Friday, May 18, 2012

Sweet Science Fair Project

One day in February, I got an odd call from one of my NC friends with a science fair idea. It just popped into her head that morning so she called out of the blue, not knowing if the "Pickles" would have to do a project this year or not. We're always on the lookout for an interesting Science Fair Project and coming up with one is probably the hardest part of the entire process. The project suggestion was Rock Candy. It sounded fun, but we needed to have an experiment (not a demonstration) and I wasn't sure yet how we would experiment on rock candy.


As soon as we got official word that The Girl would need to complete a Science Fair Project this year, I mentioned the rock candy project to her. She loved the idea (she wanted to color the candy, of course) so I set out to find possible experiments. The one we wound up choosing actually started out as a question we had from the very beginning. "Can we use something other than granulated sugar to make rock candy?"

After a search online, we decided to modify an experiment I found on Science Buddies. The objective of the Science Buddies experiment is to see if the presence of seed crystals (sugar placed on the string before leaving it in the sugar water solution) speeds up the formation of the rock candy crystals. Tia wanted instead to see what the results of using different types of sugars would be. That would be two different projects so we chose to experiment with granulated sugar, light brown sugar, and powdered sugar and we planned to go ahead and "seed" all of the various strings in the process. I also wondered what would happen if we experimented with honey, fructose, molasses, maple syrup and raw sugar but didn't want to have too many things going at once since this was The Girl's first science project. As it turns out, that was a good plan. Keep it simple.

While the project process was being planned and the list of materials created, I was also thinking of the display board. The Girl loves arts and crafts and insists on bright girly colors so that would work well for this project display. She helped with her brother's previous science fair projects so she should really only need minimal help from me this time.

Question:
What types of sugar can you use to make rock candy?
Hypothesis:
I asked The Girl the "Question" and let her form her own hypothesis. This is actually an easy part for a control freak like me since there is no right or wrong hypothesis.
Materials:
  • 3 Clear Glass Jars of equal size with lids. We used canning jars and lids.
  • Hammer
  • Large Nail
  • Paper Towel
  • 3 wooden skewers (we started with weighted strings but switched to skewers later)
  • clothespins (to hold the skewers upright and off the jar bottom 
  • White Granulated Sugar (plus additional sugar to coat your string)
  • Light Brown Sugar (plus additional sugar to coat your string)
  • Powdered Sugar (plus additional sugar to coat your string)
  • Water
  • Pot
  • Stirring Spoon
  • Funnel (optional)
  • Food Coloring (optional)
  • Measuring spoons (if using food coloring).
  • Labels
  • Wide clear tape
 Procedure:
I need to mention that these are NOT the steps we followed when doing this project (see below for more info). These are rather the steps we SHOULD have followed after more research on the entire process.

  1. Outside on a paper towel use the hammer and nail to punch a hole into the middle of each of the jar lids.
  2. Clean glass jars and dry completely.
  3. Label jars (White Granulated Sugar, Light Brown Sugar and Powdered Sugar). You can do this with a label maker, or simply write the names on pieces of masking tape and stick to the sides of the jars.
  4. On a stove top (with a parent's help), boil 2 cups of water in the pot. Once a rolling boil is reached, remove from the heat and gradually add 4-5 cups of white granulated sugar to the water (a little at a time). Stir with your spoon until all the sugar is completely dissolved.
  5. Boil for about 10 to 15 minutes.
  6. (optional step) Add the desired amount of food coloring. Use the same amount of food coloring for each solution. (We later learned that it's better to add food coloring AFTER the crystals start forming rather than at the beginning. Apparently, the food coloring slows down the process)
  7. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes.
  8. Use the funnel (with a parent's help) to pour the hot liquid into the glass jar labeled "White Granulated Sugar".
  9. Clean your pot and spoon and repeat steps 2 through 4 two more times using the Light Brown Sugar and Powdered Sugar.
  10. Dip each skewer in the sugar syrup then roll in sugar (the same sugar used for each jar). This sugar is the "seed" sugar which will provide a surface for the dissolved sugar to form crystals.
  11. Allow the skewers to dry. 
  12. Once the sugar water has cooled, lower the skewers into their jars and thread the skewer tops through the hole in the jar lids. Use a clothespin to hold the skewers and keep them from touching the bottom of the jars.
  13. Check the jars every day and record your observations.
We originally started this project using string and popsicle sticks. We later switched to wooden skewers.

We had plenty of time to complete a science fair project this year, but I knew The Girl would procrastinate if I let her. Once we got back from our trip to the mountains, I mentioned beginning the project. She was actually quite excited about it (thank goodness).

We set up all the jars and made the sugar solutions on Easter Sunday. I created a simple grid for her to fill out each day with her observations. The following day, Easter Monday, would be our "Day 1" for her observation sheet. We had observation sheets for 21 days of observations (I had no idea how long this would take).


The white granulated sugar made the clearest solution. they are the green and pink (orange looking) jars.


The powdered sugar made a solution (once mixed with purple food coloring) that we couldn't see through at all and the brown sugar (though you can't tell we colored it orange) was also very dark and hard to see through.


After about a week, with absolutely NOTHING happening (except the cornstarch separating from the powdered sugar), we poured the jar contents into pots and added more sugar (we had started with 2 cups of sugar to 4 cups of water the first time and added an additional 2 cups this time). Then we waited. Nothing. Another week went by and NOTHING! We were running out of time to complete the experiment.

One last time, we added more sugar (another 2 cups) and started the observations over again (I was sick of the project by this time).We boiled the solutions for awhile (about 10 minutes) and cooled them for about 10 minutes before pouring them back into the jars. Finally, by day 2, the brown sugar solution was crystallizing - though it was on top of the liquid.

By day three, the white sugar solution had formed an almost solid sugar mass inside the jar! I guess the solution was super-saturated.


The brown sugar solution had formed sugar crystals on top and along the sides of the jar and the powdered sugar solution had a crusty top.


It wasn't quite what we had expected, though it did kind of prove her hypothesis correct.

Even after her experiment formed a "blob of sugar in the jar". I suggested we try it again with the correct measurements and no food coloring to see if we could get it to come out "right". She flatly refused. She like her green "blob". However, we agreed to try it again after the Science Fair was over. We did want to succeed in making rock candy to enjoy at home.

With some sort of conclusive data to work with, The Girl was impatient about getting her display board completed.

We purchased a board from the school a month earlier and had finally gotten it. I guess 3rd graders use smaller science fair boards because this thing was half the height of the 4th and 5th graders boards. I insisted she make it look neat and tidy so we typed out all the information on the computer (I say "we" because she dictated to me and I typed) and then chose colors from her paper stash to use as background paper and cut everything out. She was very specific about her choices of colors, fonts and sizes. Though she didn't want to use much color variation, which I though was odd (for her).


I knew from the beginning that she would need minimal help from me and was going to have to do most of the work on the project. She surprised me by INSISTING she do it all. I only needed to help with the boiling of the solutions and reminding her to make her observations (and of course playing secretary by typing out everything)...and using the paper cutter. The Girl was a bit too...uh... enthusiastic...with the paper cutter for my comfort.


We were both very pleased with the results. It doesn't look as in-depth as The Boy's previous science fair projects, but for her first one, I think she did very well.

The competition at the school was pretty fierce. There were some REALLY great project ideas...and I mean  really. great. ideas. I think my favorite project tested the effects of common kids' drinks on (baby) teeth. Sprite actually shrunk the tooth after 2 weeks. The white cranberry juice cocktail and the Gatorade discolored the teeth to a burgundy color (yuck!).

I also saw a project I really liked that tested the effects of yeast amounts in a basic bread recipe. Funny thing is, the bread using LESS yeast was the best looking bread (we didn't taste them). Keep in mind, this is Colorado. It's the altitude. When we moved here, I had to cut back on my yeast when figuring out how to make my usual bread machine bread (it only took me 4 tries to get it right).


Anyway, as mentioned before, The Girl and I want to make a successful batch of rock candy, so later on we're going to try this recipe I found on Instructables.



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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Mother's Day

On Saturday, I was asked what I wanted to do for Mother's Day. My answer...nothing. I wanted to stay home and have nothing that I HAD to do. I got what I wanted.

I awoke to a huge bouquet of blossoms - a beautiful azalea plant...


and homemade cards...this one is from The Girl...


(I had just made a new batch of doughnuts the week before mother's day. The Girl took some to her teacher)


I'm wondering what cake she plans on asking for this year...

I got a rare phone call from Elder Boy and then spent no less than two hours talking to my mom and step-mom on the phone wishing them a Happy Mother's Day. They both loved their gifts and cards.

I pulled one of the Cheerwine Cakes out of the freezer (I previously made several and froze them) and covered it in a rich chocolate frosting...


Mr. LH made pizza for dinner...our usual Sunday night fare...


and we watched Indiana Jones (I happen to LOVE Harrison Ford).

It was a good Mother's Day...



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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Silhouette Cut-Outs for Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all Mom's everywhere!

Back in March, I mentioned some Silhouette Cut Outs that were pronounced "Mother's Day Presents" as soon as they were made, though I didn't show them. Can't have the Moms know what they're getting, right? Here they are on the far left and on the far right as they were pictured on that day. The center image is not one of the Mother's Day gifts:


Since then, they have been given different, more vibrant colored backgrounds and have been fitted with stark white frames.


The hummingbird silhouette is for my Mother-In-Law who loves to watch hummingbirds. She has two feeders outside her breakfast area window that are always busy with dozens of hummingbirds. I don't know if it's just an ideal location or if it has anything to do with the homemade sugar water food my father-in-law mixes for them but those feeders are really a popular spot for the hummingbirds! My hummingbird feeder attracted only one hummingbird and an army of ants.


The Iris, the state flower of Tennessee, is for my step-mother who is now residing in Tennessee. I thought about creating her favorite flower, the carnation, but a silhouette of a carnation is not nearly as impressive as the real thing (it actually just looks like a blob on a stem). The iris, with its graceful curving leaves and shapely petals work much better for a silhouette.


The cherry blossom silhouette in the post back in March is for my mom. I liked the cherry blossom idea because it reflects her heritage (Japanese) and 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of Japan's gift of 3000 cherry blossom trees to the United States.

If you'd like to make your own, I have posted the instructions. These make great gifts that are inexpensive and is an easy "immediate gratification" craft.



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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mother's Day Cards

It was the Monday before Mother's Day and I had no cards to send with our gifts to all the Moms. Not wanting to go BACK out to the store to buy cards (since it takes me forever to pick one out and cards are so outrageously expensive nowadays), I decided to make some.


Using some cardstock and some scrapbook paper scraps, The Girl and I punched out lots and lots of circles (both 1" and 1 1/2")...


...then folded them in half and glued them into balls (well, they were actually half balls) and then glued the balls to paper scrap "stems" and "leaves".

Then, using colored pencils, I added a buzzing bee and some text on the outside...


...and the inside, too.


I wanted to use my letter stamps to make the message on the cards but I have no clue where my stamps are (probably buried in a packed box somewhere). Still, I was very happy with the finished cards and Mr. LH loved them - not only because they were basically free (we had all the materials on hand) but because they were pretty and not generic looking like many of the store-bought cards.

I didn't worry about the flowers being too thick for envelopes since these cards were all going into packages, but the flowers will fold down so the card can slide into an envelope without bulging it out.



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Friday, May 11, 2012

"Hobbes" Times Two

I remember long ago when I was barely a teenager in North Carolina. I picked up the newspaper and read a "preview" of a new comic strip that was going to be published in the Winston-Salem Journal. That comic strip was Calvin and Hobbes. The preview didn't have Hobbes in it, only Calvin with a frog in his throat. But I started reading the strip. It wasn't long before I was a Calvin and Hobbes fan and I loved loved LOVED Hobbes!


Fast forward many many years. The Boy discovered Calvin and Hobbes. It wasn't in the newspaper, but in the books. He picked up a copy from his school library and started reading them. He started reading them to his sister and later as she began to learn how to read, she started reading the comics on her own.


I was very happy when I came across a tutorial on Instructables for making my very own plush Hobbes. I was even happier when I discovered I already had everything I needed to make him - including the orange fleece (I wasn't sure why I even had orange fleece in the first place, but I'm glad I did).


The only problem I had was I needed to make at least two of them. Both children loved Calvin and Hobbes so both children would get one. I also thought about making a couple more for later gifts for other Calvin and Hobbes fans in the family.

Calvin was a boy who would never have to look back on his life and regret not having done anything (though most of the things he did I wouldn't encourage my children to do - ever). Hobbes is a great reminder to indulge the 6-year-old in all of us once in a while. I set out to cut out pattern pieces for four Hobbes dolls.


I made freezer paper copies of all the pattern pieces ironed them onto the fabric and cut them out. I numbered the pattern pieces "1" through "4" for each of the four dolls and coded each piece so I knew what color fabric they would be ironed on to (the "1B" on the pattern pieces below would be for doll #1 in black fleece) It was a LOT of pattern pieces for 4 dolls!


As it turns out, I had enough fabric for all but one head piece. I would have to make a trip to the fabric store sometime before Christmas to get some orange fleece.


I thought I would just start with the two dolls for the "Pickles" since those were my "must-have" gifts and the other two were my "if-I-have-time" gifts.


It was nice to be able to have all the pieces out at the same time. I could almost create an assembly line of sorts and sew up all the legs at the same time, the bodies at the same time, etc. I did all the machine stitching I could all at once (while the "Pickles" were at school) then packed everything into a bag and hid it under my bed to start the hand stitching while they were away at school or sleeping at night.

a couple of arms ready to be stitched on
I loved seeing the pieces come together and since a lot of it was hand stitched - the muzzle, the eyes (I opted for fleece eyes instead of button eyes) and the stripes, each one was slightly different.

It looks like Hobbes is keeping vigil next to his unfinished twin :)
Yes, the stripes took awhile, but the tedious part was sewing on the arms, legs, tail and head. Trying to get them straight, even and to look not hand-stitched was a bear! Compared to those, sewing on the stripes was actually quite relaxing. I'm still working on getting legs and stripes on the second Hobbes. I think I'm going to have to make yet another one...just for me :)

PS - If you have never been to  Instructables, I highly recommend it! You can find user-submitted tutorials on just about everything!



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Thursday, May 10, 2012

My (Earthbox) Garden

Last year I had one Earthbox. I had a great crop of pole beans.


Early this year, while the snows still fell, I bought another Earthbox. I figured I'd double the food production on the patio.

These two have the optional staking system.
Then my mom bought me an EarthBox for my anniversary. I set it up for growing a couple of the Roma Tomatoes I started from seeds.


And then she bought me another two for Mother's Day. They arrived Saturday and I spent a good part of the afternoon enjoying the sunshine and setting up my newest EarthBoxes while Turtly roamed the yard munching on weeds.


Three of the EarthBoxes have coconut fiber instead of soil. The coconut fiber comes in compressed blocks that need to be soaked in water and then broken apart.



I had to use a large rock to weigh down the block and keep it under the water...


Then break apart the quickly expanding block and place the fibers in the EarthBoxes. It takes 3 blocks of coconut fiber to fill an entire EarthBox and it can be used year after year.

Is it just me or does this picture make the coconut fiber look like a heap of dog food?
That's FIVE EarthBoxes ready to be planted. It's starting to look like an Earth Box compound out on the patio!


I have 3 boxes ready for the tomato and jalapeno seedlings and I have already sown cucumber and pole bean seeds in the remaining two. I know, I know...I'm not supposed to plant until after Mother's Day - but the weather guy said it would be alright. No freezing weather for the next week...supposedly. My basil and cilantro will be scattered in other containers.

I sure am looking forward to this year's harvest!



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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Striving For Our "American Dream"

What is the "American Dream"? I suppose if I asked 100 different people, I might get 100 different answers. Everyone has their own unique interpretation of what the "American Dream" is.

Historian James Truslow Adams, in his 1931 book Epic of America, wrote of the "American Dream":
"...that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement."

I always thought the "American Dream" was working hard (and smart) toward a goal and being able to achieve that goal without being hindered by social status, race, religion, etc. That includes going to college, having a successful career, buying a nice house, having the nice cars, having a couple of kids and sending them off to great schools where they would learn to become doctors or lawyers (well...maybe just doctors) and then retiring and being free to do whatever I have earned the right to do in retirement years.

A lot of those things are material, but those material things are what you get through hard work and perseverance. If I don't have a nice house, I know to work harder and smarter to get one. If I want a nicer car, I know to work harder and smarter to get it. I don't expect the government to give those things to me or make it easier for me. I don't expect my parents to give me those things either.

It seems to me that our youth are growing up thinking they are entitled to the benefits of hard work without having to do any work to earn them.

I don't shower my children with "stuff" and they know my answer to their pleads for things will usually be "no", but still they ask for the newest, biggest, coolest thing when they don't really want it. The kids are already trying to "keep up with the Joneses" and they're only kids!

The "Pickles" have been asking me for a cell phone for the last year. My 8 year old and 12 year old. A cell phone. The only time they aren't with me is when they're in school (because I take them there and pick them up). When would they need a phone? They can call me from the school phone if they have to.

I told Elder Boy he needed to (should) live at home while he was going to community college instead of getting an apartment he couldn't afford. We even calculated all the bills that he would have to show he couldn't pay for everything making high school graduate's income. He still chose the apartment and then wanted me to "help him with his rent".

We made a lot of changes last year when I understood how important it was for the "Pickles" to start doing things on their own now so they would grow into responsible, self-sufficient adults. In fact, when Elder Boy came home one week, he was surprised by how much his younger sibling were doing on their own. With all the recent changes we've made in the household, I hope the "Pickles" will get rid of this "sense of entitlement", realize the "American Dream" is still possible and learn how they can achieve it (without going into debt).



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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Back To The Roots: Growing Mushrooms

There's a fungus among us! And they're called mushrooms - Oyster mushrooms to be more precise. I learned about these Mushroom Growing Kits while I was researching Earth Boxes. I have no idea how exactly one led to the other, but I found myself on the Back to the Roots website reading all about their Mushroom Growing Kits. Here is a time lapse video they have posted on YouTube:


The "Kit" is a plastic bag of 100% recycled coffee grounds (I usually toss my coffee grounds in my houseplants or compost) inside a cardboard box. You remove the bag from the box, cut a "+" slit in the front face of the bag, soak it in water for a day, insert the bag back into the box, place on a window sill with indirect sunlight and spritz 2 times a day (the spray bottle is even included). In as little as 10 days, you can harvest your mushrooms! You can repeat the process again for another harvest, too!

On December 6th, I ordered one of these kits for my kids to share. Unfortunately, the kits were so popular that they were back-ordered but I did receive it in time for Christmas. About 2 weeks (or so) after Christmas, we started the process.

Well, by January 26th, we STILL had no mushrooms. We weren't sure if this was because of too little indirect light (it has been REALLY cloudy in Colorado lately), a possible draft (the directions say not to use in an air conditioned space so maybe a draft slowed things down...), too dry conditions (the air was literally sucking the moisture out of everything).


Looks pretty gross, doesn't it? :)

I wound up using a larger spray bottle to give a heavier dose of moisture. I also moved the mushroom kit into the base cabinet of our aquarium. I know that sounds like an odd place, but the aquarium has no back and it backs up to a couple of windows so the interior gets sunlight.The aquarium base also protects the kit from any drafts and is warmer than the main room. What can I say, after a whopper of a heating bill, the house has been kept at an even 60 degrees this winter. The cabinet is warmer because of  heat lamps we have attached to the aquarium for our tortoise and from a heating vent beneath the cabinet.

Through most of February, the most mushroom action I got were 2 little sprouts of something that were so small I might be mis-identifying them as baby mushrooms.

By March 1st, I pulled the bag out, soaked it again and started the process AGAIN thinking maybe the bag dried out in the beginning. I even sprayed the bag more often to keep the soil from drying out.

At the end of March I got fed up (but didn't give up) and pulled the bag out of the box, punched holes in the bottom and set it in a plastic container of water. 2 weeks later on April 12th I opened the cabinet and was startled to see MUSHROOMS growing!


It wasn't long before we had a whole crop of them!


We've opened the back of the bag to see if we can do it all over again...

As an added bonus, if you post a picture with your kit fully grown on the Back to the Roots facebook page, they'll send you a free replacement bag or donate a kit to an elementary classroom of your choice to support youth sustainability education! How cool is that? As much as I would like a replacement bag, I'm having a kit sent to The Girl's science teacher.



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Monday, May 7, 2012

Starting Our Total Money Makeover

As of June 1st, we are "stuck" in the same rental house for yet another year. Because of that, we have made many family changes, the biggest one being our budget. Knowing that we would not be able to purchase a house before our lease expiration threw us into a determined frenzy to get us out of this situation.

It's not that our rental house is a bad place. It's not. The neighborhood is nice and we're happy with the schools. The house needs a lot of work done to it but it is structurally sound, roomy enough and comfortable. It's just not...ours.

We decided to buckle down and start saving money. But creating a budget made us take a good hard look at our household expenses and our debt...all of our consumer debt and student loans. If we got rid of our debt, we could do so much more! We had a new mission - to become debt-free!

To make a VERY long story short, we have started The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. This debt-elimination plan isn't one of those "get rich quick" schemes and it doesn't claim to be "easy". This plan makes sense. It is realistic. It is cheap (as in FREE - even the book was borrowed from the library). It doesn't have all that crazy money vocabulary that either confuses me or puts me to sleep. And after only a few weeks, we are already seeing results. We've already paid off one credit card (yes, paid OFF) and one student loan (it was a small one). Two bills down, eight to go!

I don't usually talk about money with anyone, but this plan (and our progress so far) has gotten me really excited about it. I also figured that if I posted our new goal for all the world to see, it would be harder to back out.

I've been trying to find ways to teach the "Pickles" about money - earning, saving, spending, donating, budgeting, etc. The Boy is a "saver" but he's interested in spending OPM (Other People's Money). He's been working hard on his ability to convince me to spend MY money instead of him having to spend his OWN money. The Girl is a "spender". Plain and simple. It doesn't matter who the money belongs to, she's very willing to spend it the first chance she gets.


Creating a strict family budget for the family has gotten the "Pickles" involved in our debt-elimination goal as well. They know we won't be going out to eat like we used to (if at all). They know that family outings to theme parks and movie theaters will be few and far between. They found out how serious I was when I flatly refused to even look at the school book fair (I love taking them to book fairs) and when a month had passed and I still had not stepped foot in a thrift store (where I do my best shopping). I took them to the grocery store with a list of 3 items and we were in and out within 5 minutes. They were thrilled (they hate the grocery store).

We DO have a meal plan made out a month in advance (which has made dinner prep MUCH less stressful) and I've been putting more time into building up my own business to help to increase our income. I have also been looking for more and more ways to decease our household expenses.

I like the changes that have been made. I know it will be a long hard road ahead, but even if we're still sitting here next year signing yet another lease extension on our house, as long as our debt is disappearing, I'll be happy.




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