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.

How To Frame Your Fandom

how to frame your fandom bigAt this year’s Geek Girl Con I was on a panel called “Home, Geek Home” where we discussed ways to incorporate geekiness into your home. We talked a lot about decor and how easy it is to take every day decorating ideas and add a geeky touch. I like to use pinterest to collect ideas and then apply them to my geeky collectibles. To display all of the geeky artwork I collect, I created a small art gallery in my bathroom. It’s curated to my tastes and is a nice surprise when guests come over.

One wall in my mini-gallery is devoted to nothing but Wolverine art, which is pretty specific, and not always something you might want all over your house. By displaying the art in a hanging gallery format, it makes the pieces that much more special. You can definitely spend the money to get your artwork custom framed but it’s a cinch to do yourself. Here’s how to collect and frame your geeky art collection.

wolverine by thom zahler
all photos by justJENN

1. Art

If you collect something specific, like I do, a commissioned piece is great way to go. Artists at comic cons are usually open to commissions during the con, and you can request specific poses or details. I knew someone who asked every artist to draw pictures of Batman with a sandwich. If you can’t travel to a con, check out the artist’s website. If you don’t see a shop of prints you can also email them and ask about commissions.

While at Geek Girl Con I commissioned this fantastic Wolverine from Thom Zahler. His turn around was quick and he was willing to do pieces in a variety of price ranges. When you get the commission, most likely it will be just the art, so it’s your job to make it hangable.

Do your research and buy from an artist whose work you respect and who you can trust. Make sure you understand their pricing, payment, as well as terms of their time table. Some artists are fast and have a quick turn around time, while others are known to take your money and never deliver. Sadly, that’s pretty common.

sizing your art2. Frame

Choosing the right size of frame is crucial to hanging artwork. You want the piece to shine and a small frame that crowds the image won’t do the art any justice. Give it some breathing room and go a little bit bigger than the size of the piece. This happened to be drawn on a 9″ x 12″ Bristol. While that’s standard sketch size it’s not standard for frames, which means the paper would have to be cut or the image will just float in a large frame.

digital mattes3. Mattes

Here’s how you fix that offsize problem, my suggestion is to always go with a matte. You’d be surprised at how much a matte can help your print; it grounds the image and makes it look even more elegant. Think of the mood you are trying to set with mattes. White or cream provides a nice background, while black mattes are a great alternative for making stark images pop.

Frame stores now sell “digital print mattes” which have larger openings. These work great for sketches on odd-sized Bristol and they cost the same as regular pre-cut mattes.

Wolverine art gallery4. Hanging

Hanging frames in a straight line is fine, but when you have a hodge-podge of artwork from a bunch of different artists, it’s nice to create an art wall. I like to place the frames in a seemingly random order, in reality, it takes me a really long time to figure out how to “randomly” place the frames. I like to lay it out first, trying to keep the flow of the colors and feel of each print in mind as I place them next to each other.

Collecting artwork and creating a gallery of a character you love is a great way to grow your fandom. Over time, you can curate a beautiful collection too, and in the process you’ll be supporting amazing indie-artists!

Featured Wolverine artwork by: Thom Zahler, Jason Ho, J Salvador, Mike Maihack, Rogan JoshCliff Chiang, justJENN designs

Build an Epic Paper Marble Run

Watch this video of an epic marble run and be amazed that it’s all made out of paper. I somehow managed to miss Andrew Gatt and his Paper Roller Coasters at the World Maker Faire, which is unfortunate as these are probably great to see in person. Good thing he sells templates for these paper roller coasters online, including larger packs for classroom use. Check out the awesome gallery of student marble runs. I know what we’re going to do over winter break!

[via The Kids Should See This]

DIY: Power Button Pillow Sewing Project

DIY pillow | Julie Tiu
DIY: Power button pillow. Photo by Julie Tiu.

What do you give to a 15-year old boy as a gift? If you know someone of that age, you’ll know it’s near impossible to choose a gift he will like. So, instead of turning to gift cards and gift certificates, I came up with a throw pillow fit for a video game-computer-loving teenager like my nephew.

The power button is a great icon for any tech head. I made the stencil from my pots lids—true story. For you readers, I made a printable template which you can enlarge for your own project. And note, to make your pillow nice and plump, cut your fabric so that its finished dimensions will be one inch smaller (plus seam allowance) than the actual pillow.

What you need:

  • 16” pillow form
  • Two pieces of cotton fabric cut to 15-1/2” square (get a ½ yard of fabric)
  • Power button template, enlarged to your liking
  • Freezer paper cut to 15-1/2” square
  • Acrylic paint (I used silver)
  • Matte gel medium
  • Sponge paint brush, or dauber
  • Iron and ironing surface
  • Other materials: scissors, utility blade, scrap fabric, scrap paper, paper plate, newspaper to place under fabric while painting
DIY: Power button pillow step. Photo by Julie Tiu.

Preparing the freezer paper stencil:

  1. Cut out the power button template with your scissors or blade.
  2. Find the center of the freezer paper by folding the square diagonally from both corners, mark the center. Place your stencil template, centering it on the freezer paper, and trace the power button.
  3. Cut out the power button stencil.
  4. Set your iron on warm, and while you’re waiting for the iron, place the freezer paper (shiny side down) on top of the fabric you will use for the front of your pillow. You could pin in place if you want.
  5. On your ironing surface, place your pillow front and stencil face up, cover with a scrap piece of fabric and evenly press (10-15 seconds) all over the fabric to “adhere” the freezer paper onto the fabric. Don’t worry, it won’t mess up the pillow front.
  6. After ironing, check to see if the paper is completely stuck onto your fabric, especially on the edges of your design. You want a crisp edge. If it starts to come undone while painting, you can return it to the ironing board and press again—just make sure the paint is dry.


Painting the design:

  1. On your paper plate or palette, squeeze a quarter size blob of acrylic paint, and add a dime size blob of gel medium. It’s to give substance to the paint otherwise the paint will be too transparent. (You will repeat this step often. I like to control the amount of paint sitting out so it doesn’t dry up fast.)
  2. Using your paint brush or dauber, mix until paint and medium is combined.
  3. Place your fabric on some newspaper or scrap paper before you start painting. Some moisture from the paint will seep through.
  4. Tapping off the excess off your brush, begin painting on the stencil. You want a fairly dry brush, not goopy. Paint until design is covered.
  5. Repeat two more times, letting each coat of paint dry for at least 20-30 minutes, preferably an hour or two. At the end of your third coat, the paint should be opaque. Let the pillow front dry overnight.
  6. When you’re sure the design is dry, peel the freezer paper off the fabric. Design should be crisp and awesome.

DIY pillow | Julie Tiu

Sewing the pillow:

  1. Place the pillow front and back with right sides together and pin in place.
  2. The seam allowance is ½”. Stitch around all four sides; make sure you leave a 7” opening. (I also backstitch at the beginning and the end.)
  3. After stitching, cut the corners at a 45 degree angle (shy of the stitching) to reduce bulk in the corners. Turn your pillowcase right side out and stuff the pillow into its case. Ladder stitch or slipstitch the opening closed.

DIY pillow | Julie Tiu

Pinbusted or Pintrusted: Melted Crayon Wax on Pumpkins

Photo: Karen Burnham

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve never been the crafty kind of geek. My mother exposed me to all the normal arts-and-crafts growing up, so I have knitted a scarf, and made a block quilt, and woven some table runners in my day. The only one I took to was cross stich, and even that failed to hold my interest past college. Likewise my father introduced me to basic carpentry, as when we designed and built a table for his model railroad, but I have rarely worked with wood since then. My geekdom now revolves around creating carefully crafted book reviews more than any tangible product.

But now I have a toddler, and I want him to feel more comfortable with these things than I do. So I’m dipping my toe in the arts and crafts world, ever so carefully. So I went to Pinterest, bless ’em, and searched on “craft toddler.” I’m not quite sure why melting crayons on pumpkins comes up, but I see that it is a very popular thing to do. So I decided to try it!

Photo: Karen Burnham
Photo: Karen Burnham

This one worked out great. All I needed was a pumpkin (on sale after Halloween, got this one for $1), a box of crayons, and a lighter. I spread newspaper on the kitchen floor, gave my son the lecture about fire being hot and only adults being allowed to touch the lighter, and got to work. Frankly, the hardest part was unwrapping the crayons—they get that paper on tightly! Fingernails or an X-acto knife recommended.

But the crayons melt very easily, and you can either let them drip down or, once they’ve melted a bit, draw on the pumpkin with nice, rich streaks. My son (2 years, 2 months old) had no trouble holding the crayon at one end and putting the other in the flame, and found it kind of fascinating. And he generally enjoyed pulling all the crayons out of the box and mixing them up. He did get some of the melted wax on his hand, but it didn’t hurt him at all, and he was quite interested in the way it hardened and could be peeled off.

Our pumpkin isn’t as wax-encrusted as some on the Pinterest page, but the nice thing is that we can keep adding to it over time. My son seemed to lose interest in about 15 minutes, so what you see above is just 15 minutes worth of melting wax time. Luckily, cleanup was a cinch. Crayons go back in the box, crayon wrappers get folded up with the newspaper, and you’re done.

If we do this again, which seems likely because it’s easy and fun and satisfying to one’s inner pyromaniac, I’d do a couple things differently. I’d use a smaller pumpkin to start with (I honestly couldn’t find a smaller one, likely because I was looking in November instead of October). And I would make sure to focus on brighter, primary colors. The pink, yellow, red, white, and green all stand out well. Orange and peach blend into the pumpkin, and any darkish color such as blue or purple just looks black. Finally, next time I will take the advice of several Pinteresters, and use a tapered candle instead of a normal lighter. Works the same, and with even less annoying risk of burning oneself. (Although after years of long experience with Bic lighters, I had no trouble using one for this project.)


Pinbusted or Pintrusted? Pintrusted! This works with a toddler as long as the adult keeps control of the open flame, and I imagine it will work even better with older kids. I was especially glad that melted wax is as harmless to my child as I remember it being when I was a kid. And it will make a spiffy centerpiece for our dining room table leading up to Thanksgiving. (I usually forget all about centerpieces and such… did I mention I’m not naturally crafty?)

PinBusted or PinTrusted: Upright Pantry Storage


The rainy season called fall (and winter, and spring) has come to stay for a bit in the Pacific Northwest. Any outdoor work I was going to get done will need to wait until spring. With the start of fall comes indoor projects that have been on a pretty Pinterest list for quite some time. One such project is this upright pantry storage I saw that was thousands of dollars cheaper than remodeling and flooring our kitchen this year, but would still give us much needed kitchen storage.

The original upright unit plans I found looked so easy. It was pretty and crisp and fit so nicely in that underutilized space between the fridge and the wall that normally collects toy cars, pencils, and other dusty treasures. This project was perfect… or so I thought. We started adding our own touches to our plans, then couldn’t quite figure out how the original plans worked the way they did.

The Plans: My husband measured for the height, depth, and width we had available for a unit.  At least the original site we found plans on actually had plans, measurements, and useful pictures. When looking for other plans, I was only able to find one other page that talked about completing the project. There were no plans, no list of what would be needed, nothing. There was just a blog post (that was not proofread I might add) with some of the measurements used in the project but no list of materials and no starting point or plans. Considering the post said “DIY” and “Tutorial” in the title, I expected more. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very helpful.

The Measurements:

Measurements that we used for the space we have. Your space might be different. image: Tim Post
Measurements we used for our upright storage in the space we have. Your space might be different. Image: Tim Post

Materials for our build (with commentary!):

  • (1) 4′ x 8′ sheet of 3/8″ hardboard

This is that dark brown, thin board with one smooth side and one textured side (think chipboard material). It’s available in several thicknesses in large sheets and is pretty cheap—and floppy. It’s used to make the back panel of the unit. Look for it near wall-coverings and, if the hardware store you go to has a free cutting service, get them to cut it down for you to at or near the size you need for ease of taking home.

  • (1) 36″ x 48″ sheet of thin galvanized steel

This is for the magnetic spice rack. Bring gloves, or buy some at the store—this stuff is wickedly sharp!

  • (5) 8′ long 1×4 furring strips

Furring strips are boards that are used in construction to space things out or to provide places to attach other things to—they aren’t made to be strong or hold anything up structurally, but they are cheap. As boards go, they aren’t the straightest, they are made from soft wood, they often have knots, and are sometimes in rough shape. Thankfully, home-improvement stores usually have a huge stack of them and you can pick through and find some good ones. REMEMBER! Dimensional lumber lies—a 2×4 is actually 1-1/2 by 3-1/2 inches, and these 1×4’s are actually 3/4 by 3-1/2 inches. Because geeky people always have to know why, the “nominal” dimensions are what the wood is rough-cut to; the boards are then sent through a planer that smooths out the rough saw cuts, removing some thickness in both dimensions.

  • (1) 8′ long 1×6 premium pine board

We used this for an overhanging front piece for the pantry. Compared to the furring strips, premium boards are much straighter, with fewer or no knots and sharp, square edges. You could make the whole pantry from these, but they are much more expensive.

  • (6) 48″ long 7/16″ dowels

These run along the shelves and keep things from falling out. Unfortunately, our pantry was too deep for the smaller available size (24″), so there was a lot of extra dowel. Still, they are not expensive and the extra dowel is useful.

  • (4) 2″ non-swiveling casters

Look around to find the non-swiveling kind—they support a higher weight, are lower, are cheaper, and they keep the pantry from moving in directions you don’t intend.

  • (2) drawer handles

We chose to do one handle at kid-height and one at adult-height, but you could get away with a single handle or knob.

  • 1-1/4″ wood screws (lots)

This length is perfect. We have two needs for the screws: to go through the face of a board and into the end of one (t-joint), or go through the face of a board into the face of another. Since the lying 1×4’s are 3/4″ thick, the screws will go through the first board and a solid 1/2″ into the next, which gives a good hold, but also will not protrude out the face of the second board—the front of our pantry has no visible screws, as it’s joined to the frame by screws from the inside out. We used brass deck screws.

  • Wood glue

Screws help hold it together, but wood glue is what makes the construction last.

  • Contact cement

This is to attach the metal panel to the back. You could also use thin strips of wood around the edges, nailed into the frame, trapping the metal sheet between them and the backing. We used 3M Super 77 (a spray) but a brush-on cement like DAP would work too.


  • Electric drill with a 1/2″ bit, a ~1/8″ bit, and a screw driving bit

The 1/2″ bit is for drilling the holes for the dowels; the 1/8-or-so” bit is for drilling pilot holes for the screws (when in doubt, go smaller rather than larger here). A bit for driving screws isn’t totally necessary, but will save your arm and wrist.

  • Screwdriver

But the drill won’t fit everywhere. It’s always good to have a manual screwdriver.

  • Measuring tape and square

Measure twice, cut once. Then measure again. Then swear, and cut again. The square helps you make nice straight lines, which leads to nice straight cuts (theoretically).

  • Hammer or mallet

There aren’t any nails used in this project, but it is still handy to have to knock around metal or wood.

  • Hand or electric saw

I did the entire project with a hand saw. You could use an electric saw if you wanted and had access to one, but it’s not needed. Even the big backing board cuts fast and easily with a nice sharp hand saw.

  • Tin snips

There’s no getting around this—you will have to cut the metal sheet. Tin snips are a bit expensive and you may not have the use for them, so you might see if the store will cut the metal to size for you, see if a friend has a pair of snips, or buy a smaller piece of sheet metal and size your spice rack to that.

Total for building materials excluding tools: $110

Putting it together:

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  1. Measure and cut. Cut the 1×4’s—you will need two 84″ pieces for the sides of the frame and eight 28″ pieces for the shelves and top/bottom of the frame. Measure with the tape measure, draw a line across the board with the square, and cut.
  2. Measure and drill pilot holes. Draw a line across the frame side boards at each shelf location and 3/8″ down from the top, and 3/8″ and 1″ up from the bottom. Measure 3/4″ in from either side and mark. Drill through with the 1/8″ drill bit—there should be two holes in each end for each shelf and for the top and double-bottom. Draw a line longways across the end of each shelf and end (the 28″ boards). Measure 3/4″ in from each end and drill a hole about 1/2″ inch deep. These pilot holes not only keep the screws from splitting the wood, they also help line everything up neatly.
  3. Build the frame. Take one 28″ board and lay a line of glue across each end. Using the top holes in the sides, attach the board with four screws to make the top of the frame. Continue with each 28″ board, gluing and screwing each shelf in, until you get to the bottom and have two boards left. If any glue squeezes out, you can wipe it off with a wet paper towel or rag before it dries.
  4. Build the bottom of the pantry. Put the remaining two boards on top of each other. Draw a line longways down the center of the top board, and choose two points on it (about a third of the way in from each end). Drill a pilot hole through the top board and into (but not through) the bottom board at both points. Take the boards apart, lay a line of glue down the face of the bottom one, and replace the top one. Secure it with two screws through the pilot holes you just drew.
  5. Attach the wheels. Using one of the casters as a template, place it on the top board. You want to have two casters at one end of the board and two at the other—the farther apart they are, the more stable it will be. Take a pen or pencil and mark the location of the holes in the caster for all four wheels. Take the caster off, drill pilot holes again, and then attach all four casters with screws. Congratulations, you have an old-school skateboard!
  6. Complete the frame. Glue the ends of the double-thick bottom and attach it with screws to the frame.
  7. Drill the dowel holes. Up until now, there has not been a front or back to the pantry. Decide which side will be the front, and which end will face out. Measure along each side of the frame 2-1/2″ up from each shelf, and then 1/4″ in. At this point, use the 1/2″ drill bit to drill dowel holes. You can drill all the way through the side that will face out (there will be another board here covering this up), but only drill halfway through the other side. A good way to make sure you don’t drill through is to wrap a piece of tape like a flag around the drill bit at the depth you want to stop; once the flag reaches the wood you’re drilling through, stop.
  8. Add the “decorative” front. Measure and cut the nice 1×6 so that it will go from the top of the frame almost to the floor—this way, it will cover the casters too. Decide where you want your handles, mark, and drill holes for these too. Before you put the handles on, align the decorative front on the frame and mark the side of the frame where the handle holes are. Use the 1/2″ bit to drill the sides at this point—the bolts for the handles won’t reach through two pieces of wood. Drill several pilot holes (one per shelf section is probably good) down the side board of the frame so that you can attach the front. Lay some glue down the side of the frame, position the decorative front (making sure the holes for the handle line up), and screw it together. Screw on the handles.
  9. Add the back. Lay the hardboard on the almost-completed pantry. If it isn’t already cut to the right size, mark along the edges of the pantry frame and then cut the backing board. This is a good time to check if the pantry frame is nice and square—you can either measure diagonally from each corner (if the measurements are the same, the frame is a rectangle) or just use the square edge of the backing board. Drill pilot holes through the back and into the frame around the outside—one per foot is probably enough. Screw the back on to the frame. You could also screw the back into the shelves, but that’s much harder to line up.
  10. Add the metal sheet. Measure and cut the metal sheet to size. Tin snips work just like any other scissors, but the metal is a lot harder to get out of the way. A second person to bend the metal away as you cut is invaluable! Both should be wearing long sleeves and gloves—fresh-cut sheet metal is sharp. If you got a smaller piece of metal that already fits, you can luckily skip this part. Then, brush or spray a layer of contact cement on the pantry where the metal will go, and a layer on the metal itself. Wait a few minutes for it to dry, then carefully line up and press the metal onto the back of the pantry. Try to aim carefully—once the cement comes into contact with itself, you aren’t likely to get it apart.
  11. Cut and add the dowels. Measure and cut each dowel 29″ long. This is just longer than the shelves, so each end will stick into the holes cut in the sides of the frame. Since the holes are 1/2″ and the dowel is slightly smaller, it will have room to flex and move to accommodate whatever you put in the pantry. Put the dowels in the pantry by inserting one end, then bowing it out until it snaps into the other hole.
  12. Done! Move your fridge out from the wall a foot or so. Put the pantry upright and roll it into place, then scoot the fridge up against the pantry.

Ours is unfinished, but the shelves, front, and backer could easily be painted. Before it is installed, you could cover the backer board with contact paper, too.

We ran into problems: After we had purchased the boards we wondered if the original builder had found true 1″ x 4″ boards. We put a can of soup on a 1×4 board and saw how little space was left to put a dowel in. We had to drill holes right on the edge of the board or a can of soup wouldn’t fit. Peanut butter only fits in the middle of a shelf. How the finished pictures on the other blog show holding pasta sauce jars is beyond me.

Another issue is (despite the author saying she hadn’t had problems) this unit does not stand up on its own. Ours, of course, is taller than hers, which probably doesn’t help. We were worried about the kids pulling it all of the way out on some early weekend morning to get cereal and then have it crash on them. So my wonderful husband installed a track out of scraps to keep the unit in place.

The Hacks: The original was just a shelving unit. My husband, being the gourmet he is, wanted to free up an entire drawer of unorganized and easily spilled  spices by putting in a piece of sheet metal and magnetic spice containers. We carefully measured the piece of metal when the unit was put together and very carefully used tin snips to cut the metal to size. Then, we glued it in place with contact cement and hammered down all of the edges with a mallet.

CAUTION!!: If you like the spice rack idea, use thick leather gloves when working with metal. It is sharp! My husband learned the hard way and cut the thenar (the flap of skin between his index finger and thumb) on his right hand because he hiked up his grip on the piece he was planning to purchase. It cut through ALL of the layers of skin exposing the tendons. It was nasty. This is not at all something to take lightly.

PinBusted or Trusted?: Marginally PinTrusted.

The bad: It works, but I would have measured more of the objects I planned to store in the unit aside from the space we had available to figure out if I could have used a 1×6 instead of the 4 inch (well, really 3-1/2″) that almost isn’t wide enough for soup. It isn’t safe as a free standing unit. It needs to be anchored. The good: It is an amazing idea that utilizes a space that is normally ignored. For the kind of project it is, it is fairly affordable (especially considering how much a kitchen remodel or even some additional Ikea cabinets cost).

Hacker Scouts: Encouraging Kids to Hack!

Hacker Scout Badge Circuit encourages kids to seek out projects based on their own interests.

Samantha Cook* is an artist, an educator, a hacker, a Maker, a mother, and the Founder of Hacker Scouts. Hacker Scouts began a year ago in Oakland, CA, and is now a national non-profit that encourages children to build, hack, and create on their own terms. The program’s main goal is to give children the necessary skill set to be able to follow through on projects of their own interest and design.

I learned about Hacker Scouts a few weeks ago after the launch of its current KickStarter, which is to raise money to develop a national hacker scouts headquarter in Oakland, California. The kickstarter has 12 days to go, with having earned, as of this writing, $19, 921 of their $35,000 goal.

The thing about Hacker Scouts that stands out, and resonates with children, is that while there are many STEM kits, online classes, and school programs for children, most focus on a particular finished product. Many kits and classes have children follow a set of directions to complete a particular project, not allowing for innovation or freedom. Hacker Scouts focuses on giving children a set of skills in the STEAM areas, and then letting the children decide what they want to do with that skill set.

While that may sound like complete mayhem, there is a successful method to this Making madness. Children are first guided through the building of an Arduino circuit. This gives the kids a base set of skills including soldering, coding, and even sewing. Once this skill set is achieved, kids are free to move on. They can come to Open Lab, where mentors and experts are ready to help them with any project that they bring in. They can also chose from available kits or organized projects. The outcome of the kits and projects is up to the child. No finished product is “wrong.” The emphasis is skill and confidence building.

Young Hacker Scouts working on their Arduino circuits. Used with permission from Hacker Scouts.

I wanted to learn more about the program, and its evolution, so I talked with Founder Samantha Cook this past weekend. Here are some highlights from our chat.

GeekMom: Could you describe HackerScouts for those unfamiliar with Hacker Spaces, the Hacker Movement, and your organization?

Samantha Cook: Hacker Scouts is a nonprofit organization focused on STEAM education and skill building for kids and families. Hacking is a form of modification—it is taking something and changing it to fit your needs. My husband and I are part of the Maker community in Oakland, and I have a background in education. We saw a need for a new approach to introduce, and support, making and hacking, especially with children. We believe that the next generation needs to go beyond making, and hack their own education. They need to be able to adapt to new technology, think in creative and innovative ways, and value collaboration and sustainability.

We accomplish this through programs that are designed to support intellectual and social development, while allowing kids to build confidence and control their education. Currently we have three programs: Open Lab (all ages, open to the public), Guild (weekly group, ages 8-teen), and Sparks (weekly group, ages 4-7). We are also starting to add modifications to our programs, new programs, and workshops that will support teachers in integrating STEAM and making into the classroom. In a year, we have gone from one location (Oakland) to over 30 nationally and we are growing! We also publish all of our programs open source online.

“We believe that the next generation needs to go beyond making, and hack their own education.”
Image used with permission from Hacker Scouts.

GM: Your formal educational background is in Art History. Tell me a bit about your journey to becoming a Hacker.

SC: I studied Humanities, Art History, and Archaeology as an undergraduate, and then went on to get a Masters in Museum Education. I started teaching when I was 16 and I have always been interested in how people learn. Museums ended up being a wonderful vehicle through which I could really explore informal learning. I was not really interested in technology before I met my husband, but, I married a geek and it was inevitable. I am now learning new skills and concepts. It is empowering and exciting. I think that is how many of the families who come to us feel when they learn something new. So I understand, and it is my pleasure to be a catalyst to that experience for them.

GM: What prompted you to start Hacker Scouts?

SC: After my second son was born, I decided to work freelance for a while in Washington, DC, with a variety of museums until we moved back to California. While freelancing, I taught in schools. I saw how the children loved the hands on learning that I brought into the schools, and I saw that schools were not encouraging enough self-directed learning for kids. I now have three kids and we have been involved in a variety of programs and classes that touched on STEM concepts and skills. However, they never gave a thorough education, they never built community, and they never focused on what each of my kids wanted out of the experience. So, I decided it was time there was a program available to all kids that did.

GM: What do you think it is about HackerScouts that has gotten kids so excited?

SC: It is not hard to get kids excited about making. What is different about us is our emphasis on mentoring (both adult to kid mentorship and peer to peer mentorship) and the ability to individualize our program to each kid’s personal goals. We provide a clear structure with activities meant to teach real, relevant skills that kids can use for their own ideas, their own dream projects. We don’t ever ask if it’s possible, we figure out how to get them there and support them, empower them. We don’t want them to simply follow directions or to only understand a concept or skill in a specific context, so we built an approach that would allow them to control their learning and make each decision connected to their personal vision. That is not an experience most kids get on a regular basis.

GM: Tell us a bit about the current Kickstarter.

SC: Our Kickstarter is so important. We have been partnered with a space in Oakland for a year but we have outgrown it, it is not ideal for kids and families, and our access to it is extremely limited. This Kickstarter will not only help us to be able to expand our programs locally, but it will give us the equipment and materials to build more programs, activities, and badges that we then release open source to everyone else. So, while it is located in Oakland, it benefits anyone who is a part of our program anywhere, or who uses any of our online resources. We offer everything we do for free or low cost. In order to keep doing that, we now need the support of our community, or anyone who thinks this kind of education is relevant and important. We are also documenting the process of building a hackerspace for kids and families, which is a unique kind of space, so that we can help others who want to do the same.

At the end of our conversation, I asked Samantha how she balances homeschooling her three young children and working full time for Hacker Scouts. She told me that mornings are family time. No phone calls, no email. She focuses completely on her kids as they learn together. The afternoons are open for work. If her kids are playing and occupied, she will open her laptop. She will also tell her children when she needs time to work from home. There are two other factors that really helped her success: her community, and the fact that she has created a family-friendly work space. Her friends will drive her kids to afternoon classes, park meet-ups, or field trips if she needs a few hours of uninterrupted work time. Additionally, her children come with her to work and are very involved in Hacker Scouts. Her eldest is a mentor, her middle child helps the youngest Hacker Scouts build paper rockets, and her four-year-old has even found ways to help out. The kids can also hack or create art while she is working and they get to test out project prototypes.

If you are interested in the program, check out their website to see if one of the now 30 branches is local to you. If you yourself are inspired, you can contact Samantha and her colleagues to find out how to start a local chapter yourself.

*Note: Samantha Cook is an Occasional Contributor to GeekMom.

Maker Faire New York: The Next Generation

As I walked through Maker Faire New York, I noticed table after table swarming with pint-sized makers—even more than years past—suggesting that Maker Faire is better than ever for kids. This year’s Maker Faire included the marvelous Zone E, a spacious area where parents could relax as their kids had room to make and play. Of course, kids’ stuff was peppered throughout Maker Faire, inviting them in at every turn.

The Austin Bike Zoo carousel. Photo: Amy Kraft

Families were welcomed into Zone E by the Austin Bike Zoo, with their stunning butterfly bicycles and their horse/bike hybrid carousel. My kids loved the carousel. The 8-year-old pedaled feverishly while the 3-year-old chilled out in the little kid holding area in the center.


Once in Zone E, we saw some familiar faces. I know Brian Yanish, creator of ScrapKins, because we’ve got a ScrapKins book in the works for Speakaboos, the story app I’m working on. In the ScrapKins booth, the kids got a lesson in upcycling, making masted boats from milk cartons and straws. Then there was a recycled river to race them down into the ScrapKins lagoon. My 3-year-old could have done that all day. What a great way to build and test a vehicle.

Boats successfully launched into the ScrapKins lagoon. Photo: Amy Kraft

More upcycling (and familiar faces) came in the Skraptacular booth. Skraptacular is run by a mom in my neighborhood, and thanks to her booth, we now know about plarn. Plarn is like plastic yarn that you make from plastic shopping bags. They used it for weaving through fencing, with some interesting results.

One of the plarn weavings from Skraptacular. Photo: Amy Kraft

We’re very lucky in New York City to have a bunch of places to take our kids for science play and learning. Storefront Science opened in my neighborhood, and it’s a real treat to have this resource in upper Manhattan. They came to Maker Faire with a creative exercise using batteries, LED lights, and pipe cleaners, letting kids build whatever they wanted. My daughter made a fuzzy creature flashlight.

Storefront Science booth

Robofun and the Brooklyn Robot Foundry are other science resources we have in the city. My daughter loved a robot-building class she took a few months ago at the Brooklyn Robot Foundry, but Maker Faire is a great reminder to work these maker activities into our weekends more often.

The best upcycling of stuffed animals I’ve seen. Photo: Amy Kraft

We managed to miss this activity completely, but when I saw these creatures sewn together from various animal parts, I finally knew what to do with those two bags of stuffed animals taking up room in the closet. I proposed to my daughter that she take parts from all of her favorites and combine them into one giant Frankenanimal. She’s all for it!

Making a survival bracelet. Photo: Amy Kraft

Even though she had one on her wrist from last year, my daughter was excited to make another survival bracelet. Made from one long length of durable cord, these bracelets are easy to make and provide you with a long length of durable cord in an emergency. It’s fun imagining the MacGyver-like scenarios where one would rip open their survival bracelet because a rope was needed. And now we have two of them. Double the survival!

LittleBits used during the Maker Faire workshop. Photo: Amy Kraft

We spent the most time at the LittleBits booth. I love these intuitive circuit pieces. They’re so well designed that I saw several kids plunk down in a chair and get a circuit going within a couple minutes. My ambivalence about them comes with their price and purchasing options, but more on that in a moment.

The task in the LittleBit workshop we attended was to make a Halloween costume; a nice, concrete task to get the creative juices flowing. My daughter already has a costume. She’s going to be Hermione. I suggested that she make something to go with her costume, and she came up with the idea of making Hermione’s cat, Crookshanks. She made the cat out of cardboard, then wired it up with a sound sensor and vibration motor so that when you said “Crookshanks!” the bell around her neck would ring. Like magic! You can see it working in the video above.

We were super excited about it until we started to walk away from the booth and we were told that she needed to unmake it to give all of the LittleBits back. There was no way for me to buy the parts that she used, unless I wanted to purchase the kits that they had for sale, but even that would have required remaking it. We will probably order the pieces individually online (for about $40), but I can’t help but wish they had structured the workshop more in the spirit of Maker Faire. Either charge a workshop fee, or require a kit purchase to be in a workshop, or be clear with kids that they’re just experimenting. Or let the kids keep the parts and chalk it up as a marketing expense. Just don’t make kids unmake at Maker Faire.

Of course, even I as talk about “the spirit of Maker Faire,” that spirit seems to be changing. It’s amazing to have so much inspiration and activity for kids in one place. I loved taking the kids to watch them try new and challenging things.

But it’s hard not to feel a little cynical as bigger corporate sponsors roll in and more and more of the booths are there so you’ll purchase their products. I understand the need for money to help Maker Faire (and its vendors) succeed, but it’s less of a showcase of weird and wild creations and inventions than it used to be.

If you went to Maker Faire this year, especially with kids, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Maker Faire New York: Fueling My 3D Fantasies

The BotBuilder 3D printer in action. Photo: Amy Kraft

I’ve been fantasizing about getting a 3D printer. I don’t think my husband realized how serious I am about wanting one until he saw me (and our 8-year-old daughter) drooling over the entire 3D printing section at Maker Faire New York.

The first question is what printer to get. Maker Faire had booth after booth of 3D printers in tons of different shapes and sizes. MakerBot has evolved into a sleek, beautiful device that looks totally pro. (And did you know there’s a MakerBot store in Manhattan? I must make a field trip downtown.)

There’s something to be said, though, for all of the smaller companies making 3D printers and printer kits. A couple of the preassembled options that caught my eye are the Solidoodle, which starts at $499, and the Litto, which starts at $999 (add $300 for the assembly). Both are open-source and have small desktop footprints. I have to say, though, I was most intrigued by BotBuilder. Making a printer from a kit on my own sounds like pressure, but BotBuilder offers weekend workshops where you walk away with your finished printer. The workshop, including printer, is $999. I love the idea of building with a community of builders, plus the workshop offers the security that you’re doing it right and in a set amount of time. When you’re finished, you’re also better equipped to troubleshoot your printer.

The next question is what I would make with it once I had it. There are three things I fantasize about most:

  • Game Pieces: I’m a game designer and I want to inspire my kids to design their own games as well. Making our own game pieces would add a nice level of professionalism.
  • Jewelry: Every year at Maker Faire I end up coming home with 3D-printed jewelry. Why not try my own?
  • Party supplies: We throw oddball parties and we’d love to make the things that we can’t find, like cake-toppers, or party favors, or what I dream of most, custom cookie cutters. I’d like to be the mom that brings the narwhal cookies to the party.

Of course, Maker Faire New York had no shortage of great ideas for 3D printing. Here are some of my favorites.

Make your own 3D mini twin. Photo: Amy Kraft

Mixee Labs caught my eye with these adorable Mii-like figures that you create at You customize your figure using their online software, then for $25 you get it mailed to you. 3D printing has a certain low-tech look to it, but these were something different. They look adorable, totally unique in the 3D printing space, and they feel great to hold, too.

Mixee Labs is also making molecule jewelry that I love. You can customize the material (nylon plastic, stainless steel, silver, and gold-plated brass), the size, and the molecule. Some of the molecules include estrogen, adrenaline, nicotine, and Xanax. I have a pink plastic caffeine molecule that I’ve been wearing often.

Portraits from Coney Island Scan-A-Rama. Photo: Amy Kraft

Another set of portraits caught my eye, from The Great Fredini’s Coney Island Scan-A-Rama. Outside of Maker Faire, you can visit this photo booth on Saturdays in Coney Island. Portraits range from $60-$100 depending on the number of people in them, and the final result is lovely. In fact, while I was at their table, a couple was being scanned to get a portrait that they are planning to use as the cake topper on their wedding cake.

Art meets Pez. Photo: Amy Kraft

I had read about the maker classes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it was cool to see some of the results from those classes in person. The Met enables teens to take scans of the collections and remix them in new and unusual ways. I love this head attached to a Pez dispenser, by far the classiest Pez dispenser I’ve seen.

Blokify lets kids be the king of the castle. Photo: Amy Kraft

Minecraft fans will be particularly keen on this next one. Blokify provides kid-friendly software that lets kids build digitally with building blocks. Once they’re satisfied with their creation, they can send it to a digital printer to make a castle, tower, or anything else they can imagine.

3D printed tube connectors. Photo: Amy Kraft

I saw a bunch of other inspiring creations, like robot sculptures, handy objects to windup your earbuds or rest your phone in, toys, and household items, even a toilet-paper dispenser! Maker Faire offered a great glimpse into the possibilities of 3D printing at home. I can’t wait to see the leaps and bounds that 3D printing makes at each Maker Faire. And, more than that, I can’t wait to have a 3D printer of my very own.

Pinbusted or Pintrusted: Natural Ant Killer


If you’ve ever had ants in your house (and let’s be honest, who hasn’t?) you know how desperate a person can be about getting rid of them. I’ve got ‘em. Bad. But I don’t want to spray chemicals to get rid of them, so I’ve been experimenting.

The folks over on Pinterest are crazy for natural ant killers:

“This REALLY works–STILL no ants–we had an ant-free summer!”

“It works!”

“Worked on the regular black ants … great stuff.”

I decided to try out a couple of these methods. Here’s how it went down:


This article, pinned to Pinterest, says of dry cornmeal:

“They eat it and become bloated and it does them in.”

I wasn’t sure about the science behind that statement, but it seemed easy enough. I sprinkled piles of cornmeal –  outside – right in the path of some very active ants. Almost instantly the ants moved in and started hauling off bits of cornmeal. I waited; I read in a number of places that it could take up to a week to see results. A week later? Two weeks later? The ants are still happily marching back and forth, farming aphids. They might even be a little bit fatter after that feeding session. Pinbusted.

Borax and sugar, dry mix

A dry mixture of borax and sugar acted like a sponge in my humid climate, quickly turning into a hard cake. The ants were not impressed. Pinbusted.

Pinbusted or Pintrusted? Which of the popular natural ant killers on Pinterest actually work?
Do we have a winner? Image: Kris Bordessa

Borax and sugar, liquid

Pinners claimed that ants swarmed to this DIY liquid ant bait immediately. I placed three different trays of this near ant trails. In two places, the liquid was initially ignored. In the third—the location with the most ants—the ants did swarm to it very quickly. A couple of hours later, there were ants bellied up to the bar in all three locations. The ants took the bait. They disappeared for a day or two. But now they’re back, with no evidence that their numbers have been reduced. Pinbusted.

So, I’m still looking for the perfect natural ant bait. Got one? Please share in the comments! I’m getting desperate.

(Lest you think this whole pest control issue is boring, check this out. Poisoning ants and a little science wrapped into one fun-filled project.)

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Toolbox Jewelry: Adornments for Makers

The Neon Tetra Bracelet. Photo: Amy Kraft
Image: Klutz

This weekend is the World Maker Faire in New York, and we got Klutz’s latest kit, Toolbox Jewelry, just in time to bedazzle ourselves in Maker Faire-appropriate accessories.

I’ve long been a fan of Klutz. Klutz kits are my go-to birthday party presents. At the last New York Toy Fair, Toolbox Jewelry was a stand-out product in a sea of tired products. My 8-year-old daughter and I were excited to give it a try. Or, more accurately, I was excited to have my 8-year-old daughter give it a try. She’s tried many Klutz kits in the past with varying degrees of independence and success. I enjoy jumping in and helping, like I did with their Wicked Cool Friendship Bracelets, but I value more the projects she can do from start to finish. On a weekend morning when it was my turn to sleep in, I awoke to three new creations she had made that morning.

Some of the kit components. Photo: Amy Kraft

Toolbox Jewelry provides a combination of ribbon, cord, nuts, washers, retaining rings, beads, and earring wires, enough to give every project in the book a try. My daughter had no trouble following the instructions, and she even called my attention to the parts of the books that have handy tips, like how to position a knot. And the resulting jewelry? It’s beautiful. It’s not beautiful in the “that’s nice, honey” way. It’s beautiful in a way that when my daughter was finishing up a bracelet, I pleaded with her to finish it at a size to fit me.

My daughter shows off the Ribbon and Stars bracelet and the Sunburst necklace. Photo: Amy Kraft

Often with Klutz kits, you’re beholden to the supplies that come with the kit. (Pro tip: you can reorder refill supplies from Klutz in those cases.) With Toolbox Jewelry, our imagination is already running wild. We’re excited to scavenge the closets and hit the hardware store to see how to apply the techniques in the book to different materials. I’m a fan of anything that gets my maker girl excited to go to the hardware store.

If you see us at Maker Faire, have a look at our beautiful accessories. Or make your own mini Maker Faire with this delightful kit.

GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.

How To Be A Super My Little Pony Mom + Giveaway

super MLP mom logo Welcome to How To Be A Super ____ Mom! From crafts and recipes to fun toys and adventures, here are ways to take your child’s fandom and make it even more fun!

Like most memorable toys from our childhood, My Little Pony is back and now popular with our own kids! One of the biggest fandoms around and growing, DIY crafts, cosplay, and themed parties are just some of the fun ways that fans are expressing their love for the ponies of Equestria.

Here are a few ways to encourage your child’s My Little Pony fandom!

my little pony cookies justjennrecipes
image: justJENN recipes
warpzone mlp cutters
Image: Warpzone Prints

1. My Little Pony cookies

Baking is my chosen form for showing my fandom love. Who doesn’t love a tasty treat in the shape of your favorite character? Warpzone Prints has always been my go to place for finding the best in geek cookie cutters. The cutters are fabulously detailed and translate exactly the same onto dough. I’ve used the My Little Pony cookie cutters to make Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie cookies and have gotten rave reviews!

diy mlp rainbow dash hoodie
Image: Craftiness is Not Optional

2. Rainbow Dash DIY Hoodie

In our house we practice everyday cosplay. In other words, it doesn’t have to be a special day to dress up and pay homage to your favorite characters. While many outfits can be store bought, some of the best and most inspired are made by hand. Craftiness is not Optional gives a great step by step tutorial to sew your own Rainbow Dash hoodie!

mlp make your own silicone mold
Image: Doodle Craft

3. My Little Pony silicone mold

The best thing about My Little Pony is that everypony is unique. What better way to have fun with fandom than creating your very own pony? This tutorial from Doodle Craft shows you how to make a silicone mold, then just press in clay or even edible fondant and you have a base to craft a unique, customized pony!

mlp crafts pages
Image: Hasbro

4. My Little Pony free printables

Not feeling crafty? Don’t worry, Hasbro has you covered with several printable activity Pony pages. Games, mazes, and coloring pages are all available for free download!

shout factory mlp
Image: Shout Factory

5. My Little Pony DVDs

Having a pony party sleepover? Pop in a My Little Pony DVD and watch your favorite toys come to life! Shout! Factory, the company that brings classic favorites to DVD and Blu-ray has a whole line of My Little Pony DVDs. They just released My Little Pony: Equestria Girls! The best part is, it comes with an exclusive Twilight Sparkle Crown!


Here’s your chance to get a jump start at being a Super My Little Pony Mom! Head over to justJENN recipes to enter to win a My Little Pony Prize pack: a My Little Pony Friendship is Magic: Royal Pony Wedding DVD from Shout Factory, a Twilight Sparkle Crown also from Shout! Factory, two My Little Pony cookie cutters from Warpzone Prints, and finally, to pull it all together, a giant sized We Love Fine My Little Pony Bag! Good luck!

Trending Craft Ideas You Really Should Try, Part One: Repurposed Paper Art

Three Quick Ideas: Handprint images on wrapping paper, print-out quote on map pages, and comic book art on old comic pages.
Left to Right: Hand prints on wrapping paper; print-out quote on map page, and easy comic book art on old comic pages.
My "El Chuco Tardis" image; watercolor and acrylic on a dictionary page.
My “El Chuco Tardis” image; watercolor and acrylic on a dictionary page.

These clever and nostalgic crafts have been popping up all over Pinterest, DeviantArt, and Tumblr sites, as well as at weekend art shows and comic-cons. They bear everything from floral patterns in watercolor and fairy tales in acrylic, to superhero portraits in sharpies and zombie apocalypse warning signs in pen-and-ink.

As varied as the subject matter and medium is, they all share one common denominator: They are drawn all drawn on some type of repurposed paper. Yellowed pages from old books and dictionaries, newspaper and tabloid pages, and leftover trimmings from wallpaper or drawer liners are popular canvases.

Molly, 11, and Erin, 4, show off their creations.

The hardest part is deciding what to draw, so here are a couple of hints to get you started:
• Draw a simple emblem from a favorite superhero onto the page of an old comic book.
• Type a favorite book quote or movie line, and print it out on a letter-sized sheet of patterned scrapbook paper.
•  For younger kids, use stamps or stencils to make pictures on pages from old dime novels (make sure the page’s content is family friendly as well).
• Make hand or footprints in washable paint on patterned wrapping paper or wallpaper.
• Draw abstract pictures of landmarks, vehicles, or people on pieces of travel maps or outdated atlas pages.

Not ready to rip up any books or magazines? Two sites I’ve found that offer free vintage-style downloads are and

If you want to give these finished creations as gifts, this is also a good way to make new use out of old picture frames. This type of art even makes those ornate dollar store frames look cool.

This is one of the simplest ways of turning most any drawing or painting into something pretty unique, no matter how much “natural drawing talent” you think you have or don’t have.  The possibilities are endless.

Next week: Geeking up the crayon drip method.

If You Make, They Will Come

Flywheel generator.
Flywheel generator instructions, photo by Cristen Pantano

For the second year in a row, Make Magazine held its virtual Maker Camp this summer. The camp is geared toward 13 to 18-year-olds and encourages kids to participate in thirty DIY building projects. Campers were virtually guided in building robots, musical instruments, circuits, movie props, and, of course, a few awesome Lego projects.

While Maker Camp was intended to be an online virtual camp, the DIY phenomenon has caught on and maker camps have been popping up everywhere. Libraries have been offering rooms as “maker space” and day camps are now offering “maker week” themes. A good friend of mine even hosted a dozen teenagers in her living room to work on a bike-powered cell phone charger.

Inspired by Maker Camp and my friend, I decided to hold a mini-maker camp for the younger builders in our community.

Our kids are young, so I wasn’t sure if the actual Maker Camp projects would be a good fit for them. While trying to figure out an appropriate project for the day, our son received the Science Wiz: Energy kit for his birthday. The kit includes a 48 page booklet discussing the scientific definition of energy, along with 22 activities. The activities include transferring chemical energy from a battery to a motor and building a solar powered car. I thought that the kit would be a great way to introduce the kids to building.

We invited twelve kids ranging in age from seven to twelve, as well an experienced 13-year-old builder who would assist with the projects. When the kids arrived we discussed what energy meant to them, the scientific definition of energy, as well as different energy sources. Since many of the kit activities focused on electricity, we spent a good amount of time discussing what electricity is, how it is generated, and how it works. Once we got the basics down, it was time to build!

The kids were very enthusiastic and worked great in groups of four led by one of the 12-year-old makers. We started with some hands-on activities to get the kids thinking about the scientific definition of energy, then we got the kits out.

Building a solar racer.

First up was changing chemical energy from a battery into electrical, and finally, kinetic energy. This involved simply attaching wires to a battery and then the other end of the wires to a motor. The kit instructions were great and all the groups figured it out rather quickly.

Next, we generated electricity using a fly wheel and used the generated electricity to run an additional motor. This activity was a huge hit and the kids spent a good fifteen minutes taking turns with the bike.

After a snack and some play, we tackled the super capacitor car. I had originally planned for the kids to build a solar racer, but mother nature had different plans. The super capacitor car was a bit trickier, but with the help of my Maker Mom friend, and my experienced 13-year-old builder, each group got their cars up and running. The kids ran out in the rain to try their cars, and their excitement and pride was infectious.

At this point, we were almost three hours in, and we called it a day. Once I left the kids alone, the real magic happened.

The sun came out so myself and about half the kids went out to play. The other half stayed inside and continued building. Most decided to take the super capacitor off of the car and add the solar panel. One camper then added back the super capacitor, but this time added a battery to the car. The ideas just exploded: kids were adding wheels, additional motors, reflectors, more batteries, and sound boxes. This continued building and creativity was a sign that the day was a success. For some kids the building continued at home. One 9-year-old girl added an on/off switch to her super capacitor car.

Two mini-Makers hard at work.

I really enjoyed the day and my kids did as well. I learned a lot during the process of preparing for the day, and I think the kids learned new things as well. We will definitely be hosting more mini-maker camps. Seeing how capable all the kids are, I think I will eventually try to modify an actual Maker Camp project.

In the meantime, I discovered Maker Kids and couldn’t be more excited to try their projects with our friends! I will also likely use another Science Wiz kit. I like the kits for the organized layout of the building projects, but do feel that they lack in sufficient background content.

I refreshed my cobwebbed brain with old textbooks, and used illustrations from The Magic School Bus: The Electric Field Trip for the kids.

What about you? Did your family participate in Maker Camp this summer? What projects did you do? Any suggestions for our next mini-maker camp?

Union Jack Quilt Plus the Tube Map (A Very Loose Tutorial)

Jackie Quilts-3755_fullsize
Photo by Adam Reeve, used with permission. All other photos in this tutorial by Jackie Reeve.

I made this quilt as a Christmas present for my British husband a couple of years ago. He was coveting all the quilts we have lying around the house or that I’ve given away as gifts, so I wanted to make something specifically for him.

Sometime in 2010 I had the idea to make him an English-themed quilt, but my original plan was to piece together a full version of the Tube map out of two and a half inch squares inspired by Oh, Fransson’s Tokyo Subway Map. Then for the back I was going to find a big Union Jack. This is as far as I got with that plan before ending up on the verge of a nervous breakdown:


It did not work out well.

After months of figuring out the graphing for the map and experimenting with the construction, I abandoned the idea for a full year before the realization hit me that piecing together the flag would be much easier than piecing together the map. I decided to see if I could have one big single piece of fabric printed with the map for the back, a total reversal of my original quilt idea.

And I found First2Print, a NYC/LA company that custom prints fabric at a large scale (Spoonflower could not print the size I needed). It was expensive, but it was also awesome and worth every penny. You can obviously make the back of this quilt out of any fabric you like.

My foot is here for scale!


The map fabric was 56″ high (that’s as wide as they could print on the cotton fabric I chose) by about 2.1 yards long. So the size of the map on the back dictated the overall size of the quilt. I scaled everything on the front to fit that one single piece of fabric, so all of my measurements and calculations are based on a quilt that came to roughly 56″ x 72″.

I bought big quantities of solid fabric for the flag because some of the cut pieces needed long, continuous stretches of fabric. It’s not the most efficient way to make a quilt, but it was the nature of the beast. I pieced the Union Jack with Kona cotton solids in White (three yards), Cardinal (three yards), and Royal (I actually bought four yards and maybe used two, I have no idea what I was thinking there).

The seam allowances are all 1/4″.

I used EQ7 (specialty quilting software) to scale a photograph of the Union Jack to the quilt size I wanted. In the end this became a rough guide as I worked since I was honestly no expert with the software. Every time I tried to make this into a quilt pattern with cutting guidelines it turned into a strange, altogether unrecognizable creation. Any picture of the flag with grid lines would be useful, though. At least for a place to start.

Union Jack screen capture

I also used this amazingly helpful Wikipedia page, which I unfortunately didn’t find until after I’d started cutting and sewing. It includes ratios and arrangements and angles. If you are a math person, scaling the measurements from the info on that page would be very straightforward. Especially if you’re not bound to the size of your backing fabric.

I used the software’s grid lines to first figure out width and height for the blue triangles.


Then I figured out the sizing for the white and red strips in each corner of the flag.



My measurements still had to be fudged as I evened out the four corner segments. Somehow the same pieces in different corners ended up taller or wider than the first corner section, even if I cut strips exactly the same size. So I had to cut and trim everything down to get 4 even sections. Here are the finished measurements from the top right section of the flag (you would need to add 1/2″ to each measurement here to cover the seam allowances):






The overall dimensions listed in this last photo do not include the white strips surrounding it. Just the corner section.

These were the four corner sections before I added the St. George’s Cross section.


My eye goes straight to the bottom sections, where the inner top corners don’t match. Part of the character of a quilt comes from its mistakes—at least that’s what I tell myself.

Once I had the corner pieces evenly made and knew those dimensions, the red and white cross sections were really easy to measure and figure out. The white strips are all 3″ wide when finished, the red are all 8″ wide.


I finished the flag and then added a white border all the way around to even it out with the size of the map on the back. I stitched it together like a tie quilt because Adam prefers that to all over quilting. Plus I was worried about quilting shrinkage since the front and back were the same size; usually the back of a quilt is a little bigger to account for that when quilting it. I bound it in Royal Kona.

All photos in this tutorial by Jackie Reeve.

This quilt was sewed together really quickly, the calculations were the most time consuming part. It’s a much-loved, much-used addition to our house.

A version of this tutorial appeared on Jackie Reeve’s personal blog, The Orange Room.

Rock Candy: Failed Recipe or Lesson in Science?

Our final attempt at making rock candy gave us big results! Images: Cathe Post
Our final attempt at making rock candy gave us big results! Images: Cathe Post

Over the past month we have been experimenting with making rock candy. In true scientific fashion, we have done the experiment multiple times changing variables to see how the outcome changes.

In our first attempt, we followed a recipe we found on Pinterest. We followed the recipe. I can say we followed it exactly even with a 3-year-old and 7-year-old helping. When we put the sticks into the solution, the sugar immediately fell off the sticks and floated to the bottom of the jars. After waiting ten days, the end result yielded little besides a crust of crystals on the top and bottom of the solution. Even though we had no candy to speak of, we embraced the failure and talked about stalactites and stalagmites.

For attempt number two we used the leftover solution from the first attempt. I boiled each flavor individually to dissolve all of the crystals that had formed on the bottom of the containers. I let the sticks dry for an hour. I discovered when I was done reheating the solutions that I was a stick short, so I let one dry overnight. It produced the most candy of the sticks. Most of the sticks had the same result as the first attempt: The sugar didn’t stick and fell to the bottom of the jar. The one that dried overnight did not lose its sugar and produced a nice candy. After seeing the result on the stick that had sat over night, we decided to try reusing the solution one last time.

On the third and final crystal experiment I let the solution come to a full boil for five minutes before removing it from the heat. The sticks all dried overnight. The result was several candy suckers! We had more than pictured, but I put the sticks so close to the bottom, the crystals joined with the stalagmites and popped right off the sticks when we tried to pull them out.

The kids had a blast making these. We learned a great deal about crystals. Here are some things we talked about:

The different shapes of crystals
How chemistry affects cooking

We also learned that sometimes it is okay to fail so we learn more about what it is we are trying to accomplish. Plus, each time we attempted this experiment, we got to eat the results.

Weekly GeekMom Video Playlist

Video Playlist Logo

In the playlist this week, the GeekMoms share an array of projects and cuteness found on YouTube.  It is quite a diverse collection of geekyness this week!

Andrea shares DIY projects for Tron-ifying a bag and making your bike helmet light up. Rebecca shares Simon’s Cat and the cutest StarCraft animations on the internet.  Finally, Kelly shares a homemade Star Wars trench run (with  Chris Hardwick) and an Orcish sword.

I even added in a video of a hermit crab eating…because I couldn’t find a True Facts video. We have been a little hermit crab crazy in my house.

As usual, you can find this week’s playlist and playlists for all of our Google Hangouts on our YouTube channel.

A Birthday Present Scavenger Hunt

The birthday girl with her scavenger hunt spoils. Photo: Amy Kraft

My daughter’s big gift for her 8th birthday was getting her ears pierced. We did it the weekend before her birthday, but then I was afraid her birthday would be a let down on the day itself. All we planned to give her to open was an earring holder and a multi-pack of inexpensive earrings.

Step 1: The first gift starts the hunt. Photo: Amy Kraft

What could we do to make the birthday seem more special without spending any more money? A birthday scavenger hunt was in order.

Here are my steps for this birthday scavenger hunt, and I hope this will inspire you to make your own scavenger hunts. The trick is to make clues that are age appropriate without being too easy—you don’t want it to be over in a minute or two.

I attached the first clue to the earring holder itself for my daughter to discover when she unwrapped it. The earring holder was shaped like a butterfly, which I worked into the first clue.

There’s more to this present if you are a spy.

Can you find what belongs on this butterfly?

Follow the clues to see what you find.

Like Ladytron says, you must use your mind.

Without further ado, here’s your first clue.

A present awaits in a glittery shoe.

The Ladytron reference comes from one of my son’s favorite Yo Gabba Gabba videos, all about solving a mystery. In her pair of pink sparkly shoes my daughter found a pair of flower earrings with the next clue.

Aha! I see you found the flowers.

Now you’re showing your spying powers.

I think you’re ready for the next present.

Try looking in the Room of Requirement.

Owls peek out of Harry Potter. Photo: Amy Kraft

Aha! A little Harry Potter there. I hid the next pair of earrings in Order of the Phoenix. That one took her a little while. I think for a moment she thought a real Room of Requirement might materialize.

You found the owls! They’re friends of Hedwig.

They said to look next in a truck used to dig.

The next pair of flower earrings was in my son’s bulldozer toy.

What are those? I see flowers you’ve dug.

Now in the plant I see some kind of bug.

Then a pair of dragonfly earrings was hiding in one of the plants.

Now look for a picture of mom’s niece.

If you find her, you’ll also find peace.

This one was tricky for her, too. A pair of peace sign earrings was on the refrigerator held in place my a magnet photo of one of my nieces.

This last clue has a lot of heart.

Look on top of some cute Olive art.

My daughter’s name is Olive, and after first searching all around art that she made, she found the last pair on a painting someone made of her. The last pair of earrings came with this message:

We love you, spy girl. Hip hip hooray!

You found all the presents for your birthday.

I’ve made a bunch of I Spy games in my time, so I felt compelled to rhyme all the clues. Habit. Rhyming isn’t important, but it’s good to make your clues enigmatic. It’s good if there’s both an obvious response and a less-obvious one, so there are places where your child will look first and then have to think harder. Each clue doesn’t have to come with a present, either. A series of clues could take your birthday boy or girl on a chase to find the location of a single present.

I think the scavenger bug is spreading because my daughter also made her dad a scavenger hunt for Father’s Day. This may become a family tradition.

Don’t Miss Maker Faire Kansas City

Kansas City is actually a pretty cool place to be a maker. It’s one of a few locations of the larger “featured” Maker Faires. The other locations are Detroit, Newcastle (UK), Rome, and Tokyo. It’s still about one tenth the size of the World Maker Faire in New York, but over 10,000 attendees is still not bad. If you’re in the midwest, it’s totally worth the drive.

By the way, the Mini Maker Faires are also very awesome. You should check to see if there is one near you. If not, consider starting one. These family-friendly DIY showcases are amazing. I credit Maker Faire for sparking my daughter’s interest in robotics.

This year’s Maker Faire Kansas City will feature crowd favorites like ArcAttack, deals from the Maker Shed, and up to 400 Maker booths, including a food, arts and crafts, robotics, and Young Makers. This is only the third year for Kansas City’s event, but it’s already become Union Station’s most popular draw.

Maker Faire KC will be held:

Saturday, June 29, 2013, 10 am – 7 pm
Sunday, June 30, 2013, 10 am – 5 pm

Union Station
30 W. Pershing Rd.
Kansas City, MO 64108

You can purchase tickets online, but if you’re a Union Station member (like I am), you should buy them on site to take advantage of the discount.

Full disclosure: GeekMom and GeekDad publisher, Ken Denmead is the editorial director for Maker Media.


Weekly GeekMom Video Playlist



Summer vacation is here! Or, it is looming in the not-so-distant future. Either way, kids are getting edgy and are requesting video suggestions to keep them entertained for a few minutes. So, this week’s video playlist features videos the GeekMom writers’ kids enjoy.

GeekMom Video Playlist for the week of June 6. Videos include a singing bird, Lego cartoons, music, NASA engineering, how to make a rocket, and Pokémon Minecraft. All of these videos are for the kids.
GeekMom Video Playlist for the week of June 6. Videos include a singing bird, Lego cartoons, music, NASA engineering, how to make a rocket, and Pokémon Minecraft. All of these videos are for the kids.

This week’s playlist and all of the previous weeks can be found on our YouTube channel. You can also find an up-to-date playlist of all of the GeekMom’s Game of Thrones Season 3 Recap Tea Party episodes.

Create a Homemade R2D2 Costume

Do you have a Geekling who wants to be R2D2 for Halloween?  Is your Geekling older than a toddler and therefore can’t really fit the commercially-available costumes?  In 2008, right on the heels of Star Wars: The Clone Wars in theaters, my 3 1/2 year old son wanted to be R2D2.

With just a trash can from our local home improvement center, spray paint, a few Sharpie pens, and some materials on hand, we made our 3 1/2 year old an unforgettable costume! Continue reading Create a Homemade R2D2 Costume

Get Clean For Halloween

Image Jennifer D.

My Halloween radar recently went off when I came across this great idea and I just had to share it with you all. Cheryl over at That’s What Che Said had the fantastic idea of buying soap, removing the label, and decorating it yourself. She tells you the how to at the link above. I ended up making some out of soap and some out of sanitizer bottles. Word to the wise, before you buy the soap/sanitizer, test the corner of the label and see how easy it is to get off. The soap and sanitizer at the dollar store was MUCH easier to get the label off of than the name brands. Guess they use cheaper glue.

Image Jennifer D.

Anyways, here are the ones we made for my daughter’s teachers. I took our idea a little further by printing out Halloween labels, cutting them out with my 2-inch circle craft punch, and tying it on with raffia. The beauty of this idea is that you can do it for ANY holiday or occasion. All you need are the soap/sanitizer bottles and stickers. What teacher doesn’t need sanitizer in the classroom?! Happy crafting everyone!

Image Jennifer D.

How to Make Hello Kitty, Keroppi, and Badtz-Maru Cupcakes

I have a daughter turning five, and she has a problem. Two problems, really. The first is an inability to decide what she wants for a birthday theme. The second is a mommy who thoroughly enables this indecisiveness. Last year it resulted in a cake shaped like Gotham City with a bat signal on top of a Hello Kitty village with a Spider-Man web connecting them. This year the superheroes got replaced by pirates and Mario, but Hello Kitty stuck around.

Lucky for me, short of something they make a cookie cutter for, there is no easier fondant request than Hello Kitty cupcakes. The cat’s head is an oval with ears, two dots and some whiskers. You can do this in your sleep. And as tired as moms always are, you might have to.

To make Hello Kitty, Keroppi, and Badtz-Maru, you’ll need:

  • Fondant: Black, white, green, yellow, pink
  • Black and red food markers, which you can buy in the cake supply aisle of your craft store
  • #7 and #12 Wilton tips
  • 1¼” and 1½” round cutters
  • A wet paper towel
  • These templates

There are some tips for making or buying the fondant in my Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy cake instructions. It’s hard to get a true black with dye, so I don’t make black fondant except in very small amounts. I definitely recommend buying some if you want to make Badtz-Maru. If you can’t find Satin Ice locally or if it’s too expensive, Wilton sells a package of Natural Colors fondant that includes black. Michaels stores also now carry the Duff (Ace of Cakes) line of supplies, including tubs of colored fondant.

Continue reading How to Make Hello Kitty, Keroppi, and Badtz-Maru Cupcakes

Sweet Geek Cuisine: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Magrathea Cake

Behold the whale! All photos: Ruth Suehle

If you’ve got a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fan with a birthday coming up, this Magrathea whale cake is easy to make, even if you don’t have much cake decorating experience. Don’t panic!

You’ll need:

  • fondant
  • buttercream
  • royal icing
  • yellow candy melts
  • Wilton tip #225 (with frosting bag and coupler, of course)
  • Wilton gel colors Ivory, Cornflower, and Rose
  • a 12″ round cake (any flavor)
  • a loaf cake (any flavor)
  • mini muffin pan
  • 1 chocolate mini-muffin
  • 6 waffle cones
  • toothpicks
  • wax paper

You can easily make your own fondant with marshmallows and powdered sugar. The benefit to this type, commonly called marshmallow fondant (or MMF in web forums), is that people will eat it. You can also try your hand at making regular fondant, which takes a little more work. Store-bought fondant is often not very tasty, and most people will peel it off and throw it away. But I won’t blame you for printing a coupon to your local craft store and buying a box. Or, if you want to spend some money and get tasty fondant in a variety of colors, try finding Satin Ice. If you have a local baking supply store, you’ll probably find it there, or you can order it online.

If you need a buttercream recipe, you’ll find plenty of them online along with extensive debate about butter vs. shortening. But if you’re not interested in the finer distinctions of fats, you’ll get good results by whipping together a cup of each with a splash of vanilla extract, then adding powdered sugar until you reach a spreadable and delicious consistency.

Royal icing
Most royal icing recipes you find will make quite a bit, and for this project, you need only a little. Mix 1 tablespoon of meringue powder, 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, and 2 tablespoons of water. It may take more water, but it’s better to add more as you need it than end up with a runny mess. Tint it with the rose gel color. This recipe will still make far more than you need, so go ahead and make dozens of flowers. Practice using all your tips. Things made of royal icing will keep nearly indefinitely if you store them in a dry place, and they’re nice to have around next time you want a little something extra on a boring cake.


The base cake

  1. Crush the waffles cones until they resemble a landscape “now barren of all vegetation and covered with a layer of dust about an inch thick.” You don’t even chopping gadgets. Just break a cone up in your hand, put the pieces between two sheets of wax paper, and use a rolling pin. Or a hammer if you’re having a bad day–crushing things is very cathartic.
  2. Tint your buttercream with ivory gel color until it’s about the color of the waffle cones.
  3. Frost a 12″ round cake with the ivory buttercream. That’s a big cake, I admit. But you need that much room to hold up the whale. I suggest making it chocolate–read on to the part about making the petunias to see why.
  4. Make that barren landscape over the top of the cake with the crushed waffle cones. Leave a roughly loaf-sized dent where your whale will go.


The whale

  1. Bake your favorite cake in a loaf pan. It doesn’t have to be as heavy as a pound cake, but it should be a dense enough cake to carve and then hold up the fondant. Avoid things like devil’s food or angel food cake.
  2. After it cools, use a sharp knife to carve the loaf into the shape of the whale’s body. Shave off the edges of the long sides to smooth them and round off the corners. At the head end, slightly angle the short end of the loaf towards the bottom. Narrow the body somewhat towards the tail, but not much. Most of the tail will be fondant. Make one long side angle in towards the tail to help the whale’s tail curve toward its body.(See picture above.)
  3. Tint a softball-sized amount of fondant with cornflower gel color.
  4. Sculpt two small fins. Carefully insert a toothpick at each end of the side that will attach to the whale. Set them aside.
  5. Roll the fondant out flat in a rectangle, roughly 12″x18″ and 1/4″ thick.
  6. Drape the fondant over the whale. Make sure there’s enough at the head end to cover the end of the loaf, then leave the majority of the excess towards the tail.
  7. Smooth the fondant down over the sides, trimming any excess 1/2″ from the bottom edge of the loaf cake. Tuck the edges of the fondant under the loaf. If you anticipate that your guests will play with their food before eating it, perhaps even re-enacting the whale-falling scene, you may choose to cover the bottom of the whale with fondant as well, in which case, you’ll need to start with a larger rectangle. You may also consider covering your floor in plastic before they come over.
  8. Use the fondant trimmings to sculpt a cone shape for the tail. It doesn’t need to be perfectly shaped–it’s just going to prop up the fondant that extends beyond the cake.
  9. Put the cone at the tail end of the cake under the fondant. Wrap the fondant under the cone and shape the tail. Curve it in a bit so that the whale isn’t lying perfectly straight.
  10. Flatten out the end of the tail into a triangular shape for the fluke and carve in the notch between the lobes.
  11. Use the toothpicks you inserted in the fins to attach them to the whale’s sides.
  12. Gently use a dull knife or other non-sharp tool to make impressions in the sides of the face for closed eyes and a mouth. Be careful not to cut all the way through the fondant.

The petunias

  1. Turn a mini-muffin pan upside down. Grease the outside of one of the cups very well, or if you want to be absolutely certain the pot will release, cover the cup with wax paper and tape it down. The inside of your pot won’t be perfectly smooth if you use wax paper, but you’re going to break it apart anyway.
  2. Melt four yellow candy melts in a microwave-safe cup following the instructions on the package.
  3. Coat the outside of the muffin cup with melted candy melt to make a flower pot.


  4. You need one chocolate mini-muffin. I suggest making the 12″ round cake chocolate and using a bit of that batter to make the mini-muffin. I also recommend making two mini-muffins so that you get to taste the cake when it comes out of the oven. I do that for every cake I bake, regardless of whether I need a mini-muffin!
  5. Use Wilton tip #225 to make tiny drop flowers with the royal icing on wax paper. Put the tip perpendicular to the paper. Squeeze, twist, and lift the bag in a single, smooth move.


  6. Rewarm the leftover bits of yellow candy melts. (Usually reheating them won’t work very well, but you’re only using a tiny bit.) Once the flowers have hardened, use a toothpick to dot the centers of each one with the candy melts.

    So what if they're not perfectly accurate petunias? The whale isn't quite biologically accurate either. It's a cake!
    So what if they’re not perfectly accurate petunias? The whale isn’t quite biologically accurate either. It’s a cake!

Assembling the cake

  1. Place your whale in the spot you made for it on the main cake.
  2. After your candy flower pot cools, remove it from the muffin tin and break it apart into several pieces. Keep the pieces together so that you can place them on the cake as if it had fallen from the sky and broken there.
  3. Place the broken flower pot pieces in front of the whale.
  4. After the mini-muffin cools, crumble it in your hand. Not too much–flower pot dirt tends to clump. In fact, if you overbake this piece just a bit, it will help the crumbling to be clumpier.
  5. Place the crumbled “dirt” in the broken pot.
  6. Scatter several of the finished petunias over the broken pot of dirt.
  7. Edge the bottom of the cake with more crushed waffle cones.

Now all that’s left is to serve the poor, confused, dead whale to your delighted guests. Enjoy!