Owning a swimming pool

Owning a swimming pool

Over a year ago, when we staring looking for a new home in town, whether or not there was a pool didn’t really enter into our decision making process. For my wife, it was a detriment, and to me, I was neutral on the topic. We were both fairly active swimmers in our youth, and for me, I have a weakness for the smell of chlorine. Chlorine reminds me of early Saturday mornings when the sunlight could make it into the windows of the pool where I taught swimming lessons. The sun would light up the place and the day seemed to be full of the boundless energy of the kids I was teaching. I miss that feeling. Read more

Building our first soap box derby racer – Part 2

Building our first soap box derby racer – Part 2

My oldest son, occasionally daughter, and I had continued to work on the soap box racer last week.

We left off last time with just wheels on a flat body. Another week of work and we added a body of sorts, a seat, and some paint.

We used a seat from IKEA for the racer. It was the perfect size to fit inside the 18″ wide body, and it looked neat. We made the frame for the racer with 2×4’s and plywood Jonas and I cut with a handheld jig saw, and screwed it all together.

Isaac gets his first driving lesson. Here you can see the arched shape we were working towards for the old-timey racer feel.

I then bent, glued, and nailed a 1/8″ thick piece of MDF to the body. Both kids helped with a couple of nails at first, but grew weary of wearing the safety glasses, so they had to watch from a short distance away. Nailers are one of those tools I am extremely careful around. Safety glasses are a must if they’re connected to a pressurized source, I am always aware of where I am pointing the working end trying to always point it at my workpiece, and the safety is turned on as soon as I take my finger off the trigger. I was amazed at the number of nails it took to hold it all in place.

Kids are getting excited. At this point the driving lessons down our street began in earnest.

We took off all non-painted surfaces, and I then went to work spraying it a nice enamel red with a N95 mask on. I am still looking for a decent mask that has solvent filters available. Any recommendations would be appreciated. I think it turned out looking pretty sharp, simple and elegant.

Race day was this past Saturday (June 16, 2012). After we arrived, it didn’t take long before I realized that the racer couldn’t compete. Middlebury Drive in Waterloo is a pretty steep street, a lot steeper than the street we practiced on, and my son was barely strong enough to use the brake on our little street where we had practiced. It also didn’t help that every racer there, save ours, had some sort of rack and pinion steering and our rope steering could be barely operated by my son. I opted to keep him out of the race this year and just observe. Tears were shed, but it was for the best.

Almost forgot to mention, we watched two pretty big crashes during the trial runs, by kids much older than my son. One girl lost control of her steering and rolled on the asphalt; the other boy couldn’t stop in time, hit the wall of tires that was being used as a safety stop, flipped his car and flew out. Both kids didn’t end up competing after their respective crashes, and it kind of sealed the deal on my son not racing that day.

Although Jonas did get a tailgate breakfast out of it, so not all was lost.

A sad little boy in his racer. In some ways I feel I let him down, in others, well, we built a soap box racer together, he’s a lucky kid.

Next year he will compete. I am going to lower the racer to the ground and build two new braking systems, both of which were inspired by other cars in the race. We are also going to make a rack and pinion steering system so that he can steer with a wheel much easier than fighting to pull on the rope. The parents I met on race day were awesome and all had great advice for improving the racer. We has so many parents come up to us and mention that they were following the progress of our racer. We built it in our front yard, so the whole neighborhood developed an attachment to our progress. There will be racing next year.

Launching some rockets

When I was a kid, my uncles would, on occasion, take me to go launch some rockets. Either that or they would drop me on my head (according to my mom, being dropped on my head happened a lot more often than I can remember thanks to the concussions). The farm field we would often go to to launch the rockets in is now the Laurelwood neighborhood in Waterloo. With a little researching, I found a new location: Snyder’s flats in Bloomingdale. It is only a 15-minute drive from my side (the far side) of Waterloo, so the trek out there wasn’t too bad. Just a little further down the road from the A on the Google map image, below. Here is a direct link to the Google map location if you want to visit the area yourself. Synder’s flats is overall, a very interesting place. I noticed a lot of off-leash dog walkers there; it seems to be pretty popular place for owners of canines.

Just go past the church, and park in the first open parking area on your left, across the road from the sand hill (pictured below). We launched in the large, flat area beside the sand hill, in the shade of a large oak tree, the only tree around. Fortunately the wind was on our side that day, blowing away from the road, in the general direction of the shadow of the tree. No sunburns, and we were comfortable in the heat.

My kids thought they should rock out with their rockets. The photo below doesn’t quite capture how hilarious and unintentionally suggestive my daughter was with her rocket. Rocketry is a relatively cheap activity for kids. Small, click-together rockets perfect for young kids sell for $10-20.

Launching rockets with your kids is a fairly peaceful activity. Rocket  launches aren’t very quick to set up, but the build-up is worth it and once the kids see the first one go, they are more than patient for the others to be launched. You’ll need a launcher of some sort, which can sell for $20 for the one I have (although I found mine at a thrift store and paid a lot less) or you can improvise and stick a firm, straight wire, 2′ in length, into the ground (a well-straightened coat hanger will do). An igniter can sell for $20 as well, or you can improvise, I just used a 6V battery holder (4 AA batteries) soldered to 20′ of wire, cost about $2 in materials. I clicked in the fourth battery when I wanted to launch the rocket.

Photographing the falling rocket is the easiest way to lose track of it. Every time I was trying to take a photo of a falling rocket, as soon as I pulled the lens away from my eye I had no idea where in the sky the rocket was anymore.

The other great part for the kids was running after the rocket for the recovery.

We almost lost this one. Again, due to trying to photograph its fall. Tears were shed when I broke the news. Then, off in the distance, I spotted the flutter of the parachute. The day was saved.

We only launched 4 rockets in about an hour and a half. It went by quick, but it wasn’t stressful and it was quite fun. Overall an excellent activity for two, young kids and their dad. Here the rockets are cooling after their launches. I use an ammo crate I bought from a surplus store to store the rocket engines in. Rocket engines can be costly depending on the size, they usually sell 3 engines for $9. This is one area you can’t skimp on, nor should you try unless you have significant experience with handling explosives and chemistry.

They’re debating how far the wind will blow the next rocket. There are kits you can buy, usually around $50, in which you’ll get a launcher, igniter, rocket and at least one engine. Enough for hours of fun and repeat use. Once you have some experience launching, building new ones becomes quite easy. There are many more kits out there, but with some ingenuity, you can figure out how to make you own rocket out of scrap cardboard tubes (just don’t use toilet paper rolls).

Making soap

Mother’s day was coming, and I decided to make my mother a gift using slave labor my kids as helpers. I thought it would be a great activity for the kids, I also like to make my gifts, and the combination of kids and home-made-edness should result in a more meaningful gift for my mom/their Nana.

We are all set! Any parent with more than one child can attest to the need for each child to have their own set of tools.

I opted for ultra-simple glycerin soap, and the kids would mix up their own colors with food coloring. Just put a few drops into the bottom of an ice-cube tray to start.

Glycerin soap is super-easy to use; just cut off the amount you’d like, and microwave it in a safe container (I used an old sour cream container) in 15-second intervals until melted, and it is ready to pour into any form you’d like. Ideally use a disposable container, not that you are going to throw it out. If there is leftover, just keep the container. If you’re lucky it will just pop it out, but if it won’t come out, you have used a container you were going to throw out or recycle anyways and there will be no regrets. Just keep it for next time.

We used toothpicks to stir.

My son was a little more creative when it came to mixing his colors. My daughter did the one-color-per-cube thing.

Just pour…

…and mix!

The other awesome part of this activity was that the kids were so excited to see the end product, they pretty much sat still and waited for the soap to cool and harden. Sitting still is a rare treat for any parent.

I lucked out when I went looking for forms for the soap. I went to the dollar store, originally thinking I would use disposable plastic cups as the molds for the soap, but then found these really cheap ice-cube trays that had silicon bottoms on the bottom of each cube. Once hardened, the deformable silicon bottom could be pushed and the soap would be forced out fairly easily. $1.25 each.

He’s pretty proud that he made orange (his favorite color).

Out they shoot.

Pop pop pop. My son had the blue, circular ice cube tray, my daughter had the red, rectangular one.

All the soaps fit just perfectly.

Adding a pretty bow with ladybugs on it for Nana.

Above is the kids’ gift to their mom for mother’s day. We made soaps using the a similar technique (in the box) but we tried to make fancier/pretty-smelling ones, with bodyscrub (in the jars) and a hair band with flowers on it.

A close-up of her soaps. Despite our best efforts, they didn’t really work out that well. Only the cinnamon-clove soap turned out, and it turned out well.