. I just love paper! I’ve used a Mom’s Planner for the last three or four years. Mom’s calendars or planners have space for listing all family members activities. Next year I’m going back to my Franklin Planner (picture above)… and going back to making it my own. I’m so excited that I already started decorating. Lately I’ve been using washi tape and stickers to make the pages pop. Three inch by four inch cardstock (i.e., Project Life scrapbook cards) are used as weekly reminders or just inspiration. I was inspired by a pen friend who shared some of her paper goods. (A scrapbooker, I am not—but I will paper craft!)
Now there are companies like:
Filofax (origin: loose-leaf system to hold engineering data in a small portable binder, file-of-facts);
Blue Sky (check out Sugar Paper); and
Erin Condren Design (maker of Life Planner).
These have exploded in popularity among planner geeks. You can also find upscale planners by Kate Spade, Louis Vuitton, and Tory Burch. So why are agendas and planners so popular? They’re just calendars in journal form, right? In the end what it holds is our life in progress, so why not make it personal and fun.
You’d be amazed at the variety and enthusiasm people have for their planners! Just try searching these keywords on Instagram or Pinterest: #plannergeek, #plannernerd, #planneraddict, #plannerlove, #plannerjunkie. You can also try looking up #filofax, #filofaxlove, #kikik, #erincondren, and #simplifiedplanner.
Are you a planner geek? How do you organize your calendar? We’d love to know!
On my recent family vacation to Walt Disney World, the park was beginning to get ready for the holiday season and decorations were everywhere you looked. I spotted some amazing wreaths, so once I got home I wanted to try to make one of my own. My wreath cost me under £5/$8 to create and looks beautiful hanging on my front door.
You will need:
Three flat-backed Styrofoam rings, one larger than the others. Mine measured 8″ across for the large and 4.5″ for each of the smaller ones.
Dark green paint (optional)
Green felt (I used about four 8″x11″ sheets)
Handful of red buttons
You will also need a hot glue gun or other strong adhesive.
Position the three rings into a classic Mickey Mouse shape. I used a cutting board with guidelines to help place both small rings at the same height. Then use a hot glue gun to stick them in place. Make sure you do not allow the glue to dry with the wreath lying flat or it will end up glued to the surface (I know this from experience). The glue dries quickly, so I found it easiest to simply hold the wreath for a couple of minutes until it was no longer tacky.
Once the glue has fully dried, you can paint the whole thing green. It will eventually be entirely covered in the felt but I chose to paint mine just in case any small gaps showed through.
Cut out the felt leaves. Each of mine measured approximately 1″x1.5″ and you will need several hundred. I used around four letter paper sized sheets of felt and the cutting out probably took about two hours in short sessions. I sat and caught up on Serial while I cut mine out. Don’t worry about making them all identical—have you ever seen a real holly bush with perfectly uniform leaves? However many you cut out though, you’ll probably need more. A lot more.
Start gluing the leaves onto the wreath shape. I used a hot glue gun but any kind of strong adhesive should work just fine. Try to make sure to overlap the leaves so you don’t leave any gaps. To make the wreath look thicker, layer leaves on top of one another. I tried to avoid being TOO regular with placement but also kept some order so it didn’t look completely haphazard.
Position the red buttons randomly around the wreath. I used a mixture of single heart shaped buttons, and circular buttons grouped in threes to create more Mickey Mouse shapes. Glue these in place on top of the felt leaves.
Attach a hook or string for hanging; where to put this will depend on where and how you want to hang your wreath. I used hot glue to attach a Mickey-shaped paper clip to the back, then strung Christmas-colored twine through it for hanging before adding an extra bit of glue for good measure. The finished wreath is very lightweight so nothing too heavy duty is required.
You’re done! It’s probably worth noting that these wreaths are not at all weatherproof and thus need to be kept indoors. You could also use foam rings that are rounded rather than flat backed and continue the design all the way around to the back – this would work well if it was to be hung on a glass door; just increase the quantity of felt and buttons to suit.
Are you looking for something geeky to make for that special someone in your life, but have no idea where to start? GeekMom is here to help! We have crochet, sewing, and gluing projects for kids and adults. Take a look at some of our favorite DIY projects.
8-Bit Afghan. GeekMom Cathe has been crocheting up a Tribble-load of granny squares. The stacks of fibrous squares are being put together to make various geeky 8-bit images including a TARDIS, Spider-Man, and others. You can learn how to put together your own pattern from scratch for a gift this holiday or for any special occasion. (Average price $30)
Amy Farrah Fowler’s Blanket. GeekMom Sarah was enamored with this particular multi-colored afghan long before she was aware of its geeky origins. The fact that it rests on the couch of Roseanne Barr, the font of all knowledge in Sarah’s childhood, as well as on the couch of Amy Farrah Fowler, is icing on the cake. This Granny Square Afghan is adaptable to the size and coloring you prefer. It can be made over several months and pieced together at any point. Use scraps that you have or buy new yarn; it’s entirely up to you. (Average Price $0-30)
Felt Masks. Whether you wish to play dress up with your kids or move about your city incognito, these felt face masks are sure to help you. Quick to stitch up and easily adapted, you can put together a full costume-change library for the aspiring spy in your family. (Average Price $1-7)
Great Gatsby Dalek Dress.This is a fun little party dress for girls, and it even works for people who don’t know the difference between a Dalek and a Cyberman. Those who do, of course, seem to really enjoy the simple, 1920s-influenced look. (Average Price $25 )
Monster Patch. A monster face is an unexpected way to patch worn jeans. It’s also a method you can use to add personality to all sorts of gifts. Try adding a small monster patch to a blanket, bedspread, or pillow. Add a larger monster patch to a hoodie or backpack. Make it look like a dinosaur or a robot instead of a monster. Such patches are particularly fun to personalize hand-me-downs or thrift-store finds. Go ahead, patch a few gifts this year! (Average Price $1 per patch)
Peg Plus Cat Amigurumi. We are totally freaking out over this awesome “life-size” Amigrumi version of Peg’s feline companion, Cat, from the PBS show Peg Plus Cat. The finished product stands 12 inches tall and is perfect for cuddling and numerical conspiracies. (Average Price $5-10)
Plant Markers.Make a set of plant markers using spoons from the thrift store. They’re more durable than other markers and better yet, entirely your design. Use them as markers for house plants or potted herbs; give along with seed packets and garden gloves. Or, make them with your kids as you plan together what you’ll be planting in the spring. Costs depend on the repurposed spoons, but the other supplies are enough to make several hundred. (Average Price around 25 cents per spoon)
Sock Monsters. Need an easy project? Use socks and notions you have around to create a sock monster or two. These are made with baby- and toddler-sized socks, then decorated with felt, buttons, and embroidery floss. If you intend to give a sock monster to a baby or young child, it’s safest to add features by drawing or embroidering them on to forestall any risk of choking. (Average Price 50 cents-$3)
Star-Lord Orb. Complete your Star-Lord cosplay with a handmade Infinity Stone Orb as made by GeekMom Sophie. These are cheap and fast to make, so they would make great stocking stuffers or party bag favors. (Average Price $1-10)
Star-Lord Pack. This Guardians of the Galaxy-themed care package is great for personalized gift-giving as it can be easily modified to fit into a holiday gift package, or even as a Star-Lord themed Christmas stocking. This is the year for all things Guardians, so this is a wonderful, homemade addition to—or replacement for—the commercially-sold merchandise that I’m guessing will be pretty hot during the gift-giving season. (Average Price $30-50, but may be less or more depending on what items you want to put in it.)
Steampunk Doll Wings. Our entire family caught the steampunk bug before we even knew the word steampunk, particularly the props and cosplay ideas. My daughter wanted to make her own pair of Steampunk wings, but full-sized wings were a bit too much for her when she was 10. We came up with the idea of making them for her dolls using popcicle sticks and chenelle craft stems, and they turned out to be great project for us to do together. When she was done using them on her dolls, she attached the wings to a large barrette she could pin in her hair or on her hat. (Average Price under $10)
When my husband and I got married, we were warned that we would fight about money or sex. Not us. We fight about the direction a costume is taking during construction. It has happened every time we have made costumes. After the second design failure on Groot, we just let it go (great, now that song is stuck in my head). Neither of our ideas were working, and we weren’t doing so well.
For this Dancing Baby Groot tutorial you will need:
A Flower Pot (Ours was about 14″ in diameter, choose your accordingly)
Close-cell foam 1″ thick
Cheap Plastic Foliage
Brown Painter’s Paper Brown Paint
Green Painter’s Paper Green Paint
Old Tennis Shoes
More Gorilla Glue
A sense of humor
Instead of a tutorial, I plan to drink wine. Acceptable? While drinking, I will share what my husband did for the other three members of our household.
Let it be known that gender roles do not apply in my house. Not only does my husband cook, he also busted his butt to sew and paint our costumes in time for GeekGirlCon in mid-October. He is the most awesome guy in the world.
We first tried twisting and crumpling painter’s paper and using Gorilla Glue to adhere it to the sweatshirt. This worked, but was a big mess and hard to keep positioned while the glue dried. There were many colorful metaphors uttered…
Next, the twisted pieces of paper were hand-sewn onto the sweatshirt. This made our daughter look like a brown box instead of a long treeling. Plus the paper was stiff and LOUD. More cursing ensued.
Groot’s pot was constructed by cutting a flower pot in half, adding cardboard, and using copious amounts of Gorilla Glue to attach old sneakers to the bottoms. For grip, a collectible card game playing mat (basically a giant mousepad) was cut and adhered. There was no cursing involved in the making of the flower pot. Now, wearing the flower pot did cause my daughter to utter a few choice phrases (to be fair, that thing had to be a pain in the arse to walk in).
As a finishing touch, I loaded I Want You Back onto my phone and connected the iFrogz Tadpole speaker GeekMom Jenny previously talked about to the inside of the flower pot. When we get around a bunch of people, my daughter could dance like Baby Groot.
The Rocket costume went much more smoothly, though my costume had the most materials and items to purchase of our three costumes. Thankfully, with the announcement of Guardians of the Galaxy 2 being a definite, I know I will get future use out of my costume—and have time to make a sweet gun!
My son’s costume (only to be worn for our Halloween commitments) went the smoothest of the three costumes, was the cheapest, and took the least amount of time to make. My son, quite specifically, asked to be the guy from “Honey, Were Are My Pants?,” the silly fictional sitcom from The Lego Movie. Honestly, when you are four, isn’t that the best part of the movie? Thanks to having a cardboard supply that multiplies like tribbles, having yellow rain pants (needed in the Pacific Northwest), and a pajama top the same color as the guy’s shirt, we only had to purchase blue spray paint and World Market Cheesy Snowballs (because the container looks like a Lego mini-figure head with a bit of modification). We had a selection of acrylic craft paints and a few different spray paints, so we didn’t even have to purchase those either. My son, needless to say, thinks that the costume is awesome—because, “Everything is awesome!”
Great. Now I have that song stuck in my head…
Thankfully, we got most of our arguing and Vulcan-Death-Match fighting out of the way on Groot’s costume. By the time the Lego guy’s costume was finished, we didn’t care where our pants were.
If you want to tell my husband that he did a geek-tastic job on our costumes, tag @timsmartini on Twitter. After making costumes for everyone else, he was too tired to make one for himself, so we dug out an old chef’s jacket and hat we’d ordered from a uniform supply. Instant costume!
Happy Halloween from Rocket, Groot, Honey-Where-Are-My-Pants guy, and Chef!
Looking for something eye catching and spooky for your Halloween decor this year? Maybe a Mad Scientist tablescape is just the right thing for you!
It all started when GeekMom Natalie sent me a link to a fantastic tablescape from Pottery Barn featuring a periodic table. The gears in my mind immediately started turning as I wondered how I could do something similar in my own home and on a budget. Recently, I started creating a new tablescape on my kitchen table each month, and I decided to concoct a chemistry-themed tablescape for October and Halloween.
Choosing the Glass
I knew I needed some spooky chemistry glass, and I thought my local thrift store would be a great place to start looking. Let’s face it, I’m a thrift-store-aholic with my favorite being the non-profit Guardian Angel in Fuquay-Varina, NC, which raises money to fund Alzheimer’s research. I wasn’t disappointed with what I found in their “Vases” section. I just about danced in the isle as I filled my cart with amazing glass finds!
For $20, I walked away with the majority of glassware that I thought I would need to fill up my kitchen table. I would love to have used real chemistry Pyrex glass, but after pricing some beakers and flasks, they were way over my budget with each piece being $5 or more. I decided that vases with a flared outer rim at the top would work best. Luckily, they had quite a few of those. I felt the rim disguised the vases enough so that they didn’t look like they were for flowers. I also realized that coffee pots with the handles removed did a great job of simulating real flasks. Most of the clear glass was in the $1-$2 price range. Quite reasonable for my budget.
Making the Labels
Next I did a lot of research on Halloween bottle labels and created a Potion Bottle Labels board on Pinterest. I was going to make my own bottle labels, but I ended up ordering some glow-in-the-dark labels from Amazon and Oriental Trading Company. I decided that I wanted the glow-in-the-dark look and the ease of application of the store bought labels. Maybe I’ll make my own next year!
Getting Just the Right Bottle Glow
I also needed to figure out what to fill my bottles with so that they would look great in daylight and also under a blacklight. I created a Halloween Chemistry board on Pinterest as I did my research. What I found out is that there are quite a few options for getting liquid to glow. To summarize, you can use glow sticks, highlighter pens, tonic water, and neon paint, to name a few techniques.
I decided to go with neon paint because I thought it would be the least expensive and least toxic. This is the same paint kids use in preschool to fingerpaint. Just make sure you get neon colors. To make a bottle glow with the paint, just squeeze in several tablespoons of paint, add tap water, and stir.
I tried this special blacklight paint for the purple and pink, but it was not as bright under the blacklight as the neon paints that I used. Next time I would just get neon pink and neon purple paint.
Picking Some Other Elements
So what other items did I think would look good on the table and complement the glass? I pulled out my microscope which I thought would fit right in. I also found a ceramic piece shaped like a stack of books labeled “Spells,” “Potions,” and “Magic” at Michaels that I figured would be a perfect addition to the table. I used a few candles and to fill one of the glass jars with cotton balls and plastic, glowing spiders. I picked up a sparkling, tiny owl to clip onto one of the glass jars too. I also included a small sprig of the yellow wildflower tickweed, currently growing near my home. I got the idea to put green food color tinted water into plastic medical gloves for a spooky hands effect. And, I created a creepy brain by filling one of my larger bowls with cooked spaghetti and green food tinted color water. I picked up some ping pong ball style eyeballs too. I didn’t want my table to be too gory, but I just couldn’t resist the eyeballs. Last but not least, I used some Water Beads. Have you ever used those in a vase? They are so much fun to look at and play with! My kids can’t get enough of them. Check out this post by GeekMom Cathé where her daughter does an interesting experiment with water beads. Just make sure to put your water beads in water 4+ hours before you’re ready to debut your table or take pictures of it. The beads need some time to absorb water and grow bigger.
I spent a long time hunting for just the right periodic table of elements poster. I wanted the largest poster I could find for the cheapest price; I also needed it sooner rather than later. I ended up buying one off eBay for $10, and I was pleased with it.
Laying Out the Table Foundation
Before you can start laying out your table, you need to decide if you want to use a tablecloth, and what placemats, napkins, plates, and even silverware you want to use. I ended up using a green and white checkered piece of fabric that I found in the attic for the tablecloth. I had two orange and black checkered tablecloths, but I decided against them because I felt they would be too dark when I had the blacklight on. I knew that I wanted purple placemats and couldn’t find any locally, so I used rectangles of purple felt. That left me looking for just the right napkins. Walmart has some pre-cut rectangular fabric pieces in their craft department, and I picked up a pack of various patterns all with a purple and green theme to tie the tablecloth and placemats together. The fabric is pretty easy to fold like a napkin.
For daytime use, I decided to stick with my Country Cottage and Melissa (green and white checker) Corelle plates, but at night, I decided to go with clear plates that I could light up with necklace size glow sticks.
Assembling the Table
When I had gathered all the items I wanted to use, and on the day I was ready to assemble the table, I started out by filling one bottle at a time with the paint and water mixture and placing it on the table. I repurposed a few margarita glasses as risers so that the glass could be displayed at varying heights. I saved a few of the bottles for the water beads, and mixed them up, and placed them on the table too. And most importantly, I enlisted help from the kids who were very excited about the project.
Once you have the bottles laid out in a way that makes you happy, you can add the other elements such as bottle labels, ribbons, flowers, etc. Just keep adding elements, adjusting the layout, and tweaking things until you are satisfied. There is no right or wrong with this. Just have fun!
Checking the Blacklight
I was very pleased with how the table lit up the first time I put the blacklight on it, but there were a few items that didn’t light up. The owl and the “Spells,” “Potions,” and “Magic” books ceramic piece were just as dark as could be. I scratched my head for a minute and decided to try painting them with some glow-in-the-dark dimensional fabric paint that I had lying around. The paint is pretty transparent and easy to apply, so you don’t have to be an expert painter to make this work. Just get a small brush, and apply a thin layer of the paint to anything you’d like to have glow.
In just a few minutes, my “Spells,” “Potions,” and “Magic” books ceramic piece went from being black and obscure to being one of the most eye catching items on my table!
I just love how this turned out and couldn’t imagine my table without it! I almost wish I had more items that I could have painted with the glow-in-the-dark paint.
Getting the Most Out of Your Glow Sticks
Although I avoided using the chemicals inside glow sticks to make the majority of my bottles glow, I ended up with one glow stick that broke open accidentally while we were snapping it to make it glow. Instead of throwing it away, I wanted to put it to good use. I had some large and somewhat see-through Glitter Flakes that I poured into a teardrop-shaped bottle. Then I added all the liquid from inside the glow stick. I used an old, but sharp, steak knife to open the glow stick plastic enough to get all the chemicals out. Sometimes you can use scissors, but many of the plastic tubes are too thick to cut easily. Whatever you use, be careful not to cut yourself and to thoroughly wash your hands when you’re done. Otherwise you can have a lesson in how germs spread in your home by turning off your lights and seeing where all the little hands have touched with the glow chemicals. To finish, put the cap on the bottle, our hold your thumb over the opening, and shake up the glitter and liquid. You’ll be amazed at the results!
Remember those jars of fireflies you collected as a kid? Well, your glowing glitter bottle will look very similar! Bottles lit up this way are truly mesmerizing to view. Since glow sticks only glow for a limited amount of time, bottles prepared this way will only look this beautiful for one evening. However, if you want to light the bottle up again, say the next night, you can always just add the contents of one more glow stick and a bit more of the glitter flakes.
Explaining Fluorescent and Phosphorescent
All the kids I’ve ever spent time with are fascinated by things that glow in the dark after being charged under a light or by things that glow under a black light. When I turned on the black light over my table for the first time, my boys were amazed at how it lit up. I even got lucky, and the tablecloth glowed. Another way to include your kids in setting up this tablescape is to take a few minutes to talk about why things glow under various conditions. Take the time to explain the difference between items that are fluorescent versus phosphorescent.
Taking Your Pictures and Sharing Your Result
Make sure to take some pictures to save all your efforts for posterity. I took many shots with the light on and using my flash.
I also took a bunch of pictures with the lights off and the blacklight on. I used a stick-style blacklight and my guy held it for me as I took the pictures, but you could also put a black light into your dining room table light fixture or a lamp (freestanding or tabletop). I used a tripod to keep my camera still, but you can keep your camera still by leaning on your kitchen counter or against a doorframe. The Auto setting on your camera will probably work just fine as long as the camera is still.
Feeling inspired to create your own chemistry-themed Halloween table? You can get some more ideas by checking out my Halloween Tablescape board on Pinterest. I’ve seen some tablescapes that make use of beautiful natural light and various types of foliage from your yard. There are others that gore up the items filling their bottles. You can use traditional Halloween black and orange colors if you like. Or maybe you’d like to have an old manual typewriter that the Mad Scientist can type up his research notes on. If the Mad Scientist gets hot in his lab, an old, black metal fan might be just the prop to add to your table. A black chalkboard could be just the thing for the Mad Scientist to write up his notes on. The Mad Scientist might even have some old tools and scissors for working on his experiments and patients. How about the perfect old clock? Set your creativity free, and see what you can come up with!
Stop letting Pinterest ruin your life. Seriously. Stop it. Here are a few things Pinterest is good for:
Gathering party theme ideas
Finding dinner ideas
Storing reference photos for your next cosplay project
Things you should not be using Pinterest for:
Letting strangers make you feel like a terrible mother
I’ve been seeing an increasing number of blog posts and social media statuses about how inferior someone feels because of the Perfect Pinterest Moms they’ve put themselves in invisible competition with. Why? Because your life isn’t hard enough already? You need to win a non-existent cupcake decorating contest with no prize?
The most recent was a fellow GeekMom sharing this blog post, which humorously shares the agony of trying to take Pinterest-perfect, Instagram-ready, first-day-of-school photos, complete with a painstakingly decorated chalkboard noting the child’s grade, basic favorites, and anticipated career. Here are a few of the comments on that post:
“I spent two hours making signs. For three minutes of pictures.”
“It’s a struggle each year, as she get topped out on how many attempts it takes. Look here, smile, hold the sign, put your skirt down, where are your shoes, put down your lunch, smile, where’s the sign, etc. I’m usually sweating by the time we’re done.”
“This morning I had a full-on argument with a FIRST GRADER that no, you will not wear whatever you want today.”
“Isn’t the sign supposed to make the pictures better and not way, way harder?”
To that last one: yes. Well, no, perhaps that was not the explicit intention of whomever started this sign madness, but that is indeed what it should be for. I promise that when your little MacKenzaryaowyn graduates from high school, you will have no idea whether the pink shirt year was first or second grade. So sure, the sign has a purpose. Visiting ten stores to find the perfect vintage-look chalkboard that reminds you of Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe, spending two nights making it, and then trying four different locations around your house until it’s all just perfect—these obsessive steps do not have a purpose except to make you crazy. And if you’re like me, they can sell crazy someplace else. We’re all stocked up here.
Would doing all of that in any way enhance your kid’s first day of school? Oh, did you forget? The first day of school is about them, not you. They are not embarking on further education so that you can show every stranger on the internet what a great mom you are because you found exactly the right lighting to commemorate that your child got on a bus successfully.
Gave them a healthy lunch or money to procure it at school? Sent them with the appropriate supplies in their backpacks? Made sure they were dressed in something reasonably weather-appropriate? Congratulations, you have succeeded in your role for the day. In no way will any of your Pinstagrambooking improve that experience for them. It’s just going to make you late for work.
Of course, that’s merely one day. Let’s talk about the real Plague of Pinterest: birthday parties. Not long ago, a friend linked to this screed against children’s birthday parties. This is clearly a woman who gains no joy from the party experience. And her kid isn’t even four! I don’t know what vicious celebration demon from Party Planet forced her to throw elaborate parties for a child who wouldn’t even remember them, but she was clearly scarred by the experience. Number six calls out Pinterest specifically, but we could apply this vague social pressure to most of the line items.
Here’s the thing. Some of us genuinely love making first-day signs and perfectly arranged Elmo fruit plates and cake pops that look like animals and weird things with Mason jars. And that’s cool. (Full disclosure, I may be one of those people from time to time.) But this is the important part: Some of us want none of it, and that’s OK. Totally, absolutely, 100% OK. You are in no tiny way an inferior mother because you didn’t hand-engrave invitations to your child’s first birthday at which you served 365 canapés each hand-designed to reflect a day of his life.
Upon pondering all this, I thought, well, surely our own mothers were plagued by something similar, except from magazines they actually paid good money for. I mean, I’ve seen Family Fun and wondered who thought it was “fun” to pull random crap out of the trash and “upcycle” it into “art” projects I’m just going to have to throw out in secret later.
So I dug up a 1988 issue of Working Mother magazine. Inside I found articles about… wait for it… being a working mother! (Favorite title: “Why would your man want a stay-at-home wife?”) Then there was a story about the wonders of microwave cooking for a busy mom and a Luvs ad featuring a baby sleeping on his stomach. (Also a plea from The Potato Board that you consider potatoes to be a vegetable.) Today’s mom-mags instead contain two pages about simultaneously pinning fall footwear trends and eating Greek yogurt while commuting, one page reassuring you that day care is good for your kid, and 30 pages about how to compose adorable bento box lunches customized for each child and making them seasonal sensory bins despite the fact that you have a full-time job.
So screw Pinterest. And Instagram. (Can we laugh for a moment at the massive amount of time and effort going into photos for something called Instagram?) And the “better” moms you’re friends with on Facebook. And all of the blogs of all this BS. If you want—genuinely want—to hand-craft your kid’s childhood into picture-perfection, do it. Absolutely do it. But if instead you feel like by doing that, you’re missing out on actually experiencing that childhood while you’re stuck behind a camera, then stop.
Drop the camera. Run with your kids, and remember that when you’re that involved, there’s no time for photos. And isn’t that really better?
Like many other kids, my twelve-year-old son loves to go to conventions. So far he’s been to Boston Comic Con, Rhode Island Comic Con, Gen Con, Boskone, and more. As you can imagine, the costs of these experiences add up, and as much as I would love to take my future writer and game designer to all the cons, it just can’t happen.
Here in my city of Worcester, Massachusetts, we have a comics, games, and collectibles store called That’s Entertainment. We are regular customers there, and we really enjoy taking part in their events. They do things for Batman Day, Star Wars Day, etc. The other day I saw an ad about their “Store Con,” free admission for everyone, part of the purpose of which was to get people to come in for a preview of a certain game that was coming out.
It gave me an idea: Suggest a “Store Con” for your regular store.
People open and/or work at gaming and comics stores because they are passionate about the industry. Let’s face it, it doesn’t pay a whole lot and unless you are into the genre, the perks can be pretty slim. Wouldn’t they be excited to have customers who were just as pumped about being in the store as they were?
The other thing is, when a store can show that they have happy customers who are enthusiastic about being in the store, it attracts more customers for them. Trust me, they want folks to come in there with banners flying or they shouldn’t be in business. One of the best parts about going to a con, at least in my son’s and my eyes, is dressing up. What would “Store Con” be without a little cosplay?
“Our” comics and gaming shop also does a lot of other things for kids as well. They have coloring contests and game days. They go through a lot of effort to keep the store family friendly. The best part is that if I have an idea for an event or activity, I feel like I can go to the people who work there and discuss it with them. As long as it’s a feasible idea, they would be open to discussion, and I will bet other shops are the same way. It’s a great way to have a geeky time with minimal financial investment.
What if you don’t have a great shop nearby?
You can still create a small event right in your own backyard. Have your child invite his or her friends over, and encourage them to dress up as their favorite characters. Invite your friends, too. It’s always handy to have a few extra adults around to help facilitate games and to make sure everyone is having a good time.
Have some games out so the kids will feel welcome to try them out. Grill up some food, have some fun snacks. Keep it simple and keep it fun. Depending on how elaborate you want to get, you could even name your backyard event.
Who wouldn’t want to go to MELCon? Okay, don’t answer that. The important thing is that it’s your family’s event. Listen to your kids and do what will be fun for them. Don’t go overboard and don’t get lost in the details. It’s all supposed to be fun.
And who knows? Maybe your backyard or store convention could become an anticipated annual event!
A while back I made and sold dozens of sock monsters in order to donate money to my favorite cause, Collateral Repair Project. This non-profit aids Iraqis and Syrians fleeing violence in the Middle East through community building, education, and emergency aid. I sat in my comfortable house night each evening listening to podcasts on science or culture as I stitched these soft toys. My dogs slept on the rug nearby. When my kids came in the room I solicited their ideas for the next sock monster’s face. I hadn’t taken on larger monsters in the world, but I could channel my concerns into soft monsters.
These little creatures required very little in the way of new materials other than stuffing and socks. Their features were created out of vintage buttons, embroidery floss, rick rack, and thread so old it was wrapped around wooden spools. This made them extra special because these notions were left to me by my mother and grandmother.
(If you’re making sock monsters as a toy for any child under five, do not use buttons or other sewn-on feature that could be pulled or bitten off.)
How To Make Sock Monsters
1. Select a baby or toddler-sized sock. The larger the sock, the larger the monster. You can use solid color, patterned, striped, or solid color on bottom—just be sure that the socks aren’t emblazoned with the company logo unless you want the monster to feature those words.
2. Cut an inch or so strip from the open end of the sock.
3. Position the sock heel up. Snip open a small space at the toe, about an inch or less. If you choose, you can also make a small slit at the heel where you can sew in a tongue or tasty morsel that the monster might want to chew on.
4. Turn the sock inside-out. Sew the ends and sides of the ears closed in a continuous seam. Try making one shorter than the other or angled or otherwise unique.
5. If you made a slit in the sock’s heel back in step two, you can add mouth features now. This little guy’s tongue is a sewn-in pouch made from leftover bits of sock, although a strip of felt would work too. (It’s shown already stuffed and finished.)
6. Stuff the sock tightly with polyfill or old pillow contents or dryer lint or whatever you’ve got. Start with the ears and work your way down. Leave the bottom end open for now, as you may want to stitch through this opening as you add features.
7. Now it’s time to add unique features. Remember, if you’re making a sock monster for a baby or young child, the safest features are those drawn or securely embroidered on.
Try some scary felt teeth.
A silly sideways felted mouth and giant button eyes.
Perhaps a bright patch of embroidery floss hair.
Or ring glasses.
8. Sew the open end, your monster’s rear, closed. You may choose to seam the sides together for a simple bottom, which looks like toes on this head-standing sock monster.
Or insert a circle of sock fabric and sew the opening shut, making a somewhat more stable monster.
9. Try experimenting with feet, hands, and wings. Peaceful diversity in the sock monster world. It’s a start.
With two kids, a dog, and space at a general premium, having a guest room has never been an easy task for our growing family. We’ve made some sad attempts over the years to accommodate visitors, including a futon (shudder), a second-string queen sized bed (which ended up covered in marker), and an office/nursery combination.
A year ago, we finally moved to a house that had an additional bedroom, a flex space. Naturally, that means that for the last year, it’s pretty much stood as a testament to every last box we didn’t unpack, and included a mountain of computer junk.
When I had the chance to try out a new mattress from Simmons—the Simmons ComforPedic iQ™—I knew the time had come for a redesign. A DIY project of, well, moderate proportions (kids, job, deadlines).
First things first: Behold the mess of our guest room.
Believe it or not, this picture was taken after two room overhauls. We knew we couldn’t lose the office space—face it, we’re not the kind of family that can afford to let a whole room sit unused most of the time. But the setup we had didn’t work. My husband Michael works from home up to two days a week, but the big square table we had just wasn’t happening.
I envisioned a wall dedicated to the office, while the rest of the room could serve as a comfortable space for sleeping and resting guests. The ComforPedic iQ™ is a particularly nice choice for guests (and non-guests, as I have a feeling our 8-year-old is getting a bit jealous) because it’s all about, well, you guessed it: comfort. Seriously, I can attest to how comfortable it is—and not just in the ways you’d imagine. The mattress itself is built around Smart Response™ Technology, which naturally adjusts to the sleeper’s body weight and proportions. Plus, it’s topped with Ultra Cool™ Memory Foam to help regulate temperature. If you’re at all like we are, that’s a really important part of the equation. (Also, diamond dust. Yup. Diamond dust.)
Now, we purchased a bed a few years ago from Costco that we call the Space Bed. That’s because it’s a knockoff of another foam bed and was significantly cheaper. It certainly does its job, but the support is nowhere near as comprehensive as with the ComforPedic iQ™. In our testing of the bed, we found less aches and pains (and my husband suffers from sciatica, so we’re very familiar) and, in my case, less legs and arms falling asleep. Not to mention that you can, quite literally, feel it subtly adjusting to you as you relax. It’s kind of amazing.
So, good for the goose, good for the gander. Actually, in this case—better for the gander. (Wait, are my guests ganders? I’m confused.)
But I digress. I’m unapologetically addicted to Pinterest, and given the opportunity to design a bed in a small space, I decided to gather my craftiness and have a go. Initially, I was going to make a headboard out of some material I got over at the Scrap Exchange in Durham, and affix it to cardboard. But then I did some more Pinteresting and decided that, given I had extra curtain rods, a sort of medieval drapery action would do the trick. As a result, the whole room has a medieval feel. The yellow and black fabric was cut and draped (no sewing for this gal…) and then I hammered some medieval-looking mirrors to the backdrop. A duvet set from Amazon and Ikea added the final touch for the bed and, I’ve got the say, the final result is a lot nicer than I thought it’d be. I call it Mid-Century Medieval.
The desk situation is a more difficult nut to crack.
Initially, since our budget is basically as thrifty (not cheap) as humanly possible, we were going to use an old door to make a long desk. Now, I already have a DIY standing desk that I put together with some shoe organizers from Target and an old desk we had (total price: $50). But Michael needed something that would allow him to sit and stand during the day because he’s just not as awesome as I am.
Anyway, given that I didn’t want to turn our precious weekend into a sojourn and since we didn’t find anything serviceable at The Scrap Exchange, we went back to Costco and took a look around. While they have some really awesome and awesomely expensive computer desk arrangements, it was a simple, sturdy, foldable table that got my interest. Yeah, it’s pretty basic. No, it’s not gorgeous. But set with some more risers and some lightning, it really gets the job done. Most importantly, it allows for free movement in the room and it doesn’t crowd the living arrangement. And best yet? It was $50. Sure, we’ll likely spring for something nicer down the road, but the current setup is smooth. I’m thinking of upholstering the table with some oil cloth for some extra texture and color.
As a special bonus? For the last six years, we’ve been schlepping around a large Dwarven Forge collection, which is absolutely phenomenal stuff, but… well, pretty much took up the entire space of our closet. But with a bed comes an added magical plus: under-the-bed space. And wouldn’t you know, the whole collection fit there seamlessly. It’s sort of like the TARDIS of beds.
Oh yes, I also have a sword by my desk. Because you never know when you—or your guests—might have to fend off zombies. See? I’m thinking ahead.
This weekend, we have our first guest arriving. And for the first time in a decade, I’m ready to show the room off. I don’t feel like I have to make apologies for the crib/desk/blow-up mattress/futon lumps. It’s a room I’d like to live in, and where sleep will come easily to those who seek it. Zombie invasions, notwithstanding.
Although my son wears heavyweight and durable pants, he still manages to stain, rip, and fray them to shreds. I used to amuse myself by cutting patches from old jeans in the shape of dinosaurs to sew over ripped knees, but he’s way too old for that. He still destroys pants and I still like to amuse myself with stitchery. So this time, rather than sew on a plain square patch or cut the pants into shorts, I made a quick repair—monster style.
I got the idea from Samantha at By Meikk (you’ll have to hit the “translate” button to read her blog, which appears to be written in Dutch). She uses fleece and felt backed with fusible webbing to cleverly patch a hole with a monster face.
I took a quicker route.
I positioned a contrasting color iron-on patch over the hole from the inside, making sure that the shiny fusible coating faced the outside of the pants. Before ironing in place, I cut jagged teeth from a white iron-on patch and positioned the fusible side in toward the other patch. I covered it all with a piece of parchment paper to keep it from sticking to the iron. Then I held the iron, turned up to the hottest setting, on the patch area and fused it for about 45 seconds.
Next I cut eyes from a left-over piece of contrast color iron-on patch and ironed them shiny side down on the outside of the fabric.
I know these patches tend to loosen after a few go-rounds in the washing machine, so I sewed around the edges with primitive Frankenstein-like stitches.
The whole process took less than ten minutes. I folded the pants along with my son’s other clean laundry, anticipating that he’d be surprised when he put them on. That didn’t happen. His siblings found my repair job so silly that they informed him he now owned monstrous pants. I wasn’t sure he’d approve but he looked, laughed, and came over to hug me. Apparently our kids can outgrow all sorts of things but retain a lingering affection for whimsical mothers.