If it's not hard, it's not worth making Wed, 14 Sep 2022 02:33:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 32 32 96367689 Easy Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Cake Recipe Using Cake Mix Fri, 16 Nov 2018 08:13:52 +0000 Continue reading "Easy Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Cake Recipe Using Cake Mix"]]> Have food allergies or restrictions? Here’s an easy to make gluten-free and dairy-free cake recipe. All you need is a box of gluten-free cake mix and store-bought dairy-free frosting. So simple and it tastes great too!

I try to avoid suspect ingredients and artificial food colors, so this is a relatively healthy cake as well. Many frostings in a can are dairy-free, but full of trans fats and other additives that are bad for you (and make my skin breakout). The ingredients list for Simple Mills Organic frosting is dairy-free AND passed my yucky ingredients check.

Here’s what you will need:

For the India Tree sprinkles and food coloring, make sure you get the ones labeled “Nature’s Colors.” Their regular sprinkles and food coloring use artificial colors and are not plant-based.

Useful tools

  • Hand Mixer or stand mixer – makes baking a cake quick and easy
  • 2 8″ round cake pans
  • Instant read thermometer – if you have one, using a thermometer is so much simpler than checking for doneness with a toothpick. The cake is done when the center is 212 degrees!
  • Cooling racks
  • Pedestal cake stand – the extra height makes it easier to frost the cake and the narrow pedestal make it easier to turn the cake while you are frosting. It gives your cake a fancy touch too.
  • 13″ Offset Spatula – easier to use for frosting a cake than a butter knife
  • Wilton Buttercream Decorating Kit – if you want to do some piping or write “Happy Birthday” on your cake. Really makes your cake look more professional!
  • Food Scale – I used my scale to ensure I divided the cake batter evenly between my two pans

To make the cake, follow the directions on the box of the King Arthur Flour Gluten Free Yellow Cake Mix. I used two 8″ round cake pans to make a two layer cake. The cake box directions specify to only grease the bottoms of the cake pans and not the sides. The reason for this is so that the cake can “grab” onto the sides of the pan to help the cake rise – especially important for a gluten-free cake!

Since I was making a layer cake, I wanted to bake even and flat cake layers. As I mentioned above, I used my Ozeri food scale to evenly divide the cake batter between the two pans. For making the cake layers level, I’ve seen cake levelers at the store, which you use to cut off the round top from your cake layers. However, sawing the top off my cake layers seemed more likely to ruin my cake than to make them flat.

Instead, here are three things I did to help my cake layers bake flat and even.

  1. After filling my pans with batter, I gave each cake pan a quick spin on my kitchen counter to get the cake batter to move outward towards the edge of the pan before putting the pans in the oven. I don’t know if this really made much of a difference, but it’s worth a shot.
  2. Immediately after taking the cake pans out of the oven, I gently pressed on the top of the cake with the back of a spoon to flatten it out. This helped quite a bit.
  3. When taking the cake layers out of the pans (after waiting the 10 minutes specified on the box for the cake to cool a bit), I placed the cake layers upside down on my cooling racks. This helped a lot too!

Check out how nice and flat my cake layers turned out!
After letting the cake layers cool for several hours, you are ready to frost your cake. I put some strips of parchment paper under my bottom cake layer to keep the plate clean and used my cake pedestal to make it easier to turn the cake while frosting. I used an offset spatula to spread the Simple Mills Organic Vanilla Frosting filling between the two layers.

Use the dairy free frosting and the offset spatula to frost the rest of the cake. The offset spatula makes it easy to get a nice smooth top and I also used the tip of the offset spatula to make the sides look “rustic.” I wasn’t too careful about trying not to get crumbs in my frosting – that’s why I got the natural sprinkles to help distract from any frosting imperfections.

I used a little kit similar to Wilton’s Buttercream Decorating Kit to do the piping and the writing on the cake. The cake decorating kit is inexpensive and the piping makes the cake look way more professional! I mixed a few drops of blue natural food coloring with the frosting. It helps if the frosting is stiffer, so I put my colored frosting into the piping bag and then in the fridge for 10 minutes before decorating. The decorating kit comes with simple technique instructions.  I practiced my piping and writing techniques on a plate first before doing the real thing on the cake. If needed, you can scoop the practice frosting back into your piping bag!

Once you are done with the decorative frosting, add the  sprinkles, carefully remove the strips of parchment, and your cake is done!

Our birthday cake was moist and delicious! My daughter enjoyed the frosting even though she usually does not like frosting. The sprinkles were pretty tasty too. This was the best gluten-free and dairy-free birthday cake and it was so easy to make!

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Best Dance Shoes for Kids Thu, 06 Sep 2018 04:40:24 +0000 Continue reading "Best Dance Shoes for Kids"]]> With school starting, it’s time to buy new dance shoes for your little dancers. I remember being daunted the first time I had to purchase dance shoes for my daughter. My daughter’s dance teacher has always been helpful with shoe recommendations. Now that my daughter has been part of her dance school’s performing company dance team for the past three years, I have had to buy many pairs of tap shoes, ballet shoes and jazz shoes. Here are my recommendations for the best dance shoes for children.

If you are preparing for your child’s first dance class, you may not want to purchase expensive dance shoes until your child has taken a few classes and indicated that they do indeed enjoy dance class. Some kids love dancing, but are unhappy when they need to perform the dance steps the teacher is teaching instead of dancing to their own beat. If you are not ready to invest in quality dance shoes, here are a few inexpensive options:

  1. Borrowing shoes: Your dance school may allow you to borrow shoes for a class or two. Alternatively, older children may have dance shoes they have outgrown and are happy to pass on.
  2. Payless ShoeSource: Payless has tap shoes for around $25 and ballet shoes for around $20. Prices are even less if you have a coupon and there are often specials like BOGO half off.
  3. Target: My local Target has a small selection of dance shoes and dance apparel. Tap shoes are around $25-$35. Ballet shoes are $15.

If you would like to buy quality dance shoes for your child, there are several good options. The difference will be better fit and comfort. High quality dance shoes are usually made of leather which is softer and will even stretch a bit as your child’s feet grow. For tap shoes, the metal tap plate will make a higher quality sound as well.

I sometimes go to my local dancewear store. The clerks are very good at finding the correct fit for my child. A good fit is important, especially if your child will be dancing in competitions. Additionally dance shoe sizing does not match street shoe sizing. However, now that I know which shoes our dance teacher prefers, I often buy our dance shoes on Amazon and guess at the size my child will need. I make sure to only purchase them if Amazon is offering free returns if the shoes do not fit.

Best Tap Shoes

Best Tap Shoes, Ballet Shoes and Jazz Shoes for Kids

The Bloch S0301G for toddler and little kid sizes or the Bloch S0301L for women’s sizes is a superb leather tap shoe. MSRP is $68, but usually under $60 on Amazon. The full laces allows you to securely tie the shoes. You don’t want your child’s shoe falling off when they are on the stage!

Best Ballet Shoes

Best Tap Shoes, Ballet Shoes and Jazz Shoes for Kids

I’ve been told by dance teachers and experienced teen students that stretch canvas ballet slippers with a split sole are more comfortable.  Bloch Zenith S0282G (or women’s sizes Bloch S0282L) is what my child wears. MSRP $25.




Best Jazz Shoes

Best Tap Shoes, Ballet Shoes and Jazz Shoes for Kids

I love the smooth look of the Bloch Neo-Flex S0495G leather and neoprene jazz shoes from Bloch (for women’s sizes: Bloch S0495L). MSRP $39.90. My daughter has these in black and tan.




Best Tap Shoes, Ballet Shoes and Jazz Shoes for Kids

Another great choice is the leather Bloch Super Jazz S0401G (see Bloch S0401L for women’s sizes). MSRP $39.90. Our dance teacher recommended this shoe, but my daughter preferred the smooth look of the Bloch Neo-Flex S0495G.




My dancer has worn many pairs of these dance shoes through years of dance competitions and conventions. She has complained about uncomfortable or itchy dance costumes, but has always been happy with her dance shoes. My hope is that this information will help your dancer light up the stage!

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Stop Motion Animation for the Girl Scout Entertainment Technology Badge Thu, 25 Jan 2018 00:50:25 +0000 Continue reading "Stop Motion Animation for the Girl Scout Entertainment Technology Badge"]]> I covered Part 2 of the Entertainment Technology Badge for Junior Girl Scouts at our troop meeting. At a previous meeting, we learned about badge requirements 2 (video game development), 3 (amusement park science), and 4 (special effects). For Part 2, we investigated badge requirements 1 (animation) and 5 (sound) for the Entertainment Technology badge.

Since my troop has also been gearing up for Girl Scout Cookie Season, I combined our cookie sale role play practice with the creation of stop motion animation videos. The girls worked in groups of two to animate a cookie sale scenario using little toys like Playmobil figures or LEGO minifigures. It was fun for the girls to combine learning about animation with cookie sale practice!

Stop motion animation involves taking lots of pictures where the things in each photo are moving just a little bit. It is similar to traditional drawn animation except that photos are being displayed instead of multiple drawings. Animation works since showing the images fast enough will cause your brain to make it look like continuous motion.

We used the Stop Motion Studio app. The basic functionality of the app is free and works great. It does have in-app purchases for more options, but we did not need any of those.

To create the scene, my kids and I looked through their toy bins and found the following:

  • Playmobil figures for the characters
    • I took little strips of green felt and sewed a couple of stitches in one end to make little Girl Scout sashes. I had gold star stickers handy and cut off a few points to stick on as badges.
  • LEGO 1×2 bricks with a 1×2 flat tile on top
    • I printed out tiny photos of the Girl Scout cookie boxes, cut them out, and used double-sided tape to stick them to the front of the “boxes”
  • Roominate walls to create the set and for the cookie booth table
  • Various accessories from Playmobil and LEGO like money and a cell phone.
  • LEGO bricks to make a device holder
LEGO Device Holder – one child asked me how I knew how to make it. I just made it up!

During our troop meeting, we had the girls rotate through cookie sale-related stations and this was one of the stations. I had 4 girls working on stop motion at a time, so I had two devices and two scenes prepared.

For stop motion animation, keeping the device steady and at a fixed distance/angle is important. Otherwise your animation will look like things are jumping around. I used washi tape to tape down our homemade device holder and mark where it was supposed to be located. I did the same for the Roominate walls and floor.

The Stop Motion Studio app is easy to learn. You create a new movie and there are only a few options you need to know about.

  1. Settings: Since we had limited time, I had the girls change the Frames Per Second (FPS) to 2 FPS. Most of the girls’ videos were around 20-30 seconds long which would be 40-60 photos. I wanted to keep the activity fun and not make it painstaking, and 2 FPS worked well.
  2. Camera: This is where you take all those photos! If you take a bad photo (like your hand is showing), keep going and you can delete it later.
  3. Microphone: This is where you can record audio. It will play your video while you are recording so that you can keep your dialogue and the action in sync. This is where the girls practiced the Sound part of the Entertainment Technology badge since it took several tries to get their dialogue and action in sync. They sometimes had to edit their script or add/remove photos to get everything to line up.

From the main edit view, you can delete photos, copy and paste photos, and even select multiple photos to copy and paste. There is also a reverse option if you would like the photos you selected to be shown in reverse.

Stop Motion Studio Main Edit View

To do an action to a photo, you scroll over to the photo so that it is highlighted in the purple box at the bottom of the screen. Then you tap on the purple box and you will see the following menu:

Using Crop, Erase, Draw and Merge all require in-app purchases, but the rest are all available in the free version. It is useful to copy photos if you need to make part of your movie longer and that part of the scene does not have much movement, such as when the characters are just talking to each other. After you tap on Copy, you would scroll your purple box to where you want to paste the photo. Tap the purple box and then tap Paste. The photo will be copied right before your current spot in your movie.

Each pair of girls was given a cookie sale scenario to animate:

  1. Customer does not have any cash
  2. Customer is on a diet
  3. Customer is gluten-free
  4. $5 is so expensive
  5. Which is your favorite?
  6. Customer has already purchased Girl Scout cookies
  7. Customer is vegan

Here are a few more ideas:

  1. Customer does not eat cookies
  2. Customer is diabetic
  3. Customer is in a hurry
  4. Customer has someone from whom they purchase cookies
  5. Which flavor would you recommend?
  6. What are you going to do with the money?

I gave the girls a few minutes to write out their scripts. I advised them to keep their dialogue short so that they would not need to take as many pictures. I reviewed their script. For scripts that seemed longer than 20-30 seconds, I timed them and gave advice about how to make it shorter. The girls chose their characters. I had printed out a clip art cookie frame onto card stock (4 frames to a page). They used this card to write out their movie title and by-line.

They set up their scene and took their photos. We used double-stick tape when a character needed to hold a cookie box. Then they recorded their dialogue. We were a bit pressed for time since we had quite a bit of other cookie business to take care of at the same meeting. They each had about 30 minutes to create their movie. It would have been better if they had 45 minutes to give them time to refine their movie. But 30 minutes was long enough to give them the experience, even if the end product was not their best work.

Here is a compilation of the videos our troop created!

Two of my scouts missed the meeting and here’s the video they made at a later date.

This is the practice video I made while I was trying out the app. I made this video using 5 FPS and over 130 pictures! I had to lay down afterwards. 🙂

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Maker Faire Bay Area 2017 Tue, 16 May 2017 20:33:14 +0000 Continue reading "Maker Faire Bay Area 2017"]]> The Maker Faire Bay Area is this weekend, May 19-21, 2017, at the San Mateo Event Center. MakeHardware had a booth at the Maker Faire last year, but we have been too busy to run a booth for 2017. We do plan to attend for a day to check out what other folks have been busy making!

If you decide to check out the Maker Faire this weekend, make sure you plan for enough time to get there and back. The Maker Faire is huge and even sets up exhibits in the parking lots at the San Mateo Event Center, so parking onsite is not available. There are shuttle buses and public transit, but be ready for a wait during busy times. The Maker Faire is totally worth the trouble, just be prepared!

Here are a couple of pics from our booth last year.

The MakeHardware booth at Maker Faire Bay Area 2016. Do you see our little drone flying inside the enclosure?

Our booth was in the back corner, but we still had plenty of people come check out our PC-drone flying project!

My favorite areas of the Maker Faire include the cooking (last year I bought some great fermentation tools), the crafts and the kid sections. There are lots of electronics, light sculptures, drones, huge metal sculptures, fire art, and tons of crazy creativity!


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Teambuilding with robotic insects! Wed, 25 Jan 2017 07:44:59 +0000 Continue reading "Teambuilding with robotic insects!"]]> I manage a team of electrical engineers, and at the end of every year I like to run a team building event.  Last year I bought everyone a mini-drone, and we had a lot of fun flying them around a conference room.  This year, I bought a bunch of remote control insect toys and the activity was to assemble them and then have teams compete in races and other games.

These are the robotic insect competitors. From left to right – a Kamigami Goki robot, the Hexbug Battle Spider, and a Hexbug Fire Ant.

I have a team of nine people, so we divided into 3 teams of 3.  Each team received one Kamigami robot, one Battle Spider, and one Fire Ant.  The first activity was to assemble the robots.

Kamigami Robot
These Robots are available in 4 models and can be controlled via Bluetooth from iOS and Android devices.  These robots have light and IR sensors, and IR transmitters. The apps for these robots are written very well and allow you to play various games such as “freeze tag” and make up your own games as well.
Hexbug Battle Spider

The little guys move slowly, but they are quite fun to drive around.  The turret on the top rotates and allows you to “shoot” IR beams at other spiders so you can play a laser tag game.

Hexbug Fire Ant

These little guys are simple and fun to drive.  They move very fast, but are a bit difficult to control, especially on carpets.

The Kamigami is manufactured out of a flat flexible plastic laminate which you have to fold like origami to create the robot’s legs and body. Assembling it took each team about 45 minutes. I wouldn’t say it was “simple” (there is no chance my parents would ever do it), but the online directions were good, and the pieces were precisely cut and fit together very well. For most engineers this will be fun.

The other robots didn’t require any assembly. The one tricky thing is that if you want to run multiple Battle Spiders, you have to make sure that each one is synchronized to a different remote controller channel. There are four possible channels, so you can run up to four spiders at a time. For the Fire Ant, there were only two possible channels, so you can only run two Fire Ants at a time.

For our competitions we setup a simple U-shaped race course and put some small cardboard boxes as obstacles.  None of the robots can really climb over any significant obstacles, but just steering them around obstacles or through a narrows space is challenging enough.

Probably the most fun event we had was a Sumo competition where we put all of the robots on a table and then had them try to push each other off, with the winner being the robot that stayed on the longest.  A large number of contestants ran off the edge of the table on their own. The Battle Spiders had a significant edge in this event because they were heavier, grip the table better, and since they move slower they were also less likely to be driven off by mistake.

At the end of the event, everyone got to take home one of the robots.  The winning teams got to choose which robots to take first. A good time was had by all.  Or, at least that’s what they said to me, but I’m the manager, so who knows what they really thought.

I enjoyed the Kamigami Robots so much, so I bought two for myself my daughters.  They’re definitely more fun to play with when you have two.


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Little House on the Prairie Birthday Party Wed, 28 Sep 2016 03:25:22 +0000 Continue reading "Little House on the Prairie Birthday Party"]]>
Little House on the Prairie Party Activities: Milking the "cow," spinning wool, churning butter, and shopping at the General Store.
Milking the “cow,” spinning wool, churning butter, and shopping at the General Store

At, we love hosting elaborate birthday parties for our kids! I was all for having my daughter’s ninth birthday party at our local paint-your-own-pottery studio, but then my daughter suggested a Little House on the Prairie theme and I couldn’t resist! It’s the perfect birthday party theme for makers!

My daughter loves American history and she has read all of the Little House on the Prairie books. I haven’t read the books since I was a kid, so my daughter was the resident expert on pioneer times.

I like to make our parties fun, but also with lots of learning. I also get much more excited when I get to learn something too! For our Little House on the Prairie party activities, we decided that we would have the kids doing “jobs” where they would earn some money and then after they finished all their jobs they would get to spend their money at the General Store.

When the kids arrived, I explained that we would be pretending to be living in pioneer times. I gave them each a general store ledger where they would keep track of the money they earned and spent. I had the girls choose a bonnet to wear and the boys got a farmer’s hat and suspenders.

I really wanted to have Little House on the Prairie bonnets at the party, but I was worried about the expense. I considered using this sewing tutorial to sew my own bonnets, but in the end I decided it would take me too long. Instead I bought Americana bonnets on Amazon. There are multiple listings for the Americana bonnets and the prices vary between about $9.99 and $14.99. The Americana bonnets come in four sizes. Some of the listings allow you the select the color. Initially, I bought a size Medium bonnet and a size Large in this cream with roses print. - A Little House on the Prairie Party ideas and activities

I have a small head, but the size Medium was too small for me. The Large was a good fit, although the brim is a little smaller than I would like. The Medium and the Large fit both my nine-year-old and my six-year-old.

Then I found bulk pricing for pioneer bonnets on the Music in Motion website! They are the same Americana bonnets and they are $6.50 each if you buy 12 or more. You do need to pay for shipping, but the per item price is still lower than Amazon’s price. The Music in Motion site does not say what size they are, but the 12 pioneer bonnets I received are all size Large and they gave me a good assortment of colors.

The bonnets arrive folded with a crease down the center of the brim. Ironing the brims made them much more presentable. The tag says they are 100% cotton, but I still used a cool setting on my iron since I did not want to risk melting anything.

Here are the bonnets!

Little House on the Prairie Bonnets puchased in bulk for $6.50 each. Pioneer Party Ideas -

For the boys, I was inspired by the cover of Farmer Boy. We had them wear farmers’ hats and suspenders. They looked so cute! Amazon has the hats in a pack of 12. You can also buy them directly from the Shindigz website individually. The hats are a little big, they can fit an adult, but the kids didn’t seem to mind.

Little House on the Prairie Party Ideas and Activities -

I purchased 30″ suspenders from Amazon in a few different colors. It says they are good for heights up to 5′ tall, but I think they are probably better for up to 4′ tall. They were good for the six-year-olds at our party. For the eight and nine year olds, the adult size suspenders that I got at Shindigz were a good fit. At the time, Shindigz had them on clearance for $1.49, but they are sold out now. These and these adult suspenders on Amazon look like a good alternative.

Little House on the Prairie Party Ideas and Activities -

I usually keep decorations pretty minimal, but I decided to make a banner and floral arrangements. I have a lot of mason jars on hand for cooking and fermenting, and I used quite a few for the party. At Michael’s, I found Craft Smith canvas banners on clearance and I painted Happy Birthday on them with acrylic paint that I already had. I put a rag ribbon banner behind the canvas banner to make it look more festive. I made four little flower arrangements and put them in mason jars.  I wrapped the mason jars in some burlap (similar to this) I already had. I laid out our collection of Little House books on one of our tables. The books included The World of Little House, which is a beautifully illustrated guide to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life and books, and our Rocky Ridge books, which are Little House sequels written by Roger Lea MacBride, Laura’s daughter’s friend and heir.

I purchased a pack of kraft paper bags from Michaels with their 50% off coupon and I tied a little thank you card on them with their names written on the back. The bags were empty and they would use them later for their general store shopping. I told kids that didn’t want to wear their bonnets to put them in their bag.

We had four main activities: Milking the Cow, Spinning Wool, Churning Butter, and Hunting. For younger kids, I usually set up stations where they can come and go as they please, but for the 8 and 9-year-olds, I ran it like a pioneer workshop. As kids arrived, they got their bonnets and hats and then they could milk the cow or build with Lincoln Logs.

Milking the Cow

My husband set up the cow milking station with saw horses and a wire shelf that was sitting in our garage. We covered the saw horses with cow print table covers to make it more cow-like. We filled disposable gloves with water, clipped them closed, pierced the glove’s fingers with pin holes and hung them from the cow milking station.  We put a bucket underneath each glove and a stool before it. We told the kids to milk their cow and then to pour their “milk” into our milk can. Once they were done milking regardless of the quantity, we had them write “cow’s milk” and “5” cents on their ledger.

Cow milking activity with rubber gloves and water -

To get an old-fashioned look for all of our signs and the kids’ ledgers, I printed them on white card stock and tea stained the paper. It just took two black tea bags, a baking dish to soak in, cookie sheets to dry on, and a warm oven set to 200 degrees to speed up the drying process. I followed these directions and I used method #3 where you pour the tea directly on the paper. My husband didn’t think I should go to the trouble of making the paper look old. He insisted that the pioneers’ paper wouldn’t have been old for them, and it would have been new and white. I disregarded him and happily continued tea staining my paper.

Lincoln Logs

We happen to have a lot of Lincoln Logs, so it was natural to pull them out for our prairie party. I had purchased them used on craigslist a couple of years ago. Brand new Lincoln Logs are pretty pricey, but they last a long time so they are a good thing to try to find used.

Building Log Cabins with Lincoln Logs. Little House on the Prairie Party Ideas and Activities -

Spinning Wool

I was thinking of having a sheep art project where they pull apart cotton balls and glue the cotton onto a printout of a sheep’s outline. Then I stumbled upon a YouTube video of a lady spinning wool with a simple drop spindle. She made it look so easy, and I thought that would be so fun for our pioneer party! Unfortunately, when I tried it, it wasn’t as easy as it looked. I discovered that it is only quick and easy once you know what you are doing.

As I said, I like learning new things, and I didn’t know anything about sheep’s wool or spinning yarn, so learning to spin wool was my new mission. I bought a drop spindle like this one and some merino wool roving, and I watched a bunch of videos about the park and draft method of spinning.

I figured out how to spin about a foot or two of bumpy two-ply yarn with the drop spindle and decided that was good enough for our party demonstration. The drop spindle would be too complicated for the kids to learn at the party, so I also figured out how to spin yarn by thigh spinning.

Teach kids to thigh spin wool. Little House on the Prairie Party Ideas and Activities -

My daughter said that the wool demonstration was a little long, but she said she enjoyed it. I gathered up all the kids and had them sit facing me. I asked them questions like “Where does wool come from?” and “How do we get yarn?” and told them that people have been spinning wool for over 10,000 years. We talked briefly about spinning wheels. I told them that yarn is just wool fibers twisted together and that people can spin wool with just their hands or a simple tool like a drop spindle.

Then I passed around samples of raw wool from four different breeds of sheep along with a corresponding picture. I got the raw wool samples from Ared2Die4 on Etsy and they were inexpensive and fun to show to the kids. I warned the kids that raw wool is dirty and that we would wash our hands after touching the samples.

Show kids samples of raw wool from different breeds of sheep. Little House on the Prairie Party Ideas and Activities -
Samples of raw wool from different breeds of sheep: Florida Gulf Coast Native, Welsh Black Mountain, California Variegated Mutant, and Jacob sheep.

Next we talked about washing wool and picking wool. I purchased 8 oz of washed wool on eBay. Make sure the wool fibers are long enough for spinning, some wool is just for stuffing. 8 oz of washed wool was way too much, 4 oz or perhaps even less would have been fine. I held out a bundle of the washed wool and let each child grab a handful. I asked them to pull the wool apart and to also extract a single fiber to inspect how long it was.

I bought 10 dog brushes at the dollar store to use as inexpensive wool carders. I watched this YouTube video to figure out how to card wool with dog brushes. I briefly showed them how to card the wool to get all the fibers aligned and then I did a quick thigh spin of the carded wool to make a little 2-3 inch long piece of two-ply yarn.

Have kids card washed wool with dollar store dog brushes. Little House on the Prairie Party Ideas and Activities -
Carding washed wool with dollar store dog brushes

Next, I did a mini drop spindle demo with the wool roving. Before the party, I had already separated the roving into little single serving sizes that would be manageable for the kids to try to spin. We passed out the roving and I asked the kids to just draft (pull apart) the roving to get a feel for how long the fibers are and where the fibers separate. Then we gave everyone a second piece of roving and we asked them to try thigh spinning. They would only need to draft the wool a little since it was already a thinned out piece that wasn’t very long. Once their little piece was nice and twisted, they matched the two ends together and it would naturally twist together to become two-ply. An adult tied a knot on the two ends and their 3 inch piece of yarn was spun! I was surprised that most of the kids were successful, only a couple needed help. They put their yarn in their bag and then they got to write 10 cents for wool yarn on their ledgers. Once they were finished, they got to try carding the wool with the dog brushes.

Kids can thigh spin a tiny piece of wool yarn! Little House on the Prairie Party Ideas and Activities -

Churning Butter

Churning butter is fun and simple for the kids. We poured about an ounce of organic heavy whipping cream into plastic 2 oz condiment cups. This made about a tablespoon of butter which was a good amount for them to spread onto their bread.

Do not use glass jars! Little baby food jars with a soft carpet underneath might be okay, but even the 10 year old at my party dropped his cup of butter while he was shaking it. One of the girls attending the party raised her hand to share a story. She told us that one year her class made butter in glass jars and multiple kids shattered their jars when they dropped them in the classroom. What a mess that would be! The condiment cup lids do not stay on very well, so there were a few spills, but much easier to deal with than broken glass. I found condiment cups at Smart & Final. They are also on Amazon, but a little more expensive.

I was surprised we had so many spills. In hindsight, I would instruct kids to hold the cups with their thumb on the bottom and their fingers spread out so that they are holding down the edges of the lid. Also ask kids not to open the lids to peek at the contents until the butter is ready. Once they open the lids, the cream gets on the rim and the lid won’t close as well. It may have also helped if I had poured a little less cream into the cups, the cream gets pretty foamy and expands during the shaking process.

It takes about 10 minutes of shaking for the butter to form. It can be as quick as 5 minutes if the child is very vigorous and dancing around or 15 minutes if there are pauses or they are shaking slowly. 6-year-olds and up did not have any trouble completing their butter, but a couple of the younger siblings needed an adult to help them. If you are doing this with younger kids, you might want to lead a butter churning parade to keep them going. I put on some of Pa’s fiddle music to keep everyone motivated while they were shaking. Lisa Orstein’s recording of Old Bunch of Keys was a good one to play when the kids started getting tired.

Kids can churn butter in 5-10 minutes. Little House on the Prairie Party Ideas and Activities -

After a few minutes of shaking, the cream will become whipped cream. Keep going and then the cream will start looking thicker and with some small lumps. Then suddenly it will feel like there is a soft, but solid mass shaking in your cup. Open your cup and you’ll see a little blob of butter separated from the buttermilk. I told the kids they could drink the buttermilk but strangely many were afraid to. I had a cup they could pour the buttermilk into if they did not want to drink it. I sprinkled on a tiny bit of sea salt for them and asked them to stir it with a plastic knife. They spread their butter on a piece of baguette and enjoyed their freshly made butter! Then they got to write in 9 cents on their ledger for making their butter.


Little House on the Prairie Party Ideas and Activities -

We stopped for a brief snack at this time. Most kids were thirsty after the bread and butter, and we had snacks out that people could munch on as they wished. For the ham and salami, I was thinking about getting a chilled dish like this, but I realized that a bowl filled with ice and a plate on top would work too!


As a precursor to hunting, we told them they had to learn how to track animals. We played an Animal Tracks match up game. I got the cards from this great free printable and I laminated the cards. We wanted to make this a social game, so we gave each kid a card and a few kids got two cards. We asked them to walk around to find their match. Then I was going to have them stand next to their match, hold up their cards, and ask the group if they thought the match was right or not. My husband ended up running the game without my instructions, so it didn’t quite go this way but it was still fun.

Hunting practice range, targets move when hit. Very satisfying! - Little House on the Prairie Party Ideas and Activities -

Now it was time for the hunting. We herded the kids outside into our tiny yard. My husband had set up a little Nerf gun shooting range. He stacked a few of our wooden tree stumps and attached dowel rods to them with some screws and scrap wood. He used zip ties to hang the pictures of the animals from the dowels so that the picture would swing if the kid hit the target. I insisted on only using illustrations of birds since I wanted it to feel like a game and not realistic. I also didn’t want them shooting at mammals, since that seemed more aggressive. For our targets, we had wild geese, pheasant and wild turkey. My husband gave them a little Nerf gun safety talk and had them line up behind the starting line. Each kid had six shots to hit all three targets. My husband placed the targets so that it wasn’t too easy or too hard. Most kids weren’t able to hit all three with just three shots, but all were still able to hit all three targets within six shots.

Once they finished with their hunting, they got to write in 6 cents and then they came in to our General Store table. Having the kids come in a few at a time worked well so that I wasn’t mobbed with all 16 kids at once.

General Store

I asked them to add up how much money they had earned. If they completed everything, they had 30 cents. For the third graders, the adding was no problem, but I had to help some of our younger kids with the adding. On the ledger, I had already printed out the items we had for sale, so they just had to fill in the price. The prices were all listed on the table, along with item limits per customer. I tried to make the prices historically accurate, but it ended up being only vaguely accurate. I gave them their bag, told them to put each item they wanted to buy in their bag, and fill in their ledger with their purchase one by one. This was a nice practical math activity for them, since they had to track how much they had spent and how much money they had left.

After completing their jobs, kids can spend their earnings at the General Store. Little House on the Prairie Party Ideas and Activities -

For the third graders, they were able to manage this all themselves. We had a few younger kids and they had to be led through the process. They couldn’t read the signs or add very well. With younger kids, you could use smaller numbers or give them something like 10 pennies to spend to make the process simpler.

I was also selling ribbon and lace by the foot, which I would measure and cut for them. I had my change jar nearby, and I gave kids change if they did not spend all of their 30 cents. Giving them change was good because some of them changed their mind and wanted to buy an additional item later. Then they could fish the coins out of their bag to pay for the additional item.

This is what we had for sale in our General Store:

Ribbon 3 cents/yd No limit
Candy sticks 1 cent Limit 2
Swirl Lollipops 2 cents Limit 1
Lace 2 cents/ft Limit 18″
Apples 3 cents Limit 2
Journals (from the dollar store) 5 cents Limit 1
Beef Jerky (0.5 oz wrapped in wax paper) 3 cents Limit 2
Handkerchiefs 5 cents Limit 1
Spools of twine 2 cents Limit 2

Here are links to PDFs of two versions of the ledger. Oleson’s Mercantile is the name of the general store from the Little House TV show.

General Store Ledger: Lists the items we had for sale. We used this one to keep things simpler for the younger kids.

Blank General Store Ledger: Blank version so that you can add your own items.


Little House on the Prairie Party Ideas and Activities -

I usually get our cakes from Whole Foods. Low quality oils that many other stores use make my skin break out, so I try to avoid them. Roses in vintage pinks was perfect for our prairie party.

Goody Bag

The general store shopping was enough for a goody bag, but I wanted to share the Little House books with my daughter’s friends. We bought box sets of the Little House books with full color illustrations. This set only has the first five books, but I figured that the earlier books would be more popular. Also the ninth book, The First Four Years, is kind of a sad book, and I didn’t want to end up with multiple copies of that one.

I also had a Laura Ingalls Wilder biography in the mix in case a kid had already read all of the Little House books. I had the books in a basket and asked the kids to choose a book when it was time to go home.

Best Birthday Party Theme

Our Little House on the Prairie Party has been one of our best party themes. Our pioneer day was fun and educational for the kids, and promotes literacy too. I loved the fact that we were showing kids how to be DIYers and makers. If I were doing a pioneer party with younger kids, I would leave out the drop spindle demo and set up a wool carding station instead. Another great Little House on the Prairie party idea would be to set up a laundry washing station with an old-fashioned washboard – little kids always love playing with water!

One of our guests told us our prairie party “was the best party ever!” Leave a comment and tell me about your Little House on the Prairie party ideas!

Little House on the Prairie Party Ideas and Activities -

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The Next Tivo DVR Might Look a Lot Like a Tablo Sun, 11 Sep 2016 17:12:29 +0000 Continue reading "The Next Tivo DVR Might Look a Lot Like a Tablo"]]> According to tech blogger Dave Zatz, the next Tivo OTA DVR might have an architecture that is a lot more similar to the Tablo series of OTA DVRs. What this means is that the Tivo DVR named “Mantis” would no longer connect directly to the TV, instead it would “transcode” video to a streaming device such as a Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire, or a table or phone.  The benefit of this approach is that one box can stream to multiple TVs or devices and it can be significantly cheaper in a household with multiple TVs. Previously, multiple TV households wanting to have DVR features would need a Tivo mini for each TV.

This type of device definitely seems like it might appeal to the growing number of households that already have a full array of streaming devices everywhere. As others have noted, streaming services are not perfect – they can be laggy, and are particularly prone to crashing during major live sporting events.  Purchasing something like the Mantis would give them benefit of having lag-free OTA broadcasts and commercial skipping capability throughout their house.  Hopefully the acquisition of Tivo by Rovi doesn’t delay or interfere with this product launch!

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OTA-only households growing Fri, 15 Jul 2016 13:43:14 +0000 Continue reading "OTA-only households growing"]]> A recent survey has found that the number of OTA-only households in the US has grown from 15% in 2015 to 17% in 2016.  I think that this is a reflection of several factors:

  1. Many households find cable/satellite too expensive for what it offers
  2. Streaming services still cost money, and as this NYTimes article pointed out, there are some drawbacks.
  3. Broadcast TV signals can provide high quality HD images and in many ways still provide a better user experience that is easier to use and has less lag.

Interestingly, the number of households that were Internet streaming also grew from 4% to 6%.  In terms of percentage, it is definitely much faster growth, but it’s interesting to consider that the number of OTA only households is almost three times as large.

For what it’s worth, my household has been OTA-only since 2012, and I’m a big fan of having an OTA DVR and of not paying any subscription fees.  

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How to Control Your Drone From a Computer Mon, 04 Jul 2016 17:47:26 +0000 Continue reading "How to Control Your Drone From a Computer"]]> After reading my post about how I used my computer to fly a Cheerson CX-10 drone, several people have asked me if it is possible to control other drones in a similar way.  It is in fact pretty straightforward, and in some cases you can re-use exactly the same hardware that I used to control the Cheerson CX-10 – the Arduino UNO and the Addicore nRF24L01+ Wireless Kit .

Component Description
Arduino Microcontroller Board Arduino UNO R3 Board Module With DIP ATmega328P(Blue)
Nordic Semiconductor 2.4GHz Wireless Card Addicore nRF24L01+ Wireless AddiKit with Socket Adapter Boards and Jumper Wires

It turns out that a large number of toy drones use the same nRF24L01+ compatible RF chips.  The word compatible is necessary because most of them seem to not use the Nordic Semiconductor chipset, but rather something like the XN297 from Panchip.In the original Arduino code, the author made it possible to select the protocol by various combinations of the flight joysticks.  For my version, I hard-coded it to always select the Cheerson CX-10 Blue protocol (see line 366 of nRF24_multipro.ino), but left the rest of the code intact so you can easily modify the code to select one of the other drones on this list.

Here is the list of drones that can be controlled by making this small modifications to the Arduino code (taken from nrf24_multipro).

Cheerson CX-10 (older red PCB)/CX11/CX205/CX30, JXD389/391/393, SH6057/6043/6044/6046/6047, FY326Q7, WLToys v252 Pro/v343, XinXun X28/X30/X33/X39/X40
WLToys V930/931/939/966/977/988
HiSky RXs, HFP80, HCP80/100, FBL70/80/90/100, FF120, HMX120, WLToys v933/944/955
Syma X5C (older model), X2 …
MJX X600
EAchine H8 mini 3D, JJRC H20/H22
Syma X5C-1/X11/X11C/X12
Attop YD-822/YD-829/YD-829C …
EAchine H8(C) mini, BayangToys X6/X7/X9, JJRC JJ850, Floureon H101 …
EAchine H7
WLToys V202/252/272, JXD 385/388, JJRC H6C, Yizhan Tarantula X6 …
EAchine CG023/CG031/3D X4
Cheerson CX-10 green pcb
Cheerson CX-10 blue pcb & some newer red pcb, CX-10A, CX-10C, CX11, CX12, Floureon FX10, JJRC DHD D1

Another set of very popular toy drones such as the Hubsan X4 and Estes Proto-X series use the A7105 / XL7105 wireless modules instead of the nRF24L01+.  These can also be controlled by an Arduino Uno, and instructions and code can be found here.

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Microsoft Putting Xbox DVR features on Hold Sun, 26 Jun 2016 12:37:37 +0000 Continue reading "Microsoft Putting Xbox DVR features on Hold"]]> Back in August 2015, Microsoft announced they would be adding DVR features to the XboxOne.  This was an exciting announcement for many of us, because it meant that DVR, serious gaming, and streaming could be combined into a single piece of hardware. Well, those hopes have ended by the recent announcement that they will be putting the DVR features “on hold.”

It’s hard not to wonder if Microsoft’s DVR strategy has been influenced by the growth of Sony’s PS Vue service and it’s “Cloud DVR.”  From a revenue perspective, the attractiveness of the monthly subscription model for streaming must have turned some heads at Microsoft.  I’m guessing that Microsoft will be attempting to come out with a streaming service and Cloud DVR to compete head on with the PS Vue rather than a DVR than runs locally.

This announcement doesn’t change the fact that you can still use your Xbox to watch OTA TV if you just buy an antenna and tuner, but you won’t be able to record it.

See these links below for more info and discussion:


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