Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Christmas in July

AKA- Science is cool.

AKA- I do it wrong, so you don't have to.  

Yes, Christmas.  It's early.  But this year I've vowed to make ALL the gifts we give.  I tried this last year, and while I did contribute a fair amount of homemade presents to the Domesstic Christmas bag, I got pulled in by the rampant consumerism of the season, and in the end, failed in my goal of a completely homemade holiday.  
I had been without crisp air and pine sap for so long, living on the west side of Oahu, that being here in Monterey has me feeling the winter-spirit year round.  The mornings almost always feel like there's a frost not far away, and the scent of pine wafting from the forest makes me want to take a swag home to the fireplace.  I think I'll wait until at least October to get nutso like that, though.  Or maybe September?

We found these funky pine cones on a nature stroll the other day, and it got me thinking of the ornaments I like to use as present toppers.  And since December really isn't all that far away in terms of the crafting calendar, I thought I might as well brew some cider and get to jolly-ing.  

See the fish face?  This guy came home with us, and will be painted up with those big kissy lips for someone special.  

This one reminded us of a little bird.  My daughter is totally enamored with birds, and I think she'd love adding this guy to our tree.  

Salt dough has a special place in our hearts and home (especially the grout)- I make a batch fairly regularly as it's inexpensive, easy, and I always have the ingredients on hand.  Kenzie and I started in on some of her presents by making some beads.  I think they'll actually look quite nice with some paint and perhaps some seed beads as adornment.

These little dudes are an homage to my favorite salt dough creation- these hideous elves I made a few years back for an  ornament exchange.  Aren't they cute? ;)  A note...  that hair?  Garlic press!  

But what this post is really about is science.  And snowflakes.  

In my surfing of the blogosphere looking for Christmas inspiration, I came across some beautiful images of crystalized snowflakes made from Borax.  The instructions were aimed at elementary students, so I thought it'd be a wonderful project for the girl and I.  

We made some pipe cleaner forms, and tied them by thread to skewers.  The instructions told me to put one to a jar, and to use a certain ratio of Borax to boiling water.

I may have mentioned this before, but I hate recipes and instructions.  I rarely read them, and it rarely works out in my favor.  I'm not sure why this hasn't sunk in yet.
I thought hey, we could make even more snowflakes if we used a large bowl, so grabbed a big mixing bowl and filled it up with warmish water (I didn't want to wait for it to boil) and some odd scoops of borax.
We also added some blue food coloring for pizazz.

The original instructions did mention that is was important that the container remained undisturbed.  Since we had started our project on the kitchen floor, I now had to booby trap the area to prevent tampering.  

I also locked my son out....

We went to bed, with the girl really really excited for her science project.  We had talked about the formation of crystals and all the learny type stuff, so if you try this at home (the right way) be sure to add that in.  It's pretty cool, actually. (Brief explanation stolen from the internets: 
 "Hot water holds more borax crystals than cold water. That's because heated water molecules move farther apart, making room for more of the borax crystals to dissolve. When no more of the solution can be dissolved, you have reached saturation. As this solution cools, the water molecules move closer together again. Now there's less room for the solution to hold onto as much of the dissolved borax. Crystals begin to form and build on one another as the water lets go of the excess and evaporates." )

Anyway, in the morning, she came to get me, to take the snowflakes out and see how it worked.

It didn't.

Sensing the disappointment, I swallowed my pride and set out to do it the RIGHT way. 
So, here.  You can to.  

 You'll need pipe cleaners, Borax (sometimes called 20 Mule Strong), string, a large jar (6 cup canning jars are awfully convenient), and water.
Food coloring is optional.

Make your snowflake forms, being sure that they can fit through the mouth of the jar without bending.  Tie some thread to the end of one point, and then determine the length you'll need to dangle it inside the jar.  Be aware that the thread that is actually in the water will gather crystals as well.  Once you have the desired length, attach it to a pencil or chopstick or something to hold it above the jar.  

Pur in six cups of boiling water, and then add one cup of Borax.  Stir until it's all dissolved.  

Add the snowflakes, and then leave the jar alone.  If possible, leave the house.  Nothing will happen for several hours, and staring at it will be extremely frustrating.

But after three hours or so, as the water cools, you'll start to see little crystals floating about, settling here and there inside the jar.   Now go away again.

In a few more hours, you'll have a nice chunky crystalized snowflake.  Carefully remove it from the jar and admire the beauty of science. 

This one is two forms, crystalized into one unit.  It's actually pretty sturdy.

 Also, don't freak when you see all those crystals stuck in the jar.  Add more boiling water, give a bit of a stir, and they'll come right off.  You can do it over and over.  

While I've got you here, I wanted to share something pretty cool.  Now that you have mason jars, you can take the rims to make PERFECT poached eggs (I topic.  What, Borax doesn't make you feel like breakfast?).  Just put the rims on the bottom of the pot, and gently spoon the egg into the rim.  When they've cooked, remove with a slotted spatula and flip.  They'll be amazing.  I love poached eggs, especially eggs benedict, and still get a kick out of this little trick.

Sigh, and now I'm hungry.

 Merry Christmas in July, everyone.  If you make any of these groovy snowflakes, show 'em off!  And for those in my family- pretend to be surprised with your new super-fancy ornaments come December :)

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