Sunday, June 15, 2014

And Now You Know What You're Getting for Christmas

I love giving presents...but I don't love wrapping them.  I never seem to have the right paper for the right occasion, and overall it just seems wasteful.  So I'm always on the lookout for easy/fun/versatile ways to wrap a gift.

While researching stuff for Father's Day I found this amazing blog post:

Score!!!  I needed a new can opener anyway :)

The basic gist is you open a pop top can opener with a safety can opener give it a quick rinse, and then fill it up with presents, and put the "lid" back on.  With the safety can opener it just pops back on.  You don't even have to glue it.

Then you decorate it- this is some recycled clip art I printed out.  Or you could leave the original label on, and let the recipient think you got them a can of peaches when you really got them a diamond ring, the keys to a new car- or some Legos.

This is what I came up with
I filled it with his favorite licorice, and he loved it!

Quick tips:
A regular can label is 4-1/4 inches tall, and about 10 inches around.  The usable "front" space is about 3-1/2 inches wide.
A 20-oz pineapple can is about the biggest you can go if you're using 8-1/2 x 11" paper.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Ali's Epic Playhouse

Most days I'm slogging it out in the Mommy trenches- just praying that everyone will make it through to bed time.  Occasionally I do something cool, and this is one of those occasions.

I wanted to get Ali a playhouse for his second birthday.  Our childhood playhouse was incredible, and I remember when my Father and Grandfather built it out of reclaimed barn wood, and other stuff that was kicking around.  We loved that playhouse, and I'll admit to shedding a tear when my brother tore it down a few years back.  It felt like the end of an era.

Buying one felt like cheating, and the cool ones were out of our budget anyway.
I wanted to do something epic like my Dad did for us.   I'm not a great woodworker, and we don't have a ton of tools, so we had to change the spec a bit.

We started out pretty simply with a 4x4 PVC frame.  Version 1.0 was covered with some fabric, and he just wasn't too into it.  It wasn't sturdy enough, and Ali tried to crash through the walls like the Kool-Aid man.

Somehow the idea evolved into this:
We'd print it, but what kind of theme would it have?  Then it hit me...why stop at one theme?  Why not make a castle, pirate ship, train station/schoolhouse, and a rocket ship!

So that's what we did.  I'll disclaimer this by saying I'm a two bit hack when it comes to graphic design- I can kinda tool around in a few different pieces of software, but don't art school critique me.  The budget for clip art was $0, so I think I did pretty well with a handful of free vectors.

I laid it out in Illustrator, and then we had it printed at the ever wonderful Dataflow where my husband works.  It's just printed on regular 20-lb bond on their giant laser printer.  I had tried printing it out on 8-1/2 x 11" and then gluing it down, but at the rate I was going we'd have it done by the time he went to college.  It's 128 square feet of printing, and it wasn't super costly because we went with plain paper.

Here's the materials list:
From Home Depot:
1 tube of clear caulk
6-7 10-foot pieces of 3/4 inch PVC pipe
something to cut the PVC with- we bought a ratcheting PVC cutter for $12, and it was great.
8 "side outlet elbow" connectors, and 8 male adaptors- these form the corners

4 T-connectors

A roof- we recycled some bamboo fencing we had (this stuff is not all that sturdy, but it's easy to work with):

From the craft store:
2 cans of low odor spray adhesive.  I experimented with other types of glue- including home made wheat paste, but anything with water content warped the cardboard when it dried.  The spray glue was great, and dried quick.  It's about $8 a can
A really pointy pair of sharp scissors.

From the Dollar Store:
Zip ties (get 2 packs they don't have to be heavy duty)
Clear plastic cellophane gift basket wrap
Drinking Straws
Box Cutters

From the office supply store:
8 pieces of 24x48 cardboard...Staples had the best price, and they do free ship to store
A big roll of clear packing tape- get the good stuff.  You'll need 2 smaller rolls if you're getting the kind with the cutter included.

From Amazon:
Tent pegs to secure it to the ground.  Version 1.0 wasn't tethered and blew around the yard, so we pegged version 2.0 to the ground.  So far it's holding.

Total cost was about $130 including the pipe cutter, but not including the printing.
It took us about 5 hours to assemble it- and I worked on the design for a few evenings.

Build the frame.  My husband did this part.  He cut the pipe into 48-inch pieces, and assembled it.  Two of the sides are plain, and two of the sides have uprights in the middle so we could secure the doors.  It has 2 doors, and a little escape hatch in the rocket ship part (the dogs love it).  We did not cement it together so that we can break it down and store it in our shed for the winter.

Using the spray glue attach the prints to the cardboard, and trim the excess paper.  It goes a lot faster if you have 2 people and 2 box cutters.

To waterproof it use the spray glue to attach the basket wrap

Then cut out any windows or port holes- a finely serrated steak knife works really well to cut the curves
Then seal ALL of the edges with packing tape.  Make sure you seal it well.

To secure it to the frame poke 3 holes in the top and bottom of each panel with the scissors.  Reinforce each hole with a piece of drinking straw, and secure it with caulk to hold it in place.

Then use the zip ties to secure it to the frame.

For the doors- we need to refine the design a little...I'm thinking we need to drill the pipe so we can use zip ties to make the hinges.  Right now the hinges are packing tape, and it's holding but not ideal.

Then we added the roof and secured it with more zip ties.

Here's the final product!

He absolutely loves it!!!

Dinosaur Gummies!!

For Easter I made him dinosaur and robot gummies.  I LOVE all things gelatin, and so does Ali.  I buy it a pound at a time at the bulk food store, but you can also get it on Amazon.

Gelatin makes me feel like a kitchen magician- a few minutes, a little bit of time in the microwave, and you get all sorts of jiggly jewels.

Dino Gummies recipe:
1 tablespoon lemon juice
15 tablespoons Bolthouse Farms Green Smoothie
2 tablespoons sweetener (I used sugar because it digests slower, and doesn't give them a sugar rush as quickly)  You could use honey, maple syrup, concentrated fruit juice, or stevia if you prefer
3 tablespoons unflavored gelatin (3 packets of Knox would work too)

Put the lemon juice into a Pyrex measuring cup, add the smoothie until it measures a cup.  You can eyeball this as long as you end up with about a cup of liquid.  Sweeten to taste.

Whisk in the gelatin stirring well to avoid any clumps and set aside for about 5 minutes.

Heat it gently on the stove, or the microwave for about a minute until the mixture turns clear.  Don't let it boil or the gelatin won't set as firmly.

Pour it into molds, and refrigerate until firm (about an hour).  They pop right out of the silicone molds.

If you have extra mixture you can either pour it in a shallow pan, and use cookie cutters to make it into shapes, or you can remelt it, and pour it into molds after the first batch has firmed up.

You can make these with anything...just follow the basic ratio of 1 cup liquid to 3 tablespoons (or 3 packets) of gelatin.  I did a batch with apple juice, and some frozen raspberries that were pretty incredible too.

These have to be kept cold, and it dulls the flavor a bit- so make sure the liquid is flavorful enough.

These were a huge hit, and I hope they are for you too!