Geeky Ornaments to Knit and Crochet

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

DIY: 3M Auto Boot Camp Proves You Can Make Your Old Car Look New Again

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.

Continue reading DIY: 3M Auto Boot Camp Proves You Can Make Your Old Car Look New Again

Your Guide to Creating the Perfect Tree of Life Pendant

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.

Continue reading Your Guide to Creating the Perfect Tree of Life Pendant

Accio, Books! Make a Hermione Granger Bookmark for Back to School

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Go back to school with the brightest witch of her age by making a Hermione Granger bookmark to nestle in her one of her favorite things: a book.

This bookmark is inspired by the look of the new Pop! Hermione Granger recently released by Funko.

What You Need

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox
  • 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)
  • School glue
  • Scissors
  • Black marker

Get Started!

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.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Next, cut a small shape for the tie out of the maroon cardstock, and a small strip of gold for the tie’s stripes.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

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!)

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

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.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

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.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

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.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

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.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Allow the bookmark to dry completely, and Hermione is complete.

DIY ‘Doctor Who’ Tile Coaster

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

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

  • Ceramic tiles
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Black, blue, and purple Sharpies
  • White acrylic paint
  • Painter’s tape
  • Eye dropper
  • Clear acrylic paint / varnish
  • Felt (optional)
  • Paint brush
  • Scissors
  • Glue (optional)

Get Started!

Begin by cutting and sticking the blue painter’s tape to make a TARDIS shape anywhere on the tile.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

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.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

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.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

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.)

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

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.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

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.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

DIY Black Widow Fix for My Daughter: #WeWantWidow Too

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 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.

Left: Target Avengers hat, with no Black Widow Photo: Melody Mooney. Right: Target Let’s Go pink girls’ shirt. Photo:

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.

Photo: Melody Mooney

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.

Marvel Avengers hat with Black Widow inserted. Photo: Melody Mooney.

Denver Comic Con DIY Cosplay: ‘Big Hero 6’

Not perfect, but it'll work. My older son's Megabot prop to use at Denver Comic Con this weekend.
Not perfect, but it’ll work. My older son’s Megabot prop for Denver Comic Con. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

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.

Iron-On T-shirts

With the help of some iron-on printer paper, I made the T-shirts with simple $5 T-shirts from our local hobby store.

Iron-on printer paper is a godsend. Photo: Patricia Vollmer
Iron-on printer paper is a godsend. We were also pleased with Fred’s pendant. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Fred’s Pendant

The green pendant around our Fred’s neck is homemade from Fimo clay. It turned out really well; bright and sturdy. I used plastic lacing for the cord.

Fred's pendant. It's not precisely the same, but I'm very pleased with how similarly it turned out. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Fred’s pendant. It’s not precisely the same, but I’m very pleased with how similarly it turned out. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Fred’s Knit Cap

I’m afraid time got the better of me for Fred’s knit cap. I found some great hand-crocheted ideas online, and bought some some blue-green yarn. But then, I got diverted—and diverted again… and again… and again.


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!

Hiro’s Megabot

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.

We didn’t trust the paper or foam versions lest it gets destroyed during the con, so we tried our hands at the Fimo clay version, with guidance from this Spanish-language video we found on YouTube.

Rolling out the Megabot body and limbs. Pro tip: Do what you require with the lightest colors first, then work with the black clay. As you can see, we did everything in reverse and spent a lot of time scrubbing our hands before handling the white and yellow clay. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
My son assembles the Megabot, using wooden kabob skewers as supports. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Not perfect, but it'll work. My older son's Megabot prop to use at Denver Comic Con this weekend.
Not perfect, but it’ll work. My older son’s Megabot prop for Denver Comic Con. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

The Final Result

Fred and Hiro ready to enjoy Denver Comic Con! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Fred and Hiro ready to enjoy Denver Comic Con! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Dr. Callaghan

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.

Look closely. My husband had a fun time making up a San Fransokyo Tech Showcase badge. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Look closely. My husband had a fun time making up a San Fransokyo Tech Showcase badge. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
My husband quite literally paused Big Hero 6 to capture the logos and the name of the robotics lab for this faux conference badge. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

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.

Two Freds. They traded costume tips and ideas too. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
My oldest son found his Doppelganger. It was the only other Hiro Hamada we saw at DCC all weekend. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
My oldest son found his doppelgänger. It was the only other Hiro Hamada we saw at DCC all weekend. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

May the Fourth Be With You! 3 Activities to Hack Star Wars Day!

Photo courtesy of S. Cook

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:

Photo courtesy of S. Cook
Photo courtesy of S. Cook


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.


Photo and design by S. Cook

Wookiee Cushion

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.


Tatooine. Photo courtesy of S. Cook
Endor. Photo courtesy of S. Cook

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.

May the Fourth Be With You!

Photo courtesy of S. Cook

Cricut Explore Is a Crafting Powerhouse

Image: Cricut
Image: Cricut.

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.

Control the Cricut Explore from your computer, or from the iPad app. Image: Cricut
Control the Cricut Explore from your computer or the iPad app. Image: Cricut.

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).

Image: Cricut
Image: Cricut.

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.

This is what the page looked like after cutting four images. Photo: Jenny Bristol
This is what the page looked like after cutting four images. Photo: Jenny Bristol.

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.

A hodgepodge of shapes I cut with the Cricut Explore. It's tricky to line up the pieces when the finished piece has multiple parts, as you can see from the left two. The right image cut in all one piece, and worked out well. Photo: Jenny Bristol
A hodgepodge of shapes I cut with the Cricut Explore. It’s tricky to line up the pieces when the finished piece has multiple parts, as you can see from the left two. The right image cut in all one piece, and worked out well. Photo: Jenny Bristol.

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.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Build This Periodic Table of Spices For Your Kitchen

Image: Wayne Hammond
Image: Wayne Hammond

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.

Image: Wayne Hammond
Image: Wayne Hammond

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.

Image: Wayne Hammond
Image: Wayne Hammond

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.

You can get the full details on how it was made over at Make including a downloadable PDF of the periodic table. It’ll make you feel like a mad scientist every time you cook!

(via ThatsNerdalicious)

Hoots up There? Building a Barred Owl Box

Barred Owl box hung with porch. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Finished! Barred Owl box hung with the porch. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

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.

Staining the box parts before assembly. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Staining the box parts before assembly. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

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!

Assembling the box. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Assembling the box. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

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.

Assembled box. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Assembled box. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

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.

The box with shingles. Photo: Maryann Goldman
The box with shingles. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

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.

Preparing to hoist the box into the tree. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

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.

Putting the ropes in place. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Putting the ropes in place. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

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.

The winch! Photo: Maryann Goldman
The winch! Photo: Maryann Goldman.

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.

Fastening the box to the tree. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Fastening the box to the tree. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

Once the box was secure, we mounted the porch, and I took the final project picture.

Barred Owl box hung with porch. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Barred Owl box hung with the porch. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

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.

Barred Owl. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Barred Owl. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

Parts List
• 1 4’x8′ sheet of 3/4″ exterior-grade, pressure-treated plywood (buy half a sheet, if you have that option)
• 1 quart of deck stain (project used 3/4 of the quart with 2 coats)
1lb. box of 2″ deck screws (project requires about 1/2 a pound)
8′ of 3/16 vinyl coated wire rope (depends on diameter of tree trunk; try to buy by the foot)
4 3/16″ wire rope thimbles and clamps
2 6″ L brackets
• silicone caulk (seal top to sides)
1 4″ lag bolt (if there is no convenient branch to loop the cable over)

 Tools List
• 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
• ladder

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.

The Meanest Thing You Say to Your Creative Friend

What I could really use is a time turner on my hands. Photo by lozikiki on Flickr

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”:

Scott Weaver’s Rolling Through the Bay (click that link for a video), which I’ve seen in person, and it really is fantastic. Photo by vivve on Flickr.
I am a huge sucker for latte art, and if you care that much about my coffee, it is absolutely not a waste of time. Photo from
Vegetable carvings come up a lot in this search. I made a Skylanders Chompy out of a watermelon once. It took about 15 minutes. This, though? I have a huge amount of respect for this much patience. Photo by myprontopop on Twitter, who did not call it a waste of time.
I’m pretty sure the person who pinned this under “too much time on your hands” wouldn’t say that if somebody offered her a slice. Photo from, where you can also get the recipe. The dyes are from actual foods, not food coloring!
Finally, this isn’t exactly high art, but it’s pretty funny. And took way less time than you spent tweeting from the toilet. Found on Pinterest, repinned from


Planner Geeks Unite for an Organized 2015

Image source: Julie Tiu
Mom’s Weekly Planner or Day Planner, what do you use? Image by Julie Tiu

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.

Image Source:
These were my favorite highlighters back in the 1980s | Image Source:

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!)

Washi tape, plannerjunkie, plannergeek
Washi tape (paper tape) can be used to embellish your planner. Image by Julie Tiu
Image source: Julie Tiu
Geek out and pull your crafty tools to decorate your planner. Image by Julie Tiu
Christmas- and holiday-themed tape for a December week. Image by Julie Tiu
Planner embellishments, Julie Tiu
A planner is a great place to use up stickers and supplies you may be hoarding. Image by Julie Tiu

Now there are companies like:

  • Filofax (origin: loose-leaf system to hold engineering data in a small portable binder, file-of-facts);
  • kikki.K;
  • 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!

DIY Mickey Mouse Wreath

Mickey Mouse Wreath © Sophie Brown
Mickey Mouse Wreath © Sophie Brown

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.

Supplies © Sophie Brown
Supplies © Sophie Brown

Step one:
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 a LOT of felt leaves © Sophie Brown
Cut out a LOT of felt leaves © Sophie Brown

Step two:
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.

Cover the wreath in leaves © Sophie Brown
Cover the wreath in leaves © Sophie Brown

Step three:
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.

Stick on buttons and hang © Sophie Brown
Stick on buttons and hang © Sophie Brown

Step four:
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.

Step five:
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.

If you make your own wreath then please share it on our Facebook page.

12 Geeky DIY Gift Ideas From GeekMom

Collage: Cathe Post

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. Image: Cathe Post.

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)

The Launch Acceleration
Sonja Flemming/CBS ©2012 CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

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)

Photo by Sarah Pinault, used with permission.

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)

GG Dalek Dress
Image by Lisa Kay Tate.

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
Monster patch. Image used by permission from

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)

Photo courtesy of Sarah Pinault.

Octonauts Felt Masks. Indulge your child’s love of The Octonauts with a complete set of face masks, perfect for deep sea adventures. Eight, easy-to-follow, easy-to-make, patterns are included. Crafters—to the Octopod! (Average Price $2-5)

Image: and Sarah Pinault

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
Image by Laura Weldon, used with permission.

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
Image by Laura Weldon, used with permission.

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)

DIY Infinity Orb © Sophie Brown
DIY Infinity Orb © Sophie Brown.

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 Care Package
Image by Lisa Kay Tate.

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.)

Image by Lisa Kay Tate.

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)

How to Make a Dancing Baby Groot Costume With Only a Few Failed Attempts

Chef, Honey-Where-Are-My-Pants Guy, Dancing Baby Groot, and Rocket Raccoon.

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.

What you will need for your Dancing Baby Groot costume. Image: Cathe Post

For this Dancing Baby Groot tutorial you will need:

A Flower Pot (Ours was about 14″ in diameter, choose your accordingly)

Leggings (Brown)

Sweatshirt (Brown)

Close-cell foam 1″ thick

Gorilla Glue

Cheap Sunglasses

Cheap Plastic Foliage

Brown Painter’s Paper  Brown Paint

Green Painter’s Paper Green Paint

Brown Gloves?



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.

First we tried gluing, then we tried sewing, finally we said a few choice curse words and painted the grain on. All images: Cathe Post

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.

Rocket Raccoon and 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!

“Honey, where are my paaaaaants?”

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!

Mad Scientist Halloween Tablescape on a Budget

Mad Scientist Tablescape. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Mad Scientist Tablescape. Photo: Maryann Goldman

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!

Thrift Store Glass. Photo: Maryann Goldman

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.

My Glass Selections. Photo: Maryann Goldman

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.

Washable Neon Paint. Photo: Maryann Goldman

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.

Blacklight Paint. Photo: Maryann Goldman

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.

Glass Beads. Photo: Maryann Goldman

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.

Turn Fabric Into Dinner Napkins. Photo: Maryann Goldman

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.

Melissa Corelle Plate. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Clear Plate With Necklace Glow Stick. Photo: Maryann Goldman

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.

Johnny Mixing Neon Paint. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Johnny Preparing the Spaghetti Brain. Photo: Maryann Goldman

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!

Johnny With a Water Filled Rubber Glove. Photo: Maryann Goldman

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.

Dimensional Glow-in-the-Dark Fabric Paint. Photo: Maryann Goldman

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!

Glowing “Spells,” “Potions,” and “Magic” books ceramic piece. Photo: Maryann Goldman

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!

Glitter Flakes. Photo: Maryann Goldman

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.

Magic Bottle with Glitter and Glow Stick Chemicals. Photo: Maryann Goldman

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.

Neon Concoctions. Photo: Maryann Goldman


Daylight Table Wide View. Photo: Maryann Goldman


Daylight Table Tight View. Photo: Maryann Goldman


Daylight Table Tight View #2. Photo: Maryann Goldman

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.

More Glowing Table Elements. Photo: Maryann Goldman


Glowing Table Tight View. Photo: Maryann Goldman


Mad Scientist Tablescape with Blacklight. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Glowing Table Wide View. Photo: Maryann Goldman

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!

You Can Stop Pinterest Parenting Now

My own Herculean efforts once went into trying to capture the last day of preschool. Then I realized that maybe the “bad” pictures are better after all.

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?

Store Con, or Conning on the Cheap

Photo: Melanie R. Meadors

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.

Tails, cosplay
Photo: Melanie R. Meadors

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.

Jawa, cosplay
Photo: Melanie R. Meadors

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!

Tutorial: Say It With Sock Monsters


handmade sock monsters,
Sock monsters are soft fun. (all images: L. Weldon)

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 colorpatterned, 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.

This is the space between the ears.
This is the space between the ears.

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.

Go ahead, cut. Socks are forgiving. (image: L. Weldon)
Go ahead, cut. Socks are forgiving.

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.

Add personality as you go. Mistakes add it too.


Trim the seam.

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.)

What a heel.
What a heel.

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.

Get in my belly!
Get in my belly!

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.

Ask any dental professional. Green teeth are terrifying.

A silly sideways felted mouth and giant button eyes.

Socks with colored ribbing at the top make cheerful monster ears.

Perhaps a bright patch of embroidery floss hair.

This guy also has a braided green tail.

Or ring glasses.

Tight stuffing and asymmetrical ears improve this monster’s look.

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.

Hand sewing lends, um, charm?

Or insert a circle of sock fabric and sew the opening shut, making a somewhat more stable monster.

Round butts help them sit securely. That’s my excuse too.

9. Try experimenting with feet, hands, and wings. Peaceful diversity in the sock monster world. It’s a start.

handmade sock monster,
Handmade sock monster takes on the world.

A DIY Mid-Century Medieval Guest Room Upgrade


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.

No. More.

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.

Before - Room.jpg
I don’t even. Image: Natania Barron

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.

A cross section of the ComforPedicIQ — image: Simmons

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.

That's more like it!
The final product. Plus kid. Image: Natania Barron

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.

This post is brought to you by our sponsors, ComforPedic iQ™ by Simmons.
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DIY: Monster Style Pants Repair

Huge, pants-wrecking rip. (image L. Weldon)
Huge, pants-wrecking rip. (image L. Weldon)

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.

Monster Knee repair (
Monster Knee repair (

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.

monster patch repair,
Monster patch repair in progress. (image: L. Weldon)

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.

Hand sewing to ensure patches stay in place. (image: L. Weldon)
Hand sewing to ensure patches stay in place. (image: L. Weldon)

Then I colored a pupil in each eye with a fabric marker.

make a monster jeans patch,
Adding some monster personality. (image: L. Weldon)

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.

Maker Camp Starts Monday! Sign Up To Join The DIY Fun


You don’t live near a Maker Faire. Your Radio Shack only sells cell phones. There’s no hackerspace in town. This is bad times.* But it’s OK. You can still have a maker summer with Maker Camp, which starts Monday, so sign up now!

This is the third year for this DIY summer camp, where your house is the craft room, and the counselors are coming to you through Google+. You’re trading in the dangers of poison ivy for the dangers of a soldering iron—a fair trade, if you ask me. (And I just burnt myself on a soldering iron!) All you need to participate is a Google+ account, some free time, and a little cash for parts. It’s intended for kids ages 13-18, but younger ones can participate with an adult’s Google+ account, and older ones can be teenagers at heart. You’re never too old to make.

Each week of camp has a theme with the projects revealed as you go:

Week 1: Makers in Motion
Week 2: Art and Design
Week 3: Fun and Games
Week 4: Science and Technology
Week 5: DIY Music
Week 6: Make: Believe

Read more about the themes and their virtual field trips at There are also “campsites” around the country where you can get together with other local campers, although it’s not necessary to do so to participate. If you’d like to see if there’s one near you, check the camp list.

The first week’s project parts list is live: scissors, screwdriver, drill, saw, wire strippers, soldering iron, heat gun–all things that the average maker has around the workshop. There’s also a materials list, which has mostly ordinary parts (empty plastic bottles) and a few slightly more exotic (EL wire), so if you’re ready to get started, you should probably also do a little shopping. If you’re new to EL wire and don’t have time to order it online, most decent Radio Shacks now sell it.

Camp kicks off Monday with a live Google Hangout with Buzz Aldrin, the New York Hall of Science, NASA Goddard, and the James Webb Space Telescope. Then the first week of projects begins.

Projects vary in difficulty level and ease of acquiring parts. This isn’t your dissertation though. Nobody’s judging you at the end. Participate in the pieces you want, skip the ones you don’t, and follow the fun the whole way. Sign up to join in at

* And fortunately pretty unlikely for anyone in the US and much of Europe. Want to keep making? Find a hackerspace near you at or a Mini Maker Faire at

Cool Tools: Make Things, Figure Out Things, Do Things Better

Cool Tools, Kevin Kelly,
Ask Kevin Kelly. (CC by 3.0 Wikipedia)

Kevin Kelly is a cool guy. That’s an understatement.

Back in the dawn of cool, he traveled across much of Asia as an indie photojournalist, returned home to the U.S. and went on a 5,000-mile bike ride, and then launched all sorts of collaborative projects before that was a thing. Kelly was editor/publisher for Whole Earth Review, a groundbreaking database of tutorials, hacks, and open-ended ideas.  Twenty years ago, he co-founded Wired, where he’s now Senior Maverick. He co-founded the ongoing Hackers’ Conference, authored What Technology Wants (which envisions technology as a natural system), and was one of the futurists Steven Spielberg consulted for the film Minority Report.

I could go on with his cool cred, but let’s focus on a specific project of his:  Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. This giant book shares user-generated reviews of gadgets, hardware, materials, videos, podcasts, books, maps, and other goodies out there identified as the best, the cheapest, or the only gizmos available to do the job. These reviews are curated from the last decade of content from the Cool Tools site, which is itself an online where-did-the-time-go vacuum. The book’s 1,500-plus mini-reviews are accompanied by QR codes for everything from the best baby bib to the best satellite phone. Just flipping through the book’s outlandishly comprehensive sections is an experience. It’s fascinating to see how much is out there enabling us to make things, figure out things, and do things better. Here’s a tiny sample:

  1. Sage is an open-source mathematics software system for numerical and symbolic math, graphs, statistics, and much more. It’s a free alternative to commercial systems for scientists, mathematicians, engineers, business folks,  hobbyists, and anyone else who uses math.
  2. The Geek Atlas: 128 Places Where Science and Technology Come Alive recommends offbeat science-y destinations. These include tours of working systems such as a dam turbine, a solar furnace, a nuclear power plant, and the Golden Ball in Taipei—a skyscraper with a 660-ton pendulum to prevent the building from swaying in severe weather.
  3. The Wirecutter offers meta-reviews of the best technology products from electronics to car gear to outdoor necessities.  The Sweethome is a companion site for kitchen, nursery, garden, home office, and other around-the-home products.
  4. Work Your Way Around the World is a massively researched guide that covers paperwork, visas, and deets shared by people who are doing what you dream of doing.
  5. Specialty Bottle is your source for all sorts of containers including glass jars, tins, and corked bottles at extremely low prices. Added bonus—they maintain an enticing Pinterest page with DIY projects using their containers.
  6. Lexel Caulk is more than caulk. It sticks nearly anything to anything else and dries clear as glass.
  7. Stream Machine water cannon can slurp up water from a pool or lake in seconds and shoot it from 30 to 70 feet. Buy it to clean your boat or pool deck; you know you’ll use it for water fights.
  8. Keen sandals are perfect for travel as well as everyday wear, with great grip for an active lifestyle. They are made of leather and textile with rubber soles, microbe shield lining, and quick-dry technology.
  9. The Science of Good Cooking is from America’s Test Kitchen. There are other books about the science behind cooking, but this book distills them into 50 easy-to-apply principles, each illustrated by recipes. Every principle is tested by the geeky chefs of Cook’s Illustrated, making this a necessary handbook to guide every kitchen adventure.
  10. Carson Lighted MagniGrip are LED-lit fine point tweezers with 4.5x magnification, handy for hobbies, splinter removal, and other precision tasks.

Find it here. (
Find it here. (

DIY Paper Award Ribbons With Spirograph

DIY Paper Award Ribbons
Image by Julie Tiu

We’re in the home stretch of the school year and I have end-of-the-year everything happening. So what’s a girl to do when she wants to say, “Good Job! Way to go!” to her pals in the school Math Club? I make paper award ribbons… with Spirograph designs. It is math-based after all.

And, who doesn’t like getting award ribbons? Now this multipurpose craft can also be a gift tag, gift wrap/bag ribbon, locker decoration, and card attachment. I’m sure we could think up some more uses. Here’s how to make the ribbons (sorry, no tutorial today on Spirographing).

What you need

Spirograph (or Hypotrochoid) design set
Left over party streamers
Glue Gun
Optional: Circle cutter (Martha Stewart), X-Acto knife

DIY Paper Award Ribbons with Spirograph
Image by Julie Tiu

Play around with your Spirograph set and choose one large design and one small design to layer. For this project, I used a black marker for the larger design and alternated between red, blue, and pink for the small design. Cut out your designs when you have enough.

DIY Paper Award Ribbons
Cutting out Spirograph designs. Image by Julie Tiu.

If you happen to have a circle cutter, it makes cutting easier and quick! These circles were between 2-3/8″ and 2-9/16″.

DIY Paper Award Ribbons with Spirograph
Image by Julie Tiu

You can also try cutting the profile with scissors. (It totally makes cool scraps.)

DIY Paper Award Ribbons with Spirograph design
Image by Julie Tiu

This is the challenging and colorful part. You will need anywhere between 28″ to 40″ of streamer. The more pleats you make, the more frilly and full the rosette looks. Personally, I like the frill.

Pictures from top left, reading across

1) Using your hot glue gun, adhere one end of the streamer to the back of your cardstock circle, with the rest of the streamer hanging towards your right (flip if you’re left-handed).

2) Now, begin pleating, or gathering, the streamer into your non-dominant hand (my left). It should resemble a paper fan.

3) Every fourth or fifth pleat, use your hot glue gun and adhere the streamer to the cardstock. Please take care not to burn your thumb. I did.

4) Continue pleating and slightly rotate to follow the curve of the circle. Glue sections at a time.

5) When you complete the circle, glue the tail to your starting point and trim any excess.

DIY Paper Award Ribbons
Image by Julie Tiu

The rosettes are done! To turn it into the award ribbon, take 6″ to 8″ lengths of fabric ribbon and glue to the back.

DIY Paper Award Ribbons
Image by Julie Tiu

I like the look of two or three ribbons, and they don’t have to match (it adds to the kitsch factor). This is a great project to use up those remnants of fabric ribbon you may have laying around the house.

All set to hand out at the next (last) meeting!

DIY Paper Award Ribbons
Image by Julie Tiu

How a Hacker Slumber Party Gets Girls Into Code

Pearl Hacks logo

When Gina Likins walked into Carroll Hall at the University of North Carolina, she was reminded of the sleepovers of her youth. But this was no ordinary slumber party. This was Pearl Hacks, a 24-hour girls-only hackathon focused on getting young women excited about technology and programming.

In this piece at, Likins outlines the event’s workshops and goals. She also explains just why such events are important for young women around the world:

“All of this was fun, but also very important. The percentage of computer science degrees that are being earned by women has decreased in the past 20 years. So, why were more women earning degrees two decades ago than they are now? One suspected reason for this trend is that women feel unwelcome in the computer industry due to the predominance of men at conferences, coding meetups, and hackathons, which are a central part of coder culture. Some female and male programmers have started female-centric hackathons to help create spaces where women can feel more welcome and at ease.”

Read the full article at

Quick Ways to Dress Up Plastic Easter Eggs With Lettering

If you’re like me and you just noticed that Easter is on Sunday, you’re probably scrambling to decorate some eggs. In addition to our typical dyed eggs, this year I thought I’d try embellishing some of our plastic eggs with lettering. Typophiles will love this! I’ve always loved playing around with fonts, from the moment I found books in the library on lettering to my first encounter with a Mac and all its typefaces. (New York and San Francisco whet my 14-year-old graphic design appetite!) I would spend hours practicing letters by hand… proven by this relic from 1989.

Lettering on Easter Eggs
Image by Julie Tiu.

You just need fine-tipped paint pens or permanent markers, lettering stickers, and rub-on letters.

Lettering on Easter Eggs
Transfer letters and paint pens for decorating eggs. Image by Julie Tiu.

These rub-on letters are tiny and take a lot to cover a big area, but are so fun to use. Just place the letter you want on your surface, and rub with a pen or plastic round-tipped end (like a burnisher).

Lettering on Easter Eggs
Image by Julie Tiu.

How about a monogrammed egg? I have a special place in my heart for Helvetica.

Lettering on Easter Eggs
Monogrammed Easter egg with rub-on letters. Image by Julie Tiu.

On the smaller egg, I rubbed letters in a random fashion. I like the chaotic look.

Lettering on Easter Eggs
Image by Julie Tiu.

If you like a handwritten look, take your paint pen and write Easter greetings in cursive. Stringy, imperfect penmanship is a-okay. And, shown below, the purple egg has the alphabet in typewriter (Courier) lettering.

Lettering on Easter Eggs
Image by Julie Tiu.

If you have some jumbo eggs, try writing favorite lyrics or a springtime poem! Tap into your inner typesetter and have a great Easter.

Pinbusted or Pintrusted: DIY Masquerade Mask

I love masks. Friends give them to me as gifts. I’ve made them from paper mache and fabric for various costumes. I covet the lovely artisan-crafted ones on Etsy and at various neighborhood festivals. So when a friend invited me to a 12th Night Fairyland Masque in the East Village, I had Big Plans.

My Board of Good DIY Intentions.

Some of those plans involved spending money I didn’t have. So I turned to Pinterest for inspiration. The “Sprinkles in Springs Chick Masquerade DIY Mask & Template” looked cool.  I ordered the necessaries: black puffy paint, tulle, and ribbon. I already had Saran Wrap, scissors, and tape at home.

Pinbusted or Pintrusted: DIY Masquerade Mask Test Number 1

Setting up was pretty easy. I printed out the template from the website, taped it down, taped saran wrap over that, and then taped a length of tulle down after that. Then I got to work.

DIY Puffy Paint Mask, Attempt 1. Photo: Fran Wilde.

All was going quite well until I touched the saran wrap accidentally and a half-hour’s worth of careful line tracing turned into a puffy-paint puddle.

Disaster Strikes! Photo: Fran Wilde.

But I’d gotten the hang of it by then. Or the bug had bitten. Something. Because I laid out not only two more mask templates, but drew a few of my own. This time, I didn’t mess with the surface after I’d put the paint down.

Pinbusted or Pintrusted: DIY Masquerade Mask Test 2: 

Photo: Fran Wilde.

I turned to Twitter for help.

Never turn to Twitter to be talked out of an obsession.

So I drew the tentacle mask too.

Art & Photo: Fran Wilde.

and it turned out really great.

Photo: Fran Wilde.
One of the masks, before I trimmed the tulle. Photo: Fran Wilde.

The toughest part was waiting for this whole batch to dry.  In four hours, it was dry enough to peel away, but the masks smelled very strongly of paint. I worried they might be intolerable for the party, which, given my careful planning skills, was only about 10 hours hence.

I used craft glue to attach ribbons to the sides and let those dry. Then I trimmed the tulle, making the eyeholes as wide as possible. First tests showed that the masks stayed on well, though I would have loved some fabric starch to add a little body to the tulle.

The real test for the masks was at the party—where they looked great and the smell had completely faded. However, with a lot of talking and movement, my mask shifted a bit too easily. Fabric starch might have helped that, but another guest suggested a dab of theatrical spirit gum would also have solved the problem.

I took my mask off after a while and laid it on a table. It had certainly passed with high marks for a homemade mask. It could also be that my alterations to the pattern left it less sturdy. A friend wore her mask (because I’d made several) all night, and she looked smashing in it.

So? Overall, this is a solid Pintrusted, with a recommendation for spirit gum. The project was a ton of fun.

You can check out other Pinbusted/Pintrusted posts here.

Pintrusted! Photo: Fran Wilde.

GeekMom Holiday Traditions: Make a Geeky Christmas Wreath

All photos in this article by Cindy White.

There’s nothing like the smell of fresh pine to put you in the holiday spirit. Although I can appreciate the convenience of a faux tree and other pre-fabricated decorations, it’s not Christmas in our home without the real thing. That’s why part of my holiday tradition has been making my own wreath.

I save the frame and basic components from year to year, so all I need to make a new one is the fresh greens. And here’s where I’m going to let you in on my little holiday secret: I get them from the local big-box-store tree lot for free. (If you’re lucky enough to live in a wooded area where pine branches are plentiful, this may also be an option for you, but in our suburban neighborhood we’re limited to the tree lot.)

Look at all those lovely branches just sitting there.

If there’s a lot near you with a cutting area, you can usually find plenty of cast-off branches waiting to be thrown out. But you can save them from that fate (at least until the holidays are over). I politely ask one of the employees if I can take some off their hands. I’ve gotten a few confused shrugs, but I’ve also gotten enthusiastic responses and offers to help carry them to the car. No one has ever said no or tried to charge me.

As a bonus, you might also find some stumps cut from the tree trunks, which are great for all kinds of holiday art projects (check out what fellow GeekMom Lisa Tate does with hers). I make sure to get enough greens so that there’s some left over after the wreath is finished. Add some candles and a few shiny baubles and you’ve got a lovely centerpiece. If you’re not going to use them right away, make sure to put them in a bucket of water to keep them fresh. I forgot to do that this year and ended up with a few crunchy branches. Fortunately, there were still some good ones in the bunch.

The only new thing here I had to purchase was the wire.

But back to the wreath. It’s simple to make and infinitely customizable. You’ll need a frame (available at most craft stores), paddle wire in 24 gauge (or coiled wire from a home improvement store, which is less expensive and just as good), straight wire in 24 gauge or thinner, a pair of sturdy clippers, ribbon, and, of course, the decorations.

This year I made two wreaths, since our neighbor mentioned wanting one. I stuck with a traditional look for her—pine cones (recycled from years past), ornaments, and ribbon. For our wreath I decided to give it a geeky twist by incorporating pieces from last year’s Lego Advent Calendar. You can use anything you have handy to personalize your wreath, including action figures, toys, circuit boards, hardware, whatever strikes your fancy. Since the elements are wired on, not glued, they won’t be damaged and are easy to remove when you take the wreath down.

Before you put your wreath together, cut down the branches to a manageable size. They should be somewhere between six inches and a foot long. Make sure the wood is flexible and not too thick. Don’t worry if they’re a bit unruly; you can always cut them down later. I use a combination of noble and douglas fir, because that’s what I usually find in the bin and I like the contrasting textures.

Start by laying the frame on a flat surface and attaching the end of the wire to it. Next, begin layering the branches around the frame in one direction, overlapping them slightly as you go around and alternating the different kinds of greens.

This project can get a bit messy, so make sure you have something to protect your work surface.

Wrap the wire around each branch as you place it, securing it to the frame. Leave it loose enough so you can tuck each new branch under the last wire you wrapped. You may need to go around a few times until the frame is completely covered.

The greens can be a little wild, so don’t be afraid to trim away any branches that are sticking out. Try and keep your wreath to an even, circular shape. To add in additional branches, just tuck them under the wire. If you’ve wrapped it well enough, they should stay in place. Once I’m happy with the fullness of the base, I like to do one more pass with the wire to keep everything in line. If the frame you’re using doesn’t have a hanger, make one out out of ribbon or a piece of jute twine.

The finished base.

Next, it’s time for the main bow. You can use a pre-made bow, tie a shoelace bow, or make your own following the picture instructions below.

Bow Making 101.

Once the bow is placed, it’s time to decorate your wreath. This is also where you can get your kids involved, picking the decorations and placing them around. Using the thinner, straight wire, attach the ornaments around the wreath with equal spacing all around. Wire them where it will be the least conspicuous. It’s okay to tie your Minifig around its neck, it won’t look like it’s choking from far away. I added some festive elements to the wreath alongside the Lego figures to give it a nice holiday look.

That’s pretty much it. Pick a theme, grab some items from your display shelf or your storage bins, and start wiring away. The beauty of this project is that you can do it all over again, year after year, using the same frame and supplies. Change the design or keep it the same, it’s up to you. Anyone who knocks on your front door will appreciate the festive, personalized touch.

Traditional or fun?

GeekMom Holiday Traditions: Handmade Gifts

Our DIY gifts from a couple of years ago. Photo: Cathe Post

The holidays are my favorite time of year. I liked December as a kid, but as an adult…well, you can ask my husband: I am almost more excited about the Christmas holiday than the kids are.

We have a DIY holiday tradition in our house. For almost 10 years, we have made everything from truffles to etched glass items for Christmas gifts. Once Pinterest came into the picture, it was much easier to find and organize ideas for what to make for family members young and old.

Why do we make gifts every year instead of joining the buying frenzy? Well, it’s the Christmas spirit. It’s the act of doing for others instead of just buying for others. Even if it is a well thought out purchase, a hand-made gift means more in the long run. Plus, it is a way to do something nice for all of those close to us instead of going broke buying presents for a select few. Now that I have children, I am trying to reinforce the idea of doing for others and that it is better to give than receive. Both hard lessons are easier to understand when you are making cool things to give to others.

If you are thinking about handmade gifts for this year or years to come, these are some gifts that were hits in our family.

Crochet Animals: One year all of the kids in the family received a crochet-stuffed-bear. The kids loved them. I used these instructions, but you can find just about anything on Ravelry as far as patterns.

Freezer-Paper-Stenciled shirts: Another gift we have made for kids. Again, since you can personalize them with pretty much any design you can draw or print off of the internet, the sky is the limit.

The label for our homemade barbecue sauce last year. It was super addictive! Image: Tim Post

Canned Goods: Jams, soups, pickles, and more can be big hits. Our biggest hit seemed to be pickles and barbecue sauce.

Etched Glass: Thanks to purchasing a huge container of glass-etching compound, we have enough acidic goo to make glass etched items for several years. Last year we made name-etched casserole pans.

Ornaments: You can even use the ornaments as name tags on gifts. This year we are making melted snowmen. This tradition actually goes back to when I was a kid when the dad of a family friend made wood ornaments for all of the grandkids every year.

DIY mini-Polaroid magnets. Photo: Cathe Post

Magnets: I like this tutorial and template for making fake Polaroid magnets. These make a great gift for in-laws and grandparents.

Notebooks: One of the gifts I am putting together for all of the kids this year is little cereal box notebooks. It doesn’t matter if the kid is 1 or 18, they are getting a notebook this year. Some of them will come with stickers, some have notebook paper in them and come with a nice pen. Either way, it was the gift I came up with that all of the kids would enjoy this year.

What else are we making this year? Well, I could tell you, but it would ruin the surprise.