Friday, October 18, 2019

Homemade Halloween Treats: Sandwich Cookie Critters



Like the marshmallow monster cupcakes, these sandwich cookie critters were both inspired by a Pinterest project (Chips Ahoy! critters!) and made entirely from ingredients I already had on hand.

Well, I cheated a little bit. Matt went shopping for the ingredients to make oatmeal cookies, made them, and then I stole eight of them to make a critter for everyone in the family. But the cream cheese and powdered sugar were leftover from Matt's birthday (birthday carrot cake for the win!), I bought the food coloring to make rainbow cake for my Girl Scout troop's Bridging party, and I'm bound and determined that those candy eyes won't live through yet another Halloween.

Here's the cream cheese frosting recipe that I used.

If only I'd worked in a way to use up some more of our sprinkles, I'd have won on all fronts!


Want to keep up with all our random Halloween crafts and activities and weirdness? Check out my Craft Knife Facebook page, where I post lots of pics of what we're up to and links to what we're into.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Homemade Halloween Treats: Marshmallow Monster Cupcakes

You've probably noticed by now that my favorite thing to do in October is make Halloween treats! Some of them, like the mummy dogs, mummy meatloaf, and vampire margaritas, we make every year, and some of them, like the trick-or-treat cookies, we make once, wipe the sweat off our brows, and tell ourselves to enjoy the heck out of them because we are NEVER MAKING THESE AGAIN OMG.

Seriously, I still wince when I think about making those trick-or-treat cookies.

This October, I've so far been trying to make treats using just the supplies that we already have. So what can you make from cake mix and white candy melts leftover from your Girl Scout troop's Bridging party, marshmallows leftover from the latest campfire night, candy eyes probably leftover from Halloween 2018, and sprinkles that I surely need to use up this year because they've been on our shelves for... a while?

Marshmallow Monster Cupcakes, that's what!



These marshmallow monster cupcakes are loosely based on the Spooky Boo Brownies from the Betty Crocker website, except that the Spooky Boo Brownies look Pinterest perfect and these marshmallow monsters are horrifying and hilarious.

The marshmallow monster cupcakes are made from plain cupcakes turned upside-down and set on a cooling rack over a baking pan. Syd and I put a marshmallow on top of each, then poured melted candy melts over the tops of them. It was SUPPOSED to make the marshmallows look like ghosts, but I think it made them look more like grotesque squid beasts, so we decided to make them look even more monstrous by means of the liberal application of candy eyes and sprinkles:




Fun fact: these little monsters were also DELICIOUS! You could definitely elevate the quality of flavor by using, you know, NOT the cheapest store-brand ingredients like I did, but we loved biting through the crunchy layer of Kroger-brand candy melts into the soft Kroger-brand marshmallow and sweet Kroger-brand cupcake, and these monsters did not last long.

And then Syd and I used up the rest of the candy melts by skewering marshmallows, dipping them in candy melts, and rolling them through the sprinkles. And then I think I jumped on the trampoline for 20 minutes while Syd ran laps around the house with the dog, we were so buzzed on sugar.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Crafty Book Review: The Scented Candle Workshop

You guys! The most frustrating thing about candlemaking is choosing the correct wick size. It's the most frustrating part of the process because so often you DON'T choose the correct wick size--or at least I don't--and then all your work is wasted on a candle that you're embarrassed to show anyone else because it burns so super wonky.

If you're using one of the popular waxes--soy wax is super popular right now, for instance--you can generally find a lot of information about it online, perhaps even enough info to get you started with the correct wick size right off, but I really like beeswax, which is already a tricky wax for candles, and every batch of beeswax is different and burns a little differently.

The only way I knew how to choose the correct wick size was trial and error, as in I'd make the entire candle with a wick, it'd burn and look crappy, and I'd have to remelt it and try again. Big bummer, and not conducive to much candlemaking.

Then a publicist sent me a review copy of The Scented Candle Workshop, and in it is a type of burn test that I've never seen before, and it's actually quick and efficient, totally doable, and waste-free!

Y'all, I set it up immediately:

My favorite thing about this project is that the authors suggest doing the burn test in a disposable aluminum baking pan. We've got just a few of these kicking around in case I ever get it into my head to make some freezer meals (as if!), and I was happy to sacrifice one to the cause.

Here you can see my burn test just getting started:

I set it up with all of my current wick sizes, even the ones that I already happily use for specific candles. I've got the tiny braided cotton wick that I use for my rolled beeswax birthday candles, the larger braided cotton wick that I use for my rolled beeswax taper candles, an ECO-10 wick, ECO-12 wick, ECO-14 wick, and an unlabeled wick that came with a separate candlemaking kit.

The kids helped me keep track of the candles as we went about our school day:



And when their burns were finished, I had an exact depiction of exactly the diameter of burn I could get from each candle wick! When it was cool, I peeled the beeswax away from the aluminum baking pan (it's now unsuitable for food, but can be used for more candlemaking projects) and stored it until I'm ready to make my next candle.


And now that I've written them down, I know exactly what candle wick that I want to use to make a rainbow beeswax candle in a Mason jar:


Now that I've seen this burn test, I think I'm actually going to change the wick size that I've been using for my upcycled vintage Coca-Cola bottle candles, too. It's amazing the knowledge that proper science can bring!

I have two more projects from The Scented Candle Workshop on my list to try, now that I've got all my wicks sorted. Stay tuned for an emergency candle in an Altoid tin and a Mason jar candle scented with my favorite essential oils!

I was given a free copy of The Scented Candle Workshop, because I can't write about a book unless I've spent an afternoon burning beeswax in a pie tin at its direction!

Monday, October 7, 2019

Girl Scout Senior Programming Robots Badge Step 2: Build a Robot Arm (Using Girl Scout Cookie Box Cases!)

Step 2 of the Girl Scout Senior Programming Robots badge asks girls to build a robot arm, so that's just what we did!

The kids and Matt used this cardboard robotic hydraulic arm tutorial and template, and this set of syringes and tubes.

Fun fact: Matt is now low-key fired from doing school projects like this with the kids, because you ought to be able to do a big, complicated project with your own children without screaming at them. So if I assign you to do a big project with my kids, now you know how to get out of it!

ANYWAY, the kids and Matt did manage to assemble a sort-of working hydraulic arm, although perhaps because it heard so much yelling during its formative hours, it never has performed quite right. Will spent an entire extra afternoon fussing around it and got it to function much better, but none of us could get those pincers to close properly:



Ah, well. It's a lesson on the way that adding more moving parts (whether they're people or bits of cardboard and twisted wire and tubing) adds complexity and increases the potential for error!

So the cardboard hydraulic arm didn't function perfectly, but it did function well enough for the kids to better understand degrees of freedom and how the system as a whole works, and hopefully they'll remember hydraulics and cardboard as options when they're imagining and building their own robots later.

And considering that it's all cardboard, toothpicks, tubing, and glue, I think it looks pretty baller!



My favorite part, though, is all of the cookie cases that they used to build it!





I have a plan this cookie season to collect/hoard more of those cookie cases, which are all that lovely corrugated cardboard that's so perfect to make every single thing out of. And who knows? The Designing Robots badge is still to come, and perhaps in the process of earning that one, the children will discover that cardboard cookie cases and LittleBits are the perfect power couple!

Want to complete this badge step in a different way? Here are three other good DIY robot arm projects that Senior girls can do:

  • cardboard robot arm. This arm uses string to mimic the way that the muscles in a human hand pull. It would be a lot more doable for a group of girls to create individually.
  • giant computer-controlled robot arm. This arm is GIANT, and perfect for a group of girls to create together. Combine it with the Introduction to Programming Journey, since you'll be controlling this arm via computer.
  • popsicle stick arm. Here's another arm that girls could make individually, and popsicle sticks are easy to obtain!
P.S. Want more Girl Scout projects and tutorials? Check out my Craft Knife Facebook page for photos, links, and resources!

Thursday, October 3, 2019

September Favorites: Good Omens, Last Unicorns, and Practically on Pointe


September was a terrific month for reading! We found a great routine (just in time for Nutcracker rehearsals and seasonal ice skating lessons to mess it up in October...) and amongst the evening extracurriculars, built a lovely haven of sitting on the couch and reading and gossiping and listening to music a few nights a week.

The other nights were spent running around to those evening extracurriculars and then figuring out what people can eat for dinner past 9pm, but whatever. Take your haven wherever you can!

Here's the only book that I recognize from Will's Favorites in September--



--and she didn't even tell me that she was reading it so that I could talk about it to her endlessly and make her watch the cartoon with me and then probably want to do a bunch of unicorn-related craft projects, too.

Gee, I wonder why she didn't mention it?

Here are Will's other favorite books from September:



And here's the rest of what she read in September--keep an eye out, because of COURSE there's a Tom Swift in the list:



Will read SO MANY BOOKS in September! My goal for October is to see if I can interest her in some more non-fiction. Will's usual method of finding books is to choose a library department, systematically scan the shelves, and read everything that interests her on those shelves. She's done this twice with the children's and YA departments, once with Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Mystery, once with Graphic Novels, and she's currently on her third read-through of the children's department. So far, though, she's always skipped General Fiction and Non-Fiction because there's too much there that doesn't interest her, so the hunt is less fruitful and therefore less satisfying. If I can figure out a way for her to enjoy searching the library's online catalog and simply putting on hold what interest her, then I could open up two entirely new departments to her perusal!

I am nowhere near the prolific reader that Will is (at least, I'm not anymore; I for sure read as much as she did when I was her age!), but I kept up with my couple-of-books-a-week habit throughout September, my favorite of which is a book that I actually borrowed from Will:



I loved it as much as I hoped that I would! And as soon as Syd finishes the audiobook of it, I can show the kids the TV series, which I also loved, loved, LOVED.

Here's another book that I loved as much as I hoped I would:



The library actually bought this at my request, and let me read it first, and it is everything that I wanted. You guys, those geysers and hot springs are really, really dangerous! If you fall in and they don't find you right away, then what they'll be looking for later is not your body, but a slick of grease on top of the water and maybe your bones and clothes at the bottom, but if they don't find you for a while then they won't even find the bones and clothes because they'll have been covered in layers of mineral sludge and they'll never, ever find you.

Also, grizzly bears! Once, this photographer went missing and some rangers had to go out and search for him. They spotted a grizzly on the next ridge, and when they checked it out with their binoculars, the bear was in the act of eating a human leg. So they called into their bear expert and were all, "Hey, we're looking at a bear that's literally eating some guy right now. What do you want us to do?" And the expert was all, "Gee... hmm... SHOOT IT!" So they shot it, and that sucked because grizzlies are a vulnerable species and people are not and it's the people's job to stay away from grizzlies and not get eaten.

Okay, but then there was another time where some people are sleeping in a packed campground just outside of Yellowstone and all of a sudden, a grizzly bear just tears through somebody's tent and grabs a person and starts eating them. That person and everyone around them start hollering, and the bear runs off and the people start trying to do first-aid and calling the authorities. They're busy with that when all of a sudden someone starts hollering from a different part of the campground because the bear has torn into another tent and grabbed someone and started eating them! So the authorities arrive and they evacuate the entire campground, but much, much later they're all, "Hey, why didn't the people in that tent pack up their stuff?" So they go to investigate and they find a huge hole in the back of the tent, and further away, they find what's left of the person after the bear and her cubs had eaten their fill. They shot the mother bear and put the cubs in a zoo, and this story doesn't even have a moral because people are supposed to be confidently safe from bears all together in a crowded campground!

And then there's all the people who drowned in the lake, including a park ranger, and there were hikers who saw the ranger IN THE ACT OF DROWNING and were just like, "Huh," and didn't even bother to try to help him or call for help or EVEN CUT THEIR HIKE SHORT. They seriously finished their entire hiking trip and then told a park ranger what they'd seen something like the previous day, and the ranger was all, "WHAT ARE YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL SOMEONE RIGHT AWAY WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE ARE YOU?!?" Oh, and the ranger who drowned was, like, the most beloved ranger of them all, whose route was this lake, and the only reason why he was still out in that windy weather to get his canoe tipped over in the first place is that so many people had flagged him down from the shore to make him come over and answer their questions and he kept paddling over and doing it even though that wasn't supposed to be part of his job that he was running way, way behind schedule.

Apparently this lake is extra super deadly because it's unnaturally, unexpectedly cold, both from its elevation and because it's filled with run-off water from even higher up. You don't expect to immediately start dying of hypothermia when your canoe tips over, but that's exactly what happened.

And here's the rest of what I read in September!



I was pretty stoked with all the Rainbow Rowell, because I adore her and I can't believe that I missed these titles when they first came out, but that Bill Clinton/James Patterson book? The only reason I read it is that I went through a crazy obnoxious insomnia bout in September, one that lasted for weeks of me waking up for hours in the middle of the night every night, and it was the first thing that I saw on the Overdrive app when I logged in on my super-old nook that I live in fear of someday breaking because I adore it so much and you'll have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands.

Anyway, that book wasn't great. But Nutcracker Nation was fascinating!

Here's a new category of monthly favorites: podcasts! I'm the only one in the family who really loves podcasts, although Will can blow through the whole run of one if she likes it. She and I both listen to Welcome to Night Vale (AND we saw it live in September!), but I'm always looking for good recommendations. The recommendation to listen to the Joe Exotic season of Over My Dead Body came from a reddit forum, I think, but it was spot-on, and I'll be passing it along to Will to listen to as part of earning her Girl Scout Senior Voice for Animals badge. It's not too graphic overall, although there were probably three or four upsetting moments of animals in distress:



If you want the info but don't want to listen to people talking about sad animals, much of the same information is in this New York Magazine article.

My favorite category of favorites to record is the YouTube videos that we randomly find ourselves watching as a family. We don't do elaborate bedtime routines anymore, but most nights of the week, before Matt and I send the kids at least in the vague direction-ish of their beds, they'll chill in ours for a while and we'll take turns selecting YouTube videos that everyone has to watch. Here are some of my favorites:



Nobody in our family really cooks, but now we ALL crave pumpkin pie. And sweet potato pie. But nobody wants to make it...

Here are some cakes that we want to eat but not make, too!



Will has explained to us about dog dancing. It's amazing!



Drunk History is not appropriate viewing for children, but nevertheless Syd and I, especially, cannot get over being tickled by this particular episode. Every now and then we'll tell each other about our next greatest invention, a drink that combines wine, Red Bull, and cocaine, and then we'll laugh hysterically forever while everyone else gets annoyed with us.



Syd has been ecstatically anticipating her first pair of pointe shoes, which will likely happen sometime soon after Nutcracker season, and together we have watched many, many, MANY pointe shoe videos. This is her favorite so far:



I love how informative it is both about what the ballerina will experience and what the expert is looking for/at.

As for MY YouTube favorites... well, I do know all the secret search terms that one uses when looking for bootleg recordings of Broadway musicals!

P.S. Here's what we read prior to September!

Monday, September 30, 2019

To the Orchard, One Decade Later

What does one decade of visiting the same apple orchard look like?

It looks like this!

Syd at 3
Syd at 13!
Will at 5
Will at 15!
 On this trip, we even had a special guest star!


It turns out that he is quite useful for enabling access to formerly out-of-reach apples:




At first, Syd was timid about being up so high, but she quickly got used to it, especially when she figured out that she could essentially get Matt to pony her around so that she didn't even have to walk from tree to tree:



See the triumphant smile of a kid who's discovered her very own labor-saving device!


Will and Luna ditched us pretty much immediately, but Syd stuck by her car service, and together we treated the informative guide to apple varieties as a checklist:


I think we managed to get a sample of every single apple variety currently in season!


And then we had a break to lie down between the trees and eat apples and things that can suitably accompany apples:


Such a coincidence that our missing two managed to find us after most of the picking was done but just in time for peanut butter and cheese!


This goofball really likes cheese:


And THIS goofball is pouting because she's so full of apples that she feels sick, and yet the apples are still delicious:


Because the kids love the apple orchard so much, after a couple of hours I've got a little goodwill credit that I immediately spent on forcing them to submit to posed photos:






I didn't actually have any goodwill credit to spend on this guy, who'd basically spent the past two hours toiling as Syd's personal pack pony, but he posed for me, anyway (although who doesn't TAKE OFF THEIR SUNGLASSES for a family photo?!?):


And then he did the same for me!


The rest of the afternoon passed away just that easily, with apple-picking and lounging--


apple cider slushes and caramel apples and fudge, and the giant hay mountain that the kids adore:



We brought home a whole bushel of apples, a half-gallon of apple cider, six dollars' worth of fudge, and plans for homemade apple pie, homemade caramel apples, homemade applesauce, and whatever else we can think up, although last year we ate our entire bushel before we could actually make a thing from them and had to go buy more!

I'd like to say that we'll definitely get more creative in the kitchen this year, but it would be a shame to buck tradition...

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