Jhonen’s 5th Birthday: Volcano Party!

Months ago, Jhonen saw a Target commercial that featured kids in a classroom erupting a model volcano and he said, “I want a volcano birthday this year!”

Day after long day, week after long week passed, and this poor kid thought his birthday and his long-awaited volcano party would never arrive. As the weeks went by, the volcano party evolved into more of an all-around natural disaster theme. Tornados, avalanches, hurricanes and other destructive forces fascinated my own little destructive force of nature.

Birthday boy

I tried to take the party in more of a weather themed direction by adding a make-a-rainbow activity and a sunshine pinata, but he wanted none of it. He made it clear that only something that “could destroy a town” was allowed. A highly insensitive party theme, considering we’re just coming off Hurricane Sandy, the California wildfires, and now these Colorado floods, but…the kid made himself very clear and I love a theme, so natural disaster party it would have to be.

The party could have been held anywhere, but I needed a place without too many distractions, i.e. no playgrounds, because I was afraid my little homemade activity centers wouldn’t hold these 3-6-year old’s attention. I opted to have the party in the community room at our housing complex.

Community Room

This party went through many iterations in my head. I thought up and nixed a dozen different ideas before settling on a few that seemed like they’d work the best. Here are the highlights:


I knew guests would not all arrive at once, so I kept the opening activities unstructured. I set out a few natural disaster-related activites, demonstrated how they were supposed to work, and then let the kids have at it. We had an earthquake table with two activities on it. First, we set out a pan of Jell-O that had plastic wrap over the top and then provided a box of sugar cubes. The kids were then meant to build sugar cube buildings on the Jell-O and then lightly knock on the pan to see if their building could withstand the “quake.”

earthquake activities

The second activity demonstrated how tectonic plates rubbing together can make the ground shake. Place two long, narrow cardboard strips next to each other slightly hanging over the side of a table. Then put a piece of green or brown felt (the ground) on top of the strips and some little plastic toy animals on top of the felt. Then, grab the overhanging ends of your cardboard tectonic, make them rub forward and backward against each other in alternating directions and watch as your little animals all fall over!

We made a tornado in two, two-liter bottles using a tornado tube connector widely available for purchase online. It was a little tricky for the little ones to do on their own, but easy for the adults and the effect was really cool. The kids LOVED watching the water tornados!


Finally, we had an avalanche/blizzard table where kids could pile marshmallows up into a mountain, push the mountain over and watch the marshmallow avalanche crush the unsuspecting Lego knights down below. Some kids preferred to just rain the marshmallows down on those knight’s little yellow Lego heads for a more blizzard-like effect.

DSC_0030 Marshmallow avalanche!

We played with the disaster centers for awhile and ate the loosely-themed food options. Some nacho cheese Bugles and turkey and cheese spiral sandwiches made great tornadoes, but trail-mix rubble and the gigantic avalanche of Pirates Booty worked ok, too.

Natural Disaster Party

DSC_0042 DSC_0038 Natural Disaster Party

The adults had some Hurricane cocktails to calm the nerves in case the atmosphere in the room got a little too dangerous.


After our snacks, it was time to bring out the volcanos! I knew getting eight volcanos made and successfully erupted without ruining anyone’s clothes or the carpeting in the community room might take a great many practice runs on my part. To save anyone else the trouble of much trial and error and many web searches/Pinterest scouring, I will share the entire process in detail for anyone that may want to replicate this volcano action for your own party. There are MANY ways to accomplish the same end here, but this is how we did it:

1. My husband scavenged these cute, squatty 8 ounce water bottles from a good friend’s birthday party earlier in the month. I later discovered the same bottles can be purchased in bulk at Costco. I had never seen that shape bottle before…already shaped a bit like a volcano! Make sure to save the caps.

Homemade Volcano

I prefilled the bottles with this mixture:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • a squirt of dish soap
  • 2-3 drops of red food coloring

At the party, I handed out a bottle, lid ON, to each child with a heavy-duty, extra-large paper plate, along with a Ziplock baggie of salt dough that I’d made ahead of time. I thought about having the kids mix their own salt dough, but opted against it because of their age and timing concerns.


The salt dough recipe I went with was from here. Just mix the following ingredients in a big bowl, turn the dough out onto a flat surface and knead it until it’s smooth and nicely pliable. The first time I made it, I followed the directions and waited to add the food coloring until after the other ingredients were mixed. I didn’t love it that way, so I tried to mix the coloring in with all the other ingredients and I didn’t love that either. Just keep mixing and it eventually works.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • food coloring (I used green and red and mixed it in along with the rest of the ingredients, though it took a long time to get the color to stop being streaky. There’s probably a better way, but it worked in the end.)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

After making one batch as directed, I determined that I could make two good-sized volcanos out of each batch. The day before the party, Jhonen and I whipped up five batches of this stuff all at once, which was fine until it was time to mix it all together! An hour later my husband and I had very achy hands and a TON of mildly gray salt dough. I divided it up into ten equal balls and put each ball into the individual sandwich baggie that was handed to each child at the table. Homemade Volcano

I instructed the kids to cover their bottle with the salt dough, but there were two important rules: leave the cap ON and do not cover the cap with ANY dough. They covered the bottles just fine and maybe a little faster than I’d expected. The dough really molded nicely to the bottles and wasn’t sticky enough to even require immediate hand-washing afterwards.

I had the birthday boy remove the cap from his bottle and watch carefully as I poured vinegar into his bottle from a bigger water bottle I’d pre-filled with plain white vinegar earlier that day. (You need about a half a cup of vinegar per volcano). I thought about giving out small cups of vinegar for the kids to pour into their own bottles, but figured that might lead to trouble, so I did the pouring).

Homemade Volcano

It was interesting to see that every volcano erupted a little bit differently! I wonder if that had to do with slight variations in the amount of vinegar I added to each volcano or if some kids shook their bottles around more than others. I also noticed that it was necessary to remove each child’s erupted volcano right after the eruption so as to avoid any “lava” from going everywhere. Anyway, it was really fun to watch each of the volcanos erupt and not one volcano’s lava went over the sides of any of the plates. Success!

Homemade Volcano

I was worried about erupting the volcanos over salt dough that hadn’t hardened, but that was not a problem at all. I even noticed, after previous experiments, that the salt dough volcano will still dry over the course of about 24-48 hours, even after eruption. The bottles can be washed out and the volcanos reused!

Homemade Volcano

After the volcanos, the kids went outside to my husband who, looking out for his nervous wife, made sure that there were water balloons to play with just in case the natural disaster activities I’d had planned turned out to be disasterous. He figured, as long as there were water balloons at the party, the kids would be sure to have fun.


Caught in a storm? Nope! He just spent a half hour filling a ton of water balloons!Water balloons!

He divided the kids into two teams of four: Team Ice and Team Fire. Then the two teams threw blue and red balloons, respectively, into their correspondingly marked buckets.


The battle raged on for about ten minutes and, of course, ended in a tie.

Water balloons

While the kids tossed water balloons, I raced to get the chocolate lava cakes I’d made reheated and my red and orange chocolate candy pieces melted. I made lava cakes in those extra-tall muffin tins from IKEA ($10) so they were volcano shaped.

Volcano cakes

I planned to have the kids drip oozy orange and red chocolate “lava” over the top of their plain chocolate cakes. I thought about using the icing tubes (what I should have done), but wanted all the kids to work on it at the same time and, when I saw that each tiny tube was more than $2 apiece, I decided to just get the bags of chocolate pieces, melt them and let the kids scoop up the chocolate in spoons and drizzle the hot lava over the top.

Voclano cakes

After reading the back of the candy piece bag, though, it said you could put the chocolate into Wilton plastic disposable frosting bags (I already had a bunch of those at home!), melt them in the microwave, cut the tip and go to town! Perfect! Except…I got a little greedy and wanted to speed things along. I microwaved the frosting bags full of chocolate all at once and the plastic bags melted to each other, the chocolate came out scorching hot and barely squeezable. I salvaged the bags I could and it still came out ok…not as I’d imagined, but a fun activity and the kids didn’t really care or notice.Voclano cakesVoclano cakes

I was still glad that I had a big, delicious earthquake cake for the adults (especially after I tasted the lava cakes which just…didn’t tast that great). I definitely endorse this earthquake cake recipe, though! Yum! Here is the Earthquake Cake before it was baked.

Earthquake cake

And here’s a slice!

Earthquake Cake

The kids couldn’t resist opening presents and then playing with them while the adults dealt with the natural disaster party’s aftermath.

Natural Disaster Party

At one point the kids even spontaneously broke into whirling human tornados!

Natural Disaster Party

On their way out, party attendees were congratulated on surviving the party and given a Disaster Survival Kit to make sure they are prepared in case of future disasters.

Natural Disaster Party

The kits were packed with a compass, an energy bar, an organic lollipop (kid’s equivalent to a sugar pill!), a bar of Ivory soap (that doubled as a fun at-home science experiment to make pretend snow…instructions taped to the side), and the best party favors I’ve ever purchased…finger flashlights in four different colors! We have been playing with them every day since the party.

DSC_0014 Natural Disaster Party

The party, full of recipes I had never tried before, dependent on kids eager to participate and parents willing to help, felt like it could be a disaster waiting to happen. Luckily for us all, the only disasters at this party were the pre-planned, natural variety. I never got to finish the giant volcano and tornado decorations I had planned or make lava rock candy, but there’s never the time or energy to complete every single idea and what we attempted worked out well. The kids all seemed to have fun, the volcanos all erupted to the sounds of gleeful shrieks, and the community room weathered the storm.


In the end, the only real trouble we had at all was a loud, disruptive party crasher…

our dog.

Party crasherAftermath

Thank you to everyone who helped make this party a total BLAST, especially Ben who, again and again, puts up with my crazy birthday party plans and Mike who took almost all of these fantastic photos which I never would have been able to take while managing the chaos.


Simple Watercolor Christmas Card Tutorial!

We all have just one more week before Christmas! I can’t quite believe it. I’m feeling the need to prioritize the last of my holiday plans so that I can relax and enjoy what’s left of the holidays. In recent years I’ve sent handmade Christmas cards to my close friends and family. I have loved the process of making and sending them, but this year, in the midst of amigurumi orders and having to, for the first time, ship off all our family’s Christmas gifts so they’d arrive by Christmas, I just couldn’t come up with a new card design in time.

But then, while I packed up my very last box, the package of matching goodies inspired me to get my watercolors out and try something. I wish I’d tried it sooner, because I like the results and the technique was SO simple.  You don’t have to know how to draw or paint to make your own customizable handmade watercolor cards.

I remembered a wax crayon I’d saved from an easter egg dye kit I’d bought earlier this year. It is called Dudley’s Magic Crayon which, after a quick Google search, looks like may only be available in easter egg kits? However, a white wax crayon or candle are said to accomplish the same thing: resist the watercolor paint so that the design you’ve drawn shows through the paint.

I got out my trusty Strathmore watercolor cards and hastily drew a basic Christmas tree and star shape on the front with my crayon. I found some of the inexpensive watercolor palettes I’ve had forever that had exactly the three colors I wanted and, with just a few swishes of my brush, I had this!

watercolor cards

OK, I think that one was my second or third try. The first couple times I tried this resist technique I hadn’t gone over the lines with my wax crayon enough times. It’s really hard to see where you’ve drawn because the wax crayon I have is clear. I could hold the paper up to the light to see it, but that doesn’t help when you’re drawing. I found that if I went over each line a couple times, the watercolor paint resisted better. Thus, the design needed to be simple, without any intricate detail. Luckily, that’s what I was going for. I also wanted the color to be more vivid, so once my first coat was dry, I did it one more time: a couple gold swishes, wet my brush, a couple green swishes, wet my brush, a couple rust swishes. Then I tipped my paper a bit so the colors would bleed into each other a bit, and here’s the result!

watercolor cards

So simple! I had a few failures, but the process is so fast, who cares!

I used an old snowflake stencil I had stashed and came up with this one:

watercolor cards

Hey, they aren’t masterpieces, but they are handmade and doing something creative, even though it left my dining room table a mess, helped perk me up one chilly evening last week. I hope the cards perk up their very few recipients. I may have to perfect the designs and use them again next year.

watercolor cards

I’ll have a few more Christmas-related posts before the holidays. I just put my shop on vacation so I can finish up a project or two for Christmas and start the new year refreshed. Thank you so much, everyone, for your support, encouragement, time, and orders this year! I can’t wait to see what creative adventures await in 2013.


Happy Handmade Hearts: Part Two, What To Do?

Now that you’ve crocheted a dozen of your own Happy Handmade Hearts with this pattern or have collected a dozen ordering little crocheted buddies from me, here are a few ideas for what to do with them!

Share the love!  

Stick one  inside a tin full of tea. I like Republic of Tea’s Ginger Peach. Tie a heart around a jar full of candy. Sour Patch Kids, preferably. Decorate the neck of a vase. I wish mine were holding handpicked daisies. (Make that vase using this tutorial!)


Tie your heart onto a gift box or tag.

Make pretty groupings of them and sew or glue them together with a buttton on top. Weave in the ends or use them as added decoration.

Wear your heart on your…hair? Take a simple dollar store barette and hot glue the heart right on!

Keep your Happy Heart close to your happy heart. 

Take a premade chain necklace (I used a Blue Moon Beads 18 inch metal necklace) and find the middle point. With two little jewelry-making pliers, open the two middle chains. Hook the left side of the crocheted heart onto one of the open split rings and close it up again. Repeat on the right side and you have a Happy Heart necklace!

Now, don’t let those Happy Handmade Hearts go to waste! I’d love to know how you have used yours! Pictures or comments would be awesome!



DIY Kitchen Art: Don’t buy…reuse!

In a previous post, I showed a bunch of blank spaces that needed to be filled. Last week, my son and I tackled this sad spot in our house. Just a few weeks ago, while perusing the newly opened local Hobby Lobby, I considered purchasing a canvas to use for this over-the-microwave project. I wanted to do a kitchen-inspired mixed media canvas, but have never done anything like it, so my husband suggested that I practice on paper before I buy a canvas. That sounded sensible. The very next day, while reading one of my favorite blogs, artist and crafter, Alisa Burke, reminded me of this:

Who says paintings need to be on canvas? Why not get creative and recycle things you already have on hand like cardboard cereal or food boxes. Painting on boxes is actually a great way to make art on a budget, create something that is light weight and easy to display.

About to toss out a cereal box and two boxes of granola bars, I thought to myself, not only are these the perfect sizes for the space, but the medium matches my kitchen-inspired message! I could even leave bits and pieces of the boxes showing through the paint! Then, after I gathered our materials, I realized that the newspaper I put down to protect the table was actually grocery store advertisements with pictures of food all over them and that added a whole other fun dimension to this project.

I wanted this to be a summer art project with my 3-year-old, so the results were not exactly what I’d envisioned, but it was fun and it still turned out well. I gave him the two smaller granola boxes to use while I used the larger cereal box. Plus, the activity turned into an alphabet, spelling, painting, and recycling lesson! If a 3-year-old can do it, so can you. If it turns out terrible, who cares! It was going to go into the recycle bin anyway!

Here you go: easy, fun, recyclable, reusable, cardboard kitchen art:

Materials: Anything goes, but I used…

  • white gesso
  • acrylic paint
  • an assortment of brushes
  • scissors
  • letter stencils
  • grocery store newspaper inserts (You could use anything! Pictures from magazines, clip art, your own drawings, cuttings from other food containers, etc.)
  • and cardboard food containers

Step 1: Cut out whatever strikes your fancy or looks especially appetizing from the grocery store inserts.

Step 2:  Paint as many coats of white gesso (or any color paint you want as a background) onto the cardboard as you want. If you like the box art showing through a little, just do one light layer. If you want a completely blank “canvas” you’ll need to paint several layers on, letting the paint or gesso dry in between. I used the gesso as my glue, so before you let the last layer dry, stick the food pictures onto the boxes wherever you want.

Step 3: Brush, dab, squirt, drip, and fling paint onto your boxes using whatever paint and colors you choose! I asked my son to try and paint around the pictures he’d just carefully chosen and glued to the box, so of course he decided to paint directly on top of all of the pictures.

Step 4: Layer paint, gesso, and cuttings as much as you like and let it all dry. As you can see in the photo above, I needed to smooth out my clippings, so I dry-brushed the gesso around the clipping edges making a feathery effect which both secured the edges and blended them into the rest of the picture.

Step 5: My son and I decided that, since there were three boxes, we could put a three-letter word across them. Coincidentally, both “eat” and “yum” would work. We decided on “yum” and I used big letter stencils and black acrylic paint to stencil the letters onto each box. The best thing about this project is that we could flip these exact boxes over and do something totally different on the other sides! We could use one giant box next time or lots of little boxes to spell “yummy” next time! I could take this to a whole other level and paint with food!

I may never buy another canvas again.

In fact, my next blank space might just be filled up with this:Happy Recycling, everybody!

p.s. Here is the inspirational cardboard box blog post from Alisa Burke for more ideas!

p.p.s. Speaking of cardboard box art, looks like there may just be a Cardboard Art Festival in Orlando in January 2013! Keep an eye out on this facebook event page for more info!