Category Archives: Calvin

All about Calvin

A Sandbox for Calvin

Back in March I became obsessed with getting Calvin a sandbox. Calvin loves playing in the sand at any park we go to and I liked the idea of having one in our own backyard where he could play. However, I had a lot of trouble finding what appeared to be a suitable sandbox. I spent hours online looking for a good size sandbox and did find a couple interesting options but none that had the depth I was looking for.

I started talking to Jaeger about sandboxes and he suggested I email his parents since he recalled having a fantastic sandbox when he was growing up. I emailed his mom and she said his dad had built a 6’x6’x3′ sandbox and sunk all but 1 foot into the ground. This sounded brilliant to me. Our yard had an area that was suppose to be a rose garden but the roses didn’t take. I measured and decided I could put a 6’x4′ box in there without any problem. However, Jaeger wasn’t interested in building one himself and I couldn’t find any sandboxes that fit my specifications.

After a while, it occurred to me that a planter box is basically the same thing as a sandbox. I poked around the internet more and found a website that not only sold planter boxes but allowed customers to specify custom dimensions. Jaeger and I sat on this information for a while to see if it’s really something we wanted to do. Meantime, we tried to figure out what to do with the massive concrete patio we have in back. Eventually we decided to get two planters for the patio. I ordered them from NaturalYards as kind of a test for the sandbox. I thought they turned out pretty good.

Eventually, I got around to ordering a 6’x4’x33″ planter to use as Calvin’s sandbox. My original plan was to dig a 2′ hole to sink it into. However, I quickly discovered large tree roots running through the area. Given how many trees we had on our yard, I decided it was probably a lot cause trying to find any place that I could dig a 6’x4’x2′ hole without hitting roots. Plus, the rose garden has a decent amount of shade so hopefully Calvin could avoid getting burned to a crisp.

The sandbox kit arrived last week. On Sunday, Jaeger rerouted a drip line that went through the sandbox area, leveled the ground, and put down a weed barrier.

Preparing the sandbox area

Preparing the sandbox area

After Jaeger finished preparing the ground, I started putting the sandbox together. Everything went well except that I discovered the side trim was the wrong size. They were were 27 1/2″ instead of 33″. The trim is important because it would keep the sand from leaking out at the corners. I emailed the company on Sunday and Monday morning they apologized and mailed out another set of trim by express.

Sandbox without trim

Sandbox without trim

Jaeger made a trip to Home Depot and came back with some pea gravel for the bottom, to promote good drainage.

Sandbox with pea gravel

Sandbox with pea gravel

Calvin had quite a bit of fun with the box even though there wasn’t any sand in it yet. Even though it’s 33″ tall, he was managing to clamber in and out without a chair or ladder. Long-term we’ll probably put something on the side to assist getting into the sandbox.

04CalvinExplores

Nana, Jaeger’s mom, was visiting us and was kind enough to call various landscaping companies trying to find good sand for sandboxes. Due to the dust issue I was hoping for river or beach sand. However, apparently that isn’t commonly available in Colorado. There are options to buy super safe sand online but they’d end up costing thousands of dollars. In the end, I decided to go with Mason sand and try to minimize the dust by wetting it down.

Nana, Calvin, and I dropped by Pioneer Sand Company on the way to the library to make sure Mason sand really would be the right consistency for a sandbox1. It looked good so we ordered 2 tons. It turns out that 2 tons of sand is not nearly as much as it seems like it should be.

The sand was delivered, via dumptruck, to our house this morning. While watching the dump truck dump the sand I realized that I should have schedule them to come sometime when Calvin could have watched.

2 tons of sand

2 tons of sand

After work, I started transporting the sand from our driveway to the sandbox in the back yard. 2 tons didn’t look like much sand in the dump truck, or even on the driveway, but it seemed like a lot of sand once I started transferring it. I shoveled sand for 1 1/2 hrs before having to take a break to pick up Calvin from preschool. Then, I shoveled for another 1 1/2 hrs before it was finally all in the sandbox. It was a lot of work but we ended up with the perfect amount of sand.

Not surprisingly, Calvin was really excited.

06CalvinPlays1

Calvin and I had a brief safety talk about what sort of things one doesn’t do in a sandbox. Calvin seemed to think it was obvious that you shouldn’t bury anyone’s head in the sand but was less enthusiastic when I told him he shouldn’t be jumping around on top of it (given how high it is from the ground, I’m a bit worried about the fall he could take).

07CalvinPlays2

The new trim arrived this afternoon so after supper I put the finishing touches on the sandbox. (Note the tiny shovel in the picture. That’s a Calvin-sized shovel that I picked up at McGuckins. It’s perfect for Calvin.)

08Trim

Below is the finished sandbox. Jaeger will probably take better pictures later but it gives you a feel for what it looks like.

09Final

The two things that still need to be done is to figure out the best way to let Calvin climb into the sandbox and what sort of cover to put on top. Given we have cats, a cover is essential. For now, I have one of our tarps on top weighted down with some rocks. However, we need something else for long-term use.

I’m not looking forward to my aching arms tonight. However, I think Calvin’s going to have a lot of fun with the sandbox.

  1. Some places on the web suggested that pea gravel could be used instead of sand to minimize dust. However, the obvious problem with pea gravel is you can’t use it to build anything. I’m not sure what good it does in a sandbox.

Park East, Boulder, CO, USA

Today we visited a park that Jaeger use to play at when he was a child: Park East.

ParkEastSign

This park also benefited from the 2011 Capital Improvement Bond. According to Jaeger’s mom it’s a great improvement. Sometimes I wonder about how Boulder spends its money but I love what they’re doing to the playground equipment.

This playground is definitely more traditional than Dakota Ridge Park.
playground

Calvin enjoyed spinning around on their stand-up spinner.

calvintwirls2

So did Nana.

NanaandCalvinSpin

He also briefly enjoyed the “turtle” spring rider.

calvinbounces

However, I think his favorite playground feature was the ring-a-bell panel. I was a little disappointed by it because there weren’t enough tones to play any sort of song. This didn’t seem to bother Calvin.

calvinmusic

The playground had several swings. They had a couple regular swings, a couple of toddler bucket swings, and then an odd molded plastic bucket swing. My best guess is it’s for people with disabilities but I’m not entirely sure. Calvin tried it out but didn’t seem very excited by it.

calvinswings

A couple of the older park features still exist such as the shelter, though it has a new wheelchair ramp up to it. Also, there’s a couple of trees that fascinated Calvin because they were surrounded by a foot or two of concrete.

tree

There was also a little climbing wall and rock that Calvin scampered on.

calvinclimbing

climbingwall

All-in-all, it’s a nice little neighborhood park but probably not one I’ll go out of my way to visit again.

Summary:

Features Double slide, swings, bucket swings, molded bucket swing, stand-up spinner, small climbing wall and rock, Stationary Monkey Rings, Ring-a-Bell Panel, Basketball court
Surface Material rubber
Restrooms No restrooms 🙁
Water fountain None
Shade Shaded shelter with picnic table. There are plenty of trees but only some are close enough to provide shade near the playground
Picnic area There is one covered shelter with a picnic table
Pros
  • New equipment
Cons
  • No bathrooms of any kind.


View Random Parks and Playgrounds in a larger map

Pictures of our Washington Trip

A couple of weeks ago Calvin and I traveled to Washington to see my mom. Taiwan has made me foolhardy as I now believe I can travel anywhere at anytime with Calvin and it’ll all be fine as long as we have the iPad with us. So, I booked an 8am flight which had us arriving into PDX a little after 9:30 local time. It went fine. We then went to brunch/lunch with the extended Stone family and then wandered briefly around Portland before heading to my parents’ house.

Monday we left to stay a couple of days at Canon Beach. I like to think of the Oregon and Washington coast as “atmospheric.” However, it was remarkably nice the entire time we were there. Our first day was a little windy but sunny. Calvin had fun burying himself in the sand.

Calvin Buries Himself

Tuesday I spent the morning working while mom and Calvin went to the Maritime Museum in Astoria. In the afternoon we went to the beach and Calvin played quite a bit. The house mom had rented was “cozy.” I liked it but mom was frustrated by the lack of storage. However, we both agreed the courtyard was really nice.

Courtyard of beach house

On Wednesday dad came down and we went to Indian Beach at Ecola State Park. There was only a little bit of wind and it was very pleasant.

Calvin at Indian Beach

Thursday was our last day at the beach. We got adventurous and decided to take a short hike to a beach in the Oswald West State Park. Calvin really wants to go camping this summer so I convinced him that he needed to practice hiking. To my surprise, he hiked all the way to the beach and then continued walking to the far north side with only a little cajoling. Calvin wasn’t nearly as excited to hike on the way back so I carried him once we reached the trail head.

Calvin Hiking

On the way back to Longview we stopped at Tapiola Park in Astoria, one of my favorite playgrounds in the world. While I love the playground, the bathrooms are quite scuzzy.

Boat in tot area

Calvin with the digger

Boat in big kids section

Calvin made a flying leap and grabbed onto the Monkey rings. The first time he was successful. The second time ended in tears.

Monkey Rings

So many things to play on . . .
Bridges

ap7

Friday we went to the park in Longview. Saturday we went up to Hood River to visit Gramps. On Sunday we road on the Mount Hood Railroad. Though apparently I neglected to get any pictures of this (no doubt Grandma has many). Then, once again buoyed by our Taiwan experience, Calvin and I flew back home to Colorado fairly late and I crawled into bed at 12:30am on Monday morning.

Playing Catan with Calvin

Last month Jaeger’s mom came for a week to celebrate Calvin’s fourth birthday. While she was here, Jaeger and I took the opportunity to go out by ourselves for the evening. We ate at Leaf which was, as always, scrumptious. After Leaf we dawdled for a while on the Pearl Street Mall and then decided to stop by Barnes and Noble on the way home. Browsing Barnes and Noble I saw that they had Catan Junior. Jaeger and I convinced ourselves we should buy it for Calvin’s birthday even though it’s rated for ages 6 and up.

A couple nights after we bought the game, Calvin and I settled down for his first game. It went fairly well. Even though the rules are already simple, I simplified them even more1. Calvin doesn’t like pirates so we left out the pirate that would normal be played every time a six is rolled (there’s only one dice). We also changed the “pirate lairs” to “castles.” I would tell Calvin when it was his turn, and then point at each island adjacent to one of his castles and inquire if it was the number he had just rolled. If so, I’d point out the resources. When appropriate, I also suggested when he should consider building another ship or castle. Calvin won his first game

Last night Anya stopped by and we all played a game of Catan Junior together. This time I think Calvin had a better feel for the game. He seemed to get into being able to build and also liked it whenever he could buy Coco (a parrot card that is the equivalent of a development card). I gave him choices of where he could build ships and castles and made recommendations and sometimes he followed my recommendation and sometimes he didn’t. Jaeger ended up winning the game and Calvin was pretty distraught that he hadn’t won. We tried to explain that one doesn’t always win every game and sometimes other people win. He then tried to insist we play another game but it was past his bedtime so I insisted he go to bed instead.

We had left the game on the kitchen table and this morning Calvin pulled out all the ships and castles and organized them. First he put all the colors together and then he started lining them up, alternating ships and castles. With one color, he had started with the castles but there are more ships (8) than castles (7) and Calvin seemed a little perturbed when he got to the end and had two ships in a row. After contemplating for a bit, he rearranged the order so the color both started and ended with a ship. This mostly worked but he still had two ships, albeit of different colors, lined up next to each other for each color change. I think I managed to convince him that was ok because they were different colors but I think he was dubious.

This next week Calvin and I are flying out to visit my mom. Jaeger suggested I could take Catan Junior to play and I thought that was a good idea. However, to save space, I just packed the pieces and left the box on the table. After supper, Calvin requested another game of Catan Junior. I told him no because I had already packed them and he got very upset. He really, really, wanted to play another game RIGHT NOW. I didn’t relent, it was too close to bedtime and we have an early start tomorrow, but I was happy he seems to enjoy the game so much. I wonder when we can graduate him to real Catan . . .

  1. A good review and summary of the game is here.

An Update on Calvin’s Allowance

A couple months ago I started giving Calvin an allowance. It’s been interesting to see the choices he has made.

The logistics of giving Calvin an allowance have been more complicated than I was first expecting. Up until very recently I never carried cash. If I have cash, I have a tendency to spend it and then not have a clue where it went. With a credit card, even if I lose the receipt, I can go online and at least know how much money I spent at a specific store. I balance and pay my credit card weekly and it works very well for me. However, Calvin really wanted cash so I had to learn how to manage cash. In addition, the two salons I visit strongly prefer their tips in cash (one won’t even accept tips via credit card which is why I eventually caved).

Managing the Calvin-side of his allowance has actually been pretty easy. I bought an app for the iPad called iAllowance and it’s work out pretty well. I can set it up to say how often he should get an allowance, how the allowance should be distributed (piggy bank, savings, and charity), and I can even award interest on his “savings.”

However, managing cash on my end was a complete disaster. I’d withdraw money for Calvin’s allowance then use some of it for tips and frantically have to figure out how to reconcile it all in GnuCash1. Finally, within the last two weeks, I think I’ve got it all figured out. I have a new asset account called Cash. Every time I withdraw cash, I move money from the appropriate budget sub-accounts in checking to the cash account. Any cash I use for tips, etc, gets entered as an expense and, if necessary, I go give money to the Calvin budget sub-account in checking from my personal sub-account. Anytime I actually distribute Calvin’s allowance to him, it goes to the “Calvin’s cash” sub-account in the cash account. Every Monday I make sure “Calvin’s cash”, the “piggy bank” in iAllowance, and Calvin’s wallet have the same amount in them. The top-level cash account should always match the cash I have in my wallet. Yeah, it’s confusing but it’s working for me, at least for now. I do miss the good-old credit card only days though.

I’m pretty sure the “savings” and “giving” accounts for Calvin are pointless at this point. I had been using his giving account for Cradle Roll offering each week. However, I haven’t figured out when (if?) Kindergarten takes offering. What I’d really like to do is sit down with him and let him choose a charity he’s particularly interested in. However, he doesn’t have much in the account yet. Maybe I should just let it accumulate to the end of the year and talk to him about it then.

Watching Calvin spend his actual cash has been fascinating. As I mentioned before, Calvin’s very first purchase was glue. He had expressed an interest in glue but I was less excited. Before I let him buy the glue, I dragged him all over the store and pointed out the things he could buy instead if he just waited longer. One of the things I thought he might like to save for was a Curious George TV season. Target has some of the Curious George TV series for only $5 which is the best I’ve seen anywhere, including Amazon and Walmart. However, Calvin was insistent that he wanted glue. Well, it was his money so I let him buy glue. He was very happy.

The next week when I handed him his allowance, he didn’t do anything with it. This surprised me a bit. I half expected we’d be rushing to the store to buy more glue (naturally the glue he had purchased was already gone). The next week, he asked me if he had enough money for a Curious George DVD. Apparently dragging him all around the store had made an impression. He didn’t, but I told him he would the week after that. He seemed content to wait. The next week, we went to Target and he bought Curious George: Robot Monkey.

One of the things I love about Calvin getting an allowance is when he asks for something, I can now tell him he can get it if he can buy it. This is particularly helpful when we go to the thrift store. I like shopping at the thrift store. It’s like a treasure hunt. Some days are good and some days are bad. However, the clothing seems to be a better quality than much of what I can get new these days. Plus, I can still find colors that look good on me even if all the current “in” colors are terrible. However, the thrift store is also full of cheap plastic toys that Calvin finds fascinating but I don’t want cluttering up my house.

We went to the thrift store a couple of weeks ago and Calvin decided ahead of time that he wanted to spend $3 for a toy there. I was a surprised by the $3 amount because he did have a couple more dollars available. We went around and I pointed out which toys were under $3 and which weren’t. We also discussed the concept of sales tax though I’m not sure how much he got out of that discussion. After looking at several items, he settled on a terrible hamburger-eating pig. I tried to talk him out of it but he was quite sure that’s what he wanted. The good news was it cost less than $2 so at least he was under budget.

Calvin’s most recent purchase was a plastic watering can. He loves watering cans but the one I have is too big for him to be able to fill and carry. Jaeger had wanted a small one for his office plants. Once we arrived at Walmart, Calvin asked if he could have one too. I told him if he paid for it with his allowance and he readily agreed.

One purchase Calvin hasn’t made yet is for tape. Calvin really likes tape but I’ve been refusing to give him any tape because, from my perspective, he just wastes it. Once, before I realized I needed to keep the tape out of reach, Calvin strung it all over around the family room. That was fun to pick up. Now, whenever Calvin asks for tape, I tell him he can buy some with his allowance. Apparently, it’s not important enough to him because, unlike the glue, he doesn’t seem interested in purchasing any.

Currently, Calvin has $6.63 of allowance which I think is pretty decent considering he only gets $2/week. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say giving Calvin an allowance is a success. However, it does seem to be a learning experience for everyone involved.

  1. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before but I have absolutely adored GnuCash ever since Jaeger introduced it to me shortly after we were married.

Calvin’s Birthday Party

Last Sunday we had a whole bunch of Calvin’s preschool classmates over to celebrate his birthday. Jaeger’s parents were also able to come for the party.

Calvin’s cake was really a brownie that I poured into a cookie sheet with sides. I used the “Fudge Brownie” recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook1. For the frosting, I used King Arthur Flour’s Fudge Frosting. I think the yogurt gives the frosting a little zing. Previously, I had made a double batch of frosting which ended up being way too much. This time I used a single batch. Jaeger thought the double batch kept the brownie moister, which is probably did, but I didn’t want to give preschool kids that much sugar.

Calvin adores sprinkles so I bought special primary color sprinkles for him to put on the brownie.

Calvin adds sprinkles to his brownie

After the sprinkles, I arranged the Lego candies which I had previously made.

Happy Birthday Calvin! using Lego Candies

Since Calvin’s birthday party ended up falling on Easter, I decided it would be fun to do a Lego-themed Easter egg hunt. I bought two sets of Legos: a “boy” set and a “girl” set. I also borrowed some Legos from Calvin. The pieces that were too big to fit in the Easter eggs, like the horse, went into Calvin’s Lego set so I think it ended up about even. I stuffed approximately 160 Easter Eggs. About an hour before the party Jaeger and I attempted to hide them. It takes a long time to find easy, but not too easy, hiding places for 160 eggs.

As the children were arriving for the party I had them gather around the table and decorate their Easter egg bags. I had found white lunch sacks at Target and then had a variety of stickers, crayons, and markers on the table to decorate with. The children seemed amused by this but it didn’t take very long to get all the bags decorated. Once it seemed a majority of the children had arrived, we started the Easter egg hunt.

This was the first Easter egg hunt that I had ever organized. I went looking all over the internet for ideas. The internet suggested I should have at least 12 eggs per child. However, I was worried that some kids would find a lot more than others. Finally, I hit on the idea of telling the kids they could have one egg of every color. I had enough eggs that there were about 8-12 different colors, depending on whether or not you considered two shades of a color to be the same color. All the children were very good at only picking up one egg per color. After it seemed that most of the children had at least one of every color, we told them they could go and gather the rest of the eggs.

Jaeger and I worked hard to find places to hide the eggs. It’s not easy in a yard that’s still recovering from winter. However, I think we managed to provide both easy and harder options. Some of the mothers commented that it was refreshing to go to an Easter egg hunt where you had to hunt for the Easter eggs versus them just laying randomly out on the ground. I hadn’t been able to find an estimate for how long an Easter egg hunt should take. The kids found most of our eggs within a half hour and seemed to lose interest about the same time.

Jaeger’s mom and I had looked in some books for some other activities to do. One of the ideas we had run across was balloon volleyball. Originally, we were planning to do it in our family room but the day was gorgeous so we decided to try to do it outside instead. I ran a yellow streamer across two chairs and then some of the parents blew up balloons to use as volleyballs. Unfortunately, the balloons popped as soon as they touched anything, including the grass. I pulled Calvin’s blue beach ball out instead but it seemed too little too late. Most of the kids weren’t interested in it.

Having given up on the volleyball game, we went inside to eat cake and ice cream. Afterwards, Calvin unwrapped his presents within a mob of his classmates. Having that many kids in the house towards the end of the party made me really thankful the weather allowed us to do the Easter egg hunt outdoors. It would have been a disaster indoors. Jaeger counted and we ended up with 14 adults and 13 children, including our family. That was a lot of people but I think it all turned out pretty well. I was really glad that Jaeger’s mom was around to help because I think we would have gone crazy trying to do it by ourselves.

  1. Note: if you search inside the book on Amazon for “fudge brownie” you’ll get the 2002 recipe which is different than my 1996 version of the recipe.

Book Bins for Calvin

A couple of weeks ago Jaeger and I decided we needed to do something about Calvin’s books. I do not feel like Calvin has an excessive number of books. However, they were spilling randomly out of his shelves and we were running out of places to stuff them.

Because I don’t monitor Calvin closely in his own room, I don’t want bookshelves that are high enough they could topple onto him. My first plan was to buy a 3rd shelf that matched the two he has now. However, it turns out they don’t make this shelf anymore. So, I started to look for alternatives.

I found a lot of very cute bookshelves that were unsuitable because they couldn’t handle the number of books we have. Eventually, I decided I should take inspiration from an organization that specializes in having vast quantities of picture books available for browsing: the library. Most newer libraries have “book bins” that allow for easy browsing at the child’s level and have shelving underneath the book bins for extra storage.

I found some book bins from Jonti-Craft that I liked. However, they cost a bit more than I wanted to spend for furniture that would last a relatively short time. Once Calvin grows taller and graduates away from picture books, the book bins will have limited functionality. Calvin’s favorite was a taxi book bin. It is very cute but would have an even shorter lifespan than the basic book bins.

After a while, I stumbled across some modular storage cubes. These are meant to be stacked on top of each other, along with other furniture in the set. However, I realized I could rotate one of the divided storage cubes and create makeshift bins. I ordered two to see how feasible my idea was.

The first set of cubes arrived. As “promised” they are hollow-core and definitely not superior quality. However, my idea worked fairly well and the manufacturer even included brackets to bolt the two pieces together1. The only thing that I hadn’t realized was how deep a 15″ bin is. The good news is it easily handles Calvin’s largest books. However, Calvin has to stand on his tiptoes in order to flip through the books. I tried thinking of a variety of ways to fix this problem. The “easiest” solution would have been to cut the boards down to the correct height. However, the hollow-core construction made this seem like a bad idea. Eventually, I decided a step stool worked well enough2.

Having decided the prototype worked well enough, I ordered 4 more divided cubes. Since each divided cube is about 30″ wide, three sets fill one side of Calvin’s room almost perfectly. The cubes arrived yesterday and I spent most of the evening putting them together.

Like the rest of Calvin’s room, the book bins are very white3. This evening I let Calvin decorate the book bins with some Lightening McQueen stickers. It wasn’t until he had the stickers on that I realized we had inadvertently created a Lightening McQueen theme in his bedroom. Calvin’s sheets, step stool, and stickers are all related to Lightening McQueen.

I’m fairly happy with the bins. There’s enough space to fit all Calvin’s picture books in the top bins. The far-right bin is reserved for library books and can accommodate them all. The lower shelves contain his board books, chapter books, and beginning readers. As Calvin gets older, we can unscrew the book bins and flip them around to provided additional book shelves for beginning readers and chapter books.

Calvin poses with his new book bins.

Calvin poses with his new book bins.

  1. Screwing the bracket to the back of the cube is tricky because the wood kept trying to split. However, screwing it into what normally would be the “bottom” of the cube worked flawlessly
  2. During our earlier brain-storming sessions, Jaeger suggested, mostly in jest, that we should get Calvin four-foot high shelves that spanned the entire wall and came with a ladder on wheels. I’ve always wanted something like that for myself. Too bad it isn’t very practical, at least for us.
  3. When we first moved into this house we gave Calvin the option of picking his room color. The prior owners had painted the room green with a purple accent wall. I thought Calvin was going to decided on purple but he surprised us by insisting on white.

Making Lego Candy

Calvin is turning four this March. It seems both an eternity and an instant since he was born. When I asked Calvin what kind of birthday party he wanted, he said that he wanted a Lego party. Several years ago I had stumbled across a blog which had detailed instructions on how to make a Lego mold. Calvin’s birthday party seemed like an excellent excuse to try it out for myself.

My first hurdle was figuring out what type of silicone to use. Crafty Girl said she used Smooth-Sil 940 because she found some locally but liked the idea of Copy Flex better because it didn’t require as much math. Math doesn’t scare me but I couldn’t find any Smooth-Sil 940 in my area, or I was looking in the wrong places, and Copy Flex seemed easier to order in small batches.

I wanted to use the Legos to spell out “Happy Birthday Calvin” on his cake. I counted up the pieces and, using two 10×10 base plates, laid out the Legos I’d need. Then I did the math and discovered that using two base plates would require at least 4 lbs of silicone. Let me tell you, silicone is not cheap. 4 lbs was completely out of the question. After some changes, I decided I could get all the pieces I wanted from one base plate if I filled it up twice. I ended up with 40 2×4 pieces and 10 2×2 pieces and a couple spares to fill out the small amount of empty space left. This still required 2 lbs of silicone though.

I hunted around on Amazon and ebay and found some pre-made Lego-like mold options. However, the comments for all the molds I could find invariably said they weren’t standard Lego brick size. This was a problem because as it was, my Lego letters were barely going to fit on the cake. I went back to the Copy Flex website and asked myself if it was really worth the $50 plus $12.93 for shipping. If I had found the perfect Lego mold and saw the price tag was $62.93, I would never have bought it. However, somehow I managed to convince myself that this was a good investment because it was educational. We’d get to see chemistry at work! I ordered the silicone and waited with baited breath for it to arrive.

We had a couple of false starts. I had made the Lego base but Jaeger, correctly, suggested that washing the Legos would be a good idea. So, we ran the Legos with the base plate through on the top rack of the dishwasher with heated dry turned off (this is how we routinely wash Legos/Duplos ordered on eBay). The next day we got ready to pour only to notice that the Legos had collected water inside and so weren’t truly dry. *sigh* We took all the Legos apart and laid them out to dry on cooling racks. Finally, everything was ready.

Copy Flex comes in two containers: a catalyst and a base. The Copy Flex instructions suggested that refrigerating the two liquids would help slow down the reaction and provide more time to get the mold right. Other than being a little larger, I had constructed the positive Lego mold similar to how Crafty Girl had. I had tested it out with water and noticed the water leaked out so I worried that the silicone would also. To prevent an unexpected mess, I put the Lego mold on a cookie sheet. Then I took the two parts of Copy Flex out of the fridge and carefully stirred them together, trying to minimize the bubbles. As instructed, I poured the liquid from a height of about 12″ and let it spread naturally across the Legos. 2 lbs was exactly the right amount, it was perfect. I thumped it on the counter a couple of times because it seems like there were still bubbles in it. I wasn’t sure if thumping was helpful but I didn’t end up with any problematic bubbles.

Copy Flex cures within 4 hours but it was evening so this morning I woke up to take the Legos off. The silicone had leaked in a couple of small places but overall it wasn’t too bad. Interestingly, it seemed to be the places where I had made the border with Legos larger than the standard 2x4s. As Crafty Girl had promised, they peeled right off. I washed the mold with soap and water because Amazon reviews of the pre-made molds had mentioned that the dishwasher could leave a residue that would end up on the candy. The silicone is safe up to 400 degrees F so I stuck it in the oven for a couple of minutes to dry.

This afternoon, Calvin and I tried making our first Legos candies. I used Wilton Candy Melts and had bought several different colors. Walmart carries Candy Melts in their “wedding” aisle. Unfortunately, the candy melts are more pastel colored. I had tried adding gel fooding coloring to intensify the the colors but I didn’t have any oil-based coloring easily available so the melted candy kept seizing. Jaeger assured me it would still be ok and I’m trying to pretend the pastels are on purpose, maybe they’re the Friends Legos.

In any case, I melted the candy melts over a double boiler. You can microwave them but I felt the double boiler gave me more control and made sure they stayed melted. I used a small spatula to carefully fill each Lego slot with the melted candy. Wilton says the candy should be pudding-texture, because if you get it too hot, the candy is ruined. However, my later Lego bricks were made with a little more liquid candy and they turned out better. I would fill four 2×4 bricks and one 2×2 brick and then tap the mold against the counter, hopefully to get the air bubbles out. I wasn’t sure how fast the candy would set. I repeated the process until the entire mold was filled. Conveniently my mold holds exactly one bag of melted candy melts.

Here's how the mold looked right after I finished filling it.  You can see the small spatula I used.

Here’s how the mold looked right after I finished filling it. You can see the small spatula I used.

I was unsatisfied with how some of the earlier Legos had overflowed so I tried to smooth them out but I think that was a mistake. I wasn’t sure how long it would take to have the candy set so I looked it up online. Common consensus was that 20 minutes in the refrigerator should work. I thought you weren’t suppose to refrigerate melted chocolate but maybe candy melts are different. In any case, after 20 minutes I took it out and the Legos popped right out.

The finished product.

The finished product.

The detail is so fine you can even see the Lego logo on them.
Lego Candy 4

The first candies I filled tended to have air bubbles in spite of all the tapping I did. I think it’s because the candy wasn’t quite as liquid as it was at the end. Below is how it looks with the bubbles.
Lego Candy 5

All in all, I’m pretty happy with how they turned out. They’re definitely recognizable and I think they’ll work well on Calvin’s cake. Calvin’s birthday isn’t for a couple of weeks still but I’ll post pictures of the cake when it’s finished.

Calvin’s Tofu Loaf

Calvin is always very eager to “help” me in the kitchen. Usually I’m hurrying to try to get supper on the table and would rather not dance around him. However, I do try to set time aside to let him help me a couple of times a week. I view baking time with a preschooler as the mathematical equivalent of story time for literacy. I’m convinced that cooking or baking is a great way for kids to learn mathematical concepts.

Up to this point, I usually find the recipe we’re going to make, do any necessary prep, and then allow Calvin to dump the ingredients into the mixing bowl or pan. Calvin does enjoy dumping things in. However, he really would prefer that I give him more autonomy. For the last couple of weeks Calvin will dutifully dump ingredients in but then sneak off to the side and start making his own “recipes.” These are usually charming but inedible as he’s making due with whatever odds and ends are left on our counter1. This last week, I decided I should try to create a structure where Calvin could make the majority of the recipe decisions but we would hopefully end up with an edible product.

A couple of years ago I ran across The Magical Loaf Studio. Jennifer McCann is the author of two awe-inspiring cookbooks with recipes for vegan lunches. Her stuff is amazing. I’m completely intimidated by her adorable menus. Anyway, many years ago now she went to a vegetarian cooking class put on by an Adventist church. One of the things they handed out was instructions on how to create your own vegetarian loaf. One day when bored, Jennifer automated it and the Magical Loaf Studio was born. To be honest, I’m not that much into vegetarian loafs (and Jaeger believes they are evil). However, the setup seemed ideal to give Calvin a lot of options while still creating something that was edible-like.

Today Calvin and I tried the vegetarian loaf experiment. I pulled up the page and started out with the “protein” box. I pulled out every protein option that was listed in the box and that we had in the house and let Calvin choose which one he liked best. Predictably, he chose tofu. Then we moved on section by section until we got to the end. Calvin tried to get away without choosing any vegetable or seasonings but I insisted he select at least one. At last, we had a recipe:

Here’s Your Very Own Adventist-Style Vegan Dinner Loaf!

program created by Jennifer McCann for the Vegan Lunch Box Blog

Ingredients:

1/2 cup pecans
2 TB margarine
One large carrot, peeled and grated
2 cups mashed firm tofu
1 cup cooked quinoa
1/4 to 1/2 cup tomato juice, as needed
1/2 cup cooked oatmeal
2 TB nutritional yeast flakes
1 tsp. salt
Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350º. Spray a loaf pan or 8×8 square baking pan
with nonstick spray and set aside (an 8×8 pan makes a crisper loaf).

Grind the pecans into a coarse meal using a food processor or
spice/coffee grinder. Place in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Sauté any vegetables you’ve chosen in the margarine until soft. Add to
the large mixing bowl along with all the remaining ingredients. Mix
and mash together well, adding only as much liquid as needed to create
a soft, moist loaf that holds together and is not runny (you may not
need to add any liquid if the grains and protein are very moist). Add
more binder/carbohydrate as needed if the loaf seems too wet.

Press mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour,
or until cooked through.

Let the loaf cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then turn out onto
a plate or platter and slice. Serve with potatoes, vegetables, and
vegetarian gravy, if desired.

Cold leftover slices of make a great sandwich filling.

I had told Jaeger yesterday that for dinner tonight we were going to have a recipe that Calvin created. However, I believe he hoped I was kidding. Jaeger was not amused to come home and discover that we really were having a Calvin concoction. To be honest, it wasn’t particularly good. Calvin only took a couple bites of it though Jaeger and I both ate reasonable servings. The recipe could have used a lot more seasoning and potentially more baking (I’m not entirely sure what the texture was suppose to be like). However, it was certainly edible.

I’m not sure I want to try the loaf generator again with Calvin. I’m certain good recipes can be made from it but it probably takes a lot more cooking intuition than Calvin has at the moment. So, I wouldn’t call this experiment a disaster but neither was it a success.

Maybe Calvin would feel more in control if he got to choose the recipe. He does own a cookbook specifically for children that I caught him looking through one night when he was allegedly going to bed.

We’ll figure out something, eventually.

  1. Calvin is always very careful not to add eggs to his recipes, and tell me he’s not adding eggs, as he likes to taste them and knows you “can’t” taste raw food once eggs have been added

Robots

Calvin is very into robots at the moment. Every night we’ve been reading the same robot books over and over again.

In addition, Calvin has been industriously building various robots out of legos.

A robot that builds other robots.

A robot that builds other robots.

Random Robot

CalvinRobot3

CalvinRobot4