Saturday, October 31, 2015

"Halloween on the Hill"

Here in Des Moines, trick-or-treating is done the day before Halloween on Beggar's Night. Kids go around, tell jokes, and get candy on the 30th! When we moved here last year, we did Beggar's Night and then looked for something to do on Halloween night. We read about a free event in Sherman Hill called "Halloween on the Hill."

Sherman Hill is the oldest neighborhood in Des Moines. People who live in the neighborhood opt to decorate their houses for this event, and some really go all out! There are also people dressed up as monsters who wander the streets.

You start out near Smokey Row at 19th & Crocker/Cottage Grove. They collect canned goods out front of the "Kathedral," or the international church, and, in exchange, they give drivers and walkers a map that marks the decorated houses, the monsters, and the Thriller dance that takes place every 15 minutes.

Here are the kids looking out at the "cemetery" where the zombies do the Thriller dance:

I took a video of some of it, but it's pretty dark. They did an amazing job, though! Oliver started dancing along as he watched.


We had a great time! We saw Frankenstein and his monster again this year. Last year, we got out of the car and got "scared" by Frankenstein. This year, we drove by slowly in the car with the windows rolled down, and he reached in at Oliver. It was so much fun! He was just a little scared, but later he said it was the best part. He's already making plans for his own Frankenstein costume to wear next year.

Here are a few other photos of the decorated houses:

We really love this event. I love that the neighbors put it on themselves and that it's free for us to enjoy. I think we'll be going for many years to come!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

LEGO Birthday Cake

I made Oliver & Jo's LEGO birthday cake! I'd seen a few cakes like these online, but couldn't find any tutorials on how to make them. I did my best, but I wish I'd taken the time at the beginning to cut the sides of the cake to be completely straight. The final product looks a little bumpy. Live and learn, right?

I started work on the bricks a few days before I baked the cake. I bought silicon LEGO block molds that were fairly inexpensive on Amazon (3 for $7.75). I also bought fondant this year instead of making my own. I used an online coupon from Michael's and bought fondant for $5.

I used a melon baller to help measure to make sure my blocks were all about the same size. The first set of fondant LEGO blocks got stuck in the mold. I dusted in the inside with powdered sugar, and that fixed the problem. The rest came out without any problems.

My final supply list:
Fondant pack of green, red, yellow, and blue
White fondant
Powdered sugar (to dust the inside of the molds)
Silicone LEGO block molds
2 boxes of cake (and the ingredients needed to make the cake--eggs, oil, etc)
1 can of frosting (for the crumb layer)
Black gel frosting for the lettering
LEGO figures to decorate the cake

I didn't want to use the blocks up the size of the cake. Instead, I just cut out rectangles from rolled fondant to look like the sizes of the LEGO blocks. I kept all of the fondant pieces in the fridge so they wouldn't lose their shape. 

Two nights before the party, I baked the cake. I used two boxes of cake mix, and I made two 13x9 inch cakes. The next day, I frosted and stacked them as a crumb layer. That afternoon, I covered the cake in a very thin layer of white fondant. It will save you a lot of trouble later if you make sure all of the sides are as flat as possible! I dampened one size of the rectangles (water helps the fondant stick), and I built up the walls in a LEGO brick pattern. You can see my progress here:

When I finished, I added some strips of rolled white fondant and made it look like Emmett was unrolling it onto the cake. I stuck fondant on the bottom of the LEGO figures to get them to stick to the cake.

To make the lettering, I just printed a picture of "Happy Birthday" in LEGO font. I set it over the fondant and cut out the red. Then I set it over the fondant and cut out the yellow, and then I set it over the fondant and cut out the white. I stacked them, and then outlined the white lettering in frosting. I made a makeshift frosting bag out of fondant for Good Cop to hold to try to make it look like he was writing "Happy Birthday."

I found the candy letters at the grocery store. I wanted to give each of the LEGO Movie characters a job, so Benny got the letter R to look like he was spelling out the names.

When the fondant was still soft, I stuck Wyldstyle's arms in the block. I refrigerated her and the block until it was hard, and then I added them to the cake.

Larry the barista is helping make the cake, too!

There's the finished cake! I'd added the white frosting shells to the top to conceal the spot where the sides met the top. I didn't like how it turned out, so I covered it up ;-) I finished the evening before the party and then kept it in the fridge so the fondant wouldn't get too soft and start to droop.

It took a lot of planning and work. I really wish I'd spent more time getting the sides straight, but I still love the cake. It's a lot of fun!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Adventures in Diaper Wreaths

I love an excuse to be crafty and make things. My sister-in-law's baby shower is this weekend, and I am bringing decorations. So, I decided to make diaper wreaths! I had the "brilliant" idea to make a guitar-shaped diaper wreath, but it just didn't turn out as planned. When I hung different little gifts on it, they concealed the shape of the wreath. It looked like a weird, hanging blob. So, I made a regular diaper wreath as well and hung all the little goodies on that one!

I'll start with the round diaper wreath. I based mine from a tutorial from Homemade Gifts Made Easy. I changed a few of the steps based on what I had at home.

1) I used a large dinner plate to measure out a circle on a piece of cardboard I had on hand (from a large shipping box). I made a large circle around that so I could cut out a ring.

2) I used a wire hanger on the back of the ring, which I thought made it sturdier and easier to hang. I used packing tape to secure it.


3) I used wrapping paper I had on hand to wrap the cardboard and hanger. You can see how I cut strips to be able to wrap along the curve.

4) I followed the instructions from the tutorial on hot gluing the ribbon around the diapers and securing each one to the wrapped cardboard ring.

5) I criss-crossed some thin green ribbon around the diapers, and then I tied some little toys and gifts to the diaper wreath. I finished it off with a big bow on top. I love the way it turned out!

To make the guitar-shaped diaper wreath, I began by shaping a wire hanger into the shape of a guitar.

I started out by folding the diapers around the frame, but I lost the shape of the guitar:

So, I tried a different method and actually wrapped the diapers around the wire frame. I wrapped twine around as I went in order to hold the diapers in place. 

Here's what it looked like when I finished wrapping the diapers around:

I worried it didn't look distinctly like a guitar. I ended up sewing some tan-colored construction paper onto the frame using twine. I printed out a picture of the bridge of the guitar and glued at onto the front, along with a black circle for the hole in the guitar. This is what it looked like from the back as I worked:

I made a little striped sweater and rolled that up to kind of look like the neck of the guitar. I secured it with a bow. Voila! I was just happy it looked like a guitar when I was done!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Des Moines Mini Maker Faire

We spent Labor Day at the Science Center, checking out the Mini Maker Faire! The outdoor area was free, where people could get food from the food trucks and let their kids splash around. To go inside to check out the fair, we had to pay admission to the Science Center. For two kids and two adults, it was $40 (ouch!).

The first thing we found was a LEGO car building area near the high school robotics teams.We let Oliver play for a while but then reminded him he could play LEGOs at home any time.

Most of the booths would be interesting to adults, as they were showing 3D printers and other gadgets, but it wasn't especially interesting to the kids. Until we found R2D2, that is.

Oliver got to design a project out of wood. This was a regular thing offered by the science center. Oliver loved the chance to use the tools, but the wait was really long (at least 30 minutes).

While Oliver waited to use the "wood shop," Jo and I checked out other displays at the fair. There were adults blowing up balloons and twisting them together, trying to create a stable structure (at least, I'm pretty sure that's what they were trying to do). They had some discarded balloon pieces off the corner, and I noticed a little kid was playing. No one seemed to mind, so I took Jo over. Before I knew what happened, dozens of kids had found the balloons and the station turned into a party place for the kids. They had a blast! I'm certain this was not supposed to be the activity at the station, but it was fun.

We found a drone demo sign and thought of Grandpa Paul.

Jo's an environmental superhero!

While the fair was kind of neat, there just wasn't much for little kids, so we ended up ditching the downstairs fair to go explore the more kid-friendly areas upstairs. Andrew and Oliver found us up there, and the kids had a really, really good time. They got to play with balls, design LEGO cars to race, design a contraption to drop an egg without breaking it, design a LEGO city, and, of course, play with the ball wall.

While the maker fair was a cool idea, it's definitely more for teenagers and adults. I'd take the kids again when they're older, but, for now, we'll probably just stick to going on their special $5 days.

Monday, August 31, 2015

We have a kindergartner!

Oliver started kindergarten last week! I had a lot of anxiety built up about him going. I worried how he'd do being away from the house all day, I worried how he'd do eating lunch at school and if he'd get hungry, and I worried how he'd do not knowing any of the kids in his class. I didn't know any of the teachers at his school, and hoped he'd get an understanding teacher but one who wouldn't mind telling him exactly what to do and how to behave if he wasn't doing it. Of course, I also worried about the change at home, how Jo and I would do with Oliver out of the house all day.

Here are some photos of his first day:

I'm probably going to jinx everything by saying this, but it's gone really well so far. I'm absolutely thrilled with his teacher and his school, and Oliver has amazed me with how well he's made the transition to going to school all day. I was picturing him coming home in tears from exhaustion and not wanting to go to school in the morning, but he seems to really like it! He's tired when school gets out, but he's able to handle it. He tells me school is fun, and that's really the most important thing to me. I don't worry about his academics, at least not this year. I want him to learn to like school, understand how school works, and learn to listen to his teacher. I feel like, if we can get those things figured out, the academics will come.

Here's my little Star Wars fan on his second day of school:

And day 3, walking in the rain like such a trooper!

At home, the transition has gone OK. It took a few days for me to get over most of the anxiety of him going to school. I cleaned a lot! Jo and I have kept busy with mom meet-ups and story time at the library. On the first day that Oliver was at school, Jo declared she was going downstairs to play with Oliver's LEGOs.

I think we're all going to do just fine. Here's to a good 2015-2016 school year!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Guitar Diaper Cake

My sister is helping a friend plan a baby shower for my brother and sister-in-law, and she asked me if I'd help with some decorations. I love the chance to be creative! The theme is kind of a doo-wop/rock-in-roll kind of thing. I found a lot of great ideas online by searching under a Rock-a-Bye Baby Shower.

One of my favorite ideas came from Pinterest (where else?). I love diaper cakes because, I figure, if I'm going to spend money on decorations, I'd like the decorations to be something they can use for the baby! Someone pinned a stunning diaper cake by that includes a stuffed animal playing a drum set with a guitar, all made out of diapers and other baby items. Here's a link to that pin, which will take you to the website to check it out. It's $165, and while I think that is a fair price for the work and all the stuff included, I wanted to figure out how to make something similar for less.

I searched the internet and found a guitar diaper cake tutorial on YouTube by Thom's Crafts and Treats. It's a great resource to check out if you want to make this diaper cake. I made a few changes because I wanted to incorporate a few more baby items. For example, instead of pipe cleaners, I used baby spoons for the tuners.

For the guitar I made, here are the supplies I used:

1 34-pack of newborn diapers
1 pack of onesies - I used a 5 pack of white Gerber onesies
1 baby blanket
1 pack of baby spoons
1 car window shade for baby (I wanted to choose something off their registry that was in a long and narrow box to support the guitar neck, and this item fit the bill! You can use something else in a similar-shaped box). - OPTIONAL
Rubber bands
1 roll of fabric ribbon 1-2" wide 
1 roll of decorative masking tape - I found this in Target's business supply section
Wrapping paper
Clear tape
Yarn or thin ribbon

I started out following the instructions from Thom's Crafts and Treats. I used a cake pan as my mold, and I used 20 newborn diapers for the first part.

It took a little bit of work to figure out how to get the diapers in a good spiral! I used 3 rubber bands to secure it, and then I removed the cake pan mold.

I'd gotten a 5 pack of onesies. I used 0-3 month since that was listed on their registry, but you could use larger.

Hmmm. I kind of tucked and folded the onesie down, and then used more rubber bands to hold its shape.

I then made another, smaller circle using the remaining 14 diapers.

Then I tucked both of those circles into another onesie. At this stage, I'd used all 34 diapers, a ton of rubber bands, and 3 of the 5 onesies:

I then tucked the arms down and taped around the whole "cake" using the decorative masking tape (I really liked this stuff). The sides don't have to look perfect at this stage. There will be a blanket going around the edges. Mostly, I just wanted to keep the shape of the guitar.

Here's the blanket I'd picked up from their registry. Super soft!

The newborn diapers I used weren't that tall. In order to fold the blanket to the proper width, I had to fold it in half, and then into thirds.

I wrapped the blanket around the guitar and secured it with tape along the sides and a rubber band in the middle to help create its shape. If your blanket doesn't go all the way around, that's OK. The neck of the guitar will hide any gap at the top.

For the neck of the guitar, Thom cut out a piece of cardboard, wrapped it in a receiving blanket, and then used ribbon to create the frets. I thought it would be more fun to pick out a gift for the baby instead of using cardboard, so I went through their registry to find something with a long shape. I ended up going with this window shade.

Instead of using a receiving blanket, I thought it would be fun to make some leg warmers with guitar frets, since I crochet and have plenty of extra yarn. Here's the pattern to those guitar fret leg warmers.

When I finished the leg warmers, I realized they wouldn't fit over the window shade. Grrrr. I felt a little frustrated that my idea of using the window shade didn't work, and I ended up sliding the leg warmers over a plain piece of plain cardboard anyway. I wrapped the window shade in wrapping paper and secured the leg warmers to the top of that package. So, I didn't really need the shade at all, but it added a little more support to the neck and made it easier to attach the head and tuners to the guitar neck.

Next, I wanted  to work on the sound hole. Thom used a piece of black foam board for the sound hole. I ended up using the black plastic lid to my coffee can. Upcycle! I cut two slits in the circle, wide enough for my ribbon to go through.

Then, I started work on the strings. I cut 6 pieces of gray yarn for the strings. I decided to tape them directly to the "guitar" using the decorative masking tape for the bridge of the guitar. Each gray yarn string ran from the tape up the guitar neck, and then I taped them to the cardboard that was inside the leg warmers.

Then came the head and tuners. I wrapped a piece of cardboard with my wrapping paper. Then, I opened the baby spoons and arranged them like the tuners and taped them into place. I probably should have gotten a package of 6 spoons, but oh well.

I taped the head of the guitar with the spoons to the window shade package that I'd wrapped. I secured that to the neck of the guitar. I wrapped my ribbon around the guitar body, hiding the rubber band, and then I wove it into the slits I cut in my coffee-lid sound hole. I tied as pretty of a bow as I could and secured it with tape. I tied a second bow where the neck of the guitar met the head in order to hide all of the tape I had to use! I needed a little more support for the area where the neck met the body of the guitar, so I wrapped up the remaining 2 onesies in a long box, and used that package for added support. Here's a picture that shows the guitar pieced together:

And here it is, all finished and ready to go! My kids keep asking me if the baby gets to open it. ;-)