Saturday, April 21, 2012

Baking Soda...It’s Not Just for Baking

Amelia is obsessed with baking soda.

our croup cakes smell better than they look.
And really, why wouldn’t she be? It’s arguably the most versatile and mysterious product in the pantry. Her introduction to the stuff was early and personal – after trying every ointment in the drugstore diaper rash aisle, we resorted to making our own. The concoction worked wonders, and I’m convinced the magic ingredient was baking soda. To this day, if she has a hint of a rash anywhere on her body, she gets the baking soda and adds it to the bathtub herself, soft powder sprinkling through her fingers like fairy dust.  This week, baking soda in the bath got a new twist when we made these little croup cakes which, by the way, sort of helped. Not that the croup is gone, but I’d hate to think about where we’d be without croup cakes. I’ll save that for another post.

Given her lifelong affinity, I knew my girl would go for a kitchen chemistry project starring our favorite powder.  I found this gem, a preschool version of the classroom volcano eruption, on pinterest a few months ago and was saving it for a rainy day.

It's a pretty basic chemistry experiment illustrating the reaction you get by mixing acids and bases. There’s a scientific explanation for why and how it works, if you care, but we don’t particularly care. The original pinner claims it occupied her 2-year-old for an hour and her 4-year-old for two hours.  Now THIS I care about. I’ve always thought Amelia had a pretty good attention span for a kid, but 2 hours? No way.


no shopping required!
Scarred by memories of science fairs gone bad, I prepared for the worst – an explosion that would leave my kitchen reminiscent of Pompeii. I contemplated moving the whole thing outside, but there was that rainy day problem, so I settled for a protective lining of newspaper across the kitchen table. The ingredients were simple and didn’t require any trips to the store, so we were off to a great start: baking soda, vinegar and food coloring.

First, we spread the baking soda in a baking dish.  We used a glass pan because it seemed safer, and beakers in a real laboratory are glass. It seemed logical at the time. Anyway, we put about an inch or so of baking soda in the pan. You can use more or less, just cover the bottom of the dish. Amelia was happy just spreading the baking soda around, probably wondering if there would be enough left for a bath later.

Next, we poured white vinegar into four sections of a cupcake pan, and added a drop of food coloring to each, creating a limitless vinegar palette. 

Finally, the fun part. The pinterest pinner suggests using an eyedropper to drop colored vinegar on the baking soda. Of course we don’t have an eyedropper in the house. A medicine syringe worked just fine, and thanks to a daily dose of allergy meds, Amelia was surprisingly adept at using it. File that under "things i didn't know my kid could do."

Anyway, drumroll please…it fizzes! Not the explosion I mentally prepared for, but the fizzing was immediate, pretty, made a cool crackling sound, and completely delighted Amelia. She dropped colored vinegar on baking soda, and it fizzed. Again. And again. And then some more. She was able to do this entirely herself, which made her proud and me a spectator. Once every grain of baking soda was vinegar-soaked, Amelia found new things to try. She mixed colors to make rainbows. She discovered that the vinegar colors mix, but underneath, the baking soda stays white. She dug around with the syringe to find dry, still-fizzable baking soda. We poured off the vinegar on top and started over a few times. And finally, we had mud. 

As advertised, this occupied Amelia for over an hour, until we ran out of vinegar. Incredibly, she wanted more. We raided the pantry for backup supplies and came up with cider vinegar. Turns out the brownish cider vinegar takes food coloring surprisingly well, but  WOW it smells bad. Which prompted the grand finale. No more measured teaspoonfuls carefully dispensed. What would happen if we poured ALL the stinky vinegar on top of the baking soda all at once? We were giddy with anticipation.

Here it comes...what's going to happen?

Like the end of the fireworks on the Fourth of July, this project finished in a blaze of glory.  There was major crackling and fizzing and bubbling and colors mixing.  And then it was over. 

The fizz-filled finale

So, would we do it again? Absolutely. With a few variations:
  • Have lots of white vinegar on hand. The smell of cider vinegar is distractingly bad!
  • Try a few different kinds of vinegar dispensers - spray bottles, waterguns, droppers in different sizes.
  • There really isn't a need for the newspapers, this is a remarkably self-contained mess. Well, maybe if we introduce waterguns...

Just save enough baking soda for bathtime.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Blog is Born

I’ve been noodling around with the idea of blogging for a while now. But who has the time? As a working mother of a 4-year-old, leisure time is something I vaguely remember under-appreciating when I had it.  Ten years ago, I wondered whether I could or should juggle graduate school, work, and pre-child life. A wise friend pointed out that time passes, whether you do anything with it or not – so you may as well use it.
Time passing is one motivation for writing this blog. I’m a pretty hands-on mama. I get on the floor and play with legos and trains and crawl around barking like the dog I refuse to own just yet. I read princess stories until my brain melts into a sugary pink puddle. I make play dough and cookies and pasta with imperceptibly pureed vegetables hidden in the sauce. I spend weekends hosting playdates and coordinating outings to every farm, playground, bounce house, or cultural event that will have us. And I take photos of all of this, dutifully shipped to friends and family far and wide every month since Amelia’s birth. Will these snapshots – randomly selected moments of focus snatched from a passing blur of time – become our reminders of Amelia’s childhood?  A happy, confident, funny, growing person is the real reminder, of course…but writing a blog, I hope, will force me to appreciate and reflect on some of what we do before we move on to the next game of Candyland.
So, what’s the blog about? Everyday, real world parenting. I recently read an essay about how easy it is to be seduced by sites like pinterest, which portray perfect parents in spotless homes doing lovely projects with eager children, and to forget that for our kids, it’s really about the process, and time together – not making the perfect little fairy house in a jar. Which we tried, by the way, and learned that Mom opening a glow stick with her teeth results in glow-in-the-dark lips, which is a lot more fun than a fairy house ever would have been.

Photo from: Ours did NOT look like this!
I’d like to document some everyday detours. The projects that are inspired by a beautiful photo or recipe, or maybe just the desire to use up some glitter…sometimes they really do result in a work of art you can’t mail to Grandma fast enough. More often there’s frosting on the ceiling, something burning in the oven and a whole lot of laundry. And typically a good story and a photo you won’t see on but I’m willing to share. Most importantly, there’s a happy kid, spending real time with her mom. And this mama wants to remember and cherish every minute, because time keeps on passing.
And so the blog begins...A Crafty Mess.