Category Archives: Crafts

Dice Brownies

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A few years back I had the rather ambitious idea of making double-decker brownies that looked like dice for my husband’s birthday. I was kind of on an obsessive brownie baking kick at the time after getting a “Perfect Brownie” brownie pan for Christmas. (As seen on TV!) So I was pretty excited and suspected not even a little how much work was going to be involved. It was a nightmare. The “Perfect Brownie Pan, TM!” cuts rectangles and I needed squares. So the first hurdle was trying to make all my rectangles into equal squares. I have never excelled at uniformity. That part went badly. After that was the frosting, another thing I’m terrible at, and so that part went even worse.

And yet, this year, I decided to take a stab at dice brownies again. Perhaps time dulled the agony that I experienced. Or maybe it’s just love. All that love I have for my wonderful husband who is sometimes a pain in that ass, sometimes a wonderful guy and always the best thing that ever happened to me.

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Awwww.

Anyway, whatever the reason, I set to work. Finding the perfect brownie recipe was the first hurdle I had to jump. It wasn’t easy, but it did involve eating all the “failures”. Phase one was a delight, is what I’m saying. I finally found a passable recipe but I’m not going to link it. I changed it far too much to really credit it. I hate recipes and trying to make the best brownie possible from a recipe cemented that fact. I made my changes and then I quadrupled the recipe. The results were good enough for a brownie beauty pageant. Look at those gorgeous pans.

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Baking was the easy part, however. In order to have squares, I couldn’t use the edges. That meant cutting each of the pans of brownies into a workable rectangle. It ended up looking something like this:

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At this point, I was ready to stop. I am a firm believer that baking should be a sprint, not a marathon. Cooking is the thing that’s supposed to take ages and wear you out. Baking is something I do for fun and generally in quick bursts. Not to mention, the endurance run was leading to a lot of brownie pieces going into my mouth. And that is not good for my hips. In case you’re curious, this is how much extra brownie I had left over:

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And I still had to cut the giant rectangles into small squares. Somehow, I managed to get that done without everything falling apart into nothing. That was a lot harder than it might seem, these brownies were quite crumbly.

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Frosting was up next. I used a basic buttercream recipe to make the frosting, adding in some orange extract and lemon juice for flavor. I wanted the effect of the finished product to taste like a chocolate orange.

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The first try was too thick, I couldn’t get it to spread and had to apply it to the brownies like modeling clay. Not something I wanted to do. I thinned it out with a little milk but then of course it was too thin. I used it just fine to frost the brownies but they didn’t dry right, which meant I couldn’t shape them very easily before I applied the chocolate chips. The thing with dice brownies is they’re frosted on all sides, so I don’t have an easy way to handle them if they aren’t dry. When they’re first frosted, they look a little like the sort of cubes a child might draw. Kind of on point, but a bit…off.

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Not winning any beauty contests anymore. Someday, I’d like to be able to afford to buy fondant. Or, at least, to be competent enough to make it. I think it would work better for the recipe. In the meantime, however, I have to wait til the frosting dries and then mold it as best I can into what vaguely resembles a D6.

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Those two were the best specimens I managed to create. I think that this is why I often chose function over form. It’s so much easier to make something that tastes nice than to make something that looks nice. As a side note, mini-chocolate chips are the cutest little bits of deliciousness known to humankind.

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An Afternoon With Lily (Rainbow Loom)

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It’s been a while since I went and hung out with Lily on Saturday. I used to do it all the time but after babysitting her and Aidan for so long I was a bit over-saturated. But I finally got to missing her again so we made plans to hang out today. I wanted to read (her mother informed me she hasn’t read at all by herself this summer and I was more than disappointed) and she wanted to craft. So we compromised. She taught me how to do the craft and read aloud while I was working on it.

The craft in question is Rainbow Loom!

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Apparently all the rage back east (she has a friend who recently moved to Pennsylvania who turned her on to this) but not available in stores yet around here. But through the magic of the internet (Rainbow Loom) we on the west coast can enjoy it, too.

She showed me how to do it.

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Then again.

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And again.

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But I didn’t quite get the hang of it until I tried it for myself. It’s not overly complicated, really, it’s just something you have to do to learn properly. My first bracelet turned out just great. Lily was so proud.

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I made a bracelet with the original bands and the bands my sister bought at the dollar store to properly show the difference. There isn’t much of one, honestly, and it’s the cheaper alternative. The bands will only cost you 17 cents online for 600 but they get you with the shipping, an extra 5 dollars. Probably it’ll even out if they end up in stores around here. But for now you can get 500 similar bands for a buck at the dollar store.

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It was lots of fun and really engaging. I could’ve done it all day. I made two bracelets and even a choker because I wanted to keep Lily reading. All in all, a good craft and a wonderful afternoon with my favorite niece/photographer.

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Crafting Part 6: I Have no Idea What to do With You, Here’s Some Popsicle Sticks

By the end of my month of babysitting I was not yet out of ideas. I was, however, completely out of steam. And supplies. I had a package of popsicle sticks left over and then the random supplies from the previous weeks’ activities. So I had Lily gather all the supplies on the table and I told her we were making party houses. Why? It was all I could think to make.

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The problem with all crafts is my sweet Lily is an insufferable copy cat. She second guesses all of her ideas but thinks all of mine are the bee’s knees. Therefore, whatever I decide to make is what she wants to make. And if I’m not doing anything, she won’t either. I had to pick something I could make with popsicle sticks so I could be working and thereby keep her working. I’ve only ever made a picture frame and a house with popsicle sticks and houses take more time.

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There was a bit of trouble with the pipe-cleaner roofs, involving some glue that wouldn’t hold and a major fit thrown over having fingers full of fuzz (me). And a minor argument over whether the large puffs were beach balls or bushes. But ultimately, Lily insisted this was the best craft ever. Plus, they really do look like awesome party houses.

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She was extra proud of her palm tree made of clay and feathers. Honestly, I am too. She’s really a very creative kid, I just wish she thought so.

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Crafting Part 5: Scratch Paintings

Scratch paintings are comprised of two layers: a colorful bottom layer and a completely black overlay. The objective is to scratch away as much of the black as you want to create a design. You can find them pre-made at Big Lots for a couple bucks and probably at Michael’s for an obscene mark-up. But I thought it wouldn’t be a very good craft if we didn’t make them ourselves. We started by coloring printer paper with crayons. I hated this part because it took ages.

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Next we covered the whole page in black paint. Lily and I both loved this part. I was trying to keep the paint thin so it would dry faster. I even advised Lily to do the same. Thankfully she didn’t listen to me because, as it turned out, that was intensely stupid on my part. Thin paint means hard to scratch.

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The worst part of this craft is the waiting but we found a way to keep busy. Specifically, we played war with Uno cards and a mildly enthusiastic audience. We had both cats spellbound, actually, until I decided I wanted to take a picture. Then there was one.

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Time came to scratch our scratch paintings. We used wooden skewers. As previously stated, my painting didn’t work out well since I laid the paint on so thinly. But Lily’s turned out really well, and it looked particularly great hung up in the window with the sun shining through it.

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Crafting Part 4: Sock Puppets

First, I know you are all waiting with bated breath to see what happened at the end of the naked egg experiment. It was really awesome and the kids loved bouncing it and squeezing it.

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Then I tried to get a picture of it bouncing and it ended up mostly on my pants. That’s the thrilling conclusion.

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Next, the craft of the day was sock puppets. I was excited about this craft so I went all out: pipe cleaners, puff balls, googly eyes, feathers, and markers. I considered glitter but I didn’t want to face the horror of trying to clean it up afterwards.

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We were all disheartened early on by the inability to glue pipe cleaners to anything except our fingers. I found a solution in forcing the pointy bit of the pipe cleaners through the top of the socks. It was not easy doing it to mine and I also had to do it for Lily’s. Fortunately, Aidan wanted a bald puppet. I made a Lucille Ball puppet. The kids shrugged at me when I told them and looked at them expectantly.

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Lily was ultimately unhappy with her movie star puppet (the one on the far right with the yellow feathers). She ripped out the pipe cleaners that I had so lovingly shoved into the sock for her and threw a sulk. The only thing that would cheer her up was making a crown for me. Oh the things I do for her.

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I know you’ve been waiting for this and I won’t disappoint you. Obligatory sock puppet play!

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Crafting Part 3: Science is Magic!

I’ve been looking forward to this day since I started planning crafts for the kids. But I made myself wait until the second week to do it. We started with the Naked Egg experiment which features an egg in vinegar. It takes three days for the shell to be completely gone though, so we moved on from that pretty quickly. I made sure to direct the kids’ attention to it during the day so they could watch the shell getting eaten away.

Next we used lemon juice as invisible ink. That one was harder than I’d expected. You can use a light bulb to make the lemon juice appear, like I tried, but fire really works better. I did NOT want to encourage the kids to do anything that involves fire. Yikes.

The highlight of the day was the volcano. I had planned to use dirt in the yard to bury a Gatorade bottle to make the volcano but I found out to my dismay that my sister doesn’t believe in dirt. So I had to improvise.

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Not…exactly…realistic. But the kids were pretty impressed with their multicolored volcano once we finished it.

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It was time for the reaction. I tried to space it out by putting the baking soda in a paper towel and dropping it in (I read it online!) but it didn’t work. We took it out and just tossed the baking soda in.

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Heck yeah, science!

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They loved it so much I actually had to tell them “Ok, guys, just ONE MORE reaction.” They were so disappointed; they never wanted it to end!

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The last experiment of the day was Ooblek (AKA cornstarch and water with some food coloring for fun) but I only got one picture of that, I was too worried about destroying my camera. It comes off easily but I wanted to limit the amount of things that got coated. Long story short, we all stained our hands and had lots of fun.

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Crafting Part 2: Tie-dye Extravaganza!

A note, before I begin: When I started writing up my babysitting crafts, I had no idea that my blog was going to become the Lily Show. But as soon as I told her why I was taking pictures, she was tickled at the idea of being featured on my blog. So pretty much all of these posts will feature pictures of my lovely, hammy, niece. Enjoy the Lily Show!

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I’ve never tie-dyed anything before so I was pretty nervous about being in charge of this potentially messy affair. Throughout the experience I was regularly taking my gloves off so I could check one of a dozen how-to articles on my phone. I love living in the future.

Anyway, I started with powder dye and salt which I set to boil. As well as soda ash (care of my wonderful sister-in-law Kayti), gloves and rubber bands.

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By the time the shirts were finished soaking in soda ash, the dye was ready to go so I had the kids tie up their shirts. I tied my own, which is clearly noticeable as the biggest one.

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I let them pick their first color out of the three I bought: red, teal and orange. Admittedly, they only got to choose between teal and orange, since I took the red for my first color. Hey, it’s good to be in charge.

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Lily picked red, white and blue for her scheme and hers looked like this before I washed it. It faded a little after but it was still beautiful.

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Aidan wanted to do all three colors but when he unwrapped his we were all so impressed with it he decided to leave his the way it was.

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Mine was by far the worst but still not bad. All in all, I think our tie-dye experiment went rather well. I’m definitely more likely to wear my Cards Against Humanity t-shirt now.

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